An Embarrassment of Riches (St. Germain Series #24)by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
More than two decades strong, the Saint-Germain cycle is one of the most compelling works of dark fantasy and horror of our age. Historically accurate, often involving key events or figures from throughout world history, these deeply emotional novels have a devoted readership. Each novel is written as a stand-alone and they are not chronologically consecutive, so
More than two decades strong, the Saint-Germain cycle is one of the most compelling works of dark fantasy and horror of our age. Historically accurate, often involving key events or figures from throughout world history, these deeply emotional novels have a devoted readership. Each novel is written as a stand-alone and they are not chronologically consecutive, so readers may enter the saga with any book and move backward or forward in time as they choose, from Pharaonic Egypt to Paris in the 1700s, from the fall of the Roman Empire to World War II Europe.
In An Embarrassment of Riches, the vampire Count finds himself a virtual prisoner in the Court of Kunigunde in Bohemia in the 1200s. Rakoczy Ferncsi, as Saint-Germain is known, passes his days making jewels to delight Queen Kunigunde and trying not to become involved in the Court's intrigues. In this, the vampire fails. Handsome, apparently wealthy, and obviously unmarried, he soon finds himself being sexually blackmailed by Rozsa, an ambitious lady-in-waiting. If he does not satisfy her, she will denounce him to the priests and he'll be burned at the stake, resulting in his True Death. Despite his care, the vampire makes more than one enemy at the Bohemian Court, and by the end of An Embarrassment of Riches, the Count can see only one road to freedom...through death.
“Meticulous attention to historic detail and vivid writing bring an ancient era to life. Unlike most generic vampire novels that can be quaffed in a quick if entertaining gulp, this book should be savored like fine wine.” Publishers Weekly, starred review on Roman Dusk
“Quinn Yarbro is one of our finest writers and craftpersons, incapable of a slack paragraph, or a fuzzy thought. Everything is perfectly focused, everything is expertly accomplished. The Count remains a vibrantly original character, one of the greatest contributions to the horror genre.” Peter Straub
“A heady, intoxicating blend of historical fiction and subtle horror. The love scenes display the same lush sensuality for which Anne Rice's vampire fiction is known.” VOYA on Communion Blood
Read an Excerpt
Rakoczy Ferancsi looked around the entry hall of his manse, his only expression a flicker of disappointment in his dark eyes. “Well, we have seen worse; at least they disposed of the rushes; we will have to do something about the rats,” he remarked in Imperial Latin to Hruther, who was three steps behind him, carrying a red-lacquer chest strapped to his shoulders, its legs removed and bound to the body of the chest. The two went through the arched door and into the main hall; at the far end of it was a large fireplace badly in need of sweeping; two benches lay upside down in front of it. “We will need a staff of fifteen at least to manage this place, inside and out.” He swung his black-and-white badger-pelt mantel off his shoulders and draped it over the nearest plank bench, revealing a black bleihaut with Hungarian-style sleeves and long, black-embroidered riding panels in the front of the garment. His Roman braccae were heavy black cotton; his high boots were thick-soled and made of tooled red leather from Aleppo. He wore no jewelry or indication of rank so as not to tempt robbers to stalk him during his travels; his head was bare, revealing dark wavy hair, cut shorter than the current fashion, with a touch of gray at the temples, and just now, his attractive, irregular features were severe. His simplicity of clothing would change when he went to the Konige’s Court to present himself along with the rest of those subjects Konig Bela had sent to his granddaughter, when grandeur would be expected of him on account of his title; richness and variety in dress were required for members of the Konige’s Court, and failure to present a splendid appearance would be regarded as a slight to the Konige.
“More like twenty, and more for the bake-house, the bath-house, and the stable,” said Hruther, setting the chest down and sniffing the chilly air. “It’s musty.”
“The air is stale.”
“It has been empty for more than a year,” Rakoczy said, a suggestion of doubt about this in his observation. “According to Counselor Smiricti.”
