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“Yes. Bloodless surrenders are always better.” The abbess of Quedlinburg smiled. “I’m sure that you, if I understand the up-time teachings of ‘Quakerism’ to which you adhere, will be happy to make that point to Princess Kristina.”
“But why was the king in the Low Countries negotiating with this Fabert man? Why not with the bishop of Metz? It says right here in the paper that it’s an imperial prince-bishopric, even though the French have been occupying it for the last eighty years.”
“Negotiate with the bishop of Metz himself? What good would that have done Fernando?” the dowager countess of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt asked, honestly bewildered. “He’s a completely political appointment and completely French. Henri de Bourbon, duc de Verneuil. He’s an officer in the French army that Fernando is fighting against.”
“I’m just a little confused,” Caroline Platzer answered. “Well, I’m more than a little bit confused. It says that the bishop, or prince-bishop, has been in office for a long time, but also it says that he’s only thirty-five years old.”
“Well, yes, he does seem young to have held the position for over twenty years already, if you think of bishops the way you up-timers seem to think of bishops, that is. The way that Cardinal-Protector Mazzare definitely thinks of bishops, I have discovered. But you have to realize that he’s an illegitimate son of King Henri IV of France—King Louis XIII’s half-brother, that is. Henri IV legitimized him, but of course he has no inheritance rights to the throne. He was only ten when he got the appointment. Henri de Navarre found that a mass got him not only Paris, but also any number of lucrative sinecures for his extramarital brood.”
“It may not be so bad for Arpajon’s men to stretch themselves a little,” Monsieur Gaston said. “Make sure to clean out anything that whoever comes after us could use. Fernando’s bound to send someone after us, I suppose?”
“Yes, Your Royal Highness,” Clicquot said. “Yes, I do believe that he is.”
“Pity. I was hoping he’d be too busy on his eastern border to pay attention to such a minor detail as our little jaunt, but the man’s really concerned about details. Irritatingly so. Well, back to the regiments. Let the men enjoy their little tricks. They’re bound to have been dulled by these last two years sitting in a camp. I would think that at the very least, since he was feeding them, the king in the Netherlands would have used them for something.”
“He didn’t make the assumption that he could trust them to obey orders.”
“That’s why I say we shouldn’t keep them on too tight a rein now. Let them get it out of their systems while we’re on the move. Then, when we reach our goal, they’ll be ready to settle down and fight.”
Clicquot looked at him. “Precisely what is our goal, Your Royal Highness?”
Gaston waved. “Our final goal is the removal of Richelieu as the first minister of France. You may define everything else as interim.”
“It’s not just the mud,” Zuñiga’s lieutenant colonel said, “ although I will grant that the artillery is mired down. Again. The damned day-in-and-day-out rain has the rivers running high. Too high for the infantry to wade and too fast for the horses to swim.”
“Get boats. We’ll have a ship bridge.”
“We’ll have to hire them.” Salcido, an annoyingly talented Basque, was a stubborn man. “The king expects us to pay. He’s in a mood according to which the people of the Low Countries are to love their rulers as well as fear them.”
“Better to be feared than loved. Everyone knows that.”
“He’s working on both. In the meantime, though, we’ll have to find the boats and then we’ll have to lease the boats. We’re not allowed to just ‘borrow’ them. I calculate that it’s going to cost a good thousand guilders per day while we bring them here, put the bridge together, cross over, and then . . .” Lieutenant Colonel Salcido looked at the instructions with outrage, “. . . pay the stupid boatmen to take them back where we got them.”
“I don’t have that much cash. Will the locals take promissory notes?”
“Not willingly. Some of them, maybe.”
“Make a start on it with the ones who will. If those boats aren’t enough . . .”
“Then you’ll have to send a messenger to Brussels to get money, with a suitable written justification in quadruplicate. You know what they say.”
Zuñiga grumbled. “ ‘Money is the sinews of war.’ Just in case, send the messenger off today, as soon as my secretary gets the requisition forms filled out and I sign them. I just hope that the king and queen realize that this attachment to procedural niceties could cost us at least three days of not being in hot pursuit of Monsieur Gaston and the Lorraine regiments.”
“They’re out of Stenay ahead of us,” Zuñiga’s scout reported.
“Hell and damnation. Well, I’ll give orders for us to settle in at Montmédy for tonight. Salcido, prepare for an early start in the morning. We’ll catch them yet.”
“Fog,” Salcido said. “Fog all over the place. Ground fog. It came up during the night.”
“Move out anyway,” Zuñiga said. “Even in these miserably overcast portions of northwestern Europe, fog isn’t something that can stop an army from moving. It will burn off. We’re just following the roads.”
