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The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 39 - The Net Tightens

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 39 - The Net Tightens

The Net Tightens Just across, from the domestic scene in Jeanne’s apartments, a more martial one. The Comte Rochefort’s sargeant was sitting on the edge of the large table, while one of his men was engaged with a young woman. A tray of mugs and plates, all empty, sat on the table behind the sargeant. Without a knock, the door opened and three large gendarmes walked in. The sargeant stood, his hand on his sword. His companion, groped for but failed to reach his weapons, sitting on the table beyond the tray. “Calm down.” The gendarme captain said. The sargeant relaxed, and the young woman, disentangled herself from the trooper, and picked up the tray, heading for the door. The gendarme tapped her shoulder as she passed. “Bring us a few wet ones would you?” “Coming up.” She answered. “So, why are we so honoured to see you lot this evening?” The sargeant asked. “No hello? No, I’m pleased to see you? After all we’ve spent on you?’ He turned to his men, “There’s gratitude.” “Yeah, yeah, what’s up?” “Clearly, you lot aren’t. The world could be falling apart, and you’d never know, would you?” He pointed at the man who’d been cuddling the young woman. “We’ve been watching.” “Right. Then, I don’t need to tell you it’s all about to kick off.” The gendarme said, sliding his hands into his belt, and leaning back against the wall. His men, stood on one side of the door and by the window. The sargeant looked a bit nervous, but had lots of front. “Yeah, we’ve been told.” “Good. So, on pentecost morning, where are you lot going to be? I know, you won’t be in the palace, those stuck up shits in the Gardes, are too precious for that.” “Yeah, you’re right, we’ve been told to be on the road to Auxerre, ‘in case’.” The sargeant said, relaxing a bit. “In case? In case of what? Surely the Comte Rochefort, doesn’t doubt his friends in the Gardes Françaises?” The sargeant snorted, “I think he might.” “So why Auxerre?” “He thinks, the Comte Rochefort that is, la Motte, is going to bolt south. Fence the necklace in Switzerland, and head off to Spain.” “Seems a bit round about.” “He thinks the pantomime in Troyes, was because la Mote is from the south and so…” ‘So, he’ll go south to his friends?” “Exactly.” “What if I told you, he’s going to go north?” “If he gets away.” It’s the gendarme’s turn to laugh, “He’ll get away alright, I don’t know how yet, I don’t really care, what I want, is to catch him.” “And you think he’ll head north.” “Sure of it.” “Where are you going to be then?” “Senlis.” “The main road to Calais?” “The same.” “You seem pretty sure of yourself.” “He used to be my man, remember? They can hold him at every border, and in every large town within a thousand miles of Paris, and more. But, not in England.” The sargeant thought about that, and nodded after a bit. “Alright then, England. But why are you telling me, if you’re at Senlis? If he’s going to Calais…” and he held out his hand, as though it was a done deal. “Yeah, he’s heading to England, and I’d say Calais, lots of English there. But it’s not the only road out of Paris and I can’t put men on all the roads without letting him know, what’s up.” “So you want us to…?” The gendarme captain grinned, “Exactly, I want you, to cover for me.” “Even at the risk, we’ll get him?” “I’m sure he’s going to pass Senlis, but…” “But he might go by Boulogne.” The captain grinned again, and pointed at the sargeant, speaking to his men, “ You see boys, this is what I like to work with, clever chaps who can work things out, on their own.” The sargeant wasn’t impressed. “So you want us on the Paris, Boulogne road?” “I do.” “Where? Let me guess, Amiens?” “A fine town, good food, lots of girls and the beer.” He kissed his fingers, as the sargeant smiled. “But, what if our man, decides, the Boulogne road isn’t for him, and he’s gotten tired of northern beer, with all that Arrageois swill, in his belly. What, if he’s thinking, the crooked road out of Paris is clever, but the straight road is better?” “The sargeant frowned, “But, then he’ll go by Senlis.” The gendarmes captain shook his head slowly, “I don’t think so. I think, if he heads to Boulogne, he’ll turn off and move back to the Calais road.” “Where?” “Beauvais.” “Yeah, I can see that, but it’s a bit far from the Calais road, he’d be better hanging on until Amiens.” “Well reasoned. I don’t care. If he’s going to Amiens, he’s going to Beauvais. If he goes that way, you’ll get him there.” The sargeant was thinking, and agreeing, when his man piped up, but was forestalled by the return of the young woman with the fresh beer. They all shut up. She put the tray down, and waited for a moment, and then got the message. When she’d gone, they all turned to the sargeant’s man. He swallowed, realising he was the centre of attention. “I was just going to say, um, what if, what if you’re in cahoots with him and he’s really going by Auxerre?” The gendarme nodded and repeated, “What if we’re in cahoots with him? We worked with him and so, we do him a favour by tipping him off, in the biggest robbery in history? That it?” “Yeah.” Then he looked around the room, and developed the impression his Parisian colleagues were less than impressed, “I mean, you might…” “We might, it’s not out of the ball park. I don’t think it’s unrealistic. If you think that, you go to Auxerre, and wait for him there. I don’t give a shit. But I’ll let everyone know, if he passes through Beauvais, who’s to blame.” Warmed, by the not extreme rejection of his thoughts, the trooper followed up, “But what if, on the other hand, you want us to go the Auxerre, because you know he’s going by Boulogne?” The Captain turned to the sargeant, “That one would keep me awake at night.” The sargeant grinned, “I’ll have to run it past the bosses anyway, but I trust you.” “Like I said, I don’t give a shit. He could go a hundred ways out of Versailles and we’d have to put a ring of iron round it, to be sure. But I don’t think he’ll head south. Let me know.” They took a long steady drink of the beer, and left without speaking again, as the sergeant and trooper watched. When they’d gone, the sargeant looked at his man, and shook his head. “What?”

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 38 - The Plan of Escape

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 38 - The Plan of Escape

The Plan of Escape A floor-plan, exactly similar to the one the Colonel had used, was out on the dining table in Jeanne’s and la Motte’s, apartments in Paris. The conspirators were gathered round the table, Cagliostro, as usual, the maestro. “If they are going to be in the vestry, and that room just here,” he pointed, “that suits us just fine. Our carriage will be here, on the other side of the gates, the Colonel has decided, will be locked. They cannot pursue.” “But, how do we get out of the vestry?” Jeanne asked, and all eyes turned on Cagliostro. “The door.” He answered. All eyes returned to the plan, puzzled for a moment, and then la Motte waved his hand. “Which one? The Cardinal will leave through this one, the Gardes Françaises, will enter through that one?” The Italian smiled and pointed, “Neither of these. We will use this one.” He pointed at a piece of wall, in the chapel, marked as… a wall. The others looked, and then back up to to his face. Still the smile. “It is hidden. It is to allow the royal family to escape, should people who wish them ill, are at the main doors of the chapel. It is also why the gate, is placed where it is, to block the mob, or whoever, is following. The door is barred from the outside, except when the royal family are inside.” “How do you know about this?” Jeanne asked. “This is why I am with you, Jeanne, to know things, like this. The day the Bourbons go somewhere, with no plan to be somewhere else, is they day the monarchy will fall.” Jeanne agreed, and they all turned back to the map. “The Gardes, will not know, at first, we have departed and the door is handsomely barred from outside, as I mentioned. They will still be occupied with the Cardinal and we should be several miles away by the time the chase starts.” “I will have a change of horses and clothing, here.” Françoise began, pulling the plan of the palace complex away, to show a map of the countryside. “We will do everything in stages, including changing our clothes. I have relays here, here, and in Lens, to avoid your regiment.” “I will return to Paris. I am entirely innocent of your schemes.” Cagliostro said, and grinned at the company. “Later, I will join you in England, all being well.” “Do you have to be with us in Versailles, at all?” La Motte asked. “If there is no need, why take the risk?” Jeanne added. Cagliostro thought for a second or two and agreed, “I thought the Cardinal would get more confidence from my presence, but if not…” “I think you convinced him the other day, he trusts the jewellers.” “One less person to worry about, is one less person to worry about.” Cagliostro said. “The fewer the people, the less we attract attention.” said la Motte. “So we are here, they are coming in from there, what happens if they move early?” “That would be troublesome.” Cagliostro observed. “I can forestall any early intervention. Rochefort asked me to give the soldiers in the room a signal, I can tell these ones, I am to do the same for them.” Jeanne told them, keeping her eyes firmly on the map. La Motte and Cagliostro turned to look at her. “When are you supposed to give this signal?” La Motte asked. “Oh, I’ve told them I would enter the church through the main door, after the Cardinal had left the vestry. I thought it would buy us some time.” The Italian and la Motte looked at her, and then frowned almost in unison. “You have to tell us these things, we will not have much leeway.” Cagliostro chided her. “I know. I didn’t think it altered anything, as I wasn’t going to do it. Now, it’s bought us an opportunity, so it’s all good.” Said Jeanne still examining the map. “It has. I don’t wish to stifle your freedom to act, I only wish to know about it.” Cagliostro said. “Right,” La Motte, took things up again. “We are out and running for our lives on Françoise’s horses, changing clothes as we go. Can they overtake us? Will they guess where we are headed?” The Italian nodded, and ran his hand over the map. “I think they will not explicitly guess where we are going, I think they will chase every possibility. That, will take time.” “They could overtake us, if we headed to Calais and they guessed that, but they would have to fly like the wind.” Françoise said. “As it is, we are for Dunkirk. A ship will get there on Saturday evening and we should be on it by Sunday evening.” Jeanne was shocked, “Sunday evening? It is two hundred miles from Versailles, to the northern coast. Even riding without a break, we cannot get there faster, than twelve hours.” “It should take us twelve hours, forty five minutes. The ship leaves on the two AM tide, which gives us sixteen hours, end to end.” Françoise had not been idle. “And I have arranged to have food for us at Bapaume, short of where my regiment is garrisoned.” La Motte said, smiling at Françoise. “We then cut across to pass east of Arras, Lens, and head for Lille, and thence to Dunkirk.” The two others looked at the map, and then up at those who had laid out the plan. Jeanne smiled. “I will be sore.” “I will take pleasure, tending to your wounds madame.” La Motte said, taking her hand and kissing it. Françoise and Jeanne, were alone. Jeanne was sitting on her bed as Françoise packed things into boxes. She watched the younger woman, for a short while. “Françoise, before we start this, I just wanted to say, thank you.” “Before we start? I think you’re too late, we’re about to finish it.” And she smiled. “Yes, but… this is it. You could all still run away.” “And miss payday? Not likely. I put some of my own money into the clothes, and the horses, and the comte, put his into the ship. If we try to cut and run without a good reason… well.” “I didn’t realise. You could have asked me.” “I didn’t know you were flush, Jeanne, have you been holding out on us?” Jeanne coloured, “No, I mean… I would have if…” Françoise laughed and sat on the bed beside her, “I’m teasing. The Italian has stumped up, mostly from his mysterious ‘investors’. But the way out, I didn’t want to have anyone else near the arrangements, except for me, and the comte. Get that bit wrong, and you end up dancing on the end of a rope. No, thank you.” “Right, good thinking.” “Anyway, it’s been fun. More fun than running around a tavern after drunken customers. So really, I should be thanking you.” Jeanne smiled and agreed, “You’re right. Any time.” And they laughed. Françoise went back to her packing up, and Jeanne joined in, but couldn’t get away from thinking about the next few days, and hoping the choices she’d made, were for the right reasons, however they turned out.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 37 - Betrayal

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 37 - Betrayal

Betrayal Jeanne knew what she was heading into, now. She had a journey on which to decide which way to go. Pull out, and be exposed as a fraudster, and fallen woman, which might catch the Cardinal, but would more likely, brand her as a wicked liar, and him as a victim. Or press on regardless of cost and damage to others. She knew the outcome for her, would likely be poor in any event. The question was, could she bring down the Cardinal, and would others be caught with her? Did it matter? What she was planning was a betrayal, but compared with the betrayal visited on her sister, and avenging that, it was nothing. Revenge, was now all that mattered to her. It was late when her carriage entered the grounds at Versailles. The Queen, Rochefort, and the Gardes Français Colonel, all were waiting for her. As before, the corridors had been cleared of staff and courtiers, and Jeanne made her way through silent halls, a ghost in a haunted house. The gentlemen stood, as she entered. Rochefort even held a chair for her, perhaps they interpreted her exhaustion, as distress. “You have news for us, madame?” the Queen asked. She nodded. “We saw his Eminence this evening, he is confirmed in his desire, to bestow a gift upon your Majesty.” The two officers exchanged a look, as though this confirmed their view of how matters would proceed. “And, when am I to receive this gift?” “He has suggested Pentecost Sunday, madame. He is to concelebrate mass for the court. Afterward, he thought you could meet, he would then give you the gift.” “Might I know what is in store, or is that to be a surprise?” “The Du Barry necklace, madame.” For the first time, since she had intervened in the plot, the Queen coloured, looking less than composed. She turned to each of the officers, her hand tapping on the table beside her provided a sharp accompaniment. “He knows my feelings, about that item. He knows, because he was there the last time I rejected it.” Jeanne looked exasperated. “He believes, madame, that underneath, you truly desire it. That your rejection was a necessary, public pose. I understand, the makers of the necklace, may have painted a rosier picture of your views, in an effort to assuage their embarrassment, on the night of your rejection.” “I was warned, by the Comte and the Colonel, here, that it might well be the objective of this little scheme. Your husband, it seems, has a relationship with the necklace. Did you know of this?” Jeanne looked shocked, “Madame, I had not known of the necklace, before the Cardinal suggested, and described it to me. I do not think my husband has any designs on it, truly.” Rochefort leaned forward, “Madame, I believe he stopped the Jeweller’s coach one evening on the road to Paris, in an attempt to make away with the necklace. He was forestalled by my intervention, and a subterfuge on the part of monsieur Bassenge.” “Madame, I have not heard of this before.” Jeanne was adamant. “I believe you madame, it is hardly a story to captivate the heart of a young woman, is it?” the Queen said. “Neither was that the first time, I had come across monsieur la Motte, in connection with the necklace.” Rochefort continued. Jeanne coloured at the dropping of her husband’s title, but said nothing, “He was caught, in the atelier of Boehmer and Bassenge, earlier that same year when he held up the coach. He got away that time, because of some, cock and bull story, about a young lad, and having, he himself, stopped a robbery.” “Was anything missing, from the stock?” Jeanne asked, all concern. “No madame. Your husband is many things, but he is not a fool.” Rochefort answered. The Queen tapped the table, “Gentlemen, we have a plan to deal with this?” “Madame, we do.” The colonel agreed. Leaning across the table he pulled out a plan of the church, and associated apartments. He straightened the page and smoothed its surface, aware he was now centre stage. “This is the church. Here, the vestry. The King, and you madame, with your family, the court following, will enter as usual from here. I would like to place a small troop in this room, three chambers away. Also, after the Cardinal has entered the church, to have six men occupy the vestry. In this way, there will be no way out of the the area.” “What of the danger of discovery?” The Queen asked. “We will lock the doors.” The Queen looked shocked. “Does that not bring up the chance, people will end up locked inside?” “Madame, the chamberlain will be with us, he will have the key. In any case there are several keys, so no danger of a loss or a mistake.” He turned to Jeanne, “Where will the Cardinal receive the necklace, madame?” “I thought, in Paris.” “That must not be. Get him, to insist they bring it to Versailles, and exchange it here, in this way la Motte and his confederates, will be here, as well.” Jeanne agreed. “If they exchange in the Vestry, the troop entering it will scoop them up.” “Will you have men outside?” The Queen asked. “No need madame, and it risks giving away our plan. We will lock the chapel gate giving any fugitives limited scope to escape.” And she smiled. She turned to Jeanne. “You see your part in this?” “I do, madame.” “If all goes to plan, you will not be charged. An innocent, caught up in a scandalous affair.” “And the Cardinal?” “ ‘And the Cardinal, madame’, Jeanne.” “Yes madame.” “The cardinal, will be exposed for what he is, and possibly prosecuted for treason.” “Treason?” Jeanne's eyes widened. “Trying to seduce the Queen, treason, no?” she said to Jeanne. “Madame, I wish to see the Cardinal, actually being arrested.” The Queen and the officers exchanged looks, and the Queen agreed with a smile, as though something had been confirmed. “You may, Jeanne.” “Thank you, madame.” Rochefort leaned in again, “If you seat yourself in the nave, with the officers, you will see as much as any.” “I cannot stay in the Vestry? So I will have to enter through the usual door.” “Indeed.” Rochefort agreed. “If the gate is locked, how will I get from one to the other?” “Why would you be on that side, madame?” “The Cardinal, will want the surety of my presence, monsieur.” He thought about that, and the colonel suggested, “We could lock the passageway between these apartment, and the front of the building, after you’ve passed” “So I can walk through here, and move to the front?” “Yes, In fact, you will arrive after the court has moved inside. You can signal to the men, in the main room, that all is ready.” “How?” “A quick knock on the door, should suffice.” She smiled, “I think I understand. Alright.” “You have no concern about your husband’s arrest?” The Queen asked. “You should have none madame, he is a liar and a scoundrel.” Rochefort said. “I have also discovered, he is an adulterer, madame. So, no, no concerns, madame.” The Queen tilted her head in question. “The maidens of Arras, where his regiment is stationed, madame.” Jeanne answered. Rochefort sat back and relaxed, “Good, we’ve got him.”

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 36 - Bait

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 36 - Bait

Bait “Will your man be there? I, of course trust them, but, you can never be too careful.” “I have been informed, he will be here.” “And, he knows his business?” “He does, Eminence.” “Good, good.” He was nervous, and try as she might, Jeanne had struggled to calm him down. The trouble was, she wasn’t sure of the source of the nerves. They had arranged to meet, with Boehmer and Bassenge, at the Cardinal’s apartment, so he could look over the necklace once more, and so that an expert could confirm, the jewels were in fact, what they appeared to be. The expert, had been recommended by a lady known to Jeanne at the court, and so, of course, he was trust-worthy. Jeanne, was not nervous. She was sure the necklace would be as impressive as it had been, that first night she had seen it. That night, it had lived up to the description she had heard, from one of the friends, of the friends, of Madame du Barry, for whom it had been made. It was whispered now to be a cursed thing. A whisper, Jeanne hoped would be true, a curse, on this cleric. The Cardinal paced the room, and Jeanne sipped at her coffee. He stopped, and searched the room with his eyes, until they landed on Jeanne, and he relaxed a tiny bit. “You are so calm, madame.” “I am in no peril, Eminence. Why would I be otherwise?” “That, is of course true, and I am likewise in no danger, yet I fret.” “Why so?” “What if it is not as I remember? What if, it could not please so high a lady?” “But you have an excellent memory, Eminence. These jewellers are used to catering to the whims of high ladies. It was you who said to me, they know their craft, and so it is, monsieur, they do, all of Paris attests to it.” He thought and nodded slowly, “Well, you are right. I am pointlessly nervous. Anyway, if I should decide it is not enough, then I shall go on looking. I shall find the perfect emblem of my feelings for her majesty. I shall.” This last, almost to himself. Jeanne wanted to jump up and shout at him, pour scorn on his affections for a woman he scarcely knew, and who he could never touch in any case. A woman, who despised him and everything he stood for. She wanted to beat him to a pulp, for his arrogance, for his depravity, for his lack of the very things, he was supposed to uphold, for her cold and dead young sister. Instead, she smiled and sipped her coffee. “We will know soon enough, Eminence.” She said. A knock on the door and his man was standing, just inside. “Eminence, Signor Cagliostro.” “Send him in, send him in. Jeanne, he is here.” The Cardinal’s man appeared again, and held out his hand, presenting the Italian. “Monsieur, so pleased to make your acquaintance.” Said the Cardinal. Cagliostro bowed, walked over to the Cardinal, and kissed his ring. “I am honoured, your Eminence.” “Yes, yes. You come highly recommended, are you as good as they say?” “Eminence, that depends on what they say. If it is needlework, I can assure you I am no good at all. If, they are talking about knowledge of precious stones, I am the very best there is.” The Cardinal frowned at first, and then realised the first part was a joke, he breathed out in a way that might be supposed was a laugh, but then went on, “You know your craft. Good, I need someone I can trust absolutely.” “I understand the items are being supplied by the house of Boehmer?” “Yes, they are, what have you heard? I know nothing of these things.” “Eminence, they are the most reputable house in Paris. You do not, really, need my services at all. If they show you a ruby and say it is true, and weighs so many carats, then it is so.” “Carats?” “A description of the weight of a precious stone, Eminence.” The Cardinal smiled, reassured, “Jeanne, has told me they could be trusted, and my man also, but I need reassurance.” “That, I can certainly provide, Eminence.” “I believe you can, good. They should be here presently.” And, as though awaiting these words, the Cardinal’s man was at the door again. He opened his mouth to speak, but the Cardinal was quicker. “Just show them in…” The usual bustle of tradesmen arriving to show a new product was amplified, by the value of the goods and the status of the inspector. This was no cook or footman. Though they had met him before, the two master craftsmen, made a great deal of the greeting. It was a well worn routine. “Eminence.” First one, and then the other, bowing and ring kissing. The man behind them, whom they had brought only to carry cases, made no such fuss, and received no recognition. He put the cases on the table and withdrew with ne’er a sound. The revolution was a few years away, his time would come. Boehmer made a performance of arranging the cases, though of course they had been asked to show only one. He set them out and opened each one, as though it were the prized item. Finally, the last and largest case’s spring-loaded locks were sprung, and the cover removed. Bassenge, standing at one end of the table grinned, and Boehmer stepped back, allowing the light to catch the carefully arranged necklace. It had the desired affect, and the Cardinal audibly drew his breath. It was certainly more spectacular, than the last time he had been shown it. The cleric approached, and walked round the display. The intent had been to create a small exhibition, a part of the atelier, here in the Cardinal’s apartment, and it worked. He bent over the necklace shaking his head. He stood, and beamed at the men, but then, he immediately turned to Cagliostro and pointed at the piece. The two jewellers looked surprised. Cagliostro bowed to them. “Messieurs, I have been asked to do, what of course we all know to be, unnecessary, and look over the stones. I have no expectation of disappointment. With your permission?” He waited, and the two men looked at each other, in silent consultation, but then gave their consent. Cagliostro took out his loup and placed it in his eye, and then, fixing his hands behind his back, he bent over the necklace. He drifted from stone to stone, taking his time before going back to the largest stones. He sighed and then stood, dropping the loup into his hand. He faced the Cardinal. “Eminence, I took so long, only because it is rare to set eyes on so fine an example of workmanship, and such wonderful specimens of gem. It is perfect. Thank you Gentlemen.” He bowed to the men. The Cardinal’s smile could not be wider. “It is alright you say?” “It is better than alright, Eminence.” “You haven’t seen the like?” “Never in my life, in any country, and I am widely travelled.” The Cardinal stared, everyone waited, and then he turned to Boehmer. “Excellent. I had no doubts, of course, but you were so persuasive that night, when you described the fake you gave to the thief, I had to make sure. You understand.” The two smiled. “But of course Eminence, having an expert look over our work, is only ever a pleasure.” “You know Monsieur Cagliostro?” Doubt suddenly clouded the Cardinal’s face. “Only by reputation, Eminence, we would not normally have occasion to meet.” “I see.” Then he turned to Jeanne, “Well madame, you have a question to ask the lady. I am certain, this is the gift I wish to bestow.” She curtsied, to all of the gentlemen, and made her way out. The Cardinal turned to the men. “You will perhaps join me for a light meal?” The all accepted as Jeanne left. Boehmer and Bassenge, began to cover their wares. Already in the carriage awaiting her arrival, were Françoise and la Motte. Jeanne climbed in and made herself comfortable, waiting until they were moving before speaking. She smiled. “And?” La Motte asked. “And, if the Queen accepts the gift, he will try to make sure she gets it.” “Do you know I think she just might accept.” He said. Françoise grinned, “You are so insightful monsieur, when it comes to the hearts of women.” “I am. Do you not agree madame?” “It has been my experience so far monsieur.” Jeanne agreed. “Do you have to go all the way to Versailles?” He asked. “If I do not, and those watching communicate this to de Rohan, we are done.” “Alright, we will descend before we leave the city. Be careful. You have excuse enough to visit?” “I do.” He nodded, Françoise looked anxious, he, concerned. “Last chance.” “You know my reply.” He looked out of the window as they turned into one of the smaller streets, before knocking on the wall behind him, the carriage stopped, and he and Françoise left. The carriage started up again and Jeanne began to consider the ordeal ahead.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 35 - A gift for a Queen

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 35 - A gift for a Queen

A Gift for a Queen When she’d arrived at the Cardinal’s home in Paris, she found him, in an adolescent fever. He had been up, all of the previous night, and most of the day, alternating between writing poetry, mercifully burning now in a small fire, and worrying over the rose, he had handed to the Queen. He had decided very firmly, he was in love, and he suspected, the Queen had also fallen for him. In that light, what he had thought of, as a peace offering, was now inadequate. “The rose was all I could see.” “A gift from nature, is never wrong, Eminence.” “But it is a commonplace, Jeanne. The Queen is surrounded with flowers, inside and out.” “She does love them, and you said, she seemed pleased, said, she would prize it, ‘when next she thought of you,’ ” Jeanne added to the downcast cleric. “Yes, you’re right. But I need to give her something more…” “Meaningful, Eminence?” “More permanent, Jeanne. Something, that will speak of who I am. Like a statue. With a religious theme, perhaps” “Where would she put it, Eminence?” “She has gardens.” “A bit… indiscreet, no?” Jeanne asked, her eyes widening at the thought, of the size of what he might be thinking. “I suppose. No, you’re right, we need something more personal, something she can wear. Like a dress?” “Queen’s change their clothes several times a day, Eminence.” “You’re right. Still, something she can wear, but not clothing.” Jeanne became silent, quietly waiting for the spasm to pass. They had hoped, to get this opportunity, but he was all over the place. She couldn’t be sure any suggestion, would stick, if it came from her. And then, an inspiration came to the Cardinal. “Jewellery, Jeanne, all women like jewellery, don’t they?” “Yes Eminence, I suppose.” Worried he would suggest his ring. “What? You don’t like jewellery?” “Oh yes, but the Queen has so many, rings and such. I can’t think of how you might commission something outstanding enough, but not, too outstanding, I suppose.” He searched her face, as though seeking an answer to all of his questions there. Her hand clutched at her neck, bare of adornment. “A necklace, Jeanne.” “Well, yes, but she has a necklace for every evening of the year, Eminence. How could you get one that was unique?” “Unique.” He grinned, held up his forefinger, “I know exactly what, and exactly where, if they haven’t disposed of it. It is the perfect gift, better than perfect. There is only one very small problem.” “Oh?” “The price.” She frowned, “What necklace, is more than you could afford?” “ ‘The most valuable necklace in Christendom’, Jeanne.” “I don’t know of anything like this, Eminence.” “Have you heard of the atelier, of Boehmer and Bassenge, Jeanne?” “Yes, everyone has.” “One night, it is some time ago now, I was sharing a carriage with them, and we were held up.” “Held up? The roads in Paris are always so busy.” “No, not held up, held up!” and he pointed with his finger, as if it were a pistol. Jeanne lifted her hand to her mouth, “No! Who?” “I don’t know, we were saved by the Comte Rochefort, he seemed to know who he was after.” “So did the villain take much, was he caught?” “He thought he did. He was after a necklace, made by the two gentlemen. But they gave him a fake. The man got away I believe, I never heard if he was caught.” “But he stole a fake?” “Oh, yes. A very good one. Later, they showed me the real thing.” “And, was it pretty?” “Pretty? Jeanne, it was exquisite. It was made for the late King and so, of course, the Queen could not accept it.” “The Queen has rejected it?” “She has.” “But then…” “I have been informed, that she would truly like to have it, but, if she were to accept it, as an item to purchase, it would be, well, tainted, not right for one such as she. Perhaps extravagant.” “I suppose.” “But, and here is why I believe it is perfect, if were given to her as a gift, then…” “Then it would be proper, and she could wear it. If it were from you, it could betoken more, than it seems, to the world at large.” Jeanne wondered. “Exactly as I thought, Jeanne.” Jeanne frowned, “But then, Eminence, can it cost so much, that even you would struggle to pay for it? Who could you persuade to pay for it, instead?” “That is the conundrum. It is possible, the gentlemen could be talked into a reduction in price? They are desperate to be rid of it. I think.” “That sounds hopeful.” “Mmmm, I shall try that. But if not then…” and he shrugged. “First thing is first, can you find out if the Queen would accept it?” “Certainly.” She brightened and added, “This will be nice, to bring such good news to a Queen.” De Rohan smiled.”We could ask in a letter, but you suggested she might…” “I think, it would not be right, to write down this request, if it were to fall into the wrong hands, we must be discreet above all.” “Good.” He smiled to himself, and looked round the room as though expecting the Queen to be there , and when she wasn’t, he sighed. “I think I shall go to bed.” “You do not wish me to stay, Eminence?” He looked at her and thought about it, but then shook his head. “Jeanne, you have been a wonderful diversion, and a great help, but my heart is set on…” She smiled, “I understand Eminence, how could I compete, with a Queen?” He smiled back, “Exactly, exactly.” Jeanne, was in the bedroom of her apartments in Paris. She was sitting, looking out at the dark evening, the skyline of the city, just visible across the narrow street. The room, empty. A set of rosary beads, running through her fingers, but, if she was praying, she was not doing so visibly or audibly. The candle beside her, guttered and died. She looked at the thin line of smoke as it drifted up, before being caught by a draft, as a door opened outside the room. She turned, to see if the opening would produce a visitor. The handle turned slowly, quietly, and the door drifted open. La Motte, looked round the edge of the door, and seeing the bed empty he stepped in. He looked, she thought, disappointed. She moved, and he jumped in surprise. “My God!” She laughed. “I thought the room empty.” “It was not.” “Yes, I can see that now. You are no longer passing your nights with his Eminence?” “I have been thrown over.” “Cast aside for a Queen, is not quite being thrown over, Madame.” “I am curiously untroubled, by the slight.” He smiled, and came across the room to sit on the edge of the window, with her.’ “Marie-Ann… I’m sorry.” This being their first meeting since her sister’s death. Jeanne shrugged, “Just another young woman, dying because of rich men.” “Not ‘just’, Jeanne.” “He’ll pay. But he is one among many.” “You suggested the purchase to him?” “He suggested it himself.” “Really?” “Really.” She lightened, “You also featured in the conversation.” “How so?” “It was the tale of the night, of your last attempt to get the piece, by a more direct route.” “Ah yes, he was there. He provided the means to have a few hearty meals, even if the jewellers, failed to provide for me, the item requested.” “Mean of them.” “I thought so.” “The Cardinal was generous?” “Very. I had no complaints.” They fell silent, and just looked at each other. A tear formed in her eye, and he reached out to her. She leaned into his hand and he put his arms round her. “We can still, just leave.” Silence, and then he could feel her body stiffen, and she shook her head, “I will see them held up to the world, and shown to be what they are; and, I want the storm it brings, to sweep them away.” “We will have to be nimble, if we are not to be caught in its wake.” “They have taken everything from me.” He pushed her back, still holding her, looking into her eyes, “Not everything. If you will have it.” She looked at him and a gentle, sad, smile drifted across her face, “I have no room. My heart is filled with the pain of loss.” He took her back in his arms, and held her. “I can wait.” They sat together in the darkness, looking out at the rooftops she used to use as a highway. All she could think of, was how simple the world seemed then, and how that had been snatched away by people, who counted others as nothing. Round and round her mind went, never escaping the pull of her loss, never trying to get away from the cold pain, or warming itself at the fire, offered by her need for revenge.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 34 - A Garden Tryst, Versailles