The building was less than fifty years old, made of wood and stone, two stories high, with ten rooms and a kitchen in this central manse. It stood on a shoulder of a hill not far from the Vaclav Castle, surrounded by a tall stone wall; this manse was on the highest part of the mansion-grounds. The main hall reached up to the roof, heavily beamed and shadowy above the rows of shuttered windows that ran along the gallery on three sides of the hall providing what little light filtered into the room. Large as it was, the main hall was sparsely furnished with rough-hewn benches and two standing chests, both of which were open, showing all contents were gone; there was an overturned table in the far corner of the hall. To the left of the fireplace, a narrow, steep stairway led to the gallery above.
“The private rooms—six of them—are upstairs, but for the withdrawing rooms, on the other side of the main hall,” said Hruther as he carefully put down the bundled legs of the chest. “According to the information we were given.”
“There are two of those, are there not? withdrawing rooms?” Rakoczy asked.
Hruther pointed to the right. “You can see the doors; one is supposed to have three tall windows.”
“I’ll decide which one of them will serve as my study; we can turn one of the upstairs rooms into my workroom, with space for my books; we will have to determine how accurate the description we were provided actually is,” Rakoczy decided aloud. “The work already paid for is still not done.”
“It isn’t quite what we expected,” Hruther said. “This will need a lot of work.”
Rakoczy nodded his agreement. “Fortunately we have four men from our escort with us for another ten days before they return to Santu-Germaniu. We can get some work done here until we have hired the servants we need.”
“Escorts and a groom,” said Hruther of the four men who had accompanied them to Praha. He crossed the room to the maw of the fireplace. “The chimney will need cleaning before a fire can be safely lit. At least the Bohemians have chimneys—not like the English. By the smell of it, there are rats in the flue.” He glanced at the floor. “By the droppings, there are rats everywhere.”
Although it was April, the day was overcast, threatening rain, so the house was chilly and damp. Hruther stretched to ease his shoulders. “The eight wagons with your furnishings should be here in a few days. It was wise to dispatch them separately; I think now you were right about that. Konig Bela would have been suspicious of you taking so many of our own goods with the Dux of Oradea’s escort. Bela would like your exile to be as limited as possible, but since he needs Santu-Germaniu to help keep his heir in check in Transylvania, he cannot deny you at least a few of your things. Bela has good reason to contain Istvan, and without Santu-Germaniu he won’t be able to.” He looked at the nearest of the open chests, shaking his head. “We can manage for four days on our own. You have enough gold to hire help before the rest of your goods arrive.”
“And you dare to speak the heir’s name aloud?” Rakoczy asked, his tone gently mocking.
“Who but you can hear me, my master?” Hruther countered. “I will say nothing that could create more suspicions than have already accumulated around us.”
“We may yet need my gold for bribes, though Bohemia is rich in gold.”
Hruther gave a wintery smile. “Jewels will be most welcome, in any event. The Konige will want them.”
“I wish I had been allowed more of my servants to come with me,” Rakoczy said, taking a turn about the main hall, feeling increasingly desolate as he took stock of all the work to be done. “There is so much to be restored.”
“True enough,” Hruther agreed.
“As you say, we can probably manage well enough until the household goods arrive. This is hardly the Silk Road, nor is it Leosan Fortress, or Cyprus, thank all the forgotten gods.” Memories of those three places rose in his thoughts; he looked toward the maw of the fireplace as the images faded.
Hruther pinched the bridge of his nose, then rubbed his eyes, doing his best to banish the fatigue that was taking hold of him now that they had reached the end of their journey. “The Dux set a hard pace for us,” he said as if offering an explanation for his weariness. “Doubtless Konig Bela required it of him.”
“So he did,” Rakoczy said.
“Still, we should make some effort to settle in as soon as your goods arrive,” Hruther declared, making himself stand straight. “It’s expected. The Konige’s Court will expect it of you.” He stretched his arms, laced his fingers, and pushed his hands out ahead of him.
“We should probably fetch food from the market before that; as you say, it is expected and the men are hungry,” Rakoczy said, and then added, “Or I could give them money for a meal and entertainment. What do you think, old friend?”
“They’d probably prefer the latter, and it will postpone our first visit to the market until tomorrow; I can wait until then to purchase a lamb or a brace of ducks for my own needs,” said Hruther. “It’s been a long trek from your native earth. The men have earned their respite—no doubt they’ll be glad of a night of revelry and soft beds.”
