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1634: The Wars for the Rhine: Chapter Twenty One
Last updated: Thursday, December 8, 2016 00:46 EST
Bonn, Eigenhaus House
October 6, 1634
Melchior took his hat off, slapped it against his leg and put it back on while looking at the stout half-timbered house. “Is there anything in Bonn that the Eigenhaus family is not involved in?”
Wickradt chuckled. “Probably not. But having just one place to go when needing something does have its benefits.”
“Are you sure this is where the Jülich-Berg heir and his mother are staying? If we don’t find some way to get Hesse to stop the cannons, I’ll have to surrender, or the town will be nothing but rubble in a few weeks. Those new cannons are devastating, and Hesse shows far less regard for casualties than I’d expected.”
“No, but I’m sure this is where we should start if we wants to find them.” Wickradt knocked on the door.
“Good evening, Lotti.” Melchior smiled at the young woman from the militias. Without her helmet he could see that her blond hair had dark roots, as if she was lightening her hair with chamomile or chemicals in the manner of certain Viennese court ladies. Few hausfraus would permit such behavior in their servant, but Lotti’s language showed that despite her sunburned skin, her birth and upbringing had to be far above the servant’s class. That she had given her name only as Lotti and made no mention of a family name was a bit odd, but with all the shady deals and betrayals following in the wake of the war, many previously honorable names were now a matter of shame. The mystery of Lotti’s name was probably nothing more than a young woman’s disapproval of her family’s actions. Her passionate outburst about being a pawn in other people’s games at their first meeting had certainly indicated something of that nature.
Melchior shook his head at his own thoughts as they were guided through the house. He really liked the passionate young woman, and admired her determination to fight for herself and her child. Most of the other women had been withdrawn from the walls once Hesse had encircled the town, and his snipers proved that the walls were well within the range of his new American riffles.
Lotti showed them into a pleasant room with five chairs arranged in front of a fireplace. Two of the chairs were occupied by their hostess, Frau Benedicte, and her sister, Irmgard, whom Melchior vaguely recognized as the woman in charge of the hospital set up in one of the Stift’s buildings. Turning from greeting their hostess and finding Lotti sitting in the fifth chair made Melchior raise his eyebrows.
“Please sit down General von Hatzfeldt.” Lotti looked both tense and amused. “And you too, Commander Wickradt. I have something to say of importance to the defense of Bonn.”
Melchior gave a brief bow, and sat down in the chair beside her.
“Actually it’s more in the nature of a proposal,” Lotti continued. “Will you marry me, General?”
“My dear young woman ” Melchior tried to think fast. She couldn’t be the missing Jülich-Berg widow. No one got that sunburned that fast. Was one of Hesse’s sisters missing? The two youngest would be about the right age. “I am of course deeply honored and flattered that such a lovely young woman would consider me as husband, and I am quite aware that your birth must be at least equal to my own, but since you have mentioned the defense of Bonn, I am afraid I must ask you for an explanation before I can give the question its due consideration.”
Lotti gave a brief laugh at Melchior’s eloquence. “It sounds as if you’ve been spending more time at court and less on the battlefield than rumor has it. I am Katharina Charlotte von Zweibrücken, the widow of Wolfgang of Jülich-Berg. Hesse has been turning over most of the stones in Berg, searching for me and my son.”
“I see. And were you perhaps in the habit of going for long rides in the sun?”
“No. Why?” The young woman now looked confused.
“Charlotte’s skin has been stained with a walnut concoction, General,” Frau Benedicte interrupted with a smile. “She really is whom she claims to be.”
“Ah.” Melchior had heard about ways to lighten the skin with lemon juice and milk, but of course no one he knew would have wanted to make their skin appear darker. “Please pardon my suspicion, My Lady.” Melchior hesitated. “Given our previous conversations about pawns, I cannot imagine you being willing to seek the protection of Hesse. But would you be willing to pretend doing so? At the moment we are rather desperately looking for a way to stall Hesse’s attack, but he knows both Bonn and Cologne have applied for membership of the USE, so only something that he really wants would make him hesitate.”
“No.” Charlotte shook her head, and her eyes looked even harder than when Melchior had first met her on the wall. “I’m sorry, General, but I must think beyond the present danger both for myself and for my son. If you are willing to offer me your protection as my husband, I have a letter ready announcing both the marriage and that I’ll be defending Bonn as a fighter on the walls in case of an attack. Frau Benedicte assures me that she can get copies of the letter to Gustavus Adolphus as well as to my family. That he would knowingly have killed his emperor’s niece should be enough to prevent Hesse from attacking Bonn. At least if you make certain Hesse know that Gustavus Adolphus knows.”
“You’ll literally be gambling your life on that assumption.”
“Yes,” Charlotte took a deep breath, “but I’ll take death from something I can at least shoot back at, before surrendering myself into a powerless position.”
“So: Death before Surrender, but: It’s Better to Marry Than to Burn.” Melchior sense of humor suddenly bubbled to the surface. His feelings for the young widow weren’t anywhere nearly as strong as for his lost Maria, but getting a wife of breeding, courage and spirit in addition to the best solution to the siege he could hope for here and now, was an excellent deal by anybody’s standard. “You are placing a lot of trust in a man you barely know, my lady,” he continued seriously. “I am quite willing to protect you to the best of my abilities without asking for your hand in return.”
“No.” Charlotte looked Melchior straight in the eyes. “As an unmarried woman I am far too tempting for my family — as well as for Hesse — to use in their political maneuverings, and I cannot fight them on my own. Frau Benedicte has assured me that considering your upbringing it is highly unlikely that you’ll ever try to control my thinking — or even speaking. Anything else I can live with.”
“Certainly.” Melchior said. “My late mother was a woman of a most original and independent mind, and I would never . . .” He stopped and shook his head, “That is not important right now. If you are sure this is what you want, then I am yours to command.̶#8221;
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