Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 42
“I was braced for that. But it’s not right for Mel to die. It’s not right, do you hear me? Not right. Why him and not me? I’m the one who’s been working at the clinic, seeing patients. He’s just been walking around ‘inspecting’ things.”
“It’s not right!”
Because Monsieur Gaston’s raid on Merckweiller-Pechelbronn was a violation of USE territory, Nils Brahe and Derek Utt called more contingents, amounting to four full regiments, into the Province of the Upper Rhine to assist with the military clean-up and plague quarantines.
This meant, of course, that four more regiments would be exposed to active plague conditions and would have to be quarantined after their immediate duty was over to ensure that they did not carry the contagion back to Mainz and Fulda.
This all, of course, complicated the issues of food supplies, provisions, and living quarters again.
But it also provided enough margin that they were able to spare prevention squads for Aldringen.
“Damn it, Garand.” Matt Trelli threw himself off his horse. “Get away from her. We’ve managed to pen up the rest of this batch of peasants for quarantine, but there’s a reason the villagers left her here. She’s already sick with the plague. Dying. There’s nothing we can do.”
The rest of the troop seconded him, raising a great noise and fuss.
Jeffie looked up from where he was kneeling. “She’s a little girl. You can’t just ride off and abandon a little girl.”
“I damned well can,” Matt said. “I was at Kronach. I’ve been on the plague-fighting front for a long time now. The Padua doctors are right. When it comes to epidemics, you have to be cruel to be kind. She’s going to die, no matter what we do.”
“She doesn’t have to die alone.”
Matt glared at him. “What about Gertrud and the baby?”
“There’s no way in hell that I can go back and look my own wife and child in the eye if I knew that over here, I left this little girl to die alone.”
“The whole damned Duchy of Lorraine is full of little girls who are dying alone. You’re just not looking them in the face. Do you know what it’s like to die of plague?”
“Hell, yes, I know what it looks like to die of plague. I watched my father-in-law die of it a couple of weeks ago, remember. Give me the damned mask and gloves and leave me here.”
Trelli climbed back on his horse, throwing down the sanitation packet. The rest rode off.
“What’s your name, honey?” Jeffie asked. He poured a little home-made sugar/saline energy drink from his canteen into her mouth.
“Barbeline, mon capitan. Barbeline Cayel.”
“Well, Barbeline. Do you like to listen to stories? Once upon a time…”
“Utt refused to report Garand as a deserter,” Matt wrote to Marcie in frustration. “Officially, he’s ‘missing and presumed dead.’ That’s what we radioed over to Fulda, for what comfort it may be to his wife, considering that she’d already lost her dad. If you ask me, he’s out in the woods somewhere, or at least his body is, dead as a doornail. This sort of thing comes close to driving me nuts. Maybe you’re right, that a lot of us are too squeamish to survive down-time in the long run. Denver Caldwell died yesterday, along with six down-time soldiers from Utt’s regiment and seventeen refugees. I never knew him much. He was a couple of years younger than we are, different churches, and he didn’t go to college. He married a down-time girl over at Fulda Barracks.”
“Damned cat,” Matt Trelli said. “Ran right between my legs. I hate cats.”
“He’s been hanging around ever since Joel died,” Derek said. “I’m not too fond of him, myself. I throw him some scraps now and then, but don’t let him indoors the way the others did. Sometimes he sneaks in–he seems to think he has a right to live inside. He was Andrea Hill’s.”
“Well, keep him away from me. I hate cats.”
“He ducked under the bed. I’ll roust him out later. How many have we lost today?”
“…formal letter of consolation from General Nils Brahe to the administration of the State of Thuringia-Franconia on the death of Colonel Utt,” Robert Herrick read from the pulpit of the Episcopalian church.
“…torn from us in his youth, which in these difficult times has caused immense sorrow to all of us who knew him…”
Mary Kat blinked as the words slid past her.
“…God has seen fit to remove him from the miseries of this world…”
That was from Brahe’s personal letter to her. She’d loaned it to Father Herrick to read at the service, too. Brahe referred to Derek as his friend. She believed him. At least, in the years away, Derek had found a friend.
“…so that he might gain possession of that eternal and happy life which awaits us in heaven where we will follow him when it pleases God to call us.”
All right, it just said what she believed herself.
Or, at least, what Grandma had taught her to believe.
But the down-timers were just so damned…fatalistic.
The baby started to whimper and root at her shoulder. Maybe she shouldn’t have brought him to the service. It wasn’t as if he’d be able to remember. He was only a week old. But at least he could grow up with people telling him that he had been there. That would be some kind of a connection between them.
At least, Derek had known about him. Hadn’t seen him, but by grace of radio communication knew about him and named him. Maybe that was some comfort.
Maybe. But it just wasn’t fair.
She looked at her watch. The little congregation was standing up with a rustle.
There wasn’t an organ in the Episcopal Church yet. The building had been in terribly bad shape, up-time. Abandoned. They’d started with the basement and the roof. So far, they had restored the sanctuary. Unboarded the stained glass and brought specialists in to repair the frames, replace the cracked panes, and re-lead them back together. They’d get a new down-time organ built as soon as the congregation could afford it.
Down the curving staircase in the entryway. The old coal baron who paid to have this built, way back when Grantville was a boom town, knew the flooding habits of Buffalo Creek. No basement, utility space on the ground floor, and the worship space upstairs. He’d made the double staircase as impressive as possible.
Not exactly handicapped-accessible, but impressive.
Everyone out, into the street, down to the Methodist church. Simon and Mary Ellen were loaning the use of their organ. Linda Bartolli was coming over from St. Mary’s to play it. She was the best organist in town. Open windows, with a couple thousand more people standing around.
Her parents hadn’t been able to get back to Grantville for this. Ed Piazza had given all the state employees the afternoon off. Her father was running the memorial service in Bamberg. Right now.
There was someone in Fulda, directing the regimental chorale. Right now.
There was someone at the oil field. She couldn’t remember who it was. One of the captains who had served under Derek. Right now.
Two o’clock sharp. Linda struck up the first chord of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Sine nomine.
Regimental anthem, for the highest-ranking military officer the up-timers had lost so far. That’s what all this was about. Derek only happened to be her husband and little Charles Roger’s father. That was accidental. This whole service was about the war.
Oh, may your soldiers,
faithful, true, and bold
Fight as the saints who
boldly fought of old
And win with them
The victor’s crown of gold.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Aldringen said, “Gaston is his brother’s problem again. And Richelieu’s. It would be the height of stupidity for us to cross into French territory. I’ll keep a heavy watch on the western border. You had better focus on chasing down the men from his mercenary companies that went into the Province of the Upper Rhine. The Low Countries can worry about any who may have headed north toward Luxemburg.”
Nils Brahe concurred.
“The most absurd thing,” Abraham Fabert said, “is that in a way I started this. It was my failure as a military engineer to take Moyenvic, near Marsal, back in 1631 that really started Louis XIII’s plan to annex all of Lorraine, I am afraid.”
Aldringen shrugged. “No point in crying over spilled milk. Now about these ironworks by Metz, you were saying to General Brahe that…”