The Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century faced four major challenges: a Muslim invasion; dissent over forcible conversions in the Americas; clashes with the new Protestant movement; and immoral behavior from members of the clergy. The Council of Trent countered these threats by laying out the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic Church and listing punishments up to and including excommunication for inappropriate behavior.
Roberto Vecchi narrates the story as the bodyguard to Carlo Borromeo, nephew to Pope Pius IV, and son of the Count of Arona. Carlo wishes to follow a religious career and has been assigned responsibility for implementing the decisions of the council. Roberto prefers a comfortable future to labors in an apathetic church, assuming he lives long enough to have a future. Roberto’s devastating skill with a sword causes him to find a ready partner in Ernesto Mancini of the Orsini clan only to be restrained from dueling by Carlo with the threat of excommunication.
Our story takes place primarily in Rome and Milan, but we find an unwilling Roberto off to the famous Colegio de San Gregorio in Spain which had such a great influence on the encomenderos of Latin America, and to Lepanto where the deciding sea battle takes place between the Catholic Fleet and the Muslim Fleet. When the restraining influence of Carlos over Roberto begins to lose its power, the lovely maid, Celia Bartolini, enters the scene and reminds Roberto that his soul is not the only thing he might lose should he unsheathe his sword.