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Chapter 12


Don Vincente found himself missing his company's pikes and halberds sorely. The newfangled bayonets that had been promised, the ones that did not plug the muskets, had simply not been provided; the output of the Toledo factory had gone to the units heading directly for France first. Many of the men had knives or short swords or other close weapons, but they were going to be of limited use.

The crowd that gathered in the piazza whatever—Don Vincente hadn't been here long enough to learn the names, although he could find his way about—was certainly excitable and unruly but those present weren't actually rioting yet. A firm and resolute advance with cold steel would dampen their enthusiasm without anyone getting hurt. And people getting hurt would be sure to make the next mob that little bit angrier and harder for him, Don Vincente, to deal with.

He swore under his breath.

"The men are forming up, Don Vincente," Ezquerra said, quietly, from behind him.

"I could wish we did not have to open fire," Don Vincente said, just as quietly. There had been trouble before this in Naples, but now it was Don Vincente's company's turn. He wondered if any of the other captains had had to lead a musket-only company against people expressing their anger? Probably not, or the grapevine that Ezquerra seemed to be at the root of would have carried the news to him already. There were agitators galore all over the kingdom of Naples, and they were thick as lice in the city of Naples itself. The place was as ready to explode as Vesuvius, whose glow lit the night sky outside Don Vincente's billet window.

If there were anything that might be called a massacre, they would have word of it to every corner of the kingdom faster than lightning. And Don Vincente truly, truly did not want to spend the next few years of his career acting as a glorified constable if the trouble flared up. If nothing else, the opportunities for loot would be terrible. "Go and bring the men up, Sergeant. We should get this over with."

Ezquerra nodded and ambled off to carry out the order. Doubtless he would break in to a jog the moment he was certain his captain's back was turned.

Don Vincente had left the company a little way back down the street and come ahead alone to assess the situation. There were perhaps four or five hundred people, mostly men of the rougher sort, gathered in the piazza and shouting slogans. There were a few women, possibly whores looking for business, but Don Vincente did not know what Naples' required dress for such women was. Don Vincente's command of Italian—a necessity for any professional soldier—did not include much in the way of the local dialect of the language beyond what he needed to order servants about and other small matters. However, the tone was clear enough. These people were unhappy about something, and were demanding to know what the officials and notables in the huge and gaudy confection of a building in front of them were going to do about it.

"Disgusting," came a prissy and slightly sibilant voice, and Don Vincente's heart sank.

"Indeed, Father Gonzalez," he said, as smoothly as he could manage, mentally adding the words "you pious prick" as he did to everything he said to the man. After trying to police the morals of the soldiers, Gonzalez had returned to his campaign to find evidence of secret Jewry among the soldiers. Thus far, he had managed to completely miss the two actual Jewish veterans in the company. Their comrades had covered for them completely, and in any event the pair of them were sufficiently unobservant of their religion that a hypothetical Jewish Inquisition would probably suspect them of being secret Christians. He'd also ignored the openly Jewish surgeon who accompanied the tercio. He had, instead, given Don Vincente himself a hard time over sleeping late the Saturday after their two weeks of enforced training had ended.

Apparently, not working on a Saturday was evidence of a secret conversion to Judaism, Don Vincente's certificate of limpieza notwithstanding, and not simply the consequence of having indulged a little too heavily with his fellow officers at a small party the night before. Fortunately, the other two inquisitors who were assigned to the tercio seemed to dislike Gonzalez just as much as everyone else did, and had smirked and overruled him when Don Vincente had sent runners to them to come at their earliest convenience and pointedly eaten a large portion of the local ham in front of them. Also fortunately, all three inquisitors had been out of sight when the thick, rich, salty fat on the ham—which ordinarily Don Vincente was rather partial to—had hit his stomach. When this mixed with the remains of the previous night's drinking, he had become copiously ill. The experience had not made him any better disposed toward the good father.

