This book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.

1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 29

“A further agenda?”

Urban smiled as the portcullis began cranking and creaking open. “You know me too well. Yes, but peace with Islam remains the furthest objective of that agenda. Indeed, you had not yet accomplished it in your time, if I recall correctly.”

Mazzare nodded sadly. “No, although we had thought so, for a time. Secularization of Islam arrived late, very unevenly, and finally began to weaken. What happened after we departed — who can tell?”

Urban shrugged. “And so I know I will not see such a modus vivendi achieved in my lifetime. Perhaps not in the lifetime of any babe yet born, but one day. One day. However, significant progress might be made on other objectives: an end to the persecution of the Jews, for instance.” The portcullis was locked open with a sharp clack. The lead guard moved through, then asked them to follow.

Mazzare frowned. “It is hard to envision the current population of any European nation according equal status to the Jewish community.”

Urban wagged a finger. “I did not say that, Lawrence. I simply wish to ensure that they may expect to live safely, and with tolerance — even if grudging — for their right to practice their rites without fear of violence. I am far too much a realist to believe that any one colloquium could cause a full reversal of more than a dozen centuries of arch prejudice. Simply influencing the religious leadership in Europe to take a consistent stand against their persecution would be a major victory. And it will take time for that opinion to wear down the ingrained prejudices of the monarchs whose ears they have.

“I suspect that further, more distant faiths, will actually be easier to reconcile with than Islam. But frankly, I do not spend much time considering the likelihood, or methods, of achieving such ends. One must begin with a small set of more readily achievable goals. Then, we shall expand from what we have learned, and achieved, in that process.”

Mazzare did his best not to sound incredulous. “That is certainly quite an ambitious agenda, Your Holiness. Several lifetimes worth, I suspect.”

“I freely allow that, Lawrence. And my hopes for this colloquium are modest. I will be happy — elated, even — if, by the end, the Protestants and Orthodox merely believe that we are genuinely changing our position regarding other faiths. They will naturally be uncertain as long as the change remains a broad concept rather than a specific policy, and will still have reservations until we take action that is suited to those words.”

As the corridor widened and doors became visible ahead, Mazzare raised an eyebrow. “I suspect that will be easier for them to believe than the further consequence of the Church turning its back upon the influence and tithes it enjoyed when it was sole seat of global Christianity.”

Urban squinted: far ahead the hallway was lit by lanterns, not torches in cressets. Urban headed toward those lights. “Before you arrived, we in Rome ardently believed two things: that we could still regather the entirety of Christianity to the Papal Rood, and that if we failed to do so, Mother Church would perish. But your history showed me that those absolute outcomes were both folly. No amount of killing or leverage will cause the Reformationists to renounce their beliefs. And we only make ourselves more hateful by continuing on such a course. So it is not merely idealism that moves me to this decision; it is pragmatism.” The guard stopped in front of the pope’s door and opened it with an ancient, rusty key.

Larry smiled. “I think you just might get the cooperation you want with that sales pitch, Your Holiness. And you just might become the most famous pope that ever lived. Even though you won’t live to see all you set in motion.”

Urban’s quick sideways smile was histrionic. “Well, I may be remembered as the most infamous, at least. But I have reconciled myself to initiating changes and legacies that shall not only outlive me, but be only tangentially, if at all, associated with my name.” He smiled. “That prideful concern, of being a figure whose fame lives on in posterity, was one of the sins of Maffeo Barberini.” Urban’s smile became impish as he glanced into his chambers. “I am Urban VIII now. And accordingly, I have new sins, new vices. Such as one last glass of wine, this night. Would you care to join me, Lawrence?”

Larry thought about the softness of his pillows, then about the unsolved problems of the day, and so, settled on a compromise between the contending possibilities of weariness or trouble-fueled insomnia.

A single glass of wine might be a good idea, after all.

* * *

Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz waited until the men who had escorted Urban from the palace to the cloister dispersed to their various quarters, and the first night watch had replaced the troops standing the last shift of the day. That job was actually his lieutenants’, but he had learned a long time ago that the most ready and attentive troops are those who know their commander will occasionally watch them perform even their most mundane duties. Such as this one.

Satisfied that the guards and their officers were at their posts and adequately attentive, Ruy began walking toward the monastery — and saw, coming his way, the faint outline of a woman. A most dramatically proportioned woman. “Even in this light, I know when you approach, my love.”

Sharon sounded amused. “Oh? And how do you manage that? I can barely see you.”

“It is the light around you, the glow given off by your halo.”

