1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 31

Chapter 18

Dear Dad,

Today we arrived at the Castle of Miolans in Saint-Pierre d’Albigny. It’s in the mountains, about halfway between Turin and Lyon. Monsieur Gaston doesn’t exactly travel light: he has a half-dozen gentlemen at arms, along with servants and guards — along with his wife and her ladies in waiting and servants and whatever. And me.

He is headed for Paris, where he’s going to become the king of France. You might have heard by now that the king, his brother, is dead; there was some sort of ambush. I can’t tell you more than that but I’ll know more when we get there. He decided that he needed a telegraph operator and I was drafted.

I have to tell you about this place. It’s a fortress in the mountains that belongs to the duke of Savoy. A while back they turned it into a prison, and the prince had to take a tour, and asked me to come with him . . .  


“Monsieur,” the warden said, fawning painfully. “I cannot adequately convey how honored we are to have you visit.”

“I will soon no longer answer to that title, Monsieur LeBarre.” Gaston said. “As you know.”

“Of course,” LeBarre said. He was a short, sweaty man with stubby fingers and deep-set eyes in a pudgy face. “Of course. My deepest, sincerest apologies.”

Gaston’s facial expression did not change from the very slight smile, and he did not answer.

“Majesty,” LeBarre added, looking at Gaston and then down at the floor.

“Quite.” Gaston’s smile inched slightly upward. “Show us your wonderful fortress.”

LeBarre bowed slightly and then scurried away. Gaston followed leisurely, along with his entourage.

“Our château was build more than six hundred years ago, Majesty,” LeBarre said, glancing over his shoulder to see if the prince was following. He was in luck. “It belonged to the family Miolans, who have since emigrated to the New World, and now it is the property of His Grace the duke. His grandfather . . . or was it great-grandfather? Or possibly great-great-grandfather?”

“His ancestor,” Gaston said.

“Yes. Of course. My apologies. His Grace’s ancestor converted it for use as a prison. My grandfather was a warden, then my father, then my uncle — ”

“Not you?”

“I was too young,” LeBarre said. They had reached the end of a corridor, where a guard in a metal cuirass and helmet stood guard in front of a banded oak door. He held a stout halberd, and had a brace of pistols. “But I came into the position when my uncle . . . when there was an unfortunate accident.”

He fumbled at his belt and drew out a ring of keys; from where Terrye Jo stood, it looked like a stage prop from a play. The guard stood aside, and LeBarre inserted a large ornate key into the door lock. He turned it and, with the help of the guard, swung the door wide to reveal a broad set of stone stairs leading down.

And from below, they began to hear noises: moans and cries, as if from people in pain or despair, mixed with the sound of rattling chains.

Terrye Jo was at once reminded of a story that made the rounds of the sensational “newspapers” that were always on racks at supermarket checkout counters up-time. Some miners — or some guys in a submarine — found a crack in the earth or at the bottom of the ocean and through it they could hear the moans and cries of souls suffering in Hell. The sounds from below made her think of it.

“If Your Majesty wishes, we can tour the dungeons,” LeBarre said, looking pointedly at Terrye Jo and adding, “though it might not be suitable for . . .”

“She is an up-timer,” Gaston answered, looking back at her. “I am told that the entertainments of her time depicted many things far more barbaric and violent and shocking than anything we might witness here.”

LeBarre looked unconvinced. Terrye Jo was so surprised by the exchange, particularly Gaston’s response, that she didn’t answer for a moment. Finally she said, “How many prisoners do you keep here, Monsieur LeBarre?”

“Let me see.” He scratched his chin. “Winter was somewhat cruel to us this year,” he said. At that moment there was a particularly painful scream from somewhere beyond the door. “I believe we have one hundred and sixty-five at present. Thirty of them are in Hell — ”

“Excuse me, Monsieur?”

Gaston smiled, as if he already knew something she didn’t.

“That is one of our dungeons, Mademoiselle,” LeBarre said, smiling unctuously. “Hell, Purgatory, Paradise, Treasure, Little Hope and Great Hope. Hell is for the . . . most particularly recalcitrant.”

“I am sure that its punishments are suitably severe to warrant the name,” Gaston said.

“We would not want to disappoint the duke,” LeBarre responded. “Of course.”

“Of course,” Gaston repeated.

