1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 06

Chapter 4

Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz turned away from the mollified Burgundian sergeant, nodded appreciatively at O’Neill, sent his wife a grateful kiss through his eyes, and focused on the now thoroughly bored Russians. Some of them had known just enough Turkish that he had been able to reassure them with a joke about militiamen who thought they were soldiers, and soldiers who thought they could think. But now, he found a more difficult task before him: communicating with the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus.

Ruy had a little Greek, and he took a stab at introducing himself. At which point a slim young fellow in hardly any armor at all, interceded. “We may converse in English — or Amideutsch, if that would be convenient, Colonel Sanchez.” The young man bowed slightly in his saddle. “I am the interpreter and, I think you would say, purser, for Patriarch Joasaphus and his party. The patriarch would welcome an explanation for the agitation just resolved.”

Ruy explained as succinctly as he could, Sharon coming alongside him as he did.

She nodded agreement as he concluded, adding, “We welcome His Holiness and ask that you follow the guards which Colonel Sanchez will now provide for escort to the lodgings we have set aside for you. Please convey to them any additional needs and we will meet them as best as we might.” Sharon’s smile became a little crooked. “As you might suppose, since we are not meeting in Rome, we also lack the amenities that would have been available there.”

Joasaphus — a tall, thin man with a dour hermit’s face — muttered something to the interpreter, who nodded his understanding, and seemed to suppress a smile. “His Holiness understands and even welcomes these less opulent conditions. To paraphrase, ‘gold blinds men to truth, and so, blinds them to the will of God’ — and so, feels that this venue is more promising than those which might have been better appointed.”

Sharon smiled; Ruy did his best to keep his focus on the patriarch rather than his wife’s dark, beautiful face, full lips, and flawless skin. “We are very grateful to have His Holiness’ wisdom for this colloquium. It also seems he does not particularly need an interpreter.”

The interpreter smiled. “The patriarch finds it far easier to understand English than to speak it. And only when it is spoken at a measured pace, as you just did. He looks forward to meeting with the leaders of the other churches and wonders if that will take place tomorrow.”

“No, the day after. Please impress upon His Holiness that we wish to give our visitors time to settle in and, to the extent possible, acclimate to the language and customs of Besançon. We shall send a messenger later today with an outline of the itinerary.”

The interpreter began turning his horse. “Patriarch Joasaphus is most grateful, Ambassador Nichols.” The lean, gilt-garbed patriarch raised a thin-fingered hand in farewell, maybe blessing and, his bodyguards clustering close around him, rode slowly after the guides and guards that Ruy had provided.

Ruy glanced at Bedmar’s group, who were still standing, arms at the ready. Obviously, none of the heavily armored men who had debouched from the sedan chairs were Bedmar himself. Only one was anywhere near short enough, and he was far too young: Alfonso was now more than sixty, and, word had it, was even less dedicated to daily exercise than he had been just a year ago.

A shapely hand was tugging at his elbow: his wife’s, who was facing the other direction and saying, “Thank you for your patience in becoming part of our object lesson in religious tolerance, Reverends.”

Ruy turned, found himself facing the two Protestants. The older, German one was nodding. “Dury and I have devoted much of our life to similar exercises — although sometimes, I confess, the task can seem Sisyphian.”

The Englishman shrugged. “That is because you refuse to threaten with the stick when the carrot doesn’t work, Johann.” If they had not known each other when their journey to Besançon had started, they had apparently become not merely friendly, but informal, as companions on the road.

Which reminded Ruy to make his now-standard inquiry of those guests who had any prior familiarity with the region. “Reverends, before domiciling you, I would appreciate anything you might tell us about conditions along the route you took to reach us.”

Dury shrugged. “There is little to tell. I had already traveled to Jena, where I met this fellow waiting for the same balloon.”

Ruy nodded. That had been part of Miro’s plan: to put the attendees on the same flights, and thereby minimize both the number of security overseers, and also the number of seats that might be filled by unknown persons.

“From there,” Johann Gerhard was saying as he waved at the sky, “it was just a matter of counting clouds.”

“And landing,” Dury added with a shudder.

