1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 99


1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 99:








            As he watched the citizenry of Rome panic and run in circles and other geometric forms beyond even the wit of Pythagoras, Ruy decided that there was no profit to be made in hurrying about this matter. A man hurrying, in these streets on this day, was apt to be considered about military business. One side would demand of him that he attend to the defense, and the other that he make himself busy in the attack. He could, indeed, legitimately claim to be too old to trouble with either, further that he was not gainfully employed by either side and in conclusion that he had duties to a power not party to the conflict, to wit, his new and most delightful wife. However, the question was better avoided by simply pretending a calm disinterest and attracting no attention.


            It would, naturally, not do to proceed straight to the Borgo to visit again with the young Senor Stone. He had left there scarcely two hours before, by the watch on his wrist. Consulting the thing, he realized that removing it and placing it in a pocket would be wise. He would variously have to pass for an out-of-town Italian or a Spaniard unattached to the invading forces. A timepiece not notably available to either group would be a tell-tale. And, while he was about it, the up-time firearms would have to go into his saddlebags.


            The first order of business, then, would be to scout the approach of his countrymen—and the assorted Castilians, Aragonese, Andalucians, Italians, Germans and whatever other mercenaries had rounded out the attacking forces. The obvious approach would have been along the unimaginatively-named Via Ostiensis. Around the city wall would be quicker, but through the city itself would glean more information. He would not have to leave Rome for another few hours, and so through the city seemed the best approach. He urged his horse to a trot. It was a gelding he had selected for characteristics suggesting stamina, but otherwise undistinguished.


            Were it not for the cacophony of the bells and the occasional party of persons in a state of panic, it would be a fine morning for a gentle promenade through the city. Indeed, had events not intervened, he would have suggested as much to Sharon. The sun was bright enough for everything to seem clear and fresh, it was too early in the year to be copiously dusty, the thin overcast took much of the fire from the sun without interfering with the blue of the sky overhead, and the streets were quiet as Monday mornings were apt to be.


            Twice, as he proceeded through the ancient Palatine, he saw bands of local volunteers erecting barricades. He wished them luck, although doubtless they would need little. A small detachment to ensure that they did not remain loose in the Spanish rear and the main force would simply pass around them to the targets further on in the city. It was, perhaps, the attackers' intention to cross the river a little downstream of the city proper and approach their more likely targets along the right bank of the Tiber. Much, of course, depended on how well-found for crossing-points the attackers were downstream of the city. Sanchez had not, himself, troubled to reconnoiter the matter, seeing no particular need before today.


            It became clear, some few minutes later, that the intent was to use the city's own bridges to procure access to the Vatican across the Tiber. Wishing to use the Via Ostiensis, the advancing army had remained on the left bank and ignored the ferries—time consuming—and ford—likewise—that they had doubtless passed as they marched. Rome itself was much supplied with bridges and the Spanish commander would surely have a realistic appreciation of the pitiful opposition he would face.


            Arriving at the Piazza di Porta San Paolo, Sanchez paid himself the small wager he had made. Sitting his horse at the inner side of the piazza, he could see that a group of volunteers, under the direction of what seemed to be a militia officer, were preparing a barricade across the gateway. As with many of the other gates in Rome's walls, it lacked an actual portal in the archway, and the small fortification that guarded it had been built in Caesar's time, from the look of the thing.  Sanchez allowed perhaps half an hour for the defense to be reduced using only field pieces, if the opposing commander took a fool notion to do such a thing. Looking through the gate, Sanchez could see a tercio forming up some few hundred paces away. He could also see that the formation was being stuck together an a manner almost random, quite unlike the methodical efficiency practiced by most Italian condottieri. He mulled that for a moment. Either improvising in haste, or creating a distraction while the real assault proceeded to one of the many other gaps in Rome's walls. If that were so, then an assault on the defenders' rear would be arriving at any moment. Sanchez removed himself from the main street to a discreet position in a small alleyway.


            Not five minutes passed before, indeed, the sound of arquebuses and a brief surge of cheers told of a breach in the walls. Mined for building materials, over the decades, the walls of Rome were as much breach as defense in any event, for all that the current Pope had begun many repairs and improvements. They were obviously being carried against minimal opposition.


            The defenders at this gate worked on, oblivious. Sanchez wondered if he should warn them, and then reminded himself that he was not involved. He had orders to return safely with intelligence, and would like as not be shot by some nervous boy handling an arquebus for the first time if he ventured closer. So, he waited.


            The assault on the defenders' rear, when it came, was short, sharp, and efficient. Sanchez marked their alertness to the militia officer's credit: when the company of pike and arquebusiers formed on the piazza almost exactly where Sanchez had been sitting only moments before. The defenders turned around, snatched up their weapons, and formed a ragged line on the near side of the defenses they had so painstakingly constructed, anchored at one end on a pyramidal tomb that had been incorporated into the wall at some remote date. The Spanish troops—from the look of them, more than likely Italian mercenaries—lowered their pikes and advanced at a fast walk, and halted for the arquebusiers mixed among them to present and fire.


            Perhaps twenty pieces discharged, scarcely enough to obscure Sanchez view of the defenders. Four of them were down, and the rest began to look shaky. Whether any of the defenders had returned fire, and with what effect, was not apparent. The militia officer was waving his back-sword vigorously, and the men nearest him lowered their weapons to counter-charge. To either side, however, the men bearing their various aged or improvised pole-arms at the ends of the line began dropping their weapons and running. When the Spanish line advanced at the slow, grim pace of men determined to engage in press of pike, the amateurs simply melted away and the professionals let them. A small knot of defenders remained and, their chances of running lost as the wicked points closed almost to touching, they dropped their weapons and raised their hands.


            The leader of the mercenaries called out the command to halt, and the little battle was over. Even from fifty paces away, Sanchez could see that the militia officer was openly weeping, while to either side of him, mercenaries went to dismantle his barricade. Down the Via Ostiensis, the makeshift tercio began breaking up into column of march to advance once more on the city.


            As he rode away to secure a vantage to see more of the action develop, Sanchez began to feel hopeful. An army that had not had to bleed to enter a city would not be maddened enough to make serious work of a sack. The city would be comprehensively looted, of course, but in all likelihood the whores and tavern-keepers would earn most of it back over the coming weeks.

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