1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 24
Chateau de Baronville, Beville-le-Comte
Katie Matewski took the queen’s hand by the wrist and looked at her watch, counting the pulses as the second-hand swept around. The watch had belonged to her mother and had probably cost $10 back in the day — but now it was a priceless up-timer artifact, a jewel of the clock-maker’s art crafted in miniature and wrapped around an up-timer’s wrist.
Despite her now regular contractions, Queen Anne took notice of the watch, as if it was part of the French crown jewels.
“My ladies are still suspicious of you,” she said. “They would rather that a proper midwife handle this duty.”
“Imagine if I were a man,” Katie said after a moment. She took a pencil from the pocket of her coat and made a notation on the chart by the bed.
Anne looked shocked. “A man? For a birth?”
“Well,” Katie answered, “I was delivered by a man. So were my brothers and sisters and cousins and . . . well, most doctors are men, Your Majesty. At least where — when — I come from.”
“Doctors, yes . . .” a contraction made her tense; she bit her lip. “But this is no matter for doctors.”
“It is up-time. But I suppose it’s really the province of women in this time. No matter — I’m here now, by arrangement, and it all seems fine. There are a dozen things I wish I could do but the technology isn’t here. . . but how do you feel?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question during childbirth.”
“First time for everything, Majesty.”
Anne reached down below the sheet and tentatively touched the outside of her womb, winced, and lowered her hand to the bed, clenching the sheets.
“The little one is strong.”
“He will be a forceful little prince.”
“If he’s a boy.”
Anne frowned. “I have had masses said for months and have sent donations to many shrines in France with requests for their prayers. He will be a boy.”
I hope you’re right, Katie thought to herself. “Yes, Majesty.”
There was a small commotion at the door. Madame de Chevreuse, who had been sitting quietly with her rosary across the room, had moved with astounding speed to stand in the way of a pair of men who appeared intent on entering.
“Let me pass,” said the one in the lead, who was wearing a bishop’s vestments. “I am here with my brother Achille on behalf of His Most Christian Majesty to witness the birth.”
Madame de Chevreuse stepped aside. The two men entered the room. The bishop was an impressive gentleman of middle age dressed in episcopal finery, though he wore no hat. He walked to the bedside and offered a bow to Queen Anne; she extended her hand, letting go of the sheet. He took hold of it and when she made to bring his episcopal ring to her lips, he placed his other hand on hers and smiled.
“Majesty, I am so glad to be received by you today.”
“Thank you for being here, Your Grace. The Bishop of Chartres is most welcome in our chambers.”
“It is my honor to visit so distinguished a guest within my diocese.”
“You honor –” another contraction struck; they were coming close together now. Katie wanted to step forward but decided that it could wait for pleasantries to be concluded. “You honor us with your presence, My Lord d’Étampes de Valençay.”
“I have said regular masses for you and your child. In the interest of your comfort, we shall repair to the side and stay out of the doctor’s way.” He looked from Anne to Katie.
“Please remain close, Your Grace.”
“I shall be no further than a few feet away, Your Majesty.”
Anne let go of his hand and turned her head aside. Sweat beaded on her forehead. As Bishop Léonore and his brother withdrew, Katie stepped forward.
“With your permission, Majesty,” she said, “I would like to check your dilation.”
Anne pulled the sheet aside. “When the next king comes into the world,” she said, gritting her teeth, “his arrival must be visible. Madame Katie, attend, s’il vous plait.”
Near Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines, France
Fifty miles is a stiff ride, even for experienced horsemen. The king was accustomed to riding to the hunt. But that had become a stylized affair, with pauses and servants and luncheons. No one with the pedigree of the Most Christian King of France had to work very hard or ride very fast. As for the cardinal, though trained as a soldier and a skilled horseman, he was no longer in practice.
But the need was great, and the motivation was strong: aches and pains be dispensed with and weather be damned. By mid-morning the sun had been shrouded by clouds; by the time they entered the Forest of Rambouillet the ground was cloaked in fog.
At last, late in the afternoon, Cardinal Richelieu called a halt in a clearing beside the road. The dozen Cardinal’s Guards took up their customary positions. One of them dismounted and walked over to where the cardinal stood next to his horse. Servien was nearby, attending to the mounts’ harnesses.
“This is exhilarating,” the king said. “Exhilarating.” He pulled off his gloves and shrugged his shoulders, adjusting the cloak of the Guard.
“I am gratified to hear it, Your Majesty,” Richelieu said. “I trust you are holding up well.”
“It’s like a hunt,” Louis answered. “Except, except that there is no quarry.”
Richelieu didn’t answer, but raised one eyebrow. There is a quarry, my king, he thought. It is all of your enemies.