“But I am sure they would be . . . tame compared to your up-timer entertainments,” he added, with the slightest bow to Terrye Jo.

She gave an annoyed glance at Gaston and then looked away.

No, she thought. They hadn’t had dungeons in the 20th Century, unlike the civilized 17th. But they did have genocides and Holocausts. They’d had wars that killed millions of people. They’d had weapons that could destroy the whole world, and her country had been the only one that ever used them. TV was full of these things, and full of cop shows and Westerns and war movies and horror flicks. And sometimes they’d laughed all of that off like it was nothing.

“I’ll take your word for it,” she said.

I have to admit I was surprised what Gaston said about ‘up-timer entertainments.’ Nothing like having a down-timer look at a movie review book and decide that we’re all into homicide and zombies and whatever. We’re so used to thinking about all the civilized stuff we lost and how much more violent and primitive down-time is, that it’s hard to see up-time the way they see it.

So we toured the dungeons, and they were pretty much what you’d expect, but worse. There’s one thing that ties us together though, up-timers and down-timers: after a while we’re indifferent. LeBarre, and the prince, and all the down-timers just took the dungeons in stride. It was surreal, like a horror movie, except without the popcorn.

It took us six more days to reach Lyon. Each place we stopped was another chance for Gaston to play the part of the heir advancing toward his kingdom.

Then the fireworks started . . .

Gaston was pacing back and forth, cursing under his breath. The only other person in the room sat patiently, almost indolently, waiting for Monsieur to return attention to him.

“I cannot believe that you are showing such recalcitrance,” Gaston said at last. “De la Mothe. Pierre.” He let his angry face relax into a smile. “In view of the changes to the realm, I need to know that I can count on every loyal subject.”

Philippe de la Mothe-Houdancourt nodded, smiling in return. “I would not want you to believe anything else.”

“Then you need to answer my question.”

“I wish I could, Monsieur — ”

Gaston stopped smiling.

“I wish I could, Your Royal Highness,” De la Mothe said. “I wish I could tell you where Marshal Turenne’s army has deployed. He did not choose to confide in me.”

“You are on his staff.”

“I have served on his staff,” De la Mothe said. “I do not presently have the honor to be in his service, or indeed in his company.”

“That much is obvious.”

“It was his contention that there was an imminent threat from the Spanish. I would assume that the army has moved to intercept it.”

“To the south?”

“I would assume so, Sire.”

“I have installed my telegraph operator and her equipment,” Gaston said. “She has been provided with the — code, is it? — for Turenne’s telegraph. He — it — does not seem to be responding.”

“There are a hundred reasons for a telegraph system to fail. These devices are based on up-time technology, Your Highness, but they lack the reliability of actual up-time equipment.”

My telegraph operator says that the equipment is remarkably reliable, Philippe. There are only a few ways in which they can fail. And one of them is simply turning the device off. Is that the problem? They turned it off?”

“It would have to be disassembled during maneuvers, Highness. If the army is on the march, there would be no way to use it.”

“So the army is on the march.”

“As I said — ”

“He did not confide in you.” Gaston began to pace once more. “They have headed south. Not toward Paris, but south.”

“That is my impression, Highness.”

“I had hoped to have it accompany me on my progress to the capital.” He stopped walking. “Very well: he shall have to come to Reims for the coronation, to give fealty to me once I have come to the throne.”

De la Mothe did not answer. For several moments Gaston frowned at him, as if expecting some acknowledgment, but none was forthcoming.

“You shall travel with me, my lord de la Mothe. As we travel, you will bring me up to date on Turenne’s army.”

He wasn’t real happy with Lyon. I heard about his interview with de la Mothe, who got left behind or something; he’s like a nobleman out of The Three Musketeers: a dandy with lace and a fine wig, with a big nose, the kind that gets you into fights when someone makes fun of it.

We’re still on the road to Paris now, but I’m posting this from Dijon, where the Bishop has what they say is a reliable service. I hope it gets to you soon, and I’ll write again when I get to Paris. Like just about every place else down-time, I’m amazed at the places I’m going. There are supposed to be up-timers there — maybe I’ll see someone I know.

I know you’re worried about me and want me home. I want you to know I miss Grantville and I miss you, but I have to make my own way. I feel like I’m at the center of big things, but I think everything will eventually work out.

Say hi to everyone for me.


Terrye Jo