"She did not come," Rakoczy said to Hruther as he climbed into his personal quarters through the half-open window; the night was almost ended, and there was a stillness that marked the approach of dawn as much as the beginning activity in the city below them. Rakoczy stepped down from the window-ledge; there was dust on his huch, and his jaw-length wavy hair was in disarray; he held his liripipe in his hand.

"How long did you wait?" Hruther asked in Imperial Latin, putting the last of the books he had been stacking in place on the trestle-table next to the largest upright chest where two oil-lanthorns gave illumination to the room.

"From midnight until a short while ago. I wanted to get off the streets before the slaves and laborers were abroad," said Rakoczy, a faint vertical line forming between his fine brows. "She chose the cellar of an old weavery this time, near the North Gate, where the butchers are. Not a very ... prepossessing location."

"Still it's probably safer than the charnel house was," Hruther remarked. "No monks or slaves about."

"It stank of old wool-fat and mice. I wonder if she chose it to test me in some way." His eyes were remote. "But to what end?"

Hruther studied Rakoczy. "Do you think she's tiring of you?"

Rakoczy gave an abrupt sigh. "I hope so." He went and pulled the shutters closed, setting the bolt in place before going on, "Tonight would have been our sixth meeting. That has been uppermost in my thoughts for the last eight days, and I am no wiser now than I was when she first sent me word of her most recent intentions. So our next contact-limited though it may be-is the sixth contact."

"And that troubles you."

"Of course it does: how could it not. I have no wish to bring a woman like Rozsa of Borsod into my life, but if she insists..." He looked up at the ceiling. "If I tell her what is coming when she dies, I believe she will think I am lying."

"Are you sure?" Hruther thought he had not seen Rakoczy in such turmoil for more than three centuries.

"If she does not think me a liar, she will know I am something much worse-and then what? My life is in her hands, and she knows it. Anything that increases her power will please her." He slapped his hands on the tops of his thighs. "The good people of Praha would have me bound at the stake if they knew my true nature."

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An unmelodious bell sounded from the floor below, the signal to waken the household.

"I'll let Barnon attend to the household for now," Hruther said to Rakoczy.

"You may want to put some distance between us, to be safe. I may become dangerous to know. Speak against me among the servants, to show you dislike your position." He flung his liripipe across the room.

"You've been dangerous to know for the twelve hundred years I have served you," Hruther said calmly. "I won't malign you to the household unless it benefits both of us."

Rakoczy suddenly shook his head. "I am churlish; pardon me, old friend."

"You aren't churlish, you are vexed, and not without cause," Hruther said, thinking he had not seen Rakoczy so nettled by a woman since Csimenae had abused his gift five hundred years ago.

Rakoczy considered this. "You may be right," he conceded.

"The lady's circumstances may change shortly, my master, and there will be no occasions for her to make more demands of you," Hruther said.

"So I hope," Rakoczy admitted.

"Her husband will be here next month." Hruther looked down at his folded, lean hands.

"I can only hope that she will not insist on more meetings before he comes." Rakoczy clicked his tongue. "It is craven of me, but I do not want to have to explain to Rozsa about the hazards of undead life. At best she will view my warnings with mockery."

"As to that-the word is that Konige Kunigunde has begun her labor; that may account for Rozsa's absence."

Rakoczy looked startled. "Tell me how-"

"A message came from Vaclav Castle three hours ago. Not from Rozsa of Borsod, from Pader Stanislas, that the Konige's labor has begun. The news has been sent to all the great Houses in the city, and all the churches, so that all may pray for her safe delivery." He rubbed his thumb along the edge of the table. "It is her time, isn't it?"

"Very nearly," said Rakoczy, a note of relief in his voice. "You are right: if the Konige is about to deliver, it is not surprising that Rozsa would not dare to leave Vaclav Castle. All her ladies-in-waiting must attend on her childbed."

"It would be a reckless thing to do, leaving the Konige's Court, even for her, at this time," said Hruther. "And she will have to stay near Konige Kunigunde for the first month after the child comes, as all the Konige's Court will." He pressed his lips together, then said, "You will probably be summoned to sing for the Konige and her new child."

Rakoczy nodded. "I and Tirz Agoston of Mures: he has made a new gittern for the Konige, to celebrate her safe delivery."

"Assuming that she has a safe delivery," Hruther cautioned.

"Indeed."

"Of a son," Hruther added, his lean face hinting at an ironic smile.

