1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 05

Ruy looked narrowly at the crooked man. “And what is your interest in this, that you stand forward to take his part?” Mazzare almost started at the sudden accusation in Ruy’s tone.

So did the man. “My lord, I’m…I’m a father. I have idealistic sons. Fewer now than before, to speak plainly. And I’ve seen where their grand ideas and big mouths can land them, early graves being not uncommon ends. So why should I let some other man’s son share that fate, especially when the son’s father is no longer on this side of the grave to help?”

Ruy was clearly trying to maintain his hard exterior, but his voice belied a softening behind it. “He is the eldest male von Meggen remaining?”

The other looked down, scuffed in the dust. “I was not so bold as to ask it that directly, sir. But it seems so. Family’s fallen on hard times.” He looked up. “Most of the battles of the past ten years were south, in the Valtelline, but they sent us their share of hardship, too. If you take my meaning, my lord.”

Larry took a half step forward. “We take your meaning and appreciate your willingness to help a fellow traveler. Don’t we, Colonel Sanchez?”

Ruy nodded but peered more intently at the tradesman. “What is your business here in Besançon?”

The man hitched around, favoring what seemed to be a bad hip, gestured at his donkey cart and enormous assistant. “Nails and ironmongery, my lord.”

“You will no doubt welcome our inspection of your goods?”

The man looked stunned. “You are more than welcome, my lord.” He bowed out of the way, hastily gestured to his assistant, who fumbled uncertainly in response. “Apologies, sirs; Otto does not always understand what I ask him to do. With your leave, I shall have him open the casks so you may –”

Ruy shook his head sharply; Larry couldn’t be sure if he was annoyed at the turnip-nosed man or at himself. “No need. We thank you for your assistance.” He motioned Ignaz closer. “Young Freiherr von Meggen, you are fortunate in the acquaintances you have made along the road, for without this one’s intercession, your actions might have led you to a bad end.”

Ignaz nodded. “My regrets, sir. I was overcome by my ardor and eagerness to serve my pope.”

Ruy’s left eyebrow raised slightly. “I do not see why that would inspire you to suddenly fly in pursuit of the sedan chairs.” He gestured behind at Bedmar’s entourage.

Von Meggen nodded in the same direction. “I saw that, sir.”

Ruy and Mazzare turned.

The rearmost of the papal sedan chairs, which had been left at the aerodrome for the express purpose of carrying Bedmar through the gates incognito, no longer had its concealing shroud firmly attached to the back. Instead, having slipped, it revealed the crossed keys symbol of the Holy See.

Ruy shared a rueful look with Mazzare, then turned back to Ignaz. “While your enthusiasm to serve your pope is laudable, Herr von Meggen, your impetuosity was nearly your undoing — yours and all your men. You must learn to temper your passions, if you are to become an officer worthy of the position to which you aspire.”

Ignaz almost came to attention. “Yes, sir.”

Ruy nodded, seemed to be trying to suppress a grin as he lifted his chin, spoke so all around him could hear. “And since you have now all been questioned, you may enter Besançon at your leave. Be warned: lodgings are sparse, now. Secure rooms swiftly.”

Ignaz pressed a half step closer. “But Colonel, Your Eminence, there is the matter of presenting ourselves to the Holy Father on the morrow, to swear obedience to his…”

Ruy held up his hand. “I have no authority in these matters, Herr von Meggen.” Then his eyes were suddenly lost in a crush of mischievous crow’s feet: “However, Cardinal Mazzare is one of His Holiness’ closest and most trusted counselors. Surely he will be able to offer you guidance in this matter.” The spry hidalgo moved off to shoo the shabby imitation Swiss Guards out of the line, while gesturing for two militiamen to help Turnip-nose and his sizable assistant Otto move their recalcitrant mule.

Larry stared after him, tamping down uncharitable thoughts that he was ultimately able to constrain to, Thanks a bunch, Ruy.

Ignaz actually had his hands clasped in some mixture of anxiousness and supplication. “We are entirely at your disposal, Your Eminence. We will happily wait upon the Pontiff’s pleasure — in the street, if necessary — so that we might –”

“No, no; that won’t be necessary.” Mazzare thought quickly. “Tomorrow morning, before first mass, come to the square just south of St. John’s cathedral. Your first test will be patience, as I have no idea what the first half of the day will hold, or even if the pope may see you and receive your oaths of service. In the months since the Second Sack of Rome, he has had to take on a new guard, and it may not be immediately convenient to take on more. However, the Holy Father holds his children of the Swiss Cantons particularly dear and would not wish to send you away without a better idea of how your love may best serve Mother Church. So present yourself on the morrow, as I have directed, and we shall proceed from there.”

Ignaz’s face had cycled through crestfallen frowns and almost trembling smiles of hope while Larry had spoken. He ended on the latter. “Yes, Your Eminence. Your words shall be our law.” With a swift nod, he bowed himself back and in the direction of his men.

