Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 11
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 MontmÃ©dy, 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 ZuÃ±iga’s retreat any farther, on the theory that doing so would violate Low Countries territory and–as MarchÃ©ville 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 no place, 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 ZuÃ±iga, 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,” ZuÃ±iga 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.
By Way of a Demonstration
Marguerite of Lorraine gave birth to her baby, another girl to the absent Monsieur Gaston’s immense disappointment. The head midwife called a priest immediately and had the child baptized as Henriette Marie Louise. Before any suitably elaborate public baptismal ceremony with heads of state as sponsors could be arranged, after six weeks during which she did not thrive in spite of all efforts to coax her, the sickly infant died in May. “Failure to flourish,” the doctors said for the cause of death.
“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, MarchÃ©ville 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. FranÃ§ois 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.” MarchÃ©ville 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 MarchÃ©ville knew him. RÃ©ance 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 NeufchÃ¢teau and take these regiments into France itself. In a sense, I am just reminding my brother and Richelieu that I am still around.”
MarchÃ©ville left the room in disgust.
“Under Richelieu’s influence,” Gaston continued to Cliquot, “my brother does not give the great nobles of France the respect they deserve.”
Cliquot bowed slightly. Beheading did, in many ways, indicate a lack of respect for the beheaded.
“Should I raise my banner against the tyranny of this man who has so misled my brother, many French peers would flock to it.”
They actually might. That was the kind of thinking that resulted in…well…beheading.
Clicquot began to consider his options.
The ten-day supply of captured Spanish bread ran out. Commercy was not sufficiently provisioned to easily absorb some three thousand hungry soldiers at this time of the year. Within a few days, there were…hardships.
Colonels Haraucourt and Thysac took a stand against letting the other regiments with Gaston maraud through the countryside around Commercy.
Gaston made noises about mutiny.
Haraucourt and Thysac made noises about being patriotic sons of Lorraine.
Once they had left the room, MarchÃ©ville pointed out that they were also currently the heroes of the expedition because they had chased Fernando’s Spaniards back into Luxemburg, which made it possible that if Monsieur pressed them to the point of actual mutiny, the lower officers in the other companies might not obey an order to arrest them.
“Well,” Clicquot said, “see what you can do, then.”
“We could always try offering to pay in cash.”