When Richelieu was finished, he had to struggle mightily not to burst out into laughter. The young French officer standing in front of the cardinal's desk seemed paralyzed by shock. His jaw, sagging; his eyes, as wide open as human eyes could get.
After a moment, Richelieu did allow himself a single laugh.
"Oh, please! I like to think of this as confirmation of the principles of aristocracy. You do, after all, have as distinguished a military pedigree as any man alive. Grandson, through your mother Elizabeth, of William the Silent himself. Mauritz of Nassau and Frederik Hendrik—both renowned soldiers of the day—as uncles. So why should the king's decision come as such a surprise, Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne? Or, to use the new title which His Most Christian Majesty has chosen to bestow upon you, Vicomte de Turenne."
The young man's eyes were still practically bulging. Richelieu decided to relent a bit. De la Tour d'Auvergne—no, Turenne—was a very young man, after all. Still short of his twenty-second birthday, and just now informed that he had been appointed to high military command as well as having been made a vicomte.
"I have never been harsh toward Protestants, you know," the cardinal said softly, "so long as they remain loyal to the king and France. Nor have I inquired—nor will I, young Henri—as to your own faith, despite the fact that your father the duc de Bouillon is a Huguenot and your mother a Dutch Protestant."
Richelieu laid a long-fingered hand atop the stack of books and manuscripts on his desk. "It is all here, young Henri. Not in the detail I would have preferred, of course—sadly, the Americans seem to have little interest in French history, judging from their libraries. But . . . there's enough. Certainly for this decision. History will record that Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, later vicomte de Turenne, was one of the greatest generals ever produced by France. From his early career through his death in battle at the age of sixty-four, the record is clear. Brilliance, combined with unswerving loyalty. More than that, neither I nor any man can ask. And the king agrees. So why should we waste the next few years while you prove it? We may not have the luxury of those few years. France needs you now."
The last sentence seemed, finally, to break through the young man's shock. Turenne closed his mouth, almost with a snap, and his eyes narrowed.
"Yes, Your Eminence. I will certainly do my best." He glanced at the stack of books and manuscripts. "May I take those to study?"
Richelieu lifted his hand and nodded. "By all means. That is why I had them brought here."
Turenne began to reach for them, but drew back his hand. His jaw was no longer loose at all; indeed, it was very tight. "If I am to do this, Your Eminence, I must insist—insist—on the right to select my own staff. And I will require—"
"Whatever you need, Henri. I assure you, the king's confidence in you is absolute. Mine also."
Turenne stared at him for a moment. Then, his shoulders slumping a little, bent over and picked up the stack of books and manuscripts. "I shall do my very best, Your Eminence."
Less than five minutes after Turenne left the cardinal's chamber, another man was ushered in. No youngster, this—Samuel Champlain was now in his mid-sixties.
Champlain advanced to the center of the room and bowed deeply. "I thank Your Eminence. From the bottom of my heart. This is a life's dream fulfilled."
Richelieu waved his hand languidly. "I always assured you that I supported your ambitions. But, in times past, my support was constrained by . . . ah, well, you understand."
Champlain nodded stiffly. "That damned treacherous Gaston. You ought to—"
"Samuel!" cautioned the cardinal. "Say no more. Monsieur Gaston, after all, is the king's brother. And also, I would remind you, the heir to the French throne. Since the king has no children of his own."
The last few words caused Champlain's lips to tighten. In truth, the cardinal had to fight not to let the same sour sentiments show on his own face. Louis XIII, unfortunately, was . . . ah . . .
Even in his own mind, the cardinal shied away from the thought. It was enough that the king had not sired an heir upon his wife, Anne of Austria. Had not, so far as Richelieu could determine, even had conjugal relations with her for many years. For all those years, since Richelieu had been appointed head of the Royal Council, the king's childlessness had hovered over the cardinal like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. The king's younger brother and his entourage of courtiers hated and despised Richelieu. Should Louis XIII die, with no children . . .
Then Gaston, the duc d'Orleans, would become the new king of France. No one had any doubt—Richelieu least of all—that on the morrow, the cardinal's head would roll from the executioner's block.
For years, now, the cardinal had outmaneuvered Gaston and his pack of toadies, as he had all the rest of his enemies within France. Fortunately, both the heir apparent and the followers he drew around him were prone to hotheaded and reckless schemes. Because of his position, of course, Richelieu could not touch the duc d'Orleans himself. But he had executed or imprisoned or sent into exile a goodly number of Gaston's supporters, whenever they made one of their frequent missteps. And in the famous "Day of Dupes" in November 1630, Richelieu had even finally managed to dislodge the king's mother, Marie de Medici, from her position of power and influence. As well as punish a fair number of her courtiers—the marshall de Marillac, for instance, who had been executed and his brother tossed into the prison where he died soon after.
