1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 47
“Are you threatening me, Your Majesty?”
Gaston scowled. “Why do people keep saying that? His Holiness confers the office of Archbishop, Your Grace, but the king of France has something to do with the process. And with the current difficulty attending Pope Urban, I can assure you that I will have a great deal to do with it. A great deal.”
Gondi looked at Gaston, aghast. “You are not king of France yet, Sire, and I will have a great deal to do with the placement of the crown on your head.”
“And now you threaten me, Your Grace. You have no idea what is happening here.” He lowered his voice. “You will know very soon. And if you have any notion regarding the coronation, I suggest that you lay it aside. Permanently. Do you understand?”
“Do you understand, Your Grace? Do you completely understand me?”
“Every word, Sire.”
“I will keep you to that, my lord Archbishop. Now, if you will excuse me, I must mourn my brother and our king.”
The Auberge Ã‰cossaise was a few hundred yards from the cathedral, at the end of a cul-de-sac in sight of the plÃ¢ce. The carriage gate was ajar and opened as they approached; Mazarin and Achille looked at each other, but it was obvious that they had been observed.
Achille stepped down from the driver’s bench, his hand near his sword. A short paunchy man in a Capuchin habit emerged from a door opposite; he glanced at Achille and held his hands up.
Mazarin climbed down and walked to the carriage gate and closed it.
“We have been expecting you,” the Capuchin said. “Monseigneur Mazarin?”
“Your servant,” Mazarin said, walking back toward the monk. “I am Jules Mazarin.”
“Her Majesty is –”
Mazarin nodded toward the carriage.
“Convey my compliments, if you please,” the monk said. “But with respect, we should get inside.”
Brother GÃ©rard bustled around the little pantry, placing mugs and plates. A loaf of bread and a quarter-wheel of cheese appeared from somewhere. Queen Anne sat in an armchair with the baby in her lap, watching, bemused. The others sat around the trestle table, staying out of the way.
“I had expected you to arrive two days ago,” GÃ©rard said, placing a crock of butter on the table along with a half-dozen spoons.
“We were unaccountably delayed, Brother,” the queen said. “But you come highly recommended.”
GÃ©rard began to cut slices of bread. “I accept the compliment with humility.”
“It is occupational, I assume,” Mazarin said. “Actually, it was our friend Achille who recommended you.”
“Of course,” GÃ©rard said. He began to sit down, hesitated with a glance at the queen and then shrugged and sat. “He is a confraternatarius.”
Mazarin looked directly at Achille. “Truly.”
Queen Anne looked up. “Of what fraternity, Brother?”
“I . . .” the monk looked flustered. “I thought you were aware.”
“Perhaps you can enlighten us,” Mazarin said. He had not taken his eyes off Achille.
Brother GÃ©rard picked up a slice of bread and looked at it, then put it down. “I fear I may have already said too much. Clearly the cardinal de Tremblay would have told you if he meant you to know.”
“Cardinal de Tremblay?” the queen asked. “What does — what does PÃ¨re Joseph have to do with this?”
“A great deal. He sent word that you would be coming, and that Monsieur Achille, here, would be escorting you.”
“It seems to have been arranged quite some time ago,” Mazarin said. “Months ago. A plan has been in place — a plan of which I was completely unaware,” he said with a nod to Anne — “to protect Your Majesty. It is apparently led by the shy and retiring cardinal in pectore.”
“Not led,” GÃ©rard said. “But he is a principal part of the Company of the Blessed Sacrament. For the last several years, the Company has had as its particular charge the protection of the royal family of France.”
“The king and queen,” Mazarin said. “One failure, one success.”
GÃ©rard looked away. “Yes. I know.”
“Brother GÃ©rard,” Anne said after a moment. “I do not hold you responsible for the death of my husband the king. There is one particular person to blame: CÃ©sar de VendÃ´me. My brother-in-law killed — ” she looked away from the Capuchin and down at her son, who was whimpering and reaching for her. “He . . . VendÃ´me. The duc de VendÃ´me is the culprit.”
“And we could not prevent it,” GÃ©rard said. “We are in a state of mourning, Majesty. It is difficult for us to bear that we have lost the king whom we had sworn to protect.” He looked at the queen, almost desperately. “We will not fail you.”
“I am confident that you will not,” Anne said. “I am grateful for your loyalty.”
“It is our duty,” GÃ©rard said. “And there are many of us. When you leave here you will travel to another place where another of our Company will receive you. We will continue to do so as long as you are in danger.”
“That would make our progress easier,” Mazarin said. He still had not taken his eyes off Achille. “Still, with the stakes so high, I would have liked it better if I had been informed of this plan.”
“Monseigneur,” GÃ©rard said. “With the stakes so high, it is far more important that you not be informed . . . until absolutely necessary.”
Gaspar de GuzmÃ¡n, Count-Duke of Olivares, was singularly unhappy with the news that the informants had brought. They confirmed so many of his worst fears: that a substantial force had been moved to just north of the Pyrenees; that the level of skill and capability of French arms — with the help of the devil-spawn up-timers — was far more powerful than he had realized; and that, despite Mirabel’s assurances, Gaston of France was nowhere near as pliable as he had been led to believe. Not to mention that the finest scouts he had been able to employ were either incompetent or very badly outclassed.
He looked at the object sitting on his desk — the sole of a military officer’s boot. The heel was partially separated, as if it had been twisted off. He wondered, once again, who might have once worn this particular boot — which of the hand-picked men sent over the mountains to scout possible routes for Spanish troops. He had picked it at random from a sack that had been left with a tavern-keeper at St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, at an establishment where men with tidbits of intelligence could pass them to one of his operatives.
He had long assumed that the French knew of this drop — but had left it untouched for the same reason he continued to use it: that such a conduit’s existence benefited them as well as Spain. They might even know the identity of his man on site.
It was unclear to him at that moment just how he was going to explain all of this to his royal master. Philip was not always given to cool and measured reason — which, Olivares thought, was his prerogative. Still, with the Borja mess and the disagreeable situation in the Lowlands and the business last year in Mallorca . . . only with the upturn of Spanish fortunes in France had he received any indication that the Lord God on high still smiled upon his country.
But one tidbit of information from one particular informant had offered Olivares a ray of hope.
Gaston, with his cleverness and his guile, had overturned the balance of power in the kingdom of France — and would soon sit upon its throne. Richelieu was dead, though there were rumours . . . but there were always rumors. But he had somehow lost track of his sister-in-law Anne, child of Spain and sister of Olivares’ king: it was even said that he had insinuated that she was somehow responsible for her husband’s death. He had no idea where she was.
But Olivares knew. Thanks to the Capuchin, he knew. It was a piece on the board that Olivares controlled.
And at the proper moment, he would move it against the new king of France.