The Eagle In Winter
Part I: Christmas In Wolgast
Wolgast Castle, Brandenburg – The 1st of December in the Year of Our Lord 1103
As the cold, wintry wind beat hard on the stone walls of Wolgast Castle, a fleck of snow began to drop from the heavens and descend downwards, listing left and right in the gusts that blew, and finally landing on the edge of a stone crevice cut from the walls of the main tower. Inside, Heinrich Staden stood at the slight window overlooking the main yard and watched it land, as he waited impatiently for his Chancellor to arrive.
Ernst von Görz was an aging man, and at fifty-six, was longer to answer a summons. And on this very cold day of December, the Chancellor knew that he would not be greeted kindly. But then, Heinrich greeted no one kindly. As Duke of Brandenburg, he had that ability to do almost anything he wished, save go against his liege lord, Adolf von Franken, the King of Germany. And as of late, this was his pressing concern.
The door slowly opened, and von Görz shuffled into the room expecting to be showered with expletives. Instead, he was allowed to find a comfortable stool and sit. It was then that Heinrich turned and moved in on his Chancellor.
“So, dear Ernst…answer me what news comes from the west. Has the King moved his troops from Lower Silesia? And if not, when may we say this will be done?”
“I dare not answer such a question, My Lord, for fear of presenting you with a false assurance. There is little in the way of correct information flowing from the King’s encampment, and not even the connections of your brilliant mother can tease them from the tightness with which His Grace holds himself.”
“This is no answer at all,” Heinrich spat as he turned back towards the window, trying to think of his next move. “We cannot declare war on the Hammadid if Adolf has his men primed to move. I’ll not have another siege stolen from me, is that understood?”
“Of course, your Grace,” von Görz responded with complete understanding.
“And if we cannot declare war soon, I fear that the Hammadid will continue their path of destruction across the entirety of Bohemia. This is unacceptable. Was Ulrich given his summons as well? I must speak with my Marshall.”
Heinrich waived his hand in the air as a dismissal of his chancellor, and von Görz wasted little time in taking his reprieve. As he walked from the room, bowing slightly, he heard Heinrich call after him, “And tell my son that his brother is long past due. I wish to know the moment Philipp arrives and I wish it to be Friedrich that tells me!”
A gust of cold air blew through the room just before the door was shut, and Heinrich wrapped the fur collar of his cloak around his neck until it had passed. He ran a hand through his thick brown hair and wondered when it would turn gray. He had not been able to see his father grow old and did not know when it was first to hit. And all of his advisors had been gray since he was first aware of it. But a knock pulled him from these thoughts.
“Enter,” he bellowed as he sat at a table and began to look over several parchments that had just been written up for him.
An older woman entered the room, her hair long and brown with salt and pepper running through it, but pulled tightly into a bun on her head. Her dress was simple, but with slight touches of finery just about the edges as if to suggest that regardless of her carriage, she was of noble stock. She was a slight woman, barely more than four feet tall, and her weight was commiserate with such, but her the way she moved proved that she was the strength of many men her age, and some of those younger, at least as far as the mind worked.
This was Oda von Werth, the Duke’s mother, and recently reinstated as the official spymaster of the Duchy. However, Oda von Werth was always her own spymaster and even if Heinrich despised his mother, and did not waste many chances to show her, he still respected her connections and ability. And so now, he welcomed her arrival but hoped the visit would be brief.
“What brings you to call, dear mother?” Heinrich asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.
“My son,” she began slowly as she sat her self gently in a chair provided by one of Heinrich’s guards. “I have been asked to seek counsel with you in the hopes that your wife might have the company of her relatives this season of Christ.”
Heinrich stood to his full height of five foot eleven and he slammed both fists down on the table, “If the woman wishes to see her kin then she should have the bravery enough to request it of me herself. Damn the woman for opening our business to strangers!”
“You dare call your own mother a stranger?” Oda responded, almost goading her son.
“Would that it were so,” he wasted little time in answering her insolence. “But that it is not, I should wish that you and she would cease your womanly deceits and get back to the business for which you were designed. She to the raising of our children and you to your whispering…to others other than she!”
His raised voice might have brought a guard in had Heinrich not solved that problem years ago. If he chose to murder his own mother right now, they would not intercede, lest they too see their bodies pulled apart. Heinrich pulled his fists from the table and walked around behind his mother, placing both hands on her shoulders and squeezing ever so slightly.
“Mother dear…you have been given a second chance to serve me as you are able. But if I find that you have used your influence to go around my back, then I shall have no choice but to send you back to Silesia from whence you came no so long ago. Was exile that promising?”
Oda von Werth said not a word, but nervously shifted her upper body enough to let Heinrich know that his words held weight. She bowed her head and softly answered, “My Lord Duke, there be no other that I wish to serve more. It is my only honor and wish to do your bidding.”
“Very well then. I should hear no more of this talk about bringing Ludwig and his family to The Feast of St. Nicholas. I hear enough from them as it is, and I’ll be damned if I will spend the Holy Days surrounded by that bothersome lot.”
“I shall not mention it again, Your Grace.”
Without word, she gently lifted herself from the seat and began to move from the room.
“I do not think I was finished speaking, dear mother. It seems there is one other bit of news you might enlighten me on.”
She kept her head bowed and turned back to her son, “My Lord?”
“What news of Ludwig?”
It was then that Oda lifted her head to look into Heinrich’s eyes. Yes, a weakness still – that bastard son of his, she thought. “What news? None to speak. He is soon to finish his studies with Father Kaunitz and will be primed to accept a bishopric if you so desire.”
“Excellent news. And he has not been seen with any of his siblings of late, yes?”
She nodded once and looked back to Heinrich as if to ask her leave once more.
“Go then.” He waived his hand at her as he turned away to look out over the grounds. When he heard the latch to the door catch, he said out loud as he grinned, “And a bishopric you shall have, my son. Soon…very soon.”