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1634: The Wars for the Rhine: Chapter Twenty
Last updated: Monday, December 5, 2016 19:46 EST
Bonn, Eigenhaus House
October 5, 1634
“The last of the Hessian cannons are being moved into position, Frau Benedicte.” Charlotte leaned her gun against the wooden panels in the hall, and removed her helmet. “All the rain has softened the ground, which is slowing them down, but the Town Guard I spoke to expected they would be ready to start bombarding us from all sides the day after tomorrow.”
“I know, my dear. Commander Wickradt came by earlier today. But go remove your kyras, and spend a moment greeting your son. Then come join me and Irmgard. We need to make plans.”
When Charlotte entered Frau Benedicte’s private parlor, she found the two sisters looking at maps spread all over the biggest table.
“Good evening, my dear.” Irmgard came smiling forward to hug Charlotte. “I took a look at your baby earlier. A very healthy boy.”
“Yes, very.” Charlotte smiled and hugged the friendly midwife back. “I wish I could have nursed him for longer, but my milk dried out after a few weeks. Fortunately Frau Siemens has milk to spare, as her little girl doesn’t seem to need very much, so she can give him a little extra while I’m on the walls. But I went by the infirmary on my way back.” Charlotte sat down in the chair, where she used to sit repairing the Eigenhause linen, leaned back her head and sighed. “I never went to the hospital in Düsseldorf, where the wounded from Wolfgang’s campaign were taken. They sometimes sent a request for this or that — mainly food and linen or money for medicine — but I just passed those on to my chatelaine. I never realized how bad it would be. How children would also be wounded, when cannons were firing at a town. I suppose you both know that the Mittelfeld household was among the first hit? That Karl’s wife was killed immediately, and that two of their children died this afternoon?” She looked at the two older women, who nodded silently to her questions.
“Yes. There’s only the oldest daughter and the baby left, and Karl isn’t back from Mainz yet,” said Irmgard. “That’ll be some homecoming for my old friend.”
“Knowing how busy you both are with the infirmary, I presume you didn’t ask me to come here to discuss my little Bobo?”
“Well, only indirectly,” said Frau Benedicte. “It looks as if neither von Hatzfeldt’s regiments nor any orders from Gustavus Adolphus are going to be here in time to stop Hesse from attacking. We might be able to prevent him from taking the town before help arrives, but those walls weren’t built with modern cannons in mind, so it’s going to cost a lot of lives.” Frau Benedicte looked straight at Charlotte. “You might be able to prevent that.”
“How? Giving myself and my baby into his hands would keep only the two of us safe — or relatively so — but Hesse would still want Bonn. Or are you considering trying to trade us for a promise?”
“Not quite.” Frau Benedicte answered seriously. “Hesse definitely want both Bonn and Cologne, but not — we believe — at the cost of severely angering Gustavus Adolphus. And that is what would happen if Hesse killed or seriously endangered the favorite niece of Gustavus Adolphus’s favorite sister. Don’t you agree?”
“Yes. Probably. And I know I owe you for your help and protection.” Charlotte rose from her chair and started wandering back and forth across the floor.
“My dear,” said Irmgard. “We know that publishing your whereabouts would place the two of you in a vulnerable position, but if Hesse knew you were on the walls, and also that Gustavus Adolphus knew that Hesse knew, this might buy us the time we need. Once the siege is lifted, I promise you we’ll do anything in our power to get you and your baby safely back to your family. We’ll not agree to any deal involving turning you over to Hesse.”
Charlotte stopped her pacing and nodded. “I’ve been thinking too. A bad fight. A long siege. Such increases the risk of a massacre. Everybody knows that after Magdeburg. No leader, no matter how strict can be certain to keep his men under discipline during a sack. I’ve been trying to come up with a way to use my presence to protect the town, without placing myself and little Bobo in more danger than absolutely necessary. So: what do you both know about General von Hatzfeldt? I mean: as a person. His military life must be well known to everyone in this town by now.”
