1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 114

1635: THE CANNON LAW is starting to show up in the bookstores now, so this will be the last snippet from the nove.

 

Eric

 

 

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 114:

 

 

            Barberini tried not to giggle. Many though Vitelleschi's excellent qualities were, horse-trading was not a talent he possessed. Listening to the man try was almost embarrassing. Fortunately, Barberini realized, this particular horse had already been bought and paid for.

 

            "Your Excellency," he interrupted, "if it lies within your power, securing the person of my uncle from that siege would be the greatest service your nation might do for me, my house, and the Most Holy Roman Catholic Church. His Holiness will not leave of his own accord, I must add. Any rescue must be prepared to drag him out by main force."

 

            "How?" the man who spoke was, if Barberini remembered correctly, the son of the USE's Admiral Simpson. Certainly there could not be two men answering such a description—that of a giant from out of legend.

 

            "I know not," Barberini said, shrugging with the one shoulder that was not immobilized in bandages. He still winced; the ribs might be bound tightly to help them heal but any more than the slightest movement was agonizing. "If no means can be found in time, so be it. But if His Holiness yet lives and can be brought out from that place, there remains hope for the Church."

 

            "His Eminence speaks truly," Vitelleschi said. "If this thing can be done…" He left the question hanging.

 

            "Surely," Simpson said, "the worst that happens is that you get a new Pope?"

 

            "Perhaps the Church will survive this, as it once did," Vitelleschi said, "but she will not be the stronger for it. An antipope is no longer a thing unremarkable."

 

            And, his own interests apart, Barberini realized that there was something true in that. The last effort to use military pressure on the pope had been a century ago. The future histories showed that it would happen only once again, and then expressly only in his capacity as temporal ruler of the papal states. Would the church, as an institution of men, survive once more having its spiritual leader in the thrall of a temporal king? Would His Most Catholic Majesty, who had surely not ordered this, whatever the tendency of his actual orders and the folly of the choice of agent to carry them out, take full advantage of the control he thus acquired over the church?

 

            Certainly, there had long been Catholics who regarded their consciences as less than fully bound as a result of the See of Rome's partiality in this and other wars. The Church in France took pains, every few decades, to ensure that its willingness, under sufficient pressure, to go the way of the Church in England was sufficiently pointed out to Rome.

 

            Other schisms would happen, once France was lost. The Church would shatter, and the legacy entrusted to Peter would be lost. Did Borja realize this? Probably not. The man was, at bottom, an ass.

 

            "Forgive me, Father-General," Sanchez was saying, after a whispered conference with Simpson, "but how recent is your information regarding the state of the siege at Castel Sant’Angelo?"

 

            "One hour. No more."

 

            "And the Swiss Guard still holds the inner ward?" Sanchez' questioning was intent, the earnest concentration of a man seeking information pertinent to his profession. Vitelleschi had mentioned something about the various military technicalities of the siege, but Barberini had not been able to follow them.

 

            "They do. The outer ward fell shortly after noon. It is the belief of those informing me that only a token resistance was made, in order to buy time for the inner ward to be secured."

 

            Sanchez nodded. "And all of the artillery in use at the siege is field pieces?"

 

            "So I understand. The Spanish could bring only light field pieces on the fast march they made. A siege train may be en route, but I have no information as to that."

 

            "How long can they hold?" Simpson asked.

 

            The Captain of the horse who guarded the USE embassy spoke up. "I've seen yon fortress. Two hundred men could hold it for days, wi' no siege artillery tae fret on, unless there's an escalade."

 

            "Escalade?" asked Simpson's wife. She, like the Ambassadora, was a doctor, and doubtless even more ignorant of matters military than Barberini. At least he could say he knew what an escalade was.

 

            "An assault on the walls by men wi' ladders, Mistress," the Captain said. "I dinnae ken how long it'll take 'em tae get ladders enough to carry the walls, but it's the quickest way. The Spanish general will have to be ready to spend men like water, mind ye."

