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Chapter 1

The palace was over-heated, Mazarini thought. That came of Cardinal Richelieu being a man who had more than his share of ailments, despite being only in middle age. Richelieu felt the cold as an old man did. He had his servants build fires if there was even the slightest chill in the air—and early spring in Paris was considerably more than slightly chilly. Fortunately, the cardinal was a polite man. The wait in the anteroom was brief enough that Mazarini was able to fight off drowsiness.


Now Mazarini was in the presence of Richelieu himself, trying to achieve—in spite of the heat—that chilly sharpness a diplomat needed. The cardinal's hard face, now that the pleasantries had been dealt with, indicated that the real negotiation was about to begin.


After only four weeks in Paris, at that; Richelieu must, Mazarini thought, have something in mind. The protocol of his nunciature had been brief. Mazarini had arrived from Rome with a retinue provided by Cardinal Barberini and augmented it from the permanent nunciature in Paris. His American companion, Harry Lefferts, had tried to pretend that he saw the likes of the procession through Paris every day back in Grantville, but Mazarini could see him frankly staring at everything. Pressed afterward, Harry had admitted that the twentieth century had not wanted for spectacle, but that it never came to country towns like Grantville. As it was, Harry had gotten only these few short weeks of mayhem, debauchery and drunkenness in Paris before a message that had missed him narrowly in Rome had called him home to Grantville; he was due to leave in the morning.


As much as he would miss Harry, Mazarini would be relieved to see him go. The flamboyant young American made friends everywhere he went. Unfortunately, the friends were concentrated in two classes of people:


Flamboyant Italian and French young men, who found the exciting and exotic American something of a role model—to the perhaps everlasting ruin of proper attire for proper young men. (Their habits had already included brawling and drunkenness, so those sins could hardly be laid at Harry's feet.)


Shortly after they'd arrived in Rome a few months earlier, Harry had gotten a formal suit done to his own specifications by a tailor who'd done it purely for the chance to take Harry's old rented tux apart to see how to make the style of trousers his customers were demanding. This time around, Harry had reasoned, men's formal wear would be done right. Pockets ranked high in Harry's scheme to anticipate the mistakes of fashion. The gentleman of this future would not be stuck for somewhere to put a wallet, cigarettes, a few items for personal defense and his companion's spare lipstick. Jackets were replaced with tailcoats, as Harry had seen enough performances by someone called Lee Van Cleef to appreciate the practicality of the style for a man who wanted to wear a gun-belt. The swordsmen about town in Rome were glad of it, too.


The city's authorities were not.


The second category of people who made friends with Harry almost instantaneously were Italian and French young women. Alas. That characteristic had produced even more in the way of excitement than the first.


Mazarini was still a bit astonished that only two duels had resulted. That was probably because of the outcome of the duels themselves. As the challenged party, Harry had been able to choose the weapons. The first duel having been a very informal affair—a tavern brawl which escalated rapidly—he'd naturally chosen pistols, that being the nature of the weapon carried under his coat. Harry had had the mercy and the good sense not to actually kill his opponents—but it had been blindingly obvious to all who witnessed the affair that he could have easily done so instead of inflicting minor flesh wounds.


The second duel, a more formal affair, was worse. Having been accused of cowardice by relying on unfairly superior American firearms, Harry had chosen a different weapon. Another American one, true, but hardly something that could be labeled unfair—a very large knife which he called a "Bowie knife." He had even grandly allowed his opponent to retain his rapier.


The choice had obviated his opponent's greater skill with swordsmanship. Harry had had no intention of trying to match him. He'd simply managed to avoid the first lunge and grappled with his opponent, Bowie knife against main gauche. Thereafter, fighting with knives at close quarters, those qualities which Harry possessed in abundance—great athletic ability and an outlook sanguine enough to be the envy of any Mongol khan—had come to the fore. The end result had been thoroughly fatal and incredibly messy.


Now that he was in the presence of the cardinal, Mazarini suppressed his sigh. Hopefully, Harry Lefferts would be gone from Paris and on his way back to Grantville before the very wealthy and very belligerent Fasciotti brothers—all five of them—discovered that their sister had been dishonored and came to Paris from Rome to seek satisfaction. There would be no duels, dealing with the Fasciotti. Hiring assassins came as naturally to them as hiring servants. All the more so since the sister in question was not complaining about the episode herself. Awkward, that.


