The Legions of Pestilence

The war is on. All the wars—and on all fronts. Can the medical knowledge of the up-time Americans be adapted and spread fast enough to forestall disaster? Or will their advanced military technology simply win one war in order to lose the other and much more terrible one?

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In the world the West Virginians of Grantville came from, the borderlands between France and Germany had been a source of turmoil for centuries. In the new universe created by the Ring of Fire, the situation isn’t any better. The chaotic condition of the German lands has been ended—for a time, at least. And the near-century long war between Spain and the Netherlands has finally been resolved.

But now France is unstable. The defeat of Richelieu’s forces in the Ostend War has weakened the Red Cardinal’s grip on political power and emboldened his enemies, Foremost among them is King Louis XIII’s ambitious younger brother, Monsieur Gaston. An inveterate schemer and would-be usurper, Gaston’s response to the new conditions in France is to launch a military adventure. He invades the Duchy of Lorraine.

Soon, others are drawn into the conflict. The Low Countries ruled by King Ferdinand and Duke Bernhard’s newly formed Burgundy, a kingdom-in-all-but-name, send their own troops into Lorraine. Chaos expands and spreads up and down the Rhine.

It isn’t long before the mightiest and most deadly army enters the fray—the legions of pestilence. Bubonic plague and typhus lead the way, but others soon follow: dysentery, deadly and disfiguring smallpox, along with new diseases introduced by the time-displaced town of Grantville.

The war is on. All the wars—and on all fronts. Can the medical knowledge of the up-time Americans be adapted and spread fast enough to forestall disaster? Or will their advanced military technology simply win one war in order to lose the other and much more terrible one?

Besançon, Franche Comté
February 1635

Gary Lambert stood on the citadel hill of the town of Besançon in the Franche Comté. He didn’t wonder what he, a nice Lutheran boy from twentieth-century Indiana, was doing there. He knew. By the grace of God and the Ring of Fire, he had escorted his aging future father-in-law, Friedrich Hortleder, to watch Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar officially become Bernhard, Grand Duke of the County of Burgundy.

Hortleder, now chancellor of Saxe-Weimar County in the State of Thuringia-Franconia in the United States of Europe, still very much in the confidence of Bernhard’s brother Wilhelm Wettin, was one of Bernhard’s former tutors––possibly the only one to whom the independent Bernhard had ever paid much attention––and an honored guest at the ceremony.

Wettin wasn’t here. As head of the Crown Loyalists, the party that had just won the USE election, he was slated to become the next prime minister of the USE and considered it not fitting to attend a ceremony at which his youngest brother, who had quarreled bitterly with Gustavus Adolphus, emperor of the USE, was setting the seal on his betrayal by officially becoming an independent ruler. Duke Ernst had planned to come––Bernhard had invited him––but some last minute emergency in the Upper Palatinate, where he served as the USE regent, had kept him away.

Duke Albrecht was present. Albrecht ran the remaining Saxe-Weimar estates on behalf of his absentee brothers and was, by nature, a peacemaker. Hortleder, Gary, and a half-dozen other people from Weimar and the Eichfeld had traveled with him. Of the eleven sons of Johann of Saxe-Weimar (twelve if you counted Wilhelm’s stillborn twin), only these four were still alive. The others had succumbed to the vagaries of childhood mortality, smallpox while attending the university of Jena, war, and, in the case of the unfortunate Johann Friedrich, death in confinement, where his brothers had placed him on account of his growing insanity.

A brisk but not freezing breeze stirred the air. Even though he was wearing a warm, fur-lined, cape, Gary felt grateful for the bright sunshine. Hortleder said something. Gary turned around, expecting a question, but the older man’s attention was on someone else.

“Nihus? I scarcely expected to see you here, now that you have become such a distinguished scholar that your name is latinized on various title pages. Not to mention for a few other reasons.”

Bartholdus Nihusius smiled. “My theological feud with Georg Calixtus seems to be winding down, though the Helmstedt professors have scarcely forgiven a former tutor of the dukes of Saxe-Weimar for converting to Catholicism. Still, now that Calixtus is making ecumenical overtures, it looks like I’ll be going to Mainz. Part of the policy of Cardinal-Protector Mazzare, you know. I’ve been invited by Wamboldt von Umstadt himself to join the archepiscopal staff.”

“Very distinguished for one of our little band of ‘former tutors of the young dukes of Saxe-Weimar.’” Hortleder looked around. “Wolfgang Radtke is here, too, somewhere in the crowd. I saw him earlier. He came as part of the delegation of the president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. I don’t see him, right now.”

Nihusius nodded. “Not surprising in this crowd.”

The assembly of people who were crowded onto the citadel hill above Besançon, awaiting the ceremony in which their former pupil would be assuming his grandiose new title, was large, and the numbers kept growing. Anyone who could make the climb from the city below, or if not in sufficiently good physical shape for that, could afford to hire a cart with a donkey and driver, a sedan chair with bearers, or a wheelbarrow with someone to push it, seemed to have come.

Nihusius was looking a little rueful. “So Wolfgang, too, is now a distinguished ‘Ratichius’ and after all his decades of striving in vain to introduce educational reform, has become the ‘Secretary of Education’ of the State of Thuringia-Franconia.”

“Supervisor of numerous up-timers.” Hortleder laughed. “Largely by grace of Count Ludwig Guenther’s widowed sister-in-law Anna Sofie at Kranichfeld. She never lost faith in his ideas. Now, by virtue of Schwartzburg-Rudolstadt’s friendship with the up-timers, she had the influence to persuade Herr Piazza to make the appointment––over the objections of some of the ‘Grantville educational establishment’ who are convinced that only they can bring technological enlightenment to the poor ignorant down-timers, I assure you.”

