1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 22

Ruy bowed. “Your Holiness, my wife is as blameless as she is peerless. It is I — still a weak-willed swain at heart — who cannot restrain myself.”

“Now that is plain truth, plainly told,” announced another voice, this one approaching across the entry hall. Sharon turned: Bedmar was approaching, flanked by Achille d’Estampes de Valençay and Giancarlo de Medici.

Sharon bowed to Bedmar and the two tigerish cardinals accompanying him, reflecting that all three of them were certainly more reminiscent of the lion than the lamb. “Your Eminences,” she said slowly.

Bedmar’s answering smile was mild. The other two looked at each other in good-natured surprise, as if uncertain to receive the title as genuine or a jest. “We are still in pectore, Ambassadora Nichols,” murmured Giancarlo, “and so, remain incognito.” There was a twinkle in his eye as he said it, nothing flirtatious, but she did wonder how his rumored proclivities as a womanizer would fit with his new position as a cardinal. Well, it’s not as though it seemed to constrain the behaviors of the others very much, so there was probably not much to worry about, there.

Urban arrived on the landing, received their devotions without ceremony, and led them all off to the side, to leave the center of the lower staircase unobstructed.

Bedmar looked around, raising an eyebrow. “I understand the amenities here are somewhat limited, but surely, a room with ten chairs can be arranged.”

“Surely it can,” Urban answered with a smile. “But surely the cardinals about to arrive will be as curious and jealous as ever. So I propose we have our meeting here.”

Giancarlo frowned. “Here? On this landing?”

“Of course. Who would suspect us of having a sensitive conversation here? But we will not be interrupted because the rest will be escorted to the great salon.”

Bedmar smiled. “And so there will be no sign that we had a private meeting, the content of which would spawn endless conjecture, and the fact of which would spawn resentment.”

“Resentment?” Achille d’Estampes de Valençay echoed.

“At not being included,” Mazzare explained with a wry smile.

Achille stared at the up-time cardinal, then at the pope. “In truth?”

Bedmar put a hand on his shoulder. “You shall learn, my good fellow and soon, fellow-eminence, that if a church father is doomed to spend eternity in hell, it is most likely the sin of envy that shall send him there. Or vanity.”

Sharon did not add “or venery,” but would have liked to. Seeing the pinched expression on Vitelleschi’s already wizened face, she suspected he might have been thinking the same thing.

Urban folded his hands so that they were hidden in the folds of his long-sleeved cassock. “I appreciate your coming to converse before our brethren arrive in their full number, Cardinal Bedmar.”

Bedmar bowed slightly, slowly. “When the Holy Father calls, his flock attends.”

Urban smiled. “Not so uniformly as one might hope, these days.”

Bedmar sighed. “There is much confusion in Mother Church.”

Vitelleschi’s chin came up. “His Eminence will pardon my plain speech, but I perceive it is weakness, not confusion, that afflicts too many of our number.”

Bedmar’s eyes measured the old Jesuit. Although not a cardinal, as the father-general of his order, Vitelleschi was a force to be reckoned with. “After the treachery and fratricide that struck at the very heart of Mother Church, it is only natural that there should be much fear, as well.”

Vitelleschi’s chin went higher. “That red biretta you wear, Your Eminence, is the same color that adorns much of your cassock. You know what it symbolizes, of course.”

“The blood of Christ.” Bedmar sounded as though he was growing impatient. Which was easy enough to understand; Sharon doubted she’d appreciate being lectured to by a wizened old Jesuit.

Vitelleschi’s pause was just long enough to convey the swift impression that Bedmar had answered incorrectly and that the Black Pope was laboring to find a suitably tactful method of correction. “I am sure that too is intended to be part of the symbology. However, when Pope Gregory X dictated that scarlet should be the color of a cardinal’s garments — at the Council of Lyon in 1274 — he emphasized a different reason: that it symbolized the wearer’s willingness to shed his own blood for the faith.” Vitelleschi may have sniffed slightly. “Apparently, that interpretation — and expectation — is no longer uniform among the consistory.”

“And yet,” Urban murmured with a glance at the aging Jesuit who resembled a frail whippet with the disposition of a pit-bull, “Cardinal Bedmar’s presence shows the opposite extreme: profound courage.”

Bedmar’s eyes fell at the comparison. “You Holiness knows I was not in Rome; I was in no immediate danger.”

“No immediate danger, no, but in your case, it continues to grow every day. In part, I asked you to come before the meeting to express my appreciation for the delicate nature of your position. You provided indirect aid to the ambassadora and other up-timers who were in Italy around the time of Galileo’s trial. Indeed, you were generous enough to allow your longtime aide to marry that same ambassadora.”

