Dudley and the abbess stared at the new arrival on the stairs.They recognised him simultaneously as Serge von Tarlenheim’s servant boy.
‘I know you,’ Dudley said. ‘Karl, a servant at the Sign of the Angel.’
‘You’ve been here before, boy,’ the abbess added. ‘It was you who was with my nephew when he visited the abbey.Wait!You were the boy who claimed to have talked to a nun in Sister Agnes’s vacant cell a couple of weeks after her death.’
‘That was me, my lady,’ Karl Wollherz said quietly.
She shot a look at her confederate. ‘He’s the source of all this, Dudley.I can feel it now.The deceitful imp you have by the ear was masking him, but no longer.’
‘He has power, you say?’
‘Great power. It radiates out of him, I can tell.Both these boys have been gifted with talents, but by whom, eh?Speak, child.’
‘That day in your abbey, lady, I met the Lady Fenice, who had much to tell me of your family and your father, but also of the magical boy you call the Horned One.’
‘You’ve met Him too, have you not?’
‘Yes, my lady.He’s my good friend.He set all this in motion.’
‘So, you’re his agent.All is becoming clearer.Dudley, we’ll not be bothered by Him.Something is preventing His entry into our world, and what we’re fighting is no more than a gang of human youths He has recruited for His own purposes.’
‘Clearer indeed,’ said Dudley. ‘It was this boy who confronted me when I summoned Mammon to crush your meddling nephew, not the Horned One.But it was he who banished Mammon unaided, so he is no ordinary youth.I’ve experienced what he can do.’
‘What do you want of us, child?’ the abbess demanded.
‘It’s simple enough,’ Karl replied. ‘I want you to surrender the abbey and leave it, my lady.Excuse me, but you have no place in my lady Fenice’s church.Maybe you should do a proper penance, but that’s up to you.As for you, general, Boro and Ando think you should surrender to justice and be punished for your crimes.But I’ll be happy if you just leave this land and never return.It’s no place for the likes of you.In the meantime let Wilchin go.’
‘I don’t like your terms, boy,’ Dudley snarled.‘It doesn’t seem to me you have the upper hand here.I’m sure that between us the lady abbess and I can match anything you choose to throw at us.So this is my offer.I have your deceptive little friend here by the ear, and though his blood may not be able to open the way to the World Beyond, I’m pretty sure that you have the power to do that for me all on your own.Am I right?So open the portal, and I won’t slit this imp’s throat.You can then take young Boromeo and go free for all I care.But when I leave, it’ll be into that other world, and in this book of Count Oskar’s there’s all I need to return me to a place and time of my own choosing.No time for discussion, do it or he dies.’
Karl hesitated as the point of the knife pricked at Wilchin’s throat.And then with relief he felt a new presence enter the abbess’s lodging behind him.Boromeo had succeeded.It was not just Willi who could penetrate the barriers around the infirmary.No doubt Boro had left an abbey in turmoil behind him as he ran undisguised through the cloisters.
Without looking behind him, Karl called out ‘Greetings my lady!Welcome back to the world.’
Dudley had time to look fearful as the Princess Sophia Charlotte entered the room behind Karl.The boy felt her hand on his shoulder and a surge of power as she drew from him all that was necessary to reverse the situation.Wilchin blinked out of Dudley’s grip and the knife clattered to the floor.In the meantime the Abbess Maria cried out and struggled as if in the grip of two invisible strong men.Karl could feel her resistance to the commanding spell of her former captive.For a moment the abbess’s feet lifted from the ground in the desperation of the battle of wills between the two women, and then the abbess too was gone. Dudley ran past them all to the stairs, but Karl made no effort to stop him.Andreas was waiting below, and would know what to do.Dudley had no power or spells left now to cause problems beyond Andreas’s capacity to counter.
Prince Henry of Ruritania sat coolly on his horse looking disdainfully down at Count Landsberg, the leader of the Bavarian delegation.The count and his colleagues approached the prince on foot and bareheaded.Serge was behind the prince, with other senior officers.At the prince’s side was another figure in the red, gold and blue of a Ruritanian general, young Prince Willem Stanislas, his brother-in-law, there to bring home to the Bavarians the hopelessness of their situation.The banners of the heirs of Ruritania and Glottenburg were displayed above their heads.Serge was curious as to how the Elector Max’s envoys would deal with the two princes.
