Alchemist's Gift

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In the Looking-Glass

Rosanera sat in her chamber in front of the mirror. It was midmorning. The sun filtered through the clouds and cast a cold light on her. Clotilda stood behind her mistress and brushed her hair. As careful as she tried to be, Clotilda brushed into a snag and tugged on Rosanera’s hair. Rosanera grimaced, roughly snatched the brush out of Clotilda’s hands, and blindly slapped at her over her shoulder. “Get out! Get out!”

Clotilda rubbed her hand where Rosanera hit her with the brush. “Please forgive me, your Lady.”

“Do not speak. Just go.” Rosanera continued to brush her hair.

Clotilda made herself small and she scurried away. She opened the door, and Bishop DeDeo along with Chancellor Waldherz stood before her. She curtsied and slipped between them like a frightened animal.

Rosanera looked at the reflection of the two men in her mirror. Chancellor Waldherz was a stout man with a bulbous nose and red, watery eyes. His silver hair just peeked out from under the brimless cap he wore. His clothing was tailored to his large frame, and he wore the gold medallion of his rank on a heavy gold chain.

She turned her gaze to Bishop DeDeo, a man past fifty but still energetic. She went to him when Gunter first forced himself on her. A monsignor at that time DeDeo listened and suggested Rosanera had an overactive imagination and to be silent and bear the cross given to her. “It is in the best interest of your salvation that you beg God to forgive your confused and indecent thoughts.”

DeDeo stayed close to the flow of gold from the Vatican. Gunter’s early battlefield successes had led DeDeo to the station of bishop. Now his time was spent defending Gunter’s failings and fabricating forgivable reasons why the Reformist were just beyond their borders, and why the Pope should continue his support.

The chancellor cleared his throat and addressed the reflection in the mirror. “How is your ladyship today?” His lips were always perched in an insipid smile.

Rosanera put the brush down. “As I am every day… and you, good chancellor? Your health?”

He knit his brows and rubbed the back of his left hand. “Lately I have noticed stiffness in my hands in the morning. My sleep seems disturbed by the slightest noise. And…”

Rosanera cut him short. “I hope you feel better. Tell me, dear bishop, are you in better health than our chancellor?”

DeDeo answered cheerfully. “Yes, Lady Rosanera, fit as a lancer.”

Rosanera turned in her chair to face the two men. “I received a message this morning. Gunter has been routed. The greater part of his army is gone. As of three days ago he had less than a hundred cavalry and half of the foot soldiers left.”

Waldherz rubbed his hands together fiercely. “This is terrible news. Terrible. Routed, you say?”

Bishop DeDeo made the sign of the cross. “Dear Rosanera, we must have faith.”

“Faith or not, we need an army to protect Adler Kralle.”

Both Rosanera and the chancellor looked to the bishop. Waldherz spoke up. “And can our Holy Father aid in our battle against these Reformers?”

A grave look came over the bishop’s face. “Before I can answer that question, hear this. Two papal legates brought me news of a Jew who was stopped on the Swiss frontier. This Jew had ten children--all blond and healthy, six girls and four boys--chained in his wagon. They were bound for Sardinia to become a Saracen’s slaves. The Jew produced a forged letter of safe passage along with forged bondage papers, one for each child. These children came from our orphanage. I think you know something about that, your Lady. Do you not?”

“I heard something about children being stolen from the orphanage.”

The bishop took a step toward Rosanera. “Dear girl, you were there. You were seen, in disguise, entering the orphanage. You were so bold that you ran out without that ridiculous military cloak over your shoulders.”

Rosanera clenched her jaw and gave the bishop a hard look.

“Please do not deny it. Dear girl, you would be surprised how much information a few coppers can buy.”

Her answer was terse and defiant. “True. I was there, but to deliver those things the children need, certainly not to conspire to take them. Fra Benito is my witness.”

“Alas, Fra Benito sleeps a sleep from which no one can wake him. He is all but dead to us. That is neither here nor there. My papal seal and what looks to be an excellent copy of my signature were on the papers, which makes me suspect. With Gunter losing this last battle and you, Lady Rosanera, and myself being under suspicion of hatching a plan to kidnap and sell these poor orphans into slavery, I am afraid the legates and the Pope hold us in a very bad light.”

The chancellor clasped his hands as he spoke. “What of the Jew? Perhaps he can shed some light on who was responsible. Can he not?”

The bishop let out an incredulous little snort. “The Jew? Oh, he was tortured and hung on the spot. Anything he said would be of little or no consequence.” With that dismissal, he continued. “All of that aside, the legates said Pope Leo is unwilling to send more gold or mercenaries to stave off what he feels is the inevitable loss of Bavaria.”

The news sickened Rosanera. “What is to become of Adler Kralle?”

“That, my child, is only something for our Lord and Savior to know. I must share just one more bit of unfortunate news. I leave for the Vatican today. I must clear my name of these terrible accusations. I will do my best for you as well, Lady Rosanera. May God keep you safe.” The bishop bowed to Rosanera and Waldherz. “Goodbye.”

Rosanera clapped her hands. “Clotilda! Come now!”

The girl stood in the doorway with her head lowered.

“Do you need a proper invitation? Get in here!”

