Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 35

Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 35

Chapter 20

Everything Head over Heels

Lorraine

July 1635

“…und in gottes nahmen mitt aller gewalt auf sie gangen, und alle regiment in die flucht und über hals und kopf auch hierüber gebracht…”

Puylaurens talked. He kissed his lady mistress on the ear, which rarely failed to work. Then he talked some more.

Henriette listened with ever diminishing patience.

“My darling Antoine, Monsieur wasted everything last time,” she protested. “The money we raised, the men we recruited. Threw them all away. How can you ask me to give him more?”

“He is my lord,” Puylaurens said stiffly. “And my friend.”

“He is no one’s friend. Oh, what a pestilent man he is. Listen to me, Antoine. I love you. Truly, I do. Can’t you see? You are one of his tools, nothing more than that. Once you are broken, he will discard you the way a spoiled child discards a broken toy.”

“He is my friend. I owe him so much. Without his patronage, if I had not been attached to his household, I would have had no standing at the court. I would have been just one more obscure nobleman from the province of Languedoc.”

“I will not spend one more penny on his cause…” Henriette paused. “No. No more.” She paused again. “Not unless… Well, for the sake of our love. Only if Gaston agrees to stay with us, and make me a part of his council. Only if I can keep my eyes on him.”

She threw her feet to the side of the bed. “Veto his stupider ideas.”

“He will never consent. As a point of honor…”

“Honor?” Henriette shrieked.

The quarrel continued, to the great interest of the footmen stationed outside the bedroom door.

Things, clearly, were being thrown. One raised an eyebrow at the other. They could find out exactly what when the cleaners went inside in the morning.

There were newspaper reporters who would pay generously for this information.

Puylaurens slammed the door open.

On his way out, he paused dramatically in the frame and gestured.

“How can a weak woman understand the honor of a true gentleman? You called Monsieur a spoiled child. You are yourself nothing but a spoiled little girl who spends too much time thinking about prosaic things such as paying soldiers.”

The effect was rather ruined by the fact that he was wearing only his slippers and drawers.

He ran down the corridor yelling that he was leaving with the messenger to join Gaston at Neufchâteau.

Reports of this argument, as retailed by the footmen, had unintended impact. They persuaded the more prudent of the mercenaries, who managed to pick up on the fact that it was la princesse Henriette who was holding the purse strings, that come what may, they would stay right there in Pfalzburg. The less pragmatic captains decided to get in touch with Monsieur Gaston.

Henriette, examining her options, got in touch with the deputy administrator of the USE Province of the Upper Rhine, one Johann Moritz of Nassau-Siegen, for some serious talk about steel, coal, and plague.

She followed up these conversations with seriously enforced quarantines and other rigorous measures.

The less pragmatic mercenary captains, hearing of this, congratulated themselves on having headed west before they were caught up in her net.

****

Grand Duke Bernhard, both directly by letter and in public by way of various pamphlets produced by Moscherosch, made righteous representations to France that Louis XIII and Richelieu needed to do something about the actions of Monsieur Gaston, who was claiming to represent the French royal interests in Lorraine.

Both his formal representations and informal communications emphasized that the king in the Low Countries and he himself, in the April settlement, had been very careful to maintain the “legitimate” title of Charles IV, whether he claimed it for himself or in right of his wife.

Bernhard’s formal letters stated with considerable restraint that Monsieur Gaston’s wife Marguerite, as the late duke’s mere younger sister, had no claim at all to be the legitimate ruler of the duchy, which indeed should now fall to the Duchess Nicole, under her father’s will, or to Charles IV’s younger brother, Nicolas François, if the alleged will of René II were upheld by an impartial court.

Moscherosch further supplemented this in the publicity pamphlets by noting that even if the truly dastardly decisions of 1625, based on the forged will of Duke Rene II, in the face of all honor and truth, decisions which displayed no trace of knightly gallantry and chivalry toward that unfortunate lady, who had been illegally deprived of her heritage by the machinations of her husband, father-in-law, and the Estates of Lorraine in 1625, and which decisions unjustifiably tried to extend the French Salic law to Lorraine, were allowed to stand, with all the injustices this meant for Duchess Nicole, Charles IV’s heir would not be his youngest sister Marguerite but rather his younger brother, the former Cardinal of Lorraine and ex-bishop of Toul.

Moscherosch had not been able to resist the last two ill-disguised digs. Pamphlets allowed so much more scope than diplomatic correspondence.

The descriptions of Nicole’s prolonged sufferings at the hands of her late husband were really quite touching, Moscherosch thought, admiring his own work.

The legal arguments weren’t bad, either. If a person went on the basis of strictly legitimate hereditary rights, la petite Nicolette really was the proper ruling duchess of Bar as well as the dowager duchess of Lorraine.

Too bad she was such a dumpy, unimpressive, unassertive, sort of individual. 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. Perhaps he could polish up her image a bit, pro bono. He liked to think of himself as a chivalric gentleman and the series of pamphlets was selling well. He picked up his pen.

****

Riding fast and disguised, Puylaurens crossed Lorraine, bringing word of Henriette’s refusal to Gaston, who did not receive it graciously.

Gaston announced, with a flourish, that he would certainly be able to persuade at least some of the cavalry that her officials had recruited to join him, since she was not currently planning any campaigns that offered them the prospect of significant financial reward. Abandoning Neufchâteau to the depredations of his mercenary infantry, with little more than “stay put until I get back” in the way of orders, he took what cavalry forces he had with him and headed back toward Pfalzburg.

Well north of Lunéville, near Dieuze, they ran into the disaffected cavalry companies’ scouts. That was, Puylaurens thought with considerable relief, preferable to coming directly within the purview of an angry princesse de Phalsbourg. Henriette was mad. Not mad as in insane, but mad is in angry. Excessively infuriated.

A usable, if somewhat diminished, cavalry now in hand, Gaston informed his confederates that he was abandoning his intention to march on Saint-Avold.

Puylaurens found this a great relief, given that Saint-Avold, like Neufchâteau, was part of Henriette’s Phalsbourg.

His relief did not last long.

Since they were already close to the eastern border of Lorraine, and consequently close to the western border of the USE Province of the Upper Rhine which used to be northern Alsace (he was quite proud of this feat of geographical ratiocination), his next move would be an effort to capture or destroy the oil fields at Merckweiller-Pechelbronn. “For,” he said airily, “if I can take them for France, or at least ruin them for further use by the USE, my brother will likely forgive me for all my past sins and force Richelieu to do the same. “Nobody will be expecting us to come at them from this direction.”

Clicquot winced. No rational man would come at Pechelbronn from this direction. The roads from here to there were narrow country lanes, unsuitable for troop movements.

Marchéville told Monsieur that any rational man would go northeast to Sarreguemines and then southeast to the oil fields, which came close to causing his death. If there had been a trained executioner on Gaston’s staff, it would have caused the Lorrainer’s death, but there was none and Gaston had too much sense of what was due to rank and birth to order the hanging of a nobleman.

Puylaurens was tempted to say that it would be more reasonable to find a secure but ineptly defended fortress, presuming that one might be available given the number of military contingents now marching through Lorraine, take it, and stay inside it until they could make some kind of terms with Fernando or Louis XIII. Knowing Gaston better than Marchéville did, kept his mouth shut.

Nobody was able to persuade Monsieur to reverse his decision. He was, after all, the brother of the king of France. Clicquot concentrated on coming up with something that looked like it might be, generously interpreted, a plan for the raid.

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