The reinforced Rothenian army had marched directly on Landshut, experiencing little resistance.Massed batteries had commenced mortar fire on the elector’s great fortress-residence of Trausnitz that morning, whilst the town below had been peacefully occupied, the civic authorities paying a heavy fine to avoid the pillage, rape and arson that would otherwise have followed.Serge had slept last night in a rather pleasant merchant’s house in the Landshut Neustadt.
‘Well, good morning, Landsberg,’ the prince said, unsmiling. ‘I do hope you’re not coming to present your credentials as ambassador to my father’s court.I don’t acquit you of my suspicions that you were one of those who plotted my assassination.You’re not persona grata beyond the Ebrendt.’
The man bowed even lower. ‘Your royal highness may be assured that neither I nor my lord the elector had anything to do with that sorry episode.We wish you nothing but good health, sire, and damnation and speedy justice for the black traitors who plotted that unnatural act.’
The prince glowered down at the count. ‘It happens we have captured despatches from your master that imply quite the opposite, sir.However, we will deal with that at some other time.What terms do you offer?’
‘His Most Serene Highness wishes to end hostilities promptly, and to assist the resolution he offers His Majesty King Rudolf a treaty by which he will renounce his hereditary claim on the duchy of Mittenheim.’
‘Which is the very least we would expect, and I notice that the elector did not include the claims of his descendants in that renunciation.’
‘He offers reparations above and beyond the fines levied by your royal highness on his eastern provinces.’
‘And more, sir?’
‘He commits to joining the Catholic League in a future campaign against the Turk should the Emperor so determine.’
Serge reflected that the elector’s reputation for cunning was well deserved.He could have offered nothing that would have better placated the prince.Henry pondered for a while then turned to his entourage.‘We will proceed to terms, gentlemen.Antonovic, you may stand down the artillery.Then sir, you, Von Paull, and my lord von Tarlenheim will meet with Count Landsberg at the Rathaus below and draft an agreement along those lines.’
He turned back to the Bavarian delegation. ‘And sir, if the Elector Max believes he can escape the humiliation of surrender by skulking in Brussels and working through delegates, he must think again. The agreement will be sealed in his presence at Vorplatzenberg a month from this day.Until then we will continue to occupy Landshut and you must surrender its keys and treasury as an earnest of good faith.Tell your master we will be honoured to entertain him at Vorplatzenberg, and there discuss the furtherance of the Christian cause to which in better times he made so great a contribution.’
The Bavarian delegation bowed low to the princes, and withdrew.The prince exchanged some smiles and words with his brother-in-law and signalled Serge to approach alone as Prince Staszek and his gentlemen rode off.
‘So Phoebus, that seems to be that for the time being until the damned scheming elector finds a new way to impose on my good nature.I rather think that the next time an enemy army crosses the Ebrendt it will be in French uniform with orders from Louis to seize Strelsau and march on to Glottenburg.But we’ll be ready for them. Now sir, is there anything preventing the trial and execution of Von Gerlitz?No?Then let him be despatched with full rigour as soon as we return to Mittenheim.His head can be spiked up at Vorplatzenberg after, ready to greet Elector Max on his arrival.I only wish we could get Dudley’s to keep it company.’The prince observed his friend closely. ‘What is it, Phoebus?’
Serge shook his head. ‘Sire, is it really necessary?’
‘The full barbarity of the execution you’re contemplating is ... unnecessary.’
Prince Henry frowned. ‘The man tried to kill his prince, to whom he swore loyalty.No more heinous crime exists, it’s the very definition of treason.There’s nothing more appropriate in my opinion than the squalid punishment laid down in Mittenheimer custom.Are you asking a pardon for the fool?’
‘No sire.There is no realm in Europe where death is not the reward for that crime, and he is guilty of it.But I ask you what the protracted public torture and dismemberment of Von Gerlitz will accomplish that hanging him by the neck will not.’
