Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A Study in Bearstein

Professor Iago Knappenberger entered his chambers, situated high in the Baroque New House on the University of Bearstein campus. Ordinarily a sense of repose would come over him as he entered the study-cum-sitting room, a charming room with a south facing view over the university lawns and gardens to the river beyond. After a busy day of tutorials and lectures, he welcomed the calm surroundings. This afternoon, however, he had a knotty conundrum to consider, a problem of the utmost political delicacy.

It had arrived in the form of a simple missive, apparently written in haste by a surprising correspondent - to whit, Grafin Ursula von Hetzenberg-Pfalb. He picked the document up from his cluttered desk and read it again.
‘I have a dear friend who is what is known as a commoner. She is of age, and wishes to marry my cousin Graf Philip, heir to the Grand Duchy. There is no family or blood tie between them. Would their marriage be legal?

‘All correspondence will reach me if directed to:- the Grand Ducal Army in the Field, Somewhere inside the Margravate of Dunkeldorf-Pfühl. Hopeful in your reply being yes, yours sincerely, Ursula von H-P.’

As an authority on international law Knappenberger had handled the matter of the Grafin’s claim to the Grand Ducal throne via Sacro Illiac law. He little expected correspondence from the young woman herself, let alone on such a subject. “And with so little data to go on!” he expostulated, setting the letter aside. As an afterthought he weighed it down with a wineglass then went to stand before the window. “What to do, what to do…” he muttered.

The door opened behind him and his servant entered the room with a soft tread. Knappenberger turned to regard the newcomer with some irritation. “You’re late, man!”

His servant bowed, holding the tray he bore tightly so as not to spill the tankard of small beer upon it along with a platter of soft bread and überreifem cheese. “My apologies, Professor,” he mumbled and carried the tray to the desk. Knappenberger shook his head. The man spoke with an atrocious form of the local dialect, something his ear had difficulty attuning to even after several months residence in Bearstein. “Would that the cretin spoke French!” he sighed in that language, returning his attention to the view. “You may go,” he said in German, dismissing the man with a wave of his hand.

The servant bowed and departed the room. Knappenberger stared out at the sunset, his mind returning to the problem posed by the Grafin. “So very difficult, and yet I think there is precedence.” His stomach rumbled and he sighed. “But first to feed the inner man.”

He sat at his desk, folded the napkin across his lap and proceeded to devour the meal. Even as his teeth worked on the crusty bread his mind kept working on the problem, until at the end of the meal the solution was clear. Picking up pen and parchment he wrote.

‘To Her Excellency the Grafin, greetings.

‘My dear Excellency. With reference to your communication of the third instance: I thank you for the generous payment received and give you this advice subject to further research on my part, and upon the presumption both parties in the relationship are agreeable to a match.

As my awareness of Ducal law stands there is no inhibiting factor to such a marriage between His Excellency the Graf and your friend. Social and traditional constraints exist in plenty, of course, and your friend will doubtless be aware of this. To summarize, my answer to your query is a provisional yes.

Please advise your friend to await further instructions from myself before undertaking any moves toward her nuptials.

Your humble, obedient servant, I. Knappenberger.

“There!” He laid his pen aside, sanded the document, yawned and sat back in his chair. “An answer, I feel, that will satisfy the presumptuous young lady whilst allowing me time to consult with her elders – in particular, His Grace.” He yawned again, removed his wig and scratched his scalp. “Bless me! I feel quite fatigued. Now, uh. Uhhhhh…”

Bartolomeo Gundaker stood patiently the other side of the door, listening to the Professor as he talked to himself. His cue came when he heard the solid thud of a body hitting the floor in the study. With a quick glance around to ensure privacy Bartolomeo entered the room, shutting the door carefully behind him.
Professor Knappenberger lay prostrate on the floor alongside his desk, his wig resting near an outstretched hand like a strange birds nest. Bartolomeo knelt alongside the fallen academic and tested for a pulse. Nothing.

“A cretin, am I, Monsieur le professeur?” he said quietly in French. He patted the cooling cheek in a familiar manner. “At least I’m not the one now taking up residency in that special circle of Hell reserved for lawyers!”

Rising, Batolomeo quickly scanned the desk. Locating the recently written note he shook the blotting sand onto a spare sheet of paper and replaced the document with a carefully-forged note of his own composition. The original he stuffed into his jerkin. Pausing only to scatter the ink-stained sand onto the forgery he departed the room, locking the door behind him.

By the time a porter summoned by an anxious colleague had battered down the Professor’s study door, Bartolomeo was already across the Bearstein border and bound for home.
* * *
So begins a new Hetzenberg Chronicle. As things stand such excerpts may appear at least once a week, if not more often. It all depends on what time I have among other projects. Watch this space...


Jiminho said...

Huzzah! The Chronicles are back!

And with a bang, or a thud as the case may be. Dastardly deeds such as this are the inevitable result of academic tenure...


Bluebear Jeff said...

A very nasty business, what?

I look forward to more with anticipation.

-- Jeff

Fitz-Badger said...

Something vile this way comes, I wonder?

Capt Bill said...

Nothing like a good yarn!!!

A J said...

Thank you, gentlemen! It's good to be back in the writing saddle.

Jim, you sound as if you speak from experience! =O

Martin said...

Hi A.J.,

I'll take my Hetzenberg fix anytime I can! Hope the second Chron is as entertaining as the first.

Spring's just a few days away, so it looks like you'll qualify for "Hivernant" status!