The contents of the banded coffer glittered in the morning light; more than two hundred jewels lay in the ornate chest, polished and shining with all the glory of a rainbow, colors repeated in the Persian carpets on the floor, making the rest of Rakoczy's workroom appear drab; at the far end of the room, the athanor was heating, making ready for the production of still more jewels.

"You aren't going to give them to the Konige all at once, are you?" Hruther asked as he watched Rakoczy close the lid. He spoke in the Latin of his long-ago youth. "It's one thing to give the Konige's Court a banquet, but so many jewels at the same time? The Episcopus has already remarked on your wealth, and not flatteringly."

"Of course I will not give all these to her at once: she would just expect more and grander the next time she summoned me to wait upon her, and more banquets with more jewels as well," said Rakoczy in the same tongue as he set the padlock in the slots in the two hinged iron bands. "No, I shall give them out judiciously, enough to satisfy Konig Bela that I am upholding the terms of my exile, and to keep the Konige well-inclined toward me but not so much that Otakar decides that he, too, should have his own share of what I provide."

"You're certain it would come to that?" Hruther asked, and knew the answer as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

"Think of Cyprus, old friend." He regarded Hruther levelly, recalling seven hundred years before and his three years there, when he had been faced with the increasing demands for jewels from the island's ruler.

"I take your point," said Hruther, nodding slowly.

"I would not like to have to make caskets and caskets of jewels every month again; that one time was sufficient."

"Even though you could do it," said Hruther with a suggestion of amusement.

"I could," Rakoczy agreed, "but it would put me in a more difficult position than the one I am in presently, for their demands would be likely to increase." He paused, his face unreadable. "I cannot rid myself of the feeling that I may need to have the means of paying for a clandestine departure, and in Bohemia, jewels are more anonymous than gold."

"Then you're planning to escape?" Hruther was not surprised.

"Not at present, but it may come to that, if I can arrange for the protection of Santu-Germaniu before we go. If only Konig Bela had not quarreled with his son after granting him rule of Transylvania, suspicion would not have been turned on Santu-Germaniu." He stifled a yawn. "I sometimes feel I am in a vise, with Otakar on one side and Bela on the other, and that between them they will do their best to ruin me."

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"As was tried on Cyprus," said Hruther.

"I trust not." Rakoczy offered nothing more as he glanced toward the window. "There will be more rain this afternoon, by the look of it. There are clouds in the distance, and they are towering already."

"Summer storms," said Hruther. "At least that will lessen the heat."

"And the virulence of the current ailment is fading, thank all the forgotten gods," Rakoczy said. He stretched as thoroughly and gracefully as a cat, then twisted his upper body side to side, which for him was a sign of fatigue.

"Do you think you might rest today?" Hruther asked, a flicker of concern in his faded-blue eyes. "You've been out or working all night for the last three days."

Rakoczy's smile was more wry than amused. "I am better for having been out last night," he said. "It restored me somewhat."

"Did the woman enjoy her dream?" Hruther made no attempt to hide his assuagement. "Are you improved?"

"It certainly seemed she did," Rakoczy answered, a note of unease in his answer; he changed the subject. "How are the servants? Has their distress ended?"

"All are recovered but two scullions," said Hruther, adding, "They should both be fine in a few days."

"Very good." He touched his small hands together. "We will continue to treat the well-water for another fifteen days, just in case; the Chinese are right about that precaution."

"Some of the household have complained about the taste of garlic in the water," Hruther said, his attention on the banded coffer.

"If the animacules in the water are to be killed, they will have to bear with the taste a while longer. And they will have to endure it again next year, when the animacules return." Rakoczy stowed the coffer in a niche beneath the largest window; though it was heavy, he gave no sign of effort in carrying it. "I'll want presentation pouches the day after tomorrow; I am asked to make an appearance at the Konige's Court that day."

"And besides jewels, what does the Konige want of you-more songs?"