But Richelieu was finally speaking. Mazarini pushed aside thoughts of his rambunctious American companion. There were many dangers in the world, after all. Compared to Richelieu, Harry Lefferts was a minor problem.


 


"Monsignor," said Richelieu, "You have visited Grantville, perhaps?"


"I have, Your Eminence."


Mazarini responded politely, despite the fact that the question was moot. It did not do for one gentiluomo to admit to another that he had had him spied on—or, in his response, for the one spied upon to draw attention to the fact. Mazarini's trip to Grantville had neither gone unnoticed nor unremarked. The resulting icy blast of Cardinal Richelieu's displeasure had been directed straight at Cardinal Barberini, who had in his turn deposited the whole lot on Mazarini once he'd arrived in Rome. Richelieu had a long reach; his eyes were everywhere and there were few within Europe who could not at least be apprised of his opinions if not made to suffer for his displeasure. He had latterly come to have most of the resources of France at his disposal; in a sense, he was France.


"Perhaps," Richelieu went on, "some things passed between the monsignor and—"


Mazarini interrupted him silently, staring with a carefully blank expression and placing his hand on his heart, before casting his eyes down. The gesture of one who, for ritual reasons, could not speak. If ritual had an advantage, it was the language of subtlety it allowed the cognoscenti to converse in.


Richelieu sighed. Ritual could also be a shield for those who chose to dissemble. He chose not to look upon the dissimulation. "Monsignor," he said after a little time, "you are aware, perhaps, of the news of the future brought by the Americans?" Richelieu rose and took the two steps that carried him to the window. "I ask in a spirit of genuine enquiry; you need not vouchsafe how much you know or where you have it from."


And such a freight of meaning in that! Mazarini found himself cold despite the heat, his palms sweating. He had never underestimated an opponent in his career to date, but he wondered whether it was possible to do anything else with the cardinal who ruled France.


For a wonder, his voice remained under control. "I am aware, yes." He thanked God silently for the calm; it was his best weapon at the card table and in negotiations.


He had already heard enough to deduce what was coming next. More than a few men had emerged, shocked and grinning, from the Palais in the last few weeks. The cardinal was promoting men, young and unknown men, and it was—well, not the talk of all Paris, but certainly noticed.


Richelieu remained at the window, looking out over the garden he had torn down the adjoining buildings to create. He could surely see little, Mazarini reflected. Paris in the spring meant mist and soft, clinging rain as much as fresh air and balmy breezes. The sky was the gray of over-washed linen and the streets a mire, clinging and glutinous. Everywhere was the stink of wet wool.


Richelieu let out a long breath. Not quite—but almost—another sigh. He half-turned, and addressed Mazarini over his shoulder. "It is more difficult, if you will say nothing?"


Mazarini frowned.


Richelieu clasped his hands behind his back and turned further. A long blink, then, both eyes closed for a whole breath before they opened, and he leaned forward a little. Earnestly: "I beg of you, Monsignor, not to take what I said as a suggestion that you might betray a confidence. I fancy we are both"—a little quirk of a smile to underline it—"professionals. Not so?"


Mazarini nodded. Richelieu had used the English word—a word that the seventeenth-century English almost certainly did not have and certainly would not understand the way that up-time Americans did. Mazarini felt his very frame lighten in his chair with the speed of his thoughts. The sheer celerity that came when one matched wits with a master—there was no thrill like it. To gamble all-or-nothing on one's own genius—and with a man who might say so much with the mere choice of a synonym! The mere turn of a clever phrase, a well-parsed statement, these were the common coin of diplomacy. Richelieu was one of a select few in another league altogether.


Richelieu closed his eyes again for another breath. "But I must broach a sensitive subject," he said, and turned back to look out at the dishwater sky.


Richelieu said nothing for some time, and it was Mazarini who broke the silence. He knew it was a trap, a trick he used himself. To break a silence without disadvantage was a delicate business.


"Sensitive?" he asked.


Richelieu, turning, saw Mazarini's raised eyebrow and smiled. "Monsignor, you are the man I crossed wits with at Lyons three years ago, not so? Perhaps I might be candid. Sub rosa, and the understanding between us that neither shall bear rancor for what passes here today?"


"Oh, surely." Mazarini permitted himself a broad smile. "Do any of those who were present at Lyon bear rancor?"


Richelieu's face missed not a beat, segueing into a worldly, knowing chuckle. "Ah, yes. Two of my dupes. I am sure that neither bear any rancor, where they are now. I feel sure they have more burning concerns."