"They will celebrate a girl, for the sake of Konig Bela, but not as grandly. A girl can seal a treaty with a marriage, as Kunigunde herself has done." He shook his head. "Hungary will expect some rejoicing."

There was silence between them, an uneasy one. Finally Hruther returned to an issue that he realized was causing Rakoczy much consternation. "So you haven't explained matters to her yet? to Rozsa? She doesn't know what's to come?"

"No." Rakoczy paced the length of the room, then rounded on Hruther. "It is not that I do not want to tell her, I do not know how to tell her. She has turned aside every sally I have made so far, and short of tying her to a chair and demanding that she listen, I have no notion how to inform her. Not that I think tying her to a chair would work: she would very likely be furious and would upbraid me instead of hearing me out. And she might well denounce me to her Confessor." This admission left him feeling discomfited; he frowned and made a gesture of hopeless frustration. "I know it is imperative she be prepared for what will happen before our next meeting, whenever that may be, and that she-" He stopped.

"What is it?" Hruther asked, reading dismay in Rakoczy's countenance.

Rakoczy did not answer at once. "I wish I knew what she has told her Confessor."

"You may be certain that she doesn't tell him everything. Few people do."

"Do you think she would not?" Rakoczy sighed again, this time sadly. "She might enjoy Confessing what we do, since it is not true adultery. She might have to do penance for lust, but she would not be in danger of being dishonored." He tented his fingers under his lip. "If she tires of me, she will want to be rid of me, I suppose." He looked around his room. "I would be sorry to have to leave here."

Hruther was surprised at this. "I thought you aren't-"

"I would be sorry to leave here because of the price Konig Bela would exact from my fief and my vassals if I did leave, and because, having done so much to make this mansion livable; I would prefer to enjoy it a while longer, at least until I can improve my understanding with Konig Bela, and can negotiate a kind of truce with him on behalf of my vassals. To have so much resting on Rozsa's caprice..." He shook his head slowly. "Not that there is anything that worry can accomplish." His single, self-deprecating laugh made Hruther wince. "You might as well leave me; I need to get some rest."

"You should consider visiting one of the women you've-"

"Not just now," said Rakoczy, starting to yawn.

"Tonight, perhaps," Hruther suggested.

"Yes; yes. You are right. I need nourishment. I can provide a sweet dream and gain sustenance from the satisfaction I provide: I've done it often enough." Rakoczy loosened the front lacings of his huch. "That will be for later, when I have rested."

"And if a summons comes from the Konige's Court, what then?" Hurther asked in an off-handed way, knowing that Rakoczy was still deeply troubled.

"Wake me, of course," Rakoczy answered. "I will need to make an appearance at the castle."

"I will, if that's what you want," said Hruther. He picked up the liripipe. "Do you need anything more from me just now?"

"No, not just now," said Rakoczy, feeling slightly distracted. He hung his huch on a peg on the side of the garderobe.

"Rest well, my master," said Hruther as he closed the door. He went down the corridor to the stairs and descended to the main hall, taking note of the three servants raking the rushes. "Where is Barnon?" he asked the nearest of the three.

"In the bake-house, collecting the loaves for breakfast."

"I'll find him," said Hruther, and went toward the kitchen and the door to the herb-garden. He stepped out into the early morning and the sounds of birds wakening as the sky lightened; a ragged chorus of cock-crows sounded from many parts of the city, well in advance of the bells that would greet the actual sunrise. As he stepped out through the garden gate, he saw one of the mansion's cats hurrying along, something limp dangling from its mouth. "You do good work," he murmured to the cat.

Barnon was standing in the bake-house door, his arms akimbo, his face turning red in the light from the oil-lamps that lit the stone room where the baker made the household bread; there was an odor of charred and decaying flesh in the room, and an air of conflict that was palpable. He pointed at the baker and raised his voice to a bellow. "If you knew this was a problem, why didn't you inform me?"

The baker shrugged and gestured to the open oven. "We thought the bake-fire would burn the rats out," he said as if this were an obvious conclusion. He was a large man, as soft and swelling as a mound of dough; his face was so rounded that it had only one wrinkle, and that was between his bushy brows.

"And now you have half-baked rats caught in the chimney." Barnon reached out and struck the baker with his open hand. "You say you're a master of your trade? You're worse than a scullion. At least scullions don't-" He fell silent as he saw Hruther standing beside him.

"Yes," Hruther agreed. "Most scullions know to keep the chimneys clean; they fear fire as much as you do." He gave his attention to the baker. "Tell me why you decided to risk a fire in the flue rather than ask for a day to have the chimney cleaned?"

