1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 87:



            She felt Ruy's arm on hers stiffen. She heard him mutter something, but couldn't tell what it was over the sound of the bells. Lots of bells. Sunday mornings could be good and loud in Rome, but at a little distance from the belltowers the noise was bearable. They were standing right under the belltower here, of course, and for some reason the whole of Rome seemed to be ringing its bells.


            Sharon put two and two together. "Back to the embassy, everyone!" she said loudly, and tugged on Ruy's arm to get him moving again.


            Beside her, Ruy called out to Frank. "Senor Stone, go by your place and see that it is secure. If you hear word of –"


            He broke off as someone came out of the belltower behind them and dodged around to run into the street. Ruy's reflexes were simply unnatural for a man his age. Sharon had seen him with weapons in hand many times—once against armed opponents and repeatedly in training sessions with the embassy's Marine guards. Reaching out to snag hold of the runner, he all but blurred.


            "What news?" he barked as the guy was pulled up short. He was not much more than a teenager, now that Sharon got a look at him.


            "Invasion!" the messenger panted. "Spanish troops at Ostia on this morning's tide. Signor, please, let me go, I must spread the word."


            Ruy let him go. "Borja," he spat, "Quevedo. How stupid?"


            "Very?" Sharon answered, trying to lighten his mood a little.


            Ruy's laugh was little more than a bark. "There will be fighting, Sharon. Hard fighting. His Holiness may not command many troops, but there are militia troops all about Rome. If given time to organize, they may be able to mount a spirited defense."


            "Should we evacuate?"


            "For a certainty. Let Captain Taggart begin the preparations." Ruy turned back to Frank. "Signor Stone, see that all is secure with you and yours. I would counsel that you withdraw outside the city as soon as you may."


            "Figures," Frank said. "I heard what the messenger said. Good luck , Ruy, Sharon." He set off at a fast walk, collecting Giovanna on his arm as he went and trailed by the small crowd of genial ruffians he'd brought along.


            Tom, Sharon's dad, Rita and Melissa Mailey were next out of the church. Tom spoke first. "What's up, everyone? Why the long—oh," he trailed off, as he caught the sound of the bells.


            "What kind of trouble?" Sharon's dad asked.


            "Those bells are a tocsin, aren't they?" asked Melissa.


            "You cut it too fine with the nuptials, girlfriend," Rita said, grinning. "Looks like neither of us could get married without trouble brewing."


            Sharon chuckled. That was true enough. Rita had been married less than half a day before the Ring of Fire dumped them all in the middle of the Thirty Years War. "Yeah, well," she said, "this is one lot of trouble we can bug out of. Ruy and Captain Taggart are organizing the evacuation."


            She turned to where those two were conferring. The Marines, who had been drawn up ready to form an arch of swords outside the church, had already spread out to form a watchful perimeter, and their Captain nodded some final confirmation to Ruy and turned to Sharon. "The coaches are ready, Mistress," he said, "and I've sent a lad back to the embassy at best speed to get things stirred about there. Happen we'll be ready to go before dusk."


            "That's a relief," Tom said. "This all has the authentic feel of somebody else's problem."


            "True enough," Sharon's dad said. "Glad to see there's some sense in that man of yours, Sharon," he said, smiling.


            "Sense?" Ruy interjected with a wry smile, "I shall have you know that I have slain men for less offensive suggestions. Sense is for Castilians and other like dullards, Doctor Nichols."


            "Whatever. We're getting out of town, then?" he replied.


            "Certainly. I would propose that we withdraw into Lazio for the time being and seek lodgings in one of the smaller towns or villages. With those under our protection safe, we can assess the possibility of returning when the fighting has died down. For now, though, as Senor Simpson so aptly puts it, the fighting in this city is somebody else's problem."


            Sharon saw the carriages pulling up, the Marines directing them into a line. "Well," she said, loudly, "It'll be our problem if we don't move. Everyone who wishes to join us on the road out of town, be at the embassy in two hours. We won't wait, but if you're there then, you're welcome to join us."


            More than a few of the notables who had been following her and Ruy out of the church looked at her and gave noncomittal nods. Most of them, she suspected, would stay put, or would have places to go in the defense of the city.


* * *


            Adolf was running around in a state of what looked like barely-controlled panic. Captain Taggart and two of his men were out securing extra transport; the embassy had two carriages and a cart, but it was starting to look like the entire staff would want to come with the evacuation party.


            Sharon suspected that most of them would be safer—far, far safer—to simply get to relatives' houses and hole up until the fighting was over. The USE nationals, on the other hand, had no such option. On the drive back to the embassy, she had thought for a minute about staying put and relying on diplomatic privilege. She'd tried the idea out on Ruy.


            "No," he'd said. "Borja is plainly out of control. I cannot conceive of such as this being ordered, even by that pack of fools in Madrid. And where Borja has flouted authority in one way, he cannot be trusted to conform to it in another."


            "And even if Senor Sanchez is wrong about Borja, which I doubt," Melissa said, "I've seen what diplomatic privilege amounts to in this day and age. One spell of house arrest is quite enough, at my age."


            Tom Simpson chuckled. "And one Harry Lefferts and Julie Sims rescue is quite enough for an entire lifetime."


            "I desire to meet that young caballero," Ruy said. "Truly I do."


            Now, though, the embassy looked like it was shaping up for a reasonably orderly departure, even with all the dependents they'd be taking.


            "Lot of these folks are going to have to walk," her dad observed. The housekeeping staff had refused to let her help pack her own things. They had, quite sensibly, pointed out that the dottoressa should be overseeing, and if she was packing, then Greta and Maria were unable to take over the being-the-boss part.


            "I don't see any alternative," she said. "None of them want to take the chance of staying in Rome, and they all figure we're a better bet for getting out of Dodge than just setting out and walking."


            "It's going to slow us down, some," her dad had said. "Refugee columns aren't ever what you'd call fast-moving."


            Sharon nodded. Her dad would know, of course. He almost never spoke about what he'd done and seen in Vietnam, but back up time Sharon had been able to read a history book as well as anyone. And for this evacuation, they'd have no helicopters. Or motorised transport, even. The three sets of wheeled transport they had would be just about enough to get a bare minimum of baggage aboard, the classified stuff and some supplies for the road. The Marines would have their horses, but even without any military knowledge at all, Sharon could see that burdening them with baggage when they might have to fight was a bad idea. On the plus side, the Marines had two remounts each, one of which wouldn't be needed for the journey. A shame to use such pretty animals as pack beasts, but it would spread the load even further.


            Still, most of them would be walking.