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1634: The Wars for the Rhine: Chapter Nine
Last updated: Thursday, October 27, 2016 20:29 EDT
Bonn, The Archbishop’s Palace
“Charlotte, I have had enough of your willfulness and lack of gratitude.” Archbishop Ferdinand pushed open the door to Charlotte’s room with a bang, causing her nursing son, Philipp, to let go of her nipple and scream. The archbishop paid no attention to the baby, just frowned and motioned for Sister Ursula to leave. He calmed his face and smiled, but his hand’s jerky movements showed that he was extremely upset. “You are nothing but a silly girl and in no way capable of handling the affairs of your son and his estates. You will now write letters naming me the sole guardian of my new little godson and entrusting all his affairs — and yours — to me. You will also make it quite clear to your family that it is entirely to your wish that the two of you are staying here as my guests.”
“No!” Charlotte rose with the screaming baby in her arms. “My son’s guardians will be my brother and my family. You cannot keep us here forever. You and your two jailers have kept me from all information about what is going on outside this room, but I know my family. My aunt, Princess Katharina of Sweden, will have written to her emperor brother, and my mother will have the entire Simmern family alerted. They haven’t heard from me for more than a month, and even those who don’t care for me personally will know the importance of my baby. You risk having not just the Swedes coming at you from the north and east, but also the entire Pfalz rising against you in the south. And judging from the last news I heard before you locked me up, your ducal brother in Bavaria has far too many problems on his own to come to your aid.”
“You are entirely right, my dear,” the archbishop kept smiling, “and that is just half of my problems. Which is why my faithful Gruyard will have the care of your baby until I get those letters.” He snatched the swaddled baby, and had the door locked behind him before Charlotte could reach him.
Sister Ursula had stepped back from the door so quickly she fell, and rose stammering an apology, but the archbishop just thrust the screaming baby at her and said: “Get a wet-nurse.”
Charlotte sat staring at her bloody hands in the fading evening light when Sister Ursula opened the door and entered with a covered tray and a burning candle. “You miserable monster! Where is my son?” Charlotte grabbed the empty cradle and aimed it for the nun’s head, but it slipped in her hands, which were weak and torn from battering against the door all day. She stood panting and glaring while Sister Ursula calmly set the tray on the table and placed the cradle right way up in the middle of the floor. Then from the tray she took a sealed clay pot with long piece of thin rope sticking out from the top, and placed this in the cradle.
“Katharina Charlotte,” said Sister Ursula, looking straight into Charlotte’s eyes. “I have loved and served Archbishop Ferdinand all my life, I was even his mistress briefly in my youth. But he has now gone too far. The end may justify the means — but not all means. And Ferdinand has gone beyond all that is reasonable. He is no longer the person he once was.” She sighed. “Gruyard has left for Fulda and your baby is waiting for you at the home of Irmgard Eigenhaus. There is a man outside waiting to take you there. I’ll go tell the archbishop you were gone when I came with your dinner, and create a mystery with this.” She held the burning candle to the end of the rope, which caught fire and started a sputtering burn. Then she grabbed Charlotte’s arm and pulled her out of the room, leaving the door open behind them.
The late Master Eigenhaus, Councilor of Bonn and Master of the Merchant’s Guild, had sired four daughters on his wife and four more on his mistress. This was not in itself an unusual situation for a prominent man, but insisting that both women with all the children lived together in his house had been regarded as rather eccentric. Not to mention that he dowered all the girls equally. Still, he was wealthy, well-liked and well-connected, and contributed freely to both the church and civic projects, so nobody made that much of an issue of the arrangement.
The girls had been brought up to consider themselves a family, and to aim at making that family wealthy and powerful. As females they were barred from sitting in Bonn’s ruling council, but six of the eight girls had married prominent guild members, and they were now a major force in town.
