Chapter 2: The Night Progresses
Greta was applying leaches to her wrists and ankles to balance her humours when she heard the customary soft knock of her maid on the oak door.
“Enter,” she called.
Magda entered and curtseyed.
Magda rose, “The man, my lady, he’s eaten and bathed.”
“Very good, Magda. I trust you have made lodgings suitable to his status?”
“Of course my lady. He... well…” Even in the low light of the beeswax candle Greta could see Magda blush. “We’ve wrapped him in a blanket but he has no clothes.”
“So I saw, Magda. Was he well spoken?”
“Very,” said Magda, “He is the son of a nobleman.”
“Then give him some of Peter’s old things. I doubt whether the loss of a doublet, shirt and hose will bother the master.”
“Yes my lady. My lady?”
“What is it Magda?”
“I thought perhaps my lady might like to meet with him. I thought seeing as his lordship had been gone for so long and you were telling me of your melancholic temperament you might wish to keep the stranger company.”
Greta felt her spirits lift yet feigned indifference to her maid. “I suppose it can do no harm. Have a supper of milk and berries arranged.”
Heinrich bowed to Zafir, Prince of the Travellers. He held his court outside on a divan of rugs and cushions. Surrounded by his three wives, one a child, one a maiden, and one a woman. His three sons were seated around a nearby fire, one of them playing on a Greek fiddle.
“It pleases me to see you, Heinrich,” said Zafir in the tongue of the Travellers. “Be seated.”
Heinrich took his place on the rug in front of Zafir.
“You have bought my payment.”
“Yes,” replied Heinrich in the Germanic tongue of the Jews. “A mark of the emperor’s gold.” This was how they always spoke, each speaking his own tongue and each knowing enough of the other to understand.
“Would you like to dance with one of my wives?” Zafir weighed the bag of gold in his hand.
Heinrich shook his head. “I shall be happy with naught but a blanket and a place by the fire.”
“I take it you are well satisfied with the silk and horses.”
“No better is to be found.” Heinrich inclined his head.
Zafir ran his fingers through the hair of his second wife. “Yet your face tells me you are worried. There is something you wish to ask me?”
“It’s my daughter,” replied Heinrich.
“Ah yes, Basha the Beautiful,” said Zafir, “hair black as raven feathers, and skin white as falling snow. To be possessed of such a lovely jewel must weigh heavy on a father’s heart.”
“She has married.”
“So I have also heard,” said the prince of Travellers. “To Joseph, the miller’s son, a good man, but a Christian. They are married and yet they do not yet dwell together. Is it not so?”
Heinrich nodded. “The marriage was held in secret. Joseph had yet to break the news to his parents and now he is missing. He was to meet Basha two nights ago and he has sent no word. Basha is distraught and will neither drink nor eat. Joseph was known as a friend of your folk. Can you tell me anything of his whereabouts?”
Zafir was silent for a moment. “I know not,” he said, “But perhaps we should ask my son Jango. He knows Joseph and your daughter well.”
Hearing his name, the boy with the fiddle ceased to play.
The handsome teenager bowed to Heinrich. He had not, he explained, seen or heard word of Joseph, but he impressed upon Heinrich that he should consult his mother, the oldest of Zafir’s wives. She was a seer of some ability. Perhaps she could offer insight. Heinrich had no objection to white magic and he agreed.
Greta received the man in the small parlour, a room for meetings and gatherings less formal than those held in the large parlour. It was set with a table and cushioned chairs, lit with candles and decorated with a large tapestry. She guessed the man to be in his mid twenties. He was handsome but a little shy.
“You were headed to Buda?” Greta prompted as the man sipped his bowl of strawberries and milk.
The man nodded, meeting her gaze, and licking the milk from his lips. “I am on a quest to bring the word of Luther to the lords of Hungaria.”
“And how did you come to be wandering about, without clothes, and close to death on my estate?”
“I was joined by two merchants on the mountain road and I shared bread with them but they were terrible scoundrels, brigands. And when they found that they could get no ransom from me they stripped me at sword point, made sport of me, and left me to the mercies of wild beasts. Surely I thought that I must die. But God saw fit to save me and lead me to your house. And for that I bless those scoundrels.”
“Is that really what I must do?” asked Sonia.
“You are not compelled to do anything,” replied Lock. “I’m simply explaining the theory as it was written by Pithicus the Augustinian.”
Sonia seemed glued to the chair by the fireplace. “But does it work? Have you tried it?”
“Oh me?” said Lock, “Oh no, it’s much too outlandish for me. I think I will prefer to reach heavenly rapture when Death takes me.”
Sonia looked thoughtful, “I want to try,” she said. “Will you help me?”
Lock considered her request. “The ritual is dangerous.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“You must do exactly as I say.”
Sonia, tucked her hair behind her ears and straightened her skirts “I am ready.”
Lock watched as Sonia removed her undergarments, lifted her skirts, opened her legs, closed her eyes, and placed two fingers at the gates of hell.
“Am I doing it right?”
“You are doing very well,” replied Lord Bishop Lock.
Zafir’s first wife sat cross-legged opposite Heinrich. She was dressed in red silk and had a gold ring in her nose. She conversed in hushed tones with her husband, and son. Before turning to Heinrich. “What did you see on your way here?”
“A fox, it ran across my path. A pig, I heard it in the bushes. And,” Heinrich fell silent as he reviewed his journey. “Hawthorn, I was scratched by hawthorn.”
Zafir translated the words to his wife.
She leaned forward, resting her chin on her hand, while her elbow rested on her knee. “Did it draw blood?”
“Yes,” replied Heinrich, “yes it did.”
“You and your family are in danger,” said the seer. “Yester eve young Joseph went to the pines to search for butter mushrooms. There he met a man who had an offer to make. But Joseph refused. He shall be at his father’s castle tomorrow. Perhaps he is there now.”
Somewhere in the forest an owl hooted.