“Yes,” Gerhard agreed with a small sigh. “One of the landings was a bit…sudden.”

“It was at Biberach,” Dury declared, his face paler than it had been a moment before. “Wind forced us down too quickly.”

“It was Basel,” Gerhard corrected mildly, “where we caught a bit of an alpine draft upon our descent. But the…eh, ‘pilot,’ was quite skilled; he aimed up into the wind until it calmed, then alit in the marked field. Most exciting. And wondrous.”

Dury’s pallor suggested he had other associations with the episode.

Sharon nodded at Gerhard, and Ruy could tell, by the way she had leaned forward very slightly and the way her eyes moved from the face of one reverend to the other, that she was going to try to change the topic away from flying. “Well, we are delighted and relieved you are here. We were informed, however, that both of you had planned to travel on the roads.”

Gerhard brushed a finger across his mustache; a gesture not dissimilar from the one that Ruy affected every once in a great while, although Sharon insisted he did it several times an hour. “That had been my intent. But weather delayed me. March was rainy and trade goods had been moving very slowly from town to town — so slow that, by April, teams could not be contracted. Merchants had them reserved at premium rates. So, while I waited, I received this fellow’s letter, introducing himself and wondering if we might travel together. Well, I’d never met the troublemaker before, and I had to wait anyway.

“But by the time the weather cleared, it was equally clear we would never make it here in time by wagon or even coach. So I recontacted Herr Miro in Grantville and we were fortunate: he still had seats on his wonderful dirigibles.”

“They would be more wonderful if they stayed closer to the ground,” Dury groused.

What would have been even more wonderful, Ruy reflected, would have been if they’d traveled by road from Basel. That way, they would have heard travelers’ tales of the conditions in the various Alpine passes and roads that attendees might be trying to use to reach them from Italy. More specifically, poor road conditions meant that some of the Italian cardinals might still be coming, just couldn’t get through yet. At last report, the closer passes — the Bozeberg, Belchen, and less-frequented Chilchzimmersattel — were clear, and there had been no word of late season snows in the farther Brenner and Bozen passes.

Ruy had enough presence of mind to add his welcome and good wishes to those of Sharon, who, once the theologians had been sent on their way with guides, half turned to him. “Ruy, what’s the matter?”

“I am afraid we may have admitted the last cardinal we may hope to see.”

“Well,” put in another voice, “not the very last, I hope.”

Ruy shook his head, turned. Bedmar was standing behind him, hands on hips, wearing the almost ankle-length frock of a Church scribe. Ruy could not keep a mischievous curl from bending the left side of his mouth. “Your Eminence,” he said with a bow.

Bedmar laughed, but returned the bow for the benefit of the scores of befuddled — and a few bemused — on-lookers. “A rascal as ever,” he snickered. “I would ask you how you have been, Ruy, but you would report the same rude — nay, satanically gifted — health that you have always enjoyed. Besides, such a query would delay the most pleasant part of this reunion: reacquainting myself with your wife, Ambassadora Nichols.”

Sharon came forward with a wide smile, but Ruy knew the look: it was disarming, and yet, a bit guarded. Her contact with Bedmar had been scant, but she had heard many stories of the years that Ruy and Bedmar had spent together. “Your Eminence,” she said with a slightly formal bow.

Bedmar was nothing if not perceptive. His smile was almost apologetic. “And I can tell from the look in your eye, Ambassadora Nichols, that my old friend has now given you a full account of our times together. As a good husband should.” He blew out his cheeks, exasperated. “I can only hope there shall be an opportunity for we three to dine together, that I might improve your opinion of me. And I shall further hope, when formal courtesies are no longer necessitated by this public setting, that our conversation shall be less formal. But, for the nonce, I must convey my congratulations on your security. Ruy, you have, if anything, become a more accomplished war-dog with each passing year.”

“I avail myself of new insights wherever I might find them,” Ruy replied, with a brush at his moustache. See, he didn’t do it that often — did he? “And ready access to the full collection of books in Grantville has been uncommonly enlightening. You are to be congratulated on your own precautions, Your Eminence.”