In The Service Of Princes


The Palais du Bâtard on the crest of the Altstadt of Strelsau looked as though it should have been built in France. To begin with there was the fabric, which was a buttery limestone obviously selected by the builder to match the material in which most Parisian townhouses were built. The site was constricted and the house taller than those around it, three floors in nine bays, the three central bays to the street pushed forward and having a pediment. The mansard roof with its dormers was of blue slate. It would have looked quite at home in the streets of the Marais on the right bank of the Seine.

The house was very fine and elegant, and Prince Henry had shown Freddie the illustrated pattern book in the library from which the architect had drawn his inspiration.

‘You may be surprised to hear that the house was designed by no less than Sergius, the Baron Olmusch, chancellor of Glottenburg for Willem Stanislas IV. Judging from this volume, he seems to have admired very much the work of Robert de Cotte. According to the annotations, this is a book he bought and gave to the Bâtard himself, Graf Wilhelm von Strelsau. It was no secret that the pair were lovers, and a very odd pair they made, though their love affair was sincere and lifelong.’

Freddie couldn’t subdue a sudden emptiness in his stomach at the prince’s casual mention of a homosexual liaison, and he shot a sidelong glance at his employer. But it seemed Prince Henry meant nothing by the remark, as he went on to say with a laugh ‘I very much doubt that old Willi ever opened this book. He was a man of many talents, as you’ll see from the part of the library I inherited with the house: theatricals and drama in particular, but he was no scholar.

‘Sergius’s chef d’oeuvre is just down Armengasse, the Royal Hospital or Fenizenhaus. Well worth a visit. A superb piece of practical design and a model for the other Fenizenhaus at Husbrau, and several of the orphanages of the Empire.’

Freddie confessed he had spent a very instructive day there on his last visit to Strelsau, and met there and talked to the famous eccentric, the count of St-Germain.

‘Really!’ the prince said. ‘An interesting specimen of humanity I’d have liked to have met, but it seems that his many centuries on this earth have at long last come to an end. He died over the winter and has joined the spirits with whom he was so friendly.’

‘Oh! What a shame,’ Freddie remarked. ‘He may have been eccentric but was such a gentleman. The man I met claiming to be him seemed to be no more than in his late forties.’

‘You may visit his tomb at least,’ said the prince. ‘For he was laid to rest in the churchyard of the Frauenkirche here on the Altstadt. The funeral was very well-attended. It seems he had a lot of friends in Strelsau, though no relative claimed the place of chief mourner. He left a very substantial money legacy to the Fenizenhaus. The Governor, council, chaplain and children of the hospital filled the church and its famous choir provided the music for the mass. I hear it was very affecting. He was a frequent visitor and the children loved him dearly.’

Freddie made a mental note to make the visit. His new lodgings were across the cobbled space of the Alt Markt from the Frauenkirche and the medieval Rathaus of the Altstadt. It was a very pleasant part of the old city, to the north east of the cathedral of St Vitalis, the bells of which rang out over the roof of his lodging, one of a row of timber-framed medieval houses which had survived the rebuilding of most of the northern district of the city at the beginning of the century. But though the Sign of the Elephant was probably one of the oldest surviving houses on the Altstadt, Freddie found it sound and comfortable, if given to creaking and cracking as he lay awake in the night.

It was still the early days of his appointment as English Secretary to His Royal Highness Prince Henry Elphberg of Ruritania, but Freddie Winslow was over the moon at the opportunity that had come out of the blue and had settled all his immediate anxieties in life. He had a home and ample salary, a pleasant and easygoing employer, an interesting and intriguing job and, best of all, access to his lover, Sebastian Wollherz.

The prince had decided to offer him the post, not just because Freddie had the qualification of being English and a graduate of Cambridge, but because of the good impression Freddie had made when discussing his proposed travel journal. He had been asked to provide a current draft and the prince had pronounced himself impressed at the quality of the writing but more especially the research that lay behind it.

