Chapter 2 - 1635: The Dreeson Incident Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce
"Sandrart, what the . . . heck?" Simon Jones frowned.
"What he means is 'what the hell,' " Ron Stone interpreted. "We're supposed to be going straight home. Not taking scenic detours."
"But it's important to us." Artemisia Gentileschi started to wave her hands. "Joachim sent the messenger more than a week ago. Almost ten days ago. Telling him that if the duke agreed, he should meet us at the inn here and let us know. And Rohan has agreed."
"One more jumped-up nobleman," Jones muttered.
"Duke Henri de Rohan is the most important Protestant patron in France. Well, not in France, since he's in exile, but the most important French Protestant patron of the arts. If Joachim can possibly find a permanent position under the de Rohan/Sully-Bethune umbrella, don't you see, then he won't have to spend most of his life doing commissions for Catholics."
Artemisia's hands stopped for a moment then started up again. "Not that I see that as a problem. Many Catholic artists work for Protestant patrons, such as the king of England, as I have done myself. And vice versa. It won't be a really major problem for Joachim, either. Even someone like Maximilian of Bavaria is inclined to make temporary exceptions to the rules when it comes to the painters and sculptors in his employ. As long as they paint exactly the subjects that he wants them to, of course. But still." Her hands flew out like two birds taking flight. "We're so close!"
"A week," Jones said. "A week, at least. Two days to get there, a day for the two of you to talk to the man, and two days back to this road. That's if he sees you right away and isn't so puffed up with his own importance that he keeps you hanging around in his waiting room for a while."
Joachim Sandrart looked at Ron. "He is a high military commander in the service of Venice. Your father, being at the University of Padua, is now, also, in a way in the service of Venice. Although I understand, of course, that he is an independent docent, not a salaried member of the faculty at the medical school. Given the popularity of his lectures, he's probably making more money that way. But if he, or your stepmother, should some day encounter any more difficulties, it would be all to the good if they could call on Rohan's good will. Which they are much more likely to be able to do if you have paid your courtesies to him."
Ron looked at Sandrart, then over to his brother Gerry, who was sitting in a corner of the inn by himself.
"Okay, then. We've been making pretty good time. A lot better than we did on the way down to Venice last year, but that was winter. I guess you deserve your chance. Though you could have asked the rest of us first, before you sent the messenger out. If the duke guy doesn't start playing games with us. Is that all right with you, Simon? We can ride over. If he sees Artemisia and Joachim the day we get there or the next, fine. If he doesn't, we're outta there. Or if Joachim wants to wait for him, he can stay behind."
The duke kissed Artemisia's hand in a very courtly manner. She was delighted, having begun to suspect that she was getting beyond the years when a man might think of kissing her hand outside of a formal public reception.
Rohan welcomed Sandrart briefly and immediately sent him upstairs with his private secretary and some other factotum to look at architectural drawings of his various residences, requesting that he submit a proposal for improving their interior decoration before he left or, if that was not possible, as soon as possible thereafter.
Then he told Gerry and Ron that he had heard their father, Herr Thomas Stone, the great chemist, speak. Several times. He had heard one of their father's public lectures during his last visit to Venice and deliberately delayed his return to Switzerland by a week in order to be a guest at his presentations at the medical school in Padua. True, he should have returned at once to engage in one more round of negotiations to bring peace between the Catholic and Protestant cantons. However, since they had now gone several years without achieving peace, he had doubted that a week would make much difference to the rate of progress.
Gerry mumbled, "We're glad you enjoyed it." He obviously wasn't going to say anything else. Ron realized that he would have to take over the conversation.
"It is my hope that your father found pleasure in reading the book I presented to him. Renee of Ferrara advocated some very bold religious ideas."
Ron swallowed hard. "He didn't say anything. Ah, he's been very busy this summer, Your Grace."
Henri de Rohan smiled. "So I have heard. You have scarcely been idle, yourself."
"None of the stuff that happened in Rome was boring. Yeah. A person could really say that. We actually got to see Galileo."
The duke stroked his chin with his finger. Far from preening himself upon his achievements in averting the assassination, the boy seemed to be more inclined to discount them. Modesty or dissembling? Or a prudent concern that a Huguenot leader might not have been averse to the death of Urban VIII?
