1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 113

 

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 113:

 

 

CHAPTER 41

 

 

The countryside, near Rome

 

            Barberini was sipping his wine and wondering how much longer he could keep his eyes open when one of the Americans' servants invited him to join Ambassadora Stone as soon as was convenient. He looked over the remains of the dinner he and Mazarini had shared and decided that if he did not go now, he would be unable to before morning. "Please ask the Ambassadora if now would be convenient," he said.

 

            While he waited for the fellow to return, he stood and walked to the window, throwing the shutters wide to try to allow the cool evening air to refresh him. He might, perhaps, have wished for a room that did not have so commanding a view of the western skyline, for in the distance, some few miles away, he could see the smoke rising from the city and hear the thunder and crash of cannon. He could only hope that meant the Castel Sant’Angelo still held. There were still some hours of daylight left, and the fighting continued. Would the soldiers continue into the night, he wondered? He knew too little of military matters to guess. As far as he could recall, Mazarini had not been a soldier either, so he would not know. Barberini, not for the first time today, missed the younger Mazarini, who as well as having the supple mind and smooth tongue he would likely need for the meeting he was about to have, had had some few years of experience as a soldier and would know the answer to questions such as that.

 

            Enough of wishing. Hopes were enough to torment him now. Another roaring crash of artillery. How much had the Spanish brought? The defensive works that Bernini was supervising were only partially complete. Doubtless the Spaniards would have found some way to get past those, leaving only the older fortifications. Bernini had waxed eloquent on how poor those would be at resisting modern cannon. Some of what he had had to say would surely have been the architect seeking to pad his commission. Fortunately, the additional cannon Bernini had recommended had been cast and installed, for the most part, and for the sake of the additional bombards to protect his uncle, Barberini no longer cared what had been written on Rome's talking statues.

 

            "Your Eminence?" The servant had returned and informed Mazarini, who was now setting himself to pull Barberini out of his funk.

 

            "Coming, Mazarini," Barberini said. Fortunately, moving was considerably easier after a few glasses of wine to numb the pain, or he would have been unable to make his way down the steep wooden stairs.

 

            Ambassadora Stone was in the taverna's main room with all of her party. Barberini's first impression was that this was likely to be an easy negotiation, at least as to the most vital items. While the Ambassadora was most commendably impassive in the course of such discussions, as much so as she was animated and charming when Barberini had had chance to observe her in discussion with the few natural philosophers he had had at his salons,  it was those around her who gave the game away.  They seemed friendly, welcoming even.  Whatever discussion these people had had while Barberini had been eating, the conclusion had been that they would at least be friendly, and might even extend some further boon to him.

 

            "Your Excellency, Ambassadora," he said, "permit me once again to express my gratitude for the assistance you have given me. I am personally most humbly in your debt, not least for my life." The personal debt, at least, he could acknowledge. And, assuming that the day finished with him anything but a pauper, one he would do all he could to repay. Would Borja even permit him to remain a cardinal? There was precedent for the summary dismissal of cardinals by a reigning pope—but the Ambassadora was replying.

 

            "Your Eminence is welcome," she said, "and I would like to know what else the United States of Europe can do for casa Barberini."

 

            Barberini nearly fainted. That was as good as a blank promissory note; there would be practical limits, but those would be the only ones. "I—I know not, Your Excellency," he managed to stammer out. “I have little information on the situation in Rome. My people escaped the city early this morning for Castel Gandolfo and perhaps there is somewhat—"

 

            He realized he was babbling and shut his mouth. Then, after a deep breath to calm himself: "Forgive my surprise, Your Excellency. I have had a day of hardship and am much tempted to the sin of despair."

 

            Is God truly with our party? he wondered. "For the moment, I can advance no practical proposition in which your most gracious offer of assistance might be reckoned of account. Perhaps I might inquire, in my turn, what casa Barberini might do for the USE? I would not have my house thought ungrateful in such a matter."

 

            Better, Barberini decided, to get the price settled quickly. By all accounts, Dottoressa Stone was something of a merchant princess in her own right and as such would not be embarrassed by what might be construed as haggling.

 

            "For now, Your Eminence," she said, "the status of your house as our only friends within Rome commands whatever service we might render."

 

            Barberini nodded. That made sense. If Borja did contrive control of whoever became Pope—and he was, he realized, abandoning all hope of his uncle's survival—then it was for certain that there would be no love lost between the USE and the See of Rome. "I shall, Dottoressa, think most deeply about what we each may do for the other. I shall speak for my house in this matter; we are glad to find friends among your embassy, and, we hope, your government. For the moment, Dottoressa, I am tired and hurt and in need of rest. I hope that with the morning my poor wits will be of better service?" There was no shame, he realized, in asking permission to be excused from this company, however obliquely. He was very much the supplicant and, he discovered, a grateful one.

 

            The Ambassadora was about to speak when a servant scurried over to where she sat and whispered in her ear. "See him in," she said. "Your Eminence, I think you should remain for this."

 

            The servant went out again, and moments later ushered in a small group of men in priestly soutanes. Leading them was Father-General Mutio Vitelleschi.

 

            "Father-General," Ambassadora Sanchez y Nichols said, apparently unfazed by the man's appearance. "I was just inquiring of His Eminence what the USE might do for casa Barberini. Including, naturally, his uncle. Is His Holiness Urban still pope?"

 

            Very well briefed, Barberini realized through the shock. The Society of Jesus would be loyal to the pope, not one particular man. A change would require Vitelleschi and his brothers to shift their loyalties to follow.

 

            "Your Excellency," Vitelleschi said, "to the best of my personal knowledge he is. If the Ambassadora would care for the most recent information in the Society's possession?"

 

            Dottoressa Nichols nodded her assent. Barberini listened carefully as Vitelleschi reported the news he had from Rome, which seemed to be from some hours after Barberini himself had left. The Castel Sant’Angelo was likely to fall in the morning, defended as it was only by the Swiss Guard and the few members of the Palatine Guard—part-time soldiers who seldom drilled—who had gotten to their posts in time. The Spanish had a sufficiency of cannon to force the gates and more than enough soldiers for an escalade. As soon as dawn was close enough for the men with ladders to see what they were doing, the ancient fortress would be overrun. Although, to hear Vitelleschi tell it, most of the cannonade was from inside the fort; the damage they were doing to their attackers would be scant consolation come morning.

 

            Elsewhere in Rome, fully half of the cardinals whom the Barberini might have counted on for support in the consistory were confirmed dead. Of those who remained, exactly two were accounted for as being alive and escaped from the city. For the rest, there was no news and less hope.

 

            "And so, Your Excellency," Vitelleschi concluded, "We of the Society of Jesus anticipate suppression of our order in the event of the fall of Castel Sant’Angelo. Our archives have been moved to places of safety, our brethren are evacuated. Our concern is that there may be persons who will require asylum. We are confident of sanctuary from His Eminence Cardinal Mazzare during such time as he remains a cardinal. We fear that should he be dismissed that office, secular asylum will be required. The present state of the Church makes Catholic nations unsafe, and Protestant ones are unlikely to become safer. A right to remain for certain persons is, therefore, the matter in which I am most humbly come to petition your Excellency."

About Eric Flint

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Comments

2 Responses to 1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 113

  1. Richard Young says:

    Minor point since this is a rough draft but in snippet 113 Sharon Nichols is refered to as Ambassadora or Dottoressa STONE at several points.

  2. Sean says:

    major event disruption! Wow!
    And how did this sequence happen? It would be a wonderful advertisement on the back of the book, even if a bit extreme. Catholic soldiers attacking the pope?

    Sean

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