“That only leaves Thomas Grote? Where is he, these days?”

“I’m afraid we’ve lost touch.”

“Trumpets. Here comes the procession.” Nihusius turned.

“Have you seen Bernhard to talk to?” Hortleder asked.

“At the reception yesterday evening.”

“How did he seem?”

Nihusius rubbed his fingers on his chin. “He’s not the hot-tempered teenager we knew, any more. Not even the hot-tempered young general of Breitenfeld. He looks older. Colder. He has bags under his eyes and not, knowing Bernhard, from dissipation.”

“I saw him last night, too. That was pretty much my impression. Even though there’s not yet any gray in that wavy dark hair––which I’m sure he’s happy to have kept in such abundance, given how many men of thirty are starting to go bald––he’s learned control to go along with his ambition. He’s achieved a position where he can surround himself with men of his own choosing, rather the ‘must-hires’ foisted on him by someone else’s politics. I doubt he’ll ever learn to be patient with incompetence, but he seems to have finally resigned himself to the existence of incompetent people in the world. As long as they aren’t anywhere near him. Whether he will ever be at peace with himself––who can say?”

Nihusius rubbed his chin again. “He’s a man with no illusions.”

Gary looked at them. “That’s what happens when you live in a tough neighborhood. Sheila, my wife up-time, used to work pro bono in an inner-city medical clinic. The weak––their eyes just got vacant. The winners, by the time they were thirty, had the same look in their eyes as this guy. If you ask me, fighting this war counts as a tough neighborhood, all by itself.”

✽✽✽

“Von Gottes gnaden, Bernhard, etc.”

By God’s grace, Bernhard, etc. The newly installed grand duke of the County of Burgundy contemplated the start of his letter to the regent of the County of Tyrol. Claudia de’ Medici, widow of an Italian duke, then widow of a Habsburg archduke, and by birth a grand duchess of Tuscany. Claudia de Medici, whom he had met earlier in the month.

At least he wouldn’t have to learn a new opening for his letters as the result of his new status. Except for the most formal legal documents, where all the miscellaneous titles of the Wettins were required, he had for years taken care of them with “etc.” so he could get to the meaningful content without delay.

The recipients of his letters always knew who he was. What was the point in emphasizing it?

The signature, though…

He looked down.

He had always signed Bernhard H.z.S. Bernhard, Herzog zu Sachsen. Duke in Saxony. Saxony, not Saxe-Weimar. They were the Ernestine line. The senior line. By rights, the electoral title belonged to them––not to John George of the Albertine line. So the split went back two-hundred-fifty years? So what? If you have a right to something, you have a right to it.

Now, for the first time, he signed Bernhard G.H.z.B. Bernhard, Gross-Herzog zu Burgund.

Grand Duke in Burgundy. He liked the look of that. No reason to be picky about the French insistence on Grand Duke of the County of Burgundy.

The uptime-encyclopedias told him that in another world, he had gained a duchy in Franconia and then lost it again to the vicissitudes of war. In this world, they had passed the date of the Battle of Nördlingen. He was not desperately trying to reconstitute an army for Axel Oxenstierna in a world in which Gustavus Adolphus had been killed more than two years earlier in yet another battle never fought, at Lützen.

In this world, whatever it took, he would not lose the County of Burgundy he had gained–and significantly expanded with bits of Alsace and Baden that he had managed to nibble off, bit by bit, here and there, in a most satisfying campaign.   As campaigns came and went, this one had come cheap. As for the old Habsburg appanage of Burgundy itself, given what getting it had cost him, not to mention having to endure the diplomatic squabbles with the French whose lawyers and bureaucrats nearly had apoplexy at the thought the name might result in a creeping claim to Bourgogne… Given the effort he had expended thus far, and would expend in the future, he had a right to it. He’d earned it.

✽✽✽

“Ah,” Friedrich Ludwig Kanoffski von Langendorff said after banquet, after reception, after, finally, the celebrations of the day had wound to an end and the newly installed grand duke had gone off to bed. “Ah.” He twirled his wine glass.

The others of the inner circle of der Kloster, Bernhard’s closest advisers who had, the year before, adopted their totally inappropriate nickname of ‘the cloister’ from his temporary headquarters at the Benedictine monastery at Schwarzach, looked at him, then at one another.

“You do still have the list, I hope,” Reinhold von Rosen said.

“List?” Kanoffski asked, his face blank.

“The impromptu list of things to be done that our new grand duke issued while we were getting lined up for the procession into the banquet room?”

“Oh, that list. Yes, right here.” He pretended to feel around the inside of his doublet. “Somewhere.”

“Pest, Kanoffski. You are a pest. It’s a good list. I am quite gratified by Bernhard’s willingness to propose a modus vivendi agreement to the USE in addition to his forthcoming marriage. It looks like things may be stabilizing, which can only be beneficial to our long-term prospects.”

“This would have nothing to do with the long-term prospect named Anne Marguerite? The prospect of settling down, long-term, with estates in Alsace, would it?” Kanoffski, as usual for him, punctuated his speech and emphasized his points with a wide array of gestures. He claimed that the technique worked in any language.

