Snow came early to Strelsau in the winter of 1908.  It was the first week of December and the roofs and towers of the city were already loaded with masses of white.  The trees around the city were frosted and sparkling in the sunlight, while the wooded hills of the Spagarten were blue in the distance.  Maxim Rassendyll sniffed the sharp air cautiously, his face masked by a tartan scarf.  Though he approved of snow on principle, it made his work difficult.  It blocked railway lines and kept people at home.


  He walked up the middle of the great, open Rudolfs Platz, the city’s principal square.  A deep trench had been dug through the drifts by workmen, and spread with salt and grit.  The electric tram system had fallen victim to the cold, with frozen points and broken power lines, so Maxim had to proceed on foot to keep his appointment with the ambassador.


  He paused at the Ferdinands-Springbrunnen, the elegant central fountain, now a hanging mass of icicles glittering in the sun.  Suddenly he realised he had stopped a little too long to marvel at the sight when he felt the cold creeping up through his boots and single pair of socks.  He stamped his numb feet on the icy cobbles and picked his way as quickly as he could to the upper side of the square.


  The ambassadorial residence was across the Starel from Strelsau’s Neustadt, a quarter-mile walk for Max past the royal palace, down through the blanketed Volksgarten and across the Heinrichsbrücke.  Then the going became treacherous when he began to climb the steep roads north of the river, where many large villas had been built in recent years.  The British ambassador occupied one near the top of what Strelsau’s speculative builders were calling Strelsenern Anhöhen, or Starel Heights.  It was becoming established as one of the most prosperous areas of the city.


  At the gate of the Italianate villa, Maxim turned and looked back across Strelsau.  Below him on its plateau above the river was laid out the Neustadt, the sixteenth-century New City.  The shining river, still unfrozen, looped southward around it.  To his left, the bluffs of Starel Heights led around to the fortified hill of the Altstadt, the heart of old Rothenia.  The great towers of the cathedral loomed dark against the bright morning sky, and the snow-covered roofs of the medieval houses beneath it were a fairy-tale sight.  Maxim was fast falling in love with this city.  That, he reminded himself, was not very wise for an intelligence agent, who should be without attachments to places or people.


  He crunched through the snow up the drive, which was not too easy as the way had not yet been cleared.  However, a Rothenian gardener scraping the front steps with a shovel obligingly jerked the bell pull.  A maid took Maxim’s card and invited him indoors.  He stood in the entrance hall, melting ice from his boots pooling on the tiles.


  A British butler ushered him promptly into the study of Sir Andrew Carnell, GCMG, and took orders for hot drinks.  A bright wood fire was crackling in the hearth, spreading a grateful warmth through the room.


  After commonplace remarks about the less-than-commonplace weather, the ambassador turned to the business in hand.  ‘I had rather hoped to have Colonel Steele here this morning, but the snow seems to have defeated him.  Ah well, we can concentrate on the politics at least.’


  ‘Thank you, Sir Andrew.  I have to say I’m not too unhappy about missing Colonel Steele.  The fewer people I meet from the embassy, the better perhaps.’


  The ambassador nodded.  ‘The secrecy, yes of course.  What a twilight world you do live in, Rassendyll.  You are a very different man from your father, you know.’


  ‘So my mother keeps telling me.’


  ‘How is the countess?’


  ‘Full of fire and distaste for the twentieth century.’


  Sir Andrew laughed.  ‘I was introduced to her in Budapest in ’79, when I was a young attaché at the consulate general.  I never met a finer woman.  We all get older, I suppose, but we remain young in our heads.  You have quite her looks.’


  ‘Unlike my brother, who is a redhead, as have been many of my family.’


  The ambassador frowned.  ‘It would be as well perhaps while in Streslau not to refer too much to the red hair that runs in your family, because you derive it from the Elphbergs.  Your father’s attempt to pursue his claim to the throne in the year ’80 has left me a troublesome legacy, you know.  The present king is not too friendly to the British Empire.  He remembers all too well the civil disturbances your father inspired.’