“Then they shall have such a night, and as many of them as we may need to provide,” Rakoczy nodded, and continued his stroll around the room. “We should purchase a proper table from the local wood-workers, with chairs, not benches, to go with it. The servants’ quarters are behind the kitchen opposite the stable, as I recall from the Counselor’s description.”
“I’ll go and look, if you like,” Hruther offered.
Rakoczy laughed once. “You have the right of it; neither of us has been here before, and we are both seeing it for the first time. That plan the Counselors sent has its limits in—” He paused, pondering for a moment. “I suppose I should send a gift to the Counselors of Praha for selecting this place for us.”
“They probably expect something for their help,” Hruther agreed. “There’ll be time enough tomorrow to present yourself to them, when you can report your plans for this place.” He pointed to the empty sconces on the wall. “We’ll need some torches by nightfall. We don’t want to fumble about in the dark.”
Rakoczy nodded. “And not fumbling about would lead to awkward questions,” he said; he saw nearly as well in the dark as he did in daylight. “I’ll put incense in the sap on the torches, to take the disused odor out of the air.”
Hruther moved to the center of the main hall, taking stock of the place. “It’s a bit drafty.”
“We will have to find where the drafts are worst and hang tapestries there until proper caulking can be done.” Rakoczy sighed. “Do you suppose we should send a messenger to the Konige’s Court to announce our arrival? Or is that the Counselors’ duty?” He stopped. “You have no more notion than I do. I am speaking to the walls as much as to you, for which I ask your pardon.”
“You needn’t,” said Hruther; his faded-blue eyes showed a trace of amusement. “There are busy days ahead of us.”
“Truly,” said Rakoczy. He strode to the staircase next to the fireplace. “I trust the Counselors will advise us on where we might find dependable servants. In any case, we’ll need their permission to engage the staff.”
“I’ll find out tomorrow,” said Hruther.
“I will consult the Guildmaster to engage masons to build an athanor for me,” Rakoczy said, his eyes fixed in the middle distance, his lips pressed together as he weighed his decision. “Better to have it done by a Bohemian than by me, and by a Guild member.”
“There may still be raised eyebrows,” Hruther warned. “Athanors are not the usual work of masons.”
“So long as I am considered to be in the service of Konige Kunigunde, however marginally, having local masons build the athanor will provide a measure of protection against rumors.” Rakoczy lapsed into thought again. “We will need more furnishings than what is coming. I’ll find the Carpenters’ Guild as well as the Masons’.”
“Except for those rumors the masons start, you can contain the worst of them, so long as the Konige is willing to support you,” said Hruther.
Rakoczy sighed. “You have the right of it: there will be rumors—since I am twice-exiled from my native earth.” He nodded once. “Still, it was prudent to leave Santu-Germaniu before Konig Bela decided to attack once more and claim it as his own, not only to keep his son in check, but as an excuse to seize my wealth.” He shook his head slowly. “I am well-aware of what Konig Bela wants, and my fief is the least of it. By accepting his terms of exile and coming here, we avoid any more difficulties with him, and his son, for that matter—Istvan is still eager to rule beyond Transylvania—and spare the peasants on my land further raids and losses.” He paused. “But now we are here, we must take care not to be overheard when we speak of this.”
“Of course.” Hruther pressed his lips together. “For the sake of Santu-Germaniu and your vassals.”
“Among other things,” Rakoczy said. “It is a relief to talk about it while we are private. It is a relief not to have spies all around us.”
“But you disliked leaving,” Hruther pointed out.
There was an ironic note in Rakoczy’s response. “It is my native earth, and I am bound to it. Though I have left it many times, leaving of my own will and leaving in exile are not the same thing. Konig Bela wants me out of Hungary, but not so far that I might make mischief for him. Praha serves his purpose admirably.”
“I don’t think you could have negotiated with him, not to any advantage for you,” Hruther remarked.
“Nor do I. What assurance could we have that our terms would be honored?” He went quiet. “It was best to leave, but—”
“You would rather not be required to go,” said Hruther; he had been aware of Rakoczy’s sorrow since they had gone from Santu-Germaniu.
