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1635 The Papal Stakes: Chapter Nine
Last updated: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 22:11 EDT
Frank Stone raised himself to look toward the door of his prison cell.
Unfortunately, he forgot about the ring finger he had recently lost from his left hand — an experience which the brutalized nerve endings obviously recalled quite clearly. He hoped that, despite his moan, he had merely sunk back down to the floor. However, the small but strong arms around him, and Giovanna’s worried face hovering over his, seemed to suggest that he had fallen. Probably blacked out.
“Shhh do not move, Frank.”
“Is he still there?”
“Our visitor?” She looked back toward the door, where a shadow lurked almost unseen behind the narrowly set bars of the observation panel. “It seems so. Strange: he does not move. Makes no sound.”
“So it’s probably not Captain Castro y Papas, then.”
“No, it cannot be him. He always comes in and talks.”
“And checks you out.”
“Frank! I am your wife!”
“Hey, as long as you’re not interested in him, it’s okay by me. He’d have to be blind — or neutered — not to notice you. And if it keeps bringing him back with boiled water and fresh dressings for this” — he raised his hand; the pain made him repent it — “he’s welcome to look.”
“I think the pure spirits he brings have also helped. Despite the pain, there is only a little infection around the edges of the wounds where — where –”
“– Where my ring finger and wedding ring were. Yeah. That wound could have become pretty nasty.”
Giovanna raised her head. Her eyes were not entirely unlike Frank’s memory of the up-time Sophia Loren’s, and were every bit as fiery. “It could have meant your death: likely, given this sewer in which they have put us. Do they not know who you are? Do they not know that your father is now one of the wealthiest men in Europe? Do they not know –?”
“Honey, whether they know all that or not, I think it’s pretty obvious that they don’t care. Which is kind of what worries me the most.”
Giovanna stared (as she often did) at his second-generation flower-child nonchalance. “‘Kind of worries you’? Husband, love — it means they are insane! Insane! They care nothing for anything else in the world, or surely they would be treating us, or at least you, differently.”
“Well, we’re sure not at the top of their priority list,” Frank conceded with a grin. “But I don’t think we’re at the bottom, either.”
“No? And why not?”
“Well, we’re alive, aren’t we?”
Giovanna pouted, not eager to concede the point. “This is true,” she said after a time. “But then why –?”
Noise at the door. A key scraped its way into the unoiled lock. The half-rusted fixtures squealed and then groaned as the door opened. Two laborers — obviously impressed Romans, judging from the soiled state of their half-ruined clothing and resentful backward glances — entered, bearing two small boxes, the kind used for shipping light cargos.
Giovanna stood. “What have you –?”
“Signora,” said the shorter, older one of the pair. “To speak to you means my death. Apologies, but I have a family.” He jerked through a very abbreviated bow and backed out, his silent assistant just behind him.
The door closed. Frank was mildly surprised that it didn’t burst into self-consuming flame, given the glare that Giovanna had fixed upon it. “Spanish bastardi, terrifying even the lowliest –”
“They’re moving us.”
She stopped, looking at her husband, who was staring down into the boxes. “Moving us? Where? Why? How do you know? What is –?”
“Gia, darling, light of my life, heart of my heartI can only answer one question at a time.”
For whatever mysterious reasons Frank’s wife did anything, she now decided the time had come to throw her shapely, olive-toned arms around his neck and snug her small, but even more shapely, body tight against him. This, despite the fact that he was lying down, his broken leg stretched out as straight as possible. The result was a swift, strange mix of bodily pain and bodily pleasure.
“I love you, Frank.”
“I love you, too.”
“So, here is the first question you must answer: how do you know these old clothes in dingy boxes mean they are moving us? Perhaps they are simply giving us new clothes instead of allowing us to bathe.” She wrinkled her nose; in the weeks they had been in this hole, they had twice been given buckets of reeking water to clean themselves. Soap was apparently an unthinkable luxury or not a substance known to their jailers. Probably why, when Giovanna now called them “filthy pigs,” it sounded more like a loathsome description than a figurative epithet.
