1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 04
Before the sun reached its height, the royal party was on the king’s road to Fontainebleau. The queen and king rode in a luxuriously-appointed carriage, escorted by two dozen members of the king’s Musketeers, and followed by carriages bearing gentlemen and ladies of the royal courts. The fresh air of late summer was a welcome change from the smoke and stink of Paris.
Anne had a complex work of needlepoint in her lap to which she gave scarce attention. Louis’ breviary lay beside him on the seat.
“This is very pleasant,” Anne said. “Just the two of us . . .”
“Yes,” Louis answered. He stretched his legs out, almost touching the hem of his queen’s long skirts, then hastily pulled them back. “I feel as if a weight is gradually lifting from my shoulders. And you?”
“I’m not sure that’s what I meant.”
“Is there some other meaning I should divine?”
“I . . . no,” she said. “No. But we have rarely been in so quiet a setting. Alone.”
He narrowed his eyes. “This — this sounds like an amorous advance.”
Anne looked down at the needlepoint: a half-finished depiction of the blessed Saint Clotilde, the mother of King Clovis, who helped bring the light of the Gospel to the Franks. She was just starting to pick out the little church she held in her hands.
Queen, she thought to herself. And soon, if God wills it, Queen Mother.
“I meant nothing of the sort. And if you are offended, I most humbly beg pardon — but this is no circumstance for me to bow low and curtsy.”
“It is not necessary.”
“I thank Your Majesty for his magnanimity.”
“Are you mocking me, My Lady? Is this — is this another jest, another opportunity to remind me of what kind of husband I am?”
“No. Of course not.”
He was armed with a severe reply, but hesitated. Anne’s face was a mask of civility, but somewhere in her expression he could see the face of the young princess he had taken as his wife more than twenty years ago.
“I think it is I who should beg your pardon,” he said, and laid his hand on his breviary, but did not take it up. “During my time on the throne I have had many hands turn against me: nobles and churchmen, high and low, men and, and women. It is like being strapped to a Catherine’s wheel.” He drew out a lace handkerchief and coughed delicately into it.
“It is as I read in a play,” Ann answered. “La tÃªte couronnÃ©e dort Ã l’Å“il ouvert . . . ‘the crowned head sleeps with one eye open.’ In English it reads, ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.'”
“The English are clever with words, Madame. Not as clever as the French by half, but still clever. And in this case they are on point.”
“I was given a translation of this play by the cardinal. He took quite a fancy to it. He is deficient in many things, but he is clever beyond doubt. Look at what he has arranged for us.” She smiled, and then laughed briefly: not the sharp, cruel laughter that had so often troubled Louis, but a soft, musical sound.
“The four of us . . .” Louis began, and trailed off. Anne knew who the fourth one was: Giulio Mazarini, the one who now styled himself Jules Mazarin, just as he had done in the up-time world, her ally in the future when she became regent for the young king upon the death of this one.
And in this world — her lover? At least for now, with royal sanction he was her partner by this arrangement.
“Yes, my king?”
“The four of us will always have a bond,” he said at last. “We do this for France. I tell myself that, that it must be done. It makes you more of a queen, rather than less. It is just as we discussed months ago; and yet, and yet now we stand on the precipice of this event and I confess myself somewhat faint.”
“I remain your queen, Sire. As long as you wish it.”
“I have never wished otherwise.”
“You have my word as your king and your husband. Is that sufficient?”
She knew that he was not telling the truth — or, to be generous, that he deceived himself that it was true. After she miscarried the first time; after the intrigues that had associated themselves with her, the lonely and neglected Queen of France; at the Day of Dupes, when she was certain she would be sent back to Spain — yes, she was sure that he might have put her aside as his father had put aside his first wife because Paris is well worth a mass. In the course of twenty-one years she believed the opposite: that he had wished often and most fervently that she was not his queen, that she had never become his queen, that there were a hundred other diversions more interesting and less threatening.
And now, at this precipice as he put it, he found himself faint, and spoke gallant words? Her Hapsburg temper made her want to throw the words back in his face.
That was not a choice.
“Quite sufficient,” she said.
In the needlepoint, Anne thought she recognized a faint smile on Saint Clotilde’s face.
ChÃ¢teau de Saluce
The royal party halted just before dark at the ChÃ¢teau de Saluce, deep in the Forest of SenÃ¢rt south and east of Paris. They had followed the king’s high road across the Meuse over the bridge that Louis’ father Henry IV had fortified early in his reign; from there the land gave way to rolling hills and a deep forest, its greens showing the first hint of browns and oranges, a sign of the coming change of seasons.
SenÃ¢rt was a royal preserve, managed by foresters in service to the king and, lately, watched by troops loyal to the cardinal. Highwaymen and robbers had long since found more fruitful hunting grounds, but the veteran musketeers made sure that no one even approached. The chateau was a hunting lodge enhanced with creature comforts: it was hardly the Louvre — or Fontainebleau, for that matter — but it was a long way from rustic either. The troops dismounted first and made the place secure; servants and courtiers entered next, so that when the king and queen alighted from their carriage all was ready.
Louis and Anne parted in the entrance hall to refresh themselves from the trip, and reunited at a dinner laid on by the staff. After the first few courses, the poet Corneille — one of Richelieu’s cinq auteurs, patronized by the court — appeared to declaim verses in praise of truth and love and virtue.
The queen, placed to the king’s right, whispered, “will the gentleman be accompanying us to Fontainebleau?”
“I had thought to send him back to Paris tomorrow,” Louis replied. “Is he to your liking?”
“He preaches like a Calvinist and prances like a fine horse,” Anne said. “I would rather be purged than hear him in the palace.”
“My physician could — could certainly oblige you, Madame,” Louis said. “But I shall dispense you from the obligation. Monsieur Corneille will part from us tomorrow.”
“I shall say additional prayers for you, Sire.”
Corneille completed his current verse and offered a deep bow to the royals. Louis made an indulgent gesture with his hand, making the poet beam. Anne merely gave Corneille a frozen smile.
The queen retired first by the king’s leave, her ladies escorting her from the dining hall. As this progress was intended to portray a romantic retreat by king and queen, Louis made a great show of kissing Anne’s hand and presenting her with a beautiful, perfect rose before she departed. Those of the court on hand for the scene gossiped to themselves, which made the king smile.
Louis went to his own chamber not long after. While he was preparing for his rest, a tentative knock came at the door. Beringhien went to the door; after a moment he returned, bearing a folded sheet of foolscap which he carried to the king.
The faint perfume told Louis immediately who had sent it. His hands trembled slightly as he opened it and read the short note.