"—and, of course, you will open fire immediately to suppress this ungodly disorder." Don Vincente realized that the memory of throwing up an otherwise perfectly good portion of ham had distracted him from whatever the obnoxious priest was bleating about this time.

"I shall, of course, take all proper military measures, Father Gonzalez," Don Vincente said as smoothly as he could manage. "And now if you would be so good as to retire, I believe my men are commencing to advance."

"I am not afraid to be in the forefront of God's work against those stirred to impious revolt by—"

"Indeed not, Father Gonzalez," Don Vincente interrupted, over the sound of his men's booted feet and of shouldered muskets clanging on gorgets, "and if my words have suggested as much then I, Don Vincente Jose-Maria Castro y Papas most humbly apologize. But the good father is standing in the way of what will likely be my men's first volley of musket fire."

"Ah." Gonzalez tried to scurry to the rear without appearing to hurry.

Don Vincente savagely suppressed the wish that he could have left Gonzalez directly in front of a hundred soldiers with loaded muskets while he gave the order to fire. Certainly, the sight of an inquisitor being riddled with bullets would have placated the crowd like little else; the Holy Office was no more popular in Italy than it was in Spain. But the wretched man's death would doubtless have created yet more paperwork. Don Vincente sighed, and turned to watch his men approach along the street from where he had had them form up out of sight of the crowd. "Sergeant," he called. "Are the men loaded?"

"They are, Captain," Ezquerra called back.

"Musician!" Ezquerra called, "A march, if you please."

Diaz, the company's trumpeter, and the drummer boys struck up something suitably martial, and the men's pace quickened as they approached where Don Vincente was waiting. The company standard was drooping in the airless spring sunshine, but otherwise the company made a fine sight as they came in sight of the crowd. The music got their attention and there were a number of faces turned away from the building they were protesting outside, which Don Vincente vaguely recognized as the palace of someone in the city's administration, rather than that of the viceroy. It was good to see that the crowd had noticed the company early, as it would give them more time to think.

As, indeed, Don Vincente had taken time to think. "Sergeant Ezquerra," he called. "Extend to line of four ranks."

Ezquerra gave his captain an odd look, as did Lieutenant Rojas as he came from his proper position in the rear of the company. Six ranks was considered to be the shallowest that gunners could be ranked, giving each rank time to reload while the others took their turn to shoot. Don Vincente knew that he was taking a chance, but he suspected that reloading would not be an issue today. In any event with the new light muskets and the drill he had had the men engage in, he was seeing nearly two shots a minute from many of his men, and three shots every two minutes from all of them. Despite the doubt written in their faces, Ezquerra and Rojas began ordering the men into the required ranks as they fanned out in to the piazza.

"Front rank, level arms!" Ezquerra bellowed, not waiting for the order. Don Vincente stole a glance, and saw that true to form the man was leaning on his halberd even as he readied the men for action. To the company's front, no more than thirty yards away, the nearest members of the crowd had shifted from stupefied curiosity at the interruption to their afternoon's entertainment sounding off at their city's notables, and were now looking nervous. More than nervous, in fact.

Don Vincente crossed himself, kissed the rosary he wore at his belt, and offered a silent prayer that the threat would be enough. Honorable deeds on the field of battle were all very well, and there was loot to hope for there besides. Giving fire, twenty-five muskets at a time, into a piazza crowded with civilians, was most definitely not what he had followed His Most Catholic Majesty's colors for.

"Why do you not give the order to fire?" The voice came from behind him. Gonzalez had come back.

He paused a moment before turning to address the pompous little—most holy inquisitor. "Because, good Father, we must permit some little time for the crowd to realize the error of their ways and repent."

He hoped that putting it that way would get the wretched priest off his back. For a man supposedly forbidden the profession of arms, Father Gonzalez was a bloodthirsty little bastard. And doubtless he was a bastard in all ways that counted. Not even the most loving of mothers would wish to be associated with the squinty-eyed little runt. The man managed to be as scrawny as a gypsy's donkey while still having the piggy little eyes and puffy face of a glutton long since run to seed. Those eyes were unsettlingly close together and the straggly hair around the priestly tonsure made the effect more that of a rabid polecat than anything which might one day be something as useful as a ham.