Mazarini was impressed by that. Discussing the execution of two men who had been to all appearances his faithful allies, Richelieu actually twinkled. "Perhaps, Cardinal. But you were mentioning candor?"


Rubbing it in to begin with would not hurt. After all, the cardinal had asked specifically that neither party take offense. Mazarini harked back to what Cardinal Maurice of Savoy had told him about Richelieu: He must be made to feel that the decision depends on him alone. And there was little to achieve that better than an initial resistance.


"Candor, yes." Richelieu's eyes grew hooded. "I have something quite outlandish to suggest."


"I am sure, Your Eminence, that this room—" Mazarini waved at a wall at random "—and Servien back there has heard more outlandish propositions these last few weeks. And will again. Does not the delegation from Grantville arrive here in a few weeks?"


Richelieu smiled thinly. "Etienne is behind there," he said, pointing at the wall opposite that at which Mazarini had waved. "He and his clerk take notes. So much more discreet a man than his cousin at the Ministry of War."


Mazarini noted that Richelieu had neither confirmed nor denied what the Holy See's spies claimed to have discovered. "And Your Eminence's proposition?"


"Do you read English?"


"Very well, of late."


"Perhaps I might trouble you—" Richelieu opened a cabinet and took out a thick volume fringed with ribbon bookmarks, "—to read the passage I have marked."


Mazarini frowned at the volume as he took it. It was new, and well made, apparently the work of a Parisian bookbinder. He riffled the pages; they were printed on the smooth and slightly marbled Turk's-paper that French bibliophiles loved so well. He looked inside the front cover to see that the frontispiece was—his eyebrows shot up. "From 1991?" he asked, looking up at the cardinal.


"Just so. I have had printed copies made and more securely bound." A slight sneer. "Whatever else the next three hundred years may bring, improvements in bookbinding were not among them. The books we have from Grantville began to fall apart quite quickly. I needed copies to refer to, and to distribute to . . . various persons. Hand-copying would have engaged every stationer and monk in Paris for weeks and the originals were too fragile to pass around. So I ordered them typeset and the illustrations carefully cut by the best engravers I could find."


"Just so," Mazarini echoed. "And the passage to which Your Eminence wishes to direct my attention?"


"Ah, I do apologize. I began to muse on other matters. Permit me—" Richelieu leaned over to flip a page open by a bookmark. "Here," he said, tapping a bold-face heading.


Mazarini looked. It read: Mazarin, Cardinal Jules.


Mazarini focused his eyes on it, confirming that—as with other versions he had seen—they had gotten his birth date wrong. Two days, but still—


He looked up at Richelieu. "I have read this. Or one much like it."


"They are all much alike, that I have seen."


To keep silence now, that was painful. Mazarini could not. "I have spoken with—I have spoken with a number of people—"


And the words dried up. He felt his palms start again with sweat, his pulse hammer in his ears. The abstract—the dry statement of a textbook that spoke of a future world, that spoke of events that would not happen for years to come—was as nothing next to a living, breathing prince of the church directing that he read the future course of his life.


Richelieu took pity on him. "You will have heard, perhaps, that I made a number of promotions rather earlier than"—he took in the cabinet with a languid wave—"these texts say that I would have done?"


"And when last we met you offered then that I might come into—" Again, the sudden drying of the mouth. This time, the words came after only a slight fumble "—your confidence?"


Mazarini wondered that the cardinal did not hear the thunder of his heart. It was like holding the perfect hand at cards, hoping against hope that the betting could be run up to higher and higher levels without—but Richelieu was nodding, slow and liquid, dreamlike, as if under water.


"Confidence," mused the cardinal. "As good a word as any. Knowing what you would do, what you are capable of. I saw some of it at Lyon—I greeted you thinking you came to spy, not to treat, convinced you adhered wholly to my king's enemies. Two hours and you had convinced me of much that turned out to be for the good of everyone involved. And then your theatrical coup at Casale—magnificent!"


"Your Eminence is too kind."


"Ah, Monsignor, but what you will do—it justifies your promise now, if my humble opinion counts for anything. Yes, justifies it amply. Revolution, war, heresy—through all of these to make France the great power of Europe for a hundred years." A sigh, and a deep one. "And for nothing."


"Your Eminence?"


