1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 21

Chapter 10

Bonn, the river wall

August 31, 1634

Charlotte looked down at the gun in her hands. She had of course seen such before, even held her brother’s first set of pistols and tried to admire them, but guns had always seemed like something that had no place in her personal life, something other people had and knew how to use.

“Rest the butt of the gun on the ground, and lean the gun against the crock of your arm, while you measure out the powder from your horn.” When Frau Eigenhaus had first mentioned the possibility of Charlotte joining the Women’s Militias, Charlotte had protested that she didn’t want the risk of anybody recognizing her — and didn’t have any interest in guns anyway.

“Pour the powder into the barrel of the gun.” Frau Eigenhaus’s assurance, that nobody would recognize her with the way she looked now, or even consider that she might still be in Bonn and stand on the wall with the rest of the Eigenhaus’s adult female servants, had not persuaded Charlotte at all.

“Next take a lead ball from the purse, and wrap it in one of the small squares of greased cloth, before sliding it into the barrel of the gun.” The story of the American woman shooting Wallenstein was one Charlotte had heard before, though it had not occurred to her to take it as proof that with training a woman was in no way inferior to a man as a fighter.

“Now place another piece of greased cloth in the barrel, and very carefully use the stopper to press the ball and the powder together in the bottom of the barrel.” Only when Frau Eigenhaus had given a very stern talk about the duty of a woman in protecting her family and children, had Charlotte seriously considered the suggestion.

“Go to your post and take your stance.” Her darling little Bobo, so tiny and helpless. As Charlotte lifted the gun to her shoulder faces started flickering before her eyes. Her father, husband, the archbishop, all swirling around while their voices babbled in her ears, shouting at her yelling orders. Suddenly Felix Gruyard swam into focus. Charlotte fired the gun, and sinking to her knees started to cry.

Mainz, Church of St. Alban

The building housing the office of Domherr Heinrich Friedrich von Hatzfeldt was neither new nor luxurious, but to Melchior the warm and slightly shabby surroundings looked like an extension of his calm and patient older brother.

“Welcome, dear brother.” Heinrich laid down the papers he was reading and rose smiling from the bench to greet his brother. “Come sit in the shade with me, Melchior. As you can see, I’ve moved my office to the courtyard to take advantage of any breeze from the river. Judging from the heat and humidity, we should have thunder any day now.” He looked to the western sky. “But probably not today. Do you come alone?”

Melchior felt himself relax and smile. He really ought to find a way to spend more time with his family. It wasn’t that he regretted his youthful decision to abandon his plans of becoming a Knight of St. John, and instead become a mercenary soldier, but it seemed that the rank and fortune that path had gained him had come only at the cost of quiet happiness and contentment. He had hoped to settle down with Maria and start a family of his own, but now . . . “My sergeant took a spill from his horse and landed badly, but the American remedies available in Frankfurt should keep him from losing his leg. I left Simon, my courier, with him, and told them to contact you in case of trouble. I hope that was all right with you” Melchior sat down on the bench beside his brother and leaned back wearily. It had been a hard journey with long days in the saddle and camping wherever they could at night.

“Of course. But did Wolf and the rest of your men stay behind in Austria?”

Melchior looked more closely at his normally unflappable brother and noticed the furrow in Heinrich’s brow. “Yes, it’s not possible to take them across Bavaria at the moment, but what has happened here, Heinrich?”

“While you were gone, Archbishop Ferdinand made his move — or rather several moves — but the one that has upset everybody here was sending his torturer, Felix Gruyard, along with several of the mercenaries to Fulda, where they kidnapped Abbot Schweinsberg and tortured him to death.”

“What? Why ever would he do that?”

“I have no idea. Archbishop Anselm suspects it was just a minor part of a bigger scheme, but doesn’t know for sure. I suppose it could just be Archbishop Ferdinand settling his old scores with Schweinsberg.”

“If so, then he’s even more deranged than his brother.”

“Yes. Now Anselm might not have been all that friendly with Abbot Schweinsberg either — I suspect fighting his way to Prince-Abbot of Fulda from such an obscure background made the man a lot of enemies — but there was an eyewitness to him being tortured to death by Felix Gruyard. Not a very prominent person, but one with no reason to lie. Schweinsberg’s body has now been retrieved and given a proper burial, but everybody is upset and worries about Ferdinand’s next move. Having your regiments here would be really nice. Is there no way you can send for them, or at least for somebody who might be willing and able to do something now?”

“I cannot think of anything. Bavaria has been in complete chaos since the duke’s fiancée ran off last month, and since she was a Habsburg archduchess, the relations between Bavaria and Vienna are really tense right now. Maxie gave me letters for almost anybody who might have been willing or able to come to Cologne, and she especially put her hopes on Maximilian and Ferdinand’s younger brother, Albrecht. But at the moment Albrecht is fleeing from his brother with a price on his head, and there’s little doubt that Duke Maximilian was involved in the death of Albrecht’s wife and one or more of their children. Might not have ordered it, but he was involved.”