"Very likely. She is receiving one of the von Hapsburg ladies, and she wishes the occasion to be as awe-inspiring as possible, with every sign of wealth and elegance. Given how much Otakar dislikes the von Hapsburgs, the Konige will want the von Hapsburgs to envy her, and Otakar." He paused, his demeanor thoughtful. "I should probably offer a few jewels to Aurelie von Hapsburg as a matter of courtesy." He gave a short sigh. "Good stones, but not as grand as the ones I present to Konige Kunigunde, I think. Perhaps the moonstones, and a pair of aquamarines."

"The emeralds to Konige Kunigunde," Hruther recommended.

"Of course, and a pair of diamonds along with topazes and amethysts to the Konige as well. I would offend her if I did not give her something remarkable, and failure to do that would displease her grandfather and her husband, which"-he sighed-"could lead to trouble, not only here but at Santu-Germaniu, as almost everything I do can. So long as he can dismantle my estates, Bela has me on a short tether, and we both know it; he can pretend that he is not coercing me, but he knows he can demand my compliance on anything that suits him to requi-" Rakoczy gesticulated his aggravation, swinging his arms then slamming his hands together. "It is always such a dance, such a costly dance, and grows more so over the years," he exclaimed, then composed himself. "Even in my breathing days, court-ship was as artificial as the smiles of those performing it." He broke off again, turning to Hruther with an intent expression. "Do you recall that clock in the Santu-Smaragdu monastery we saw?"

"The one that had the tower with the bell-hammers attached to figures of Santu Smaragdu and the Devil?" Hruther saw Rakoczy nod. Curious to learn what had captured the Comes' attention, he said, "I do remember. What has that to do with-"

"Yes; all they need to ring the bell is a mallet on a spring-hinge and a chain to release the spring when the clock reaches the right hour, but they decided to give their spring-hinges an additional purpose and made the hinges allegorical figures; it is much the same with court-ship, which starts out simply, as a code of conduct for those in authority, uncomplicated and direct. Then, like the bell-mallets, conditions are added, competition begins among those in the Court. Eventually someone will find a way to make the iron figures more elaborate, so that marking the time is only an excuse for grand displays. Court-ship here in Bohemia, like the clocks, will become more complex than it already is. Think of the Court of Karl-lo-Magne, and compare it to this one. There is more display, more grandeur, here. And for most of the courtiers, more to lose." He fell silent, and after a short while went on in a more tranquil tone, "Pardon me, old friend. I am feeling exasperated, but it is hardly fitting to burden you with my discontent."

"I don't mind," said Hruther. "You listen to my harangues."

"Infrequent as they are," said Rakoczy, a rueful cast to his countenance. "I wish I could quell my apprehensions, but I have not yet been able to." He took a turn about his workroom, his restlessness taking hold of him. Finally he stopped, a frown deepening between his brows. "What have we heard from Balint? His report is overdue." The steward at Santu-Germaniu had pledged to send monthly reports, but he had not been heard from for six weeks.

"You fear that bodes ill," said Hruther, aware that concern for his steward and his lands had given rise to Rakoczy's fidgetiness.

"There is fighting not far from the roads the messenger must travel," Rakoczy said. "Otakar will have to use all the summer to press his advantage; campaigning in winter is madness."

"Do you think the Konig might have conscripted your messenger?" Hruther asked.

"It would be like Otakar to do that. Or it could be the messenger is delayed by illness or injury, or taken as a prisoner, or killed, or any number of unpleasant things. I will dispatch a message to Balint, and hope that nothing dreadful has happened." Rakoczy continued pacing, slowing a little on his fourth pass around the room. "You are right; I am tired. No doubt you're hungry. If the kitchen is empty, go have your meat while no one can see that it is uncooked."

"I will-while you lie down for the morning. The household knows you were up well into the night for three nights. No one will think it odd that you choose to sleep in the morning; they might think it odd if you didn't rest." Hruther's implication was clear; he indicated the door. "Two hours on your bed should ease you, my master."

"No doubt," said Rakoczy, capitulating. "Two hours it will be. Then off to the Counselors' Court." He brought the key to the door out of the wallet hung on his belt. "To keep from tempting anyone," he said as he followed Hruther to the door.

