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A Mankind Witch: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, May 25, 2005 20:53 EDT



Småland borderlands

    Under Proctor Szpak's orders the column of knights made its way back to the Chapter House, only pausing to collect Von Naid's strongbox from his main estate, and to seize certain documents in it. They arrived in the late afternoon. The Proctor-General and the abbot both came down to the courtyard. "And now?" asked the Abbot, looking at Proctor Szpak. "We've caught and dealt with the miscreants," said the Proctor, pointing to the men tied to their horses -- with nooses around their necks, and the noose-rope tied to the pommel of the horse next them.

    The Abbot blinked. "But there is some mistake, surely. That is Ritter von Naid, who was a confrere here."

    Manfred looked at the Abbot, and then the Proctor-General. "We need to inform you of certain things. It might be wiser if we did this in your office, Abbot Reuno." Mecklen had asked him to keep the matter as low-profile as possible. Personally he thought that it was a mistake. Mind you, it made no difference. There are few secrets in a monastic order. Before dark the story would have spread through this order's ranks. And then, Manfred thought, he could just end up defending these two and Von Naid and his accomplices from summary justice. There were some bad apples here, but the rot had not spread that far... yet.

    "Later," said the Abbot.

    "Now," said Erik, who had dismounted.

    They stared at him, open-mouthed. "What?" demanded the Proctor-General. "Who are you to give orders?"

    Szpak and Manfred had also dismounted. "I am the emissary of both the Abbot General of the Order and also the Holy Roman Empire, " said Manfred quietly. "And I am hereby telling Ritter Hakkonsen to take you both to the Abbot's office. By force if need be. Dead if he sees fit."

    The Abbot had half-drawn his sword. Erik hit his fingers with the flat of his hatchet. "Do you wish to die now?" he said icily. The Abbot opened his mouth to yell -- and obviously realized that the troop he'd sent out to take part in a massacre were all looking at him. There was no sympathy in their almost uniform glare. A wilting Abbot, wringing a sore hand, the Proctor-General and Von Naid were escorted to the abbots office. "I think we will need that messenger who came with the news that sent these two off -- if he is still here," said Erik to Szpak. "We will need to speak to him without any possibility of collusion. Hold him out here until we call."

    The Pole nodded. "I'll see to it. And see that you are left alone to deal with this." He pursed his lips. "I haven't always seen eye-to-to eye with the Order here. But there are some things my brothers will not tolerate." he said firmly, stilling a few of Erik's worries about the Knights perhaps trying to 'rescue' their Abbot.

    The door swung shut and the Proctor-General blurted into angry speech. "What do you think you're doing? Just because you are the nephew of the Emperor..." He let it trail off. "The Order gives no deference to worldly rank."

    "These Ritters have excelled in feats of arms in the service of God, the Order and the Empire," said Mecklen, dryly. "That is why the Abbot-General was prepared to name them as part of his inspectorate here in Skåne and Småland. They act in his name and carry documents with his authority over anyone within the order. I suggest you hold your tongue until you are told to speak."

    It was a long time since anyone had told Proctor-General Von Tiblaut to hold his tongue. He looked ready to explode. But the Abbot obviously realized what deep water he was in. He rushed into hasty speech. "But what is this all about? We have done nothing, Sirs." "Von Naid has told us what you conspired to do," said Manfred, gesturing at the gagged prisoner.

    "I have never conspired in anything," said the Abbot waving hands. "What ever it was was entirely his idea. We knew nothing of it."

    Von Tiblaut had still not entirely grasped his situation. "I am the Senior officer of the Knights of the Holy Trinty! There are going to be very serious consequences for this."

    "There are indeed," said Mecklen. "You have forgotten, Proctor-General Von Tiblaut, that the Order of the Knights of the Holy Trinity owes final deference to God, the Abbot-General of the Order, and to the Holy Roman Emperor, via our Charter. You have offended in the eyes of all three of these. You are suspended from all offices of the Order and church, pending final judgement."

    Something about the way in which Mecklen said it dented even the confidence of Von Tiblaut. "Who are you?" he asked.

