1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 40
As the carriage approached, Gaston could see the beautiful girl into which his daughter had grown. She sat astride a handsomely-turned out pony, her attire a perfect small copy of an adult’s riding habit, topped with a feather-decorated hat that was completely haute couture.
Anne Marie Louise, Duchesse du Montpensier — Mademoiselle de France — mesmerized him; yet withal Gaston could feel Marguerite’s smoldering anger. She had provided her husband with no children as yet; and this young child, all that remained of Marie de Montpensier, her husband’s first wife, captivated him even though — or perhaps despite — the fact that he had not laid eyes on her in nearly four years.
When the carriage came to a halt, the young princess dismounted with assistance from her governess, the formidable Madame de St. Georges, daughter of his and Louis’ own governess Madame de Montglat. With slow, measured steps she walked the short distance to where her father and stepmother sat waiting. She executed a perfect court bow, inclining her head and awaiting recognition.
“Rise, child,” Gaston said. He stood — and again felt the disdain (or possibly more anger) from his wife; he ignored it. A servant scurried around to the side of the carriage and placed a step-stool; Gaston descended to the ground and stood before his daughter, helping her to her feet.
He held her hand for several moments, looking down at her and favoring her with his best smile.
“I have missed you so much, Papa,” she said, doing her best to maintain her dignity; but she was ten years old, and appeared to be bursting with joy. “Your Majesty,” she added, her eye catching the cold gaze of her stepmother.
“We do not need to be so formal in private,” Gaston said. He glanced over his shoulder at Marguerite, whose expression said, speak for yourself. He ignored that as well. “I am so blessed to have you ride into our capital together.”
“Thank you, Sire,” she answered. She raised her chin proudly in a gesture that painfully reminded him of Marie, his first love, her mother. Holding her hand, he helped her up the steps into the carriage, where she settled herself in the seat opposite her stepmother. Gaston followed her and resumed his place next to Marguerite.
“Good day to you, Your Majesty,” the girl said politely to the duchess of Orleans. “Am I to call you Maman?”
The arrival of Gaston in Paris on that fine early May day was a cause for celebration. As far as any in the open carriage could tell, the citizens of the capital were delirious to see their new King, his consort, and his young daughter; if there were reservations among those in the crowd, it was to see César de Vendôme, Monsieur Gaston’s older brother, riding behind the carriage with his two sons François and Louis: it was a sign of royal favor, an indication that their exile was at an end.
On Gaston’s part it was a sly coup de theatre — César would have been happy to ride in the carriage with the king he had helped create, but Gaston had rejected the idea out of hand a few hours earlier before they had met up with his daughter.
“You will be better received if you are part of my escort, Brother,” he had said. “You can thus adequately display the arms of your noble house, and show off your excellent horsemanship.”
“I am to be reduced to the status of a mere guardsman?”
“I would hardly characterize it thus.”
“It seems that way to me.”
“Really.” Gaston seemed already bored with the conversation. “I cannot be responsible for your perceptions, César. You are légitimé de France, a well-respected soldier and a member of my family and my household. Having you ride in the royal entourage sends exactly the right signal: that whatever your past infractions might have been, a new reign means an amnesty.”
When Vendôme began to renew his protest, Gaston said, “If you would prefer not to enter Paris in my company, you are welcome to make your own way. I was merely trying to portray you in the best possible light.”
“My . . . infractions are based on the judgments of the late Cardinal Richelieu, as you know.”
“Ah, yes. Cardinal Richelieu.” Gaston had removed his glove and examined the nails on his right hand. “A shame that he was felled by assassins . . . he is dead, is he not, Brother?”
Vendôme had reddened slightly but said nothing.
“I think you had best leave perceptions to me, Brother,” Gaston said. “You have an unfortunate tendency to see things less clearly than you should.”
Terrye Jo rode into Paris some distance behind Monsieur Gaston and the other prominent figures. The others in the entourage accorded her some respect — she was an up-timer, after all, and had some scientific knowledge and wizardry at her fingertips — but she was still a servant, or an employee, or in some category that kept her at a distance from the front of the line. Still, she had been provided with some very nice clothing by the duchess of Savoy — not a woman’s riding dress but a man’s outfit tailored to her size and shape, complete with an ornate hat that she’d had to pin in place since her natural hair was too short and she refused to wear a wig.
Long before she could see most of Paris she smelled it. Bigger than Turin or Grantville or Magdeburg, Paris was one of the greatest cities in Europe — and that meant it was full of people and everything those people produced. The river reeked the worst; they approached from the west, passing along the bank as they rode through some sort of royal forest. It was almost a relief when the road veered away from the river to a wide gate. Beyond, she could see a large tower and at least a dozen churches — including Notre Dame, which she remembered from a picture in a book.
