1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 25
Servien had followed the lead of Jean d’Aubisson, the youngest member of the Cardinal’s Guard, who knew the area far better. The two of them had half-dragged, half-carried Richelieu away from the scene of carnage in the deepening twilight, and somehow had managed to get him onto a horse. The cardinal was in shock: but old habits took over, and he managed to grip the reins as they escaped.
Servien had watched his king fall, and had caught a glimpse of the man who had committed the deed. It was a scene that would be etched into his memory forever — in particular, the shocked expression on his face. Perhaps the cardinal could have made something of that, but Servien was not sure.
A path made scarcely visible by the rising moon led through the woods. Any obstacle — a fallen tree, a deep hole, a crumbling slope — could have stopped their passage, but somehow the young guardsman was able to lead them along without incident.
When they were well away, Servien asked, “where are we going?”
“A safe place, I pray. There are several along our route — particular friends and clients. This is the closest — in Clairefontaine.”
“Is it close?”
“Four miles, perhaps five.”
Servien looked aside at Richelieu, scarcely visible in the gloom. “I don’t know if His Eminence can ride that far.”
“Do not speak of me as if I am not here,” the cardinal whispered. He did not turn his head, and his hands did not move from where they clutched the reins.
“I’m sorry — ” Servien began.
“No argument,” Richelieu said even more softly. “Ride.”
It was closer to five miles. The woods gave way to a clearing with a small village; d’Aubisson rode toward the church, where the porter admitted them into the courtyard. Servien was accustomed to his master being pale, but when they assisted him in dismounting, Cardinal Richelieu’s face was almost ghostly. Though the day had been warm, with night a chill had come into the air; his cloak was pulled tight around him, and his soutane was stiff with blood, stained black in the faint moonlight.
They half-carried him along a gallery into the chapter-house, where hooded monks awaited them. They moved to assist, but Richelieu waved them away. Servien and d’Aubisson carefully helped Richelieu onto a sturdy dining table: only then did the cardinal permit the religious men to approach.
One of the monks threw back his head to reveal a middle-aged man, bearded but well-groomed and tonsured; his face was without emotion, but Servien thought he could see the beginnings of tears in his eyes. He ran his hand along the soutane, which was badly rent near the cardinal’s waist. He took Richelieu’s hand, grasping it in a slightly unusual way, as if there was some significance in the grasp.
“Is it mortal?” Richelieu whispered.
“I cannot tell yet,” the monk answered. “It is . . . it is very bad. But I will do what I can.”
Richelieu’s eyes closed, then fluttered open, darting from place to place. It was dark in the refectory: a nearby cresset held a torch, and one of the other monks held a lantern, bringing it close so that the wound could be examined.
“Brother,” Servien said. “Perhaps this might be better done in some better place?”
“I do not dare move him,” the monk answered.
“Servien?” Richelieu’s voice was almost a whisper.
“I am here, Eminence,” Servien said, coming close. He touched Richelieu’s left hand, and the cardinal’s glance focused on it; slowly, with what seemed to be great effort, his eyes lifted to look at him.
“Servien. This . . . there are matters that must be addressed.”
Servien looked at the monk. “The good brother will attend to your wounds, Eminence. Then we will find and punish the villains that committed this heinous act.”
“Not just that.” Richelieu began to move his other hand, reaching inside his cloak: the motion obviously pained him, and the monk grasped the hand and tried to lay it beside the cardinal’s body. With a surprising strength, Richelieu pushed it away, while simultaneously seizing Servien’s hand.
“Please, Eminence –”
“My watch,” Richelieu whispered. “I must find my watch.”
The monk looked from his patient to Servien. “Your . . . watch, mon Cardinal?”
“Yes. Servien. My watch. Please take it.” With his free hand he gestured toward an inside pocket.
Servien reached in and withdrew the watch, the beautiful up-timer gift. It was shattered, probably destroyed beyond repair. The musket-ball had evidently struck the face and had dented the case. The sweep did not move, and the hands were set to a time about ninety minutes earlier when the duc de Vendôme had attacked.
“It is badly broken, Eminence.”
“Yes. Of course,” Richelieu managed. He closed his eyes and took a great heaving breath and let it out: for a moment Servien thought it might be his last, but presently he opened his eyes once more and focused on his intendant. “Of course it is broken. But . . . it still serves a purpose. It records the time of the attack.”
“I don’t understand,” Servien began, and then, a moment later, he did. He knew exactly why the cardinal had drawn his attention to the timepiece. “When we were attacked,” he said, “and the watch was shattered — that is the time when the king died.”
“Yes,” Richelieu said.
Servien considered the matter for a moment. Under French law, the timing of the child’s birth didn’t really matter. Even if the baby was born after the death of King Louis, if it was a boy he still inherited the throne. But the law was one thing, political reality another. Gaston was very likely to claim that the child was not really the offspring of Louis XIII, anyway, but a bastard born out of some illicit affair of the queen’s. If he could add to that claim the further argument — specious as it might legally be — that since no child existed at the time of the king’s death he, Gaston, inherited the throne by virtue of being Louis’ younger brother…
At least with some sections of the French nobility, if not the fussier bureaucrats, that added claim might have some weight. In any event, there was certainly no harm in being able to establish the timing of the child’s birth with respect to the king’s death.
He slipped the watch into a pocket. The cardinal extended his right hand toward Servien, who bent to kiss it, but Richelieu frowned and spread his fingers apart. “No, no,” he said. “My episcopal ring, Servien. Take it.”
“Eminence, I –”
“Take it,” the cardinal commanded. “You may use it as a token of my authority. You must go . . .” He took another great breath and continued, “you must go to our intended destination. Tell the queen of the terrible events and the perpetrator of this infamy . . . and the hand that must be behind it. And upon your life,” he added, squeezing Servien’s hand tightly, “protect the watch. It is evidence of . . .” Richelieu shuddered, as if being struck with some great blow. “Evidence of . . .”
“I understand, Eminence,” Servien said. “But I am loath to leave your side.”
“I am in good hands,” Richelieu said quietly. “I am in God’s hands.”
“It pains me to leave you.”
“You and your family have always been loyal to my person and to the realm of France,” Richelieu said, his voice scarcely louder than a whisper. He seemed almost spent with the effort. “Now you must perform one more duty for me.”
Servien took the watch and ring and secured them within his vest. They lay there, near his heart, a heavy weight. He looked at d’Aubisson and then back at his master. Now there were tears in his eyes.
“I will obey your command, Eminence,” Servien said. “And I will pray for your recovery and look forward to our next meeting.”
This side of Heaven, he added to himself. Looking down at Cardinal Richelieu, struck down by a vicious attack, his life in peril, he wondered if there would ever be such a meeting.
“You know what you must do. Go,” Richelieu said, with a wave of his hand. It was a familiar gesture, but it was a shadow of the one to which Servien was accustomed.
He bowed deeply, and he and d’Aubisson took their leave. Servien wondered whether he would ever see his master again.