    "Archimandrite Mecklen. I was Abbot of Nordwand Chapter house, and Senior for the Waldenburg Chapters, until the Abbot-General made his Archimandrite-at-large in August." He pointed to other three older knights. "These are my co-assessors and assistants. We are here to lend the force of the Order to correcting what the Emperor has rightly called a mess. Even without this affair, you were due to be recalled and demoted, if not expelled from the Order. Now, I think the Empire and the Order will require more of you. Possibly your head."

    Von Tiblaut -- ruddy-faced with anger before was now as white as new snow. "I have done nothing. I don't know what all this about."

    Mecklen looked grimly at him. "A system of payments for lands awarded to ex-confreres -- monies the Abbot-General knew nothing about, would be a good starting point. We have spoken to a number of Landowners and obtained documentary proof of this, while you watched Prince Manfred. And secondly an attempt to involve Prince Manfred in a massacre of Christians, including a well-connected Danish missionary for a second. We have a charter to lands -- lands awarded to the Christian Götar Chieftain Gustav, by the Danish crown -- made out to Von Naid, They are signed by you, witnessed by the Abbot here, and described as 'lands seized in a violent insurrection'. It is dated a week from now. You tried to get the Empire to take your side against the Danes, by getting us to participate in this act of murder."

    The Proctor-General shook his head. "I deny it utterly. Oh, the Abbot here may have been involved. He gave me various charters to sign when I got here. I didn't check them. Why should I? He is the local authority."

    "Liar!" screamed the Abbot, seeing himself joining Von Naid as a sacrificial lamb. "I didn't know the money wasn't going to Prussia..."

    Someone knocked. It was Szpak with a prisoner. "His name's Meuli. He comes from Copenhagen, or so he tells us. He is an ex-confrere, and has holdings in Skåne. One of the Ritters tells me that he is Von Naid's cousin." "I had nothing to do with this," said the newly introduced Meuli. "I knew nothing about their plans."

    "I think we can un-gag Von Naid, and have him tell us what liars his companions are," said Erik.

    As the four of them attempted to blame or incriminate each other the story emerged. Francesca's work in Copenhagen had not passed un-noticed, and her conversations with the Danish King's senior courtiers had, in a somewhat garbled fashion, come to Meuli ears. It had included the information that Manfred was there to decided whether the Empire backed the Order or the Danes in the squabbles in Sweden. The details of the plot had been arranged by Von Naid. That they'd known it would include a massacre of a Christian village they were all -- except for Von Naid -- vehemently denying. Then someone knocked on the door, and began to open it.

    "We cannot be interrupted right now," said Archimandrite Mecklen firmly, stopping the door with a mailed foot

    "I am on the Emperor's business," said the voice outside equally firmly. "You may not hinder those who bear this seal in the completion of their duty." A piece of parchment was pushed through the door-crack, and Mecklen hastily stood aside, and allowed the man to enter. It was a liberally mud-splattered Imperial messenger. He walked straight to Manfred, bowed and presented him with a document with the Emperor's own seal on it.



    Manfred cracked the Imperial seal. He seemed perfectly calm about it. Only someone who knew him extremely well, would have realized he was being deliberately slow and precise. Exercising supreme self-control. Such a message was unlikely to be an order to return for a Soiree at the Imperial palace. It was almost certain to be bad news, brought thus by one of Trolliger's special couriers. The mortality of the ruler of the Empire weighed on him. If Charles Fredrik was dying... turmoil was inevitable. A bodyguard would rest uneasy until Manfred's Cousin Conrad was secure on the throne. Besides the Godar of the Hohenstauffen was important to the Clann Harald. Erik waited, without breathing, watching Manfred read. Why did he read so damn slowly?

    Then Manfred exhaled gustily. Erik had obviously not been the only one to be holding his breath. "Well, at least we get to go to Copenhagen on the way. You and I, Erik, are to leave post-haste for Telemark in Southern Norway."

    "And what are we to do there?" asked Erik, having carefully exhaled so as not to betray his tension.

    "Find a thief. And swear an oath," said Manfred, doing his best to smile enigmatically. But the relief turned it into a grin.