  Maxim coughed and replied sardonically, ‘Rather unfair, sir, as I believe the British government of those days was hardly helpful to my father’s cause.  I imagine the present government wishes that Mr Gladstone had let well enough alone and allowed a Rassendyll to succeed to Ruritania, instead of Prince Bismarck’s Thuringian friends.’


  ‘That’s as may be, young man.  However, we have to deal with the situation as it is, not as we would like it to be.  Have you been in Ruritania before?’


  ‘No sir.’


  ‘Then let me give you a sketch of how things currently lie.  King Leopold, who beat your father to the throne, died only some three years ago.  He survived well into his eighties, and his longevity much disappointed his brother and heir, who succeeded him only to become an invalid.  King William Henry is more or less bedridden and lives at Zenda, away from the capital city.  In some respects this is good for us, because the court has had a waning influence on political life in Ruritania now for a decade.  The king is also a prince within the German empire, which means his incapacity can only be helpful to us.  But this state of affairs cannot long continue.’


  ‘Why is that, sir?’


  ‘King William Henry is not expected to enjoy his throne much longer, and the crown prince is a very different sort of man.  Prince Albert has hardly been seen in Ruritania since the scandals of 1880, when he was implicated in the murder of a prominent nobleman.  His uncle Leopold sent him into exile.  He has been back once or twice after his father became king, but he is mostly kept abroad by his appointment as prince regent of Thuringia.  He is closely associated with the Hohenzollern court: colonel-in-chief of the Prussian Guard Dragoons, and a knight of the Order of the Black Eagle.  He was yachting with the kaiser at Kiel last summer.’


  ‘Couldn’t you say much the same things about our own king?’


  ‘Yes, but Edward and the kaiser are uncle and nephew, and between them these things are only what you would expect.  On the other hand, there is a real friendship between Albert and the kaiser, who shows him much favour.  Albert is a lieutenant-general in the imperial army, and made a point of joining the summer military manoeuvres of the Third Corps in Silesia this year with the Thuringian Division, which he commanded.’


  Maxim was becoming quite impressed with the ambassador’s command of his subject.  ‘Tell me, sir, can the king of Ruritania exert all that much influence on the foreign policy of his country?’


  ‘Ruritania is a constitutional monarchy, it is true.  Executive power is vested mostly in the chancellor and the ministers, but not all of it.  The incapacity of the king since the turn of the century has perhaps led people to forget that he still retains important royal prerogatives he can deploy.  He is commander-in-chief of the army and has considerable patronage at his disposal there and in the diplomatic service.  Policy is proposed by the chancellor in the Council of State, but the king has a veto, even if he has not used it much of late.  No, if Albert wishes to exert himself he will be able do a lot of mischief.’


  Maxim sat for a while watching the flames dancing in the fireplace.  Eventually he asked, ‘Tell me something about the Rothenian revival.’


  Sir Andrew smiled.  ‘I see you have been briefed.  Yes, there are racial tensions in this country which are not insignificant, and may help us in the long term.  Whatever the Thuringian kings like to pretend, Ruritania is not a German realm, but principally a Slavic one.  The late Queen Flavia began it all in the sixties with an educational reform which opened Rothenian schools and a Rothenian university.  But she did more.  She and the aristocracy made Rothenian language and culture fashionable.  There were artistic and literary commissions, Rothenian-record-series publications, and a whole Slavic renaissance which made inroads into the former German dominance of the nation’s culture.


  ‘It was on the strength of this Rothenian feeling that a lot of your father’s success in 1880 was built.  He managed to fix in people’s minds that the Rassendyll-Elphbergs were the Rothenian candidates against the German Thuringians.’


  Maxim stirred.  ‘You seem to be implying something, ambassador.’


  Sir Andrew shrugged.  ‘The succession question in Ruritania is not yet closed.  In the end, old King Leopold was generally admitted by his people to be harmless, and there was even a decent show of grief on his death.  William Henry has been a recluse, kept alive only by digitalis and an oxygen tank at his bedside, so they say.  What difference Albert may make is hard to guess, but it could well be that your family has yet something to offer these people.’


