1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 13

Borja frowned. “I do not understand, Don Dolor. You did not visit this agent yet you received an update from him. How was that effected?”

“By radio, Your Eminence, when I passed through Basel. At that distance, and without a mountain range in between us, reception was very easy and reliable.”

Borja felt the wheels of a plan spinning toward each other in his mind, mesh together. “So. Olivares’ man in Besançon is already furnished with a radio.”

“Yes,” Dolor confirmed. “Although I do not know if I would call him specifically the count-duke’s man. He was placed there on the count-duke’s order. I do not know to whom he reports directly. However, given his broad mandate, I suppose he is providing diverse information to a number of the crown’s.”

Carefully now, Borja thought, and could tell that Maculani was thinking the same thing. “And is this agent’s employ strictly reserved for the crown’s business?”

Dolor thought. “I do not know. I do not believe so. Some of the agent’s information suggests he was also financing some trading ventures himself. Although he is descended of a grandee family, he is from a branch that has fallen upon lean times. I doubt he would be specifically constrained from doing business of his own while abroad; I cannot recall such restrictions ever being placed upon our foreign factotums.”

Of course not, since Spain, from the king on down to the most impoverished hidalgo, runs on money. “And so I presume you would not be averse to telling us who this agent is and how to reach him?”

Dolor frowned slightly. “I suppose not. His name is Javier de Requesens y Ercilla. I shall give you the times of day and frequencies whereby I reached him.”

Borja nodded toward Maculani, who provided Dolor with a sheet upon which to write the information. As he did, the bishop looked up at Borja. “Once we have the radio, Your Eminence, we might be able to get a better idea of who Urban is making cardinals in pectore.”

Borja frowned. “What do you mean by this, Maculani?”

The bishop spread his hands in what seemed half explanation, half appeal. “Well, we have reports that Urban is resorting to up-time documents to arrive at a list of likely candidates, using them to determine which men his up-time self raised to the biretta. With the Papal Library lost to us –”

— a nice euphemism for what had actually happened: Neapolitan troops running wild through the Holy City, carrying off everything that was, or looked like it might be, valuable, and burning much of the rest —

“– Urban’s copies of the up-time records were either destroyed or are among the remaining documents that are still being sorted. However, if we were to furnish a confidential agent in Grantville with a radio, we might be able to access a copy of that list ourselves, and determine which of Urban’s later-life allies he is now raising up to — ”

Borja killed that notion with a guillotine chop of his hand. “Had we known to do so two, three months ago, that might have made a difference. Now, any of his intended in pectore cardinals that are not still hiding in their cellars are on the road to Besançon, beyond our reach.” He drew himself up to his full height. “We shall know who the traitors are when they enter that city for his so-called colloquium, for now we shall have a contact there who may report their arrivals.” He smiled at Dolor, who was stepping back from the table. “Thanks to you.”

Dolor bowed. “I am gratified to have been of help, Your Eminence.”

Borja held up a hand to detain him. “There is one further courtesy I ask of you, Don Dolor. Because you have been a confidante of mine and a friend to Mother Church’s attempts to reestablish order and its own imperiled legitimacy, the bishop and I deemed it safe to speak frankly of the grave measures that we might still need to undertake, an inevitable continuation of your efforts last year. We therefore presume that now, as then, you will keep these discussions in strictest confidence, not even sharing them with secular authorities. These are, properly, Church matters and should remain within the Church.” He paused, looked long into Dolor’s hazel eyes. “I take it that I make myself clear?” Which the assassin could not possibly translate in any way other than, If you tell Olivares, I will come after you.

“I understand perfectly, Your Eminence.”

Borja was certain that he did. “I appreciate your discretion, as our situation is most difficult. Particularly here.”

“In Rome?” Dolor asked.

“Most certainly,” Maculani said emphatically. “Let us presume that God graces us by removing the heretical Urban. Will his followers come back? Of course not. They have turned their backs on the Church’s true mission, so they know what awaits them here. So what will they do? Why, appoint themselves as a consistory and elect one of their own number pope. It has happened before.”

Dolor shrugged. “You have a consistory also.”

“And that,” Borja said with a sigh, “is the larger problem. Or, I should say, the large problem of our smaller numbers. At this moment, we count — how many, Maculani? Seventeen cardinals, all told?”

