1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 86

 

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 86:

 

 

PART IV: May 1635

 

 

 

CHAPTER 32

 

 

Rome

 

            Ruy reflected that he ought to be getting used to this by now. Signora Fontana and Father Malatta had planned—conspired would be as good a word—with Sharon to ensure that the nuptials he was now awaiting the commencement of were fully prepared for. And, like a well-drilled soldier, Ruy's job was to stand in line and advance on command.

 

            The customs surrounding the ceremonial were a little different from what he was used to. Or, at least, had been used to recently. He had, after all, been married three times before, in three countries—counting Spain's overseas territories as different countries, which they were—on two continents. So the way in which Sharon had quietly insisted on some slight departures from what Father Malatta was expecting was not, in truth, that odd to him. Or, at least, it was odd, but he was comfortable with odd. 

 

            The custom of not seeing the bride in her wedding dress until she arrived at the church was odder than the others, though. The first time he had been married his new-found in-laws had made sure he and his intended had had a thoroughly good night according to their own, pre-Christian standards before escorting them all to the church in the morning. Indeed, he had half suspected that many of the older members of the family had regarded the pagan festivities as the real marriage. In fact—

 

            Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz, you are nervous. He took a deep breath, held it, and exhaled it. Calm. Nothing had shown on his face. That much was certain. A lifetime of battles and fields of honor, and every moment of near-unmanning has happened in the course of getting married. It was not even as if he had ever not wanted to be there. There was probably some deeper spiritual point to be made, but for now concentration was certain to elude him.

 

            He looked at the congregation. An unusual mixture, certainly. Rome's notables were, in the main, not represented. The wedding of an unregarded ambassador and her intended was not an occasion that would cause them to turn out. From the Barberini, no-one save Giulio Mazarini the elder, Antonio Barberini's majordomo. His son, who would doubtless have been present had he not been in Paris about his masters' business, was thus represented as well. More than a few natural philosophers, acquaintances made by Sharon at the Barberini salons, were present and, indeed, bickering while they waited for the service to begin.

 

            Also, grinning and offering the thumbs-up gesture that meant good luck among the Americans and up your ass to just about everyone else, was Frank Stone. He had, it turned out, enough money from his father for a gentleman's outfit and wore a sword, even after only a few weeks' tuition, like he meant it. Today, for certain, purely because it was part of proper dress for a young gentleman, although Sanchez was pleased to see he had taken advice and obtained a rather heavier item than a rapier in the Italian pattern. A strong arm, the boy had. A back-sword might not be so suited to the swift kill of la destreza but it carried real authority in a close fight. As did, unless Sanchez missed his guess, the crowd of young near-gentlemen who were present as Rome's Committee of Correspondence. He'd heard the term lefferti going around. There were a lot more of them than turned out at Frank's place, and the sight of them made him wonder about Harry Lefferts. Did the horde of imitators mean he was a fellow worth meeting or just another charlatan?

 

            Mind wandering again, he thought. I grow senile. On which note, a sight appeared in the nave of the church that caused the years to fall away from him—Sharon, in a dress that, truly, he was glad he had not seen. Nothing should have been allowed to detract from the impact of this moment, and though he should live a thousand years he should never find the words to express it truly.

 

***

 

            Some indeterminate time later, filled vaguely with the memories of a nuptial mass, Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz stepped in to the afternoon sunlight of a spring day in Rome with the most beautiful woman in the world on his arm and heard the pealing of bells.

 

            Many bells.

 

            Many, many bells.

 

            In fact, the whole of Rome was being deafened with the pealing of bells.

 

            Tocsin bells.

 

            "Mierda," he said, with feeling. 

 

* * *

 

Frank had the confetti improvised and ready to throw. He'd briefed the guys on the proper use of the stuff and given them positions to take. Distributed it freely. Damn it, his own wedding had been a truly strange affair, surrounded by Swiss Guards, in a world heritage monument, conducted by a bemused guy in Cardinal's robes who wasn't much older than Frank.

 

This one, he'd decided, was going to go off just like the ones on TV, and the party that followed it was going to be a blast or he, and every other regular member of Rome's Committee of Correspondence, was going to die trying.

 

Just as he'd gotten the guys out in position, and just as Ruy and Sharon were heading down the aisle toward the door into the sunshine, the pealing bell of the church was joined by another bell, from a nearby church.

 

That's nice, Frank thought. Perhaps they all join in when they hear good news. And then some guy came running into the church, skidded through a hard left toward the belltower and was lost in the gloom inside the church porch. A few seconds after that, the bells of this church changed to a single, constant note.

 

Frank realized that the same sound was being repeated from every direction. He looked around at the other guys there. All of them were either native Romans or at least Italians, and all of them looked concerned. He realized that while he'd learned to recognize many of the other signals you got from church bells, from funeral-in-progress, as he thought of it, to the angelus, he'd never heard this one before.  And it was making even the tough-but-cheerful Piero look a little worried.

 

Then Ruy and Sharon stepped into the sunlight and Ruy's face instantly went from beaming-fit-to-burst to an iron soldier’s mask, the face of a man who's about to face death and doesn't want to betray any weakness. He was worried too.

 

The little voice at the back of his mind said the word you're looking for is “Tocsin.”

 

"Crap," he murmured.

About Eric Flint

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