Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 50
“I’ll deal. Rather, Dr. Guarinonius will deal. Come on. I’ll take you to dinner. You can talk to some of the rest of the up-timers who are here and I’ll introduce you to a couple of local guys I know.”
“FUBAR,” Gerry said philosophically. “Situation normal.”
The food wasn’t bad. Somebody had introduced one of the local taverns to barbecued ribs. He suspected Lisa Lund, who’d married a down-time butcher and been living in Besancon, working for Bernhard, for a while.
The local guys weren’t bad company, either, even though they were pretty old from the perspective of Gerry’s 17 years, probably all of them over 25, some of them maybe over 30. Not as old as Ms. Dunn and Ms. Lund, who were really old, old enough to be his mother without even getting knocked up in high school, but a lot older than Gerry.
And all of the up-time kids were really just kids, most of them little kids. The closest to his age was Shae Horton, who was just about two years younger than he was. Then Dominique Bell a year or two younger than that, he guessed, with Ms. Lund’s husband’s little sister Maria about the same age. The three of them were sitting at the other end of the table, giggling, absolutely not interested in anything the adults were saying.
“So,” he said to August von Bismarck. “In Prague, I did matriculate at both the Carolina and the Roths’ new university, just to get my signature in the books, and I even managed to pick up a few lectures, not that some of the faculty in Jena will appreciate my efforts. I’m almost the youngest kid enrolled there. I’ve been living in Dr. Gribbleflotz’s dorm for his apprentices. But what next? Right now, I mean? There’s not even a university here in Besançon–it’s in Dole, I looked it up just in case I’d get to sign the matriculation book and add another one to my collection–and I’m pretty sure my French isn’t good enough to take lecture notes, even if there was one. So what am I going to do? Just go back to Grantville? None of the rest of the family is there. Dad and Magda were still in Prague when I left. Ron and Missy went off to Hesse in February and I think they’re either still in Kassel or somewhere in Lorraine. Frank and Gia, who knows?”
You could simply stay in the duc de Rohan’s household over the summer, until it’s time for you to return to Jena,” Bismarck began. “Everybody knows that the best way to learn a new language….”
But by the end of April, Rohan’s household, like almost every other resident of Besançon who had a room to let–or, in this case, to sub-let–had decamped to the countryside, where they were in tents on the other side of the Doub, so that he, like everyone else in the city, could make some money by letting or sub-letting said rooms to theologians and their staffs. Catholic or Calvinist, Lutheran or Orthodox, large groups or isolated wandering Bohemian Brethren, the clerics and their entourages were all having to pay premium rates to have a roof over their heads. Nice tents, but tents. Gerry moved in with Bismarck and Ruvigny rather than go with the Rohan group. A childhood at the Lothlorien Commune had made him strongly averse to close communion with nature if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. If God had truly intended man to eat among the flies and ants, he wouldn’t have permitted the invention of window screens, as far as Gerry was concerned.
May of 1636 didn’t begin well. No fair maids going a-Maying. No flowers that bloomed in spring, tra la. Instead they barely made it past May Day, not even as far as cinqo de Mayo, when the conclave was going to start. A squad of Bernhard’s soldiers came running down from the citadel one morning, crossing paths with another squad going up.
Gerry abandoned his breakfast and stuck his head out the window. He listened; pulled back in. “Bismarck, are they saying what I think they’re saying?”
“The king of France is dead.”
“Louis is dead? Dead! Whadd’ya mean? The king of France is dead?”
“Hell, he’s not even old.” That was Bismarck. “He’s only ten years older than I am.”
“People are yelling that it was on the radio, not ten minutes ago. Richelieu, too, they think. Attacked by bandits in a forest yesterday.”
“So now there’s going to be a baby king? With all the maneuvering that goes into choosing guardians, regents, nursemaids, tutors…. Mazarin, I guess, since he’s said to be Anne of Austria’s current favorite.”
