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Chapter 2

Larry Mazzare moved to stand beside Sharon and Ruy, but the Wild Geese with him—Cormack McCarew and Daniel O’Dempsey—crowded protectively in front of him. Larry sighed: leave it to young Irishmen to be not only ready, but eager, to take a bullet for a trusted counselor of the pope.

Daniel—who everyone wound up calling “Danny-o-Dee”—raised an eyebrow in mock recrimination as Larry tried to press forward. “Yer makin’ our job a trial, y’ar, Your Eminence.”

Mazzare frowned back, not entirely joking. “You call me ‘your eminence’ one more time, Danny, and I’ll have your hide.”

“Yer welcome to it—Your Eminence.”


“All right, then Fahther, but it will be my hide f’sure if anyone hears me bein’ so familiar with yeh.”

Cormack McCarew nodded. “He’s right, Your Eminence. And don’t waste your evil eye on me: I’ve sworn me duty t’ God, and if’t please you, I’m more feared of His wrath than yours.”

Larry didn’t find it too hard to suppress a smile. McCarew and Danny-o-Dee were among the youngest of the Wild Geese, as cute as a pair of spring-born pups, and so utterly earnest that it was impossible not to be charmed by them. But for all of that, they were also tiresome sticklers for the details of their duty: to stick with Mazzare no matter where he went, no matter what he was doing. No exceptions. Which led to some truly frustrating moments at the privy and in the bath. Urban had a similar security detail and similar exasperations.

Larry eventually came to stand by Sharon and Ruy to her left “The radio report has Bedmar passing the waypoint at St. Madeleine now. The entourage is moving quickly.”

Ruy nodded. “Was there any indication that his arrival attracted any special attention?”

“No. Your decision to use sedan chairs instead of carriages seems to be working quite well. The locals have now seen so many people carried that way from the aerodrome that they don’t take any special note.”

Sharon leaned toward Larry. “You must be relieved.”


“Because Bedmar is the last cardinal you have to wrangle. To say nothing of the Protestants and the rest.”

Larry shrugged. “Heck, Sharon, I guess you could say I brought it on myself. I could have kept my big yap shut about the up-time documents of the papacy, the Church, and especially Vatican Two…but I didn’t.”

Sharon looked at him. “I don’t claim to understand much about the chats a priest must have with God, but you’ve made it pretty clear you felt you had to.” She smiled. “To quote a movie that’s set in my old home town, “You’re on a mission from God.”

Larry stared at her. “I may wear white shirts and black suits, but I do not wear black horn-rim sunglasses or claim to be a blues brother.”

Sharon laughed, her chin lifting into the sound. Her face was not quite as full as it had been when they had arrived in 1631, and although she was still a heavily built woman, she was more athletic and toned, now. The last two years had involved a lot of rigorous travel, often under the threat of searching assassins, all on a diet in which refined starches were sparse and refined sugar downright rare.

“Frankly, Sharon, I should be thanking you.”

“For what?”

Larry waved a hand at the long line that snaked away from the gate, the soldiers, the busy bridge. “For arranging to reserve lodging for over a hundred dignitaries, and then three hundred more scribes, guards, clerks, personal assistants, and other members of various entourages. Convincing Bernhard to go along with it, and to conveniently be out of town. And above all, getting Gustav Adolf to pay for the majority of it. I suspect that was the hardest trick of all.”

Sharon’s smile became sly. “Yeah, well, I had a secret weapon.”

Larry smiled back. “You mean Mike Stearns?”

“The one and only.”

Larry nodded. The de facto leader of the displaced American up-timers, former union organizer Mike Stearns, was notorious for combining forces with Ed Piazza, the former high school principal who was now the president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia and expected by most people to become the next prime minister of the Unites States of Europe in the coming elections. Stearns and Piazza employed a kind of tag-team advocacy to wrestle Gustav—or more properly, Gustav Adolphus II, King of Sweden, High King of the Union of Kalmar, and Emperor of the United States of Europe—into supporting the projects they really wanted. Gustav, a staunch Lutheran, would have pushed back hard on funding a papal colloquium, ecumenical or not. Clearly, Mike and Ed had successfully justified it as being essential to the future health of the USE.

“Besides,” Sharon continued after a moment, nodding toward Burgundian regulars, “Bernhard was going to be out of town anyhow. It’s the start of campaign season.”

Which was true enough: Bernhard’s version of Burgundy was not a pleasing geopolitical construct to most of the region’s powers. It ran roughshod over the historical claims of France’s Capetian dynasty, made a mockery of Madrid’s Hapsburg-legitimated dominion of the region since 1519, violated Besançon’s own status as a semi-independent city of the now defunct Holy Roman Empire, and had quickened a surge of preemptive defensiveness along the south-flanking border with the Duchy of Savoy. To put it lightly, Bernhard’s arrival had earned him more than a few restive neighbors.