  Maxim grimaced.  ‘I don’t think you have met my brother.’


  ‘I have not met the present Lord Burlesdon, no.’


  ‘Julius is not the most adventurous of men.  His idea of excitement is a day trip to Ramsgate and a rubber of whist.  He is not the stuff of which revolutions are made.’


  Sir Andrew raised an eyebrow.  ‘I was not talking of revolutions.  You might bear in mind that Prince Albert’s marriage to Caroline of Greece has not produced the expected male heir, just a sickly girl.  The normal course of events may yet result in a vacant throne.’


  Drinks arrived and Maxim spent some time in communion with his coffee.  He and the ambassador talked over the situation in neighbouring Bohemia and Moravia.  Sir Andrew was gloomy about the general apathy of the populace under the Hapsburgs, but pinpointed the Charles University in Prague as home to a number of dissident Czech academics who might be of interest to Maxim.  The ambassador had little information about Hungary and Galicia, as these were areas with which he had few contacts, but he referred the younger man to colleagues in the relevant consulates.


  Maxim scribbled a few memoranda in a notebook.  Finally he announced, ‘I think I may base myself here in Strelsau for a while, sir.  Needless to say, I shall keep contact between myself and the embassy to a minimum, although it would be useful to meet with you from time to time.  Also, I may need access to the embassy bag.  Could I ask that you never refer to me by name in any document.  Call me ‘R’ or ‘Agent R’ if you must.’


  Sir Andrew gave a tight smile.  ‘I want to hear nothing of what you do, Mr Rassendyll.  I suggest that if we meet, it should not be here in my home.  Leave it to my originality to decide where it shall be.’


  ‘As it suits you, sir.’  They shook hands, and Maxim went out once again into the white glare and blue shadows of that bright winter morning.








  The cold, clear weather held sway over Strelsau for three days.  Then wind and rainstorms swept in from the west and turned the city streets to rivers of muddy slush resisted only by hardy islands of compacted ice.  Maxim kept to his room in a small hotel on the city’s wide commercial street, called the Graben after Vienna’s more famous example.  Once the streets were clear, however, he began looking for an apartment to rent.  On the day when the last of the ice was gone, he found just such a place in one of the blocks on Festungstrasse, the broad new boulevard laid over the former fortifications of the Neustadt.  Festungstrasse 445 was a striking building of ochre-painted concrete in the Behrens style, and its factory-like brutalism appealed to Maxim’s currently jaundiced outlook on his world.  Apartment 16 gave him a fine view of the treetops of Bila Palacz and the rooftops of the university and parliament buildings beyond.


  Maxim asked the obliging owner of an avant-garde furnishing store just opened on the Neue Platz to fit out the flat for him.  When he checked the place a week later he found it filled with odd-looking but admittedly functional furniture from Breslau and Dresden.  He was strangely pleased with the result.  It represented a different universe from the Watts drapes and Morris wallpaper of Burlesdon House and Park Lane.  It was metropolitan, futuristic and strange.  It fitted Maxim’s mood.  He tried to suppress his internal speculation as to whether Toni Underwood would be intrigued and approving when she called.


  Maxim also began to go around and leave his card at a list of addresses the ambassador had sent him.  It was important that he get out into Strelsau’s society.  He knew he had the presence and air of consequence that always got notice in Central Europe; they called it being hoffähig.  An advantage of the address in Festungstrasse was that it located him in the city’s Fourth District, which was getting to be the place for the artistically pretentious and politically radical amongst Strelsau’s bourgeoisie and upper classes.  A café society had sprung up west of the Graben along Stracenzstrasse, the road that bisected the Fourth District.


  As it later turned out, the most profitable introduction Maxim obtained in those weeks before his first Strelsau Christmas was to a young maître des conférences at the Rudolfs Universität.  His name was Friedrich Tilly von Eschenbach, although on his card he styled himself by what Maxim imagined was the Rothenian version, ‘Fridric zum Esseneberht’.


