Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Sixteen

       Last updated: Tuesday, February 3, 2004 01:11 EST



    There were advantages, Cardinal Bedmar reflected, to being persona non grata in Venice. Sourly, he studied the mob packed into the Doge’s palace. At least he’d been spared this unpleasantness since his arrival from the Spanish Netherlands a few weeks earlier. This was the first time he’d been invited to participate in one of the Venetians’ beloved gala events, as one of the fish crammed into the barrel.

    And why had he been invited at all? he wondered. Probably just because the Venetians enjoyed rubbing his nose in the fact that the ambassador from the infant “United States of Europe” enjoyed more status here than one of the representatives from the ancient and glorious Spanish Empire.

    “My feet hurt,” the cardinal announced.

    “Yes, Your Eminence.”

    “And my back hurts,” he went on.

    “Yes, Your Eminence.”

    “And with all this insincere smiling, Sanchez, my God-damned face hurts.”

    Sanchez shifted from one foot to the other, a slight wince creasing his face. “Your Eminence bears his suffering well.”

    “Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz, did I not know you better I would swear you were being sarcastic.” Cardinal Bedmar spoke the words in the low undertone that all diplomats learned for functions like the one they were attending, his face hardly moving from its practiced smile.

    “Oh, no,” Sanchez drawled, likewise. “For that would be a heretical proposition of disrespect to a prince of the church, rather than simply suggesting—as one old man to another—that Your Eminence is not the only one who is too old for this.”

    Sanchez, like the cardinal himself, was two-faced in the service of his country. In theory, a cardinal’s gentiluomo like Sanchez was simply his master’s close-protection man, the last line of defense for a prince of the church and the bearer of a sword where a cleric ought not to wield one in his own person. In practice, Sanchez ran errands for his master the one-time diplomat.

    Sometimes downright odd errands, those were. There had been few enough of them, though, in past years. Bedmar had been in near-retirement on the Council of Flanders, and until the year before Flanders had been quiet. As quiet, at least, as the nearby presence of the pestiferous Protestants in the United Provinces allowed. But all that had changed since the arrival of the Americans in what had come to be known as “the Ring of Fire.” Now these bizarre people said to come from the future and their Swedish ally had kicked over the ant-heap in Germany.

    On the positive side, most of the Netherlands was back in Spanish hands since the Dutch fleet had been destroyed through treachery and the Cardinal-Infante Don Fernando had led a daring seizure of Haarlem. There were new men all over the place, in the Spanish Netherlands, brought by the Cardinal-Infante. The old warhorse Cardinal Bedmar had been sent back to Venice after fifteen years away. Some genius had decided he was the man to come in and foil whatever plot the Americans were working toward here, despite Bedmar’s notoriety in the Serene Republic.

    And so, tonight, Bedmar and his trusted assistant Sanchez were in the Sala de Gran Consiglia of the Doge’s palace, paying more attention to the magnificent Tintoretto paintings on the walls and ceiling than any of the pomp and flummery the Venetians loved so much. Bedmar had spent the evening so far smiling at people whom he had, fifteen years earlier, tried to have killed, ruined, or subordinated to foreign conquest.

    That was from the Venetian point of view, of course. From Bedmar’s own perspective, it had been a great adventure in the service of his country, widening the Empire and taking back some of what the Venetians had leeched from Spain one way or another over the years. Their defiance, captiousness, decadence, whoring and irreligion were a byword across Europe, and there were better uses for the wealth and strategic position of the great city.

    But... it had ended in humiliation. For some reason these decadent, coin-counting Italians did not want a change of regime at the hands of the greatest power in Europe. The Venetians had caught every one of Bedmar’s foresighted patriots. Labeled them “traitors,” no less; then, hung them after breaking their legs in the time-honored Venetian tradition. There had been ugly scenes with mobs of Arsenalotti on the day Bedmar had left the Most Serene Republic in a not-very-serene hurry.

    A week after that scramble of a day, though, a couple of Imperial ambassadors had been thrown out of a window in the now-famous “defenestration of Prague.” Bohemia had risen in revolt under a Protestant king and everyone had forgotten about Italy and what Bedmar had done in Venice—until de Nevers and his claim to Mantua gave everyone another pretext for mayhem in the interest of extending influence in the Italies. That had only just finished when the Americans turned up, but things had now settled down over the border in Mantua. The troops had gone elsewhere, as well, and Italy looked like a relatively safe place for the first time in fifteen years.