“You married, you formerly wild Bohemian. You married almost two years ago. You married a nice, respectable girl from a nice, respectable family in Freiburg. She’s Catholic, but what the hell! We are all sinners in the eyes of God and that must be hers, since otherwise she seems to be ideally virtuous. You are rapidly settling into being nice and respectable yourself.” Rosen spread his hands widely. “When a nice Alsatian girl is so very…there…and willing to risk her life and estates on a wandering soldier of fortune from Latvia… Why not? Why not sons and daughters? Why not hostages to fortune under better circumstances than I could have offered them in the past? Poyntz here is also already married. I am not the last bachelor among us, but almost.”

Sydenham Poyntz nodded. “Under other circumstances, I might have wanted to go home some day, but England has become a disaster. In any case, Anna Eleanora prefers to stay in the Germanies.”

“Don’t look at me,” Johann Ludwig von Erlach refilled his glass. “Being from Bern, I’m not so far from home. I’m ten years older than the rest of you except for Kanoffski here––he has a couple of years on me––and married to a cousin since before the Ring of Fire. I have spent my adult life as a soldier and done well from it. But, yes, if Bernhard’s overture to Gustavus succeeds, if there can be, may be, will be, even an uneasy kind of peace, I will be entirely content to wait at home until the war comes to find me again. ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.’ I am not so much a warrior that I would go in search of a different Kriegsherr who is recruiting.”

Bolzen, Tyrol

Dr. Wilhelm Bienner, chancellor of Tyrol, bowed to the regent. “You should be flattered, Your Grace. The grand duke wrote to you personally, in his own hand, rather than dictating the message to a secretary.”

Claudia de Medici glanced once more at the letter she held, rose from the table, and walked to the window, in hopes of getting better light than the flickering candles were giving late in the afternoon on this gray day in late winter. “In the matter of correspondence from Grand Duke Bernhard…” She paused. “We conclude that ‘written in person’ can only be counted as a mixed blessing. We must say that he has one of the most difficult and illegible scripts it has ever been Our misfortune to attempt to read.” She laughed. “Still, We shall overcome these obstacles––by this time tomorrow, perhaps. But it appears that de Melon’s work with his agents in developing the details of Our very sketchy pre-nuptial agreement is proceeding smoothly. Now, if only word doesn’t leak out prematurely…”

She gave the chancellor a firm look. “If it does…”

“Everyone understands, Your Grace. This is in the same category as the proposed voluntary entry of Tyrol into the USE. Heads will roll.”

“Make sure that Dr. Volmar is aware that his head is included in the possible count.”

The lawyer who had headed Tyrol’s chancery in Alsace, now alas absorbed into the County of Burgundy, was not one of the regent’s favorite people. Vain, ambitious, and stubborn were not the most desirable characteristics in a bureaucrat, particularly when they were combined with a willingness to take bribes.”

One of the main reasons that she was still paying out his salary in distant Ensisheim, even though there was no longer any work for him to do there, was that she didn’t want him in Innsbruck.

Besançon

“Your Grace.” Henri de Rohan bowed to a suitable depth.

“Your Grace.” Bernhard bowed back.

Both of them smiled.

“You requested to visit me? Rather than requesting that I visit you? There must be a matter of some import at hand.”

Bernhard cleared his throat. “At Schwarzach…” he began. “During the meeting that recently took place at Schwarzach with the regent of Tyrol…”

This was awkward.

Still, he had chosen to deliver the news in person.

Rohan, twenty-five years the older and inured to intrigue not only through his status as a French nobleman but by his years of service to the Serenissima of Venice, waited.

“The regent of Tyrol is…” Bernhard stopped and made another short bow.

“Yes?”

“I wished to do you the courtesy of providing this information in person, rather than by letter or through an intermediary. Claudia de Medici has done me the honor of agreeing to become my wife.”

Rohan was not certain precisely what he had expected from this meeting. He was certain that he had not expected this. He turned away, stiffly. “In the face of the honor that I had already done you, by suggesting my daughter as your wife?”

“Marguerite is, without doubt, eminently eligible.”

“Not to mention, suitably Protestant.”

“That, too.”

“Of an ideal age.”

Bernhard thought a moment. Rohan, in his own day, had been saddled by King Henri IV of France with a bride who was barely ten years old. The Huguenot duke, currently his guest and ally, almost surely did consider that delaying negotiations for his daughter’s marriage until the girl was seventeen––nearly eighteen––was the height of political liberality and paternal indulgence.

He did not want Rohan to take his forthcoming marriage to Claudia de Medici as an offense to his honor.

Leopold Cavriani was in town––had been for some time, for that matter, going back and forth, planning, undoubtedly, obscure Calvinist things. In a pinch, maybe Cavriani could help.

He couldn’t afford for Rohan to break off the working alliance they had forged.

Did he need to apologize? It was not as if he were breaking off a betrothal. Their discussions had been tentative.

Could he afford to apologize? If the alternative were a break with Rohan, yes.

Could he get through this without apologizing? He certainly hoped so.

A politically necessary decision could look quite different when you were the maker of it and not the recipient of its impact.

A sneaking understanding of some of Gustavus Adolphus’ possible motives in allying with the up-timers at considerable cost to the dukes of Saxe-Weimar came creeping into his mind.

“Upon consideration,” Bernhard said. “Upon consideration, with all due respect, I am not the man you need as Marguerite’s husband. She is your only heir. She needs a husband who can become Rohan for her, and for you––a husband who can accept the Huguenot cause and its needs as his primary obligation.”

Who will fight your battles, he thought, the battles you choose. And possibly even let you lead him around by the nose, though a man who would accept that will be of little use to her.

“In my case, not only am I Lutheran rather than Calvinist, which would make me less than acceptable to many of the Huguenot theologians, but also the needs of the County of Burgundy would provide a constant distraction…”

Rohan did not stalk out.