Still, while Richelieu had always triumphed in these savage factional struggles, the struggle itself had often diverted his attention from pressing affairs of state, as well as set limits upon his freedom of maneuver. Now, however—if nothing else, the Ring of Fire and the arrival of the Americans had accomplished this much—Louis XIII seemed willing to give Richelieu carte blanche on everything. And, in any event, most of the cardinal's enemies were either crushed or hiding in their mouseholes.
Which meant, among other things, that a certain Samuel Champlain was going to finallyget the support he had long pleaded for—and then some.
"Let us not speak of unpleasant matters, Samuel, when the news I have for you is so good. Not only have the English released you from captivity, but they have agreed to return all of our properties in New France."
"Quebec too?" asked Champlain eagerly. He had founded that town himself, in 1608, and was especially attached to it.
"Everything." Richelieu smiled. "More than that, in fact. The new secret treaty I have signed with the English transfers all of their properties in the New World to us as well. Plymouth and Jamestown, everything. Henceforth, all of America north of the Spanish possessions belongs to the crown of France."
Now Richelieu had an old man's sagging jaw and wide eyes staring at him, as he had had those of a youngster earlier. Again, the cardinal laughed.
"Oh, yes—all of it, Samuel! When you return to New France—the greatly expanded New France—your title of 'lieutenant-general' will match the reality. I am sure you will rise to the challenge."
"Indeed, Your Eminence!" Champlain squared his shoulders, as best he could given an old man's stoop. "I shall do my best!"
Five minutes after Champlain was ushered out, a man in early middle age was ushered in. He found the cardinal staring out the window, not seated in his chair.
"Let him live out what days remain to him in peace, Michel," murmured Richelieu. "As best you can, at any rate. He deserves that much, for his long years of service to the crown.
"Champlain will be dead in two years anyway, and, in the meantime, the prestige of his name will help me to raise the funds needed here in France. The backers of the Compagnie des Cent Associes are already ecstatic over our new policy, of course, but I think I can open their coffers a bit more. Quite a bit more, actually—and those are very big coffers." Richelieu turned away from the window. "You, of course, will be the real governor of the new territories. But do try not to clash with the old man unless it is absolutely necessary. Loyalty should be repaid in kind."
Michel Mousnier shrugged. "After Champlain's experiences, I doubt he'll protest much if I need to be firm with the English settlers. Not sure how he'll react to our plans for New Amsterdam and the Dutch forts at Orange and Nassau, though."
"It hardly matters. Keep him in Virginia, Michel, where we'll be landing most of the new French settlers. We'll need a new name for that province, by the way. Champlain is quite good at founding new towns, it seems, so why aggravate the old man with the harsh realities of conquering established ones?"
The cardinal glanced at a nearby cabinet. "Dead in two years, as I said." In that cabinet were kept other manuscripts and books, ones which he had not bothered to copy for Turenne. "I don't know the exact date. But it will be sometime in the year 1635. After which, Michel, you will assume the title as well as the real authority."
"I will do my best, Your Eminence."
"Oh, I have no doubt of that at all."
As Don Fernando strode toward the door of her chambers, being opened for him by his aide, Isabella called him back.
For a moment, Fernando considered pretending he had not heard her, so avid was the prince of Spain to launch himself into a life of martial glory. But . . .
She was the Infanta Isabella, after all. Archduchess and governess of the Netherlands, daughter of the great Philip II, and a woman whose life had been illustrious and renowned in its own right. Even now, on her deathbed, no man could dismiss her lightly. Not even the king of Spain's younger brother.
The prince's aide, certainly, was not inclined to rebellion. Miguel de Manrique had the door closed before the prince even came to a halt.
When Don Fernando turned around, Isabella croaked a laugh at the look on his face. "Oh, my dear boy! It's not so bad as all that! Wasn't I the one, after all, who told you to leave off all those damned ecclesiastical robes and start wearing a soldier's apparel?"
Grudgingly, Fernando nodded. Then, not so grudgingly, gave his elderly great-aunt a genuine smile. Don Fernando had not been pleased, to put it mildly, when the needs of state and his brother's will had forced him to become a cardinal of the church. Fernando had wanted a soldier's name and titles, not "cardinal-infante." But, he had been a dutiful son of Spain, for all that he had chafed under the necessity.
Once he arrived to take up his new duties in Brussels, however, his great-aunt had urged him to cease wearing churchly raiment. As she had for decades, Isabella was trying to bring a final peace to the Netherlands. Catholic regalia, she'd informed the cardinal-infante, would just inflame many of his subjects. Whereas even the most Calvinist Dutchman could respect a soldier, especially one who followed the policies of the duke of Parma and Spinola.
