Chapter 5: Day of Intrigue
Some Weeks Later
Bishop Lock met with Felix the Dominican, known to the townsfolk as the black monk, in his parlour. Lock had given the meeting room atmosphere by decorating it with his collection of prints and painting, most were classically themed with nymphs and goddesses in various states of undress.
The black monk observed the artworks with an expression of disdain. He was an inquisitor who had been sent to Lock with a letter of introduction from his Holiness. Skilled in languages, he had shown himself to be a useful if unpleasant man. He had built a network of children throughout the city and provided him with a stream of information mostly market place gossip.
“Tell me more about the preacher,” said Lock.
“He is brazen and shameless,” replied Felix. “He preaches to the simple folk in the Square of Flower Sellers as if he has no fear of our wrath. His voice is as sweet as it is poisonous, and he has a comely look to him.”
“What does he say?” Lock poured himself a goblet of wine and proffered the jug to Felix, who shook his head in refusal.
“He says that God cares for all and the only way to his mercy is through their own hearts, that men should read the scripture for themselves.”
“A noble sentiment.” Lock quaffed his wine.
“Jest not,” replied the black monk. “He has denounced you by name, and he has described God’s Church as ‘pagan hubris, materially corrupt and morally degenerate, interested only in money and whoring.’”
Pagan hubris, thought lock, what a fantastic turn of phrase.
“The heretic,” continued Felix, “is under the protection of the Countess von Eisenberg. He retreats to her schloss in the mountains and the lady’s guardsmen will not let me have him.”
“The Countess von Eisenberg is offering protection to an itinerant heretic preacher? Do you think she’s sharing her bed with him?”
“We are weak,” said the black monk, “We need soldiers.”
Lock sighed as he thought of the expense, “I suppose we can hire a few more men.”
The copper bell clanged as the door to Heinrich’s warehouse swung open. Heinrich was a merchant of luxury goods. He stocked an array of various exotic oddments for the wealthy families of the province – bolts of Chinese silk, dowels of Indian sandalwood, nutmeg, French wines, Italian dyes, and sacks of Greek saffron to turn the bishop’s goulashes a rich yellow.
The soldiers entered the warehouse. They made no effort to wipe their feet on the mat. Instead, Johann, commander of the City Guard, paused to gaze at Basha who was ascending a ladder to wipe the dust off some jars of Baltic amber. She was dressed in black, but there was something about her, even in the way she wore her mourning clothes, that drew the male eye – her apron pulled tight around her waist, her ankle reaching out from the bottom of her skirts, her arching feet filling the satin topped slippers. From under her pointed black hat, made from stiffened silk, her black hair cascaded over her shoulders and exposed the skin of her neck.
Bahsa turned and gave Johann a sad look.
Johann leered at her before turning away to face Heinrich.
Heinrich bowed. “How may I be of service?”
“Heinrich son of Mendel.” It was not a question.
“At your service,” replied Heinrich.
“Heinrich son of Mendel,” Johann continued as if he had been rudely interrupted, “You are under arrest for the murder of Joseph Muller. You are to come with us to the city keep where you will await trail.”
Peter surveyed his troop as they stood to attention, on the grassy plain, awaiting the arrival of the king. Peter commanded four hundred men – two hundred arquebusiers, armed with matchlocks and short swords, a hundred pikemen, and a hundred long-swordsmen. To a landsknecht his clothes were everything, a symbol of his wealth and success. Each soldier was dressed in the most expensive cloth he could afford – floppy blue hats, silver sashes, velvet doublets, knee-high calfskin boots, hose of many colours, emerald green capes and slashed pantaloons. They boasted codpieces of various lengths, widths and colours. Feathers were a prized accessory, and Peter’s lieutenant Sokol, champion swordsman, wore five parrot feathers arranged with an opal on his red cap. The warm south wind blew across the fields, a gang of crows alighted on the grass. Peter, Krum and the landsknecht waited.
“Can’t he hurry,” said Krum to Peter. “The light is ailing and I want to look upon the king before I start for Pest tonight.
“You should stay,” said Peter.
Krum shook his head. “Sorry Peter. It’s not my war. I fight for Frundsberg and I like my battles followed by fine wine and loose women. And I see neither of those things around here. I’ve hardly seen a peasant girl. I like cities, with taverns and brothels and there ain’t one of them within a hundred leagues of Mohacs.”
“Did I not,” said Peter, “agree to your terms and to come with all my men to Rome with you, despite the voice of my conscience? You must accompany me to this battle then we shall leave together. I swear that with the gold that the king gives me, I’ll get you so drunk at the first town we come to that you won’t be able to get pleasure from the maids I provide.”
Krum smiled, “I’m sure you would arrange it like that on purpose you stingy bastard son of priest. But when I fight I like to know who it is I’m fighting against and I like to know that I’m going to win.”
“Are you admitting to cowardice?”
Krum gritted his teeth. “I am no coward.”
The blare of trumpets frightened the flock of crows, and King Lajos of Hungaria rode into view followed by a throng of standard bearers, trumpeters, and heavy knights. He was dressed in plate armour, crisscrossed with gold trim and emblazoned with gold flowers. The king was young and handsome his thick brown hair rolled onto his shoulders. Behind the king rode the lords of Hungaria and Bohemia, encased in burnished plate, emblazoned with the sigils of their houses and holding steal lances topped with fluttering pendents.
“King of Croatia, King of Hungaria, King elector of Bohemia,” cried a herald.
First Peter and Krum knelt, then the landsknecht followed.
“Welcome Count Peter von Eisenberg,” said the king, his voice a little weaker than Peter had expected. “You may rise.”
Ibrahim Pasha unravelled the linen wrapping of the package and drew out the book. He ran his fingers over its leather cover, before carefully opening its yellowing pages. And there they were, carefully written in flawless calligraphy, illustrated with exquisite miniatures, the rubayart of Omar Khayyam. The possession of the book sent a shiver of delight through Ibrahim Pasha. He opened the book and read:
On the soft green grass I lie
Between the desert and the ripening rye
Where name of slave and sultan is unknown
I pity the emperor on his throne
There was something defiant, even blasphemous about the poetry and yet it reminding Ibrahim of a time and place where there were no duties, but there was a freedom. He read another.
Oh fill the cup, with heady wine
Oh time is ever flowing on
Yesterday unborn and dead tomorrow
Savour today for it is sweet
A shadow fell over his book. He turned to see who had disturbed him. Adisu stood in the doorway.
“Great Pasha,” he said, “the fires in your room have been lit. Your wife awaits your company.”
Guilt racked Ibrahim. He had spent all day listening to petitions in the muggy heat and arbitrating on petty matters like where one peasant’s field ended and another’s began. He had listened for hours to Emre’s diatribe about Christians dodging their specific dues, and then to the allocation of houses to Muslim migrants from the east. By the time he had finished listening to and then signing off a long report on the province’s taxes, he was exhausted and all he wanted to do was eat Iranian dates, drink an impious glass of wine and read Khayyam. Was that too much to ask? He did not know why he considered spending the evening with his wife to be more work but somehow it felt like it. “Tell her,” said Ibrahim, “that it is the holy night of the prophet Jesus. Men and women must surely not lie together on such a night.”