1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 28
Larry stopped along the side of the dusk-dim street and held up a hand to pause Urban.
The pope tried peering over his shoulder. “What is…?”
“Silence, please, Your Holiness.”
Up ahead, the three sedan chairs entered the gate of the cloister slightly north of St. John’s cathedral. As soon as the third had entered, a tall figure at the gate — Turlough Eubank of the Wild Geese — waved them forward. Those following on foot forced themselves to stroll toward the same entrance.
In front of Larry, Anthony Grogan, one of the older members of the Wild Geese, set the pace, his posture relaxed. But he always kept his cloak spread wide with his elbows, thereby ensuring swift access to both his sword and pepperbox revolver.
On either side of the pope, two tall, heavily cloaked cardinals walked with heads bowed — mostly to reduce profiling just how tall they really were. But that was difficult for the fully armored Achille d’Estampes de Valençay and Giancarlo Medici. Then came Cardinals Mattei and Sforza, who were younger and still fit enough to run quickly if required. Two more Wild Geese and Léonore d’Estampes de Valençay brought up the rear.
Larry could sense the anxiety building in all of them as they neared the gates. Even the cardinals understood that if there was going to be another assassination attempt during the short walk from the Palais Granvelle to the cloister, the odds that it would commence at any particular second were growing…simply because there weren’t that many more seconds.
A window shutter creaked on the second floor of a nearby house —
Giancarlo swiftly hustled the pope behind Achille. The disguised papal escort started drawing their weapons —
A pair of hands emerged from the window in question, upending a bucket of washwater.
As it splashed down onto the cobbles of the street, a few muttered curses combined relief with sharp annoyance as everyone resumed the correct, apparently casual formation.
Twelve more paces — Larry was counting — brought them through the gate and into the grassy courtyard that fronted the cloister’s garden. He realized that his armpits were very wet and that he could smell his own sweat, not something he had experienced since his twenties, even when exerting himself. But this was the sharp, sour stink of fear. And it wasn’t just coming off him. Unless he was much mistaken, most of his companions were exuding a similar odor, especially Urban himself.
Granted, the vestments were hot, and the cloaks long enough to completely obscure both the person and equipment that were beneath it. The earlier midday showers had left behind a haze of mild humidity. In addition, the cardinals had all just come from the close seating in the unventilated grand salon, so it was probable that their sweat had been accruing for the last several hours. But the tension of walking exposed, surrounded by two- and even three-story buildings had activated the accumulated scents in a pungent mix.
Sforza and Mattei were called over to the group that had gathered on the diagonal path bisecting the garden. Matching “Tone” Grogan’s brisk pace, the rest turned to walk beneath the covered walkway. As they did, they passed Ruy Sanchez and Owen Roe O’Neill, the two of whom were pressing an urgent point upon Dorfmann, one of the junior radio operators for the Hibernians.
“We realize,” Ruy was muttering, “that it is difficult to maintain all the general overwatch posts while drawing enough for a covering force, but there was no other choice this evening.”
Dorfmann started to make some reply, but O’Neill cut him off, annoyed, and pointing a long finger at the mercenary’s chest. “And I don’t give a tinker’s damn what Lieutenant Hastings advised, but using the tunnel from the Palais Granvelle to the Carmelite Monastery is out of the question. Use of that is being reserved for a crisis situation, one where we can’t safely evacuate the pope — ”
Which was the last Mazzare heard of the Irish colonel’s annoyed explanation; the sound of boots on wet flagstones drowned out his voice and whatever reply Dorfmann attempted next.
Urban leaned over toward Larry. “What was that all about?”
Larry shrugged. “Difference of opinion about the route we took back. Seems like the CO — uh, commander — of the Hibernians wanted us to take the secret tunnel from the palace to the monastery.”
“Was the danger so great?”
“No. Sounds more like he’s worried about adding irregular route security to his unit’s responsibility, that it’s stretching his men too thin. But Ruy and Owen are right: we’ve got to save the tunnel for emergencies. If other assassins are watching, and not enough of us come out the regular entrances of the Palais Granvelle, they’re going to put two and two together and figure we have another way out.”
As they reached the end of that arm of the cloister and the colonnades angled off to the left, Giancarlo and Achille both murmured their respects and followed the walkway. The remaining Wild Geese closed around Larry and Urban as, ahead, two more opened the door into the monastery itself.
As they passed within and handed their cloaks to a mix of monks and junior clerics, Urban asked, “And still nothing about the five assassins killed this morning?”
“Nothing, Your Holiness.”
