1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 98:



             Sharon watched them down the street, and out of sight as they turned on to the via Calabria to leave the city by the Porta Salaria. They had a rendezvous point at a village about ten miles away, which they should reach by sundown. The ten people left behind would make better time, of course, and in theory would overtake them on the road. If they didn't, Tom and Rita would have to take their best guess as to what to do. They had the radio crew with them, at least, so they would be able to consult with Magdeburg if they truly had to.


            At least most of the people she was responsible for were out of harm's way. Adolf would be pleased that the final clear-up would be done with fifty or sixty fewer bodies underfoot. She was about to turn and go back inside and help when Ruy appeared, trotting his horse around the corner and coming back to the front door.


            "Is he coming with us?" Sharon asked, as he dismounted to lead his horse through the arch to the stable.


            Ruy sighed. "No, Sharon, he is not. He was not offended that I asked."


            "Do you think he'll make it?"


            "In truth? With only moderate good fortune, Sharon. He has disguised his tavern to appear derelict, and proposes to hide as many as he may on the upper floors. He has created rear entrances, the women are on upper floors and have pulled the ladders up after them, and I could see nothing left undone in the matter of defenses. Should there be a general sack, he may well escape entirely. In that sense, he is at less risk than we who are evacuating."


            "Really?" Sharon felt at least a little relief. If Frank was hiding, that was only a little worse than if he was running. And, surely, looters would not bother with a poor neighborhood. The Spanish ones won't, at least. And Frank should be able to handle local hooligans. Has before, at any rate.


            She sighed, deeply. "Ruy, I should apologize for my remarks last night. I'm afraid for Frank and Giovanna, truly I am, but I shouldn't have let that make me mad at you."


            Ruy didn't trouble to answer that, but simply took hold of her and hugged her, hard, not troubling with who might be watching. Verbose he might be, but when words wouldn't do it, he could say just as much without opening his mouth.


            Two hours later, she gathered everyone around her. "Well," she said, "We're ready. Can anyone think of a good reason to wait for—"She was interrupted by the sound of pealing bells, one that rapidly multiplied.


            "Early," her dad remarked.


            "It may be that a fast horse was posted along the likely approach," Ruy added. "But your assumption is the prudent one. Sharon, we should leave now. We will have something between a half hour and two hours to be clear of the city."


            "Let's do it, then," Sharon said. "Are all the horses ready?"


            Captain Taggart nodded. "Aye, that they are, mistress."


            "Then there's no reason to wait. No, wait. Someone light the fire. We'll wait to be sure it's going good and hot."


            Half an hour later, they were at the Porta Salaria themselves. The structure hardly merited the name it had; the walls on either side were long since derelict and, being nothing more than mediaeval curtain walls, were not likely to stop a determined attacker for more than perhaps half an hour. Even if Rome had had the troops to man them.


            As it was, the gate was simply an arch, in poor repair, with no actual gate in the arch. Off to one side, scaffolding where the modernization work was in its early stages had been left up, so that even if a defense had been mounted, there was a clear route over the wall for soldiers prepared to exert themselves only slightly more than if they had marched through the gate. Sharon had played tourist in her first few weeks, and knew that pretty much every other way into the city was in a similar condition. The gates were customs posts, not serious defensive works.


            She looked back. The column of smoke from the fire at the embassy was barely visible. The fire had been burning hot, with little smoke, when they had left, having flared up well. What smoke existed was simply part of the general smudge that covered any city in this day and age. Barely noticeable, in other words. Lighter than usual today, in fact, since so many people had gotten out of town, even if only to sleep rough in the countryside for a few days. And then she saw, to the south, a column of thicker, darker smoke starting to rise, and heard the distant crackle of muskets, volley firing. And the deeper boom of cannon-fire.


            "It begins," Ruy said, shading his eyes and peering southward for more clues as to what action was taking place. "It may be that some horse were able to ride ahead of the main body of foot."


            "I'm still worried about Frank," she said.


            "I will make one final visit, so at least we can be sure that the invaders are truly bypassing Frank's Taverna."


            "That's not safe, surely," Sharon said, realizing as the words came out that that was precisely the wrong way to persuade Ruy against anything.


            He chuckled. "It is actually perfectly safe," he answered. "A Spaniard, in a city invaded by Spaniards? I can order soldiers not to attack me. Indeed, I can ask what their orders are."


            Crazy, but it would work. "Make sure you don't get recognized," she said.


            "It would be to my advantage if I was recognized," he countered. "I may well have old friends among that army, who will greet me as such and tell me all they can in return for an honest enquiry."


            "I guess operational security hasn't been invented yet," Sharon's dad observed. He, too, was peering to the south. Sharon guessed his own days as a soldier were coming back.


            Ruy paused a moment, turning the new phrase over in his mind. "No, Doctor Nichols," he said. "We have operational bragging, instead. I intend to take advantage. By your leave, Doctor Ambassador wife of mine?"


            "Be careful, Ruy," she said, "and try and make it to the rendezvous by dusk, please."