“It was how I went to my death, the first time—as an exile and captive. I am less a captive now than I was thirty-three centuries ago, but just as much an exile.” He felt the impact of that time, so long ago, when he had been captured by the enemies of his father and his country, made a slave destined with men from his father’s army to take the brunt for his new masters’ army in battle, and was disemboweled for his victory when his captors had expected his defeat; they had feared that he and all the captive slaves he led might rebel … To keep from dwelling on his breathing life, he slapped his hands together, saying, “What did you make of the bodies?”
Hruther showed no emotion. “You mean the four hanging in chains outside the main gate?” He saw Rakoczy nod. “Otakar doesn’t suffer treachery, or flouting of the Konig’s Law.”
“So I thought,” Rakoczy concurred.
“And the Counselors of Praha will not deny him his justice, such as it is, unless they want to join the bodies hanging outside the gate,” Hruther added in a carefully neutral voice, rubbing his clean-shaven cheek.
“As they are certainly aware. Those corpses—” He had felt the odor of the bodies like a blow, and it struck him again in recollection. “I wonder how long he leaves them hanging?” It was more a question to himself, so he was a bit startled when Hruther answered.
“Until they come apart,” Hruther said. “That’s the way of most rulers in this region of the world, or so I heard one of our escort explain to the scribe.”
“It would appear to be true,” said Rakoczy, making a fastidious gesture as if to banish the vision of the men hanging by the gate.
“There is a bath-house—yes?” Hruther asked into the silence that had fallen between them.
“So I was told; behind the bake-house,” Rakoczy answered, his manner mildly distracted, as if the recollections of his breathing days were lingering. “And you have the right of it: bathing is needed.”
“If the furnace is clean enough to use safely, then I believe I should start it warming.” Hruther folded his arms. “You will not want to call upon the Counselors still grimy from the road, and in clothing less than worthy of your rank. You know what sticklers these municipal Councils can be.”
“None better,” Rakoczy agreed as he fingered his neat, close-trimmed beard, relieved to have such a mundane matter to consider. “I will want the Hungarian bleihaut in dark-red silk, and the black-silk gambeson trimmed in ermine. The Hungarian braccae and the Persian boots, I think. I will present myself to the Counselors tomorrow after Mass, and to the Konige in the afternoon.”
“With jewels,” said Hruther, glancing over at the overturned table as a mouse ran out from its protection and skittered toward the corridor leading to the kitchen.
“Certainly,” said Rakoczy. “Konig Bela would demand it, if only to prove my deserts of position to his granddaughter. The black-sapphire-in-silver eclipse pectoral on the ruby-studded chain, and rings for every finger.” He began to pull off his Spanish gloves. “And my coronet, too, I suppose. They will expect the full display.”
“What gift will you offer the Counselors?” Hruther inquired.
“I have to think about it; perhaps silver buckles?”
“There is plenty of silver in Bohemia,” Hruther pointed out. “Some of the Counselors might consider such a gift insulting.”
“Then a selection of ivory boxes should be welcome; there are no elephants in Bohemia,” said Rakoczy, his expression remote. “There should be a dozen of them in the banded trunk. You’ll have no difficulty in locating them.”
“We can search for them later,” Hruther said, aware of Rakoczy’s discomfort. “But for now, the bath-house, don’t you think?”
“I do,” said Rakoczy, and dropped his gloves on top of his mantel, preparing to follow Hruther.
The kitchen, tacked onto the east wall of the manse, proved cavernous, with two huge fireplaces, one equipped with spits for turning meat, the other with an assortment of hooks for hanging cauldrons. The room smelled of stale oil and burnt flesh. An oven with an iron door was set in the wall between the two fireplaces, and another small fireplace in the center of the room was topped with a thick iron sheet that was in need of cleaning and oiling. The windows were high in the wall, the thick, greenish glass filling them in diamond patterns of heavy leading, giving the kitchen a quality of fretted light that made the room seem as if it were under water.
