1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 23

Chapter 13


The balcony doors were open to the crisp spring air, contrary to the admonitions of all down-time physicians. The view was magnificent: he could see the imposing façade of the Eglise-St.-Eustache, now nearly finished after a century of on-and-off labor.

Claude de Bourdeille, Comte de Montrésor, was fond of St. Eustache. His grandfather had been also. Most people only remembered the Seigneur de Brantôme for his memoirs and writings — entertaining, yes, but a trifle too lurid and explicit for the common person’s tastes. Yet he had had an artistic eye as well as a critical pen, and he would have been very pleased to see the great church in this almost-complete state.

As for the rest of Paris, and the rest of France . . . Montrésor was not sure what he would have thought of that. The Ring of Fire had changed everything: politics, culture, science, and — for those who did not understand what divine or infernal purpose might have brought up-timers into this century — religion as well.

What he was not fond of was waiting. Or, to be honest, being summoned: the letter from Louis de Soissons had been insistent, almost to the point of rudeness. Louis was a prince of the blood and acted the part. He was a Bourbon to the hilt, as arrogant as his royal cousins. No lesser person would have commanded Montrésor’s attention.

Montrésor had almost reached the limit of his patience when the count himself swept into the room. He walked to where Montrésor stood near the doors.

“Claude. So good of you to come.”

“I could hardly refuse. But you should realize that I have been observed.” He waved out the window. Down below, on the Rue Saint-Antoine, near the steps of Saint-Eustache, there was a man loitering. He was plainly dressed and was looking up at the balcony.

Louis, Count of Soissons, stepped closer and looked down.

“Quality. One of the cardinal’s finest. Servien — and not the one who stays so close: his older cousin Abel, the one that styles himself Marquis de Sablé.

Montrésor sniffed. “They are all the same.”

“They are not,” Soissons said. “But it is of no matter.” He reached into his doublet and drew out a sheet of paper. “They can watch all they want. I have news, and shortly your master will have it as well.”

“What news?”

“Our friend in the red robe is on his way to see the queen give birth. He has just received a message by radio, and has left the city.”

“Where is he going?”

“Somewhere to the west, not terribly far from Paris, Claude. I’m not sure just where. The queen — and soon the next king of France, assuming the blessed event is successful.”

“Monsieur will be glad of the knowledge, but he will not be pleased that the birth is imminent.”

Monsieur, the title given to the heir to the throne, currently belonged to Gaston d’Orleans, the king’s younger brother. Montrésor had the honor at the moment to be Monsieur’s favorite, which was enough to keep him away from his beloved Paris. He had spent altogether too little time here, in part due to the constant suspicion of Cardinal Richelieu. Ever since Montrésor had decided to attach himself to Monsieur Gaston, his comings and goings had been carefully watched by the spies and intendants and other little creatures employed by the red-robed menace who ruled this kingdom and its weak-willed king. As a result he had thought it best to remain by Monsieur’s side or at his estate in the country, depriving himself of the pleasures of the great city — and incidentally depriving the cardinal of information on his friends and activities.

Soon, Montrésor thought to himself, that will all change.

“How did you get this information, did you say?”

“A radio transmission. There is a radio at the chateau.”

“And you have a spy at the Louvre who relayed the message. Very clever, Monsieur le Comte — I am surprised that you could break Richelieu’s security –”

“I didn’t, Claude. I merely intercepted the transmission.” Soissons smiled. “I have intercepted all the transmissions.”

Montrésor frowned, baffled. “I don’t understand. If you . . . intercepted the message . . . then how was it received by the cardinal?”

“You don’t really understand radio, do you?”

Montrésor put on his best expression of noble disdain, as if the entire matter was beneath him. “Some up-timer matter. I’m sure it is a wonder.”

Soissons sighed. Gaston — Monsieur Gaston, who should have been, and might someday be, king of France — was arrogant, petulant, self-absorbed and at times ruthless: but at least he wasn’t an idiot. The count wondered how long Montrésor — elegant, cultured Montrésor, who was near cousin to an idiot — would last as Gaston’s favorite.

“A radio message,” Soissons said patiently, “is not like a letter. It is like a town crier — one that speaks a different language that only its recipients can hear.”

“I don’t quite understand.”

“The town crier goes from place to place and gives out the news,” Soissons said. “Except this one speaks — I don’t know, Catalan. And no one in the town square speaks Catalan except one person, and he understands what the crier says.”

“So you bribed the Catalan speaker.”

