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This Rough Magic: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 9, 2003 23:55 EDT



    Eneko Lopez stared impassively at the face of the Grand Metropolitan. He did not allow the thoughts roiling in his mind to show. He hoped not, anyway.

    "You obviously made quite an impression on Emperor Charles Fredrik, Brother Lopez," said the frail, pale—and powerful—man sitting on the throne before him. The Grand Metropolitan held up a scroll, almost as if it were a scepter.

    The Grand Metropolitan had a reputation for vacillation; however, he was still the most powerful figure in Church. And Eneko was never certain how much of that vacillation was because of the Holy Father's nature, and how much was because, in the end, when one kept from making up one's mind, things tended to sort themselves out without forcing one to take a stand.

    "I found the Holy Roman Emperor to be a pleasant enough companion on the road here," said Eneko dryly. "A not overly pious man, though."

    The Grand Metropolitan gave a reedy chuckle. "It appears that he, on the other hand, did find you to be one. It is a signal honor of sorts. And, quite honestly, not a request easily denied."

    "God is omnipresent," said Eneko stiffly. "He can be addressed as well from Mainz as from Jerusalem."

    The Grand Metropolitan gave another reedy chuckle. "A viewpoint that I am sad that I will not be able to hear you express to the Metropolitan of Jerusalem. None the less, it is the express desire of the Emperor of the most powerful Christian state that you should go to Jerusalem to pray for his soul, as he, as the bastion stone of the Christian Empire, cannot leave his duty to millions of other Christian souls merely to indulge the desire of his old age."

    Eneko stood in silence.

    "He is a powerful friend of the Holy Church, Brother Lopez," said the old man, mildly.

    Eneko sighed. "I know. But, your holiness, I had hoped... The order I wish to found. The Emperor seemed quite well disposed to the idea."

    The Grand Metropolitan scowled slightly. "More so than I have been. Your problem, Father Eneko, is that you have been a valuable tool for the church in your present role. I need an agent of your caliber. I am less sure that the church needs yet another religious order to create more schisms and infighting. But the Emperor is indeed well-disposed toward your scheme; he goes as far as to suggest a name. He seems to think a Petrine-based order devoted to holy magic in the active and combative sense would act as a counterweight to the Servants of the Holy Trinity. He also thinks that Fr. Eneko Lopez of the Basque country would be a good man to head such an order. I must read you his words."

    The old man cleared his throat, unfurled the parchment and held the scroll at full arm's stretch. Then, began reading from it in a slight sing-song:

    "I find myself in agreement with your proposal that the Hypatian order should open some chapter-houses in Swabia, Brunswick and Prussia. Details may be thrashed out between our intermediaries, but I would be happy to see as many as twenty of these established in the Empire's central provinces. However, one does not use a shovel to do a sword's work and vice versa. I am of the opinion that the order of Saint Hypatia in particular and the Church in general have lost some of the militant purpose Chrysostom imbued it with. It has become very gentle, and as a result, we are seeing enemies springing up who do not scruple to use the darkest of magics against us. The Empire and the Holy church need a force not lacking in some of gentleness of the Hypatian Order, but with the steel to meet the spiritual and supernatural evils of the northern darkness which threaten the mother Church."

    The Grand Metropolitan paused and peered at Eneko over the top of the parchment. "He then proposes you heading such an order. But I read further: 'However, I feel Fr. Lopez would still benefit from some broadening of his viewpoints before he takes up this challenge. Therefore my request that he undertakes this pilgrimage to Jerusalem can serve a double purpose. As one of the most pious men I have met, he can pray for my soul, which I fear stands in sore need of such intervention. Visiting the birthplace of our faith and then proceeding to the cradle of our learning, Alexandria, will also broaden his outlook. Besides, such an order as he envisages will need to consult the Great Library at Alexandria extensively, as it remains the greatest source and storehouse of arcane knowledge, both Christian and non-Christian, in Christendom. And if Alexandria cannot broaden his outlook, then nothing can. Even the brothels there are an education."

    Eneko felt himself redden. The Grand Metropolitan was plainly amused by his embarrassment. "I think the Emperor's assessment is very acute," he said with a wry smile. "Both of your piety and your need for a broader perspective."

    Eneko took a deep breath. "I have always wanted to undertake the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, your holiness," he said, seriously. "And the second pilgrimage to the heart and birthplace of the Order of Saint Hypatia. But the responsibility of another man's soul—any man's soul, never mind the Holy Roman Emperor's—is too much for me."

    The Grand Metropolitan nodded. "Only Christ could carry such a weight," he said gently. "But all that is asked of us is to do as much we can and He has ever promised us that He will help us to bear the rest. You may choose some companions—say, three—to help you. I feel Emperor Charles Fredrik would agree that such broadening of the structure that you envisage will be better if has a wider foundation, as it were. Now, my son. I have other interviews. Come, take my blessing and get along with you. You and your companions will travel as humble pilgrims to Jerusalem, and thence Alexandria. I have prayed on this and I feel you guided to this path." It was said with a quiet certainty and deep humility.

    It was also a firm, unarguable dismissal.



    "When you travel with a small army you have to behave as if you are traveling with a small army," muttered Manfred irritably. "We should break this lot up into ten parcels of twenty knights, and fit into inns rather than overflowing villages."

    The grizzled and facially scarred Von Gherens smiled. "A good idea, eh, Falkenberg? We ride with the first twenty and Prince Manfred rides with the last twenty. Then he can apologize for all the damage and pay the peasants, and put up with short rations because we've eaten all the food, and drunk all the beer."

