1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 16
Bonn, The archbishop’s Palace
Another spasm of pain racked through Charlotte’s body, but she barely flinched. The baby could come or not, live or not, kill her or not, she didn’t really have the strength to care.
In Cologne she had felt vulnerable and uncertain, but at least she had been in contact with her family, had received reports from General Merode in Berg, sent orders to the caretakers in JÃ¼lich and Berg, and generally tried to pick up the reins of the mess her husband’s death had left behind. She might have longed for her family to come help her, but she had not been considering Archbishop Ferdinand a very serious problem, after all: while he wasn’t a relative, he had been her son’s godfather, and she knew her mother considered the archbishop a friend of the family. But then he had sent Felix Gruyard into her life, and an uncertain situation went straight into the hell of cold, unwavering eyes showing no sign of human emotions, only a total concentration on his task and his duty.
After arriving at Bonn in the middle of the night she had been kept isolated for almost two days, and when she had finally met the archbishop, the slightly indulgent old man she remembered from the baptism had seemed a totally different person. She had of course asked for an explanation for what happened at the Beguine, and why she had been dragged to Bonn in the middle of the night, but he had brushed her off with a few words about the political situation being tense, and that she would be safer in Bonn. She was now to concentrate on giving birth to a healthy child, while he would take care of everything else.
Charlotte had not liked that, and she had like it even less, when he started pressing her for a letter giving him full power to act in her name. She had not received a single letter during her weeks here in Bonn, and while she kept writing her own letters and giving them to Sister Ursula to send, she became more and more certain they never left the archbishop’s palace. She — with her baby-heir-to-be — was in fact the archbishop’s prisoner.
At the end of her first week in Bonn Charlotte made the mistake of telling Sister Ursula how much Gruyard upset her. The same evening, when she once again refused to write to the archbishop’s dictate, Archbishop Ferdinand claimed her mind was obviously unsettled, and she should enter seclusion with that Loyal Servant of the Lord, Felix Gruyard, as her only contact with the world.
As the weeks dragged by, Gruyard now started haunting her nights and days as well as her nightmares. He would enter her small white-washed cell whenever she had fallen into a fitful doze, wake her and say it was time to pray. Or worse: not wake her, just stand there looking at her when she woke in a cold sweat of fear. And, as the last week of her pregnancy went by, she could feel her hold on reality slip more and more with her lack of sleep, until — when the labor had started in the early hours of the morning — she barely seemed to notice. It was just another nightmare, and she couldn’t put two thoughts together and even consider what to do.
Sister Ursula had come that morning after the water had broken. Presumably Gruyard had brought her, though Charlotte couldn’t remember having seen him — or her — enter. The grim older woman was now sitting on a stool, murmuring soothing words and prayers, but not doing any of the things the midwife had done at the birth of baby Ferdinand. Presumably she was loyal to the archbishop, and that was all that mattered. Perhaps that was the way it should be. Perhaps she would soon go away too.
It was dark again now outside the small deep-set window, and Sister Ursula had been frowning for a while when she went to the door and said: “I think we need to send for the midwife, the contractions are getting weaker.” She stepped back and Gruyard entered the room, going to the narrow cot where Charlotte lay with open, unseeing eyes, barely breathing. He reached out and shook her shoulder. “Katharina Charlotte, it is time to wake.” At his words Charlotte screamed and tried to scramble away from his touch, but only managed to fall to the floor before fainting from the pain.
* * *
When she came to herself two strange women were moving around the small room with linen and hot water, and Sister Ursula was sitting by the cot holding a steaming mug. She lifted the mug towards Charlotte and said with an attempt to smile that looked almost painful: “Drink this. Frau Eigenhaus and her sister have come. They will make your baby come out.”
“Never mind that.” The largest and most determined looking of the two women took the mug and pushed Sister Ursula aside with a swing of her hips. “You just drink this and relax.” She lifted up Charlotte and helped her hold the mug with the warm, honeyed drink. “I am Frau Benedicte Eigenhaus, and this is my sister Irmgard, who is the best midwife in Bonn. We have both been bringing children into this world since long before you were born, so you just leave everything to us.”
“Y-you’ll keep him out?”
“What my dear?”
“Gruyard!” The two sisters looked at each other, then turned their heads to look at Sister Ursula, whose pale, hollow cheeks suddenly showed two bright red spots. “And pray tell, Sister Ursula, just what does the archbishop’s torturer have to do with this nice, young mother-to-be?”
Sister Ursula straightened her back and took a deep breath. “The archbishop has delegated the responsibility for this woman to Master Gruyard. She is not of sound mind.” The nun’s eyes started waving under the stern gaze of the midwife and her sister. “It is probably just temporary fancies, brought about by the pregnancy and the loss of her husband.”
“I see.” Irmgard exchanged a look with her sister. “A common occurrence, those not-sound-fancies in a pregnant woman, and usually very convenient to somebody.”
A muted scream from Charlotte interrupted. “Benedicte, you lift her up again and support her; that portion she just drank should ensure that the baby will be coming fast.”
Linz, Austria, The Scribe
“Melchior! You’re back.” Wolf von Wildenburg-Hatzfeldt jumped up from his chair and enfolded Melchior in an obviously heartfelt embrace. That his cousin was to be found in a tavern rather than in the garrison with his men, wasn’t really a surprise to Melchior — and neither was the fact that Wolf paid absolutely no attention to Melchior’s frown — but this was an unusually warm welcome. Unless of course Wolf was a lot more drunk than Melchior would expect for this time of day.
“Just passing through on my way to Vienna. But what kind of trouble are you in to make you that glad to see me?”
“None, my dear cousin.” Wolf returned to his chair and waved at the barmaid for more beer. “I’m just bored out of my scull with garrison duty, and hoped you had a new campaign for us. I could use a little action.”