The Pink Room
Lock washed his hands and face in a basin of steaming water filled with crushed comfrey. He unbuttoned the front of his shirt so that he could rub the soaked plants into his neck and chest. Though it was not as good as emersion in a full barrel of hot water, filled with rose petals, the hot water on his face and chest had a calming effect. The pretty maid, Zuza, was quietly watching him rather oddly. Who was she? Lock didn’t trust her. The way she was watching him now, it reeked of treachery and heresy. The countess had planted her there to watch him, to spy on him. He was sure of it.
“Your highness,” she asked, “Is it true that you have been to the Holy City, that you have been to Rome?”
Perhaps, thought Lock, he had been wrong about the girl, and that here amidst all this uncertainty, heresy and witch hunting the simple shepherd’s girl had never wavered in her devotion to the true Church. What mattered it to her that Rome was a diseased hole, infested with thieves and plagues of starlings? To her it would always be the shining, Holy City. What mattered it to her that the Pope, the Little Father, was a power-crazed maniac and a womaniser, with a peculiar penchant for pagan classics? To her he would always be a living saint, the heavenly voice of the Creator on Earth. “Your Excellency,” said Lock after he had dried his face on the hand towel, “you may address me as your Excellency.”
The maid looked perplexed, then remembered her training. She blushed then curtseyed. “Yes, your Excellency, forgive me for forgetting my place. I just couldn’t help but wonder about God’s city.”
“You are right to wonder my child,” said Lock, in a tone that was suitably resonant, “It is a place like nothing else on this green Earth. The towering illuminated frescoes of Saint Peter’s Basilica is like a shard of Heaven, that land of glass and gold, that has fallen upon this Earth, and out stream fountains that rush up like glittering trees of water, and the sick, the lame and the blind are cured as they are doused in them.” What mattered it to her that Saint Peter’s had been knocked down twenty years ago and never been rebuilt.
The maid let out a long sigh, “Oh it sounds so marvellous. Do you think we will see such things when we are in Heaven?”
“Oh,” said the bishop, “you will see far more majestic things than that in Heaven, where the singing of a thousand angels keeps the spirit in a state of constant bliss.”
Zuza began to sob. “Oh your excellency, I must make your confession.”
Lock generally found confession to be a tedious job, but he felt he could hardly now refuse. “Very well, kneel before me.”
Zuza prostrated herself on the floor.
“Are you,” intoned Lock, “guilty of the sin of Gluttony?”
`“Oh yes,” replied the girl, “I like to eat, and the countess feeds us all very well. We even eat chicken on Sundays?”
“God forgives you,” replied Lock, “what of the sin of lust?”
“I sleep out of wedlock with the stable hand. But its not that that bothers me your excellency.”
“Go on,” said Lock.
“Some of the lords and ladies and the servants have started to give their own mass, and though I knew it was sinful I ate bread and drank wine in a ritual not presided over by a priest.” Zuza began to cry. “Now I am sure my soul is going to Hell and not to Heaven, and I don’t care what the others say”
“There now,” said Lock, “dry your eyes. God’s Kingdom is never closed to those, who with a willing heart, renounce their sins. What else as been happening in the house?”
“They,” Zuza sat upright her eyes brimming with tears of relief. “They have captured a monk, a good man of God, and hold him captive in his lordship’s chapel. I have been sent to give him water and bread.”
“Felix the black monk,” whispered Lock.
“And I fear for you too my lord. There are two men servants guarding your door. They are under orders to prevent you from leaving your room.”
“Zuza,” said Lock, “God forgives you for your sins, and if you help me I can assure you a place in Heaven among the angles.”
“I’ll do anything I can.”
Peter’s tent was made from tanned hides with a willow frame and a linen lining. The two men sat on stools, in the candlelight, beside a barrel of Hungarian wine, which they drank by dipping their vessels into it, Peter from a looted silver goblet, Stanislaw from an ancestral aurochs horn.
The wine was dark, grainy and filled with stirred up sediment. Peter felt the world become unsteady around him and the face of Stanislaw blurred. The prince was strong and handsome with a well-oiled moustache and beard. He was much younger than Peter, perhaps no older than twenty, yet Peter recognised something in that face he knew in himself, the horror of war, the gallons of blood that never washed off. It drove a man to drink.
