1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 39
In the last few days, Servien had been thinking a great deal about the comte de Brassac, and his revelations concerning the Company of the Blessed Sacrament. Brassac, he was sure, had violated a principal rule of the Company by revealing it to him, and of his membership in it; but these were difficult, extraordinary times.
He wondered if there were others, elsewhere in the country or beyond, who were just learning of the society.
The servant found him in the library, examining a family history of the Château de Pau’s most famous resident — Henry of Navarre, who had been born here and had embraced the True Faith so that he could become king of France.
“Monsieur le Comte asks that you attend him at once,” the servant said. “By your leave, Monsieur.”
As they walked down the great staircase, Servien said, “do you know what this is about?”
“I do as I am commanded, Monsieur.”
“A wise course.”
The comte de Brassac was waiting at the bottom of the stair with a younger man who shared his features; indeed, Servien — a careful observer of such things — would have thought that the comte, at half his age, would have looked thus.
“Allow me to present my oldest son Alexandre. He brought me a report that might interest you as well. My son, this is Monsieur Servien, intendant to His Grace the cardinal-duc de Richelieu.”
The man offered a polite bow, which Servien returned. The three began to walk toward the inner courtyard.
“We have visitors,” Brassac said. “They are very well armed and trained — and led by an up-timer.”
“Not in the normal sense,” Alexandre answered. “But given their arms and equipment . . . well, if any two dozen horsemen could be considered an army, then this label might fit.”
“How can I be of service?”
“Very simple, Monsieur Servien. I need you to tell me: are these friends or enemies?”
They emerged into the bright May sunlight to find four riders still mounted, with more than two dozen in Brassac livery keeping close watch upon them. Three were subordinates, but clearly well-equipped as Alexandre had said; they remained still, a few feet apart from each other.
The fourth, a somewhat older woman, dismounted as they approached. She seemed to favor one leg very slightly; at first Servien attributed it to the cavalry sword at her waist, but he concluded that it was in fact a weakness of some sort — perhaps an injury. Still, she walked very steadily to where the comte, his son, and Servien stood.
She nodded to Alexandre, who acknowledged it.
“You must be the comte de Brassac,” she said. She glanced at Servien, but didn’t have anything to say to him.
“Louis de Galard de Brassac et de Béarn,” Brassac answered. “The rest of your command is outside the château?”
“This is my honor guard,” she answered. “Maddox’s Rangers. In service to Marshal Turenne. I’m Sherrilyn Maddox. Colonel Maddox to them; you can call me Sherrilyn.” She stuck her hand out, and neither Brassac nor Alexandre seemed to know what to do; Servien extended his hand to her and took it, and found a firm, steady grip.
“I am Étienne Servien, intendant to the cardinal-Duke de Richelieu,” he said when the handshake was over. “You must be the up-timer of which so much has been heard.”
“You know her, then,” Alexandre said.
“Not personally,” Servien answered. “But I do know that the Marshal engaged the services of a Grantvilleuse” he made sure to use the female version of the noun — “to train some of his troops.”
“Is Marshal Turenne planning to invade my lands?”
“I wouldn’t call it an invasion,” the up-timer answered. “We’re here at his direction. The rest of the army is on its way; we’re just the advance guard.”
“And what are his intentions?”
“Your boss,” she said, looking at Servien, “assumed that there would be trouble coming from the south. When we heard about the death of the king, we packed up and began to move down here. If there’s any sort of invasion, My Lord, it won’t be by the Marshal — it’ll be by the Spanish.”
“And how do I know that you are, indeed, from Marshal Turenne’s army?”
She placed her hand on the hilt of her sword. Everyone in the courtyard tensed; but Brassac held up one hand. Maddox seemed to realize that she had sent the wrong signal.
“If I may be permitted to draw the sword to show it to you, My Lord.”
Brassac nodded. The up-timer looked around her, then slowly drew the blade from its scabbard; she brought it to her shoulder, then extended it, flat across her right forearm, with the hilt so that Brassac could grasp it.
He picked up the sword and examined the guard, which bore the d’Auvergne crest; he noted an inscription along the flat of the blade nearest the hilt.
