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Chapter 4

Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz turned away from the mollified Burgundian sergeant, nodded appreciatively at O’Neill, sent his wife a grateful kiss through his eyes, and focused on the now thoroughly bored Russians. Some of them had known just enough Turkish that he had been able to reassure them with a joke about militiamen who thought they were soldiers, and soldiers who thought they could think. But now, he found a more difficult task before him: communicating with the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus.

Ruy had a little Greek, and he took a stab at introducing himself. At which point a slim young fellow in hardly any armor at all, interceded. “We may converse in English—or Amideutsch, if that would be convenient, Colonel Sanchez.” The young man bowed slightly in his saddle. “I am the interpreter and, I think you would say, purser, for Patriarch Joasaphus and his party. The patriarch would welcome an explanation for the agitation just resolved.”

Ruy explained as succinctly as he could, Sharon coming alongside him as he did.

She nodded agreement as he concluded, adding, “We welcome His Holiness and ask that you follow the guards which Colonel Sanchez will now provide for escort to the lodgings we have set aside for you. Please convey to them any additional needs and we will meet them as best as we might.” Sharon’s smile became a little crooked. “As you might suppose, since we are not meeting in Rome, we also lack the amenities that would have been available there.”

Joasaphus—a tall, thin man with a dour hermit’s face—muttered something to the interpreter, who nodded his understanding, and seemed to suppress a smile. “His Holiness understands and even welcomes these less opulent conditions. To paraphrase, ‘gold blinds men to truth, and so, blinds them to the will of God’—and so, feels that this venue is more promising than those which might have been better appointed.”

Sharon smiled; Ruy did his best to keep his focus on the patriarch rather than his wife’s dark, beautiful face, full lips, and flawless skin. “We are very grateful to have His Holiness’ wisdom for this colloquium. It also seems he does not particularly need an interpreter.”

The interpreter smiled. “The patriarch finds it far easier to understand English than to speak it. And only when it is spoken at a measured pace, as you just did. He looks forward to meeting with the leaders of the other churches and wonders if that will take place tomorrow.”

“No, the day after. Please impress upon His Holiness that we wish to give our visitors time to settle in and, to the extent possible, acclimate to the language and customs of Besançon. We shall send a messenger later today with an outline of the itinerary.”

The interpreter began turning his horse. “Patriarch Joasaphus is most grateful, Ambassador Nichols.” The lean, gilt-garbed patriarch raised a thin-fingered hand in farewell, maybe blessing and, his bodyguards clustering close around him, rode slowly after the guides and guards that Ruy had provided.

Ruy glanced at Bedmar’s group, who were still standing, arms at the ready. Obviously, none of the heavily armored men who had debouched from the sedan chairs were Bedmar himself. Only one was anywhere near short enough, and he was far too young: Alfonso was now more than sixty, and, word had it, was even less dedicated to daily exercise than he had been just a year ago.

A shapely hand was tugging at his elbow: his wife’s, who was facing the other direction and saying, “Thank you for your patience in becoming part of our object lesson in religious tolerance, Reverends.”

Ruy turned, found himself facing the two Protestants. The older, German one was nodding. “Dury and I have devoted much of our life to similar exercises—although sometimes, I confess, the task can seem Sisyphian.”

The Englishman shrugged. “That is because you refuse to threaten with the stick when the carrot doesn’t work, Johann.” If they had not known each other when their journey to Besançon had started, they had apparently become not merely friendly, but informal, as companions on the road.

Which reminded Ruy to make his now-standard inquiry of those guests who had any prior familiarity with the region. “Reverends, before domiciling you, I would appreciate anything you might tell us about conditions along the route you took to reach us.”

Dury shrugged. “There is little to tell. I had already traveled to Jena, where I met this fellow waiting for the same balloon.”

Ruy nodded. That had been part of Miro’s plan: to put the attendees on the same flights, and thereby minimize both the number of security overseers, and also the number of seats that might be filled by unknown persons.

“From there,” Johann Gerhard was saying as he waved at the sky, “it was just a matter of counting clouds.”

“And landing,” Dury added with a shudder.

“Yes,” Gerhard agreed with a small sigh. “One of the landings was a bit…sudden.”