Stanislaw refilled his horn. “You escaped Mohacs?”
“I guess I’m lucky.”
“What happened? One day there was the glorious Kingdom of Hungaria, the next Turkish infidel soldiers were threatening our marches.”
“Ten thousand Christian knights, each a lord of the land, charged at a column of janissaries. The janissaries fired mass volleys of muskets. I think a handful of knights made it back alive. Then they attacked.” Peter paused as he remembered, the slashing swords of the Turks against skewering long swords of the landsknecht. “We repulsed them,” said Peter as he downed his wine, “and then we fled.”
Stanislaw leaned forward grinning at Peter, “And what did you flee from?” but his twisted smile said that he already knew the answer.
“The Turkish horse.”
“Aren’t they beautiful,” said Stanislaw.
“I wouldn’t know,” said Peter, “I didn’t wait to find out.”
Stanislaw laughed and slapped Peter on the arm. “You missed out on a beautiful sight. For weeks they harried us across the plain. But we,” the lancer’s face glowed with pride, “but we have faster steads and longer spears. You Germans think you can fight the Turks without proper horsemen? You are fighting blind. Germania is but a collection of pretentious princelings. The Turks will knock you over one at time and their armies will move faster than the news of them.”
Peter felt in his pouch for some cheese wrapped in linen. He sliced off a piece with his dagger, and proffered the remainder to his guest. “Where are you headed?” asked Peter, trying to change the subject from marauding enemy armies laying waste to Christendom.
“East, to Vienna. If the Turks are to be defeated then Christians must unite. Only if the Commonwealth and the Empire work together can we contain the threat.” Stanislaw slapped his satchel; “I have diplomatic letters from the King of Krakow to the Emperor of the Germans.”
Peter refilled his cup. “Last I heard of the emperor was that he was recruiting men for an invasion of Rome. He was offering excellent pay.”
“What!?” Stanislaw, spat out the wine, spraying it on the walls of the tent. “Christendom is under threat and he’s planning an invasion of the Holy City. Kurva mac.”
Nuray threw open the flaps of the tent and walked in. “Seni alman domuzu,” she walked over to Peter picked up his goblet of wine and threw it in his face and spat at Peter’s feet.
Stanislaw laughed. “What a spirited vixen! How much would you sell her for?”
Peter drew his dagger and slammed it into the barrel. “She’s not for sale.”
Lock listened through the keyhole, while Zuza spoke to the guards.
“Her lady has finished feasting with her guests. But it seems as if the party had little hunger, for there are plates of leftovers, even saffroned lamb, and plenty of wine. It has all been taken to the kitchens. But you must make haste. I don’t imagine that there will be much left after a turn of the clock.”
A few moments later after the sound of their footsteps had receded. Zuza pushed open the door. “Come your highness we must make haste before we are discovered.
The Pink Room had been built to accommodate Greta’s late father-in-law’s collection of antique arms and armour, the prize being five suits used in the crusades, each covered in a white surcoat emblazoned with an iron cross. The walls were coated in pink plaster for its vibrant manliness, and the room was lit with an open fire. It was here that Greta brought together the meeting of conspirators, two dozen of the most prominent nobles, burgers and guildsmen, invited for their commitment to the cause. Among them were Friedrich, Johann, and the richest engineers of the Iron Guild.
The anticipation in the room was palpable and when the last guest had arrived, Greta clapped her hands, to silence the murmuring crowd. “I am grateful that you have come to attend us here. Now that we are all assembled, I see no reason why we should not begin forthwith.”
Luke spoke from where he stood beside the fireplace, its light playing off his handsome face and warm smile. “We are here because we believe, nay we know, that the only way to God is through Him. Only through prayer and our own reading of the scripture can we attain that, and the only place the corrupt Church leads you is into the arms of the Devil. Brethren, we are at the dawn of a new era in which we will create God’s Kingdom on Earth and it is His will that we shall be rebaptised for only as an act of conscious will can one be invited into His Kingdom. In the barrel you see beside the fire is the purest water from a mountain spring. Who would like to be first?”
Greta rose to her feet. “I shall.”
She gasped as she immersed herself in the cold water and she felt it seep through her layers of clothes.
“He that is baptised and believes shall be saved,” whispered Luke.