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 34 - A Garden Tryst, Versailles

A Garden Tryst, Versailles “I do not understand why we cannot meet her?” Cagliostro said, setting the argument going round the houses, once more. Jeanne was getting ready to join the Cardinal on a trip to Versailles that evening, to meet, none other, than the Queen. Certainly, that was what he, had been led to believe. The Italian had been fretting over the identity of the woman, he wanted to meet, check her commitment to the scheme and, her ability to pull it off. “He knows the Queen, Jeanne. He has known her since she was very young. This will not be easy.” “I know. Do you not think I have thought of this? It is why, it must be a lady of the court. It must be, someone who knows the Queen, very well, and can pretend to be her.” “If she is prepared to do that, then why can we not meet her?” He pressed. Françoise watched the tennis, back and forth, as she helped Jeanne get ready. Having been told already, she knew nothing, when she spoke in support of Jeanne, she was in a bit of a sulk. “Because, as I have said, this lady is, a lady. She would not, for anything, associate with people like, ‘us’, and she certainly would not involve herself in a scheme, like this. If she so much as sees you, or my dear husband, she will be gone, and we will be locked up.” “How can she take such a risk then?” “Because, she thinks this a joke on the Cardinal, and she doesn’t believe she will be in any trouble, if the Queen finds out.” “But she will find out, in the end.” “In the end.” Françoise stopped what she was doing, and took a moment to be very shocked, before saying, “But, will she get in trouble then?” Now Jeanne stopped, and thought, “Maybe, I doubt it. No one knows of this, but the Cardinal and I, and he thinks it’s the Queen.” She shrugged. Françoise had noticed the change in Jeanne over the last few weeks. She had become distant, and more brusque, less conspiratorial with her. Cagliostro was finding her new strength, difficult to deal with. “So we just have to trust, that, this ‘lady’, is both willing, and able, to see it through to the end?” He asked. “Yes. Look, I have more to lose than anyone. If it stops before the final play, I will be left alone, carrying the can. Will you jump forward, and tell the authorities how this was not my fault, that it was your idea, that I am a dupe, and should be let go?” He looked at her, struggling to formulate an answer. “No. I didn’t think so. I am trusting my life, to this woman. If I say she will carry it through, she will. That should be, that will be, enough.” She straightened in front of the mirror and gave a tug to the top of her dress. “Why will it not sit straight?” “Because, Jeanne, you keep pulling it.” Françoise said, and she straightened it. “There.” Jeanne looked and sighed, she closed her eyes for a second, and looked at Françoise and then smiled. “You are my rock.” Françoise curtsied. “Madame.” And Jeanne laughed, clearing the air. She turned to face a still anxious Cagliostro. “Monsieur, trust me. This lady, really can pass herself off as the Queen. I have seen her do it countless times, and she is faultless, even the Queen agrees. The Cardinal will be, well, I think he will be more frustrated than ever, frankly. But that, is all to the good.” The little Italian shrugged, “Alright madame, I do trust you, you know that. This is a dangerous game we are playing, and everything will come down to timing, and details.” “I know. I am ready.” “So it will be in the English garden?” “Yes Eminence, near the grotto.” “The grotto?” “Yes eminence” “I don’t know, the grotto.” “You know the Trianon?” “Of course. I have been there many times.” “The Belvedere pavilion, and the English gardens are nearby.” “I think I know the Belvedere, though, I have never been.” “It is very much the Queen’s domain, Eminence. The grotto, is a short walk from the pavilion . I will bring you.” “But then, you will leave us alone, Jeanne?” “Of course, Eminence. I would not dare to intrude, upon a conversation between two elevated people, such as yourselves.” “How long will I have with her?” “A few minutes only, she will steal the time from a game of hide and seek.” “Oh, such a brief moment, how will I be able to say what I wish, what my heart needs to say, Jeanne.” “Eminence, you will find a way. I suggest, you begin by listening.” “Of course, of course, that is the very essence of great conversation, I am told. My mother used to say it, but then, so did that fool… never mind. ‘Listen’. I shall take your advice.” He fretted all of the the way to Versailles, which is a long journey at the best of times, but Jeanne thought it interminable, that evening. Several times, her mind drifted back to the simplicity of a knife through the chest, or a hairpin through the throat. She’d heard about that, from a friend of her father’s, years ago. But those thoughts were foolish, and would not achieve what she now needed, hungered for. Finally, Versailles came into sight, the sun westering behind it. She had a brief panic, it would be too dark for their plan, and then she remembered, the moon was nearing full, and the sky was clear. “Jeanne, one thing does worry me still?” “Eminence?” “This business of the mask. Are you sure it is, really necessary?” “The Queen insisted upon it. I believe it is, in any event, part of the game they will be playing. She said, if you do not know her, in the mask she will be wearing, then none of the sentiments, you so ardently expressed in your letters, could be true.” “Ah, it is a test?” “I believe it is, Eminence. Of course, the Queen did not say so, explicitly.” “No, she would not Jeanne, ladies of her background are subtle and inscrutable, it is the refinement of blood, and the anointing of God, Jeanne. “Where is this? I have not been here before.” Still fretting. “I am surprised Eminence. This is the Orangery, I understand it to have been here for many years.” They passed to the rear of the the orangery. In the distance, they could hear the shrieks of women. The Cardinal frowned at each shriek and finally asked, “Are you sure these are shrieks of pleasure, they are most alarming.” “They are playing a game, Eminence. I understand it is the ladies of her majesty’s entourage only, they are a little freer in such circumstance, perhaps the younger ones a little less dignified than you are used to.” “Ah, when the cat’s away…” “Not, I think, the way the Queen would put it.” They turned past the front of the building, and followed one of the paths under the trees. The light from the moon being cut off, left the path darkened, and the Cardinal reached out for Jeanne’s arm. “I am unfamiliar with this part of the palace grounds, Jeanne. I would not like to trip. The Queen can afford to be undignified, I can not.” “You are alright, Eminence, but the paths here are very smooth.” The shouts grew louder as they turned a corner and the trees cleared a little, offering more light. “It is a wonderful night, isn’t it Jeanne?” “It is Eminence. Can you see the turn, just ahead?” “Yes.” “The grotto is to the right of that turn.” “Yes, I see.” “I will leave you here.” And she stopped. “You should go down to the grotto alone, and wait at the path which comes down from the upper part of the structure. You will see it.” “You’re sure?” “I am, Eminence. The Queen will not appear until you are there.” “But how can she know?” “She will know, Eminence.” “How long will she be?” “I’m not sure. She will come when she can, and leave when she must.” “Right.” Jeanne pointed to the path, and indicated he should walk along it. The Cardinal was not so certain. “And it is the Queen, Jeanne?” “Do not keep her waiting.” “No” He walked away then stopped and turned a little. “Thank you Jeanne.” He walked away, and Jeanne drew back into the shadows. As he walked, he began to practice what he would say. He berated himself, that the last meeting, and the several before, had been such disasters. But, that was in the past. This, was the reward he was going to receive for the generous favour he had done Jeanne. She had her marriage, and he had this chance at redemption. He arrived at the end of the path, and could see the grotto, caught in the moonlight, the pale light catching its stonework. He practiced. “Your Majesty, is as beautiful as when I saw her first, in Vienna… no, I thought the flowers beautiful, until your majesty’s presence… No, adolescent. Your Majesty, no words…” Hearing a noise behind him he turned. Standing in front of him, about ten metres away, a gold and white dress, hair back, though masked, every inch, the Queen. He fell to his knees, as though stricken, head bowed, eyes lowered. His voice gone, none of the lines he had practiced available. The Queen laughed. “Why Cardinal, you are more silent than at any time since I have met you. Have the years robbed you of your voice?” “Majesty, I am struck dumb by your presence alone.” “Well met, sir. Rise. Let us take a few moments around this pretty place, or have you become so devout that you prefer your knees?” “I would walk with your majesty forever, if you were only to ask.” “I had thought a turn around the grotto, Eminence, I hope that will suffice.” “Even so short a walk will be as an eternity to me.” “I am that dull?” “No,” he panicked , “I meant only to my heart, the smallest favour…” and he faded to silence, sure it was now a disaster. After a short pause. “You write well, monsieur.” “They are a poor expression of my sentiments, madame.” “Your sentiments differ from those expressed in your letters?” “In intensity, madame. I should perhaps try verse, I understand, the poets say it concentrates the words of the heart.” “Oh, eminence, we might go to far.” He brightened at this, seeming to think it a suggestion, “You think so?” “I think, monsieur, that your letters have moved me. If I can bring his majesty round, then we might see you in your proper place.” “In the course of our correspondence, I confess to have realised how deep are my feelings for you, madame.” “Since reading your letters, I too have tested the depth of my feeling for you, and been surprised at their depth.” The shrieking, ever present in the background, rose and fell, but was getting nearer. The Queen turned to listen. The Cardinal, on hearing the Queen’s words, dropped to one knee, touching the hem of her dress. “Madame.” She looked down at him, his head bowed. “Indeed Monsieur, were we not constrained by chains of propriety, and the law, who knows what I would not do.” From his sleeve he drew a rose and held it out to her, looking up all eyes and hope. “Could her majesty find it in her heart, to accept the humblest of gifts?” “Why Eminence, I shall place it, where I would one day wish you to be at court.” She took the rose and turned, walking up the path toward the grotto. As he lifted his head, it was to see her disappear round the corner in the grotto itself. He rose and looked around. On the point of following her, he heard a sound from behind. Jeanne stood there. “We should go, Eminence.” “Oh, but…” “She is gone Eminence.” “Do you think it went well?” “Who knows the heart of a woman?” They walked away. And the darkness under the trees enveloped them. A short while later, in one of the palace’s many small rooms, a cover was lifted and a rose dropped inside.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 33 - The Worst News

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 33 - The Worst News

The Worst News Try though she might, Jeanne had not been able to calm the sense that she was now into something over her head. It was not, that she felt sorry for the Cardinal, or even worried for her co-conspirators, it was the sense, she was not in control of events. Whether it was Cagliostro, or the Queen, she had the sensation she was part of someone else’s game, and she wasn’t sure of the rules. The Queen was a gambler, like many of her ladies at court. They understood and seemed to have developed a feel for chance. Jeanne, had spent much of her adult life trying to remove chance from it, having spent her childhood being bounced around on other people’s mistakes and weaknesses. She had tried very hard to make sure the she and Marie-Ann were isolated from other people, free from their ideas and plots. Most of all, free from their failings. Now, she wasn’t sure what the game was, and whether people were playing the same game. She didn’t know if she was a pawn, or a piece of value. She couldn’t guess how much the others, that is, la Motte, or Françoise, knew or understood what was the end, or how much was at stake. It was keeping her awake. So she did not need to be awakened, when Françoise called for to come to the main room, in the middle of the night. When she got there, a cold hand gripped her heart. Standing in the room were two sisters from the convent at Longchamp, both with serious faces. “What’s happened?” Jeanne asked. “If you could come with us, madame…” “Is she alive?” “She is.” “But unwell?” The sisters exchanged a silent communication before, “She is unwell, yes.” “There’s something you’re not telling me.” “If you can come, then you will know everything. But we must return quickly.” “Right. I will be down with you straight away.” Françoise, a silent observer asked, “Is there anything I can do?” Jeanne, already on her way out of the door, “I don’t… tell the others where I am, I shall be back as soon as I can.” It was about two hours later that, a small carriage pulled up outside of the convent, and the sisters led Jeanne to the door. As they approached the door swung open and they went inside. The sister at the door as still pushing it closed behind them, as she said, “Mother said to go on up, straight away.” The walked on, Jeanne’s sense of foreboding growing all the while. Every step she took marked another reason, for her to accuse herself of self absorbed thoughtlessness. She had neglected her sister, had not called on her frequently enough, had been so intent on revenge, she had not even thought about her once her morning and evening prayers had passed. She had let her down, it was Jeanne and not Marie-Ann who should be suffering… and on and on. The walk, one she had taken many times and never seemed so long, yet did not seem long enough. The halls echoed with their footsteps. She could hear the early morning prayers, and she knew the Matins were being said for the poor everywhere in the world, and all she could think of, was her own poor sister, abandoned and let down, by the one person who should have been there for her. They turned the corner into the corridor where the nun’s cells lined each side. One alone had a light outside, and three of the sisters were kneeling saying Matins outside. The sisters accompanying Jeanne, joined their colleagues and knelt, pointing Jeanne into the room. She pushed on the door and it gave. Inside, the room was silent and dark, save for the single candle beside the bed. At the side, knelt the reverend mother, who looked up from her prayers. Jeanne, had eyes only for the tiny figure in the bed. Pale and looking, even in the bed, gaunt, Jeanne looked for signs that her sister was still alive. After a moment she could just make out the rise and fall of the bed covers. Relief flooded through her, quickly replaced by both guilt and concern. The reverend mother rose, “She is still with us, Jeanne.” “What has happened?” “We’re not sure. She has been melancholy for a few weeks, though of course she has never complained, I only know what I know, through watching her at prayer and at meals. But it is as though she has been fading, like ink on paper left in the sun.” “You should have called me.” “I was going to, but she had some sense that it was about to happen, and she came to me and asked that you not be, ‘bothered’ as she put it.” “She has never been a bother. Is she…” “Dying?” and mother held out her hands, “I have no idea. I have no reason to think so, but she is slipping away. She has no fever, she complains of no pain, but I think she is in pain. She eats, though not a lot, but still, enough to keep body and soul together, I think. Yet…” And she held out her hand at Jeanne’s pale sister. “Why tonight? Why did you call me this evening?” “She fell asleep earlier in the evening and we have not been able to waken her, I cannot but suppose we are in her last hours.” It seemed impossible to Jeanne. Her mind rushed over the last days and weeks, the thought that all of these things had been going on, while her sister quietly slid from the world. She didn’t know what else, so she sat on the site of the bed and Marie-Ann opened her eyes. “You’ve come.” “How not? Are you in pain?” Marie-Ann smiled, “A little.” Mother turned for the door, “I can get something for that.” “No, I don’t want to lose touch with the world, while I am in it.” “It will just ease any pain, child.” Marie-Ann smiled and turned her attention to Jeanne. She held her eyes, “You see how they have fussed over me? I swapped one older sister for forty and a mother.” Jeanne was aware of the silent suppression of a sob behind her. She smiled back at her sister. “Is there anything in this world that could dim your goodness, Marie?” “Oh, don’t you shame me, I fall so far short and have so much to live up to.” Her voice is thin and quiet, and Jeanne has to lean forward to hear. “But I am so glad to see you. You look well, but tired. How is your husband?” “He is well, robust.” And Marie-Ann took a deep breath and her eyes widened, and then she again looked into Jeanne’s eyes and smiled, “I..” She sighed. Jeanne waited for the rest of the sentence, but it never came. The reverend mother, leaned over her and closed Marie-Ann’s eyes, and then knelt and whispered, “Confiteor deo omnipotenti, et vobis...” And on into the silence. The final confession of a sinless soul. Jeanne was still. Inside her, she hunted for the scream she knew was hiding there, but could find nothing, bar the coldest of empty feelings. When she had left Marie-Ann in the convent’s care she had been burning with the sense of wrong, done to her sister. Now there was just a cold certainty that the world which had done this, caused this, would pay, even if she had to set the whole place ablaze to feel warm again.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 32 - The Proposal

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 32 - The Proposal

The Proposal Three faces looked at her in shock. Françoise was the first to gather herself enough to blurt out, “Who?” “A friend. Someone I know at court.” “And you can trust her?” Cagliostro pressed. “I believe I can.” “Believe? If we’re trusting her this much, I hope it’s more than, ‘believe’.” La Motte said. “Alright, but who can you trust these days, look at us?” Jeanne pointed out. “We’re very trustworthy.” La Motte said. “The Cardinal thinks I am, at least.” Françoise, saw the uncertainty behind the words, “He’s different, he showed himself to be unworthy of honesty, before we started.” “Haven’t I?” Jeanne asked. La Motte coloured, “No, you haven’t. Jeanne, you’re the straightest person I know. Sorry,” to the others. “As long as you don’t leave your jewellery lying around.” She shrugged. “There is a difference between making an honest, dishonest living, and not being trusted by your friends. In the end, everyone, has to trust someone and we can only hope to make the right choice.” Cagliostro observed. “I am sure we have.” La Motte said, Françoise agreeing vigourously. “Anyway, I think we can trust her, I’ve known her for quite a while, and after last night, I had to do something. His Eminence is getting restless. If he’s going to do as we wish, he needs to see red meat.” “But, will he believe it?” Françoise asked. “If we set it up right, he should have no reason not to.” “Doesn’t he know her well, the Queen?” Asked la Motte. Jeanne thought and sighed, “He does, but he hasn’t seen her, except at a distance, for some time.” Cagliostro was still unconvinced, “But he’s served her communion.” “Ah, but he hasn’t, she insisted, she would not receive the host from his hand, it’s performed by a concelebrant or a deacon. That has stung, I can tell you.” “You’re gong to him tonight?” Cagliostro continued. “I am.” “And advancing this idea?” “That was my thought. I cannot contain him, with letters alone, any longer.” Jeanne took a long drink, and looked around. “Is there any food?” Françoise jumped, “Sorry, yes, let me get some. Your news was…” “Shocking?” “Shocking.” And she left. “We didn’t know what had happened.” La Motte put in. “I’m sorry about that, I didn’t know what to do, I thought he might go on out to Versailles and demand to see her today at first, but I talked him down. So I… I was on my way back, and I thought of my friend…” “You are so impulsive.” La Motte said smiling at her saying this, and she knew he was thinking of Troyes. She was affected in a way that surprised her, she was grateful. Then, the guilt came crashing down on her. She stood. “I should go.” “It’s far too early.” Cagliostro frowned, “Eat when Françoise comes back, and we can talk over what you’re going to say to him.” So it was that, a little more than four hours later, Jeanne had broken the news to a stunned Cardinal. “She will? When?” “The King will be away, he is inspecting something or other, a ditch, or a dam, or something, in about two weeks. That allows some freedom.” “She won’t be going with him? No, of course not, silly me.” “She will have to be discreet Eminence.” “Of course… discreet? She is thinking of this, as more than… but then, the letters… Oh madame, you are a miracle worker.” “No Eminence, I just cleared the path a little.” He frowned, “Why did she send word through you, why not vouchsafe the news in a letter, to me?” “You’ve just said so Eminence, ‘safe’. She would hardly commit such news to paper, would she? That would be an extraordinary risk, in such times.” He thought about that, and nodding, smiled. “Of course. Women do this sort of thing, so much better than men, but I expect it is a gift, or perhaps a curse, of nature. In this instance, I’m grateful for it.” And he smiled, and took Jeanne’s hand and kissed it. Suddenly, he was filled with a passion Jeanne had not seen, for months. He threw her back onto the bed, ripping her sleeve in the process, and fell on her. A little over fifteen minutes later, he lay back sated. Jeanne, much more dishevelled than she had become accustomed to, was partially clothed, and utterly shocked. The out of breath, prelate, looked across at her, and could see the distress. “I’m sorry madame, but your news… I was overcome. I don’t know what it is, between men and women, but there are times… but then, as a married woman, this must happen from time to time, eh?” He slapped her thigh as though she was horse flesh. It was just as well he could not read minds, or hear them. The thoughts that ran through Jeanne’s mind, at that moment, would have changed his opinion, not merely of her, but of all woman kind. She forced a smile and turned toward him. “Quite, Eminence.” “You look quite lovely like that.” Her resolve, shaky at the start of the evening, and through the afternoon before it, steeled itself, and was now without any shadow of doubt. “Thank you Eminence, I’m sure I look a mess.” “You look as a passionate woman should, at least in private.” And she forced a broader smile. “Now, how shall we go about this business?” he asked. “Eminence?” “The Queen, Jeanne, have you forgot the subject of the evening?” “I have not Eminence.” But she left unsaid the ‘I thought you had…’ “Where? Her apartments I suppose?” “Oh no Eminence, far too many eyes and whispers.” “Servants. Yes, she’s right.” “The ladies of the court, Eminence.” “Ah yes, that venomous nest. So where?” “The gardens, I think. There are many places that are very quiet in the early evening, and we will be getting on for late May.” “A wonderful time of year Jeanne, summer is an intoxicating time. The scents, the birds, the warm evenings.” “And soon, Eminence, you will be speaking with her in person.” He grinned and rubbed his belly, as though in prospect of a meal.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 31 - The Quiet Chat

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 31 - The Quiet Chat

The Quiet Chat It had been several weeks, of back and forth between the Cardinal and, ‘the Queen’. His ardour, growing with each letter. Once again, Jeanne was sitting in a carriage, exhausted, after a long night’s composition, but with a letter tucked in her sleeve. They were at a tricky point. The Cardinal was anxious to press his suit and regain entry to the court, where, he imagined, he might pursue a relationship at some level, with the Queen. How were they to get him over the lip of this problem, without having him turn up at Versailles, and discover what had been going on. It was the soul subject of conversation among the conspirators. It was the, all consuming, concern that filled Jeanne’s mind at this very moment. The latest letter had been almost frank, in the Cardinal’s desire to have a date, by which he might be received and recognised, at court. They had to find a way round it, and Jeanne didn’t think he could be persuaded out of it easily. Tired as she was, it took several minutes for Jeanne to realise, she was not on her usual route home. She knocked on the communication hatch. There was no reply, and the carriage didn’t slow down, the horses going at a steady clip. She frowned. Leaning out of the window, she again tried to get the drivers attention, and, failing that, to get the people on the street to wave him down. That, was when she noticed they were about to pass through the gate, in the recently built tax wall around the city. As they did so, the horses picked up more speed, and the thought of trying to jump from the vehicle, was dismissed as quickly as it had presented itself. Her mind began to spin. Who could be doing this? Had the driver simply forgotten he had a passenger, and gone on to… well, where? They were traveling at a fair pace, and the road took on a familiar cast. Versailles, they were headed to the palace, but again, why? Had the Cardinal decided to send a message, and the driver thought it was that, that was his first priority? Had the coach been summoned? It was hardly grand enough for a member of the court, who could be powerful enough to demand something like this. It had to be one of two people, the Cardinal, or the Queen. The idea the King was involved never troubled her for a second. There was nothing for it, but to wait and see, who was at the other end. Of course, if they sailed on past Versailles, she would throw herself from the carriage, but she thought, she would be too difficult to explain away to be stolen. She had heard stories of girls being taken, but she was a married woman, no real point any more. Sure enough, the palace slowly appeared in the window, or its familiar grounds did, at any rate. Not long to wait. But when the carriage rolled to a stop, and the door was opened, it was not in any part of the complex she had been before, and the face at the door, was not one she recognised. He leaned in, he was an officer, so there was that, at least. “Madame de la Motte?” “And you are?” “Madame, I am the Comte de Rochefort.” She shrugged, “Should that mean something to me monsieur?” He thought about that, clearly it hit home, good. “Not yet madame. Would you please join me?” “Why?” “Joining me madame, and walking with me, will be less undignified, than having my men drag you out.” She thought about this, and wondered whose dignity she’d be saving, but climbed down. The Comte offered his hand, and when she didn’t take it, he took hold of her arm and led her to the building. They walked in silence, to what was clearly a servants entrance in the palace. Jeanne had resisted the urge, to give the driver a venomous look as she passed. Inside, they went through a series of short corridors, and up several flights of stairs. Above the main apartments, she was now in a part of the building still unfamiliar to her. One long corridor, and a door on her right swung open as she and the comte approached, and another officer stepped out. This one offered a shallow bow. They went inside. The room, larger than Jeanne had expected, but still not large. A wide table, covered in papers, stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by several chairs. A fireplace at one end, beside which was a small table, and four chairs, apparently brought in for the day. It was at these, Jeanne was directed. She sat to the right of the table, the three other chairs and the door in her sight. The two men stood beside their chairs, and did not sit. Not for the first time that day, Jeanne frowned. “Am I brought here by you gentlemen, for you to wait upon me? If that was what you wanted, we could have done it in Paris.” Neither replied, but Rochefort stole a quick look at the door, from where a rustling sound could faintly be heard. They all waited. It suddenly struck Jeanne, that, in their passage though the building, they had not seen another soul. Versailles was a complex, with between three and ten thousand people there, depending on the season, and time of day. To walk through empty corridors was something few people could achieve. The knot in her stomach grew, and she began to suspect. The rustling grew with the knot. Suddenly, the question was answered, as a figure appeared at the door, the two gentlemen turned and bowed, and Jeanne jerked to her feet, and curtsied deeply. The light laugh, did little to relieve the tension. “Really madame, be seated, gentlemen, sit. I have asked my friend Madame de Merindol to bring some refreshment shortly.” She walked across the room, and took her seat, as did the others. “Jeanne, so nice to see you again, and married I hear, scandalously, in the provinces as well. I wish we had time to hear all about it, but we have very little.” “I am at the Queen’s service, when ever she wishes to hear more.” “I know, I know. But it’s your other activities we would like to hear about this morning.” “Madame?” “Oh, don’t be all coy now, I hear you’ve been seeing the Cardinal de Rohan, no doubt for devotional purposes.” “He offered me… instruction, madame. I had some difficulty, with my husband, at first.” “But all is well now?” “It is madame.” “But you still attend the Cardinal’s apartments, I understand. Sometimes long into the night. That can be so hard on the knees, don’t you think?” “Madame.” The Queen watched her subject, saying nothing. Rochefort cleared his throat, seemingly about to say something, and the Queen’s hand shot out with a finger raised, and he fell silent. Footsteps. A man appeared at the door, a large tray covered in things, as though for a friendly tea, in his hands. A lady walked just behind him. He walked across the room, placed the tray on the table, and then retired. As his feet faded down the corridor, the lady, unintroduced, but presumably the aforementioned Madame de Merindol, poured the tea, handed it out, to her Majesty, and then, she herself, left. The Queen drank. She smiled at Jeanne, replaced her cup on the table and reached out, to offer one of the other cups to Jeanne. Up until this moment, Jeanne’s hands had remained in her sleeves. Now, not thinking of anything, but that the Queen was handing her tea, she reached out and took the cup. From her sleeve, dropped the letter, addressed to the Queen, but not intended for her, at least as far as Jeanne was concerned. Four sets of eyes, saw nothing but the letter. Silence still reigned. The Queen’s voice broke in on whatever anyone was thinking. “Jeanne, your tea.” Not knowing what else to do, Jeanne took the tea. The Colonel, for he was the other officer, bent down, and lifted the letter. The Queen held out her hand, and he handed it to her. She examined the letter, turning it over and over in her hands. She turned to Jeanne. “Why madame, it is addressed to me.” “Yes madame.” “From the Grand almoner himself, it would appear.” “Yes madame.” “How very fortunate. A startling coincidence, one might say.” “Yes madame.” The Queen thought about it, and looked at the letter carefully, examining the seal. Then she broke it, and unfolded the letter. She read. Jeanne looked at the gentlemen’s faces, she could see Rochefort longing to look at the contents. The Queen, looked up several times, but betrayed nothing of what she was thinking. She appeared to read the letter twice, and then she folded it and held it on her knee. She examined the outside of the missive, and seemed to make a decision. She smiled brightly. “Gentlemen, could you excuse us?” Rochefort, was on the verge of saying something, but the Colonel standing changed his mind, and they left together, closing the door. Marie-Antoinette looked at Jeanne, with an unreadable expression. Jeanne knew something was coming, just not what. “What are you up to?” “A joke, madame.” “On the Cardinal?’ “Yes madame.” “This is revenge for your sister? Ridicule?” “Yes madame.” “Is this all? Be careful how you answer, this is enough to send you away for a long time, I am a forgiving woman, but not if you lie to me.” Jeanne thought about it, she wondered if she could trust this woman, who had so easily cast her and her sister, aside. She wondered if she would be condemning herself alone, or all of them? Then she thought of the Cardinal, and her sister. Taking a deep breath, she decided to risk everything.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 30 - Rochefort and the Plate of Biscuits

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 30 - Rochefort and the Plate of Biscuits