Serge’s heart sank as he saw the stubborn look on the prince’s face when he replied. ‘It will, sir, enact on his body the full horror of the crime he contemplated.Surely that is understood.The man must not be given the opportunity to end his life in any sort of dignity.’
Serge had guessed it would come to this, but he had to stand up for the principles of rationality his grandfather had trained him in, even though he knew this was an argument he would lose. ‘Sire, to make such a public display of cruelty and inhumanity can do nothing for the body public.To have you and the lords of this realm preside over it does nothing for law or justice, it merely spatters the face of the state with blood and horror and stains its hands with crimson.’
Henry of Ruritania was not a safe person to cross, as Serge knew well enough, and the man’s frown had deepened. ‘I’ll hear no more on this, Phoebus.What the law lays down is what the state will have.’
Serge hesitated but continued, though he knew it was both pointless and dangerous. ‘That being so, sire, shall I have a bonfire raised on the public square beside the scaffold on which Von Gerlitz will suffer?’
‘What sir?What in God’s name ...?’
‘I only ask, sire, because the penalty under Mittenheimer law for sodomy is being burned alive at the stake and I am, as you know, an offender in that regard.’
The prince exploded. ‘Damn you, Tarlenheim!You go far too far!You do not have the right so to mock me!You do not dare to occupy the high ground above a prince of the blood royal.’
The altercation had attracted attention, and the assembly went silent around them.Serge bowed in the saddle. ‘That was not my intention, royal highness, and I beg your pardon for any offence against your honour, which I value more highly than my own.I only express what Reason dictates.You have made yourself clear and I find myself as a result unable to continue in the office which you so graciously committed to me.’
The prince’s handsome face became fixed and cold. ‘Leave my court, sir.I do not see you.’
Dudley ran down the stairs to the cloister to find his way blocked by the figures of Andreas Wittig and Boromeo von Tarlenheim, with Willi von Strelsau hovering behind them.He paused on the lowest step.‘If you wish to stop me, draw sirs,’ he declared.
‘Can’t do that, general,’ Andreas observed equably, ‘we’re in an abbey, and it just wouldn’t be right. But tell yer what.Let’s go outside the gate and continue this discussion on the grass outside.Me friend Boro here wants to arrest you and take yer to trial in Strelsau.Me, not so much.I don’t think yer’d come quietly in any case.’
‘What do you propose?’
‘Well, general, yer’s got kings in yer family tree, and I don’t even know me father’s name.But they tell me I’m a noble freiherr and all, so I’m gonna call you a traitor and a man of no honour, and I think that means you and me will have to fight to the death.That right, Willi?’
‘It’d be more than he deserves, Andreas, but a duel is possible.And if he kills you, then he’ll fight me afterwards, because he’s nothing but a foul traitor.’
‘Comforting thought, Willi, and thank yer for it.So yer ready, general?’
Dudley shot the boy a sharp look. ‘Only on one condition.You won’t use that old sword of yours.I know it’s more than it seems.’
‘Hold on now!’ exclaimed Boromeo.
Andreas frowned. ‘He’s got a point, Boro.Can I borrow yours?Fair enough, general.‘Cos fights ought to be fair if it’s to the death in the cause of honour.Even a servant boy like I was knows that.Follow us then.’
So the three officers, followed by Willi von Strelsau, went silently out into the cloister and made their way from there to the forecourt, through the wicket of the great gate and out to the space beyond.The road down to the bridge had two broad grassy verges, and as the one challenged Dudley selected the eastern side, where there was a smooth lawn under shade trees. Boromeo and Andreas exchanged swords, and with a serious air Andreas tested his friend’s straight cavalry blade.Then with a smile he saluted Dudley and placed himself on guard.
Dudley had advantages of height and weight over Andreas, who could call on superior agility and reflexes.He needed them, as from the beginning he was in danger and within the first two minutes of the duel had to leap backwards from heavy strokes that battered his guard aside.He smiled, however, as Dudley’s blade went so close to his ear he could hear the metal scream as it ran down his own blade.But it was also clear to Boromeo looking on that his friend’s facility with the blade was not entirely due to the magical sword he wielded.