‘My dear Freddie,’ he said, ‘you really must finish this and, when you’ve done that, you’ll go on to write your guide to the Rothenian lands. I’m a fellow of the Royal Society of London, and I have contacts there who can help get both titles into print. So I’m reserving for you one a day a week for your own work, which in some ways fits happily into my own.’

Freddie felt a little ungrateful when he spent a large part of his first day of liberty in bed with Bastian researching the possibilities of the male anatomy, but excused himself by spending the rest of it wandering the Altstadt following up questions he had yet to answer. He finished up in the early evening at the cemetery of the Frauenkirche, which he found was actually a medieval cloistered enclosure some streets distant from – and to the east of – the church itself, near the city’s north gate.

He had missed it on his first exploration of the city, and was charmed with what he now found. It resembled what he had read about the famous cemetery of the Holy Innocents in Paris. It was a space of about an acre in extent, surrounded by a spacious fifteenth-century cloistered arcade, its interior walls still preserving some medieval murals, though not a Dance of Death, as Paris had once had. In the centre was a tall stone cross, and just by the entry was what seemed to be an abandoned hermit’s cell, now serving as a gardener’s shed. There were a few table tombs out in the yard, but it was mostly featureless apart from a trench cut for the receiving of bodies and left open for the next inhumation. Unlike Burlesdon churchyard, which Freddie had haunted as a boy, this urban cemetery was for mass burials and had few individual monuments.

He found that commemoration was mostly confined to wall monuments in the arcades. He eventually found the new plaque memorialising the count of St-Germain. It was classical and pedimented but other than sculpted garlands of flowers it did not have the usual assembly of motifs of mortality: skulls, draped figures, broken columns or funerary urns. Instead it had a striking scene in deep relief of a lake below mountains from which towered up wooded islands, one of them crested by a tower. Striking though it was, it did not seem to Freddie to be a reference to the Bible or any literary passage relating to death that he was familiar with. Perhaps the old count had been a Swedenborgian: he had certainly claimed to commune with the same spirit world which the eccentric Protestant visionary Emanuel Swedenborg said he had visited in his trances and which he illustrated for his followers.

Freddie scrutinised and then copied the memorial inscription, which certainly lived up to the late count’s reputation for mystery.

Willechinus puer de conductu huius urbis quondam fui
Willelmus consul ad mortem meam eram
Ultra insulas beatorum nunc requiescebo
Cum amicis pueris imperpetuum ad fontem graciae

Hic iacet GVLLIELMVS comes de sancto Germano
Natus incognitus. Mortuus adhuc incognitus.
Orate pro anima sua deo bene cognita.

Freddie pursed his lips and rendered this as:

‘Once I was the child Willekin of this city’s conduit and when I died I was William the count; now I will rest beyond the isles of the blessed, a child for ever with my friends at the fount of grace. Here lies William count of St-Germain, born a nobody and died still a mystery, pray for his soul, which God knows well enough.’

Freddie frowned. So the count it seemed was no Frenchman, for all that he spoke French like a native and had impeccable French court manners. He reflected that it was yet another mystery about the count that such an enigmatic and vaguely heretical memorial could have been raised to him in a parochial cemetery. He browsed the neighbouring memorials, most of them belonging to a rather prolific family by the name of Antonin. Now why did that name ring a bell in the back of his mind? And ‘Willekin’? That too was familiar from somewhere.


Freddie had been invited to call at the Osraeum and leave his card, which he duly did. It was rather more intimidating an experience than he had anticipated. The regiment of Foot Guards mounted guard on the palace, and Freddie was momentarily flustered as to how he could actually get past the guardsmen to leave his card. He was pretty sure that you didn’t just walk up to the soldiers pacing the forecourt and hand it over. As he hesitated, a lieutenant appeared from around the corner of the palace.

Freddie took off his hat and bowed. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ he began in German, ‘I wish to leave my card for the Baroness von Stock?’