“The utensils are gone; we will have to get new ones, and whatever pots and pans are required,” Hruther remarked as he continued on toward the larder and the door to the outside, where the information the Counselors had provided said there was a kitchen garden; there was, but it had been allowed to run riot.
“We have time enough to restore many of the herbs; the rest may have to wait a year to be replanted,” Rakoczy said as the two of them made for the small gate that led out into the courtyard.
To the right of the garden wall stood the bake-house and the bath-house, both of stone with wooden roofs topped by slates, many of which were chipped or broken; they shared a brick chimney. A large wooden bin backed onto the bath-house; a lift of its lid disclosed a fair supply of very dry cut wood and the distinct odor of rats, accompanied by a scuttling under the sawn branches. Hruther dropped the lid back into place.
“We will need a cat or two,” said Rakoczy. “At the least.”
“Male and female, so there will be kittens.” Hruther nodded. “For now, we’d best see to the furnace. I’ll wager it needs cleaning, with so many rats about.” He chuckled. “Konig Bela would be pleased to see you so deprived.”
“So he would; it would give him profound satisfaction to see me destitute, but he would not be endorsed by the Church if he ordered it himself, my title being older than his for more years than he realizes. He wants to keep track of me, so that he need not fear my making alliances with Galich or Polovtsky. Do not say those words aloud if anyone other than I can hear them: Bela might learn of it and change his mind about exile in favor of something more absolute. We must guard our tongues in this place,” Rakoczy said sardonically, looking for the loading chute for the bath-house furnace. “We need to have all the chimneys cleaned, and repaired if repairs are needed, which I suspect they will be.”
Hruther shrugged to cover his relief at Rakoczy finally talking about the reasons for his departure from his native earth. “Along with everything else; we’ll need an army of cleaners.” He went around the corner to the bath-house entrance. “The hinges are rusty.”
“They will be oiled and cleaned, or replaced,” said Rakoczy, coming up behind him. “Will the door open?”
“It should,” said Hruther, taking hold of the latch-handle, shoving it down, and pulling outward. With a groan the door swung wide reluctantly, exuding an odor of mold and revealing a heap of damp rags.
“More cleaning, and more repairs,” said Rakoczy. “I suppose it would be as well to wash in one of the kitchen tubs tonight. Tomorrow I will put my native earth under the bath and I will inspect the old bathtub to see how much can be salvaged. Most of the boards will have to be replaced, in any case, by the look of them.”
Hruther stepped inside the bath-house, taking stock of the small undressing room and the ajar door that led into the main bath-room. “Not very big.”
“It will suffice,” said Rakoczy, his expression darkening as he studied the ceiling for signs of leaks. “We will need to have the roof repaired.”
“For all the buildings,” said Hruther. As he left the bath-house behind Rakoczy, he inquired, “What became of the previous owner? do we know?”
A frown flickered between Rakoczy’s fine brows. “I will inquire of the Counselors tomorrow. Knowing what became of its previous owner would be useful.”
“Do you think they’ll tell you?” Not waiting for an answer, Hruther closed the door. “I’ll check the furnace, and if it’s in good form, I’ll do what I can to have it ready in a day or two.”
“The same will be needed for the bake-house,” said Rakoczy.
“And every hearth inside the walls. The attics and cellars will need attention as well; you were told the mansion was ready for occupancy.” Hruther started toward the door to the furnace, noting with misgiving that the iron door was scabbed with rust. “This door will need to be replaced; it’s rotted at the hinges.”
“It is not the only one,” said Rakoczy, turning as he heard a thud from the stable. “I think I should see what the men are doing with the horses and mules.”
“The stalls may be falling apart,” said Hruther, his face showing no emotion. “Or they are trying to move fallen stall slats out of the way. Or there could be vagabonds hiding there, and your escort is trying to evict them.”
“I should go,” said Rakoczy, signaling his appreciation to Hruther as he made his way across the uneven flagging of the courtyard, being careful to watch where he stepped, for the paving stones were broken and uneven, providing poor footing. He tripped only once, on the handle of a fallen rake. Reaching the stable door, he tugged it open and stepped into the dark interior.
