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Chapter 33

"That's the fifth murder," said the grim-faced Brother Uriel. "That we know of. This cannot be allowed to go on. We must find the guilty party."


Erik dragged his attention from the burned, shriveled remains of the body on the floor and stared at the monk. Of all the company of Servants of the Holy Trinity in Venice, Uriel was the one Erik found the most acceptable. Nobody could claim to actually like Brother Uriel. But you had to respect him. He was rigid and intolerant, yes. But also scrupulous, and one of the few Servants of the Holy Trinity who seemed to care little for hierarchy. He was certainly not one of Abbot Sachs's favorites. It seemed to make no difference to Uriel.


Manfred yawned and stretched. It was predawn. They—as a group—were only here together because they, and the guard, were the only ones who had not been asleep when the Schiopettieri runner came in. Erik had been drilling with Manfred. Brother Uriel had been having a fasting vigil in the chapel for some obscure saint. The Schiopettieri had sent a boat for them. But they were far, far too late.


Uriel began prayers for the soul of the departed. Erik stepped back and examined the room. There was a small, still hot, furnace. Many tools. Small delicate tools. "What is this place?" he asked of the woman who had called out the Schiopettieri. She was still standing, wringing her hands.


"It's . . . it's Signor Mantelli's workshop." She pointed weakly at the burned crisp on the stone-flagged floor. "He . . . he was a goldsmith."


"He lived here?" asked a tall, slim elegant man who, though he wore the signs of hasty dressing, also wore the air of command. The man had just arrived. From his appearance, Erik suspected he was one of the Lords of the Nightwatch—and was not pleased to find Knights and a Servant of the Holy Trinity there ahead of him.


The woman bowed respectfully. Whoever the man was, he commanded both respect and fear from her. "Upstairs, Lord Calenti. I . . . I was housekeeper to him." A tear began to trickle down her cheek. "I can't believe it. I just can't believe it. And I never had a chance to tell him that I was sorry. . . ."


The respectfully addressed lord pounced on this. "For what, signora?"


She wrung her hands. "It was a silly thing, Your Honor. He shouted at me because he said I'd stolen a cap of his. A knitted one. It was his favorite. I would never steal, Your Honor. On my father's grave, I swear it! But he was angry. And I was angry. I said . . . many harsh things. He was good man even if he did drink too much."


The Venetian lord patted her shoulder. "There, there, signora. We all say things we afterward regret. I think you should go upstairs and have a glass of your late master's wine. He has family here?"


She shook her head. "No, Your Honor. He is—was—from Padua."


The Venetian lord nodded, and gently guided her to the door.


When it had closed firmly behind her, he turned to the two Schiopettieri standing by the entrance. "Seal this place. Allow no one in, and detain all those who try. They will have to be questioned."


The lord turned to Erik. "Pardon me, Sir Knight. This has now become a matter for the Republic. When the good monk has finished his prayers, I must ask you to leave. To be frank, I am not quite sure why you were summoned in the first place."


Because Abbot Sachs has been spreading bribes among the Schiopettieri, thought Erik sourly. But he saw no reason to contest the matter with more than a shrug. "It seems a bit late for us to do anything, anyway. As soon as Brother Uriel has finished his devotions, we'll go. But I suspect Abbot Sachs will want to come and exorcise and bless the place as well as scour it for witch-sign."


Lord Calenti nodded. "He may apply to me."


That's going to go down really well, thought Erik. But he said nothing. It was left to Manfred to ask the questions starting to trouble Erik. "Lord Calenti. Just what was this man doing that's worrying you? Other than bursting into flames and doing a lot of screaming, that is."


The tall, slim Venetian's eyes narrowed. He looked at the two of them very carefully, obviously considering things. He must have decided that telling them was either innocuous . . . or might carry a message to the people who were involved that he was closing in on them. "Treason," he said grimly, pointing to the workbench and an open mold. "He was a coiner."


At this point, Brother Uriel stood up. "I am finished."


The Venetian lord nodded. "His soul is at rest." The way he said it sounded as if he regretted the fact.


Brother Uriel turned on him. "His soul is in torment! Can you not feel the pain? Something evil, evil beyond your comprehension devoured his very life." The monk shuddered. "The last time I felt the uncontained taint of this much evil was when we clashed with the forces of Lithuania outside Grudziadz. There is great evil afoot in your city."


"I will leave you to deal with matters of the spirit," said the Venetian stiffly. "The Republic must deal with secular affairs. Please leave now."


Lord Calenti looked now as if he regretted telling them anything about the victim, and motioned to the Schiopettieri to see them out.


The dawn was just blushing a translucent cloud-framed sky when they stepped out. Obviously the courtesy of a vessel was not going to be offered to them. In the distance a bell began sound.


