Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 39

Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 39

****

“The plague-fighting has gone well, yes?” Claudia, at the head of the table, stood up.

Her advisers had learned by now that when she decided to use her height to loom over them, the omens were not good.

“Well,” Dr. Guarinonius confirmed. “Both on the borders of the Franche Comté with France and on the Tyrolese borders with Venice. There is some plague, of course. There always is some plague, but not widespread pestilence as it appears in an epidemic year. Of course, there are no major troop movements within either region. The situation is even basically under control in Swabia.”

There was a moment of silence while everyone present contemplated the improbability of a world in which anything at all in Swabia could be described as “under control.”

“For this, we owe great gratitude to the efforts of the medical schools at the University of Basel, the University of Strassburg, and the University of Tübingen, combined with the cooperation of the margraves of Baden, both in their own Rhenish territories and from Augsburg. The recurring difficulties are in Lorraine and the USE’s Province of the Upper Rhine.”

Claudia nodded. “Precisely as I thought. Therefore, since the danger is in Lorraine and the grand duke is in Lorraine, Frau Dunn shall also be in Lorraine.”

Every jaw dropped.

“The plague-fighting project is going well. It will do us very little good to have succeeded in saving so many lives if we lose that of my lord and husband.”

Kamala shook her head. “But…”

“Your Grace,” Guarinonius said.

Claudia anticipated the objection. “No, a down-time trained medic will not do. I want the up-time nurse to be there, and that is that.”

After considerable turbulence with Guarinonius, she got her way.

“When?” Kamala asked. “The grand duke allowed me time, in coming from Grantville, for the children to finish the school year, and…”

“There is no time. Tomorrow. Or as soon as I can arrange by the radio relays for the Monster to make the flight.”

Kamala left her children in Besançon with Carey Calagna and set out for Lorraine the next day, carrying a letter from Claudia to Bernhard in the field, full of admonitions that since he had hired this up-time nurse and was paying her a very generous salary, he was also to pay full attention to her instructions and comply with all of her requirements for comporting himself if he was to recover, “just as the pagan general did–eventually, after considerable recalcitrance, if I recall–to those of Naaman’s captive Israelite serving girl in the Old Testament, after which he was washed entirely clean of his illness.”

****

“We do not consider Ourselves to be beautiful.” Claudia twirled her glass of claret.

Marcie cocked her head.

“However, all three of Our husbands saw us in person before the weddings, not just in flattering portraits.”

Marcie nodded.

“Federigo was very young of at the time of the visit–he was eleven and I was twelve. Obnoxious boy. He had an actress who was his mistress and kept her right in the palace in Urbino where he expected me to live.”

Marcie rooted around in her mind for some tactful comment and came up with, “A lot of teenage boys don’t exactly have it all together yet, Your Grace. He probably didn’t mean it as anything against you personally. They go for quantity rather than quality.”

“Leopold had seen Us at family gatherings when We were a child. However, between then and the date that our marriage was arranged, he knew that We had survived smallpox and childbirth, so he wanted to see if We were still acceptable. He stopped in Florence and took a look on his way to Rome to make the financial arrangements with the pope about resigning his bishoprics and other ecclesiastical benefices, and of course to negotiate with Urban VIII to the effect that the bishoprics should go to his nephew Leopold Wilhelm.” Claudia stopped, wrinkling her forehead. “You haven’t met him yet. He’s Maria Anna’s younger brother.”

The grand duchess lapsed into a more informal style of speaking. “Leopold had debts coming out of his ears and really needed a Medici dowry–marrying me offered him a partial escape from the financial miseries that had been hounding him ever since he borrowed so much in an attempt to claim the Jülich-Cleves-Berg inheritance that’s been such a misery for so many families in the Germanies for the past quarter-century–but he was still determined to keep the income from his sinecures as long as the church would let him.”

Marcie preferred not to contemplate the thought of marrying a man who stopped in to take a look at you on his way to Rome to resign as the pluralistic bishop of Passau and Strassburg. Down-time Catholicism was…different, to say the least.

“I didn’t really expected to remarry after Leopold’s death. I expected to be in widow’s weeds for the remainder of my life. Even after Federigo died, there were those who thought it would be more appropriate if I retired to a convent than lived a worldly life. I was very grateful for the intervention of my late sister-in-law Maria Maddalena, who was also Leopold’s sister. If a person doesn’t have a religious vocation, from age twenty-two to death can seem like a long, long, time to be cloistered.”

Marcie nodded.

“Leopold was a political bishop, but quite pious, educated by the Jesuits, even though he was never ordained as a priest, and there were no troubles about mistresses. He loved to hunt, even though he was terribly fat. He was always going to spas to try to lose the weight his physicians told him he should. I hunted with him when I wasn’t pregnant. Once, I jumped off my horse and stuck the wild sow myself–he was very proud of me. Most of the time, though, I was pregnant. He was away on government business a lot, but he was kind. The first winter after our marriage, he took me for a sleigh ride in the snow and held the reins himself. It was a wonderful treat.”

The grand duchess blinked, put down her wine glass, and picked up her pen. “Now We are writing to Our third spouse.”

Marcie cast her mind over things that the various guys had said about Grand Duke Bernhard. “I don’t think you’ll have mistress problems this time, either.”

The grand duchess tried out the effect of her spousal words by reading them out loud to Marcie.

“‘Unser hertzlieber herr unndt ehgemahl.'” Claudia tossed her head. “I do wish he spoke Italian. Italian is a much nicer language and my German isn’t very good. We always spoke Italian at the court in Innsbruck.”

Marcie wondered if Claudia really meant “Our heartily loved lord and husband,” or if it was just one more of the standard letter formulas.

“I have a suspicion,” she wrote Matt, “based on the way she went back to using ‘Our’ rather than ‘my,’ that it’s the latter, but I’m not sure. I really need to find out if anyone has published a manual of how to write letters here down-time. The etiquette kind that used to tell a person how to write to his congressman. You know what I mean. The university library at Fairmont had one that the Navy Wives Association published. I came across it one day when I was browsing the shelves. If there’s something like it on the market now, I’m going to buy a copy if I can possibly afford it.”

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