“Do you think she has given birth yet?”
“It is difficult to say, Majesty. If she began her labor early in the morning, it would be close now. I directed Léonore d’Étampes de Valençay, my lord bishop of Chartres, to attend the queen. He will be at the chateau by now.”
“I am sure that Anne will be pleased to have a, a man of his stature on hand.”
“He is very good in such situations. His brother is not quite as subtle, but Achille is as brave a man as serves Your Majesty. If there is any trouble at Baronville, he will be a good one to have on hand.”
“Trouble? What sort of trouble?”
“I expect none . . . but I am inclined to be careful, Sire.”
“That is most wise, my friend. I –”
Somewhere nearby in the foggy gloom there was the sound of a high-pitched whistle.
“What was that?”
“I am not sure,” Richelieu said. He turned away from the king and signaled to the captain of his guard.
And then, as if it were a scene from a costumed drama, a score of mounted men, hooded and weapons drawn, burst from the wood on either side. The scene erupted into chaos. Those Guards who had not dismounted urged their horses into the fight, moving to form a protective ring around Richelieu and the king.
“Who dares to attack thus?” Richelieu shouted. He stretched out his hand and drew a flintlock pistol from his saddlebags.
“Don’t worry,” Louis said. “There is not a bandit alive whom I cannot best in combat.” He ran a half-dozen steps and swung himself up onto his horse, drawing a sabre and placing himself in the path of a handful of oncoming attackers.
Richelieu was too stunned to respond. All around him, Cardinal’s Guards were engaging in close combat with the attackers. His own men were getting the better of them, but two of them had already fallen. Of the four that were charging toward King Louis, two were drawn aside by Guardsmen. All wore cloaks with hoods that hid their faces, but the two that came closer were familiar in some way. There was something about the way they sat their horses, Richelieu thought — or something more simple: the shape and length of their arms and legs…
The first of the two remaining attackers rushed headlong at Louis, who was partially turned away. With skill and grace that surprised even Richelieu, the king turned with precision and swung his blade, knocking the man from his saddle and onto the ground. Blood gushed from the man’s side; the wound was probably not fatal but severe enough to take the king’s assailant out of the action.
The second attacker, just behind, seemed enraged by the act. He charged forward, hurling his strength and momentum into the thrust of his sword. King Louis, off balance due to the powerful blow he’d just struck, was unable to deflect his opponent’s blade in time. The sword point entered his chest, easily penetrating the tabard and shirt below it and driving into his heart.
The wound was instantly fatal. From ten feet away, Cardinal Richelieu watched as the swordsman’s hood flew back, revealing his face — and it was then that he recognized him: César, duc de Vendôme, légitimé de France.
“Treason!” he cried.
In the dim light Cardinal Richelieu could see that Vendôme recognized who he had stabbed. A look of surprise and horror crossed his features. Clearly, he had not realized the identity of his opponent, garbed as the king was in the uniform of a Cardinal’s Guard.
It was still treason. Richelieu cocked his pistol with both hands.
In the moment before he struck the blow Vendôme recognized the man who stood between him and his target. But it was too late to stop — much too late. Even if it had been possible to consider restraining the killing stroke, years of experience in combat put it beyond question. Louis XIII was no fop. He was a strong man with skill and experience in sword work. To stop would have simply been suicide.
The king was not the man he’d wished to kill, and for a moment the duc de Vendôme regretted the all-consuming hatred of Richelieu that had distorted his vision. Even wearing the uniform of a guard, César should have recognized his sovereign. He knew Louis very well and had sparred with him personally. The way he sat his horse, the way he handled his blade… He should have heard the voice, the one he had known since they were children together. Maybe that would have stayed his hand.
But the moment of regret was brief. They were still in the middle of a fight and the duke had other opponents to deal with. One, in particular. As the king fell from his seat to the forest floor, Vendôme drew the sword from his victim, and turned his attention to Richelieu.
Who, he saw, had a pistol aimed directly at him.
The cardinal fired. Though he was a man of the cloth and not very familiar with personal combat, Richelieu had steady nerves. The shot did not go wild but struck Vendôme in the head. Unfortunately, the ball glanced off rather than penetrating the skull, sending the duke’s hat flying. His face covered with blood, Vendôme half-slid off his saddle. Richelieu did not think he was dead — not yet — but he was certainly stunned. He began to reload the pistol.
But before he could finish reloading a ball struck him. The shot seemed to come from nowhere. It was quite possible the man who fired it had no idea where it had struck.
“Kill them all!” Richelieu heard someone shout. He was sure it was not one of his own men. “Leave none alive!” And then, as if the mercy of the Lord descended upon him as the dew of Hermon, Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal-Duke de Richelieu, fell into blackness.