Don Vincente's belly rumbled at the thought of ham. This fiasco had come hard on the heels of morning drill and he, and all his men, were missing lunch.

Gonzalez appeared to consider Don Vincente's words for a moment. While the crab-ridden priest was dithering, Don Vincente decided to dispense with good manners and returned his regard to the crowd. The initial shuffle away from the soldiers had ended with the near edge of the crowd some ten yards farther away, at the edge of practical musket range although the balls would still have killing force at that distance. There was an ugly murmur now coming from them instead of the roar of protest they had been making before.

The near edge of the crowd seemed to roil like a simmering stockpot as the fainter spirits retired into the safety of numbers and the bolder souls came forward to glare at the soldiers. Some of them looked like they were weighing the odds, and Don Vincente hoped hell there weren't enough experienced soldiers among them to come to the correct conclusion. Outnumbering the soldiers who faced them more than four to one, if the crowd charged with any real spirit, they would run over the company like a wave over beach sand, with only a few losses. Don Vincente began to regret that he had been so vigorous in arranging that his men should drill and train. Had he not been in possession of the only company mustered and equipped today, he might have escaped having to do this. And the risk of seeing his command come to a messy end.

Movement beside him caught his eye. When he saw what it was, he groaned aloud. Gonzalez was striding forward, in that stupid ass-out, leaning forward waddle he had among his only-slightly-less irritating characteristics, and hectoring the crowd. Worse, the man wasn't even bothering to address them in their native tongue, but was haranguing them in Spanish.

Another groan, this one very loud and theatrical, came from Sergeant Ezquerra.

As Gonzalez was winding up to "—and there is a place appointed for you, a place of torment and, and, and"—and otherwise becoming too excited to speak properly, Don Vincente realized that he had to act quickly. If he held fire to keep the odious little ti—the most holy inquisitor from getting hurt, he would give the more militant members of the crowd ample time to overrun his company and then dismember the inquisitor at their leisure, proving that it was an ill wind that blew no one any good. Don Vincente considered simply drawing his pistol and shooting the man down in mid expostulation, but even though that would save his men from the suggestion that they had killed the priest, it would not solve the current problem. There was nothing else for it.

"Lieutenant! Be ready to give the command for a front rank volley," he shouted, and strode out to grab the ranting idiot and haul him bodily out of the line of fire.

"And did not Saint Paul say—what?" Gonzalez halted in mid-diatribe as Don Vincente seized him by the shoulder.

"Time to go, Father." Don Vincente was unable to keep the nasty tone out of his voice. "My men are about to begin shooting."

"They are?" Father Gonzalez looked around. "They are." He turned his back on the crowd. "As you can see, Captain, there was no point waiting. They have not dispersed, no matter the exhortation. Too steeped in Sin."

Don Vincente took Gonzalez by the elbow and began to lead him to one side, much as one would an elderly and rather confused relative. The crowd was still tense, not coming closer to the guns, but the nearer members were watching them intently. Don Vincente could smell the crowd, the unwashed clothes, the smells of cheap cooking and cheaper drink and the nervous sweat of people who have realized that the situation has escalated. More than one had a billet of wood, a knife, or some other simple weapon. Quite enough to deal with a company of musketeers at three or four to one odds.

The front rows of the crowd now consisted entirely of men, the women having filtered away to the back. That would be a load off the conscience, at least. There was precious little to be proud of in firing into a crowd of civilians, but at least there would be no women hurt.

He got Father Gonzalez back to the edge of the square. It was a standoff, now. The crowd was hushed and murmuring their discontent. There was no movement toward his men, but likewise no movement to disperse. Had there been just one more company, preferably a pike company, present to assist, there would be no problem. A volley into the air, and the pikes would advance and the crowd would have to run away. A volley into the air now would achieve nothing. A few faint hearts would run, but the rest would know that that meant a quarter of the musketeers were unloaded.

