Read The Cardinal's Blades Online

Authors: Pierre Pevel,Tom Translated by Clegg

The Cardinal's Blades

BOOK: The Cardinal's Blades
7.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

This book is dedicated to Jean-Philippe,

my brother who fled too soon.

 
 
 

1

 

Long and high-ceilinged, the room was lined with elegantly gilded and bound books which shone with a russet gleam in the half-light of the candle flames. Outside, beyond the thick red velvet curtains, Paris slept beneath a starry sky and a deep tranquillity had settled on the dusky streets which penetrated even here, where the scratching of a quill barely troubled the silence. Thin, bony and pale, the hand which held the quill traced fine, tight writing, delicate yet steady, making neither mistakes nor blots. The quill paused regularly to take a fresh load from the inkwell. It was guided with precision and, as soon as it returned to the paper, continued to scratch out an unhesitating thread of thought. Nothing else moved. Not even the scarlet dragonnet which, curled in a ball, its muzzle tucked under its wing, slept peacefully by the thick leather blotter.

Someone knocked at the door.

The hand wrote on without pause but the dragonnet, disturbed, opened one emerald eye. A man entered wearing a sword and a fitted cape of red silk blazoned, on each of its four panels, with a white cross. His head was respectfully uncovered.

“Yes?” said Cardinal Richelieu, continuing to write.

“He is here, Your Eminence.”

“Alone?”

“As you instructed.”

“Good. Send him in.”

Master Saint-Georges, Captain of His Eminence’s Guards, bowed. He was about to withdraw when the cardinal added: “And spare him the guards.”

Saint-Georges understood, bowed again, and took care to close the door silently as he left.

Before being received in the cardinal’s apartment visitors normally had to pass through five rooms throughout which guards were stationed on continuous watch, day and night. All carried a sword at their side and pistol in their belt, remaining alert to the slightest hint of danger and refusing to let anyone pass without a direct order to that effect. Nothing escaped their scrutiny, which could shift at a moment’s notice from merely probing to actively threatening. Wearing their celebrated capes, these men belonged to the company of His Eminence’s Guards. They escorted him everywhere he went, and wherever he resided there were never less than sixty men to accompany him. Those not on duty in the corridors and antechambers killed time between their rounds, their short muskets always near to hand. And the Guards were not the only troops detailed to protect Richelieu: while they ensured his safety inside, a company of musketeers patrolled outside.

This constant vigilance was not a simple, ostentatious show of force. They had good reason to guard him; even here in the heart of Paris, in the ornamental palace the cardinal had built just a few steps from the Louvre.

At forty-eight years old, Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu was one of the most powerful men, and one of the most threatened, of his time. A duke and peer of the realm, member of the Council, and principal minister to His Majesty; he had the ear of Louis XIII—with whom he had ruled France for a decade. That alone accounted for the numerous adversaries he reckoned with, the least of whom only plotted to disgrace him, while others made detailed plans for his assassination—for if the cardinal were forced into exile he could still act from abroad, and if imprisoned there was always the possibility of his escape. Such plots had come close to succeeding in the past, and new ones were no doubt being prepared. Richelieu had to guard himself against all those who hated him out of jealousy, because of his influence over the king. But he also had to be wary of attacks orchestrated by the enemies of France, the first and foremost being Spain, and her Court of Dragons.

It was about to strike midnight.

The sleepy dragonnet heaved a tired sigh.

“It’s very late, isn’t it?” the cardinal said, addressing the small winged reptile with an affectionate smile.

He looked drawn himself, both from fatigue and illness, on this spring night in 1633.

Normally he would have been in bed soon. He would sleep a little if his insomnia, his migraines, and the pain in his limbs allowed it. And especially if no one woke him with urgent news requiring orders to be drawn up hastily, or worse still, a meeting in the dead of night. No matter what occurred, he rose at two in the morning and was promptly surrounded by his secretaries. After quick ablutions, he would eat a few mouthfuls of broth and then work until six o’clock. Then perhaps he would allow himself one or two hours of additional sleep, before beginning the most challenging part of the day—the rounds of ministers and secretaries of state, ambassadors and courtiers. But tonight, Cardinal Richelieu had not yet finished with the affairs of France.