“Last I heard, the queen was still just pregnant,” Ruvigny said. “No baby. No obvious heir. No way to know if it’s a boy or girl, which makes a big difference under the Salic Law. Not like with the emperor and Kristina. Or even England, with its reigning queens.”
Ruvigny and Bismarck had military duties, so they sent Gerry with a local guide to take the news up to the Rohan campout.
“Boy, this is really going to take the spotlight off the conclave next week,” Dominique Bell said. “Nobody except a few dried-up old sticks will take ten minutes to think about theological doctrines when actual exciting things are happening in other parts of the world.”
The down-timers just looked at her and shook their heads.
It was less than a week before the other shoe dropped.
“Gaston is in France already? I thought he was in Savoy. Monsieur Gaston has assumed the throne? The baby was a prince, but Gaston is playing the wicked uncle? He’s making himself king of France? The same Gaston who was dicking around in Lorraine last year? That one?”
“What happened to the baby?”
“Doesn’t seem like anyone knows.”
Everyone on the streets scattered in search of a building with radio reception.
“I bet that the grand duke is livid,” one of the men in the tavern said that evening. “Wherever he is. “Inspecting the army” in Lorraine, according to the newspaper. It’s really convenient for him that he found so many Truly Important Things that Really Had to Be Done Right Now” that he was able to get out of town to his castle in Lorraine before the theological deluge arrived. And he told the grand duchess to clear out of town with the kid and all the nursemaids and nannies, too.”
“Makes sense. There’s always a lot of pestilences of various kinds with coming and going of people from everywhere. If this vaccination stuff really works, it’s too bad they didn’t get us all protected before all the out-of-towners came into town. Plus, if they aren’t here, they don’t have to play host and hostess for a pile of really expensive parties. And can generously turn their house over for the use of some of the delegates.”
“Well, the political, not to mention financial, implications of what Gaston has done are appalling. Do you have any idea what it’s going to do to our taxes if Bernhard has to double the regiments on the western border in addition to, probably, sending more to Lorraine? Gaston’s wife’s a Lorrainer. He was claiming the duchy in her right, last year. Or trying to, according to what the papers reported. That’s what the dicking around was about.”
Henri de Rohan was back in the city, for various values of “in town.” He was bunking up in the Citadelle, in the barracks. His reaction was livider than the one that tavern gossip was attributing to Bernhard. If there was such a word.
“What Rohan seemed to be saying yesterday,” Gerry said to Lisa Lund, “in French that was coming out of his mouth very fast, just before he headed down to the Quartier Battant looking for somebody or the other, is that his wife and daughter need to get the hell out of Dodge, and this time he’s not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Amid all the rabid frothing at the mouth that he did.”
“Ruvigny is going to be frantic, too.” Then, “What’s ‘Dodge’?” Bismarck asked.
Carey answered, “Dodge is a town in Kansas where a lot of wild west movies were set. A lot of the plots involved that it wasn’t safe for someone to stay in Dodge, usually because a US Marshal was after him. Ruvigny….”
Bismarck shook his head. “Ruvigny and I went to Paris last fall. We….”
Ruvigny was coming up the road to the Citadelle fast, or at least as fast his dispirited horse would agree to move. “I’m the guy you’re going to Paris with again, August mon ami. Rohan’s borrowing us from Bernhard again. The order this time is to remove the ladies, by skullduggery if possible and by force majeure if necessary. And leave yesterday, if not the day before.”
“This time?” Gerry raised his eyebrows.
“Like I said, we went to Paris last fall. We tried to bring them back last fall. No luck. La Maman loves court life. This time it’s going to be, ‘tell, don’t ask.'”
“FUBAR,” Gerry said. “Even more than usual.” Then, “Can I go?” he asked.
“No, ye gods!” Lisa Lund exclaimed. “Why?”
Gerry pointed his thumb at Bismarck. “He says that traveling in France is the best way for me to improve my French. There’s nothing else for me to do here until Ms. Dunn and the cordon sanitaire folks get their act together. It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Why not?”
“We’re leaving now. Right now.”
“I haven’t even unpacked my duffel bag. It’s behind the door.”