Clotilda approached. “Yes, your lady.”

“Run and fetch General Herrmann, quickly. If he is not here in less than a minute, you will spend the rest of your days in the scullery rendering tallow.”

Clotilda wrinkled her brow and searched her mind where she might find the general. She began to fidget and looked left and right.

“The map room, you imbecile! Run!” boomed Rosanera.

Clotilda returned in less than a moment with General Hans Herrmann. The general was a handsome and muscular man in his mid-thirties. He had sincere blue eyes and wore a short, well-trimmed beard. His posture and his carriage defined his military bearing. He dressed in plain dark clothing and tunic, and carried a cylindrical map case. He bowed. “How can I be of service?”

Rosanera glared at Clotilda. The girl quickly left the room. “How can we protect Adler Kralle?”

“That will be quite a trick. Gunter’s troops have scattered.”

“What would get them back?” asked Waldherz.

“Simple: pay them, feed them, and begging your lady’s pardon, get them some whores and drink.”

Rosanera raised her eyebrows in resignation. “So, it is gold.” She thought for a moment. “What about the money lenders?”

The chancellor pursed his lips and shook his head no. “I am afraid not. The good duke has neglected to pay what he already owes. They will lend no more money. Anyway, they have been put to wandering. Their homes and possessions have already been confiscated, and little good that did. No, I am afraid the Jews can be of no more help.”

“Yes, we need gold. Lady Rosanera and good chancellor, we have more immediate concerns. General Von Eyke’s army is ten days march from Adler Kralle. If we do not open the gates to him, he will put us under siege.”

“How long to call up enough troops to secure Adler Kralle?”

“We have no one left but little boys and old men. If we had gold, the Swiss mercenaries might reform ranks and fight. They like a good scrap. If we can get two thousand infantry and three hundred cavalry back, or as many as we can, we might have a chance.”

“Cost?” asked Rosanera.

“Four, maybe five thousand gold pieces, enough to pay back wages with some left over to use as incentives.”

“And how long to get the troops organized?”

“Not too long. Pay a few and they will go back to their brothers and tell them. Then you will not have to seek them out. They will come to us. If we start today and God looks down on us favorably, we could amass that many men in four of five days.”

Chancellor Waldherz wiped the perspiration from his face with a hanky. “Is this wise? I wish the duke were here to make these decisions.” He directed his words to Herrmann.

Rosanera’s heart raced, and she stood. “The duke is not here, and God willing, may he never return. I make the decisions from now on. Your loyalty extends not only to this noble house but now especially me, your duchess.”

The chancellor was taken aback. General Herrmann winked at Rosanera and gave her the most subtle of grins.

“I have your loyalty, do I not?”

Chancellor Waldherz bowed and spoke. “It is your wish and also mine.”

Rosanera sat down at her vanity and crossed her arms. Herrmann and Waldherz came up close to her.

“Chancellor, go to the exchequer and somehow get three hundred gold pieces.” Rosanera gave the general a questioning look. He tallied and thought for a few seconds, and gave Rosanera a nod of approval. “Send your sergeant Cardetti out with a few trustworthy men to bring back some troops and pay them. I want receipts for every gold piece spent and the names of the men who received them. And tell the soldiers who receive gold there will be a silver piece for every ten men they bring back.”

Chancellor Waldherz bowed. “Yes, Lady…I mean Duchess Rosanera.” Waldherz nodded to Herrmann and left the room.

Rosanera relaxed with Waldherz gone. “Tell me, what kind of man is this General Van Eyke? Can he be bribed not to put us under siege?”

The general smiled. “Duchess? My oh my, well played.”

Rosanera took Herrmann’s hands in hers. “Hans what can I do? Waldherz is an ineffectual idiot. I could not leave the fate of Adler Kralle in his hands.”

“You are right. To answer your question, Van Eyke is a good man, he will not be bribed. He has the Seven Northern Princes and all of Germany behind him who all want to be rid of this last Papal stronghold. But he is predictable. He will send most of his soldiers home. I do not imagine he would keep more than a thousand men and perhaps three hundred cavalry; enough of an army for a siege. Time is of the essence.”

“You must do what you can to put together a new army. The longer it takes Van Eyke to arrive at our gates, the better chance we have of keeping Adler Kralle safe.” She pulled the general down until he knelt before her. Rosanera took his head in her hands and looked into his eyes. “Hans I have always respected and admired you, ever since I was a little girl.” She leaned close to his face and kissed him on the lips. “When all of this is over you will be my right hand. You will have your apartment right next to mine. I will make you chancellor. Would you not like that?”

“Yes my dear duchess, very much so.” He lingered with his face close to hers. He ventured another kiss which Rosanera allowed.

“We have much to do, God’s speed to you.” She stood. The general stood and headed for the door. “Hans, send Clotilda in.”

Clotilda stood in the doorway with her head lowered. Rosanera looked at her and shook her head. “Come over here. What do you think? I will strike you?”

Clotilda edged closer to her mistress and watched Rosanera write a note.

“Take this to the coachman. Be quick and close the door when you go.”

Clotilda curtsied and hurried away. Rosanera closed her eyes and massaged her temples. She picked up her hair brush and congratulated her reflection, “So, now you are duchess. Long live the duchess.”

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