1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 17


A noble and steady purpose of mind

Chapter 9

March, 1636

Lyon, France

It had taken all winter to sort them out.

When Sherrilyn Maddox first arrived at Marshal Turenne’s headquarters, she expected to find an army camp — men in tents or barracks, with the marshal himself living rough with his troops. She had heard of his common touch . . . all the way from Marseilles, in fact: the men in her escort had made a great display of it.

But Turenne himself, and his staff, had engaged a very handsome villa outside of town where they were accommodated in quite comfortable style. It was fully staffed, and Sherrilyn was given her own room. It was a simple solution to a problem she had been concerned about: how to doss down with a few thousand men.

“You are comfortable?” he asked the day she arrived. She was walking around her room, pacing it out, looking at the furnishings and wondering what might break if she sat or leaned on them. Turenne had just come in from a ride: he had mud on his boots and hadn’t taken the spurs off. He took his leather riding gloves off and tucked them in to his belt.

“More than comfortable, My Lord,” she said.

“Marshal is fine. Sherrilyn Maddox, isn’t it?” He gave the name a surprisingly American pronunciation. “Colonel Maddox from now, I think.”

“That’s quite a promotion.”

“It is what I had in mind.” He looked down at his boots, as if noticing them for the first time. “I am very pleased to have you here at last. I know that de la Mothe explained my interest in having you come here.”

“I admit to skepticism.”

He stepped into the room, avoiding the delicate carpet and settling himself onto an armchair. Sherrilyn came and sat nearby.

“That is quite understandable,” Turenne said. “I know de la Mothe told you that I needed someone to help train my troops — to teach them to fight like a modern army. But I realize, and I am sure you realize, that if each has a Cardinal rifle in his hands and knows how to shoot it, that is more than sufficient.”

“I’ve done the math. Three shots a minute — three thousand men or so, that’s nine thousand rounds a minute at a range of two to three hundred yards. Even if your men were lousy shots –”

“They’re not.”

“Even if they were, your average tercio would never reach the front ranks of your force. And a cavalry charge wouldn’t get there either. If they really can shoot, then you have everything you need. The Spanish have no idea what you can do, do they?”

“The Spanish do not think too deeply about anything,” Turenne answered. “I suspect that they would not expect much from a few thousand French troops against the mighty Tercio Español. With the proper cavalry support they would expect themselves to be unbeatable. If they come up against us –”

“Is that what’s going to happen, Marshal? Henri? The Spanish are going to invade France?”

“I don’t know. The cardinal clearly has some inkling that it might happen — otherwise why would we be deployed here? It’s a long way from Paris — or the Dutch frontier — or anywhere else but Spain or Savoy.” He made a gesture with his hand. “Really . . . it’s a long way from just about everywhere.”

“Keeps the boys out of trouble.”

“Oh, believe me, Mademoiselle, they make their own trouble. But it is a much smaller amount of trouble than they might make in sight of Notre-Dame de Paris.

“But to the point. The men can shoot; the rifles are accurate and deadly. My subcommanders have trained them well. I don’t need you to help with that.”

“Then . . .”

“When the Spaniard crosses the Pyrenees, as he surely will, it may not be with trumpets sounding and banners flying. We will need to know what he intends to do and where he intends to go. It will be this for which we will need your expertise. I believe the up-timer term is ‘small unit tactics’ — infiltration and precision attack at a distance. One rifle — one shot.”


“I have heard that term used, yes. I originally thought it meant a sort of hunting exercise, but I have come to understand it as something far more deadly and effective. My men can shoot, yes, but not all of them can perform this mission.” He pointed at Sherrilyn. “I want you to find the ones who can.”


And so she had. She had divided them into groups of twenty to see which ones met the minimum standard: decent eyesight, skill in the manual of arms, and careful use of their weapon. Once she could see which ones could see the broad side of a barn, she picked out the ones who looked like they had a chance of actually hitting that barn with reasonable skill. Those whose marksmanship — and poise — impressed her made it into a second, smaller group.

