1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 50

This book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.

1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 50

Chapter 29

The South of France

An army, even one with excellent organization and marching in good order, moves slowly and makes a great deal of noise. The army that Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne, the comte de Turenne, commanded was organized and ordered — not tearing up the countryside, for example — and was making no attempt to disguise its presence; it was not that difficult to find.

Surely, François de Bassompierre thought, His Royal Highness could have found it himself if he wanted to.

Bassompierre and forty men of the King’s Musketeers had departed Paris the day after the first meeting of the Conseil. None of them were happy with the detail: it would prevent their attendance upon their new king in Reims. Bassompierre was not happy with the orders either — but a coronation, however grand, was a matter of a single day; good service to a King could bring handsome rewards for years to come.

His orders to locate Turenne’s army and take command of it — expanded upon by written instructions drawn up by the duc d’Épernon for the king, ordering him to march it toward Paris — were simple, and finding the army would be simple. What happened after that could be simple as well.

It had taken almost two weeks, even in good weather and on good roads, for Bassompierre’s party to make its way south into Languedoc. It was a fair assumption that a force the size of Turenne’s would travel by the most reliable roads, travelling by way of Clermont-Ferrand, and would avoid the rough terrain to the south. That was the place Bassompierre hoped to intercept them at first; but news of the noise of their relatively ordered passage reached him while they were pausing at Limoges. Turenne had chosen to use the southern route after all and had already passed through LePuy and was marching toward Rodez, at least five days’ hard ride from their present location. The encounter would have to be even further south.

Twenty-five years old and a marshal of France, Bassompierre thought as his command rode steadily south, crossing the Dordogne near Souillac on a sturdy footbridge that might have been there when Jeanne d’Arc was crusading against the English invaders. Twenty-five years old . . . does he dare to choose the course of foreign affairs?

Bassompierre could not imagine it. Confronting and defying an arrogant cardinal, who had made it his life’s work to bend a king to his will, yes: that sort of thing won you honors or landed you in prison. But defying the king himself? Yet that was exactly what it seemed.

They would soon find out.

Albi

The bishop of Albi was none too happy to have an army at his doorstep. Gaspard de Daillon du Lude was a young man — in his early thirties, from what Turenne could tell — and had only recently been confirmed in his see.

He had received the Marshal with courtesy, and was relieved to hear that the military force had no intention of marching through the streets of his town but was merely passing on its way southward. . . meaning that whatever trouble faced Bishop Gaspard would soon be someone else’s trouble.

“It would be my pleasure to show my cathedral to you, Monsieur le Comte,” the bishop said, leading him up the steps and under a baldaquin that covered the south door of the Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile.

“This looks like a fortification, Father,” Turenne said.

At the door the bishop turned and looked up, then back at Turenne. “As indeed it was. One of my predecessors, a few hundred years ago, converted a round tower into this porch.”

“Forgive me for looking at this entrance with a general’s eye. It looks as if it would be suitable for defending against all comers.”

“The tides of war have swept through Albi many times, Monsieur,” Gaspard said. “But as for defending . . . this entire structure is built from brick rather than stone — there’s precious little of that in the Tarn Valley. I doubt that it would stand up against any determined attack.”

The bishop fell silent. He looked anxious, as if wanting to say, and you’re not planning on making such an attack, I pray.

“Have no fear, Father. The Lord Most High protects your church, and I would not dare oppose Him. But it does seem a very . . . martial structure. The windows are high and fairly inaccessible; this entrance is well protected; and the bell-tower is more than two hundred feet high — I’d like to see the view from there.”

“It has been compared to a fortress,” the bishop said. “But it is a house of God. I should not want to see it turned to . . . martial purposes.”

“You have my word, Father.”

Gaspard looked at him for several moments, as if trying to read the truth. At last he seemed satisfied, and led Turenne into the church.

Turenne would not have guessed, based on the austere and imposing exterior, that the inside of the church would have been so beautiful. Instead of being plain, it was incredibly ornate. Almost every pillar bore a statue, and the walls, ceiling vault and side chapels — dozens of them — were richly painted. There were no separate side-aisles or vaults, however — it was one huge unified space, from the south door to the high altar, separated from the nave by an exquisite rood-screen.

