1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 44


“I read about it. In books. A long time ago. Before I hit puberty. When I was thinking of becoming a priest.” She couldn’t help but smile. “Is that okay, then?”

“Just barely,” she allowed, and then curled up against him like a cat that has decided to use its favorite person as a private cocoon.

After they had enjoyed that closeness for a few minutes, Frank stirred a bit. “Hey. I’d better start packing.”

“You? And what makes you think you are ready to pack chests and valises?”

“Gia, I’m not a cripple –”

“No, but you could be!” She got off him like a cat, too: one fast jump and she was four feet away, glaring down, hands on hips. “You will not put weight on your leg. Not yet. No, do not argue. This is not open to discussion.” And with that, she turned her back on him sharply and set about the task of packing their sparse belongings with an energy that would have put a sugar-infused ten-year-old to shame. After a time, once her histrionic ire had abated a bit, she asked over one hurrying shoulder. “Why do you think they are moving us again?”

Frank shrugged and put his arms behind his head. “Not sure.”

“Do you think it is to make us harder to find? Are they playing a version of — what have you called it? — the shell game?”

“Yeah, but every time we get moved, it calls attention to us. And why move us during the day?”

“I do not know. Could they mean to advertise our presence in Rome?”

“I don’t know.” Frank sat up, feeling irritability attach itself to him like a small dog that had affixed itself to his trouser leg. “Damn it, I just don’t know anything, sitting here. Which is the worst part of being a prisoner. It’s not so much that you can’t get out, but that you have no knowledge of what’s going on out there –” he waved a hand at a wall “– and no way to let them know that you’re in here. Wherever ‘here’ is. It makes me feel, well — I don’t know: helpless.”

“Well, you are not helpless. You must be strong, so first you had to regain your health. And you have accomplished that. Almost.”

“Yeah, well I’m not as strong as you, yet.”

“Of course not. You never will be. I am a woman. Except for your arms and chest, we are in all ways the stronger sex. We can endure far more than you can.”

Frank discovered that the way she said it — gaze imperious, head and shoulders back, and therefore, other anatomical highlights thrust forward — had been at least as arousing as it had been informative. Almost before he was aware of it, Frank’s body pushed forward its own, suddenly awakened anatomical highlights.

Giovanna noticed the reaction with a smile. “We can endure more of that, too. Much more.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“Stop! Stay where you are! You will not move! Not without your crutches. And if you are very cooperative, I may agree to test your — endurance — tonight. All in the interest of ensuring your return to health, of course.”

“Of course.” He loved it when she smiled that way: the sweetness of an angel infected by the leer of a demon. And a hotter temper than the two put together. But it wasn’t just temper: it was passion. Passion —

“Frank! No! And I mean it! Now, we must think what to do after you have made your recovery.”

“What to do?” He looked at the walls. They were clean, with some reasonably comfortable pieces of furniture pushed up against them. But they were still prison walls. “I think it will take us a pretty long time to tunnel out of any prison. Hey, maybe that’s why they move us, to make sure we don’t make too much progress digging our way out with the soup spoons we’ve cleverly hidden from our warders…”

Giovanna grinned widely and Frank decided, for probably the third time that day, that he really did love her wide, full, lips. “Very funny, Frank. You do have a way with words.” She thought. “Which is probably the next thing you should be doing.”


“Writing. For the cause.”

Frank stared at her. At times, she was very much activist Antonio Marcoli’s daughter: passionate, charismatic, and wildly impractical. “Uh…Gia, assuming I could even get writing materials, just how do you expect me to get the word to the waiting masses?”

She ignored his gentle facetiousness, rode over it with a raised chin. “The greatest revolutionary tracts have often been written by person unjustly imprisoned by an oppressive state.”

Hmmm…maybe not so impractical, after all. “Okay, but there are problems.”

“There always are. We shall overcome them. What are they?”

God, how he loved her. “Well, let’s see. There’s the whole ‘nothing to write with’ challenge. And once I’ve written something, how do we keep it? And if I’m writing revolutionary tracts, I’m not sure that liberal-minded jailers like our Inquisitional pals will do anything other than carefully file it in the nearest live fireplace. And then there’s the little matter of what to write: I don’t think my inner author is very inspired — or even alive.”

“See? You have already detected the major impediments to this plan. That is half the battle; now, we only need to solve them.”

Only need to solve them. As if real-world situations were like Rubix cubes; you just fiddle with them long enough and eventually, they work out. Unfortunately, the real world was full of changing conditions and changing minds. And not all problems had solutions. But, he had to admit, the notion of writing a revolutionary tract while cooped up had a kind of romanticism to it — probably because his leg felt better, they were warm and well-fed, and their accommodations were no longer shared with several families of rats. Absent any one of those improvements, and the whole enterprise would probably seem a lot less diverting. But for now, Giovanna had a point: it was something that he could do, and he’d read more than once that lethargy was a prisoner’s worst enemy. So it would be good to have a project, and this one promised to be challenging enough. If only there was some way to…

“Signor and Signora Stone?”

Frank woke from his daze, found Giovanna, eyes opened wide, pointing at the door. Castro y Papas, she mouthed silently.

“Hello?” Frank responded.

“It is I, Don Vincente.”

He was actually Don Vincente Jose-Maria de Castro y Papas, captain in the Spanish Army of the Two Sicilies. And not at all a bad guy, considering it was he who had taken Frank prisoner. “Yes?”

“I regret troubling you, Signor Stone, but I must enter.”

“Come on in, then.”

The Spaniard, a well-formed man hovering at the edge of his thirties, opened and flowed through the door with an elegant efficiency of motion. If Spain’s fathers hadn’t made him a swordsman, he could probably have become one hell of a dancer. His calm — always calm — brown eyes surveyed the scene. “I see you have already begun to pack. Most excellent. I am sorry for the inconvenience, but we must move you. Yet again.”