Irmgard, the oldest of the illegitimate daughters, had never married, but instead used her dower to buy the shop from the town’s apothecary, and officially set herself up as a midwife. She first paid the old apothecary to remain the official head of the business, but everybody knew that his shaking hands made it impossible for him to make even the simplest tisane. After he died, Irmgard simply kept on running the business.
After Sister Ursula had delivered Charlotte to a big, limping man, he had hidden her in his waist-high, fish-smelling basket, and actually carried her on his back to the backdoor of the apothecary shop. Irmgard had been waiting with the baby in her arms, and even before the archbishop had calmed his household after the explosion in Charlotte’s room, Charlotte and the baby had been fast asleep in the attic above the shop.
The next morning Irmgard set about changing Charlotte’s appearance by bleaching her hair with chamomile and darkening her pale skin with walnut water. So by the time the archbishop had accepted that the baby had unexplainably disappeared from his new cradle at the wet-nurse’s room, the pale and delicate brunette, Countess Palatine Katharina Charlotte von Zweibrücken, had become the buxom, fair-haired and sunburned Lotti, widow of a soldier from Trier. And by the time he had picked up the trail of the young mother travelling into Berg in Charlotte’s clothes, Lotti was just another of the many refugees the Eigenhaus family took in and briefly employed before finding them a position through their many friends and connections.
The matriarch of the Eigenhause family was the oldest legitimate daughter, Benedicte, who ran the family trading affairs as well as the household. Every major concern of the town from polluted wells and garbage removal to new wall-cannons and the women’s militias went by way of Frau Eigenhaus. Her devoted husband had inherited a series of wineries, and — while no bad merchant himself — was more than satisfied to concentrate on wine-making and leave the general trade to his wife.
Frau Benedicte’s household was big and busy with all the matriarch’s activities, so no one found it the least bit unusual when Charlotte — as Lotti — was hired to embroider the gowns for the wedding of Frau Benedicte’s youngest daughter. Charlotte — along with baby Philipp — was given a room in the attic and a place at the servant’s end of the family table, and — to protect the expensive fabrics — Frau Benedicte had arranged for Charlotte to do her work in the main parlor. Charlotte had no problems with the delicate needlework, and she could keep her baby beside her while she worked, but the parlor was also where Frau Benedicte spent most of her day, and just thinking about all Frau Benedicte’s projects made Charlotte feel exhausted.
Still, the abundance of writing material gave Charlotte the opportunity to write new letters to her family, and in the few quiet moments when the two of them were alone, Frau Benedicte talked to Charlotte about the previous visitors and conversations, asking what she had understood and clarifying this and that. Eventually — as Charlotte slowly recovered and started showing an interest in what was going on around her — the older woman also began asking Charlotte for information and opinions. Charlotte might feel woefully ignorant about business matters on more than a household scale, but as a member of the nobility she knew her peers — and their politics and follies — inside out. And as the weeks passed, and the archbishop kept chasing rumors of Charlotte up and down the Rhine, a genuine friendship evolved between the two very different women. Charlotte started making tentative plans for taking control of her son’s heritage once her brother finally managed to disentangle himself from the upsets caused by the crisis in Bavaria.
Linz, Austria, The Scribe
“I am quite certain I told you not to stir up trouble, so what were you doing getting into a duel with a Bavarian nobleman?” Melchior tossed his hat on the table and sat down on the chair by Wolf’s bed.
“Well, you also told me to keep an eye on Bavaria. So it’s really all your own fault.” Wolf leaned back against the pillows stacked high behind him. Despite all the trouble his cousin cost him whenever they were in garrison Melchior was actually pleased to notice that Wolf look fit and healthy — aside from a slight pallor and a bandaged shoulder.
“But what were you doing in Regensburg? Aside from the obvious, that is,” Melchior added when Wolf started to smirk. “I did hear about you and the nobleman’s wife.”
“The day after you left for Vienna, I had a letter from the lady in question. The dear Duke Maximilian appears to be throwing his weight around pretty badly. I just went to see for myself how bad things were.”