Who were being impeded by a thin fringe of militia and Burgundians, backed by the sergeant of the regulars. Larry looked for Ruy: he had joined Sharon over by the Russians in an attempt to forge enough of a conversational link to explain the misunderstanding and calm them. A few gusty laughs from the horsemen told Mazzare that Ruy was succeeding in his soldier-to-soldier communicative efforts. Larry turned toward the militiamen. “Stand aside, my sons: these Swiss are our friends and devoted to the pope.”

The besontsin guards eyed them darkly. The Burgundian sergeant looked like he was ready to spit. If a cardinal hadn’t been standing in front of them, Larry had no doubt he would have. “You mean these Protestants?”

Larry felt a flash of anger ring his neck where his collar touched it. “These men have professed themselves as Catholics. But all you need to know is that these Swiss pikemen have been cleared to pass.”

One of the besontsins sneered. “More like Swiss pikeboys.”

Larry saw Ignaz von Meggen turn, red-faced, with his hand moving toward his sword.

A very loud, authoritative voice froze him in mid motion, startled the militia and Burgundians into something approaching attention: “Where did you get the gear?” It was Owen Roe O’Neill, who had just wound his way across the line of commoners, one of his men, Oliver Fitzgerald, in tow. He nodded at the sword that Ignaz had been about to draw.

The young Swiss sounded defiant and pained, all at once. “Our dead fathers and brothers.”

“And how did they die, again?”

“Most of them…defending the pope during the sack of Rome, last year.”

Owen Roe didn’t change the position of his head, but his eyes flicked over to stare at the Burgundians. “So you’d be eager to skewer the sons of men who fought and died for the pope?”

“They did it for coin, Colonel. Might have claimed a different faith to get it, too. Lots of those Alpine valleys are pretty poor.”

Before von Meggen could offer a retort, Owen shook his head. “Not what I heard about the mess in Rome, last year. And I heard it from one who was there, who saw the Pontifical Guard die, almost to a man.”

“Oh,” drawled the Burgundian sergeant, almost dismissively, “and who would that be?”

O’Neill’s eyes were untroubled, but started forward quickly. “You’ll be watching your tongue, lad. Or I’ll be having it out of your head.”

The sergeant looked away. When he spoke, his voice was no longer that of a man barely concealing contempt, but beating a hasty retreat to save what face he could. “I’d still know who saw this sacrifice of the Pontifical Guard.”

A familiar voice came from behind Larry. “Why, that would be my own undeserving self, Sergeant.” Ruy concluded on a smile, then glanced at O’Neill. They exchanged knowing looks.

And suddenly Mazzare understood: this too had been a contingency, had been a planned response to a possible discipline problem among the local troops. Which meant that O’Neill’s very loud voice had been a signal, that this countermove against insolence from the Burgundians and besontsins — neither of whom liked being outplaced (and obviously outclassed) by Sanchez’s and O’Neill’s men — was yet another contingency that they had put in place.

Ruy had fixed the Burgundian sergeant with an intent stare. “In my experience, coin alone does not buy loyalty unto oblivion. Honor, love, integrity: those are the virtues that compel men to serve unto their own death. They are also virtues that Our Savior extolled.”

Sharon had arrived to stand alongside her husband. She looked down the line, chin in the air. “I see we have some genuine Protestants back there. Famous ones, too.” She smiled and waved several modestly-dressed gentlemen forward. “Reverends, I’m sorry I didn’t see you waiting in the main line. I wonder: could we trouble you to shift over into the line for arriving dignitaries?”

Two middle-aged men did as Sharon asked, each followed by an assistant.

Mazzare saw their faces, started, leaned toward Sharon. “Are those –?”

“Not a word yet, Father,” Sharon whispered out of the side of her mouth. As the newly detached group came forward, she raised her voice so all could hear. “Reverends, I wonder if I could trouble you to share your names and credentials?”

“Certainly,” replied the older one. “I am Johann Gerhard, Senior Professor of Theology at Jena and not entirely unknown to Cardinal Mazzare, I think!”

He and Larry exchanged smiles.

“And my shy English friend here has less confidence in his French, but he is –”

“– but he is quite capable of speaking for himself, Johann!” The younger man turned to Sharon, made a deep bow, and, in Oxbridge English, announced, “The Reverend John Dury, Ambassador Nichols. A disciple of Calvin. My credentials are — dubious, Madame.”

Larry smiled “A unifier of faiths is frequently an itinerant: hard to come by a title that way. But we know your work, Reverend, and are glad you consented to come.”

“So,” Sharon concluded, turning to the Burgundian sergeant with a smile that was anything but one of gladness. “Since you seem determined to ascertain the religion of the people who want to enter Besançon, here are a half dozen Lutherans and Calvinists who also happen to be our guests. Are you going to detain and question them?”

The Burgundian sergeant stammered but ultimately fell quiet.

Owen Roe O’Neill came level with the soldier and patted that worthy on the shoulder. “A wise reply. Now, find such militiamen as can be trusted to help all these men to find lodgings.”