1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 103:



            The sight of columns of smoke rising over the eternal city was to be regretted, certainly. Much that was valuable would be damaged, destroyed, looted. Such was the price of turning loose soldiers. It was a price that it was necessary to pay. Cardinal Borja looked down from the high window of the Palazzo Borghese he had chosen for his vantage and post of command. A lone horseman trotted across the riverside terrace toward the bridge, doubtless about some necessary military undertaking.


            Borja wondered idly who it was, and then, dismissing the man from his mind, looked down-river. White smoke was already rising from around the Castel Sant’Angelo. The Barberini pope had clearly ensconced himself there and was doubtless resisting.


            Good. Borja had been worried that the Barberini pope would somehow manage to escape the city altogether.


            Behind Borja there was a brief disturbance.


            "What news, Ferrigno?" he asked, without turning his gaze away from the bluish-white haze rising around the fortress of his enemy.


            Father Ferrigno cleared his throat. "Your Eminence, the embassy of the Swede was deserted. All belongings of the Americans had been removed, and the remains of a bonfire were found in the courtyard. The building has been set on fire, pursuant to Your Eminence's order."


            So they had fled. He was not surprised. Satan imbued his followers with no true virtue, least of all courage. "And the subversives? The alchemist's whelp?"


            "His den, Your Eminence, is occupied and appears to have been fortified. Quevedo’s unit has surrounded it and await reinforcements in order to commence the assault. The subversives opened fire without warning, Your Eminence, before any attempt could be made to arrest them."


            Borja nodded. At least some of the snakes had been caught. And if they desired to play the game by the rule of the knife, Borja saw every reason to oblige them. "Send word to the officer in charge that if further resistance is offered, no quarter is to be given."


            "Very good, Your Eminence," said Ferrigno.


* * *


            It was a miracle no-one had been killed yet. Or seriously injured. Frank had a whole lot of little splinters in one cheek that were itching like a bitch, but that was it. They'd cleared all the soldiers away from the front—one or two of them had been hurt, but their buddies had got them away leaving only sprays of blood on the far wall. In getting the hell away from the firing, they'd fired their muskets right back. The boards on the window weren't worth a damn for stopping musket balls, and made things worse when they splintered, as Frank could attest.


            Frank had grabbed for his revolver, but by the time he got it out of his belt the street was filling with flames and smoke from puddles of oil dropped from above. That, of course, was cover for the soldiers to get the hell out of the way. Not that it had stopped any of the guys with guns from banging away like woodpeckers on crack. When they'd calmed down and the flames subsided—and hadn't that been a great few minutes, while they wondered if they hadn't burnt their own little fortress down by mistake—the street outside was clear.


            The celebration had been brief. A sneaked peek from an upper-floor window showed that the soldiers were just holding the street further down, and more kept arriving, in small groups. No-one had been driven off, and all the exchange of fire seemed to have done was piss everyone off, on both sides. Not to the point of making a serious assault, but still things were tense.


            "Frank?" It was Fabrizzio.




            "I think I hear something downstairs." Salvatore was in back, getting everyone something to drink. The place was full of smoke, and tension, and both were making everyone thirsty.


            Frank frowned. They'd piled junk in the gaps in the walls downstairs, in the hope of their escape route not being noticed. By the owners of those buildings, if no-one else. Only one of the buildings the makeshift tunnel went through was empty. He got up from behind the table he was using as extra cover—between it and the front wall, he figured he was mostly safe from musket balls except where he had to peer over it—and went back. The stairs down were in the back hall, through a kind of low archway under where the stairs up had been. Frank realized he could hear stuff shifting about down there, like—like someone pulling aside that barricade. He had to do something, quick, but not on his own. He looked back into the main bar and tried to pick out one or two guys who—


            There was a clatter down below and a stream of curses in what sounded like Spanish. Frank pulled his pistol out and thumbed the hammer, pulling it back until he heard a nice reassuring click. He leaned over to Salvatore and whispered "Get Piero and a couple of his guys over here, quick." He leveled the pistol at the archway, preparing himself to shoot at the first Spaniard to show himself.


            How the hell did they find it that fast? He realized that what this probably meant was that they were in surrender-or-die country right about now, and maybe there wasn't going to be much of a chance to surrender.


            "Frank? Senor Stone?" The voice came up from the cellar below.


            Frank let out a breath, sagging with relief, and very carefully made the revolver safe. "Senor Sanchez? Anyone with you?"


            The sound of boots on the steps. "No, I am alone."


            Frank waved Piero back. "Don't worry guys. False alarm."


            Ruy appeared in the archway, stooped over on the barrel ramp, his hat in his hand and grinning. "How goes it, Frank?"


            "'Bout as well as can be expected," Frank replied, grinning ruefully. "Surrounded and outnumbered and we can't get all our people out."


            "One of those houses I came through looked to be deserted," Ruy said. "Could you get your women and invalids that far?"


            "I wondered, but what good would that do? We'd still be inside the ring the soldiers put around this whole block. They'd see us escaping."


            "They will not see those who hide on an upper floor, Frank."


            "Yeah, but they'll search if they find this place abandoned."


            Ruy shrugged. "Then do not abandon it."


            Frank could feel the penny dropping. "Ah, I get it. We get the women and kids—" and Giovanna! and Giovanna!—"out while a few of us stay here and make trouble. We make a real obvious try to escape and hope like hell we can outrun 'em at night in all these alleys, and the soldiers don't think to check for who we left behind?"