1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 07

Bedmar sighed. “I wish I could take credit for that ploy, my dear Sanchez, but since lying was still a sin when I consulted my breviary this morning, I must give credit where it is due.” He turned to the oldest of the three men who had emerged from the sedan chairs. “May I present, Captain Achille d’Estampes de Valençay, knight of the Sovereign Order of Malta. And in your timeline, Ambassadora, eventually the general of the papal army under Pope Urban.”

Ruy extended a hand and put a winning smile on his face as he mentally consulted the dossiers that Sharon had reviewed with him. Urban had sent a secure document to Malta half a year ago, informing de Valençay that he had been made a cardinal in pectore: “close to the chest,” and so, undisclosed. Urban had sent out many such notifications, most of them following patterns of loyalty he had observed in both this world and, evidently, the other. There, Achille d’Estampes de Valençay had been given a biretta in 1643. And this was not the only way in which the arrival of the up-timers had been favorable to his fortunes: since the disruption in the original progression of the Thirty Years’ War had prevented the Battle of Castelnaudary from ever being fought, he had not taken the side of Gaston’s ally, Henri II de Montmorency in an attempt to strip Richelieu of his royal influence. Nonetheless, the Grey Eminence, familiar with the up-timer histories had taken the precaution of ensuring that the much-honored Achille be deprived of an appropriate command, resulting in his return to Malta.

Achille stood at least three inches taller than Ruy’s own medium height, and if the hidalgo had a pantherlike build (well, perhaps only a cheetah now — but still as swift!), de Valençay was decidedly a tiger. His rapier was of the heaviest kind — almost a longsword — and his service as a colonel and even a fleet commander had not leeched any of the taut, lean readiness out of his body. At forty-three, he wore his heavy cuirass and helmet with the indifferent ease of men half his age. Ruy found himself assessing the way this chevalier wore his sword and moved: an old reflex for assessing possible opponents, working out optimal tactics in advance. But this time, there was a faint twinge of jealousy, of being the older rooster meeting a younger one who might be every bit as capable in a fight. Not as polished, probably, but strength and size might offset that difference.

Ruy almost had to physically shake himself out of the competitive mindset. “Captain, your reputation precedes you, and your most recent ruse adorns it even further.”

Valençay bowed as they finished shaking hands. “And you, sir, are becoming something of a legend. I welcome the chance to make your acquaintance. Allow me to present my traveling companions, and fellow-protectors of His Eminence Cardinal Bedmar: my brother Léonore and Giovanni Carlo de Medici.”

Ruy peripherally noticed Sharon stand a bit straighter beside him. And for good reason: Giovanni Carlo de Medici, or Giancarlo, was not merely one of the most able young nobles — and eligible bachelors — in all of Italy, but was the nephew of Bernhard’s wife, Claudia de Medici, although only six years younger than she. And he was fairly sure he knew what his wife was thinking: here is a prime scion of the royal house of Tuscany acting the part of a cardinal’s bodyguard, when he himself might need protecting against assassin’s knives. Borja’s agents had learned that he, too, had been fated to become a cardinal in later years, and for him to be at Urban’s colloquium was akin to volunteering for a death sentence. Léonore was, by comparison, decidedly less tigerish than his older brother, just as his eyes were less piercing and his handshake less viselike.

Ruy turned back to Bedmar. “You are singularly fortunate in your retinue, Your Eminence.”

Bedmar nodded, but his face had become grave. He turned to the others, who were almost his peers, and asked them, graciously, if they would be so good as to spread word that the entourage would be moving soon again. The three exchanged knowing looks, proffered bows to Ruy, Sharon, and then Larry, who had not yet come forward, and set about ordering their small group; it responded and moved with the precision of a military unit.

“I see you are taking no chances in your travels,” Ruy observed with a pointedly flat tone once they had left earshot.

“Quite true,” Bedmar countered. “Although, in point of fact, we are all helping each other. Achille received a summons from Urban, I am told, and I can well guess its nature. Giancarlo, having had the promise of a biretta in your world, has now attracted the baleful attention of Borja in this one. So just as I am made safer by having three such soldiers with me, I offer a measure of protection to them.”

Sharon nodded. “Because unless someone after them also has orders to kill you, they can’t take a chance of exceeding their…authority.”

