1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 20

1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 20

Chapter 11

April, 1636

Sacra di San Michele, Savoy

At the ruined abbey of San Michele on the south side of Mount Pirchiriano, two soldiers stamped their feet and blew on their hands to try and keep warm. By the calendar, spring was three weeks old — but the snow on the ground and the icy wind put the lie to it.

“What did we ever do to Monsieur to get posted here, Jacques?” asked the younger soldier. He was tall and trim, and affected the same style of moustache and beard as his master.

The other man, shorter and older, turned aside and spat by way of answer. He had seen a considerably greater number of seasons, and didn’t bother much with fashion. He also didn’t ask questions anywhere near as much.

“Are you sure that he will be here?” Jacques continued.

“He told us he will come, Pierre, then he will come. I know better than to disobey him.” He gave his young companion a hard look as if to say, and if you have any sense, you’d best do the same.

“Why in this God-forsaken place?”

“Hah.” Jacques scratched his beard. It fit that description pretty well: it was a big stone structure with a tall tower and stone outbuildings, sprawling all over the side of the hill — but was also completely abandoned. “God-forsaken. You have the makings of a court fool, my young friend. There hasn’t been very much of a presence up here since some pope or other threw the monks out of here ten or fifteen years ago . . . though I don’t know how blessed it was when there were monks up here. But the answer to your question should be obvious even to a clown — it’s miles from everywhere, but commands a good view of the road that leads over the mountains from the west all the way to Turin. A perfect place for a secret meeting.”

“And we’re here . . .”

“To make sure it stays secret,” Pierre said. “The young bastard will be coming from that way –” he pointed west, toward the road that bent toward the little village of Bussoleno — “and Monsieur is traveling from Tuscany and should come up that way.” He pointed in the other direction. “Then, I would guess, we will journey together to Turin.”

“Seems like a lot of trouble to go to. But maybe he likes the view, Pierre.”

“Shut up.”

Before Jacques could respond, there was a high-pitched whistle. Jacques and Pierre drew their swords and stepped next to the tower, each looking in a different direction. After a few moments, two horsemen approached, climbing the hill in plain sight. Even from the distance, Jacques could pick out the livery of the house of Vendôme.

The two men put up their swords and approached.

Francois de Vendôme, Duke of Mercoeur, cut a fine figure. Tall and handsome, he was an excellent horseman and — Pierre and Jacques knew — a talented swordsman. During the last few years as he had accompanied Monsieur Gaston, there had been numerous occasions for him to demonstrate that skill in affairs of honor. The soldiers knew their place and stood respectfully as Francois dismounted. He was traveling light and fast, with two gentlemen in waiting and a valet, who dismounted and followed in turn. The servant caught the reins of the horses and led them carefully up the slope behind the others.

“Is he here?” Louis said.

“Not yet, Your Grace,” Pierre said. “We have been watching for him.”

The nobleman turned away, looking down the road and then up toward the towering, broken façade of the abbey.

“God-forsaken place,” he said.

Jacques smirked at Pierre, out of sight of the duke; Pierre scowled at him, then turned to the nobleman. “Yes, My Lord. But it is as His Highness commanded.”

“Yes, yes.” He kicked the base of the tower, loosening mud and snow from his boots. “We’re going to go inside. Keep careful watch and alert me when he approaches.”

“Of course, My Lord.”

He said nothing further, but beckoned to his two gentlemen companions. They began to walk up a narrow stone stair toward an arched portal that led to the interior.

The valet, holding the reins of the horses, looked at Pierre and Jacques, as if they might tell him where to stable them. When they didn’t respond, he led them slowly around the base of the abbey to a place out of the wind and out of sight of the road below.


When Monsieur Gaston arrived a short time later, Louis and his companions had had a chance to walk around the ruins, and had located a place that had probably served as a refectory for the monks. It had a number of broad tables and benches, weather-beaten but largely intact; when the monastery was closed down, the lower windows had been boarded up, keeping most of the weather out. There was evidence that some animals had made their lairs there, and someone not too long ago — probably during this winter — had built a fire in the hearth, but the place was otherwise deserted.

“Charming,” Gaston said as he came down the little stair into the refectory. Louis had been giving his attention to some of the carvings in the stonework while his gentlemen lounged on the benches, their feet up on the tables. They scrambled to their feet and offered a leg to the prince, earning a scowl from Louis; they were supposed to be attending him.

Louis was even more annoyed that the two ruffians set to keep watch hadn’t warned him of Gaston’s arrival. But he was determined to show none of this to the prince.

“Good day, Uncle. I trust you had a pleasant journey.”

Gaston drew off his riding gloves and slapped them on his thigh, then tucked them into his belt. “Oh, yes. Bracing. But this venue will afford us some privacy.”

Louis nodded. “That it will.” He gestured to his retinue. “Go make yourself useless elsewhere.”

They bowed and made their way out of the refectory, closing the heavy wooden doors behind them.

“It’s so hard to find good help,” Gaston said.

“Nearly impossible. But it’s all my father could spare. At least they both speak passable Spanish, so they were helpful eyes and ears in Madrid.”

Gaston gestured to a table, and the two men took seats opposite. “And how was Madrid?”

“Boring. His Majesty scarcely lets anyone see him directly; Olivares makes sure of that. It’s all . . . what is that up-timer expression? ‘Hurry up and wait.’ Even the Count-Duke took more than a week to give me an audience.”

“Cheek. But what you would expect from a Spaniard?”

“Just so.”

“What did he say?”