Richelieu smiled in response, small and sad, suddenly wearing every one of his years. "Neither of our other selves was to know. Not Cardinal Richelieu, nor the Cardinal Mazarin who succeeded him so capably. While we made France anew in the image of a beautiful, strong, holy nation, the English simply spread out over the world and . . . stole it."


Mazarini nodded. The governance of the English might be in the hands of fools and outright villains more often than not, but there was no denying the inventive, indefatigable wanderlust they seemed to imbibe with their mothers' milk. Or the roving commission of violent larceny each Englishman seemed to grant himself as soon as he could walk. Other nations fought the Algerine or the Dunkerker to suppress piracy. For the English, it was to serve the competition a bad turn.


How typical of such, thought Mazarini, to steal the whole of a future, for there was much in what Richelieu had said that he had seen in the little of the future's history that Harry Lefferts had known. Harry had cheerfully admitted having paid precious little attention to his studies, but his every act and thought spoke of the domination of the Anglophone peoples of the world he had come from.


On the other hand, that hegemony had also created Grantville. On which, Mazarini reminded himself, he had felt called to wager so much.


"I see," was all he said.


Richelieu nodded. "I will not find extravagance of use, here and now, will I? I should keep my hat on, not so?"


Mazarini smiled. He remembered the theatrics Richelieu had displayed himself at Lyon, tearing off his hat and stamping on it. The cardinal as well as the monsignor could take pleasure in executing a coup de theatre. 


"You wish time to think about this?"


And there it was, finally, laid out as clearly as possible. In another world, another future, another universe, Richelieu had groomed Mazarini—by then known as Jules Mazarin—to be his successor. And such a glorious career he had had, under that Francofied name! Reckoned, in the annals of France, to have been the equal of Richelieu himself.


There were precious few ministers of state in the history of the world whose names would be remembered by any but antiquarians centuries later. Richelieu was one of them. Mazarin, another.


"If you please, yes." With those words, Mazarini felt himself grow cool, more ordered.


"There is no urgency," said the cardinal. "For the time being you have obligations as nuncio extraordinary, and doubtless there are many with calls upon your time."


Mazarini nodded. "Monsignor Bischi's office has much work for me, augmenting the regular offices of the nunciature here. And I find my lodgings with le comte de Chavigny most congenial."


"Ah, yes. Young Leon is very much the coming man among my creatures, you know. A promising young fellow, very much in the image of his father. I understand he and young Monsieur Lefferts found much in common?"


Mazarini grinned. "I fear I may not mention much of what they found in the presence of a churchman of Your Eminence's famed piety."


Richelieu chuckled. "There are times when I do feel my age, all—what—forty-eight years of it? I remember when it was thought that I would follow His Majesty's colors rather than take the cloth—oh, the stories I would hear of military debauchery."


"I could tell you more than one such of Harry Lefferts. A man to watch, that." Mazarini smiled at the memories. Now that Harry was leaving, he could afford to do so. Granted, the disemboweling of Agnelli had been perhaps excessive. Then again, Agnelli had been a notorious bully and there had been few, even in Rome, who had mourned his passing. Had he been an outraged husband or father, sentiment would have been different. But Agnelli had simply been a rival for a lady's affections—and one whose own past conduct did not bear close examination.


"As are all the Americans." There was a trace of acerbity in the cardinal's voice. "I shall be meeting some of them in a few weeks, sent by way of an embassy, if my intendants report aright. Apparently they propose to send the wife of their president, Monsieur Stearns. I do look forward to—" Richelieu shook his head. "But you have met the young lady."


"She is charming, of that there is no doubt. Very intelligent and well read, also." Mazarini shrugged. "As a diplomat? Hard to say. She is certainly pleasant to talk with, as well as look upon."


He choked the rest off. Richelieu had almost, he realized, drawn him out into the betrayal of confidence—even by what might be inferred from what he said. None other of the notables he dealt with would cause him to speak so. It was, he felt, unfair to require a diplomat of his comparative youth to deal with beautiful women in the course of his work. What could he say, after, that could not be misconstrued?


Richelieu interrupted his indignant reverie. "While we are on the subject of diplomats, has Sable spoken with you? He has a few things he wishes to discuss about our deployments in northern Italy."


"Sable? Oh, you mean the cousin of—" Mazarin waved at the wall behind which Richelieu's dark-lanternist lurked. It made sense to refer to the senior Servien by his marquisate de Sable when there was room for confusion. Although the near-invisible man in the next room could hardly be confused with the elder Servien in the flesh. The instantly forgettable factotum was one creature. The caustic, bombastic military intendant Mazarini had met at Casale could scarcely be credited to have come from the same family. "Yes, he has sent me a note on the subject. There are doubtless some small issues along the Pinerolo border that we must discuss. Tiresome, but necessary."


