1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 18

Chapter 10

March, 1636


Just after Twelfth Night, Monsieur Gaston and his entourage had departed the Castello del Valentino. The duke and duchess were relieved — at least in private — and life returned to normal.

In the workshop, Baldaccio paid more attention to Terrye Jo than ever, trying to bring her his own peculiar brand of seventeenth-century science. The long winter nights turned his attention to the stars: a new telescope, with hand-ground lenses from a new glass factory in Magdeburg, had arrived during the second week in January, and the Dottore had arranged to have it mounted on the top of one of the corner towers. He would go up late at night wrapped in a ridiculous fur coat and peer through it, taking crabbed notes that he would transcribe onto astrological charts. There was a tussle when he pulled down a portion of the latticework supporting the antenna; whatever his professorial chops, his researches didn’t trump Terrye Jo’s radio. By the next evening it was up again. He had a personal interview with His Grace to clarify the matter and it was never repeated.

Undeterred, Baldaccio had shown her the horoscope he’d cast for her, explaining that the “imbalance in her humours” (or some other damn thing) resulted from having Venus in Scorpio or Jupiter in retrograde, and that she’d have to stop pining for Monsieur Gaston and find a proper man to bed with if she wanted to get everything back in balance.

She held back from strangling Baldaccio or dropping a heavy weight on his head. Meanwhile, Artemisio offered to slit his nose and ears.

“No one will know who did it, Donna,” he said. “And I shall console you in your misery.”

Everyone will know you did it,” she answered. “And I won’t need consoling.”

He gave her a sad expression that he must have practiced. She was unmoved.

As the winter wore on Terrye Jo spent some time getting to know GJBF. He — she supposed it was a ‘he’: the sender communicated exclusively in French, so it probably wasn’t an up-timer — was slow at first and while he was accurate, he didn’t use most of the standard contractions and shortcuts all telegraphers knew. She worked with him and his speed and familiarity gradually improved.

The handle GJBF, it happened, stood for Gaston Jean-Baptiste de France — Monsieur Gaston himself had picked it out. GJBF called himself a créature, which Terrye Jo thought sounded very demeaning, as if he was the lowest kind of servant. But GJBF explained that it pointed at a particular kind of relationship, one in which responsibility went both ways: GJBF was completely loyal to his patron, and Monsieur Gaston owed his créature a certain kind of protective care when he “came into his inheritance.”

Terrye Jo came to realize more and more what that meant. Gaston’s “inheritance” was the throne of France. He had been exiled from his own country for conspiring against it, but instead of hanging him or beheading him or shooting him like a rabid dog, King Louis and Cardinal Richelieu had finally sent him into exile — four years ago, not long after the Ring of Fire. It didn’t make any sense to Terrye Jo. She asked GJBF why Monsieur Gaston was still alive and he seemed shocked that she’d even ask.

Gaston wasn’t her patron and his brother wasn’t her king. Duke Amadeus and Duchess Christina weren’t her duke and duchess either: the duke was her boss, no more and no less. But it still made her feel uneasy. This was political intrigue, maybe leading to treason, and it passed through her radio, SPAR to GJBF and back again. The queen of France was pregnant; she was hidden somewhere; and GJBF was trying frantically to find out where. If he found out he would tell her, and eventually that news would find its way back to Monsieur Gaston. . . and then something would happen.

She felt bad for the queen and told the duchess about it. Christina had given birth to a daughter in November. Amadeus had hoped for a son, of course, but was very happy that the duchess had made it through childbirth. Terrye Jo knew that a daughter meant that Christina would likely be pregnant again soon.

“Hm,” the duchess said to her when she expressed her concern about Queen Anne. “I don’t know why you’d feel that way. She’s been in danger from my brother Gaston for years.”

Terrye Jo had found her in the nursery. Most of the time the little princess — Margherita Violante — was in the care of nursemaids, but Christina was unusually affectionate for a seventeenth-century noblewoman. Terrye Jo wondered to herself if this was a result of the Ring of Fire, or whether she’d been this way with the other children. Whatever the case, the duchess was in the nursery quite often, not simply having the baby brought to her.

She had sent the nanny on an errand at once, as soon as Terrye Jo had mentioned the French queen’s name. Now she stood looking over the crib, where her infant daughter lay quietly sleeping.

“But now that she’s pregnant –”

“She’s been pregnant before. The poor thing has never carried to term. Why should this time be any different?”

Christina didn’t seem terribly worried or sympathetic. In a way she sounded like a mean girl from Grantville High.

“This is the first time since the Ring of Fire,” Terrye Jo said. “Maybe there’s an up-timer doctor.”

The duchess thought about this for a moment. “That’s possible, I suppose. Someone from your people might be able to help her — but again, some women simply can’t bring a child to term. It’s a defect in their bodies. There’s been so many problems, I wonder why Louis hasn’t just put her aside, sent her back to Spain.”

“I thought he couldn’t do that.”

“With God all things are possible,” she answered, crossing herself. “Without issue, the marriage could be considered unconsummated, and His Holiness could set it aside on petition. Lord knows he could have found a more suitable partner.”


“More . . . fertile. More able to draw him out. Though at the time we all thought . . .” she let the sentence hang.

“It seems pretty underhanded.”

“My dear.” Christina said. “You are so delightfully naïve. This sort of thing happens all the time. Anne has been unhappy in France; some is her own doing, some is Louis’ — he never understood how to treat his queen. Some of her unhappiness is due to our mother: she couldn’t stand the idea that anyone would come between her and her son. And then there’s the cardinal.” She frowned. “I’m sure he’d rather that my brother have an heir, and it’s a positive wonder that he hasn’t arranged it somehow. But Louis was always . . .”

“Always what?”

She didn’t answer for several moments, as if she was trying to find the right word. The little princess whimpered very quietly, and Christina reached out a hand to touch her daughter’s forehead.