Seven months ago, this is what we had finished of the Richelieu story:
By night the King passing near an Alley,
He of Cyprus and the principal guard:
The King mistaken, the hand flees the length of the Rhône,
The conspirators will set out to put him to death.
–Michel de Nostradame
“Strike no light.”
The man paused, his hand poised above the sooty chimney of an oil lamp. He cocked an eyebrow. A crack in the door frame allowed a faint candle-glow to seep into the filthy room, at the back of the least infamous brothel in the labyrinthine Rue du Grand-Huleur. By that palest of gleams, he saw a seated figure in a broad-brimmed hat staring at him, the waxed tip of a beard barely visible. A manicured hand gestured at the room’s only empty chair.
“Such deeds as ours require the anonymity of the shadows.”
“As you wish,” the man said. He sat; between them rested a rickety wooden table, its surface pocked and scarred. There was no wine, nor any offer of refreshment. The two silhouettes watched one another, each sizing the other up based on rumor and supposition. Two gentlemen: one in brocade and silver, the other in silk and leather; both were nonchalant, their hands calloused from sword-hilt and pistol-butt.
Around them, the hôtel of Mlle Paquet creaked like the bones of the old woman who owned it – a dowager caught between faith and financial need, who sought penance weekly for giving succor to the daughters of Jezebel. Faint moans and rhythmic thuds reached even into this shuttered closet as the femmes folles who were the source of Mlle Paquet’s sins went about their business in the rooms above. Laughter and jeers echoed in off the street, along with the dissonant trilling of a flute. But, to all this, both silhouettes paid no heed.
The man in the hat leaned forward. “That you have come yourself must mean our master has made his decision, no?”
“He has,” the newcomer replied, his accent betraying his Provençal heritage. “Our master is resolved to recover his honor. He had hoped to use political means to remove the Italians and their creatures from Court, but to no avail. Thus, when words falter good men needs must rely on steel.”
“It will not be easy. The revolt of the Princes has put our master’s enemies on guard.”
“Strike quietly, then, if you fear reprisal.”
The man in the hat stiffened. “It is not for myself I fear, sirrah! It is for our master. He will suffer far more than a simple death if we fail.”
“Then see we do not.” The newcomer stood; he brushed at his doublet as though the ineffectual gesture might remove the stench of the Rue du Grand-Huleur from the costly fabric. “Our master bid me tell you this one last thing: if you succeed, there is no reward he would refuse you.”
The man in the hat touched a finger to the brim in salute. “Tell our master his gratitude is reward enough.”
The newcomer nodded; he opened the door and in a flash of candle-glow he was gone. Gone from the hôtel of Mlle Paquet, whose mistress clung to her prie-dieu and whispered the Rosary; gone from the Rue du Grand-Huleur, where every night the song of Sodom reached its shuddering climax . . .
That Sunday, the twenty-third of April, in the Year of Our Lord 1617, the Grande Galerie of the Palais du Louvre was nigh deserted. For six days it is the haunt of artists and envoys, courtiers and courtesans, but on the seventh day it becomes a respite for those who called the Palais home – and for those summoned to attend them. Such was the station of the man who strode with purpose down its length.
Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, the Bishop of Luçon, cut a grim figure against the Baroque backdrop of the Grande Galerie, a lean black shadow who wore the purple sash and skullcap of his rank. Gold winked on his finger as he acknowledged the bow of a passing servant. But, Richelieu was not there that afternoon in his capacity as a clergyman; it was in his role as Foreign Minister of France that he found himself called to attend the Regent, the Queen-mother Marie de Médicis.
Richelieu did not waste time speculating as to the reason behind the summons. He served at the pleasure of the Regent, and if it was her pleasure to summon him from his weekly game of chess with the Rector of the Sorbonne, then so be it. Marie de Médicis was a charming old woman from a storied family, deeply entrenched in politics and desperate to keep both crown and head intact. Richelieu frowned. As much as he loved the Grande Dame, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep power in her hands; in truth, he wasn’t sure she wanted to hold the reins of State any longer. But, to whom would she give them? Her son, Louis de Bourbon, the rightful King, or perhaps his cousin, Henri, the Duke of Enghien? Or would the Regent’s favorite, Concini – Italian adventurer and self-styled Marechal d’Ancre – seize power for himself?
Richelieu shook his head. Regardless of the outcome, his task was to keep France’s enemies at bay – be it through treachery, treaty, guile, or gift.
Not a bad start, though the line in part I about the revolt of the princes needs some cleaning up . . . I’ll probably rewrite that whole line, do away with the reference. I could use a good schematic of the Old Louvre Palace, but barring that I may have to fudge some bits — in the next few paragraphs, Richelieu sees the King and Luynes in a courtyard while he waits for his audience with the Queen Mother; the King is hostile, but Luynes salutes Richelieu, perhaps foreshadowing the notion they’re working together for the good of the King.
Tomorrow, we’ll proceed!