"Now, to change the subject. Have you been presented to Her Majesty?" Richelieu returned from the window and perched on the edge of his desk.


"Formally? Naturally, when I arrived. I have not had the pleasure of closer acquaintance, as yet."


"If you will forgive an old prelate's idle curiosity," said Richelieu, stroking a little at his beard, "does the monsignor speak Spanish at all well?"


Mazarini inclined his head in mock modesty. "Your Eminence is perhaps aware that I spent some time in study in Madrid, and learned the language there?"


Richelieu held up a hand. "Of course, of course." He was waxing positively avuncular, and Mazarini felt a sudden twinge of unease. "Her Majesty is a native speaker, and takes great delight in being so addressed."


"Indeed?" Mazarini raised an eyebrow.


"Oh, indeed." Richelieu rose from his desk. "If the monsignor will do me the honor of accompanying me to the Louvre this evening, Her Majesty will be holding an informal levee, where I would be honored to effect a more personal introduction. Her Majesty will be pleased to make your acquaintance, I think. You have something about you of someone she once held very dear. Yes, very dear indeed."


* * *


As Richelieu's carriage bore them to the queen's levee, Mazarini had time to ponder his situation. He and Harry Lefferts had set out from Grantville almost half a year before, barely a week after the Americans had fought successfully no fewer than three prongs of attack that had threatened to eradicate them.


Harry had been an officer in the American army that had defeated many times their number at Eisenach, and the next duty he had been given was to accompany Mazarini back to Rome. Mazarini had talked with the President of the United States about Harry before leaving Grantville.


"Monsignor," Mike Stearns had said, weary and rambling, "I've had any number of folks give me lectures about how this place ought to be defended. The longest one was from the guy I'm sending with you. What he thinks isn't my position, frankly. I want to see the new United States prosper, and since King Gustavus is right here it's him I'm talking with. But what I want isn't Fortress America, like Harry thinks we should do. I think it'll be good for him to see why not, eh? And for the people who think there's a military solution to what the United States represents in this time and place, well, I think it'll be good for them to hear Harry talk about what we're capable of."


After that, Stearns' wife Rebecca, the Jewess, had taken over. She had had more to say, and in more detail, and had put the Grantville Constitution in terms Mazarini was more familiar with—passages from Plato and Marcus Aurelius, Machiavelli and Tacitus. It was pleasant to see that at least one of the members of the U.S. government had had a proper education.


It turned out that Harry was, like a lot of Grantville's natives, possessed of some Italian ancestry and knew a few words of the language. He was also nominally a Catholic, although Grantville's priest Father Larry Mazzare could not recall having seen him inside a church more than eight times in as many years. Midnight mass at Christmas—conspicuously filled with Christmas cheer—was about the limit of Harry's observance. And, come to that, his religion.


Mazarini didn't mind that so much. He had only lately even troubled to wear the dress that went with his being, technically at least, a clergyman. No more than a deacon with a couple of lucrative benefices to support him—and his expensive sisters and profligate father, he reflected—as he scrambled at the greasy pole of Europe's power politics.


A revolving greasy pole in a high wind, now that half of the old verities had vanished in the harsh glow of the Ring of Fire that had brought the up-time Americans. Mazarini, gambler, diplomat and showman that he was, had tried to slip a few cards off the bottom of the deck by opening a direct, unofficial channel with Grantville.


He had succeeded in that, certainly. In Grantville he had made friends, left one of his own behind as a contact there, been mightily impressed by the parish priest of the town and dined, with him, with the other pastors there who were all different kinds of Protestant. He had also seen Grantville's civilian population chew up and spit out more than a division of Croat horse, the most reckless and brutal light cavalry that Wallenstein had had under his command.


Mazarini had been impressed by the feat of arms. He had seen two wars at first hand, the first of them—the Valtelline War, to give it a bloodier name than it deserved—as a soldier himself. His captaincy in the papal regiment of the prince of Palestrina had largely been a garrison command, though; his main distinction was in being the only liaison officer sent to Gonsalvo de Cordoba who was not frightened or offended by the fiery Spaniard's rages. By the time of the real bloodletting of the Mantuan War he had been a papal diplomat.


