Death and Fortune: Book One of 1526

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Chapter 12: The Hunt

The Next Day

Lock

Bishop Lock, accompanied by his thuggish chief retainer, Steffen, walked past the prison tower, the city guard barracks and to the doors of Johann’s house. The steward admitted them to the parlour, a tasteless room filled with hunting trophies, where the captain was sharpening an Italian style rapier. Lock took a chair opposite Johann. Steffen remained standing.

“Of what service can I be to you, Lord Bishop?” Johann asked sullenly.

Steffen’s hand closed around the pommel of his own sword.

“You have not complied with my orders to release Heinrich the Jew,” replied Lock. “I have come to collect him.”

Johann placed the whetstone on the stool beside him and began to inspect the blade. “The Jew is sentenced to death for the murder of the miller’s son. I cannot simply let him go free. It is my duty to keep order in the city. I can not let confessed murderers loose.”

Lock caught a whiff of stale sweat. By the wood of the true cross, Johann stank. Did the man never wash? “I believe Heinrich to be innocent. By the grace of my rank I command you to realise him.”

Johann slammed his sword between the flagstones of the floor. “No. I am sworn to the counts of Eisenberg and to the king. Not the bishop. If you want the Jew released take it up with the countess.”

Lock was taken aback. He had not expected that Johann would openly defy him. He was shocked by the sudden challenge to his power, and acutely aware that the neighbouring barracks housed soldiers that answered to Johann. “Forgive my presumption captain, but allow me to ask for your account of the murder?”

Johann got up from his seat and began to pace the room. “The Jew’s daughter was to be married to Joseph the miller’s son. The Jew disapproved of the marriage and killed the boy to prevent it in the evil manner of his people. He was seen on the morning of the night of the murder leaving the city in the direction of Muhlborg and the forest road leading a donkey. His daughter arranged a meeting with the miller’s son, but instead of his whore he met his death. The Jew then beheaded him loaded him onto the donkey and left the boy’s remains by his father’s house.”

“Why would Heinrich risk discovery by carrying the remains to Herr Muller’s house?”

Johann shrugged “I know not, and care not to understand, the motives of evil wizards.”

“I shall talk to the countess,” said Lock, “and while I am about that see that no harm comes to Heinrich or I shall make you pay.”

Peter

Peter with a dozen handpicked men followed the Hungarian poacher deeper into the forest. It was a good afternoon for a hunt, clear and cool. They travelled through mixed forest, oak, birch, and chestnut with a scattering of mossy glades. Crickets sang while finches, doves and black birds flitted between the trees. More than once Peter caught sight of skittish groups of roe deer, saw the signs of wallowing boar, and heard in the distance the barking of a stag.

“There it is,” the poacher pointed forward into distance between the trunks of the trees, “I’ve been as good as my word.”

The group moved quietly forward, creeping from tree to tree, and there beside a bend in a sluggish stream was a grassy clearing bordered by willows. In its centre stood a red, white and green pavilion. The silk flaps of its entrance billowed in the gentle breeze. Posted around the pavilion were several Turkish guards. They wore baggy white pants stuffed into high black riding boots, above which their long shirts reached nearly to their knees. Their hair was hidden, wrapped in their colourful turbans. Muskets were slung on their shoulders and scimitars, strapped to their waists. They were seated on the ground drinking reddish liquid from small glass cups. They spoke in hushed voices.

Keeping behind the trunks of the trees Peter and his men, tamped black powder into the muzzles of their weapons, inserted the iron balls, then, with the aid of a tinderbox, lit the wicks of their matchlocks. They positioned themselves to fire. A black and white heron spotted them. It let out a warning screech and took wing. The guards saw the smoke from the matchlocks. They shouted, drew their scimitars and scrambled for cover, but were too late. The mercenaries fired, the matchlocks belched smoke and a ringing crack echoed through the forest that put all the birds to flight.

Peter plunged into the stream. The murky warm water went up to his knees. He leapt up on to the grassy bank, killed an injured guard with a sword jab to the throat, wiped his sword on the dead man’s shirt and pushed into the pavilion.

Inside were two women. One, a servant, wore a blue silk headscarf and a purple gown that reached from her wrist to her ankle. The other, a lady, wore baggy orange trousers tied tight around her ankles, where her feet fitted into pointed slippers. Over that she wore a blue knee length gown embroidered with gold lace and a necklace of polished moonstone. She held a Turkish dagger, pressed against her own throat. She let forth a stream of impassioned words in a language that Peter could not understand.

“Come no closer,” said servant woman in Latin, “Her Ladyship Nuray will kill herself rather than be violated by the brutish touch of a pig eating foreigner.”

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