Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 21
“Grand Duke Bernhard wishes he were receiving better intelligence. Doesn’t everyone?” Claudia commented, holding the letter up to the light. “Part of this is water damaged.”
“The messenger who delivered it was soaked to the skin,” Marcie said. “There are some kinds of drenching rain that will go through just about anything–plastic raincoats just as much as waxed leather, so it isn’t an up-time versus down-time kind of thing. The wet will find any available crack.”
“He has fired a disobedient commissary who refused to bake on command. I should certainly have done the same in his place–he was only requiring thirteen thousand pounds of bread and gave the man two days’ advance notice.” She tilted the paper. “I think there was more here about the importance of the regular furnishing of provisions as a way of keeping the troops contented.”
Since this seemed to be only common sense–Marcie remembered the comments that guys up-time used to make about MREs–she didn’t add anything.
“He wishes that I would…” Claudia frowned. “What is this?”
“Speak with the margraves of Baden? Deal with the margraves of Baden about something? That might be it.”
“Perhaps. The ink has run too badly. I will have to send him another letter and ask him to repeat it.”
The regent didn’t sound as irritated by needing to write him an extra letter as she might have been, Marcie thought.
Monsieur Gaston ran like a frightened rabbit.
Haraucourt and Thysac pursued.
The whole thing was such a pleasure.
Zuñiga and Salcido were waiting right where they had promised to be.
Gaston was sent back to Brussels to be kept in custody. Clicquot and Marchéville were also sent to Brussels, where they were likely to face considerably more severe disciplinary measures.
Not, however, until the senior officers of both parties sponsored an immensely enjoyable dinner, each side paying the expenses of the other.
It was always such a pleasure to meet true masters of one’s art and craft, even if they did happen to be on the other side.
It was always possible that at the next encounter they would be on one’s own side.
“I wonder why Puylaurens isn’t with him,” Salcido said. By that time, they were on their fourth bottle of good Moselle wine, so his thought evaporated into the air.
Amalie Elisabeth gestured.
The footman who had brought in the trays, being well trained, bowed, backed out of the room, closed the door, and stationed himself on the outside. The mistress of Hesse House did not appreciate untimely interruptions.
“Do you suppose that the emperor will actually issue an apology?” The dowager countess of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt put the first topic on the table. It was a fascinating question that had been occupying Magdeburg’s parlors for quite some time.
“Now? I never have expected him to, and surely Bernhard’s latest actions in Lorraine have come very close to destroying any prospect that the emperor will accept the modus vivendi.” Eleonore Dorothea of Anhalt-Zerbst, wife of Wilhelm Wettin, stirred sugar into her hot chocolate. “If only he weren’t so…bothersome. Sometimes I suspect he does these things just to irritate his brothers.”
Elisabeth Sofie of Saxe-Altenburg opened her mouth and chanted softly, in English,
Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes:
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.
“What?” The eyes of several indubitably adult women fixed on one of the teen-aged girls in the room who were there, in theory, to observe and learn–not to contribute their opinions.
“It was in one of the up-time books that Helene Gundelfinger gave me to read. There’s a copy in the school library, now, too. Don’t you think, sometimes, almost, cousins Wilhelm and Albrecht, and even Ernst though not so much so, act like the grand duke were still an annoying child?”
“Instead of an annoying grown man?”
“No sugar, thank you.” The abbess of Quedlinburg, who also was Wettin’s cousin, preferred her chocolate dark and bitter. “Sofie Elisabeth has a point. None of Bernhard’s actions in Lorraine have been aimed directly at the USE.”
“They can be interpreted, by those who wish to so interpret them, as self-aggrandizement in an arena where it isn’t in the USE’s best interests.”
“In cooperation with the king in the Low Countries, who is the emperor’s uneasy ally at the moment.” Amalie made a slight face. If Fernando were not the USE’s uneasy ally at present, life would be easier for Hesse. Or, at least, Hesse’s prospects for self-aggrandizement in the Rhineland would be better. “If they succeed, he’ll do as well out of it as Bernhard.”
“Gustavus won’t like that, either.”
“He can’t do anything about it now,” the abbess said. “Not with the eastern front opening up. In any case, if he has to choose between Bernhard and Fernando in Lorraine or the French in Lorraine–which was the situation when this started–he would, aside from any possible loss of face, have to prefer the former.”
“Why?” Sofie Elisabeth poked herself into the adult conversation again.
“France and the USE are the mill wheels. Lorraine is–always has been and always will be–the grain ground between them. If there’s no grain, the wheels grind directly upon one another and cause much more damage to themselves.”
“So the modus vivendi will go through?”
“Probably. On the condition, in everyone’s mind but not publicly spoken, that in another six months, another year, there will always be another roll of the dice. Have you seen the van de Passe cartoon with the crowned heads of Europe dicing for lands and people?”
“Triumph,” Moscherosch said. “I just love writing about triumphant victories. It’s so much easier than wallpapering over near defeats, much less real defeats, or trying to interest the readers in waffling, interminable, negotiations.”
“Which reminds me,” John said. “Somebody will have to negotiate an agreement about what to do with Lorraine now that they have it.”
Moscherosch looked up. The left corner of his mouth quirked. The quirk spread upward to his left eye, across to the other, and down to the right corner of his mouth. “Do you take suggestions?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“From a publicity standpoint… Shall we have another ‘Ladies’ Peace?’ That will truly bring in the readers. All sorts of historical folderol about the 1529 Treaty of Cambrai between Margaret of Austria, who was regent in the Low Countries, for her nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and Louise of Savoy for her son Francis I of France. See if the king in the Low Countries will send his queen. Maria Anna is always a reliable draw for readers. The regent…Claudia is a regent… We can sort of fuzz it that at Cambrai, it was Margaret of Austria for the Habsburgs… An end to interminable warfare. Peace, prosperity, and enough happiness to go around. Much better than a lot of diplomatic droning.”
“They aren’t married, yet,” John said. “Practically, Claudia can hardly negotiate on the grand duke’s behalf if she isn’t his wife.”
“Well, make her his wife. In time for the negotiations. I can do something with that. Just think. Call the people who fly the ‘Monster.’ Coverage of the arrival of the ladies. Wedding coverage. Talk about golden opportunities, just landing in our laps.” Moscherosch was close to incoherent with delight.
“Ye gods and little fishies,” von Kanoffski said that evening. “I hate to say this, Bernhard, but your little pen-pusher has a point.”
Von Erlach nodded solemnly. “Yes. It’s clear that noble self-sacrifice is called for. You can’t put it off any longer. It’s definitely time that you get married. Not some time this year or next year, but right now.”
Kanoffski grinned. “I think we all suspect just how much of a sacrifice that will really be.”
After Bernhard went back to his office, Kanoffski said, “Five thousand USE dollars, Lutz, that she’ll give birth by… umm, well, Christmas would be cutting it a bit close. Make it Epiphany.”