Uriel sighed. "Another mess that the Servants of the Trinity are ill-able to deal with. I never though it possible . . . but I wish I was back in the marshes and forests, facing the evils of the Grand Duke of Lithuania's minions—instead of being in this misbegotten and supposedly Christian city. At least there it was clear who our enemies were."


Manfred looked speculatively at the stiff, upright monk. The man was plainly distressed by what he'd encountered. "Just what is going on here, Brother?" he asked. "Why are we even involved here in Venice?"


Brother Uriel shook his head. "You had better ask Father Sachs that," he said heavily. "I am not privy to the inner councils of my order, or yours. I only know that the scryers, including Sister Ursula, have by means of their holy magics foreseen that we have some role to play here in Venice. I do not know why my own abbot sent me to join Abbot Sachs's men. I only know that great evil is afoot in this city. The abbot may claim there is witchcraft everywhere in Venice. I only know what my eyes have seen and my spirit felt."


Erik scowled. "I can understand the Servants of the Holy Trinity. But why the Knights? We are the militant order. Keeping us sitting here is a waste of military power, never mind the fact that we don't really have a clear reason to be staying on at all."


Uriel looked grim. "We have orders to stay until the evil is rooted out. As long as need be. Those orders are not for us to question."


"Maybe not—but with people being killed like this the whole town is a powder keg. Likely to blow up beneath us. And we certainly don't seem to have reduced the level of evil here."


Brother Uriel took a deep breath of the morning air. "True. Look, there is a church over there. I have need of a few moments in prayer and silence. I will return later." He walked off with long determined strides.


Manfred stretched. "Well. That just leaves you and me. How about we walk and take some air, and maybe a sop of new bread and a glass of wine. This day seems pretty old already."


Erik nodded. "Why must they keep on ringing that bell? Every morning it rings for at least half an hour."


"The Marangona," said Manfred. "It's supposed to get the workers to the Arsenal."


"Why? Do they stop ringing it when they all get there?" asked Erik irritably. He was feeling a need to get back to his roots. To the clean open air of Iceland or Vinland. This city with all its great buildings seemed cramped and oppressive. "And what was all that excitement from that Venetian lord about?"


Manfred shook his head. "Intrigue, Erik. Italian intrigue, by Venetians who are the masters of it."


There was an open tavern. The two went in. Manfred ordered wine and flaps of the local bread, in what was, day-by-day, becoming better Italian. Erik had little doubt where he was learning it from. But, on the other hand, at least Francesca was safer than any random street-women that Manfred might have amused himself with. Erik found it awkward, owing someone he should be protecting Manfred from, for their lives. They walked back outside and stood in the chilly morning. The promised sun failed them. But the crisp air off the sea was clean.


"I don't understand about the intrigue, Manfred."


Manfred grinned. "You wouldn't. You understand battle, Erik. This is something else." He took a deep pull from the wine goblet. "This is about what really makes treason happen."


Eric shook his head. "Treason . . . Loyalty? Idealism? Ambition?"


Manfred grinned. "Ignorant Icelander. Money, of course."


Erik grimaced.


"It's like this," Manfred explained. "The Venetians know that money and treason go hand-in-hand. They also know that you can't spend anything in Venice except ducats."


Erik shrugged. "Even trading with the skraelings we use them. They like the hole in the middle because they can string them like beads."


"Uh huh. The mostly widely used coin with the purest gold in Europe. Even the best from the imperial mint at Mainz is not as good. The same coin you use trading in Vinland . . . except here it has no hole in it." Manfred pulled out a coin. "See. If you're a foreign trader, the bankers at the foot of the Rialto bridge won't release your coin until your harbor tax is paid. The hole punched out. Any Venetian must on the order of the Doge exchange holed coins for entire ones. On which they pay tax. You can't spend foreign coin in Venice without it going through the bankers and the Capi di Contrada—their tax collectors. And the Doge's council keeps track of foreign money coming in. They have a good idea of just what is happening by the flow of money. That's why a coiner is a problem. He can melt pure Venetian gold and recast it without the hole."


Erik thought it through. "You could bring in goods, or offer bills of exchange."


"True. And you can bet the Doge's council watches those too. I suppose jewelry might offer a gap. But money is what's usually wanted. Hard cash. Money for weapons. Money for bribes. Money to reward adherents."


Erik looked askance at Manfred. "How do you know this?"


Manfred grinned. "Francesca. We talk sometimes too, you know. Quite a bit, actually. She's a very clever woman. I was thinking of passing this on to Charles Fredrik. Come on, drink up. We can stop at Casa Louise on the way. I want to tell her about all of this."


 


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Framed