1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 108

 

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 108:

 

 

            It was only a short walk through winding alleys to the Via di Ripetta. This was by no means a salubrious district of Rome, being as it was close by the docks. The area around the Palazzo Borghese to the south was somewhat better, but north and south of that particular piece of river-front it was dilapidated at best. The Via di Ripetta had been carved through the neighborhood some years before, to improve access to the docks, and as such remained a wide and straight street uncluttered by encroaching buildings. It was, therefore, dangerous to cross in broad daylight with hostile soldiers in the area. Mazarini was leaning around the corner and checking both ways. Barberini wished that the musketry was not echoing around the city so promiscuously, so that he could hear what was going on. Over Mazarini's shoulder, despite being somewhat dazzled by the sunlight in the street against eyes that had been in shady alleys for the last half-hour, Barberini could see that the previous cowering of the citizens of Rome had ended, and there were many already trying to flee through the streets. That will help, he thought, feeling a slight remorse over being so callous. Many of those people would be hurt, even killed, as the soldiery sought to move about the city and simply swept them aside.

 

            "There are soldiers, Your Eminence, but the streets grow busy. We are unlikely to have a better prospect of—"

 

            "Yes, yes," Barberini said, "Move. I think we should make for the east. Salaria or Pia, I think, and if those are guarded we may try the broken section of wall south of the Castra Pretoria. If nothing else, there may be Jesuits there who might help us."

 

            "Yes, Your Eminence," Mazarini said, and began sidling out into the street. It was comical to watch; the man was all but tiptoeing.

 

            "Come, Mazarini," Barberini said, affecting as normal a walk as he could with his leg burning with pain and his back and shoulder contorted into the only position he could find that even approached comfort. "Let us not skulk. Courage and honor demand it, and in any event a man attempting stealth on a sunlit street may attract attention."

 

            As they made their way across, Barberini realized that they had inadvertently disguised themselves. Between the dirt and the pieces he had torn from his clothing to make bandages, Mazarini looked like a vagabond. Barberini realized that he could look little better, and likely worse. As a prince of the church, he made a good pauper. Did critics of my lavish living see me now, they would expire of shock.

 

            They were perhaps half way across when a carriage, guarded by four outriders, came rumbling by. Barberini cringed away from the thing, not knowing which cardinal was present in it. He took note of the arms painted on the door and saw that it was the carriage of cardinal Bischi. An ally, by God! And not just an ally—Lelio Bischi was a personal friend and fellow enthusiast of literature and the arts. Barberini offered up a silent prayer of thanks and turned to try to—but no, there was no hope. Lelio was making good his escape, and doubtless none of his men would be looking back along the road to see if there were stray scions of the Pope's house scattered in their path.

 

            The point was moot within seconds. The carriage had proceeded barely fifty yards further when a group of soldiers Barberini had not noticed dashed into the street and lined up to block the carriage's progress. The driver halted, as a man will when he has a dozen muskets pointed at him and his team. Men came forward to take custody of the outriders, the driver, the footman and the postillions. Another man, some manner of officer, judging by the sword and the better clothes, came forward and spoke to whoever was in the carriage.

 

            Barberini heard nothing of what was said. The officer stepped away from the carriage door and waved his sword in an idle gesture of some kind. Four musketeers leveled their pieces at a range of perhaps three paces, and fired. Screams issued from the carriage, and it began rocking. The officer stepped forward, opened the door, and reached inside. With some apparent effort he dragged the occupant—which was wearing a cardinal's purple, although Barberini could not have sworn to the identity of the mewling, bleeding thing that was within those clothes.

 

            The struggle was brief. The cardinal, if it was he, clung to the sides of the carriage door for a moment. A flash of the sword, hitting the wood of the carriage with a thump and sending at least one finger spinning through the air, ended that. The cardinal fell on to the cobbles. The officer planted his sword in the cardinal's throat and leaned on it, as if on a walking stick on a pleasant country stroll.

 

            Barberini could not watch, flinching away. When he looked back, the officer was wiping his blade on the hem of his victim's garment, apparently oblivious to the spattering of blood that now coated him from shoulder to knee down his right side.

 

            Barberini shuddered. Cardinal Lelio Bischi, a lively wit and gifted lawyer, a man of letters with few equals in Rome or anywhere, a man responsible for nurturing several literary talents and an avid collector of books, snuffed out with four bullets and two strokes of the sword. Simply, it would seem, because he was publicly and clearly a Barberini man. Borja truly meant to have Rome for his own. Or for his master's own.

 

            "Mazarini?" he said, after a few seconds of silence, noting as he spoke that the people were starting to move all the faster to get away from something to the south, giving this small party of troops a wide berth but still flowing northward.

 

            "Yes, Your Eminence?"

 

            "We are leaving. Now."

About Eric Flint

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