“It was at Biberach,” Dury declared, his face paler than it had been a moment before. “Wind forced us down too quickly.”

“It was Basel,” Gerhard corrected mildly, “where we caught a bit of an alpine draft upon our descent. But the…eh, ‘pilot,’ was quite skilled; he aimed up into the wind until it calmed, then alit in the marked field. Most exciting. And wondrous.”

Dury’s pallor suggested he had other associations with the episode.

Sharon nodded at Gerhard, and Ruy could tell, by the way she had leaned forward very slightly and the way her eyes moved from the face of one reverend to the other, that she was going to try to change the topic away from flying. “Well, we are delighted and relieved you are here. We were informed, however, that both of you had planned to travel on the roads.”

Gerhard brushed a finger across his mustache; a gesture not dissimilar from the one that Ruy affected every once in a great while, although Sharon insisted he did it several times an hour. “That had been my intent. But weather delayed me. March was rainy and trade goods had been moving very slowly from town to town—so slow that, by April, teams could not be contracted. Merchants had them reserved at premium rates. So, while I waited, I received this fellow’s letter, introducing himself and wondering if we might travel together. Well, I’d never met the troublemaker before, and I had to wait anyway.

“But by the time the weather cleared, it was equally clear we would never make it here in time by wagon or even coach. So I recontacted Herr Miro in Grantville and we were fortunate: he still had seats on his wonderful dirigibles.”

“They would be more wonderful if they stayed closer to the ground,” Dury groused.

What would have been even more wonderful, Ruy reflected, would have been if they’d traveled by road from Basel. That way, they would have heard travelers’ tales of the conditions in the various Alpine passes and roads that attendees might be trying to use to reach them from Italy. More specifically, poor road conditions meant that some of the Italian cardinals might still be coming, just couldn’t get through yet. At last report, the closer passes—the Bozeberg, Belchen, and less-frequented Chilchzimmersattel—were clear, and there had been no word of late season snows in the farther Brenner and Bozen passes.

Ruy had enough presence of mind to add his welcome and good wishes to those of Sharon, who, once the theologians had been sent on their way with guides, half turned to him. “Ruy, what’s the matter?”

“I am afraid we may have admitted the last cardinal we may hope to see.”

“Well,” put in another voice, “not the very last, I hope.”

Ruy shook his head, turned. Bedmar was standing behind him, hands on hips, wearing the almost ankle-length frock of a Church scribe. Ruy could not keep a mischievous curl from bending the left side of his mouth. “Your Eminence,” he said with a bow.

Bedmar laughed, but returned the bow for the benefit of the scores of befuddled—and a few bemused—on-lookers. “A rascal as ever,” he snickered. “I would ask you how you have been, Ruy, but you would report the same rude—nay, satanically gifted—health that you have always enjoyed. Besides, such a query would delay the most pleasant part of this reunion: reacquainting myself with your wife, Ambassadora Nichols.”

Sharon came forward with a wide smile, but Ruy knew the look: it was disarming, and yet, a bit guarded. Her contact with Bedmar had been scant, but she had heard many stories of the years that Ruy and Bedmar had spent together. “Your Eminence,” she said with a slightly formal bow.

Bedmar was nothing if not perceptive. His smile was almost apologetic. “And I can tell from the look in your eye, Ambassadora Nichols, that my old friend has now given you a full account of our times together. As a good husband should.” He blew out his cheeks, exasperated. “I can only hope there shall be an opportunity for we three to dine together, that I might improve your opinion of me. And I shall further hope, when formal courtesies are no longer necessitated by this public setting, that our conversation shall be less formal. But, for the nonce, I must convey my congratulations on your security. Ruy, you have, if anything, become a more accomplished war-dog with each passing year.”

“I avail myself of new insights wherever I might find them,” Ruy replied, with a brush at his moustache. See, he didn’t to it that often—did he? “And ready access to the full collection of books in Grantville has been uncommonly enlightening. You are to be congratulated on your own precautions, Your Eminence.”

Bedmar sighed. “I wish I could take credit for that ploy, my dear Sanchez, but since lying was still a sin when I consulted my breviary this morning, I must give credit where it is due.” He turned to the oldest of the three men who had emerged from the sedan chairs. “May I present, Captain Achille d’Estampes de Valençay, knight of the Sovereign Order of Malta. And in your timeline, Ambassadora, eventually the general of the papal army under Pope Urban.”