Sharon was close enough now that he could make out her face; he saw her slanted smile as she emitted a single burble of laughter. “My halo? Yeah, sure: I’ll bet.”

As they approached each other, he returned her smile. “I suppose other features are also visible at a distance.”

She stopped a yard away from him. “Yeah?” Her voice was playful. “Like what?”

Ruy sadly eyed the distance between them. It was what they had agreed to because it was deemed the minimal acceptable restraint while they were within the walls of the monastery. “The magnitude of your many virtues and charms.”

She resumed walking, but moved to his side. “Let’s walk,” she suggested. “And keep your hands off my ‘charms.'”

Ruy smiled as he fell in beside her. “It is not in keeping with either Christian charity or compassion to torture a man so.”

“Well, that is a shame.” Her smile said that she didn’t really think it was. At all.

His steps veered slightly closer to her.

“Hey! Watch it, Ruy! You heard what I said.”

“Yes. Your charms are forbidden fruit. But I am also most worshipful of your virtue — ”

“Ruy! You’re supposed to be an officer. And a gentleman.”

“I am both. I am a very tired officer. And a very desperate gentleman.”

“Well, I’d think that being tired would make you feel a little less desperate.”

“Alas, my beauteous wife, you perceive in reverse; it is enduring my desperation that makes me so tired.”

Sharon rolled her eyes. “You are impossible.”

“Yes. But you love me. Which is why you possess that halo.”

She seemed to forget herself, started to reach out to touch him, then snatched her hand back. “You sly, silver-tongued fox.”

“I am guilty of all your worst accusations, my heart. But in my defense, I must assert that it is your beauty that has driven me to these many sins. If only you could absolve them with a kiss — ”

She stepped a little farther away…but not very much farther. “Ruy. Seriously.” Her voice became genuinely regretful. “If we keep this up — look; why don’t we switch topics?”

“I am yours to command,” he said morosely. And he didn’t have to act much to produce that tone. Which was the key to his next gambit: to play upon her sympathy.

She didn’t take the bait. “You’re mine to command? Well, that’s a nice change. So, I command you to tell me if you’ve managed to convince Urban not to celebrate Pentecost in St. John’s.”

Ruy did not like re-experiencing, or reporting, failure, but now he was compelled to do both. “Alas, I have not changed His Holiness’ mind. His new demeanor may be more mild, but his will remains a thing of steel.”

“Yeah, well, if his body were made of it, I’d be a lot less worried.”

“You and me both, my heart. But he is adamant. Instead of being more cautious, he seems to be emboldened by the increasing number of physicians eager to flutter around him. As if you and Dr. Connal were not enough.”

“Who now?”

“Father Leo Allatius. A Greek, born on Chios, I believe. A physician and translator, it seems.”


“Yes. Naturally, his Greek is excellent and his Russian and Turkish quite good. And he seems quite familiar with the Eastern rite. He’s become something of a liaison to that contingent, unless I am much mistaken.”

Sharon seemed lost in thought for a moment. “You know, I think I know a way to get him off your back. Although I’m the primary physician for Urban, and Sean Connal is my assistant and first physician for the Council of Cardinals, we should have a Physician in Residence for the other guests of the colloquium. And being a translator, Allatius is an excellent choice: he will understand their complaints directly.”

“Shall I ask Father von Spee’s permission to so task him?” Von Spee had also become something like a chief of staff for Urban.

“Yes, do, with my strong recommendation.” She stopped. They had reached the corner of the cloister. The door in front of them would lead Ruy to the tunnel complex that Bernhard had expanded: the walkway that bent to the left would ultimately bring Sharon to her room at the far end of the monastery. “Time to say good night.”

Ruy sighed. He raised a hand. “I am your obedient servant. I am bound for the cell next to what His Holiness calls his Hermit’s Cave.” Which was quite a misnomer: it was a large, comfortable room that the pope shared with two dedicated guards from the Wild Geese, much to Urban’s annoyance. “I shall see you tomorrow, as desperate and fatigued as ever, I fear.”

“Well,” Sharon said, “we can’t have that.” Before Ruy could react — which was saying quite a lot — Sharon leaned in, gave him a quick, light kiss on the lips, and then turned and walked briskly away, her figure silhouetted against the dim, early moonlight.

Ruy watched her go, smiled, put his index finger to his lips, sighed, and reflected that now the cell next to the Hermit’s Cave wouldn’t seem quite so cold or lonely. The long walk there would be more tolerable.

Nevertheless, he watched her distinctive silhouette until she disappeared into the darkened archway that fronted the monastery.