His thoughts turned to war: of the destruction that had come to the Germanies over the last two decades, decreasing in ferocity only with the arrival of the up-timers. His own native land had not been ravaged in this way, of course, but there were churches and other buildings this beautiful, this majestic, that had been wantonly sacked and burned and destroyed. Standing in this place gave him some sympathy with the young bishop, who wanted his church to be as remote as possible from such violence.

“Monsieur le Maréchal.”

He realized that he had been addressed at least twice. He genuflected again and turned to face Gaspard, whose face was a mask of concern.

“I’m sorry, Father. Lost in my thoughts.”

“It does happen in this place. Come, let me show you our mural of the Last Judgment.”

At the west end of the nave, the curved walls that flanked the altar were covered with a beautiful mural painted in such detail that it seemed almost to jump out at him. It was, indeed, the Last Judgment in horrifying detail: Heaven along the top, Hell at the bottom; the Blessed on the left and the Damned on the right. The demons were engaged in prolonging the suffering of the resurrected dead who wound up on the right side, while the saints and angels supervised the arrival of those who had been taken up with the Lord. Those being punished were organized according to the Deadly Sins; he walked slowly along the walls and noted Pride, Envy, Wrath, Greed, Gluttony, Lust . . .

“Isn’t there one missing, Father?”

“Yes. Sloth. We have always assumed that the painter was too lazy to finish it.” Gaspard smiled. “We have no idea who he was, of course — it was a century and a half ago. But the blue paint that you see there and elsewhere — ” he gestured toward the ceiling. “That’s from our own pastellieurs. It’s what made Albi rich in the past.”

“This is a useful object lesson for your flock, Monsieur L’Évêque,” Turenne said. “Scaring them into obedience.”

“That is not what scares them, Monsieur le Maréchal,” Gaspard answered. “They worry about losing all they have.”

“To the last judgment?”

“To the depredations of greedy, violent men.”

“I sense a certain amount of reproach, Father. I will remind you that I have given you my word that I mean no harm.”

“No, Monsieur,” the bishop answered. “Not you. But there are others.”

****

In the Palais de la Berbie, the bishop’s palace — also structured very much like a castle — Bishop Gaspard took Turenne for a walk in his gardens; afterward, they sat on a covered terrace and sampled wine from a local vineyard.

“We are somewhat sheltered here,” the bishop said. “I am eager for reliable news . . . we have heard that our good King Louis met with a violent end.”

“That is regrettably true.”

“And your march into the Tarn valley — is that a prelude to war? The up-timers –”

“The attack on the king was not the work of up-timers, my lord bishop. It was the work of a band of outlaws. I know very little of the circumstances, except that Monsieur Gaston has assumed the mantle of kingship and will shortly be crowned in Reims.

“It was always the intention of Cardinal Richelieu that my command be sent south to prevent a possible attack by the Spanish — so if there is war, it will be my task to win it.”

“I see.” Gaspard took up his wine-glass and sipped. “Have you seen the broadsheets and proclamations that have even reached our remote area?”

“Proclamations? No, Father, I have not.”

Gaspard gestured to a servant, who came close. He whispered in the man’s ear; the servant nodded and departed, returning a minute or two later with three pages. One was on crisp parchment and was carefully inscribed; the other two were single-sheet newspapers of the sort that were springing up all over Europe.

“Please tell me what you make of these.”

The parchment was a proclamation from the new King-to-be. It commanded Queen Anne, the widow of his late royal brother, to present herself at Reims at his coronation — where she would be received ‘with all honors due a grieving widow and queen’. There was no indication, at least in this royal command, of the consequences of failure to comply.

Turenne set it aside and picked up one of the broadsheets. It had various sorts of news, some of which dealt with places not far from Albi, such as Rodez or Clermont; but his attention was immediately drawn to an article near the top that suggested that the queen and her lover — paramour was the chosen word — Giulio Mazarini were complicit in the death of the king and the cardinal, and that they were both secretly in the pay of the Count de Mirabel, Spain’s ambassador in Paris.

