1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 48
The cathedral city was overwhelmed by visitors from across France and beyond, from dignitaries and foreign princes to common folk from the countryside who hoped to catch a glimpse of the new king of France.
They had begun to arrive two weeks earlier, when the date of the coronation had been set and proclaimed throughout the country. Word had travelled even faster than usual, due to up-timer wizardry: the newspapers and broadsheets had up-to-date information giving all the particulars, from the composition of King Gaston’s royal council to the style and pattern of Queen Marguerite’s dress.
The excitement regarding the coming of a new monarch helped to set aside the anguish at losing an old one. People largely wished to put it behind them and to expect, with almost naÃ¯ve enthusiasm, that the new reign meant better times ahead.
Troops from the king’s guard and officials from the royal household came with the first arrivals, arranging accommodations for members of the court and important visitors. Despite the excitement, there was plenty of evidence of discord: the guardsmen spent time tearing down broadsheets that had appeared in the city, asking: Where is Cardinal Richelieu? and What has become of our good Queen?
The king and his entourage had an established residence: the Palace of Tau, a villa close to the great cathedral. Monarchs had stayed there for centuries, and the night of the coronation the royal ball would be held there. A week before the coronation, Terrye Jo’s radio equipment was moved to the Palace. Though the king’s chamberlain assured her that she need not trouble herself to travel with the gear — the accommodations are far from suitable, Mademoiselle — she wasn’t about to let it far out of her sight.
Thus, she had a chance to see Reims transform itself from cathedral town to Super Bowl venue in a matter of a fortnight. And the far from suitable accommodations were impressive even if there was constant work going on — they found her a little chamber on an upper floor, out of the way, which had marble floors, a mahogany dresser and desk, and a feather bed. She felt as if she was sleeping in a museum, which up-time it probably was.
The day after she arrived, she received an invitation to visit the delegation from the USE. It was delivered to her by a very nervous acolyte, a servant of the archbishop of Reims; he seemed more afraid of her than anything else, as if she was a powerful wizard or something. He offered her the letter, bowed, and vanished before she could even thank him.
Consulate (Acting) in Reims
United States of Europe
14 May 1636
Dear Miss Tillman:
I would be honoured and pleased to have you call upon me at our temporary residence in the HÃ´tel de Ville tomorrow afternoon at two. We here at our consulate have a great deal to assimilate, and your insights and opinions would be extremely valuable.
I know that your duties may make you unavailable at that hour, but if you can oblige me I would be most grateful.
With sincere regards
Rebecca Abrabanel Stearns, Consul (Acting)
When she had finished reading, Terrye Jo went to the window and looked out across the roofs and spires of Reims. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, full of noise and smells and scenery — not as grimy as Paris, not as remote as the Valentino, and a long way from Grantville: and here was an invitation written by Rebecca Stearns herself, a member of the USE Parliament and — even more important — Mike Stearns’ wife. And she was a quarter of a mile away in the HÃ´tel de Ville, expecting Terrye Jo to come visit as if she was some sort of dignitary.
Your duties may make you unavailable . . . Mrs. Stearns had no idea. When the king arrived she might have something to do, but until then she was just an observer, sleeping in the museum and trying to stay out of the way of the laborers, merchants, entertainers, thieves, and gawkers that were filling every hostel, every stable, and every back alley of Reims for the coronation. She had plenty of time.
Artemisio had been excited to hear the news.
“We’ll have to arrange a carriage, Donna,” he said. “I’ll ride up front with the guards, unless you want me to be inside –”
“Wait. Guards? Carriage? No one is getting anywhere in a carriage right now. It would take two hours to go the five hundred yards.”
“Well,” he answered. “It’s hardly suitable for you to walk. Imagine what your dress would look like — the streets are muddy and filthy — ”
“Yes. You can’t wear what you’ll wear for the coronation, of course, but you have the one that the duchess had made for you — ”
“I have a perfectly fine riding suit that she had made for me. And I’m not going to walk, I’m going to ride. And no guards: it’s just down the avenue. I am pretty sure I won’t get lost.”
“You’re going to ride.”
“But surely not alone.”
“I assume so.” She waved the invitation. “She’s only invited me, not the whole court.”
