Where there was sunlight there was warmth, but in the shade the first whispers of winter lurked, their chill brushing shivers onto skin and snapping color into the faces of the members of the Konige's Court; in the waning afternoon the shadows lengthened, deepening their touch, and the Konige's courtiers began to struggle to stay warm. Four elaborate pavilions stood in the broadest swath of light, with dozens of men and women wandering between them; in the space at the center of the four a large fire was being laid, and cooks were preparing to spit-broil the game that had been killed that day, while a group of musicians played just outside the closed silken door of Konige Kunigunde's pavilion. Three Trinitarian monks hovered near the entrance to the pavilion, seeking alms for the poor and the Church.
"She has been weeping most of the day," Csenge of Somogy said to Rakoczy Ferancsi in Magyar as he tuned his new Frankish lyre; they were in the alley between the Konige's pavilion and the one of Pan Kravar Jurg. "I hope you can provide her some relief. Something must be done before the Konig arrives."
"And I, as well, hope that my efforts can help her," said Rakoczy, testing the bass string for a third time, then twisting the tuning peg to bring it up to pitch.
"Sing her Hungarian songs, ones she'll know. I think she's been homesick. You could help her to-" She gnawed at her lower lip before flinging out her hands in a show of helplessness. "If only she had had a son, she wouldn't be so downcast. Who can blame her, though? Married almost eight years and only two daughters to show for it!"
"The Episcopus says her daughter is God's Will." Rakoczy plucked at the other eleven strings, taking care to tune them sweetly.
"Then God has been cruel to her, and the Episcopus knows it. The Konig must feel betrayed, to have a second daughter." She shuddered. "Not even the Konige is proof against his ire. She has failed him in the most dreadful way a woman can fail a man." She took the hem of her sleeve and wiped her eyes.
"Surely adultery is a greater failure," Rakoczy said. "Konige Kunigunde has faithfully given him this child. That she is a daughter may disappoint Konig Otakar, but it is hardly a failure: Agnethe is alive and properly formed. She feeds well, and her cry is hearty."
"But the Konig needs a son."
Rakoczy bit back a question that buzzed in his mind, for expressing more approval of the Konige above that of the Konig in these circumstances would be dangerous sentiments, especially for an exile. He looked at the large, red pavilion and said, "How many are with her?" It was a question often asked these days, and Csenge thought nothing of his inquiry.
"Three ladies-in-waiting, two dwarves, and six slaves, and those she has invited into her presence; how many of them are with her now, I have no idea," she replied. "There would be four ladies, but Rozsa of Borsod has been sent for by her husband, and the Konige has released her to go to him. If she doesn't return, she will have to be replaced, as will Erzebet of Arad. Two new ladies in the spring-it will be difficult until then, without Erzebet and Rozsa. The Konige misses them both." A faint flicker of supposition shone in her eyes, fading rapidly when her announcement got no more reaction from Rakoczy than a shake of his head. "As do we all."
"It is sad that Erzebet of Arad is dead and will never return here," he said carefully. "For Rozsa, it is probably better to travel now than later in the autumn. The rains will start shortly, and then it will be too hard to be abroad. Muddy roads make for trouble." He touched his lyre and this time was pleased with what he heard.
"As the Konig knows; the army will leave the front shortly."
Imbolya of Heves walked by, resplendent in a bleihaut of pale-green Damascus silk worked in a pattern of acanthus leaves, a large pitcher of honied wine in her hands; she nodded to her cousin but said nothing.
"And Rozsa's husband will be at Kaposvar before the Konig comes to Praha." Rakoczy waited for Csenge to speak.
"Rozsa won't be able to return until spring, when her husband once more follows the Konig into battle." This time her scrutiny was pronounced. "She will not be here before the Equinox. Unless she becomes pregnant, which will probably result that she remain in Hungary at Kaposvar."
"Among her own people, who will care for her," he said, more because it was the prudent response than because he believed it.
"Would it bother you if she became pregnant?" Csenge asked, her eyes fixed on his.
"Why should it?"
"The rumor is that you might care," Csenge said as pointedly as she dared.
"For Rozsa's sake, certainly," he agreed. "But you imply more, do you not?" His tone was light and sardonic.
"And if a child should come in the spring, what then?" Csenge lifted her chin in triumph. "She boasted that she had the sweetest lover in all the world."
"Then she is a fortunate woman," said Rakoczy and struck a chord, listening to its harmony with satisfaction.
"Proud of yourself, are you?" Csenge challenged.
Realizing his risk, Rakoczy took a chance, asking calmly, "Did she say I was that lover-by name?"