    Which meant that it wanted nothing but that someone should turn out singly and severally to make trouble. Bedmar wasn’t objecting, really. Winter in Flanders was cold and ugly on his old bones; Venice was a good place to be until summer. In the meantime, he would achieve all he could—which was probably nothing. No one trusted him in this town, and never would. He would simply dump a good deal of money in Venice, report failure, and leave with the coming winter chill.

    The cardinal thought the old Count Gondomar, back when he was still alive and Spain’s ambassador to England, had been righter than he knew when he wrote his famous complaint before the war. He had written of the energy of the newly-rising nations, especially the England whose ruin he had conspicuously failed to bring about, and of the waxing commercial power of the Dutch. By contrast, he had said, Spain was buying doubtful loyalties with the better part of every New World treasure fleet.

    Bedmar had agreed with him but, alas, the King of Spain had not. Philip IV and his chief minister the Count-Duke of Olivares had opted for a different solution: war. If Spain was losing the peace, why, then, the truce was about to expire. Spain was apparently to rediscover her glory at the end of a pike.

    The cardinal had been skeptical at the time, and the ensuing fifteen years of what future historians were said to call “the Thirty Years War” had born him out. The war had simply continued Spain’s slide from the top of the pile, and added a mountain of dead and put half of Europe into near-anarchy to compound everyone’s problems.

    And here, once again, Bedmar was sent to disburse another portion of the last treasure fleet on loyalties that were not even strong enough to be called doubtful. The chances were good that all Bedmar would do would be to fund a few petty enemies.

    He sighed. Spain would gain nothing here except perhaps a close look at a few more Americans than had been seen outside their new United States to date. And even that was late. The Venetians might be able to run a State Inquisition able to shut down a well-funded fifth column run by a professional spymaster, but they didn’t seem to be able to make a convivial drinks reception run on time. At that, Bedmar couldn’t fault their sense of priorities.

    The majordomo was announcing something. “Did you hear that, Sanchez?” he asked, nudging his gentiluomo.

    “Yes, Your Eminence,” said Sanchez.

    Bedmar turned to glare at him. The Catalan gentiluomo’s sense of humor had irritated him for years. Why he put up with the hard-bitten old fool was a mystery to the cardinal. Probably because that same sense of humor amused him also. Most of the time.

    Sanchez’s moustaches twitched a little. “It is the American ambassador, Your Eminence. He just arrived.”

    The Sala di Gran Consiglia, the Doge’s main council chamber, was a working debating-hall without the kind of elevated entrance that permitted guests already arrived to see who was coming in, so they had to wait. In fact, the only raised part of the room was the presiding dais at one end, where the Doge was stationed with his retinue of Senators. The middle of the floor was open to allow the new arrivals to parade up to greet the Doge. As they passed, Sanchez was all business.

    “The priest in front, Your Eminence, is Lawrence Mazzare, the ambassador from the United States of Europe. He speaks for their President—no, he’s called the Prime Minister now—Michael Stearns. The fat priest with him is his curate and factotum, the Jesuit I told you of, Heinzerling. The other is Mazzare’s second in the embassy, a Protestant cleric by the name of Jones. Behind them is the alchemist Stone and his wife. The young Moor is the daughter of the doctor, Nichols; she was also betrothed to the hero of the battle at Wismar last autumn. The one named Richter, who was killed.”

    Sanchez’s voice grew a little distant as he spoke of the black woman. She was definitely worth looking at, although Bedmar didn’t think she merited quite the stare that Sanchez, the old goat, was giving her.

    Bedmar tried to drag his man back to the matter at hand. “I wonder how Stone will go down,” he murmured, “since everyone is expecting the purest of rational natural philosophy from these Americans.” Back home, there had been calls for the Inquisition to deal with alchemists as heretics or, at the very least, peddlers of superstition. The Inquisition, for the most part, insisted that fraud was a matter for the secular courts, although from time to time they proceeded against the more egregious examples.

    “I wonder too,” Sanchez said, his mind still on the job despite evident distraction, “although I hear stories that this Stone makes it work.”

    “Really? And who is this behind, now?” That was a sight, if anything, even more remarkable than the prospect of base metal into gold. Well, not anywhere else in Venice, but here in the Gran Consiglia it was a bit much.