It had been a near thing.

Brussels, Low Countries

The Coudenberg Palace was cold this February morning. Being cold all winter was one of the prices one paid for dwelling in high-ceilinged splendor.

“Impertinent,” Isabella Clara Eugenia said from the comfortable chair in which her attendants had rolled her, and her third-order religious habit, up in heated blankets from head to toe. “Rude and impertinent. The gall of the man–Lutheran heretic as he is–to hold such a ceremony in Besançon. The Franche Comté was part of the appanage that my father the late, blessed, Philip II of Spain assigned to Albrecht and to Us. It is by right just as much Ours as the Spanish Netherlands proper or Luxemburg. Admittedly, We only visited it in person once, and that at the very beginning of Our reign, but We duly assigned local administrators…”

“It’s a long way away,” the queen in the Low Countries said. Maria Anna wiggled a little in her chair. She had pulled her feet out of her shoes and tucked them up more warmly under her skirts. “After all the walking and riding I did last summer, I have gained considerable respect for the concept of ‘a long way away.’ That’s probably the real reason you have only visited it once during your long tenure here in the Low Countries. Honestly, darling Tante, do you see any genuine expectation of keeping it––other than as one of the many historical inherited titles the Habsburgs place in the introduction to their legal documents?”

“Consider, also, Tante and Maria Anna…” The king in the Low Countries pulled a large sheaf of papers out from under his fur-lined cape. “This material from the encyclopedias indicates that in the other world, up-time, the Franche Comté was permanently annexed by France. Which is better? To have it as a part of this County of Burgundy, which is almost destined to remain a small power, or to have it annexed by the main rival of the Habsburgs?”

“Also,” Maria Anna said, “thinking long term…the family might, eventually, get it back. Bernhard will have to marry. He has no option. Since my brother in Vienna has been kind enough to let us know that they are considering the possibility of offering my sister Cecelia Renata as his bride––if that could be worked out, it would cement his new principality close to the Habsburg interests again.”

Isabella Clara Eugenia shook her head. “This, alas, is something over which We have no control. Moreover, there is no guarantee Bernhard would accept the offer.”

“Better than Poland,” Fernando commented.

Their elderly aunt nodded. “Such a marriage, of course, if Vienna can arrange it, would be the most practical solution, since young Ferdinand does seem to have made a definite decision not to marry her into Poland.”

“And it would be nice to have her there. It’s a long way away, but it’s closer than Vienna. Maybe we could visit back and forth.” Maria Anna was happy in her new marriage, but she seriously missed her brothers, sister, sister-in-law, nephew, stepmother, and the whole unusually happy family in which she had grown up.

“It will have to be a diplomatic solution,” the young king said. “To be practical, the Low Countries don’t have sufficient military resources to try to oust Bernhard from his new County of Burgundy in the immediate future. I intend to concentrate, as much as possible, on consolidating our holdings in and around the core. Intelligence has come in that the four Irish dragoon regiments have left the archdiocese of Cologne. That creates one of these wonderful––what is the up-time expression?––yes, ‘power vacuums’––in the archdiocese of Cologne. A predominantly Catholic region threatened by Hesse. Can we take advantage of it while Gustavus Adolphus is preoccupied on the eastern front? As you said, the Franche Comté is a long way away. The left-bank-of-the-Rhine territories of Ferdinand of Bavaria are next door.”

Maria Anna nodded. “True enough. For the time being, Tante, I am afraid we will have to let the problem of Burgundy drop to the bottom of our list of concerns. But… Fernando, has anything arrived in the despatches from Claudia de Medici, in regard to how her meeting with Bernhard went? The last one I remember reported that she was going to fly to Schwarzach in person, in regard to protecting the Tyrolese interests in Swabia.”

Isabella Clara Eugenia continued to contemplate the map, a dissatisfied expression on her face. “This map, the modern one, has Diedenhofen––Thionville, that is––in France rather than in the Low Countries. We cannot like the way that France nibbled away on Our southern borders in that other world.” She moved a wrinkled forefinger along the boundary line. “Better this upstart Lutheran Bernhard than Louis XIII.”

She was, first and last, a daughter of Spain.

There might be other enemies, but the Enemy was France.

✽✽✽

Some portion of the Enemy was, unfortunately in the opinion of Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, right here in the Low Countries. The political considerations involved in granting sanctuary to royal refugees were complex. Currently, Fernando’s benevolence had been extended to the heir to the throne of France and his family. Not, God be praised, to his mother, the dowager queen Marie de’ Medici. After her most recent estrangement from Louis XIII, she had inflicted herself upon the Savoyards. It was currently not known to the Brussels court whether this pleased Marie’s son-in-law, Duke Victor Amadeus, or not.

The heir. Monsieur Gaston, younger brother and heir to Louis XIII, king of France. So Fernando’s benevolence was again involving the Low Countries with the problems in Lorraine. Gaston had only one daughter from his first marriage and she could not inherit because the Salic Law still prevailed in France. The little Mlle. de Montpensier offered only potential future complications. Gaston’s little bastard Marie didn’t count at all, of course, except as a possible pawn some day, to be bestowed upon a minor ally.

Gaston’s second marriage, though… In that other world, according to the encyclopedias brought by the up-timers, Richelieu had delayed as long as possible the royal consent and papal approval of the unsanctioned marriage of Gaston to Marguerite of Lorraine in 1632–indeed, he had prevented it for a decade, until his own death. Knowing that since Louis’ estranged queen, Anne of Austria, was apparently unable to carry her pregnancies to term even when the royal couple occasionally reluctantly slept together and she conceived, Richelieu had feared that if Gaston had legitimate sons, his leverage at court would increase immensely.

