1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 09
“You look fine, my dear. For Heaven’s sake, stop fussing.”
Terrye Jo twisted, trying to settle the fall of her very full skirts, draped over pleated pads at the hips and ending in a small train. There were petticoats and underclothes, more than she knew existed. The front of the gown was a single piece, while the back was separated at the uncomfortably high waistline. The bodice had a wide neck, with the side seams running into the full sleeves, which puffed out like a pair of frilly balloon animals. And she wasn’t even able to describe the boning at the waist.
“Your Grace must realize how uncomfortable this all is.”
“Mademoiselle, I am perhaps two months from term. If you think that you are uncomfortable, consider my position.” Duchess Christina Maria smiled and reached out a hand, clad in a delicate, white lace glove. “Really, Teresa. It will be all right. Now put on your gloves and your smile.”
Terrye Jo drew on her own gloves, of thin doeskin leather. At least they covered up her hands, which showed ample evidence of hard manual work — but even though they were comfortable and beautiful, they seemed alien on her.
As for the smile, it came much more easily.
“That’s better,” Cristina said. “Now you have no need to be nervous. You have attended to your bows and curtseys with military attention — you will do fine.”
“That’s not what worries me, Your Grace.”
“Then what is it, dear?”
“I’ve . . . never met royalty before.”
“You’ve met a Duke. And a Duchess,” Cristina added, smiling again. “Whose father was a king. That’s almost the same.”
“I suppose it is, but not quite. I mean no offense, Your Grace, but an heir to a throne is a different thing.”
“Gaston is just a man, my dear. He’s my unrepentant, dissolute brother. He sits at table and squats in the privy like every other man. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
“I’m not afraid of him.”
“Then . . .”
“I — nothing. I don’t know.” Terrye Jo walked away from Cristina, turning her back on her — which was probably bad protocol, but she didn’t know if she cared. Honestly, she wanted to run away, even though she wasn’t exactly wearing shoes for running.
Cristina had a temper and was a little thin skinned, but she was very fond of Terrye Jo. Rather than follow her first instinct, she waited for her up-timer friend to gather herself.
“I’m sorry,” Terrye Jo said at last. She came back to stand before the duchess. “I beg your pardon, Madame.”
“Oh, nonsense.” The duchess extended her hands to Terrye Jo, who took them and held them for several moments. “Let me tell you something. The world of the court — this one, any one, really — is a man’s world. There are kings and princes and dukes and ministers and archbishops, and any number of courtiers. The best of them include and honor their ladies, but many do not. We are no more than ornaments, decorations. Brood mares.”
She placed her hand on her womb. “And we are otherwise ignored. But that does not make us less: it makes them weaker for ignoring us. Teresa, when we walk out into court and are presented, we should hold our heads high and look each man in the eye. Even if the man is the heir to a mighty throne.”
“I still have to bow.”
“Unless it is your up-time custom not to do so. I’m told that there aren’t many princes there.”
“I’ve never met one, Your Grace. Not even here down-time. You and the duke are the first great lords I’ve ever met.”
“And we’re not so bad, are we?”
“No, you’re –” Terrye Jo folded her hands in front of her and blushed. “You’ve been so nice to me.”
“We don’t do that for everyone, my dear.” When Terrye Jo didn’t answer, she turned to a mirror and adjusted the fit of her bodice and continued, “All right, then. Let’s go in.”
When she was growing up, Terrye Jo’s dad was a big fan of graphic novels — what some folks in Grantville called grown-up comic books. That came to mind when she first saw Monsieur Gaston. One of the ones her father liked was a sort of scary dystopian future in which the government was brought down by a freedom-fighting terrorist in a mask — a “Guy Fawkes” mask with a pointy beard and moustache and painted-on smile. That was the face she saw on the heir to the throne of France: a permanent charming grin and deep brown eyes.
When she was finally presented to the prince, he took her hand in his and afforded her a first-class royal smile. Terrye Jo could hardly take her eyes off him; he seemed to draw attention to himself from every corner of the room. She managed the curtsy that the duchess had made her practice. Just as Gaston was taking her hand, she glanced aside at the duchess of Orleans, Marguerite, who didn’t look at all pleased. But, even with the tightness of her dress, she breathed much easier.
As she stood a little while later on the side of the room watching the festivities, she saw Monsieur Gaston extricate himself from a small knot of people and make his way toward her, the crowd of people parting to let him through. His wife seemed to be watching him carefully, and Terrye Jo noticed that the duchess had taken note as well. For a few seconds she thought he might be headed toward someone else, but it seemed as if anyone within ten feet of her moved away until she stood alone beside a small alcove.
“Mademoiselle,” he said, offering her a courtly bow. “If you would indulge me with a few moments of your time?”
She gave him a curtsy. “Of course, Your Royal Highness.” All of a sudden she felt as if her French wasn’t up to the task.
“Excellent,” he said, steering her gently by the elbow into the alcove. They were still completely visible from the hall, but were afforded a small bit of privacy. Terrye Jo composed herself, hoping she didn’t look as alarmed as she felt.
Head high, she thought.
“Mademoiselle Tillman,” Monsieur Gaston said. “I am honored to have the chance to speak with you. I have met so few up-timers. I know that my associate has already visited you to discuss my need for your specific services.”
“He was . . . pretty direct, Highness.”
“I apologize most humbly, Mademoiselle. He has spent far more time in the saddle than at a court.”
“It’s all right.” She absently tugged on the sleeve of her right glove. “I’m used to it.”
“Ah, but you should not have to be. I think that you put the fear of God into him.”
“I’m used to that too.”
Gaston smiled. “I expect you are. Tell me, young lady, what do you think of France?”
She wasn’t quite ready for the question. “I . . . I don’t know, Highness. France used to be our enemy, the USE’s enemy. I guess it isn’t anymore.”
“No. Our countries are now at peace. And tell me, Mademoiselle Tillman . . . what do you think of Cardinal Richelieu?”
“I’m not sure. He’s — well, I guess we don’t trust him.”
“As well you should not.” Gaston ran a finger along his cheek. He wore the carefully-trimmed chin beard and flowing moustaches, but his jaw was clean-shaven. “Richelieu is a spider in the middle of a web, Mademoiselle. He keeps secrets and makes plots and intrigues, and holds lives and souls in the palm of his hand. All of his secrets are, as he says, ‘beneath his red robe.’