Rochefort and the Plate of Biscuits Rochefort had been fretting. He was reviewing his notes from the last few months. His men had seen plenty of comings and goings, but nothing to indicate la Motte was up to his past dirty dealings. That little wife of his, was back and forth to Cardinal de Rohan, in la Motte’s absence. He almost felt sorry for the man, at first. He had her followed and was surprised that it seemed to be, religious. She has some connection to the church. Some discreet enquiries turned up a sister, in a convent, add that to the Grand Almoner of France. Then it turned out la Motte knew about it. No matter how he put it together, he couldn’t see what la Motte was doing. Conversion to happy family man was not on the list of probable explanations. The description of Françoise, didn't ring any bells, but as it was “pretty house maid”, it didn’t stand out.. He had to do something. What? La Motte kept going up north, to join his regiment, as he should. It was all too ordinary, and damn fishy. Rochefort's attempts to dig about in Artois’s regiment, had nearly got him in deep water. After that, he'd decided he had to be careful. The Cardinal’s man was tight lipped, itself a surprise. He just didn’t credit the picture he was being shown at all. Part of the problem was that Italian. What was he, a conjuror or an alchemist? People seemed uncertain, apart from the idiots who thought he was some kind of mystic. The things people will believe. He thought he was onto something when they took part in the Masques, but then, they stopped, and la Motte left the Gendarmes, with a promotion. There, that must be it. Why did he get promoted? The girl, how did he make that marriage? She was a someone, a Valois. Not too respectable, but that was the father. It was strange she had not married, and yet, she managed to provide for herself and her sister. There were lots of rumours, but everything evaporated when he enquired and, in his experience, no one was that discreet. So, she got favour and money from someone. The Queen was known to have a soft heart, but she cut off the sister just before she went into the convent. More rumour, but, what’s her name, Marie-Ann, was taken into a respectable convent, so those can’t be true, can they? Then that talk of a romantic marriage and huge arguments, in Troyes, was all that true? He had one of his men go down to Troyes, to check it out, and it turned out solid enough. Maybe, the younger sister was disgusted at the court, and went into the convent, cue the rumours. Then the Queen was annoyed, and she cuts them both off. Meaning, it’s find a man, or the older one goes into the convent herself. She doesn’t know much about the world, and was conned into marrying the cad, la Motte. Poor woman. She had connections, the court, the convent, and she gets him promoted to Artois’s regiment, which gives them money and gets him out of Paris. That sounds about right… So, if that’s right, and everything fits, why does he have an itching feeling at the back of his neck? Does he hate la Motte that much? Maybe. It wouldn’t be that strange. La Motte is an item from the gutter, walking around in society, as though he belonged there. Can’t have that, we’ll turn into England. He shuddered. He had worried the problem back and forth, for days before finally deciding to have a chat, with an old friend from the Gardes Français, perhaps the most prestigious regiment in the kingdom. Sworn to protect the king and his family with their lives if needed, though the ones he knew, didn’t take things that seriously. They agreed with him on the need to keep the rabble down. La Motte was rabble, if anyone was. Sitting, waiting in the coffee shop, he was running through all of this in his head. He didn’t want to come across as a delusional fool, but he needed to be able to talk to someone on the inside, without drawing too much attention to himself. The Gardes, could talk to anyone, and no one would ask questions. Pick up la Motte, and encourage a frank conversation with him, and Rochefort would have answers. The colonel arrived. Rochefort stood, holding out a hand and they shook, turning to the waiter, who slouched against the wall nearby. “A pot of coffee, and some bread and chocolate, biscuits and some bars.” They sat. “They serve good coffee here?” “They do. And the chocolate isn’t too powdery, the biscuits actually smell of chocolate and taste as thought you were biting into a bar. Worth trying.” “If they’re that good I’ll order some, for home, it will win me a smile, every now and then.” “Excellent idea.” “You’re not married are you, Rochefort?” “Not been that lucky.” “Or unlucky…” and they laughed. The coffee arrived. The waiter having poured, he disappeared and the Colonel tried the biscuits. He took a short moment and his eyes opened wide. “By God, you’re right, these are excellent.” Rochefort himself smiled, and they put away one or two. While beginning his third, the Colonel paused, “I’m sure, nice as they are, we are not here to eat biscuits.” “It wouldn’t be the worst way to pass an afternoon. But, no, we’re not.” “You want to join the Gardes?” Rochefort smiled tightly, “No, thank you. I want a different kind of favour.” He quickly outlined his thoughts, about la Motte, and his suspicions surrounding the current events. The Colonel sat back. “But you have no proof, anything is going on?” “None.” “And he hasn’t been near the jewellers place, or anywhere else?” “Not while I’ve been watching.” The Colonel considered and then leaned forward, “Right, I wouldn’t touch him, not with a thirty foot pole, but her, now she is someone we can have a legitimate worry about. She has a dubious reputation, and she was connected to the Queen. We have to protect her majesty. We can pick her up discreetly. Asked her a few questions. See what’s what, and no one will raise an eyebrow. If we pick him up, Artois will get to hear about it and…” He waved his hand in the air. Rochefort nodded, satisfied. He picked up a biscuit and pushed the plate toward the Colonel, smiling. He bit, and the Colonel did too.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 29 - The Queen's Letter

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 29 - The Queen's Letter

The Queen’s Letter The Cardinal’s hands shook, as he slid his thumb beneath the fold in the paper. The seal cracked, and the paper opened. He looked sadly at the seal. Jeanne leaned forward, and pressed her mouth to his ear, “There will be more, Eminence.” He stopped, closed his eyes and smiled, before continuing. He, almost with reverence, pushed open the thick paper to reveal a careful hand, and a blot free missive. “She wrote this herself.” He marvelled, and ran his hand across the surface of the paper, taking in the lettering with his finger tips. His hands shook. His eyes scanned the page, and he drank in the words, once, twice, before reading aloud. “My dear, Cardinal, How surprised was I to receive, and read your letter, delivered me by my friend’s hand.” He twisted round and smiled at Jeanne, and then went on. “Your words surprised me no less, than the arrival of the letter itself. Your character is quite other than I have experienced in the past, or have heard from others since. It speaks of a man of depth and thought, of compassion and understanding. If this is new in you, I encourage it. If it has always been there, I regret that prejudice and youth, has deprived me of it. Kindly though I have reviewed your words, our positions, would not allow of a public recognition of you, just yet. Let us instead, enjoy a correspondence and see if, in time, we might heal the unfortunate and unhappy rift, that has developed between us. - Marie Antoinette, of France.” He ran his fingers across it once more, and breathed in the scent of it. He swallowed, before turning around to look at Jeanne. “It is short.” “She is testing the waters Eminence, even as you yourself did, in your letter. Like you, she is beset by enemies, and dare not put a foot wrong.” “True. It is only that, her words, while reading them I longed for them to go on. She has a construction altogether unique, her majesty flows from each thought, each syllable. It is a shame, that we ordinary folk cannot express ourselves thus.” “It is, Eminence.” “No other hand but hers, could express so many complex sentiments, in such an elegant way.” “Surely not.” “Ah, Jeanne, you have made me a great gift, a great gift indeed.” And his eyes roamed across the inked surface once more, practically breathing in the idea, that she was almost present here, in the room with them. He shook, and Jeanne, holding his shoulders, had the distinct impression he had experienced some sort of ecstasy . “We should answer her.” “Now Eminence?” “Yes now, when my emotions are so completely aligned with hers, that we might better, that is to say, more easily, cross the distance between us, just as St Catherine of Sienna closed the distance between her, and her lord.” “You wish me still to be here, Eminence?” “I do Jeanne, you are my muse in this, my vessel. You understand women and I understand me.” “Very well Eminence, anything I can do to repay your kindness to me…” “Let us retire to the table, and we can reconnect with that spirit, who has brought us thus far.” They moved to the occasional table and the Cardinal sat, pulling out a quill and organising the paper, and the other paraphernalia of good penmanship round him. He looked up expectantly to Jeanne, who stood, back to the window and smiled. “How would you like to begin Eminence?” “I think, I must declare my love Jeanne, nothing else could honour such a letter.” Jeanne was silenced by this, and for a moment she just stared at the prelate, trying to formulate a reply that was neither a loud guffaw, nor a stern rebuke. She cleared her throat. “Eminence, if I may say so, you might create the impression you are insincere if you were to speak of love, just now.” “How? It is what I really feel. This letter has inspired this feeling in me.” “That might be true Eminence, but the Queen cannot know that. Your feelings for her, are necessarily experienced at a distance, and she knows, only too well the shallow feelings of those by whom she is surrounded at the court.” “Ah, Jeanne, but of course my dear, she cannot know the workings of a true heart, not when all she sees are those, for whom truth is a foreign land. Have I not myself, fallen victim to just such personages, in my time at Vienna? Your youthful feminine insight, has saved me from an error I have made before. I am ever deeper into your debt…” And so they fell to writing and editing, and rewriting, until Jeanne left, once more in the small hours, once more clutching, a heartfelt and longer letter, from a man whose feelings were such, that he could not bring himself to betray this lofty sensibility, by the mere experience of corporal lust. The reading of the letter, the next lunchtime in the presence of Françoise, la Motte and the Italian, was one that Jeanne had expected to produce laughter, but rather induced shock. Even after Jeanne’s, careful control of the Cardinal’s more flowery sentiments, it was something of a declaration of intent to woo. It had perhaps, stopped short of tearing open the man’s heart. Cagliostro blinked, as was his wont, several times, before asking for a reread. After the second time around, Jeanne told them of the Cardinal’s response to the reading of the “Queen’s” letter, and her efforts to control his ardour. “I would say, in the circumstances, you preformed miracles. However, it is just as well this is not going to Versailles, the court would be laughing so hard, I doubt the Cardinal would ever show his face in public again.” “He is a passionate man.” Jeanne observed. “Not very priestly though,” Françoise put in. “Oh, I don’t know, how many priests do you know?” La Motte asked, “He certainly seems of a seam, with the ones of my experience.” She thought about that and then agreed, “I suppose. But it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, is it?” “The question,” Cagliostro said, always one with a mind on the job, “is how would the Queen reply?” “You mean, once she’d stopped laughing and picked herself up off the floor?” La Motte asked. “Yes, I do mean that, because we’re the ones who’ve set him on this path, so we have to keep him on it, or we won’t get what we want.” “So, how do we slow him down? If we don’t want to slap him down?” Françoise asked. “Exactly.” Jeanne sat back, “What would the Queen say? Assuming, she is the same woman who wrote the first reply - she was much more forward than the real Queen, even if we imagine she would reply at all.” “I’ve been accused of being a bit… forward, in my time. Ladies, who don’t want to send you back with a bruised face, usually let you down slowly. And that’s even when they want you.” La Motte said. The others look at him, Francoise and Jeanne with a slight smile, Cagliostro, as though he was a general, offering advice to a council of war. Which in a way, he was. “Alright, so, say yes, but not so fast. How do women go about it?” Cagliostro put to them. Jeanne and Françoise looked at each other. “Let’s look at what he’s asking for first, and go from there.” Françoise suggested and they turned to the letter. A few moments and la Motte stood. “At bottom it’s, ‘when can I have you and where?’ “ and he shrugged. “Good, so how do we say never, and nowhere?” the Italian answered him. Jeanne pointed the Italian to the paper on the writing table, “Eminence…” Cagliostro looked up and grinned, “A simple word.” He shook his head and bent to the task.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 28 - The Shadow of the Past

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 28 - The Shadow of the Past

The Shadow of the Past This soldier had been on the graveyard shift. There were eight of them, three hours each. Orders were, alternate between the doors from this side of the street, to the other, and change ends at least once a shift. Trouble with that was, if it rained, this was the only door that gave you some shelter, and let you see the door to the apartments. He didn’t even know what they were doing. Seemed a typical bunch of aristos to him, with their coming and going, in fact, he thought, they didn’t go out as much as most of them seem to. Must be broke. Perhaps that’s it. This la Motte guy, owes the boss some money, or something. There was a rumour about a necklace, and a barney between them, but that was a few years ago. Whatever it was, the women were decorative, he’d fancy a turn with them if it came to it. He hadn’t had an aristo yet, a few of the boys said they weren’t really worth it, but he wasn’t so sure. He was tired and cold and fed up. He wasn’t watching. Three men, in Gendarmes uniforms grabbed him, as the was walking down the street after he’d been relieved. They hadn’t hit him much or anything, just let him know they could. Now, he was looking at a commandant or someone, an officer bigwig anyway, swinging his leg over the end of the table. They think they are so… Give him five minutes alone with this guy, and they’d see. He had a young lieutenant and a sargeant, with him. “So, what are you? Corporal? I never know with you horse lovers.” The officer asked. He waited. No reply. “Look sonny, I can call in six big ones and leave them with you for say, five minutes, or you can just answer up. You’ve not done any particular thing, yet. But then, when has that ever been a guarantee you’re not going to be told, you’ve done something wrong? So, rank?” The soldier, arms tightly folded across his chest, was about to spit, but then he just wondered, why? “Corporal.” “Your commander is Rochefort, yes?” “That’s right, and when he hears about this…” “Funny you say that, in fact he’s going to hear about it, from me. I just want the lay of the land first, and don’t worry, your name won’t come up.” “You’re so kind.” “You’d be surprised. Anyway, I want to know what you’re about?” “Been given a job by the boss, haven’t I?” “What job?” The corporal shrugged, “Just watch, let him know who goes in, who goes out.” “you tell Rochefort?” The Corporal pulled a face, “No. He wouldn’t talk to the likes of me. The sargeant tells me, I guess, he tells the Captain, and on up, but…” and he shrugged again. “Alright, watch. Anyone in particular?” “The one called la Motte, calls himself a Comte. Used to be with your lot, moved up in the world now.” The Officer shook his head, and exchanged a look with his sargeant, who cracked his knuckles. The soldier looked bored. “Ok, like I said, as it happens, I want you to keep doing what you’re doing, but there’ll be two changes. The first one you won’t like…” “I doubt I’ll like anything you have to say…” “The first one, is that anything you’re going to say, to your sargeant, you’re going to say to my sargeant first, understand?” The corporal sucked his tech very audibly. The officer continued. "The second, is that you’re going to stop being a public nuisance, I have a nice dry set of rooms in a tavern on that street, with a lovely view of the front door. They’ll even bring you something to eat.” The corporal searched the officer’s face, looking for the trick. “Why?” “La Motte.” “What’s he done?” “He has a list of villainy, as long as your arm, but we haven’t caught him with his hand in the till. We think he’s about to go for something bigger than he’s ever gone for before, and we want to get him. I don’t want to have some aristo getting ideas, and getting in the way. He’s messed us up before, not this time.” “Meals in the dry eh?” “Something to eat, in the dry, and you talk to my guy first.” “Then I can talk to my sargeant?” “Yes, I expect you to in fact.” “My name isn’t mentioned?” “No. The others report to you, that’s right?” “Yeah.” “So you’ll tell them you’ve fixed up the room and the food, to keep ‘em sweet.” The officer said, slowly. The corporal nodded, liking this, more and more. “We understand each other then?” “Sure.” “Let me be clear, in case you tell me later, that I wasn’t. All this, me being nice, that’s so you’ll go along with what I want, and do the job properly. You step out of line, get it wrong, get drunk or miss something, and you’ll never have to worry about your boss again. He might be a fancy aristo, but this is my city, and in Paris, we do things my way.” And suddenly, the officer had a knife, its point, tickling the corporal’s throat, and the corporal, had not seen where it had come from. “I wasn’t born in this uniform, and I don’t keep this lot in line,” flicking his head over his shoulder, “by being nice. Got it?” “Yes sir.” “Excellent. The sargeant, will bring you to the tavern, and show you the room. You’ll do the explaining to your men, and you won’t mention us.” The officer stood and the sargeant stepped forward. “Can I just ask?” the corporal said. The officer turned and looked down at him. “What?” “If you want him, why don’t you just tell Rochefort to step back, and take over?” The officer had just the hint of a smile, “He, la Motte, is afraid of us. He thinks your boss is a jackass, and you lot are from the same stable. If he sees us, he'll bolt.” The corporal’s fist tightened and the officer watched it and shook his head. “Not here, not now, son, we’ve already paid for the room.” He walked out and the sargeant waited.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 27 - From Letters to Billet-Doux

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 27 - From Letters to Billet-Doux

From Letters to Billet-Doux They sat, still on the unmade bed. The tray was on the floor, as were most of the bedclothes. Jeanne had her customary glass of water, and the Cardinal, his of wine. All round them on the bed, were the tools of erudition and charm, that is to say, paper and pen, with copious supplies of ink. At first blush, things were not going well. Many sheets had been either torn into pieces, or balled up and thrown away. The two were engrossed in the task. The Cardinal waxed poetic, while Jeanne dragged him back to solid ground. He had thought it would take one, perhaps two drafts. She was determined to get it right. He had a natural inclination to the flowery language of a teenager, smitten by the first pretty face he had noticed, this, Jeanne had to coax out of him. But, by contrast, he had begun with a straightforward list of reasons the Queen should find him desirable. Jeanne had pressed him to think of that list, in more colourful terms. Then, once he had the bit between his teeth, she had the task of pulling him back, toning the colour, into something readable. “This is a ticklish problem, madame.” “This is the ultimate challenge for your skills Eminence. Your experience as a diplomat is perfect. You cannot simply flatter, or tell them you want a treaty. The other kingdom will suspect something and examine at your motives, they will pull away. But, you also cannot set out a list of demands, she will be affronted, and pull away.” “Yes, I have gotten to used to sending out orders, or telling people I want something and it happens…” “So begin with a little, not too much, self-effacement, your unworthiness, then describe her worth, and then back to your unworthiness.” “Am I so unworthy?” “Are you recognised at court, Eminence?” “No.” “But you wish to be?” He took a deep breath and looked in Jeanne’s eyes. “So much.” She held his eyes and saw his need, far more profound than his desire for her, she thought, for this he would go far. “Then we have to get it right. ‘Majesty…” It took another draft or two, but, after breakfast, and mass, Jeanne had the sealed letter in her possession, and was in a carriage heading to her apartments. She was exultant, she was exhausted, she had the first concrete piece in her hand. So far to go, but she felt that now, she was on the way. Arriving at the apartments, she noted the watching soldier, a few doors down, and wondered if their lack of discretion was deliberate. In her days on the rooftops of Paris, she certainly could not have afforded to be that obvious. She went up. Inside, she found her co-conspirators taking an early lunch. Cagliostro, dabbed his mouth with his napkin and stood, as did la Motte. Jeanne was surprised at the butterflies in her tummy. “I didn’t expect you back for another day at least.” “I am on the comte’s business. Messenger boy. But, a well paid messenger boy.” And he smiled. He jerked a thumb at the window. “I see you’ve grown company, since I was here last. We’ve just been talking about it. I don’t know him myself, but I do recognise the uniform. It’s the nasty colourless one, of Rochefort’s.” “I think that might be his attempt at hiding.” Françoise said. “Yes, I heard they did the same, against the English, in the last dust up.” Cagliostro cleared his throat, “Enough of the military willie waving, no one here knows or is impressed by it. He will have to be watched, that is all.” “Anyway, it is good to see you sir.” Jeanne said. La Motte didn’t exactly offer a return smile, but he did incline his head, “And you madame.. I hear you have the man ensnared.” “I believe so.” “Did you propose acting as an intermediary for him?” Cagliostro, now anxious and engaged. Jeanne grinned and pulled the letter from her sleeve. “I offered and he jumped at the idea, we have been up all night, writing the first letter.” “A letter? Straight away? He is even more desperate, than I thought.” “It is eating his soul.” They all wondered at that one. La Motte frowned. “But what do we do? You’re not going to give it to the Queen? Would she accept it?” Jeanne shrugged, “I doubt it, and I especially doubt it, from me. She turned her back on us, and left us to our own devices. My family, is at least as old and as noble as her’s, but she treated us, as though we were diseased. No, we won’t be giving it to her.” Cagliostro smiled, “Not that the Cardinal will notice. Desire, makes people myopic.” He held out his hand for the letter and Jeanne gave it to him. He examined the seal. “Excellent, we can copy this too, which might prove very useful. Now, to work.” He took it over to the small table near the window, where several implements lay waiting. Sitting, he lifted a leather handled exquisitely sharp knife, and he took some care to prise the seal from the paper, without leaving a trace. He put the seal into a small box and put it to one side. Then, he carefully unfolded the letter. “I don’t understand, if this is as far as the letter is going, why be so careful?” La Motte asked. Cagliostro looked up for a moment. “Monsieur, it is always best to be able to retrace your steps, if necessary. I cannot know, what the future holds.” He bent to his task again, then stopped, and looked up with a smile, “But I am working on it.” The letter open, he read, to himself, and then to the group. Finally he smiled at Jeanne, “Excellent work. Now we must concoct the reply. Intrigued, but cautious, a little distant, but not cold. I think we can achieve this. The big question is, how long do we make him wait?” “A month.” Françoise said, not at all kindly. “Too long, he will be dispirited, and may try to make his own enquiries.” “Why wait?” La Motte asked. The women both turned to face him, then exchanged a look, and Françoise raised her eyes to heaven. “What?” Jeanne looked back and sighed, “If we reply too soon, he won’t believe it, or worse, won’t value it. He must suffer, a little, I agree with Senior Cagliostro, if it’s too long, he will go off the boil, but we cannot make the mistake of something the Queen would not do.” “So, shall we say, ten days?” “Still too long.” Jeanne said. “I certainly wouldn’t wait for a woman, for ten days.” “Said the last of the great poets.” Françoise muttered. “ I think about a week, eight days, she is a busy woman and not just, a woman, she is, the Queen.” Said Jeanne. “But, this is a letter she must write herself, with you there beside her, ready to take it away.” Jeanne, thought about it and agreed, “Yes, I hadn’t thought of that, eight days then, and in the mean time, I can report back to him of its reception.” Cagliostro looked over the letter once more and brushed away a little dust. He looked at the pile of papers beside him, and ran his thumb across them. Selecting three sheafs, he weighed them in his hand, and then tested them with his nail. “We have the paper, we need the perfume, and the right nibs. Good, I shall write it tomorrow.” Françoise lifted the Cardinal’s letter, looked it over, and then at her friends, “We are writing a letter from the Queen, to the Grand Almoner of France. Us. Now, it really is getting serious.” And she grinned.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 26 - How to Play a Big Fish

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 26 - How to Play a Big Fish

How to play a Big Fish “He is hunting la Motte.” “What? Why?” Françoise asked. “Who?” Jeanne asked, possibly more importantly. “Who? I believe it is the Comte Rochefort. It was a man from his regiment, I noticed, and he was followed by another of the same. Why? I don’t know yet. I managed to find out that they had been asking about la Motte.” “But no one else?” Françoise asked. “No one else.” “So, this doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re doing?” Jeanne pressed. “Now, that I do not know. It could be he has heard about something la Motte said, or did, and it piqued his interest.” Cagliostro answered. “This goes back further, than what we’re doing, I think. When he raided the Inn, he seemed… I don’t know, obsessed, maybe? He wanted to get la Motte, he wasn’t as interested in the necklace, as he was in the man.” Françoise frowned remembering that evening, and then shook her head. “We can only find out more by asking la Motte, it could be, there is a personal grudge between them.” Cagliostro said. “So, we don’t stop?” Jeanne asked. “We have to be careful, but then, we’ve always had to be careful. No. If this gets more serious though, we have to be prepared to stop, and leave immediately, or to face execution.” “Alright. Can we make things move more quickly?” Jeanne pressed. “It’s a nice balance, isn’t it? Go too fast, and we risk the Cardinal’s suspicions being aroused, too slow, and he might become bored. Now, this. We will have to make sure no messages get from Rochefort, to the Cardinal. Be on the lookout madame.” “So what’s next?” Françoise was moving on already. “Next? The Cardinal, has been the answer to madame’s prayers, she is grateful, can she do anything for him? Why, yes she can, and, yes she will.” Cagliostro outlined. “But what is it?” Françoise asked again? Cagliostro smiled, “Why, the court. Not, in one step, but we are going to offer him the world, or the bit of it he cares about.” “How?” Françoise asked. The Italian walked around Jeanne at the window, looking at her holding out his hand, before turning to Françoise. “This, is how you think of her, as that sweet girl, you’ve been with these last few weeks, but you’ve already found out, she is a thief, daring, strong. Now learn, how she can reach into the highest places in the land.” “But she told us, she’d been rebuffed. The Queen as good as exiled her.” Françoise objected. Jeanne looked at Cagliostro with a slight smile. “That was before. Before, marriage, before Troyes. Now, she is romantic, with a whiff of the disreputable. Ladies, bored with their safe lives, love nothing more, and that whiff, is pretty safe, isn’t it?” “But, it’s Versailles, she’s been kicked out.” Cagliostro turned and shrugged, “What of that? Anyone can go to the palace, dress properly and no one will stop you. Oh, if you try to enter some apartments, they’ll run you through, but for the most part… Then you will see. It’s not only the fish, we are seeking to attract, but the bait as well. A big fish, needs a delicious bait.” He stood looking at Jeanne who, it seemed to Françoise, had turned her kaleidoscopic nature one more click, and changed completely once more. Who was she? And, was she going to bring them all to the gallows? She loved her for it. The aftermath, given the state of the bedclothes, of a once more vigorous session of ‘counselling’, and ‘healing’. Jeanne eased herself off the cardinal’s ample torso, and flopped back on the bed. The man himself, out of breath, grinning from ear to ear. Tried to speak, but it took a few moments. “Madame, you are without equal. An intoxicating mix of innocence, and wantonness. I think, perhaps one derives from the other. Maybe, it is the action of the holy spirit in you, allowing you to act free, of normal constraint.” He turned awkwardly and grabbed her hand, kissing it. “I admit I’m grateful, for having had this opportunity to help you.” He mumbled. “So, Eminence, you think my husband should have no complaints?” “None, madame, he should be on bended knee every night, for the good fortune of having you there for him.” “Thank you, Eminence, I will be forever in your debt. I wish there was some small way in which I could repay you.” He laughed, “Jeanne, I lack for very little. I am one of the richest men in France, I hold offices that are practically hereditary. I am a prince of the church. I cannot imagine, you have anything I want.” “Nothing then?” “Perhaps you could work your magic on the Queen and return me to Royal favour?” “I don’t understand Eminence.” He laughed bitterly, “No, nor should you. I have all that I mentioned, yet I am an exile from court. It would take a Richelieu, to bring me back.” Silence. The Cardinal slowly recovered. After a few minutes he began to look around for his wine glass, the mood turned cold. “Eminence…” “What?” he tone brusque. He took a deep breath, and turned over on his side, “I am sorry, I have poisoned the evening with my troubles.” “I don’t pretend to any understanding of high affairs of state, but is there not something I might do?” “Such as my dear? This, is not something a sweet smile can cure, and I don’t think the Queen is desirous of female flesh.” “What is the problem? Did you do something terrible?” “Yes. No, I don’t know, it depends on who you are.” “I confess, I am lost.” The Cardinal, took a long unhappy, draught from his glass. “A long time ago, before I was a Cardinal, and before the Queen, was the Queen, before even, she was married to the King, the Dauphin, then. A part of the court, was deeply against the connection to the court of Austria. The Queen’s mother is a spider, like all of the Hapsburgs, and this was another of their, dynastic intrigues. A powerful man, the Duc d’Aguillon, closely connected to my family, had me sent to Vienna, to work against the union. I did as I was asked. Not too surprisingly, the Queen didn’t like that, and bears a grudge.” “Is that all?” “Oh, she dresses it up with her being scandalised, by my sleeping with a few of the women around the court, but I was young, what is a man to do?” and he drank again, draining his wine from the glass in his hand, and then examining it. “I… I don’t wish to presume, or to over promise, but I think, I have the Queen’s ear, Eminence.” The Cardinal stopped looking at his glass, and slowly moved his attention to Jeanne. “What do you mean?” “I mean… I think, Eminence, I know nothing of men, but I do know women, and many of our frailties.” “But what has that to do with her Majesty?” “I converse with her.” “With the Queen?” “Yes.” “Marie-Antoinette of France?” “Yes.” “Converse?” “We correspond. She had, before my marriage, been very kind to me. Since my marriage, we correspond, by letter.” “How often?” “Almost daily, Eminence.” His mouth apparently dry, he tried to take another drink from the empty glass, his eyes fixed on Jeanne. “Almost daily?” “Yes.” “Have you mentioned, me? That is to say… this… assistance I am giving you?” “Not yet, Eminence. I suggested to her, about the course I was set upon, and she… encouraged me.” “Huh, she would.” “I’m sorry, Eminence, what?” “That is, you didn’t mention me?” “Not yet. But I was about to, in my next letter.” He lay back, twisting onto his back and leaving the glass on the bed. Jeanne watched, as the last drop trickled onto the white sheets. The stain caused her some distress, as she watched it spread. “Should I not, Eminence?” “That depends. What would you say?” “What would you have me say?” “That I am a good and pious man. That I say mass, twice a day, and my office too. That I attend the poor. All true Jeanne.” She reached out and touched his head, seeing him earnest for the first time. “That may win her admiration for your goodness, Eminence, but it will not win you an invitation to court.” He moved himself up onto one arm, and looked again at the woman beside him. His opinion of her, began to change. Seeing it, in his eyes, Jeanne knew, she was at one of those moments… “I told you Eminence, I know women.” She noted, she had saved the moment. “What then, do you recommend?” “I recommend Eminence, we get her to fall in love with you.”

