Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 14

Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 14

“What do you mean, ‘the eagle is his’?” Private Hallier was a new, very young, recruit, out of Burgundy. They weren’t in formation yet. As the rear guard, they would move out last.

“It’s his own eagle. When he was born, they say, an eagle flew over the castle in Thuringia where his mother was in labor. Hardly any eagles over there. It was an omen that he would do great things.”

“What’s the motto?”

“Something Latin.”

“That’s no help.”

“Ask the chaplain.”

“They say there was a bad omen at his birth, too,” Ensign David Sinclair said, holding their own company’s banner carefully upright. “That he was born with a caul. He’ll come to a bad end.”

“Not while I’m alive, you superstitious Scotsman” Karpff said. “I’ll follow him wherever he goes. To hell itself and back, if I have to. And while I’m alive, I’ll make sure you do the same. If that banner ever goes down, you’ll answer to me.”

Corporal Caspar Klumpe shook his head. “Don’t let the preacher hear you saying that. He’s a Lutheran, but the grand duke makes him keep an eye on us Catholics and Calvinists, too.”

“There goes Captain Starschedel with the grand duke’s war horse,” someone behind them yelled.

“Ugly beast.” Hallier wrinkled his nose. “Black as a raven.”

“That’s the fellow’s name. Rabe. Tip your hat.” Karpff reached out and grabbed the offending hat.

“To a horse?”

“It’s the custom. The raven’s carried the grand duke through a lot of battles. Tip your damned hat.”

****

Inside the command tent, Bernhard finished signing a pile of letters, orders, reports, directives, and requisitions. “That finishes the routine stuff. I wish we were in harvest season, not early spring. It would be so much easier to get grain. It would be so much cheaper to get grain.”

His secretary, Michael John, nodded impassively.

“Have we received a reply from Rohan?”

“He accepts your offer of becoming Statthalter in the Franche Comté during your unavoidable absence, given your willingness to let him have Tobias von Ponikau as his second-in-command.”

“Thank goodness. A permanent, or even semi-permanent, rift between us now would not have done either of us any good at all. “Now.” The grand duke pulled out another letter. “As for our honorable ally in the Low Countries.”

John waited.

“I’m perfectly willing to cooperate with Fernando on this. However, if he gets annoying or starts acting overbearing and generally Habsburg-ish, tweak his tail a little. You can always remind him that I descend from Sybilla of Cleves and could, if I took the notion, go play in his sandbox up around Essen. In my younger days, I was even known to include ‘Duke of Jülich, Cleves, and Berg’ among my titles when I was in the mood.” Bernhard stood up.

“Not that I’m in the mood. The USE ambassadress in Basel, Frau Jackson, has taught me a great deal about sandboxes.” He stretched and laughed. Out loud. For the first time in as long as he could remember. “Go get some sleep. I’ll finish the rest of this myself.”

John bowed his way out.

Bernhard picked up a quill and pulled out a clean sheet of paper. He would at least start a letter to Claudia before he dropped with exhaustion. “I don’t know whether I ought to start this note with an apology or a narrative…” The letter got to be rather longer than a note. He ended by saying that he wouldn’t bore her with his problems any longer.

****

“He’s learning,” John said with a grin. “Thank goodness.”

“What is he learning?” Erlach, finishing up his own daily pile of paper work, yawned. “I’ve absolutely got to get back to Breisach. Who knows what the fucking hell is going on there while I’m pinned down here.”

“That territories don’t administer themselves.” The secretary stretched. “That running one is even more work than organizing an army on the move. Kanoffski needs to get back to Freiburg, too. If you want to know what I think… Well, Johann Hoffmann thinks so, too–he used to serve the grand duke as secretary, but now he’s back working for Wilhelm Wettin. He knows all of the Saxe-Weimar brothers pretty well.”

“I’d be fascinated.”

“All these years, when he was dreaming of having a duchy of his own…or a county, I suppose, now.”

“Yes.”

“What he really saw was a plinth somewhere. Or a pedestal. Up on it, a statue of himself in armor. On the base, an inscription that read ‘Bernhard the Conqueror.’ With all the daily or near-daily military field reports long behind him and somewhere, in a back room, one of his brothers doing the civilian work for him. But now, with all the older ones busy doing other things…”

“And to think that you look so harmless, John.”

“As I said. He’s learning. Thank goodness.”

“Is he learning fast enough?”

****

“I have it,” Johann Michael Moscherosch said triumphantly.