The lieutenant, a prepossessing lad, smiled and replied ‘Sir, your servant. It looks difficult, I know. But it’s perfectly permissible to mount the steps and use the bell pull you’ll find hanging to the right of the door. A servant should answer. I wish you good fortune with the young lady.’

The card was duly taken and Freddie was told to wait in the grand marble entrance hall. Sebastienne herself appeared not long afterwards, took Freddie’s hand and pronounced herself pleased to see him. She led him up the wide staircase, along a gallery and turned right into a side wing. She opened a door and ushered him into a charming sitting room, whose tall windows opened on to the neighbouring property to the east, the French embassy as it happened. He was invited to take a seat.

‘So Freddie, you’re in Strelsau, and you’re settled I hope?’

He assured her he was. ‘And how about yourself, Bessie? We’ve both of us ended up in the service of Elphbergs, though your post is better paid and more influential I’ll bet.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘It’s all relative I suppose. Princess Osra is a great person in the world, so even a lowly maiden in her household gets some reflected glory.’

‘Bessie, you’re a baroness!’ Freddie laughed. ‘You can’t have it both ways!’

She grinned like an urchin. ‘As you well know, having it both ways is certainly a thing I can do if I so choose.’

It was a measure of how Freddie Winslow had come on in the world that he rode out that double entendre without a blush. He no longer found Bessie’s boldness intimidating.

‘So what is it you do, Bessie? Because I just cannot see you sitting with Her Royal Highness in her withdrawing room and embroidering. And I’ll bet that’s not why she employed you. Does she know about your ... er ... unusual skills?’

She cocked an eyebrow. ‘Unusual skills? They come in all varieties. The princess has some of her own. There’s a reason why she’s listened to in Europe’s capitals and has a correspondence quite as extensive as the king her brother.’

‘She’s not listened to in Glottenburg though,’ Freddie observed.

‘No indeed. What do you know about Duke John Casimir?’

‘Only that he was abominable to her after his father’s death and more or less hounded her out of the duchy.’

‘That’s not the whole of it by any means, Freddie,’ Bessie said, her expression grim. ‘You’d have thought the culture of the Glottenburg court would have produced a better sort of prince. He doesn’t lack intelligence, but his upbringing was botched. There was still an Olmusch chancellor when he was a boy, and if he’d been confided to that man as previous princes had been, he’d have been a different fellow. Instead his careless father exerted himself for once and sent him to the court of his friend Karl-Eugen of Württemberg to pick up the best French culture to be had in Germany, which usually turns out to be the worst vices of the French. Perhaps you know something of the extravagance and despotism for which the man is infamous?’

‘I was at his court at Ludwigsburg last year with Lord Burlesdon. It was dazzling to say the least. The duke quite took to his lordship, so the festivities were on the grand side. The palace has its own opera house built out in its gardens, you know, and the duke staged there a dramatic ballet on the theme of the Conquest of Mexico. The back wall of the stage could be taken out and in the illuminated gardens beyond three regiments and batteries of artillery were deployed to re-enact the Spanish defeat of the Aztec emperor as part of the drama. The duke’s orangery at Ludwigsburg is like an indoor forest of fruit trees. Frank Potts and I got lost in it until an obliging gardener led us out.’

Bessie grimaced. ‘You can imagine what six years being indulged by such a prince did to the young John Casimir, and what sort of tutors were to be had there. He came back to Glottenburg impatient of advice and dissolute in his tastes. It was in trying to curb the damage done to him that he and his mother fell out. He is vindictive and petty in many ways. Any of the advisers and ministers Princess Osra promoted were dismissed the day after his father died. She was excluded from the court and denied access to little Prince Willem Stanislas, a cruel act of spite.’

‘All very sad,’ Freddie remarked. ‘But nothing much can be done I suppose.’