Surprisingly, although Gaston was not only a threat to the monarch but also normally very low on practicality, he had been unwilling to risk challenges to the legitimacy whatever children he might beget by Marguerite. In that other world, the eldest had not been born until 1645.

Now, whatever Richelieu might be planning otherwise, he had taken information received through the Ring of Fire into account, gritted his teeth, and, concluded that France needed heirs sooner rather than later. Instead of than delaying the permissions and approvals, he had expedited them. In this world, Marguerite of Lorraine was not only fertile, but younger, stronger, and, alas, right here in Brussels.

As Gaston put it, she was “safely out of the clutches of her royal brother-in-law and his lackey of a cardinal.” She was also awaiting the birth of her first child within the next six weeks.

Richelieu might view the prospect of legitimate sons from Gaston’s second wife as a nerve-wracking balancing act. Gaston might view it as enthralling. Isabella Clara Eugenia considered it a troubling complication.

✽✽✽

“I can hardly wait.” Henriette de Lorraine-Vaudémont bounced on her toes.

Marguerite, her sister––her heavily pregnant sister––turned her face without lifting her head from the bolster. “I hadn’t realized you were so fond of my husband.” Since Marguerite, even in her present condition, was, if not precisely pretty, at least far from unattractive, she did not sound particularly worried.

“Not Monsieur,” Henriette said with disgust. “Ugh. Antoine.”

This time, Marguerite made the effort to sit up. “Henriette, you are being careless.”

“Why not be careless? I’m a widow, not a young, unmarried girl. Who is going to reprimand me? Not our brother Charles, not with all his women. And the bastard is dead.”

‘Bastard’ was the most literal possible description of Henriette’s late husband. Louis de Guise, baron d’Ancerville, grand chamberlain and seneschal of Lorraine, bastard son of the Cardinal de Guise, and her uncle’s favorite, had been nearly a quarter-century her senior.

Legally, they had married when she was eleven, because the Estates had refused to let her uncle marry Nicole to him. Practically, they had married when she was eighteen. Finally, a long two years later, when she was twenty, he had died. It could have been worse. He could have lived longer.

Of course, she had already left him by then. Louis had been annoyingly stiff-necked about her affairs, even when she pointed out most reasonably that since it was clear that she was barren, he didn’t have a thing to worry about.

At least the marriage, by the favor of her brother and the consent of the late Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, had brought her the title of princesse, however meaningless, and her very own tiny principality to rule. All her own, since Louis had died. In Lorraine, but not Lorraine proper. The heavily indebted duke of Pfalz-Veldenz, Georg Johann, count palatine by birth, had sold most of the various territories to her grandfather in 1584. A dreamer, the man had founded new cities in his left-bank-of-the-Rhine lands and set them up as a refuge for persecuted Huguenots from France. Pfalzburg––Phalsbourg, in French, Philippopolis in Latin documents. Who could guess what the up-timers might call it. Philipsburg, maybe, though the proper translation would be Fort Palatine. Lixheim, founded by the indebted count’s son in 1608 to provide a haven for more Reformed refugees and then, the son being equally if not more indebted, sold to her brother in 1623. Hambach, bought by her grandfather a few years before Pfalzburg, in 1561, from the bishop of Metz. That was directly east of Nancy, south of Sarreguemines––almost far enough south to be in Alsace, and far enough east to border on the USE. Sampigny lay to the northeast, closer to Metz; she had built a lovely new chateau there in 1630, just in time for the French to take it away. Saint-Avold, Neufchâteau, a few other scattered lands, this, that, and the other.

Not a lot, but hers. Her lands to govern, with no husband to govern her. At the age of twenty-three, almost twenty-four, she had achieved something almost no noblewoman in Europe could dream of.

She was free.

Or she would be free, if French troops had not occupied her little principality along with the rest of Lorraine.

Free, except that she had fallen in love with Antoine.

Antoine de l’Aage, duc de Puylaurens. Her brother-in-law Gaston’s favorite, with his sweet Languedoc drawl. Panderer to Gaston’s pleasures, and as beautiful of body as he needed to be for that. Adviser in his intrigues against Richelieu. Most recently, by grace of Gaston’s reconciliation with his brother, Louis XIII, the king of France, also granted the titles of duc d’Aiguillon and pair de France.

Antoine was destined, if one believed the eleventh edition of the Encylopedia Britannica, now so widely reprinted and distributed, to die in prison, incarcerated on the orders of that same king, in little more than a year.

Antoine had read the encyclopedia article also. “I read a proverb that the up-timers have,” he told her the last time they saw one another, before he went back to France with Gaston. “‘There’s nothing that concentrates a man’s mind quite as much as the prospect of being hanged in the morning.’ I plan, my dear Henriette, to concentrate very hard.”

It was insane of her to love Antoine. Thank God that he had managed to duck the marriage they had arranged for him with the sister-in-law of Nogaret, who in turn had just married one of Richelieu’s distant cousins. Nogaret, the duc de La Valette, first married one of the illegitimate daughters of Henri IV. Everyone said that he poisoned her once the marriage was no longer advantageous. He’d be an uncomfortable man to have in the family, so to speak, even on the fringes. If Antoine hadn’t managed to escape the match, what relation would the brother of her lover’s wife have been to her? Not inan in-law. But not an out-law, either.

