Colonel Rochefort ambled across the marbled entry foyer of the Trèves Rathaus, following the Cardinal-Elector up the broad staircase to the council rooms on the first floor. He did find the evolving interaction between the Cardinal and the good Burgers of the city interesting, usually; their attitude had evolved from fear and disgust toward the Cardinal to a deal of respect. Still accompanied by a healthy portion of fear and disgust, it must be said, but at least some progress was being made. And fear of the Cardinal, mused Rochefort was definitely a survival trait, in any case.
At the moment, as he followed the Cardinal through the ornate doors of the council room, he was concerned about the army. Or at least the leadership of the army. He had received word that another notable had joined the Staff the night before; one Thomas Burgess. Another Englishman. Rochefort’s naturally paranoid nature had started to wonder what was going on. What was Le duc de Clarkeshire up to? Assembling a team of Englishmen, his cronies maybe, to run the army? Count de Toulouse-Laurtrec was oblivious to any political issues; then again, the man was oblivious to lesser issues also, like the fact that the sky was blue. He certainly could not be relied upon to keep some nascent coup d’état in check. The whole thing was troubling, and Rochefort could not see an obvious way to intervene. He would just have to watch and wait.
As he came to this conclusion, he looked up and reviewed the gathered council. Something was…off. The usual assemblage of plump germans, yes. The usual guarded expressions of fear and anticipation, yes. But there was something else. Rochefort tensed, looking around the room. No, it was the people.
It took him a moment. Angry. They were angry. it was clear on the faces of a couple of the less guarded individuals. What had the Cardinal done to annoy them? No, that list was too long. What had the Cardinal done that they knew about to annoy them this much, there was a better question. He had really no idea. If he had been asked ten minutes ago, he would have said things were settling down nicely. Just last week he had been able to half the number of Cardinal’s guard arrest squads.. umm, no, Patrols, yes, Patrols that he was sending out. The Cardinal had noticed the attitude in the room also, and raised a quizzical eyebrow at Gert Thuringer, head of the council, and known to his friends as “hog butcher to Europe”. To his enemies, Rochefort thought, it was something more like “what-the-hell-has-that-bastard-put-in-this-sausage”.
Herr Thuringer’s jowls quivered in indignation. He grabbed a piece of parchment from the council table and began to speak. Unfortunately his emotional state, coupled with his colossal jowls, terribly fitting false teeth, and the panting caused, presumably, by moving his bulk around made his speech completely incomprehensible. He was also spraying the Cardinal with spit as he tried to enunciate, something that promised to rapidly resolve all his health problems.
Herr Eklantegauner, chief lawyer for the city, took pity on his chairman and began to speak, in his usual dry as dust manner, taking the parchment from Thuringer (who was becoming alarmingly red in the face), and easing him back into his seat.
“Your Eminence, Colonel. what has my colleague so excited is this misdirected communication from the Sublime Porte. It came to the council in error; it should, of course, have gone to your Eminence.”
The Cardinal glanced at Rochefort, but he was already making a mental note to find out how these people had possibly got a letter that he did not know about.
“And what, dear Sir, does the communication say?” asked the Cardinal, glad to be dealing with someone he might actually get an intelligible answer from. Not of course, a straight answer (Eklantegauner was a lawyer, after all) but that could be allowed for.
Rochefort did not often get to see his boss surprised. He rather relished those occasions, it must be admitted, though he did try and hide his pleasure. He would remember the Cardinal’s expression on hearing the answer to that question for a long time, using it to warm himself in a variety of cold and unpleasant places.
“The Sublime Porte has declared war on us, your Excellency, apparently because of our shipments of pork products, which they regard as a religious affront. They say an army of the Sultan will be sent here to cleanse the land of the offensive food.”
It took the Cardinal a moment to recover, and even then puzzlement was visible on his face.
“Rochefort, Herr Eklantegauner,” ground out the Cardinal “did we not just fight a war, in alliance with the Turks, so that our shipments of pork products would be… untrammeled? Did our side not win that war? And now.. they wish to reverse the result? Is this some form of joke? Is it a forgery? Are they insane over there?’
Eklantegauner answered “I can only answer some of that, Your Eminence. Yes to the first, yes to the second, it appears so to the third, as they claim to be coming here literally with fire and sword, and I think not, to the fourth. As far as I can see the document is genuine. I cannot help with the last question.” He glanced at Rochefort, who shrugged, and spoke.
“We do not know all that happens on the Golden Horn, Eminence. But the reports we can assemble just make the place look like a madhouse. Innumerable factions, with goals that change by the hour, and alliances that come and go in minutes. It does not seem impossible for the Sublime Porte to have a significant policy change.”
The Cardinal sighed and looked at the golden cherubs beaming down on him from the ceiling.
“Rochefort” he asked quietly “would you be so kind as to ask Count de Toulouse-Laurtrec to put his army on notice to march, and for him and his covey of Englishmen to join me in the Chancery this afternoon. It appears we are fighting again.”
Rochefort bowed and left. As he did so, he noted without surprise that the Cardinal had noticed the profusion of foreign officers also, and wondered what would come of it.
As he walked onto the square, he thought to himself that at least it was not damp and foggy this time. and maybe boats could be avoided…..