Bessie shook her head. ‘Not really, but the princess watches and waits. Even in the short reign he’s so far enjoyed, John Casimir has bungled the business of government. He’s dismissed the Estates and brought trumped up charges of embezzlement against the former ministers, seizing their assets. He’s sold off the forest of Glottenburg and confiscated two million krone’s worth of Church lands. He needs the money as he’s begun the building of a grandiose new palace to exceed even the excesses of Ludwigsburg. I can’t see it ending well.’

‘So where do you fit into this, Bessie? Something tells me a woman like the princess employed you for a reason.’

She laughed. ‘You’re getting very shrewd, Frederick Winslow. Your stint with the good Lord Burlesdon at Munich brought you on. Let’s just say that I’m not tolerant of the usual constraints on women in our society, and leave it at that.’

Coffee arrived and conversation shifted to the city of Strelsau. Just before leaving Freddie remembered his visit to the cemetery of the Frauenkirche. It appeared that Bessie knew of the death of the count of St-Germain. ‘My father was one of the mourners at his funeral. I would have gone, but women aren’t allowed to attend.’

Freddie described the enigmatic monument to the count he had seen. Bessie shrugged and had nothing to offer. But she shot him a concentrated look when he mused about the numerous Antonin memorials in that part of the cemetery cloister.

‘You know the name?’ he asked.

‘Of course, and so do you,’ she replied. ‘One of us must have mentioned it to you. My grandfather and his brothers were Antonins before they changed their name to Wollherz when they inherited the studs and stables.’

‘Really? So it’s an old Altstadt family?’

‘I don’t know about that, but my great-grandfather had seventeen children in all, all boys. His name was Willem Antonin.’

‘Oh ... I didn’t see his monument there.’

‘Really?’ she replied with a slight smile. ‘I’m sure it’ll be in the cemetery somewhere. Take another look next time you go.’


Freddie was one of three secretaries Prince Henry employed, his apocrisarii as he called them. There was also a French Secretary and a Latin secretary, both young men though older than Freddie. He found the Latin Secretary the more congenial of the pair. His name was Waclaw Kara, and before his appointment he had been a junior academic at the Rudolfer Universität. He had a doctorate of letters and an edition and Rothenian translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses to his name although he was only twenty-five, yet Freddie did not find him intimidating. Waclaw was a quietly humorous fellow, a little overweight from his sedentary and scholarly life, as he admitted. Yet he astonished Freddie by taking it into his head to walk from Strelsau to his parents’ home in the city of Hofbau in the space of one early June day. ‘But I did take a carriage back,’ he pointed out.

The secretaries had desks and alcoves to themselves in the prince’s library. It took up half the first floor of the Palais and had been carefully designed and furnished so as to bring together most of Prince Henry’s collections of books, maps and prints. Even so there remained many items in storage in various repositories. A large number of the historical works were deposited with the Philosophical Society of Strelsau, much to Freddie’s annoyance, since it was the part of the prince’s collection most useful to his own pursuits.

‘Why did you take this job, Waclaw?’ Freddie asked him as they enjoyed a morning coffee break.

‘There wasn’t much alternative, Freddie,’ came the reply. ‘There are elections each Michaelmas to the College of Preceptors of the university. Getting on the list depends on who your supporters are among the professors. They’re dominated by a clique of old Germans around the Chancellor, Wulfram von Eichstadt. For the past two years I’ve seen the list filled by young Germans from Ingolstadt, Tübingen and Prague with the ink still wet on their master’s diplomas.’

‘So it’s because you’re an unashamed Rothenian?’

‘Precisely. Also it’s because I’m not just unashamed but I can’t keep my mouth shut in public over the archaic injustice of it. I’ll never be more than a sessional tutor at the Rudolfer while the present regime rules, and they don’t seem in any hurry to die and ascend to glory. Preceptors and professors have their posts for life.’

‘So what’s the attraction of the Palais du Bâtard?’

