This time, the plane landed with only a couple of slight bumps and came to a halt where and when and in the manner it was supposed to. Gretchen was still relieved when the plane finally came to a stop. Even the short period when it was driving across the tarmac on wheels under its own power made her nervous. For some reason, Eddie called it “taxiing” even though the exercise had no relationship Gretchen could determine with the famous postal service of Thurn and Taxis.
She hadn’t like flying the first time she did it, she hadn’t liked it this time, and she didn’t imagine she ever would.
That said, they had gotten from Dresden to Magdeburg in about an hour. It would have taken her several days on horseback and longer if she’d walked.
“Thank you,” she said politely, after Junker helped her to the ground. “The trip was very… uneventful.”
Eddie grinned. “Not pleasant, though, I take it.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think I will ever…” She broke off, seeing what looked like a small mob headed in their direction.
“What’s this?” she wondered.
“Your greeting, I imagine.”
Gretchen frowned. “Why are this many people coming to meet me?”
Eddie studied her for a moment, with a quizzical expression on his face. Then he grinned again. “I will say this, Gretchen Richter. It is perhaps the most reassuring thing about you that you really don’t know the answer to that question.”
Her frown deepened. “That makes no sense at all.”
Eddie left off any reply. By then, the lead elements in the procession had come within greeting distance and they’d sorted themselves out as a separate group from the rest. Tentatively, Gretchen classified the four coming forward as the actual delegation, while the others were simply servants or assistants of some sort.
“Frau Richter,” said the worthy at the head of the column. “Welcome to Magdeburg. I am General Lars Kagg. The emperor asked me to provide you with an escort to the royal palace.”
The general was wearing the sort of apparel you’d expect from a court official, not anything that resembled a military uniform. But that was no cause for surprise. The Swedes—this was true of most German rulers as well—made no sharp distinction between military and civilian posts. Officials of either sort were expected to be at the disposal of the state and prepared to assume whatever responsibilities were given them, in whatever location they were instructed to place themselves.
Kagg had a booming way of speaking, but he seemed courteous enough. Gretchen tentatively ascribed the loudness of his voice to nature rather than to any attempt on the general’s part at intimidation.
Kagg turned partway around and gestured to the men just behind him. “If you would allow me to make some introductions…”
The first man he brought forward was, like Kagg himself, somewhere in early middle age.
“This is Colonel Johan Botvidsson. He’s serving me at the moment as my aide-de-camp.”
The name was familiar. Tata had mentioned the man to Gretchen a few times. He’d been one of the Swedish general Nils Brahe’s aides when Brahe had been administering the Province of the Main. As Gretchen recalled, Tata’s impression of him had been favorable.
“And this is his aide, Captain Erik Stenbock.” As had the colonel before him, Captain Stenbock acknowledged her with a stiff little bow. The stiffness was simply the Swedish court style, not an indication of any particular attitude.
Stenbock was quite a bit younger than either Kagg or Botvidsson. He seemed to be in his early twenties.
General Kagg now gestured at the fourth man in the group. “And this is Erik Gabrielsson Emporagrius.”
Kagg assigned Emporagrius no specific post, rank, title or position, which Gretchen found interesting in itself. From subtleties in the general’s demeanor that she would have found it impossible to specify, she got the sense that—unlike the two military figures he’d introduced, to whom he seemed quite favorably inclined—he had no great liking for this fourth fellow.
At first glance, Gretchen had assumed Emporagrius to be close in age to Kagg and Botvidsson. But looking at him more closely she realized that was due to the severe expression on his face, a sort of facial acidity that made him seem older than he really was. She didn’t think he was actually much older than thirty or so.
Emporagrius returned her gaze with an unblinking stare. He made no gesture with his head that bore even the slightest suggestion of a nod.
The introductions completed, Kagg now gestured at the gaggle of servants standing a short distance away.
“And now, Frau Richter, we have carriages ready to transport you to the palace.”