Frank, using his unmauled hand, raised himself up to poke around in the box containing male clothing. “Two hats, shaving bowl — but no razor, of course — nightshirt, and this.” He held up a crudely fashioned combination walking-stick and crutch.
Giovanna frowned. “Yes, these are things we do not need here. Some you would simply not wear, such as this nightshirt. Really? In this damp? But Frank, could it not also be that they simply grabbed an armful of the things they have stolen from houses and threw them into a box, thinking we will make whatever good we can of it?”
Frank shook his head and started holding up items from the other, female-themed box. “Nightwear again, a woman’s hat, hair combs, and” — he splayed the last object out wide — “a fan? For down here?”
Giovanna’s dark eyes focused intently. “Yes. More than chance objects, I think. But why move us now?”
“Hmmm. I wonder if our unseen visitor can tell us.” Frank turned to look for the half-seen shadow beyond the grated aperture in their prison door.
But the shadow was gone.
Cardinal Gaspar de Borja y Velasco heard a faint scuffling behind him. Ferrigno. Of course. As timid as always. Shuffling his shoes to announce his presence. Must I be served by mice, rather than men? “What is it, Ferrigno? Come, be quick about it; I am busy.”
“Your Eminence, the — the man from Barcelona has arrived.”
Borja’s eyes crept to the dial set into the roof of the portico just beneath his windows. Hmm. This fellow was more than punctual; he was about ten minutes early. Yet word had it that he had arrived in Rome three days before he had contacted Ferrigno to make an appointment. A strange inconsistency of behavior.
Borja turned, barely noticing Ferrigno’s small, spare form. “Show him in, but wait outside. I wish private speech with this man.” The cardinal moved to a position behind his desk and affected to stare out the window, half-presenting his back to anyone who would come into his chambers through the main doors.
Time passed. Borja grew impatient. What was keeping this fellow? First, he did not present himself promptly for an audience with his superior, then he was early for his scheduled meeting, now he loitered in the hallway: what inconstant nonsense was this? Turning, Borja resolved to –
Borja blinked. A man — evidently, the man — was standing only two feet beyond the front of the cardinal’s desk.
Borja sputtered in surprise before he spoke, which compounded the annoyance he already felt. “What do you mean, sneaking up upon me rather than announcing yourself? What are you? An assassin?”
The man shrugged. “Yes.”
Borja was too surprised, and also too chilled, to register any new measure of annoyance. This man — sent, he had it on good word, at Duke Olivares’ specific behest — had made no sound, was not dressed as a courtier, made no flourishes. He stood, in loose, dark clothing, without any perceivable motion. Like an automaton of some kind, waiting to be set into motion. If amusement, fear, joy, exultation had ever registered in the calm, hazel eyes that were now fixed upon Borja’s own, those emotions had left no lingering sign of their passage. Borja swallowed, licked his lips. “And you are, eh, Señor –?”
“Dolor. Pedro Dolor. At your service, Your Eminence.”
Pedro Dolor. The Rock of Pain. Yes, Borja could believe that well enough. Almost certainly a nomme de guerre, albeit an oddly understated one. Borja considered: he had been prepared for another Quevedo, who had been part playwright, part bon-vivant, part agent provocateur, part adventurer, part duelist, and wholly a self-satisfied and supercilious popinjay. But what stood before Borja now was not merely a different creature from Quevedo, but his very antithesis. Dolor was all — and only — business, and fell purpose; he radiated it like the reaper no doubt radiated chill.
Borja looked away from those unblinking eyes and out the window; yes, he had wanted a serious, competent man to replace Quevedo. But this? In beseeching God for a new covert facilitator, he had perhaps gone too far in requesting a person of radically different characteristics. Is this the cross you would have me bear, my Lord? To never have assistants who evince a happy balance of abilities and traits? Must I always endure the challenges of such extremes of temperament?
