1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 33
“Ed,” Rebecca said. “Are you trying to tell me that in your so clever up-time world there were people who believed that someone who was dead was secretly alive? A popular figure, an — an entertainer — had somehow made up his own death?”
“You’d be amazed what things people believed up-time.”
“I guess I would. So . . . you think that Cardinal Richelieu is dead and people think he is still alive.”
“Or he is alive, and is content to have people think that he is dead.”
“People like Monsieur Gaston,” Rebecca said. “I have met Richelieu. He’s a brilliant man, Ed: one of the most perceptive men I’ve ever met — and quite charming, too. Even cut off from his base of power, he would be a formidable enemy. If he is still alive, he is Gaston’s enemy. As is the queen, wherever she is.”
“Our ambassador in Paris said that there’s a rumor at court that she’s gone back to Spain with the baby,” Ed said. “I don’t believe it, but it’s the sort of thing that would be put about to discredit her.”
“By Gaston’s people.”
“No doubt. So if she’s not in Spain — and not in Paris — then where is she? And where is Richelieu?”
“You mean, ‘Elvis.'”
“Yeah. Elvis in a red robe.” He smiled. “Well, considering some of the stuff he was wearing at the end of his career, it wouldn’t be too far off. It would have to be covered with sequins, though.”
“Look at the happy family reunion,” Artemisio said, looking out the window at the group at the edge of the trees that bordered the courtyard, sheltering from the rain.
“His brothers?” Terrye Jo pointed down at the three men.
“Donna Teresa!” He pulled on her arm. “Attento.” He gestured, and she squatted down, below the level of the window.
They were in the loft of the almoner’s house of Saint-Germain d’Auxerre, looking over the inner courtyard. Monsieur Gaston had been installed at the bishop’s palace, and most of them remained there, while Gaston and his gentlemen-in-waiting had come here. To view the frescoes, he had said to his wife before departing.
Terrye Jo would have been just as happy to stay and read, but Artemisio Logiani — who had somehow attached himself to Monsieur Gaston’s party as a household servant — was determined to follow along, and begged her to come with him.
If the frescoes are beautiful enough to be viewed by a prince, Donna, he had said to her, then I must compare them to your loveliness.
Which somehow, impossibly, had led to their present location. While they were walking around the edge of the courtyard, trying to keep dry, a party of horsemen had arrived at the porter’s gate. Artemisio had pulled her aside into the almoner’s house, and they had made their way to the upper floor.
“A bird’s eye view,” he had said.
“We shall see.”
But not be seen, she thought now, wondering if she’d been pulled into a Mark Twain adventure. Hell, she added: the whole freakin’ seventeenth century is a Mark Twain adventure.
“His brother and his father,” Artemisio said. “Interesting.”
“Monsieur François de Vendôme’s brother Louis, and his father the duke, César, are exiled from the realm. His Majesty the king — ” and here Artemisio stopped and crossed himself, looking toward heaven like a side character in a Renaissance painting — “sent the duke away for conspiring. Well, actually, Cardinal Richelieu did it, but that’s the same thing. And now here he is, with his two sons. Who knows what they’re here for.”
“But this is what you came to see, isn’t it, Artemisio?”
“Well,” he answered, “not necessarily this, Donna. I didn’t know what it was about, but I heard . . . you know how servants talk . . .”
“I certainly do.”
“Well, I heard that something big and important was going to happen when we got to Auxerre. And here we are, and here it is.” He peeked very carefully over the sill, and Terrye Jo did likewise.
The three men — clearly François: she could clearly make out his features; and two others, one young and one older — seemed very happy to be together. The older one, the duke, was speaking to his two sons. He paused for just a moment and looked around, as if he was trying to determine if he was being spied upon.
Terrye Jo and Artemisio ducked back down.
“What do you think this big and important thing might be?”
“Well, you know,” Artemisio said. “It’s all above me. But if I were to guess, I’d say that the duke is here to pledge allegiance to Monsieur Gaston — and get a pardon.”
“Father,” François said quietly as they walked slowly down the stairs to the crypt. “This is a perfect place for Gaston to betray us.”
“Yes,” César de Vendôme said. “It is.” He did not look away, but continued to stare straight ahead, walking slowly down the stairs. “But he would not go to all this trouble — at least at this point — to do so. He still needs us.”
By now, several weeks after he received the ball fired from Richelieu’s pistol, the duke’s injury had completely healed. As was often true with head wounds, it had initially looked much worse than it really was. His son Louis, on the other hand, was still recovering from the great gash in his side left by the king’s sword. He was lucky to have survived at all.
“For what does he need us?”
The duke shook his head. “I am not sure. But there is still something.”
“I am not sure either — ”
César stopped walking and turned to his son. He leaned close, so that their escorts could not easily hear.
“Do you trust me, my son?”
“Of course. With my life, Father. You know that.”
“Then you must rely on my judgment. Now and in the near future. Gaston d’Orleans has already betrayed me after a fashion. It is now our task to make sure that when he pulls the noose tight, his own neck is caught in it as well.”
François was accustomed to his father’s stern gaze: it was how he always pictured him — proud, noble, with a hint of scarcely-concealed anger. This expression was different in a way: totally serious, focused, intense.
“I will do whatever you ask.”
“Then I ask now that you do nothing. And say nothing. I want you to remember that our time will come, François.”
César stood straight, and they began to descend once more.
In the abbey of Saint Germain d’Auxerre, beneath the frescoes in the crypt, the brothers had placed the sub-prior’s chair on a small platform. It was something short of a throne, but was sufficiently elevated above the floor that it gave the appropriate separation that the prince desired.
The Vendôme men walked through the open area and between a pair of tall support pillars, looking straight ahead at Gaston d’Orleans, presumptive king of France. César did not spend a moment of attention on anything other than the figure of his half-brother.
He acts as if it is a throne, he thought to himself. Though Louis would not have received me thus if I had returned to court.
He put the thought from his mind: he leashed his anger and curbed his desire to draw his sword. The gentlemen in waiting radiated hostility: it was if they found his presence an affront.
He is not the king, César thought to himself. He wishes to be. He may be. But not yet.
He stopped a few paces from the dais and made a leg. François, a step behind, did the same. Not a deep obeisance, but a mark of respect rather than homage.