Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fasnacht in Hunsruck

The Fasnacht procession through the streets of Hunsruck occurred in keeping with dictates of immemorial Shrove Tuesday tradition. Notably absent, though, was any member of the ducal family, who customarily presided over the festivities. The court gazette revealed that the Herzogin had retired to the ducal hunting lodge outside Kognat, and the new Pfalzgrafin was of course en route to her new life in Waldreck. More disturbing to insiders, though, was the conspicuous lack of any explanation for the absence of the Herzog or dowager duchess.

Rumours from the court suggested that both had been indisposed by a particularly pernicious flux, although no official confirmation of such questions could be forthcoming--to a question that verged on the treasonous even to ask. Nonetheless, the citizens of Hunsruck threw themselves with abandon into the Carnival atmosphere, indulging the carnal appetites that must shortly be mortified through the meagre days of Lent.

Monday, February 23, 2009

One for the Road

The ceremony concluded, the party moved to the entrance gallery just inside the porte-cochere where the Pfalzgrafin's Landau, as well as the wagons carrying her trousseau were attended by the unmixing honour guard of Obersaynische Kürrasiere and Waldrecker Dragoons. Pausing at the entrance, His Grace called for the traditional bridal cup, a golden double chalice formed in the shape of a woman holding a basin overhead.

Graf von Kostenwand, Herzog Ignaz's chamberlain, brought the bridal cup forth on a golden salver, followed by four stewards, who bore wine glasses and two bottles of the most highly prized vintage of the duchy, the Bernkasteler Doktor. Filling first the bridal cup, the stewards then filled the other glasses which were distributed to the members of the party by the dowager duchess' ladies-in-waiting. Herzog Ignaz handed the bridal cup to his daughter, remarking "the comte can drink for the Pfalzgraf," and flipped the larger base over his daughter's cup, which she cradled carefully. The duke paused a moment and filled the base as well and gestured to the Comte de Mazan, who stepped to the cup, facing the new Pfazgrafin and grasped the larger base while the duke filled it.

Stepping back, the duke addressed the party.

"A toast:
'With faith there is love,
With love there is peace,
With peace there is blessing,
With blessing, there is God,
With God there is no need.'"

At the conclusion of which, the Grafin von Schirnhausen, taking the bridesmaid's traditional part, declared, "And let who finishes first rule the roost!"

Taking her cue, the new Pfalzgrafin von Waldreck tossed back the golden cup and its golden contents, while the comte paused a moment attempting to deduce the meaning of the Grafin's coda, before drinking from his larger end of the cup. Applause from the party greeted the Pfalzgrafin's completion of her draught well before the comte, whose face assumed something of a flush at his intuition that he had become the object of a joke he did not understand.

Leaving the comte to hold the now-drained bridal cup, the Pfalzgrafin gestured for the stewards, and took the still half-full second bottle, and embracing first her father and then her grandmother topped all the glasses of the party a second time and splashed the dregs into her own cup and, eyes shining, offered a farewell toast in return.

"Father, grandmother, no words can repay the blessings of having been your child and grandchild. I go now to another land, but your love and the love of Hunsruck will remain with me always."

The party sipped their glasses somewhat tentatively at this awkward moment, but the comte insinuated himself into the pause with aplomb, "I came to meet a Prinzessin, but I take away the best and fairest Pfalzgrafin of all the Reich!" and embraced the Herzog and dowager duchess as well, somewhat to their surprise at this Gallic display.

Draining their glasses, the party now made their farewells to the wedding party, who now donned their furs, brought by the stewards, and proceeded outside, the Pfalzgrafin to her Landau, and the Comte de Mazan and Ritter von Trimbach to their mounts at the head of their respective squadrons. Led by the Waldrecker Dragoons, the wedding party now clattered across the courtyard of Schloß Moritzburg to the gate and out to the snowy road beyond.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Evidence of Things Not Seen

The balance of the proxy ceremony dissolved into a blur of images and discontinuous sensations for the Prinzessin Sophie-Vittoria as the gravity of the moment finally fully asserted itself.

The words of Msgr. de Chiaroscuro in the confessional rebounded through the chambers of her mind--the "memory palace" of her mind, as Msgr. de Chiaroscuro had called it during his hours of tutelage, she now oddly recalled--"Now faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Because of it the ancients were well attested. By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible."

Now her tutor stood before her and the Comte de Mazan in a manner almost inquisitorial:

"Vult Fredericus Carolus accípere Sophia-Vittoria, hic præséntem in suam legítimam uxórem iuxta ritum sanctaæ matris Ecclésiæ?--Does Friedrich Karl take Sophie-Vittoria here present, for his lawful wife according to the rite of our holy mother, the Church?"

The Comte de Mazan arched his eyebrow at the ultimate phrase of the question a moment and let a trace of smile dance over his lips before replying to the monsignor, who had fixed him with an unblinking gaze.

"Suo Maiestas vult"--"His majesty will."

Not breaking eye contact with the comte, who impudently returned the stare, Msgr. de Chiaroscuro continued:

"Sophia-Vittoria, vis accípere Fredericus Carolus hic repræséntem in tuum legítimum marítum iuxta ritum sanctæ matris Ecclésiæ?--Sophie-Vittoria do you take Friedrich Karl, here represented, for your lawful husband according to the rite of our holy mother, the Church?"

The silence following the monsignor's question stretched out before the Prinzessin as she contemplated the stygian chasm which yawned before her. All her juvenile imaginings of this moment and this question had left her completely blind to any happy resolution consequent to her reply which all present in the salon now strained to hear. The Prinzessin's dry tongue cleaved thickly to her palate as her childhood infatuations and adolescent fantasies ran riot through her mind and the tableau before her seemed to shrink and take on the character of some distant puppet show like those her father arranged to have performed by the servants for her and her sisters in the nursery. But now she could not credit whether she were watching the performance or were rather part of it, a marionette in golden silk and tulle.

As the reverberation of the monsignor's question died away, Sophie-Vittoria found her downcast, watering eyes transfixed by the golden hem of her gown, which seemed to spill like champagne onto the parquetry of the salon floor beneath her. As the silence filled the salon and began to bear down upon her with its full, terrible weight, she perceived her father, still standing beside her between the comte and herself, drawing himself rigidly to his full height almost as a soldier standing in line of battle.

She perceived her grandmother, standing to her left, almost imperceptibly nudge her lady-in-waiting, the Grafin von Schirnhausen, while the monsignor continued his ocular duel with the comte. As the grafin, seemingly in response to the Dowager Duchess, snapped open her fan, painted in ornate turquerie, and held it before her, the Prinzessin became aware of her father's ungloved right hand, placing itself on hers and squeezing gently. As the scene about her shimmered and dissolved before her, the Prinzessin closed her eyes and lost sensibility of of all around her but the warmth of her father's hand on hers.

She loosed her thoughts again to roam the memory palace of her mind, reliving in that instant the sensation of her father's hand on hers during her countless childhood jaunts through the gardens, at her bedside during the days and nights her twelfth year when she lay stricken with the tertian ague which had so taxed her that Herr Doktor Thanisch had advised a novena to St. Jude before the fever broke, and on the ballroom floor the night of her debut the previous August, which now seemed a lifetime ago.

As the Prinzessin opened her mouth to speak, it seemed to her that her own words merged with another woman's contralto, almost indistinguishable from her own, spoken simultaneously.

"Volo"--"I will."

[Ed. Note: A joyous Feast of St. Valentine to all--may you especially enjoy the warmth of your beloved today, and may you live to treasure that warmth in a place of honour in the memory palace of your own mind for years to come.]