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.”
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.”
“I had intended to remain with the sisters in Longchamp.”
“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.