Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 08
Maria Anna crossed the room with a swish of skirts and looked over his shoulder at the map again.
“I can see why you are tempted. But, Fernando, no. It would not be prudent to go through Sedan without his consent. Not even if he consents to let Monsieur Gaston through.”
She smiled as she looked at the lines. “It might, though, be a favorable conjunction of the stars for you to ask Frederik Hendrik to go visit Frédéric-Maurice very soon. There are advantages to having the premier Calvinist prince of Orange as the ‘second gentleman’ of the Low Countries. In time, if things should so fall out that Sedan must lose its independence, it would certainly be preferable, from the perspective of Habsburg interests, that it should fall to the Habsburgs rather than to France.”
“Don’t be naive, young Nicolas.” Isabella Clara Eugenia pointed an arthritic finger at the younger of the two dukes of Lorraine a few days later. “Gaston wants what he wants. That’s true, the worst thing being is that sometimes he does not know what he wants, except for glory. So he is running around your brother’s duchy with soldiers.
“But do not forget that Louis XIII and Richelieu want what they want also, which is the aggrandizement of France. On the excuse that your brother allied with the Habsburgs, they will, if they can, nibble the duchy entirely away from him. As far as they are concerned, the main conflict will always be between France and Spain–and Spain means the Habsburgs.” She gestured toward her chest. “Us.”
Duchess Claude nodded. “You believe that they will not tolerate a Lorraine allied with the Low Countries, or with the County of Burgundy any more than they would accept a Lorraine allied with the Holy Roman Empire in that other world?”
“Precisely. That is why they occupied Lorraine in 1632. Make no bones about it, children. They will pursue their aims. Richelieu is not about to give up. ‘Vigorously’ will be an inadequate adverb to describe how he will handle Lorraine, unless something comes along in France to distract him. Then, he will relax in Lorraine only as long as he is distracted. Once the distraction disappears, he will return. He does not lose sight of his goals.”
Claude tilted her head. “Would he accept a Lorraine that was neutral? Or even one allied with the USE, which is scarcely a Habsburg power?”
The infanta motioned in the negative. “Any excuse he can think of to justify snatching Lorraine out of the hands of the ducal family, he will use–and if the historical justifications reach back to the days of the Roman Empire itself, then–well, the duchy was already settled then, so why should he limit his ingenuity to the modern days since the elevation of Charlemagne? The man will not stop until he has brought the eastern borders of France to the Rhine.”
Out, Out, Out!
“We could use some Croats,” Monsieur Gaston said.
“Hélas, I have no Croats to offer you,” Colonel François Arpajon replied. “Not as a unit. There may be a few mixed in among the other men of Duke Charles’ regiments. There are Poles, I am sure. Hungarians and Bohemians. Germans of a dozen varieties. Irish, but again no organized units. Even some Lorrainers. I have the honor to command the scum of every nation in Europe, as do Clinchamp and Vernier.”
Personally, Arpajon was just as glad not to have a unit of Croats. They were magnificent horsemen, but almost impossible to control. They made him uneasy.
“If we had some Croats, we could get these damned Sedanese peasants to render up the food we need. We might as well live off the country as much as we can on the march and save what we brought with us for when there’s nothing else to be had.”
“If we plunder too much from these damned Sedanese peasants, Bouillon won’t let us back through Sedan. Should that become necessary, of course,” Cliquot added hastily, noting the anger on the face of the duc d’Orleans. “Right now, it’s more important for us to get into Stenay.”
“Well, at least we don’t have to worry about Bouillon’s sensitivities in regard to his damned peasants any more,” Monsieur Gaston said. “We’re safely into Lorraine, which means that we can determine that de facto and de jure all the peasants are rebels against their legitimate overlord, my brother-in-law.”
Vincent Clicquot, currently earning relief from his future time in purgatory by advising this royal … the up-time words were better than French no matter what the new Académie française might say, flake, ditz … looked at his superior. “Just at present, the person claiming to be their legitimate overlord is your brother. He’s the ruler whose troops are occupying the duchy–the ruler whose actions pushed the ducal family into exile in the Low Countries. That’s why the garrison commander at Stenay practically shit his pants when we showed up–which would be worse for him, opening the city to a man who is at odds with Louis XIII right now or closing it to Louis XIII’s heir apparent, considering that they’re the same man? We’re lucky that he took the long view about you.”
Gaston waved. “Minor complications. Louis and I rarely agree about anything. It’s just annoying that when he took the place, he required the inhabitants to give him so much of their silver plate and jewels that there was hardly anything left to augment our treasury.” He thought a moment. “Shall we issue a proclamation to the effect that the inhabitants of the duchy have been derelict in their duty to their legitimate ruler by submitting so placidly to the lackeys of Richelieu? No need to point out that my brother the king is one of those spineless lackeys. There’s always room for a little tact.”
Colonel Arpajon was beginning to doubt that the heir to the French throne was entirely compos mentis. Still, the man was the heir to the French throne and, for the moment, paying his own salary, which had been sadly in arrears before the French duke’s advent on the scene.
“Send the cavalry to forage. Three hundred men, at a minimum. In the absence of Croats, we must make do with what we have.”
“Most villagers just fled to the hills as usual, taking their livestock with them, if they have any left,” the cavalry captain reported to Arpajon. “At any rate, there was no meat to be found–not so much as a mangy dog. They abandoned everything else. We loaded the food stores into the wagons and sent them back toward tomorrow’s stopping place–not that there’s much to be found this time of year. Dried-up, wrinkled, apples and pickled cabbage. It’s too late to take the seed grain, I’m sorry to say. They’ve already finished the spring planting. There’s no grain or flour to be had–I’m sure that the French took their Kontributionen last fall right after the harvest and have eaten them up by now.”
“I saw the wagons moving through,” Clicquot, who was trying to keep an eye on things, answered. “So what brings you to us, Captain Gabourat?”
“We reached a village where they didn’t flee. Well, they couldn’t very well. The scouts had seen a yoke of oxen–maybe some other cattle in the sheds. It was a narrow valley and I managed to come at them from both ends by sending a company to circle around through the hills. The civilians fortified themselves, along with their animals, within the church, which annoyed the men, seeing that they did have some livestock still.”
“First, we tried shooting. They shot back, wounding a couple of us. Killed a couple of horses, too.”
“The men burned the church out. With due apologies to God, of course, for destroying a consecrated place. I assured the more scrupulous that by taking animals inside, the villagers had already deconsecrated it themselves.”
“Did you allow quarter to those who came out? Or not?”
“They didn’t come out. We saw to that first, before we set the fires. We barricaded the building good and tight.”
“Thus also burning, I presume, the livestock which you were hoping to obtain and eat.”
“Things can get a little confused in the heat of an action. But we did bring back the horses they shot. Loaded them onto the last wagon. We can eat those tonight.”