– Week 5 – 1A. The Crimson King

Muse Name: Faelyn/ Francoise de Rochefort / Fanny Fae
Fandom: Original Character
Prompt Number: Week 5.1.A.
Title: The Crimson King
Warnings/Disclaimers: None
Word Count: 2642

The Château was beautiful enough to be the abode of a King. And indeed, the one man who had ruled France more than it’s King, or at least he ruled through the figurehead that was Louis XIII had lived here quite comfortably when he was not in residence at the Royal Palace in Paris. The long drive stretched out before my carriage, and I gripped my cloak just that much tighter to myself. The Spring thus far had been cooler than normal. Not even the day lilies had deigned to poke out from the damp, cold ground yet.

Everything else at that point was a blur. The carriage came to a stop, I alighted from it and was escorted by three armed guards of Cardinal Richelieu into the presence of the man himself. I wish I could say that I was a brave enough woman to have not have held the slightest fear in my heart for being called to him lin such a fashion, but I cannot. I had to fight to keep my fingers still from trembling. No, he would not see my hands shake, nor detect the slightest tremor in my voice when I stood before him. Was I not the Comtesse de Rochefort? Was I not, even more, a ruler in my own right? Yes, to both of these things – but neither was I a fool. Cardinal Richelieu ruled France and many things outside of it with a steely will. He did not even bother to couch his intentions behind his crimson robes – not even to the Holy Father in Rome himself. Cardinal Richelieu’s rule of France was as near absolute as God’s.

I measured my steps with my breathing, my shoes striking on the marble floor and echoing through the great hall of the immense house. Others who were either in residence to wait upon the Cardinal or to visit him turned slightly to regard me and the small group of guards. There was no surprise, and it was just as well. Maybe it was their lack of alarm that caused me to breathe just a bit easier.

The guard furthest in front rapped upon a tall ornate door without announcement.

“Come,” called a man’s voice from inside.

The guard swung open the door wide to allow me and the other guards entrance into the same room as l’Éminence rouge. He stood in front of a large window that looked out over the immense gardens – perhaps searching for some sign of spring to show itself to him to indicate that winter had ended. It was no less than I had done with my own gardens in Rochefort days before. The man whom so many owed both their livings and their lives and France owed it’s place in the world, looked thinner now. He was older and paler than when I had last seen him in Paris just weeks before. Gone was the armour that made him that much more imposing. His robes were softer, simpler, no doubt to accommodate for comfort, but no less impressive as someone of his position should have worn.

“Madame le Comtesse de Rochefort, your Eminence,” the foremost guard announced.

Richelieu turned from the window slowly to look. A small smile crossed his face, “Ah! Madame,” he said in a voice dripping with overt pleasantry, “you’ve arrived.” He turned to the guard, “You may go, Captain. Please send Father Antonius to bring Madame and I some refreshment.”

“You sent for me, Your Eminence?” I waited for the last guard to leave, closing the door behind him with only the sound of a soft click of the latch. Inclining my head and dipping a knee in respect for his office, if indeed I did not for the man himself. For the years leading up to my marriage to Sebastien, there had been little love lost between this man and myself. We knew each other for what we were – and the wide areas that we used to maneouver around each other was only bridged by the man who was my husband. But even Sebastien, the Cardinal’s Chief Inquisitor, was not here now. No. This meeting had been called because the Pope’s chief minister in France wanted something, and he wanted it from me.

No doubt he was surprised that I had responded that I would answer his summons, pleading neither some feigned illness nor any trumped up incapacity that would have prevented me from attending him. What was perhaps even more surprising to France’s Chief Minister is that would actually answer him.

“Yes,” he said, then stopped abruptly when he noted I was still wearing my travelling cloak, “I do apologise for my staff, Madame. If you care to give me your cloak I can have Father Ambrosius take it when he brings our tea,” Richelieu said. “I will have to speak to whomever should have taken better care of you.”