Borja squared his shoulders and faced Dolor again. “So, Señor Pedro Dolor. You come well recommended from persons attached to the court at Madrid, and especially by the count-duke Olivares. Yet those recommendations are notably silent insofar as particulars are concerned.”
“Particulars, Your Eminence?”
“Yes. Specific examples of your accomplishments.”
“Your Eminence will, I am sure, understand that part of the reason His Majesty’s confidantes value my service is that I am not only efficient, but discreet. So discreet as to be invisible, one might say. That invisibility is, I suspect, the factor that has earned me most of whatever modest regard I might enjoy.”
Borja nodded, stared. Despite the groomed diction of Dolor’s explanation, there was no hint of self-satisfied cleverness, not the faintest suggestion of irony or of professional pride. And his explanation was as logical as it was succinct. He was a strange creature indeed to emerge from the underworld shadows cast by certain courtiers at Madrid. Borja resolved to make a few surreptitious inquiries regarding his origins: perhaps that would shed some light on the man’s most singular demeanor. “So, have you reviewed your resources?”
“I have, Your Eminence. They are most adequate. And I have taken the liberty of bringing some assets of my own.”
“Reliable persons who specialize in the kind of work I perform, Your Eminence.”
“And so you feel capable of meeting the two primary challenges I am setting before you?”
“The matter of securing the hostages is well in-hand. As soon as they are moved –”
“Moved? I gave no authorization for them to be moved!”
“Your Eminence, since arriving in Rome, I have seen how many heavy burdens are daily upon your shoulders. Or do I misperceive?”
Borja raised his chin in what he hoped was a pose of noble resolve and manly forbearance. “You do not misperceive. Continue.”
“Therefore, it seemed prudent to begin serving you in the same manner whereby I have rendered service to various persons of the court, some of whom are close to the king. Very close to the king.”
Very close to the king. Dolor could not have been clearer had he simply said, “I work for Olivares. Regularly.” Borja nodded. “Go on. In what special manner do you serve these personages?”
“I minimize their burden of oversight, Your Eminence. Which also makes it far easier to act not only with great discretion, but with few traceable legal connections between myself and my employer. Whichfor reasons of both international seemliness and the health of one’s soul — is a distance and measure of autonomy my prior clients have been happy to allow me.”
Borja nodded and thought, now I have seen everything. An assassin-philosopher, whose concerns extend to both matters of diplomacy and protecting the souls of his employers from the sins of his deeds. “So you have ordered this young heretic Stone and his anarchist wife to be moved to a deeper dungeon?”
“Not at all, Your Eminence. Indeed, that would be run counter to my plans. Having observed them, I think that a dramatic change is wanted in their circumstances. This is not a kindness, Your Eminence, but a stratagem, which I will explain at length, if you so wish. However, for now, I wish to address your concerns regarding the more challenging matter of assessing if Urban VIII still lives, and if so where, and then, ultimately, reclaiming him to the Holy See so that he may answer for his purported collusion with heretics and sworn enemies of Mother Church.”
Borja felt heat in his face. “‘Purported’ collusion? Do you question his guilt?”
Dolor neither cowered nor became confrontational. “I do not question — nor do I presume — anything, Cardinal Borja. I simply observe that, until you have convened the Consistory to hear the charges, and a court to assess guilt and deliver a verdict, Urban VIII’s crimes technically remain ‘purported,’ do they not?”
Borja tried to look imposing, but feared that he might have only effected a bad-tempered sulkiness. “In time of war, with traitors all about, a man — even a man such as you, Señor Dolor — takes risks when splitting legal hairs in favor of rebels and heretics.”
“Now, as always, I refrain from intemperate behaviors or claims.”
