"I am so glad that Easter is over and we can wear bright colors again," said Iliska, stretching luxuriously in her new chainse, a glowing leaf-green that added brightness to her eyes and brought out the color in her cheeks.
"Better for you not to make too much of a show," Csenge of Somogy warned her. "The Episcopus doesn't like ostentation. He says it leads to envy and pride."
The two of them were alone in the ladies' hall, waiting for their turn in the bath-house. The day was balmy, so their second-story windows stood open, letting in the air and sunshine in equal measure. Below in the stable courtyard there was a bustle of activity as three new German knights made ready to depart for Austria to take their place among the Konig's German Guard.
Iliska rounded on her. "Then why does he wear a jeweled robe and carry a golden crozier? Or does he think no one could envy an Episcopus such treasures?" She ignored the snort of disapproval that remark earned her, and instead went twirling across the ladies' hall, laughing and flicking her hands over her head.
"The Episcopus' vestments and crozier show the way our faith magnifies God in His Majesty." Csenge shook her head.
"And no one ever begrudged the Episcopus his grandeur? Not even for a moment?" Iliska laughed. "What monk would not like vestments of silk instead of stuff?" She gave a little hop and spun more quickly.
"You're a hoyden, Iliska of Szousa," said Csenge with a scowl of disapproval.
"As God made me," said Iliska with the assumption of piety.
Csenge did not laugh. "Be careful that your mischief is not your undoing."
"Why should it be?-since it is God's Will," she challenged, whirling more rapidly still, and growing dizzy, laughing loudly.
"Light behavior means a light character, and the Konige will not have such women around her." This time the severity of her expression left little doubt as to her meaning. "You can be sent away if you bring disrepute to the Konige's Court, and then no honorable man will have you to wife."
"That's ridiculous," Iliska declared; nevertheless, she stopped turning and faced Csenge, blinking to steady her vision. "Why do you insist on dampening everything?"
"I don't dampen, as you call it. I devote myself to the Konige, as should you. I have as many expectations as you do, but I know better than to show them, or to display myself, or to undertake something so unwise as your roguery." Csenge kicked at the rushes, dislodging the small carcase of a mouse as she did. "The house-slaves are being lax again."
"Then arrange for the stewards to beat them. That should make them keep to their duty." Iliska moved toward the window. "The breeze is chilly today, for all the sun is warm."
"If the sun is warm, then the bath-house will hold its heat. Today and tomorrow it will be used, and not again after that for a month." Csenge stretched slowly. "Be sure your gorget is clean for Mass tomorrow. If it isn't, you will cast disapprobation on the Konige in your remissness."
"And my veil must also be clean," said Iliska, not succeeding in keeping the resentment out of her voice. "My brother has already issued instructions. I have to abide by them."
"You would be wise to obey him; he is here to defend you." Csenge made her way to the single chair in the room and sat down. "Remember not to linger in the bath-you do not want to indulge your flesh."
Iliska grinned. "Why shouldn't I indulge my flesh? God gave it to me, didn't He?"
Csenge stiffened in her chair. "That is blasphemy. If you say such things again, you will bring the Church upon you, and no one-not your brother, not your House, not the Konige, or the Episcopus himself-will be able to save you from the consequences. The Konige and all her Court will suffer the opprobrium of your behavior."
"It isn't blasphemy," said Iliska, but her voice shook as she spoke.
"I wouldn't put it to the test if I were you; women are known to be more inclined to sin than men are, and we must be diligent in keeping to the ways of the Godly," said Csenge, and glanced toward the door as Sorer Zuza knocked upon it. "Your levity may yet bring you down," she added just above a whisper.
"Your drying sheets are ready for you," the nun called out. "The bath awaits."
"Come, Sorer," Iliska said, opening the door to the nun. "We thank you for bringing us our sheets."
"It is my task so to do," Sorer Zuza said, holding out the engulfing sheets. "See you keep your modesty even bathing, for God sees all."
Iliska bit back a retort as she took the sheets. "May God reward your service."
"Amen." Sorer Zuza stepped back, crossed herself, and closed the door.
Getting up, Csenge took her drying sheet from Iliska. "Do you remember how to get into the bath so that no one can see you?"
"Yes," Iliska said, sounding ill-used. "Fasten the sheet to the hooks in the wall and stay behind it once it is in place."
"And when you get out, stand behind it and wrap it around you meekly so that your body is not exposed in any unbecoming way."