* * *

Hinges squeaked at the other end of the library, then a firm step sounded against the parquet floor, followed by a clatter of spurs, as Cardinal Richelieu reread the report he intended to present to the king concerning the proposed policies against Lorraine. Incongruous at this hour and echoing loudly beneath the library’s painted ceiling, the growing noise woke the dragonnet. Unlike its master, it raised its head to see who had arrived.

It was a gentleman, his features marked by long service in times of war.

Large, energetic, still strong despite his years, he had high boots on his feet, and carried his hat in his hand and his rapier at his side. He wore a grey doublet slashed with red and matching hose the cut of which was as austere as the fabric itself. His closely trimmed beard was the same silver-grey as his hair. It covered much of his severe-looking face, rendered gaunt by battle and long hours of riding, and perhaps also by old regrets and sadness. His bearing was martial, assured, proud, almost provocative. His gaze was that of a man who would never look away first. And he wore a tarnished steel ring on his left hand.

Letting a silence settle, Richelieu finished his perusal of the report while his visitor waited. He initialled the last page, sanded it to help the ink dry, and then blew the grains away. They rose into the air, tickling the dragonnet’s nostrils. The little reptile sneezed, raising a smile on the cardinal’s thin lips.

“Apologies, Petit-Ami,” he murmured to it.

And finally acknowledging the man, he said: “A moment, if you will?”

He rang a small bell.

The chimes summoned the faithful and indefatigable Charpentier, who had served His Eminence in the capacity of private secretary for twenty-five years. Richelieu gave him the initialled report.

“Before I present it before His Majesty tomorrow, I want Père Joseph to read it and add those biblical references which His Majesty likes so much and serve the cause of France so well.”

Charpentier bowed and departed.

“The King is very pious,” the cardinal explained.

Then, speaking as if his guest had only just arrived: “Welcome, Captain La Fargue.”

“Captain?”

“That’s your rank, isn’t it?”

“It was, before my commission was taken from me.”

“We wish that you return to service.”

“As of now?”

“Yes. Did you have something better to do?”

It was an opening sally, and Richelieu predicted that there would be more to follow.

“A captain must command a company,” said La Fargue.

“Or a troop, at the very least, which may be more modest in size. You shall reclaim yours.”

“It was dispersed, thanks to the good care and attention of Your Eminence.”

That comment raised a spark in the cardinal’s eye.

“Find your men. These letters, intended for them, are ready to be sent.”

“They may not all answer the call.”

“Those who respond will suffice. They were the best, and they should still be. It has not been so long …”

“Five years.”

“… and you are free to recruit others,” Richelieu continued without permitting an interruption. “Besides, my reports indicate that, despite my orders, you have not severed all of your connections with them.”

The old gentleman blinked.

“I see that the competence of Your Eminence’s spies has not faltered in the least.”

“I believe there are few things concerning you of which I am unaware, captain.”

His hand poised on the pommel of his sword, Captain Etienne-Louis de La Fargue took a moment to think. He stared straight ahead, over the cardinal’s head who, from his armchair, observed him with patient interest.

“So, captain, you accept?”

“It depends.”

Feared because he was influential and all the more influential because he was feared, Cardinal Richelieu could ruin a destiny with a stroke of his quill or, just as easily, propel a career toward greatness. He was believed to be a man who would crush all those who opposed him. It was a significant exaggeration but as he himself was fond of saying, “His Eminence has no enemies other than those of the State. But toward them, he is utterly without mercy.”

Cold as marble, the cardinal hardened his tone.

“Is it not enough for you, captain, to know that your king recalls you to his service?”

The man unflinchingly found and held the cardinal’s gaze.

“No, monseigneur, it is not enough.”

BOOK: The Cardinal's Blades
7.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Whenever You Call by Anna King
Reprisal by Ian Barclay
Take a Chance by Lavender Daye
Wings of Love by Scotty Cade
Selby Shattered by Duncan Ball
Kiss in the Dark by Lauren Henderson
La profecía by David Seltzer