No,” Soissons answered. “No. I found someone who speaks Catalan and hired him. So when the crier gives the news, I hear it too, and understand it.”

“So. . . the people where the Queen is in seclusion are sending you messages as well?”

“Yes. No, not exactly.” Soissons ran a hand through his hair. “The radio there is broadcasting — shouting — a message. Richelieu is receiving the message, and so am I.

“Is that possible? I thought a radio talked to another radio.”

“A radio talks to all the radios that might be listening at the time. They use a code, but it’s primitive enough that it was easily broken. Everything His Eminence hears, my radio hears as well. He has no idea that I am listening in, of course — but now I know where he is going.”

“I assume that you are having him followed.”



“Better than that, Claude. If all goes well, our good cardinal will never reach his destination.”

Forêt de Rambouillet

César, duc de Vendôme, légitimé de France, sat on his charger, appreciating the quiet moment that occurred just before battle. To call what was to come a battle, of course, was an exaggeration at best; but the quiet was reassuring nonetheless. The weather enhanced the quiet. The rain had mostly gone, replaced by a faint drizzle and a fog that shrouded the late afternoon light.

This feeling joined with the elation he felt to be back in France. He had been away from his beloved country, having left in haste four years earlier, just after the arrival of the infernal Ring of Fire, exiled from France for perceived offenses against the crown. But it was not his younger half-brother, the king, who had exiled him. It was his advisor, his minister, the very incarnation of the Devil Himself: Richelieu.

He hated that name and hated the man who owned it. He had made sure to teach his sons to hate him as well — just as Hamilcar had instilled hate into his sons in ancient Carthage. François, who was now with César’s other half-brother, Monsieur Gaston, and Louis, who sat on his own horse beside him, had learned the lesson well.


César sighed, the quiet broken. “What is it, Louis?”

“Do you ever think about fate, Father? About what might have been?”

The duc de Vendôme smiled and looked at his son. Louis at twenty reminded him very much of himself at the same age: tall, handsome, smart — and ruthless. A fine trait, he thought to himself.

“I should like to say ‘never,’ ” he said. “But the truth is that I think about it all the time. The God-cursed up-timers have made us all consider what might have been and what might never been. There have been so many changes since they arrived. . . but imagine if they had come thirty or forty years earlier. Things might have been different. Very different.”

“Do you think you might have been king?”

“I don’t know.” César reached up and smoothed down his long moustaches. He kept them in a style a few years out of date in France; Louis was far more trim and in fashion. “I am the eldest son of King Henri. My mother, your grandmother, was the king’s first and greatest love — perhaps his only true love: Gabrielle d’Estrées. When she died, still as his mistress, he held a state funeral.”

La Belle Gabrielle.”

“Just so. My father always thought she had been poisoned, along with my youngest brother who died with her. He mourned her death most piteously — I was not quite five years old, but I remember that he was inconsolable. The procession included every person of note, and made its way to Saint-Denis for the funeral mass — and then out to Saint-Ouen-l’Aumône where she was interred at Notre-Dame-la-Royale de Maubuisson in solemn ceremony. It was a wonder.”

“The queen must not have been happy.”

“Hah.” César leaned aside, hawked and spat. “She did not arrive for a year thereafter. King Henri did not marry for love, just as he did not embrace the One Faith from piety. He became a Catholic to become the king of France and he chose a wife to give him offspring. The old brood mare gave him just what he wanted: sons and daughters, my brothers and sisters. The queen — the lady Marie — brought us all together, princes and princesses of the blood and royal bastards. No one ever forgot their status. I was constantly reminded of it, and so was my brother Alexandre.”

His fist clenched where it held the reins of his horse. The mount, sensing the motion, stirred and neighed quietly. César ran his free hand gently through its mane and it quieted.

“Monseigneur Richelieu has much to answer for.”

Louis knew that his father and his uncle Alexandre had run afoul of the cardinal and they had both been sent to the Bastille for a plot against him. Alexandre had not survived the experience.

“And he will answer,” César said. “Most assuredly. With the intelligence given us, we are here to make sure of it. You and our other fine gentlemen — ” he waved behind at the troop of horsemen waiting quietly in the fog — “can do whatever you wish with the guardsmen who travel with him: but Richelieu is mine.

As the last statement hung in the air, there was a high-pitched whistle in the distance.

César de Vendôme turned to look back at his troop. He raised a gloved hand and gestured toward the road, lost in the fog ahead. The men pulled forward the hoods of their cloaks and, at a signal, galloped together toward their quarry.