Death and Fortune: Book One of 1526

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Chapter 7 Festivities

Later that Day

Greta

Countess Greta von Eisenberg was bored. The feast, held on the terraced cherry orchard behind the schloss, had been her idea. But now that it had come to fruition it seemed dull. The noblemen and women and their households had arrived on horseback or in carriages.

They were for most part village landlords and their ladies. One or two them controlled an old castle, but most could afford a few horses cattle and servants. Under the king’s law they were Greta’s vassals and owed her rents and allegiance, which she in turn owed to the king. They were bound to bare arms, trained to fight on horseback with lance and sword, though not all could afford full plate armour. These men and their ladies were the basis of the provinces law and order and it was important that they respected Greta’s authority.

Fortunately Greta knew how to keep them onside. Everybody loved a feast and she had the best feasts – swans stuffed with prunes, herbs and honey, saffroned pigeon eggs, peppered eels, and live finches encased in pies, ready to fly free on it being sliced. This was all washed down with foreign wine and local ale.

The first round had finished. And some guests had left the table to relieve themselves in the freshly dug effluent trench, or wander drunk beneath the cherry trees. Others pushed back their seats, belched or snoozed. A group of women gossiped amongst themselves, eating honeyed hazel nuts while getting steadily drunker. One of Greta’s serving maids had to dodge the groping hands of a drunk guest. It was the time of relaxation and digestion before the dancing. And the Travellers, dressed in their exotic silks and baring their Turkish fiddles, had just arrived to provide the music. Greta meanwhile was entertaining the attentions of two men neither of which she liked.

“We should be sniffing out the lair of these brigands from the east that have made a home in our woods, sending our men in and bringing them to justice,” said, Friedrich. He was Peter’s twenty-four year old brother, and following his father’s death and Peter’s absence, the senior male of the local nobles. His interests were hunting, drinking and reading French courtly love dramas, which might have had something to do with his decision to treat Greta as an object of his undying love. She felt a little ashamed that she had at one time encouraged him, for now she had a real secret lover Luke, the Lutheran preacher.

“You’re an idiot and you should stick to hunting boar,” said Johann. Johann was the captain of the city guard and Peter’s cousin, coming from a line of younger sons, he was ill favoured by Fortune, had lost out on inheritance and lived off his military salary. Where Friedrich’s attentions were irritating, Johann’s were unnerving. He was cruel, desperate and yet seemingly afraid of women.

Greta drifted off, her mind wandering to her lover, the way he held her firm against the wall and kissed her neck. It was, of course, an illicit coupling and only the loyal Magda who served the preacher his bread and milk and lit his nightly candle knew of the servant’s passage through which he passed to her bedroom.

Frederic shifted in his chair, “Oh look. Here he comes.”

Greta looked over to see whom Friedrich had referred. A man approached the table. He was dressed in a black cowl with the hood thrown back. He had dark tonsured hair, a silver medallion around his neck and an expressionless face. He looked relatively old, and Greta guessed him to be past his fortieth year. Who comes to a party dressed like Lord Death?

Frederick waved cheerfully, “Brother Felix, welcome. ” He turned to Greta. “Do you know Brother Felix the Dominican? He’s fantastic. He’s been everywhere and speaks every language under the sun.”

“You mean the bishop’s foreign necromancer,” cut in Johann.

“The black monk,” murmured Greta.

“I hope you don’t mind me inviting him,” said Friedrich, “he seemed most desirous of coming.”

“Hush,” said Greta, “he arrives.”

Frederick rose to greet the monk, which he did warmly, then introduced him to Greta who reluctantly allowed him to kiss her ring.

“I have heard so much of your magnanimity, virtue and beauty I had to acquaint myself with you.” The monk’s Germanic was stiff but his allocution and polite manner clearly impressed Friedreich who beamed at them both.

Johann glared. His obvious irritation at the monk’s presence made Greta warm a little to Felix and she invited him to sit.

“Frederic tells me you are something of a world traveller. Perhaps you could tell us something of your travels.”

“I suppose I could,” replied the monk. As he seated himself, Greta noted the medallion. It was large and valuable, depicting a leafy branch, a crucifix, and a sword. His face was carefully shaven. It was odd, thought Greta, to see a man without the framing of his beard.

“Yes,” said Friedrich, “regale us with a story of your voyages. Do you take wine? Here take this goblet.”

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