Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 28
From Étain, they moved toward Pont-à-Mousson. It was a pretty enough town, on the Moselle, with a good bridge.
The dragoon colonel saw only one reason to go there–namely, if a person wanted to cross that particular river.
If, for example, a person wished to take Château-Salins, yet avoid the regiments that Fernando and Bernhard had at Nancy, Pont-à-Mousson made sense.
Monsieur Gaston, apparently did not want to do that. They turned around toward the west without crossing, burned a couple of villages, Montauville for one, and went back toward Étain by a route from which they had already foraged all the convenient provisions.
Étain, at least, was some distance from Metz. A short distance. Not that anywhere in Lorraine was a long distance from anywhere else, by the standards of campaigning in the Germanies. Nancy, the capital, was not more distant than sixty miles from the border in any direction; in many places, it was less than that.
But some distance.
However, then they went to Briey, which was closer to Metz.
The garrison came out and chased them, blocking the way they had come.
In a disordered tumble, Gaston’s forces headed southeast toward Boulay, leaving most of their baggage behind. Disordered or not, he made it to Boulay in two days, which was about as fast as it could be done.
Haraucourt, Thysac, and almost all the other officers and men of the Lorraine regiments who had been allowed their honors at Commercy offered their services to Aldringen.
For a reasonable reimbursement, of course.
Claudia appealed to the heads of the joint protectorate.
Aldringen duly thanked the gentlemen for the prompt subsidy payment, although he suspected in his heart that this first installment had come from the privy purse of Isabella Clara Eugenia.
“The good news, then, Your Grace, given this second invasion the duchy under the leadership of Monsieur Gaston and the undoubted fact that it will require me to draw down additional regiments from both the Low Countries and Burgundy, is that France has decided to cut its losses for the time being and withdraw the remainder of the garrisons it had in Lorraine. I have successfully negotiated their withdrawal with honors and beg to report that the last of them should be gone within two weeks.
“Turning to the matter of additional regiments from the Low Countries and Burgundy, given the direction of Gaston’s current movements, reinforcements for the garrison at Saint-Avold are my most pressing need at the moment, although I hope that la princess de Phalsbourg will provide assistance, since it forms a portion of her appanage. In case she does not have sufficient resources, however, if the king in the Netherlands could spare one of the Spanish regiments or if Grand Duke Bernhard could advance the use of some of his troops, it would be most helpful.
“The French, upon leaving, entirely stripped the duchy’s treasury, which was held in one of their remaining strong points rather than in Nancy. The city councils of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, calling on the ambiguous status that secularization by Fernando’s fiat brings to the former prince-bishoprics, would love to deny that they owe anything for the duchy’s defense, but need to see only to their own. From what I understand of the legal situation…”
Aldringen looked at his daily report to Claudia and decided that honesty would be, in the long run, the best policy.
“Your Grace, I am completely confused by what the duc d’Orleans has been doing. I can make neither head nor tails of what Monsieur Gaston has undertaken, nor where he is going, nor why. His movements entirely offend my sense of military logic.
“Additionally, I must work on the presupposition that although Richelieu is pulling out the garrisons, the French will be back. I cannot leave the western frontier undefended in order to pursue Monsieur Gaston through the northeast.
“But Antoine,” Henriette said. She wriggled, snuggled, and then cuddled a little. Just why men became so malleable at that stage of a discussion would always be beyond her comprehension, but she was certainly not above using any advantage that life had given her. “Why on earth would I wish to join my forces with those of Monsieur Gaston at this point? He is planning to attack Saint-Avold. Saint-Avold is mine, part of my principality. Be reasonable, mon petit choux. I need to defend it, not help him attack it.”
Puylaurens mumbled something into her shoulder.
“I have what I want.” She looked at him with an adorably cute frown.
At least, when she was five years old, a lady-in-waiting had said that the expression was adorably cute.
Her siblings tended to associate it with such descriptions as “Henriette can be as stubborn as a mule when she wants to be.”
“What did I want? How can you possibly need to ask? I wanted the French to stop occupying Lorraine so I could have Phalsbourg back. All the parts of Phalsbourg–not just this fortress. Now that Richelieu has withdrawn the garrisons, there is nothing to keep us from marching from here…” She put her finger on the map. “…to there…” She put her finger on the map again. “…in the company of those lovely gentlemen.” She gestured toward the window, in the general direction where the mercenaries upon whom she had expended a portion of the funds she had already raised were camped.
“Then I can live very happily ever after, a free woman, with no man to rule me.” She shook her carefully arranged curls.
Puylaurens opened and closed his mouth.
For the first time, it occurred to her that Antoine was not always beautiful. Sometimes he looked sort of like a…rather large fish.
To the great disappointment of both Claudia and Aldringen, the king in the Low Countries did very little more than say the equivalent of, “tut, tut.” He was seriously preoccupied with settling things in Cologne and with Essen.
He did send a few additional garrison troops, most of whom were semi-invalids, along with his best wishes.
Three hundred mercenaries arrived from Phalsbourg.
It wouldn’t be enough.
Aldringen was about ready to tear out his hair when a large contingent of militia, a good quarter of it consisting of mounted infantry, came marching into Saint-Avold flying the banner of Lorraine.
“Who is that captain?” he asked. “I don’t think we were expecting…”
Haraucourt looked out the window, let out a whoop of “Alberte! Reinforcements!” and headed down the stairs at a run.
Thysac followed him. So did Aldringen, somewhat more slowly.
The captain threw his leg over the pommel of the saddle, jumped off his horse, and caught Colonel Haraucourt in a warm embrace while yelling loudly, “My scouts have spotted the Frenchie.”
Haraucourt was seigneur de Saint-Baslemont.
Madame de Saint-Baslemont was…umm…wearing trousers, a man’s jacket, and some kind of military insignia.
“There really wasn’t much danger when I gave the Grand Duke Bernhard my manor’s location when we were negotiating at Commercy,” Haraucourt said that evening. “I think I mentioned it to you some time ago, Éric.” He beamed proudly at the substantial figure of his solid, middle-aged, wife. “Alberte keeps everything under control. She is a true amazon of Lorraine.”
Madame explained her somewhat unusual career path with, “General, I just got so damned tired of the French foragers stealing everything the farmers on the estate managed to grow. Up in the backwoods, with Jean Jacques away for years on end, who was going to care whether I was wearing pants or not? Eventually, I hope, the war will end. I wanted to salvage something for our girls.”