"Of course not. But we know. 'A man from my own country who is not brute, who gives me the pleasure I seek,' whomelse could it be?"
"There are a good number of Hungarians in the Konige's Court," he reminded her. "Have you considered them?"
"Most are artisans and Guildsmen: the rest are monks and priests-not to say that all of the clergy are chaste. You are the only Court noble who is not on campaign with the Konig. You are the one who is an oddity." She sounded slightly less sure of herself.
"Mightn't one of the others be the person she praised? And might she have misled you about her lover-if she truly had a lover." His demeanor was so calm that Csenge began to doubt her own convictions.
"The Konige would not tolerate having a lady-in-waiting who disgraced her husband," she said thoughtfully.
"Did she say that she disgraced her husband with her lover?" he countered, wondering what Rozsa had told the other ladies-in-waiting; how much had been boasting and how much had been simple truth? He thought back to Sophronia in Byzantium, who boasted of her multitude of lovers, often in great detail, and never had any. "Sometimes lovers are more dreams than flesh."
"No; she said that he-"
He held up his hand. "It is not appropriate for you to tell me her confidences. You are her confidante."
"Even priests gossip," Csenge said, her eyes narrowed. "But if you aren't interested-" She shrugged. "We will see what we may, in the fullness of time."
"If she becomes pregnant-if she delivers in the autumn next year there will be no question of her fidelity, which will still all the salacious rumors, and will restore her good name," he said calmly. "If she is delivered about this time, or in early October, there will be no doubt." He nodded as if to end their confrontation. "When we will all wish her a healthy, sound child."
"She said she wants to come back to the Konige's Court, which she won't do if she has an infant," Csenge said, looking away as a shower of sparks rose from the central fires.
"If her husband wants a child, and it arrives next autumn..." He let the rest of his thoughts go unspoken, wondering as he did what was uppermost in Rozsa's mind: her dislike of Notay Tibor of Kaposvar or the power having a child would give her? A son would enhance her prestige and importance to her husband that she presently lacked, and that might be sufficient to keep her at Kaposvar, or would her enjoyment of Kunigunde's Court outweigh her yearning for position within the Notay House?
Csenge sniffed. "As you say, if her husband wants a legitimate child..."
In the ensuing silence he ducked his head to Csenge. "I should go to the Konige."
"So you should," Csenge said, stepping aside to allow him to pass.
The flap of Kunigunde's pavilion held a large embroidered golden sun upon it, a reminder of Bohemia's wealth as well as a token of hope for the Konige's improved happiness. Inside there were three braziers providing light and perfumed smoke for the nine people attending on Konige Kunigunde, who lay on a Byzantine couch, a soft goat-hair blanket thrown over her legs. She was dressed in a dark-blue silken bleihaut over a peach-colored linen chainse; a collar of gold studded with jewels lay slightly askew on her chest. Her gorget was white and her veil was a muted shade of red. Wisps of dark auburn hair escaped from beneath her veil, slightly damp and clinging to her forehead and cheeks, accentuating the look of fatigue that had taken hold of her. She gave a negligent wave to Rakoczy as he went down on one knee to her.
"Dear Royal," he said, and held out a small white-leather pouch. "Something to brighten your spirits, I hope."
"You're too good to me, Comes; you have adorned me with riches beyond any other but the Konig himself, and always with grace and courtesy," she said in Bohemian with a strong Magyar accent. "What have you hidden in here?" She pulled on the silk cords that held it closed, releasing their knot and holding up the pouch so that she could look down into it. "Ah. What stones are these?"
"Amethysts and rubies: three of each, and a single peridot," he said.
"You're too generous to me. I don't deserve such tribute, though I am thankful to you for your generosity." She handed the pouch and its contents to Milica of Olmutz without a second glance. Again she gazed at Rakoczy, lacing and unlacing her fingers. "They tell me that beyond your pretty gems, you're to sing to me. Are you going to do that?"
"If it would please you, dear Royal, I will," said Rakoczy, rising and touching the strings of his lyre so lightly that only the ghost of a sound issued from them. "Tell me what you would like to hear and I will try to summon just such a song for you."
"That's most acceptable," the Konige said without enthusiasm. "You really are most kind to me, kinder than many who would have more cause to want my good opinion and my ... I have never been so ... I shall not forget you in years to come." She spoke by rote, her eyes on the middle distance.
"What do you want me to sing, dear Roy-" he began after she had remained silent for some little time.
"Something new!" she said in a burst of brittle petulance that seemed almost on the brink of weeping. "Everyone sings the songs I've known all my life. For the love of Hungary, Comes! sing me something different. I know the Hungarian songs."