“Have what?”

Bernhard’s poet and public relations man looked up irritably. “The campaign theme, of course. I’ve been working on the press releases.”

Michael John winced.

“This campaign demonstrates that anyone who criticized the grand duke’s withdrawal of his cavalry from before Mainz into southern Alsace in the spring of 1634 was sadly misled about the intentions of this upstanding general and now sovereign prince. Grand Duke Bernhard is fully prepared to defend by force, when necessary… etc. etc. etc.”

Moscherosch stood up. “We need to hire a cartoonist. There’s no point in risking what some satirist like van de Passe might make of what we’re doing in Lorraine. We’ll issue our own–plates, ready for the printers to use. Let me think. I need another writer, too. No matter how I try to disguise my style, somebody might figure out that I’m writing all the articles and distributing them. The grand duke just doesn’t have enough staff. Simplicity is all well and good, but he’s still trying to live like an ordinary mid-level officer rather than a ruler.”

****

“We have received,” Rosen said, “another charming missive from Père Joseph, this one enclosing a rather large chart. He has ideas, it seems, in regard to what the French subsidy should be buying for France in the way of conquests.”

“Our dear friend the Capuchin,” Kanoffski said, unrolling the chart and looking around. “One of Richelieu’s new cardinals. Give me that mug, will you. We’ll need something substantial on every corner. It doesn’t want to straighten out. They used tape with flour paste to hold the sheets of paper together and it’s stiff. It must have gotten damp since they rolled it up.”

“Here.” Erlach added both his gauntlets to the cause of making it lie flat. “Dear Father Joseph. Friar and war minister. A man who was, in the other world, happy to ally France with Gustavus Adolphus as long as both of them were opposing the Habsburgs.”

“On the theory, let us not forget, that one poison will counteract the other.” Kanoffski weighted down the final corner with his dagger.

Bernhard looked at the elaborately drawn plan. “War would be much simplified,” he remarked drily, “if a general could take cities by touching their names with his finger on a map.”

****

“What the hell is Gaston doing in Commercy, already,” Bodendorf exploded. “The last we heard, he was somewhere around Verdun.”

“Count your blessings,” Rosen admonished. “He’s still north of Toul.”

They needed to keep Gaston from moving any farther south. That was what the king in the Netherlands had tasked them to do. Hopefully, they would be able to force him out of Commercy and back into the north of the duchy, to a point where Fernando’s forces could get behind him and herd him back into the Low Countries.

They were counting, possibly without sufficient justification, on his not being able to turn west into France. This latest undertaking had destroyed the latest of his many reconciliations with his brother. How often could he burn his bridges with Louis XIII? As long as there was no nearer heir to the throne, who knew? Maybe he would go west. Gaston was utterly unpredictable.

What they hadn’t counted on were the Lorrainers, who were getting tired–very tired–of having foreign armies rampaging through the duchy. At Rémiremont, the abbess, an aunt of Charles IV, had a garrison in place. A local nobleman, with a scrambled together body of peasant militia, managed to throw himself into the town ahead of Bernhard. The commander then, at her orders, refused to open the gates.

With a sigh, Bernhard sent for some artillery, which he had not expected to need. That was a delay in itself. Without the artillery, they assaulted with ladders.

Without success.

Once the cannons arrived, they opened a breech in the walls.

They next thing they saw was not only soldiers and townsmen, but a squadron of nuns, hauling rock through the streets to close the breech.

That night, the guns opened another breech.

The next morning, not only the nuns but, it appeared, every woman in the town, was out hauling rock to the barricades.

On the sixth day, Bernhard reluctantly assigned a sufficient number of men to Rémiremont to keep the garrison from coming out, told the artillery to stay put, just in case, and moved around the town.

“There is,” he wrote to Claudia with reluctant humor, “very little military glory to be gained by fighting nuns. Please forgive my disorganized writing and assure yourself that I am and remain your very humble servant.”

Next stop, Épinal. At least they were, to the best of their knowledge, still south of Gaston’s forces.

He sent back to the Franche Comté for more artillery, with all that meant in the way of diminished mobility. It wasn’t as if one just brought up the guns. To be useful, guns had to be provisioned even more than men did, which meant wagons full of powder; wagons full of shot. More draft horses to be fed. More teamsters to be fed.

He spent several evenings just working on the calculations. To Fernando, he reported, “everything so far, because of the bad weather and other inconveniences, has been going very slowly.”

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