Colonel Rochefort twitched uncomfortably in the damp mist that covered Trier’s, no, Trève’s now, must remember that, main square.
There was not enough sun to burn off the river mist, and the whole parade would have been dampened by the weather, save that it could not be a much less enthusiastic occasion in any case. The crash of the marching regiment’s boots on the cobblestones almost drowned out the cheering. Cheering that strobed the square oddly; not because the people were in motion, but because only those inhabitants close to the pairs of Cardinal’s guards moving through the crowd cheered, however faintly. As soon as the guards passed, the populace resumed their surly Teutonic glower, as they dourly regarded the regiments of France come to “protect” the electorate. Attendance, of course, had been mandatory; therefore there was a number of elderly, confused or both, people present as well, wondering where the circus was. All around them, thought Rochefort, but his expression carefully said nothing.
Colonel Rochefort twitched. He missed Paris, from the avenues to the boulevards to the alleys. He missed the theatre, and the stage doors. He missed the bistros, and the seedy bars. And the food, mon dieu, if he saw more pork, he would contract scurvy. Fried pork, boiled pork, roasted pork, picked pork. And not a decent sauce to be seen. Soup made of cabbage, pickle made of cabbage, it was no wonder, added to the beer, that the place stank. It had to be admitted that some of the wine was decent enough though, and the new vintages made a pleasant change. But, oh Paris!
Colonel Rochefort twitched again. This whole parade farce was a terrible idea, not least because his eminence the Cardinal-Elector insisted that as a “complement to the Teutonic martial spirit” his staff wore military uniforms. Which had resulted in Rochefort wearing this absurd hussar uniform, bedecked with lace, pelisse, saber and riding boots. All in an horrific palette of gaudy colors.
How was a man to lurk in an alley in this get up? Moving discreetly through the twilight was impossible, damn it, moving discreetly ANYWHERE was impossible. The stupid saber was all edge with no point, and it was all so damned tight….
Rochefort’s fulminations were interrupted by the Cardinals raised eyebrow. Rochelort joined his master at the same time as two splendidly attired nobles in approximations of military dresses.
“Your eminence, I am Marshal Count de Toulouse-Laurtrec, in charge of the troops sent to aid you against this unwarranted aggression. This is Monsieur Le Duc de Clarkeshire, a gentleman volunteer with us, who his majesty asked to be introduced to you.” said the shorter of the two soldiers.
The taller soldier, languid to the point of somnambulism, declared himself delighted to meet the Cardinal-Elector. In perfect French of course; he was a gentleman.
The Cardinal was declaring himself well pleased that the defense of the electorate would be in such competent hands, and arranging the regrouping of the French regiments into temporary Electorate forces (this last caused a certain amount of unease in the Marshal until it was explained that this meant names for the units for the local news sheets that might serve to conceal direct Bourbon involvement) when a rather sweaty messenger approached and whispered in Rochefort’s ear.
Another raised eyebrow from the Cardinal, acknowledging the concern now apparent on Rochefort’s face.
“Your Eminence, Messieurs, I am informed that the forces of Braunschweig-Wolfenbuttel have crossed the border and are approaching the plains near Strenk, some twenty leagues from here.”
“That is rather more expedition than I expected from our haberdashery merchants,” smiled the Cardinal “I suspect that you gentlemen should start moving your troops. We shall accompany you in the field, only in an observational capacity, of course”
Le Duc declared himself looking forward to speaking more with the Cardinal “on campaign” and ambled off after the bustling Marshal.
The Cardinal turned to Rochefort.
“Find out how we came to be mis-informed about our enemy’s movements and arrange for it not to happen again, Rochefort”
As he nodded agreement, Rochefort considered someone was going to have a terribly bad day shortly, and that made the whole Hussar uniform thing a lot more acceptable; nothing like incipient misery for someone else to make one happier with ones’ lot.
On the plains of Strenck, some days later
Despite being a colonel, notionally, Rochefort knew not the slightest thing about the military art. He knew rather a lot about fighting, assassination, and other violent activities, but very little about this form of organised carnage. To his knowledge the Cardinal knew even less (“One hires those people, because they tend to tiresomely go and get themselves killed. It does not do to rely on them”). So it was unsurprising that they found themselves sitting in a stand of trees, the Cardinal reading a book, and eating cold chicken while the armies arranged themselves.
French no, wait Electorate forces were gathered in a half moon formation, huddled in the openness of the field. The Braunschweig-Wolfenbuttel forces were arrayed opposite, their details obscured by distance. No terrain features of note obstructed the armies.
Mildly, Rochefort addressed the Cardinal.
“Your Eminence, why are we here?”
Marking his place in the book with a leaf, the Cardinal looked up and answered “To witness the forces of the electorate victorious, of course, Rochefort.”
“i am sorry, your Eminence, I failed to make myself clear. Why are we at war at all? Your Eminence has not displayed interest in pork products before; why now?”
“Questioning my statesmanship, Rochefort?” smiled the Cardinal.
Rochefort recognised a pit lined with spikes when he saw one; seeing them was a frequent enough occurrence.
“No, your eminence,” he answered, gesturing at the field of oncoming battle, “I just do not understand what it gains you.”
“Ah”, answered the Cardinal, “we are standing up for an Imperial Count. We may both understand that an Imperial Count is generally as much use as a chocolate teapot, but this will enhance our standing in the Diet, and get the denizens of Ratisbon to regard me as a true imperial elector.”
“Ah. I understand” said the Colonel. And, after a moment, “So it really does not matter if we win or lose, we win either way.”
“Indeed.” The cardinal was returning to the book, but gestured to the armies. “Might matter to them, I suppose, but that hardly signifies. Tell me if anything occurs.”
After a short while, something indeed was occurring. Moving with an unlikely speed, the Ducal army sped toward the Electoral left. The shudder of surprise was almost visible in the French ranks, even as they moved forward to attempt to counter the thrust.
Unlike the electoral move, however, Rochefort judged the riposte a little unsure, un peu déboussolé.
He watched for a while as the armies engaged with musketry, clearing his throat to attract the Cardinal’s attention.
The Cardinal rose, marked his book again, and looked at the field. French infantry surged forward in a charge, and then fell back.
The Cardinal gestured at the grooms to prepare the horses.
“I fear we may be de trop here shortly, Rochefort. I do not see the forces of the Electorate being blessed with victory today.”
Watching broken French infantry head toward the rear in a mass, Rochefort had to agree, and a lifetime of experience told him that being elsewhere when bad things
happened was a survival trait.
Unsurprisingly, he noticed that the Cardinal was already mounted, seemingly without having travelled the intervening distance from his seat to the saddle. The picnic was packed, the furniture stowed, and they were turning their horses toward the city when the parley rang out across the field.
“Ah” said the Cardinal “we will ask for honors of war, and they will grant it, for there is nothing for them to gain by not.”
Spurring his horse homeward he added “One only hopes that that there has been some pruning of the officer corps, allowing new and more competent shoots to come forth.”
Apparently, thought Rochefort, the Cardinal had not enjoyed his conversations with Paul, le Duc de Clarkeshire. Which did not bode particularly well for le Duc, but that really was not Rochefort’s problem.