1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 105








            "Your Eminence!" Mazarini senior, excitable as usual, was pointing out of the window. "Gun smoke, from the Castel Sant’Angelo!"


            Barberini walked over, making himself retain his dignity and decorum when all he wanted was to dash madly and press his face against the glass, or hurl the window wide and lean out to see. No doubt remained. The assault on Rome was devoted to removing his uncle from the chair of St. Peter.


            "We will hasten our departure," he said, staring at the columns of dirty-looking white smoke that were appearing over the roofline in the direction Mazarini was pointing. Barberini wished idly, for a moment, that it was the calm, icy-nerved son, now a cardinal in France, that was his majordomo, not the father. That apple had fallen a goodly ways from the tree.


            "As Your Eminence wishes," Mazarini said, and bustled away to see to whatever fine details remained. There would be little. The majority of the people of casa Barberini had gone either the night before or with first light, the morning's party going ahead under the command of Cardinal Francesco Barberini. Where others had implied that he was starting at shadows, Cardinal Antonio Barberini—essentially, left to mind the store while older and wiser heads were about the business of the house—had quietly but firmly made all of the necessary preparations for flight. And had been ruthless. It was sad to think of it, but a large proportion of the art he had so painstakingly assembled, on top of the centuries-old collection that his forebears had amassed, would soon be gone. Looted, if the world was fortunate. Destroyed, if the historical tales of how a sack proceeded were correct. Paintings tossed aside while the frames were taken for their gilt. Fine pieces pried apart to make change for whores.  Sculpture knocked aside; its value unrecognized or too heavy to carry. Or worse, hurled from upper floors, as Barberini had once seen small boys do with bottles, for the amusing sound as they shattered below.


            The more portable pieces, items that would be a worthy kernel of a future collection, had been sent away. A pitiful salvage from what would surely be a terrible wreck. It was all he could do not to weep. He had remained behind to at least see, with his own eyes, what this latest wave of barbarians proposed to do with the Eternal city. And his family. And his church. And, in some sense, because it felt right to be the last of his house to leave. Honorable. And, finally, to take one last look at what it was that was about to be lost.


            "Your Eminence?" Mazarini's voice interrupted his morose thoughts. "We are ready, if Your Eminence pleases."


            Barberini could not contain the deep sigh. It was that or begin sobbing. His eyes were hot, and stung. Only the firmest of self-control permitted him to turn away from the window without being unmanned. "Lead on, Mazarini," he said. "This must surely be the last moment."


            Mazarini did not answer, but the expression on his face betrayed his opinion that the last moment had passed some time since. Outside in the palazzo mews he reflected that the weather had no sense of dramatic unity. Such deeds should not be done on a balmy early-summer day, in bright sunshine with a light scatter of fleecy cloud in the sky. Stormy winds, lightning and thunder would have suited the mood better.


            The streets were deserted, the populace hiding or fled. Barberini looked about himself. A small party, and Barberini had taken the precaution of shedding his clerical garb in favor of more modest attire. Of course, there was a limit to how modest the attire he possessed was. He was still at risk of a robbery, but at the least there was much less chance of him being recognized and captured. And the last few of the casa Barberini guardsmen were gathered about him. A dozen troopers surrounding the cardinal and his majordomo.


            "Very good," he said after a moment. "Let us go."


            The street outside looked empty, or at least the first trooper out waved back to say as much. As he rode out into the street, Barberini realized that there was another disadvantage to the good weather. He felt as though the entire world could see him, a sensation that hitherto he had found quite pleasant, rewarding even. Now, it made him want to leap from his horse and curl up in whatever hole he could find quickly. He felt sure that the sweat that was starting all over him, and trickling down the small of his back, had little to do with the heat of the morning. He tried looking around to distract himself. The piazza for which he had decided upon a new fountain was away to his left; he saw figures moving there, some of whom seemed to be pointing and starting to move in his direction, but his horse was following that of the lead trooper and he quickly lost them. Trying to look behind oneself from a moving horse, unless one was a much more expert horseman than the cardinal had ever had the inclination to become, was a sure route to a painful fall, or at least a very confused horse. He turned to face ahead.


            The troopers ahead—Barberini realized, as suddenly they exploded into action, that he knew none of their names and the thought choked off the question he wanted to ask. He could hardly believe that ill manners were preventing him—and he still could not see why all of the dozen troopers ahead of him had suddenly spurred their mounts and drawn pistols. He looked about himself frantically, tried to rise in his stirrups for a better view—


            "DOWN, Your Eminence!" it was Mazarini shouting that, although several other voices said the same without the honorific, in one case with an insult. The horse, startled by the sudden motion and then Barberini's antics, began to rear, and then began to dance sideways, shaking its head.