1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 95:



            As he watched, he saw his men encircle the farmhouse, a little beyond effective musket range. That didn't stop the defenders from trying their luck, and there was soon a thin haze of gunsmoke around the place. It was too much to hope that the wadding would fire the woodpile, Don Vincente supposed, and then he was surprised by the sight of a lit torch being thrown over the stone wall. The sergeant had clearly spotted a covered route up to the house. Don Vincente made a note to commend Ezquerra and see he got a bonus. Small bags of powder followed the torch, loosely tied so they scattered over the woodpile. It was not long before there was a blaze, and loosely-tied bundles of green brush were coming over the wall. Don Vincente's eyes began to sting, and he realized he had taken position upwind of the farmhouse without thinking. Chiding himself, he moved around to where Quevedo was watching.


            "A good man, that sergeant," Quevedo remarked.


            "Indeed," Don Vincente said, "He joined me a year ago. This was well done."


            "True. I think the Cardinal will come out soon."


            It was no more than a few minutes before a white scarf tied on a rake came through the front door. "Parley!" Don Vincente called, urging his horse closer and doing his best to soothe her against the smell of the fire. "Come out if you surrender!" he added.


            That was enough. There was a rapid exodus from the farmhouse, and Don Vincente noticed that there was smoke coming out all around the eaves. The roof timbers must have been set afire by the sergeant's blaze. Another five minutes saw the cardinal's men rounded up, and the cardinal himself under guard.


            "Release the servants," Quevedo said. "Take their horses and weapons. They will be no threat. We return this one"—he pointed with his chin at Cardinal Francesco Barberini—“back to Rome."


            Don Vincente nodded. That was a relief. He had been wondering how they would shepherd twenty prisoners to Rome.


            The looting was quick and efficient. The valuables were quickly sorted on to two horses for later division. The remaining horses were burdened with the weapons and armor, all of which could be kept for issue or sold, if no better loot presented itself. The Cardinal's servants knelt, eyes downcast, in the road while this was going on, each man with a musketeer to guard him. In the background, the farmhouse blazed merrily now, adding to the discomforts of fatigue and the heat of the day. Don Vincente began to wish he had ordered the captives moved further away.


            Still, they were not there long. The company moved off back to Rome at a much gentler trot than they had left at, Francesco Barberini in the middle of the column with Don Vincente and Quevedo directly behind him. The cardinal had said nothing while his hands were bound and he was boosted on to the back of his mule, and maintained a dignified silence as they rode back to Rome. Doubtless the Inquisition would be causing him to be less taciturn before too long. Which, Don Vincente reflected, was very much not his problem.


            Don Vincente noticed that Quevedo kept checking the road behind. After perhaps an hour, he seemed satisfied with something, and drew his sword.


            "The Cardinal is trying to escape," he said, in conversational tones, and spurred forward suddenly. The sword swung in a fast and humming arc, the economical and effortless motion of a master swordsman, and bit deep in to the back of the cardinal's neck.


            "Have your men get that off the road, if you please, Captain," Quevedo said, nodding at the corpse as he cleaned his blade. Barberini lay face down, his ass in the air, all dignity gone as he bled out into the dust. His legs twitched slightly as he died, and Don Vincente noticed that the impact of the sword had caused the cardinal to bite his tongue half off, and it hung at a peculiar angle from between the teeth.


            Don Vincente began, wondering what the hell this was all about.


            Something must have shown in his expression. Quevedo smiled thinly and said: "You are Spanish yourself, Captain, so you should be glad these orders have been given.”


             Don Vincente wondered through a fatigue-fogged brain what the hell the fact that he was Spanish had to do with anything. Right here, right now, he had thought he was working for Spain's Viceroy in Naples, who had ordered him and a large number of other troops to follow the orders of Cardinal Borja.


            Don Vincente frowned. Whatever Quevedo was driving at, he couldn't see it. He nodded, out of politeness, and gave the orders to have the body dumped in the ditch. The cardinal had already been thoroughly robbed when he had been captured, so this took no time at all.


            "Speak to no-one of what you have seen!" Quevedo called out, addressing the men. "The extra pay for this day's work is in part for your silence."


            Don Vincente saw a few eyes roll heavenward at that. Had Quevedo said nothing, most of them wouldn't have bothered mentioning it to anyone. One dead priest more or less was nothing to them, when there was an entire city to loot.


            “And now, Captain,” the agent said, “I have another special mission for you. In Rome.”


            Seeing Don Vincente’s sour expression—“special mission” was sure to translate into “no or very little loot”—the Cardinal’s man chuckled. “There will be extra pay, of course.”