1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 32


Government by the dictates of reason

Chapter 19

May 1636

Magdeburg, USE

“There’s just no relief, is there, Rebecca?”

Ed Piazza leaned his head on his hands and rubbed his temples. It had been a long year: the Crown Loyalist revolt, the uprising in Saxony, the war in Poland, the business in Italy, Lefferts’ antics in the Balearic Islands, whatever was going on among the Turks — and now this.

“Relief.” She laughed. “Try being one of God’s Chosen People for a few years and you’ll understand what ‘no relief’ means. This — pfah! — this is just diplomacy.”

“I’m trying to figure out what the ruckus in France means for us,” mused Piazza. He rose and went to the window of his office. Like the office itself, the window was on the small side and provided no view of the Elbe, as was considered prestigious. Instead, the window looked out over an alley.

On the positive side, the alley was kept much cleaner than most such in the USE’s capital. If Ed opened the window and leaned out, he’d be able to determine the reason for that unwonted tidiness. Just half a block to the south he’d see part of the royal palace and, beyond it, Hans Richter Square.

He didn’t mind, though. Given the pollution in the Elbe coming from the factories south of the city, the river was not all that nice a sight anyway. And the political situation called for as much discretion as possible. The unpretentious office tucked away in an unpretentious (if very large) government building was just part of that. Since the collapse of the counter-revolution launched by the Swedish chancellor Axel Oxenstierna a few months ago, the precise nature of political authority in the United States of Europe had become…

Murky, he thought. Let’s leave it at that.

Wilhelm Wettin was still the prime minister, even though he’d been up to his neck in the Swedish chancellor’s plots and schemes. Luckily for him, though, he’d balked at outright treason and been pitched into a cell by Oxenstierna. That had been enough — just barely — to save him from the imperial wrath that came down on the plotters after Gustav Adolf recovered from his brain injury and Oxenstierna was shot dead by Colonel Hand. Where many others had been stripped of their titles, positions — even their lands, in some cases — Wettin had come out of it officially unscathed.

Still, in the real world the prime minister’s authority was now threadbare. The political coalition he’d led, the so-called Crown Loyalists, was in outright tatters. Most people expected that when the next election was held — which would be soon, even if no specific date had been set yet — the Fourth of July Party would come back into power. And although no public announcement had yet been made, it was an open secret that Mike Stearns had already told the emperor that he did not intend to run for office again.

Which left, as the most obvious person who’d assume the post of prime minister if the Fourth of July Party won a majority in Parliament, the man who was currently the President of the State of Thuringia-Franconia — Ed Piazza. Who’d moved to Magdeburg weeks earlier, leaving the running of the SoTF in the capable hands of the province’s vice president, Helene Gundelfinger.

In fact if not in name, Piazza was running a shadow government whose claim to being a “shadow” was thin at best. Still, he tried to keep up appearances. Hence the humble office — and hence also, the fact that he was using that humble office to deal with foreign affairs. Rebecca was here because she was serving him for the time being as his informal (and very unofficial) secretary of state.

All things considered, alleys do not make for interesting scenery. After half a minute or so contemplating its nonexistent wonders, Ed turned away from the window and moved back to his desk.

“I know that King Louis XIII was never what you’d call our friend,” he said, easing into his seat, “but Gaston is a real wild card. He came down on the side of Borja, and from what I’ve been able to tell, he’s had his hand in every major plot against his brother for a dozen years. He’s got to be involved in this.”

Rebecca gestured toward the stack of paper on Ed’s desk. “The intelligence reports say that it was a band of outlaws that attacked the cardinal’s party. Gaston was not there. He may have been visiting his mother at the time.”

Ed flipped through the sheets until he pulled out the one he wanted. “Let’s see. Marie de Medici. Does that name mean what I think it means?”

Rebecca shrugged. “Intrigue and conspiracy. Medici . . . Strozzi . . . Colonna . . . they’re pretty much all the same.”

“Great. She strikes me as a real beaut. Louis exiled her too, from what I read.”

“Just before the Ring of Fire. She forced him to choose between his mother and his minister. She’d been dominating his life ever since Henry IV was killed, and I think Louis was tired of it. He wanted Richelieu to take care of things for him so he could hunt and paint and act like a king looks.”

“He always was a bit of a wimp, I guess.”

Rebecca hesitated for just a moment, as if she was trying to locate the definition of the word wimp. “You underestimate him, Ed. Do not take the portrait of him in that Three Musketeers movie for good coin.”

“Which Three Musketeers movie? There have been a jillion of them.”

“Don’t be silly. The one with Charlton Heston playing Richelieu. The rest — pfah.” She made a dismissive gesture. “The real Louis XIII is — was — quite an athlete, for one thing. He rode to war in Mantua, and against rebellious Huguenots. My impression was that he simply didn’t like the day-to-day parts of the role and wanted to leave those to Cardinal Richelieu.”

“Who is — who was — very good at it.”

“Is, I think.”

“The report says the ambush party killed everyone,” Ed said. “Richelieu’s dead also, isn’t he?”

“The body of the king was carried back in state,” she answered. “It was buried in a great ceremony. Nothing was said about His Eminence the cardinal. Certainly someone so important would have been publically laid to rest as well.”

“Big funeral.”

“With bishops and archbishops. Several of each, I would expect. There are a few there now, from what we hear — but not the number that would be there to perform the memorial for the man who’s run the whole country for a dozen years. So if he is dead, the body hasn’t been recovered.”

“Or he isn’t dead at all. He’s . . . I don’t know. He’s Elvis? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

Ed leaned back in his chair. “Elvis. Elvis Presley. He was a singer, a big star performer. They called him ‘The King’. When he first started he was young and strong and everything, every girl’s dream.” He smiled; Rebecca frowned. “Anyway. As he became more and more famous he got fat and — strange. Eventually he died, big funeral . . . they turned his house into a museum — Graceland, the king’s home. Except that over time people kept reporting that they’d seen him here and there — ”


“No, but there were people pretending to be Elvis, dressing up like him. But that’s not what I meant. There were ‘Elvis sightings.’ He was washing dishes, or waiting for a bus, or shopping, or something else. So the rumor started that the king wasn’t dead at all. It was some sort of giant hoax. He was working for the government undercover; he was getting ready for a big comeback; organized crime needed to believe he was dead.”