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 25 - The saving of a Marriage

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 25 - The saving of a Marriage

The saving of a Marriage. A bed. Pillows piled high. Two very relaxed people. She, is in a white shirt, voluminous in size but short in length. Well, it would be, if it were on the man it had been measured for. On Jeanne, it came to below her knee. The cardinal was naked. Bedclothes lay in a ruck all around them and on the floor. A large silver tray sat between them, filled with cheese, fruit, biscuits, wine. Each held a glass. In spite of the bacchanalian scene, silence reigned. Jeanne pensive, sipping her glass, still water. de Rohan meanwhile slurped wine, and pulled on a grape. The Cardinal seemed very happy, Jeanne did not seem, unhappy. He sensed the lack of conversation, and while he refilled his glass, he looked up at her. “Well madame, are you feeling calm, happy?” “I am considering my new status, Eminence.” “New status?” “Adulterer.” “Ah, yes, that is an unfortunate consequence of this form of assistance. I think, the greater good, will be the retention of your marriage to the Comte, and the example that gives to the common herd.” “But my own immortal soul, Eminence, what of that?” “Luckily madame, I know of one with the power to loose such encumbrances.” And he smiled broadly, popping another grape into his mouth. He levered himself forward, and lifted his mouth to hers, giving her a slobbery kiss. She ran her hand over his head, affectionately. “But, Eminence, can I feel equally loosed of the burden of sin?” “Madame, you have gained the certainty of knowledge. If your husband is in any way unhappy with you in bed, I can tell you confidently, the fault is his. Believe me, when I say I have never been so transported by a mere physical act. You are a blessing to any man. You must have courage. You can have, if you wish it, a great career, the salons, the gentlemen who await. Glittering.” This time, it is she who leaned across and kissed his forehead. She ran her hand over his back and slid it down toward him reaching beneath. “Again, madame? I’m afraid I couldn’t, but, fear not, there will be other occasions.” And pulling her to him he kissed her passionately. When they separated, she smiled down at him. “I have much to thank you for Eminence.” The next morning. The couple asleep . From their positions, it appeared the Cardinal had chased Jeanne across the wide bed, and she was on its very edge, one leg in the wide open air. She awakened and stirred, moving back a little and awakening the prelate. He was a bit confused at first, but raised his head and looked round the room. He saw her, and memory flooded back and he smiled. Sitting up, he yawned and stretched. His man, who it seemed was standing by the door, walked, as usual, to the window and began to draw the curtains. His Eminence frowned at him, seeming surprised, “What are you doing?” “I… drawing the curtain, Eminence. I have your…” “Out!, Who do you think you are? Out, I say.” The man scuttled away, his face a picture of shock and confusion. Jeanne, knowing nothing of the usual form, relaxed her grip on the bedclothes and smiled at the Cardinal. He looked suitably outraged. “The nerve of the man. Servants, you allow them a little room to make their own decisions, and they try to take over your life. Don’t you find them a trial, madame.” “Eminence, I have, perhaps, less experience in these matters, as well as others.” He reached forward and kissed her, before climbing off the bed. “Nature calls madame. But perhaps we might share breakfast, before I go to say mass? Will you attend?” “I think I might Eminence.” “And take communion?” “Can I?” “I think so madame, I do think so.” He turned away and waddled off to the privy. She lay back and watched. Had he seen it, the look on her face, was less happy and entranced, than he might have hoped. By contrast, the look on his, was little short of beatific, his portly, wobbling figure, walking as tall as he could. Breakfast and mass, passed the way they do. Jeanne, was grateful, and solicitous of the Cardinal’s views. The Cardinal, was more than happy to share them. He said mass with as many liturgical flourishes, as a short service, at a side altar, for a single congregant, would allow. Communion, was though, almost blasphemously intimate. Given her exemplars at the convent, and in spite of her life of crime, since leaving it, Jeanne was scandalised. She said as much to Françoise, when they spoke a little after midday. They were back in the apartments and alone. “But what was he like?” “I have, as you know, little experience in these things but I would say… obvious. Don’t misunderstand me, he’s not without skill, and he can preform, but… he relies too much on the fact he is a Cardinal. I had to stop myself when he unveiled his member, as though it were the consecrated host itself.” “Stop yourself?” “I couldn’t make up my mind, either to applaud or laugh. He seemed to expect me to faint, with how impressed I should have been.” “So you faked it, like I showed you?” “I did. I confess, I was surprised how ready he was to believe the quality of his own endowments and performance.” “Yes, you do get men like that. I’m not sure what they think the rest of the world is like, but they seem to have stood in front of a mirror, and developed a very superior impression of themselves. You have to be careful not to puncture their inflated sense of perfection.” “I doubt I could do it.” “It is surprisingly easy. You have to be on guard, all of the time, the slightest thing.” “Alright, forewarned, as they say…” “And, do you now appreciate your husband?” Jeanne smiled broadly and nodded, “I do.” “Then I guess the Cardinal’s kind offices work.” And she and Jeanne burst out laughing. She looked out of the window, smiling. “Oh look, the Italian is about to visit us I… oh, no, I’m wrong.” Françoise, looked now too, “He is due about now. To find out how it went. You’re right, he’s walking past… Why would that be? I don’t know what he has to…” she shrugged. “I expect we’ll find out soon enough. How long before you and de Rohan meet again?” “I, await his pleasure, but he seemed to think a couple of days.” Françoise was right about hearing from the Italian. About ten minutes later there was a knock on the outer door, and when Françoise came back, it was with a basket full of flowers. Jeanne stood smiling. “From an admirer, perhaps?” “Yes, and no. They are from Senior Cagliostro. A tiny girl brought them, honestly, the basket was the same size she was. In her pocket was this.” She handed over a scrap of paper, Jeanne unfolded it and read. “Being watched. Will try to find out who. Sit tight, will call later.” Looking up, they almost ran to the window and peered out. “Was he being watched, or are we being watched, do you suppose?” asked Françoise. “Your guess, but I’d have thought… hmm, could be either of us.” Jeanne said, and Françoise agreed while searching the street. “There.” Françoise pointed. “Where?” “In the door of that house, five or six down from us, in the doorway. He’s in some sort of uniform. I know it from somewhere, I’m sure I’ve seen it before.” “There are a lot of uniforms around Paris, some of them even belong to soldiers.” “Ha, yes, but, I know, I think I know, it was on the men who broke in on la Motte and me the night he stole the necklace.” “So whose men were they?” “Some aristo or other… Um, la Roche… Rochelle maybe? He wasn’t one of those who come by the tavern much, seemed a bit of a killjoy.” “Rochefort, perhaps?” “Might have been, I wasn’t really thinking about him, I was, as they say, ‘occupied’, if you know what I mean.” Jeanne looked at her, at the look Françoise was returning, and then the meaning dawned and she began to laugh. They turned back to the window. “Yes, he’s definitely on watch. Who’s he after? Me, the comte de la Motte, or our Italian friend and what will it cost us?”

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 24 - Intercedere pro me Peccatore...

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 24 - Intercedere pro me Peccatore...

Intercedere pro me Peccatore... The silence in the room was absolute. Jeanne looked at her hands. The question was, had she over played her hand, or was he still on the hook. The next hour would tell. Her arm grew stiff and she shifted slightly. Françoise looked up, disturbed from her own thoughts - had she given Jeanne enough ammunition to ensnare this worldly priest? Cagliostro alone was relaxed. He watched his companions, and noted the anxious exchange of looks between the women. His thoughts, ran to the money, how much further could he press his backers? It was a high stakes game, but how high? When could he tell them the fish was in play, and soon they would strike? The fire crackled and a log toppled from the flames. Françoise leaped forward to usher it back, and they all wondered if that was a good sign or ill? The Italian cleared his throat. “It’s a good sign.” And he grinned, eyeing the other two, and Jeanne laughed, Françoise smiled. “How did you know, that was what I was thinking?” Jeanne asked. “We were all thinking?” echoed Françoise. “It was inevitable. This is the point it can go badly wrong, the first time. If it does, we will be angry and upset and frustrated. But, it isn’t particularly dangerous, with regard to the authorities. Our investors, on the other hand, might cut up nasty, but I don’t think so, yet.” “You think it becomes more dangerous later?” Françoise suggested. “Certainly. If it goes wrong past this point, we may all be caught, and as the game proceeds the penalty becomes greater. We are sitting here, hoping we get the chance to play, perhaps we should be hoping, we don’t.” “For my part, I am fixed on my course, any other, will be short and messy and less satisfactory. But if others,” she turned to Françoise, “wish to withdraw, I will not point fingers or hold any grudge.” “Me? I haven’t had so much fun, ever. I know it might go… wrong. But I reckon, every now and again, fortune smiles… and you never know.” Jeanne sighed and relaxed, evidently Françoise staying in, mattered more to her than she’d said. A noise and they looked at the door. It swung back and la Motte stood there, in a new uniform. His smile suggested, he was a little worse for wear. He raised his hand and bowed. “Ladies and gentleman, I stand before you a, consecrated mind you, officer, in the the service of the Comte d’Artois, and five livres poorer than I went out. But, fifty livres per year, richer.” The ladies stood and applauded. The news they had been waiting for. It meant the Cardinal had taken the risk, and passed the word on to his friend, Artois. For better or worse, they were now on the inside. “Excellent. We must now get this letter off to his Eminence.” Cagliostro looked it over. “Jeanne, it says - you thank him profusely for his help, unlooked for, and you ask to see him to make an act of confession.” Jeanne smiled, “Appropriate. I haven’t been since some time before Marie-Ann, met his Eminence.” “Oh, you go to confession?” Françoise asked. “Of course. I am a sinner. No?” “But do you tell them… “ and she waved her hand in the air. Jeanne smiled sweetly. “What, you want me to break the seal of the confessional? For shame, Françoise.” “There will be no need to run you through your paces, as to the formalities of the sacrement, then?” Cagliostro asked. “The nuns leave their mark monsieur. Some things are never forgotten.” “Such as sins, madame?” La Motte asked. “Other’s sins, certainly not. My own? That, is what confession is for.” Cagliostro frowned, still worried about the tension between his two main players. He tapped the letter on the table. “First thing in the morning, I’ll get this round to his Eminence’s apartments, we will know how keen he is by the speed of reply.” As it turned out, the Cardinal seemed to take the mater, of the forgiveness of sins very seriously indeed, and suggested that very afternoon. Cagliostro was impressed. “What did you say to him, my dear?” “Say? Nothing. I did smile at him though.” La Motte made a vulgar guffaw which produced a punch on the shoulder from Françoise. Jeanne looked him up and down, before turning back to Cagliostro. “I think a man’s imagination, is probably more powerful than anything I could have said or done.” “True.” “So long as that imagined tryst, in the Cardinal’s mind isn’t better than the actual event, when it happens, eh madame?” La Motte observed. “We can only try, and success will be a function of the quality of my teachers. Is that not so sir?” “Bless me Father, for I have sinned, it has been a month since my last confession.” “Yes, my child, and what minor transgressions might you have committed in that time?” “Father, I have taken the Lord’s name in vain, and I had unkind thoughts about my maid, when she dropped a cup the other day…” The Cardinal waited. He waited a little longer, and supposing this confessor had reached the end… “For these and all my sins…” “No Eminence, I have more… I have, in the last few days committed a much more grave sin.” He shifted in his seat. “Child, I hardly think that you…” “But Eminence, I have.” “What is it then?” He said it in as kindly a voice as he could muster, his hand resting on the top of the kneeler, at which Jeanne attended this sacrement in his rooms. “Eminence, I have had lustful thoughts. I don’t know what or how, I’ve never had this sort of thing….” “Child, I hear many such confessions, it is of no matter to me. Go on.” “I fear to be the occasion of sin for another.” “Adultery. That would be more serious, but not something uncommon in this wicked world.” He controlled his urge, simply to grab her. “It is worse than just that, this person is, he is a man of the cloth Eminence.” “I see…” A silence followed. Jeanne risked a nervous look, and found the Cardinal had several beads of perspiration on his forehead. She kept looking at him and he eventually turned away. She nodded, fearfully. He seemed to melt. He thought he was playing the game very well, soon he would have her... “Oh child. It could not be, in your circumstances… I think, we might… yes, instruction… to save... Let me grant you absolution, and we might talk this over a little more comfortably.” He raised his hand in blessing, “Misereatur tui ominipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis…”

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 23- The Counsellor

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 23- The Counsellor

The Counsellor It was some days later when the invitation came. Jeanne fretted, had she not been beguiling enough? La Motte, thought himself too intimidating. Cagliostro, who had also been in attendance, and had, by all accounts, chiefly those of Françoise his companion, believed they'd caught him, and was content to wait. The letter, was itself a piece of magnificent theatre. The finest parchment, the most florid penmanship, the loudest seal. Jeanne, la Motte, Cagliostro and Françoise were all there, when the Italian prised open the seal. Unfolding the letter he looked round them all with a satisfied smile before reading. “Good, very good… oh even better.” La Motte rolled his eyes and leaned forward, “Are we to be treated to a commentary on your feelings, or the contents of the letter?” he asked. Smiling again the Italian looked up. “There’s nothing like a bit of dramatic tension, to improve the reception of the work, monsieur.” There was a general murmur of dissatisfaction and he held up his hand, “Alright, his Eminence, is inviting the Comtesse, note not the couple, to an afternoon of counsel and prayer, due to his great concern over the state of her marriage.” “Is that, good?” Françoise asked. “Oh yes, he is hungry, but circumspect. He has made, I should say, certain enquiries and his limited sources, have given him to understand the contessa is genuinely devout.” “How do you know? He can’t say that, surely.” La Motte asked. Cagliostro smiled, “His limited sources. Now, whom do you think…?” “You?” Jeanne straightened. “If we are to catch him, we must surround him. He has no reliable connection with the court, so we have supplied one. With it, a filter of the information he is told. None of it false. But, it is a picture of a world we wish him to see and, as it happens, it is one he wants to see as well.” “Is there a date for this invitation?” La Motte asked. “Indeed, in two days time. We shall send a reply, and prepare for the next step.” Arriving at his Eminence’s apartments two days later, Jeanne was the epitome of innocent temptation. She was dressed simply, in pale green silk and her hair was as natural as fashion would allow, gathered behind her head with a bow. At her neck a small gold cross. Unlike on her sister’s visit, Jeanne was not kept waiting but brought straight in, to find the Cardinal reading his daily office, by a large window. His usual man waited at the door, with today a matronly maid at his side. Upon her entrance, the Cardinal stood immediately, and almost rushed across the room to greet Jeanne. Holding out his ring to be kissed, he was slowed by Jeanne’s hesitancy. She curtsied, and touched the ring to her lips, looking up at him as she did so. He swallowed. “Madame, I have been so concerned since the other evening, it is all I have thought about.” “I am sorry Eminence, to have been the occasion of interference in your religious devotions.” “Ah, no madame, it was through my devotion that I was able to relieve my concern. Come please sit. Will you take some refreshment? A little wine.” “I do not drink alcohol, Eminence. Perhaps a little tea, if you have it?” “I do, madame, of course.” And he snapped his fingers at the servants. Jeanne followed his Eminence over to the window, where two chairs were arranged around a small occasional table. They sat. His eminence removed a rosary from his pocket and began to finger the beads. The tea arrived with a small plate of petit-fours, the maid poured and they, both man and maid, retired. Jeanne sipped the very hot tea. His Eminence coughed. “Madame, might I enquire, the difficulties between yourself and your husband? I do not mean to pry, in a prurient way, but if I am to offer the assistance I so ardently wish to do, I need to know. All of Paris is talking of your… disagreement in Troyes.” Jeanne teared up a little, “Oh sir, I did not know… does the whole world know our business then?” “Not the detail, merely the fact of a young and troubled marriage.” “The fault is mine, Eminence. I am too young, too unknowing of the ways of the the world.” “But, this is as it should be madame, what a husband should desire in a virtuous wife.” “He does not. He wants for a wife, one more knowing than I.” “I don’t know what to say, madame. I think there are women aplenty in Paris who would oblige a man, but not so many who possess your virtue. Perhaps you could enquire of one of these ladies…” “I am afraid that would ruin my husband’s reputation, he would or I might, become the subject of gossips and humour.” “You need a discreet instructor then.” “In these delicate matters, whom can a woman trust?” “Well let us think. Now, your husband, he is a Comte, but only in His Majesty’s Gendarmes, could that be right?” “Indeed Eminence.” “And that means he is around Paris most of the time?” “All of the time, Eminence.” He sat back in his seat and ran the beads between his fingers. He thought now he had only to reach out his hand… but this could be delightful, a willing pupil to corrupt, and so well constructed. He caught her look, and quickly pulled himself together. “Madame, I have a friend…” “Oh, Eminence, I cannot be passed round like…” and she held out her hand to the plate of petit-fours. “No, you misunderstand, my friend, the Comte d’Artois, he has a regiment, I believe I can get your husband commissioned in his service, it would mean, his leaving Paris, for days at a time. It would give you some time, alone, to reflect. And more income too I think.” “I see, Eminence, and I might have the chance to find a discreet confidant…?” “I think, with some thought, you might, madame. Yes indeed, God inspired, you might say.” She looked at him with eyes that he hoped spoke of more than mere lust. It was a strange mix that he felt, of benevolence and desire, teacher and corrupter, shepherd and wolf.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 22 - The Masque

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 22 - The Masque

The Masque Though he attended the first masque of the season in Strasbourg, the Cardinal left early. His disappointment, at the absence of the lady, surprised him. It also whetted his appetite. Enquiry revealed that the Comte and Comtesse had returned to Paris. Their planned stay had been cut short, a rumoured difference in perspective between the couple. Interesting. He sent his man to make further enquiry into this couple, and the story became, even more interesting. It was revealed, she was freshly married. After that happy event, the couple had discovered certain differences, the whisper was, they sprang from the marital bed. He licked his lips as his man told him this, no wonder the woman already looked abroad, if her husband was an oaf in bed. He ordered his household to prepare to return to Paris, where he thought he might try snare this beauty. Back in Paris, Jeanne and la Motte were having supper. They had taken the most direct route to the capitol, to be sure they would not be overtaken, and the trip was exhausting. Neither liked long distances in coaches, few did. It had turned cold and wet on their way, and the roads were the worse for it. La Motte insisted on boring her, with questions about how you could move armies on such roads, as though she cared. Supper was welcome, but Jeanne’s stomach would still need a while to settle down. The broth helped. In spite of the dull conversation, they had developed a civil working relationship on the journey, and, she felt, they would be able to pull this off, if everything else went as they hoped. But he was disturbingly volatile. In gaps between diatribes about armies, they discussed the events in Strasbourg. They both agreed the Cardinal was tickled by the bait. La Motte was much more sure of this than Jeanne, but in any event this fish would need careful play. Jeanne was worried about his experience. Françoise, had found out much, but not everything, and instruct her as she might, there was nothing like being in the saddle, to understand how to control the mount. La Motte, had been oddly reticent about getting involved in this. Jeanne was disappointed, she had been counting on him to find out what worked, and what was a waste of time. He said, tastes were too individual for him to be able to express an opinion, and stormed off. His moods varied, between enthusiastic help, and sullen indifference. Jeanne, asked the ever helpful Françoise about it, but she was at a loss. Deciding to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, she indicated to Françoise that they should be left alone. Françoise duly made her excuses, and left. Silence as far as conversation was concerned. Sounds of spoon scraping and broth drinking, indicated someone was in the room, but not much else. Jeanne cleared her throat, but la Motte didn’t look up. She stopped eating and just waited. Finally, that seemed to work and he looked up, and then straight down. She sighed, and tapped the end of her spoon on the table, trying to think of how to open the conversation. It was that, that got to him, he frowned and eyed, first the spoon, and then Jeanne. They examined each other, she frustrated, he disconsolate. “We cannot go on like this Monsieur.” “Like…” “Don’t say, ‘like what’, I do not think you are so lacking in sensibility, that you do not know what you’ve been like.” He bent down and lifted his spoon, and she thought he was going to start eating again, but he stopped and faced her. “What else is there?” “We are supposed to be conspirators, in what is after all, a pretty desperate enterprise.” “We are. I am doing everything I can to ensure you get your chance to be close to the Cardinal. To bed him, to draw him to his own destruction.” “I need more help, you know that.” “Ask.” She threw her eyes to heaven, and then back at him. He shook his head, then surprised her. “Give it up.” “What? I don’t understand.” “Stop it, walk away. We can just leave. You don’t need to do it, it won’t do any good anyway. It’s like these stupid duels the ‘gentlemen’ fight, for their supposed honour. All theatre and front, at best they have a scar and a story about their bravery, at worst someone is dead and another exiled. Honour? Never worth it. It’s a myth men talk about when they’ve done nothing worth doing in their lives. And the price is never theirs to pay, always some innocent. Walk away. We can take your sister with us, see the Americas, make a fortune. Europe’s finished anyway.” She was struck dumb for a moment, and struggled to find the words she never thought she would ever need to say to la Motte, of all people. “Honour is all they give women, that and children I suppose. If you are defenceless, poor, pious, they have told you again and again, that your entire value to the world, is contained in that word. When it’s gone you’re nothing. Your honour, as a woman is further bound to virginity outside of marriage, and fidelity inside it. Lose that, and you have to be very rich and well positioned, or very poor with no position at all, to avoid destruction. If you’re a woman, and you have no honour, you’re fair game to any man who fancies his chances. You have to be tough, like Françoise, to survive and she has her father and the inn behind her. Marie-Ann, had nothing, and with what she has been taught, year after year, by the sisters, de Rohan took away even her connection with God.” “But, will this change that or leave her on her own?” “It will show her that even a Cardinal, cannot escape retribution, when he steps over the line. I’m not doing this to restore honour, the way I could if I were a man. What’s done is done, she is ruined, at least in her own eyes. I am doing this to take from the Cardinal, his honour.” “And us?” “Us? You walked away when you thought your honour besmirched by a woman with a pistol. Had I been the lad you supposed, you would have thought me a rascal, and gotten drunk with me.” “I’m sorry, I was caught unaware.” “You can make it up to me by helping me do this.” “I cannot stop you?” Slowly she shook her head. He looked at his cold soup and pushed the bowl away unhappily. He nodded. “Alright, I’ll do it, but don’t expect me to be happy.” “Oh come sir, we can have a little fun surely, and your lessons so far have not been unhappy.” He smiled. “They have not.” She stood and he followed and… Two days later. It is the afternoon of the Masque they have chosen, to make their entrance. At this time, Paris, is a round of Masques and spectacles. The extravagance of these entertainments, set against a background of increasing poverty and some desperation in the City of Paris itself, was part of the sickness, that in a short time will explode in revolution. For now, beginning in mid november, but really taking off after Christmas, celebration and carnival ruled. Some were private, but others, given three times a week by the Opera, were more accessible, and as a result more crowded. Having been assured of the Cardinal’s presence, it was one of the Saturday evening events they had picked, to continue their hunt. Appropriately enough, it was as Artemis, Jeanne had chosen to dress that evening, but because it was a new moon, her whole costume was black. “Will you wear make up, Jeanne?” Françoise asked as she finished her hair. Jeanne looked at her through the mirror, her worry changing to sudden panic. “I didn’t think to ask, I’ve never worn it, never had the money. Do you think everyone will be made up? They will be, of course they will. Oh God, it’s a disaster, I’m going to look ridiculous.” La Motte came through the door just as she finished her sentence. “What?” He was met with two worried faces, as they women turned. “Make up, should she be made up? Will everyone else be made up?” Françoise asked. La Motte walked over and stared down. “Look, most of the other women will be made up, because most of them have to be. If you’re going to be Artemis, then the younger you look the better. Goddesses don’t need make up.” The women turned looking for support in the face of the other but found uncertainty. Jeanne shook her head. “What would you know.” He took a step back and smiled, “I know you will be wearing a mask. I know that it will be very warm. I know that most of the competition will be old hands…” he shrugged and smiled, “so to speak. And I know, that the Cardinal likes ‘em young.” Françoise smiled and nodded, “He’s right.” Jeanne thought about it, and then agreed, “Alright, you get the points for that one. No make up, and we’ll show the old hags how to do it.” The route to the Opera was more frightening than Jeanne had anticipated, and she was very glad, both for the carriage and la Motte’s reassuring size. The streets were, while not being clogged, that would happen later in the season, yet they were full of people enjoying the beginning of carnival. The vulgar ‘chienlits’ and the ordinary drunks, mingled and fought, sang and caroused in a manner to shock the pious, and frighten the uninitiated. For all of her adventuring around nighttime Paris, this was new to Jeanne. As they reached their destination, things calmed down a little. The entry price, at four livres a ticket, was high enough to keep the rabble out. This made the masque safer, but, as the decade wore on, a target for the poor, the starving and the angry. They entered a maelstrom of activity. Each evening was themed and the entertainment provided by the Opera was lavish, as well as masterful. Singers wandered about creating the appearance of a flash mob, as they would coagulate and sing, and then wander away until the next song. The orchestra and dancing was as refined, as the behaviour of the party-goers was crude. It did not take long for la Motte to spot the Cardinal, his arm around one woman and his hand invisible in the costume of a second. Jeanne was led to intersect his Eminence’ path and he recognised her instantly. His companions were rudely dropped, and he stepped in front of her. “Madame.” He bowed. In his case, a slight bend at where one might suppose his waist should be. “Dance?” “Eminence.” She curtsied and they began. “Even masked you stand out from everyone here, madame, even as you did in Strasbourg.” “In Strasbourg Eminence? I am surprised and flattered, to be remembered.” “It is the flattery with which you must be accustomed, madame, I cannot imagine it otherwise. Who accompanies you this evening?” he asked. “My husband.” And she pointed at la Motte who was dancing with a larger, older, ball attendee. “Ah madame, is he the Comte de la Motte.” “And I the Comtesse, Eminence.” He nodded. “I have heard… things madame.” “Things, Eminence?” “Of your marriage, madame.” “Only good I hope.” “Some poetic, some mundane.” Jeanne covered her face with her mask and the conversation stopped for the the moment. The dance continued, she could feel him waiting, he had plotted this conversation many times she thought. Eventually, “I have some experience, madame, in marital difficulties.” And, at her look of surprise, “The solving of them, I mean.” Again, Jeanne raised the mask to her face. The Cardinal frowned. They continued in silence. He took the risk. “Madame, we could go somewhere more amenable to conversation, I have apartments nearby.” She looked up at him, a little shocked, and looked away, the picture of demure youth, it was all he could do, not to reach out and take her. She felt his hunger. She turned and saw la Motte looking across at her. “Eminence, my husband calls me.” “Another time, madame.” She curtsied and turned away immediately. He gave another of his slight bows to her retreating figure, his eyes following, devouring, needing her. Until they reached the watching la Motte, who smiled and held out his arm to his wife, and swept her away into the crowd. The Cardinal did not see her again, that evening.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 21 - Communion

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 21 - Communion

Communion Mass on Saint Stephen’s day, the cathedral, Strasbourg. The Cardinal is concelebrating mass, for the great and supposed good, in the tallest building in the world. The choir is in full voice, the space, one of the largest outside of Paris, is packed, but for the more comfortable area, occupied by the creme de la creme. Among whom, of course, the Comte and Comtesse de la Motte. That wonderful lubricant, money, had managed to place the couple, not in the front rank of worshipers, but in a prominent position in the second row. Jeanne, dressed in red, her hair, her own and not piled high, is covered with a black mantilla with a white, virtually transparent, collar covering her shoulders. She would be among those receiving communion from the Cardinal’s own hands. They had made the three day journey to Strasbourg in stages, stopping for a short while in Reims and then Nancy, before spending the last few days in Strasbourg itself. They had attended Midnight mass on Christmas eve, and then mass again at eleven on Christmas day. In both of these instances they were discreet, from the point of view of society and the Cardinal, virtually invisible. Not so on the 26th. As the feast of the first martyr, Jeanne had thought it appropriate to begin their project on this particular day. She also thought this shade of red, liturgically correct for the day, suited her. She did not think many other ladies would dare it. She was right. The row in front of her emptied as the gentlemen and ladies of Strasbourg, went up for communion. The Cardinal stood in the centre of the chancel, with the line of the high folk passing smoothly in front of him, while he fed them the body of Christ. Front row done, the second row followed. It was not unusual for the Cardinal to serve two or even three rows of worshipers, but it was not normal either. Today, a martyr’s day but not Christmas or Easter, Pentecost or the Ascension, it had been assumed he would stop shortly after the first row, allowing his concelebrants to finish, even as they were serving on either side of him, the larger part of the congregation. While trying not to make it too obvious, he might just have been awaiting that lady in the red dress. Jeanne, arrived in front of him and knelt, leaning forward, hands joined in supplication to the Lord, and perhaps to God. The Cardinal, leaned toward her, he had to as she was lower than most, and he drank in her perfume. As he reached out with the host she looked up and her eyes met his, the impact on him almost a blow. He tripped over his words, words he had said numerous times every day of his life, since he was fourteen. “Crops…Corpus Christi.” “Amen.” And she was gone. Then there was some fellow in front of him, waiting, as the Cardinal’s eyes followed Jeanne to her seat. She knelt, the picture of devotional piety. The man coughed, and his Eminence glared, but remembered himself, and served once more. He served half a row after that, as much to watch this woman, as to cover the fact of his watching. Walking back to his throne at the alter, he bent to the alter boy at his side and said something. The alter boy turned away, and headed for the vestry. The choir continued their exquisite singing, the Cardinal folded his hands inside his sleeves and sat, brooding over how he might get this woman to one of the many masked balls that would be held in Strasbourg or Paris, over the coming weeks. He turned round in his seat looking for the boy. Impatient for an answer, he had sent him to find out her name, and from where she had sprung. By the time the boy was back his mood was anxious and, well, less than that of the temperate Christian. But, there was an answer. His Eminence, sat back in his throne and smiled, and the wheels turned, and he thought he might find a way. Worship over, the congregation poured out onto the square in front of the the cathedral. There, hundreds of horses waited, all groomed to the highest standard available to their owners, for the blessing given each year on this day. The crowd thinned, but still many stayed to watch. The parade in front of the Cardinal would be fine. Individual horses and teams pulling carriages. Farm horses and city dray horses, all looking their best and, as luck would have it the sun was out. Children ran around the square, freed from the harsh confines of churchly behaviour, adults spoke in groups comparing their christmas days and sharing hopes for the new year. Whispering still, about the loss of two weeks of their lives, just a few years earlier when the country moved to the new calendar, and its consequent effect on weather and daylight norms. A hush descended as the Cardinal appeared. Dressed now in his most formal outdoor vestments, his red hat accompanying the red chasuble, he held an aspergillum ready to sprinkle the horses as he blessed them with holy water. The parade began. Horses passed, as had the congregation at mass, in preordained sequence. The most important citizens and religious orders, then the guilds, in order of precedence, and finally, Jacques citizen with his own horse. Some are ridden, teams driven, and some led if they become skittish. In the sun even the most humble of polished bridles, shine, and make for a fine spectacle. The Cardinal paid unusual attention this year, though in truth this was one of the jobs he quite enjoyed, if the sun shone. But he was looking out for the carriage which would carry, that woman. The boy had told him she would pass with her husband, a guest of one of the guilds, the man’s arms would be on the vehicle, and that would tell him much. He spotted the carriage, and was a little distracted as he waited, but continued to bless the passing herd. Then, it was in front of him, and she was sitting forward. He fancied their eyes met, he thought a small connection. He was sufficiently experienced, to know he might easily deceive himself about a thing like that, but was romantic enough to want it to be true. So caught up in the brief exchange was he, that he forgot to look at the arms on the door of the coach. Had he noticed, it might have been a little new? But then, he told himself, every thing looked new on a day like this.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 20 - Return to Paris