Andreas had not wasted his time in his regiment, nor had he relied for his military prowess entirely on the gift he had brought back from Fäerie, but had improved himself by hard exercise with good masters.The issue seemed to rest on which of the two had the superior stamina, and as the minutes passed that question was settled in Andreas’s favour.Dudley’s rallies grew perceptibly slower and finally, seeing a fatal pause, Andreas lunged and ran his blade neatly through Dudley’s chest.
The man fell on his back and the three youths stood over him.Blood was bubbling from the side of his mouth as he began to mutter in a low singsong voice.
‘Damn him,’ Boromeo swore, ‘that’s a spell he’s trying to say.Take care, Ando!’
Andreas coolly took his own blade back from his friend and with a quick slash severed the general’s head from his body. ‘No more of those damn spells if I has me way,’ he declared. ‘Sides, we has to prove he’s dead if I’m to collect them 5,000 ducats reward, and his head can be put on a spike at the Neustadt Gate.What about the rest of him, Willi?’
‘I’d bury it at a crossroads with a stake through what passed for his heart.But it’s up to the abbess, she’s the lord of this place and all the land round it.I rather doubt the present abbess would co-operate with my suggestion, but I think that the place will soon be under new management.’
‘We better go see what’s happened to her then.’
‘Well now, it’s young Master Wollherz, I do believe,’ the Princess Sophia Charlotte said. ‘I’ve heard a lot about you.’
Karl bowed low to the reverend and royal lady.She had her skull talisman glittering on her breast once more. ‘How so, my lady?’ he asked.
‘We have a friend in common who was able to communicate with me despite my confinement.’
‘That would be the Lady Fenice, my lady?’
‘She has a very high opinion of you and your colleague, the boy Willem Antonin.And I see it is not unjustified.I have to thank all four of you boys for my release, for a reunion with my lost child and the restoration of stability between the worlds.I’m not sure if I can fully express my gratitude.’
‘What’ll happen now, my lady?’
‘Why, I think that we must put this abbey back to rights, which means a new abbess.’
‘The abbey has the right of free election,’ the princess said.
‘What does that mean?’
The princess laughed. ‘Well, young man, it means the nuns sit in the chapter house and choose the candidate most likely to please His Majesty the King, my brother.The choice of me might cause problems in that regard, for reasons I’m sure you know.But maybe things have changed.’
‘My lord Willi will help I’m sure.’
‘We shall see.But Maria von Tarlenheim’s rule over this cloister is now over.’
‘What did you do with her, ma’am, if I may ask?’
‘With the power you lent me, Karl, combined with that of the talisman given back to me she could not resist.She now resides where she confined me, and the spell is reversed.Her nuns now believe her to be incapacitated by lunacy, the abbacy to be vacant and that I am once again their prioress.As soon as I locate the talisman Maria stole from me I will proceed to select a suitable young lady of her family and train her up as a Levite.’
‘A what, my lady?’
‘It’s the name the Lady Fenice gave to the two guardians of the greater power that resides within these walls.And I rather fear the unworthy guardian Maria will soon be receiving an unwelcome visitor now that the barriers are down.’
‘The Lady Fenice will be coming?I ‘spect she’ll give the bad abbess a real good talking to.’
‘Her penance will be long and hard I do not doubt.’She looked over Karl’s shoulder to the door and smiled broadly. ‘Welcome gentlemen, and a particular greeting to you, my dear son.I fear that an abbess of this house is no longer available to receive you, but as the restored prioress may I bid you properly welcome.’
Andreas looked around. ‘Where’s Wilchin, my lady?’
‘Ah, the naked impersonator.I put him where his state of nudity could not distress the sisters.You might retrieve his clothes and find him.You’ll find him locked in the guesthouse privy.The only place I could think of on the spur of the moment.Dudley is no more, I believe?’
‘Yes, mother,’ Willi said. ‘His decapitated body lies at the abbey gate.Boromeo’s guarding it.It’ll need to be identified for the authorities by the abbey’s bailiff.Captain Wittig here has the credit for his apprehension and killing.The head will need to be sent to Strelsau.As for the body ...’.