Again the baker shrugged; he was unwilling to look at Hruther.

Hruther said nothing while Barnon and the baker waited uneasily for him to speak. Finally he took a deep breath. "All right," he told them. "Barnon, send one of the servants to buy bread in the market today. Then bring the housemen here to clean the flue. Have the rushes swept from all the rooms that have them, and get rid of any mice and rats found nesting in them. Bring in the cats to help you kill them. Then have the floors washed; I'll give you something to add to the water to rid the rooms of the smell. When the floors are dry, then wait a day before more rushes are put down, and use the time to brush the floors with camphor-water, let the cats have a night to hunt those rats we do not find today." He looked at the baker. "Tymek, I will inform my master about what you've allowed to happen. He will decide what is to be done about you."

"I'm ready to be beaten," said the baker.

"But the Comes might prefer to impose some other punishment," said Hruther, who had rarely seen Rakoczy do deliberate harm to anyone who had not attacked him. "Do you have a wife or children?"

"My wife is dead, and one of my sons. I have one boy remaining." Tymek looked puzzled but ventured no question.

"And where is that boy?" Hruther watched the baker steadily.

"He is apprenticed to Nikula, the butcher in Sante-Hildegard's Square." He stared at the far wall.

"A butcher, not a baker?" Hruther inquired.

"My wife's father is a butcher. He arranged it." Tymek shifted from one foot to the other, his face clouded.

Hruther nodded. "Well, Tymek, I will report this to the Comes, and he will summon you to hear his decision in your regard." He turned to Barnon. "Go and rouse the housemen and the scrub-women and tell them there is work to be done."

A fanfare of crowing greeted the first rosy rays of the sun as they struck the highest points in Praha; Barnon crossed himself and whispered a prayer. "I go now," he informed Hruther as he departed, his footsteps slapping on the courtyard flagstones.

"What shall I do?" Tymek asked, his hands flapping at his sides. "I can't bake, and there is nothing for me to do in the kitchen."

"Go to the servants' hall and break your fast. Then return here to aid in cleaning the flue. The bread will be purchased in the market for today."

Tymek blustered at this. "I am a baker, not a chimney-sweep."

"The rats don't know that, nor do they care." Hruther regarded the baker calmly. "You neglected the oven, and it is for you to see it put right. Until the oven is safe, we will not use it. Be thankful that there was no fire."

Tymek wadded his hands into fists but gave no other indication of having heard Hruther. He went toward the door as if dragged by a rope, then halted. "If you disgrace me, then you will be sorry for it." He thrust out his jaw as if daring Hruther to do anything to oppose him.

"I may be a foreigner and the bondsman of a foreigner, but in this place, you will respect my position," said Hruther, so coldly that Tymek took a step back. "Remember who you are, and what you have done, Tymek-the-Baker, and show proper regard."

The baker tapped his foot, then left without another word.

Hruther took a little time to make a cursory inspection of the oven, wrinkling his nose at the odor of spoiled meat; then he set himself in the doorway, giving himself a short time to compose himself before going into the manse to be sure that the necessary chores were being done. He was on his way to the garden gate when he heard the first bells sounding, not a full, resplendent peal, but the repeated ringing of a single bell, soon echoed by other single bells. Hruther stopped to listen, and said to himself, "Konige Kunigunde has another daughter," then went through to the plantations of sweet-smelling herbs.

"What will the Konig say?" Pacar demanded as he saw Hruther in the corridor. "Why has God given Otakar so much, but withheld the one thing that would protect all he has done?" He pointed to one of the scullions, who was filling the largest cauldron with water from the well beyond the garden. "You should find your comrades and go to church to offer prayers for the child."

The scullion went pale. "If you tell me, I must. But I'm supposed to clean-"

The noise from single-note bells was now sounding all over Praha, and their clamor was deafening.

"You can clean after prayers," Pacar said, raising his voice; he reached out to swat the side of the youngster's head. "Be about it. Now! You will eat when you return."

"How do you plan to serve the rest of the household?" Hruther asked Pacar as he watched the scullion run from the kitchen.

"Barnon will send the others to pray." He gave a sidelong glance to Hruther. "Your master will want to go to the All Saints' chapel in Vaclav Castle, won't he? to be with the Konige's Court."

"I'm going to rouse him now," said Hruther, favoring the cook with a slight nod. "And when are you going to pray?"

"When I've fed the household, of course," said Pacar. "You mayn't be so careful in Santu-Germaniu, but here in Bohemia, we know the way such things are done."