Don Fernando had needed no further urging. In truth, he was basically inclined to heed Isabella's advice. Still, he was a young prince on the very eve of his first great test in battle, and the last thing he really wanted to listen to was more of the cautions of a very ill and elderly lady.
"Please, Fernando," whispered the old woman, the tears of a lifetime beginning to leak into her eyes. "I will be gone soon, and can do no more. Please. If you triumph, follow the legacy of Spinola. My legacy, also. Give peace to this long-tortured land."
Not even a brash young prince could remain indifferent to the appeal in those old eyes. He lowered his head. "I promise, Tia Isabella. I gave you my word, and I will keep it. There will be no 'Spanish Fury.' The duke of Alva is dead and buried. Let the savage old man remain in his grave."
"Not enough!" Tired and sick, the voice was, and quavering with age. But, at least for a moment, it was still a voice sired by Philip the Second. "Not enough! I want your word on the settlement."
The cardinal-infante hesitated. He planned to conquer, after all, not to "settle." And what self-respecting conqueror in history would settle for the same terms which his opponent had turned down in negotiations? Why give back what has been taken?
But . . . whatever he thought of his great-aunt's wisdom, he could not face those ancient eyes. And perhaps she was right, anyway. She was wise, still, even on her deathbed.
"Agreed," he said softly. Then, more firmly: "I swear, on my honor. Blood of Spain. Even if I win—after I win—I will impose the terms we advanced in The Hague. Nothing more."
A last spark of rebelliousness drove him to add: "Nothing less, either, you understand."
Isabella smiled. "Oh, to be sure. I am really no fonder of Calvinists than you are, nephew. Especially not those foul Counter-Remonstrants." Firmly: "I certainly see no reason that our own faith should not be practiced freely in towns with Spanish garrisons!"
The smile faded. "But keep that stinki—the Inquisition. On a leash, Fernando!"
On that subject, nephew and aunt were in full agreement. The young eyes which met old ones were bred by the same family. The Spanish branch of the Habsburgs had often been accused of intolerance; they had never once been accused of lacking royal will.
"The Spanish Inquisition serves at the discretion of the Spanish crown," growled Fernando. "And I am a prince of Spain as well as a cardinal. I will keep them on a leash. A very short leash, as a matter of fact."
Isabella closed her eyes, nodding. Then, waved her hand. "Go, go. Glorious youth, all that. Dotry not to get yourself killed."
* * *
Outside, as they walked side by side down the corridor of the palace, Fernando glanced at Miguel. "Your job, that. Keep them on a leash, Miguel. Muzzle them, if you have to. I will support you in every particular."
"Be my pleasure." De Manrique's growl was that of a man in middle age, not a youth. Different in timbre; different, even more, in the depth of the gravel. "Damn them, anyway. The grief they caused us, everywhere we went. Ha!" His rough, scarred face broke into a narrow grin. "I'll say this for those cursed Americans. When the Inquisitors in the Wartburg tried to drive the soldiers back to the walls, their sharpshooters singled them out for the killing."
But the grin faded, within three steps. De Manrique had been the commander of the Spanish army shattered outside Eisenach and then trapped in the Wartburg. One of the worst defeats in Spanish history, that had been. Precious few times in history had an entire Spanish army surrendered, especially to a smaller force. De Manrique had been lucky, afterward, to have been simply disgraced instead of imprisoned. As it was, he had spent several weeks in the tender graces of the Inquisition, being tested to see if his failure reflected a deeper evil.
The cardinal-infante had saved him, then—just as Don Fernando had been the man who insisted on adding Miguel to his staff for the expedition to the Netherlands. In the months since, the veteran general had come to have a great deal of respect for the young prince of Spain. Headstrong he might be—and no "might be" about it. Rash, reckless, given to taking chances . . . yes, yes, certainly. But he listened. And, if nothing else, did not share the automatic assumption of most Spanish hidalgos that they already knew all the secrets of the ancient art of war.
The corridors of the palace were a bit chilly, despite the season. But it was not the chill of the evening which caused a momentary shiver in Miguel's shoulders. He—not self-satisfied hidalgos on their estates in Castile—had been the one who saw the inferno which the Americans had unleashed on the Wartburg. Some kind of hideous flame-weapon worse than any legends of Greek fire. And he—not them—had seen the brains of his soldiers splashed out of their skulls by muskets fired at an impossible range.
The shiver came, and went. Miguel de Manrique was a soldier, after all. And he did have the pleasant memory of seeing the brains of arrogant Inquisitors being splashed as well.
"On a leash," he repeated. "Leashed, and muzzled."