Paris, 29 November 1642 (Gregorian Calendar)
In a splendid chamber of the Palais du Cardinal, which was one of the most splendid mansions in all of Paris, a man sat lost in deep reverie, his head resting on his hands as he leaned over a gilt and inlaid table, covered with documents. Behind him, a vast fireplace was alive with leaping flames. Thick logs blazed and crackled on brass-ended firedogs, their flickering brilliance combined with that of the wax lights set in the twin grand candelabra which illuminated the room.It occurred to him that if anyone had been there to see, and he thanked God they were not, they might have mistaken his cloak with its rich colour and golden thread for a gorgeous red simar, robes of office due to a cardinal. They might have thought that against all possible hope and expectation the owner of the Palais had risen to sit at this table and work.
But he had no time for such fancies. He creased his brow in anxious reflection as he bent over the list of names, grateful for the solitude of the suite of rooms he was in, relieved by the continued silence from the chamber beyond and aware, painfully aware, of the measured tread of the guards outside on the landing. They were there to ensure the safety of the master of the house. That thought made him shake his head. They could not any longer ensure the safety of a man who barely lingered now on the threshold of death, reluctant to release the agony of life for the promise of eternal bliss because he felt his work was not yet done.
And neither was his own work, the man in the red cloak knew. He had come to this room to find the document he needed, breaking into the private cabinet of L’Éminence Rouge, and now he had found it, a list of names. So it was merely a matter of choosing a name—choosing the right name. It was not a long list but from it he had to choose the name of a man with few connections in Paris, a man who had no friends in powerful places who might step in to defend him. He needed it to be one of the men on the list in his hand, because they were the only ones who could have had the right access—apart from himself, of course.
All the names were French and one or two he recognised, men he would very much enjoy seeing accused, humiliated, convicted, broken by torture and removed from life on the gallows. But he also knew they would have friends, family and possible patronage. It was not a risk he could afford to take.
Then he saw that there was one name on the list which did not belong to a Frenchman. A name he knew belonged to someone of no significance—someone who no one would stand up for, and no one would miss.
Smiling to himself, he replaced the list exactly where he had found it and left the room quickly before his presence there was noticed.
From The Physician’s Remedy, Book Four of The ‘Lord’s Legacy’ Sextet by E.M. Swift-Hook