Bernhard’s response to these pressures was exactly what Larry had come to expect from the monarchs of the seventeenth century: he went to war. In Bernhard’s defense, his campaign was neither impetuous nor ill-considered. His relatively recent marriage to Claudia de Medici, the regent and current ruler of Tyrol, had enabled him to transform his two-year standoff with the Swabian-based Swedish forces into an undeclared armistice. Tyrol was the newest state in the constellation of the USE, and so Gustav’s troops could hardly launch attacks against Bernhard without causing both a multifaceted intranational and international incident with his wife’s polity. Furthermore, since Tyrol was part of Austria, it would complicate and very possibly ruin the growing entente with those realms, as well.

Having thus wrought a political solution to the very real danger beyond the Rhine on his eastern flank, Bernhard immediately reinforced his western border, and was now busily snapping up some undefended autonomous real estate to his north. Out of the goodness of this autocratic and acquisitive heart, he was determined to offer them the security of sheltering beneath the new Burgundian—which was to say, Bernhardian—flag. It was, so to speak, an offer they could not refuse. Consequently, with his visiting wife and newborn son safely ensconced closer to his intended area of operations, devoutly Lutheran Bernhard had also managed to be out of town at exactly the moment when it would have been most awkward to be present: the commencement of a colloquium during which his rising star would have been outshone by sharing the local political stage with no less a luminary than the pope.

Larry’s thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a breathless runner, who leaned quickly toward Ruy. The hidalgo acknowledged the message with a quick nod, then turned to Sharon and Larry. “Bedmar’s entourage is starting across the bridge. We will be at pains to greet him in such a way as to avoid rousing suspicions as to his importance, so we must not appear too protective or hasty. But nor may we indulge in lengthy greetings and conversations.”

Sharon nodded. Larry merely folded his hands. His part in the scripted reception—peeling off with a picked and hidden formation of Owen Roe O’Neill’s Wild Geese and escorting Bedmar to his protected lodgings—would commence soon enough. Until then, he was merely a spectator. And maybe, a calming distraction for Sharon, who was starting to appear a little anxious. “I imagine you’re looking forward to seeing the back of Bedmar’s arrival and babysitting clerics, too.”

Sharon replied with a sound that was part sigh and part grunt. “We’re still waiting for the Russian orthodox contingent, who should have come in on yesterday’s dirigible. And two of the Lutheran theologians haven’t shown, yet—even though, by all rights, they should have been the first to arrive.” She sighed. “At least I didn’t have to juggle all the balls myself at the outset.”

Larry nodded his understanding. In the earliest phases of organizing the colloquium, Sharon had delegated various organizational tasks to up-timers who were already located in Besançon and whose skills were suited to her needs. Unfortunately, that came to a grand total of three persons—well, more like two and a half: Lisa Lund, who had formerly been an interpreter and clerk; the similarly skilled Carey Calagna; and her fifteen-year-old daughter Dominique Bell, who was a pretty sharp cookie and was a match for most down-time scribes when it came to reading and writing.

The rest of the displaced Americans in the region were located across the north loop of the Doub in the small hamlet of Bregille, where, future maps indicated, two smaller bridges would be built over the shallows that were currently used as occasional livestock fords and for the setting of weirs. Hired by Bernhard to oversee the creation of a variety of (comparatively) modern construction and fabrication shops, the Americans had chosen Bregille for its direct and largely untrafficked river access: a major advantage for reducing the expense of receiving of raw materials and, eventually, shipment of finished goods. Located well beyond the roadway bottlenecks of both the Battant and the Buckle, land was cheap there and unburdened by special tolls and tariffs.

However, as Sharon had emphasized when discussing security provisions with Ruy and Larry half a year ago, she would still have been happier if the up-timers in Bregille had been a hundred miles away. A ruthless and well-informed adversary—such as the one they’d faced in Italy—could use them as hostages, since it was known that most of the time-marooned Americans tended to watch out for each other to a certain degree, enough for that instinct to provide leverage over them. And any well-informed adversary would know that Sharon Nichols remained the USE’s representative to Urban, and so, knew that to be an emotional screw they might hope to turn.

Consequently, Sharon had cut what little contact she had with the small up-time enclave in Bregille and had dismissed Lisa, Carey, and Dominique by late March, pressing bonuses upon them along with entreaties to continue with their daily lives as unobtrusively as possible, and to use their up-time skills—and modest celebrity—as sparsely as they might.

Sharon glanced away from where the three sedan chairs, porters, mules, and several unusually strapping attendants, were making their way over the Pont Battant with the rest of the crossing traffic. She looked over her shoulder at Mazzare. “To be honest, sometimes I tell myself I’m just a self-indulgent wimp to complain at all, since I’m mostly just the figurehead of the USE’s involvement here. It’s other people who’ve done the really heavy lifting.”