  Freddy, as Maxim called him, was a member of an established German family from the region of Merz, but he was a passionate advocate of the Slavicisation of Ruritanian life.  Fortunately for Maxim, Freddy’s passion did not take him so far as to foreswear speaking in German.  Maxim had little Rothenian and he was too busy to acquire more.


  Freddy was useful to Maxim in several ways.  He was a committee member of the Rothenian League, Ruritania’s educational reform group, and had a wide network of university contacts in Prague, Cracow and St Petersburg.  He was also a political radical, with connections to several socialist groups in Ruritania.  But perhaps most important for Maxim was that Freddy was near his own age and very good company, provided he could be kept off his hobby horses.


  As for Maxim, he discarded the compromising name of Rassendyll and, taking his mother’s name, became the half-English Max-Stefan Kálnoky.  The imposture was no trouble to him.  He already had a British passport issued to him in that name.  He had been brought up to speak Magyar, and had spent quite some time in Budapest as a boy with his uncle and godfather Stefan, the present Count Kálnoky.  He also had his mother’s dark Hungarian good looks.  All told, he was quite a convincing Mittel European.  His cover story was that he was a market consultant working part-time on a contract with the Bank of England.  To account for his lack of industry, Maxim implied that he had a small independent income and that he was planning to write a novel.


  By the week before Christmas, he was being seen at all the right bistros in Stracenzstrasse, and was being invited to all the right soirées in the town houses of Wenzelgasse and Marxergasse.  He had a talent for being social that he employed to the full.  Freddy had also secured him an open invitation to the next meeting of the Pan-Slavic Socialist Congress, which was meeting in Streslau in January.


  It was late one night in a café called, in fashionable Rothenian, Den Cherven Leuwen, or the Red Lion, that the subject of Christmas came up with Freddy.  ‘Yes, I shall be going back to Merz to the parents.’


  ‘Oh!  How conventional.’


  Freddy smiled.  ‘I may have revolutionary aspirations, Max, but I love my mother and she would be so disappointed were I not to appear.  I may even go to church with her.’


  ‘And support the Catholic tyranny over the Rothenian imagination and social life? I merely quote you here.’


  ‘Even that.  What about you?  Will you go back to your mother in England?  Strelsau can be a lonely city for foreigners.’


  ‘Do you know, I hadn’t thought.  But now I do think of it, there is an old friend of the family who lives out in the Arndt valley.  I wonder if I might wangle an invitation.’


  ‘Not a very exciting part of the world, less exciting even than Ebersfeld.  But better there than on your own.  How old a friend is this fellow?’


  ‘In his fifties, but he was very close to Father, and I haven’t seen him in years.  Yes, I think it is to Hentzau I will go.’


  ‘Hentzau?  You mean Hentzen of course,’ laughed Freddy, while Maxim cursed himself for offering specific personal information.  ‘What does he do in that rural backwater?’


  ‘He’s just a land agent.’  Maxim abruptly changed the subject.  ‘Can I get you another glass of Voslauer, Freddy?’


  The next morning, Maxim sent off a telegram to Hentzau, giving his address in Strelsau and shamelessly angling for an invitation to stay.  In fact, as he reflected, he could have simply arrived to take up residence at the castle, for it was his brother’s seat in Ruritania.  Yet Augustus Underwood had been the Rassendylls’ agent in the country for many years longer than Maxim had been alive.  It was silently accepted at Burlesdon that Hentzau was Mr Underwood’s personal fiefdom.  Besides, the present earl had little interest in his continental estates, and was quite happy to let the agent have the running of it to himself.  Such a man ought not to be trespassed upon.


   Maxim had picked up hints from his late father of strange stories relating to Augustus Underwood and was very curious about him.  He was also hopeful that Antonia might appear over the holiday, though that was not a hope he articulated, even in his head.


  The welcoming reply from Hentzau duly appeared.  Maxim stuffed a Gladstone bag with clothes and took a morning train from the Ostbahnhof.  It was Christmas Eve.








