1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 29
Chateau de Baronville, Beville-le-Comte
The ringing of bells awaked Anne from a restful sleep. She could feel the deep pain from labor still, but her exhaustion had been deeper. Even before opening her eyes she reached down to feel her chest: after seven and a half months it felt strange to be without the life that had inhabited her womb.
Strange, she thought. And wonderful.
She knew that the infant would be with a wet-nurse nearby; yet she wished to hold her son, to look upon him. He had only been in her arms for a few short minutes just after his birth before he had been taken away and she had descended into sleep.
She opened her eyes to see the young woman who had been her midwife and doctor: she was sitting in a padded chair, dozing, a coat wrapped around her. It had clearly been a long night for her as well.
“Mademoiselle Katie,” she said, and when the young up-timer woman did not answer, she repeated herself, pitching her voice somewhat louder.
Katie Matewski stirred and then awoke fully, startled. She looked across at Anne and rose quickly, shrugging off the coat and coming to the bedside. “I . . . I beg your pardon, Majesty,” she said in passable French. “I must have drifted off.”
“Do not trouble yourself. Tell me — why are the bells ringing?”
“I’m not sure, my lady. I can go and see. Are you in discomfort? Are you –”
“I am very tired, but I seem to be well. Please go and inquire, and give my compliments to my lord of Uzès.” Uzès was the first gentleman of the bedchamber: he was the first on hand at the queen’s arising and the last on her retirement.
“By your leave,” Katie said. The curtsy was not exactly to court standards, complicated perhaps by the fact that the young lady was dressed in a man’s trousers. If this had been a down-timer, a subject of the kingdom, there might be some slight affront — but she was an up-timer, from whom all sorts of informalities were expected.
Katie opened the bedchamber door and stepped into the outer room. Mazarin was there with Uzès and another man whom she had never seen. He was dressed for travel and looked as if he had come far and ridden hard.
She closed the door behind her. The three men stopped their conversation as Katie appeared.
“How does the queen?” Uzès asked.
“She has just awoken,” Katie said. “I haven’t examined her yet but she seems well. I had a little nap myself, but left word that I should be notified if there was any problem with mother or child.”
“The baby is doing well,” Mazarin said. “But grim news has arrived.”
“Is that why the bells are ringing?”
“Yes,” Mazarin answered. “There has been an ambush. The king is dead.”
“Dead? What happened? An — an ambush?”
The stranger gave a bow. “Mademoiselle, my name is Étienne Servien. I have the honor to serve His Eminence Cardinal Richelieu. We were on our way to this place when we were viciously and violently attacked. My master was severely wounded, and His Majesty the king was slain.” He was distraught as he spoke the words.
“The queen must be told,” Katie said.
“More than that,” Mazarin said. “She must be made ready to travel, and right away. We must leave Beville-le-Comte as soon as possible: there may be a further attack on her person.”
“And the baby –”
“He is in terrible danger,” said Servien. “He is the king of France now, and he has many enemies, none greater than his uncle. It is certain that Gaston was behind the attack. The assassins were led by César de Vendôme, the king’s — and Gaston’s — eldest brother, a légitimé. Gaston will now seek to have himself crowned king.”
“He can’t do that,” Katie said. “Can he?”
“He can,” Mazarin answered, “though he should not. But this is a circumstance often governed by power, not propriety.”
“So who exactly is Vendôme? I thought we were talking about Gaston.”
“César de Vendôme is the king’s eldest half-brother, Mademoiselle,” Mazarin explained. “Before Louis and Gaston were born, King Henry the Fourth of fond memory fathered three children by his first mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées. César is the oldest of the three. His younger brother Alexandre died in prison several years ago, and his younger sister is now the duchess of Elbeuf. They were all declared légitimés — recognized for their royal blood, but ineligible for further preferment. In a different world, César de Vendôme might have been king of France; while in this one, he has become a regicide.”
“Did he become king in my ‘different world’, Monseigneur?”
“No,” Mazarin said. “He is just as much a bastard in your up-time history. He engaged in further intrigues, including participation in a cabal against me.” He smiled briefly, the strange twists of time and history bemusing him and pushing aside the gravity and tragedy of the situation. “He has many grudges against Cardinal Richelieu, and evidently had enough resentment against his lord king that he did not hesitate to put him to the sword as well.”
“Will he attack us here?”
“No,” Mazarin said. “Because we will not be here. We will be elsewhere.”
Near dawn, the royal party was assembled in the chapel of Baronville to baptize the child. The first wan light was straining to pass through the thick glass windows. The room was lit with several small candles. Anne, less than twenty-four hours after childbirth, looked radiant and regal, wearing a traveling dress that hung loosely on her frame, a beautiful necklace that reflected all the light in the room, and a small circlet on her head. She held the baby — the rightful king of France — in her arms, and to Katie she looked like the most beautiful woman in the world.
Achille, the brother of the Bishop, stood beside her, in the full regalia of a Knight of Malta, his hat tucked under one arm, his hand on his heart.
The rest of the group, including Monsieur Servien, stood nearby, except for Mazarin, who was to assist Bishop Léonore in the baptism.
Katie had found a dress to wear. She realized, just a little before the gathering in the chapel, that she didn’t feel proper dressing casually in church, even if it was just for a short ceremony; old habits die hard.
The castle servants had been gathered into a choir, and as Bishop Léonore entered the chapel, they began to sing. Mazarin, who waited near the altar, his hands joined in prayer, accompanied them.
Si introiero in tabernaculum domus meae si ascendero in lectum strati mei si dedero somnum oculis meis et palpebris meis dormitationem et requiem temporibus . . .
Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me . . .
Katie didn’t recognize the psalm, but the hastily-gathered singers gave a good account of it; the bishop made his way forward with little ceremony, until he reached the front of the chapel and turned to face the others. He carried his bishop’s crook and wore his alb and surplice; he had intended to perform the service after the baby’s birth, but probably wasn’t planning to do it under such strained circumstances.