1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 35

Chapter 20

Southern France

Étienne Servien made all possible speed away from Beville-le-Comte. Richelieu had been clinging to life when they had parted; God only knew whether he was still alive. His young Guard companion had not accompanied him to the queen’s place of retirement, but at Servien’s direction had been sent on his way back to Paris to seek out Tremblay and inform him of the events at Yvelines.

D’Aubisson had the advantage of youth and skill — he was a professional soldier — but at least in principle Servien had the signet of the most powerful man in France. It would not protect him as well as a good sword or helmet or hauberk, but it would have to do. No one needed to know that Richelieu hovered close to death — or that he had already passed on. Not even Servien himself knew.

It was on a need to know basis: and Servien did not apparently need to know. He had specific orders, issued long ago and reinforced in his last conversation with Richelieu.

You know what you must do. Go.

He was to make for Pau, the fortified capital of the province of Béarn, and present himself to the comte de Brassac et de Béarn. Neither Tremblay nor Richelieu had ever told him why: Servien, for his part, was not inclined to pursue the matter further — it was not in the repertoire of an intendant to ask questions, particularly on serious matters.

Pau was near the Spanish border; Béarn was nominally a part of the kingdom of Navarre, but it had come into the realm of France along with its most famous scion, King Henry IV of revered memory, who had been born in the Fortress of Pau.

It explained nothing about his own mission: why Béarn, what the comte might do for him, what — if anything — could be done about the duc de Vendôme or his likely employer, the duc d’Orleans. Word of the death of the king would reach Paris soon if it had not already done so. Rumors about the death of Richelieu would certainly follow. It was critically important that doubt in the matter persist as long as possible.

As for his own fate, Servien was pragmatic. There was nothing he could do — nothing, truly, that he should do, other than ride toward Pau, following Richelieu’s orders to the last.

To the last, he thought. Apt.

You know what you must do.



Long before Maillé-Brézé returned in state with the body of the murdered king, long before rumors of the ambush on the road began to circulate — long before it became apparent to most of those intimate to the circles of power in the capital that something had happened and something was wrong, Père Joseph, the cardinal de Tremblay took action.

Cardinal Richelieu had arranged with Tremblay that he would send a message by radio upon their arrival at the Château Baronville. The slightly-premature birth of the heir, if God had chosen to grant the kingdom a son, would work to their advantage: the prince, if prince he was, had not been expected for almost a month, and there were matters to attend to before the king’s (and therefore the cardinal’s) enemies were able to counter them. The radio was a marvelous up-time blessing, Tremblay knew; some in the clergy were dubious about whether it was somehow a tool of the Devil, but many of those learned men had the same feeling about all of the up-timers.

Theological debate was one thing. Pragmatic state politics was another.

When the message did not come in the evening, Tremblay was willing to ascribe it to the lateness of their probable arrival, or a malfunction of the radio, or uncertainty about the result — perhaps the queen was still in her labors, or there was as yet nothing to report. When the message did not come on the following morning he was more troubled.

A day later, when a few whispers began to traverse the Louvre and make their first ventures into Les Halles and elsewhere, Tremblay began to make provision for what the world might be like if Cardinal Richelieu was not in it.


Jean D’Aubisson had turned nineteen years old two days after Lady Day; he had been the youngest and least experienced of the cadre of Cardinal’s Guards in Richelieu’s escort on the journey to Beville-le-Comte. The others had joked with him, telling him that he certainly couldn’t expect to be a personal man-at-arms to the robe rouge until he could at least grow a proper beard. It had led to a few shoves and more than a little ill-feeling: however much the other Guardsmen professed their desire for simple, innocent fun at his expense, it came across more angry and resentful. He was the youngest, but he was also the most agile, the fastest blade, the best dancer . . . truly the best looking, with no comparison among the weary and scarred veterans that wore the red-on-white tabard and maroon cape of the Guard.

What he never expected was to be the only survivor.

It took a night and part of a day for him to reach the outskirts of Paris. He had left his maroon cape and most of the other accoutrements of his uniform at Clairefontaine. The passing of a few coins had obtained him nondescript traveling clothes; a little creative tailoring dispensed with insignia of rank and any identification of his family’s personal heraldry. He could have chosen an entirely different identity — but it would have meant giving up his fine mount and his weapons to sustain it: and he wasn’t about to surrender either.

