1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 20
Servien walked along the broad corridor toward the great salon that his master planned someday to make into a theater. He would have scoffed at the idea of a theater in the Palais-Cardinal, a needless extravagance even for a patron of the theater such as Richelieu — except that up-timer history said that it had been built, and that Lemercier had done it in grand style.
At the entrance to the room he passed a servant, nervously shifting from foot to foot. Inside, standing and admiring one of the newer frescoes, he could see a handsome young nobleman, his back turned toward the door.
Servien stepped forward and cleared his throat. The sound echoed in the room, and the man turned to face him. He was clutching a letter in his hand, the seal broken.
He saw Servien and his face darkened.
“Ah, my uncle’s most trusted servant. Tell me, where is your master?”
“He is concerned with other business, Monsieur Grand-Maître. I was asked to attend you.”
“I should like to speak with him about — about this.” He brandished the letter as if it were a weapon.
“It would be my honor to bring back any message — “
“No.” The man tucked the letter inside his coat. “No, I wish to speak with him personally. Retire, and bring back my uncle.”
Servien sighed — not too loudly, he hoped: there was no need to offend the highborn young man. He would have liked nothing more than to do as he was bid: to retire from the salon and fetch the cardinal to speak with his nephew, Jean Armand de Maillé-Brézé, his sister’s son, the new Grand Admiral of France.
Servien even knew the content of the letter. It is the king’s will that you shall undertake a mission to our new lands in North America and enforce our writ…
“I beg your pardon, Monsieur,” Servien said patiently. “His Eminence is abroad in the city in his carriage, and cannot presently attend you.”
“He is abroad — then I shall wait.”
“I do not know his commitments, Monsieur. And I know that your time is valuable.”
Maillé-Brézé beckoned him closer. Their discussion in this large room had taken the form of an exchange of players upon a stage: every word had echoed off the polished floors and the cornices of the ceiling.
Servien approached until they were close together.
“Do you know the contents of my uncle’s letter to me? Of the Royal commission that accompanied it?”
“I have been informed, Monsieur. His Eminence confided his plans to me so that I might attend you. He felt that it was a great honor bestowed upon you, an opportunity to add luster to your honored name.”
“A great…an opportunity to — he is sending two ships thousands of miles from France,” Maillé-Brézé spat out. “To go to Virginia, of all places. I see no honor in treating with savages. I should likely be gone from court for more than a year, perhaps two.”
“There are men other than savages in Virginia, Monsieur. His Christian Majesty has new subjects in that land that must be brought to heel.”
“Charming.” Maillé-Brézé turned away, then rounded on Servien once more. “My uncle chose to have me honored as grand-maître de la navigation not to round up recalcitrant subjects half a world away, but to command His Christian Majesty’s fleets at war.”
“We are no longer at war, Monsieur,” Servien said mildly.
Maillé-Brézé looked exasperated, in that extravagant manner that came easily to young men. “We will be again, soon enough! Unless you’re fool enough to think the current peace with the USE will last.”
Servien made no reply. Truth be told, he suspected the same himself.
Maillé-Brézé brought himself very erect. “So — clearly you can see that my duty lies here, not in — in Virginia.”
“I would concur, Monsieur, except that it is not my decision to make. I humbly ask your pardon, but in truth, it is not yours either: it is the king’s, and by the letter you have received he has made it, and made his will very clear. To ignore it…or defy it…ill becomes a loyal servant of the crown.”
Like Champlain, Servien thought. Who, if given two well-armed ships like the ones given to Maillé-Brézé, would do exactly as he was ordered without question.
“You suggest that I contemplate treason? I should strike you.”
“I make no such suggestion,” Servien said. “I do no more than observe that we are all obliged to do the king’s will, particularly when he expresses his desire so clearly.”
“All except my uncle. What is it that he says? ‘I cover it all with my red robe.’ He does as he pleases. This — ” he withdrew the letter once more. “This letter is his doing. He arranged for my appointment as grand-maître, and now he arranges for me to be away from court. It is all part of some grand intrigue.”
