Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 30

Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 30

Marcie turned around impatiently. “Is that marrying for ‘love’? You tell me.”

Claudia tapped her middle finger on the arm of her chair again. “What is a biological clock? Should the young men I send to Grantville study this also?”

****

“The grand duchess is sending me to Besançon to work with Bernhard’s engineering staff,” Marcie told Matt that evening after they had disentangled themselves from the process of being polite to the other people eating dinner at the table to which they had been assigned. “I’m leaving next week, when Lawrence Crawford starts back.”

“You didn’t give me much warning on this.”

“I didn’t get much warning. As in, she told me about three o’clock this afternoon. This is the first time I’ve seen you since–presuming you didn’t really want me to break the news in a bunch of other mid-level bureaucrats. It’s not as if we have telephones.”

“I hear that Bernhard’s planning to install them in Besançon.”

“That may be one of the reasons I’m going. I don’t know much about telephones, but I do at least understand modern engineering principles, and he’s brought in a half-dozen up-timers with construction experience. Apparently it occurred to his grand-dukeship that rapid communication between his citadel and the officers quartered on the other side of the river might come in real handy some day.”

“And you agreed to this.”

“She didn’t ask me. She told me. Just like she told you back in February. Casual disposition of my body and mind in time and place, with no consultation.”

“So I get some of my own back. It makes a difference, doesn’t it, when it’s your bull that’s being gored.”

“Matt…”

“Oh hell, Marcie, why fight about it? His Grand Dukeship told me just this afternoon, about the same time, that he’s hauling me off to Lorraine to fight the plague. You just beat me to it in the order of telling.”

“Working for down-timers has a lot in common with being in the army. The order is ‘jump’ and the answer is ‘how high’?”

“They don’t make that much of a distinction, really. If you work for them, you work for them. They just aren’t into specialization–it must drive the paper pushers back in Grantville nuts–the ones who think you have to have some kind of certification for everything before you can be allowed to do it. Half the guys I’ve met here get moved back and forth from military duties to civilian projects and back to military again. Look at de Melon since we got out of Kronach.”

Merckweiller-Pechelbronn, Province of the Upper Rhine

“Hanau-Lichtenberg is one person you can ask for help,” Matt Trelli said. “The count, I mean, not the place–the guy the USE is leasing the oil fields from. He’s bound to have an interest in the region and even though his escort wore pretty clothes and rode pretty horses, I’m told that they were a big help when the Irish dragoons ran that raid here.”

Orville Beattie kicked the tent pole. “If we don’t get supplies soon, with the refugees coming at us out of Lorraine, his pretty horses will turn into someone’s dinner. It’s going to be bad, I tell you. There’s some early garden produce starting to come in, but people mostly eat bread. That means grain. We need grain. Thousands upon thousands of pounds of grain every week. Tons of grain. I don’t care if it’s wheat, rye, oats, barley, spelt, or some combination of the above, just as long as it’s grain. I haven’t been working the ‘Hearts and Minds’ program in Fulda for the past three years–well, it’s nearly four years, now–without getting a pretty clear idea that feeding people bread is our first priority.”

“Transportation costs…”

“Food, Trelli, food. Cats and dogs for dinner will be the least of it. Do you want to see these people eating grass and rats? I’ve read the pages in the Thirty Years War history that tell what this stretch of country was like in that other time, after the big battle in the fall of 1634. Have you? It was page four hundred in the reprint that Piazza sent the Fulda administration. Acorns and goatskins in the soup pots. Women gnawing on the flesh of dead horses, sharing them with the ravens. People sitting on top of graves long enough that the starving didn’t dig up the corpses and eat them. People pulling the bodies of condemned criminals down off the gallows and eating them. Refugee camps where people were afraid that other refugees would kill and eat them. Have you read that? Have you? I damned well have.”

Matt Trelli opened his mouth.

“What’s the point in saving them from the plague if we let them starve? Who did the emperor appoint to run this godforsaken Province of the Upper Rhine, anyhow?”

Francisco de Melon, whose original assignment to negotiate a pre-nuptial agreement between Bernhard and Claudia had morphed into a general kind of trouble-shooting for their activities in the Rhineland, waved a hand. “Wilhelm Ludwig of Nassau-Saarbrücken.”

“Huh?”

“That’s the name of the administrator. He hasn’t made a lot of impact–his main qualification seems to be that he’s the son-in-law of the administrator in Swabia. He’s spending most of his time over there in Augsburg, helping his wife’s elderly papa. Who, I have to admit, needs it.”

“What a fuck-up.”

De Melon shook his head. “He’s appointed a deputy who’s pretty effective. Johann Moritz of Nassau-Siegen. In the other world, he was governor-general of Brazil and governor of a bunch of places in Europe after he came home. Interesting biography, right in the encyclopedia. You can work with him, but we’ll do better, I think, into trying to prod Nils Brahe in Mainz into action. He knows your Fulda people and respects them. Part of the problem, though, is that all this spring, here in the Rhineland, Brahe and the other administrators have been distracted by the Committees of Correspondence and their campaigns against the anti-Semites. There’s just too much all going on at once.”

Matt nodded. “You know how short-staffed you are in Fulda. There’s honestly just so much that any single person can do and ‘bloated bureaucracy’ hasn’t made it into the down-time vocabulary yet. They run whole cities and provinces with fewer layers of bureaucracy than we used to have in the Grantville Fire Department.”

“I’ve talked Johnnie F. Haun into coming over here from Würzburg and throwing his influence behind the feeding program. Get your wife who has such an in with Bernhard the traitor and the rest of the Burgundian rulers to put some pressure on them. She’s just across the river at Schwarzach with the guy’s wife, isn’t she?”

“Hey now,” Matt protested. “Wait just a minute, Orville. That’s the husband of my boss you’re talking about. I can’t just stand here and let you call him a traitor.”

“Just what would you call him, then? He wigged out on Gustavus Adolphus just when the emperor needed him the most and his tricks down in this corner of the map have kept Horn tied up for years.”

“That’s a very USE-centric point of view. Bernhard’s opinion is that it was Gustavus who insulted him and his brothers, so that his honor required him to resign. From his point of view, probably, Horn and his Abrabanel financier and his radio communications with Gustavus been keeping him tied up for years.”

De Melon sighed and brought his diplomatic talents to bear on the discussion.

Grantville

Mary Kat Riddle kissed her grandparents. “Letter from my darling Derek. Not only did he leave men at Germersheim in March, but somehow, he has managed to persuade a reasonable portion of the Fulda Barracks Regiment still back in Buchenland that helping Brahe’s men at Merckweiller-Pechelbronn deal with that little pocket of plague infection that the Irish dragoons left behind when they raided is just as noble, manly, sturdy, and courageous as going off to chase the dragoons. He can’t go back to Fulda himself because of the plague in Swabia, so he’s going to take the companies he had with him in Württemberg back by way of the Province of the Upper Rhine and wait out the rest of the plague season by helping there.”

She shook her head. “Getting down-time soldiers to go work on plague prevention. The man has a golden tongue.”

Her grandmother looked up. “May God be with them.”

Mary Kat sank down on the footstool next to her. “May God be with them, indeed.”

Basel

“Children,” Diane Jackson said. “They are behaving like children, so many of them. ‘If I can’t have the first turn, I won’t play.’ Or, ‘I don’t like the way you are acting, so I will pick up my marbles and go home.’ If I was the teacher in charge of this play group…”

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