The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 02
“I can read an encyclopedia as well as anyone else.” Henri, duc de Rohan, continued to pace around the room. “In less than three years, I will be dead.”
“You were killed in a battle we fought at Rheinfelden,” Grand Duke Bernhard countered. “Which is an encounter I see no need to fight in this world. You’re pushing paper rather than commanding cavalry. How old are you? Fifty-five or so? You could live another thirty years.”
“Fifty-seven. I could be thrown off my horse while I’m going up to the Citadelle on routine business and be dead next month. The Word of God admonishes that we should not seek to know our times. However, I have read the encyclopedias and I am determined to see my daughter married to a Protestant while I am still alive.”
“To about any Protestant in your more frantic moments. To a suitable French noble of the Reformed persuasion in your more rational ones. If not that, then to a foreign Protestant prince, preferably Calvinist. Or….” Bernhard rotated his shoulders. “Are there Protestant space aliens in this up-time ‘science fiction’ you have been reading these past few months? One of them might be the best choice.”
“I am not in a mood for raillery,” Rohan grumped. “Even if my friend Ron Stone claims that I am ‘fixated,’ I died and the French crown controlled her. For years, they did not let her marry at all. Then they gave her a list of Catholic nonentities acceptable to them and she picked one because ‘at least he’s handsome and a good dancer.’ That is not a potential son-in-law acceptable to me. Neither are grandchildren who will be reared Catholic as a condition of the king’s permitting my daughter to marry at all. So….”
“So what do you plan to do about it?”
“With your permission, O Sovereign Lord of the Free County of Burgundy, I will bring my wife and daughter join me here in BesanÃ§on. Or, if you prefer, I can return to Berne and have them join me there.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” the grand duke answered, clasping his hands behind his back as he took his turn with pacing. “Berne does not need you. You have accepted duties to Burgundy. Think of the piles of paper on your desk. Think of the hordes of petitioners who will be devastated if you do not hold personal meetings with them.” His smile turned feral. “Think of the committee meetings that you are scheduled to chair, which will spare me or Erlach from chairing them. In the best of circumstances, it will take some time to get your ladies here. You can borrow a couple of my better officers for such a mission.”
Rohan leaned on his standing desk and steepled his fingers. “Ruvigny, then.”
“What?” Bernhard raised his eyebrows at this apparent non sequitur.
“Ruvigny. He’s an officer in your service and I know him well.”
“The redhead? The one with the remarkable nose?”
Rohan nodded. “And freckles. Don’t forget the freckles. Yes, that’s Henri de MassuÃ© de Ruvigny.”
“His family are clients of my father-in-law. They have been since long before Sully even became my father-in-law. Thus, they are in a way clients of my wife, so it’s mostly a matter of entrÃ©. She will receive him at least, possibly as a welcome rather than unwelcome guest, and, perhaps, if I am fortunate, even pay some attention to the message he presents on my behalf. Maybe.”
Bernhard unclasped his hands and fingered the little goatee he was wearing. “Not a bad choice. He’s a good officer, but he’ll make a better diplomat some day, if he ever has the money to support an ambassadorial career. Someone ought to find him a wife with a decent dowry. Who else do you want?”
“Ask him. He knows the younger officers better than either of us do. He’ll make a good choice.”
Bernhard’s private secretary stuck his head around the doorpost as a signal for the meeting to break up.
“What’s next on the agenda?” Rohan asked.
“Smallpox vaccinations, continued plague-fighting measures, and other aspects of public sanitation, with a special presentation by the up-time nurse Frau Dunn and information on what assistance can be obtained through the resources of Lothlorien Pharmaceuticals in Grantville.” Bernhard appeared to be working up to one of his famous rants.
“I believe,” Rohan said, backing out of the room, “that I hear the papers stacked beside my desk emitting a call as tempting as the voice of any siren singing to passing sailors.”
* * * *
Ruvigny chose August von Bismarck. Bismarck, he told the duke, was reliable and solid. Unflappable. The kind of officer a commander could depend on.
They also happened to be good friends, on first name terms, and so far said friend hadn’t had any luck at all when it came to promotions. This kind of expedition could give August a chance to bring himself to the favorable attention of more powerful people. But there was no point in mentioning that to duke and grand duke yet.
Whereupon Rohan wrote letters and they begged the best horses that the regiment would let them take. Bismarck’s horse turned out to be reliable and solid. The kind of horse a man could depend on. Ruvigny’s horse went lame four days out, so he had to hire a far less satisfactory one.
“So,” August said the next afternoon. “Did you find out anything about yourself from the famous up-time encyclopedias?”
Henri dropped his reins onto the gelding’s neck and stared out toward the peasants who were still harvesting in the fields, weeks after the end of this unsatisfactory summer. “Britannica 1911. On what I’m paid, I asked the researcher I hired in Grantville to look up the main article for my family name, if there was one. It’s not as if I can afford to pay for a thorough search. There was an article about my oldest son, who became a general for the king of Englandâ€“who was a Dutchman, absurdly enough; one has to wonder what became of the Stuartsâ€“and received an Irish title, Earl of Galway. King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, crushing everything I attempted to achieve after I retired from the army. I served as Deputy General of the Huguenot Synods to the royal court from 1653 onwards, trying to maintain our rights. I failed, so I went into exile and died in England. Not one of my three sons married. No descendants, male or female. The French crown confiscated our estates. The Teacher had it right, I guess. ‘Useless, useless; everything is useless.’ Or, maybe, “Futile, futile, everything is futile.'” He picked up the reins again. “But for some reason, I keep working.” He raised his eyebrows. “You?”
August grinned. “Same encyclopedia; same procedure; same reason, since I’m always broke. I got less detail but more optimism. About 250 years from now, somebody named von Bismarck, Otto to be specific, had worked his way up in rank from country gentleman to Graf, Herzog, und FÃ¼rst. He guided the multitude of small German states into becoming a united country. He wasn’t nice about the nation building; Gustav Adolf and Stearns have proceeded with more tact. Whether or not he was related to me in the direct line, I have no idea, but since we were both born at SchÃ¶nhausen in Brandenburg’s Altmark, there’s likely to be some connection. I’m going to assume that one of my brothers or cousins managed to hang onto the land, such as it is, paid off the mortgages our father loaded on it in pursuit of such luxuries as family portraits and comfortable beds, and kept begetting heirs.” August sighed. “My lord father wasn’t frugal. He kept trying to press additional new fees out of the peasants, the peasants kept suing him, and the courts kept deciding in their favor. He left a huge mess for my mother to deal with after he died.”
Ruvigny shifted in the hired saddle. It didn’t fit him right. “There are millions of people, I suppose, who wouldn’t find anything at all in those books. My son received an article because he became a general.”
The sun was shifting into the west. August pulled his hat down to protect the pale forehead that his receding auburn hair seemed to be enlarging with every day that passed. “Rise high in the army and qualify for the small immortality of an encyclopedia entry. At the rate I’m receiving promotions, which is not at all, it’s no wonder the up-timers never heard of me. I’ll die still a captain, whether it’s next summer or twenty summers from now.”
They plodded onwards toward Paris.