‘It will be buried in this abbey,’ the princess determined. ‘Dudley may have fallen into deep error, but he was the descendant of kings and what’s left of him ought to be buried with full rites.Considering the forces with which he dared to consort, it’s probably as well to do that.His spirit might not rest quiet otherwise, and there’s enough else within these walls to trouble the abbey of Medeln.In due course the head can be returned and interred with the rest.’
‘My lady, we need to be off back to Strelsau as soon as we may,’ Andreas determined.
‘I understand, captain,’ she responded, ‘but I hope that my son will at least be able to stay here as a guest for the next few days.We have a lot to catch up on.’
‘Seems we’ve come full circle, sir,’ Jan Lisku observed as they trotted their horses along the Strelsau road, with the towers of Mittenheim cathedral distant now behind them.
‘You’re smiling, Janeczu,’ Serge said.
‘Not at you, sir.But it’s been a hectic couple of years and no one could say you’ve not made a go of things in Ruritania even though it’s all over now, seemingly.It’d be nice to just settle down in the Sign of the Angel for a while and live quietly ... and cheaply.’
‘Money’s a problem then?’
‘You’ve lost your court offices and salary, and there’s no other income.You’ve some funds on deposit with Herr Ashkenaz, the prize money from your campaign with the League.Other than that we’ve not a bean.It’ll tide us over till next Easter maybe, but after that ...’
‘... back to Olmusch again.But you’ve left one thing out of your calculations.I still have the Prinzengarde.’
‘Is there a salary?’
‘Not as such, Sancho, but I can sell the lieutenancy on.It’d be awkward if I kept it anyway.The colonel of the prince’s own regiment can’t set foot in the court of the colonel-in-chief.So I’ll put out feelers.’
‘How much will that make?’
‘A fair amount, maybe as much as 10,000 crowns.’
‘That’ll make a difference, sir, to be sure.’
‘I may talk to Franz Piotr and Wilhelm, my good friends at the Rodolfer.Perhaps the time has come for me to matriculate and take up study for a degree.I’d like that.’
‘I cannot but approve.But we need to slim down our commitments nonetheless if you intend to stay for the full three years.’
‘The Sign of the Angel?’
‘To be honest, we need to lose staff and horses, sir.You only need the one stallion now, and two mares will do for us.Which means Gottlieb will be surplus to requirements.Karl can easily do his work these days on his own.’
‘But lose Gottlieb and we lose Margrit too.Are you sure you want that?’
‘Hard decisions, my lord.But they have to be made.’
‘I shall think about it, but wait perhaps till we’re all together again.I need to talk to my lord Von Strelsau obviously.’
‘You might think of charging Captain Andreas rent for his room too, sir.’
Serge and Jan Lisku arrived back in Strelsau on the Feast of the Transfiguration, a Wednesday.Prior to their departure Jan had sent notice of their return to the Sign of the Angel by the fastest post, so they expected a meal and aired bedrooms awaiting them.As they crossed the Starel they found a small crowd lurking at the Osten Tor, several gawping up at the tall iron spikes over the Neustadt Gate where impaled skulls of executed felons rattled, their jaws hanging slack on decaying tendons.A fresh decapitated head was attracting attention, a paper crown mockingly set on it and a painted sign below advertising the identity and crime of its former possessor.
‘So that’s the end of General Dudley,’ Jan observed.
‘A tragic man.A warning of where immoderate ambition and resentment can lead you.Maybe it’s not so bad that I’m no longer at the courts of princes.John of Salisbury in his Policraticus has much that’s wholesome to say on the subject.’
‘Hold on to that thought, sir,’ said his friend.
Two servant boys were hanging out the street window waving as they rode up Engelngasse, Karl Wollherz in red and Wilchin in Elphberg green.The boys burst into the yard as they rode under the arch, Karl taking the reins of Acheron and kissing his nose as the stallion nuzzled him.Erebus, on whom Jan had been riding, seemed less keen on greeting Wilchin, who’d taken his reins as Jan dismounted.
