Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 05

Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 05

Nicole swore that they had not exchanged so much as a word all that night.

Certainly, in the dozen-plus years between then and now, they had not produced any children, even though the Jesuits had performed multiple exorcisms on the duchess to make sure that her barrenness was not caused by witchcraft.

Nicole stomped to the nearest chair and sat down.

The footman, with equal ceremony, closed the door.

“Divorce,” Nicole said. “This time, he has gone too far. A civil separation, to preserve my property interests. As far as the church goes, a divorce a mensa et thoro, so I never have to see him again. I would even be willing to accept a declaration of nullity, if that is what it takes to rid myself of Charles, not that I need an annulment. Heaven forbid that I should ever be mad enough to wish to marry again. This time…”

Marguerite moaned and turned her face away. “What can he have done now that’s worse than having the priest who baptized you burned for sorcery so he could claim that you weren’t a properly baptized Christian, so your marriage wasn’t valid? Honestly, Nicole, matrimonial incompatibility doesn’t get much worse than that. He hit bottom years ago.”

Henriette lifted her chin. “That was nasty, but the trick by which he and his father used a forged will of Duke René to invalidate your father’s will was worse. Sure, Father de la Vallée is dead, but the pope didn’t let Charles get away with invalidating your marriage because of the sorcery charge and if he was innocent, he’s in heaven experiencing eternal bliss. The Estates, on the other hand, let Charles steal the Duchy of Bar from you. If a husband of mine ever tried anything of the sort with me… If Nicolas ever tries something like that with Claude…”

“Ah,” Marguerite said. “Ah. Where is Claude?”

“Over at the royal palace,” Nicole humphed. “My sister is at the royal palace. Probably giggling with Maria Anna over what it is like to be married to an ex-cardinal. Jokes–those two girls make jokes. Of course, one should not take risks by calling the queen of the Low Countries, one’s hostess while one is in exile, ‘silly.’ Nor is it polite to call one’s sister ‘silly.’ Still…”

“It’s romantic,” Henriette said. “It is. Maria Anna’s running away from Duke Maximilian. Claude’s elopement with our brother Nicolas, disguised as a stable boy, even. No writer of romantic comedies could do better. Why shouldn’t they giggle together when they have a chance? They both have little enough time to laugh, they are so taken up with duty and duties.”

“Romance,” Nicole proclaimed, “is a chimera. A fraud. I have consulted my confessor and an entire bevy of lawyers, both canon and civil.”

Henriette looked at her sister-in-law sharply. Nicole had never gone that far before.

“Nicole,” she said cautiously. “Nicole. Make sure that it is only a separation, a mensa et thoro. If you did obtain a declaration of nullity, Charles would be free of the marital bond and he is just foolish enough to marry one of his flighty little flirts, if she were high-born enough. Even marginally high-born enough. When our brother is being led by his dick, he has no sense whatsoever.”

****

Nicolas François, formerly the Cardinal de Lorraine and now heir to the duke of Lorraine, contemplated his brother with exasperation. Charles was–flashy. He was handsome, he was merry, he had military aspirations, he had debts, debts, and more debts. Of the two, Charles was five years older, but he certainly hadn’t devoted those years to accumulating anything that even mildly resembled maturity of judgment. He lacked prudence. He lacked moderation. He did not lack for feminine attention.

“Once Gaston gets here,” the duke was saying.

“Once Gaston gets here, with Puylaurens, you will likely lose any semblance of good behavior you have managed to hang onto by a thread thus far. If you haven’t noticed–and I greatly fear that you have not–the king in the Low Countries is not inclined toward libertinage. I would not go so far as to call him a prude, but when he finds out about your absolutely unashamed pursuit of a respectable young married woman… Even your servants… And if Isabella Clara Eugenia should hear–I believe this girl’s mother was once one of Isabella Clara Eugenia’s ladies-in-waiting, and also a personal friend of the queen’s principal lady-in-waiting, Doña Mencia. This is not going to do anything but cause trouble.”

Charles, duc de Lorraine et Bar, flipped his brother the bird. “I assure you, the lady is not as respectable as she was two weeks ago. By no means as respectable as she was a month ago.”

“Why do I even try? Why did we come to Brussels. Our cousins invited Claude and me to come to Savoy. We could have gone there. We could have put hundreds of miles between us and your…activities.”

“The court in Turin is scarcely a model of propriety, my dear brother. Every time I talk to you, it becomes more clear that you were educated to become a bishop. Do stop plaguing me and have a glass of wine.”

****

“One result of the defeat at Ahrensbök,” Monsieur Gaston said, “is that my brother and that demon Richelieu no longer really have sufficient military resources to maintain their occupation of Lorraine at full strength.”

Charles IV’s eyes brightened. “My advisers tell me…”

“No,” Nicolas said firmly. “They don’t. Or, at least, they shouldn’t.”

“It’s true,” Puylaurens said. “Richelieu is distracted by other problems. This may be your best opportunity.”

Nicolas answered for his brother. “Under no circumstances.”

****

“If her brothers won’t,” Gaston said. “Then I will. On my own. On behalf of Marguerite, of course. It is clearly utterly humiliating for her–well, I haven’t actually asked her, but it must be utterly humiliating for her–I would certainly be utterly humiliated if I were in her place–to see them accepting the exile that my brother’s adviser has force upon them with such cowardice. With such pusillanimity. With such…”

Puylaurens, who was just barely smart enough to realize that his lord and master lacked something in the way of “ability to intrigue successfully” took Henriette’s advice and suggested that just now, it might be important for Gaston to care for Marguerite solicitously in these final weeks of her pregnancy.  “After all, the birth of the heir to France should outweigh…”

“In any case,” Puylaurens continued, “I’ve talked to Charles. He did manage to bring most of his regiments with him when he fled. They’ve been here in the Spanish Netherlands ever since, eating and drilling, getting into trouble with the local authorities in the towns where they are quartered, but really doing nothing. Eating his resources up. Fernando won’t let him take employment offers from any other Kriegsherr and has more sense than to place Charles in a position of command himself. If we offer to reimburse the king for those two years of costs in return for having free use of them this spring…”

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