"Do you want me to call you in two hours?"

"If I have not risen of my own accord, please; since I am summoned to the Counselors' Court early this afternoon," said Rakoczy, shutting the door to his workroom and turning the heavy iron key in the lock. "Are the old rushes swept out of the main hall?"

"And the new rushes laid with branches of rosemary. The servants complain that you clear the rushes too often, but they say the manse smells nicer than most, and has fewer rats. The other rooms will be finished by sundown, whatever the weather may bring." Hruther opened the door to Rakoczy's private apartments. "And Pacar and I will finish the plans for your banquet. By the time you rise, we will have all the necessary lists made, and we can begin to make the mansion ready. Forty guests and as many more servants-there's a lot to do to prepare." He moved aside for the Comes. "Do you need my assistance?"

"Not here; I need your skill at planning. Mid-Summer Eve is the banquet; three weeks away," said Rakoczy as he went into his outer room. "The shortest night of the year." He laughed once.

"The nights will lengthen again, my master," Hruther assured him, and closed the door.

Left to his own devices, Rakoczy removed his thick-soled solers and bleihaut, but kept on his chainse of black-dyed linen. With the shutters closed, the room was dim, and the sleeping-chamber beyond was darker still, and monkishly austere. One large chest stood in the center of the chamber, a thin wool-stuffed mattress atop it, with linen sheets and a single rough-woven blanket to dress it. Rakoczy pulled back the blanket and upper sheet, and got into the bed, pulling the blanket up to his chin as he lay back and lapsed into the stupor which passed for sleep among those of his blood.

It was nearing mid-day when Rakoczy emerged from his personal quarters, dressed in an eclipse-embroidered black bleihaut over a chainse of white cotton, braccae of dull-red linen, and high, thick-soled estivaux; his eclipse device hung from a thick silver collar around his neck. He walked down to the main hall and looked around, generally pleased with what he saw.

Barnon, the steward, lowered his head and snapped his fingers to alert his two underlings to halt their efforts and acknowledge their master's presence. "Comes Santu-Germaniu."

"Good day to you, Barnon," he replied. "I hope I see you well."

"You do, Comes," Barnon mumbled. He took two steps back and respectfully averted his eyes.

"Have you had your dinner yet?"

"No; household servants dine in an hour. The grooms and outside servants dine first. They will sit down shortly." Barnon was quite uncomfortable; no nobleman he had ever worked for had indulged in actual conversation with him.

"I understand you will have spit-turned lamb with turnips and onions today," said Rakcozy, and saw the astonishment in Barnon's eyes.

"I ... I think so, Comes."

"Very good," said Rakoczy, and was about to move on, but stopped and turned to Barnon again. "Do you know where I might find my manservant?"

"I believe he and Pacar aren't yet back from the marketplace," said Barnon. "There are only scullions and the under-cook in the kitchen."

"Ah." Rakoczy nodded once. "I trust they will return before the rain starts."

Barnon crossed himself. "All is in the hands of God."

Rakoczy did the same. "As you say." Making a gesture of dismissal, he strolled out of the main hall into the entry hall, where two hired men were laying new stones in the floor in a pattern of interlocking chevrons of black and white stone. "You are making fine progress. How long until you are done; do you know?" he asked the older of the men.

"Three more days should do it, Comes, including the marble border," the man answered, not looking up.

Rakoczy let himself out and went around the side of the house to the stable, calling out for Illes as he did. "I know your dinner is almost ready, but will you be good enough to saddle the dapple-gray for me before you go in to eat?" he requested as soon as Illes appeared.

"Of course, Comes," said Illes, ducking his head as he turned back into the stable; Rakoczy followed after him. "She's newly shod, and she's been given her weekly dose of vinegar-and-oil. Her hooves have been treated with wool-fat and turpentine." He reached the mare's stall and whistled softly to her as she pushed her head toward him. "She's a good girl, she is." He reached for the halter hanging from a hook on the nearest column.