He understood just enough to know how much nerve it took to stand and keep your head in the teeth of a cavalry assault. It had nothing to do with military training or nobility or the peculiar merits of any nation as a nursery of virtue. Just people who did what was needed to do right by the people beside them.


There were so many places in Europe where one found no one but the selfish and the self-glorifying, who wanted nothing better than to be—not even wolves, for wolves hunted in bands, but lone raptors—the better to eat the soft and weak they happened upon. Rare were the places where people felt themselves to be part of something greater and acted as such, individuals who felt the greater good in their bones so deeply that they would not even think to ask the questions that so troubled the philosophers of altruism. Grantville was such a place. Even Mazarini's cynical aide, Father Heinzerling, had taken to behaving more like a decent human being than a wild boar given the power of speech and walking upright.


Mazarini had come away impressed.


He had also come away with a mission. A mission, what was more, that might well see him humiliated by abjuration before the Inquisition, if the political winds did not blow right. Or worse, more imprisoned than not for the rest of his days, like that poor fool Campanella.


Father Mazzare, the parish priest of Grantville and a man who lived up to the vows of his ordination in a way that verged on sainthood by seventeenth-century standards, had asked Monsignor Mazarini, priest in name only, to carry books that showed three hundred years of the Church coming ever closer to curing the abuses that Luther nailed to that church door. And which showed the Church refining and developing its teaching and tradition and its understanding of Scripture to the point where wars became impossible to paint as wars of religion. If the catechism exhorted a man to reject nothing that was good or holy in the religion of others, where then for the call to burn heretics?


Either the light at the end of the tunnel of the Council of Trent or the blackest of heresies. The books had weighed little in the hands, but in the mind—oh, in the mind!


Mazarini was no theologian. For him, faith flowed naturally from all that was good in the world, was part of who he was and where he was from. But nevertheless he had had to examine himself closely as he picked his way through the unfamiliar doctrines by lamplight at inns on the way from Grantville to Rome. Had it not been for the cheerfully vicious earthiness of the young American with him—it was easy to think of him that way, despite there being only a few years between them—Mazarini felt sure his journey to Rome would have ended with him in the deepest of melancholy humors.


That journey had been easy enough. The year's campaigning had settled into the siege of Regensburg, so there were few enough soldiers about on the route he led Harry along. The difficulties of the trip had been those of finding decent inns and good horses. Harry had demonstrated himself a competent rider and, on the one occasion when bandits had accosted them in the Piedmont, an excellent shot. Other than that, no one had troubled with two respectable-looking and well-armed young men with no obvious wealth about their persons.


* * *


"We have arrived," announced Richelieu.


Mazarini looked up from his brown study. "Ah."


By the time he alit from the coach and followed Richelieu toward the palace entrance, Mazarini's good spirits were back. Yes, yes, it was all very difficult. Vexing to the soul, trying to the spirit, an endless palpitation of the heart.


It was also supremely exciting.


* * *


In person, in casual and intimate discourse, Mazarini found Anne of Austria quite a charming woman. The queen of France was now entering the eighteenth year of her marriage to King Louis XIII—a marriage that had taken place when she and her spouse had been merely fourteen years of age. By all accounts, the marriage was one of name only, and always had been.


Anne of Austria seemed to find Mazarini equally charming. Not surprising, really. In addition to his fluency in her native tongue, Mazarini was charming—as one would expect from a man who, despite being a year younger than the queen, was already a top diplomat in the service of the papacy. He was even—or so he had been told—fairly handsome.


So.


On his way back to his domicile after the levee, Mazarini had time to reflect on the full dimensions of Richelieu's offer. That the cardinal would wish to discreetly arrange an affair between a new protégé and Anne of Austria made perfect sense, of course—at least, a protégé intended for the highest honors. The marriage between Anne and Louis was childless and likely to remain so. In the absence of an heir, that meant the line of succession passed to the king's younger brother, the duc d'Orleans, better known simply as "Monsieur Gaston." And should Gaston ever ascend to the throne . . . 


No one had any doubt at all that the first act of the new king would be to send Richelieu to the executioner. Monsieur Gaston was a thoroughly treacherous schemer who had proved willing to ally with anybody to advance his designs upon the throne. Rebellious nobles, foreign enemies, anybody. That he had so far failed—quite miserably—was due to Richelieu's opposition and the cardinal's far greater skill in the savage infighting of French politics.


So.


 


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