    “These, I think, are Stone’s sons. One of them—the eldest, it would look like—is accompanied by, ah—”

    “Quite,” Bedmar said. “And such a young and pretty one, too. I think we might have to be tactful about that.” One of the American boys was accompanied by a young woman. A Venetian, obviously—and just as obviously a courtesan, even if she wasn’t wearing the red shoes of her vocation and was pretending to be otherwise. Nobody else at such an event would be that young, that good-looking, and that awkward in her bearing and poise. A new courtesan, clearly, unsure of herself in high company. She wasn’t even wearing a mask—not even a half-mask. Judging from the stares she was getting, she was completely unknown to the crowd.

    That might cause a bit of a scandal. Not her status, but the attempt at disguising it. Several of the younger minor notables of Venice present at the reception were accompanied by courtesans, and no one was taking any real note of it. The Serene Republic was notorious for its moral laxity. On the other hand, all the other courtesans Bedmar could see were wearing the red shoes required by custom. Sin, Venetians tolerated; attempting to rise above one’s station was another matter.

    “The rest I don’t know, Your Eminence,” Sanchez was saying. He had moved behind Bedmar now and was murmuring over his shoulder. Around the room, other diplomats were being briefed in like manner. “The stocky soldier is the head of their embassy guard, I think. A Scotsman named Lennox. Until last year he was a cavalryman in the Swede’s army.”

    “Guard?” Bedmar murmured back, as the implications suddenly assembled themselves in his mind. It was vanishingly rare that an ambassador had a formal guard while attending a foreign prince. A small crew of professional soldiers, perhaps, to protect him en route and keep the embassy safe from burglars and such. But a formal liveried guard was either outrageous ostentation or very pointed distrust.

    Alas, Spanish intelligence in Venice was at best mediocre since the unfortunate business fifteen years before. It didn’t help matters any that the regular ambassador from Madrid was a dim-witted and fussy man, who’d made it quite clear that he resented Bedmar’s arrival here as a “special ambassador from the Spanish Netherlands” and had refused to be co-operative beyond the bare minimum required by protocol. Bedmar would have given a very great deal indeed to get a reliable account of the negotiations that had let that burly Scot soldier into Venice as a formal guard for the American embassy.

    Part of it was probably genuine concern, Bedmar conceded, as he contemplated the possibility of protesting to the Doge at this unseemly favoritism. After all, the diplomatic mission from the United States to England was immured in the Tower of London, and another was trapped by the Cardinal-Infante’s Spanish army in the siege of Amsterdam. Not to mention that, by now, all Europe had heard the rumors of how Richelieu had attempted to have that embassy ambushed on their way from Paris to the Hague—an embassy led by the very wife of the U.S. President, to boot.

    Richelieu hadn’t admitted a thing, of course, nor would he ever. But anyone who did not believe that those pirates had attacked Rebecca Abrabanel’s ship on French orders was either a purblind idiot or believed that the indefatigable propaganda mills of the Protestant Germanies were lying. Again.

    Bedmar watched with interest as the priest Mazzare formally presented his credentials to the Doge. It was, as always in Venice, a highly stylized business: the credentials handed over in a fat leather wallet fringed with all manner of tassels and pendant seals. The formal words were spoken aloud, and then a few words of mutual esteem and friendship.

    Not many, though. That was either a good sign or a bad one. If they meant to let it all keep for a serious bargaining session upstairs on the morrow, then it was good for the Americans. If the Doge was actually treating Mazzare the way he had treated Spain’s ambassador extraordinary...

    Ha! Bedmar had had to hand over his own credentials in private after a four-flight climb up the Scala d’Oro, and the Doge had all but cut him, he had been that curt.

    But, no, he saw that the Doge was smiling. For a wonder, the Consiglia had permitted him that much expression. True, Don Erizzo, the current Doge, was rumored to be a ferocious character next to the usual run of Venetian Dukes. So perhaps his “advisers” were a bit intimidated by him. Whatever, it looked good for the United States, this week in Venice.

    The Spanish cardinal cared little, either way. He was an old and tired man sent here on a mission he considered barely short of insane. What could the Count-Duke of Olivares have been thinking, to select Bedmar for this mission? One would almost think the boot-faced bastard meant for it to be a failure, and was simply relying on Bedmar to come out of it with as little humiliation as possible.

    On the other hand...

