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,
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.