Hruther made no reply; he went to the main hall and the stairs beside the fireplace. He climbed quickly and went directly to Rakoczy's private quarters, rapping twice before letting himself in, prepared to wake the Comes from the profound torpor that in those of his blood served as sleep. "My master," he said in Imperial Latin.

"I am awake, old friend," he heard Rakoczy say in that language as he came through the door.

"Then you know," said Hruther in that language.

"The Konige has a girl again," said Rakoczy, emerging from his sleeping-chamber with his hair tousled and a slightly distracted air that told Hruther that he had only just wakened.

"Yes," said Hruther.

"I should dress and go to Vaclav Castle." Rakoczy approached the garderobe. "I suppose the dark-red velvet huch and the black silk chainse, with the tall Hungarian boots," he said, peering into its depths. "The day will be warm, but the occasion demands-"

"You will want the silver-link collar with the eclipse pectoral," Hruther added. "As you say, the occasion demands it."

"Yes, I will." He rubbed the edge of his beard.

"I'll set them out for you, my master," said Hruther, and began on that task while Rakoczy ran his hand over his cheek and along his neatly trimmed beard again. "A good thing you were shaved two days ago."

"Yes," Rakoczy agreed. "There's hardly any stubble yet." He passed his fingers through his hair. "I wish there were time to bathe properly, but I will have to do with a basin and a towel."

"I'll have one sent up," said Hruther, putting the black chainse on a peg before going to the door. "This shouldn't take long."

"Thank you," said Rakoczy, aware that he was going to have a long day at the Konige's Court. When Hruther was gone, he took his ivory comb from his small chest of personal items and pulled it through his hair until he could feel that the waves were neatened. He had long since learned to manage without a reflection, and no longer fretted about his appearance, knowing that what he did not notice, Hruther would. The constant chiming of bells was becoming annoying, and he spent a short while regaining his composure, for the sound would not end until sunset.

Hruther tapped on the door, then came in bearing a basin of steaming water. "Pacar has a large pot on the boil. It's hot."

"I will bear that in mind." Rakoczy used a thick square of boiled wool to shield his hands.

Hruther retrieved the huch and calf-length braccae of embroidered black leather. Next he got out the boots from the chest of footwear and set them on the bench that fronted the hearth. "If you don't need me for anything more, there are problems in the bake-house..." He clicked his tongue.

"Problems?" Rakoczy repeated as he tugged his nightrail over his head, turning away from Hruther as he did.

"The flue has a rats' nest in it." He paused. "Tymek decided to bake them out rather than have the flue cleaned."

"Ah." Rakoczy took a cotton cloth and dropped it in the basin of hot water.

"The mess will have to be removed. And all the chimneys scrubbed, as well."

Rakoczy nodded. "I will not keep you." He gestured to his clothes. "I can manage this."

"Then I'll await your return this evening."

Rakoczy heard the door close; he wrung out the cloth and ran it over his naked body. It was a cursory wash, but, he reminded himself, it was more than most of the Konige's Court would do. First he pulled on his simple breechclout, and after it, his braccae; then drew the chainse over his head, smoothing it as the heavy silk settled on his shoulders. Taking the huch from its peg, he opened the lacings at the neck and wriggled into it, adjusting the hang of the wide, rectangular, open sleeves before tightening the lacings and reaching for his belt. When he had finished buckling it in place, he took his silver-link collar and eclipse pectoral from his jewel-case. After he had set it in place on his shoulders and chest, he donned his high, thick-soled, black-leather Hungarian boots; his native earth in the soles was almost as restoring as sleep. Opening his jewel-case again, he took out a tear-drop-shaped pink zircon and a large, straw-colored topaz. These he slipped into his wallet, then flicked his comb through his hair one last time before he chose a soft, red-velvet Florentine hat to complete his ensemble. He took care to lock the door as he left.

At the gate to Vaclav Castle, Rakoczy joined a line of nobles, churchmen, Guild Masters, and foreigners of rank, all of whom had answered the summons of the bells. They were all dressed with the grandeur the occasion required, and some of them were bearing packages and little chests with gifts for the Konige and her new daughter. Rakoczy passed through into the wide forecourt of the castle, then turned toward the south wing of the sprawling stone building and the entrance reserved for Konige Kunigunde's courtiers. He was admitted promptly, along with Sorer Zuza, who was charged with caring for the Konige's linen; the elderly nun was beaming.

