1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 74:








            The drive back from the Palazzo Colonna was anything but dull, Sharon noticed. Cities being what they were, pre-automobile, sound carried. The cool that came with the Mediterranean spring night let it carry even further. Somewhere, there was trouble. The roaring of a crowd, somewhere, and the sound of shooting.


            "Sounds like it's a long, hot, night," her father remarked as the carriage-driver trotted his team along a broad street.


            "It would appear that the disturbance earlier was not the last," Ruy added. "It is the time of year for it."


            "Bread prices?" Rita asked.


            "Indeed. This year's harvests are not yet in, and last year's are running low, and last year's was nothing special. If there is trouble, it spreads quickly." As if to underscore Ruy's words, a column of cavalry came along the street in the opposite direction, heading toward the river.


            "Where will they be heading?" Melissa asked, craning her neck in the open-topped carriage as the horsemen went by.


            "Probably to the rougher neighborhoods across the river," Sharon told her. That side of the river had become run-down during the years the papacy was in Avignon. Despite the fact that the Pope had been back in the Vatican for decades, the area had never recovered. The neighborhood right under the Vatican's walls was the roughest of all, and the adjoining parish where Frank had sited the committee's headquarters wasn't much better. There were tough neighborhoods on this side of the river, the area around the Ripetto docks for one, but for sheer nastiness the streets within the Leonine wall that was part of the Vatican's mediaeval defenses were Rome's low point.


            Dr. Nichols harrumphed. "Always the same. Poor folks wreck their own neighborhood first."


            "I wouldn't be so sure, Dad," Sharon said. "You hear gunfire too?"


            "Isn't that part of it?" Dr. Nichols asked.


            "The preferred weapons in those quarters are knives and cudgels, Senor Nichols," Ruy said. "I would wager that there are bodyguards and the better militia bands attempting to restore order."


            "By killing everyone?" Melissa sneered.


            "If their officers feel it necessary, yes," Ruy said, plainly not much more impressed than she was. Sharon was reminded of something Ruy had once said, shortly after she had met him. If it was my duty, yes. Not simply because it was ordered.


            "We should be safe enough, right?" Rita asked. "If it's staying in the rougher neighborhoods, we should be okay, I mean. I'm supposed to be here on holiday."


            Sharon laughed. "Rita, honey, if I'd known this was all going to break out, I wouldn't have invited you. Everything was quiet two months ago."


            "Perhaps, Sharon," Ruy said, "if these disturbances go on past tomorrow night, we might consider postponing the wedding. I am uncomfortable with keeping the Donas Melissa and Rita in a situation of danger, and I am certain the Senor Simpson and Doctor Nichols are being too polite to suggest we postpone our nuptials."


            "I wouldn't say that, Senor Sanchez," Tom said, hurriedly. "But if you're offering to do that, I would like to see Rita safe. But let's wait a little longer than just tomorrow before you take that decision. After all, Rita and Melissa and I have been in stickier situations than this."


            Sharon nodded, then grinned at Ruy. "You don't get out of standing at the altar that easy, Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz," she said, wagging a finger at him. "We're getting married even if we have to have the aisle cleared with grapeshot."


            "She'd do it, too," her dad said.


            "I well believe it, Doctor," Ruy said, "for did she not resort to disembowelling me to get me into her bed?"


            Sharon groaned, and looked to Rita for support. "They're ganging up on me," she pleaded, "help me!" There was no help from that quarter. Rita was smirking.


            "I suppose," Melissa said to no-one in particular as they drew up to the embassy, "that it's too late to issue any warnings about men and their juvenile senses of humor?"


            "Entirely," Sharon said.


            They sat up talking a while. Tom and Rita finally had time to fill everyone in on the details of their frankly hair-raising escape from the Tower. Ruy said that he should very much like to meet Harry Lefferts, a notion that made Melissa go a little pale.


            For her part, Sharon made sure her report had gone with the night's radio dispatches before settling down with the others. Once Tom and Rita had gotten through a blow-by-blow of the dash out of London and the wine was going around, Sharon realized she was pretty much bushed. "I'd tell you all what you're missing at the palazzo Barberini," she said, "but I don't reckon I can stay up another minute."


            "Now you mention it," Tom said, "beauty sleep is calling to me, too. And a guy like me needs all he can get."


            Just then, Corporal Ritson stuck his head around the door. "Mistress? There's trouble out."


            "What?" said everyone at once.


            "Brawl in the street outside. Lads've barred't door."


            Sharon had to think about that for a moment. Ritson's accent was pretty thick—he pronounced door as 'do-er'. "Will we see from the windows?" she asked.


            "Best not, mistress," Ritson said. "They're hoisting stones at one another. I've sent a lad to wake't cap'n, Mistress, and come t'tell you and the Senor, Mistress." He looked worried, which probably meant pretty much the same from the case-hardened borderer as it did from Ruy.


            "I predict you will want to go and see in any event, Sharon," Ruy said, not bothering to embroider it with any weary tone of resignation. "I shall accompany you, and I would esteem it a great service if Senor Simpson came also. Your presence, Senor, will do much to deter the common sort of ruffian and avoid the need for steel to be drawn."


            "Be glad to oblige," Tom said.