    From long habit, Bedmar considered all the possibilities. As the chief minister of the King of Spain, Olivares had a finger in every pot—which meant he could get his fingers easily burned. There was that interesting circle who had started gathering around the King’s younger brother, the Cardinal-Infante Don Fernando. Most people saw only the martial glory covering the young prince, since his dazzling success in the Netherlands after so many decades of Spanish frustration. In a few short weeks, the Cardinal-Infante had accomplished what neither the Duke of Alva nor Spinola had managed—driven the stubborn Dutchmen to their knees, if not yet to outright surrender.

    But the cardinal was starting to wonder. For all his youth—Don Fernando was still in his early twenties—Bedmar was beginning to think he might be playing a very deep game and trying some remarkably complicated steps in the diplomatic gavotte. Bedmar knew that the Cardinal-Infante had at least two men in his circle—quite close, as well—who were running on very, very long leashes indeed. Bedmar had been asked, by way of several hints so oblique as to make the usual finaglings of protocol look like a barrage of siege artillery, to open up friendly overtures with the Americans on the tenuous authority of Spanish Flanders. Acting on those requests was technically a betrayal of Bedmar’s official principal, who was, after all, the King of Spain, not the Prince of the Netherlands. On the other hand, his official principal appeared not to care what happened in Venice. Indeed—

    “Your Eminence?” Sanchez was nudging him.

    It was good that he had. In his reverie, Bedmar had turned his eyes to the marvelous coronation of the virgin that adorned the wall above and behind the Doge. Thus he had not noticed that Mazzare had come, in the proper order of protocol, to the extraordinary ambassador from the Spanish Netherlands. Purely out of spite, the Venetians had declined to recall Bedmar’s last sojourn as ambassador in Venice and so put him considerably further from the doyenne—some English coin-counter—than he truly merited. Another point on which his mere presence was helping the Americans, he realized. Any nation that defied Spain and the House of Habsburg was sure of a warm reception from Venice.

    The cardinal understood the dynamics of power extremely well. The Venetians had gotten cold comfort from France since the Mantuan War and had been at near war with the Turk these hundred years past. Their best option was the United States of Europe, which was powerful enough to be a worthwhile ally against Spain and the Habsburgs where England—still more distant, always penurious, and of late in turmoil—most certainly was not.

    Bedmar stepped forward, noting the carefully-blank face of the American priest. “Monsignor,” he said, feeling that the man deserved at least that much. Mazzare had risen from parish pastor to, Bedmar estimated, ambassador from the third most powerful nation in Europe to perhaps the fourth or fifth richest. Bedmar extended his hand with its ring of office.

    A test, there. Mazzare took it and kissed the ring in the proper manner, betraying the work of a far better tutor in protocol than most parish priests ever ran into.

    “Your Eminence does me much honor,” Mazzare said, resorting to Venesse, the local dialect of Italian. That wasn’t protocol. The meaning—yes, to meet on neutral ground. Bedmar raised his estimate of the American a notch or two. It had been high enough to begin with, of course. Few were trusted in his position that were not at least confident and competent.

    “And how does Monsignor find Venice?” Bedmar decided that he would confine himself to the pleasantries. Should Mazzare wish to try a more aggressive approach, he would presumably not do it in front of witnesses.

    “Venice is a beautiful city, and I hope to do a great deal of business here.”

    Oh, so it was that way, was it? At least Bedmar hoped so, although he realized it was perhaps some American quirk that made such a blatant ploy into a mere pleasantry. They were a new folk to him.

    “Business?” he asked pleasantly.

    “Oh, yes,” Mazzare replied, smiling gently with his two aides behind him.

    A peculiar arrangement, that. A Catholic ambassador, with a Jesuit and a Protestant as his assistants.

    After a moment, Mazzare broke the brief silence. “Many people have expressed an interest in doing business with us, Your Eminence. All save Seigneur le Comte d’Avaux, who gave us his back publicly.”

    Bedmar had wondered what the murmur had been a few moments before. He had assumed that—no, he had been distracted by the art on the walls and his musings about the situation in Flanders.

    Mazzare’s words finally registered fully. “Ha!” he barked, amused. Then, cursing himself—getting too damned old!—he got a grip on his momentary lapse and shut his face down while his mind worked. “What was the oily little French toad thinking, to play his hand so publicly and so soon?”