He placed it on the table before him, noting that Bishop Gaspard was watching him carefully to gauge his reaction.

The third document was even more scurrilous — it did not even pretend to be any sort of newspaper, but was rather a sort of declaratory screed. Richelieu, it suggested, had escaped the terrible ambush in the forest of Yvelines, and had gathered men and arms — including hundreds of men in his Cardinal’s Guard — and was preparing to march to Paris to dethrone King Gaston when he returned from coronation in Reims.

“The proclamation, I assume, was sent to you. But how did you come by the other two?”

“Traders and merchants. There are several variations of these ‘news papers’ in circulation here in Albi and elsewhere nearby. Do they tell the truth? Is the queen . . . complicit? And what of Cardinal Richelieu? Is he in rebellion against the new King?”

Am I? Turenne asked himself. “I have heard nothing to indicate that the cardinal survived the ambush, Father. That his body did not lie in state may be because it was not found. That is a horrifying thought, but the truth may be that simple.

“As for our good Queen, it is my understanding that she is — or was — in seclusion, awaiting the birth of a child. If she bore a son, then it would be the cause of great rejoicing. Even if you could attribute such a base motive to such a noble lady, what would be the possible gain in assisting in her husband’s death? A helpless widow with an infant, with enemies all around — that would place her in enormous danger. So I do not believe that tale either, Father. I think it is base and scurrilous. You should take these and use them as kindling in your hearth.”

“I wish I could be that confident, Marshal.”

“Confidence wins battles, my lord Bishop. I assume that applies to battles for souls as well.”

****

Before vespers, Turenne was escorted to the bell-tower of the cathedral by a deacon, an older man who moved with the lithe grace of a younger one. He felt that he was in excellent shape, but Turenne had rarely seen a man ten years his senior go so nimbly up a long stairway: it must have been years of regular practice.

The tower room gave an excellent vantage in all directions. The slate roofs of the town were spread out like a tapestry, dappled by the sun down near the horizon. The deacon stood back, leaning against one of the support pillars, enjoying a few minutes of leisure; Turenne reached to his belt for his spyglass —

And only then he began to hear the sharp crack of rifle shots and the slower, more measured fire of muskets.

He took out the spyglass and focused toward the river, across which his army had camped. Even before he placed it to his eye he could see puffs of smoke. Somewhere to the north someone was firing on his troops. He couldn’t make out anything distinctly; he resisted the urge to utter a very soldierly curse and went to the staircase, where he began to take the steps two at a time.

 

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Comments

11 Responses to 1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 50

  1. Terranovan says:

    Paper is better as tinder than as kindling. And, NOOOO!!! No more snippets! Whatever will I do? :-)

  2. Mario says:

    Be advised, however, that this book is in fact the first half of a book. I hate and despise books like this one where not a single one story-line ends at the end of the book …
    Mario

    • Randomiser says:

      No comment on this. But note that Eric Flint has been very generous with snippets. These end at about location 4069 of 7054 in my Kindle version of the book. That is you have seen just over 50% of the book already.

    • John Cowan says:

      Absolutely correct. The book doesn’t end in any sense: when you get to the last chapter, all the plot threads are still in flight, and there’s nothing left to do but wait for the sequel, which may or may not be forthcoming and may or may not finish any of them. So the generous snippets may be half the book, but they are only a quarter (or less) of the story.

  3. daveo says:

    I agree with Mario. A hundred more pages should be enough to bring Gaston to his well deserved end. And his surviving partisans will be another story.

    It’s interesting that the Prince of Conde is one of Gaston’s enemies. This must be Henry II, since his son Louis II, the great Conde, is too young.

  4. Vikingted says:

    I can not wait for my copy to arrive…

  5. Gary D says:

    My copy arriving 2 day yahoo

  6. Tweeky says:

    I wonder if the book will end with Gaston’s head on the chopping but since he ordered his brother’s death regicide is a specific crime in France back then with a specified and very gruesome punishment.

  7. Lodiguy says:

    Need next book now! Ending sets up many many story line options.

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