    Erik noticed the relief also written on the faces of Von Naid, the Abbot and the Proctor-General of Skåne. So, plainly did Manfred. They obviously thought that the matter could now be squirmed out of or covered over. After all, nothing had actually happened... bar the death of a few serfs, irrelevant in their minds at least. Manfred shook his head with a kind of stolid finality. "No. The Emperor also said that I must settle matters here before I leave. And I don't believe I need to see or hear any more. Erik?"

    Erik drew the sword in one smooth, clean movement. "Their heads, my Prince?"

    Manfred shook his head again. "No. The Emperor still holds fealty over Von Naid and Meuli, and their men. They must go back to Mainz, I think. It's likely they'll be sent to the Danes for final justice, as I may tell you that my uncle has decided that this territory will officially be ceded to them. I will recommend the settlement of Götar converts in the borderlands. I think that the Danes will agree to that. The Order will remain as guests, retaining a reasonable holding but acquiring no further ones without the approval of the Danish throne. There are, apparently several hundred new Danish recruits due to join the Order, which will leaven things."

    He looked at the Proctor-General and the Abbot. "Now: As to justice within the order. The Abbot and the former Proctor-General -- and such Ritters and Proctors as are suspected of direct involvement will be sent to Prussia to the Abbot-General."

    He took a deep breath. " Archimandrite Mecklen," He turned to the older knight who had accompanied them from Copenhagen. "You have the authority to act for the Abbot-General. You were sent to lend me authority. I have seen you in the field. Now, I am lending you my authority, here. With the authority vested in me by both the Abbot-General of our Order and of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles Frederik, I appoint you as the temporary Proctor-General of the Knights of the Holy Trinity for the Pastoral district of Skåne. May you serve God, the Order and the Empire better than your predecessor. Final appointments here must of course await the Order's decicions, but I will dispatch a letter detailing what I have done, and recommending they consult with you about suitable candidates. I want you to see that Von Naid and his companions in crime are transported, in chains, back to Lödöse. His lands and holdings are confiscate. I shall recommend they be awarded to the Christian Götar chieftain Gustav, as a reward for both piety and to help improve his faith," he said, heading towards the door. "And now, Erik and I must pack. The Emperor does not tolerate delays, and we need to get back to Copenhagen." ***

    Back in their quarters, Manfred sat down on the bed with a thump. "I'm not used to being justice almighty."

    "You had backup from Mecklen."

    "Yes. I think he'll work out well for the task for now. Better to have an outsider. I'd have preferred to see to the re-organization in person, but Uncle says," Manfred, waved the letter, "we need to be in Copenhagen to await the others. What a hardship that will be." He beamed.

    "Give," said Erik, suspiciously.

    Manfred held the parchment against his chest. "It's an imperial letter addressed to me," he said attempting to sound lofty and failing to sound anything but guilty.

    Erik shook his head. "Give before I have to make you do so, Manfred. Your wrestling is improving but not that much." He held out his hand.

    Manfred held out the letter. "Look, the escort's not really necessary..."

    Erik took it and read. And then, with it in hand, walked out to find Mecklen. "The Prince omitted to mention that the Emperor has requested that the Order provide "sufficient escort" for Manfred, and various clerics who are being sent to the Kingdom of Telemark," he said to the new Proctor-General of Skåne.

    "I had wondered about that," admitted Mecklen. "Should we say one hundred Ritters, under the command of Szpak? I was impressed by his conduct, for all that he is a Pole."

    Erik nodded. "When you hear his reason for joining the order you will be even more impressed, Ritter. He's a good man. The Order needs more like him. United in service and faith, if not in origins - as the order once was."

    Mecklen nodded. "Amen. My father said much the same thing. He was a confrere Knight too. Command experience will be good Szpak. I have plans for him, here on the border."

    "Well, have plans for Manfred too. He's going to argue about this escort."

    Mecklen smiled. "That is to be expected too. I will accompany you two to Lödöse, and we will discuss the matter. I expect the size of the escort will decrease but not disappear."

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