Chapter 10: News from Afar
Two Weeks after the Battle
Bishop Lock sat at his oiled oak desk in his personal library. It consisted mostly of printed books, Anselm of Aosta’s The Monology, Being and Essence, a Florentine print edition of Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things, and a 1492 Venetian printing of the Decameron, among others. But he also had a beautiful and valuable collection of hand written, illuminated, vellum manuscripts some hundreds of years old. On the bishop’s desk lay an assortment of articles – a silver candle holder, a lacquer tinder box, a sheaf of stiff Nuremberg paper, a glass ink pot, a raven feather quill, a lump of black sealing wax, a gold signet ring, a sliver letter opener, a pair of Turkish spectacles, and three unopened letters.
The bishop held up the first letter to the candlelight. It was adorned with the seal of Pope, Clement VII. Lock carefully levered the seal off the paper keeping it undamaged to add to his collection. Lock considered his Holiness, as he unfolded the letter. He liked Clement. The pope had little interest in theology, but was something of a humanist with an obsession for power, and an eye for fine women. He had a ridiculously long strait nose that gave his Holiness the appearance of some kind of goblin. Lock read. I have heard disturbing reports that the Lutheran heresy has taken root among the nobles of Eisenberg. So that you may be most effective in stamping out this rot I have made arrangements for a troop of Swiss Guard to be sent to your service, fifty pike, and fifty musket. See that they are appropriately paid and garrisoned. Brother Felix the Dominican is to command.
Lock tapped his fingers on the table. So Felix had been reporting directly to Clement and was asking for experienced mercenaries, all no doubt to Lock’s cost. In a way Lock was happy that papal soldiers were on their way, he supposed he needed them, but he felt uncomfortable with the way things were escalating. What was Greta thinking, taking an interest in criminal heresies?
The second letter was from the Archbishop of Buda. The gates of our great city have been thrown open to the infidel Turks, who paraded through the streets before lodging themselves in the houses of the noblemen. I am grateful to God that the Turks have not sacked the city or defiled our places of worship. But my heart is heavy with a great looming fear. As I write these hurried words in the darkness of my house Janos Zapolya bends the knee to Suleiman. Hungaria becomes a vassal of Istanbul. The black shadow of the Devil has fallen across Christendom.
No more will the true Church collect tithes from the faithful nobles instead they will pay homage in gold and blood to the sultan. I urge you on behalf of all Christians prepare yourself, for the oldest enemy himself will soon be banging on the doors of your own city…
“Your Excellency,” Sonia rushed into the room, interrupting his reading, “It is time for our afternoon ritual.”
Lock folded the letter in front of him, and pushed out of his mind the vision of shrieking infidel warriors. “So it is.”
“Have you,” asked Sonia, “come across any of the other holy rituals associated with helling?”
“Yes,” replied Lock after a short hesitation, “I once read a most secret holy manuscript, written by Saint Jared the Black in the time of Charlemagne. He describes that holy ecstasy, with God entering both man and woman, may be attained orally.”
“Really,” said Sonia.
“Yes indeed,” continued the bishop “The details were passed to saint Jared in a dream in which he was visited by the angel, Laliel, who described to him its particulars.”
“Have you found the killer of my brother yet?” asked Sonia.
“Not yet my sparrow, not yet.”
Countess Greta Von Eisenberg, cut open the seal of Ferdinand Hapsburg, duke of Vienna, and read the Letter. My dear Greta it is my solemn duty to inform you of the catastrophe that has occurred. The Lajos king of Hungaria has been slain and Turks are overrunning his kingdom. To all accounts Peter your husband did not survive the battle but died bravely in defence of the kingdom. The county of Eisenberg now passes to you. I have claimed the Kingdom of Bohemia for the emperor and hope that you will offer your allegiance to us so the we may offer you protection against the Turks…
The letter went on, but Greta placed it on her desk and taking a handkerchief from draw dried the tears that had begun to well in her eyes. Peter was dead.
Peter stared at the peasant men that faced him. They were sallow, coughing and watching the landsknecht with weary, starving eyes. Soldiers on either side of the group stood with swords drawn and muskets shouldered.
“Two more stringy chickens and two more sacks of turnips. That’s all we could find. It won’t go far but it will fill the men’s bellies tonight,” said Captain Sokol, as two men threw the looted vegetables and slaughtered birds on top of the small heap that was growing in the village square.
Peter felt pity for the peasants. But what was a troop of fleeing mercenaries to do? His men had searched the village stripping it of any hidden food, or scraps of silver. They had separated the men from the women. The men were here in the open square in front of him. The women were held in the communal village chicken coop.
“You may as well kill this lot and be done with it,” said Sokol, Peter’s Lieutenant. “Hearing the screams of your women folk while they’re ravaged will drive a man mad, and hunger is a terribly painful way to die. You’d be doing the right thing by them and saving yourself much trouble if you just cut all their throats, three by three.”
“I’ve seen enough blood in the last few days. There will be no rape and there will be no executions.”
“Don’t ask me to stop it. I value virtue, my lord, but I value my skin more.”
Peter shuddered for a moment, then turned to face his sullen looking men. “I am your lord and paymaster. Anyone of you who rapes or kills any of these Christian folk will hang from the village oak. If you see a girl to your liking than you may ask to marry her.” Peter turned back to address the peasants in broken Hungarian. “I am Peter, Count von Eisenberg and I am merciful. You shall surrender to us your stores and valuables but we shall leave you with your lives and your honour.”