"God has given Bohemia another Royal daughter," said Sorer Zuza as she and Rakoczy climbed the stairs to the main floor; Rakoczy said nothing. "God must have a great plan for the two daughters: with wise marriages-and these girls will make great marriages-Bohemia could be tied to all the Royal Houses from Roma to Poland, as it deserves." She crossed herself. "God will give the Konige a son in His good time."

At the top of the stairs there was an antechamber, where they were met by Csenge of Somogy and Teca of Veszbrem, who directed them to the Konige's Chapel. "There will be a blessing of the birth by Episcopus Fauvinel, and then you will be allowed to see the Konige briefly, to present your gifts and to see the child." Csenge stared at Rakoczy, a stern purpose in her dark-hazel eyes. "You will inform the Konige's grandfather that you have seen Konige Kunigunde well, and that her daughter is whole. He will have the letter from Pader Stanislas, of course, and Episcopus Fauvinel, but he will want confirmation from you and other Hungarians here at Court."

"If that is the Konige's pleasure, it will be my honor to inform Konig Bela," said Rakoczy, ducking his head before following Sorer Zuza to the Konige's Chapel, where more than forty people were already gathered.

"I am glad to see you, Comes," said Rozsa of Borsod as she came up to him, resplendent in a sweeping bleihaut of rust-colored silk, a chainse of ivory linen, and a veil of dark-red Mosul-cotton; her green eyes were unusually bright. "You will give the Konige comfort, I think. She is very low-spirited."

"For the sake of Hungary, I hope I may comfort her," said Rakoczy, trying to read her inscrutable expression.

"It must be so. All Hungarians will comfort her."

"For the birth of a second daughter?" Rakoczy asked.

"That, and last night, her lady-in-waiting Erzebet of Arad collapsed and now lies in a stupor that-" She stopped, glanced over her shoulder. "Say nothing of this to anyone, not now. It would be an ill thing to speak of death with a birth not yet sanctified." She indicated the benches where they would soon sit. "You, and all the Hungarians sent to be in the Konige's Court, will be allowed to sit toward the front. And you will be permitted to visit the Konige before the Bohemians." There was a glint of satisfaction in her green eyes. Then, mischievously, she added, "Did you get any sleep, Comes?"

"Very little," he told her.

"You were awake, then?"

"Most of the night," he said. "The bells roused me not long after dawn."

"As they did all Praha." She looked directly into his face, her feline expression both satisfied and anticipatory. "It is hardly surprising. Every church in the city is sounding the news," said Rozsa as she ducked her head before going to greet Gazsi of Raab and his apprentices.

Hovarth Pisti of Buda and four of his apprentices were already seated in the second row of benches. He raised his hand. "Comes. Well met. A happy occasion."

"Certainly," said Rakoczy, noticing that the tapestry-weaver was wearing three impressive rings, gifts from Konige Kunigunde, as well as a gold chain-and-pendant given him by Episcopus Fauvinel.

"So restrained," Hovarth Pisti murmured to Geza, who sat immediately beside him. "Exile, as you recall. But he is richer than most of the nobles of Praha put together."

"He paid for our hostelries on the road," Geza said, just a little louder.

"Without complaint," added Bartal.

"For the pleasure of Konig Bela," said Rakoczy, not raising his voice, but making certain that Hovarth could hear him. "It is my honor to serve Konig Bela and his granddaughter."

"And now you serve two Konigs; which of them benefits the most-Bela or Otakar?" Hovarth said. "An expensive business, even for you."

"Why be troubled with such concerns on this happy day?" Rakoczy could sense the rancor in Hovarth and was determined to difuse it.

"Yes, why, when you have a rich gift to give, and the thanks of the Konige for your trouble." He motioned to his apprentices. "Our tapestry will take until spring to complete, and we will have to labor well into the night until it is done. It is a large project, and a complex one: an allegory of faith triumphant."

Rakoczy was glad that the jewels he would present to the Konige were safely in his wallet; he nodded to the tapestry-weavers. "Your gift will be the more treasured for the effort you expend to make it. Your skills are well-known and your work is highly regarded everywhere. Your tapestries will adorn Vaclav Castle for all ages to come."

"Unless they are ruined. Jewels don't become ruined." He scowled. "How long do you think the Episcopus will be with the Konige?"

"I have no idea," Rakoczy said with utter candor. "Our thanksgiving Mass will begin soon enough." He turned away from Hovarth Pisti, and was surprised to see Kravar Jurg, Pan of Kravar, motioning to him; he had met the young nobleman no more than three times, and this sudden show of bonhomie struck Rakoczy as strange, but he moved toward the Pan in the blue-and-red cotehardie. "A happy day for Bohemia."

