Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 49
My Well-Born, Especially Well-Beloved, Lady and Friend
“Wollgeborene insonders vilgeliebte Herrin und Freundin.”
“So, my well-born, especially well-beloved lady and friend, it is finished. Signatures, radio announcements, newspaper reports, satirical engravings, and all the trimmings that accompany major treaties.”
“I was a little surprised that you delegated Erlach to sign for you.”
Bernhard shrugged. “It just seemed that it would be, maybe, simpler for Gustavus and my brother Wilhelm if I weren’t there to make them feel like I was grinding their noses in the manure once I had the apology in hand.”
“That was kind of you.”
“Kind? Kind? Claudia, my lady, I am not kind! I am never kind. ‘Kind’ is not within my repertoire of emotions. Aside from not turning up for the actual signing, every provision in that modus vivendi ground their noses just as far as I could push them down into the shit.”
She shrugged in her turn.
“I just wanted to soften them up before I hit them with the other.”
“What a thing to say about impending fatherhood.”
“I will particularly enjoy Gustavus Adolphus’ reaction to the official announcement that we are going to be parents and Burgundy will have its heir.”
He gave a short, silent, private prayer of thanks that he had been in a position to burn the only copy of the will he had made the previous summer. Of course, Rehlinger knew… That was an uneasy thought. He shrugged it off. For now.
“We’ve known for quite a while, but I really didn’t think it would be prudent to let the news out until after His Exalted Emperorship had signed on the dotted line.”
He whirled her around the room. “Call your Monster. Let’s go visit Magdeburg. I do want to see their faces for that one.”
Jena, Saxe-Weimar County, State of Thuringia-Franconia
“It was a lovely wedding.” Duke Albrecht of Saxe-Weimar and his duchess Dorothea beamed.
Friedrich Hortleder bowed deeply. “You honor our house by your attendance, Your Graces.”
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Albrecht said. “Delightful. Far less strenuous than my own. I thought all day long that I would swallow my Adam’s apple.”
Dorothea smiled at the groom. “Not to mention Bernhard’s wedding.”
Gary Lambert wondered what to say to a duchess.
He was saved by the appearance of the next-ranking guests waiting to pass through the receiving line.
The dignified count of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt pumped his hand. The pretty young countess kissed him on the cheek.
Dean Johann Gerhard was letting Rolfinck, the dean of the medical school, go ahead of him, although the primacy properly belonged to theology. Probably, Gary thought, because he himself was associated with the Leahy Medical Center in Grantville, which worked cooperatively with the medical school. But what did he know? The Hortleders had worried about the protocol.
“Not too many more, now,” Anna Catharina said, tucking her hand into his arm and her head against his shoulder.
“I do wonder about Lorraine, though,” Anna Catharina said after the distinguished guests had departed and only family and close friends continued to stand around in the parlor.
“In what way?”
“Well, at least the worst of the plague season is over, so we should all be thankful for that. But, everyone has talked about this new marriage for the Duchess Nicole as if–well, you know. As if nothing would ever come of it except that General Aldringen will keep the French out of Lorraine.”
“So? That’s why they made the match, after all.”
“Oh, honestly.” Catharina Barthin, Hortleder’s wife, looked at the group in exasperation. “Men! What the girl means is that Duchess Nicole is still only twenty-six. She looks like she was born middle-aged, but what does that signify? She’s only a little more than a year older than Queen Maria Anna, she’s several years younger than Grand Duchess Claudia, and General Aldringen–I suppose I should call him a count, now–isn’t exactly in his coffin. They may not need to rely on the ex-cardinal. She could very well produce her own heirs.”
“Now that all the gossips are gone,” Anna Catharina said, “and you don’t have to give the ‘varnished version’ for Duke Albrecht, what did you really think of the signing ceremony for the modus vivendi, Papa?”
“Mainly, I was surprised that Bernhard did not attend. Even though he has dreamed of ruling a principality of his own for as long as I can remember, he wasn’t there.”
Gary shook his head. “I’ll never understand that kind of ambition–I’ll be perfectly happy to spend the rest of my life as the business manager of the Leahy Medical Center, doing a good job in the station to which I feel that God has called me. I simply believe that it’s where I belong.”
Anna Catharina hugged him. “It is where you belong, and I love you just the way you are.”
“Belonging. That is, in itself, a grace of God,” Hortleder answered. “Especially for those of you who have been so roughly transferred by the miracle of the Ring of Fire, it is a grace for you to have found it. I do not think that Bernhard, born into a life of considerable privilege though he was, whatever his accomplishments are, has ever truly felt that he belonged.”