"Yes, she is," Rakoczy agreed.

"It's not my place to ask, but do you plan to breed her?" He buckled the halter and stroked her neck.

"She had two foals already. But she is eight, so I may find a stallion to cover her again." Rakoczy stood aside while Illes led Asza out of her stall. "In that regard, do you have any recommendations?"

"No," said Illes, surprised that Rakoczy would put such a question to him.

"If you see a stallion you think would do, will you tell me?" Rakoczy asked, watching Illes brush down the mare's coat.

After a disconcerting silence, Illes nodded. "If I do, I'll tell you."

"Thank you," said Rakoczy, stepping back as three stable-hands came down the wide central corridor in answer to the summons of the dinner-bell. "Do you miss Domonkos and Zabolcs and Endre?" he inquired when the hands were gone.

Illes, who had reached the mare's rump in his brushing, stopped for a moment. "No. They are men-at-arms, and they became riotous when they had nothing to do beyond gambling and drinking. I was glad when they left to return to Hungary."

"The three who work with you now: are you satisfied with them?"

"They're steady workers, for Bohemians." He went around to the off-side of the mare and began to brush her neck, working down and back with the grain of her coat.

Rakoczy almost smiled. "For Bohemians?"

Illes shrugged. "You know how they are-their country is rich and their Konig is powerful, so they're a little lazy, since you're a foreigner. Still, they know enough about caring for horses that they're worth their keep." He set the brush down and reached for a hoof-pick, bending over to lift up the mare's off-rear hoof. "Which saddle do you want?" he asked when all four hooves had been cleaned.

"The Byzantine one, with the embossed leather," Rakoczy said, stepping away while Illes finished grooming, saddling, and bridling Asza; then he came and took the reins before swinging up onto the mare. "Go and have your dinner, Illes of Kotan, and thank you." With that he rode out of the stable and made for the gate.

By the time he reached the Council Court-a large, three-storied building built of stone for the first story and of wood for the two above-the streets were largely cleared; most of the people within the city walls had gone to their homes and taverns to have their dinners. In an hour the streets would be bustling again, but for now, the Council Court Square was all but deserted but for two scruffy dogs fighting over what appeared to be the front leg of a pig. Rakoczy dismounted and secured Asza to the post near the entrance to the Court provided for that purpose. He patted the mare's neck, then trod up the steps and entered the tall doors, feeling discomfited by the lack of activity. He entered the foyer to the empty Council Chamber, and was wondering if he should call out or look further for someone to assist him, when he saw a hump-backed man in clerical habit coming toward him, motioning to him.

"Comes?" the clerk inquired as he came up to Rakoczy.

"Yes," said Rakoczy.

"Santu-Germaniu?"

"I am he."

"Will you follow me? Counselor Smiricti is waiting for you in his private room." Without waiting for an answer, the clerk sidled away, dragging his left leg a little; more curious than cautious, Rakoczy followed him. As they climbed to the second floor, the clerk said, "Counselor Smiricti asks that you forgive him for this manner of meeting, but he knows his coming to Mansion Belcrady would be noticed and reported."

"Indeed," said Rakoczy.

"If you will step through this doorway?" The clerk ducked his head and opened the door for him, allowing Rakoczy to precede him into Counselor Smiricti's chamber; it was a handsome room, paneled in wood and containing an upholstered bench, a German chair, and a trestle-table.

Smiricti Detrich stood at the open window, staring down at the empty square below him. He wore a dark-brown cotton bleihaut over a chainse of fine yellow linen, and braccae of dark-gray sacking, all designed to keep him cool on this hot day. His face shone with sweat. Without turning or offering any other formal greeting beyond a nod, he said, "Thank you for coming, Comes. I trust my clerk has told you the reason for this?"

"He has," said Rakoczy, aware that the clerk was backing out of the room and closing the door. "You coming to my home would lead to those watching making a note of your visit. And I am allowed to answer your summons in the terms of my exile, at least if you call me here to the Council Court."