Borja considered that comment. He could not determine whether Dolor meant it as an oblique accession to the cardinal’s warning, or a defense of his original statement. In which lay the comment’s disturbingly elegant ambivalence. “So, let us return to the matter of my troublesome predecessor.” Borja watched carefully; to call Urban his “predecessor” was a test, for it was not technically accurate, either. But he needed to be sure that Dolor was a loyal operative, not a legal stickler. Indeed, any impulse toward such formal proprieties could become a considerable liability to Borja later on.
But if Dolor nursed any reservations regarding Borja’s presumed ascension to the cathedra, the agent showed no sign of it. “Urban VIII’s location and apprehension — if he is still alive, and not buried beneath the rubble of the Castel Sant’Angelo — is a difficult task. Much hard work will be required. And some luck, also.”
“Luck? Are you saying this task is beyond your skills?”
“Your Eminence, I am saying that while no sparrow falls — or hides — without God’s awareness, mortal man has no such omniprescience, for he is not omnipresent. And finding a single man is not an easy a task. How many persons have seen Urban VIII — or any pope — close enough to be able to make a positive visual identification? And I am quite sure Urban will no longer be wearing the raiment and accoutrements of his holy office; he will be plainly dressed and adorned. And, if he did escape Rome, I suspect he has had some extraordinary help in remaining hidden.”
“Extraordinary help? From whom?”
“From the up-timers and their allies, Your Eminence.”
“Have you heard rumors that he is with them, then? Have you already made this much progress?” Borja could not stop himself from leaning forward in sudden, savage hope.
“No, Your Eminence, but it seems a logical deduction. The reports from those troops who were at Hadrian’s Tower at the time of the explosion suggest that there may have been one or more up-time weapons used to defend the walls and, later, to clear the path of Urban’s presumed escape. But this is hearsay, and many who might have been more reliable witnesses were sent skyward with the stones of the Castel Sant’Angelo, or buried under them.”
“So what do we do?”
“We continue our search on all fronts, Your Eminence. Your men continue to excavate the ruins in search of Urban’s corpse. At the same time, we search for the missing cardinals — particularly the last of the Barberinis, Urban’s nephew Antonio. And also for the members of the USE embassy that left Rome. Finding them is likely to be much easier, and will almost certainly give us a sure path to Urban.”
“Very well. Now, my secretary informed me yesterday that you sent word of having uncovered new information regarding this recent fiasco in Chiavenna.”
Dolor nodded. “As first suspected, Cardinal Ginetti has escaped, along with the up-timers. He was sighted by an ally in Chur.”
“And has it also been confirmed that the rest of the fugitives were originally members of the up-time embassy that was previously here in Rome?”
“Yes, Your Eminence. The Moor who attracted general notice in Chiavenna was the famous up-time doctor, James Nichols. The very large man who figures so prominently in the combat reports matches the many descriptions we have of Admiral Simpson’s son Thomas. We have less concrete reports of the women, but their descriptions conform to what we expected: that Simpson’s wife Rita and Nichols’ aged concubine Melissa Mailey were traveling with them. All four are reported as speaking the up-time dialect of English.”
“And there was another with the party, no?”
“At least one, possibly two. The other we know of spoke fluent Italian, but we lack any reliable data on the younger man who remained mostly at their inn. He might have been the one shot through the head just beyond Piuro, or that might have been a fifth person, who could have been part of the embassy staff.”
“‘Could have been’? Did we not have informers among the embassy staff? Did we not compile a list of its personnel and servants?”
“The Church did, Your Eminence, but that information gathering was carried out by the Jesuits. Who are, of course –”
“Yes, yes; the Roman branch of that order is in Urban’s camp more than ever, and are still taking orders from that cadaverous old wolf Vitelleschi. So, since the Jesuits are no longer serving the true Holy See, we do not have a complete list of the embassy staff.”
“That is correct.”
“Well, very little of this is new information, Señor Dolor. I fail to see why you alerted my secretary that you had new facts pertinent to the events in Chiavenna.”
