Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 40

Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 40

Chapter 22

Slipped Beyond Control

Merckweiler-Pechelbronn, Province of the Upper Rhine

“We no sooner think we have the plague under control than it breaks out again,” Gus Szymanski wrote. “How in hell do we enforce a quarantine in a place where people don’t just cross borders on the roads, where we can set up check points? They’re coming into the Province of the Upper Rhine–well, coming out of Lorraine–through the goddamned fields. Sometimes it’s a trickle and sometimes it’s a stream, but they keep on coming, and they will as long as Gaston and Bernhard are maneuvering around. It’s as bad as trying to patrol the border with Mexico was, up-time. No way to keep out the illegals, if they’re determined enough to cross. Not every one of them is sick, but enough to keep it going.

“Count yourselves lucky that so far the quarantines are holding and the plague hasn’t reached as far inside the USE as Fulda.”

Fulda

Nina Springer, against her husband’s advice and better judgment, read Gus Szymanski’s latest letter out loud to the members of the SoTF administration.

“Is it bubonic plague or is it some other epidemic?” Harlan Stull asked.

Nina glared at him. “Who cares? People are dying of it. Dying like flies.”

“We can’t just keep sitting here,” Harlan Stull said. “Things are under control in Buchlenland. Over there is where we ought to be. On the front lines.”

“The risk,” Melvin Springer said. “We’ve already lost several members of the staff here, up-timers and down-timers alike.”

“You can do what you want, Mel,” Nina said, “but if anyone else goes, I’m going with him. Or her. Or them. And if nobody else goes, I’m going to help Gus and Orville out anyhow.”

Springer crossed his arms over his chest. “In that case, I had better go myself. I really should investigate the deaths of Hill and Pence last month. Furbee and Matowski are military, so they aren’t my responsibility. The other two were civil servants, though. I ought to make sure they were not doing anything that exceeded their authority, and lay down firm guidelines for the latest cadre of Buchenland volunteers.”

Stull pushed his chair back. “If you don’t intend to help in some practical way, you would be better off staying here. The last thing they need right now is one more sniffing bureaucrat.”

Merckweiller-Pechelbronn

The pious hope of Clicquot that his semblance of a plan for Gaston’s raid might, if not give them success, at least preserve them from disaster, proved to be an entirely vain hope. Everything seemed to have slipped beyond his control.  First, the plan did not take into consideration just how many USE and SoTF regiments had been sent to the vicinity, not to protect the oil fields, but to fight the plague.

In truth, Clicquot did not know. He had gone through a very hectic spring and summer. He did point out that there was plague at the site. He even went so far to mention that by campaigning in the region, Gaston could contribute to the spread of plague by his troops.

Gaston did not care.

Clicquot pointed out that entering the region could accelerate the presence of plague among their own troops.

Gaston did not care.

“He may be a fool,” Marchéville said, “but he is certainly a single-minded fool. God, how I wish I had listened to Henri de Beringhen when he first showed up in Brussels.”

They didn’t even get close to the oil fields.

Gaston had less than a thousand men.

The USE had six full regiments and parts of others.

Gaston had no supplies other than what the riders could carry.

The USE had a supply depot.

Gaston had recently-hired mercenaries.

The USE regiments had, in many cases, been drilling together for three, four, and even five years.

****

Cliquot informed Gaston that Puylaurens was severely injured.

Gaston shrugged. “You and he have led me into disaster. Clearly, we cannot afford the delay that bringing him with us would cause. I need to get back to the security offered by the infantry regiments I left in Lorraine. I do have a duty to France, you know. Think what political chaos it would cause if the heir to the throne died because of some absurd altruistic gesture.”

Without Puylaurens, the remnants of the raiders retreated rapidly back into Lorraine.

Puylaurens rolled himself into a ditch, hoping to keep out of sight of the USE medics searching the field. He landed on top of one of Henriette’s dissatisfied mercenary captains.

“Stay there,” the man said. “Maybe your corpse will hide me. Hey, I know who you are. We both should have stayed in Pfalzburg with the princesse. We’d have lost less in the long run.”