Still, even though Antoine was still single, she was not insane enough to marry him herself.

She was instead, if anybody would ever bother to notice, really rather shrewd. Probably, she would have to wait as long as she had already lived before anyone noticed that. Men seemed to pay more attention to a woman’s mind after she had passed beyond the age of bearing children.

“I just can’t imagine what all those women see in Charles.” While Henriette’s mind was wandering, Marguerite’s had stayed focused on the topic of their brother. “Especially la Chevreuse––she is so lovely.”

Henriette grinned. “The size of the nose is supposed to be a clue, you know.”

Marguerite started to say something appropriately repressive.

A footman, with great ceremony, opened the doors.

Henriette curtsied.

The heavy, not particularly attractive––well, plain, to put it bluntly––woman who entered motioned to Marguerite that she should not, in these private chambers, make the effort to get up.

Nicole, duchess of Lorraine, their cousin and sister-in-law. Duchess of Bar by birth. Her father Henri, their uncle, had died leaving only two daughters. It had made perfect sense to everyone, particularly the pope, who had stepped in as arbitrator, that Nicole, as the older female heir, should be married off to their brother Charles, the closest heir in the male line. It would keep the two parts of the duchy together. It was a neat solution to so many possible problems. Except…

Well, except that Nicole and Charles loathed one another. Always had. Probably always would. It had not been easy for the older members of the family and spokesmen for the Lorraine Estates to obtain the mutual consent without which the wedding could not proceed.

The story circulated that when the happy mother of the groom had ceremonially opened the curtains of the state bed the morning after the wedding night, the newlyweds had been found lying, backs toward one another, on opposite edges of the mattress, the sixteen-year-old groom sulking and the twelve-year-old bride sobbing with misery.

Nicole swore that they had not exchanged so much as a word all that night.

Certainly, in the dozen-plus years between then and now, they had not produced any children, even though the Jesuits had performed multiple exorcisms on the duchess to make sure that her barrenness was not caused by witchcraft.

Nicole stomped to the nearest chair and sat down.

The footman, with equal ceremony, closed the door.

“Divorce,” Nicole said. “This time, he has gone too far. A civil separation, to preserve my property interests. As far as the church goes, a divorce a mensa et thoro, so I never have to see him again. I would even be willing to accept a declaration of nullity, if that is what it takes to rid myself of Charles, not that I need an annulment. Heaven forbid that I should ever be mad enough to wish to marry again. This time…”

Marguerite moaned and turned her face away. “What can he have done now that’s worse than having the priest who baptized you burned for sorcery so he could claim that you weren’t a properly baptized Christian, so your marriage wasn’t valid? Honestly, Nicole, matrimonial incompatibility doesn’t get much worse than that. He hit bottom years ago.”

Henriette lifted her chin. “That was nasty, but the trick by which he and his father used a forged will of Duke René to invalidate your father’s will was worse. Sure, Father de la Vallée is dead, but the pope didn’t let Charles get away with invalidating your marriage because of the sorcery charge and if he was innocent, he’s in heaven experiencing eternal bliss. The Estates, on the other hand, let Charles steal the Duchy of Bar from you. If a husband of mine ever tried anything of the sort with me… If Nicolas ever tries something like that with Claude…”

“Ah,” Marguerite said. “Ah. Where is Claude?”

“Over at the royal palace,” Nicole humphed. “My sister is at the royal palace. Probably giggling with Maria Anna over what it is like to be married to an ex-cardinal. Jokes––those two girls make jokes. Of course, one should not take risks by calling the queen of the Low Countries, one’s hostess while one is in exile, ‘silly.’ Nor is it polite to call one’s sister ‘silly.’ Still…”

“It’s romantic,” Henriette said. “It is. Maria Anna’s running away from Duke Maximilian. Claude’s elopement with our brother Nicolas, disguised as a stable boy, even. No writer of romantic comedies could do better. Why shouldn’t they giggle together when they have a chance? They both have little enough time to laugh, they are so taken up with duty and duties.”

“Romance,” Nicole proclaimed, “is a chimera. A fraud. I have consulted my confessor and an entire bevy of lawyers, both canon and civil.”

Henriette looked at her sister-in-law sharply. Nicole had never gone that far before.

“Nicole,” she said cautiously. “Nicole. Make sure that it is only a separation, a mensa et thoro. If you did obtain a declaration of nullity, Charles would be free of the marital bond and he is just foolish enough to marry one of his flighty little flirts, if she were high-born enough. Even marginally high-born enough. When our brother is being led by his dick, he has no sense whatsoever.”

✽✽✽

Nicolas François, formerly the Cardinal de Lorraine and now heir to the duke of Lorraine, contemplated his brother with exasperation. Charles was––flashy. He was handsome, he was merry, he had military aspirations, he had debts, debts, and more debts. Of the two, Charles was five years older, but he certainly hadn’t devoted those years to accumulating anything that even mildly resembled maturity of judgment. He lacked prudence. He lacked moderation. He did not lack for feminine attention.

“Once Gaston gets here,” the duke was saying.

“Once Gaston gets here, with Puylaurens, you will likely lose any semblance of good behavior you have managed to hang onto by a thread thus far. If you haven’t noticed––and I greatly fear that you have not––the king in the Low Countries is not inclined toward libertinage. I would not go so far as to call him a prude, but when he finds out about your absolutely unashamed pursuit of a respectable young married woman… Even your servants… And if Isabella Clara Eugenia should hear––I believe this girl’s mother was once one of Isabella Clara Eugenia’s ladies-in-waiting, and also a personal friend of the queen’s principal lady-in-waiting, Doña Mencia. This is not going to do anything but cause trouble.”