"True enough," said Counselor Smiricti. "We take a chance here and now, but not so great as the one we would at Mansion Belcrady."

"Then I applaud your prudence," said Rakoczy.

"As well you might," Smiricti approved. "I ask you to take a seat, so that those who might watch from below will not see you." He pointed to the upholstered bench next to the fireplace. "No one will see you there."

Rakoczy moved nearer to the hearth. "As you wish." He made himself as comfortable as possible on the upholstered bench.

Smiricti remained at the window, avoiding Rakoczy's gaze. "There is something you should know, though it pains me to tell you."

"If it is to my advantage to know, then I thank you for your-"

"You have spies in your household, from Otakar and from Bela of Hungary," Smiricti blurted out.

"Of course I do," said Rakoczy calmly. "It is only to be expected."

"Then you have taken precautions against them?"

"How can I, when I have not yet discovered which of the servants is spying, and for whom?" Rakoczy saw the distress in Smiricti's posture. "What more is there: I gather there is something?"

"There is a rumor that you are ... that you have seduced one of the Konige's ladies-in-waiting." He swung around to face Rakoczy. "If that is true, Otakar will banish you."

"And Konig Bela will sweep down on Santu-Germaniu and destroy it, enslave my peasants, and kill my household, or his son will, although Bela has the larger army, and it was he who sent me here," Rakoczy added, his voice grim. "With so much at risk, why would I do such a foolish thing? It would endanger the woman as well, and for no cause." He waited for Smiricti to speak, and when he did not, Rakoczy went on, "Who has made this claim?"

"One of the Konige's servants," Smiricti said evasively, his face darkening. "She said she overheard Csenge of Somogy talking to Gyongyi of Tolna, and that Csenge accused you of seducing Rozsa of Borsod."

Rakoczy concealed his dismay, keeping his expression neutral and his manner forthright. "And when am I supposed to have done this? When have I been with her unobserved? Surely if I had imposed upon Rozsa of Borsod one of the spies in my house, or in the Konige's Court, would have been aware of it. It is true that I have received Rozsa of Borsod at Mansion Belcrady on two occasions, both at the behest of Konige Kunigunde, and when I have waited upon the Konige in her Court, I have seen Rozsa of Borsod, but we have been watched by more than servants, for I have been in the Court itself."

Smiricti flapped his arms. "I know. I know! If I thought there was any truth to the rumors, I wouldn't be talking to you now. I hold you in high regard, Comes, yet I owe you no protection. So you need to be careful: gossip has a life of its own, and this could become a scandal." Now that he had spoken his worst fear, he dropped into the single chair in the room. "If such a thing happens, it could disrupt the good-will that has been established between Bohemia and Hungary. All of the Konige's Hungarian ladies-in-waiting could be sent back to their homes in disgrace and the Konige all but imprisoned by Bohemian ladies-in-waiting, and the current peace would end."

"Is that not something to the advantage of Bohemia?" Rakoczy asked.

"No. It would give Hungary an excuse to set aside the accords we have with them, and that could give rise to open war again. With the Konig on campaign in the south-in territory of Hungarian influence, to be sure-he needs no enemy to the east." He slapped his thighs. "It cannot be allowed to happen."

"What would you want me to do?" Rakoczy asked when it was clear Smiricti would say nothing more. "Shall I abandon my plans for the banquet at the Summer Solstice?"

"No," said Smiricti emphatically. "That would only fuel the rumors." He wiped his face with his sleeve. "You must have the banquet."

"Then what is it you want me to do?" Rakoczy asked again.

"Be careful, for the Konige's sake as well as your own. Guard yourself from any appearance of impropriety. I have dreamed of the crows flying into Vaclav Castle to pluck the eyes out of the Konige's ladies-in-waiting, a clear warning. The spies in your household have most certainly heard the rumors and will be doubly alert to any misstep you might make." The Counselor gathered himself up. "If you aren't heedful of your danger, tragedy will be the result."

"Tragedy?" Rakoczy was puzzled by his choice of the word.