Larry shrugged, understanding what she meant even if he didn’t agree with her self-dismissive summation. Financial arrangements for the colloquium had been handled through banks and money trading channels in Magdeburg, with some transfers taking place through the Jewish shadow-network overseen by relatives of Mike Stearns’ wife, the Abrabanels. Arranging for airship transport for various dignitaries who had to travel long distances—often over forbidding or unsecure territory—was handled by the burgeoning air service company known as Upward Mobility LLC, which was owned by recent émigré Estuban Miro. Ruy had arranged for all the security, its provisioning, its billets, its standing orders and duty rosters. Communications—both radio operation and messenger contracts—had been overseen by Odo, the radioman who’d been with her from her first days in Rome and Captain Taggart of the embassy’s Marine Guard who’d been with her since she left Grantville.

But there had been a less obvious—albeit desperately important—element to the USE’s support of this meeting of Europe’s various religious leaders: coordinating the preparatory intelligence. The Roman Catholic cardinals who were attending did so at the risk of their lives. If Borja’s agents detected their travel, they were certain to have orders to eliminate them, garnished with the promise of a substantial reward. Word had it that this bounty now included any cardinals who could not be found in their villas and palaces in the Lazio, the broad environs around Rome. It was further rumored that even distant cardinals whom Borja’s messengers failed to find ensconced in their dioceses were, by process of bloodthirsty deduction, also presumed to be Urban’s creatures. Many considered this report to be a sensationalistic invention, but from what Mazzare knew of the papal usurper, it was entirely within his character and the scope of his well-manicured barbarity to make just such rash presumptions and issue correspondingly ruthless orders.

The identity of the intelligence chief responsible for contacting those many prelates and arranging for their travel and security was only known to Larry himself, Sharon, Ruy, and a handful of others: Estuban (but really, Ezekiel) Miro, the same fellow who had arrived in Grantville less than two years ago, and had made his fortune through the development of air travel. He had succeeded handsomely, and the magnitude of that success was increasing weekly, it seemed. Also, that role gave him the perfect cover to handle matters of confidential travel: although he was Europe’s primary provider of dirigible services, it was also within the scope of his activities to arrange for air travelers’ connections to carriages, mounts, and other means whereby they would journey onward from the aerodrome where they disembarked. Consequently, Miro was able to track and subtly shift schedules as needed, all within the scope of his routine operations. It also afforded him the opportunity to ensure that certain unremarkable (yet discreetly well-armed) “fellow travelers” were present at every departure, at every arrival, on every flight that carried carefully nondescript travelers who just happened to be hiding red birettas in their luggage, which was carried by unusually muscular valets.

It was little different when it came to arranging for the travel of the non-Catholic religious figures, although they had been easier to contact. Unlike the understandably reclusive cardinals, very few of the Protestants were trying to remain hidden. However, Miro had been at considerable pains to select and prepare messengers who would not only exercise great discretion when bringing the various theologians a carefully worded invitation to Urban’s ecumenical colloquium in Besançon, but who could tactfully allay their suspicions even while pressing them to appreciate the dire importance of their attendance. That several of the Protestant luminaries had stonily refused to conduct any of their travel by dirigible had not made the security arrangements any easier.

But within the minute, the most worrisome of all those arrangements would be behind them: the sedan chairs bearing Bedmar’s entourage had swung around the far end of the uneven line that stretched halfway back to the bridge.

But they were not alone. A distinctly alien group came along directly behind them on horseback. Large burly men with sabers, long curved axes, and strangely peaked helmets surrounded a thin, gold-clad figure kept carefully, protectively, in their midst.

Owen Roe O’Neill, emerging from the toll-house, stopped, stared. “What in the name of all that’s holy—?”

Larry answered. “Russian Orthodox.” He turned to Sharon. “I thought they were coming by dirigible.”

“They were,” she answered, then caught her lower lip between her teeth. “Damn, we’re going to need a bigger escort. That’s two big holy rollers at the same time.” Her eyes opened wider as she evidently reconsidered her use of the colloquialism, “holy roller.” She turned toward Larry. “Larry, uh, Father Mazzare, I—I’m—”

“I find a little irreverence refreshing. Although, you probably don’t want to repeat that phrase in their presence.”

Ruy’s eyes, which were watching the Burgundian soldiery and the Wild Geese reposition themselves with the smooth ease of a much-rehearsed change of formation, may have twinkled. “I agree with Cardinal Mazzare—but I would enjoy seeing you call Bedmar a ‘holy roller’ to his face, even so.”

Sharon smirked. “I bet you would. You’d probably—”

From just behind the Russians, a sudden commotion fumed and frothed along a short section of the line of regular entrants. Launching outward were almost a dozen thin figures, most clad in fragments of armor. Several carried short swords; one had a halberd. Their clothing was even more irregular, but almost all had wide knee-length breeches or a hip-length doublet. One or two had shirts with striped sleeves, or short-capes of either black or gray. Or maybe the gray ones were simply very worn versions of the black.

The besontsin militia, which had not yet reached this part of the line, recoiled, crying out for aid and weapons. The Burgundians collapsed inward toward the disturbance, swords clearing sheathes with ringing hisses.

And, despite a lifetime in priestly vestments and striving to be Christlike in thought and deed, the first words that flitted through Larry Mazzare’s mind were:

Oh, shit.

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