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 20 - Return to Paris

Return to Paris Françoise sat on the bed beside Jeanne, saying nothing. Jeanne appeared, somewhere between the fury she’d seen in la Motte’s eyes, and just upset. Françoise tried to think of what to say, when it became plain Jeanne would say nothing. “So, not acting?” she tried. Jeanne stared at her making Françoise wince. For reply, Jeanne slowly turned her head from side to side. “Why? I mean, you don’t have to say, if it’s too painful…” Jeanne reached out with her toe and prodded the pistol, just visible beneath a couple of shoes. “Shoes? You didn’t…” “No, the pistol.” Jeanne said quietly. “The pistol.” Jeanne nodded, again slowly. “Did he try shoot you?” Jeanne frowned and turned to Françoise. “Hardly. It’s mine. We’ve met before, I mean, before we met at the Italian’s place.” Jeanne continued quietly. “Where? He never mentioned it, I’m sure he would have. I don’t understand why the pistol would matter.” “In a jeweller’s shop, in Paris.” Françoise’s turn to frown, thinking. Suddenly her head jerked up, and there was a very sharp intake of breath. Her head snapped round, mouth covered in shock. “You!” Jeanne, now prodding the pistol repeatedly with her toe, simply nodded. “No! He said it was a boy. How? He must be confused, we can get him back explain…” But Jeanne shock her head. “No, no confusion. He thought I was a boy. I was dressed like a boy.” Jeanne faced Françoise and smiled ruefully. “It’s how I make my living, I steal things. Pretty things. I only take from those as can afford to lose what I take, and I never take too much.” “That’s how you stayed a virgin. I presumed…” “So did everyone else, it seems. I thought I was the cleverest thing. Turns out, I’m just differently stupid.” “I think you’re pretty damn clever. Wow! You steal things. By the blessed… so what happened?” “He walked in on me, while I was stealing the necklace.” “The necklace? The one he tried to steal?” “Yes. The one he tried to steal. Only, this one was real. I had checked it, and had just tucked it away when I heard him, the great galute.” “And that was when the pistol?” Jeanne slowly agreed, and bending down, picked it up. She turned it over in her hand several times. Françoise watched her. “It looks very small.” She said. Jeanne smiled, “It is. Hardly any use at all. A stout belt would stop it, or a distance of ten yards. But it’s very quiet, and it will do more than enough damage, if you get shot in the eye at six inches.” “You were that close?” “We were.” “But you wouldn’t have?” “I would.” She shrugged. “Of course I would. Probably wouldn’t have killed him… probably.” “But you didn’t. “ “No. I didn’t.” Jeanne sighed. It was hard to know if that was regret at not having killed him, or it having happened at all. Françoise shook her head in disbelief. She laughed. “After you told me… you know, I thought you were the sweetest thing, so innocent. I was going to have words with the Italian, and tell him to get you out of it.” Jeanne smiled and faced her, “Not now?” “Not now. La Motte, told me about that evening. That you left him for the night watch.” “He broke the rope trying to get away, before I came out from putting back the necklace. We had agreed we’d go together, but he tried to go first. I could never have pulled him up through the skylight.” “Sounds like him. He is very sweet, but not the most honourable. Had he know you were a girl…” “Woman.” “Sorry. Had he known, I think he might have behaved differently.” “Think.” Françoise shrugged. “He’s not dependable in that way.” “Will he see this through?” Françoise though about that and then, “I think so, it’s been worked out with the Italian, and there are others involved, he’d get a bad reputation if he walked away. He’ll get one, if it gets out you were the ‘lad’, who stitched him up.” “It won’t. Not from me anyway.” “Not from me either, though, I might mention it to him. He won’t say anything, you can be sure of that.” “That’s all that matters. Right. Would you help me, get my things in order?” Françoise smiled, “Love to Madame, more than ever.” They had returned to Paris, and Jeanne was installed in her new apartments for three days, by the time la Motte turned up, looking the worse for wear. When she’d arrived Cagliostro had congratulated her on the ‘performance’ in the bust up in Troyes. The musicians had made it the hot gossip round town. He was shocked to discover it had been real, and was very shocked, when Françoise painted in a bit more of the detail, though omitting the cause. Cagliostro fretted about the absence of his man. Jeanne could not attend any of the masques, without his arm being there for her to lean on. When he turned up, and Cagliostro saw the state he was in, he was both relieved and distressed. “But, look at your clothes, monsieur.” “What about them?” La Motte was edging towards sobriety, probably for the first time since he left Jeanne, and he was looking around the room, seeking the means to forestall that state, if he could. The Italian just sighed and turned round to Françoise who was caught somewhere between concern and laughter. Seeing her, he sighed again. “Would you mind organising a bath for him, and some clean clothes? Did you, by chance, bring the rest of his things from Troyes?” “Not by chance, monsieur, by design.” Jeanne answered. Françoise left, and Cagliostro smiled at Jeanne. He looked now at la Motte, appraising him up and down, the way one would a horse one fears was a bad deal. La Motte looked back defiantly, then began to sink into the chair he was leaning against, missed, and ended up sitting on the floor. He still tried for defiant, but got as far as forlorn. Jeanne sighed, echoing Cagliostro. “We can put him back together, but this thing between you, is it going to be a problem?” Jeanne eyed la Motte and looked back at Cagliostro, “Not on my part.” “Monsieur?” La Motte was sober enough still to be angry with Jeanne, and he looked her over before, in turn, facing Cagliostro. “I’ll work with her, there’s money in it after all.” Cagliostro faced him severely, “You will depend on each other a great deal, if we are to get out the other side of this, with the winnings, and our heads. We cannot be divided. If you are in any way half hearted, we should call it off. Are you in?” La Motte seemed to take another step toward sobriety, if not dignity, leaning as he was against the leg of a chair. “Yes, I’m in. You can depend upon it.” He said. “Good. We are all depending upon it, monsieur.” He turned again to face Jeanne, “And you madame, you are certain? I know, you know the stakes.” “I am absolutely certain, and I understand that for you, the motive is money, even if mine is not.” Satisfied, Cagliostro walked over to la Motte and held out his hand. The gendarme pulled himself up off the floor just as Françoise came back in. She noticed him rise and her eyes did a quick check, that there had not been some sort of fight. She grinned. “I have the bath, good and hot.” “Good. Jeanne, a dressmaker is coming round to meet with you after lunch. You sir, will come with me when you are ready, and we shall get you suitably dressed. Whatever the truth, this first part has gone admirably well, let us hope the Gods, who watch over us ordinary thieves, will keep watching. That way we might keep our heads.”

The Cardinal's Sin - Chapter 19 - Try to See it My Way

The Cardinal's Sin - Chapter 19 - Try to See it My Way

Try to see it my way La Motte examined the pistol carefully. He turned it, butt away, muzzle on and he looked down its length. This is how he first encountered the weapon. He thought long, longer than made his wife comfortable. He was back in that place, that evening, remembering, not the gun in particular, but the skylight. The feeling in his stomach as the cover slid across, and he realised he was on his own. At the time, he was straight into dealing with what had happened, and what he should do next, but now. He looked from the muzzle of the decorative piece, now noting just how decorative, to across the room, into those same eyes. Jeanne had seen the pistol slide away and had been about to ask him to throw it back, it wasn’t loaded after all, when she picked up something in his manner. In the Italian’s apartments she had seen who it was she trained the pistol on, straight away, but either he hadn’t recognised the pistol, or he didn’t care. Now, she knew at the very least, he recognised it here, and his careful demeanour suggested he might indeed care. He coloured. She coloured. He looked back at the pistol, just to be sure, and try to connect the sweet and enthusiastic lover he’d spent the last few nights with, and those hard eyes in the night. The body he’d seen disappear through the roof was certainly in evidence. “You!” “My pistol, if you please.” “It was you!” he repeated. Jeanne was now at an impasse, asking for the pistol would look like avoiding the question, but then, she wanted to avoid the question. “Yes, it was me. My pistol please.” He threw it at her, hard, aiming at her head. She caught it. If there is one thing more annoying than having someone throw something at you, it’s the other person catching it. She turned and began to put it away in its small case. “That’s it?” “What else?” she answered without looking back. “You might say ‘sorry’. It would be the very least.” “Sorry? What for?” “Leaving me like that, at the mercy of, who knew how many, night-watchmen .” “I knew you’d be fine. You’d tried to arrest me, remember? For all I knew it was a trick by some Gendarme Captain and his friends outside. I had a lot to lose.” “But you just left me. You closed me into the place so I couldn’t get out, and you walked away.” “What else could I have done? You broke the rope, or have you forgotten.” From the look on his face, perhaps he had forgotten that bit, “What was I going too do? Haul you through the skylight? Look at you and look at me, how likely do you think that was to work?” “But you didn’t even try.” “But you tried didn’t you? Before I got back. While I was sticking to my end of the deal, you tried to get away first, but you broke the rope. If the cabinets hadn’t been so high I would have been stuck there, caught like a rat in a trap.” “I was trying to get things ready so our escape would be smooth, if you must know. I thought we could team up.” “You tried to get away, and the rope gave when you put your weight against it.” “So that would have happened anyway, wouldn’t it.” “No, I would have gone first, yes, but then doubled the rope, got you up on one of the cabinets and you could have followed me.” He ran that through his head as she spoke, and thought it would have worked, might have worked, that is if he hadn’t broken his neck climbing up on the cabinets. “That is, of course, if you hadn’t broken your fool neck climbing up on the cabinets.” She quoted back his very thoughts. “Are you suggesting I’m inelegant?” “Not when you’re lying down.” That shocked him and he opened his mouth for a cutting reply, but nothing came to mind. He picked up the cup on the table by the door and flung it at her. She ducked and it shattered on the wall behind her. She grabbed a shoe and returned the compliment, hitting him on the back of the head as he, in turn, ducked. “See, awkward. You’d have gotten us both caught, whereas my early departure meant we both got away.” “My quick thinking you mean.” “It was the obvious course to take.” “I’m obvious too now, am I?” “A bit.” “Inelegant, awkward and obvious, but delicate enough to teach you a thing or two in the art of making love, no?” “The practice of rutting, you mean.” “No I do… rutting? Is that what you think we’ve been doing? Rutting?” “What else? It’s what men do, no? Venal, selfish, vulgar rutting. The lowest peasant in the land does as much.” He stared and turned cold. “I guess, it’s true, I am, when all is said and done, merely training a whore, for a priest. One knows nothing, the other cares nothing.” Now she reached over to the windowsill and picked up a vase of flowers thoughtfully gifted them by the inn-keeper, and she flung it with all of her might and sent it crashing against the door. Downstairs Françoise, the musicians and the staff of the inn were together in the refectory and listening to the incoherent shouting, accompanied now by the crashing of numerous items smashing against the walls. One of the musicians turned to the other, and began to count out coin into the hand of his smiling friend. Françoise forced a smile and excused herself. As she reached the corridor outside the room, she was passed by an apparently furious la Motte. She reached out to his arm, to congratulate him on the performance, but she was brushed aside and she stared at his retreating back. Trying to recover from her surprise she took a few steps in the direction of the door of the room and peeked inside and had to duck back quickly, as another shoe whistled past her head. “Jeanne? Stop, it’s Françoise, he’s gone.” Silence. She waited some seconds and risked her head round the door again. Jeanne was inside, sitting on the bed. She looked up as Françoise stood in the doorway. “Not dead is he?” she asked. “Not yet.”

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 18 - A Country Wedding

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 18 - A Country Wedding

A Country Wedding St. Nizier Church, was not particularly small. The side chapel, though, was tiny and filled to overflowing, for the quickly arranged and very simple wedding. At the moment the priest declared them ‘Man and Wife’ a strictly non-traditional cheer went up round them, which echoed in the large nave beside. When they had arrived back at the inn earlier they were met by a beaming inn-keeper and staff. All of the musicians they happened across, also met them with smiles and winks. It didn’t take much to realise they had been spotted in the town, and while this was the plan, it nevertheless took them by surprise. When la Motte asked, if anyone might help in arranging a quick wedding he was, by that point, unsurprised to find a boy had already alerted the local priest, and the musicians had even chosen the tunes they wished to play at the ceremony. They had invited themselves, so as not to worry the couple with details. That evening, the troupe leader had paid for a modest feast, insisting they had only come to Troyes at the last moment, and had been handsomely paid for the engagement. The wedding guest list, was not the longest, nor was it the richest, but it was among the happiest witnessed in that inn, for many a year. Françoise, in spite, or perhaps because of, her more than knowing upbringing, was evidently a romantic at heart. She had fixed up a bridal suite with wild flowers and the freshest linen the inn could provide, along with, what seemed to Jeanne to be every spare candle in the place. So, by the time she and la Motte, made a tipsy entrance to the bedroom, the romance of the day’s events was firmly fixed in everyone’s minds. The musicians even played beneath their window, a slightly baudy song to point them in the right direction, for the rest of the night. About an hour before that moment, Jeanne had pulled Francoise aside, with a request for some help moving her things, from her room, to the bridal suite. Once in her room, with the door closed, Jeanne sat on the bed and with a look somewhere between concern and abject terror asked, “Francoise.” “Yes… what’s wrong?” Jeanne just stared at her and as tears began to form, “Oh my God.” said Francois, and she blessed herself. Jeanne nodded silently, and looked at her hands which were seemingly trying to crush each other. “I never thought this would be a problem, I mean, people said…” said the amazed Francoise. “Yes, people know nothing. I thought I’d have time, I didn’t think it would be so suddenly upon me.” “But, you were free to… did you not feel the urge?” “Yes, but you don’t need men for that.” “…And you at that nice convent.” “There, in particular. But… there were no men, so it didn’t come up.” Francoise stared for a moment and then tried to suppress the laugh. Jeanne heard herself, and she made no attempt to stop. When they had settled down. “Oh, you rich girls, you really know nothing. You don’t have to… you know… do anything.” said Francoise. “So I’ve been told. But, if I don’t do… he’ll know, I’m innocent. La Motte has been drinking, what will he do?” Françoise shrugged “He’ll probably laugh, knowing him. Still, it’s not ideal. What are you going to do with the Cardinal, I thought the idea was to bed him. He won’t be impressed with innocence.” “It is the idea. I don’t know what I was thinking. At first, it was just get him alone, and then gut him like a fish.” Francoise nodded and sat beside her, “That was a good plan.” Jeanne agreed, “But then the Italian and la Motte, don’t want to be executed for murder, and it’s all gotten so complicated.” And she started to tear up again, and Francoise put her arm round her. “Look, tell me what you need to know, we can explain to la Motte and, you know, he can even teach you things, for when you are with the Cardinal.” And she blessed herself again. Jeanne turned, a little encouraged, “So, how much do you know?” Francoise asked. “Like I said I… nothing.” “Nothing? That’s quite a lot, you must know something. Everyone knows something.” Jeanne shook her head and tears came again. “Ok, nothing, ok, I think I can remember back that far…” And she followed with a short lesson on the, ins and outs of lovemaking, with some hint that there were finer points, which could come later. So it was that, as the band wandered away, and la Motte lifted her in his arms and placed her on the bed, she was only a little terrified. He looked at her, and sat beside her and kissed her forehead, and smiled. “So madame, I have been threatened this evening, in a way no man should be on his wedding night, at the point of a knife, that, if I am anything less than gentle with you, I shall be less of a man than I wish to be, in short order.” She smiled and coloured, “Francoise?” “The same. You might have given me a hint.” “I thought you would guess, from the kiss.” “No madame, your kissing is above average, no hint there.” She allowed herself a light laugh, “I … there was no opening to bring it up. “How did you sleep? Oh by the way, I’m a virgin.” …You see?” “I do. Anyway. Do you still want to go through with this plan?” Jeanne gathered her legs up onto the bed and wrapped her arms round them. “I do. He cannot be allowed to go on doing that, even if the victim were not my sister.” “It is the way of the world, madame.” “I know. But it shouldn’t be, and I can’t do something about the world, but I can do this.” “Alright, but if you are to do this then you’ll have to be prepared. Men like the Cardinal, are rarely straightforward in their pleasures.” Her head popped up at that and turned on its side, “I don’t understand.” “No, and I’m not surprised, but it’s not all bad, you have things to learn and it can be quite fun you know, sinning.” “You’re going to show me the scenic route to damnation are you?” “The heavenly way madame, heaven, cannot be so boring nor hell so much fun, if the hints of the saintly are to be believed.” “Heaven it is then.” “We’ll begin like this…” and he leaned forward and began to kiss her very gently and carefully, cupping her neck in his hand… Breakfast, the next morning was all smiles. Francoise joined them, and Jeanne, answered the questioning look with a tight squeeze of her hand. Even the most jaded of the musicians, were impressed and, truth be told, a little jealous. The nights followed the days, and the couple certainly advertised to the world, all that a young married couple should be, but often isn’t. It was the day the musicians were about to leave. Jeanne and la Motte had had another thoroughly enjoyable, ‘lesson’, in the art and pleasure of sex. They were dressing, about to go down to breakfast, Jeanne looking through her things, brought, almost as an after thought to their room, on the night of the marriage. Everything had simply been left in a large heap, which Jeanne pulled about each morning looking for the next thing to wear. Spotting the very thing she was looking for, under one side of the heap, the collapse, long expected, happened. Everything spread across the floor, in a sort of slow eruption. La Motte, waiting by the door, bent down as one particular item came to rest at his foot, a pistol. He frowned and lifted it up. He had seen it before of course. Twice, in fact, but the memory, nudged in Cagliostro’s apartments, now grew to full bloom, as he was back in a jewellers in Paris wondering if he were about to die.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 17 - A Proposal out of Town

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 17 - A Proposal out of Town

A Proposal out of Town It took two days before Jeanne was ready to leave Paris. The parting with her sister had been subdued, and Jeanne would worry for the entire time she was away. Marie-Ann, had simply accepted her sister was leaving, would be gone for several weeks, and was not to be convinced that her sister would return. Jeanne got the impression, that she had expected to be abandoned, deserved it even, and no amount of reassurance would change the sense of fatalistic calm. She spoke with reverend Mother about it, and was assured that Marie-Ann would not be left alone, and they were alive to the possibility of despair. Can you be sure to watch someone, every hour of every day? It didn’t matter, Jeanne couldn’t stay, and without taking the veil herself, she had to trust the sisters. They were to travel separately to Troyes, in Champagne. The provincial capitol vied with Rheims for preeminence in the region, but it looked like it had past its peak. Hardly developed much since the end of the last century, it had a certain charm. As far as Jeanne and la Motte were concerned, it was close enough to Paris to allow gossip to reach there, but far enough away to stop people coming to find out the truth. Some things had been agreed upon. They were actually to be married. They had rooms reserved in the largest inn in the city, at first separate, but Cagliostro had a discreet hold on a double room after a short time. They had testing roles to play, and had to get them right. Jeanne would travel in the company of another young woman, a ’cousin’, the same Francoise Mary who had proved so entertaining, that night la Motte had stolen the wrong necklace. Cagliostro had ensured an audience, by paying for a troupe of musicians to be there at the same time. It was an interim gig, their next stop was in Paris. So the couple’s performance was to be given largely for them. It would, of course be possible for the musicians, simply to be paid to spread the news, but the Italian judged a truly romantic account of the affair, had to be based on reality, if Jeanne and la Motte were up to it. The first evening after their arrival, they came down to supper. La Motte, ‘noticed’ the unhappy young woman eating with her companion, and made discreet enquiry. Then, through Francoise, he asked for an introduction. They walked out as a trio, the next morning, and that evening they ate together, all three. This was the first evening the troupe were there to play. One or two had stayed at the inn on the previous night, there to make preparation for the troupe, and they were familiar with the budding romance. La Motte asked for a series of tunes to be played to cheer up his ‘friend’, and the musicians were suitably charmed, and charming. It was clear to them, by the end of the evening, that the gallant Gendarme, and the shy young lady, in Troyes, they understood, because of an unhappy family event, or perhaps illness, they weren’t sure, but they were getting on very nicely. Their music was of course, the food that was nourishing this romance. The second day and evening followed, and a third, by which time it was clear the demure young lady, was falling for the handsome Comte, oh yes, he was, Captain, the Comte de la Motte. The band were making bets on whether he would try bed her, or go back to Paris and marry her. One grump, said he would continue on his journey to the south, and not be distracted by a woman, but he was the percussionist, and no one listened to him. As it turned out, the couple were actually getting on very well. Francoise was a good catalyst, and not at all possessive of her sometime lover. Jeanne was feeling worried and unhappy about her sister, and la Motte did make her laugh and forget her concerns, while they were together. The project was less and less of a burden as the time passed, and they got to know one another. For his part, he found her quick and clever, never mind her physical attractiveness. They got on well, she laughed at his jokes, and he began to trust her. The one thing that began to bother him, was the prospect of her having an affair with the rapacious Cardinal. That night on the road, de Rohan had not impressed him as a potentially attractive bedfellow, now, with a woman he was beginning to admire, it began to get under his skin. Walking out on day five, they had chosen one of the many river walks in the town, intending to take a bite of lunch, in one of the many small inns beside the stream. “How long before we tie the knot?” Jeanne asked. “He has us on a fixed schedule, any time in the next three or four days, I think. The band have to leave to be in Paris in about a week, and I was thinking it would be a nice touch to get them to play, you know, at the ceremony, they could be witnesses as well.” “You don’t think that’s going too far?” “Musicians? I don’t think that’s possible. They make their living off the idea of love and longing. They are the first ones who buy the thought that it’s real. That is, until it’s them involved. They’re like poets, doubting true love would be like a baker explaining the flour was off.” “I really know very little about the world. Are musicians and poets that bad?” she asked. “Believe me, I’m being nice.” “You’d think the rough childhood I had, would teach you everything you’d need to know about life, and then you find there are parts of it, you never believed existed.” “Did you?” “Did I?” “Have a rough childhood?” She smiled and nodded, “My father was mostly drunk, what we might have had to eat, was downed each evening from a bottle. I had five siblings, only three of us survived infancy. My father used to go on and on, about how we were descendants of Hugh Capet, children of the kings of France, and that he was sorely used to be left thus in the gutter. But he never thought to try rescue his own, from the same gutter.” “So how do you come to be at court?” “Marie-Ann and I used to wander about the village, trying to find food, the local priest was scandalised and he did something about it, something that didn’t involve taking advantage of the situation for himself.” “Unlike our Cardinal.” “Very. When the Queen came into her own, she thought to help when she heard about us. I, though have something of a reputation…” La Motte looked at her with raised eyebrows, the hint of a smile about his mouth. She smiled back, “Not deserved, I assure you, but useful. My little sister was still in Longchamp and the Queen took it upon herself to introduce her to society.” “A mistake.” “Like introducing a gazelle to jackals. If it hadn’t been the Cardinal, it would have been someone else.” “They are all of a seam.” He agreed. “Yes, don’t misunderstand me, I wish to destroy the Cardinal, I would have wanted to destroy whoever it was, but I don’t think, by his lights, he realised what he was doing was so wrong. He might even now be intending to help her. But she isn’t made for that world, even a respectable marriage would destroy her.” “If you don’t think he’s wrong, why go to such trouble to destroy him?” “I do think he’s wrong. I said, he doesn’t think he’s wrong. I hate all of them. They believe, they have a right to whatever woman takes their fancy.” La Motte, looked at his shoes, uncertain he isn’t also, of that same stripe. “Your fight is with the world itself.” “My fight, is with people who think this is the way the world should be. I think it can be otherwise.” He turned to look at her fully, and he took her hands in his and knelt and kissed her hands. “Jeanne, would you do me the honour?” She smiled and touched his forehead and nodded. Francoise, who had been listening, could not have had a broader smile on her face. “Oh, you two are… I don’t know.” La Motte rose and putting his arm round Jeanne, they walked together back to the inn, to see if they might find a priest. But, the course of true love…

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 16 - The Rules

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 16 - The Rules

The Rules “What? No! No, absolutely not. Why?” Jeanne was livid, moving about like a caged animal. “If you don’t, we cannot proceed. Perhaps there is some other candidate? Someone we all could trust?” “No, no other ‘candidates’, and no, I won’t do it.” Cagliostro slumped into a chair, and reached over the table beside him, for the bottle of wine. Pouring a liberal measure, he took a gulp, before glaring at Jeanne, and then shrugging his shoulders. La Motte, looked at his feet then at the Italian, and finally at Jeanne. “So, not me then?” “It’s nothing personal.” He smiled, and with a turn of his head asked, “Is it men, in general?” She frowned. “No. It’s marriage, in general. I do not want to be married, at all.” Cagliostro sighed heavily. “But you cannot snare this man without being married. It will not happen.” “Why? Wasn’t he happy enough to attack my sister? She is not, to my certain knowledge, alone in this. He is a lot less particular than you think.” Cagliostro turned in his chair, and he stared at Jeanne, and then at la Motte who stared back. “Are you that unaware of the the formalities surrounding the court? Yes, he can tumble a girl or two, if they are not married. If he can get them, the whole thing is her fault, no one cares. She has no one to object to, as long as he steers clear of any of the more important families. The less important ones he can seduce, and they will cover it up. He will even perform a discreet marriage for them, at a reduced fee. But, we are talking of an affair, something much more drawn out. That cannot happen if you are not, protected, so to speak, by marriage. He, is then also protected, it’s almost respectable. If there’s a child, then it causes no scandal, and he daren’t go too far, as there will quickly be, an understandable, sword at this throat.” La Motte was gesturing in agreement, and Jeanne looked at them, first one then the other, then back to the first. It appeared as thought a mist had blown away, and she was seeing the world in which she had lived, revealed at last.. “How permanent would this marriage be?” she asked. “That, madame, is the point. You can get out of it as soon as the game is done, probably on the grounds of non-consummation.” La Motte looked suitably abashed, but agreed. Jeanne’s eyes narrowed. “I can trust you, can I?” “You can. Which is why it has to be la Motte, I am not sure I could vouch for anyone else.” “Alright, so it would be the three of us, is that all we need?” “Oh no, we need a group sufficient to make this work, without our having to get people at the last minute, too many explanations. But first, we have to get you two out of Paris, a whirlwind romance, a marriage in the provinces and, in a few months, you will be back, married, able to be seen about town. You will need apartments, a small household, and something to wear that will draw the tiger’s eye.” “That sounds like a lot of money.” Jeanne said. Cagliostro smiled and leaned back, he took another drink, before nodding to himself. “It will. But I know exactly where to get it.” La Motte shifted uneasily and coughed. Cagliostro turned. “Even if you do. All these people… that’s a lot of people, and this has to be secret. I want to be able to enjoy my winnings, if we win.” La Motte cautioned. “Not everyone will need to know the game, but yes, they will have to be trustworthy. I’ll draw up a list later and find out who is available and who is… out of town.” “When do we start?” Jeanne asked. Cagliostro smiled, beamed, and raised his glass. “We’ve started. Are you not enthralled, madame? Smitten by this handsome fellow. Is your distress not eased, by the appearance of this fine example of French chivalry.” “Gendarmery.” La Motte said, Cagliostro shrugged. Jeanne looked over at him and really did look at him, perhaps for the first time. She sighed and reached for her glass, which she raised in Cagliostro’s direction, she drank. La Motte bowed, he liked bowing, it made him feel noble, and then, he too reached for his glass, raised it for the toast and drank. Cagliostro was now all business. “Right. When you get back, you are to be a delightful, but strained, couple. The whirlwind has died down. Marry in haste and repent at leisure, they say. You are truly at leisure. You will distract yourselves by entering into the social whirl that is Paris, between Christmas and Candlemas, and then you should have ample opportunity to snare our prize, and the game will really be on. In fact, I might just have thought of the perfect date.” Getting up he took out a key from round his neck, and opened a small chest on a side table. He lifted out a small leather purse and threw it to la Motte. Catching it, la Motte put down his glass and looked inside. He looked up at Cagliostro and grinned, he closed it, and threw it to Jeanne who followed his lead. Her head jerked up in shock. “Do we need so much? Where are we going and for how long?” “You will need, and you will get, a lot more than this. We are hunting a big beast, nothing less than reality will be convincing enough for his sort, and that, is before we can work out exactly how to keep him. You both need to look the part. We have to strike just the right note. If you are too poor and in need, he will have you once, and throw you over. Too rich, and he will be insecure, and fear getting burned. Remember, this is a man who, in spite of his wealth and position, is outside the best circles, and he so wants to get in. Wants, no, needs, to be accepted.” Cagliostro was looking inwardly now, and he smiled. “I can almost taste his need from across Paris. We must capture him and devour him whole.” He turned and looked at the faces of the other two. La Motte looked excited but apprehensive, Jeanne had a grin that could have lit up the entire room. “I can work with that.” She said. Cagliostro echoed her smile and nodded. “Good, because you are risking everything, not money, not reputation, your very life, and if we get it wrong, they will take it.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 15 - Cagliostro's Game

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 15 - Cagliostro's Game

Cagliostro’s Game Closing the door, behind his departing new friend, Cagliostro smiled to himself. He turned, and surveyed his discreet rooms in the Marais. The Marais, was a part of Paris that was home to the unfashionable part, of fashionable society. But, it was still a place to meet people you’d like to meet. The Italian could only afford these small apartments, they were enough. If he could figure out how to achieve this latest commission, he could pay for larger accommodations. How, was the question? Discretion was everything, but publicity was everything else. It wasn’t as though he had partners he could trust. He was looking at a job that had to be very publicly discreet. This would require some careful thought. He turned his mind to his next visitor, who should be along in a few minutes. A regular, and a reliable fellow, but a bit brash. The knock came, as he was pouring out a small glass of port. Setting down the drink, he went to let the man in. But, it was not the man, not a man at all. It was a young woman, another of his clients. One who was ultra discreet. Jeanne de Valois St. Remy. He bowed, she brushed past him and was in the middle of his room before the door was closed. “Monsieur, I need you help.” An unusual start for her. “Madame, you know, I am always delighted to assist you in any way I can, but this is not the right moment for you to be here.” “I do not have many choices.” “Yes, but I am expecting company and your need for discretion...” “Discretion be damned.” “But, madame, so does he.” She looked around the room. There was a bay window and heavy curtains. “I can wait there if I need to. I have no one else I can turn to, and I need assistance, now.” He looked at her again. This was very unusual, she was normally the heart and soul of calm discretion, and from her results, calculatedly daring. The woman in front of him looked tired, and was clearly desperate. Now a desperate woman, to a man like Cagliostro, would normally be viewed as an opportunity. But not this woman, she was dangerous. Something about this tickled his memory, he was trying to remember, something he had heard recently. The knock he had been awaiting came, and recollection and choice, went in the same instant. Frustrated, he pointed at the window, “Alright, it is a mite obvious, and all of my guests are suspicious, but you may get away with it.” She took her place, and pulled the curtain over. He closed his eyes and shook his head, before going to the door. He opened it, held it back, and la Motte walked in. The first thing he spotted was the closed curtain, and Cagliostro, following la Motte, was met with the point of a blade. He stopped. La Motte had his finger at his lips and looked none too happy. Sweeping the blade across the room to face the window, in two strides and one movement, he snapped open the curtain. He found himself looking down the barrel of a pistol. His head jerked back, he frowned, and his eyes narrowed, something about this was familiar. Following the line of the arm he reached Jeanne’s face, and he stepped back. He bowed, sword now pointed at the floor about a foot ahead of his toe. “Madame.” She smiled. “Monsieur.” He looked up, and found she had not put away the pistol. He stood, sheathed his sword. A little more slowly, she put away the pistol. Without turning away from her eyes, la Motte asked. “Cagliostro, my friend, you have not introduced us.” Cagliostro had taken the opportunity to re-attend to his drink, and was in the process of pouring two more. He looked up. “If we are all finished waving weapons around, you might like to take a drink, and a moment.” He brought over a tray with three glasses of port, and offered his company refreshment. They took them, and he walked back to the seats by the fireplace. Before sitting, he said, “Monsieur, may I introduce, Madame Jeanne de Valois St. Remy.” She curtsied. “Madame, monsieur Marc Antoine Nicholas le Comte de la Motte.” Cagliostro sat, the others joined him and he continued. “Now madame, you were in the process of saying?” She frowned at la Motte, but the Italian waved her on, “If you need my help, I think I might well be asking this gentleman to join us in any case. You can trust him.” “Is he an assassin?” That got both their attention, and they turned to her, finding her stony faced. Cagliostro considered, and remembering the gossip, he nodded sharply. “I see. Would I be right in guessing, this concerns recent rumours about your younger sister. She has taken the veil.” “Yes sir, it does.” “I know you are a woman of considerable resources, but assassination is not cheap and it’s a little, extreme.” “Not extreme enough.” La Motte looked at each of them in turn, before holding up his hands. “I’m sorry, you have the advantage of me, I do not understand. Killing someone, for taking the veil seems, to put it mildly, very extreme.” Cagliostro cannot stop the smile, he covered it with a cough. “You are right, it would be, but I don’t think her sister, is whom madame has in mind to kill. Would you like to enlighten our friend madame, if it isn’t too painful.” “I will, sir. My sister, is the kindest, gentlest girl, with the most open heart ,you could ever meet…” And Jeanne related the story of her sister’s encounter with the Cardinal, as far as she knew, and of her frustrating meeting with the Queen. As she finished la Motte smiled and raised his drink to her. She frowned. “I’m sorry madame. I am sympathising with your frustration. I have had a few moments with things being, disappointingly less than I’d hoped, recently. Oddly enough, I had an encounter with your friend the Cardinal, or at least, I believe it was he, there are a lot of them about Paris these days.” So, he told of his recent encounter, and its frustratingly worthless prize. Cagliostro finished his drink, and admired the candlelight through the crystal. He smiled. “So my two favourite, and most reliable, suppliers.” They each gave a slight bow. “A wicked Cardinal, a beautiful woman, and the most valuable necklace in Christendom. You know, we might have something here.”