“Hail Mary!” Éric de Thysac drew a deep breath. “Haraucourt, will you come here and listen to what Sergeant Hennemant has to say.”
The dragoons’ senior scout repeated what he had seen.
“A gift!” Jean Jacques de Haraucourt, seigneur de Saint-Baslemont, threw his hat into the air. “Two years of being disgusted because Fernando kept us penned up in quarters. Two years during which I had a hard time keeping my men disciplined and trained when they weren’t being exercised in the field, especially with that snake Arpajon letting his run wild. Now weeks of being equally disgusted by the fact that Gaston and Clicquot apparently have no idea what they are doing, and Marchéville doesn’t have the guts to tell them so. All of that, and now the Spaniard gives himself to us. Where are your dragoons in the line?”
In a world run according to the great chain of being, Éric de Thysac would not have been here with him, a tough and experienced sergeant of battle, the man responsible for organizing the men sent into combat, commanding just under nine hundred dragoons. Thysac’s family were glass makers from down in the Vosges, the southernmost part of the duchy. Successful glass manufacturers, to be sure, who had bought estates from some feckless nobles of the vicinity—even married their daughters, some of them—and, by the middle of the last century, done homage to the dukes for their land. Glass was one of the few ways that a man could make a fortune from a desolate wasteland and Thysac’s father had picked up court connections by marrying the governess of the young duchesses of Bar, Nicole and Claude.
Still, in a rightly ordered world in which there were those who were born to fight, to pray, or to work, Thysac should have been among those who worked.
Haraucourt looked around. If he could choose the man he wanted next to him in an action, either the king of France’s brother or the glass maker’s grandson from Belrupt, he wouldn’t even have to think about it.
What if Éric had murdered his cousin? It was a hot-tempered family. The duke had pardoned him and there were men in this world who had done far worse.
“At the back,” Thysac said. “He assigned us to the rear guard.”
“And mine are next to last.”
They looked at one another.
“Shall we do it?”
“Turn around and ambush the Spaniards?” Haraucourt threw his hat again. “Nom de dieu! Of course we shall. Sergeant Hennemant, bring Clinchamps and Vernier to us.”
“What about?” Thysac nodded his head in the general direction where Monsieur Gaston and the senior officers of the expedition had last been seen.
“They’d just muck it up. We can tell them about it when it’s over.”
Zuñiga was caught in the fog, completely off guard. As the sun cleared off the mist, Haraucourt started the pursuit.
Then he slowed it.
“What’s up?” Vernier halted his horse next to the colonel’s.
“They’re falling back, but they’re not falling back in disorder. Let’s not risk the possibility that they could provide us with a nasty surprise in return.”
Night came late at this latitude and at this season.
When darkness did fall, the Spaniard kept going.
“What’s he doing?” Clinchamps asked.
“Sergeant Hennemant says that he’s changing out the rear guard by small units. They’ll still be tired, but not as tired as if the same men were constantly on the skirmish lines.”
“We’ll catch them at the river. There’s no bridge here. It’s running too high for his infantry to wade.”
Which it was, except that Salcido directed the men to unhitch the draft horses, rope spans of the heavily loaded baggage wagons together, and push them into the stream.
They held against the spring current long enough for the Spaniards to cross.
Then they sent swimmers out to cut the ropes.
“Well, damn,” de Thysac said.
By the time they got across themselves, the Spaniards were some distance ahead.
This time, the scouts reported that there was a village and the stream, narrow but deep, had a stone bridge.
“Same damned river,” Sergeant Hennemant said. “It wiggles all over the map. We’ll probably have to cross it a couple times more.”
“Will they blow the bridge?”
“They probably would if they had powder, but my men are pretty sure that they sank their powder with the baggage wagons.”
The village, though, had stuff. Stuff as in furniture, stuff as in clothing, stuff as in chicken coops, stuff as in barrels.
Stuff that would burn.
The cursed Spaniards piled a village worth of stuff onto the narrow bridge and set it on fire behind them.
It was amazing just how hot the stones in a bridge could get.
“We could try to go around,” Clinchamps said. “There must be someplace else that we could ford it.”
“I, for one,” Vernier answered, “would be happy to follow them through Luxemburg all the way to Brussels and smash them for good.”
“We’ve been hauling the wagons out,” one of the captains said. “No point in wasting a decent wagon just because it’s wet. One reason they were so heavy is that they put the ones containing the fire bricks for the field ovens at the bottom.”
Thysac looked around. “Where there are ovens, there should be flour. Or did they take it across with them?”
“They didn’t take any wagons at all across that cobbled-together artificial ford. Just men and horses. But there’s no flour barrels in the creek.”
