1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 106

 

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 106:

 

 

            The sound of shots rang out, and Barberini's horse began to turn around. He was still turning his head frantically, looking for the source of the trouble, and tried to control the beast by pulling at its reins. One of the rearguard troopers leaned from the saddle and grabbed the rein, his twisted expression supplying the snarling condemnation of idiot priests who could not ride that he did not speak. Barberini let the man pull his horse back around, still seeking—there! Puffs of gunsmoke from either side of the street they had been riding along. One of the troopers slumping in the saddle, a bright red mist puffing from the back of his coat. Barberini's horse becoming frantic again, wrenching its head away to try and escape the grip on its reins.

 

            More shots. Another trooper, this one falling from his horse with his face scattering small pieces into the morning sunshine and his head smacking wetly into the cobblestones, spattering blood and brains in a bright and glistening red star. The trooper who was trying to control Barberini's horse losing his fight with the animal and his seat at the same time.

 

            Barberini realized he was screaming, and that his leg was burning and cold at the same time. His right leg. His thigh. A mist of blood, his own blood, was settling out of the air around a red gash that had somehow appeared there. I have been shot, he thought, his mind suddenly clear. There were men on foot near him in the street, men with muskets, with swords, and with pikes. His horse screamed.

 

            He was vaguely aware of falling, and then the world was suddenly bright with a dark border, and he could not breathe, or hear. Someone was grabbing him and hauling him up, and his vision began to clear, although he still could not breathe and his back was a single mass of pain. I fell from my horse. He had done that before, although not since he had been a boy disappointing his riding-master.

 

            It was Mazarini helping him up, and now he could hear the ring of weapons clashing. More shooting. Something punched him, this time in the left arm, and he spun round. He staggered once, twice, and then regained his balance. He groaned. It hurt.

 

            And then he was being lifted bodily, thrown over a saddle. He fainted.

 

            Not for long. When next he had his wits, he could still hear fighting. Every jolt as the horse galloped hurt. His leg, his back, his chest, his arm. He fainted again.

 

            "Your Eminence? Your Eminence? " Mazarini's voice seemed to come from a very long way away.

 

            "What time is it?" That somehow seemed important. Did he have a morning appointment? He was cold, and thirsty. "Have water brought, Mazarini," he murmured.

 

            Something wet, suddenly, on his face. And cold. Wakefulness came like fire, and he groaned. Memory returned. "I've been shot," he said, not entirely believing it himself.

 

            Mazarini pulled the wet cloth off. "Yes, Your Eminence. My most humble apologies."

 

            "Why? Was it you that shot me?" It was all Barberini could think of that Mazarini might be apologizing for. With the cold compress off his eyes, he could see that they were in a small and noisome back alley. Trash was heaped everywhere, and several mangy cats were watching to see if the strangers were going to do something interesting. The smell was … remarkable.

 

            Mazarini looked puzzled. "It was for the manner of waking Your Eminence I apologized, Your Eminence," he said. "I was able to escape; the party of soldiers we encountered were nearly overmatched by our own troopers, and so I caught up Your Eminence onto my own horse and made good our escape from the fighting. Our enemies mounted their principal assault at the front of the palazzo while we were leaving at the rear, Your Eminence, and—"

 

            "Mazarini, you are babbling," Barberini said. He looked again at the ageing majordomo. "And bleeding."

 

            Mazarini fingered the cut on his neck, which was weeping small drops of fresh blood from where it had not already scabbed. "A mere scratch," he said.

 

            "Where are we?" Barberini asked, looking around again for more clues. A poor neighborhood, certainly. And one that did not seem to object much to the streets being largely paved with cat-shit.

 

            "Near the mausoleum of Augustus, Your Eminence. Close to the docks."

 

            A very rough neighborhood, then. Another throb from his shoulder, arm, whatever it was that hurt so much—he dared not look—made him groan.

 

            "Your Eminence, it was the only place I could find where there was no fighting, or no sound of it. I have lost the horse, Your Eminence."

 

            "Stolen?"

 

            "By now, certainly, Your Eminence. I perforce had to bring Your Eminence where the horse would not come."

 

            "Sensible animal. What are they doing?" Barberini could hear more and more shooting, now. It was reassuringly distant, though.

 

            "I do not know," Mazarini said, in tones that were even more lugubrious than all he had said so far. "If Your Eminence will permit, I will attempt to bind your wounds. The arm needs a sling, I think. I have already—"

 

            "Please, just get on with it," Barberini said, gritting his teeth. He looked. There was a neat hole in his jacket, just above where his left collarbone would be. He could not turn his head further to look without unbearable pain; his back felt as though his every rib was broken.

About Eric Flint

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