Bedmar smiled at the euphemism. “And so, here we are, arrived in safety, due in no small measure to your excellent network of aerodromes. In fact, so far, there is only one disconcerting aspect of my reception here.”

Sharon leaned forward. “Please, tell me.”

Bedmar smiled. “That my brother in faith has not stepped forward to greet me.” He shot a quick glance over Sharon’s shoulder at Larry Mazzare, who stood, hands folded, ten feet behind her.

“I did not want to interrupt what was sure to be a reunion of friends,” Mazzare said quietly. And Ruy also detected a hint of caution, and reserve.

So, apparently, did Bedmar. “You Eminence, when last we met in Venice, circumstances ineluctably made us enemies. Respectful and honorable, yes, but enemies nonetheless.”

Larry did not change position or posture. “Indeed, Your Eminence. And now?”

Ruy saw Sharon suppress a start: clearly, Larry had not informed her that this was the tack he intended to take upon Bedmar’s arrival.

Bedmar folded his hands, studied Larry carefully. “And now,” he repeated, “I find you a changed man, and us in very changed circumstances. We have always been brothers in the Church, Your Eminence; we are now fully peers, as well.” Bedmar smiled. “Indeed, you may have the advantage of me.”

Larry raised an eyebrow, his tone no less wary. “In what way?”

Bedmar put out appealing hands; they were large hands, almost comically so, given that he barely stood five foot six in thick-heeled boots. “Surely you see that, by coming here, I am not endearing myself to Philip of Spain, and even less to his minister Olivares. I am the only Spanish cardinal who has not proclaimed for Borja. Now, I am an honored guest in the camp of his mortal enemy. What level of favor do you expect I enjoy in Madrid?”

Larry nodded. “Reduced, certainly — but not irredeemable. In fact, it may yet prove advisable for at least one of the ‘Spanish cardinals’ to remain unsoiled by support of Borja. That lack of unanimity could become a fig-leaf of legitimacy if Philip eventually wishes to claim that he did not expressly order his cardinals to declare for the homicidal madman currently maintaining a rule of terror in Rome.”

Bedmar looked down, frowned. “And you presume I am so farsighted?”

Larry folded his arms. “I don’t know; are you?”

Sharon almost gasped. “Lar — Cardinal Mazzare!”

“No,” Bedmar interrupted. “He is right. And it confirms what I have heard of Cardinal-Protector Mazzare. He has risen to his august position not merely by dint of being the senior catholic among you up-timers, but by his shrewdness.” Bedmar stood straight. “Very well. I may not divulge the full details of the political circumstances under which I have traveled here, but let me make this very clear: I come to you — first, foremost, and only — as the cardinal-protector of the Spanish Lowlands, and of Fernando, the king in the Lowlands. And his desires match the mandate of both my conscience and my vows: to safeguard Mother Church, and, if it is possible to do so without compromising her, to put the sectarian strife with the Protestants to an end.” He paused to let his words sink in. “Is that clear enough?”

Mazzare nodded slowly and stepped forward. “It is, Cardinal Bedmar.” He looked sideways at Sharon. “My regrets, Ambassador, but I am a son of the Church first — even before I am a citizen of the USE and Grantville.”

Sharon nodded slowly, her eyes calm — but if Ruy was any judge of his wife, she would be taking Larry Mazzare aside at some time in the very near future for a forthright and lively exchange of opinions.

Bedmar closed the remaining distance to Larry and offered his hand. “I apologize for the liberties I took when we first met in Venice. It is an old military instinct to put a potential adversary on the back foot, to push him in conversations, to test limits and boundaries, all under the guise of diplomatic banter. I did so there. I will not do so here — with you, or anyone. Times have changed. I will not claim that I have as well, but I am reformed in some of my least dignified habits. These days leave no room for pettiness if we are to care take the future well-being of Holy Mother Church and the innocents who might yet die in sectarian strife.”

Larry offered his hand in return. “We are certainly agreed on that.”

Bedmar nodded soberly. “I think you shall find that, since you and I last met, we are in agreement on much, much more.” He put his other hand atop theirs and then withdrew towards his entourage. “I suspect it is not part of your protocol to keep vulnerable persons loitering about as easy targets.”

Of the many things Ruy had ever imagined, or knew, Bedmar to be, “vulnerable” or “an easy target” were not among them. “Yes, let us go.”