Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 29
Two of the Four Horsemen
“Der hunger ist noch zur zeitt ihrer groÃŸter feind.”
“I really admired how Brahe, Utt, and Horn cornered the Irish dragoons and drove them into Schorndorf. It was an admirable display of military coordination,” Kenny Davidson said. He didn’t intend to sound condescending, but this was the first time he had been stationed outside of the immediate vicinity of the Ring of Fire. He wasn’t really any younger than the rest of them–at twenty-four, he was older, in fact, than Bob Barnes–but he was the newest up-time kid on Horn’s block.
Horn’s head medic agreed, at least in part. “Ja, ist real gut de army finally gotten dem stoppt.” Heinz’s primary means of communication with the up-timers was a uniquely Swabian version of Amideutsch.
“I wasn’t doing the cornering,” Gerry Pierpoint said. He didn’t want to spend his spare time, or what should have been his spare time, explaining all this. He was tired. Five or six more years than the younger men shouldn’t have been enough to make him constantly tired, but they did. What he really wanted to do was take a nap.
“I wasn’t and you won’t be either, as long as you’re assigned to me. While their regiments were maneuvering to bottle the Irishmen up somewhere, we–the plague teams–went around to the northwest, in behind the path that the dragoons and Brahe’s men took. While the Fulda team dealt with the confirmed infection in the dragoons’ baggage train at Germersheim, and backtracked it, we’ve been following the dragoons’ path through WÃ¼rttemberg with teams of plague-fighters, looking for signs of infection inside the duchy. It’s frustrating, though. The population’s ordinary response to the appearance of soldiers is to flee if they can, for which I can’t blame them, but it means that since it looks like the dragoons did carry plague, it could be anywhere in the duchy by now.”
“Have you found any?”
“You have to be kidding. Here on the western border, a good half-dozen places with suspected or confirmed cases that have to be quarantined and treated. Barnes has found more over by Augsburg. The one bright spot, as far as I’m concerned, and Heinz here is concerned, is that the burning of Schorndorf may have had the effect of getting rid of whatever infection the Irish dragoons left inside the city. At least, I damned well hope so. Horn and Utt had the presence of mind to quarantine everyone who came out ahead of the fire.”
“So that’s good. Or isn’t it?”
Gerry sighed. “Think like a good ol’ country boy rather than someone whose family bought their groceries at Stephenson’s. It’s planting season, Kenny. Remember the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
“In the Bible.”
“We never went to church, back up-time. Nobody in the family. Not any of us.”
“Well, neither did we, but I came across them in a video game and had to bone up. One of them was Pestilence, which we’ve got plenty of with the plague, but another one was hunger. Famine. If we have to keep people cooped up for too long, they won’t get the fields and gardens sown. That means, for next year, shortages of food for both troops and civilians in the places where we identified plague this year.”
“Maybe, with better transportation…”
“Dearth, if not famine, then. Imported food gets expensive fast.”
“Hunger,” Heinz said, pronouncing in the German way. More like an airplane hanger but with an ‘oo’ in it, like an owl hooting. At this time, hunger is our greatest enemy. His hands depicted the shrinking of his stomach. “Denn ein bigger Hunger comtt.”
“I feel obliged to return to Lorraine personally.” Hands clasped behind his back, Bernhard paced around his office. “These various alleged sightings of Gaston are unsettling, to say the least.”
“Taking with you?” Michael John pulled out a pad of paper and his favorite new metal-nibbed pen.
“Two regiments of foot and one of cavalry. Bodendorf, I think. The horses for the regiments we had with us in the spring are badly in need of rest and the new grass is just beginning to come in.”
“Pull Forbus and Schneidewind out of the Franche ComtÃ©. That will still leave Rohan with Moser and Hattstein at his disposal. He can reduce the garrison at Pontarlier–the one at Joux, too–to get more men available for deployment. Authorize him to recruit more aggressively and increase the signing bonuses. And, given the increasing reports of plague in Lorraine and the Province of the Upper Rhine, pull a team of the plague-fighters out of the Franche ComtÃ© to bring along as well.”
“Low, as always in the spring. But when my men are eating boiled turnips in the field, I’m prepared to eat boiled turnips along with them. Talk to Schaffelitzky.”
Schaffelitzky, who was acting as general commissary now, was of the opinion that a willingness to eat turnips was noble, but bread was better. It was hard to keep hungry, unpaid, soldiers from marauding around the countryside. Foraging was sometimes a necessity, but it wasn’t efficient and in a land as long-fought-over as Lorraine, also not reliable. He wrote to Erlach, who sent Kanoffski off to Basel for a heart-to-heart with Rehlinger, the treasurer.
Funds, remounts from the Swiss Fricktal, munitions, and–most importantly–provisions, were on the way. The grain was coming out of Savoy. Rehlinger would arrange to have it milled into flour and shipped, via the Rhine as far as possible and then overland.
“The grand duke says that it is very hard to find reliable subordinates to put in places where he can’t be himself.” Claudia frowned at the page of chicken scratches in front of her. “I think.”
“The problem’s not unique to him,” Marcie said. “After all Your Grace, Lake Wobegon is the only place where all the children are above average. In the real world, half of the people, by definition, are not brighter than your average bear.”
These cultural references took some explanation.
Claudia found the relationship between the mythical town’s Lutherans and Catholics quite interesting. Her real delight, however, came in response to the name of “Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.”
She paused in the middle of her laughter and looked at the young up-time woman. “Children,” she began. “Marriage…”
“Up-time, I understand, people were expected to marry for something called ‘love.'”
Marcie nodded. “And then live ‘happily ever after.’ Half of them divorced, though.”
“In this world, in this time, ‘love’ causes mainly tragedies, in literature, at least. Or absurdities, as in the case of the ducal family of Lorraine.” Claudia tapped her middle finger on the arm of her chair. “Did you and Herr Trelli marry for this love?” she asked abruptly.
“Ah, well.” Marcie would have been just as happy to back off from this. “Sometimes it’s not that simple.”
“I guess we were in love, back before the Ring of Fire. We’d been dating ever since high school. All the time we were in college. We got engaged. Nobody made us do it.”
“This ‘dating’ is something I have read about. You had a strong–shall we say ‘voluntary preference,’ then?”
Marcie grinned. “That would cover it.” She frowned. “Then the Ring of Fire came. As soon as that first frantic ‘how are we going to survive this?’ year was over, I went to Saalfeld to work at USE Steel and the army sent Matt to Bamberg. We wrote, of course, but that was a couple of years when we were doing entirely different things. I can tell you I was one hundred percent totally loyal to being engaged to Matt. I know it for a fact. In my heart and on my honor, I’m just as sure that he was loyal to being engaged to me. Then, in December, he got out of the army and we both got the job contracts with Tyrol, so I went down to WÃ¼rzburg last December to get married.
“It was sort of like meeting a stranger. The same for him, I think. But what were we supposed to do? Anita Masaniello and the others had worked so hard to set up a nice wedding for us–the church, a priest, a reception, all that. I didn’t want to disappoint them.
“And, honestly, I wasn’t about to run back to Grantville with my tail between my legs, and start all over with the process of looking for someone I might want to marry. Especially not when it would give my mom a chance to chant, ‘I’ve been telling you all along that you’ve wasted the best years of your life waiting for that Trelli boy.’ I’m older than Matt. Just a couple months, but, still, I turned twenty-six in January. If I want children, and I do want kids, I don’t have a lot of time to waste. My biological clock isn’t ticking all that loudly. Not yet. But here, down-time, with the medical conditions…”