“I come to those now, Your Eminence. The surgeons have completed their post mortem examination of the soldiers slain along the banks of the Mera, just east of the Gallegione cataract.”
“What the surgeons found corroborates the accounts we received from the handful of survivors. Our soldiers were all killed by up-time bullets or balls, or close copies thereof.”
“So the up-time fugitives had help?”
“A great deal of it, apparently. All the survivors report that the speed and regularity of the enemy gunshots were unprecedented.”
“Again, indicative of up-time weapons.”
“Exactly. And we recovered these –”
Dolor stretched out a hand and laid three objects on the center of Borja’s desk. Two were finger-sized brass tubes, sealed or capped on one end. The other was broader, shorter, but again made of brass: rather like a small toy drinking cup for a little girl’s doll. “And what are these?”
“These objects are called cartridge casings. These two” — he pointed to the longer ones — “are for a rifle or carbine with a bore size that the up-timers call forty-seventy-two.”
“So this is up-time ammunition?”
“Not exactly. Although the design of the ammunition and the guns which fire it are of up-time origin, we are fairly sure that these cartridges are merely copies of the originals. They were made in this world, and use black powder rather than the powerful up-time explosive compounds. This means they generate less power. This would therefore also suggest they were not used in a self-loading gun — which seems to require that extra power — but rather, in one which requires physical manipulation after every shot. Our confidential agents in the USE report that there is one such weapon that is being regularly constructed in this bore-size: it is called a Winchester 1895.”
“And what is this squat cartridge casing’?”
“This is even more interesting; this is the casing of a shotgun shell.”
Borja scowled at the unfamiliar term.
“It is their term for a fowling piece, Your Eminence, although they often load it with heavier shot, for large game or humans. It seems that after the combat, the force which rescued Simpson’s group combed the area to retrieve as many of these spent casings as possible. A prudent step, but in the dark, impossible to perform perfectly.” He indicated the three cartridge casings.
Borja nodded, then realized the deeper mystery latent in Dolor’s report. “And what made you request the more detailed autopsies, and close surveys of the ambush site, Señor Dolor? Indeed, it seems you had already begun to suspect intervention by USE forces equipped with up-time weapons.”
Dolor shrugged. “How else could we have lost so many men in a night engagement which lasted very briefly? And how is it that so few of our men survived long enough to close and bring their swords into play?
Borja frowned. “A full company of our own troops could exert such a force of musketry, I imagine.”
“Yes, Your Eminence. One Spanish company might — might — have enough firepower to kill half its number of men in so short a time. But that company would have to boast many other abilities, as well. It would have to be a company that was capable of almost invisible movement, since there was no earlier or subsequent report of any unit moving in the Engadine or the Val Bregaglia. It would have to be a company that — unless it had access to an up-time radio — magically knew when and where to meet Simpson’s suddenly fleeing group. It would have to be a company that could vanish into thin air immediately after the ambush, for the trail leading beyond the Silsersee was clearly a false lead. And lastly, it would have to be a company that, in the course of all its actions, left no more signs or spoor than might two squads.
“Your Eminence, we do not possess a company that could do all that. But a few squads of well-equipped up-timers or their trained proxies could do so, particularly if they had already been briefed on Simpson’s group, and were following contingency plans to aid it in the event of an unexpected crisis.”
Borja rubbed his prominent chin. “So you believe up-time radios were involved, as well?”
“The coordination of our foes precludes any other alternative. How else can we explain Cardinal Ginetti’s sudden change of itinerary? How did he know to meet Simpson’s group in Chiavenna, and where and when to do so? How else could the rescuing forces know when and where to meet the group, once it was fleeing? But in addition to radios, the up-timers were also equipped with an unusual amount of good luck.”