In any case, it would be a good idea to learn more about Ron Stone.
After dinner, Rohan indicated, perfectly politely, that everyone but Ron was free to withdraw.
Resisting an urge to wriggle along the floorboards and out through a knothole somewhere, Ron stood up, bowed to Artemisia, and resumed his place.
A servant came up behind him, offering to refill his wine glass.
Ron thought about the ghost of conversation yet to come. "Well-watered, please."
The servant complied.
Rohan picked up a small leather-bound volume. "I have a book for you, too, young Monsieur Stone. You may find it interesting. Le Parfait Capitaine, which I completed a few years ago. It discusses Caesar's Gallic Wars and the applicability of their lessons to contemporary warfare. A historical essay, if you will. I attempted to trace the true foundations of the military art from its ancient origins until our own day."
"Thanks. Thanks a lot, really. But I don't know how much I'll get out of reading it. I'm not a soldier, Your Grace. I'm not planning to be one. I'm . . . an embryonic businessman, perhaps."
"Ah, that interests me. Scarcely the thing that a French merchant would say to a representative of the ancient nobility. They all make at least some pretense to gentility, no matter how transparent that pretense may be."
Ron swallowed again. "I really do believe in what Thomas Jefferson wrote, Your Grace. Maybe I'm not as sophisticated about it as someone like Ms. Mailey. But . . ."
"Ah, yes. Your 'Declaration of Independence . . . that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator . . .' The grounds it adduced to justify the American Revolution made fascinating reading, given how many years my brother and I were in armed revolt against our duly constituted monarch. I thoroughly enjoyed the biography of George Washington that Leopold Cavriani sent me, as well. It is in a way humbling to think that a mere member of the rural gentry was so much more successful than my brother and I. Or, indeed, that some few years from now in England, Cromwell, of much the same class in society, would also succeed far better than we did. Such events serve to remind us that all outcomes are in the hand of God."
"Oh." Ron had a feeling he was running out of acceptable things to say to a French duke. Even an exiled ex-revolutionary Protestant French duke.
Rohan turned to a small chest on the floor next to his chair. He opened it and drew out a sheaf of papers tied with red tape. "If not the Parfait Capitaine, then perhaps this would interest you more. I finished it this spring. The manuscript is at the printer's now. This is an extra copy completed by my secretary. It contains many of my thoughts in regard to the administration of Cardinal Richelieu."
"I . . . well . . . do you have much in common?"
"A surprising amount. He and I both agree that the public interest, the raison d'état, must always be the ruling force in government affairs. Our differences are more a matter of how we interpret what the public interest is. But still. A ruler may deceive himself. His advisers may become corrupt. Even men of good will may misunderstand what the public interest is. But that interest itself, whether it is understood well or badly, can never be at fault. And the king, in the long run, in the last resort, remains responsible for his own actions, and those of his subordinates, before God. If he chooses his delegates poorly or does not supervise them thoroughly . . ."
Ron's next, panicked, thought was, no nobleman is going to speak this kind of treason to a foreign kid unless the kid's next scheduled stop is having his head chopped off. Then he pulled himself together. Rohan had already said he was having the book printed. So he must be willing to stand behind it, unless . . .
And he and his brother had fought against Louis XIII at least as long as Washington had fought against George III. "Are you having this printed under your own name, Your Grace?"
Rohan smiled again. "Ah, then you are not politically insensitive. Yes. Under my own name. But in Geneva, not in France. Most certainly not in Paris."
"You will not find it surprising, perhaps, that as a Protestant I believe that France's public interest lies in opposition to the Spanish monarchy. You probably, if you have thought of it, find it more surprising that Richelieu allied with the Protestant English and Danes in the League of Ostend. However, the interests of France remain the interests of France. Note which navy bore the brunt of the Battle of Dunkirk. At this point, an equilibrium in Europe can only be to France's advantage. The recent change in the balance of power among the various branches of the Habsburg dynasty, especially the developments in the Netherlands . . ."
"Did you come to bed at all, last night?" Gerry asked.
"Yeah, but it must have been two or three o'clock in the morning."
Joachim Sandrart looked at him questioningly.
"The duke was in a talkative mood."