“I cannot believe this.” Heinrich stared blindly into the golden sunshine dancing in the fallen leaves across the courtyard. “You didn’t by any chance encounter four riders on your way?”

“One of them riding a pale horse? No, not that I noticed.” Melchior leaned his head back against the rough stone wall, and closed his eyes. “I’ve never believed in omens and portents, but whether the coming of the Americans heralded a change or caused it doesn’t really matter. According to Father Johannes they themselves believe that they have come from the future, only their arrival will have changed the past, so that they are now from a future that’ll never be. A paradox and as such better left alone by practical men like you and I. After all, if the apocalypse is coming there’s very little we can do about it except carry on with our tasks.” Melchior sighed. “And at the moment my task is trying to keep things stable and preferably Catholic in the middle Rhine area. If I had my regiments, I could just have taken control, but as it is I’ll probably need to negotiate. Archduke Ferdinand gave me plenipotentiary powers, and if everything else fails, and the archbishop look about to send everything up in flames, I might be able to make some kind of deal with Don Fernando in the Netherlands. Essen and Hesse seems nicely locked in a stalemate in Berg, but that’s not going to last forever, and once the deadlock breaks, you can bet that fine new cassock of yours that all that might keep Essen, Hessen, and the Netherlands from trying for Cologne as well, will be if they don’t want to risk ending up fighting each other.”

“And our darling brother is likely to get caught up in the middle unless Franz can be persuaded to break with the archbishop. You will try talking to him again?”

“Of course. I’ll leave for Koblenz tomorrow, and continue on to Bonn the next day. I’ve got a letter from Wolf for his sister, and plan to look up Franz as well. But enough about that.” Melchior sat up straight and looked at his brother. “How are your trading schemes coming along?”

Magdeburg, House of Hessen

August 31, 1634

“Please come in, Abbess Dorothea.” Amalie put down her pen on the letter she was writing, and rose to greet her visitor. “Eleonore is not coming today; the heat is bothering her a bit.”

“I know. I just brought her a portion against stomach upsets. An American recipe that is not going to harm the baby. And how is your pregnancy coming along, my dear?”

“Healthy as a hog as usual. But I am aware that some of the old remedies contained abortifacients.” Amalie gave a slight smile. “And I faithfully promise to use only Quidlingburg American Herbal Remedies if I develop any problems. How is the production coming along?”

“Very well, actually.” The abbess sat down at the elegant table by the window overlooking the Square. “We had the still-rooms already, and the students have been most interested in both learning the new recipes, and earning a bit of money by producing enough for sales. That American Herbal book might have been very expensive, but it was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I’m hoping to persuade Eleonore’s youngest sister, Eva, to go to Quidlingburg after her stay here in Magdeburg. We need someone to develop new recipes for problems the Americans could solve in other ways, and Eva has shown a real understanding of what each herb actually contains and can do.”

“And with her pox-scars she’s unlikely to find a husband.” Amalie shrugged and poured a glass of raspberry cordial for her guest. “Becoming an herbalist would be a sensible choice. I was just penning a note telling Eva and Anchen that my young cousins, Litsa and Maria, are expected any day.” Amalie took a sip of the cold mint tisane, she habitually drank instead of wine when she was pregnant. “Once they are here you can start your advanced lessons in the new political system. How is the final work with the new constitution coming along?”

“Slowly.” The abbess sighed. “Every time I think we have a consensus in the committee, somebody raises a new question. I still hope to get it ratified within the next months, but the election must be postponed until next year.”

“Come spring?”

“Or late winter.”

“Hm. I’d hoped it would be done faster. There are far too many areas of unrest, and we need a firm government to keep everybody in line.” At Amalie’s words the abbess started laughing so hard she had to clutch her side.

“Really, Dorothea. That wasn’t a joke.” Amalie looked affronted.

“Everybody in line, but you and Hesse, I presume?” The abbess was still chuckling.

“Oh, that.”

“Yes, that. How is your campaign going, my dear? That is of rather more importance than a kidnapping in Fulda or yet another peasant uprising.”

Amalie shrugged. “The entire summer has pretty much been wasted. Von Uslar and the Hessian cavalry have dealt with any troubles in all of Berg except the area around Solingen and Remscheid, but De Geers want too much for permitting the infantry access to the Rhine. Hesse could strike at Bonn and Cologne tomorrow, but without infantry and artillery to back up the initial strike, it would be a chancy undertaking.” She frowned. “It looked like such a golden opportunity what with Archbishop Ferdinand’s attention seemingly so firmly fixed on his old quarrel with Abbot Schweinsberg in Fulda, but this campaign has turned into a highly depressing affair. Unless you can come up with a really good idea, I’d much rather talk about something else. Did you know that Hermann and Sofie Juliane are moving into House of Hessen?”