“What would people think? You must take a servant, at the very least.” He grinned. “I humbly volunteer, Donna. But I really think you should have an escort.”
“Because — because, well, what if we are attacked?”
“Then I’ll shoot them.”
He continued to protest against the idea that she would wear anything but a formal dress and ride in a carriage, but she was firm. You can stay here and I’ll go alone, she told him. That’s the other choice.
In the end she stuck with the riding suit. It consisted of a comfortable pair of light-colored breeches, a lacy blouse with an armless buff coat over it with skirts that flared out over the hips and down to the tops of her custom-fit leather boots. The whole costume was completed by a wide-brimmed leather hat pinned up on one side and adorned with a bright-colored feather. The short sword at her belt was mostly there for decoration, but the flintlock pistol wasn’t. She didn’t expect problems; Artemisio was far more nervous than she was as they rode out of the stable, across the Place Royale, and along the crowded avenue toward the HÃ´tel, a broad building with scaffolding attached to one side — it was apparently being worked on even now.
They were expected. Their horses were taken by a groom; she hung her gun belt over her saddle (and Artemisio, with a bit of hesitation, did the same) and they entered the building, climbing a short set of stairs; their boots echoed loudly. They were met by a secretary — an up-timer, Terrye Jo thought, but someone she didn’t recognize; she reached into her vest to pull out the letter from Rebecca Stearns, but the man waved it off.
“You’re expected,” he said. Somewhere within she heard a clock strike once, twice — she was just on time.
He led them up further stairs and onto an interior corridor. Officials were bustling back and forth; it was clear that a number of chambers had been emptied to allow visitors to take up residence; business was being transacted in the hallways. She drew more than a few looks — whether it was that she was an up-timer, or an armed woman, or some other reason she wasn’t sure; but there was nothing to do but walk confidently, following the secretary to wherever they’d parked the USE delegation.
Finally they reached a suite of rooms at the end of a corridor, and they were shown in to a large sitting room. It was bright and airy, with windows overlooking the crowded square below. Rebecca Stearns rose to greet her as she entered, but before she reached her she stopped dead and looked directly at the man standing next to the USE minister.
“Hi there, sweetheart,” he said. “You look . . . you look well.”
Artemisio, standing in the doorway with his hat off and in his hands, didn’t know what to do. Terrye Jo looked from her father to Rebecca, torn between shock and anger.
“I owe you an apology,” Rebecca Stearns said. “I felt that I should tell you that Mr. Tillman — well, both Mr. Tillmans — were here, but they asked me not to.”
“They did,” she said.
“I thought you might not come if you knew I was here,” her father said. “Frank wanted to go over to that palace you’re staying in, but he didn’t think they’d let us in.”
“They probably wouldn’t.”
Shock won over anger, and Terrye Jo embraced Joe Tillman, father and daughter holding each other tight for several seconds. Terrye Jo looked toward the far end of the room and saw her uncle Frank standing there awkwardly, as if he didn’t know why he was there. Finally he approached and hugged her as well.
Joe Tillman took a handkerchief from a pocket and wiped his eyes, exchanging a glance with Rebecca, who beckoned them to seats. Terrye Jo hesitated, looking toward Artemisio, who looked more uncomfortable than ever.
“My — manservant, Artemisio Logiani,” she said. “He insisted I needed an escort.”
Rebecca caught the attention of the secretary. “Perhaps Signore Logiani would like something to eat or drink,” she said. The secretary took Artemisio by the elbow and steered him out, shutting the door behind him.
Terrye Jo took her hat off and sat. Her father looked her up and down. “You really do look good, girl.”
“I’ve been keeping in shape, Dad,” she said. “And the duchess of Savoy made sure I dressed well. Wait until you see what I’m wearing for the coronation.”
“I think you described it in a letter.”
“The dress she had made for me makes that one look like a cheap bathrobe,” Terrye Jo said. “I asked her if I had to give it back afterward.”
“Have to give it back? No, but I have no idea where I’d ever wear it again.” She smiled at her father, then made the smile go away. “I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Dad, Uncle Frank, and assume that Mrs. Stearns has some reason for you to be here. I feel as if I’ve been ambushed, and I have no idea why.”