"Anything that could bring about the downfall of the Konige and the end of the possibility of peace with Hungary could be nothing less," said Smiricti. He glowered at the floor. "If you need a woman-and I must suppose you do-it can be arranged. No slut or drab, but a woman of standing. Not one of the Konige's Court, of course, but someone well-born and not unpleasing to the senses. There are many widows, some of them quite young women, who would be glad to have a rich foreign lover. None of them would want to marry, for that would lose them whatever their husbands had left to them, so that shouldn't worry you." He was talking rapidly now, as if trying to explain as much as he could before his nerve failed.

"You need not bother, Counselor Smiricti," said Rakoczy.

"But if you had a woman, the rumors would cease, or lessen. The Konige would not want her Court to be compromised, and she wouldn't object to you taking a woman as your ... companion." He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his hands extended. "Truly, if such an arrangement can be made, you would have less to compromise you. You have only to tell me what your tastes are and a suitable mistress will be found."

"It is unnecessary, I assure you," said Rakoczy.

Smiricti shook his head woefully. "If you won't take a mistress, then your situation may become ... difficult, for as a member of the Konige's Court, your actions must reflect upon her, as her countryman." He wrung his hands.

Rakoczy gestured reassurance. "Counselor, calm yourself. I will do nothing to disgrace the Konige; you have my Word on it."

"That may not be for you to decide, not the way calumnies of this sort develop, especially in so closed a world as the Konige's Court is," Smiricti said fretfully. "Remember, rumors can have lives of their own, and once they have started, very little is needed to keep them in motion. A word, a look, a smile, a gesture-nothing more is necessary."

"Then I will be careful." Rakoczy stood. "Counselor, I thank you for your concern, and your discretion. I will consider what you have said to me, and I will weigh your recommendation carefully. After the banquet, I will give you my decision."

"I had hoped you might present your mistress at the banquet. That should put an end to all but the most-"

"Outrageous whispers?" Rakoczy suggested. "Perhaps. But since there are spies in my household, such a ploy may lead to more suspicions rather than fewer." He ducked his head respectfully.

"But we must do something." Smiricti got to his feet. "Comes, I implore you to reflect upon the danger to which you expose yourself, for we are all in jeopardy: the Konige, her ladies, you, and I, as your primary deputy in Praha."

Rakoczy studied the Counselor. "You may tell Konige Kunigunde that I will need a little time to consider what is to be done, and when I have reached a decision, I will inform her of what it is, and if she is in agreement, I will inform you. Will that satisfy you?"

Smiricti could think of nothing to say; he lowered his head, his color still high. "Of course, Comes. Whatever you think best."

As he walked toward the door, Rakoczy had the odd sensation that Smiricti's gaze was boring holes into his back.

Text of a letter from Atta Olivia Clemens at her horse-farm in Flanders, written in Imperial Latin on vellum, carried by private courier and delivered twenty-eight days after it was written.

To my most dear, most exacerbating friend, Ragoczy Sanct' Germain Franciscus, or whatever name you use now, the greetings of Atta Olivia Clemens on this, the 19th day of May in the Christian year 1269,

It is six moths since your last letter reached me, and I am curious to know how you have found the Konige's Court of Bohemia, and since you haven't anticipated my desire to learn how you are faring, I have taken pen in hand to inquire for myself. I know how much you dislike being coerced, and this semi-exile Konig Bela has imposed upon you can only be seen as coercion. But you have it in you to accommodate difficult circumstances, so I trust you have established yourself in the Konige's good graces and that you have had no more disagreements with her grandfather.

Did Mansion Belcrady turn out to be all you had been promised, glazed windows and all? You certainly paid well enough to have it precisely as you instructed it should be. If not, how far from your expectations was it, and how much have you had to do to make it suitable for you? My manse here in Flanders needs much done to it, and Niklos has hired a dozen workers from Ghent to come and make it as it should be. They are supposed to arrive in July and work through September. I have agreed to pay them quite handsomely, of course, to ensure their best efforts. And I would not like the local authorities to decide I had cheated honest men, for my claim to this property is shaky at best, and it would take very little to have the magistrate cancel my claim entirely, although the title, as the law requires, is held by my so-called half-brother, Niklos Aulirios.

