1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 29

“Unquestionably true, Your Eminence, but why do you remark upon it at this particular moment?”

“Because in my recent devotions, for every one prayer I offered in the hope that you would be prevented from shouldering the perils of journeying to Italy in such troubled times, I confess that I uttered two far more emphatic appeals that you would be able — and blessedly foolish enough — to do so.” He took both of Larry’s hands in a surge of gladness and what looked very much like profound gratitude.

Sharon suddenly felt as clueless as both Harry Lefferts and Estuban Miro looked. “I’m sorry, Your Eminences, but I’m not sure I’m reading between all the lines here.”

Mazzare turned solemn eyes upon her. “Sharon, a pope who sits in the Holy See has the power to control the rate of change within the Church. A pope who has been driven from his seat upon the cathedra has no such luxury. He may have to act swiftly, without enough time to deliberate upon the full consequence of every decision. But Mother Church is eternal, so no choice is a simple one. And if the pope’s utterances are explicitly ex cathedra — are canonical proclamations, despite the physical absence of the throne for which they are named — then they are as eternal as the Church itself.”

Mazzare turned a gaze that was part searching and part sympathetic upon a nodding Urban. “And, unless I am much mistaken, His Eminence must now make a fateful choice on how to proceed from this point. Specifically, who he now embraces as allies, who he does not, and why, may dramatically and forever change the Church.”

One of the other figures that had emerged from the cottage came closer; it was Muzio Vitelleschi, father-general of the Jesuit order. His thin lips quirked in his tightly trimmed gray-silver beard. “Such insight would have made you a worthy member of the Society of Jesus,” he observed in a crisp, clear voice. “But you will help no one if you starve to death, Cardinal Mazzare. Unless I am mistaken, supper is almost ready.”

“It is?” asked Sharon of Carlo and two of the embassy’s domestic staff who were hovering nearby.

“It most surely is,” assured Ruy with a faint wink. “Even if it is not.”

“Oh,” said Sharon. “Yes. It is. How forgetful of me. Gentlemen, Eminences, please allow me to show you to our dining room. Such as it is.”

“And excuse me while I ensure that we are not troubled by any unexpected guests.” Ruy was gone with a flourish and a tight about-face toward the gate-guards; the move had the grace and ease of an athlete in his prime. Sharon watched her husband walking for another moment and decided that he was one fine figure of a man. Even from behind. Maybe particularly from behind. Yes, he was one fine —

“Ambassador?” Miro’s voice was a gentle reminder, rather than an inquiry.

“Right. Allow me to show you the way…”


Harry ladled what he called “gravy” on top of his second helping of millet polenta and resumed his seat at the kitchen table beside Sherrilyn, who asked, “So what have you learned from the Marines?”

“Not much,” he admitted sourly. “Their captain — Taggart — gave me a good run-down on the parts of Rome that visitors don’t see.”

“Which are the parts where we’ll spend most of our time, right up until we rescue Frank and Giovanna.”

“Yeah. Particularly Juliet.”

Sherrilyn rubbed her knee absently. “Why her?”

“Because if I’m right, we’re going to need a lot of local help and intel to make any plan work. And the rest of us shouldn’t just sit around nearby, trying to hide, while Juliet’s working her magic on the locals. So we’ll stay somewhere outside the city.”

“Is Juliet really up for this? Is her Italian that good?”

Lefferts stared at his former teacher and short-duration lover — both a long time ago: “You heard her bartering in the market at Brescia. And she can out-Italian the Italians when it comes to volume, plate-throwing rages, and merry-making. They all spend about five minutes arguing with her and then they all love her. What’s to worry?”

“That’s fine when we’re in friendly territory, but in Rome — well, that’s enemy territory.” Sherrilyn rubbed her knee more assiduously. “They might be a little more suspicious there.”

“Suspicious? Of what?”

“Well, Juliet doesn’t look very Italian, you know.”

“Yeah, having functioning eyes, I noticed that right away. But I don’t think that matters so much here. Italy’s got lots of folks from all over. And Rome is more of a hodge-podge than anyplace else. Besides, you just know that Juliet will concoct a cock-and-bull cover story that will, as always, amaze the natives.” He scraped at his plate. “I’m gonna finish up here and compare the domestics’ assessments of Rome with Taggart’s.”

“The workers here are still the same bunch that came with Sharon from the embassy?”

“Yep. She and Ruy kept the whole gang together.”


“Security. By the time they got to the first place where they really stopped running, — an inn right outside Padua — all the folks still with Sharon knew, one way or the other, that they had the pope, the father-general of the Jesuits, and the younger Cardinal Barberini traveling with them. Couldn’t exactly let that kind of information go wandering off, could you?”

“No, I guess not.” Sherrilyn shifted her knee fretfully; the hike down from the Val Bregaglia had played havoc with her old sports injury. “So what, specifically, are you hoping the workers can tell you that Taggart couldn’t?”

Harry grinned. “They can fill me in on the lefferti — my adoring public.”

“Your misguided adolescent Harry-wanna-bes, more like. What are you looking to do, boost your ego?”

“I wouldn’t have to if you’d help me reclaim my sense of masculine prowess, Sherrilyn.”

“Ah, give it a rest, Harry.”

“‘It’s’ been doing nothing but resting since we left Grantville.” Harry saw her look. “Okay, since Biberach, then. But I only had one night with the burgermeister’s daughter. Whereas with you, I could look forward to many –”

“Cut it out, Harry. I’m serious. What are you trying to find about the lefferti?”

“Okay, just deflate my ego — and everything else. Look: we’re going to need to have the latest word on the street when we get to Rome. The lefferti were pretty much poor teenagers who wanted to be toughs, get a little respect, acquire that kind of rogue-do-gooder sexiness that you’ve always found so appealing in me –”

“Down, dog. You’re humping the wrong tree. For real now, Harry; you think the lefferti can help?”

Unfazed, Harry started scraping together the last of his polenta while eying the still-steaming pot. “Yeah, for real. The city is occupied right? It’s going to have Spanish patrols, command posts, strong points, weak spots, black-market connections with anyone handling provisioning for the invaders: the whole nine yards. We’re going to need all that information. And we might need the leffert”s hands and bodies, too.”

“What? Harry, the lefferti are really just kids –”

“Pretty old kids; some of them are in their twenties. And they’re not shrinking violets, either. But I’d only use a few of the older ones in any actual attack. I’m thinking most of the lefferti would be far more useful providing us with a diversion.” He stood up, stretched, scratched his back. “Well, it’s time to debrief the staff.”

“And to see if there are any comely wenches among them?”

Harry affected deep emotional injury. “If I do so, it is only because you reject me so continually and completely.”

Sherrilyn smiled. “Oh, get the hell out of here,” she said to his receding back.