‘Other than your company?’ Waclaw laughed to himself. ‘The salary is rather better than I’d get for teaching undergraduates as an occasional tutor, for one thing. But there is also calculation, I suppose. Prince Henry Elphberg is an entirely admirable human being and a great scholar, if an unfocussed one. There may come a time when he’s in a position to reform the university, and when he does Rothenian scholars may find it easier to make a career. He’s listened to my moanings on the subject often enough, yet he still employed me. So I have hopes.’

‘Is this antagonism between German and Rothenian something new in Ruritania?’ Freddie was curious.

Waclaw shrugged. ‘I can only talk of the university. The faculties stopped teaching in Latin in the days of Rudolf II. After that another language had to be chosen, and of course in Elphberg Ruritania it could only be German. So yes, I suppose in that respect it is something new.’

‘The prince told me that Rothenian is the language of the court in Glottenburg, but the duchy has no university does it?’

Waclaw shook his head. ‘It was being talked of under the old duke when Princess Osra ruled his council, and there’s no doubt that it would have been a Rothenian institution had it ever been founded.’

‘So are you expecting that Princess Osra Madeleine may be interested in promoting Rothenian language and culture here, now she’s in in Strelsau?’

‘Maybe, though her brother the king is his own man. Still, she is credited as persuading King Rudolf to give the Rothenian blessing to assemblies.’

‘The pensk pozechnen,’ Freddie commented.

Waclaw raised his eyebrows. ‘Freddie, you constantly surprise. You’re no insular Englishman. It’s as you say. But I don’t believe our present king sees things quite the way his sister does. Kings have a well-merited reputation for being conservative in outlook. Would you expect any less when their only reason to exist is tradition? You English have kings, though I understand that real power is in the hands of your Parliament.

‘The crown prince is even less likely to want change. He’s a German through and through. My hopes rest on his brother. Not that I mean I’d like to see him reach the throne over his brother’s body. Our prince and Prince Ferdinand get on strangely well I hear, considering how different they are as human beings. It may be that in the next reign Prince Henry will wield considerable influence in council, if only he would look up from his trays of impaled bugs, stuffed animals and dried plants.’

Freddie mused for some time afterwards on that brief conversation and what it revealed of the unusual land which was now his home.


Freddie and Bastian continued their exercise in arms in the early morning whenever they could. But unlike their old fencing gallery in Munich the place they patronised on the Altstadt had no pool to relax in afterwards. Instead they breakfasted after their exercises at one of the small coffee houses on the Alt Markt, before Bastian headed down to the palace and barracks in the Neustadt and Freddie sought his book-lined nook in the library of the Palais. It was a very comfortable life, and since both young men were sociable Freddie began to build up a large circle of friends in Strelsau, people he met through Bastian and others through Waclaw and Prince Henry. By August of that year of 1773 he was coming to realise he was a very happy man, on several levels.

He saw a fair amount of Sebastienne, if not as much as he did of her brother. The Baron von Stock decided Freddie, being English, was a natural devotee of Shakespeare and he was always welcome to join Bastian at the table of the house on Engelngasse. Because he was there, Bessie might on occasion turn up. She had a frail relationship with her mother, a difficult person the state of whose ‘nerves’ was her favourite topic of conversation, that and how others imposed on her good nature. The baron and his son were able to ignore it, Sebastienne however was less tolerant of her mother’s foibles, but when Freddie was there she was less of a trial.

It was on such an evening that the topic of the Antonin family came up, when Freddie marvelled at the fact that the originator of the family had produced seventeen sons. The baron laughed, saying that the next generation had fortunately been less prolific, otherwise Strelsau would have been overrun with Antonins. ‘Two of my uncles were priests, so if they had issue we’d never have heard about them. Of the four brothers who inherited the Wollherz estate and took the name the eldest, Jonas, never married. Two others did marry but had no children, and in the end only my father, Willem Fenicius, had issue, myself and my sister, who married the Ritter von Gansheim, and lives out at Modenheim.