G.C. Fisher. - Interviews

G.C. Fisher. - Interviews

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 14 - The Harsh Queen

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 14 - The Harsh Queen

The Harsh Queen Jeanne waited in one of the many corridors at Versailles. Lined on one side with tall windows, the sun glinting off the polished floor, wood panelling offering the smell of the waxed surface, little groups of people, hopeful of seeing a celebrated personage or couple, stories to take home to the provinces. Today would be a special moment for them. At the far end of the long hall the door opened, and the Queen, surrounded by a gaggle of courtiers, mostly women, entered. The hum of conversation dropped, and then evaporated into silence. As she progressed, the Queen caused a wave of curtsying, running down the space before her, at which she graciously smiled without stopping in her walk or conversation. Reaching Jeanne, the observant might have detected the slightest hesitation in her expression, but she continued. Jeanne, rising, called a little above the volume of the chatter around the Queen, “Your Majesty.” At first it seemed as though the Queen would ignore her, but then she slowed, and stopped, she didn’t turn. “Madame, I need your help.” Jeanne, composed but on edge. Marie-Antoinette looked back, raised an eyebrow, her expression neutral. “It’s my sister, Madame, she has been...” Jeanne began. “Rumour has reached my ears madame. I do not approve. I cannot have people close to me, tainted by such talk.” “Madame, she did nothing worthy of reproach...” “She put herself in a position of compromise. Perhaps, she thought to follow your example, I tried… evidently an error, I will not compound it with further association with her, or you. Do not approach me again Madame.” The Queen marched on, and the chatter around her resumed as though nothing had happened. Short of being lifted and thrown into one of the fountains, Jeanne could not have been more shocked, or humiliated. Each group turned away from her, watched with side glances, and a fleeting flickering of the eyes. She gathered herself and made her way on shaking legs in the direction of the way home. Later. She was sitting on one of the beds in the room of the tiny apartment she and Marie-Ann called home, or used to. She was staring at Marie-Ann’s bed, at the small soft doll, she had not noticed her sister had, under her pillow, its legs and one arm sticking out. The child it represented, now gone, and she, powerless to protect her. She was almost certain the Reverend Mother could hold back the Cardinal, she was a powerful woman, with strong connections herself into the church, as well as society; ‘almost certain’. Jeanne didn’t think she could just hope, others could do, what she had not been able to do. She had not survived by being helpless, she wasn’t going to start now. Who could she turn to? The Queen’s put-down had cut off all access to higher society, no one would touch her after that. It was only the Cardinal’s exclusion from court, that meant he would not hear a coherent version of events, might not mean she couldn’t approach him. But that wasn’t a guarantee. She couldn’t come at the Cardinal from above, she would have to get him from below. His weakest point? Poison? He was a glutton, but Marie-Ann might get caught up in a murder like that. Assassination? If she wasn’t to be caught, they’d have to be good and she couldn’t afford good. She could try herself, catch him when he was most vulnerable, but she’d only get one chance. She shook her head. None of this was right. She wanted him to suffer, to lose the life he so enjoyed, and yet to live, knowing what he had lost. She wanted to see him, when he realised he had been caught, and she wanted him to know, it was her. She had to do it. She herself, but not kill him. That meant, there was only one person who could help her. He was the only one who knew enough people who could pull it off. Would he do it? It would have to be worth his while, and a bit more. They would be taking on one of the most powerful men in all of France. She didn’t care about the danger, but he would, and anyone else that was needed. No one would agree to a suicide job, just because she didn’t care about her life. The pitch had to have an in and an out, and money attached. That would mean a lot of thievery, each time a risk. Still. Alright then, the Italian it would have to be. She couldn’t imagine what could be done, but she knew he would dream up something, as long as the risk was taken by someone else, and he was at arm’s length or further. Once she had that hateful priest’s balls at the end of a knife, she didn’t care.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 13 - Aftermath

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 13 - Aftermath

Aftermath Jeanne marched through the doors of the Convent at Longchamp, as quickly, as she ever had left. Pulling off her gloves as she went, a young nun running, trying to keep up, breathless, as she answered the questions being fired at her. “When?” “Just this morning, a little after Prime, there was a very loud banging on the door, and a driver was there holding her up. She was in a state, I can tell you.” “What did she say had happened?” “That’s just it, we couldn’t make out what it was, all these words came tumbling out, but none of them made any sense.” “What were they?” “What were what?” “The words, what were they?” “Just words, not sentences.” Jeanne stopped suddenly, letting the nun run on, who had to stop and come back. “Which words?” “Oh, um, ‘Cardinal’ was one, several times, ‘Eminence’, was another. She did keep saying, ‘I didn’t...’, but not what it was she...” An older woman, in a larger habit, with another nun, turned the corner in front of them, silencing the young nun, who curtsied. Jeanne stopped just short of her, and she also curtsied. “Mother.” Jeanne said quietly. “Jeanne, I’m glad you’ve come so quickly, we should go to my office, before seeing your sister.” Jeanne held back from the angry demands that were building inside her, conscious as she was that, whatever she thought of these people, they were not to blame for what led her sister here again. The confines of the place were what had driven Jeanne out, and its constant judgement, of her and her thoughts. Of course, she couldn’t escape judgement, society passed that, and it seeped into the convent, not the other way round, as most people supposed. But outside, she was freer, more able to act, the judgement was there, but she didn’t have to bite her tongue, play nice. They reached the Mother superior’s office, and she bade the other two nuns to go back, to sit with Marie-Ann. She held the door open for Jeanne. She entered, and went to sit at the chair pointed to by the reverend Mother, waiting for the older woman to take her seat, then sat. They looked at each other for a few moments, no smiles appeared. “What do you intend to do?” Reverend Mother asked. “I don’t understand. About what?” The older nun pursed her lips and shook her head. “Are you saying you haven’t been told?” “I have been told nothing, Mother.” “Your sister has been dishonoured.” Jeanne stared at the still figure opposite, she coloured slightly, took a deep breath, and examined her lap, before, “How?” “I don’t know.” The nun shrugged. “Where was she?” The Mother said nothing, but stared back stonily, and Jeanne surmised that this was the heart of the issue. She nodded. “So, he’s a churchman.” “I didn’t say so.” “Anyone else, and you’d have been quick enough, Mother. Which one? Powerful? Or some grubby little priest.” “Jeanne, don’t forget yourself. You’re in a house dedicated to the glory and honour of God.” “Yes, and whoever you’re hiding took vows of chastity, which they have clearly dishonoured, and with a child, who you know to be innocent as the lilies. Do not protect them Mother.” Reverend Mother paused again, and then suddenly decided. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “I know nothing, so what I might want to do, or decide I can do, depends on what’s happened and who did it.” “Alright. Early this morning Marie-Ann was brought to the house by a coachman. It turned out he had found her, hysterical, wandering the streets in Paris. He couldn’t get anything out of her, that he could understand, except the name of this convent. So he brought her here. She wasn’t even properly dressed.” “Was she physically harmed?” “Oh yes, most definitely.” “Do you know who?” “Know? Not certainly, but she was quite likely with the Cardinal de Rohan.” Jeanne’s turn for silent contemplation. The reverend Mother watched her, then, “You can’t hurt him, you know, but he could crush you and brush away any evidence of you, without a thought, and he could destroy your sister.” Jeanne looking up met the other’s eyes, and then agreed, before taking a deep breath. “What can you do?” Jeanne asked. “Against the Cardinal? Nothing. We can though, take your sister in, she was already talking with us about coming back, I don’t know if she told you that.” Jeanne shook her head and looked at the floor, a tear escaping before she could stop it. “But, if you go on a public crusade against the man...” she waved her hand indicating impotence. “I won’t.” “I know you Jeanne, what will you do?” “I don’t know, I might not be able to do anything.” “That’s not stopped you in the past.” “True, but I’m not the only one involved this time. First, I need to see her” “She is, fragile.” “I can imagine.” “You have to be gentle.” “She’s my sister, I am always gentle. Perhaps this is where that leads. I thought I could give her the kind of life she deserved.” “This isn’t your fault.” “Of course it is, she is a timid house cat, and I brought her into a zoo of vultures and jackals.” “We should see her.” Jeanne stood, anxious, afraid, steel. She was looking at her prone sister, on the bed in the small cell. The room was bare, a crucifix in one tiny alcove, the sole ornamentation on the wall, and it was raw wood with no figure. At the end of the bed was a trunk, not decorated in any way, wood, waxed not varnished. Its contents would be the spare set of underwear and habit of the nun staying in the room, a prayer book, a hymnal, a bible, a breviary and a copy of the lives of the saints were permanent residents. A small mat on the floor for knees late at night, a table for water and rosary. Her sister slept, she looked serene, but Jeanne could tell from her hair and the bruising around her neck, and a little on her face, that she had been treated roughly. Perhaps it was passion, or perhaps, at some point, she had put up a fight. Marie-Ann moved, and Jeanne saw her wrist was also bruised. She knew these marks were part of the reason the order had been prepared to take in the unfortunate, evidence, in their minds, she had not gone along the path willingly. Jeanne, knowing her sister, thought it was likely a fair summation of the events, but she could also think of times when she had seen such marks on others, that were not the result of resistance. She was glad the sisters were not as worldly as she had become. It filled her with regret, at having led her sister into such a world. Her eyes brimmed with tears, and she walked to the bedside. The sisters left them alone. Jeanne took a seat and prepared to wait, but Marie-Ann’s eyes flickered, and she turned over. Seeing Jeanne she smiled, and then the tears came. Jeanne bent, taking her sister in her arms, just holding her. Many minutes passed, great sobs wracking the young woman, before they slowed, and then stopped. She tried to speak, couldn’t. Jeanne reached over, lifted the cup of water, held it for her, and she drank. With that, came brief eye contact, and it was only with a supreme effort that Marie-Ann controlled the new wave of crying. “It’s all right, you’re safe now.” Jeanne whispered. “No, I’ll never be safe again. He can...” And the hovering hysteria rose again, stopping speech. Several deep breaths, “He can come here if he wants, I can’t ever get away.” “Who?” Marie-Ann shook her head violently, covering her mouth with her hand, terror running across her face. “He said if I mentioned his name...” “Shush child, only I am here, he will never know you have spoken of it. The servants know in any case, it is not something that can be secret, in this world.” “The servants know? Everyone knows? I can’t...” and the tears once more overwhelmed her. Jeanne waited. She didn’t need it confirmed, in truth but thought Marie-Ann had to speak it, or its - his, hold over her, would last forever. So she held her sister, prepared to hold on as long as she needed to. Eventually, the sobbing stopped, exhaustion and dehydration as much as calm. Marie-Ann held her sisters eyes. “de Rohan, The Cardinal. I tried to stop him, but he had given me things to drink and then, I tried... He was too strong, I think it excited him anyway, and he threatened to bing in his man to hold me, said he would let him...” Her hand rose over her mouth again and she stopped speaking, her voice being squeezed out. Jeanne nodded, smiled, and smoothed her sister’s hair, wiped her eyes, and brought the cup to her lips again. “You are not to worry. The Mother here is strong, very well-connected, the Cardinal will not be able to get access to you if she forbids it, and she will. I promise you. As for the man himself... You are not to worry. You wanted to stay here, I am the one at fault for brining you out. Rest. They will take care of you, you are not the first, you will not be the last.” Jeanne bent and kissed her sister’s forehead, and smiled at her again. She let her go and Marie-Ann slid to the pillow. She was asleep before Jeanne had walked to the door. One last look and she left. Sitting on a stool across from the door, the Reverend Mother waited. “So?’ “As you suspected. Will you take care of her?” “We will.” “I will get you what I can.” “No need. Jeanne, what will you do? Nothing rash.” Jeanne forced a smile. “Nothing rash. I will see what I can do, he has many enemies.” “But do you have friends? Good friends?” “She has. We’re about to find out how good.”

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 12 - The Cardinal's Sin

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 12 - The Cardinal's Sin

The Cardinal’s Sin She had been sitting, waiting for the man to call her in to see the Cardinal, for a couple of hours now. Engaging though the lives of the saints were, sitting, unable to move about and now cold, they had lost their appeal. Add to that, the fact she had no idea why she had been called here and, that it was now getting late, also, she had not eaten for several hours, had missed lunch, it was all too much. Jeanne would be annoyed. She had just decided to pass on her regrets, when the door opened and the Cardinal’s man walked over to her. “Mademoiselle de Valois St Remy, his Eminence would like to see you now.” She rose, and made her way into the room following the man servant. The first thing she noticed when she entered was the warmth, it washed over her like a blanket on a winter’s day. The Cardinal was seated at a small table beside the fire, further down the room was a large table set for supper, and she noted there were but two place settings. The Cardinal stood, and she curtsied. He held out his hand, and she walked over and curtsied again, kissing his ring. “Mademoiselle de Valois, so nice to meet you.” “I am honoured your Eminence.” “Please sit.” Marie-Ann looked around and found the servant bringing a chair over to her. He placed it beside the fire, and retreated once more to the darker edges of the room. She sat. The Cardinal himself, poured a small glass of wine for her and handed it across. Marie-Ann took it without knowing what to do next, as she didn’t drink alcohol. So she sat, looking at the glass while the Cardinal topped up his own, and she wondered, how to explain that she didn’t drink, and how to find out why she was here. “My child, did you know, that of all of the fine ladies at court the other evening, you were the only one not to laugh at her Majesty’s gentle teasing?” She looked at him, puzzled, “Eminence, I do not understand.” “You didn’t laugh at me child.” “I would never...” “No, I don’t think you would. But that gentle nature is, I suppose, the very reason the Queen favours you.” “Favours me, Eminence?” “You were sitting beside her Majesty, I think many of the ladies present that evening would have given their eye teeth, to have you your place.” “I couldn’t say, your Eminence.” “No, I don’t think you notice at all, do you?” He looked at her. If there had been a moment, when he might have doubted the wisdom or charity of his plans that evening, this would have been it. It wasn’t. Doubt, never touched the Cardinal’s mind nor heart at all. He gave his gentlest, most understanding smile. “What do you want out of life, child and what do you expect?” “Want Eminence? Nothing.” “Oh, come, you must have dreams, ambitions. A good marriage for instance?” “No Eminence, I do not.” “So the Queen has brought you to her side, for decoration? She has not mentioned to you anything of a match to a favourable gentleman? The younger son of some noble and ancient house, one who has had better fortune then your own family?” “I do not know why the Queen has favoured me. I thought it a kindness on her part, to one who was adrift.” “Adrift?” “Yes Eminence.” “How so?” “I had intended to remain with the sisters in Longchamp.” “Which order?” “The poor Clares, Eminence.” “And, no doubt, you would have led a very worthy life there child. But don’t you see, you have been given other gifts? God has favoured with a beautiful face and a body to match. God, does not do these things for no reason.” Her alarm growing, at the direction of the conversation, Marie-Ann stayed silent, part shock, part simply not knowing how to answer. The Cardinal smiled. “Ah, I see some understanding of this has indeed touched your heart. Let us eat, and chat more, see what we can find for you in the future. I am a powerful man, and very well-connected.” He reached out his hand to her, and she placed hers on his as he rose, and he guided her to the table. The meal had been going on for some time. Marie-Ann could not have said then how long, nor could she tell later. The wine, mildly sweet as was the fashion, had been poured and poured, and though she had tried to drink water, as the meal progressed, so the water disappeared. His Eminence, had gone on about how bright the future could be, “if”... but never was quite clear on what the “if” was. He had told her how much he could do for her, talked of how pleased the Queen would be to see her being helped, by him. Of eligible young nobles, wealth beyond her dreams. She hadn’t argued, hadn’t pointed out she wanted a simpler life, one of quiet prayer and hard work. She didn’t feel drunk, not that she had ever been so before, but she felt able to stand, thought she was in control of herself, that she could walk away. Pudding arrived. The Cardinal stood, and shooing his man away, he dragged his chair round to sit right beside Marie-Ann. He lifted the bowl of cream and sweet pastry and a spoon. “We’ve talked through possible futures for you, child. Things that might happen, some of them I can bring about myself. You must, by the way, taste this exquisite dessert, I had it made especially for you this evening.” She frowned at it, then at him. “Looks like profiterole, Eminence.” He looked shocked, a little outraged, embarrassed, but shook his head. “Like profiteroles, but my chef has made something more delightful still. Here.” He drove his spoon into the the cream and chocolate and pastry as the girl muttered, “Don’t like ‘em.” “Oh but you must taste, this...” He shoved the spoon into her mouth as she opened it to refuse the favour. Drawing breath to speak, she inhaled the cream and began to cough. Always the gentleman the Cardinal reached over to help. “Oh, you poor dear, look, some of it has spilled on your collar.” He stood, moved round behind the coughing girl and unbuttoned the collar. “I shall get my man to clean this. Oh, child you are so delicate, such light skin.” Bending over her he proceeded to kiss her neck, as her coughing subsided, and she tried to push him away. Her efforts only succeeded in opening forward her bodice, which had been covered by the collar, and the Cardinal wanted not for a second invitation, or any invitation at all. His hand dived down the front of her dress and the shocked young woman froze. Outside the room the Cardinal’s man pressed his ear to the door, as muffled sounds of the struggle came through to him, and he indulged his baser instincts, turning red, smiling.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 11 - The Fence

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 11 - The Fence

The Fence La Motte stood, knocking back his chair and knocking over his drink. The man on the other side of the table, opened his eye, dropped his loupe into his hand, and looked at la Motte calmly. “Fake? What do you mean, fake?” La Motte demanded. “I mean the stones are glass, not stones, and the thread is cotton and the links are base metal, it’s a fake. It’s a very good fake, an expensive fake, but it’s a fake.” La Motte’s mouth opened about to speak, and closed, several times, and he blinked, he blinked quite a bit. “But I took it from their own hands, they were in their own carriage, in front of some churchman or other, he was all in red, for God’s sake. It couldn’t be, that’s almost a sin, right there.” The man with the loupe looked again at the necklace, but then shrugged. He was short, with small eyes and pronounced whiskers. His movements were deliberate, and always seemed on the verge of performing a magical trick. Perhaps this was the reason he had a whispered reputation, as an alchemist, maybe even a wizard. Some said, he had been to the future, others, that he could travel from country to country in minutes. This evening, Cagliostro was being what he was most of his time in Paris, a trafficker in stolen goods, a fence. “They were coming back from Court, I was told they were presenting it to the Queen. Are you telling me they tried to palm off a fake, to the Queen?” “No. I’m telling you this necklace, is a fake, beautiful, sparkly, and fake. It isn’t that uncommon. You can hardly stop to check if what they are giving you is real, they wouldn’t offer any sort of guarantee. Sometimes, they even stock them in the vaults at their workshops, stops people wrecking the place, if they think they have what they came for.” He waved his hand in the air, waving away La Motte’s pain. The highwayman slumped in his chair. He then sat up, brightened a little, “It’s a very good fake you say?” “The best.” “Expensive, Monsieur Cagliostro?” “Oh yes, they took a lot of care with this, nothing cheap about it. You were taken in by the very best, no shame in that.” “So, if it’s so, how much would you give me for it?” Cagliostro gave la Motte a long stare, shook his head. “Nothing, not one sou, Monsieur.” “But you said.” “If this were the real thing, it could be broken up. The larger, more recognisable stones recut, the smaller ones sold or made into something else and then sold. This, is expensive to make, but unsellable in its current form and worthless if it’s broken up.” “Would no one buy it?” “How could they wear it? It would instantly bring down the interest of the authorities.” La Motte stared at it, and bit his thumb, and shook his head. He then laughed, and stuffed his hands in the large pockets of his coat. He frowned, and drew out and looked at, the purse he found inside. He weighed it in his hand. He seemed to think it promising, and he loosened the string at its neck. He spilled the contents onto the table, and a small, but respectable, heap of gold coin sat in front of him. He stared, and a smile began to break over his face. Picking up one coin he threw it to Cagliostro, who, catching it, he too smiled. “I do believe this is genuine, Monsieur. The churchman?” “The churchman. A sure sign of God’s indulgence toward a poor sinner.” Cagliostro held up the coin, “I think this will buy us supper.” La Motte held up another, “And this some decent wine.” A few hours later they have eaten heartily, and drunk heavily. La Motte looked at the empty cup in his hand, and frowned, then looked up. “They say if the wine is good you don’t get a hangover Monsieur, do you think it’s true?” Cagliostro drained his cup and, like his companion, examined the cup. He considered the proposition, then slowly, he leaned forward. “I think we will find out in a few hours.” “Yes, but will we find out if good wine leaves you free of a heavy head or, if this was not good wine, eh?” Cagliostro looked at the cup again, really looked at it then up again at his companion, and shook his head slowly before slouching back against the back of the bench. La Motte looked around himself, and leaned in closer across the table, now much more sober than he had seemed a few seconds before. “Tell me, what do I have to do to get that,” he looked round again, “piece?” Cagliostro thought, and watched la Motte, maybe weighing him up. He too leaned closer and shook his head. “You can’t, not now. Maybe not ever. Two attempts so close together, that was clever by the way, they wouldn’t have expected that, but careful men, Boehmer and Bassenge, that fake,” and he leant back shaking his head and wagging his finger, “on their guard now. They’ll get you if you try now, can’t afford not to.” La Motte slid backwards, and took the deepest of deep breaths, lifted both arms and dropped them again. “You’re right, I know it. Damn, so close. But Rochefort was nearly on me, no time, never enough time. Do you think he’s following me?” “I think he is watching out for you now, twice is no coincidence. You have to be careful, dangerous fellow Rochefort, well-connected.” “Nothing for it, I’ll have to start thinking of something else, do you think I should go on the stage? I have a fine voice.” Cagliostro examined him, then leant forward and squinted, before slouching back. “No, too old, they like ‘em young these days, like ‘em very young.” La Motte looked mournfully at the table and shook his head. “I had such hopes, and I’m washed up at thirty-one. Let’s get more wine.” A few tables away a man, dressed in a uniform strikingly similar to Rochefort’s has a glass in front of him, but his is filled with water. He watched carefully, and took notes in a small book.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 10 - Innocence Named

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 10 - Innocence Named

Innocence named The room was grand, but lit as it was, with so few candles, dark. The three men were finishing a lavish meal. Boehmer dropped the bones of, something, on the plate while Bassenge dipped his fingers in a bowl of water and wiped them carefully on a large white napkin. The Cardinal, leaning back in his seat, cup in hand, and watched with a predatory eye. “So gentlemen, three rejects, feeling fortunate nevertheless, because we have cheated a thief, and won a victory, however small. Here is to small victories.” The others reached out, and raised their glasses, touching over the table with an expensive ‘ting’, and they drank. “But tell me this, gentlemen, did you know those people in that room, the witnesses to our humiliation?” “Oh Eminence, humiliation is too strong a word for it. Humiliation only happens if they accuse you of using cheap gems, or substandard workmanship.” “Or serving terrible wine.” Bassenge chimed in, and they laughed. “Perhaps, you are used to being rejected, the rough and tumble world of commerce must offer you many such experiences. But I am not in commerce. I have been a Bishop from a very young age, before even I had had a woman. I am Grand Almoner of France, and Abbé of two of the richest and most prestigious monasteries in the Realm. I am a Prince of the church, and have been an Ambassador plenipotentiary of France to the Queen’s mother, Marie-Therese of Austria. I, gentlemen, am not used to being told, ‘go away’, like a tradesman, or a pestilential child.” His companions sober up a little and sit a bit straighter. “It is true that we might be more used, though it doesn’t happen very often, we are very careful to understand our client’s wishes, you know, but all the same, it does happen, that we get rejected, from time to time.” Bassenge said, trying, so far as he could allow himself, to be tactful. Boehmer nodded seriously, as he spoke. The Cardinal leaned forward. “But did you know them?” The Cardinal pressed. The jewellers looked at each other, then back at de Rohan. “Who?” “The people, in the room. The people who saw it, did you know them?” Boehmer, looking at his partner said, “For the most part, yes, they would be known to us, clients, and friends of clients.” “Good, good. There was one young woman, particularly striking, no ring on her hand that I saw, come to think of it, no jewellery at all. Sitting beside her majesty, did you notice her.” Boehmer frowned, trying to remember through the fog of wine and good food. “Was that young, de Valois St Remy? You’ve met her Bassenge?” “Oh, I think her younger sister, Marie-Ann? I think, yes, I think that’s her name. A very devout young woman.” “Devout, is she? Why is she at court?” “The Queen likes her sister, but they have something of a difficult reputation, the father...” He mimicked someone drinking from a bottle. “...And they are dirt poor, but still, distant cousins of his Majesty, so not to be dumped, no matter what you think. The Queen is very kind to them.” “She is? I wish she was as kind to me. She doesn’t understand, you know. I was young, being used by the Duc d’Aiguillon, he was against the ‘Austrian marriage’, I thought I was working for the good of the King, for the good of France.” The master craftsmen, unused to such outpourings from the upper echelons of society, exchanged alarmed glances, as the Cardinal appeared to be on the verge of tears. But, he straightened up, and pulled himself together. “Marie-Ann you say? De Valois? How fortunate, and the Queen wishes her well? Perhaps I can help, you know some patronage, introduce her to the best sorts, eh?” “The Queen might look on that very favourably, Eminence.” Boehmer pronounced. “Oh yes, she might indeed.” added Bassenge enthusiastically. “And they are poor, you say? Not many resources, I could do several good turns here.” The Cardinal, appeared almost to have forgotten that he was in company, a vision playing out in his head and a small smile drifted across his face. Even as it did, so he realised he was not alone, and he turned the inner smile to something more bland and deliberate. “Gentlemen it has been a very good evening, rescued from the jaws of a very unpleasant one. Would you mind showing me once more that wonderful necklace, spurned by the Queen?” The jewellers grinned, and Bassenge took out once more, the thin tube of leather, and uncorked the end. Sliding The folded leather onto the table he unrolled it and then patted the extraordinary piece flat. The Cardinal moved the candles closer and admired the multi-coloured vision in front of him. “This is indeed a work fit for the neck of a Queen. What would it cost?” Boehmer smiled, and his eyes twinkled, no other word for it. “Two million livres, Eminence.” “Two million, well, I can’t say I’m surprised, but who could afford it?” “Only a King. It was made for the King’s grandfather, for his friend, and only the King could have the resources to pay for it now.” “So what will you do?” “We know the Queen likes it, but it was made for a woman she detests, and the price is, I admit, extravagant. She is, though, the Queen of France.” Waving his hand at it, the Cardinal said, “Put it away sir, you are very great craftsmen, a tribute to France that it can contain such talent.” Bassenge carefully rolled up the jewel and slid it home. The Cardinal stood and smiled. “Thank you Gentlemen for a fine evening and seeing your handiwork was an honour, I hope it finds a suitable home.” He smiled and they turned. The man at the door opened it, and they passed through and out of the building, to where their carriage waited. In a few more minutes they were well on their way home. Boehmer turned, and looked at his partner with a critical eye. “What?” asked Bassenge. “I have changed my opinion of you several times this evening. Admiring your calm at the court, furious with you, that you revealed the necklace had not been stolen, when it provided the perfect chance to break up the thing, honour saved. Then, watching his Eminence, I believed you’ve been coaxing him to become a buyer. Now, I don’t know if you're a genius of a salesman, or a fool who doesn’t realise even the Cardinal doesn’t have the money to buy it.” The other man shrugged. “I didn’t think it would be great if we’d just been held up by some cheap highwayman, and I thought, so close to Versailles, people might see it as a criticism of this Majesty. I wondered about the Cardinal, he has very deep pockets you know, and more than that, he has many friends.” “Hmm, worth considering at that. Alright, then you’re not a fool, but the jury’s out on your genius.” Bassenge smiled at that, and their carriage wound it way through the narrow medieval streets of Paris, and into the damp night. But dark streets have dark eyes, and everyone is watched, especially if they are unloved by the Queen.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 9 - The "other" Queen's Mill.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 9 - The "other" Queen's Mill.