"I then give my garments to the laundresses and they will hand me clean garments from my own garderobe. That is the ritual, is it not?" Iliska's lower lip protruded.
"Yes. You have it. Then we should go down. Imbolya and Betrica should be gone by now; Sorer Zuza will alert Gyongyi and Milica to make ready and then to wait here." Csenge thought carefully about what she should say to Iliska next. "Do keep your place in mind, and be a credit to it. If you please God, you will please the Episcopus."
"So I have been told," Iliska said, and swung the door open for Csenge to lead the way to the bath-house. "One bath at the end of every month and one before the Mass of the Nativity and one before the Mass of the Resurrection. So we will have twice bathed in April. Does that make the Episcopus more wary for our souls?" She pursed her lips as if trying to decide if it would be wise to say anything more, then fell silent as she caught sight of the Greek eunuch who guarded the corridor to the Konige's Garden and the bath-house beyond, her bare feet making her wince as she trod the rough gravel of the path, thinking as she did that this must be mortification of the flesh for going without solers.
On their way across the Konige's Garden Iliska and Csenge passed Rozsa of Borsod, who was rebraiding her wet hair; Rozsa was freshly dressed in a bleihaut of blue-green patterned Damascus silk over a chainse of embroidered white cotton. She courtisied the two women and went on with her task.
"Is it true that her relatives want to kill her child?" Iliska asked just after they entered the bath-house.
"There are rumors," said Csenge, not wanting to discuss such matters.
"No wonder she's so brusque," said Iliska, and hung her drying sheet so that it concealed her as she removed her chainse and her breechclout, which she hung on a broad peg before stepping into the large oblong wooden tub of warm water. She sighed as the water rose around her, and she began to unfasten her hair. The room smelled of damp and of rosemary, which was strewn about the floor to keep the fleas down.
"The soap is on the tray near the head of the tub," Csenge told Iliska as she took hold of the gray lump sitting next to her tub.
"I know," said Iliska. "It's rough on my skin."
"They say the lye does the damage. All the more reason to use it only once a month, and then sparingly," Csenge said, beginning to rub the soap over her arms, watching the bubbles form.
Iliska started with her feet, deliberately splattering as she worked the soap over her toes; she enjoyed having the opportunity to move her body in the warm water, with or without the soap. "They say the Comes Santu-Germaniu bathes as often as twice a week. His skin doesn't look as if he does." She worked the lather up her legs, her flesh stinging from the washing, for the soap was coarse and rough. "They say the followers of Mohammed wash often."
"The Comes is no apostate-he's an alchemist, among the best of them," Csenge told Iliska. "He has told the Episcopus and the Konige that in order to make jewels, he must have newly clean skin, or there is a chance he will produce clods of earth instead of gems. The baths are part of his ritual to create jewels."
"Then he would have to spend hours-perhaps days-in the bath, since the Konige has increased her demands for jewels. I should think that the Episcopus would reprimand him for such excesses." She could feel small insects on her body, trying to escape the soapy water as she sank more deeply into the tub.
"The Episcopus is glad of jewels to adorn the saints and the crucifixes of his cathedral, and he knows that Konig Bela has charged the Comes with the task of ornamenting the Konige and her daughters with the finest jewels to be had throughout the Holy Roman Empire. There is no vanity in what the Comes does, only duty." Csenge unfastened her elaborate braids and let her hair float around her. This was one of her favorite parts of bathing, the loosening of her hair; it made her feel unfettered and unconstrained for all of the limitations that confronted her daily, and which she was compelled to uphold. She closed her eyes and let the water hold her.
"Why does Konig Bela want to give such splendor to Bohemia? Isn't the war between them enough for him to summon the Comes back to Hungary?"
Csenge did not answer at once; she was luxuriating in the pleasure of her bath, and reminding herself to Confess it to Pater Lupu before Mass tomorrow, for it was most certainly sinful to enjoy washing her body so much, as were the thoughts that awakened in her when she did it. Finally, as she heard Iliska splashing more energetically, she said, "Konig Bela wants his granddaughter's magnificence to come from Hungary. Let Otakar laden her with gold and silver, but let her jewels come from Hungary, so that her beauty will outshine her wealth." She held her nose and slipped under the water to allow the soap to drift free of her, then, reluctantly, she stood up, shivering a little as the heat of the water fled her, then she took the small pail beside the bath and twice filled it and poured it over her. Now rinsed, she climbed out of the tub and pulled her drying sheet around her.