Bedmar’s smile matched Urban’s. “As if I have ever been able to stop that Catalan mule from doing anything he set his mind upon.”

Ruy pushed back his moustaches, and Sharon discovered that she was smiling despite herself.

“And yet,” Urban continued, “there is a serious side to those events. You, an intimate of Philip’s court, a grandee, and former general of his tercios, have not only remained friends with a hidalgo who turned his back on Spain to marry an up-timer, but, by coming here, signal your loyalty to Prince Fernando, who has proclaimed himself king in the Lowlands. I imagined that you might anticipate a daily struggle to remain in Madrid’s good graces. So I was not absolutely sure you would come.”

Bedmar straightened his shoulders, folded his own hands, and looked up squarely into Urban’s face. “His Holiness is considerate indeed to foresee and sympathize with the challenges of my position. However, he has over troubled himself with that worry Presently, Philip would find it inconvenient to press the matter of dominion over his brother.”

Antonio Barberini shook his head. “It is a wonder that Philip tolerates Fernando’s declarations and New World enterprises at all.”

Urban smiled at his nephew. “Of the many things that kings and popes have in common, Antonio, this may be preeminent: never give a vassal an order that they will not obey. You will then either be forced to unseat the vassal, thereby weakening yourself both by loss of an ally and the resources needed to unseat him, or you will elect not to do so and thus appear weak. Which is even more costly, in the long run.”

Antonio spread his hands. “But King Philip must certainly see the eventual trajectory of his brother toward the United States of Europe.”

Urban nodded. “Unquestionably. But it is also true that Philip and Olivares have seen and made much history, are seasoned enough to know that events may so conspire to make a confrontation with Fernando unnecessary. What if his Dutch partners fall to bickering among themselves and weaken? What if Fernando’s cooperative projects with them in the New World founder? What if the USE or Grantville are crippled in a possible war with the Ottomans? In each case, the present circumstances which make a rupture between Madrid and Brussels seem inevitable could suddenly be undone. And if that should come to pass, then Philip will be glad for not having warred upon his brother. Which would not only cost him dearly, but further isolate Spain and make his branch of the House of Hapsburg eternally loathed by the others.”

Mazzare nodded. “Yes, Your Holiness. However, with every passing day, it seems that any change in the likely course of events would need to be increasingly dramatic if conflict between the brothers is to be averted.”

Bedmar answered with a blithe smile. “I could not agree more, my dear Cardinal Mazzare. And so, here I am.”

Giancarlo de Medici shook his head. “And openly, too? Are you so willing to annoy Philip?”

Bedmar shrugged. “It is a far better strategy to annoy Philip than alarm him. To explain: by coming here openly, I have no doubt annoyed him, but he will also not be particularly worried. He might wish that I had chosen not to attend at all, but he will neither be surprised that I did nor fail to understand it. However, if I were to begin skulking about, trying hide my attendance here, Philip would become alarmed. Kings, and particularly Spanish ones, operate from the assumption that the more highly placed one of their subjects is, and the more secretive they become, the more likely that they are trying to conceal treason. Besides, I must come when His Holiness summons me. I am, after all, the cardinal-protector of the Spanish Lowlands, and so, representing the faithful of Flanders is required by my first loyalty and oath: to God and His Church.”

“A priority with which Philip might contend,” Urban quipped with a smile. “Albeit silently.”

“Silently before his courtiers and ambassadors, perhaps, Your Holiness. But not in privy council. From my own days at the Escorial, I may assure you of that.”

Urban’s smile dimmed somewhat. “With so many of your brothers here, it is also my intention to address urgent matters touching on the future of Mother Church, once the colloquium has ended and its other attendees have departed.”

Bedmar’s own smile actually widened. “Holy Father, it would be strange indeed if you did not also take this opportunity to hold a Council of the consistory. Given last year’s events in Rome, it seems essential.”

Urban’s smile matched Bedmar’s as he turned to glance at Vitelleschi. “As I predicted, even without the faintest intimation of our intent, Cardinal Bedmar would know we planned a Council.”

Vitelleschi nodded.

“However,” Bedmar added, “what I do not know — indeed, what none of us know — is how many cardinals have escaped Borja’s agents and survived to attend?”

“And why is that important?” Vitelleschi asked archly.

Bedmar smiled patiently. “Father, the Jesuits have been an eminently practical order since their founding. Indeed, had they not been, they would not have had one tenth the success they have enjoyed around the globe. And so, I press the practicality of my question to His Holiness: how many of us are there? Enough to make a stand — or just enough to make for a memorable collection of martyrs?”