 

            "True," Sanchez said. "We may count on a certain delay while ladders are found or made. The besiegers have men enough to assault the whole wall of the inner ward at once, and that will ensure success."

 

            "The butcher's bill's going to be… bad," Simpson said. "Even with only two hundred men that wall's a tough one to get over."

 

            "True," Sanchez said. "The assault will likely be at dawn tomorrow."

 

            "So soon?" Barberini asked. Hearing about the need for enough ladders to go all the way around the walls of Castel Sant’Angelo had given him hope that the fort might hold a while yet.

 

            "So soon," Sanchez said. "Were I commanding that siege, I would have the docks raided for every timber in the boatyards and press every carpenter I could find. The ladders need not be perfect, just good enough. A mast with planks nailed to it is all that is needed, with some ropes to steady it. One ladder at every five to ten paces, and the besiegers have men enough to man them. The first few hundred men over will be a forlorn hope, but eventually grenadiers will reach high enough, an establishment will be made, and then the defense will collapse quickly. They will lose perhaps a thousand men, but they have ten thousand and no fear of counter-attack."

 

"I thought sieges took longer," the Ambassadora remarked.

 

            "Ordinarily, yes," Simpson said. "Sounds like these guys have a massive advantage of numbers and nearly all the resources they could want. And they're already inside the outer defenses, trying to take the citadel."

 

            "Oh," the Ambassadora said. "Can we get the pope out of there?" She addressed the question to Sanchez. Knowing what he knew of the man, Barberini would have done the same.

 

            Sanchez shrugged. "Maybe. I would perhaps be able to bring a small party within the inner ward and attempt something. This is not to say that the same idea will not occur to Quevedo, of course."

 

            "He'd assassinate the pope?" Simpson's expression was one of honest curiosity. For all their cheerfulness and generosity, these Americans could take a bloodthirsty turn at times, Barberini reflected. The first thing he had thought of when Sanchez mentioned an infiltrator into the fortress was a gate being surreptitiously opened to let the besiegers in.

 

            "Likely enough," Sanchez said, shrugging. "My heart," he went on, addressing the Ambassadora, "this may be something we can do, or it may not. I will need to take a party of men back to Rome tonight and look more closely. With your permission?"

 

            The Ambassadora frowned a moment, then looked around the room at the other members of her party. "Comments?" she asked.

 

            "Do it," Dottoressa Simpson said.

 

            "Only if you can manage it without getting yourselves killed," Dottore Nichols added. "Forlorn hopes do no-one any good. And I'll come along. Not in the raid itself, but you'll need someone holding horses outside, and a trained medic."

 

            "You sure, dad?" the Ambassadora asked.

 

            "I'm a shoo-in for this one," he said, leaving Barberini slightly confused. The sense of it was clear enough, though. "I've been a marine, and I know my trauma medicine well enough to play corpsman. Although I could wish we had Harry along here."

 

            "He's got a good resumé for it," Signora Mailey added, smiling at some private joke, doubtless connected with the fact that she had escaped a similar fortress only the year before. Perhaps the infamous Harry Lefferts had been involved in that? "But like James said, don't do it if it looks too risky."

 

There were no further objections. "Do it, then," the Ambassadora said. "I'll go and compose a dispatch for Magdeburg. They won't be able to tell us not to, fortunately."

 

            Naturally not, Barberini thought. He wondered what diplomacy would be like when the day came that the great radio towers were built all across the world, and princes could speak to each other directly. Would peace result, once everything could be discussed at length, directly between rulers? More likely, Barberini thought, that such ease of communication would make it more likely that they would take offence more easily. A plenipotentiary could be disowned, deratified, apologized for. Insults direct from the prince's mouth were less easily remedied. The radio diplomacy his uncle had engaged in the year before had certainly caused plenty of trouble.

 

 

 

 

 

About Eric Flint

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