  A dogcart was the only transport available at Hentzau Station, after the more alert of the passengers had taken the few cabs.  Maxim did not mind too much.  The air had become mild and it did not look as though there would be a white Christmas this year in Ruritania, away from the mountains.


  He had plenty of leisure to observe the town and vicinity of Hentzau as his cart rattled along the muddy road up to the town and the castle that loomed above it.  Hentzau was a pleasant and prosperous-looking place, with a market street and busy shops.  Green wreaths with four red candles were on every door, a Rothenian midwinter tradition as it seemed.  A lot of houses had decorated Christmas trees, a newer custom imported from Germany.  Small model cribs and lit candles were in many windows.  Suddenly, and for the first time in several years, Maxim missed his home.  What were they doing at Burlesdon House now, so many hundreds of miles away?  Were they thinking of him?


  The dogcart left the town behind it and climbed up through a park to the castle gates.  Hentzau Castle was a genuine and well-maintained medieval fortress, the former seat of a distinguished and often notorious line of counts.  Maxim smiled to see the banner of his family, a white hart on green, flapping lazily over the gatehouse.  The same device was skilfully cut into the silver bezel of his signet ring, a gift from his late father, which he had put away with Maxim Rassendyll when he adopted the identity of Max-Stefan Kálnoky.


  There was no porter at the gatehouse, so Maxim hauled his bag into the courtyard beyond.  He found himself in an enclosed space surrounded by high battlemented walls and towers.  To his right, a little dwarfed by the fortifications, was a long domestic range, rich in Gothic detail, buttresses and oriel windows.  Everything was beautifully maintained.  The court was paved and free of weeds, paint was fresh, and windows sparkled.


  A large door was the obvious entry into the house, and fixed on it was the ubiquitous wreath and candles.  He pushed at the door and found it open.  All was quiet in the flagstoned entrance hall within.  He called out.


  After a few moments steps approached.  A slight man in his forties appeared.  He had the black coat and striped trousers of a senior domestic.  He also had the deferential air of an experienced servant, though mixed in with it was something else, expressed by a sharp and amused cast to his face.


  He spoke in German. ‘Would you be Mr Rassendyll?  Welcome to Hentzau, sir.  Mr Underwood is in the park with a forester, looking for a suitable Christmas tree to immolate for the sake of the season of jollity.  My name is Marek, I am the steward here.  Allow me to take your bag, a room is ready for you upstairs.  Do you want anything?  Coffee?  A sandwich?’


  Maxim smiled, and said he would appreciate a hot drink.  He was ushered into a sunlit reception room where a cheerful fire was crackling in a disproportionately large medieval hearth, backed with herringbone brickwork and easily capable of holding a roasting ox.  The décor had none of the elaboration and clutter he associated with his parents’ generation.  The walls were plastered and plain white, with dark wood panelling below the dado.  The furniture was new, light and modern.  There was a seductive mixed scent of apple wood and potpourri, as well as something else, a delicate but distinctive perfume that seduced his nose.  It was a very pleasant and homely place that lifted his spirits.


  Maxim inspected the pictures.  A lot of them were eighteenth-century Ruritanian landscapes, two of which featured a distant view of the castle.  But on either side of the chimney breast he discovered portraits that immediately engaged his interest.  On the right was one of his father, the ninth earl, which he had not previously seen.  The man was shown in his mid-twenties, and Maxim rather fancied that the artist was Millais, though – very unusually – it was not signed.  On the left was quite a different picture: a startlingly handsome blond young man dressed in the extravagant fashion of an Aesthete of three decades before.  He recognised the style immediately.  It had been painted by his father, though he had seen no mention of it in the published catalogue of the earl’s works.  Maxim studied it carefully, looking for anything which might identify the subject, but there was no indication on the frame.  He was still regarding it intently when the door opened.


  ‘Hello, Maxim,’ said a stocky gentleman in his early fifties.  ‘It has been several years.  I don’t think I’ve seen you since your father’s funeral.’