Charles, duc de Lorraine et Bar, flipped his brother the bird. “I assure you, the lady is not as respectable as she was two weeks ago. By no means as respectable as she was a month ago.”

“Why do I even try? Why did we come to Brussels. ? Our cousins invited Claude and me to come to Savoy. We could have gone there. We could have put hundreds of miles between us and your…activities.”

“The court in Turin is scarcely a model of propriety, my dear brother. Every time I talk to you, it becomes more clear that you were educated to become a bishop. Do stop plaguing me and have a glass of wine.”

✽✽✽

“One result of the defeat at Ahrensbök,” Monsieur Gaston said, “is that my brother and that demon Richelieu no longer really have sufficient military resources to maintain their occupation of Lorraine at full strength.”

Charles IV’s eyes brightened. “My advisers tell me…”

“No,” Nicolas said firmly. “They don’t. Or, at least, they shouldn’t.”

“It’s true,” Puylaurens said. “Richelieu is distracted by other problems. This may be your best opportunity.”

Nicolas answered for his brother. “Under no circumstances.”

✽✽✽

“If her brothers won’t,” Gaston said. “Then I will. On my own. On behalf of Marguerite, of course. It is clearly utterly humiliating for her––well, I haven’t actually asked her, but it must be utterly humiliating for her––I would certainly be utterly humiliated if I were in her place––to see them accepting the exile that my brother’s adviser has forced upon them with such cowardice. With such pusillanimity. With such…”

Puylaurens, who was just barely smart enough to realize that his lord and master lacked something in the way of “ability to intrigue successfully” took Henriette’s advice and suggested that just now, it might be important for Gaston to care for Marguerite solicitously in these final weeks of her pregnancy. “After all, the birth of the heir to France should outweigh…”

“In any case,” Puylaurens continued, “I’ve talked to Charles. He did manage to bring most of his regiments with him when he fled. They’ve been here in the Spanish Netherlands ever since, eating and drilling, getting into trouble with the local authorities in the towns where they are quartered, but really doing nothing. Eating his resources up. Fernando won’t let him take employment offers from any other Kriegsherr and has more sense than to place Charles in a position of command himself. If we offer to reimburse the king for those two years of costs in return for having free use of them this spring…”

“…auch das sterben und kranckheit zimblich einreissen thut,…”

Basel
March 1635

The USE embassy in Basel was, these days, far less embattled than it had been during the crisis with Bavaria the previous summer. The uniformed guards at the entrances were, if not a pure formality, at least more likely to be called upon to check visitors for diplomatic credentials than for hidden weapons.

Inside, Diane Jackson called once more upon her French, upon young Tony Adducci’s German and Latin, and upon her last reserves of patience, which were running low. Very low. She glared at Johann Rudolf Wettstein, representing the city and canton of Basel. She glared at Colonel Raudegen, representing Burgundy.

For good measure, although the man had done nothing but sit quietly, she glared at the delegate representing Johann Heinrich von Osthein, the prince-bishop of Basel (Catholic), which was a quite separate entity from the city and canton of Basel (Protestant). The bishops of Basel had not resided in the city since 1528, owing to a bit of difficulty they encountered with the Reformation.

Or, perchance, the delegate––she couldn’t remember his name, he was such a meek presence––represented the former prince-bishop of Basel, since most of the land over which Osthein had previously been sovereign now found itself in the County of Burgundy. Ostein lived at Porrentruy in Canton Jura. The war had not been good to Porruntruy.

She took a surreptious peek at the notes that Tony had provided for her, hoping to spot the man’s name. No luck. But Tony wrote that Ostein’s family had connections in Mainz––therefore connections with the archbishop of Mainz, who was currently making nice to the USE. Perhaps that was why he had asked to send a delegate. In any case, the bishop had asked to send a representative, no matter what the reason might be, and here he was. Surely someone had introduced him.

Giving up her search for the name of the episcopal delegate, she glared hardest at Margrave Friedrich of Baden-Durlach. “You say that I should speak directly with your father. I cannot speak directly with your father, My Lord, since your father is in Augsburg, glaring across the Lech at the Bavarians in his capacity as administrator for the emperor in this imaginary Province of Swabia they have constructed. Offering imaginary Swabia’s imaginary forces for the protection of the independent city-state.”

“Imaginary?” One Georg Müller, a lawyer representing Axel Oxenstierna, drew himself as erect as he could in the comfortable chair, profoundly offended. “Horn is scarcely imaginary.”

“Yes. Swabia is imaginary. Made up. Invented in their minds, by these ‘great diplomats’ who attended the Congress of Copenhagen, just as a small child will make up an imaginary friend and talk to him or her quite seriously, just as if the invented friend were sitting in the same room, playing. Thus far, it does not exist, this “‘Province of Swabia.’ It shows very little sign of ever existing. Not now. Not someday soon.”

She turned back to the margrave. “Yes, your father is in Augsburg, which is, at least, real. Ulm is garrisoned by the Swedes, true––or, more precisely, by more of these Scots who fight for the Swedes. They seem to be everywhere. But Ulm, also, is an independent city state. Therefore, it will be up to the city council and the emperor whether they have the emperor’s Scots or not, a year from now.”

Diane paused to collect her train of thought.

“You, however, are here. Therefore, you will do what is necessary and you will listen to this man, although he has been sent by Bernhard.”

“As heir to the margaviate margraviate of Baden-Durlach,” Friedrich started.

