1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 38
Mazarin had become accustomed to the idea of intrigue, of deception in plain sight, as a part of his career within and without the Vatican. His relatively recent association with Cardinal Richelieu, the man who — in some other future, never to be reached — would pass the mantle of ministerial authority to him, only enhanced that acclimation.
Most of those who saw the small party of seven — himself, Achille d’Étampes de Valençay, Queen Anne and her infant son, her lady-in-waiting the duchesse de Chevreuse, the up-timer doctor, and the Savoyard servant — saw nothing but a noblewoman and her entourage traveling from place to place. Mazarin wanted to continue that way — they could not move quickly by carriage, with a mother just out of childbed and an infant only a few days old — but it was also clear that they could not avoid all contact for fear of arousing suspicion.
A full day’s travel brought them as far as Maintenon, a small town on the banks of the Eure. It lacked any sort of reasonable hostelry, of the sort suitable for a traveling noblewoman, much less the queen of France.
As the servant attended to watering the horses by the side of the road, Mazarin and Achille held a conversation.
“It seems simple enough,” the knight of Malta said. “Maintenon is the home of the Marquis de Rambouillet; we will go to his manor house and request lodging for our honored lady.”
“Whom he will immediately recognize.”
“Not necessarily,” Achille answered. “She is recently widowed; she will wear a suitable veil. I would be more concerned about you, Monseigneur.”
“Me? Why me?”
“You are . . . better known than any among our company, with the exception of Her Majesty.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Mazarin took off his hat, examined it and flicked a tiny bit of road-dust from the brim, and placed it back on his head. “If we choose to stay with the Marquis, word will reach Paris that we have been there. His wife is the renowned salonnière.”
“And he is likely to speak of it.”
“The Marquis and the Marquise have their own . . . diversions,” Mazarin said. “But I suspect that such news would be passed on in short order. We cannot go to Maintenon.”
“We cannot reach Dreux before nightfall,” Achille said. “We must go to Maintenon.”
“Why Dreux? Why have we chosen this direction in preference to all others?” The morning of their departure from Baronville, Mazarin’s principal concern had been for Anne and the infant; he had let the other man determine their direction.
“Which way would you rather go, Monseigneur? We cannot go toward Paris — Her Majesty has many enemies there. There is nothing to the south or west.”
“And to the north?”
“Ultimately, the Low Countries,” Achille answered. “Her aunt in Brussels.”
“You wish to travel to the court of Lady Isabella? Are you mad? The Hapsburgs are the enemies of France.”
“The Spanish Hapsburgs certainly are, I’ll admit that,” he said. “But perhaps not the Austrians. And the king in the Low Countries — that’s another matter entirely.”
“It is a terrible risk.”
Achille laughed and looked away from Mazarin toward the carriage. The up-timer nurse, who had disembarked to stretch her legs, looked curiously at the two men.
“Tell me what part of this venture is not risky, Monseigneur. We travel in the company of the queen, who may be in danger from anyone she meets and has only us to defend her. Her husband and his chief minister have been slain by assassins, led by an exiled bastard prince who — I do not hesitate to remind you — is still somewhere nearby, and has two dozen men for each one of us.
“Has anyone explained all of this risk to Her Majesty? Do you believe she truly understands?”
“I am extremely well acquainted with the queen, Monsieur,” Mazarin said. “There might have been a time when she was innocent with respect to such things, but it is far in the past. She understands completely what is happening, and what our situation has become. Do not underestimate her.
“I wonder sometimes if we understand it nearly as well.”
Achille was right: there was no other choice than the Château de Maintenon. And he was also right to note that Mazarin was better known than he was; therefore, it was logical for Achille, rather than Mazarin, to approach the château and request lodging for his mistress and her company, while they waited without.
Mazarin’s first introduction to Achille’s lack of diplomatic skill came with the arrival of a troop of a dozen horsemen, their hauberks and helmets dappled with the wan light of the last quarter moon. The carriage had remained on the lane near the château; Mazarin stayed on the top bench with Artemisio, while the others stayed within.
The leader of the horsemen approached the carriage, holding his hand up to keep the others at a distance.
“Good evening,” Mazarin said.
“Monsieur,” the man said. “Good evening. You are . . . companions of the Knight of Malta, I presume.”
“He has made your acquaintance.”
“I found him arrogant, demanding and –”
“I can just imagine. Achille is impetuous –”
“To say the least.”
“And undiplomatic. But . . . I thought it best to have him approach with our humble request.”
“A troublesome choice.”
“May I have the courtesy of your name, Monsieur?”
“My name is Charles de Sainte-Maure; I am the Marquis de Montausier. Monsieur de Rambouillet, who not in residence at this time, is my . . . he is the father of my intended.”
“Merci,” the man answered with exaggerated courtesy. “Who is the distinguished lady on whose behalf the Knight of Malta is so eager to offend?”
“I would invite you to step inside our carriage and find out.”
“Very mysterious,” he said. “But I shall humor you.” He dismounted and walked toward the carriage. “Who are you, and who could be so important?”
Mazarin did not answer, but looked down toward the carriage door, which had been opened slightly from within. Montausier stepped up and opened it, then stepped in. A moment later he stepped out, his face transformed by surprise.
“Please follow me,” he said without looking back at the carriage.
“They did not treat me with proper respect,” Achille said, placing the bread crust on the plate before him. “I’m sorry, Monseigneur. I cannot accept an affront to my dignity, or the honor of my order.”
Mazarin looked from Achille to Montausier.
“No particular offense was given to him,” Montausier said. He picked up his wine goblet and took a sip. They were sitting in the nearly-deserted dining hall of the Château de Maintenon; the queen had been comfortably lodged in quarters upstairs. The candles had burned low in the candelabras.
“With respect,” Achille said, “I beg to differ.”
“Is this how it is going to be?” Mazarin said. “We are trying not to attract any attention. Is that not meaningful to you?”
Achille shrugged. “I do not quite see your point, Monseigneur.”
“Diplomacy is not one of your primary skills,” Mazarin said. “We should consider ourselves fortunate that the Marquis is not in residence.”
“He has gone to Paris,” Montausier said. “The King is dead.”
“You don’t say.”
Montausier seemed to be considering whether Mazarin was serious or not; but after a moment he smiled. “Yes. Of course you know that. Is Her Majesty aware of . . .”
“Of course,” Mazarin said. “And she is in great danger. It is why we are here.”
“If you had merely explained yourself . . .”
“I was very clear –” Achille began, but Mazarin held his hand up.
“My Lord de Montausier,” Mazarin said. “I have no other choice but to trust in your discretion. Tomorrow we must be gone from here, and no one must know that we tarried with you. Monsieur Gaston is likely not in the country, but his spies likely are.”
“Now that he is to be king, he can command anyone he wishes.”
Mazarin stood suddenly. “He is not the king of France, My Lord. He may believe that the crown belongs to him, but it does not. It belongs to that infant upstairs. As long as the baby lives, he is the king of France.
“With respect, My lord Marquis, I ask you to remember that.”
Montausier was taken aback, enough that his hand moved down toward his scabbard. With a glance at the standing Mazarin and the still seated Achille, he stopped that motion.
“I give you my word,” Montausier said at last.