1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 45


“Yeah, about that: what’s with all the moving? We still like the view from this room.”

Castro y Papas glanced briefly at the windowless walls. “Despite the singular charm of the scenery, we must house you elsewhere.”

“‘House.’ What a lovely way of saying ‘imprison.'”

Castro y Papas may have blushed a bit; it was hard to tell, given his complexion. “It is good to see you have kept some sense of humor about your situation, Signor Stone. I have not been able to do so.”

Frank immediately felt sorry for the captain. He noticed that even Giovanna looked away as the Spaniard’s tone conveyed bitter regret. And Frank suddenly realized why the regret was so bitter: because, clearly, Don Vincente was not allowed to show any more overt sympathy than he just had. Even that measure of commiseration was probably tantamount to treason. Or maybe heresy. In Borja’s army, the line separating the two seemed less than distinct, at times.

“Hey, listen, Captain, I’m sorry if I got a little snarky, there –”

Don Vincente’s left eyebrow rose. “‘Snarky’ — I do not know this word. It is dialect? Scottish, maybe?”

“Uh…maybe. I really don’t know where it came from. It was a word we used up-time. It means — oh, I don’t know, ‘testy’ and a little rude, I guess.”

“Ah. But ‘snarky’ sounds more appropriate somehow. Perhaps because it sounds so similar to ‘snarl.'”

You’ve been a pretty good guy — as oppressive conquerors go, that is.”

That brought a smile to Castro y Papas’ face. “I endeavor to be the nicest villain that I may be,” he explained with the intimation of a flourish. “And I am truly sorry you must be moved again. And that I may not tell you why. In part, because it would be a violation of orders.”

“And the other part of your reason?”

“Is that I really do not know why you are being moved. I have only suspicions. I may safely say that your situation, both in terms of immediate security and larger political implications, is being handled at the very highest levels. Directly.”

Well, no surprises there. “You mean the same levels that gave orders for you not to accept my surrender when you showed up at my bar with a cannon?”

Castro y Papas considered his response carefully. “I was not present when those orders were issued, but my commander tells me that both directives came from the most senior command echelons here in Rome. But it was fortunate that events transpired such that you were taken prisoner.”

“Yeah, I’ve wondered about that. You, uh, skated pretty close to the line on that one, didn’t you?”

“If I understand your idiom correctly, I may only say this: I scrupulously found a way to obey the letter of the law. And yet, miracle of miracles, here you are!” His concluding smile was both mischievous and — what? Vengeful? Vengeance against whom? Against whoever had given him orders that he had openly professed were devoid of honor? Because honor clearly meant a great deal to Captain Vincente Jose-Maria de Castro y Papas.

Behind Castro y Papas, his apparently inseparable sergeant, an independently minded fellow answering to the name of Ezquerra, appeared in the doorway. “I am told that the coaches are here, Captain.”

“Coaches?” Frank wondered aloud, conducting a quick survey of their sparse worldly goods. “I’m thinking the two of us and our goods could all fit in a donkey cart, with room to spare for two of your guards.”

Castro y Papas smiled. “My sergeant is so indiscrete that I sometimes think he must be working as a foreign agent provocateur and informer within our ranks. Ezquerra, perhaps you would like to share with us the final destination of each of the coaches?”

“I’m sorry; I cannot oblige you in this, Captain.”

“And why is that?”

“I was not told the destinations.”

“You show entirely too little resourcefulness and energy to work as a spy, Ezquerra. I suspect you shall be no more successful in your new covert endeavors than you are as a sergeant.”

Ezquerra almost bowed. “The captain’s wisdom is widely renowned. Even unto the end of this street.”

Don Vincente was clearly trying very hard to suppress a smile, and Frank discovered — suddenly, impulsively — that he was no longer merely sympathetic to this nice enemy; he actually liked him. Which could be dangerous.

Perhaps Giovanna had felt the same thing, or had simply seen the reaction flow through Frank’s features. She shut the last trunk with a sharp crack and announced, “We are ready. If we must go, let us go.”


As the coaches lined up in broad daylight, and with full-length blinds and canopies erected to obscure the identities of whoever might be handed up into each vehicle, Don Vincente was conscious that he was grinding his teeth.

Audibly, apparently. Ezquerra coughed lightly. “This must be the best-publicized secret prisoner transfer in Roman history.”

Castro y Papas nodded sharply. “Yes. Which I do not like at all.”

“Well, who wants to share in a secret that everyone knows?”

“This isn’t incompetence, Ezquerra. This is an occasion where Napoleon’s axiom does not hold.”

“Who is Napoleon?”

“A famous up-time general who advised, ‘Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.’ Except the flaws of this prisoner transfer are not the product of incompetence: they reek of malice. Or rather, malign plotting. These instructions we were given — to follow at a distance and remain watchful for any attempts to surreptitiously follow the coaches — means that our masters are trailing the hostages like bait in the water. Which could get the two of them — no, the three of them — killed.”

“By whom? Their own people?”

“Sergeant, how long have you served before the cannon?”

“Almost an hour now, sir. Or perhaps eight years. Honestly, I’ve lost track; serving under you is such a singularly pleasant experience, that time just seems to fly by.”

“So, you have been a soldier for a lifetime and a half. And so you have seen how often casualties are inflicted upon one’s own side: inaccurate fire, confusion, poor visibility. The causes are legion, but the lesson is all one: if weapons are used, people die — and the wielders of the weapons rarely, if ever, have complete control over who dies.”

Castro y Papas jerked his head at the second coach. “They are playing passe-dix with the lives of hostages whose safety is their responsibility. One of whom is a woman with child.” Don Vincente spat. “It is a stain upon the honor of every one of us who must take part.”

Ezquerra shrugged. “Maybe, but would you not agree that it is also a clever plan?”

Castro y Papas sighed. “Perhaps. If the audience for which they intend this show is here to see it.”

“And do you think they are?”

Don Vincente sighed. “We shall find out soon enough, perhaps.” He snagged the reins of his horse, jumped a foot up into the waiting stirrup, and mounted with fluid ease.