Turenne’s quartermaster went to the Marshal to complain on the first day regarding the extravagant waste of powder. Turenne thanked him and ignored him. He appeared each of the next two days, still hopping mad at Sherrilyn for squandering resources — and each time the Marshal heard him out and turned him away. The fourth time he appeared at the villa there was a short closed-door meeting from which he emerged chastened: that was the last time anything was said about it.

She taught her little group of thirty-five every trick that the Wrecking Crew had managed to use during its active career. The hardest lesson was convincing them to think for themselves (as opposed to simply thinking about themselves — which mostly involved thinking with what was in their breeches.) There were thirty-one left after that lesson.

By the spring there were only twenty-four, for various reasons — but it was worth all the powder and shot, all the sidelong looks, the snide remarks, and the two brawls.

To fill out her company — Maddox’s Rangers was what they decided to call themselves — there were sixteen regulars who could handle themselves well in a close-in fight. A winter’s worth of conversations with Turenne’s sergeants and NCOs helped pick those guys out.

It wasn’t exactly the varsity at Grantville High — but it was what Turenne wanted.

It was just a matter of putting it to use.

March 28, 1636

Lyon, France

Dear Ed:

Thanks for sending me the nice going-away gift when I decided to give up Marseilles for this place. It sure seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’d rather have some soft Mediterranean breezes than the wind off the Massif Central. One winter in this place would probably be enough. It’s colder than old Mr. Mulder’s classroom at the high school, when he’d leave all the windows open.

Mulder had never been a teacher at Grantville High. That was a keyword from the cipher book, telling them what page to use. Windows open meant that the army was in camp, and hadn’t been given orders to deploy anywhere.

Things have been pretty smooth here. The best part has to be the food. The boss treats us very well, nothing but the best. He’s even arranged for the best forks and knives to be put in all of the troopers’ hands, and they’ve all learned to eat with them. Some of them are still a little sloppy, but mostly they put the food in their mouths.

The connection between Mulder and the windows had been clever. This reference was a little less subtle — forks and knives meant weapons, and the best weapons had to refer to the Cardinal rifles. And they’d been given to all the men, and they all knew how to shoot.

The head cook comes up with amazing recipes. They told me that originally the food wasn’t fit to eat — it made people sick — but you know how it is with cafeterias. After a while, if you start with good ingredients, you can make a pretty good meal. I’m a believer, and so is he.

Recipes was a cipher-replacement for ammunition. The comment about making people sick was a reference she hoped he’d understand, going along with the word believer. Their engineering expert was Johann Glauber, a chemistry wizard who had found a way to replace the mercury fulminate in the percussion caps with something more effective and far safer.

Glauben, of course, was the German word for “believe”.

It’s a little harder than working for you, but I guess teaching is teaching. You get the students lined up, you blow the whistle and you watch them run. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, but at least I have a few cartons. Well, two cartons at least.

She was guessing that the average down-timer wouldn’t know that an egg carton held a dozen eggs, so that the key number here was twenty-four — the number of special troopers she was training.

There wasn’t any easy way to explain to Ed exactly what she was doing by using the cipher since most of the substitution terms weren’t useful in this context. It was probably going to take a few letters back and forth in order to get the hang of it — if someone didn’t figure out that she was sending in code.

I am not cut out for this, she thought, and nearly tossed the whole thing into the fire. What was the benefit? She could convey a few general things, and would be risking that Turenne, or someone else in the camp, would figure out that she was spying on them. That sort of thing could get you killed . . . after some very nasty things happened to you.

But I think you’d like these guys, she finally wrote. The boss has kept them busy digging, enough for twelve main drags, but that’s like running laps on the track.

The main drag, the principal road through Grantville, was Route 250; 12 x 250 was 3,000. Maybe he’d get that reference, maybe not. As for liking these guys, she was trying to tell Ed that they were probably not enemies of the USE.

If they were going to catch her spying, this letter would surely do it. She decided to close it out before she wrote something even more transparent.

I’ll look forward to your letter.

Best regards,

Sherrilyn Maddox

Gym Teacher to the Stars