1635l THE CANNON LAW – snippet 112:



            When Ruy finished, and people were sitting back and looking contented with a good meal, Sharon opened the floor for debate. "Suggestions?" she said.


            Melissa was first. "We're already committed," she said. "We've helped one of the Barberini."


            "Not much, though," Tom said, "Just some medical treatment and a bed for the night. Devil's advocate says we can send him on his way in the morning, keep all our options open. Can't say I like the idea myself, but it's an option."


            "Right," Melissa said. "I have to say I can't see what that would gain us, even if it wasn't flat wrong. There's no point doing favors for someone who's going to hate us come what may."


            "Is it your belief, Dona Melissa, that Borja intends to make himself Pope?" Ruy sat up straighter. "I find myself wondering whether even Madrid is capable of so foolish an order."


            "Perhaps," Melissa said. "I think from what you've seen that it's certain that he intends to control the papacy. Another Captivity, a puppet pope—you saw yourself that the Borghese weren't being touched, and they hold the balance right now, if I understand the factions correctly. Making himself the next pope is just one of the options."


            "Can we stop him?" Tom asked. "There're three tercios in Rome right now, give or take. We've got maybe twenty effectives."


            "Senor Simpson has the right of it," Ruy said, "there is no practical military solution. If there is some other action we might take, we lack the intelligence to determine what it is. I confess that I am bereft of inspiration in this business."


            "Have we asked Cardinal Barberini whether he wants help?"


            "Not as such, no," Doctor Nichols said. "He was pretty grateful for the help we've given him, and gracious about it. He didn't ask for more than he was getting, either."


            Ruy tapped a finger on the table once, twice. "Now that I think on the matter, I recall that his Eminence did not specifically request my aid either. He greeted me, told me what his aims were, and made some small talk. He requested advice on how to escape, but did so obliquely, as I recall."


            Sharon thought back to lessons in formal diplomacy she'd had from Don Francisco. "Ceding us the advantage," she said.


            "Right," Melissa said. "If he comes right out and asks, he makes himself our client. Until he figures the angles, he's not going to do that. Remember, he's pretty junior inside casa Barberini, he's not even the senior cardinal. So while he'll accept what we offer and be grateful for it, he's not going to come right out and ask. Not for a moment."


            "Rita?" Sharon asked, seeing that her friend had a brow furrowed in careful concentration.


            "I think," Rita said slowly, "we should just stick to doing the right thing. I'm not sure of all the angles yet, I got a lot of sympathy for the little cardinal that way, but if we go wrong by doing good, at least we'll do it with a clear conscience. And like Melissa says, we're going to get nowhere by helping folks who're definitely against us."


            "Can we do that, Rita?" Tom asked.


            "I reckon we have to," Rita said. "The Barberini are pretty much finished in the Vatican, unless there's something we missed, but they're the only faction in Rome who might be friendly and right thing or not we should grab what we can while we can."


            Melissa was frowning too. "It might be that the Barberini go the same way now that they did in the other history. They ended up seeking sanctuary in France after Urban died."


            "We'd still lose nothing," Rita said. "If we want friends in Rome, they're pretty much all we can get in the big leagues. I say we take the chance we've got."


            "Plus," Doctor Nichols added, "if we help the Barberini, any survivors of their faction are going to be friendly as well."


            Ruy harrumphed. "How many of them will still be friends of the Barberini by next week remains to be seen. A wind from Spain will cause many of them to trim their sails accordingly. The loyalties of churchmen and Italians are notoriously fickle. Italian churchmen may well prove to be poor things in which to repose a confidence."


            "Maybe is still better than nothing," Rita said.


            Ruy nodded. "It is as you say, Dona Rita. I offer the warning that it might inform your thinking, and that of my wife the Ambassadora, over the coming days."


            "That's certainly worth bearing in mind," Melissa said.


            "Getting back to the point I raised," Tom said, "I wasn't so much thinking about whether it was practical to help the Barberini, but more whether we, I mean Sharon, can do it on her own authority."


            "Did State give you plenipotentiary powers, Sharon?" Rita asked.


            "Yep," Sharon said. Knowing that the buck stopped with her had been a nagging worry since Barberini walked through the tavern door.


            "Gustavus won't be pleased," Melissa put in.


            "Man'll shit a nut," Tom said.


            "Thank you, Tom," Melissa said, giving him an old-fashioned look. "I wouldn't put it that way myself, but he was somewhat unhappy with the way last year's dealings with the Holy See turned out. Then again, if he's presented with a fait accompli he will likely confine himself to grumbling. He'll see that cutting the religious justifications out from under his Catholic enemies is well worth the minor embarrassment in front of his Protestant allies."


            "I think that settles it, then," Sharon said, glad at last for a justification for what she wanted to do. “Adolf, see if the cardinal is done eating, and tell him I'd like a word when he's ready. I'll make the offer and we'll let Magdeburg know what's what when the radio's working."