‘Still, there were another eleven Antonins, and I’d need to keep a stock book to work out all my kinsfolk still living in Strelsau. I once sat down and listed over eighty first and second cousins Bastian and Bessie have to acknowledge. I employ a few of them, here and in Bavaria: old Willem Antonin’s blood line seems to produce men gifted in horse husbandry. Five of our kinsfolk serve in the cavalry regiments of King Rudolf’s army. One of them, Willem Karl, commands the Dragoons of Ostberg, the senior Antonin in His Majesty’s service as he calls himself, just to irritate Bastian.’

‘He’s a fine fellow,’ Sebastian laughed. ‘I don’t resent his airs. Not like Hamlet and Claudius, father.’

The old baron guffawed. ‘A little more than kin and less than kind, eh?’

‘What was this prolific Willem Antonin your grandfather like, sir?’ Freddie asked him.

The baron took a sip of red wine. ‘My father and my uncles all said that when he was at home he was marvellous fun. He seems to have had a gift for parlour magic, by which he quite dazzled his boys with disappearing tricks and transformations. They could never work out how he did it.’

‘When he was at home, sir?’

‘For such an uxorious fellow, he was often as not out of Strelsau, even out of the country. He could be gone at times for months on end. But he always returned with parcels of toys and gifts for the little ones.’

Sebastienne smiled to herself. ‘You could imagine that he had every reason to take off from Strelsau with such a house full to live with! Is it true he called it the Sign of the Rabbit?’

‘He was a humorous man, evidently. The old house is on Westergasse on top of the Domshorja. It’s out of the family these days.’

The Baroness von Stock stirred herself. ‘Your poor grandmother. She lived on till the fifties when she spent her last years with your uncle Boromeo at his house down in the Sudmesten. The things old Cecile must have had to put with.’

‘My dear,’ soothed her husband, ‘she was the equal to any situation. Her memory for each and every Antonin and Wollherz was sharp right to the end.’

‘And when did her husband pass on, sir?’ Freddie had to ask.

‘We know the date, but the manner is something of a mystery,’ the baron replied. ‘My father said the old man made his living as a commercial agent for some of the foremost Jewish houses in Europe and the Sublime Porte, not just the Empire. He was known from St Petersburg to Lisbon. I still meet foreign dealers at fairs who knew of him in England and Italy. It was on one of his distant missions that he disappeared. He went off to the Porte in 1738 and a month later news came back that he had died of the plague in Constanta and had been buried in the Catholic cemetery there.

‘Old Karl Wollherz had resigned the business by then, but he went off to Wallachia to investigate and to obtain the necessary legal documents for grandmother. It seems grandfather had sickened at a dinner given by the Sanjak of Silistra and died within twenty-four hours. Karl brought back with him a former white slave of the sanjak, an old Rothenian fellow called Hans Blicke, who was a witness to the death. So between Blicke and affidavits from the Ottoman officials grandmother was able to get probate of the estate.

‘One could hardly say that old Willem left his family unprovided for. Between the deposits in the Neustadt compter and bonds lodged with commercial houses here and in Vienna his estate realised something over two million krone even though all debts owed were forgiven, as he instructed in his will. Karl Wollherz as executor had some trouble with the division of legacies between so many Antonins, as you might imagine. The will sparked off quite a few grudges and a couple of feuds, which are still going on. But that’s families for you, and the Antonins are no different from anyone else.’

Freddie was intrigued. ‘What about this Blicke? A white slave of the Turks?’

‘Oh, he was quite a character. I met him once. Karl Wollherz set him up in a little house down in the Neustadt on Judengasse. He went on to make himself useful as a translator to the Jewish merchant houses. He used to stun the New City by parading around in outlandish Ottoman gear. There were no chairs in his house, I was told, as in captivity he’d forgotten how to use them. He’d sold himself into slavery to one of their princes back in 1693 they say. A very odd man.’


The sheets the next morning were full of news from the Duchy of Glottenburg, which quite displaced the fuss stirred up over the previous fortnight by a papal letter which had been published earlier that month in Ruritania suppressing all the kingdom’s communities of Jesuits. And the two events were not unconnected.