Ruy extended a hand and put a winning smile on his face as he mentally consulted the dossiers that Sharon had reviewed with him. Urban had sent a secure document to Malta half a year ago, informing de Valençay that he had been made a cardinal in pectore: “close to the chest,” and so, undisclosed. Urban had sent out many such notifications, most of them following patterns of loyalty he had observed in both this world and, evidently, the other. There, Achille d’Estampes de Valençay had been given a biretta in 1643. And this was not the only way in which the arrival of the up-timers had been favorable to his fortunes: since the disruption in the original progression of the Thirty Years’ War had prevented the Battle of Castelnaudary from ever being fought, he had not taken the side of Gaston’s ally, Henri II de Montmorency in an attempt to strip Richelieu of his royal influence. Nonetheless, the Grey Eminence, familiar with the up-timer histories had taken the precaution of ensuring that the much-honored Achille be deprived of an appropriate command, resulting in his return to Malta.

Achille stood at least three inches taller than Ruy’s own medium height, and if the hidalgo had a pantherlike build (well, perhaps only a cheetah now—but still as swift!), de Valençay was decidedly a tiger. His rapier was of the heaviest kind—almost a longsword—and his service as a colonel and even a fleet commander had not leeched any of the taut, lean readiness out of his body. At forty-three, he wore his heavy cuirass and helmet with the indifferent ease of men half his age. Ruy found himself assessing the way this chevalier wore his sword and moved: an old reflex for assessing possible opponents, working out optimal tactics in advance. But this time, there was a faint twinge of jealousy, of being the older rooster meeting a younger one who might be every bit as capable in a fight. Not as polished, probably, but strength and size might offset that difference.

Ruy almost had to physically shake himself out of the competitive mindset. “Captain, your reputation precedes you, and your most recent ruse adorns it even further.”

Valençay bowed as they finished shaking hands. “And you, sir, are becoming something of a legend. I welcome the chance to make your acquaintance. Allow me to present my traveling companions, and fellow-protectors of His Eminence Cardinal Bedmar: my brother Léonore and Giovanni Carlo de Medici.”

Ruy peripherally noticed Sharon stand a bit straighter beside him. And for good reason: Giovanni Carlo de Medici, or Giancarlo, was not merely one of the most able young nobles—and eligible bachelors—in all of Italy, but was the nephew of Bernhard’s wife, Claudia de Medici, although only six years younger than she. And he was fairly sure he knew what his wife was thinking: here is a prime scion of the royal house of Tuscany acting the part of a cardinal’s bodyguard, when he himself might need protecting against assassin’s knives. Borja’s agents had learned that he, too, had been fated to become a cardinal in later years, and for him to be at Urban’s colloquium was akin to volunteering for a death sentence. Léonore was, by comparison, decidedly less tigerish than his older brother, just as his eyes were less piercing and his handshake less viselike.

Ruy turned back to Bedmar. “You are singularly fortunate in your retinue, Your Eminence.”

Bedmar nodded, but his face had become grave. He turned to the others, who were almost his peers, and asked them, graciously, if they would be so good as to spread word that the entourage would be moving soon again. The three exchanged knowing looks, proffered bows to Ruy, Sharon, and then Larry, who had not yet come forward, and set about ordering their small group; it responded and moved with the precision of a military unit.

“I see you are taking no chances in your travels,” Ruy observed with a pointedly flat tone once they had left earshot.

“Quite true,” Bedmar countered. “Although, in point of fact, we are all helping each other. Achille received a summons from Urban, I am told, and I can well guess its nature. Giancarlo, having had the promise of a biretta in your world, has now attracted the baleful attention of Borja in this one. So just as I am made safer by having three such soldiers with me, I offer a measure of protection to them.”

Sharon nodded. “Because unless someone after them also has orders to kill you, they can’t take a chance of exceeding their…authority.”

Bedmar smiled at the euphemism. “And so, here we are, arrived in safety, due in no small measure to your excellent network of aerodromes. In fact, so far, there is only one disconcerting aspect of my reception here.”