Illes of Kotan, the groom, was the first to look toward Rakoczy, and to duck his head in respect. “Comes,” he said loudly enough to alert the three men-at-arms; they turned and offered a simple salute.
The men-at-arms took a few steps toward Rakoczy but made no effort to help contain the furious mule that demanded Illes’ attention.
Rakoczy had taken in the general confusion, and realized that the noise had come from one of the mules, the on-side wheeler attempting to kick the wagon he pulled; he was half-rearing in his harness, ears laid back, and eyes rolling, while the other three mules did their best to lean away from their unruly comrade. Rakoczy went up to the aggravated animal, speaking softly as he reached for the reins to steady him. “There, there. No bad conduct now, when you’ve done so well for so many leagues.” The mule gave an angry squeal; Rakoczy laid his hand on his noseband. He spoke to Illes. “Unbuckle him from the wagon—slowly. Do it as calmly as you can. Then lead him around for a short while until he’s used to this place.”
“Yes, Comes,” said the groom, hastening to his work as he had been ordered.
“Brush off his legs as soon as the mud dries,” Rakoczy went on, still patting the mule’s neck. “No need to fuss,” he added to the mule.
Illes worked as quickly as he could, trying to stay away from the mule’s feet, for he was stamping in annoyance. “Comes, he’s almost free.”
“Thank you, Illes,” said Rakoczy, preparing to lead the mule away from the wagon. “As soon as I get him at the end of the aisle, come and take charge of him.”
“And the rest of the hitch?” Illes asked, aware that the other three mules were very nervous. “They’re restive.”
“I will attend to them, with some help from your comrades,” he said with a significant glance at the three men-at-arms. They might consider caring for mules beneath them, but refusing their assistance when the Comes himself was willing to handle them was demeaning.
“I’ll deal with the lead pair,” said Zabolcs of Hrasty, the senior of the three, a man of medium height with powerful arms and shoulders and a swagger in his walk.
“I’ll take the other wheeler,” said Domonkos of Pest, falling in beside Zabolcs as they approached the mules. Endre son-of-Odon hung back, then went to help out.
Rakoczy held the mule’s head low so that he would not be inclined to rear again and led him at a slow trot toward the far end of the stable. He saw that none of the box-stalls were bedded; he added straw to the many things he would have to purchase the next day. “Where is my horse, and my manservant’s horse?”
“In the paddock behind the stable. The fence is sound enough, and I didn’t want to stall them just yet. I’ll bed stalls for them while they’re turned out in the paddock, assuming I can find enough straw to do it.” Illes reached up and took the lead from Rakoczy. “Where do we put the wagon? We can’t leave it here in the aisle.” He made a gesture of confusion.
“There should be a place for it near the tackroom,” said Rakoczy with more hope than certainty. “If there is no place for it, put it in the mare’s stall at the end of the row. Give them all oat-mash for their suppers, and vinegar,” he added, tossing him a scoop that had been hanging on a nail. “Put oil in the mash, and on their hooves.”
“Yes, Comes.” This time all the men answered in a ragged sort of unison as they took reluctant steps forward.
“And when the horses and mules are groomed and fed, come to the main house and I will have silver for you all, so you may go down into Praha and enjoy yourselves.” He was not surprised to see the men’s eyes brighten at the prospect. “I will provide you money to put up at one of the inns until there are rooms ready for you. I see no point in asking you to sleep on the floor.”
“Why not?” Domonkos asked. “The Konig demands it often enough.”
“Ah, but I am not Konig Bela,” Rakoczy said.
Zabolcs laughed. “Would you want to be?”
“No,” Rakoczy said quietly. “Little as he may believe it.” He regarded the four men. “Are you able to manage for yourselves?”
Endre son-of-Odon, lead-rope in hand, swore as the off-side lead mule lashed out at him with her teeth, barely missing his shoulder; Rakoczy moved swiftly to bring the frightened jenny under control. Endre stepped back into the nearest stall, regarding the mule warily. “Be careful, Comes.”
“Do not fret, Endre,” Rakoczy said, his Carpathian accent stronger than usual. “He’s settling down. You can handle him safely now.”
