Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 10
One for the Manuals
“It may not be so bad for Arpajon’s men to stretch themselves a little,” Monsieur Gaston said. “Make sure to clean out anything that whoever comes after us could use. Fernando’s bound to send someone after us, I suppose?”
“Yes, Your Royal Highness,” Clicquot said. “Yes, I do believe that he is.”
“Pity. I was hoping he’d be too busy on his eastern border to pay attention to such a minor detail as our little jaunt, but the man’s really concerned about details. Irritatingly so. Well, back to the regiments. Let the men enjoy their little tricks. They’re bound to have been dulled by these last two years sitting in a camp. I would think that at the very least, since he was feeding them, the king in the Netherlands would have used them for something.”
“He didn’t make the assumption that he could trust them to obey orders.”
“That’s why I say we shouldn’t keep them on too tight a rein now. Let them get it out of their systems while we’re on the move. Then, when we reach our goal, they’ll be ready to settle down and fight.”
Clicquot looked at him. “Precisely what is our goal, Your Royal Highness?”
Gaston waved. “Our final goal is the removal of Richelieu as the first minister of France. You may define everything else as interim.”
“It’s not just the mud,” Zuñiga’s lieutenant-colonel said, “although I will grant that the artillery is mired down. Again. The damned day-in-and-day-out rain has the rivers running high. Too high for the infantry to wade and too fast for the horses to swim.”
“Get boats. We’ll have a ship bridge.”
“We’ll have to hire them.” Salcido, an annoyingly talented Basque, was a stubborn man. “The king expects us to pay. He’s in a mood according to which the people of the Low Countries are to love their rulers as well as fear them.”
“Better to be feared than loved. Everyone knows that.”
“He’s working on both. In the meantime, though, we’ll have to find the boats and then we’ll have to lease the boats. We’re not allowed to just ‘borrow’ them. I calculate that it’s going to cost a good thousand guilders per day while we bring them here, put the bridge together, cross over, and then…” Lieutenant-colonel Salcido looked at the instructions with outrage, “…pay the stupid boatmen to take them back where we got them.”
“I don’t have that much cash. Will the locals take promissory notes?”
“Not willingly. Some of them, maybe.”
“Make a start on it with the ones who will. If those boats aren’t enough…”
“Then you’ll have to send a messenger to Brussels to get money, with a suitable written justification in quadruplicate. You know what they say.”
Zuñiga grumbled. “‘Money is the sinews of war.’ Just in case, send the messenger off today, as soon as my secretary gets the requisition forms filled out and I sign them. I just hope that the king and queen realize that this attachment to procedural niceties could cost us at least three days of not being in hot pursuit of Monsieur Gaston and the Lorraine regiments.”
“They’re out of Stenay ahead of us,” Zuñiga’s scout reported.
“Hell and damnation. Well, I’ll give orders for us to settle in at Montmédy for tonight. Salcido, prepare for an early start in the morning. We’ll catch them yet.”
“Fog,” Salcido said. “Fog all over the place. Ground fog. It came up during the night.”
“Move out anyway,” Zuñiga said. “Even in these miserably overcast portions of northwestern Europe, fog isn’t something that can stop an army from moving. It will burn off. We’re just following the roads.”
“Hail Mary!” Éric de Thysac drew a deep breath. “Haraucourt, will you come here and listen to what Sergeant Hennemant has to say.”
The dragoons’ senior scout repeated what he had seen.
“A gift!” Jean Jacques de Haraucourt, seigneur de Saint-Baslemont, threw his hat into the air. “Two years of being disgusted because Fernando kept us penned up in quarters. Two years during which I had a hard time keeping my men disciplined and trained when they weren’t being exercised in the field, especially with that snake Arpajon letting his run wild. Now weeks of being equally disgusted by the fact that Gaston and Clicquot apparently have no idea what they are doing, and Marchéville doesn’t have the guts to tell them so. All of that, and now the Spaniard gives himself to us. Where are your dragoons in the line?”
In a world run according to the great chain of being, Éric de Thysac would not have been here with him, a tough and experienced sergeant of battle, the man responsible for organizing the men sent into combat, commanding just under nine hundred dragoons. Thysac’s family were glass makers from down in the Vosges, the southernmost part of the duchy. Successful glass manufacturers, to be sure, who had bought estates from some feckless nobles of the vicinity–even married their daughters, some of them–and, by the middle of the last century, done homage to the dukes for their land. Glass was one of the few ways that a man could make a fortune from a desolate wasteland and Thysac’s father had picked up court connections by marrying the governess of the young duchesses of Bar, Nicole and Claude.
Still, in a rightly ordered world in which there were those who were born to fight, to pray, or to work, Thysac should have been among those who worked.
Haraucourt looked around. If he could choose the man he wanted next to him in an action, either the king of France’s brother or the glass maker’s grandson from Belrupt, he wouldn’t even have to think about it.
What if Éric had murdered his cousin? It was a hot-tempered family. The duke had pardoned him and there were men in this world who had done far worse.
“At the back,” Thysac said. “He assigned us to the rear guard.”
“And mine are next to last.”
They looked at one another.
“Shall we do it?”
“Turn around and ambush the Spaniards?” Haraucourt threw his hat again. “Nom de dieu! Of course we shall. Sergeant Hennemant, bring Clinchamps and Vernier to us.”
“What about?” Thysac nodded his head in the general direction where Monsieur Gaston and the senior officers of the expedition had last been seen.
“They’d just muck it up. We can tell them about it when it’s over.”
Zuñiga was caught in the fog, completely off guard. As the sun cleared off the mist, Haraucourt started the pursuit.
Then he slowed it.
“What’s up?” Verrier halted his horse next to the colonel’s.
“They’re falling back, but they’re not falling back in disorder. Let’s not risk the possibility that they could provide us with a nasty surprise in return.”
Night came late at this latitude and at this season.
When darkness did fall, the Spaniard kept going.
“What’s he doing?” Clinchamps asked.
“Sergeant Hennement says that he’s changing out the rear guard by small units. They’ll still be tired, but not as tired as if the same men were constantly on the skirmish lines.”
“We’ll catch them at the river. There’s no bridge here. It’s running too high for his infantry to wade.”
Which it was, except that Salcido directed the men to unhitch the draft horses, rope spans of the heavily loaded baggage wagons together, and push them into the stream.
They held against the spring current long enough for the Spaniards to cross.
Then they sent swimmers out to cut the ropes.
“Well, damn,” de Thysac said.
By the time they got across themselves, the Spaniards were some distance ahead.
This time, the scouts reported that there was a village and the stream, narrow but deep, had a stone bridge.
“Same damned river,” Sergeant Hennemant said. “It wiggles all over the map. We’ll probably have to cross it a couple times more.”
“Will they blow the bridge?”
“They probably would if they had powder, but my men are pretty sure that they sank their powder with the baggage wagons.”
The village, though, had stuff. Stuff as in furniture, stuff as in clothing, stuff as in chicken coops, stuff as in barrels.
Stuff that would burn.