Something was needed to break the moment. Don Vincente very slowly and deliberately drew his saber, and held it, low and loose by his side. Several of the people in the crowd were watching him, not the musketeers. He began looking for eye contact, staring hard at each man in turn.

Suddenly, with hardly even time for the eye to register it, there was a surge from behind the crowd. Some of the men at the front nearest Don Vincente staggered forward a few paces as the people behind pushed into them, but did not come any closer than that. Some of them were nervously looking behind them, and those not directly in the front row were facing away from the musketeers and craning their necks, some on tiptoes, to see what was going on.

"Captain?" Lieutenant Rojas called.

"A moment!" Don Vincente called back. He could just about see over the heads of the crowd and—yes! there seemed to be some mounted troops. There were some local mercenaries who were a cavalry outfit who might well have been turned out as well for this business; Don Vincente did not recall hearing of any Spanish cavalry arriving in Naples. There was no sound of screaming, yet. If the moment was to be broken, now was the time. "Lieutenant! Prepare to fire!"

The front rank of musketeers leveled their weapons in cadence with the shouted commands of the cabos. They awaited Don Vincente's command.

Lord God Almighty, forgive me this—

Behind the crowd, the cavalry were forcing their way into the square. They seemed to be just using the weight of their horses, but the sounds of shouting could be heard, and it was surely only a matter of time before someone was hurt. Don Vincente raised his sword, the reflection from the blade scattering sunlight across the faces of the crowd. One or two of them flinched.

He dared to breathe again after a moment, when some of the crowd began filtering away. Between the musketeers here and the cavalry there, many of the Neapolitans present were beginning to feel less enthusiastic about protest than they had only a few minutes ago. And there were several routes out of the square, none of which were blocked.

And then the screams started. Oh, shit—the thought was followed swiftly by the realization that the crowd was about to surge toward his men. Without taking further thought, he flashed his sword down.

As the powder-smoke and ball belched out and the crowd began falling and dying and milling and running and trampling its weaker members underfoot, Don Vincente looked on, numbly listening to his NCOs and Lieutenant Rojas barking the orders for the continuing volleys that flayed and hammered the nearest face of the crowd and drove the survivors away to the other exits. He told himself, over and over, that it had been the only action he could take. That not to act would have seen all his men dead. That the cavalry had been sent to the other side of the square had been sheerest bad luck. That surely it had been the hand of the Devil that caused some poor soul to be trampled by a horse at just that moment.

It was over in minutes. Any thought the crowd might have had of escaping through Don Vincente's company died under the constant hail of bullets, each volley more ragged than the last as men reloaded at different rates. Any thought that they might have resisted died as the cavalry brought their sabers in to play. Some few might have had the courage and the will to stand, but they were tossed on a storm of panic. The shooting had prevented them acting as a coherent mob, and had turned them into a crowd of frightened individuals. An ounce of leadership and they would have torn the soldiers apart, but that ounce was lacking.

When the crowd had cleared, the ground was littered with bodies. Don Vincente's men had, between them, discharged perhaps three hundred rounds. Many—most, even—would have done little damage. Missed, or done no more than cause a mild scratch. Of the ones that remained, a musket ball two-thirds of an inch wide did terrible injury to flesh. The cavalry had accounted for far fewer, the horsemen being limited to what was within reach of their arms. But for those first few seconds, the first fifty or so bullets, the crowd had been packed tight together, twenty yards away at their nearest. And at that range, a musket ball is accurate and deadly. Some would have wounded two or more. There was a ring of bodies around Don Vincente, and all of them seemed to accuse him of murder.

"Most commendable," Father Gonzales said, a note of warm approval in his voice.

Slowly, carefully, not making any sudden movements, Don Vincente Jose-Maria Castro y Papas sheathed his sword without turning on the priest and hacking him into bloody hunks of tainted flesh. It was, he found, the hardest thing he had ever done in his life.


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