1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 82:
"My sister's in that mess." Mike Stearns' tone was quiet and understated.
"We cannot be sure it is a mess quite yet," Don Francisco said. This message had come in overnight in time for this morning's twice-weekly briefing, and Ed Piazza had joined them.
"From what I hear," Ed said, "the real mess is further south. Whatever Borja's up to, it'll be a side-show to what's brewing in Naples. Or to whatever the Spanish are doing to stop it."
"Just so," Francisco agreed. "Mike, there is nothing unusual in there being rioting at this time of year anywhere in Europe. Borja seems to have made it a little worse, but truly, the political situation in Rome will not support sustained disorder. The people I have reporting to me are natives of the city, Mike, and they know how it goes."
"When you say natives, Francisco," Mike said, his tone level, even and, Francisco knew, very angry indeed, "you're talking about guys who work as lawyers and bankers and the like, aren't you?"
"With one exception, yes." Don Francisco was determined to stop this before it started. Mike Stearns was apt to grow increasingly testy of late, and small wonder. "Mike, I have worked for you for the best part of three years and I have learned a thing or two. Yes, the outlook of people in different social classes is different, and the view is indeed very different from the street. However, one of my informants is a distant cousin who makes his living in a small way in the ghetto, a saddler. And one of the things people do in a saddler's shop, Mike, is gossip. Artisans among themselves and the customers with the man himself. He is no maker of fine clothes for the gentry, he makes work clothes for other artisans. Well-regarded for that sort of thing, he tells me. And what he heard was that the disturbances were all fomented by Spaniards with money. The talk was all over Rome. My last report from him—he sends his dispatches in the regular mails, not through the embassy—was dated two weeks ago. All was not quiet then, and he predicted some such outbreak as occurred last night. His assessment then was that it would come to nothing. Rome is not a city much given to civic disturbance, Mike."
Stearns held up his hands, his expression a little less icy. "All right, I surrender. So the Turkish nobleman is getting a little class-consciousness, good. Won't be the first time we've been caught on the wrong foot by a popular movement, though, Francisco."
Ed Piazza chuckled. "Mike, you're just jealous because there's a risk of an uprising you can't get up in front of, and that wasn't your idea."
"Hold on a minute," Mike said, "which is it? No popular uprising at all, or one I should be jealous of?" He was smiling as he said it.
"You know what I mean, Mike," Ed said. "Happens I think Francisco's right. We that is, the State of Thuringia-Franconia—have our own sources —"
Don Francisco hazarded a guess—"The Cavrianis?"
Ed nodded. "Useful guys to have around, once you allow for the selection effect— they only report on what interests them. I suppose I could get them to do some more general reporting for us, but budgets are kind of tight. That wasn't a hint, by the way," he added hurriedly in Mike's direction.
"Money's tight all round," Mike said, "so wouldn't have done any good if it was." His smile was a little rueful. What with trouble breaking out in all directions, the treasury of the USE was starting to look a little threadbare as the available credit began to run low. The deficits were a lot more manageable than those of other European powers, on the other hand. So when stability came to the USE, it would recover faster and harder than any of the other powers.
However, in the present, Ed was running through what Spain's major concerns in Italy really were. Nothing that was surprising to Don Francisco. He let himself muse over what could be happening in Rome. A coup? Unlikely. The Church hadn't had an antipope in over a hundred years and on the record of the future history had already got that particular disease out of its system. In any event, Francisco's own people had bought good information—confirmed from several sources—that Borja's instructions specified simply obstructing the pope's business, not deposing him, whatever that mysterious letter-writer had hinted at a few weeks ago. Likewise outright arrest. There were good reports on every major concentration of troops in Naples, which was all in all the only place Borja could get military help from. And it would take regiments to arrest the Pope. The Swiss Guard were a serious fighting force all by themselves, and while the various regiments of Rome's nobility were not of the best in the military field—Italy's better soldiers tended to be condottieri—they would perform adequately in supporting the Swiss Guard and increase the troops needed for such an endeavour beyond what anyone thought Borja could shake loose from Naples, which was a tercio at most and more likely a couple of companies of musketeers.
The risks to the embassy at Rome were of the more ordinary kind. Riots were chancy things, especially if the sentiment against foreigners that Miss Nichols reported was a genuine popular feeling and not simply a slogan the crowds she had heard had been paid to chant.
"—and so while I'm sure the Spanish would like to be able to commit those troops further north, pretty much anyone with eyes to see can tell they're going to have a better use for them real soon now, Mike," Ed was finishing up.
Mike looked to Francisco, "and your assessment?"
"As I say, it is the season for domestic troubles. We have been seeing something like it here. It is simply that much of it is handled at a local level if it does not go beyond street-brawling. I think you have been spoilt by life in the twentieth century, Mike. The seventeenth century is what you would call a rough neighborhood."
"All right," Mike said, "so I needn't give them a recall order, then? Because that's what it'll take to shift Sharon away from the job she's doing."
"I reckon not, Mike. Or at least, not right now," Ed said. "Although I reckon she'll git if she has to, and she'll know way before you will when that time is."
Don Francisco frowned. "You think it will come to that?" He couldn't see it, himself. Rioting was one of those things that simply happened, and the options Borja had for action that was at least within shouting distance of rationality precluded anything worse. His actions so far were of a kind to make cardinals and senior churchmen and Rome's other notables a little more nervous than they might otherwise be, and demonstrated a certain looseness of grip on the part of Urban VIII, but as a prelude to something more serious?
"Just covering my ass, Francisco," Ed said, "You know and I know that there's probably nothing deeper to this. I just get the feeling that Borja's playing with fire and even if he doesn't mean to make everything blow up in everyone's face, well …"
"Yeah," Mike sighed, and rubbed a hand over his face. "Life would be so much simpler if we didn't have all these assholes who played games with other peoples' lives. On the other hand, we wouldn't have as much support as we do, either. For now, then, we'll leave things as they are. I want to hear about it if things really start boiling down there, though."