"Would another language than Magyar suffice?" he asked, for he knew songs in all five languages spoken in Hungary.
She laughed once, deeply sad. "Do you know anything from far away?"
Melodies from Pharaonic Egypt, from China, from the Asian Steppes, from Hispania, from the north of Gaul, from Tunis, from Cyprus, from Roma, rang in his memory; he considered them all, trying to decide which would serve the Konige best. Finally he lifted the lyre. "Here is something Greek, from long ago. It was sung in Corinth when I heard it, by a market-slave who said he had it from a country youth." That had been more than fourteen and a half centuries ago, but the plaintive song remained alive in his recollections. He touched the lyre and began in the ancient dialect of the region:
Morning is coming, the stars vanish from the sky,
The lambs are calling on the hillside and birds waken,
Their songs blending with the bleating sheep.
I will follow the flock through the mountains
To the place where my heart longs to be:
Woe to those who do not know the call of love,
Alas to those who deny the rites of Aphrodite.
Tonight I shall lay with my beloved in sweet grass
And drink the wine of our joy; nothing will keep us
From each other, and nothing will break our happiness
But the lure of sleep and the charms of Morpheus,
My only rival and my greatest friend.
As the last few notes plucked from the lyre's strings faded, Konige Kunigunde nodded her approval. "That was very pretty, Comes. What did it mean?"
"It was the lament of a shepherd who longs to be with the one he loves. He expects to see his love soon." He noticed the Konige wince, and he went on as smoothly as he could. "Is there something else you would like to hear?" Rakoczy saw that Imbolya of Heves was bringing him a goblet. "This is most gracious, but it is not my custom, as you know-I do not drink wine. I am sorry to refuse so mannerly a gift, but for those of my blood..."
"So you have told me," Konige Kunigunde said from her couch. "I was hoping you might change..." She sighed. "Very well, Imbolya, present the wine to Hovarth Pisti, with my thanks for the progress he and his apprentices are making on their tapestry."
"Dear Royal," said Imbolya with a courtisy. She carried the goblet to the four men in the far corner of the pavilion.
Konige Kunigunde looked up suddenly, her face brightening for the first time. "Can you sing me a children's song, one I have never heard?" She pointed to Rakoczy. "You say you have traveled a long way and learned many things. Surely you must know a children's song?"
He knew several, but he took a little time to answer. "I know one from the Eastern Realms that might please you."
"Then play it for me, Comes." She stretched and did her best to smile at him. "If I like it, you may teach it to me."
"As you wish, dear Royal." He ducked his head, positioned his lyre, then began in the Chinese of the Old Capital, of seven centuries past:
One rat, two cups of rice
One hen, two eggs to brood
One dog, two lambs to guard
One fish, two flies to catch
One pig, two wallows to lie in
One horse, two apples to eat
One man, two sons to follow him
Happiness is everywhere.
"What does it say?" the Konige asked when he moved his lyre aside. "It sounds like nonsense to me."
"It is a counting song," said Rakoczy, aware that several of the courtiers inside the pavilion had disliked the unfamiliar Chinese melody.
"What manner of tongue was that?" asked Pader Stanislas, approaching Rakoczy. "Why did you sing such a dreadful thing to the Konige?"
"It is a song for children in the city of Lo-Yang, in distant China." He thought back to the Year of Yellow Snow and all that had happened during his return to the West in that desperate time, and how few children had wanted to sing during those hard years.
"It isn't Christian," Pader Stanislas pronounced, and turned toward Kunigunde. "You should not ask for such entertainment, dear Royal. You do not know what is being said. Foreign songs could open your soul to the devils that every day seek for ways to ruin Christians."
The Konige crossed herself. "I hadn't thought a children's song, no matter where it came from, would be so dangerous."
"You have only his word that it is a children's song. It might be anything from a curse to a spell, since only he can tell you what it says." The priest glowered at Rakoczy. "Konig Bela exiled you to the Konige's Court for some serious reason. I believe it would be fitting to learn what it might be." He lifted his head, his ragged beard standing out from his chin like an accusing finger. He sighed explosively. "I may have to make inquiry."
"You may do as you like," said Rakoczy, "but I swear to you on my ... on my soul, that the song was nothing more than a children's song."
"A potent oath," said the priest, measuring Rakoczy with his eyes, seeking for flaws. "If you have endangered your soul in this oath, then it will be the worse for you when the Last Trumpet sounds."