“We haven’t seen that much of him for the last twenty years,” said Frau Benedicte with a frown. “But before that he was a very nice boy and young man. Studious like all of old Sebastian’s children, and very idealistic. I cannot imagine what made him abandon his plans to enter the Order of St. John, and instead take up a life as a mercenary. I know he has done very well for himself financially, and Commander Wickradt has told us that in addition to being ennobled, von Hatzfeldt has also been given plenipotentiary powers from Vienna to act on behalf of the HRE with regard to the entire Cologne area.”
“What General von Hatzfeldt was like twenty years ago doesn’t help,” said Charlotte curtly. “Wolfgang wasn’t a bad husband until the external pressure and threats mounted to more than he could take.”
The two older women looked at each other, then at Charlotte. “Husband?” asked Frau Benedicte. “Are you considering marrying Melchior von Hatzfeldt?”
“Yes,” said Charlotte harshly. “And not just for the siege. Sooner or later I’ll have to let people know where I am. My brother, Friedrich, will do his best to protect me and little Bobo, but Friedrich is still very young, and the rest of the family — including both Gustavus Adolphus and Aunt Katharina — are going to want me to remarry. And to their benefit, not necessarily to mine. The only way I can see for me to retain some control of both Bobo and my own life, is if I am already married when they find me. I want a husband powerful enough to protect me and Bobo, but of a rank too low for him to aspire to Bobo’s heritage. A birth lower than mine would also make it difficult for him to get away with treating me the way Wolfgang did, but a commoner is not a possibility. That would make my relatives demand the marriage be annulled. General and Imperial Count Melchior von Hatzfeldt seem to fit my requirement fairly well.
“Benedicte told me you had met him on the walls,” said Irmgard. “How do you feel about him?”
“That doesn’t matter.” Charlotte stopped pacing and sat down, wrapping her arms around her body. “I don’t know.” She frowned. “He seemed intelligent. And kind. And didn’t seem to mind me talking back to him.”
“No,” said Frau Benedicte firmly. “I’m sure he knows how to keep his soldiers in line, but none of old Sebastian’s children would ever try to suppress another person’s mind. The entire family is rather extreme in that regard.R#8221; She smiled at Charlotte. “It would not have done for you as a first marriage, but as a widow with lands of her own, there would certainly be benefits for you in such a marriage. I suppose the solution had not occurred to me because his ennoblement is so new; I’m simply not used to think about Melchior von Hatzfeldt as an Imperial Count.”
“Yes, yes, Dicte. We can all see the practical benefits, but there is more to life than that, and Charlotte doesn’t need a second bad marriage.” Irmgard was still frowning. “Charlotte, if you disregard all the practical considerations, would you still at least consider marrying him?”
“I don’t know.” Charlotte sat silent for a while, still huddled and looking down on the floor. “He’s quite handsome.” She looked up. “I wanted to talk with him again after that first conversation, but while he has come by on all my watches, Commander Wickradt has always been with him. We’ve only been able to exchange the most commonplace remarks. Asking my name, and how Bobo was doing? Things like that.” She smiled a little. “Few of the other women in the militias are still on wall duty, and he definitely wanted me to stay away too. But he didn’t order me away, and he could have.”
“I see.” Now Irmgard was smiling too. “Sounds like the two of you have at least some natural interest in each other.”
“So you both think it would be a good idea?” Charlotte looked at the two sisters.
“For Bonn? Yes. For you?” Frau Benedicte gave a wry smile. “If you are asking whether you’ll be happy, then that’s impossible to know. But you are no fool, Lotti, and heaven knows you no longer trust easily. If you think beyond the present difficulties, and imagine taking control of Wolfgang’s legacy, then would you rather do so on your own, or would you prefer to have Melchior von Hatzfeldt at your side?
Charlotte sat for a while, then she slowly unfolded from her cramped position, and smiled at the two sisters with a twinkle in her eyes. “Do you think you could come up with a gown that would look good as a background for my gun?”
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