1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 111:



            Melissa had been looking pensive throughout the conversation. "Any thoughts, Sharon?" she asked.


            Sharon sighed. She knew exactly what Melissa was driving at, and she pretty much had to have made a decision before the transmission window opened up, or she'd be stuck with whatever State came up with in about a week's time. One thing she did know was that the time to act was right now, while there was still fighting in Rome. The sound of cannon had started coming out of the city, silhouetted as it was against the setting sun, and the columns of smoke had been rising since mid-morning and were now probably visible from hundreds of miles away. The USE presence right here right now was small enough to fit into this tavern and rented space in half a dozen nearby farmhouses and barns. So if they were going to do anything to intervene against the USE's avowed enemies, then they'd have to do something very well focused and accurate. Which meant doing it now, before whatever Borja was up to came off completely and he was settled in to—what, exactly? Knowing that would be half the decision made for her.


And that would be the half she was missing. Truth to tell, she liked Cardinal Barberini. He was an easy man to like, being a cheerful little butterball most of the time. She'd been to a few of his salons, seen the kind of company he liked to keep, gotten more than a little giddy on the kind of art he collected, and marked him down as Good People. Politically, he was humane, forward-thinking, liberal and—leaving aside some unthinking assumptions that went with being a nobleman—quite decent. Not the brightest light in the harbor, maybe, but you couldn't have everything.


            "Not right now, Melissa," she admitted. "I think maybe we should get something to eat. I'll take suggestions over dinner, have a talk with Cardinal Antonio, hear Ruy's report and then see how it looks." Ruy had come in from the stable-yard while she was speaking, still looking travel-stained and a little weary around the edges. "Hi, Ruy. Is the horse okay?"


            Ruy rocked a hand in a gesture he'd picked up from the up-timers. "Two or three days of rest, I think. A noble beast, to be sure, to bear the strain I asked of him without complaint. The Marines are coddling him yet, assuring him all will be well. I fear I may have gone down in their estimation for straining the poor animal so." His mouth quirked a little in a tired smile. Sharon found Ruy looking tired and vulnerable rather appealing and realized that they hadn't had a proper wedding night quite yet.


            Down, girl.


            "I think you need a little coddling yourself, Ruy," she said. "Get yourself cleaned up and I'll order dinner. You can tell me what's going on in Rome while we eat."


            Dinner was, as with all rural Italian food, what a good Italian restaurant was a pale imitation of. What was more, it was fresh and there was plenty of it. Ruy, who plainly hadn't troubled to stop and eat while riding around Rome, got through enough for about four and washed it down with plenty of wine. He still managed to keep up a constant stream of narrative. The news from the Committee saddened Sharon, although if Ruy was right and Frank followed the advice he'd been given there was a good chance he'd come out of it alive. Adolf, for whom Sharon made a mental note to see that there was something left for him to eat, managed to get all of it down on paper.


            The news wasn't good. Barberini, who was taking his meal in the room they'd found for him, had seen one other Cardinal summarily executed. Ruy had chatted with several soldiers and learned that they had been force-marching all through the night across country and, after a short rest to give the main body time to catch up, had gone in to the city with a whole list of targets, chief among which had been the homes or lodgings of several dozen senior churchmen. Quevedo had been busy throughout the time he had vanished, as well. The fortifications at Ostia had more or less been sold to the incoming fleet at Naples, and the lighter pieces of artillery kept there would likely have arrived in Rome by now.


            There was heavy fighting around the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo, but Ruy had not gone close. If there was anyone who might recognize him among the invading army, that was where they would be, and pretty much all the information he needed had been in the sounds of gunfire and the screams of the wounded from that quarter.


            What it added up to was another question. The obvious answer was that there would shortly be a new Pope, one who was probably sympathetic to Spain and certainly hostile to the USE. The official Papal neutrality on the current wars would come to an end. For the USE, a nation with a significant Catholic presence, that was likely going to be a problem. Not all, or even many, of the Catholic clergy in the USE would be beating Spain's drum as a result. Spain having invaded Rome in order to install a new pope would result in a lot of consciences feeling a lot freer than they might otherwise.


            But some would. And that would be a problem, in a nation with freedom of religion. A big problem. Not least because there was a sizeable chunk of the Protestant confession that already regarded the Catholic population as a fifth column. Of course, the fact that the USE's cardinal, thankfully not in Rome right now, was Larry Mazzare, would mitigate that to some extent. Only the loopier pamphleteers claimed that an up-timer from Chicago was a Habsburg agent. But putting Larry, one of Sharon's closer friends after all they'd been through in Venice, in that position by not acting right now was definitely not something Sharon was prepared to do.