  ‘Mr Underwood, sir.’


  Augustus Underwood laughed.  ‘I think we’ve got to the stage when you can call me Augustus – or even Gus, if you feel adventurous!’


  Maxim decided he had to think twice about that invitation.  ‘I was looking at this portrait.  It seems to be by father.  Who is the subject?’


  ‘Striking young man is he not?’  Gus’s expression became somewhat solemn.  ‘He is Oskar von Tarlenheim.’


  ‘Of the princely family of that name?’


  ‘Yes.  Oskar was a younger brother of the late Prince Rudolf.’


  ‘When did father paint it?’


  ‘It was one of his first, a post-mortem portrait in fact.  Oskar died in 1880, during the civil disturbances after Queen Flavia’s death.’


  ‘It’s not in his catalogue.’


  ‘No.  It was a very personal work for both your father and me.  I’m not surprised he kept it to himself.  Oskar was a close friend and his death upset us both very much.  We were all so young then, and death seemed to have little to do with us.’  The older man tailed off and his eyes took on a distant look.  After a moment, he gave a smile of peculiar sweetness.  ‘Never believe that the older you get, the easier it is to deal with bereavement.


  ‘I’m so glad you came for Christmas.  I expect you will be staying till New Year.’  Maxim smiled and nodded.  ‘Good.  We will be having a shoot with the neighbouring gentry on Stefansfest – that’s what they call Boxing Day here.  If you’re anything like your father, you will commit quite a few birds to oblivion.’


  Maxim took the social plunge.  ‘Where is Antonia spending Christmas, sir?’


  ‘Holloway Prison, I believe.’




  ‘Yes.  She decided to make a statement about women’s suffrage.’


  ‘Oh, no!’


  ‘It was up to the standard you might expect of her.  With the help of some friends, she set up a fireman’s hose and blasted the procession of High Court justices and new K.C.s as they were progressing across Parliament Square to Westminster Hall.  She literally cut the legs from under the English judicial system.’


 ‘Oh … goodness,’ groaned Maxim, wondering if laughter was out of place.  Gus Underwood did not seem too distressed that his daughter was in gaol over Christmas.  ‘Er … anyone injured?’


  ‘I believe a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary broke a wrist and tore a silk stocking.’


  This time Maxim did laugh.  Gus seemed more resigned than amused, so Maxim stifled his merriment.  ‘Is she on hunger strike?’


  ‘Yes, I’m afraid so.  She did not time her protest too well.  She does rather like plum pudding, or she did as a child.’


  ‘I’m sorry to have taken the news so light-heartedly, sir.  I know you will miss her.  You see too little of her in any case.’


  Gus frowned.  ‘Toni has been her own woman for almost her whole life.  She had to be, really.  She never knew her mother.  Elena died soon after Toni was born, and I was not the sort of man best suited to bring up a girl, especially in this out-of-the-way place.  The Ursulines at Strelfurt simply made a rebel of her.  Perhaps I should have sent her to one of the English girls’ boarding schools, as my mother urged.  Somehow, though, I couldn’t bear the thought of it.  But there, it is all rain in the lake, as the Rothenian proverb says.’  He went quiet for a brief while, then smiled faintly and asked, ‘How is your mother, Max?’


  The family gossip of the Underwoods and Rassendylls occupied a good hour, before Gus excused himself to deal with a ten-foot pine tree which had appeared in the courtyard outside and needed to be set up in a tub in the entrance hall.


  Maxim went upstairs to settle into his room.  He could not escape a feeling of disappointment.  He had subconsciously counted on Antonia’s turning up at Hentzau for Christmas, and her failure to appear dashed him more than he had anticipated.


  But there was something else that was preying on his mind.  Maxim was very perceptive, and knew there had been left unspoken by Gus Underwood in his references to the late earl and to Oskar von Tarlenheim.  A secret serviceman had to be sensitive to secrets, and Maxim sensed that there were mysteries concealed in this castle.  It added something of a zest to his stay that made up for the flatness caused by Antonia’s absence.








