1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 22

Dolor nodded. “As first suspected, Cardinal Ginetti has escaped, along with the up-timers. He was sighted by an ally in Chur.”

“And has it also been confirmed that the rest of the fugitives were originally members of the up-time embassy that was previously here in Rome?”

“Yes, Your Eminence. The Moor who attracted general notice in Chiavenna was the famous up-time doctor, James Nichols. The very large man who figures so prominently in the combat reports matches the many descriptions we have of Admiral Simpson’s son Thomas. We have less concrete reports of the women, but their descriptions conform to what we expected: that Simpson’s wife Rita and Nichols’ aged concubine Melissa Mailey were traveling with them. All four are reported as speaking the up-time dialect of English.”

“And there was another with the party, no?”

“At least one, possibly two. The other we know of spoke fluent Italian, but we lack any reliable data on the younger man who remained mostly at their inn. He might have been the one shot through the head just beyond Piuro, or that might have been a fifth person, who could have been part of the embassy staff.”

“‘Could have been’? Did we not have informers among the embassy staff? Did we not compile a list of its personnel and servants?”

“The Church did, Your Eminence, but that information gathering was carried out by the Jesuits. Who are, of course –”

“Yes, yes; the Roman branch of that order is in Urban’s camp more than ever, and are still taking orders from that cadaverous old wolf Vitelleschi. So, since the Jesuits are no longer serving the true Holy See, we do not have a complete list of the embassy staff.”

“That is correct.”

“Well, very little of this is new information, Señor Dolor. I fail to see why you alerted my secretary that you had new facts pertinent to the events in Chiavenna.”

“I come to those now, Your Eminence. The surgeons have completed their post mortem examination of the soldiers slain along the banks of the Mera, just east of the Gallegione cataract.”


“What the surgeons found corroborates the accounts we received from the handful of survivors. Our soldiers were all killed by up-time bullets or balls, or close copies thereof.”

“So the up-time fugitives had help?”

“A great deal of it, apparently. All the survivors report that the speed and regularity of the enemy gunshots were unprecedented.”

“Again, indicative of up-time weapons.”

“Exactly. And we recovered these –”

Dolor stretched out a hand and laid three objects on the center of Borja’s desk. Two were finger-sized brass tubes, sealed or capped on one end. The other was broader, shorter, but again made of brass: rather like a small toy drinking cup for a little girl’s doll. “And what are these?”

“These objects are called cartridge casings. These two” — he pointed to the longer ones — “are for a rifle or carbine with a bore size that the up-timers call forty-seventy-two.”

“So this is up-time ammunition?”

“Not exactly. Although the design of the ammunition and the guns which fire it are of up-time origin, we are fairly sure that these cartridges are merely copies of the originals. They were made in this world, and use black powder rather than the powerful up-time explosive compounds. This means they generate less power. This would therefore also suggest they were not used in a self-loading gun — which seems to require that extra power — but rather, in one which requires physical manipulation after every shot. Our confidential agents in the USE report that there is one such weapon that is being regularly constructed in this bore-size: it is called a Winchester 1895.”

“And what is this squat cartridge casing’?”

“This is even more interesting; this is the casing of a shotgun shell.”

Borja scowled at the unfamiliar term.

“It is their term for a fowling piece, Your Eminence, although they often load it with heavier shot, for large game or humans. It seems that after the combat, the force which rescued Simpson’s group combed the area to retrieve as many of these spent casings as possible. A prudent step, but in the dark, impossible to perform perfectly.” He indicated the three cartridge casings.

Borja nodded, then realized the deeper mystery latent in Dolor’s report. “And what made you request the more detailed autopsies, and close surveys of the ambush site, Señor Dolor? Indeed, it seems you had already begun to suspect intervention by USE forces equipped with up-time weapons.”

Dolor shrugged. “How else could we have lost so many men in a night engagement which lasted very briefly? And how is it that so few of our men survived long enough to close and bring their swords into play?

Borja frowned. “A full company of our own troops could exert such a force of musketry, I imagine.”

“Yes, Your Eminence. One Spanish company might — might — have enough firepower to kill half its number of men in so short a time. But that company would have to boast many other abilities, as well. It would have to be a company that was capable of almost invisible movement, since there was no earlier or subsequent report of any unit moving in the Engadine or the Val Bregaglia. It would have to be a company that — unless it had access to an up-time radio — magically knew when and where to meet Simpson’s suddenly fleeing group. It would have to be a company that could vanish into thin air immediately after the ambush, for the trail leading beyond the Silsersee was clearly a false lead. And lastly, it would have to be a company that, in the course of all its actions, left no more signs or spoor than might two squads.

“Your Eminence, we do not possess a company that could do all that. But a few squads of well-equipped up-timers or their trained proxies could do so, particularly if they had already been briefed on Simpson’s group, and were following contingency plans to aid it in the event of an unexpected crisis.”

Borja rubbed his prominent chin. “So you believe up-time radios were involved, as well?”

“The coordination of our foes precludes any other alternative. How else can we explain Cardinal Ginetti’s sudden change of itinerary? How did he know to meet Simpson’s group in Chiavenna, and where and when to do so? How else could the rescuing forces know when and where to meet the group, once it was fleeing? But in addition to radios, the up-timers were also equipped with an unusual amount of good luck.”

“How so?”

“Your Eminence, I suspect that the troops that rescued Simpson’s group were already in the area when they were needed. It takes weeks for the USE to send operatives from Grantville to the Val Bregaglia. So how do we explain the presence of these rescuers in the Val Bregaglia at the very moment they are needed? Not in response to anything we have done; Michael Stearns and his advisor Nasi would have had to dispatch them southward toward the Alps the very minute they learned of our attack upon Rome. But why would they do so? Out of some vague notion that their troops would simply prove useful somehow? To act on such an impulse, Stearns and Nasi would have to be either fortune-tellers or fools — and they are neither.”

“So you are saying that the forces that rescued Simpson’s party were already en route for another, specific purpose, and they just happened to be on site when needed?”

“It is hard to envision anything else, Your Eminence.”

“So why were they there?”

“Discovering the answer to this is a critically important task, upon which I will concentrate all my skills.”

“Very well. There remains one other mystery I would have answered, though.”

“Yes, Your Eminence?”

“These confidential agents who picked up Ginetti’s trail even before he arrived in Chiavenna, and who Simpson and his group killed at the crotto — who were they working for? Not us, as first suspected?”

“No, not us. And I fear their actual employers shall never be known. The four bodies left in our possession were searched for identifying papers, or other suggestions of their origin, but there was nothing.”