"It could be happier," said Kravar Jurg, moving aside to give Rakoczy some room among the benches. "The Konig was expecting a son."

"A shame that he must be disappointed," said Rakoczy.

"Do you think so? that he must be disappointed?" The young man chuckled, then stopped. "I forgot, you're one of the Hungarians, aren't you?"

"Not precisely; I am from the eastern end of the Carpathians, where my fief is located," said Rakoczy. "Mine is a very old House."

"I thought your accent isn't quite like the rest of them." He looked toward the door. "Monks are coming. We'd best be seated." He took the end of the bench where he had been standing. "Join me, Comes?"

Becoming more curious at Pan of Kravar's geniality, Rakoczy sat down next to him and prepared for the coming Mass.

Text of a letter from Rakoczy Ferancsi, Comes Santu-Germaniu, at Praha, Bohemia, to Frater Sandor, private scribe to Konig Bela, at Kalocsa, Hungary, written in Latin code on vellum and carried by private courier; delivered sixteen days after it was written.

To the loyal and upright Hieronymite monk, Frater Sandor, the greetings of Rakoczy Ferancsi, Comes Santu-Germaniu, on the ninth day of September in the Lord's Year 1269, with the trust that all information in these pages will be imparted to Konig Bela as promptly as circumstances will allow.

To the most excellent Konig Bela of Hungary,

It is my duty to tell you that Konige Kunigunde has, on the 5th day of September, been delivered of a daughter to be named Agnethe of Bohemia, who will be presented to the people of Praha tomorrow, and her name entered in the role of Bohemia's royal lineage. I have seen your granddaughter twice and I can assure you that she is properly formed and active in her movements. She has been given to the Konige's wetnurse, and all of the Konige's ladies have been given their orders for watching over the infant.

The Konige's older daughter, Kunigunde of Bohemia, because she is little more than four, is unhappy to have to share the attention of the Konige's Court with her new sister, and has taken to behaving objectionably toward the Court ladies. She struck her body-servant yesterday and was given stale bread for her supper. Children are often jealous in this way, and in time the rancor will pass, but for now, you may expect reports that single out the Little Royal's bad behavior. If a companion could be found for her-her own age or a little older-most of her antics would likely cease. Perhaps one of her cousins could be spared for the task? If not a cousin, then the child of one of your vassal-lords?

All this is favorable, but there are two matters that are not: first, your granddaughter has been struck with melancholy, which sometimes comes upon women after giving birth, but this shows no signs of lifting, and may be deepening. Her labor was long, but she has rested from that. She has yet to show any sign of concern for her new daughter. As much as she wanted a son, her distress is known, and I am troubled that she is not willing to hold her newborn namesake. I have spoken with Klotild of Jilish to see if there are any herbs that might lessen the Konige's misery, but she has nothing to recommend. If it pleases you, Konig Bela, I will ask Episcopus Fauvinel to say Masses for her restoration, or seek any other service that you would want performed on your behalf.

The other information I have to impart is cause for grief and distraint: your kinswoman Erzebet of Arad died yesterday evening after falling into a profound lethargy that could not be ended, although there were several attempts made to bestir her. She had been declining for some time, wracked by pain in her guts and joints, by failing appetite, and, in the last month, rashes on the skin. She had become so pale that she seemed translucent, and her eyes were sunken in her head, but were luminous. Frater Lovre, who attended on Erzebet in her illness, declared it was heated guts due to bilious humors that killed her, but I must tell you that I fear she has been poisoned. For that reason, I urge you to provide more protection for the Hungarians at the Konige's Court, for if one of the Konige's Court can be murdered, so others might be. May my fears be groundless, but since I have them, I am duty-bound to tell you of them. If you would like me to send a report to Frater Morcs so that he may assess the factors of Erzebet's death and submit his conclusions in its regard, I will do so. As an apothecary, Frater Morcs is familiar with the nature of poisons and can therefore lend his knowledge to Erzebet's case, and his advice must be given full regard. If he finds that I have no cause for alarm, I will bow to his wisdom.

I have acquitted my charged obligation to you, Konig Bela, and will continue to do so for as long as it pleases you that I should. All I ask is that you not forget that all you have required of me in Praha thus far I have done to the limits you have placed upon me. For the sake of the pledge you have made to Santu-Germaniu, I implore that you recall your good-will and your probity on behalf of my land and my vassals.

Rakoczy Ferancsi, Comes Santu-Germaniu

(his sigil, the eclipse)