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Chapter 53

Luciano Marina had not expected to just move back to his old life. He thought he'd manage to scavenge a living around the Calle Farnese. What he hadn't realized was that the death of Gino Despini had left an empty hole at the center of Venice's Strega community. After Marina's disappearance, Despini had done his best to keep the city's Strega solid. But with Despini killed . . . by a still unknown hand . . . The Strega in the city were terrified—which, Luciano was now convinced, had been the purpose of the murder. And now that the Servants of the Holy Trinity were stirring up talk of burning out the whole of the Ghetto, being in a visible position of leadership was something all other Strega were shying away from.

He hadn't realized it when he slipped into Itzaak ben Joseph's shop, hoping to scrounge a few coins to start a life in the city. He had little enough to offer. Some medicinal herbs, a couple of twists of blue lotos, a little fly agaric, and his patchy memory . . .

He'd not expected Itzaak to peer at him warily, when he gave the old greeting, and once he recognized the face, fall on his neck. "Grimas! You have returned to save us in our hour of need."

Dressed in new clothes, and walking around in the city which had once been his home, he'd felt ready to chance his arm. Appointments to the Accademia were in the hands of the Council of Ten. But the Marciana Library warden-positions were within the gift of the Doge. And, given Luciano's past history with Giorgio Foscari, the Doge's majordomo had been persuaded to arrange an interview.

* * *

Luciano had been shocked to see how much Doge Foscari had aged. Still, he'd bowed low and hoped the Doge would remember him. He had, after all, provided working diagrams of several of the clockwork devices Foscari loved.

"Your Grace will perhaps remember the water-clock designs I obtained for you?"

It had indeed rung a bell with the old man. "Where have you been, Dottore Marina?" asked the old man querulously. "The idiots in library now never set anything out clearly."

"Doge Foscari, several years ago I undertook a brief journey to Fruili. On the way I was set upon, beaten and left for dead by bandits. It took me some months to recover under the care of a traveling monk. I could not remember who I was or where I came from. I'd been robbed of everything that gave any indication of my home or my station. The monk was on his way to the Holy Land. So, not knowing what else to do, I went there with him on foot. My memory was miraculously restored at the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Now I have returned, a wiser and—I think—better man. But I must find employment. Does Your Grace need anyone in the Marciana?"

The Doge pointed a bony finger at him. "I need you there. I need more designs for my collection of mechanical marvels. All I ever get these days is reports of yet another ship lost. We've even lost galleys. Do you know when last—except at war—the Republic lost a galley? And now we have lost five to separate storms." His voice quavered slightly. "Send me some interesting plans for mechanical devices. You must have seen some things on your pilgrimage to inspire you."

Luciano accepted readily. It would be a short step from the Marciana to occasional lecturing slots at the Accademia. Marina was confident that within six months he would be able to regain his position in the Accademia.

* * *

Now that he was back, back in the heart of the academic and Strega worlds, the fragmented patches of memory were uniting. He nearly had it all back now. And his fear was growing steadily.

Strega were dying. And there was something very rotten at the Accademia. Money—lots of it, in a student community. Students were always broke. But from somewhere a river of coin was pouring in to the worst and most thuggish young noblemen. And knowing some of the families, it wasn't coming from their parents. There were also—unless he misread it totally—at least two cases of black lotos addiction among the students. Where was that coming from? Who would dare trade in the cursed stuff?

And these terrible magical murders. Naturally, many people blamed the Strega for the killings. But, leaving aside the fact that Strega themselves had numbered among the victims, anyone familiar with the principles of magic would understand that these killings could not possibly be the work of Strega. Everything about the murders shrieked demonism.

The community was almost paralyzed with fear. And his carefully placed scrying spells . . . revealed nothing. Nothing more than several sources of darkness . . . and some ice. And something trying to get to him, personally. A creature of the water; perhaps a monster, perhaps a shape-changer. It might not appear to be more than an unrestful period, with trade being bad, disease rife, and factional stresses high—but magically, Venice was under siege.

Still. Something was stirring on the side of Venice also. One of the old pagan "neutral powers." Something the Strega treated with great respect, even if they did not fully understand it. The Lion of Saint Mark . . . It was stirring if not fully awake. Demons were not the only ones who could work indirectly, and in mysterious ways.

Luciano had fully accepted that the Shadow of the Lion was at work when he spotted young Rafael de Tomaso. De Tomaso's mother had raised her son in the Strega tradition. Luciano, in fact, had been there at the coming-of-age ceremony as one of the sponsors. Even if the young artist hadn't known Grand Master Marina by sight . . . He, Luciano, knew that boy.

He had expected to see him at the Accademia. What he hadn't expect to see was Marco Valdosta walking beside him, deep in conversation. When he saw Marco, Luciano studied the crowd in the campo. Long and carefully. It had taken him nearly fifteen minutes to spot Harrow in the shadows by the loggia.

Circles within circles. Coincidences that shouldn't happen. The Lion casting its shadow . . . He was certain of it now. The knowledge brought courage with it.

He was standing looking at the scene, his attention absorbed, when someone spoke to him. Snarled at him, rather. He turned to see yet another familiar face. One much less welcome than Marco's. Especially now that he was a bishop.

Recognition was plainly mutual. "Are you deaf?" demanded Pietro Capuletti. "I asked you what you're doing here?"

Luciano smiled wryly. "Admiring the campo. It's a more attractive view than a fat fellow in red."

Capuletti's face hardened. "Your tongue will get you into a great deal of trouble with the Church. We want to know what you are doing back in Venice."

Luciano wondered who the "we" was. Luciano distrusted Pietro Capuletti. He'd been a sneaky boy and Luciano Marina would bet he was an even more devious man.

He also wondered if Pietro was still puppy-dogging after Lucrezia Brunelli. He was a fool, and always had been. There had never been any chance Lucrezia would have married him, even after he became a bishop. No Capuletti was ever going to be important enough to marry a Brunelli. Run errands for them, yes. Get fat on the crumbs from their table, yes. But curti like the Brunelli would never settle for lesser curti.

"As I've told you before, I've been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and now that I've returned I intend to re-establish myself here at the Accademia." He smiled urbanely. "Don't try to threaten me, Pietro. I have many friends in the Church. More than ever, after Jerusalem." Let Capuletti sweat that one. Many pilgrims took vows of anonymity. A trip to Jerusalem, instead of wandering mindless in the Jesolo marshes, would have certainly given him some church contacts—perhaps of great importance.

"Ha." The bishop left without a further word, his anger proclaimed in his flaming cheeks and pursed little mouth.


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