1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 61:

Sharon decided to try firmness. “Please, Your Eminence, stop beating about the bush. I’m a doctor, for goodness’ sake. You can bet I’ve heard much weirder things than you have in store. And it might be that I’ll have to say no, and you can heave a sigh of relief.”

“I must apologize once again. So, I screw up my meager courage. Dottora Ambassadora,” he said, and she caught that he had suddenly started using her other title, which couldn’t have been idly done since he’d completely left it out so far, “I must ask what contact you have with the Committee of Correspondence in Rome? And whether they would follow directions if you were to communicate them?”

Well, that was unexpected. “Officially,” she said, “I don’t have any contact with the Committee of Correspondence anywhere. Unofficially, Frank Stone is a friend of mine. His stepmother is a very close friend and business partner. His wife is one of my patients. So if you want a message passed, I have plenty of opportunity, although I can’t promise anything. I suppose that ethically I have to pass on any message you want me to pass. Although Frank’s his own man these days, not just a kid, and it’s him in charge of the Committee, not me. And if you want to hold a discussion, I’d rather not act as your messenger-girl. I can ask Frank to come talk to you. I’m guessing you can’t go haunting low tavernas like the one he runs, right?”

“Not that my reputation could get any lower, if the handbills are to be believed,” he said. “But the Ambassadora is most generous and gracious. A message is, indeed, what I would have passed. What, rather, those instructing me would have passed.”

“I guess I ought to mention that even though you married Frank and Giovanna, neither of them is really likely to take any message from any part of the Church on trust. Not after their last experience of you included a spell in one of your jails.”

Barberini laughed aloud. “And ours of them included them shooting up one of our churches in the middle of a most solemn occasion! Monsignor Mazarini might have bent his considerable talents to making that particular outrage disappear, but I need hardly say that such things are not readily forgotten, whatever the public appearance.”

Sharon shrugged. “Well, with bad blood on both sides I guess asking a diplomat to act as go-between makes sense, then. What’s the message, Your Eminence?” Truth be told, she was getting a little impatient with Barberini’s constant dodging around the point.

“We would prefer they were less solicitous of official concerns,” he said, flatly and without intonation.

“You want them to start being more—“ she groped for the right word—“Revolutionary?”

“Just so, Ambassadora.”

“Forgive me for saying it, Your Eminence, but that sounds like a trap. What’s to say that they won’t find the Inquisition landing on them and getting a little payback for, as you say, shooting up one of your churches?” She figured a little annoyance was safe to show. There had to be more to this, since surely an institution as long-lived and subtle as the Catholic church wouldn’t be that simple-minded?

“A promise, which His Holiness instructed me to make on his behalf.” He winced, and Sharon got a feeling that the meeting at which Barberini had been told what to say by his uncle had not been an easy one for him. “The Inquisition will be restrained. We make no promises in respect of other methods of opposition. Counter-propaganda, other methods. But the persons of the Committee themselves will not be molested.”

“I have to ask why,” she said flatly.

“Because my masters would rather the Committee fought back openly than let themselves be used as a tool against us. If people were not being duped about the Committee, it is felt that they might not be so ready to create disorder in the streets.” He sighed deeply. “The disorder they would create if some of their firebrands from the Germanies come here is quite overlooked. But I am a man under authority.”

Sharon felt quite sorry for the little cardinal, then. Well, almost sorry. He might be wearing a priest’s robes, but he was really every inch the consummate nobleman. A plot by other nobles, he was comfortable with, and if he lost, well, there was no great shaking of the world order as a result. If Sharon had to guess, this particular idea came straight from the Jesuits, who were making great strides back in the USE. Their reasoning was that freedom of religion was freedom to convert the Protestants, one at a time if they had to. They were doing a lot of good educational work, and leave it to the Committees of Correspondence to be brutally pragmatic about working with them on things like setting up schools. Or, at least, to leave them alone. An organization mentally supple enough to make as many converts as they had in Japan, of all places, would regard the USE as easy pickings. And the Committees of Correspondence as no particular obstacle. Allies, even, in some matters.

Barberini, on the other hand, saw the social and economic consequences for his own class first and foremost. And if there was one thing Sharon had no sympathy for, it was the nobility clinging to their power and wealth, no matter the consequences.

But she was enough of an ambassador to realize that rubbing it in wouldn’t be a good thing to do, just now. “You can pass the message back that I’ll speak to Frank. I can’t speak for his response, and I’ve no idea what good it’ll do you if he starts doing what you want, but I will tell him.”

“I thank you, Ambassadora.”

“If there’s anything further the USE can do to help, again, I can’t guarantee what my instructions from Magdeburg will be, but feel free to ask. And I’m always happy to come to your salon, Your Eminence. The company is excellent, and your home is a pleasure to visit.”

“And for my part, Ambassadora, if there is any service I can perform in a purely personal capacity, you have only to ask. Your presence in my home is a pleasure and a privilege, and”—the impish grin came back in full force—”too much of a social coup for me to resist, when so graciously offered.”

“Well,” she said, “we should be getting back, or people will talk.” She realized it was a feeble joke, but she felt she had to lighten the young cardinal’s mood

It seemed to work. “They already do, Dottoressa,” he said, giggling a little. “Mostly they say that your honor is quite safe from the likes of me, I am afraid, except when they denounce me as a fornicator.”

Sharon couldn’t help chuckling. “I could help with that first one,” she said, “I could claim you tried to press your attentions, and I had to fight you off…”

He wagged a finger. “Not even in jest,” he said, mock-serious. “I have heard stories of your intended, Senor Sanchez. A most bloodthirsty devil, it is said, who has left corpses on dueling fields from here to America. Deadly with any weapon and completely without compunction in killing on the slightest provocation.”

“Oh, true,” Sharon said, “but how well squashed those rumors will be! Who could think a man slain by a jealous fiancée was anything other than red-blooded?”

“Enough! Before you tempt me, woman. Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz is a lucky man, and I would not deprive anyone of such happiness.”