“My motto these days,” Puylaurens said bitterly, “is ‘What do I have to lose?’ I’d have died more comfortably at the hands of Louis XIII’s executioner.”

He expended his last bit of strength and rolled off the captain, so anyone who happened to look into the ditch would see both of them.

Chapter 23

For the Benefit of the Hard-Pressed Protestant Church

Lorraine

“Well, I see you’re not dead yet.” Hans Ulrich Rehlinger, chancellor of the County of Burgundy, was a bouncy, cheerful man.

A shocked man, at the moment. He knew that Bernhard was sick, but the grand duke was gaunt; his eyes feverish.

“So, what am I doing here?” He leaned an elbow on the slanted pedestal next to the bed which John had carefully prepared with paper, ink, and pens.

“Writing a will.” Bernhard reached under one pillows propped behind him. “I have some of the provisions here. My breath comes so short that I have already dictated the routine things to John, a little at a time. Look them over. I need you for the special ones, so I can be certain they are not challenged. John would never leak them–he has my total confidence–but neither is he a lawyer capable of writing clauses that may be challenged but can never be broken.”

Rehlinger looked the pages over while the grand duke rested. “Your war horse to de Guébriant?”

“He’s the only other man who will ever be able to ride him except Captain Starschedel, who can’t afford a war horse. I’m leaving him money, which he does need.”

“Point taken.”

“More important than those. For the county… the army.”

Rehlinger stifled his natural bonhomie.

“If the grand duchess should be with child,” Bernhard started. He gave Rehlinger a half smile that was frightening on his skull-like face. “And I assure you that we did all in our power to bring that about, so it is a quite real possibility.”

The chancellor nodded.

“If the child is a boy, there is no problem. Except, he is not to be taken from his mother. Make that very plain. I appoint co-guardians and co-regents with her”–Bernhard pulled another sheet of paper out from under his pillow, this one written in his own hand rather than the secretary’s neat script–“but he is to stay with Claudia and she with him. Nobody is to take another child away from her. I trust her to keep the promise she made in the marriage agreement, that sons will be reared in the Lutheran faith. Hortleder and Gerhard–they shall choose his teachers. Hortleder, if he will, shall come to Burgundy and supervise the boy’s education.”

Rehlinger reached for the list.

“If the child be a girl…” Bernhard stopped. “In the marriage agreement, I did not think far enough. I should have, since Gustavus has only Kristina to follow him, but I did not. The time was short and there were so many other things that needed my attention.”

Rehlinger nodded. He had been in Besançon, not in Schwarzach drafting the pre-nuptial contract. He didn’t have much confidence in Forstenhauser, the army’s chief counsel in Breisach, who had negotiated on behalf of the grand duke. The man rarely saw the broader implications.

“I agreed that daughters should be reared in their mother’s church.”

Rehlinger winced. All this work, to turn the new county over to the…well, to the persecutors. The papists. The Jesuits.

“Having made that promise, I will not break it. But…”

The chancellor waited.

“Neither does the marriage contract have any explicit provision for a daughter to succeed me.”

Rehlinger sat quietly.

“Understand this. If I survive, so that this will is not needed, and yet the grand duchess learns of the next provisions I am making, she will hate me until death most mercifully does us part? This must be held in the utmost confidence.”

“I swear it upon my very life.”

“If I should die and the grand duchess delivers a daughter, then the child is to remain with her mother. Mother and daughter shall have my entire personal fortune. It is not that great, but what there is, they shall have. Your uncle and Vikvoort in Amsterdam–they will know.”

Rehlinger made the appropriate notes.

“I will not and cannot betray my faith in order to benefit the seed of my own loins. I will keep my promise to expel from Burgundy only those who do not keep their oath of allegiance to me, regardless of their religion, but there is no trusting the Catholics to keep faith. Mazzare in the USE is only one man. We have seen the exiles from Austria and Bohemia. Some of my officers are among them. The up-time encyclopedias tell us of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.”

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