Sharon leaned forward. “Please, tell me.”

Bedmar smiled. “That my brother in faith has not stepped forward to greet me.” He shot a quick glance over Sharon’s shoulder at Larry Mazzare, who stood, hands folded, ten feet behind her.

“I did not want to interrupt what was sure to be a reunion of friends,” Mazzare said quietly. And Ruy also detected a hint of caution, and reserve.

So, apparently, did Bedmar. “You Eminence, when last we met in Venice, circumstances ineluctably made us enemies. Respectful and honorable, yes, but enemies nonetheless.”

Larry did not change position or posture. “Indeed, Your Eminence. And now?”

Ruy saw Sharon suppress a start: clearly, Larry had not informed her that this was the tack he intended to take upon Bedmar’s arrival.

Bedmar folded his hands, studied Larry carefully. “And now,” he repeated, “I find you a changed man, and us in very changed circumstances. We have always been brothers in the Church, Your Eminence; we are now fully peers, as well.” Bedmar smiled. “Indeed, you may have the advantage of me.”

Larry raised an eyebrow, his tone no less wary. “In what way?”

Bedmar put out appealing hands; they were large hands, almost comically so, given that he barely stood five foot six in thick-heeled boots. “Surely you see that, by coming here, I am not endearing myself to Philip of Spain, and even less to his minister Olivares. I am the only Spanish cardinal who has not proclaimed for Borja. Now, I am an honored guest in the camp of his mortal enemy. What level of favor do you expect I enjoy in Madrid?”

Larry nodded. “Reduced, certainly—but not irredeemable. In fact, it may yet prove advisable for at least one of the ‘Spanish cardinals’ to remain unsoiled by support of Borja. That lack of unanimity could become a fig-leaf of legitimacy if Philip eventually wishes to claim that he did not expressly order his cardinals to declare for the homicidal madman currently maintaining a rule of terror in Rome.”

Bedmar looked down, frowned. “And you presume I am so farsighted?”

Larry folded his arms. “I don’t know; are you?”

Sharon almost gasped. “Lar—Cardinal Mazzare!”

“No,” Bedmar interrupted. “He is right. And it confirms what I have heard of Cardinal-Protector Mazzare. He has risen to his august position not merely by dint of being the senior catholic among you up-timers, but by his shrewdness.” Bedmar stood straight. “Very well. I may not divulge the full details of the political circumstances under which I have traveled here, but let me make this very clear: I come to you—first, foremost, and only—as the cardinal-protector of the Spanish Lowlands, and of Fernando, the king in the Lowlands. And his desires match the mandate of both my conscience and my vows: to safeguard Mother Church, and, if it is possible to do so without compromising her, to put the sectarian strife with the Protestants to an end.” He paused to let his words sink in. “Is that clear enough?”

Mazzare nodded slowly and stepped forward. “It is, Cardinal Bedmar.” He looked sideways at Sharon. “My regrets, Ambassador, but I am a son of the Church first—even before I am a citizen of the USE and Grantville.”

Sharon nodded slowly, her eyes calm—but if Ruy was any judge of his wife, she would be taking Larry Mazzare aside at some time in the very near future for a forthright and lively exchange of opinions.

Bedmar closed the remaining distance to Larry and offered his hand. “I apologize for the liberties I took when we first met in Venice. It is an old military instinct to put a potential adversary on the back foot, to push him in conversations, to test limits and boundaries, all under the guise of diplomatic banter. I did so there. I will not do so here—with you, or anyone. Times have changed. I will not claim that I have as well, but I am reformed in some of my least dignified habits. These days leave no room for pettiness if we are to caretake the future well-being of Holy Mother Church and the innocents who might yet die in sectarian strife.”

Larry offered his hand in return. “We are certainly agreed on that.”

Bedmar nodded soberly. “I think you shall find that, since you and I last met, we are in agreement on much, much more.” He put his other hand atop theirs and then withdrew towards his entourage. “I suspect it is not part of your protocol to keep vulnerable persons loitering about as easy targets.”

Of the many things Ruy had ever imagined, or knew, Bedmar to be, “vulnerable” or “an easy target” were not among them. “Yes, let us go.”

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