‘So you two rascals are back,’ Serge laughed. ‘Where’s everyone?’
‘Lord Willi’s down at the Marmorpalast with Princess Dodie, sir,’ Karl answered. ‘Ando ... I mean Lord Andreas ... he’s at the Arsenal.Lord Boro’s down at the Leibgarde barracks, but they know you’re back and will be up here soon. Mistress Margrit and Cecile are in the kitchen and Gottlieb’s down at the close with the mares, who’re in heat, to get them out of Orcus’s way.’
‘When you’ve seen to the horses, come up to the parlour,’ Serge ordered. ‘Before dinner I want a full account of your holiday and what you know of General Dudley’s end.’
The two boys exchanged furtive smiles.
Captains Andreas and Boromeo turned up just as the two servant boys were filing into the parlour to tell their story.Serge got them all sitting round the table.He started off by delivering his bad news.
‘So that’s it,’ he concluded. ‘No job and I’m going to have to sell the Prinzengarde if I can find a buyer.’
Andreas grinned at him over the rim of the glass of wine he had been given. ‘I don’t think that’ll be a problem.I’m in the market, and I really think it’s time I had me own regiment.’
‘Yay!Colonel Ando!’ whooped his two friends.
‘Hadn’t you heard, sir?’ Karl continued.‘It was Ando who ran Dudley to ground at Medeln where he was seeking sanctuary, and killed him outside the abbey gate.He’s getting a big reward in head money.Lord Boro was his second in the duel and will have a share of it.’
‘Good heavens!’ Jan shook his head. ‘Do your adventures never end, Andreas?’
‘Hope not, Master Jan.There’s lots more I’m planning on having too,’ the youth proudly declared, raising his glass with a wink.
‘My lord Willi rode with them on their mission,’ Wilchin added. ‘And he’s met his mum at the abbey, who’s now been elected abbess after the old one was sacked.’
‘Aunt Maria dethroned?What for?’
‘It’s very sad,’ Boromeo said. ‘She went mad.But before she did she was implicated in Dudley’s conspiracy, so perhaps it’s just as well for her, she might even have been executed else.’
‘Good heavens!I hope you two youngsters stayed out of trouble with all this going on,’ Jan said.Karl and Wilchin exchanged innocent looks.
‘Yeah, ‘course,’ Wilchin replied. ‘It was just boring stuff as far as we wuz concerned, looking after the horses and our lords’ underwear.Didn’t know half of what was going on till after it happened.’
A bustle downstairs announced new arrivals.Margrit ushered no less than the Princess Dorothea Sophia into the parlour, curtseying low as she passed.The men and boys rose and made deep bows.The two serving boys edged out of the room as the others settled back, Serge resigning his chair to the princess.
‘Your royal highness honours my house,’ Serge said.
‘Thank you Phoebus, and the Countess of Vesterborg is on her way too, with Willi.’
‘Rica coming here?’ Serge marvelled. ‘Something’s going on.I sense a plot.’
Karl and Wilchin clattered downstairs to the kitchen, Margrit complaining as they passed that they never went anywhere in the house other than at a run.Jan Lisku followed at a more sedate pace.They set about providing refreshments for the guests, Karl taking up the wine, being judged the more reliable, and the coffee assigned to Wilchin.Jan stayed to serve, while the two returned to the kitchen to await any call.
‘That’s the countess of Vesterborg,’ observed Karl to his friend and Cecile as the lady arrived escorted by Willi.‘She’s the prince’s mistress.’
‘Classy,’ Wilchin said to Cecile, who giggled.She was much taken with Wilchin and had discovered his appetite for artless admiration, which she was doing her best to satisfy.She was clearly a little smitten.
As the girl went off to assist in arranging cake, nuts and fruit to follow the drinks being served upstairs, Karl sidled up to Wilchin. ‘So, Lord Willi. Did yer fiddle wiv his memory, like we asked?’
Wilchin nodded. ‘Didn’t like doin’ it, but when Ando explained it to him Lord Willi agreed it was necessary.Said that if he blurted stuff out to our Lord Phoebus when he was drunk or stuff it would just upset him, so better if he couldn’t recall a lot of it.An’ better too since if we left him wiv what he’d learned, it’d just madden him as ter what else he didn’t know that was going on outside our world.
