Siege operations about Randstadt had reached the third parallel and the batteries had been positioned amid blasts of musketry from the defenses. Mary Amadeus worked as hard as any to site the guns, and she felt pride in the fact they had become operational again within an hour.
The summons to General Rauppen-Schlepper’s pavilion reached her as she came off the line. Repeated salvos from the artillery had rendered her somewhat deaf, and the aide had to repeat himself twice before she understood. She made her way to the pavilion, sited in the headquarters area a safe distance beyond cannon range. Sweeping the tricorn from her head, she checked her hair still stayed neatly in its ponytail then nodded to the aide. He opened the tent fly and she followed him inside.
The General sat at his desk reading a dispatch. Mary saluted as he looked up. “Lieutenant Amadeus reporting, sir.”
“Good afternoon, Lieutenant.” Rauppen-Schlepper’s time-worn features remained set in a neutral expression, and she wondered why he didn’t greet her with his normal affability. He reached for his pipe and made a show of inspecting it, knocking out the dottle and refilling it with his favorite blend from a tooled leather pouch. The aide stepped forward with a taper. Rauppen-Schlepper took it and lit the pipe. He nodded to the aide. “Leave us, Wilhelm, but stay within call.” The aide saluted and departed, leaving Mary and the General alone.
“Is something wrong, sir?” she asked.
“Yes, Lieutenant, I’m afraid there is.” He opened a drawer and extracted two packets of papers, tied with a blue ribbon. He dropped one on the desk in front of her. “Do you recognize the writing?”
She stooped to examine them and blinked. “It looks like my hand, sir.”
“It looks like yours?”
“Yes, but what..?” She sought for words. “I’ve not written to anyone to this extent. I can’t afford the stationary on my salary. To whom are they addressed?”
“Young Philip, heir to the throne.” He dropped the second packet before her. “These are his replies.”
Mary shook her head. “I don’t know anything about these. Philip and I have never exchanged letters beyond official reports to do with the battery.”
Rauppen-Schlepper pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked weary. “They came into my possession through some anonymous agency. That in itself is bad enough but the content...” He tapped the letters with a stubby finger. “The contents, my dear lieutenant, are explosive!”
“May I read them, sir?”
Mary picked up the packet, untied the ribbon and read the first letter. Her heart began to pound and her face burned with embarrassment. “They... they’re nothing I would’ve penned, sir!”
“I should hope not!”
“This... this is explicit!” She gestured helplessly to the letters. “I don’t know anything like a tiny fraction of the things herein described.”
Rauppen-Schlepper’s face grew grim. “It gets worse, Lieutenant. The last two letters speak of the possibility of elopement.”
“Yes.” His bushy eyebrows came together and he stared at her. “You know full well Professor Knappenburger’s correspondence states our law forbids Morganatic marriages to the future head of state. Such correspondence as lies before you is treason. Graf Philip will not be punished beyond the family’s censure, but for a commoner such as you... The sentence, should you be found guilty, is death.”