The sight that greeted Marshal-General Antoine Noailles as he rode, accompanied by his small escort, into the city square of Zerbst, was not one to calm a temper irritated by the cares and difficulties of active campaigning. Along one side of the plaza had been erected within the week of his absence a long gallows already adorned by a half-dozen wretches left to hang. Noailles stopped and for several moments surveyed the terrible sight before him. Silence fell.
|Marshal-Genral Antoine Noailles as depicted in the|
Zerbst Daily Zeal journal.
'Cut them down!' the Marshal-General turned to the Captain of his escort, 'and make sure they are given a decent burial.' The captain saw that the look on his commander's face brooked no demurral.
'Jawohl, Herr Marschal!' hurrying off with several of his escort, the Captain set about his grisly task. At the same time an officious city individual, accompanied by an armed bodyguard of his own, approached the Marshal-General himself.
'Herr Marshal-General,' piped up this rather scrawny looking fellow dwarfed by his burly escort, ' I am Monseer Stanislaus Snivl, Secretary and Envoy of their Worships the Burgomeisters of Zerbst and the Republicke of Godde. I bring you this...' he handed over a sealed paper. 'You are summoned to the Rathaus to answer certain questions in respect of your handling the war- ...'
'Indeed,' several of his remaining escort, recognising at once from the Marshal-General's drawl that a slow burn had been ignited, drew back slightly. '"Summoned", eh?' He glanced through the missive. 'Well, sirrah! We can not leave the good burghers of Zerbst waiting, can we?'
|The Rathaus at Zerbst|
'You must cease removal of those criminals from the gallows,' the Secretary and Envoy said. His failure to observe the signs proved his undoing. The Marshal-General's hand shot down, seized the messenger by the lapels of his coat, and with a single heave hauled him up to eye level. Whether the armed townsmen would have rescued their leader was rendered moot in the face of several swords and pistols facing them from Noailles's escort.
'Criminals, were they?' The words came grinding, heavily punctuated by the aroma of the Marshal-General's favorite garlic, from between clenched teeth into the hapless secretary's face, 'They were not criminals a week ago. They were not traitors. What charges were laid? Who laid them? Was there a trial? Confession? Extracted under torture I have no doubt. Witnesses? Evidence? Testimony? Aye: I'll wager these were produced... Those people there will be given a decent burial, prayers and a proper funeral service, forthwith, immediately and at once. At the town's expense. Or I shall want to know the reason why. You hear me? Do I make myself clear? You will supervise this work, and report to me, personally, when it is done.'
'But they were traitors, Catholics-!'
'Know, sirrah, that at least two of those people were friends of mine - personal friends and colleagues. Both were Catholics, granted, but neither did anything to harm our cause, and one even supported it with money and recruits. I dare say those others were in like case.' The Marshal-General turned to one of his staff officers. 'These four likely looking lads will make fine recruits for the army - just the sort we need to make good our losses. See to it!'
|Debates and trials in the Rathaus.|
Are the Revolutionaries starting to count their chickens...?
As the four townsmen were hustled off, and secretary Snivl wittered about ignored, the Marshal-General cantered off with the half dozen that remained of his escort straight to the Rathaus, off the main square. The burgomeisters of Zerbst were about to discover that it was no light matter to summon the Commander of the Army. Suppose the Commander of the Army complied. Then what?
To be continued: A Debate in the Rathaus.