  The hall of Hentzau Castle was host on Christmas Eve to a dinner for the tenants of the estate.  Twenty couples and their older children sat down to a very handsome meal provided by a roast ox.  It was an old and hospitable tradition which cost the estate relatively little, as Gus explained, but did wonders for goodwill towards the Rassendylls.  It was a great advantage to have Maxim present for the event, and he went around cheerfully glad-handing his brother’s tenants, being saluted as ‘Your Excellency’.


  Gus stood up and made a rather good speech in Rothenian, judging by the laughter.  Maxim could not understand a word of it.  There were lots of toasts, and it was a pretty tipsy collection of farmers who left around eleven.  Before they went, all of them stood quietly, some swaying gently, in the entrance hall.  Gus had tutored Maxim before the event to say a few words in German to his brother’s tenants.  When he came down to learning it, Maxim realised that it amounted to a blessing.  It rather startled him.  ‘Watch and see the result,’ Gus had told him.  Maxim said the words in a clear voice, and was touched by the looks of quiet gratefulness from the Rothenians.  With murmured thank yous, they departed into the night.


  ‘What was all that about, Gus?’ he made bold to ask.


  ‘It’s Rothenian society, Max.  It is so very formal and ritualised.  They have all these words and occasions to express the way their society is organised.  Everyone is responsible for the other, from the king down to the peasant child.  The Thuringian kings have made themselves no friends by refusing to say the royal blessing on any occasion.  Old Leopold was a hard-line Calvinist and would have nothing to do with papism, or anything that looked like it.


  ‘While we are on the subject of papism, you will perhaps be accompanying me to the Jakobskloster for midnight mass?’


  Maxim laughed.  ‘No doubt my mother has been on to you.’


  Gus smiled.  ‘I was thinking in terms of what the estate’s tenants will expect after your rather fine rendition of the Pensk-Pozechnen.’


  ‘The what?’


  ‘The blessing of a lord to his tenants.  There are a lot of Rothenian Pozechnener, or blessings.  One for every occasion, in fact.’


  As the two men walked out into the starlit night and down to the small abbey of St James in the town, Maxim wondered what Freddy Tilly von Eschenbach would say if asked for his blessing.  It seemed as if a different culture held sway in metropolitan Strelsau from what went on in the countryside.


  The mass was more of a trial than Maxim had realised.  They were greeted by the abbot in person, and seated in state in the castle pew, an elaborate seventeenth-century gallery at the rear of the nave.  The castle servants were ranked behind, and Maxim observed an unusually pious-looking Marek amongst them.


  Maxim’s attention inevitably wandered during mass, as it had done since he was a boy.  His eye was caught by monuments on the wall near him.  The older ones were set up in memory of several former counts of Hentzau of the old line.  But he was touched to see a more modern one amongst them.  It was in English-Gothic style and inscribed:




De caritate vestra orate pro anima ROBERTI RUDOLFI RASSENDYLL comitis de Burlesdon in Anglia atque Hentzau in Ruritania.  Obiit in festo conversionis sancti Pauli anno gratiae MCMII.  Hoc monumentum confectum est per amicos suos multos in hac villa Hentzensi.




  Maxim was moved.  He still missed his father very much, particularly at this time of year.  To see an expression of regret for him in this distant place brought the young man momentarily close to tears.  He knew his father had been a frequent summer visitor in Hentzau, and the investment of time and money here had been appreciated.  Perhaps, Maxim thought, he really should suggest that his brother Julius make some time to come here.


  Maxim noticed another monument not far from his father’s, this time in plain white stone.  It was carved in English, of all things:




In memory of a beloved companion, selfless patriot and gallant warrior.  OSKAR MAXIM count in Tarlenheim.  Fell a soldier in the battle for truth, 3 November 1880.  A suo Augusto.




Maxim.  It was a name unknown amongst the Rassendylls till his generation.  By heavens, he realised, I was named after this man!  I wonder why?