"I wouldn't send such a man as Comes Santu-Germaniu to my enemy's Court. Not with his riches."
"Konig Bela didn't send the Comes to an enemy, he sent him to his granddaughter," Csenge said; she put down the pail and secured the drying sheet more securely. "This is not a matter for us to speak of."
"When is your cousin leaving?" Iliska asked a bit later. "She was supposed to leave yesterday, wasn't she?"
"Imbolya? The Konige has requested that she remain through the May Festival, and her escort agrees that it is fitting, since the bridges they will cross are still being rebuilt and will delay their arrival in any case. A little postponement now will mean a swifter return, for more of the bridges will be usable." Csenge found herself shivering in spite of the warmth of the room. "She'll be departing soon enough." She started toward the side-door.
It took Iliska a little longer to emerge from her tub than it had taken Csenge, and she rinsed herself three times, sighing as she did. "Where is the laundress?"
"Through the door in the north wall; you have to slide the door, not open it," Csenge said as she went to collect her clean garments; a short time later, Iliska did the same.
A small dressing room with three clerestory windows provided the two women a place to finish drying all but their hair and to dress, each being assisted with lacings by the other. Large ivory combs were set out; they both took one and stepped out into the Konige's Garden to tend to their hair.
"Where's Rozsa?" Iliska asked, a bit surprised at finding her gone.
"She must have returned to her room," said Csenge, who was relieved that Rozsa had left the walled garden.
"No doubt to think of some new way to draw attention to herself," muttered Iliska. "For a woman with child, she has not learned humility, has she? She makes a show of everything."
Csenge made no response, afraid of being overheard, but continued on into the private door that would lead them back to their rooms. As she walked, she hummed a hymn to discourage any more conversation with Iliska.
Rozsa had wandered into the reception hall, where Konige Kunigunde was with the Episcopus, discussing the plans for the Konige's May Festival; she courtisied the Konige and lowered her head to the Episcopus, then lingered near the door, her attention fixed on the Konige.
"-and with the Konig away at war, your display should reflect a gravity as well as celebration," Episcopus Fauvinel was saying.
"It should also be festive enough to express the certainty of his prevailing," said the Konige, unaware that she and the Episcopus were overheard. "As Konig Bela's granddaughter, I must not be seen to favor Hungary over Bohemia."
Episcopus Fauvinel sighed. "Dear Royal is correct. I will not protest the hanging of garlands. But I believe it would be wrong to encourage jongleurs and acrobats to perform. Perhaps musicians and singers, but dancing..." He pulled at his beard. "I will meditate on how much jollity you may properly show." Looking about, he caught sight of Rozsa standing behind them. He scowled at her, but he took the time to acknowledge her presence with a lackadaisical blessing. "I will speak with you tomorrow, dear Royal, and pray for you and the Konig's triumph." He rose from his upholstered bench, bowed in the French manner to the Konige, and stalked out of the room, the sharp report of his crozier striking the floor marking his progress.
The Konige studied Rozsa as she courtisied her. "Have you come on some urgent errand?" she asked.
"I have come to ask what I might do to help you in arranging the May Festival. You have much to arrange, and I am at your disposal to assist you in any way that dear Royal commands." She smiled, a bit more carefully than she usually did.
"Your offer is much appreciated." The Konige stared into space for a long moment. "If you will ask Tirz Agoston what new instruments he has made, ones that will be ready by the May Festival, then I will send one of my courtiers to search out musicians to play them. New songs and new instruments for a new spring." She folded her hands in her lap. "It is fitting that we have songs of heroes sung."
"When would you like this done?"
The Konige pondered her answer. "After Vespers would be appropriate, I think."
"Of course," said Rozsa, then added, as if the notion had just occurred to her, "Have you decided which of your courtiers should make this search?"
"Not yet. Perhaps Thokogy Lecz. He has some knowledge of music, and he is old enough not to be distracted by beauty. No one would accuse him of taking advantage." She pressed her lips together, cutting off whatever else she had wanted to say.
Rozsa made one more offer. "Would you like me to ask the Comes Santu-Germaniu if he might sing to you? You have liked his songs in the past, and he must be willing to prepare new ones for you."
"That would be very welcome," said the Konige, her eyes still a bit dazed. "Yes, tell him I want him to sing for me, something I have never heard before. And, of course, he will bring more jewels. Tell him that I would prefer diamonds this time."