Reluctantly Endre came out of the stall and attached the lead-rope to the bit-ring. “There. I’ll have her out of harness in three finger-snaps.”
“Steadiness is better than speed,” said Rakoczy, and looked toward the door as Hruther came through it, appearing uncharacteristically flustered. “What is it?”
“Counselor Smiricti has just arrived, with two deputies,” Hruther said. “I’ve asked them to wait in the main hall.” He was not panting, but he took a deep breath, as if to clear his head. “I have told him we haven’t had a chance to make the house ready to receive guests yet, that most of your goods have yet to arrive, but—”
Rakoczy stared at Hruther for a moment, and said, “Then I must go and welcome him as best I can.” There was an ironic note in his words; he turned to Illes and the three escorts. “I will leave you to your tasks. When you have finished them, come to the manse and I will give you your money.”
“Thank you, Comes,” said Zabolcs for all of them.
Hruther held the door for Rakoczy as he left the stable. “The deputies are armed,” he said in the tongue of Visigothic Spain.
“That is hardly surprising; I believe any man of means goes about the city with some form of protection.” Rakoczy lengthened his stride, taking care not to trip on the flagstones; he avoided the bake-house with the small laundry attached to its back, and made straight for the low-walled and much-neglected kitchen garden. “That is not a matter for concern; the deputies are guards for the Counselors.”
“Possibly,” said Hruther, keeping pace with Rakoczy.
“They’re in the main hall, you said?”
“Yes. I apologized that we wouldn’t be able to offer them bread and salt, or wine. Or a chair to sit in.” Hruther reached the kitchen garden and its dilapidated gate. “At least the Counselor can see the state of this mansion he has allowed you to purchase.”
Five steps brought them to the kitchen door; they passed inside and closed the door, then went past the two pantries, through the kitchen, and down the corridor to the main hall.
“Comes Santu-Germaniu,” said the tall, angular, middle-aged man in the elaborately fur-trimmed huch of dark-blue Milanese velvet worn over a long chainse of rose-colored silk; his braccae were dark-brown, as were his low boots. His hair, a steely gray, was cut fashionably short, curling next to his jaw and blending into his trimmed beard in the style of merchants; his soft hat of amber velvet brought out his light-brown eyes and minimized his large ears and hatchet-nose. He offered a mannerly bow, although the deputies with him did not; they remained standing, their hands on their swords and an air of belligerence about them.
Rakoczy returned it. “Counselor Smiricti.”
“I was told you had arrived, and I wanted to bid you welcome to Praha.” He signaled to the two men standing behind him, indicating that he wanted to be private with Rakoczy. “I will be here some while. The Comes and I have much to discuss. If you will keep watch at the door?”
The two deputies turned and left the room, their spurs ringing on the stone floor.
“I regret that the stable has not yet been prepared for horses. My escort and groom can provide grain and buckets of water for your horses from our traveling supplies, but there is no bedding in the stalls, and no hay in the loft. I trust your men will not be too displeased with that,” Rakoczy said with as much geniality as he could summon.
“I feared there would not be anything here for you to use,” said Counselor Smiricti. He gestured to the room. “I had hoped that the Counselors would allocate the funds you provided to set this place in order before your arrival, in accordance with your instructions, but no one could agree on the amount to spend, so nothing was done.” He clicked his tongue. “Since your gold that bought this mansion was in our hands, we should have made an appropriate disposition here, in accordance with your wishes, but, as you see…”
Rakoczy made a small bow. “I understand. Matters of this sort are always difficult, are they not?” He went and righted one of the two overturned benches in front of the fireplace. “At least I can offer you a seat. I am sorry it is only a plank.”
Counselor Smiricti went and sat down. “I was examining that chest,” he said, pointing to the red-lacquer one that stood at the other end of the room, its detached legs lying in front of it. “A handsome piece.”
“I agree,” said Rakoczy. “I have had it for many years.” That those years were reckoned in centuries he did not mention.
“Excellently made.” He rubbed his gloved hands together. “It occurred to me that you would need some help in making this house habitable. I felt I should give you what advice I may.”