One of the dwarves, a squat man of possibly twenty years with short black hair and a hooked nose, came up to Pader Stanislas. "Your pardon, Pader," he said with a deep bow; his speech was flavored with the accent of Antioch. "I have traveled with jugglers from China, and their children sang just such a song."
Pader Stanislas regarded the dwarf suspiciously. "Do you swear by the Holy Trinity that you speak the truth?"
"By the Holy Trinity, by the Cross, by my hope of Heaven, I swear," he said, his face angled up so that Pader Stanislas could see him clearly as he crossed himself.
"I must be satisfied, then, and I thank you for your vow. You have done a charitable act in telling me," Pader Stanislas declared, giving the dwarf a severe look. "I will accept that the song was free of malign intent, and that it poses no harm to the Konige. There is a severe penalty for false witness, and if I should learn that you dishonor Our Lord..." He left the threat hanging and looked from the dwarf to Rakoczy. "And, Comes, see that you sing no more songs to the Konige that are not in Magyar, Bohemian, or Latin." He made the sign of the cross over the dwarf but did not bless Rakoczy; returning to the small table next to the largest brazier, he pointedly ignored the foreigner.
"Thank you, Tahir," said Rakoczy softly in the Antioch dialect.
"I am glad to be of service," said the dwarf, turning away.
"Did you really travel with Chinese jugglers?" Rakoczy asked him before he moved off.
The dwarf laughed aloud. "No. But that kind of sing-song melody with much repetition is in children's songs everywhere."
Overhearing this foreign exchange, Pader Stanislas was rigid with disapproval. "More curses," he exclaimed.
"Not curses, good Pader," said Rakoczy. "That is the tongue of the city of Antioch." He bowed to the juggler. "Tahir does me honor to converse with me in so elegant a language."
Pader Stanislas folded his arms. "I am going to pay close attention to you, Comes. You are too knowing."
"As you wish," said Rakoczy with a fleeting smile.
"Foreigners can be dangerous," Pader Stanislas said.
"So they can, as can those native to this place," Rakoczy said, feeling more isolated than he had felt since he returned from the Land of Snows, more than fifty years ago. As this desolation went through him, some portion of it must have showed in his eyes, for Pader Stanislas leaned toward him.
"How have you been touched by retribution? Is that what makes you so haughty in your ways?"
"Not in the way you suppose." He paused, recalling SGyi Zhel-ri in the distant Yellow Hat Bya-grub Me-long ye-shys lamasery. "In my recent travels I met a most learned youth, a boy who appeared to possess great knowledge and compassion. He had much wisdom."
"A holy child?"
"A monk," said Rakoczy, careful not to fall into the doctrinal trap Pader Stanislas was setting for him.
"Ha." The priest shook his head. "Vanity, it is vanity to suppose that any child but Our Lord could have those attributes."
"I said appeared to possess. I do not know enough of faith to judge these things." He averted his gaze and saw that Konige Kunigunde was weeping. "Your pardon, Pader, but I believe the Konige needs-"
"I will attend to Konige Kunigunde," Pader Stanislas announced. "Such grief requires Christian care, and the consolation of religion." He went to the Konige's couch, his hands clasped in the anticipation of prayer. Everyone in the pavilion watched him silently as he knelt down. "My Konige. Tell me what causes you to weep?"
It took the Konige a little time to gather her thoughts. "Erzebet died. I should have been the one. Why did God take her and leave me to this misery?"
"God does not give us to know all His reasons, just as a father does not tell his children his reasons for his rules; acquiescence is required of us, His children, though His purpose may be beyond our understanding." Pader Stanislas blessed her. "My daughter, my Konige, you must not doubt that God's Will is in all that happens. God has claimed your lady-in-waiting. You have a second daughter, though you sought a son, yet it is essential that you submit to His mission for you. Your daughter will show her purpose in time. For now, resign yourself in true faith to your circumstances, for it is fitting that you are obedient to Him."
Konige Kunigunde continued to cry. "I cannot, Pader; I ask God to restore me to contentment, but He has not answered my prayers."
"This melancholy is a sin, Konige. It shows that your faith is in danger of failing. I exhort you to restore your piety before you endanger your immortal soul." He rose to his feet, although she had not given him leave to do so. "Your obstinacy will bring about your damnation if you cling to your perversity."
Rakoczy watched the two, growing appalled at the eager excitement in the courtiers' faces. So many of them would rejoice if Kunigunde were declared a heretic. He knew that if he interrupted Pader Stanislas' incitation, he would find himself under more intense scrutiny than he had been before. After a moment, he began to play the Pie Jesu on his lyre, the sound so quiet that at first it was barely audible.
