1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 40


“Yes, but if you’re proposing a partnership –”

“I am.”

“– then I would rather we do not use your money to build more of the hot-airships.”


“No. In the next few years, I will make enough of those to meet the first wave of demand. Which will be brisk, but moderate; it takes people time to get used to new ideas.”

“And then what?”

“And then we will unveil the next generation of airship, the one which we will finance with your investment.” Miro smiled, looked into the sky, and imagined it filling with traffic and commerce in the decades to come. “Because that model will get its lift from hydrogen, not hot air. And that, Tom, that will truly change the world.”


“This changes everything.” Rombaldo de Gonzaga tapped his spotless fingernail upon the worn wooden tabletop like a slow, soft metronome.

Giulio, who was still out of breath from running to their rented house with the news, expelled words between his gasps: “How…so…Rombaldo?”

Rombaldo de Gonzaga suppressed a sigh. It was trying, working with amateurs, but the job in Venice was a large one, needing many hands and feet and eyes. Fortunately, his master back in Rome — a displaced Cypriot named Dakis — had no shortage of scudare and reales to pass around. “With the USE’s plane damaged, they cannot remove Urban anytime soon. Nor will the aircraft be a part of any plans to rescue Stone’s son in Rome. That gives us more time. That, in turn, makes our job easier. And Cesare, be sure this news is passed along to the dovecote for immediate relay. They will want this report in Rome as soon as possible.”

Cesare Linguanti, a small man who rarely spoke, rose and left, making the smallest of nods toward the largest man at the table.

That man, Valentino — who denied having any other name than that—took a small sip of his wine. Valentino always had a glass of wine in hand: the one glass that he nursed all day long. “The Americans, they will repair the flying machine, if they can. And if Giulio is right, it does not sound as though the failure was catastrophic.”

“Yes,” nodded Rombaldo. “We will need to mount a watch on the plane, as well as the embassy and the USE’s known agents. Indeed, we will need to hire many more men to watch and search. And others to wield weapons, when the target is located and the time comes.”

“They will need to be special men,” commented Valentino. “Not many Italians are ready to kill a pope.”

“There may not be many,” answered Rombaldo, “but when the pay is high enough, you’ll find men enough.” He leaned back with a satisfied smile. “More than enough.”


Sharon found Mazzare sitting quietly with Urban. They did that a lot, these days. They didn’t seem to say a lot. It was like watching dogs or cats who are new to the same house; as if they know their lives are now entwined, they start spending time together. It was both acclimation and the growth of a new camaraderie, all rolled into one.

They looked up as Sharon entered the trellised shade of the courtyard’s arbor. She set her shoulders squarely. “It seems like we’re going to be staying a little bit longer, after all. The Monster has crashed.”

Mazzare looked up, startled. “Was anyone –?”

“No. They brought it down safely. But they’re going to have to replace the landing gear.”

“And that will take how long?” asked Urban.

“I’m not exactly sure, Your Holiness. I know a lot more about fixing people than I do about fixing machines. But given the parts and getting the plane out of the water and all the rest — well, I’d be surprised if we were ready any sooner than six or eight weeks.”

Urban leaned back and placed his palms firmly on his knees. “Well, that settles the matter.”

“What matter?”

“The matter of whether or not I should leave Italy just yet. In my pride, I failed to leave this matter in God’s hands. But it seems our Savior has decided to take the decision from me — perhaps to remind me I always had the option of relinquishing it into his care.”

Sharon blinked. “Your Holiness, I don’t understand.”

“I should not leave Italy, at least not yet. Not even if your plane was ready to fly tomorrow. Not until I know where I should go.”

“And what will determine where you should go?”

“Why, by learning what I am supposed to do next.”

Sharon shook her head. “But how many choices do you really have?”

“That,” said Urban with a sly smile, “is what I will learn in the coming weeks — and why I am so glad you came, Lawrence.” Urban smiled, rose, and headed back in the direction of the kitchen.

Sharon looked at Larry Mazzare. “What does he mean, that this is ‘why he’s so glad you came’?”

Mazzare shrugged. “It means — well, it means I’m just glad that Thomas North left his Hibernians behind in Venice, because we’re going to need all of them to secure the new safe house that Miro set up for us through the Cavrianis.”

Sharon nodded, but pressed the point. “You still haven’t answered me: what can Urban do here that he can’t do back in the USE?”

Mazzare looked at Sharon. “He can decide whether he should go there at all.”

“What? Why?” Sharon was becoming annoyed. Not only did she still not understand what was going on, but her ignorance had her repeating herself.

“Sharon, Urban was driven out of Rome, fled for his life. Everyone in Italy can understand why he’s no longer sitting in the Holy See. But if he leaves the country now, that will be his choice. And he’s worried — rightly — that some people may feel he’d be turning his back on both his duty and the Church.”

“But he can’t achieve anything here except waiting around for assassins.”

“We know that, he knows that, maybe even this whole country knows that. But knowing that a course of action is wise doesn’t necessarily make it acceptable. And a pope is both a symbol and a representative of God. Now hear me out: I’m not requiring you to believe that yourself, just to accept that many, many others do believe it. You’ve heard the expression ‘trust in God,’ right?”

Sharon put her hands on her generous hips. “Yes. Of course I’ve heard it. As you know.”

“Yes, I do. But you’ve never heard it the way people here, of this time, hear it. For most of them, that saying isn’t a euphemism, isn’t simply an exhortation to believe that somewhere, somehow, there might be some divine providence that will make everything all right. Here — in this time — there is nothing vague or ambiguous about trust in God. It’s presumed that there is a personal God who sees and judges all actions. And for Roman Catholics, it furthermore means that the pope is God’s divinely inspired voice and representative on Earth, and is therefore symbolic of the dignity and righteousness of that godhead.”

“So you’re saying that if Urban runs, he’s indicating that he doesn’t have faith that ‘God will provide.'”

“That, and he will be doing a great indignity to his holy office.”

“Which will make Borja look strong and resolute?”

“Well, he’ll still be seen as a monster, and mistaken in his methods, but unimpeachable in his dedication to the primacy of the Church and the dignity of the papal tiara. And in these times, that means a lot. Quite a lot, actually.”

“So either Urban stays and gets martyred for no real purpose, since no one has the power to unseat Borja. Or Urban leaves and gets — what? Relieved of his popish duties?”

“Something like that. But I think there’s a third choice, and I think that’s what Urban is focused on.”

“Oh? And what is that?”

“Knowing he has to leave eventually, I think Urban is determined to make his ultimate destination a statement of resolve that outshines the fact of his departure. Urban cannot be seen as retreating; he has to attack Borja, albeit on a different front.”

Sharon felt her thoughts twirl helplessly. “Attack Borja? Where? How?”

Larry Mazzare smiled his lip-crinkling smile. “That,” he said with a long exhale, “is probably exactly what Urban wants to determine before he leaves Italy.”