Had they moved faster and stolen less in that first attack, they might
have captured the greatest prize of all: the Holy Father himself. But by
the time they reached the Vatican palace, Pope Clement VII had lifted up
his skirts (to find, no doubt, a brace of cardinals squeezed beneath his
fat stomach) and, along with a dozen sacks hastily stuffed with jewels
and holy relics, run as if he had the Devil on his heels to the Castel
Sant'Angelo, the drawbridge rising up after him with the invaders in
sight and a dozen priests and courtiers still hanging from its chains,
until they had to shake them off and watch them drown in the moat below.
With death so close, those still living fell into a panic over the state
of their souls. Some clerics, seeing the hour of their own judgment
before them, gave confessions and indulgences for free, but there were
others who made small fortunes selling forgiveness at exorbitant rates.
Perhaps God was watching as they worked: certainly when the Lutherans
found them, huddled like rats in the darkest corners of the churches,
their bulging robes clutched around them, the wrath visited upon them
was all the more righteous, as they were disemboweled, first for their
wealth and then for their guts.
Meanwhile, in our house, as the clamor of violence grew in the distance,
we were busy polishing the forks and wiping clean the second-best
glasses. In her bedroom, my lady, who had been scrupulous as ever in the
business of her beauty, put the finishing touches to her toilette, and
came downstairs. The view from her bedroom window now showed the
occasional figure skidding and hurtling through the streets, his head
twisting backward as he ran, as if fearful of the wave that was to
overwhelm him. It would not be long before the screams got close enough
for us to distinguish individual agonies. It was time to rally our own
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