1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 11

“I am sure you do. You know everything that goes on in that room.” He pointed behind him. “My patron may be his nephew, but he is not fond of being suddenly summoned by the red robe. I should like to know why.”

Nephew, Servien thought. But the only nephew the cardinal might summon…would be Jean: Jean Armand de MaillĂ©-BrĂ©zĂ© — whom he had appointed, at age seventeen, to be grand-maĂ®tre de la navigation.

The Admiral of France. The soi-disant Admiral of France.

Servien caught the guardsman’s eye again, then returned his attention to the young nobleman before him. The guardsman began to walk slowly toward where they stood.

“Whatever my master’s plans might be, Monsieur, and whatever I may know about them — I know that he does not like to be kept waiting.”

“He shall have to wait until I am done with you.”

“Are you threatening me, Monsieur?”

“I do not threaten my inferiors,” he answered. “I command them to speak. So — speak, so that I may be better informed.”

“And if I choose to remain silent?”

De la Marche had apparently not even considered the possibility. Like all bullies, he did not know how to react when his intended victim was not intimidated.

Servien was in the employ of Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal-Duke de Richelieu, first minister of France. He understood intimidation very well — and understood that it did not emerge from the mouth of a young, arrogant fop, or from the point of his sword, should it come to that.

“Then I shall extract my information by unpleasant means.”

“The cardinal would not wish to be disturbed either by improper sound or unseemly violence, Monsieur. And while he would, of course, hold his nephew blameless, he would find some way to cause you to regret your precipitate action.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“No,” Servien said. “Not at all.” He looked past de la Marche at the cardinal’s guardsman standing a few feet away, his hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword. “I do not threaten my inferiors.”

Before the young man could frame a reply, Servien stepped past him and rapped at the door. From within he heard the word “Come,” and he opened it and closed it behind him.

* * *

“Forgive my tardiness, Your Eminence,” he said; Richelieu stood bent over a large table, looking at a map that was held down with several knickknacks and items from the cardinal’s broad desk. “I was delayed by annoyances.”

Richelieu looked at him. “Is that young fool still loitering about?”

“I regret to say that he is, Monsieur.”

“While I understand the sort of companion that my nephew attracts, I do not generally approve. Fortunately” — the cardinal permitted himself a small smile, which did not cause Servien to relax in the least — “he appears to suffer from mal de mer whenever he is aboard a sailing ship, so there is no chance for Jean to appoint him a captain by mistake.”

“I am gratified to hear it.”

Servien walked to where Richelieu stood, taking a brief glance at the map. It was a copy of the New World chart devised by the Englishman John Smith.

“Eminence?” he said after a moment.

“I hear that your young Alsatian has vanished,” Richelieu said without preamble. “A shame.”

“I did not know that Your Eminence was so well informed.”

“After all these years? Come now, Servien, my best and most faithful servant. That I am aware of something should be your default assumption.”

“Of course. Forgive me.”

“I absolve you of your ignorance. Now, to the matter at hand. I have reviewed the copies of your correspondence with your young spy. Quite informative; quite informative indeed. I would say that you made an excellent investment in him.”

“Thank you, Monsieur.”

“And, indeed…” Richelieu spread his hands across the map, then traced the long, sinuous coastline with his index finger. “If he has found a way to survive and return to us with further information, I would be prepared to reward him quite well. It seems that our up-timer friends are heavily invested in some scheme, and he was quite close to it.”

“But we…did not learn of its import.”

“Actually,” the cardinal said, “we do have some idea of it. It was sighted on two occasions after it set sail from Hamburg; once from the south coast of England, and once from Normandy. It sailed west — and out to sea.”

Servien looked at the map, then back at Richelieu.

“To the New World, you believe.”

“Yes, to the New World. The sparrow returns to its nest: the up-timers return to America.”

“This is not the America they knew.”

“No. Indeed it is not. This is a wild land of savages, an untamed wilderness. An inhospitable place…”

“Which largely belongs to the French crown now.”

Richelieu turned and walked to the hearth, where there was a carefully banked fire. The day outside was pleasant, but Richelieu’s receiving chamber was chilly; there was a draft from somewhere, perhaps owing to the continuing construction of the Palais-Cardinal. He extended his long hands toward the fireplace, then settled himself into an armchair; he waved Servien to another nearby.

“There is a peculiar class of plants, Servien; I have read of them — they apparently exist in profusion in the New World, in that untamed wilderness that His Christian Majesty now owns. They are called in Latin Dionaea muscipula; English governors a century up-time from this year of grace dubbed them ‘Venus flytrap.’ Do you know of them?”

Servien shook his head. “I do not, Eminence.”

“I shall have to arrange to have one or more of them in my garden, when time allows.” Richelieu placed his hands together in front of him, palms up, slightly cupped. “These remarkable plants have pairs of wide, stiff leaves with tiny hairs on them. They remain dormant and quiet until an insect lands on them and then walks…ever so carefully…across the leaves and touches one and then another of the hairs. Then, and only then, the leaves snap shut –” he clapped his hands together so suddenly that Servien started in his seat.

Richelieu smiled.

“I beg your pardon, Eminence,” Servien said. “Please continue.”

“Once the leaves are shut, Servien, the plant consumes the tiny insect. It is carnivorous, you see — a plant that eats tiny animals, such as insects.” He let his hands relax again, resting them on his knees.

“Remarkable.”

“Yes. I should like to have one of them to study — in any case, France is much like that singular growth. We have laid open and in wait for a few years; our title to the former English colonies is unchallenged, and our ownership of the lands shown on that map is unimpeded, except for a single Dutch colony. Along with our established domain to the north and west, it gives France a huge swath of territory to settle, to develop, to exploit. With the peace, we finally have an opportunity to undertake this venture.”

“I see.”

“Clearly the Americans see this as well. Just as we are the plant, they are the insect. The departure of this up-timer-crewed ship for the New World is the trigger that moves us to action. Your spy told us enough to convince me that this is the time.”

“You intend to deploy our fleet to the New World?”

“I would not say our entire fleet, Servien. That would be peremptory — and incautious. Even though we are at peace, we cannot assume that situation will prevail forever. But we have resources to deploy and someone to command them.”

“Our grand-maĂ®tre.”

“Quite.” Richelieu placed his hands together again, palm up. “And this little expedition…which does not know that we know…might well be caught in the trap.”

This time, when the cardinal clapped his hands together, Servien did not bat an eyelash.