“Your Eminence, I suspect that the troops that rescued Simpson’s group were already in the area when they were needed. It takes weeks for the USE to send operatives from Grantville to the Val Bregaglia. So how do we explain the presence of these rescuers in the Val Bregaglia at the very moment they are needed? Not in response to anything we have done; Michael Stearns and his advisor Nasi would have had to dispatch them southward toward the Alps the very minute they learned of our attack upon Rome. But why would they do so? Out of some vague notion that their troops would simply prove useful somehow? To act on such an impulse, Stearns and Nasi would have to be either fortune-tellers or fools — and they are neither.”
“So you are saying that the forces that rescued Simpson’s party were already en route for another, specific purpose, and they just happened to be on site when needed?”
“It is hard to envision anything else, Your Eminence.”
“So why were they there?”
“Discovering the answer to this is a critically important task, upon which I will concentrate all my skills.”
“Very well. There remains one other mystery I would have answered, though.”
“Yes, Your Eminence?”
“These confidential agents who picked up Ginetti’s trail even before he arrived in Chiavenna, and who Simpson and his group killed at the crotto — who were they working for? Not us, as first suspected?”
“No, not us. And I fear their actual employers shall never be known. The four bodies left in our possession were searched for identifying papers, or other suggestions of their origin, but there was nothing.”
“Yes, but what of the one who survived, the one that Simpson reportedly knocked senseless during an argument in the crotto?”
“As feared, he escaped. From the beginning, the authorities leaped to the conclusion that the one survivor was a victim, not part of another plot. Consequently, he was not watched carefully enough. A moment’s inattention on the part of his warders and he was gone, back to whoever holds his leash. But I think we can be sure of one thing: if these armed, nameless men were indeed following Ginetti, assassination was not their primary purpose.”
“What? Why do you think this?”
“Because they could probably have overcome Ginetti’s guards easily enough on the road. A preliminary night ambush at some lonely spot in the Valtelline, and then Ginetti’s weakened party would have been easy prey on a subsequent day. No, I believe these confidential agents were not there as killers, but as coursers; they were sent to put pressure on Ginetti, or perhaps, on whomever he was traveling to meet. If some of Ginetti’s party had died, I’m sure that would not have bothered their employer. But what the seeming assassins did accomplish — even though they died without inflicting any injury whatsoever — was to create a local furor and propel the up-timers into desperate flight. Which our soldiers responded to. And, as these things usually do, the entire situation soon spiraled out of control, ripe with possibilities for becoming a debilitating international incident.”
“A pity we cannot discern more than this. I would like to have interrogated the survivor of these unknown agents.”
“Your Eminence, I think you are fortunate that such an interrogation is now beyond our power.”
“And how could interrogating the agent of an unknown, but obviously inimical, political entity be detrimental to us? I should think you, who traffics in secrets for a living, should understand that information is the most important tool at our disposal, the sword we wield with rapierlike precision to frustrate our foes’ shrewdest gambits and deepest plots.”
“Yes, Your Eminence — but just like that rapier, information is a double-edged sword. And if my guess is right, had the agent revealed the identity of his employers, it could have had disastrous effects upon our alliance with the French.”
Borja felt his mind spin purposelessly. “The French?” he heard himself say.
“Yes, Your Eminence. For I believe these purported assassins were sent by the French — but not Richelieu. I suspect the assassins were told they were getting orders from Paris, but that the actual hiring agent was a member — or simply a proxy — of the Huguenot radicals, possibly the same ones who were behind the attempt on Urban last year.”
“But what would the Huguenots gain by having us believe that the French crown had sent assassins after Ginetti?”
“I believe that was only part of the Huguenots’ motivation. Let us consider the events more broadly. In being compelled to foil the presumed assassins, Simpson’s party attracts attention to the fact that the USE is sending its nationals home through Milanese, and therefore nominally Spanish, territory. Not exactly a violation of law, but then again, Simpson’s party was not traveling openly. They did not declare their identity and presence freely, and were thus traveling without the papers they needed. A wise choice: we would probably have put them in the same dungeon as Signor Stone. At the very least, we would have detained them for an extended period. They represent immense leverage for us.