The rest of Paris was unfamiliar. No Arc de Triomphe, no Eiffel Tower. She wondered if there would be guys in little moustaches and berets playing the accordion, or if that belonged to the twentieth century too — or to bad movies.
“If only old Baldaccio could see us now, eh, Donna?” Artemisio guided his horse close enough to rub up against her; she had to keep herself from fending him off with a well-placed kick from her riding boot.
“He’d just be lecturing us on everything he knows.”
“Or thinks he knows.”
“Or that. Monsieur is getting quite the reception, isn’t he?”
They were just passing through the Porte St. Martin and onto a fairly wide boulevard; people on either side were waving and shouting. She could see the Guy Fawkes mask that was Gaston’s smiling face turning this way and that, acknowledging the crowd.
“They like seeing a real man,” Artemisio said.
“As opposed to . . .”
“His brother,” he said. “You know what they said about him.”
“That can’t have been true. He was married for twenty years, wasn’t he? He — it — that sort of thing isn’t something you could keep secret for that long.”
“You might be surprised, Donna. I have heard a story that there is a cavaliere — a gentilhomme — here in Paris, a brave soldier and swordsman, respected by all, who is actually . . .” His voice lowered conspiratorially. “a woman. She has kept the secret for many years waiting for a chance to revenge the death of her brother, who taught her how to handle a sword.”
“No reason that couldn’t be true.”
“Except that it’s probably some story. Imagine, a woman swordsman!” He laughed, then stopped laughing when he saw Terrye Jo’s frown. “What?”
“Why is that funny?”
“She would be a down-timer, Donna. I can believe it possible from someone such as you. But a down-timer woman disguising herself as a King’s Musketeer or some such? Preposterous.”
He gave the last word in his best impression of Umberto Baldaccio. Terrye Jo tried to keep her anger hot — but after a moment she couldn’t help but laugh as well.
Even the reception of the procession at the Louvre was ceremonial. The guild masters of Paris and at least a dozen of the noblesse d’épee were on hand to greet Monsieur Gaston as he arrived. The noblemen saluted with their ceremonial swords, while the merchants presented their king-to-be with the honors of the city. Six noblewomen dressed in samite were present to welcome Princess Marguerite and Mademoiselle, the little Anna Maria Louisa. They executed perfect obeisances, and presented each of them with perfect white roses. It made for excellent theatre.
When all had disembarked and dismounted, the prince and his train walked slowly through the polite and approving crowds into the palace, going directly to the salle de réception. Gaston took up the king’s seat, with Marguerite at his side, and his daughter on an ornate chair one step below. César de Vendôme stood at the same level, a sword in his hands pointed down at the floor. His sons took up positions one step below that. Louis, still feeling the effects of his wound, was a bit slower than François in doing so. Other nobles, both the noblesse d’épée of medieval origin and the more modern creations of the noblesse de robe, assumed positions according to their ranks and stations. When all were properly arranged (by their own act, or by the fussy direction of the royal masters of court protocol), the salle became quiet, and Gaston stood, looking out across the crowd.
“My dear countrymen, my lords and ladies. It is with great joy that I stand before you this day, to claim what is mine by right: the throne, crown and scepter of our beloved kingdom of France, and to be proclaimed Most Christian Majesty.
“But it is also with a heavy heart that I return to my native land, in the wake of the base and cowardly attack upon my dear royal brother Louis, whom men called ‘the Just’. To say of him that he was pure of heart, and that our Father in Heaven smiled upon him and his reign as our sovereign, is to grant him a scarce fraction of that which was his due. We can be sure that his good works, his piety and his devotion to country and to the Lord God Almighty have given him a worthy place at the right hand of the Father.”
Gaston paused for a moment, his hand upon his heart, his head bowed as if in humble prayer.
“As with our own blood kin, our devoted father Henri, he was taken from the mortal world before his work on this earth was done. As was true when that king was struck down by an assassin’s hand, his heir — my dear brother Louis — had no higher duty than to carry on, and try to carry forth the labors that kingship imposes, a heavy burden upon the man who bears the crown and sits upon the throne.
“We do not know the identity of the craven assassins who performed this vile deed. I promise you, my countrymen and subjects, that no effort will be spared to find these criminals and cause them to suffer for their crimes — in a measure sufficient that when death comes at last, it will be a welcome surcease . . . and yet their pain in this world will be a mere foretaste of that punishment that awaits all regicides in the infernal region prepared for their eternal torment.