“Get the scouts on it. Somewhere around here, stashed in one of these side valleys, there’s flour.”
“Even better, if they baked when they overnighted at Montmédy, there may be bread.”
Monsieur Gaston and his senior advisers did muck it all up, just as Haraucourt and de Thysac had been afraid they would.
Monsieur caught up with the forward companies and forbade them to pursue Zuñiga’s retreat any farther, on the theory that doing so would violate Low Countries territory and—as Marchéville had pointed out, that would not be bright, considering that Gaston’s pregnant wife was in the Low Countries.
Gaston and Clicquot insist on making the men turn around and go back south, deeper into Lorraine.
“That won’t make the men happy,” Arpajon, the last to arrive on the field, warned. “They haven’t taken many prisoners and they didn’t get much in the way of plunder and supplies from those sunken baggage wagons.”
His regiment hadn’t gotten any prisoners, plunder, or supplies, because it had been a couple of miles away from the crucial events.
“It’s just bread, for God’s sake,” Monsieur Gaston said the next morning. “Why are you making such a fuss about it?”
“Monsieur,” the wagon master said patiently. “Haraucourt and Thysac captured the products of the Spanish ovens. A ten-day supply of bread. It will be invaluable for us on the march, but when one loads eighty thousand pounds of bread on wagons to move it, it weighs just as much as eighty thousand pounds of powder or eighty thousand pounds of ammunition. There must also be horses to pull it, and for an army on the march, bread is as valuable and necessary as either of the others. Therefore, this expedition cannot move out until I have obtained the necessary number of horses. The Spaniards saved their horses.”
“Overall,” Haraucourt said, “I think my wife would be proud of me for this one. She’s a ferocious lady in her own right. She’s fought off every band of marauders that came foraging their way by our place. A regular Amazon.”
“Where do you live?”
“Off in the godforsaken noplace, somewhere between nowhere and nowhere else, not near anything. Why in hell do you think I’m spending my life in the duke’s army?”
“Under the circumstances, General Zuñiga, the council cannot fault you. In all ways, right up until the start of the action at Mouzay, you were acting according to reasonable expectations and in accordance with the instructions you had been provided. The enemy’s actions were wholly unexpected. From then until your safe, if unexpected, arrival at Arlon with the troops . . .”
“That’s a relief,” Salcido said on their way out. “I had more expectations of a court martial than such reasonableness on the part of the queen.”
“It was still a retreat,” Zuñiga muttered. “So it was a great retreat. From the military standpoint, it was a magnificent retreat—the kind of retreat that will go down in the manuals to teach aspiring officers how to do it if they get caught with their pants down. But, let me tell you, we got caught with our pants down and it was still a retreat.”
“There’s no point in trying to take Verdun. It’s too strongly garrisoned. We’ll just bypass it. This expedition is more in the way of a demonstration than a conquest, after all. Making a statement.”
Ignoring the last two sentences, Marchéville focused on the first two, which contained more sense than he’d heard from Monsieur Gaston since they left Flanders. Verdun not only had a French garrison, but a commander with considerably more spine than the man at Stenay.
“You’re absolutely right, Your Highness,” he said. “It’s not even as if we could negotiate with the bishop of Verdun to use him as some kind of a counterweight to the administrator named by your brother. François de Lorraine-Chaligny-Mercoeur has been in exile, under the protection of the archbishop of Cologne, since 1626. His mistress is a charming woman and they have two darling little girls. Her father was a gentleman-in-waiting to the late prince of Phalsbourg.”
Clicquot looked up. “I wonder where Chaligny is now, given the archbishop’s own troubles?”
“Either on the run or already in the Low Countries, frantically negotiating terms with the monarchy.” Marchéville was nothing if not a practical man.
The longer he associated with the younger brother of the king of France, the more clearly he could foresee a day when he, too, would be frantically negotiating terms with a monarchy—just about any monarchy.
The French garrison at St. Mihiel was also too strong. Not as strong as that in Verdun, but still too strong and also commanded by a stubborn man. Even Gaston admitted that. Where, then? Commercy would do. There was a French governor in place, but Marchéville knew him. Réance was a man who could be bribed.
Once they were safely inside Commercy’s walls, Clicquot dared to ask what the next stage in Monsieur’s plan might be.
Gaston waved his hand. “By being here, I am making a statement that though I have proclaimed all along that I am in Lorraine on my dear Marguerite’s behalf, still, from this standpoint I could head up the Meuse to Neufchâteau and take these regiments into France itself. In a sense, I am just reminding my brother and Richelieu that I am still around.”
Marchéville left the room in disgust.