The ‘Other” Queen’s Mill La Motte was naked and lay beneath a naked young woman. Her hair was long, red, dark and hanging low, covered his face. She, an insubstantial figure compared with the size of the Captain beneath her, but she didn’t seem to lack anything in her control of her man. Their clothes were strewn across the room, and the bed linens were a tangled mess. In spite of this her bonnet still clung to her head, though a little askew, an she had a light silk scarf round her neck. Whatever had been going on here, appeared to have been going on for some time, and with some considerable vigour. On the table near the bed, the remains of a meal chaotically strewn across it with two bottles of wine, both empty. Two earthenware cups beside them, one half full the other tipped over, what little was left in it, dribbled out over the table onto the floor. From outside the door, came the sound of heavily booted feet pounding on the stairs as, what sounded like several men, came up, in something of a hurry. The couple on the bed, preoccupied as they were, didn’t seem to notice, and they didn’t pause in their enjoyment of one another. They didn’t even react straight away when the door, without a knock or an ‘if you please’, was slammed open. When, the uninvited guest, strode into the room, they did stop, and la Motte looked up, pushing aside the curtain of hair. He looked, and squinting, looked again. “Is that the Comte de Rochefort, officer in his majesty’s horse? I think it is. My dear, allow me to introduce the Comte de Rochefort, Commandant in his Majesty’s horse. Monsieur le Comte, Madame Francoise Mary, a daughter of this house.” The young woman turned and while the sight of her naked torso had little effect on the Comte, his men looked away, before looking back. “Where is it, la Motte?” Silence. La Motte looked at the young woman, and then back at Rochefort, and then at the men, and then at the young woman. “Where is it?” The Comte asked again. Francoise looked at him and thought about that before, “Where is what?” She asked. La Motte turned to Rochefort and waved his hand at him. “Do not play the innocent with me, I will turn this place upside down if I have to.” “Ah, I’m sorry Rochefort. My dear, your innocence.” The young woman giggled and twisted round on Lamotte’s body, she looked sadly at the Comte. “I lost that some time ago sir, I can’t remember where exactly, I was probably drunk, you see and a gentleman took advantage...” And she held out her hand in a sad gesture, to the effect that what was done, was done. The Comte de Rochefort seethed. Slowly he turned toward his men and gestured round the room. “Take this place apart if you have to, but find me that necklace.” His men entered the room and la Motte pushed himself up onto one arm, his far arm covered Francoise’s back. At the same time, the innkeeper appeared at the door, pushing his way into the room. Rochefort noticed that the man, from his face, his clothing, even his manner, was remarkably like the innkeeper of the last inn. He frowned. The innkeeper raised his hands and his voice. “Sir.” The men froze. Rochefort was not in the mood. “What do you want?” “I couldn’t help but over-hear your last command sir.” “What of it? I’m on his Majesty’s business.” “I have no doubt, sir. But the Marquis, next door, hates it when his night is interrupted by noisy guests.” “What Marquis?” “Monsieur le Marquis d’Acy, sir.” “Why on earth would Acy stay here?” ‘We are, usually, quiet... and discreet, Monsieur.” Rochefort stared at the man, who lacked only the jug and cloth for him to be the man from earlier that evening, but he made up for that lack, from the way he clutched his apron. Rochefort slowly turned toward la Motte and looked round the room, then back to the innkeeper. “How long has this... person been here?” “He came in earlier this evening, sir, had a meal and... um, entertained my girl here.” “This evening?” “Yes sir.” “When, this evening?” The innkeeper looked around the room and then back at Rochefort. “About seven, maybe a little earlier, but not much.” “That’s a long time, for a meal and a little entertainment.” “My girl is very entertaining sir, and my food is very filling.” “And you’ll swear to that, will you?” “Happily sir.” Rochefort whirled round and saw his men blocking the door, preventing a quick exit. “Get out!” “One moment Rochefort.” la Motte shouting at the back of the waiting Comte. “Yes?” “Whose necklace have you lost? I mean, if anyone should find it?” The Comte said nothing but turned and pulled out his sabre, all in one movement, almost removing the head of the innkeeper who dived for the floor. In a single step he had la Motte at sword point. la Motte smiled. “It will take the smallest excuse sir, and I will do something, that believe me, I shall not regret.” Rochefort snarled. “I was merely trying to be helpful, Monsieur.” A range of expressions passed over the Comte’s face, none could be understood as friendly. He sheathed his sword, turned again and strode through the door. Then, once through, he stopped and took two steps back into the room where the innkeeper was getting to his feet. Rochefort watched him rise, frowned again, thought for an instant, and was gone. The room held its breath, until the sound of horses leaving, drew the innkeeper to the window, and he looked out. “They’re gone.” The girl giggled, and lay back on the bed at la Motte’s feet. The innkeeper walked over to the table and gathered up the remains of the meal. “Do you want to eat?” “I’ll say. Bring some of that wine as well thank you.” The innkeeper moved to the bed where he looked at the girl. “Let’s see it.” She pulled over her hair, and lifted the scarf, to show the necklace round her neck, and she grinned. “I think, he should give it to me, don’t you? It looks so well on me.” Francoise smiled. The innkeeper just grinned and shook his head. “When people don’t look, things become invisible. I’ll shout at Paul to fetch your horse from that field, and rub her down, she was a bit on the warm side.” La Motte reached out to the the girl’s hand and drew her forward, sitting upright in the process. “Give her a good feed as well, she deserves it and I, can afford it.” “Whatever you say, sir.” The innkeeper left pulling the door behind him, as la Motte began to kiss Francoise in earnest. Suddenly he stopped and leaned back, admiring the necklace on her, and he smiled. “You’re right, it does suit you.” She grinned and they fell to love-making.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 8 - A Coach of Mixed Feelings

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 8 - A Coach of Mixed Feelings

A coach of mixed feelings The Cardinal was fuming still, as the carriage rumbled on, on its journey to Paris. He kept looking at the door, as though he might jump out and grab the man who took his money, worse, held him at the point of a pistol. He was making the two men opposite him very nervous. Bassenge cracked, “Come Eminence, the purse didn’t seem too large or too heavy.” The Cardinal looked up and stared, but seemed to be looking through him, before finally closing his eyes, and opening them again. “Do you gentlemen get stopped often? You seem remarkably calm, considering the ordeal you’ve been through, and what you’ve lost.” “I wouldn’t say we’re held up a lot, that would be the, what? Second time, perhaps?” Boehmer shrugged, and looked with some concern at the perspiring churchman. “But he took that necklace, its value must be, at least, for me, several year’s income. I am not a poor man, but that is a lot of money, and you are, relaxed.” Bassenge smiled to himself and nodded. Then, with a sly look at his partner, who was still looking intently at the Cardinal, he reached into his coat. “We are calm Eminence, because we were prepared.” From the inside pocket, he slid a tube of leather and unstopped one end. Seeming oblivious to the shock, and small squeak of his partner, he slid from the tube a leather wrap. He reached across to the Cardinal, and brushed away his hands, to lay out the wrap on the man’s knees. The Cardinal gasped, as the unravelling wrap was shown to hold the necklace. De Rohan kept his hands back from the jewellery, and simply stared as though its appearance was magic. Bassenge, was very happy at the response to his show, still not seeing the horror in Boehmer’s face. As the Cardinal turned to look at him, Boehmer wiped the expression away with a professional smile, and a wave of the hand. “You see Eminence, the villain might have gained more by searching us, but as is usual with these people, he was in a hurry, and quite rightly too.” “What was in the box?” “A display item, glass, coloured and exactly set, We have to bring the real thing to show the Queen, but for others, that will do, for demonstration purposes, you understand.” As the necklace disappeared from view, the Cardinal watched and nodded, and he smiled. “So. It still upsets me to be threatened at gunpoint, but even that, you took in your stride.” “Eminence, these men are professionals, not cut-throats. They take a certain pride in their work, and wish only to profit from the evening. Killing people would, especially people of your standing, would be bad for business, and a shortcut to the gallows. No, I think we were in no danger, this evening.” Again de Rohan nodded, and then sat back. “So we have all been a bit smarter, and our highwayman has failed to make the catch he thought he had, and he may well be snagged by our gallant Count de Rochefort, but even if not,” He grinned, and reached in to his cloak pulling out a fat purse, much heavier than the one he’d given over to the bandit. It is now the jewellers turn to be impressed. “This is what he might have taken. Have you eaten gentlemen? I find facing a pistol, and imagining death is imminent, gives me an appetite, join me.” Even Boehmer now smiled, and relaxed. Bassenge laughed, and sat back, but failed to notice another venomous glance from the man beside him. Relaxed then, but not that relaxed. They all agreed, supper in Paris was exactly what was called for. Sure the Count de Rochefort would catch his prey.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 7 -The Unexpected Interview

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 7 -The Unexpected Interview

An unexpected interview The carriage jerked and rolled along the ‘main road’ from Versailles to Paris. They had sat in a brooding silence no one, even between the partners very inclined to be chatty, or to share the dark thoughts that had passed through their minds. They had been on the road for about twenty minutes and were still passing through the forests surrounding the Royal palace. The lights of south-west Paris were just flickering in the distance, through the thinning trees. As was usual Bassenge was beginning to feel sick and had shuffled himself over to the window and lowered it, just enough to allow so air into the compartment. Just as he did so the carriage slowed, the Cardinal looked at him as though the lowering of the window, and the slowing and then stopping of the carriage were somehow connected. Bassenge returned his look blankly, and then slowly turned to face the door. A sudden shot snapped all of three heads round to the door. Outside the the armed men atop the carriage were sitting with their hands in the air , on the road, a large, awkward tree branch blocked the path. In front of them, on a fine looking horse, was a masked and dark cloaked figure, putting away one pistol, still holding another on the men, even as he pulled out a third from a holster in the saddle. “Gentlemen, that was very stupid, one of you could have been hurt. These are dangerous roads, positively filled with desperadoes and villains, what if I had been that sort of fellow?” He walked his horse closer to the carriage and stopped again. “Now, no more fuss. Dismount, and you, open the door so that I might speak with your passengers.” Now, more than a little frightened, the men were happy to oblige and they lined up at the side of the carriage, where one of them puled open the door. The Cardinal was not to be intimidated. “What is the meaning of this? Do you know who I am?” The man on the horse looked at him carefully and then pushed his horse a little closer but shook his head. “I can see you’re some sort of priest. I think, important enough to have paid a deal of money for you clothes, your get up doesn’t look cheap, but, no, I don't. On the other hand, I can tell you’re rich, sir.” “I am the Grand Almoner of France sir, monies I have are for those with less than you or I, you dare not steal from the plates of the poor.” “I wouldn’t have dream of it sir. But, I am a very poor fellow indeed, else why I would be out plying my trade on this dirty road, at this late hour, when all good men are in bed. I am pleased to hear you have my money and I shall thank you for it.” The Cardinal didn’t move but stared up at the man. Boehmer leaned closer to the churchman and whispered, “He does have a pistol Eminence.” “He does Eminence.” The man too leaned forward, adding, “He also doesn’t want to get down and search your body.” The Cardinal reached into his coat, and pulled out a small purse, which he tossed at the man. Having deftly caught the purse, in a hand already holding a pistol, he turned to the other two men. “Now, to the main business of the evening. Gentlemen, you have with you I believe a nice necklace, it is usual I know to deny it, and make me do silly things to prove I’m serious when I say, I’m a ruffian of the worst sort, but we don’t really need all of that, do we? I know you have it, you know it, the Cardinal will swear to it, I’m sure, so, hand it over.” The two men looked at each other and nodded. Boehmer reached down beneath his legs and pressed on the panel. Springing out, it revealed a compartment with a small pile of boxes from which he took the largest and threw it to the gentleman of the road. Sliding one of his pistols into a leather holster in his saddle the highwayman, flipped open the case and snapped it back. He was about to say something more, but stopped and listened. From up the road in the direction of Paris, the sound of horses. He waited a second until he could be sure, but then, turned and spurred his ride away across country. The men in the road lowered their hands and stared at his disappearing figure. The Cardinal climbed out of the carriage and moved round the men, as though by chasing him, and he might somehow retrieve his purse, red-faced with fury. Boehmer and Bassenge exchanged a nod and a look. Boehmer leaned back and smiled tapping his stomach. Then, all turned to face up the road to Paris, from which direction came the sound that had caused the highwayman’s swift departure. A troop of his majesty’s cavalry rounded the corner at a gallop, and had to pull up sharply as they saw the large tree branch blocking the road. Half a dozen men and their officer, who ordered his men to clear the road, while he trotted down to the carriage. He pulled his horse to a stop. Bassenge was the first to speak, “de Rochefort, we meet again, why do you happen to be out here?” “Your Eminence, Monsieur Bassenge, I have been given certain intelligence, that a villain intended to waylay a party on this road. I had been told it was planned nearer Paris, seemingly the intelligence was only partially correct. Is everyone alright?” “We are uninjured physically, but I have lost a considerable sum and these gentlemen have lost a priceless necklace.The fellow has not long headed out across country, I think you’ll catch him, if you’re quick.” The Cardinal said, looking now as though, if he could see him, he would catch the man. “Don’t worry Eminence, I have also been informed of where he will likely run to ground, after he leaves here. I fancy that we will get there before him, if he went that way.” He looked back over his shoulder, checking on his men and bowed to the carriage occupants. “Gentlemen, your road is clear. If my information is correct, I will return your goods to you forth-with. Boys!” He wheeled his horse, and headed on up the road sweeping past that carriage in a cloud of dust, leaving the Cardinal and the two Jewellers staring after them. The Comte de Rochefort was confident he had his man, and he was equally sure who his man was. Upon leaving the scene of the break-in a few weeks earlier, he had made strenuous efforts to find out more about this rude captain, who, he still suspected was a thief. A little money, to people who knew people and soon the answers came back that, without anyone being certain of anything in particular, yes, he was a man who clung to the shadows. A little more money, and he’d been told about this evening’s escapade. He had moved quickly to make sure he would get his man. He’d missed his first chance, but there could be no mistaking the inn he was heading for, they had passed it on the road earlier. The Queen’s Mill, not too brash, but not the dregs, of he thought it about the Captain’s level. The troop were as swift as the angry aristocrat had hoped and the inn appeared up on their left. Sending two men round to the rear to check the stables and leaving two men out front. He dismounted and entered, again with two men at his back. A young lad came running over asking if he might help, or if they needed lodging. “The keeper, now!” Was all Rochefort said, sending the youngster back as quickly as he could stumble. It took a few moments before the innkeeper, looking harried and hot, appeared, threading his way between the racous customers. He stopped in front of the Count with a jug in one hand and a cloth in the other and, from time to time he used one to rub the other. “Messieurs, how can I help you?” “I am looking for a man, he probably won’t yet have arrived, about my height, broad, vulgar in his manner, he will be armed. I understand he frequents this place, often staying the night.” The keeper thought about that, looking solicitous he answered, “Your description might fit a number of gentlemen of my acquaintance, sir, but not this evening. We have two parties staying tonight, both families with young children. Both families are abed, already.” “You’re certain?” The innkeeper looked surprised and a little offended. “I do know my own inn sir, and everyone who stays in it. I’d like to help you but unless you can be more precise...” “The man is a captain in the Gendarmes, goes by the name ‘La Motte’.” The innkeeper smiled broadly and gestured widely with his hand. “Ah, the Count, yes, yes I know him, and he does come here from time to time, or the other place.” “Count? He’s no Count.” “Well sir, you’d know better than I, but he certainly calls himself ‘Count’, and his friends know him as such.” “So are you expecting him?” “I never know if he will drop by or not, sir. You don’t have to make an appointment here, to eat or drink, sir.” “I have been told he would be here, certain.” “If you say so sir, he doesn’t include me in his plans only in his orders, if you follow me.” and he grinned broadly again. The count thought about that and about what he’d just heard, then slowly, he frowned. “What is, ‘the other place’?” “The other place? Oh, ‘the other place’, it’s... the other...” and he waved his hand in the air, “the other Mill. The Queen’s Mill, it’s on the other road to Paris, east of here.” The Count stared at him and changed colour a little. Taking a deep breath the whirled on his men. “Out, out, we are in the wrong hostelry. You get the men at the back, to horse, quickly now.” The piled back out through the door leaving the innkeeper standing watching the confused exit. The door banged closed, and he waited another moment before smiling again to himself. Then his name was shouted, and he was off, on the unending work of those who feed others for a living.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 6 - Out, Out!

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 6 - Out, Out!

Out, out! The room was silent. Normally, it would be filled with the quiet hum of polite conversation, with an occasional voice raised in delight at winning at Pharo, or listening intently to the Queen’s playing of the harpsichord. Not this evening. In front of a shocked room, Paris’s foremost jewellers were, while trying to hold onto their dignity, packing away their most valuable piece, the object of that most recent, futile, break-in, what would soon come to be known as the Queen’s necklace. This evening they had gambled, that the Queen would not turn them down in front of the land’s most favoured ladies. But they were wrong. Very, very wrong. “Gentlemen, you’ve brought this necklace to me before?” “We have Madam.” “You brought it to my Husband, the King?” A look between them as the thought occurred that this might not have been the best plan. Boehmer spoke. “We did Madam.” “And my answer then, gentlemen?” “It was in the negative Madam.” “My husband’s?” “Also in the negative.” “The necklace, has it changed?” “Ah well Madam, you see these...” “Appreciably, has it changed very much, gentlemen?” “No Madam.” “Have I changed? I hope you are not going to point to my greater age...” “Eh, No Madam.” “Given these facts, why would my answer change?” The turned to each other, hoping, no doubt, to see an answer in the others eyes that was absent from their own mouths. They turned back. “There is no reason Madam.” Silence reigned. They were now uncertain, should they just leave? Or await a dismissal? If they tried to leave without being dismissed, it could be construed as an insult, if they waited, they might be seen as impertinent. She left them, and they were acutely aware that they were being left. Her hand, her left hand began to wave them away, and she turned her attention to her cards. They dived for the elaborate case and packed away the priceless and now, valueless, necklace, as quickly as they could, the difference in value, the mere wave of a hand. They packed as though wishing they could be gone before they had arrived. The case locked, they backed away to the door, little short of a run. The door swung open, and they collided with the red clothed figure of the Cardinal de Rohan, Archbishop of Strasbourg, Abbé of St Vaast, and Chaise Dieu, Grand Almoner of France. Being who he was, and who they were, they tried to get out of his way as quickly as they could, but were neither able to return to the room nor leave. After several seconds of tension, he stepped back, and they scuttled past. The Cardinal swept into the room. The Queen, in spite of the whispering of ladies dresses rising and curtseying, as the great man passed, did not look up from her cards but played out the hand. The young ladies at her table followed her cue. The churchman bowed and stayed bent until the Queen was ready. Finally she put down the hand, turned and smiled. She stood, and curtseying she did not reach to kiss his ring. “Your Eminence.” “Majesty.” He might have been about to say something, but the Queen turned away immediately to the very youngest woman at her table. “Marie-Ann, you are too young, but I was even younger than you when I first saw his Eminence. It was at my mother’s court in Vienna. His Eminence was an ambassador from the King’s grandfather, the late king, he was so handsome, then, and so clever, always holding meetings and trysts, quite the talk of the city. Is that not so your Eminence?” The singled out young woman is now crimson, and unable to find a suitable point for her eyes to settle. De Rohan, scarcely less embarrassed, flushed and bowed his head. “I’m sure gossip inflated the importance of the ‘meetings’ Madam and the existence of the ‘trysts’ at all. The life of an Ambassador and man called to the service of God, is less interesting than young minds imagine it.” “Ah yes gossip. The tales of your opposition to my marriage to the King? You and the Comte de l’Artois, I seem to remember, were connected in the stories and still close confidants, I hear.” “I am always an admirer of the Queen herself and the Comte is a good and loyal servant to his Majesty and to France.” “I am sure he is Eminence… To what, this evening, do we owe the honour of your presence?” “A mere courtesy Madam, and enquiry after your good health and the simple pleasure of seeing you here at court, Madam.” “My health is good Eminence, the pleasure you might have in seeing us all surely cannot be increased by duration but rather blunted by over exposure. It is always a delight to see your elegant and brilliant self, indeed such is it, that I fear to be exposed too often. I thank you for your visit, and bid you a good night and safe journey. Back to, Paris, is it?” The Cardinal was completely nonplussed by this curt and rough treatment. He had little option but to bow and to leave. So that was what he did. The door closed, and as it did he could hear the not at all disguised or suppressed laughter, of the Queen and her ladies. It would be impossible to describe fully the emotion that crossed the Cardinal’s face as he glared at the door, but blind fury comes closest. He spun round and marched out through the corridors of the palace and down to the carriages where he knew he would have to wait, as his departure would not have been expected so soon. As he made his way back through the Queen’s apartments many’s the courtier had to make a swift retreat to avoid the onrush of the departing prelate. He arrived at the carriage entrance and with considerable relief saw his vehicle just there, door open, ready. He headed straight for it and into it. Just as had his reception with the Queen changed in an instant from the fantasy to reality, so now his carriage changed into that, not dissimilar coach, belonging to the equally upset Boehmer and Bassenge. He realised his error only as his foot was on the step ready to mount inside. Two faces of the unhappy gentlemen peered out at him, and he stopped. Bassenge reacted first, “Will your eminence join us? We are headed back to Paris, we will pass your apartments on our way.” A quick calculation of those he would not meet if he chose this expedient, made his mind up. “Gentlemen, an accident, but a happy accident, for all that. Thank you. If you don’t mind the imposition, I would be happy to accept your kind offer.” They smiled and nodded at one another as the Cardinal made himself at home across from the artisans, the door slammed closed and the coach jerked into life, the three rejects nursing their injured pride together. But things are never so bad that they cannot get worse.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 5 - Cardinal de Rohan

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 5 - Cardinal de Rohan

Cardinal de Rohan Light piercing the darkness is always a shock. Daylight, flooding a room darkened by heavy drapes, and thick with the scents of night-time debauch, does not disinfect, it merely reveals. It does, however, hammer at the heads which, only a few hours earlier, had been floating on a sea of alcohol. One head, believing it made him more charming and handsome, the other hoping it would dull the pain of what she was about to do. It didn’t. The Cardinal de Rohan rose naked, and stretched, yawned, kept his eyes firmly shut. His body had lost such athletic proportions it might once have had, and it suffered in the mornings. His man, who had drawn back the curtains, walked to the tray he had placed on a small side table and collected a small bowl, of soup, onion soup. Bringing it to the Cardinal perched on the edge of the bed, he held it in front of the prelate and waited a moment as the Cardinal drew in the aroma, testing whether food was likely to stay down once consumed. He nodded and a small spoonful was fed to him, followed by another. A short pause, again awaiting the result, then another nod. A few more spoons before the bowl was pushed aside, and the Cardinal stood. Turning his back to the window, he finally opened his eyes and muttered a short prayer. He yawned again, and rubbed his stomach, smiling he wandered away to the smallest room in the apartments. His man took a few seconds for himself, looking at the naked figure of the young woman in the bed. He was conflicted. He found her very attractive, but she was the kind of woman who would sleep with a man of the cloth. She was both beneath him, and he knew, so far above him as to be, normally, beyond his greatest fantasies. In any event she was at this moment naked, and in front of him. He thought of waking her with a slap on the backside, and then thought again. Reaching for her shoulder he shook her gently. Her eyes blinked opened and then shut tight against the light. “Madam, you have to get up now.” He said to her, not too roughly. She was concentrated on breathing and stopping the room from turning he knew, but she had to be gone by the time the Cardinal returned. They would have a few minutes as he had left several letters in the privy, for his grace to read. He watched as the woman pulled herself together, taking in where she was, and what she had done. He noticed the blood on the sheets, and wondered if it meant what he thought it might, but the Cardinal was not a gentle man, so it might not. The servant always takes his cue from the master, and he gave in, even savoured, the moment. Reaching forward he slapped her bottom leaving a red mark, she stiffened. She pulled herself round, away from the man, and gathered the bedclothes round her. “You have to be gone madam, his Eminence doesn’t like it if the young women are still here, when he has breakfast.” He explained. “But will the Cardinal keep his word?” “What word is that?” “He promised, that if... he promised he would say a novena for my mother.” “A novena? That is quite a lot of praying for one... mother. You could certainly count on him saying a mass for her.” “She’s ill, he promised a novena, I’m afraid she may die.” “That’s between her and God, madam. You could buy a novena from the Poor Clares in Longchamps, I hear you can get a very nice service there, incense and all.” “Sir, I have no money, that was why...” She began to look around for her clothes, now seeing them strewn about the floor. She looked at the man, and at the fact she would have to gather them up in her current state. “Can you give me some time to gather myself and dress, sir?” “No madam, we have lost a few sets of candle sticks that way, and his Eminence has important papers in the room.” “Could you then hand me my clothes, please” “And have you accuse me of stealing? No madam?” She was now on the verge of tears, but pulled herself up and stood. She glared at the man, and dropped the bedclothes seemingly determined, if she could not be modest she would be brazen. The man ensured he was between her and each item she needed. He watched, breathed her in. Having gathered her things, she put everything on the bed and began to dress. As she finished drawing on her stockings, and about to step into her shoes, the servant coughed. “If you need some money, I could let you have, not enough for a novena, but a couple of masses.” She turned puzzled. He ran his tongue over his dry lips and then reached for the front of his breeches. She followed his hand and suddenly his meaning became clear. In a rush, the morning headache, the disappointment, the anger at her humiliation came out, and, throwing her shoe at the man’s head, she screamed.

The Cardinal's Sin, chapter 4 -Boehmer and Bassange

The Cardinal's Sin, chapter 4 -Boehmer and Bassange

Boehmer and Bassange The coffee house had begun to gather clients, as those who worked at night headed home, and those who worked days went to do just that. Whichever direction they were going, they all seemed to eat the same thing. Bread, cheese, those heading home, some light beer, those on the way out, coffee or chocolate. Lamotte and Rochefort, had in front of them a pot of coffee, empty, the remains of a basic breakfast, and two empty glasses, that might once have contained cognac, fortification against the night. Despite these legendary inducements to conversation, it was clear that there had been precious little of that, and they sat in silence. Not for much longer, as one of the Night Watch’s men came in to the room, and coming over to Rochefort said, “The gentlemen have arrived, sir, and are currently opening the establishment.” Rochefort nodded and rose. Moving more slowly, Lamotte stood and straightened his coat and slipped his satchel over his shoulder. The Watchman turned, and threaded his way back through the crowd, to the door, followed by the two aristos. As he passed the proprietor, Lamotte said to him, “The Comte Rochefort will pay, put it on his tab would you?” “Yes sir, thank you.” “And a little bit extra for yourself, for getting you out of bed, thank you.” “Right sir, thank you.” Rochefort turned as he walked making eye contact with Lamotte. He turned away again and continued outside, but said nothing. Lamotte grinned and followed. The rumour of robbery along with the early opening of the shop had gathered a small crowd in the street. As the watchman and the two officers approached they pulled back. The party, led by Rochefort ignored them and marched into the shop. The place was a hive of people pulling out drawers and checking stock. On the Mezzanine floor an anxious older member of staff, aproned for work, was standing with the older watchman beside the door to the vault room, which was open. The party from the coffee-house came upstairs, and Rochefort walked straight into the vault room. Inside, the vault was open, and every drawer seemed to have been pulled out. Rochefort’s head snapped round at Lamotte, as the room had the look of having been ransacked. Lamotte was taken aback, but smiled as the larger of the two owners appeared from round the door, looking relaxed. “How much is missing?” Rochefort asked. “Mmmm? What? Missing?” “From your stock, sir, what has been taken?” Another head appeared round the corner. “Missing? What’s missing, Charles?” Charles turned from his colleague back to Rochefort. “Is something missing?” “Sir, I do not know, I presumed, given the chaos, that something was surely amiss.” Again Charles looked around, and then back at Paul, who in turn, looked around, and then both looked at Rochefort. “Chaos? What chaos?” as Charles Boehmer “This,” and Rochefort waved his hand around the room indicating, everything. Lamotte stood in the doorway, grinning as he watched. Boehmer and Bassange looked again at one another, then another turn around the room. “Do you mean our stock-take? If we are to find out if something is missing, we must first take everything out to check. We check as everything comes out, and again as everything is put back.” “So you have checked once?” “We have, sir, and we are checking again.” “And is anything missing?” “Nothing has so far, shown itself to be missing.” said Charles. “Or not shown itself, and thereby be missing.” echoed Paul. “Quite.” Rochefort looked at the men with forcefully sealed lips, and put the information he needed together in his head. His mood was not improved when, on turning, he was met by a broadly grinning Lamotte. “It would seem you have been vindicated.” and Rochefort gave a shallow bow. Lamotte returned the bow, and stepped aside to let, the less than happy, cavalryman pass. Once past Rochefort stopped, and turned bringing Lamotte up short. “Do not mistake me sir, you have been vindicated in that, you have not been found to have stolen anything, but, I still do not believe your story of a phantom thief, and your supposed derring-do. I doubt I shall have the occasion to meet you again, but pray sir, that the circumstances, if we do meet, are a good deal more favourable, than this first acquaintance.” If Lamotte had a long or stinging reply to this, he held it in satisfying himself with a deep bow, and his grin, which, in truth, could not have gotten broader without dislocating his jaw. Rochefort turned, and with the Watch in tow, left. Lamotte turned round, looked at the exposed fortune, and sighed deeply, following the wounded aristo out of the shop. A few moments later Boehmer’s head appeared round the door, watching as the last of the parties left the premises. He echoed Lamotte’s sigh. Bassange’s head appeared beside him and he looked up at the taller, larger man. “Gone?” “Gone.” “What shall we do?” “We press ahead. We can’t back down now especially. It was made for the court, we have to try to sell it to the court.” “Might have been better if it had been stolen.” “Might have? It would certainly have been better and with this crowd,” he pointed down at the door, “it would have been very public.” “The thieves, or the fence, would have realised their mistake.” “But would hardly have put that about.” “Whereas, if we’d said that it had been stolen, and it had not...” “Exactly, that would have reached all the wrong ears.” “What a to do. We can’t sell it, we can’t break it up without admitting we can’t sell it, and it would seem we are too secure to have it stolen.” “Who will buy it if the Queen does not?” “Who could wear it at court if they did?” "It could be the end of us." They continued to stare at the door, their departing saviours, and the milling crowd, who had begun to disperse.

