Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 09

Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 09

****

“Two prongs,” the king in the Low Countries said. “To force Gaston out, either back into the Spanish Netherlands or west into France.”

He looked at the map again.

“Zuñiga, you take two regiments of foot by way of Rouvroy toward Stenay and Verdun. Hopefully, you will catch him before he reaches Stenay or while he’s still there. If that isn’t possible, block him between Stenay and Verdun.”

“This path you have mapped out is the long way around, not to mention that part of Luxemburg has a lot in common with the legendary deserts of Araby as far as pulling support is concerned. I’d as soon campaign in Morocco–which, respectfully speaking, Your Majesty, is something I have done and never want to do again.”

“The campaign is as much political as military. I’ll be taking an even longer route myself, by way of Diedenhofen. We simply have to launch through Luxemburg. It is not feasible to go through France or Sedan. I can’t afford to annoy the king of France or the duke of Bouillon right now. I can’t give them any excuse to stare wistfully at our southern borders when our primary focus this spring has to be looking east at Cologne. Gaston in Lorraine is just a nasty distraction.”

****

A flag of truce was flying over several tents on the outskirts of Metz.

“If we can reach accommodation in the matter of a negotiated surrender,” the king in the Low Countries said, “it will not be to your disadvantage. I have full respect for your long and faithful loyalty to the duc d’Epernon. Your reconciliation with him–and resolve to endure, for the greater good, the humiliation of the promotion that his son La Valette denied you a few years ago–were fully honorable.”

Fernando was pulling out all the stops in his negotiations with Abraham Fabert, the French military commander in Metz.

Mentally, he reviewed the man’s dossier. Fabert was a military engineer, son of a former duke of Lorraine’s official printer. Charles III had ennobled the father; the grandfather had been a printer for the dukes of Lorraine also, not ennobled; before that–ambitious peasants from somewhere around Trier, probably.

“I was born in Metz,” Fabert said. “My wife and her family are from the Metz region. My father has acquired land holdings–small, but still estates–at Moulins, along the road from here to France.” He squared his shoulders. “My father was not well pleased by my decision in favor of a military career. Not even, you understand, though I have an older brother to inherit the estates he has purchased. He wanted to make me a printer, like himself.”

Fernando leaned against the elaborately embroidered back of his camp chair. The man was working up to some statement.

“My first appointment in the Rambures regiment was as Sergeant Major.”

Fernando nodded. Highly responsible, but still a combination of quartermaster and adjutant. Hard work. Not a post assigned to young noblemen with great prospects.

“I don’t want to command Metz during a siege action you undertake,” Fabert continued. “I don’t like sieges, at least, not long ones. And if I’m involved in a siege, I would much rather be on the outside looking in than on the inside looking out.

“Metz is my home. I was with the royal forces at La Rochelle. When we finally came into the town, after thirteen months, there were dead bodies all over the streets. The air stank with the smell of human bodies. Some said, though I never saw it for myself, that people had gone to the cemeteries, dug their own graves, and then lay down next to them, waiting to die. The poor had no food at all. The rich, inside their houses, with the doors barricaded, made a kind of paste from leather–old boots, old shoes, harness and such–and threw balls of it down from their windows for the ordinary people to eat. And they ate it. They ate it right up until the king sent some bread from the army commissariat. It didn’t cost His Majesty that much to make the gesture–sending the bread, I mean. Most of the population had already starved.”

The king in the Low Countries nodded.

Fabert called more recent developments to mind. “Though they do say, Your Majesty, that your siege of Amsterdam these past two years was, by comparison, humane. Still…”

Fabert drew a deep breath. “I consider myself, even though of the most recent ranks of the service nobility, to be a man of honor, which to my mind requires honesty. Should I agree to the surrender it would, unquestionably, require that I leave the service of France. If I enter the Habsburg service, I would hope to be continued in my present appointment at Metz. However…” He drew another breath. “However, I will not forge credentials showing that I have thirty-two quarterings of nobility in my ancestry to qualify for an officer’s place in the German manner. Not even though the practice of ornamenting one’s family tree is often winked at, in France as well.”

“In the new USE army, the Germans are having to become more reasonable.” The king in the Netherlands grinned, for once looking as young as he actually was. “Think of the famous count of Narnia. Moreover, the Austrians,” Fernando pointed out, “are much more reasonable about such things than the Hochadel, or even the Niederadel, of the Germanies have been. The nobility has influence in the Habsburg hereditary lands, of course, but much of that nobility is also of rather recent vintage, promoted for merit and subsequently ennobled.”

The wiry, strawberry blond, sprout from the Spanish branch of the Habsburg family tree laughed suddenly. “One of the great advantages of being Holy Roman Emperors was that my cousins in Vienna, until the recent developments, were also in a position to proclaim the retroactive ennoblement of a candidate’s deceased ancestors so that a new baron might have the necessary quarterings, but that may have become a casualty of Ferdinand III’s decision to become emperor of Austria-Hungary only. I am not sure.

“Still, one advantage that would come to you from deciding in favor of the Low Countries is that you will no longer have to disguise that you are a theoretical as well as practical geometrician–a better than competent geometrician, even if self-taught. We respect learning in Our soldiers. So does the grand duke of Burgundy. One major innovation that We, as well as the USE in the Germanies, are incorporating into Our standards for promotion is that the old ideas of the French noblesse d’epée, their contempt for learning, must go. In this new world, surveyors and map-makers receive respect. Artillerists get respect–and promotions–for the siege work they do.”

Magdeburg

“Yes. Bloodless surrenders are always better.” The abbess of Quedlinburg smiled. “I’m sure that you, if I understand the up-time teachings of ‘Quakerism’ to which you adhere, will be happy to make that point to our militant little Princess Kristina.”

“But why was the king in the Low Countries even negotiating with this Fabert man?” Caroline Platzer asked with some frustration. “Why not with the bishop of Metz? It says right here in the paper that it’s an imperial prince-bishopric, even though the French have been occupying it for the last eighty years.”

“Negotiate with the bishop of Metz himself? What good would that have done Fernando?” The dowager countess of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt raised her eyebrows, honestly bewildered. “He’s a completely political appointment and completely French. Henri de Bourbon, duc de Verneuil. He’s an officer in the French army that Fernando is fighting against.”

“I’m just a little confused,” Caroline answered. “Well, I’m more than a little bit confused. It says that the bishop, or prince-bishop, has been in office for a long time, but also it says that he’s only thirty-five years old.”

“Well, yes, he does seem young to have held the position for over twenty years already, if you think of bishops the way you up-timers seem to think of bishops, that is. The way that Cardinal-Protector Mazzare definitely thinks of bishops, I have discovered. But you have to realize that he’s an illegitimate son of King Henri IV of France–King Louis XIII’s half-brother, that is. Also Gaston’s half-brother, of course. Henri IV legitimized him, but of course he has no inheritance rights to the throne. He was only ten when he got the appointment. Henri de Navarre found that a mass got him not only Paris, but also any number of lucrative sinecures for his extramarital brood.”

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