1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 21

“What was his response?”

“That he was gratified, but that friends and allies sought mutual objectives as a result of mutual assistance.”

“A quid pro quo. What does he want?”

“Oh, a great deal. A very great deal. Were you to ascend the throne, he would want you to publicly disavow Pope Urban; to make peace in Lorraine and remove the threat to Hapsburg troops in the Germanies; to permit free passage of Spanish troops through French territory — ”


“Yes, Sire. And, of course, eradication of heresy in His Most Christian Majesty’s domains — both here and abroad in the plantations. The other . . . requests . . . were merely conversational; but this last one seemed to be of particular moment. There I think he speaks not as the minister, but as the servant of his king.”

“Let me speculate,” Gaston said. “He wants France to be rid of the Huguenots.”


“You didn’t commit to anything.”

“Of course not. But neither did he. Olivares is canny, Uncle — very much like the cardinal. The Spanish face the past, by and large, but I think he stands apart from the rest of the court. He may even have a radio machine.”

“The Spanish have no radios. They consider them tools of the Devil, and the Ring of Fire a work of Hell. They may even be right in that estimation.”

The duc de Mercoeur paused for a moment to evaluate his uncle, trying to discern what was meant by the statement.

“That is their official policy,” he continued. “But the Count-Duke seemed altogether too well informed. I would not underestimate him. I did not see any up-timers at the court, or in Olivares’ household, but as we have seen, the skill required to operate the machine is modest. In Turin, the up-timer woman was training servants to do so.”

“All right.” Gaston ran a finger across his moustaches. “The Count-Duke de Olivares could be a very powerful ally, as I suspected. But we shall have to hold him close, or he could turn on us. My mother said as much.”

“And how does the queen mother?”

“She frets about everything, and chafes at being in Florence. She would rather be back in Paris, but knows that it is unlikely to happen, even in the case that a new royal heir is born. I can’t see her returning as long as the cardinal is alive. But even if she could, she would want to take back her old place.

“My brother the king would never permit it, and if I were king . . . I am not Louis, my Marguerite is much different from Anne, and enough years have passed by. We do agree on one thing: that the cardinal must go. I made no commitments to her other than that.”

“You know that our family supports you completely in that matter, Gaston.”

“The House of Vendôme has been made to suffer at his hands, Louis. I am sure your father will relish seeing him fall.”

“He would be glad to help in any way. So would my brother and I.”

“I know, my good nephew, and I prize your loyalty. If Richelieu were brought low, one way or another, I could even accept my exile and my brother Louis could reign in peace. I would be content, for France would be delivered from its tyranny. We will also be able to curtail the influence of up-timers — they are no good for France, and they will have to be swept away as well.”


“Yes,” Gaston said. “They have stolen France’s glorious future and replaced it with one that does not belong to this world and this century. We can take that back. And we will.”

Louis de Vendôme did not reply, and kept his face impassive, but while Gaston seemed utterly sincere in his assertion that he would be satisfied, Louis could not help but believe otherwise. Disposing of Cardinal Richelieu was his white-hot ambition, but supplanting his brother as king of France was scarcely less so. As for the business of the up-timers — if that was the means of his desire, then so be it. Louis did not care one way or the other.

But the kingship . . . that was something else.

You will never surrender that ambition, my good uncle, Louis thought. My father will never be king, and will never try and seize the kingship. Though more capable than any of his brothers, his mother was Gabrielle d’Estreés . . . and thus he cannot be more than a légitimé. Now he is content. But you?

No, Louis concluded. Never. You will never surrender the notion that you are more capable than my namesake — that the throne and crown rightly belong to you. This is about Richelieu — but it is more about you.

It has always been about you.

“That is most generous of you,” Louis said at last. “I am sure the Fates will treat you kindly.”


Monsieur Gaston could barely contain his anger. He crumpled the sheet of paper in his hand and hurled it to the floor. The messenger flinched; but to his credit he stood his ground. He had ridden all the way from Paris by arrangement. Gaston had demanded that the Count of Soissons, his créature in Paris, send word of what he had learned by courier — in case anyone happened to be listening.

But the information Soissons had sent was no information at all.

“Questions,” he said. “Questions. They outnumber answers. Your master has been deficient. He would not permit this message to be . . . what is the word? Broadcast. Sent by radio. Yet it is without information.”

“I am sure he has told you whatever he knows –”

“He falls short,” Gaston interrupted. “What does he say? What does his message tell me? I am merely informed that Madame is still with child, and is still in seclusion. What is of consequence is that your master has still not deigned to tell me where she is. Where? Some palace, some convent, a roadside tavern, a fisherman’s shack on the coast of Gascony? I know she is not in the Louvre, and has not been since she became pregnant. But that is all I know. He caused you to ride all the way here to tell me that he has nothing to tell me.”

“I am sure,” the messenger said, “if Monsieur le Comte de Soissons knew this information he would certainly have conveyed it. And I am here,” he added, more forthrightly than many who would stand in Monsieur’s presence, “because Your Highness commanded my master to send me.”

“Hah.” Gaston lifted his chin and looked down the end of his Bourbon nose. “I assume your master commanded you to say that. My cousin of Soissons would like nothing better than to retain information that I want . . . but while he is devious, and while I am sure that he places his own goals above mine, I do not think he would keep this from me. Ultimately, he wants what I want. He does not know. But he must find out.”

“I am sure that he is straining his efforts, Your Highness.”

“Tell him . . . tell him that he must not rest until he learns where the queen has gone. My dear brother Louis’ dalliance has proved fruitful — and if this child defies the odds and lives to term, and if, God help us, the child is a son. . .”

The messenger bowed his head.

Gaston made a fist. He gestured at the man. “Tell my lord of Soissons that his prince expects nothing short of success. And when we find out where she is . . .”

He bit the sentence off and turned away from the messenger, gripping the ornate carved back of a chair tightly enough for his knuckles turned white.

“Your Highness?”

“That is all,” Gaston said, not turning. “You may go.”

Gaston noted with indifference when the door quietly closed, and he knew that he was alone. He walked slowly to his escritoire and sat down. He picked up his pen-knife and sharpened his quill, then drew a sheet of foolscap toward him, dipped the quill in ink and began to write.

  1. le duc de Vendôme

My dear brother César:

I trust that you are well, and eager to pursue the work we have set before ourselves. The time we have awaited is nigh, for reasons of which we are both aware.

I have made certain provisions, the details of which you already possess. When I have the requisite information, it will be promptly conveyed to you. When at last we meet we shall glory in the rebirth of the kingdom we both love . . .