He would be a simple, anonymous gentleman at arms, a provincial, perhaps in service to one of the lords who were even now streaming into the city at the rumor of the king’s death. He was scarcely noticed as he entered at the Porte St.-Antoine, riding close enough to be mistaken for a member of some troop attending one of the noblesse de robe who even now returned to their townhouses in Paris, riding far enough away that no bailiff or serjeant might decide to put him to work.

To go directly to the Palais-Cardinal would certainly have drawn attention, and possibly unwanted recognition. Instead, D’Aubisson went to the parish church of Saint-Étienne-des-Grès just off the Rue Saint-Victor, and hired a messenger to send a particular message to Cardinal Tremblay — a coded signal of distress, long rehearsed and memorized among the Guard.

It took only a few hours for Tremblay himself to appear: not in pectoral and full regalia as a Cardinal of the Church, but in his more accustomed attire as a Capuchin monk — gray hooded robe and sandals, coming into Saint-Étienne-des-Grès as a simple penitent. D’Aubisson was waiting for him in the alcove that held a black-painted limestone statue of the virgin, Notre Dame de Bonne Délivrance, the black Madonna of Paris.

“An interesting choice.”

D’Aubisson prided himself on his observational skill, but he jumped when Tremblay spoke from just a few feet away.

If he were bent on taking my life, D’Aubisson thought, I would be dead on the floor.

“Why do you say that?” he asked, recovering his composure.

Tremblay — in the more familiar habit and persona of a simple monk, came up to stand beside him, looking up at the statue. It was almost life-size, and set up on a plinth; the Blessed Mother smiled beatifically down at them, at once familiar and other-worldly, her expression impossible to read.

“This is where De Sales made his confession almost fifteen years ago. The Black Madonna . . . an object of veneration. Rather public, don’t you think?”

“It is easiest to be hidden in plain sight.”

“Pithy. An up-timer expression.”

“And quite accurate in your case, wouldn’t you say . . . Brother?”

“I assume that you have no intention to offend, nor intent to antagonize. But do not try me, boy. Walk with me.”

They left the alcove and began to walk slowly along the ambulatory, gazing up at the woodwork and stained glass as if they were awestruck penitents. At Tremblay’s direction, he provided a short, succinct description of the events in a low voice.

“We might be under observation,” Tremblay said to him. “But they shouldn’t be close enough to hear. Still, there is a chance that someone may have followed me here, or be spying on us now. But there is nothing to be done.

“Where is my good friend and our patron’s servant Étienne, then? Is he still with him now?”

“He was to ride out after I did.”

“And not accompany the . . . dignitaries.”

“No. He said that he was going to Pau, of all places. You do trust him,” D’Aubisson added.

“Of course,” Tremblay answered. “Well, at least as much as I trust anyone. Yourself included.”

“I feel as if I should be insulted.”

“Don’t trouble yourself,” Tremblay answered. “We must assume the worst — and we must also assume that the longer his enemies lack certainty about his situation and whereabouts, the better our lives will be.”

“What do you intend?”

“I have a mission for you to undertake, my fine young friend,” Tremblay said. D’Aubisson could scarcely make out the priest’s face within the hood; the day was overcast, with lowering clouds that made the gloom in the church nave shadowy and ponderous.

But he did hear a very soft and cynical laugh.

“I am eager to serve.”

“Good. You will take a message to a person I designate in a place I will reveal. The destination of that message will be the place to which the party will first travel.”

“How do you know that?”

“Her Majesty will be invited to consider this possibility,” Tremblay answered. “Indeed, she will choose it.”

“How can you be sure?”

“It is very simple,” Tremblay said. “One of her closest companions works directly for me.”

D’Aubisson didn’t seem surprised.

Tremblay reached into his sleeve and withdrew a small cloth scapular on a woven string. It bore a painted image of the Blessed Virgin with a crimson heart surrounded by a golden halo. He touched it to his lips and held it out to D’Aubisson.

“Wear this under your clothing, young man. Go — as soon as you can — to the Auberge Écossaise in Evreux. Present yourself to my . . . colleague, Brother Gérard. Tell him that he should shortly expect a very important visitor, who will need to be protected. He will know what to do.”

The young guardsman nodded. He took the scapular, kissed it, and put it around his neck, tucking it below his blouse.

“And then?”

“Return here. We have much to do.”