“A generous gift from the Marshal,” Brassac said, and offered it back, hilt first. Maddox took it, saluted, and replaced it in her scabbard.
“I believe I have given good service in return, My Lord,” she said.
“No doubt.” Brassac turned to Alexandre. “My son, please make these soldiers — and the rest of Colonel Maddox’ command — comfortable. Colonel, I welcome you as our guests for the time being. As for the rest of the army . . .”
“I’m sure they’ll find a place to camp.”
Brassac turned with Servien and they stepped inside the building once more.
“So Marshal Turenne is invading,” Brassac said as they made their way back toward the library. “After a manner of speaking. Perhaps he has news of which I have not heard.”
“I’m sure the Marshal would have the same question for you.”
“An interesting response.”
“May I ask a question, My Lord?”
“Who is the king of France?”
Brassac stopped walking. They were at the foot of the grand staircase; he glanced from Maddox to Servien, and then back to the up-timer.
“He is the sovereign lord to whom your commander has pledged his fealty,” Brassac said. “Your understanding may be more clear than mine. Perhaps you should answer the question.”
“I asked you first.”
“And I am a peer of the realm and you are a hired soldier. I know that you up-timers are known for their forthrightness, Colonel Maddox, but you and your command are in my home, in my lands. Courtesy extends so far, and then stops. Who do you believe to be the king of France?”
“I’m not sure,” she said at last. “Marshal Turenne wasn’t sure either. It’s why he moved his army so that Monsieur Gaston could not take command of it.”
“Where is Gaston now?”
“Again, My Lord, I’m not sure. We heard that he was traveling to France from Turin, where he was a guest of his brother-in-law the duke of Savoy. I imagine he’s in Paris by now, or close to it.” She took a deep breath. “And now, Comte, maybe you’ll answer my question.”
Brassac did not respond, but looked at Servien; the intendant inclined his head and spoke.
“The king of France,” Servien said, “is an infant child, ten days old, the son of His Highness Louis XIII and Her Majesty Queen Anne. He was born just before his father was ruthlessly murdered before my eyes.”
There was a very long silence, then Maddox spoke.
“When we passed through Toulouse, there was a royal herald or something proclaiming Gaston d’Orleans as the king. He’s to be crowned in two weeks or so at Reims. Does he know about this baby?”
“We believe he does,” Brassac said, looking at Servien. “We believe that they are in terrible danger.”
“Or his agents. It is unclear whom he has chosen as allies, or what he has promised them. When do you expect your commander to arrive?”
“At least ten days from now. They move at good speed, but it’s still an army. And that’s if they don’t meet up with any opposition.”
“That is not what I fear,” Brassac said. “The question is whether the Spanish themselves will invade before they arrive.”
She smiled slightly. “The Marshal assumes that before the Spanish march over the mountains with their tercios, they’ll send a scouting party to check things out. He thought we might be able to stop them.”
“Stop,” Servien said, “meaning –”
“I think you are being disingenuous, Monsieur Servien,” Brassac said. “Colonel Maddox’ ‘Rangers’ consist of the best marksmen in Marshal Turenne’s army. ‘Stopping’ infiltrators on French soil means exactly what you would assume it means.”
Sherrilyn Maddox smiled even more broadly. “It means target practice.”
When word began to circulate of Monsieur Gaston’s imminent arrival in the capital, members of the elite Cardinal’s Guard began to absent themselves from the precincts of the Louvre, and from their barracks nearby. For fifteen years, the distinctive uniform of Richelieu’s personal troops had been ubiquitous in Paris — Guardsmen were admired, feared, resented, the subject of rumor, and considered a law unto themselves.
Now they were almost impossible to find. This, more than anything else, was demonstration that the cardinal himself had fallen. It was said in the markets of Les Halles and the public places in the city that the new king, Gaston d’Orleans, would surely not retain him in his long-held post; it was Richelieu who had caused Gaston to be exiled from the realm.
And surely, it was said, Gaston will be a better king than his brother. At the least he will provide an heir to the throne . . . something Louis had never done. Had not even the most recent pregnancy, attended with so much fanfare, resulted in another failure? Surely if there was an heir, it would have been announced.
Gaston approached, and the guardsmen had seemed to vanish. Their disappearance was not mourned.