Despite pressure from Rome, King Rudolf had allowed the order to continue in his realm till 1773 so long as it kept a low profile. But now he had no choice other than to close the Jesuit houses. He transferred their assets to a commission for education, with the plan to devote the funds to the building of secular day schools in towns where they did not at the time exist.

It was how Duke John Casimir responded to the same papal letter that was causing the fuss that morning. King Rudolf had allowed the Ruritanian Jesuits to shelter in the houses of other orders, or if not to carry on a secular life and claim a pension from the state. Several senior figures were indeed offered posts in the Rudolf University, much to the annoyance of the archbishop of Strelsau. But in Glottenburg, the Jesuits were summarily arrested, imprisoned and their estates sequestrated. The duke had not stopped there. John Casimir extended the sequestration to every order in the duchy other than the abbeys under ducal patronage.

There was little pretence other than that the duke was after Church assets. It was an opportunistic land grab which was going to be used to fund John Casimir’s increasingly extravagant and profligate projects rather than for the good of his people. His vast new palace outside the city – called the Casimirhof – had already swallowed up three years’ worth of state revenues. The spark that lit the tinder of the crisis was the attempted arrest of the archbishop of Glottenburg when he processed across the great square of the city with his suffragans to the Voyvodeske Castle to protest to the duke. A riot erupted as John Casimir’s troops laid hands on the venerable prelate. The city burned for two days and the duke fled to Ranstadt, while the nobility of the duchy mustered an army outside Glottenburg demanding John Casimir’s abdication.


‘So what do you make of this news from the duchy, Waclaw?’ Freddie called across to his colleague, as he nursed his coffee.

‘Who knows?’ came the reply. ‘It could be civil war, an abdication, or maybe an excuse for King Rudolf to invade and annex Glottenburg. The Strelsauener Tagblatt was speculating about all those possibilities.’

Freddie was startled. ‘Do you think that there could be a new Rothenian War? Captain Wollherz didn’t mention any mobilisation this morning when we discussed it.’

‘He would know, I suppose,’ reflected Waclaw. ‘Orders would go out for it from the Leibgarde Barracks, which is the army’s headquarters. Something has to be done though. The first news was brought by the foreign missions, who’ve fled the capital for Strelsau. Arson and street fighting have reduced a lot of the city to ashes, according to their report.’

‘Damned shame!’ Freddie declared. ‘Glottenburg has some glorious old timber-framed houses. I dread to hear of what’s been lost. It sounds as bad as the Great Fire which razed London a century ago.’

Prince Henry arrived in the library later that morning with a guest whose face was very familiar to Freddie.

‘Ahah!’ declared the prince, ‘I see you and Mr Egremont are acquainted, Freddie. He’s here as a refugee from Glottenburg.’

Freddie and the British minister shook hands. ‘Well Mr Winslow, a pleasure to see you even in the present circumstances.’

‘I’m glad you’re safe at least, sir. But what brings you up to the Altstadt?’

Prince Henry smiled. ‘There’s a reason, Freddie, and perhaps you can come down to the reception room in a half hour. Organise refreshments there for ... let me see ... that would be six, two being ladies.’

When later Freddie knocked on the door and entered at the prince’s call he found some surprising guests. He first bowed low to the Princess Osra Madeleine, seated on the same sofa as Sebastienne Wollherz, then to the Marshal Prince of Tarlenheim; the others were the prince, Mr Egremont and a stranger in a black suit.

‘Take a seat Freddie. I think you know everyone here apart from Herr von Donauwirth who came with Mr Egremont from Glottenburg. I’m not quite sure how to describe him, as he has no official standing. But I suppose we may call him an unofficial envoy from the rebel lords of the duchy to King Rudolf, who cannot of course meet him in person. But my father has delegated me to treat with him on his behalf.’

‘May I ask your royal highness why I’m here?’ Freddie asked.

‘Why sir, you will be going on a secret mission.’