"Pray!" Pader Stanislas commanded. "Humble yourself before God's Majesty, and be restored to Him again!"
Milica of Olmutz began to sing the Pie Jesu, her soft, high voice penetrating the bustle of sounds from outside. Hovarth Pisti knelt and crossed himself; soon after, everyone inside the pavilion, with the exception of Padre Stanislas and Konige Kunigunde, were on their knees, and the melody of the Pie Jesu grew stronger. Even the Konige's Hungarian slaves genuflected, although most of them did not understand the Latin words, nor the cause of this sudden demonstration of religiosity.
"Pray, Konige!" The priest raised his hands in supplication.
As the hymn ended, Rakoczy got to his feet and ducked his head to Konige Kunigunde. "What more may I do for you, dear Royal?"
"You can leave me alone. All of you. I want time to myself." She spoke without heat, but there was no doubt that she was sincere in her dismissal.
"I will pray with you," Pader Stanislas said at his most solicitous.
"No, Pader. I must be alone." She made a motion with her hands that sent most of her Court and entertainers scurrying out of the pavilion; only Milica of Olmutz remained at her side.
"Thank you, Comes. Thank you, Pader," Konige Kunigunde said, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. "I will summon you again when the food is ready."
Rakoczy ducked his head and stepped out of the pavilion; a moment later Pader Stanislas followed him, glaring at him.
"This is your doing. I know it is your doing, Comes, and I will be wary of you, as I have pledged to be." To emphasize his point he spat at Rakoczy's feet, then walked away, leaving Rakoczy to stand by himself in the growing chill.
Text of a letter from Zenta Laszlo, Dux of Heves, at Heves in Hungary to his daughter, Imbolya of Heves, lady-in-waiting to Konige Kunigunde, at Praha in Bohemia, written by Frater Tonku, scribe and Hieronymite monk, carried by private courier and delivered sixteen days after it was written.
To my most estimable daughter, Imbolya of Heves, the greetings of your father, Zenta Laszlo, Dux of Heves, on this, this first day of October in the 1269th year of Grace,
My dear child,
In February you will be fifteen, and it will be time for you to be married. Mindful of my duty as your father, I have made inquiries of many Hungarian nobles with sons who would look kindly on an alliance with the House of Heves and the senior House of Zenta, which you embody. I have narrowed the possible husbands for you to four, and in the next months I will be at pains to determine who among them will most advance you in the world.
You may prepare for marriage to take place not more than a year from now, unless the fighting grows more extensive, in which case it may be a year and a half at most until you are a bride. I am determined to see you bearing a child before you are sixteen. I will bring you back to Heves at the end of May so that you may participate in the arrangements for your nuptials. If you would like to spend a month at Santu-Antonia to pray for your happiness and many children, I know the Priora will be willing to have you visit; she has praised you for your learning and humility during the four years you lived there. At the time, I was thinking that you might turn nun, but I see now that God had another plan for you. Certainly there are nobles in Hungary who will see the advantage of a wife who reads and writes.
If only your mother had lived to see this day. Your sisters and brothers have been informed of my intentions and their suggestions for worthy bridegrooms sought. Olya has already recommended her husband's brother as a one to be considered, and I have pledged to pursue the matter, although Konig Bela does not approve of too many alliances among two families, for fear they might take up arms against him. Still, I will present him with a reasonable list and I will be guided by his wisdom in whom I choose. Once I have secured the Konig's consent to two of my recommended sons-in-law, I will contact the families and determine what they would want to endorse the union. When we have agreed, I will inform you which man you will marry. You should know by Easter unless the winter is long and so hard that travel is slowed to the point of stopping.
I pray you will conduct yourself honorably at Konige Kunigunde's Court, and that no scandal will attach to your name, for such calumny-as calumny such repute must be-could ruin any hope of a worthy husband. Young though you are, you are as sensible as a woman might be. You are aware of what you owe your family, and what advantage you can bring to our House. That you are a lady-in-waiting to Konige Kunigunde speaks well of you, but I urge you not to taint your duty at Praha. In these war-like times, securing noble husbands is not readily done, and we need to preserve the most laudable reputation for you so that you will have the best opportunity to marry well.
With my most affectionate greetings and my fatherly blessings, I ask you to make ready to leave Praha at the end of winter. I will, myself, inform Konige Kunigunde of these coming changes so that she will not be left without sufficient ladies-in-waiting to support her and her Court. Be grateful that God has favored you in this way, my daughter. May you have many healthy sons to bring honor to our House for generations to come.
Dux of Heves
(his mark and his seal)
by Frater Tonku, Hieronymite scribe