“Thank you. I would appreciate it.” He managed to keep the irony he felt from his voice,
The Counselor cleared his throat. “You see, the previous owner, Pan Belcrady Jaromir, had many mines, mostly silver mines, and he drove a hard bargain for his silver with Przemysl Vaclav, and then was exiled, two years ago. His estates now are the fiefs of Konig Otakar, and the revenues they produce are owned outright by the Crown.” He coughed. “The manse was cleared out by order of the Konig, and Belcrady’s kin have been ordered not to leave their country estates, or face imprisonment for rebellion. There is some hard blood between the Konig and the Belcradys. I thought you should know this, since this mansion is regarded with misgiving by many, and not without good cause. In order to avoid problems, I will tell you what Guilds to deal with, and whom to approach for servants. That is, if my offer is welcome to you.”
“An exile’s manse for an exile,” Rakoczy mused aloud, a trace of amusement in his midnight eyes. He nodded to Counselor Smiricti. “Thank you for this information. It will help me to make my arrangements to set it in order. In that regard, your advice would be very much appreciated; I am grateful for your offer.”
“I feel it is fitting that I do what I can to make up for this unpromising beginning. Let me know what you require and I will tell you where to obtain it, and at what cost,” said Counselor Smiricti, and gave Rakoczy his full attention as the Comes began to list all he would need to put the manse and the mansion in order.
* * *
Text of an order from the Carters’ Guild of Praha confirming the transportation of deliveries to be made to Mansion Belcrady.
To the Comes Santu-Germaniu, Rakoczy Feransci, the following items are to be brought to Mansion Belcrady:
Delivered today, April 29th, 1269th Year of Grace:
Three wagon-loads of cut stone from the Italian quarry, as presented by the Masons’ Guild
Six wagon-loads of lumber from Styria, as cut by the Woodsmen’s Guild
Two wagon-loads of straw and two of hay from the farm-market of Roztoky
Delivered tomorrow, April 30th
On a flat-bedded cart, three sheets of iron, from the Blacksmiths’ Guild
On a flat-bedded cart, four completed new doors from the Carpenters’ Guild
Three wagon-loads of household furnishing as ordered from the Furniture-Makers’ Guild
Delivered on May 4th
Fourteen beds and eleven chests, also from the Furniture-Makers’ Guild
Two wagon-loads of fencing lumber, as cut by the Woodsmens’ Guild
Two large bathing tubs of caulked wood
I have been paid thirty-five gold Vaclavs and ten silver Episcopuses for these deliveries, which is a full and complete payment for the services required. Payments to all other Guilds must be arranged with them, and no claim for undischarged debt to them may be applied to the monies paid to the Carters’ Guild.
Jaroslav of Praha, Guildmaster (his mark)
by the hand of Josko, clerk and Premonstratensian monk
Copyright © 2011 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Meet the Author
CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO has been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy, and the Bram Stoker Awards. She has been named a Grand Master of the World Horror Convention and a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild. Author of many novels of horror, dark fantasy, mystery, and more, Yarbro lives in Berkeley, California.
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Early in the thirteenth century, Count Saint Germain uses the name Rakoczy Ferancsi as a guest of Bohemia's Queen Kunigunde. For now, he knows he cannot go home but even if he could the mercurial monarch keeps the Count locked in a gilded cage. Still, he enjoys his respite in Prague making jewelry for Her Highness and trying to avoid court intrigue. However his efforts prove futile as the ladies at court assume he is rich and single, and can see handsome. Three females vie for his attention: sneaky Rozsa, Imbolya the teenager and resolute Iliska. He eludes the trio though not easily especially Rozsa as she threatens to expose Saint Germain to the local Church, who already is suspicious of the stranger, if he fails to do her bidding. As with all the recent Saint Germain tales (see Blood Games) the story line is much more a historical thriller than a horror novel. Still readers will enjoy the hero's time in medieval Bohemia as he tries to avoid any entanglements but starting with the avaricious women, he cannot keep out of their affairs, that of the court especially the queen, and the church. Readers will enjoy An Embarrassment of Riches as once again the Count's efforts to fit quietly in a new location and time make for a fresh thriller even with over three decades of starring roles under his cape. Harriet Klausner