Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 37
The grand duchess was in the process of transferring her working headquarters.
“What We would like to do,” Claudia said, “is to see for Ourselves what the condition of the grand duke’s health is. We are tempted. However, duty requires Our presence in Besançon.”
Abbot Georgius bowed and said nothing. He did not wish to be rude, but neither did he want to say anything that might delay her departure. It would be a joy for the Benedictines to have the monastery to themselves again.
Of course, there was nothing to say that the grand duke or his officers might not return. Bernhard appeared to find the cloister convenient. Hopefully, once the fortress on the river was completed…
The grand duchess was expressing regrets that she had not been able to visit her children in Tyrol at all since her marriage.
“They are in a safe place,” he said, “while you are in a plague-infested one, even though, thankfully, the pestilence has not yet visited this immediate region.”
“Oh,” she said impatiently. “We know it. There is no way We are going to expose Our children to danger. But there is always the possibility that if We appear not to be taking advantage of the visitation schedule arranged in the agreement, the other members of the regency council may seek to renege on the privilege altogether. Dr. Volmar…” Her voice trailed off.
“I left Father Malaspina, my confessor, in Innsbruck, to oversee the religious education of the children. It has been very kind of you to act as my confessor during my stay here, but I really need one of my own.” She shook her head. She was starting to pick up the grand duke’s penchant for thinking of herself in the singular.
“If I may suggest…?”
“What, Father Georgius?”
“Instead of requesting a confessor from Spain or Italy, you might write to Cardinal-Protector Mazzare. He might know someone who could…help you adjust to the new world in which we are living.”
Claudia bowed her head for a few minutes.
“Let the Monster be summoned,” she ordered suddenly. “It is expensive, but I have really spent very little money this spring and summer. It will be best to avoid the possibility of acquiring plague during the trip. What do they call it? Point to point travel.”
The children. There was no way she would expose her children to danger, but there was no plague in the air. She suspected that she was pregnant. If so, the preservation of the child had to be her first priority, above all else. Especially with the grand duke sick. Sicker than he was admitting, she was sure. First Innsbruck. Then Besançon.
This was the first time that Marcie had been invited into the grand ducal bedchambers. She mostly saw Claudia in her office.
The reason was immediately apparent. The grand ducal ladies’ maids were applying henna to the grand ducal hair. It looked like they would be at it for a while.
Marcie had occasionally wondered if she saw dark roots beneath the red.
She wondered if the grand duke knew. Probably not. He probably didn’t even know that henna existed. It didn’t have any practical military application.
The grand ducal dogs were either sleeping on the grand ducal skirts or running around them, yapping. There seemed to be another one every time a person turned around. Two little tan lapdogs, a fuzzy white one that Claudia called her little lion-dog and had brought back from Innsbruck, and a white one with brown spots. Luckily they were all small, because they weren’t entirely housebroken.
Claudia gestured toward the desk pedestal. She had one, with a secretary present, even in her dressing room. “We are not permitted to move Our head. It is a pleasure to have your company again, Lady Marcie.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
“Have you succeeded in deciphering the latest letter from the grand duke? It is good practice for you, you know. If you learn to read his handwriting, you will probably be able to master any down-time script. Plus, you need to know more of the geography.”
“The letter was sent from a castle south of Toul and is signed, ‘Meiner Herrin allezeitt williger diner.’ Not bad,” Marcie said. “‘At all times, my lady’s willing servant.’ I’d be happy to take that if Matt wrote it at the end of a letter. Instead, I get ‘in a hurry’ or, at most, ‘see ya’ one of these days.'”
Claudia smiled. “The grand duke puts such phrases before the formal signature. I might be more flattered if I didn’t know that, aside from the gender of the addressee, he signs his letters to Chancellor Oxenstierna precisely the same way–and if the topic were not that he wants me to negotiate better grain prices with the commercial houses of Paler and Rehlinger in Augsburg and Basel. He is worried about food for civilians in the plague-stricken areas as well as supplies for the army. This campaign is lasting far longer, and therefore turning out to be more expensive, than he had projected in March.”
A rattle, clatter, and the noise of falling boards came through a closed door, followed by curses from construction workers. The curses were in the local dialect, but Marcie could project what they were saying.
Claudia carefully did not turn her head. “We are having a private chapel installed. We had one in Innsbruck. After childbirth–there are forty days before one is churched, during which one cannot appear in public. I do not ever want to go without hearing mass for that long. This must be completed and consecrated before the end of the year. Now they are doing only the rough work. Once the plague abates, We will bring decorators from Tuscany to make it beautiful. We prefer modern architecture.”
Oooh. Marcie got the implications of that in a hurry, but since there had been no official announcement, she kept her mouth shut. Maybe she was starting to get the hang of this courtier business. ‘Modern architecture’ to a seventeenth-century Italian meant lots of colored marble inlays, pillars cut so they looked like spirals and gilding on top of the gilding, simply dripping with Madonnas. She wondered what the grand duke would make of that–he was pretty much bound to see the place.
She turned her attention back to the letter from Bernhard. “If I were you, Your Grace, I’d be more worried about this line.”
“Es will aber die mattigkeitt noch nicht nachlessen, doch wird es nicht erger.”
Claudia frowned. “He keeps minimizing this illness. ‘The exhaustion doesn’t get better, but neither does it get worse.’ I have read the reports in the encyclopedias, of course. It was such a stomach ailment that eventually killed him. There were even rumors of poisoning.”
She frowned more deeply. “That’s always possible, of course.”
The grand duchess was, after all, a Medici.
“If Bernhard dies, will I have the resources to hold Burgundy?”
Claudia used the first person singular because she didn’t ask that question out loud or direct it to any particular person.
She held it in her mind and asked it of herself.
She set up a conference with those members of Der Kloster who weren’t in Lorraine with him. She spoke with the duc de Rohan, with Hattstein at Dôle, and with the others whom he had left to garrison the Franche Comté.
“My personal motto,” she informed them, “is ‘God sees all.’ I do my best to take Him as my model.”
After Rohan, she spoke to Leopold Cavriani. She already knew him, of course.
Speaking with Cavriani naturally led to contacting Bernhard’s bankers. A man engaged in military contracting on the scale Bernhard had done it, and now constructing a principality, needed to have credit always ready. There was only so far that ordinary revenue sources could be relied on and they were not something one could expedite in emergencies–if, for example, a city council needed a loan from the general or grand duke, it sometimes being a bit difficult to distinguish which hat he was wearing at the moment, to pay its own garrison troops. Even forced contributions wouldn’t cover something like that, since if the council had the money to contribute, it could pay the garrison. So a man borrowed, using expected revenues from taxes, tolls, dues, and Kontributionen as collateral.