The Cardinal's Sin -Jeanne

The Cardinal's Sin -Jeanne

Jeanne Across Paris, at a rather more exclusive residence, the same moon ducked behind the next cloud. From the roof, another rope dropped down two floors, and the end pooled on a small balcony, in front of a set of double glass doors. The black suited thief, who had caused Lamotte such difficulty, slid down silently, soft leather gloves over rope. Landing outside the doors, a quick shake of the rope and it fell down beside him. He gathered it up. Taking a quick look round, the door was eased back, and he slipped inside. The room was simply decorated, and on the small side. Twin beds sat between two wardrobes with, against the short wall beside the doors, a small dressing table. The thief stood still for several seconds allowing his eyes to become accustomed to the light and watched the figure sleeping in one of the beds. Sure they were asleep and turning to the dressing table he bent down. Eyes swept the few items on the table top. Sitting in front of the mirror he sighed. You could just make out the reflection as the thief grabbed the mask from over his head and pulled. As the mask came away blond hair spilled out round her shoulders as the thief turned into a young woman. Seeing herself in the mirror, she smiled and quickly pulled off the rest of the costume. Once the black over clothes were off, she folded them tightly, put them into a small bag and stood. Round her chest and waist were wound bandaging, giving her the slight figure of a young lad. These she unpinned and unwound until she was naked and very much not, a young lad. The bandages joined everything else in the bag, before she pulled on a white linen nightdress. Bringing the bag with her, and sliding it under her mattress at the end of the bed, she slipped under the covers and pulled the pillow about. She closed her eyes. “Can we sleep?” “Marie-Ann, you’re supposed to be asleep.” “I was. You’re supposed to be in bed.” ‘I... Needed some fresh air?” “Do you always dress up in that strange way to take a deep breath?” Silence followed, for a brief spell. “You can’t speak of this.” “Really. I just want to sleep.” Another silence. Then. “Jeanne, you’re not doing anything dangerous, are you?” “Of course not. I wouldn’t.” “Ok.” And silence descended again. Jeanne waited, before long Her sister’s breathing slowed and became deeper. Jeanne too closed her eyes and slept.

The Cardinal's Sin  - The Count de Lamotte

The Cardinal's Sin - The Count de Lamotte

Chapter 2 ​ The Count de Lamotte ​ ​ “How many of your friends are there?” The thief asked. “A few.” ​ The head in front of him tilted, the eyes flickered again to outside of the room. The Captain would have made a lunge for the pistol but, with it cocked and at this distance, there was too great a danger of a mistake. Slowly, with deliberation, as more noise came from outside, the lad’s head turned again looking at the man in front of him. ​ “They’re not with you.” “You’re sure?” “I am now.” “What difference does it make?” “It means we both have to get away.” The Captain shook his head, “I’m a Gendarmes Captain, in uniform. You’re a thief.” “So I’m as well off pulling the trigger.” After a moment’s thought, “Ok. What do you propose?” “I’ll put this back, and we both make for the skylight.” “Deal.” ​ The Captain uncocked his pistol and took a step back. The thief hesitated, then he too stepped back, but much more warily. The older man turned and walked out through the door. Downstairs, he could see lights at the window, moving along the gaps in the shutters, trying to find a way in. He smiled, knowing from experience there wasn’t any. He walked over to the skylight and took the rope in his hand. Bracing his foot against the nearest display case he reached up to climb. He had gained about two feet clear off the floor, when the rope snapped, and he went down in a heap. The noise produced and instant reaction from outside. The lights stopped moving, and there was silence, as those in the street listened. ​ Inside, the thief appeared from the vault room, and was across at the skylight in a couple of strides. Head shaking, he took in the scene straight away, and looked up at the opening as he approached. Lightly, he leaped onto the display cabinet the Captain had used as a brace, walked along its edge, and sprung up catching the lip in a single movement, swinging up and out. Another instant, and he was gone. The Captain clambered to his feet. ​ Looking up and raising his arms he hissed, “Right, reach down, and we can both get away!” The noise from the street suddenly increased and a large gap appeared in the shutters. “Hie, don’t mess about.” He hissed again. ​ In reply, the Captain had to watch as the door of the skylight slid home. He coloured, then turned to look down and made his decision. ​ “Alright! Alright! I’m coming. Who the hell are you? Don’t damage the place.” He shouted loudly. ​ Going to the front door now, making as much noise as possible, and looking for the locks. They were all on the outside. The banging started up again in the street. ​ “Wait! You’ll do more damage than you can pay for.” ​ He turned and looked around the room trying to find some way of getting out from inside. A small window, high up and to the side, caught his eye, and he walked over to it, shouting back to those outside. ​ “At the right. Meet me around the side, in the alley.” He watched the lights in response, move along the front of the shop. He took a deep breath and walked over to the window. Looking up he realised it was too high, and he turned to search for something to stand on. ​ Outside, a small group waited below the window. One man in uniform, two carried lights, looking much more dishevelled and disreputable. One other, the oldest, had a short blunderbuss at the ready. They all watched the window. The noise from the inside suggested that, whoever was about to come through, was having difficulty. Finally, it swung open and a hat flew out. The old man raised his gun, but was waved back by the man in uniform. From inside, ​ “Keep my hat would you, it’s going to get crushed.” ​ A moment or two later the hat was followed by a coat and satchel. The soldier, a cavalry officer by his uniform, waved at one of the men with the lights to pick them up as they waited. More noise and scrapping, before at last, arms appeared and then a head. The Captain struggled though the small window, and it was only as he was about to fall from it, that any of the men made a move to help. It was evident they were not supporters, in fact once they had broken the fall, they dropped him, and he lost what remained of his dignity climbing up the leg of the dirtiest of them. ​ They watched him dust himself down. He thanked them for his coat, his satchel, which he put on, and reordered, before holding out his hand for his hat. Once that was properly in place, he looked at the four men in front of him, settling on the Cavalry officer. ​ “Good evening gentlemen.” The cavalry officer seemed affronted at this, “Explain yourself, sir!” ​ The Captain appeared taken aback. ​ “Me? Explain myself? You gentlemen must explain yourselves, interrupting a Gendarme Captain, as he went about a delicate operation that has taken weeks, literal weeks in setting up. And, you have aided in the escape of a would-be thief whose plans I have only just frustrated. Who the devil are you?” ​ The men with the lights exchanged an uncomfortable look, the officer simply glared, furious, the old man with the blunderbuss was the first to answer. ​ “I’m the watch sir. This gentleman, drew my attention to some suspicious sounds, in the jewellers’ store sir, and we came to check. He said he saw movement on the mezzanine floor, and we atempted to gain entry to investigate further. You know the rest.” “A fine mess you’ve made of things, suspicious sounds indeed.” ​ The Watch and his two mates seemed intimidated by the brusque attitude of the Gendarme. The officer, not so much. ​ “No, no, you don’t get away with it like that. What were you doing? Did you have permission to be in there? And, who are you?” “I don’t need permission when pursuing a criminal, sir. As to who I am, not that you’re entitled to know, I am the Comte de Lamotte, captain of the Kings Gendarmes, at your, and the King’s, service.” ​ He swept off his hat and gave a large and florid bow. The Watchmen gave slight awkward bows, the Officer remained stiffly upright. Lamotte eyed him up and down, considered slapping him, but thought better of it. ​ “And you sir? You are the sole personage who remains unidentified. Given the part played here are you the thief’s accomplice, knowing him in trouble you create a brouhaha and allow his escape? Eh sir, your name, let’s have it?” ​ The Watch now turned to face the Officer, so much for him a few seconds earlier, now they looked in suspicion. Suddenly on the back foot, the man coloured. ​ “I am the Comte de Rochefort, chef d'escadron in his majesty’s horse. I demand a proper explanation from you for this evening’s events.” “Commandant, delighted to make your acquaintance.” He offered once more, a florid bow. “Simple enough. Some days ago I noticed a young fellow, lithe, wiry, looked like one of those acrobats you see. Anyway, he was walking about this shop, not in it mind, outside, looking up the walls, that sort of thing. I decided he was up to no good and I set up to watch the place, I took a room in that place over there, you can check with them if you wish.” He pointed to a coffee house on the corner of the street. “They offered me a room that affords an excellent view of the place. After a few nights, I’d seen nothing. Then, about the forth or fifth night, I caught, quite by accident, a glimpse of someone making their way across those rooftops.” His audience was mostly rapt at this point. Even the commandant seemed engaged. ​ “On the roof? The devil you say.” “I do sir. So, about ten days ago I changed my spot and found a place up there, in the lee of a large chimney. This evening, my vigil was rewarded. The fellow arrived and entered through a skylight. I followed and had him under my pistol when the clamour from below distracted me enough that the villain got away.” “You will be able to offer some corroboration for this tale?” “Indeed, the damaged roof-light, but more importantly the presence of the items, he didn’t steal.” de Rochefort looked him up and down and then pointed at the coffee house on the corner. ​ “We can wait in there, for the owners to arrive and we’ll have your proof.” “Capital,” and they walked together to the inn. ​ The Watch left to rouse the proprietors, as the gentlemen headed towards the hostelry. They shared neither hopes nor fears. As he walked, Lamotte made a silent prayer that the thief had, in fact, kept his word and replaced the necklace, realising that, in the rush to escape, he had not checked, had not made any search of the lad. Was there honour among thieves? He was not sure how well his ‘Nobility’ would stand scrutiny, this sort of theft had a rope at the end of it. ​ ​

The Cardinal's Sin -chapter 1-The Thief

The Cardinal's Sin -chapter 1-The Thief

The Thief ​ Paris 1783 ​ The Captain stood in the darkest shade of a very large chimney stack, the full moon shining and hiding behind the drifting cloud. He had been waiting here each night for the past ten days, and he would go on waiting because he knew that, eventually, his young adversary would turn up. ​ He had seen him about a month earlier and then a week after that, circumspect in the extreme, agile, quick, and shy of any hint that the authorities might be onto him. He hadn’t noticed the Captain, secreted as he was. He was well out of sight, now as then, because he knew that there would be an atempt on the Boehmer and Bassange workshop sooner or later. The prize was too great. A necklace made for a King to admire, as it sat round the throat of his mistress. A piece designed with utmost care and constructed with the finest delicacy. The most valuable jewel in Christendom. It was only a matter of waiting. The lightest of scrapes. The Captain’s head snapped round, his eyes scanning the rooftops where they met the sky. The moon hid once more and in the grey, a slight movement. His grin was not as bright as the moon shine, but it was a lot bolder. ​ The figure was, as he remembered in the glimpses he caught of him, running lightly along the tight Parisian rooftops, taking care not to stray from the brick where his footsteps would not be amplified in the roof void. The Captain squinted, trying to see what he wore on his feet. He couldn’t be barefoot, but his passing was virtually silent, the flapping pigeon’s wings made more noise. ​ The lad stopped at the edge of the workshop rooftop, and stepped onto it. The moon came out and he ducked and froze. The Captain saw him turn to look up at the sky, no doubt to see how long an interval before the next cloud. The boy’s face was enveloped in a light black knitted cloth and the rest of him was similarly enmeshed, reminding the Captain of something he had seen before. Then, as the moon was covered again he remembered; acrobats, tumblers and acrobats. They wore similar clothes, and they had light slippers, perfect if you wanted to slip across a surface silently. He frowned trying to recall if he had seen a troupe advertised recently, it didn’t matter, he was certain of it now. The lad slipped to the roof light, and crouched. The Captain knew he’d have to jemmy the catch, as he himself had checked it about a week earlier, and he waited for the sound of the wood giving way. Nothing came. To his amazement, and if he was honest his admiration, the roof light rose quietly and was laid on the tiles before the lad’s slight figure slipped inside and disappeared. ​ Now was the moment. The Captain stirred himself, stretched his arms and legs, stiff from waiting in the cold, and closed the twenty yard distance to the roof light. He got to the edge and crouched down before carefully taking a look over the lip and into the space beneath. Catching movement below he jerked back out of view. Removing his hat he bent closer to the opening, risking one eye. There he was. Moving lightly through the display cases, the would be thief was heading like an arrow for the door, behind which, the Captain knew, was the vault that held the necklace. Watching as the figure crouched and busied himself about the lock, he thought again of the ease with which the light had been opened and he risked a look at the catch. Clean as a whistle. The mechanism had been bored through with something. Puzzled, he leaned closer just as the moon came out from behind a cloud and threw his shadow across the shop floor. The Captain eased back out of the way. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he was in time to be clear had the lad looked up. ​ Several minutes passed before he dared to peep again, as the latest cloud cloaked once more nature’s lantern. Inch by inch he lifted his head above the rim. The dark figure was nowhere to be seen, but the door to the vault-room was open. He levered himself over the edge and, discovering the thoughtful thief had left a rope, he slipped down into the shop. ​ Once on the floor he took a moment to orientate himself and before he crept over to the door of the vault-room. He stopped and listened. A pause of several seconds, but then he caught it, the sound of a drawer being either pushed or pulled from its place. In his head he tried to imagine the scene; the necklace appeared; a moment to admire it, to savour it, to remove it from the tray and into, whatever he had to transport it, probably a bag, but maybe a small case... stop, too much imagining... Then, return the drawer, turn and head for home. The Captain pulled out his pistol and eased back the door ready to step in for the surprise. But it was he that was caught. ​ About an inch from is face he was looking at the muzzle of a small pistol. The hand that held it was steady, the voice light. “Move sir, and I will fire.” The Captain grinned, “That toy?” “At ten feet, you’re right, sir. At ten inches, quite enough.” “What now?” “Your pistol, butt first, slowly.” ​ The Captain considered his options, decided he had none and raised the weapon hanging on his finger, butt first. He admired that the pistol in his face never budged an inch and that the lad hadn’t flinched, in spite of the sudden move against instructions. “Stupid.” A shrug in response. ​ The noise from behind him though, produced a different reaction. The lad’s eyes shifted to across the Captain’s shoulder. In spite of the shiver that had run down his own spine, the Captain flipped the pistol round, raised and cocked it all in one movement. The figure in front of him closed the distance, to now less than an inch from his eye, almost as quickly. ​ “What now?” the Captain asked.

Lockdown - a short film script

Lockdown - a short film script

INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM / BAY WINDOW - DAY EDNA (mid-80s, outspoken battleaxe) peers out the window. Stares fixedly through the net curtains. Home-phone in hand, wrapped in the cord, she spies on her next door NEIGHBOURS (father and teenage daughter, KATY), sunbathing in the garden. POLICE MAN (O.S.) ... Mrs. Wilder, 999 is only meant for emergencies -- EDNA Young man, if breaking the corona virus rules isn't an emergency, I don't know what is! POLICE MAN (O.S.) Your neighbours sitting in their garden 'drinking Stella from the can' is not a breach of the COVID- 19 measures, ma'am -- EDNA But he's not wearing a shirt, his gut alone is an offence -- Headphones in, Katy bobs her head to the beat as she writes in her notebook. Despite the heat, Katy is dressed head to toe in baggy clothes. POLICE MAN (O.S.) Now, I'll have to ask you to hang up, and if you do witness a breach to please refer to our GMP website to report -- EDNA A website? I'm not a teenager, nor am I a pervert, I don't waste my pension on that Internet nonsense. You should listen to what I have to say now, it's not like I have nothing better to do. I'll sue for repetitive strain injury if I have to hold this phone any longer. POLICE MAN (O.S.) Mrs. Wilder, this is the fourth time you've called in two weeks. Ringing 999 for inappropriate reasons are potentially putting lives at risk. Do you have someone there who cares for you, are you on your own? EDNA Pfft! On my own? Chance would be a fine thing. I have um... my husband, and family and... and neighbours calling me every five seconds, doing things for me. I'd pay to get a bit peace around here! -- INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM / BAY WINDOW - LATER Empty. Quiet. An AMBULANCE SIREN lights up the street. Edna rushes to the window. The siren stops a few doors down. Edna watches concerned. Scared, she backs away from the window. No-one is there to comfort her. She places a CD in the player. A picture of her and her late husband, singing in the choir, sits on the table. Presses play. Choir music fills the room. Edna breathes in. She sings along. It soothes her. Until, the siren sounds again. She turns up the volume. INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - DAY Choir music explodes through the wall. Sat in bed writing, Katy angrily pulls out her headphones. A rap beat can be heard. Edna's voice vibrates through the room. KATY You've got to be kiddin' me. Katy persists. Headphones back in. Picks up her pen. KATY (CONT'D) (quietly raps) I’m 15 but it’s covid-19, ma life’s postponed, its cut-throat, I need to get out! But don't.
Katy gives up. BANG, BANG, BANG! Katy bangs on the wall. KATY (CONT'D) TURN IT DOWN! Katy bangs again, but the music only gets louder. INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS Edna turns up the volume. Eyes filled with tears as she sings louder. BANG, BANG! KATY (O.S.) TURN IT DOWN!!! ARE YOU CRAZY?! INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - LATER Alone, Edna watches the Coronavirus Daily Update on TV -- NEWS REPORTER (O.S.) ... it came after Boris Johnson's announcement of prolonging the lockdown... Edna looks around her empty house. INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS Alone, Katy watches the same update on her phone in bed -- NEWS REPORTER (O.S.) ... for a further three weeks, confining the nation to their homes, only being allowed out for essential food shopping and one hour of exercise... ON PHONE: Message arrives from JACK. NO SCHOOL FOR 3 MORE WEEKS! (happy emojis) Katy rolls over. Bored, and depressed. Katy replies: #LOVINLOCKDOWN (heart emoji) Drops the phone. Stares at her poster of Eminem. INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS BUZZ! The TV flickers. EDNA Oh, stupid thing! It becomes unwatchable. Edna scoffs. Investigates further. Pulls the TV out to deal with the aerial and wires. EDNA (CONT'D) For heaven's sake, that damn cowboy electrician. Should've wrapped that cable around his bleeding neck. £150 my eye. Biggest waste of money -- Now nearer the wall, Edna can hear Katy rapping. Edna places her ear to the wall. KATY (O.S.) (raps) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. / I’m lonely... INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS ON PHONE: Katy records her rap. Not a natural performer, her hand and body movements are awkward: KATY (raps quietly) I’m 15 but it’s covid-19, ma life’s postponed, its cut-throat, I need to get out. But don’t. / Forget school milestones. Don’t you dare moan... Pandemics... profound but I just.. I just... AGGGHHHH! Katy stops recording. Rewinds. Watches the footage. It's awful. She falls back on her bed. Head in hands. INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS Edna shuffles closer behind the TV to hear more clearly. SMASH! Edna knocks the picture frame to the floor. EDNA Oh, for pity's sake, Edna, you old fool! Picks up the shards of glass but cuts her finger. It's deep. Blood seeps. She wraps it with a towel. In shock and scared, she looks for help but no-one is there. INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS Katy's concentration is broken once again when choir music bellows through the walls. KATY What the...? Oh no you don't! Not again! Katy storms out. INT / EXT. EDNA'S FRONT DOOR - CONTINUOUS KNOCK, KNOCK, BANG, BANG! Edna peers out. Slightly opens the door to Katy, who stands 2 meters back. KATY CAN YOU TURN IT DOWN? EDNA I'm sorry? KATY TURN THE MUSIC DOWN! Edna scoffs and shuts the door. Katy throws her hands in the air at a loss. KATY (CONT'D) (to herself) What the actual hell, lady? -- The music stops. Edna opens the door again. EDNA Are you still here? KATY I came to ask you to turn the music down. EDNA Yes, well it's down now, and you're breaking corona rules, I should report you. KATY I'm standing 2 meters back, and I wouldn't have come over if you weren't being so loud -- Katy spots Edna's bloody towel and finger. KATY (CONT'D) What's that, are you alright? EDNA Don't I look alright? KATY You're bleedin'. EDNA I lived through the war I can handle a little cut thank you very much, and there's a 'G' at the end of bleeding, now if you don't mind? You kids today, a little scratch and you call 999. KATY You need to bandage that up, stops the bleeding and stops gettin' an infection. EDNA Alright Miss Holby City, when I need medical advice I'll go to the doctors. KATY But you can't right now, it's not worth endangering yourself, exposing you to, you know... Edna takes a beat. EDNA Yes well, I seem to be out of plasters. KATY Wait here one minute, okay, I'll be right back. Edna rolls her eyes. Katy runs to her house. EXT. EDNA'S FRONT DOOR - MOMENTS LATER Katy stands (2 meters away) whilst Edna bandages her finger using Katy's first aid box. EDNA Did you wash your hands before you gave me this?! KATY Yes, I told you I did, didn't I? EDNA Speak to adults like that in school do you? Katy rolls her eyes. KATY (CONT'D) I don't need it, gonna be a rapper aint I? EDNA I don't know, are you? KATY I write it all too, all my own stuff, every last word. EDNA From your many years of life experience, I'm sure you have some profound things to say! KATY Old enough to know sarcasm. EDNA Come on then, let's hear something. KATY Now? EDNA Are you waiting for backup singers? A mic? KATY No, I just. Most people just laugh at me when I tell 'em I wanna be a rapper. EDNA Hm, yes, most people are idiots. Edna motions for Katy to start. KATY No way! EDNA And why not? KATY Because! EDNA Because of what? KATY Thing is, I'm not... I'm not great at performin'. Writin' I can do! But, rappin' infront of people? EDNA Oh, I see. Well, practice makes progress, keep working and one day you'll be a professional, now stop stalling, I'm not getting any more comfortable sat here. Katy shakes her head. EDNA (CONT'D) COME ON! KATY Okay! Sshh, keep it down, geez. (beat) Ahem. (quietly) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Katy awkwardly motions with her hands. KATY (CONT'D) Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. I’m lonely - EDNA Well, you'll need to be louder than that, I can't hear a thing! KATY Okay! EDNA And loosen up, you look like you're being controlled by remote control! If you're going to be a professional, you need to act like one, where's your rhythm, girl? Katy is deflated. KATY Screw you! EDNA Excuse me, never mind your hands, I should wash your mouth out with soap! KATY WHATEVER! What the hell do you know? EDNA I know you need to shout it out, with some spirit! Katy storms back to her house. Slams the door shut. EDNA (CONT'D) I never said it wasn't good, Katy, I was giving constructive criticism! (to herself) Oh Edna, you old fool. INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - MOMENTS LATER Katy runs into her room crying. Dives into bed, sobbing. Punches the pillow in frustration. INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS Edna turns the TV on in frustration. BANG! The TV wires blow. Edna jumps. The fuse box has blown, all the electricity in the house is out. Edna panics. She goes to the CD player but it's dead. She presses 'PLAY' over and over but without electricity it's useless. INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS Katy wipes her tears. When she hears Edna through the walls - EDNA (O.S.) (singing loudly) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. / I’m lonely. INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS Edna waits by the wall. EDNA (CONT'D) (shouts) Come on! No one is watching. No excuses! (sings) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. / I’m lonely. Beat. KATY (O.S.) (raps) I'm 15 but it's covid-19, ma life's postponed, its cut-throat, I need to get out! But don't. Edna smiles. EDNA LOUDER! INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS KATY (raps loudly) Forget school milestones! Don't you dare moan, can't you see all those new gravestones? / Pandemics profound, but I just miss knockin around, it's like a horror movie on the merry-go-round. / Fundamental touch disallowed, walls cavin in all around, this idle mind is like a devil's playground. Look around its lockdown, nothins allowed, stand 2 meters back n follow the signs on the ground. / Shoppin towns drown, incomes never found, debts on the compound, my mum's car's at impound. / His wife is dyin, her nurse is tryin, whizz kids' braincells we relyin, still the death toll is arisin'. / Mental strife n lockdown collidin, bad thoughts inside heightened, my boy from school took his own life (!), he died and ... Katy takes a beat. INTERCUT Edna feels for Katy. KATY (CONT'D) 15 like me his name was Ryan, I'll remember him as a titan (!) / Teens know nothin, now we know somethin - grief n bein frightened. Edna looks to her husband's picture. KATY (CONT'D) Be sleepin all day like a baby, stops the crazy, can you blame me for fallin into a depression daily? / No Katy, focus! I ain't lazy! Put all your thoughts into your rappin! Brain, please don't fail me. / But you, next door, battleaxe, you slayed all my raps, you're old as hell, but the bell rings, n you take another swing! Edna raises an eyebrow. KATY (CONT'D) Thing is, she can sing, like an angel with wings, told me plainly, keep rappin, n one day, they'll pay me. Edna smiles. KATY (CONT'D) ‘You’re free’! one day they’ll inform us, allowed out, shoppin n to the movies, ‘just go n live normal!’ / Holidays now lawful, got some flippers n learnin how to snorkel, ‘hey look there’s a snappin turtle!’ / Mind n body free, chains diffused, no more police watchin your every move, no more death n sad news, / Hug friends, meet up at Maccy D's, get some fast food, maybe meet somebody new, just wait, life’ll improve. EDNA (sings) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. / I’m lonely. KATY (raps) I see you’re lonely right now, but look around, I’m right here next to thee, we even share the same ground. / Let’s turn frowns upside down, now I met you, hell, maybe we could even be friends, how does that sound? / Edna laughs. EDNA (sings) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. / I’m lonely. KATY (raps) I'm lonely, it's LOCKDOWN! They both catch their breath. And smile.

Time Travel

Time Travel

The method of time travel is varied whether it be in The Doctor's TARDIS, or an old Delorean, it is mostly accepted that it will take an (unspecified) power source of a particular sort and some new kind of substance. Not too many have gone for the many dimension method though Star Trek's 'subspace' is a sort of time travel and it uses a type of space to which we currently have no access. The effect of time travel has usually been of two sorts. One where the smallest inadvertent thing changes the future completely, and the other is that time is immutable. Doctor Who suggests something in the middle; some events are fixed others, not. In a curious way this last might just be a keeper...

Implants, 2020 version

Implants, 2020 version

Following the theme of my posts on the future-present comes the "Neuralink" Elon Musk's version of the net I describe in the books. This indeed is an early version of the same relying on an 'outside-in' version of the tech. That is, one where we implant a chip and then 'plug' it into the brain. The system in the books is an inside-out version, that is, one where we implant a passive neural net that allows communication with the outside tech and the brain connects to it. If this were developed it would offer fewer chances for infection of mechanical failure, but getting neurons to make that connection and interpreting the signal correctly will be a big issue. Here though, is where we are; https://www.thequint.com/…/what-is-neuralink-and-how-does-i…

Chapter 26 - to the end of the story...

Chapter 26 - to the end of the story...

Thank you for getting this far, I am now working on re-drafting the story, If you want to read to the end of this draft of the story I am happy to send it to you if you email me here: gina.fegan@gmail.com

Chapter 25. Danger

Chapter 25. Danger

Maeve stood outside in her garden breathing in the early evening air, the trees with new green tall above the incline of the back garden, the scent rising from the earth, the drift of sweet blossom. It was grounding Maeve. She couldn’t process all of Ada’s story, she knew it would take time. Now she needed to breathe. Maeve was deep in her mindfulness breathing when she was disturbed by a “Hello there neighbour!” This was the way Anne used to shout over the fence when she had some veg to share, briefly Maeve thought it was a voice in her own head. She looked over towards the fence and sure enough there was Anne.This time Anne went straight in with, “I don’t want to bother you but there are a few things I need and some you need.” This was too much for Maeve, she said, “I’m sorry Anne, I can’t. I can’t deal with this right now.” Maeve turned and went straight back into the house. “Ada it doesn’t matter how much you say I can, I can’t! I am not ready for this.”, and with that Maeve retreated to her bedroom and slammed the door shut. She needed to be alone. How could she make it stop. It was overwhelming. Ada’s story meant she had to rethink her childhood. She had to let go of the resentment which had been a driver for her actions and now she had to handle the new feelings of guilt. Maeve also had to face up to her ‘gift’. The people who talked to her in the hospital, maybe she could handle that, mostly they just wanted to say goodbye. But the ones like Susan, Kamal and Kevin were serious, these were murders and they needed a real champion, someone who would fight for them. Thinking of Kevin, Maeve added, it had to be someone who could be tough and handle them too! What was that old quote, ‘Life does not put things in front of you that you are unable to handle’, Maeve used to think that was true, right now she was not at all sure. She needed to clear her head and decide who she wanted to be, hero? Mother? Daughter? Or all three? Up on the University campus things were getting underway. The police community safety officers were organising the volunteers into logical groups to sweep across designated areas of the campus, making sure that altogether they would cover the entire open ground. Marieanne and Orla had joined the search just in time. They were told what to do, their group was to form at the back of Woody’s bar, just beyond the turning circle facing the green ‘open’ space, which was actually under cover of trees. They were to form a line with about a metre between each person and walk as one. As they gathered Orla heard a voice behind her, “you’re her daughter, aren’t you? They say it runs in families. Anyway I don’t have time, you need to know things. He has access to underground rooms in the Cathedral. We were looking for the anti-gravity powder and he could take us into locked rooms, he has keys, because of the archives.” “Are you Kevin?”, Orla was sharp to the point with her question. “Yes”, Kevin was a little reluctant, but trying to win her over he went on “I know, I know, it wasn’t wrong, I just wanted to know if the cabal were there, and she made them look.”, he smiled, very pleased with himself that his plan had worked even though he was disappointed with the result, “but this is real, this is where you will find him.” Orla was shooing him away “I don’t believe a word you say, what do you mean rooms under the Cathedral? Archives, access to locked rooms, anti-gravity powder? Do you think I would believe you when you have proved yourself to be a liar!” Marieanne was looking at her strangely, “are you talking to yourself?” This made Orla laugh, “it's just the way it is, but he is not a good spirit so I won’t talk to him. And now, ‘poof’, I can't even see him, that door is closed.” Marieanne was a little concerned, “sure you are okay?” Orla could be overconfident “never better!” They started getting into position when Orla heard a “Psst, over here.” Looking under the branches she realised that she was looking towards Parkwood Rd, and there was Anne. “I don’t want to bother your mother, she is having a difficult moment, but there isn’t much time, so can you give her a message?” Orla walked over to Anne so that no one would overhear the conversation and asked, “how are you?” Anne smiled, “you are a good girl, always were. I’m fine. In fact, I’m happy here, I’d appreciate it if you would pass that on, to Ray and the children. But the urgent business is that I know who killed me. On this side, it was a bit like waking up from a fuzzy sleep, my head is clear now. And once the family are okay and I have said goodbye I am happy to stay. But urgently I need your mother to tell the truth, and to stop him otherwise I will be tied here in Parkwood. Tell her this…..” Orla, dashed over to Marieanne, “I have to do something in town. When this walk is over, go and tell Mum and Ada that Anne remembers. I need to check it out but if she’s right we will find Adam. Finish this first because after Kevin we don’t know who to trust and Anne’s dementia might be fooling her.” Marieanne was of the view that they needed to do the logical as well as the spiritual, so she agreed with the sisterly warning, “don’t take any risks.” Orla grinned “Moi? Take a risk? Certainly not an unnecessary one!”, with that she was gone. They had finished their walk through in about half an hour. Nothing. The other teams were still going but Marieanne’s lot were told that they were done for the night. The days had been lengthening but it was now definitely dusk. Marieanne was hoping that she had done the right thing and the Orla would have got home before she did. It’s good to hope, but sometimes that can get you, or someone else, into serious trouble.