    Falkenberg, who was riding on the other side of Manfred, was also a veteran, though younger than Von Gherens. And like von Gherens, Manfred had discovered, able to drink his weight in ale without showing any sign of it. The Knots were supposed to be a religious order, sworn to abstinence from the worldly trappings of wealth. In practice, Manfred discovered, that meant they ate and drank well...

    When someone else was paying. He was finding that being in an out-of-combat command—especially when you have a reputation as a tearaway yourself—was a lot more difficult than he'd thought. In a way a misery-guts like Sachs was almost called for. The presence of someone who'd put some fear and sobriety into this lot would keep the reckoning down. The Emperor had given Manfred what he had considered to be an ample supply of gold for the trip. At this rate they might—possibly—get to Ascalon. He'd have to sell them off as mercenaries to get back.

    Falkenberg looked at Manfred with amusement. "Sounds very good. It would make a change from the way it is now."

    The problem was that both of them had been in Venice with Manfred and Erik, when they had striven against Chernobog. The two of them, Von Gherens particularly, had been the catalysts who'd broken up the fight in San Zan Degola when Erik had refused to hand over the young woman, who had claimed sanctuary there, to the Abbot. Von Gherens had been at the final destruction of Chernobog's Vessel and had been terribly burned there.

    They both liked Manfred, he knew that. They were from north-eastern frontier families, from the borderlands of the Empire where the battle between good and evil was stark and frequent. There was no doubting either the toughness or the piety of either man. There was also no doubting their ability to soak up food and drink when it was available. They treated their young commander with a sort of jocular respect... and then did precisely what they intended to do. No doubt about it, in a fight they'd be what they were—superb soldiers, disciplined and ordered. So how come they traveled at exactly the pace they intended to travel, despite Manfred's desire to pick the pace?

    Manfred was left feeling he was being tested. He wished he could do with the troop what Erik did, in the daily drill session the Icelander put them through. They jumped when Erik Hakkonsen said "frog". There was always that sort of distance between Erik and the rest of the human race, and the barrier seemed to work in Erik's favor. No-one, not even old Notke—who was fifty-five if he was a day—treated Erik as an equal.

    That evening in the smoky room in one of the three crowded inns at Fortezza, Manfred turned to Erik and Eberhard and sighed: "What the hell do I have to do to get the Knights moving? I wanted to be through to Bolzano by now. At this rate, we're going to take twice as long as I'd intend to get through to Venice."

    Eberhard looked at him with a frosty eye. "I was Knight of the Trinity with your Grandfather. I had a commander like you once. Good fighter. Lousy commander when we weren't fighting."

    Manfred had never really thought of the old man as a having once been a mere rank-and-file knight, but always as a prosy and disapproving important old man. "So, Milord of Brunswick," he said, in as serious a manner as he had ever donned. "What should I do? Lecture them on diplomacy?"

    "Break a few heads," said Erik, looking up from his platter. "You are too young and too popular."

    Eberhard shook his head. "That might work for you, Erik. You will lead troops. You already do that well. But Manfred is such a babe-in-arms, he still needs them to teach him. He will lead armies, not troops. And what he needs to learn is that you cannot lead armies on your own. You need to delegate."

    Manfred stared at him in astonishment. That was a solution that didn't sound like a good idea. On the other hand, Eberhard... had experience. "Delegate to whom? I mean, wouldn't they just think I was trying to avoid responsibility?"

    Eberhard gave his wintry smile. "This is statecraft, which your uncle wished me to instruct you in. I thought it was a waste of time but if you can see that there is a problem, well—perhaps you might learn something after all.” He cleared his throat. "It is often a good idea to pick on the worst sources of your troubles—and make them responsible. If they fail, then you must display very clearly that you have not abrogated your responsibilities, by taking action against them, personally. But I don't suppose you'll have either the intelligence or maturity to take my advice."

    Despite himself, Manfred's knew that his face showed what he'd have been likely to do if the old man were not nearly seventy. Instead he clenched his fists and walked off.



    "Francesca, he's going to drive me mad," said Manfred later in their chamber. "He treats me as if I were stupid and ten years old."

    Francesca traced his deltoid with a delicate finger. "He's a very bad old man, to tease you so. But I think he wants to make sure he's got your attention."

    "You think he's doing it on purpose?" demanded Manfred incredulously.

    Francesca smiled catlike. "He is one of the leading diplomats and statesmen of the age, Manfred, dear. He's playing you like a lute."

    Manfred did not like the idea of being manipulated by anyone, much less Eberhard. "The old bastard!"

    Francesca shook her head in admonition. "I'm sure he's only doing it to oblige Charles Fredrik."

    Manfred snorted. "Two can play his game. I won't rise to his bait. Tomorrow morning I'm going to call Falkenberg and Von Gherens. Make those two carry the can. Falkenberg can do the damned accounting. That'll stop him eating and drinking for a few minutes, which should save us a few pennies anyway."

    "Good. Then maybe we can get moving a little faster. I had letters while I was in Mainz from Katerina. I said I would do my best to be there for her wedding, even if I cannot accede to her request to be a maid of honor." Francesca smiled wryly. "But I wouldn't mind being a trifle early to help with the organization."

    "Von Gherens will have to make them trot," said Manfred languorously, leaning toward the caressing fingers.

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