Pope Julius was leading mass when through a haze of smoky incense he spotted Cardinal Alidosi slipping into the rear of the Sistine Chapel. Normally he would have been delighted to see Alidosi, his closest ally and personal henchman. But not today. It was too soon for him to be back.
Alidosi had left to accompany Maximilian I to Rome for his coronation as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. On the journey Maximilian was supposed to take care of the minor affair of the Venetians, driving them out of the Romagna with his army if necessary. Julius had sent Alidosi along to report firsthand on how badly the Venetians were defeated.
After mass the two men met in the Sala Regia. They skipped the pleasantries.
“There’s been a problem with your German friend,” said Alidosi, arranging his scarlet robes. “He was sorely beaten by the Venetians at Vicenza. They were ready for him, and held the high ground. They chased him off the field. It was a complete rout.”
“Surely he’ll regroup and attack again?”
Alidosi shook his head. “Maximilian’s gone. By now he’s probably back home enjoying some bratwurst.”
“I suspected he was more words than deeds,” Julius murmured. “No wonder the French laugh at him.” He turned away and clasped his hands behind his back, lost in thought.
“That’s not the only bad news.”
Julius looked up sharply. “More?”
“On my way back to Rome I saw a rather nasty uprising in Bologna. It appears the news from Vicenza has emboldened the Bentivoglio. I wouldn’t be surprised if they join forces with the Venetians to get back in power.”
“Those cretins. After I show them mercy, this is what they give me in return.”
“I warned you about this, Your Holiness.”
“So you did.” The pope began to pace. “But what am I to do now? God knows I’d hate to lie down before the French, but I will if I must. I cannot lose Bologna!”
Alidosi folded his arms. “I believe there is another way. That is, if you’re willing.”
The pope stopped walking and stared at Alidosi. “You have my complete attention.”
“Bologna is the key. If you crush the opposition, you will gain the respect of the Venetians.”
“And how do you propose I do that?”
“Send me to Bologna, as legate. I know those people. I’m one of them.”
Julius chuckled. “They hate you, Alidosi. If I send you, an insurrection is certain.”
“If you send me, Julius, God knows I will make them fear you.”
The pope scrutinized his friend. “You know I don’t always approve of your means.”
Alidosi shrugged. “Yes, well, without men like me the world would never remember good men like you.”
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe this is the only way.” Julius nodded as he thought about it. “I need some time to give this careful consideration. In the meantime, I have something else for you.”
“I serve at your pleasure.” Alidosi bowed his head.
“Michelangelo will be arriving in a few days. I need you to negotiate another contract with him, this time for the Sistine Chapel ceiling.”
“To be honest, I’d rather deal with the Bolognese.”
Julius said nothing, but fixed his steely gaze on the cardinal.
Alidosi sighed. “I’ll need the particulars.”
“He knows them already. He is to paint the twelve apostles on the pendentives and cover the rest of the ceiling in appropriate designs. You need to make this contract ironclad. I cannot afford to have this man run away again.”
“By all means at my disposal, Your Holiness?”
Julius nodded firmly. “By all means.”