Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 46
My Lady’s True Friend and Servant at All Times
“Meiner Herrin dinstwolliger treuer freund allezeitt.”
“Damned fools. Listen to me, Fernando. There is no way–none, do you understand me, none–no way I will agree to having another go-round of leaving these idiotic Lorrainers in place on the northern border of Burgundy.”
An inkwell flew across the elaborate tent, leaving a trail of splatters behind it.
Not many splatters. Michael John, upon noting his employer’s mood, had prudently removed most of the ink earlier that morning, along with the carpet between the desk and the most likely targets.
“Duke Charles has been dead for a while, now,” the king in the Low Countries replied calmly.
“You know as well as the rest of us that while he was alive, he made no effort whatsoever to rein in Gaston’s activities. Not that anyone expected any practical help from him–hell, you had him, plus his brother and wife and sister-in-law, under house arrest–but he didn’t even make diplomatic contacts or issue any public statements. Neither has his brother since this last round.”
The Grand Duke of Burgundy was in the full spate of one of his temper tantrums.
As tantrums went, they were widely famous.
Johann Ludwig von Erlach looked concerned. Reinhold von Rosen chomped on his mustache, looking satisfied.
Friedrich von Kanoffski leaned back to enjoy the show. He had been getting a little bored with civil administration of the Breisgau. It was good to be with the rest of “the cloister” again.
“No matter how much the grand duke yells,” Erlach commented, “we know that the Habsburgs are going to insist on some principle of legitimacy. Aldringen can’t run Lorraine all by himself, not even with Claudia as a titular regent. He just can’t.”
“True. But if they exclude Nicole from Bar as the rightful titular duchess, or Nicolas as equally rightful titular duke of Lorraine for himself and possibly for Bar in right of Claude if Nicole were willing to renounce in favor of her sister, what ends up in their place?” Rosen chewed on the left end of his moustache.
“I hear the younger brother is not so bad.” Poyntz waved in Kanoffski’s direction. “Ask him. He heard the same thing when we were up in the Low Countries. Congratulations on your marriage, by the way.”
Rosen smiled. “I managed it during the summer, in between Gastonian eruptions.”
“A nice Alsatian girl,” Kanoffski said. “With nice Alsatian estates. Highly suitable for a Latvian soldier of fortune who has more expectations than current income.”
Rosen swatted him.
“Back to the brother,” Rosen said. “An ex-cardinal installed by an ex-cardinal?”
“Hey, the Catholics have to park their younger sons someplace that’s politically useful and brings in an income while they decide whether or not they’ll need to put them out to stud.”
“That’s sick, Kanoffski.”
“Maybe, but true. It’s not as if they make them priests. Look at Hatzfeld.”
“He wasn’t a cardinal.”
“No. But he was a bishop.”
“Pay attention,” von Erlach said. “Think politically. You’re supposed to be an advisory council. If they do get rid of the ducal house, what then? As I was saying, the Habsburgs are going to insist on some kind of principle of legitimacy? We don’t want Fernando taking it over. He’s grabbed enough out of this year’s campaigning–think diocese of Cologne.”
“I think that Aldringen’s done a damned good job,” Ohm said. “Not that anybody’s going to ask me.”
“He doesn’t have the rank to hold the duchy. That’s just a simple fact,” Poyntz said. “They may keep him on to do the actual work, but even if they keep Claudia as the official regent, they’ll have to find someone she can be regent for. Do another set of negotiations.”
“Rerun the Ladies’ Peace?”
Moscherosch perked up. “Did I hear ‘first’ Ladies’ Peace? Is there going to be another one? Are Fernando and Bernhard going to bring in Maria Anna and Claudia for a second set of negotiations?”
“I don’t think so,” von Erlach said. “Both gentlemen say that their wives aren’t up to flying, right now. They’ve been feeling a little queasy in the mornings.”
They looked at each other.
“Heirs,” Moscherosch said happily. “Heirs make wonderful publicity.”
“Continuity,” von Erlach said. “A future for all of us. And if this leaks out before the grand duke is ready to make the announcement, you will be one very sorry poet.”
“Timing,” Moscherosch said cheerfully. “It’s all in the timing. I assure you that I have a great sense of timing.”
“It hasn’t been easy to bring them all to this point,” Maria Anna wrote to her brother Ferdinand. “Tante Isabella Clara Eugenia and Doña Mencia have been very helpful in getting the crucial parties to agree to the arrangement I am suggesting. You do see, I hope, how much sense it makes. In that other world, Papa raised Aldringen to the rank of Reichsgraf, after all (please see the enclosed pages from C.V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War, which I am finding to be an invaluable up-time reference work). Imperial countships have been so useful to the family that I truly hope you have not abandoned them, along with the other trappings of the Holy Roman Empire. You can just make such men imperial counts of the new Austro-Hungarian Empire.”
She paused, chewing on a thumbnail.
“It occurred to me as a possibility because Katharina Charlotte of Zweibrücken has married Melchior von Hatzfeldt who is now an imperial count, which is really a quite similar arrangement, but the preconditions were not in place at the time of the April settlement.”
There. That was a truly tactful way to say, Charles of Lorraine wasn’t dead, then–yet.
“One problem is that before he became an imperial count, Hatzfeldt was at least of the lower nobility, whereas Aldringen’s family is not. Nicole is not happy about having to remarry at all, but she sees where her duty lies. At least, we have been able to assure her, in all honesty, that Aldringen has never displayed the kind of behavior she found so undesirable in her late cousin, and should be a conscientious and effective steward of her heritage.”
She frowned at the letter.
“Additionally, Aldringen told her a long, sad, story about the first young woman he hoped to marry and her decision to become a nun instead. I did not think that a simple Fräulein Anna Maria Schmidt would make a particularly persuasive precedent in the eyes of a duchess of Lorraine, but Aldringen believed that the narrative of how she preferred him, a simple soldier, to a richer suitor favored by her brother but was eventually persuaded by the mother superior of the convent where she went to school that she had a religious vocation would play on the duchess’ sympathies. He turned out to be correct. He followed that by the equally sad story of his rise through the officer’s ranks, eventual practical but contented political marriage, and his wife’s unhappy death in childbirth at Passau. It was all really quite touching, I understand. Nicole was moved to sentimental tears, involving, according to Doña Mencia, the application of numerous lace-trimmed handkerchiefs to her eyes by the hovering Marguerite.
Now that had really been a surprise.
The lace as much as the tears.
“Perhaps Wallenstein is not so far off the mark to call him an ‘ink-drinker.’ Aldringen appears to have a considerable gift with words and exerted himself to use it.
“Of course, I doubt that any man ever exerted himself on Nicole’s behalf since her father died nearly a dozen years ago, so she probably found it to be quite a change.