As awkward as your circumstances are, you have behaved honorably toward your dependents, and have preserved your fief. The Konig and his son are still at odds with your fief in the middle of their dispute. But you have faced more daunting situations than this one and emerged from them without too many bruises, which is probably necessary, given your capacity for taking on other people's problems. From all you have said and I have heard, Konig Bela is a hard man to bargain with. It does not surprise me that he would hold your fiefdom hostage to keep his son from being able to wage war; I am only surprised to learn that Konig Otakar hasn't taken it into his head to try something similar. But he is off on campaign, so perhaps it hasn't occurred to him yet; I suspect that in time he will want to make the most of you or be rid of you. Why, of all things, did Konig Bela decide to keep you so close at hand? If I were he, I would have banished you to a very distant place, where you could do no mischief. Trapped between Bela and Otakar, as you are, must test even your expert statesmanship. How long do you plan to endure it? You needn't worry: I won't maunder on about your problems; most certainly you comprehend them more thoroughly than I do.

Niklos has been working with three new foals; there are six more due to drop in the next month. We bred late last year because of the weather, which was unusually stormy, and two of the mares didn't settle. This year the spring was later in coming than in the past ten years. The farmers here say that the weather is growing cooler, more like what it was when the Goths sacked Roma-I will not remind you how many hundreds of years ago that was. There was hard flooding not far from here, and two small villages were partially destroyed by the high waters. My horse-farm sits on raised land, and the two creeks that run through it, although they may fill their banks, have not yet overflowed, but I have ordered the banks be built up and reinforced with stout logs. If we should have another hard winter, I may have to order some heavier barriers erected so that there will be little flooding here.

I've had word from Sanza Pari that there has been trouble there, and in Roma itself. Apparently there have been riots in the countryside and peasants have marched on the city to demand a resolution to the question of the Pope. A number of them were killed, and the Cardinal Archbishops retreated to the Palazzo Laterano, where they tried again to decide who should succeed Clement IV. Tobaldo Visconti has the most desire for the post, which ought to disqualify him, by the Church's peculiar rules. Ever since Conradin came to Roma, and was betrayed and beheaded at Naples, there has been terrible unrest in the country, and, of course, Roma has taken the brunt of it. Much as I love my native earth, I am glad to be away from it just now.

Przemysl Otakar II seems to be making a name of himself-from what news I have heard, he is taking land from the Hungarians and claiming most of Austria. If Flanders were nearer to Bohemia than it is, I might be concerned enough to seek out a new place to live, but as it is, I believe it is unlikely that he will turn his attention to Flanders for some time. But you must feel his ambitions all around you. Perhaps it's just as well that he is on campaign and not in Praha to impose upon you more than Konig Bela has done.

In your letter that you dispatched to me as you left Santu-Germaniu, you said it was your intention to form no close alliances while in the Konige's Court; while I understand the reason for your decision, I think it may be unwise. In your unusual position I believe it would be prudent to have at least one woman in Kunigunde's Court willing to support your interests, and perhaps help to sustain you, as I have at present a most interesting young scribe to sustain me. I realize there may be risks involved, but I also know that you have enough isolation there to have it be hazardous to you. So I am asking you to reconsider. I would rejoice for you if you decided to take a lover; I am sure that Rogerian agrees with me. Why deny yourself having the one thing that most nurtures you?

If you find that you must depart from Bohemia at any time, I ask you to join me here in Flanders. There is relative peace in this region, and I think we might not rouse suspicions about our true natures for a year or two. I have a trunk of your native earth in my cellar, if that is any incentive. Rogerian would be more than welcome, too.

Keep yourself safe, my oldest, dearest friend. I don't think I could bear it if you were to suffer the True Death before I do.

Your eternally devoted

Olivia