Rozsa courtisied the Konige. "At once, dear Royal," she said, concealing her satisfaction as best she could as she slipped out of the reception room and called for a page and an escort. This was going to be much less difficult than she had feared. She could call upon Rakoczy with the approval of Konige Kunigunde, so no one could speak against her.
Albrech answered her summons, straightening his sleeves and pushing back his hair; at eleven, he was looking forward to the next year, when he would become a squire to one of Konig Otakar's knights, and in anticipation of that, he made a point of practicing his manners. "Lady, command me," he said, not quite bowing.
"Go fetch an escort for me, and an enclosed wagon drawn by four ponies or two horses, and meet me in the forecourt as soon as possible with the escort and the wagon," Rozsa said, her orders crisp, her green eyes alight. "Make haste, boy. I have a duty to perform for the Konige that cannot be delayed."
The young page nodded and sprinted off, eager to do something that might gain him the Konige's notice; Rozsa watched him go, her thoughts rapid and acutely clear.
By the time she reached the forecourt, she had changed from the blue-green bleihaut she had been wearing to one of wine-red sculptured velvet that made the white of her chainse seem brighter. For a gorget she had more white cotton, and her veil was of iris-colored lawn. She stepped into the wagon and pulled the door closed. "Mansion Belcrady, to speak with the Comes Santu-Germaniu," she said, smugness making this sound like a declaration of victory. "At the Konige's pleasure." She gained admission to Mansion Belcrady without any hesitation from the staff, and was escorted by Barnon to the larger reception room off the main hall, and promised a tray of bread, cheese, and wine, along with the assurance that the Comes would soon be with her, that he was just now busy in his workroom. She nodded her approval, and sat in the largest chair to wait.
"Rozsa of Borsod," said Rakoczy some short while later. "I am honored to have you in my manse."
She looked around, shocked that she had not heard his approach. "Yes," she said, trying to conceal her discomfiture; she spoke in Bohemian. "I am come at the order of the Konige in regard to her May Festival. I won't require much of your time; other duties await me." She neither rose nor courtisied him as she held out her hand. "I have been looking forward to this."
Rakoczy did not ask for an explanation, certain that one was coming. Instead he gave a little bow in recognition of the wishes of the Konige but did not approach her. "And what would the dear Royal like me to do for her?" He came into the room, his blehaut slightly stained from his labors in the workroom above, his hair slightly disordered. Taking Rozsa's hand, he bowed over it. "I am honored to serve the Konige in all things."
"As well you should be," said Rozsa sternly. "Konige Kunigunde would like some new songs for her May Festival."
"It would be my honor to provide them," he said, looking up as Barnon brought in a tray with wine, bread, cheese, and a small saucer of salt set out on it; at Rakoczy's signal he set it down on the table in front of Rozsa.
She waited until Barnon left the room, then reached to pour herself some wine, and said to him in Magyar, "She's requesting diamonds from you for the occasion. She didn't mention how many she wanted, but don't offer too few. You don't want anyone saying that your fabled fortune is becoming exhausted. That could lead to trouble for you."
"I will keep your recommendation in mind," Rakoczy said, and waited for her to speak again.
"It is always wise to keep high in the Konige's regard." Rozsa took a long sip of the wine. "There could be demands on your purse beyond those the Konige makes."
"The Episcopus, you mean? I have given him a goblet filled with rubies." He said it without any sign of rancor, but Rozsa sat forward.
"No, I don't mean the Episcopus," she said, her eyes daring him to protest. "I am going to make you a ... proposition." Although he said nothing, Rakoczy felt as if the whole manse had shifted around him. His disquiet increased as she went on, "I have dreamed of you often, you know. All those months with my husband, I dreamed of you." He offered Rozsa an ironic bow; she paid no attention to him. "I would like you to resume our arrangement."
"Not while you are with child," he said, his memories casting back to Csimenae and her son.
"I know, I know; sad as it is, it must be. So while I am here for now, I have other uses for you," she said impatiently as she tore a handful of bread from the loaf. "My husband's blood must not be compromised, not with his cousins waiting for me to make any show of infidelity. They would like nothing better than to see me discredited, so that they may continue as his heirs." She began to eat, swallowing more wine to help the bread go down. "My husband wants a son. He certainly beat me enough to produce a boy. But with him away at war, I must be vigilant for the child's sake. I will have the child at my husband's estate, of course, but I will not remain there; it wouldn't be safe." She turned toward him, her smile wholly without mirth. "When I return in a year or so, we will make new arrangements."
