1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 109:



            It was another two hours before they reached the Porta Salaria by roundabout ways, back-alleys and much circumspection. As Barberini had guessed, the ancient gate was now manned, and Barberini suspected that the guard was both more numerous and less bribable than the customs men who ordinarily stood there. They had reached a small shop doorway before the little piazza that opened out before the gate, and tried not to look suspicious as they looked carefully over the situation.


            There were troops on the piazza, apparently lounging about any old how, but Barberini decided that that was probably deception. Surely they would spring to more efficient action if any person tried to flee the city? Still, it was a quiet gate. As they had crossed the city, each main street that they had had to scurry across like mice had been less and less crowded with refugees. Whatever was rousting the common folk from their homes was happening in the south of the city, and to the west. The last blocks had been incredibly nerve-wracking, as they grew distant from the sound of gunfire that might have covered their own sounds. The crowds in which they had vanished as simply two more frightened citizens had thinned until, in this final quarter, people were again hiding behind bolted doors and shutters.


            Behind them, the sound of hooves on cobbles. Barberini turned to look, and it was all he could do not to fall to his knees and praise God in his most extravagant voice. It was Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz, in the flesh, turning a corner into the street that Barberini and his man were lurking on. Even if the man could not help directly, there was no reason why he should not pass on information


             "Mazarini, wait here," Barberini said. "If I have made a misjudgment, your task is to survive to bring word of my death to such of my house as survive."


            He left before Mazarini could say anything, and stepped out of the shady doorway into the street and shuffled over to meet Sanchez. Between the gash in his thigh, the ache in his back and the nagging pain of the wound to his shoulder, he moved like a mendicant. A perverse whim made him want to stretch out his hand in supplication for alms, but he suppressed it.


            "Senor Sanchez," he said, as the intended of the USE's ambassador—or had he actually married her? He had been told the date of the wedding but could not now remember when it was, or had been to be. "I must most humbly apologize for my most unbecoming attire." His voice was cracked and choked. Even for a day as warm as this was promising to be, and for the amount of unwonted exercise he had had to take, Barberini's throat was dry with thirst.


            Sanchez reined in his horse before he came too close to Barberini and stared at him for a long moment. "Your Eminence?" he asked, frowning.


            "Senor Sanchez," he said, smiling as much as he could while working his jaw to try and get his mouth to moisten, "I have had a long and trying day, but I surely am not entirely so disheveled—"


            Sanchez dismounted, a smooth and flowing motion that surprised Barberini, who knew how old the man was. "My apologies, Your Eminence. I had completed my business in Rome and was distracted by thoughts of my return to my wife. How may I be of assistance?"


            So, married after all, Barberini thought, trying to calculate the angles while framing his response. "I am desirous of escaping the city while I still can. I delayed my departure—"


            Sanchez held up a hand. "My own people also. It seems our timing was slightly better than yours, Your Eminence. By perhaps half an hour. You were set upon? In your palazzo or while evacuating?"


            "In the street," Barberini said, interrupted by a cough that rasped his throat and send ice-hot needles of pain dancing up his back and left side. He screwed up his eyes, despite the way that brought back the sight of Cardinal Bischi, dumped like refuse in the street. "I think we interrupted their preparations to storm the palazzo. We were ambushed. There was confusion. My man Mazarini brought me away after I was shot and fell from my horse." Since that moment he had felt nothing but fear and a constant sense of being hunted, at least during those times when he had not been groaning in pain or unconscious.


            Sanchez seemed to notice his hoarse voice for the first time, and handed him a metal bottle that turned out to contain water. "I thank you," he said, after taking a swig. "Mazarini found a hiding place near the Ripetta while I recovered enough to walk. We made our way here, but the gate is guarded. Senor Sanchez, how were you proposing to leave?"


            Sanchez laughed. "I had every intention of riding to the gate, calling a surprise inspection, damning every one of them for slovenly curs not fit to bear the name of soldiers of His Most Catholic Majesty before riding out of the gate threatening condign punishments for every last one. A stratagem I have used before. It is of less effect with mercenaries, who tend to listen only to their own officers, but few of those are among these raiding parties."


            Barberini's answering chuckle—there was something about Sanchez that simply demanded good humor, but winced as all the ribs up his back twinged at once. "A stratagem that will not work for me, alas. Have you seen whether any of the ruined wall by the Castra Praetoria is guarded?"


            "I have not," Sanchez said, his face suddenly becoming blank. A moment of thought. "I shall assist you in your escape. I cannot speak for the USE embassy as to any further aid, but I shall see you safe to a doctor and shelter."


            It was all Barberini could do not to faint with relief.