“Once again I beg your pardon,” Servien said, accompanying his words with a polite bow, “but I detect in Monsieur’s remarks an intimation that he does not consider this task an important one.”
“How perceptive of you, Servien. Uncle has always spoken highly of your intelligence and insight,” he sneered.
“I shall thank His Eminence for his compliment,” Servien answered, trying his best to sound guileless. “But if I may assure you, Monsieur, that this mission is of prime importance to the crown. It is no mere errand to be given to a lad of no consequence.” Maillé-Brézé bristled at the word “lad,” and Servien continued, “His Eminence asked specifically that you be designated to lead the expedition. Virginia is a former English colony — “
“I know what it is,” Maillé-Brézé interrupted.
“A former English colony,” Servien repeated, “which is settled on land which now of right belongs to the kingdom of France. Its inhabitants must be convinced that the right and proper course for them is to submit to our king’s will. It shall be done by negotiation if possible, and by force if necessary.
“I can assure you that it was your uncle’s intent that you be the one to gain stature and honor in this undertaking. No offense or insult was intended — indeed, quite the opposite — the man who subdues the Atlantic plantations for His Christian Majesty will be elevated in stature among all of the luminaries of the court.”
Whether Maillé-Brézé had simply accepted the inevitable, or had decided that it was time to end the interview, was unclear to Servien; without any further word, the nobleman turned away and walked toward the door, beckoning to his servant and leaving Servien standing alone in the middle of the great hall.
* * *
After Maillé-Brézé was gone a panel in a nearby wall swung open, revealing a concealed doorway. Out of the darkness emerged the gray-robed monk Father Joseph, the in pectore Cardinal Tremblay, Cardinal Richelieu’s confessor. He had a wry smile on his face.
“Walk with me,” Joseph said, and they took their leave of the salon and strolled along a wide corridor toward the receiving rooms at the front of the palais.
“That was well done,” the monk said.
“You were listening to the conversation.”
“I do not think he was fond of my flattery,” Servien said. “He assumed I was merely being a sycophant.”
“Not entirely. He has been charged with an important task — and if he succeeds, His Eminence will surely heap further honors upon him.”
“And if he fails…”
“If Maillé-Brézé succeeds, it will benefit France, it will benefit Cardinal Richelieu, and it will even benefit Maillé-Brézé. But if he somehow manages to bungle the assignment, Father, the cardinal will be able to lay it at the feet of the young man’s inexperience or impetuosity.”
“It is a perfect double-edged sword,” Joseph said. “A masterstroke, don’t you think?”
Servien stopped walking and turned to face the monk, who stopped as well, tucking his bony hands into his sleeves.
“This was your idea.”
“I fail to see why it is important whether it originated with me,” Joseph said. “But even if it did…if the cardinal wishes his nephew to gain honor in the court in this way, I am not one to object. If he is the right man for the job — “
“On which subject I am hardly certain. But pray continue.”
“If he is, then his skill in executing it far outweighs his present petulance. But who would be sent instead? Few at court — including His Majesty — know anything at all about Virginia or the rest of the Atlantic colonies in the New World.”
“What if he refuses to go?”
“Refuse a direct order from his sovereign? Perish the thought. Indeed, my friend Servien, banish it from your mind. He is the son of a marquis, the nephew of our Cardinal, and the brother-in-law of the First Prince of the Blood. The chance of him actually refusing to do as he is commanded is as remote as a journey to the moon.”
Servien considered reminding Father Joseph that, yes indeed, the up-timers had in fact journeyed to the moon; but that was a feat unlikely to be repeated in this year of grace 1636.
Still, the idea that Maillé-Brézé might refuse to undertake the mission had never occurred to His Eminence — or to Servien. There should be no need to play to Maillé-Brézé’s pride or vanity at all, not when a command in the king’s name was given.
But he was a nobleman — and such was the way with which those of gentle birth needed to be treated. Cardinal Richelieu was a past master at the art.
And, indeed, so was Servien.