I could hardly imagine what Cardinal Richelieu would have considered to be ‘better care’. I was still uncertain as to whether or not he was doing all this only to see me taken forthwith from his presence to the Bastille. “If it is your intention to discuss matters of State, Your Eminence,” I said, “Then I am both surprised and grateful. Your guards gave me the impression that this was to be an informal visit between us. I am not certain why you have summoned me here.”

“Don’t you?” he seemed genuinely surprised for a mere moment, then his expression changed suddenly. ” To be truthful Madame, there is no need for either of us to be coy. We give each other a great deal of distance for obvious reasons,” he indicated to two chairs that were near one of the large, well lit windows where sunlight now flooded through, but not before taking the cloak I had eased off my shoulders and laying it aside on a library table. He waited until I took my seat and he sat down in his just opposite before continuing. “We both know that you are a Witch, Madame. ” He raised a hand as if to stave off any possible protest from me. At this point I had no intention of giving him one. “Please, Madame. We both do realise, of course, that the only thing that possibly stays my hand from seeing you hanged for such heresies is your husband’s protection about you and I am fond of Captain Rochefort. He has served me for many years after leaving the Musketeers, and in all capacities he is a man of considerable talents. I doubt I could find another nearly as skilful or discreet, and so I do not trouble him over such matters, as they concern you, Madame.” he said easing himself back in his chair and regarding me with a squint, “However, there is something that I would like to ask of you – a favour if you will.”

Surely you know that it would be much safer for you outside of France, however, since you and I have to tolerate each other’s presence, I suppose we could offer each other a truce…..a truce that is born of necessity on both of our parts.”

“And how do you know that I am a Witch, Monsieur your Grace? Who has given you such information?” My surprise was clear, even if my voice did not betray my concern. Now that I knew the Cardinal was aware of what I was. “Surely I do not sell philtres in the street, nor do ladies of the Court seek me out for cures for their various indiscretions the same as they do from the apothecaries of Paris.”

“You are an intelligent woman, Madame,” he said, ” and one who just happens to know the wortcunner’s trade and far more than other women of Paris. What else could you possibly be?”

“Do I need to now relegate myself to embroidery to avoid suspicion?” I commented wryly, “I am afraid my needlework is far from the finest among the ladies at Court, and I am a healer, so I have always preferred botany and the sciences.”

“Yes, I have heard of your supreme distaste for the more….womanly arts,” he said. “Did it escape your notice, Madame de Rochefort, that I have observed you within the Court for a long time? I am quite aware that you prefer to look after the sick and infirm, which makes you an angel of mercy – in your way. However, ” he continued, “I also know that you prefer a book and holding conversations of politics, going hunting or hawking with your husband and even the King. Surely you know that these things are well within the domain that is clearly for men only,” Cardinal Richelieu said with a disdainful lift of his chin. ” I must be honest when I tell you, Madame, that had you been married to any man other than Captain Rochefort, no doubt your husband would try to beat it out of you. And they would be doing so with my full blessing.”

I took a moment to let this last sink in. I did not say anything for a few moments when there was a knock at the door. The Cardinal bade whomever it was to enter. A small, graceful priest, whom I guessed to be Father Ambrosius, glided into the room as if there was no movement under his simple priest’s robes. He carried a polished wooden tray containing a tea pot, two cups and a plate of small cakes of thin flaky pastry that looked as if they had been made for the King. Carefully the old priest placed it on the table between Cardinal Richelieu and myself. He offered me a very sweet smile.

Pardon, your Eminence,” Father Ambrosius offered to his superior, but not taking his eyes off me, “Madame. I wanted to make certain that we offered our guest the freshest batch of cakes that Father Michael had prepared.,” he turned to the Cardinal at last. “I hope you don’t mind. I do believe that they are still warm.”

I offered Father Ambrosius a smile of my own. “Thank you, Father,” I said. Then turning my gaze to the Cardinal, “No one could say that His Eminence was anything but the most attentive of hosts, especially with you here.”

