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The Emperor's Agent -- Lannes's Problem

Because I was talking with someone about Marshal Jean Lannes today, I thought I'd share his first scene in The Emperor's Agent, in the summer of 1805 at Boulogne. Elza has just arrived on the Emperor's business....

It could not have been five minutes before he returned, and Subervie's demeanor had changed entirely. "Come this way, Madame," he said, taking my elbow and hustling me quickly down the hall to the Marshal's office. "Marshal Lannes will see you right away."

The office was in the back, away from the din, with rainslicked windows that looked out toward the sea, not that anything could be seen today. On an ordinary day, I supposed, one might even be able to see the topsails of the British ships patrolling just offshore, the Channel Fleet at their endless stations.

Lannes rose to his feet as I entered. Thirty something, he was only of medium height, with a classically handsome face and light brown hair and the whippy body of a fencer, alert and keen. "Madame St. Elme," he said.

"Marshal Lannes."

Subervie shut the door behind me, staying inside.

Lannes' gaze ran up and down, from my sensible boots beneath my hem to the sodden plume on my bonnet. "So you are the Emperor's agent."

"I am," I said, coming in and taking the chair Subervie held for me, so that both of them might sit once more. "And you are the Emperor's friend."

He looked startled. "I like to think I am one of his friends."

"The one he trusts not to be spying for the Royalists," I said. "Wittingly or unwittingly. He has sent me to assist in your endeavors, and to find this man for you."

"So I see," he said, gesturing to the paper spread on his desk, the Emperor's own hand and his own seal. His eyes met mine squarely. Whatever doubts he might have, he did not give them harbor in the face of the Emperor's plan. "We have a leak. A substantial leak. And under the circumstances, a leak of our plans to the British could be the ruination of all. It would cost thousands of lives, to put it bluntly."

I nodded gravely. "So the Emperor said," I replied. "He said that the evidence pointed to a senior officer or one of their aides."

"Or one of the officers of the General Staff assigned to the School of War," Lannes said. "They also have access to some operational materials."

Subervie shifted in the other hard chair beside mine, and my eyes flew to him involuntarily.

"I've known Subervie since he was a boy," Lannes said, following my thought. "I'd stake my honor on him. But he's about the only one."

"There are too many people," Subervie said. "You saw the office out there. There are a hundred men in and out every day on business. We can't be certain that it's someone with legitimate access to the operational documents. There are just too many people."

"Don't you keep them locked up?"

"Of course." Lannes leaned back in his chair a little. "And many of them are in cipher. But it's not possible to keep everything locked up that could add up. Logistics and supply, for example. We have to order food, stockpile it, have powder and shot prepared and in the right locations. Every carter's order can't be in cipher or kept in a strongbox. Things add up. It's not the big plans I'm worried about. It's the hundreds of less secure things that add up."

"But surely everyone already knows we're going to invade England," I said. "Are the logistics that plain about date and time?"

Subervie and Lannes' eyes met over my head. The Marshal shrugged. "I think a smart man could put enough together," he said. "If he had the right pieces. Which is why we need to trap the spy, not just keep him away from the most classified materials. There are too many things that could give away something."

I had to accept that. "Do you have any suspicions, justified or unjustified? Any place I should start?"

"With the operational documents," Lannes said. "Subervie will give you a list of the men who have legitimate access, though I doubt that will tell you much. And then there are the aides. Dozens of them, and some of them aren't even French."


"Jomini's all right," Subervie said. He looked at me. "He's Swiss. A volunteer who impressed Marshal Ney with his theories about classical warfare. Ney made him an aide and he teaches at the School of War."

I tried not to sigh. I had hoped to be here a few days before anything pointed straight there. But I knew Michel. If anyone was likely to hire a spy without realizing it, it was Michel, who always gave each man the best chance. "And what does this Jomini do?" I asked.

"He's been restaging classical battles for training purposes," Subervie said. "We fight each other in miniature, some of the great battles of history, learning what went right and seeing if we can change the outcome."

"The Emperor mentioned that," I said, looking at Lannes. "He said you recently won Gaugamela as the Persians."

Lannes laughed. "Oh that! Well, I had the advantage of knowing what mistakes Darius made. And besides, Hephaistion's no Alexander."

I must have started, because he looked at me a little sharply. "Marshal Ney was playing Hephaistion. In the game."

"Of course," I said.