“Is that not…unusual?”
“Somewhat.” Larry Mazzare wondered if downplaying the moribund state of the investigation qualified as wishful thinking or a minor lie. Well, if on reflection it turned out to be the latter, there was always the confessional.
Grogan led the two of them into a room where large wine casks lined the walls. He approached one on the far wall, grabbed the spigot on either side, and turned the whole assembly counter clockwise. A muted thump punctuated the end of his effort. He swung open the cask’s false front and waved them both into the musty wooden tunnel that was revealed, murmuring his respects as they passed.
They emerged into a subterranean passage, where three more Wild Geese were waiting to escort them: two fell in behind them, one to the front, but all at a respectful distance.
Urban leaned in toward Larry. “Now, tell me: how do you think the presentation to the Council went?”
“Quite well,” Larry replied. Hmm…was that more optimism or more prevarication? At this rate, he was going to spend a long time in that confessional…
Urban smiled as the long thin tunnel pushed their shoulders together. “You are too politic — and too fretful, Lawrence. I think it was a great success, and I should know: I have seen some very lively ones in my day. The inevitable niggling over details and procedures was brief, the serious obstacles to advancing a genuine ecumenical agenda small, and, for the first time I was able to plausibly report that Holy See has no hidden agenda.” He smiled. “You know, I almost believed it myself.”
Larry grinned. “So did I. Do you think they did?”
“Lawrence, despite your cleverness, you retain a peculiarly naive optimism. No, no, do not pout: I mean no insult. I just find it refreshing — maybe reassuring — that you can remain so comparatively innocent, given how full of power and portents of doom your own world was. Indeed, you are living proof that the Church can persevere without holding the reins of that power. She did not contaminate you with the stain of bloody wars and deceitful statecraft. Would I could say the same for our Church here.
“But because the agenda will not be a surprise to them, they will not be angered, Lawrence. They will balk and quibble a bit when I reveal the specific resolutions that I shall make canonical, but they have all seen the general outlines of my thought. Had most of them found any of it intolerable, we would have encountered a groundswell of that resistance today.”
“You anticipate no resistance at all?”
Urban shrugged as they ducked under a low roman archway and entered a more finished tunnel; they were now in the stretch that led from the cloister to the secret chambers that had been built under St. John’s. “Oh, there must always be some resistance, even though the resolutions I put forward will be few in number and reassuringly simple in their wording.”
“Could their resistance become sharp enough to push any of them into Borja’s camp?
Urban frowned. “The great majority of them: no. They are either loyal to me, petrified of him, or both. Any others will follow the lead of the strongest who resists.”
Urban smiled and shook his head. “The one to watch is Pázmány. He is more respected, and has been a true son of the Church.” The lead guard stood aside as they entered a small room furnished with what looked like a small portcullis. Addressing them by their titles, he gestured to several chairs. “Do you know,” Urban continued as soon as he was seated, “that less than half a year after you arrived, Pázmány marched to Rome with a military procession in an attempt to convince me to initiate a crusade against the Ottomans?”
The guard pulled a handle next to the portcullis. Far away, through the thick timbers of the door, a dull bell rung.
Mazzare frowned and leaned against the backrest. “Great. So Pázmány wanted to start another war. As if there weren’t enough of them going on in the world, just then.”
Urban shook his head and his finger. “Now, now, Lawrence. Understand what lies behind that action: he has long been concerned with conditions in what you call Transylvania. Ottoman attacks have been a blight there for centuries. And, more to the point, he saw the signs of another of their campaigns mounting even then. You might call him a student of the ebbs and flows that mark the change in Turkish political and military tides, and he saw a wave rising beyond the Balkans. And, so far as we may see now, he was correct.”
“Then what made you turn him away?”
“The papacy is hardly in any condition to lead a crusade to Constantinople. Until your arrival essentially brought the major religious wars in Germany, each half of Christendom was thoroughly obsessed with exterminating the other half. And besides, even if we had been unified, with fresh armies, history has proven that our numbers are insufficient for a durable victory. We may win early battles, take key objectives, but if we cannot occupy Ottoman lands and undo what their conquest has done, we effect no lasting change.” He frowned. “And now — is such a change truly worth the tides of blood that would have to be shed beneath banners of both the cross and the crescent?” Urban shook his head; he seemed to be shaking off foul memories and bad dreams. “No: there must be another way. And we start it here, by unifying. Once Christendom stands together, genuinely and vigorously, the Turk will not ever make it out of the Balkans. And I can hope, eventually, that he will no longer wish to.”