Tony Adducci scribbled a note and started to doodle a Tom Swifty word game in the margin. How did Margrave Friedrich speak? Persistently, pompously, pontifically (scratch that out––too many Catholic connotations), portentously, priggishly…

“…until such time as the status of Baden’s lands that the self-proclaimed Grand Duke of the County of Burgundy has illegally occupied…”

“Plague,” Diane screamed. “We are not playing games in this room. We are told that there will be an epidemic of plague. This coming summer and next year. First we have wars, now we have plagues. Plagues do not respect borders any more than marauding armies do. They do not respect legal land titles any more than plundering armies do. In this you will cooperate, My Lord. Yes, even with Bernhard. Yes, even if he shows every sign of keeping the parts of Baden he has already occupied. You will cooperate across the borders. As will your honored father on behalf of the imaginary Province of Swabia. As will General Horn on behalf of the king of Sweden, the emperor, you know who. Gustavus Adolphus. Captain GARS. That guy. The politics? Bah. We can sort the politics out later.”

The men around the table looked with awe as the tiny woman transformed into a dragon lady.

“Ummm, Diane…” Tony said.

She glared at Friedrich again. “There are things you need to learn. First, you will not have an independent Baden any more. It may be in Burgundy, or it may be in the USE’s Province of Swabia, but it will be in something, somewhere. Just because your father administers that imaginary province now, there is no reason for you to think that a margrave of Baden will always be its administrator. Gustavus Adolphus appointed your father. He can appoint someone else. Hear the word of God, which you should already know. ‘The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.’ He gave me three sons and he took them away, left up-time. The same is true for an emperor.”

Margrave Friedrich nodded. “Do not put your trust in princes; they are mortal men who cannot save.”

Diane barreled on. “Yes. That is what I said. This world’s princes give and take away. There is no law that Gustavus must appoint you or one of your brothers to succeed your father in Swabia. If Mike Stearns has his way about constitutions, by the time your father’s term expires, the make-believe province will elect its own make-believe head of state.”

Friedrich opened his mouth. Then he shut it again.

Tony doodled ‘prudently’ on the margin of his note pad.

“So. How do you think that it is worse for you to have lands in Burgundy than in the USE? Why is it so bad for you to have some of your lands in each country?”

Friedrich repeated his fish-like mouth maneuver.

“How do you think that moving them all into the USE Province of Swabia would improve matters? Bernhard is one of your own. A down-time duke. He is actually likely to leave your father and you more of your precious perks than Gustavus is. Not that anyone asked me. You sit here arguing about such things while death and disease are breaking out all over the place. Now. Are you all ready to listen to Colonel Raudegen discuss plague?”

Each man at the table averred that he was entirely prepared to enter into an orderly discussion of plague.

Bolzen, Tyrol

“We are, of course,” the regent of Tyrol said, “more grateful than ever that We had the foresight to send the three Padua-trained plague doctors to Burgundy last November. Since at that time We had not yet considered that there might be a prospect of a marriage alliance in that direction… Perhaps it was the working of divine providence. Burgundy will be far better prepared to deal with the coming plague now than it would have been otherwise.”

Marcie Abruzzo, who often suspected that she and her husband were mainly the regent’s “trophy up-timers” even though they were assigned plenty of real work, whispered to that same husband, Matt Trelli. “Cast your bread upon the waters and it will come back sponge cake.”

It was a little embarrassing when the chancellor, Dr. Bienner, caught the whisper and she was forced to repeat the sentence aloud, translating it into three languages, and explaining what sponge cake might be and how it resembled the type of sponge used for washing one’s body with soap and water.

“An irreverent play upon Ecclesiastes 11:1, I presume,” was Bienner’s deadpan comment.

It was considerably more embarrassing when she was tasked by the regent with the duty of writing her mother and requesting a sponge cake recipe. In Marcie’s view, one of the great advantage of having attached themselves to a great household was that even though she was now a married woman, somebody else did the cooking. Namely, a cook. Or cooks. Kitchen staff. Somebody whose job it was to do the cooking. Not her. Just like the cafeterias in high school and college and the cafeterias at USE Steel. She didn’t have the vaguest idea how to bake a sponge cake, nor did she want to learn.

But, ye gods, did the down-timers know their Bibles backwards and forwards.

Lorraine

March 1635

The four regiments of Irish dragoons under Butler, Devereux, Geraldin, and McDonnell, which had been in the pay of the now-flat-broke Ferdinand of Bavaria, Archbishop of Cologne, since the previous year, started out from Euskirchen, west of Bonn, in late February and followed the Jakobswege south, moved into Lorraine at the little Sarreguemines neck with the intent of crossing through the protrusion of Bitche, making an eastward side raid to Merkwiller-Pechelbronn, crossing the Rhine, making their way southeast across Swabia, and entering into the employ of Ferdinand’s brother Duke Maximilian.

The French, busy with their own concerns after the previous spring’s debacle, had only minimal forces in Lorraine. They were minimal, at least, compared to what Richelieu had sent in 1631 and 1632 when he drove the ducal family out. Lacking instructions, the troops on the ground basically huddled in the garrisoned towns of the main body of the duchy to the west and made no effort to impede the Irish colonels’ transit––neither of the dragoons themselves or of the large, unwieldy, baggage train that followed them.

Nobody paid any attention at all to a straggling group of peddlers, coming from the direction of Forbach, who attached themselves to the camp followers shortly after the entourage reached Sarreguemines, even though a couple of the peddlers were ill. People got sick all the time. The arrival of illness and death in one’s midst was simply a fact of life.