1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 10
“But he is not France, young lady. What he does places my country in peril and twists the commands and endangers the rule of my royal brother.”
“Didn’t he also exile you?”
Gaston’s face hardened. “His Majesty exiled me at Richelieu’s direction. You are correct . . . but even that cannot stand forever.”
Terrye Jo didn’t answer.
“It is my desire to reconcile with the king,” he said. “I know that if I have a chance I can do so. But Richelieu must go.”
“As you say, Highness.”
“I am sure . . .” Gaston’s voice, which had become harsh and angry, softened and warmed. “I am sure, Madame, that the relations between my country and yours could become much more cordial in the absence of the cardinal.”
“Your Royal Highness,” Terrye Jo said carefully, “That sort of thing is way above my pay grade.”
Gaston frowned for a moment; she thought perhaps she’d messed up the translation into French. Then he smiled again, like the sun breaking through clouds. “Yes. Of course. That is something that would have to be negotiated. I am sure that I could find common ground with your Emperor.”
“I . . . imagine the king and Emperor Gustav could find a way.”
Gaston did not answer for a moment, then said, “Yes, of course. If God wills it I may someday be king of France, but in the meanwhile my royal brother might be able to make progress toward friendship and peace, free of the malign influence of the cardinal.”
“Peace is better than war, for sure.”
“Yes. Of course it is.” The beatific Guy Fawkes smile came back. “Now, I do not wish to keep you much longer from all the young men who wait to dance with you, Mademoiselle. I wish only to confirm for my own satisfaction that your radio equipment has been brought to the standard I require, and that you can personally handle the task.”
“I’ve been able to pick up traffic all the way from Magdeburg and Venice. I expect that if the other station is transmitting, the equipment here can communicate with it.”
“I’m counting on it.”
“I am at your service, Your Royal Highness, with the permission of His Grace the Duke.”
“Excellent.” He made a very formal leg. “I shall call upon you personally when the time comes.”
“I look forward to it, Your Highness.”
“Yes,” he said as he turned away, smiling. “I am sure you do.”
As Monsieur Gaston walked back among the many visitors to the Castello del Valentino, Terrye Jo Tillman wondered to herself just what that had been about.
“So.” The duke of Savoy gestured with his wine glass, which caught the firelight and sparkled. “You seem impressed with our resident up-timer.”
They were sitting in the dimly-lit library. Victor Amadeus had dismissed the servant, choosing to serve personally as cupbearer for his brother-in-law.
“What makes you think that?”
“You paid court to her, Highness,” he said.
Gaston leaned back in his armchair and stretched like a hunting cat. “Is that what you call it?”
“You were very charming.”
“I am always very charming. She is a comely one, though to be honest, she knows very little about how to enhance it. A wig might have been in order to cover that man’s haircut, and — I don’t know, some face powder or some such. I can imagine that under her gloves there are a pair of laborer’s hands.”
“She was a soldier, Gaston.”
“Ah. That explains it, I suppose, but it does not excuse it. Still, she is no Helen.”
“My wife rather likes her.”
Gaston shook his head. “My dear sister, the duchess, sees a rose under every thorn. Has she taken this up-timer as a pet?”
“That’s a bit disparaging.”
“Gentle birth — royal birth — has its privileges, Victor.” He patted his stomach. “But in all earnest: doesn’t she have something else more important to think about?”
“I don’t think it’s ever far from her mind.”
“Then she should stick to it,” Gaston said, shrugging off all pretense of conviviality. “Christina is neither qualified to involve herself in ducal — or royal — affairs, nor aware of the pitfalls of befriending these up-timers. She should stick to the affairs of women, Victor, and nothing else.”
The duke of Savoy did not answer. Perhaps Gaston expected him to agree, or object, but Victor Amadeus said nothing.
“I suspect that you have not given much thought to up-timers, brother-in-law,” he continued. “I know what I think of them. Holy Mother Church has been very cautious about the Ring of Fire: what it is, why it happened, and what we should think about it. But as for the up-timers themselves, they are not to be trusted.”
Victor Amadeus drank his wine and set the goblet on a sideboard. “I will vouch for Mademoiselle Tillman. She is trustworthy, honest, hard-working and reliable.”
“And you stand behind her.”
“Then, my dear Victor Amadeus, you are gullible. The up-timers are a tightly-knit society: three thousand men and women who speak the same language.”
“Many people speak English or — what is it they call it? — Amideutsch.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Gaston leaned forward and jabbed the air with his finger toward his brother-in-law. “I’m talking about their common culture, their context. They are all a part of the same world and not our world. They think differently than we do.”
“Of course they do. They’re from the future, Gaston.”
“But not our future.”
“I don’t even know what that means.”
“Oh, don’t you.” Gaston stood up and walked across the library to a table, where a map of Europe was spread. “Look at this, Victor. Our world, from the Pillars of Hercules to the mountains of Russia. And right in the middle of it, squatting like a big, fat toad, is the United States of Europe. For the last four and a half years it has been growing and growing, sending its agents and its . . . ideas in every direction. The future that the up-timers come from, the one in which France becomes the greatest power in the world, is never going to happen.
“Have you read the up-time histories, Victor? Have you? In their world — what do they call it? Time line? In their time line, France allies with the king of Sweden, and he is killed at a battle at Lützen in 1632. It continues in alliance with Sweden against the Imperial forces for years afterward and ultimately wins a great battle.” He poked at the map, at a place in the Netherlands. “A place called Rocroi, about seven years from now — if now hadn’t been destroyed by the Ring. Of. Fire.” The last three words were punctuated by raps of his knuckles.
“But it’s not going to happen. It is never going to happen. Instead, we have the fat toad squatting in the middle of the Germanies, spreading their ideas of democracy and freedom.”
He fell silent for a moment. “I cannot change the past,” Gaston said at last. “But I can help mold the present. The up-timers can help with that task — even this soldier and telegrapher that you favor so much. But they will never be allies. They cannot be trusted, Victor. I trust that you will never, ever forget it.”
“Is that a royal command?”
“I am not your king.”
“No,” the duke said. “You are my brother-in-law, and heir to the French throne.” He walked back to the sideboard and poured another glass of wine. He took a moment to contemplate it, then drank it down like water.