Enter the Pawn
The rain darkened the afternoon sky over Adler Kralle Castle. Clotilda had just finished lighting all of the candles, and she put another log on the fire. She curtsied and took her position just outside Gunter’s den. Rosanera sat at the desk; General Herrmann stood next to her. They looked down on a map. The general spoke. “If Van Eyke is here, we have maybe three days before he and his men are at our gates.”
“What then, Hans?”
Before General Herrmann could answer, he was interrupted by a knock on the door.
Clotilda entered the room and curtsied. “There is a messenger from Duke Gunter.”
“Send him in.”
The messenger entered the room. He stood before Lady Rosanera and General Herrmann and bowed. The boy was muddy, and his hair and clothing were wet. He looked between his two superiors and chose to address the general.
“The lines broke, we were routed.”
Hans cast a sober glance at Rosanera.
“That is not new to us. We have known of the route for two days. Is Duke Gunter alive?” asked Rosanera.
“Thanks be to our Lord and Savior he is alive and well. He rides with those of us who are still loyal to him and the Pope.”
“Very good,” said the general. “In what numbers?”
“Thirty-two men at last count.”
“Tell me of Van Eyke. What are his whereabouts?”
“He is to the north, maybe four days away. Duke Gunter is only a few hours from the castle.”
“And he intends to come here?” Rosanera asked.
“Why, yes, Lady Rosanera. He instructed me to tell you to have fresh horses, food, and all the men from the garrison ready to ride with him by midnight.”
Hans put his hand on Rosanera’s shoulder. “So, you say less than forty men.”
The messenger gave a sheepish smile. “Counting me, thirty-three.”
Rosanera left the general’s side and sat at her desk. She wrote a quick note and folded it over several times.
The messenger noticed the note. “Is there a message for the duke?” He leaned toward the desk.
“Soldier, tell Duke Gunter we will be ready,” Rosanera called out, “Clotilda, come.”
The handmaid entered the room and stood before her mistress. “Deliver this note and this brave young soldier to Sergeant Lutz.”
Both bowed to Lady Rosanera and Clotilda led the young man from the room.
General Herrmann gave an ironic snort. “This will be much easier than I thought with only thirty-three desperate and hungry men to face.”
“Thirty-two. Gunter’s boy will be spending the night locked in a cell.”
“We have two hours to prepare for Gunter’s welcome.”
“Assemble our best archers,” Rosanera said coolly.
“Archers? Are they necessary? The gates will stop him. He is at large. It is just a matter of time before Van Eyke captures him. The peasants will give him no quarter. Any one of them would turn him over for a few coppers.”
“It is true. No one will give him shelter, nor will we. Gunter is worthless to us and to Van Eyke. You see, my dear Hans, if he is captured, no one will pay his ransom--not Pope Leo, and of course, not us. If he is imprisoned, he is still the duke, and that keeps me--or rather us--in limbo until his death.”
Herrmann had to think over Rosanera’s proposal. He spoke with some trepidation. “To kill a nobleman… well, in battle is one thing, but to just shoot him down? There is no honor in that.”
“Honor? You talk to me about honor? He is past his time. He should have died of the plague, but he did not. So he dies now, either by your hand or mine. I trust your skills in this business. You must do this for me… for us.” She took his hand and kissed it.
“Then it will be so. Pray for a swift and true shot. I must prepare.”
“You do this for us, cara mia. Send in the girl, please.”
Hans bowed and left the room. Clotilda slipped in and waited.
“Clotilda, tell Catharina, Luis, Angelo, and Cecilia to meet in my chambers. And be quick.”
“Yes, Lady Rosanera, right away.”