“It is as informative,” Louis answered, “to relate what he did not say. Señor Olivares commended you on your wisdom with regard to support for Cardinal Borja. He allowed that his master the king continued to be troubled by the apparent disrespect shown to his royal sister by your royal brother, and was fretful about the recent actions of some up-timers on Mallorca.”

“Interesting. Did he elaborate on that last?”

“Not in any detail. Apparently some prisoners taken during the — unrest in Rome, as he termed it — had escaped custody, and one of the king’s most trusted hidalgos had accompanied them.”

“Apparently he cannot find enough good help either,” Gaston said, chuckling at his own wit.

“As you say, My Lord. In any case, he is curious as to the effect a male heir might have on the political situation in France, and on your own situation with respect to our King.”

“He knows exactly what a male heir would do,” Gaston said. All trace of humor had left his face. “The Count-Duke de Olivares would be extremely unlikely to receive my envoy should my royal sister-in-law bring a healthy son into the world.”

“He noted that your brother — and the cardinal — are being extremely careful on that account. Indeed, he asked me if we knew anything of Queen Anne’s whereabouts. His master sought to correspond with her, and had been told by his envoy in Paris that such letters could be sent to the cardinal and they would be duly forwarded.”

“I assume King Philip was dissatisfied with that answer.”

I assume,” Louis said, “that King Philip had not actually posed the question. In any case, Olivares assumes that we know no more about Anne’s location than he did. I demurred, and I hope that I conveyed the sentiment that if we did know, it was nothing we were prepared to share with him at this time.”


“Thank you, Uncle. I don’t know if I convinced him, but I might have planted a seed of doubt. In any case, I made it clear that regardless of the outcome of this . . . diversion . . . you were not prepared to fade into obscurity, and further, you considered the Count-Duke a friend and ally.”


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10 Responses to 1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 20

  1. vikingted says:

    looks like your test works

  2. Randomiser says:

    Hooray posting seems to be fixed.

    Presumably this is Louis de Vendome, not Francois as first introduced, the heir of 5 duchies and nephew of both Louis XIII and Monsieur, since his father was a legitimated son of a mistress of Henri IV?

    • Greg Noel says:

      In actual fact, the duc de Mercœur at this time was really Françoise (note the ‘e’ on the end), along with her husband César de Bourbon, duc de Vendôme. And note the corrected spellings; if you’re going to use the ‘ô’ in Vendôme, you should also use the ‘œ’ in Mercœur (as well as the ‘ç’ in François, since Terrye Jo has already commented on the correct sound for the cedilla).

      This sort of thing happens too often (see the problem with the soldiers’ names elsewhere). Is there someway we can encourage Baen to get some more-competent copy-editors?

      • Greg Noel says:

        Sorry, got sidetracked, should have finished my thought before going off into La-La Land. Louis is the son of Françoise and César, but isn’t the duc de Mercœur until 1649, nor the duc de Vendôme until 1669; at this point, he’d just be Louis de Bourbon. I suspect “François de Vendôme, duc de Mercœur” is a made-up character, merged from bits and pieces of Françoise and Luis.

      • Greg Noel says:

        Hmmm, let me amend my amendment. The horseman arrives as “François,” but after the introduction, he is “Louis” when talking to M. Gaston. I think our authors are confused about who is who (and when they acquire titles).

        Moreover, the older guard refers to François/Louis as “the young bastard.” Louis is young, but he’s not a bastard. His father, César, is a bastard, but he’s not young. I wonder if this character was originally intended to be César (masquerading under his wife’s name), but the authors decided to move him down a generation so that he could be more of an action figure.

  3. cka2nd says:

    The names of the two soldiers on watch are completely scrambled.

    The younger soldier asks the older one: “What did we ever do to Monsieur to get posted here, Jacques?” thereby establishing that the older soldier’s name is Jacques.

    The very next piece of dialogue is “‘Are you sure that he will be here?’ Jacques continued.” except that it’s the younger soldier continuing as the older one has so far said nothing. And sure enough, the older soldier replies: “‘He told us he will come, Pierre, then he will come.'” which establishes that the younger soldier’s name is Pierre.

    The names are completely reversed by the time Gaston’s man, Louis, arrives. It’s doubtful that the younger of the two would be taking the lead in conversing with a noble, yet the one doing the talking is called Pierre. And Jacques is the one referred to as smirking in the background, but given Jacques’ established age and experience, this is more likely Pierre doing the smirking.

    The book is probably already printed but this kind of sloppy copyediting can be quite confusing and, as a result, irritating. And this isn’t the first time that I’ve seen Baen Books snippets with typos, and they usually made it into the book, too. It looks to me that either the authors or the publisher need some extra and/or new copy editors.

    • Greg Noel says:

      Hear, hear! This is my most common complaint about Baen books, to the point that I won’t read some of their authors any more because the copy-editing is so awful that the illiteracies keep pulling me out of the story.

      • Thank you, Randomiser, Greg and cka2nd. I was puzzled about Louis and searched on Wikipedia without success. I expect to be at Libertycon this June, and I intend to copy your comments above and ask Paula & Gorg about them. Again, thank you.

  4. Doug Lampert says:

    I wanted to ask on the previous two snippets, how can the duchess NOT be aware that Anne was fertile in OTL?

    Louis XIV’s existence isn’t exactly a secret or buried in only a few obscure histories. That Anne was able to carry a child to term in 1638 OTL should be well known to all players.

    Now, this is a different child, at a different time, conceivably even with a different father, it could miscarry, it could be a girl. But everyone involved should have been aware for several years now that a child was a real possibility.

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