Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 36
A Misfortune so Ghastly that it Couldn’t Be Worse
“das grosse unglueck, welches so arg, dass es nicht aerger sein kann.”
The plague has gotten into some of my regiments, probably from working together with the contingent that came from Metz. Colonel Bodendorf, a faithful officer who has been with me for years, died yesterday. A couple of the junior officers serving under him have also been called to the mercy of God. I have sent Ludwig Schmid, one of my personal physicians, to deliver what aid he can. Forgive me, my lady, for ending this letter so abruptly, but the brave post rider is ready to leave and as usual, there are all too many things going on, keeping me busy, for me to have the luxury of completely describing the situation here to you in this letter.
Bernhard put down his pen. “I feel absolutely naked without having my Kanzlei with me,” he complained to Michael John. “All these years, my documents have always traveled along. Now most are in Besançon and the current but inactive files are in Schwarzach. The situation is practically causing me to shiver.”
John started to laugh and then looked at him with concern. The grand duke actually was shivering with some kind of chill. He got him into bed and covered him up, the lack of protest at this treatment indicating his employer really was sick.
“Send the letter I just wrote to Claudia. Get a letter out to Fernando,” Bernhard said. “Assure him I’m certain that God will handle my temporary weakness so graciously that I hope that soon I will once again be able to render the services that the Lord will require of me.”
“Sure,” John said.
“Is it the colic again?” Moscherosch asked anxiously the next morning.
“He just says that he doesn’t feel well,” the secretary answered. “There’s been constant diarrhea all night. He says that he’s never felt this bad before in his life. He’s fevered–terribly hot. Then he starts to chill again.”
“No, but he’s very short of breath. His heartbeat is strong, though.”
“Did you call a doctor?”
“I don’t trust either of those quacks on his staff. If you ask me, those blue pills that Blandin has been giving him just make his stomach more tender. Sometimes he vomits blood.”
Freiburg im Breisgau
“God, but this is a disaster,” Kanoffski exploded. “I don’t see how it could be worse.”
Erlach looked at him phlegmatically. “He could be dead. That would be worse.”
“It could be widely known that he is ill. The carrion birds could already be circling over our heads.”
“So what do we do?”
“Minimize it. Admit that he’s sick, but make light of it. Just a passing thing. Everyone in Europe who can read a newspaper already knows that he suffers from chronic indigestion.”
“We can’t keep him in the camp,” Michael John said. “A tent is no place to treat a serious illness. We have to risk moving him to Châtel-sur-Moselle. I’ll feel a lot more secure having him inside walls and towers.”
Moscherosch thought about it. There was no doubt that the grand duke’s semi–permanent administrative headquarters in Lorraine had walls and towers. About a mile of walls and twenty-two towers (he had counted them). The castle was up on a rocky cliff over the Moselle. Military types had considered it defensible ever since the days when the Roman legions were passing through the region. Storerooms. Whole networks of galleries. Tunnels for reaching the town below and the banks of the river.
Okay, he would admit it. John had a point. It would be easier to protect the grand duke there than in a tent. Practically, though… “How do we move him?”
“Do you know Private Karpff?”
“Margali’s company? Long-time veteran.”
“Yes. The man would go through hell for the grand duke. Have him pick a few people he trusts and bring a stretcher after dark. We’ll move him on foot, by night. You can let out a news release that he traveled to headquarters by night, but give the impression that he was on a horse, moving under his own power, responding to some kind of emergency.”
“What are you so suspicious of? Or whom?”
“There are an awful lot of people who’ve been less than thrilled by his rise to power.”
“Write to the grand duchess,” Bernhard muttered to John. “Send it by the next post. Tell her that I’m not in very good shape right now and expect that it’s going to be a while before I get back to being completely healthy.”
“My lord, that is a considerable understatement.”
“It will do. No need to alarm her.”
He didn’t make a sound when they moved him onto the stretcher, nor all through the miles of darkness.
In the morning, safely inside the castle, he allowed himself a brief groan as they transferred him from the stretcher to the bed. Reaching out a hand to Karpff, he quoted Ecclesiastes 9:11,
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
Then he added, “but remember, old soldier, although we are taught to pray, ‘Thy will and not mine be done, Lord,’ given the option, I would prefer not to die right now and will do all in my power not to do so.”
The stretcher squad left to return to the camp.
Karpff looked at his hand in wonder. “I’ll never wash it again.”
David Sinclair and George Leslie shook their heads.
“You will,” young Hallier said. “Before every single meal. Grand duke’s orders.”
They shook their heads again.
In the room, Bernhard looked at John. “On the other hand, if the time has come for me to die, have Rücker preach my funeral sermon on Timothy 2:7-8. And summon the chancellor from Besançon. Just in case, I’d better make a will.”
Diane Jackson threw the morning newspaper across the room. “I do not believe for one minute that this illness is nothing to worry about. I remember how Frank always acts when he is sick and this sounds like that. Which meant that once Frank almost died from an abscessed appendix because he would not go to the doctor when his stomach ached.”
“Ah,” Tony Adducci said. “Ah, Diane.”
“We hear rumors all the time that people are trying to assassinate him.”
“That is something else that Frank’s mother used to say. ‘Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean that someone isn’t out to get you.’ Smart woman. Good to me when Frank brought me home from Vietnam, when she could have been mean. At least, the sons lost to me up-time have a grandmother. This is something I believe. There are many people who think they have good reason to get Grand Duke Bernhard.”
“There are a fair number of people who actually do have good reasons to want to get him.”
Diane crossed the room, picked up the papers, and tossed them on his desk. “Not on my watch, as they say. Where is Colonel Raudegen?”
“With Wettstein, I think, across the river, working on inspecting river boats for plague.”
“Bring him here. Call my bodyguards. Radio to Grantville and Magdeburg. Tell them that we are going to Lorraine.”
“Damn it,” Frank Jackson said on receiving the radio report. “Yeah, I’m going to throw a tantrum right here at headquarters. I have a right to throw a tantrum. What in hell does Diane think she’s doing? She’s putting herself right into the middle of a plague situation. People are dying of it. Middle Ages. Black Death. All that stuff.”
“Once the plague is behind the frontiers at all,” Francisco Nasi pointed out, “and it is behind the southeastern frontier now, even though spottily, it’s more likely to be brought into a major commercial entrepot like Basel than anywhere else, so she wasn’t precisely safe there. We’ve thrown up a second plague screen, this side of Swabia, this side of the Rhine. A second-level barrier.”
Frank glared at him. “I am not in a mood to listen to sweet reason.”