Maculani leaned his head to the side as he recalled the list. “There’s Doria, di Savoia, Moscoso, Galamini, Bentivoglio — who had to be compelled to declare for His Eminence — Spínola, the other Spínola, Torres, Borghese, Albornoz, Pamphili, Pallotta, Trivulzio, Centini, Campori, Salamandri, Zacchia. Urban has at least twice as many in support of him. Perhaps three times. And many of those who are ‘unreachable’ are, in reality, keeping their heads down until this crises has passed. You may be sure that they will then reemerge testifying that they were always ardent supporters of the pope — whoever that turns out to be.” He glanced at Borja quickly. “A figure of speech, only, Your Eminence. If God pleases to see that justice in the Church Mundane be done in compliance with the writ of heaven, then you shall soon sit upon the cathedra.”

Borja was pleased — and reassured — by Maculani’s emendation, but only for a second: rather than nodding, Dolor’s face seemed more grim than ever.

“I understand your concern, Your Eminence. For if Urban is not removed by divine or mundane means, you may well have to defend this place. If you can.”

Borja refused to be rattled by this dire projection. “And what could overcome my forces?”

Dolor shrugged “The entirety of occupied Italy’s enraged population. Probably swollen by the forces of the unoccupied or neutral states that would stand to gain from your loss.” He bowed a slow farewell. “Your Eminence.”

Once the door had closed behind Dolor, Maculani leaned forward, his hard, heavy hands knuckles-down upon the mahogany table before him. “I do not trust him.”

Borja waved a dismissive hand. “That is wise, insofar as Don Dolor is under Olivares’ control, not ours. But I have had Dolor under observation and see no cause for worry. He is not devout, but then again, there is no evidence that he cares for any faith or philosophy at all. He is a materialist, yet neither takes bribes nor lives hedonistically. If he were Greek, I would presume his ancestors were Spartans.

“But whereas Don Dolor lacks a theologically enlightened sense of duty to Our Savior in heaven, he understands the hard realities of this terrestrial vale of tears. He is a singularly useful tool and counselor within the limited scope of his expertise and interests. Beyond that, he demonstrates little affinity for anything else, and no perceptible passions which might be used to move him to treachery of any kind.”

Maculani nodded. “And that is precisely why I do not trust him, Your Eminence.”

Borja smiled at the Dominican whom he had made a bishop and had brought away from his duties as Rome’s head inquisitor. Maculani’s mind was too sharp and too practical to waste upon the usually futile task of attempting to redeem undeserving heretics and unbelievers. Before, that is, they succumbed to the tortures that destroyed their bodies in order to compel them to repent and so, save their souls. “You are a suspicious fellow, Vincenzo,” Borja murmured. “I like that.” Because you are my suspicious fellow.

Yet Cardinal Gaspar de Borja y Velasco had found himself still staring at the door through which Dolor had departed on that cold February day, filled with unease.

It was the same unease he felt now as the Tevere glimmered more faintly beneath the setting May sun while he waited for the radio report from Javier de Requesens y Ercilla in Besançon. A large part of what made Pedro Dolor so unnerving was his almost preoptic foresight. Yes, his assassins had failed to kill Urban last year, just as his jailors in Palma de Mallorca had failed to keep rescuers from spiriting away the young hostages Borja had meant to use as leverage against the up-timers. But in both cases, Dolor had made initial recommendations that others — even Borja himself — had denied or ignored. And, in both cases, had his advice and requests been heeded, it seemed likely that the outcome would have been quite different.

But Pedro Dolor’s foresight was, in fact, not the primary trait that made him unnerving. The greater part resided in his silent acceptance of outcomes and almost mechanical reflex to simply address the new challenges that resulted — without overtly or obliquely calling attention to the fact that, had his superior comprehension and anticipation been heeded, there would have been no failure in the first place.

Borja took up his glass of rioja again and sipped at it, a bit more deeply than was his wont. It was a matter of course that some men had greater abilities than others. But for a man not to revel in the triumphs enabled thereby, to fail to call attention to his superior perspicacity in order to accelerate his own ascension while undercutting the rise of possible rivals?

That, Borja concluded with yet another worried sip at his glass, was not merely distressingly atypical; it was positively inhuman.