Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 15
All of the intelligence reports, to both Bernhard and Fernando, concentrated on tracing Gaston and the regiments he brought out of the Low Countries. Even though Fernando expressed a wish to know where Henriette and Puylaurens had gone, this didn’t seem to be a priority, for the simple reason that they didn’t have soldiers. At most, everyone knew, they had a very small escort. It couldn’t be more than two dozen men.
That was quite true. Because they had a very small escort, they managed to go east, come down the Saar, and get into her territories around Phalsburg and Lixheim without attracting much notice. A generous application of the funds they raised along the way scrabbled together a regiment of experienced ex-mercenaries.
A certain number of those ex-mercenaries had dribbled away from the four Irish dragoon regiments that left the archbishop of Cologne earlier in the spring. They, like the rest of the colonels’ men, had encountered plague long the way. They brought it with them. It wasn’t a lot of plague, though, and there was always some plague around.
Henriette thought about it. Admittedly, neither the officers nor the men had experience working with one another, but it was still a regiment.
What’s more, Grand Duke Bernhard wouldn’t be expecting to see a regiment coming at Épinal from St-Dié.
It was worth a shot. At worst, it would be a distraction for the joint protectorate’s forces.
Not that she had any particular sympathy for Gaston. She had less every passing day, but she would rather like to see her brother back in the ducal palace in Nancy. Not to mention that she truly, truly, truly would like to see the French out of Pfalzburg.
“You’re not coming with us, Your Highness” the colonel exclaimed, appalled. He was unhappy enough at the thought of babysitting Puylaurens.
“If I pay for something,” Henriette answered, “I see for myself whether or not it works.”
Ohm had been drinking too much all spring. He knew it, Caldenbach knew it, the rest of the Kloster knew it, and probably Bernhard knew it. He’d admit that he wasn’t at the very top of his form. Still, he was perfectly functional. When his scouts reported the appearance of a foreign regiment just this side of St. Dié, he sent them back to identify it and got his own into battle order.
He didn’t expect the scouts to come back with the news that they couldn’t identify the enemy. If nothing else, he’d been paying enough attention at the staff meetings that he knew which players were on the board.
Hell, no. He had not been having blackouts.
He put the captain of his guards company in charge of holding his men where they were and rode out with the scouts himself. There weren’t a lot of advantages to getting old, but one of the few was that you had met a lot more people than any eighteen-year-old was likely to have done.
Another advantage of getting old was that sometimes it improved a fellow’s distance vision. The trade-off was that he had to wear glasses to read, but given his vocation, he preferred the way it fell out.
He tied his horse to a tree and followed the scout to the edge of the low bluff.
At least, now someone knew where Henriette and Puylaurens had gotten to, and that someone just happened to be him.
Bernhard and Fernando would thank him for this.
Sliding down as quietly as he had climbed up, he headed back toward his regiment, fumbled his glasses out of the sturdy metal case in his saddle bag, wrote hurried notes, and sent off three messengers.
Then he turned around.
He knew they were coming.
Unless they had better scouts than he thought they did, scouts who had managed to hide from him, they didn’t know that he was here.
Now what could he do about it?
A fair amount, but he had three hundred men to their–at a guess–five or six hundred.
Henriette and Puylaurens, thanks to the perfectly competent colonel she had hired, managed to withdraw from the engagement in good order, back toward St-Dié.
Ohm came out of it with a terrible headache. If he hadn’t been wearing his helmet, he’d be dead.
He wasn’t as fast as he used to be. He couldn’t do anything about time, but he could cut back on the drinking.
Schaffelitzky, crossed southern Alsace from the Breisgau and brought his two thousand men toward Bernhard via the alternate route up the Meurthe.
Captain von Hersbach leaned down from his saddle. This child with three sheep was the first sign of life he had seen for miles.
“Are you Croats?”
This was one suspicious little girl.
“Why do you ask?”
“You are on horses. The soldiers on horses, we call Croats.”
“Are you the duke’s men?”
“Our duke. Duke Charles.”
“No. We are soldiers of duke Bernhard.”
“I don’t know him. Where are you going?”
“They have already burned down the villages between here and Épinal. You won’t find any grain.”
“Our commander sent food for us. There is bread at Épinal, baked and waiting for us. We are looking for other soldiers.”
“People have been fighting,” the little girl said, “but they are still a long way away. Almost five miles, over by where the second husband of maman‘s aunt lived before he died. We never pay attention to soldiers unless they come much closer than that.”
“Do you know who the soldiers are?” Captain von Hersbach asked carefully, not wanting to alarm her.
“The village council met last night. The mayor said they come from Pfalzburg. I don’t know where that is.”
“Do you know the name of the place where your mother’s aunt’s second husband lived.”
She nodded. “Bruyères.”
“Thank you very much.” He started to hand her a coin, thought again, reached into his saddle bag, and gave her a quarter-loaf of stale bread and a little jerky. “What is your name?”
“Barbeline, mon capitan. Barbeline Cayel.”
When Henriette’s scouts reported that Schaffelitzky, who was recognized by one of them, was approaching with a couple of thousand cavalry, she decided that there were times when prudence should trump glory. She had considerable prudence–she just wished that someone else would notice. Over the vociferous objections of Puylaurens, she insisted that they withdraw their forces to Pfalzburg. Antoine sulked.
This withdrawal was also made in good order. Of course, they lost some deserters. As the colonel said, that always happened.
Some of those stragglers attached themselves to Schaffelitzsky’s baggage train, carrying plague down the Meurthe in the direction of Nancy.
“How in hell did Gaston get this far south?”
“If we wait,” Bodendorf said, “the artillery will eventually come.”
“If we wait long enough, judgment day will arrive and we will all be carried up into heaven to the sound of trumpets.” Bernhard pushed his abundant hair back impatiently and clubbed it into a knot at the back of his neck. “I am not so thrilled with being at Charmes that I’m inclined to stay longer than I have to. With the reinforcements Schaffelitzky brought, we can overrun it.”
The ordinary soldiers considered the grand duke’s tendency to place himself in the middle of the action to be charismatic.
His senior staff considered the grand duke’s tendency to place himself in danger of life and limb, especially when he didn’t absolutely have to, to be a form of hybris and a constant irritation.
As it turned out, they couldn’t overrun it.
“Well, my lady,” he wrote to Claudia, “I won’t delay you any longer with such insignificant items as the loss of my index finger, luckily on the left hand or my scribbles would be even more illegible than they usually are, but rather will end this note and herewith I recommend you and yours to God’s gracious protection.”
The artillery did eventually show up and his army went into siege status.
As it turned out, the fortifications at Charmes had underground tunnels. Most of the soldiers eventually surrendered, but by then, Monsieur Gaston was long gone, back to Commercy.
“Tony,” Diane Jackson said.
“Yes, ma’am.” Tony Adducci–the younger Tony–looked up from the book he was reading.
“Have you read this about Lorraine?”
“Saw it in the papers this morning. Looks to me like the grand duke is possibly biting off more than he can chew.”
“I am very disappointed. Hasn’t he learned his lesson?”
“What was that joke someone made about Gustavus Adolphus and Christian IV last year? Back when they were setting up the Union of Kalmar? ‘Kinkering kongs.'”
Diane looked blank.
Tony explained why turning “conquering kings” into “kinkering kongs” was supposed to be funny.
The ambassadress didn’t think so. “We don’t need another one of those. Not on the doorsteps of Basel.”
Diane snorted in disgust the morning she saw the newspaper reports of events at Charmes. “Frank’s mother,” she informed her trusty bodyguards, “used to say that ‘the good Lord protects fools and small children.’ Why does He bother?”