The Monster landed well outside the city. The terrain around the Doub River was generally inhospitable for airships.
“Ron Stone has notified me,” Henri de Rohan said to the grand duke as they waited for it to descend, “that Grand Duchess Claudia will be accompanied by a member of his own family to serve in your smallpox vaccination campaign. Or as a ‘mascot’ for it, as Kamala Dunn put it to me.”
The plague of the previous year having subsided to routine levels, Bernhard’s nurse Kamala Dunn and Claudia’s three plague doctors had set their sights on new frontiers of public health.
“Just as well,” Bernhard grumbled. “I asked for Nichols. My publicists could have developed a splendid campaign if we had Nichols. ‘He’s busy,’ they said. ‘Much too busy.’ They told me that the administrator of the Leahy Medical Center, what’s his name? Lambert. Yes, Lambert. Lambert would be a decent second option for a ‘poster child’ and he’s also been in Burgundy before. I agreed. Now, they say, he ‘has other commitments.’ They’ll send a substitute for the substitute. Don’t they appreciate how much I have done for them by the assistance that I provided in Lorraine? Don’t they realize that they owe me?”
The craft touched down with a flurry of air from its skirts. The ground crew pushed a set of mobile steps to the entrance. Grand Duchess Claudia emerged, followed by a nurse who was carrying her infant son, followed by…
Gerry Stone. His red hair shone, his freckles glowed in the sun, and he smiled.
Several people in the grand ducal entourage tried to hide their own smiles. August von Bismarck whispered to Henri de Ruvigny, “The mountains were in labor and they brought forth a mouse.”
“Morning, Your Grace,” Gerry said cheerfully to Rohan as the grand duke bore his spouse and heir away without granting the slightest acknowledgment to this undesired and by every definition inadequate poster child. Child indeed!
“Since you’re here to meet me, I guess Ron radioed that because the Prague trip with Dad and Magda already ruined this semester anyway, he thinks I might as well be useful and come be the ‘public face” for universal, or at least as universal as the grand duke can get it, smallpox vaccination in the County of Burgundy. Being as the grand duke says he’ll pay for it and Kamala Dunn says she’ll organize it. Also since I’m a member of the Lothlorien Pharmaceuticals family and all that.”
“We’re delighted to have you.”
“Honestly?” Gerry asked. “Do you mean it? This face? I’m sure some maire is going to be thrilled off his gourd when a kid with a pointy nose wanders into his village and announces, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.’ Anyway, the supplies are all in the Monster. The crew will be offloading them and know how to handle the refrigeration. Just let me know where you want them taken. I’m ready to talk to your publicity guys.”
* * * *
“Unfortunately,” Kamala said that evening, “there’s been a glitch and nobody notified Ron that there has been a glitch. In fact, some cowardly bureaucrat somewhere in the administration didn’t notify the grand duke that there’s been a glitch. Now we have you, we have the preliminary supplies you brought, but all the rest of the project has slid through some bureaucratic wormhole – or, more likely, has been deliberately sabotaged by someone on the staff who has swallowed the anti-vaccination propaganda, and nobody is ready to start on the local level. We can probably reach most of the population right here in the city in order not to waste what you brought with you, but…. Oh, well, I’m sure that Moscherosch can spin it as a pilot project, but that won’t really need your participation.”
“Oh, double-disgust. What a pain. Err – how could any ‘someone’ manage it?”
Kamala shook her head. “The grand duke was still pretty weak when he got back from Lorraine last September. When you come down to it, he spent most of the winter recovering. Looking tough in public and barely managing to make it to a chair without falling over once he was in private. That was an acutely serious illness he went through.”
“You really think he was sick? Not poisoned?”
“Honestly, none of us who were taking care of him think it was poison. Possible – on the outside edge of possible – but not probable.
“Anyway, he wasn’t working at his usual pace up until the last month or so. He has Rohan, but the Huguenot hasn’t been involved with the plague fighting or anything else to do with public health. He has the officers in Der Kloster, but they’ve either been running the occupation in Lorraine or watching the frontiers. The rest of his staff pretty much had to focus on administrative consolidation and money. There’s never enough money. Guarinonius, Weinhart, and Gatterer were still coordinating the plague quarantines. The government of the County of Burgundy is still a structure with enough holes and cracks that a lot bigger issues than smallpox vaccinations could fall through it.