Eric Flint: 1635: The Cannon Law

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Eric Flint 1635: The Cannon Law
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    1635: The Cannon Law
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1635: The Cannon Law

Eric Flint


Andrew Dennis

Part One

January 1635

Chapter 1

Naples

Don Vincente Jose-Maria Castro y Papas, Captain in His Most Catholic Majesty's Army in the Two Sicilies, tried sneering at the stack of paperwork and the books and ledgers of the company he commanded. It was of no use. The wretched things remained there, sneering back at him.

Somehow, the filthy business of bureaucracy was everywhere nowadays, and the profession of arms was no refuge. Especially not in a newly augmented tercio dragged from its depot and filled out by a small horde of militia men and new recruits. And especially not when the arms he was supposed to profess were light muskets.

Certainly, they were an excellent weapon, compared with arquebuses, and far more wieldy than the heavy muskets they were replacing-had replaced, in some armies. A damnably expensive one, compared with just about anything, which was the reason Don Vincente's company had gotten so few, thus far. But the exploits of Turenne had been noted in Madrid, and the weapons had been identified as central to the small morsels of pride he had salvaged from France's shame. The exploits of the Swede with the lighter weapons had also been noted.

In times past, Spanish soldiers were expected to buy their own arquebuses. But the rapid changes brought by the Americans who had arrived in the Ring of Fire had altered military practices as well-indeed, perhaps military practices more than anything.

And so, throughout the Spanish army, which remained the best equipped and organized fighting force west of the Turk, companies and tercios that would otherwise have been unable to afford such equipment were receiving unexpected bounties.

For which they were expected to account. In triplicate. On top of all the utter, utter crap that was catching up with them after three moves in as many months around Spain before they had, with hardly any warning, been shipped out from Spain, filled out at the last minute with a collection of recruits whose appetite for war had been whetted by tales of the plunder Don Fernando's forces had received for their part in the sack of the Low Countries. Even after hearing about Don Fernando's orders to limit the looting, Don Vincente had tortured himself with visions of luckier officers filling their boots with Dutch gold. Which was a true irony, indeed. For in every other way the news out of Madrid was of deep displeasure with His Majesty's little brother for what he had done. For the recruiting parties, the word was all of how well Spanish Arms had fared. For those unlucky enough not to have gone with Don Fernando, however, it was just another opportunity to get rich on something other than a captain's pay that had been sorely, sorely missed. He had joined hoping for plunder somewhere, anywhere he could find it. Instead, he had found himself just about staying ahead of his expenses by taking money to exchange to less and less fashionable tercios, invariably managing to exchange out of a company before it was posted somewhere with an opportunity for loot.

Which had its advantages, admittedly. He had been quietly bemoaning his ill luck in leaving his last posting just before they were sent to Flanders when the news of the massacre at Wartburg came in, in which his replacement had died in the Americans' Greek Fire.

"Don Vincente?"

It was Sergeant Ezquerra, at the door of Don Vincente's billet, an upper room in a taverna on the road out of Naples that had been commandeered. Not, it had to be said, a good inn, but the patron kept a decent if simple table and a reasonable cellar. The more exalted officers had made themselves comfortable with the local grandees, whom in theory they were there to protect from riotous mobs, but Don Vincente was being careful with his money. He could have been still more careful with it if the barracks quarter around the viceroy's palace in town had not been full to bursting before they had arrived. But Don Vincente was accustomed to execrable luck.

"Come," Don Vincente said, scooting his chair back from the folding table he had his paperwork stacked on. "I grow eager for interruptions. Even from you."

"This is good, Don Vincente," Ezquerra said, "it does a man good to get away from the work from time to time. Especially the paperwork, which is unmanly."

"Away from the work, eh? A medicine you imbibe in large doses, I note, Sergeant." Don Vincente had never learned the man's first name, despite in theory having it among the paperwork for the company. There was a blank where the man's baptismal name was supposed to be recorded. It would hardly surprise Don Vincente to learn that the man had never been baptized. Ezquerra was the kind of fellow who, if he had remained as a peasant rather than joining the army, would have been a sore trial to his local gentry as a poacher and all-round nuisance who was just marginally too useful at whatever trade he pursued to have quietly flogged to death.

How long ago Ezquerra had left wherever he was from was a mystery. His date of birth was listed as unknown, and where exactly he was from was also unclear, except that Don Vincente had gathered one way or another that it was near Badajoz. He had the typical wiry-little-mountain-man look of so many from those parts, and the few of his claimed relatives that Don Vincente had seen-there were several in the army-had a similar look about them. Of course, a long-service soldier would have relatives in many parts of Spain, the lax approach to marriage and casual bastardy among the common soldiers being what it was.

"Not today, Don Vincente. Today I have neglected my health on your behalf." The sergeant left the statement hanging there, and waited, leaning on the doorpost, for a response.

Don Vincente glared at him. Truth be told, the sergeant was very good at his job. It was simply that for some reason being caught actually working by any of his officers seemed to be a source of terror to the man. Don Vincente hoped one day to actually see Ezquerra doing something to ensure that the company was as well turned-out and ready for action as they usually were. Of course, they were also always ready for the whorehouse and as much cheap drink as they could get inside themselves, but that was soldiers for you. The chaplains and the inquisitors didn't like it, but after getting away from his family's estates ten years before, Don Vincente had come to take a broader view of matters of the faith. And morals. And, especially, priests.

After some moments, Don Vincente realized that he was going to have to ask. "And, pray, what has caused this unwonted self-mortification?"

"Father Gonzalez again." Ezquerra was now grinning, although humor was not the usual feeling the good father provoked.

Don Vincente raised an eyebrow. "He's found another secret Jew?" The Inquisition seemed to be paying particular attention to the army recently, and instead of only occasionally appearing anywhere they could smell soldiers-or outside their comfortable offices at all-there seemed to have been a small rain of the pestilential creatures recently. Before they had sailed from Spain they had been visited with a plague of them. A biblical plague in truth. Possibly of frogs. They croaked enough.

Father Gonzalez was the representative of the Inquisition in this small billet town just outside Naples that Don Vincente and several of his brother officers had been visited with. He was exactly the kind of priest that one would expect a senior inquisitor to put forward for a long posting away from the home tribunal, with no definite date of return.

"No, Don Vincente. He seems to think that the men are given to dissipation and licentious pleasures." Ezquerra's grin grew even broader. They had been putting up with Gonzalez for nearly two months already, and it seemed to have escaped his notice until now? It was certainly not a subject that seemed greatly to exercise the company's regular chaplain, although his being sober enough to notice was not a common event.

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