‘Since he was willing for me to do it, it turned out easier than just blanking people out completely.Not only that but I could leave him wiv memories he wanted to keep, like finding and freeing his mum.Quite right too.He deserves that.So as far as he’s concerned now, he rode wiv us to the abbey in pursuit of Dudley and Barkozy and found that the wicked abbess was in league wiv Bavarian spies, and that his mum was her prisoner ‘cos she tried to alert the king.
‘His mum helped me do the blanking.She’s quite the artist.When yer knows how tough the job actually is, yer can appreciate a craftsman at work.Anyways, Willi’s not got empty spaces in his head to get all bovvered and worried about, like they often end up wiv.Our new version we put in his head is all real to him, and he’s happy.’
Karl nodded. ‘I think me, you, Ando and Boro needs to go find some loose ends that need tying up.I’m thinking that it’s time I took us all back to Fäerie to see what’s happened to Jonas and his clan.’
‘Don’t yer think that’s a bit dangerous?The enemy army might still be occupying the place.Otherwise, why hasn’t Jonas been in touch?We could be walking into seriously big trouble.’
‘Yeah well, that might be so if we did the jump to where we usually end up, on the riverbank, but there’s nothing that says we should enter by that route, and if yer don’t object I’m planning to use you to take us somewhere else, a place where elves don’t dare go.’
Wilchin’s eyes widened. ‘Yer means the island?Can yer do that?’
‘Think so.As long as I can get a fix on it from yer memories, don’t see no reason why not, especially as Jonas told yer it’s a place designed for humans to go to talk to Them.And that’s what we wanna do, innit?’
Princess Dodie looked around the table. ‘I’ve had letters from my Staszek about my brother’s behaviour at Landshut and what happened after at Mittenheim.I’m so sorry, dear Serge.You didn’t deserve that.’
Serge shrugged. ‘I knew what I was risking when I did it, Dodie.’
‘But both Staszek and I think right was on your side.Staszek says the court was sickened at what was done to Von Gerlitz in the Altmarkt of Mittenheim.My brother didn’t even grant the poor man the grace of being drugged or garrotted before the dismemberment began.He suffered horribly for over an hour.’
‘I wish I had not known that.I rather fear Prince Henry took my intervention as defiance, and so resisted any moderation of the punishment.’
‘What’s worse,’ the princess added, ‘is that the great crowd in the market place was silent throughout, and the churches of Mittenheim were full as the man suffered.Daily masses have since been offered for his soul in every convent of the city.He’s been taken as a martyr by those in the province who resent Elphberg rule.His blood has been collected in phials and they are being treated as relics.
‘My Staszek may be a quiet man, but he’s not a timorous one.He turned to Henry as poor Von Gerlitz’s sufferings ended and said, “There sir, you have a century of rebellion to look forward to.”In the full sight of the court and people he rode past the corpse as he left the square, placed his hat on his breast and bowed low from his saddle to the bloody remains.’
Willi sighed. ‘Knowing Zeus, this will not soften him towards Serge.Quite the opposite.Henry can be too proud for his own good.’
‘I’m not looking for a return to the court, dear friends,’ Serge said. ‘I think I’m going to go back to what I am at heart, a scholar. Thanks to young Andreas I may have enough resources to live on in Strelsau and enter the Rodolfer for a period of study.Old Tedorovic has been on to my grandfather that I’m the perfect person to write a history of the War of the Catholic League, and the idea’s not an unattractive one to me.’
The Countess of Vesterborg intervened. ‘Phoebus, you’re forgetting something else.The draft plans and elevations you sent me for my new house in the Wenzlerwald are exactly what I’m looking for: elegant, practical and perfect.It’s me and my child you’re building it for, not Henry.So that is still a commission you have, and it’s my money that will pay for it and for your services as architect.’
Then Andreas Wittig stepped in as well. ‘Thank you, my lady.Because that’s another thing I wanted to bring up.I have another and very special commission for my lord Sergius.’