Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #21

June 29th, 2009 by Wordsman


“Hey, who are those guys over there?” asked Jack, after he had determined that there were no clues on the obelisk that he had any hope of understanding.

Matthew followed his friend’s ever-capricious finger with his eyes.  “They’re part of the Swiss Guard,” he answered.  “We went past them on our way inside.  Don’t you remember?”  Despite their colorful uniforms, he was not surprised that Jack had missed them on the way into the basilica.  His friend, eager to look down on the city for the first time, had gone through as quickly as the more sedately dressed security people had allowed, practically sprinting to the top of the dome and causing a bit of distress to the other, less energetic visitors.

“Swiss?” Jack asked, frowning in confusion.  “We’re not in Switzerland.  Are we?”  After experiencing the complexity of the “Rome vs. Vatican City” issue he had accepted that sometimes it was difficult to be sure about these sorts of things.

“No, this is still the Vatican,” Matthew said, wondering how his friend could possibly think that they had crossed a national boundary without leaving the square.  “A long time ago it was common for kings, popes, and other important figures to hire Swiss mercenaries for use as bodyguards.  They served all over Europe.  The king in Hamlet makes reference to having Swiss guards, and Denmark doesn’t even border Switzerland.”

“Hmm . . . so this was a really long time ago?” Jack asked.  If Shakespeare talked about it, he thought, then it must be ancient history.  “Like . . . centuries?”

Matthew nodded.  “The Swiss Guard that protects the Pope was founded in the early 1500’s, I think.  I seem to remember reading about them celebrating their 500th anniversary recently.  They’re the only group that’s still around today.”

Jack considered these facts for a while.  “So what you’re saying is that these guys are some of the last remnants of an ancient secret society?” he asked.

“No,” Matthew replied firmly.  “They’re just bodyguards.  They guard the Pope.  That’s all they do.”  He knew that there must be more to it than that, but he preferred that Jack not see it that way.

His efforts, however, were in vain.  “Guarding the Pope means guarding his secrets as well,” Jack explained patronizingly.  “Look at that tunnel behind them.  I bet it goes underground.”

“That’s entirely possible, but it doesn’t mean that it leads to anything having to do with some sort of ridiculous conspiracy.”

Jack grinned.  “Can’t hurt to ask.”

Matthew was about to comment dryly that he felt that saying no longer applied when one of the people being asked was carrying a halberd.  Then he realized that his friend was actually walking over toward the guards and waving to get their attention.  Shaking his head in disbelief, he followed hurriedly after.

“Excuse me,” Jack announced self-importantly (and, of course, in English).  “As a citizen of the world, I demand to know: does this tunnel, or does it not, lead to the secret oil well underneath this plaza, whose existence this very church has been plotting for centuries to keep hidden from the poor citizens of this fair city?”

Matthew’s eyes widened as he heard his friend speak.  He had no idea if the Swiss Guard were required to learn English, but the hand gestures Jack made to accompany his accusation appeared none too friendly, so it could go badly either way.  “What the hell are you doing?” he whispered fiercely the moment he caught up, removing his hands from his pockets for the first time in order to seize his maniac friend by the arm.

“I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this,” Jack explained loudly, turning toward the nearby crowd waiting to get into the basilica and smiling and waving to show that everything was okay.  The crowd, for the most part, stared blankly back.

“Are you out of your mind?”  Matthew was not sure why he was whispering.  Perhaps, subconsciously, he was keeping his voice down because he thought that speaking too loudly might attract the attention of the guards.  This would also explain why he was trying to hide as much of his body as possible behind his friend’s.  “This isn’t a game!  The Swiss Guard aren’t recruited for their sense of humor!”

“Wait,” said Jack, suddenly lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.  “Are you saying that our lives are in danger?”

“Yes!”  In other circumstances Matthew most likely would have understood that the Swiss Guard were unlikely to kill a couple of tourists in broad daylight just for acting like idiots.  At the time, however, he was unable to take his eyes off the pointed tip of the halberd.

“Then I guess we’d better run!” Jack announced, breaking into a broad grin and dashing away from the scene as fast as he could.

Matthew stood there, frozen.  Some part of his brain knew that running would only make him appear more suspicious.  On the other hand, it also had the potential to take him far away from the guards and their weapons.  Plus, if he did not run he would almost certainly lose Jack, who had, among other things, the only key to their hotel room.  So he ran, hoping desperately all the while that the guards would not give chase.

The two guards turned their heads slightly, exchanged a brief glance, and then turned back.  They had, in fact, understood every word, but they had no thought of pursuit.  Chase two incompetent tourists through the city?  Who had that kind of time?

No one saw (because no one was looking for) a gray-clad figure crouching on top of the colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square.  The figure twisted its head back and forth frantically as Jack and, a few seconds later, Matthew disappeared down a narrow alleyway just beyond the boundary of the piazza.  It held its wrist up near its mouth and said, “Targets lost,” before jumping toward the nearest rooftop.

Posted in Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1. A Fan Says:

    Nice ending! (But of course for Jack and Matthew it’s really only the beginning, isn’t it?)

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