“Now, had we managed to interrogate the misinformed survivor of these assassins, I suspect they would have told us — erroneously — that they were instruments being wielded by Richelieu’s hand, poised in yet another perfidious attempt to kill Michael Stearns’ relatives and friends. And in the same instant, we would come to believe that the French cardinal’s hand was also trespassing upon our territory, and doing so in a manner that violates the agreement we have with the French in Chiavenna: that they have unrestricted right of passage and trade, but that military and legal matters are to be referred to Milanese authority.
“Of course, Richelieu would legitimately deny his involvement. Naturally, we would not believe him, and would close Chiavenna and the passes to both the French and the USE. The incident would put the League of Ostend in jeopardy and could even lead to separate — maybe even coordinated — USE and French action to reopen the transalpine trade routes. It would certainly give both of them cause to support the interests of both Venice and the Swiss provinces of Grisons in the Val Bregaglia, and the Valtelline as well. And we can no longer count on regional support from our former allies in Tyrol, not since its regent Claudia de Medici has made overtures to seek membership in the USE.
“In short, any successful investigation into the origins of the assassins following Ginetti would have obligated us to pass information to Philip that could have resulted in a disaster for our already overtaxed empire. We were most fortunate, then, that the up-timers — and the confidential agents who were following them — all escaped or died.”
A moment after Dolor stopped speaking, Borja felt the world resteady itself around him. That the Earth had such devious minds in it was unsettling to him. Such intelligence ought to be a tool to enable direct, manly action, not serve as the handmaiden to conniving plots and perfidies. But, since that was not the case, he was quite glad that Olivares had sent him Pedro Dolor. “Well, then, it seems that God has smiled upon us in this matter. Or, to indulge in one of the up-timer’s sayings, these two wrongs — our failure to apprehend the up-timers and also to retain custody of the last assassin — have made a right. You are dismissed, Señor Dolor.”
The man bowed and exited.
As he left, Borja murmured, almost as an afterthought, “Vaya con Dios.” He doubted there was any chance of that being the case.
As Pedro Dolor exited Borja’s office he was still stifling the urge to rebut the cardinal’s penultimate insipidity. No, two wrongs did not make a right. In Chiavenna, there had been two signal failures that, this time, just happened to cancel each other out in terms of any larger political damage. It was luck. It was certainly not the sign of insuperable Spanish supremacy, nor the hand of God working in its favor: just blind, dumb luck — of which they were running out as quickly as Philip’s treasury was running out of reales.
Upon reaching the cavernous vestibule of Villa Borghese, in which Borja had first established his headquarters, and then residence, Dolor was joined by a short, swarthy man. No more than 5′ 4″ in height, but almost as wide in the shoulders, he emerged from the shadows of one of the many colonnaded galleries. He fell in step with Dolor. “Well?” he asked.
Dolor shrugged. “Borja’s cautious but tractable. His unwillingness to get his hands dirty by giving orders that directly violate his vows and Christian piety will make him easy enough to manipulate. That, and his numerous insecurities.”
“Another fool in a red robe and hat?”
“No, he’s no fool. But he’s out of his depth and unwilling to admit he’s a murderer. Like most noblemen, he’s accustomed to having other people not only do his dirty work, but take the guilt — legal and religious — upon their own backs. He wants to reap the benefits of actions in which he refuses to take a part or take responsibility.”
“The way you say that –”
“It sounds like you know the type well. From personal experience, perhaps.”
“It doesn’t matter how I know the type. But I know this, too: Borja’s dangerous. He’ll be careful not to compromise himself by bringing me into his complete confidence, and he’ll throw us to the wolves if there’s any blame to be taken. So we’ll be careful. And I don’t need to enter into his confidences to do my job.”
And thereby, thought Dolor, to get what I really want.
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