Rakoczy studied her. "And for now? What are your plans."
She relished telling him. "Since I will be deprived of your skills in passion, I will have the fruits of your skills in alchemy. You, who scatter gems like grain for chickens, I want jewels from you-many, many jewels. I want jewels enough so that if my reputation should be ruined, I will be able to keep myself from destitution or harlotry. I will do as the old Konige did, when Otakar changed her for Kunigunde, and endow a convent where I can live in comfort, where my husband's relatives cannot reach me."
Rakoczy let no emotion show on his features. "When you say many, many jewels, what did you have in mind."
She cocked her head and studied him. "I will send you a coffer to fill by the May Festival. Surely you can accommodate me to that extent. Later I will send you another, and a third, before I leave to return to Kaposvar. That should make a good beginning."
"And if I do not comply: what then." He spoke cordially, but there was a blue light in the depths of his dark eyes like the heart of a flame.
"Oh, then, I fear I must Confess what indecent intimacies you have forced upon me, and the ungodly rites you used to subdue me to your will," she said with exaggerated lamentation. She pulled off more bread. "Not even the Konige could save you from the Episcopus then." With a flourish she downed the last of her wine and poured more into her cup.
"I see," said Rakoczy quietly.
"I hope you do," Rozsa told him, and ran her tongue over her lower lip. "It will be better for you if you agree to my demands without dissembling. You have to uphold the terms of your exile, and what I report to Konig Bela can praise or defame you; do not forget that." Her green eyes were shiny. "And it needn't be unpleasant, accommodating me, in jewels or in ecstasy." She rose and walked up to him. "I can be most devoted in my way, so long as I have no rivals."
Rakoczy studied her face. "An odd requirement for a married woman."
"Think of Erzebet of Arad." She flicked the corner of his mouth with the tip of her finger. "It could happen to others of the Konige's ladies." She offered him an elaborate courtisy, then left the withdrawing room, calling for Barnon to have her wagon brought to the main door, leaving Rakoczy to ponder her threat; as the main door opened, an unexpectedly cold wind rushed through the manse.
Text of a letter from Imbolya of Heves to Rakoczy Ferancsi, written in Church Latin and carried by a scullion with the permission of Pater Lupu.
To the most worthy Comes Santu-Germaniu, on this, the first day of May in the 1270th Year of Salvation,
The unexpected snow that fell yesterday has delayed not only the Konige's May Festival but, yet again, my departure, which will now be in ten days-days that will be filled with my last obligations within the Konige's Court. I am taking this unexpected time to write to you not only to say farewell to you, but to ask your pardon for my fancies that led me to say such inappropriate things to you the last time we conversed, for surely no such monster as I said you reminded me of could have been able to be one of the Konige's Court, not with the Episcopus and so many faithful Churchmen about to protect us from the Devil's minions. I fear it may have been on account of the songs of the troubadours and the tales foolish women tell one another late at night, and that some Confess in the morning. It may also have sprung from the jealousy of some of the courtiers, who openly envy your riches, and hint that you do not come by your jewels through alchemy alone, but by the favors of the Devil, for the corruption of good Christians. Whichever weakness accounts for my imaginings must be attributed to my womanly weakness: my Confessor has exhorted me on my failings, and I humbly ask your forgiveness for the things I said, and beg you will not regard me with the contempt I deserve.
Recently I realized that I have found in you the nearness I should only find with God, that the troubadours have lied to us and offered us the fruits of damnation; daughter of Eve that I am, I allowed myself to turn away from Heaven for the sake of your love. Let me beseech you to abandon the lures of the flesh and turn your sight on God.
I have had word from my father that I will be married in July, and that the terms are beneficial both to Heves and to Szarvas, for which I am most thankful; I will seek to prove a virtuous wife so that I will bring esteem to my House and honor to my husband. I will thank you now for the handsome jewels you presented to me as a nuptial gift, which I shall treasure for all my days, and which is so typical of your many kindnesses to me. The Konige has also given me two chests filled with fine cloth, and four linen sheets for my marriage, once again showing her generosity. I have pledged to remember her in my prayers every morning and every night, and to pray also for her children. Since I am returning to Hungary, she will not put me in the difficult position of having to pray for Konig Otakar while he and Konig Bela remain at war. That, at least, is something for which I am grateful.
May God guard and protect you, may He be gracious to you and your House, may He bestow His Mercy upon you.
With high regard, and by my own hand,
Imbolya of Heves