“And visit the lady.”
“Of course.” Wolf opened his eyes wide and tried to look innocent — something he wasn’t very good at. “After all she was the one who had made contact with me.”
“But you are healing now with no sign of a fever?” Melchior decided to drop the topic, Wolf had been in and out of trouble since they were children, and he wasn’t really likely to change now.
“Yes.” Wolf also stopped playacting. “And how did your errand go?”
“I’m going back to Cologne. But you’re staying here,” Melchior quickly added when Wolf sat up fast and then grabbed at his bandaged shoulder.
“If you think you’ll leave me behind just because that fat ninny managed to prick my shoulder, you can just think again.” Wolf had narrowed his eyes and looked ready to jump Melchior for a wrestling match.
“Calm down, Cos. I cannot take the regiments with me. It’s not that Archduke Ferdinand refuses permission,” Melchior held up a hand to forestall Wolf’s protests, “it’s the situation with Bavaria being too tense. There is no way the Duke would not consider it an attack on top of the insult given by his runaway fiancée. I’ll be taking just Simon and Sergeant Mittlefeldt, plus this bunch of papers.” Melchior tapped to his breast bulging slightly from the document purse he was carrying.
“Money?” Wolf looked interested.
“That too. But mainly writs giving me not only ambassadorial status but also plenipotentiary powers in negotiating on behalf of the HRE in all matters concerning the middle Rhine area. Now, I want you to take over as commander while I’m away. I know I usually put old Dehn in that position when we’re in garrison, but the entire situation is so uncertain, and while Dehn’s a good solid commander, his mind just isn’t very flexible.”
“I hope you don’t intend to give that as a reason,” Wolf remarked dryly.
“Of course not, I’ll tell him it was high time you grew up. I’m sure he’ll agree to that.” Melchior grinned a little; Dehn dignity had been the target for Wolf’s pranks more than once, and while the old man had born them with good humor, he had definitely disapproved of Wolf’s behavior. “But on a totally different matter: is your shoulder good enough for you to write? I’ll be around for a day or two, and your family would expect letters from you when they see me.”
“Better send Allenberg to me. I can write, and I’d like you to take a letter at least to my sister in Bonn, but Anna complains about my handwriting even at my best.”
Ludenscheid, Hessian headquarter
“Please come in, von Uslar.” The stairs to the tower room Duke Wilhelm of Hesse had chosen for this meeting had obviously been hard on his cavalry leader’s wounded leg, so Hesse waved him towards a chair, while going himself to check that no one was lurking on the stairs.
“I apologize for making you climb all those stairs with your bad leg, but I intend to ask you to attack a fortified town without artillery support,” Hesse closed the door and returned to his desk, “so I’m sure you’ll agree that secrecy is of the uttermost importance.”
“As long as it isn’t Kronach,” Von Uslar replied in his usual laconic voice.
“No, it’s Bonn. Your brother is coming westward with fresh troops, and I want you to head east and meet him at Berleburg, as if it was an ordinary exchange of troops. Together you’ll then go up the Eder valley, cross to Sieg at the headwater, and then down that valley to Siegen. From there you must reach Beuel as fast as possible, take the town and the ferry, and cross the Rhine to gain at least a foothold on the other side. Duchess Amalie has arranged for new cannons to come down the rivers from Frankfurt, but by the time they arrive, I want the countryside and as much as Bonn as possible to be under our control.”
“The archbishop’s palace in Bonn is said to contain quite a lot of gold and jewels.” Von Uslar now looked vaguely interested.
“Yes, and I’ll need that to cover the cost of the new guns, and other expenses.”
“And the infantry?”
Hesse sighed. “Eventually I’ll reach an agreement with De Geer for access to the Rhine, and we’ll meet you at Cologne. Cologne is of course our real goal, but I cannot sail the new artillery past the cannons on the river wall at Bonn.”
“Not to mention the gold from the palace.”
“Yes, that too.”
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