    “I had expected some coldness,” Mazzare said; wryly now, apparently disarmed by Bedmar’s own forthrightness, “with our nations at war. This was more than I thought we might see. The gentleman from England was pleasant, though, and invited us to meet some merchant friends of his. Your own ambassador was courteous, and looked forward to talking with us—”

    Bedmar had leapt to a conclusion while Mazzare talked. “Monsignor,” he said, interrupting, “disregard that last. My countryman, the permanent ambassador here, Count de Rocca, is a puffed-up fool. He comes directly from Spain and will tell you what he is told to tell you. From me, on the other hand—freshly arrived from the Low Countries, where reality stands in sharp contrast to fantasy—you will get plain speaking. So let me offer my personal hand in friendship, and say that there will be straight dealing between us, as between honorable enemies. We may each of us find nothing to agree on, but it will be fairly haggled for. Like you, I am from a small town. I know what it is to see the women barter in the market-place”—a slight look of bemusement crossed the American’s face at that, and Bedmar wondered briefly why—”and perhaps you do too. Let us be, at least civil; and perhaps reach an understanding as priests, if it can be reached. There will come a time when a larger deal might be done, but let us not force the matter, no?”

    Bedmar noted that Mazzare had set his face perfectly for the enlargement and the restriction of what he had said. A professional, then, or at least a gifted amateur.

    “Your Eminence, I look forward to it.” Mazzare nodded graciously and began to move along.

    A moment of mischief filled the cardinal. “By the way,” he said, bringing Mazzare back in the very act of turning away, “the young caballero with your party, he moves quickly, no?”

    Mazzare’s frown of confusion was mild. “Your Eminence?”

    “Oh, even in Venice a young man must work a bit to find a courtesan—and such a young and pretty one, too.”

    The frown deepened. “Your Eminence, I hardly think this is the time or place to cast aspersions—”

    “Aspersions, Monsignor? It’s quite obvious, despite the woman’s improper shoes.” Bedmar chuckled, to show he meant no ill-will. “The Venetians may complain about that, you know. They don’t mind courtesans here—celebrate them, in fact—but they do insist on the formalities.”

    Mazzare’s face settled into a placid expression. “I thank Your Eminence, for bringing the matter to my attention. You may be assured that it will receive a thorough investigation.”

    “Shocked, Monsignor? And here I was believing the tales that Grantville was a whole town filled with scantily-clad immoral women.” Bedmar chuckled. “I am from too rural a town to give much credence to stuffy Venetian notions of proper dress, Monsignor. Lot of hypocrites, they are. But if you have the cure of the boy’s soul, Monsignor, you must think on whether fornication between the unmarried is any sin at all or whether, well, boys will be boys, hey?”

    It was all Bedmar could do to keep his face straight. Fortunately, he was helped by the arrival of a new party, which distracted Mazzare momentarily. The alchemist was coming along the receiving line in the company of his wife.

    “Senor Stone,” Bedmar beamed. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance!”

    “Thank you, uh...” The alchemist looked slightly dazed. Doubtless fumes from some working or other. His wife stood up on tiptoe and whispered into the place where, presumably, an ear was hidden amid shaggy wolf-gray hair. “Your Eminence,” Stone finished.

    “I have heard that you have divined the secrets of alchemy?”

    Another surprised and startled look. “Uh, no. Ah, that is, Your Eminence, alchemy is what they do in this time, and it doesn’t work. Chemistry—”

    Stone gave the last word a careful and exaggerated pronunciation. As it was a new word, Bedmar surmised that he got asked to repeat it a lot.

    “—is what we do in the twentieth century, and it does work. I make dyes, and stains, and paints and medicines, and we may make some other things. Soon. Yes, soon.”

    He looked uncertainly at his wife, and at Mazzare, as if unsure what he could say and not say.

    Bedmar rescued him, or at least pretended to for the sake of a jest he was now thoroughly enjoying. “Dye, eh?” he said. “A coincidence you should mention the color of things. Shoes can be dyed too, of course. It was a matter I raised with the Monsignor here, some moments ago. Yes, quite a coincidence.”

    Mazzare’s look in return was pure poison for the moment it took him to get his face under control, a chink in the armor through which Bedmar could see that Mazzare cared for his ambassadorial party. A weakness, perhaps, but one that showed he was a man with whom business could be done. As for the poisonous look, Bedmar thought a man who played the game of princes would do well to be prepared for an occasional unorthodox step in the dance. A mixed metaphor that Sanchez, who had some pretensions to poetry, would wince at.

    “Your Eminence,” Mazzare said after a long, awkward moment. “It appears we are holding up the receiving line, much though I would like to continue this fascinating conversation. Perhaps later?”

    “Yes, perhaps later.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image