Father Ambrosius nodded, “It is a pleasure, Madame,” his voice was smooth and his French was courtly and elegant. My guess was that he had retired from Court life to a monastery long after most young men decided to make priesthood their vocation. “Would you like me to pour tea for you both?” he asked.

Richelieu looked just a little impatient that the Father had taken so long, but was obviously anxious for the Priest to leave once again. “No, that won’t be necessary, Father,” he said, “however, I would like a word with you later this afternoon if you please.”

“Of course, your Eminence,”Ambrosius bowed first to his Master and then to me, “Madame de Rochefort.” Once again he gave a small smile and went out of the room just as silently and gracefully as he had come into it. Even the door closing behind him was soundless and I wondered to myself if he had really been there at all. The tea tray between myself and the Cardinal was clear enough indication that he had.

“Since we both know that you can destroy me,” I said, “and my husband also, should you wish it, your Eminence, my only question to you now is what do you want from me?”

Cardinal Richelieu who poured the tea. As he served us both tea and cakes, I noticed the slight tremor now within his hands that I had not noticed before. Even in these trembling hands, it was clear that the man had no intention of relinquishing his power and certainly none so far had been able to wrest it from him so far. But the voices of dissent were increasing and Queen Anne’s vociferous complaints were causing tension that no one, not even Cardinal Richelieu himself, could ignore.

Richelieu regained his seat with a soft grunt and eased back into his chair to sip his tea. “I have always admired your candour, Madame,” he said, “and so I will afford you the same courtesy as you have always given me. There is an assignment that I wish to see your husband carry out for me – or more appropriately, for France. Your husband does have some reservations and I do believe that you are at the heart of those reservations.” He was cradling the cup and saucer in his hands that now suddenly seemed over-large for such delicate objects.

“And how is it that am I at the heart of what my husband does or does not do for you, Cardinal Richelieu?”

“Surely he has told you of the Queen’s attentions toward him.” The Cardinal was incredulous.

“He has.”

“And such knowledge has not made you into a shrewish wife? Good.” Richelieu seemed relieved. “Then his hesitation cannot be because you have forbidden him.”

“Perhaps if I knew just what you were referring to that you wish for him to undertake.” I said, beginning to nibble at the cakes. The scent of cinnamon and confectioner’s sugar only added to the warm, sweetness of the pastry.

“I wish him to bed the Queen, Madame,” he took a deeper gulp of his tea. ‘France needs an heir and after examining all possibilities, I can think of none better suited to the task than your husband.”

I tried very hard not to choke on the bite of cake I had just swallowed. To insure that I didn’t I took a quick sip of my tea to ease it down my throat. If Richelieu was hoping to catch me completely by surprise, he could have not picked a better topic.

“I beg your pardon?”

“How much more direct can I be, Madame? The King and Queen loathe each other, and with the Queen’s attentions focused on a liaison with your husband rather than the other upstarts that she would more than willingly share her bed with, perhaps perhaps it will be overlooked that the King has not bedded her in some time.”

“Begging your pardon, your Eminence, but this is none of my business any more than it is acceptable for you to be meddling in the affairs of consenting adults,” I said, a little sharply for my own ears. I laid aside my cup and straightened in my chair, “I thought that the Church had strict views about things such as adultery, and yet here you are. You’ve invited me here to do what? To encourage my husband to risk his life, the life of the Queen? For what purpose?”

“For France,” Richelieu said not looking at me. I could see his jaw grinding over the cup. He had made up his mind and made it quite clear he meant to have his way in this matter. “I know that you will do what is right, Madame de Rochefort. If for no other reason than that of self preservation”

“Do you mean that if I do not intercede with my husband and convince him to do this thing, you mean to imprison or hang me, your Eminence?”

“No, of course not my dear,” he leaned over and patted my hand reassuringly. “I would not put it that way. I merely make a suggestion that if a way cannot be found, either by you, your husband or myself – it may well mean all of our necks.” He smiled that infamous and deadly smile of his, and the meaning could not have been more clear.

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