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Chapter 62

When Antimo brought the news of Dorma's raid on the Dandelos to the Duke of Ferrara, Dell'este rose from his chair and went to the window. There he remained, for some time, staring toward Venice.


"How much money have we received so far from the Emperor, through Baron Trolliger's private agents?"


"We'll have enough to hire the condottieri we need."


"Secretly?"


"Yes, milord. Since you'll be commanding the army yourself, I've not had to negotiate with any well-known great captains. Just a large number of small companies. Neither Visconti nor Sforza will be able to keep track of the numbers involved. Ferrara will field twice the force the Milanese are expecting. I'm quite sure of it."


"Careless on their part," mused Dell'este. "But I'm not surprised. Filippo Visconti has always been too arrogant, and Sforza has grown complacent with success." He was silent for a moment. Then gave the windowsill a little tap. "So. Everything else is in place. We have the army we need, and it seems as if Venice has finally found a leader worthy of the name. There remains, only—Valdosta."


When he turned back, the face of the Old Fox seemed to have no expression at all. But Antimo knew his master far too well to be fooled.


"The sword, then?"


The duke nodded. "Yes. Send it. The time has come. At last."


The Old Fox's right hand curled into a loose fist, as if an expert swordsman held a blade in his hand. Still, there was no expression in his face. But, again, Antimo was not fooled. And so, as he had done so many other times and in so many other ways, he gave help again to his master.


"They murdered your daughter, hounded your grandchildren. Did their best to soil the name of Dell'este. Plotted and schemed to destroy Ferrara and Venice both."


The duke's lips peeled back into a snarl. Had he been there to see the sight, Carlo Sforza—the famous "Wolf of the North"—would have finally recognized what he was about to face.


But Sforza was not there; nor were his master Visconti's spies. And the moment was brief, in any event. Soon enough, the Old Fox was back.


"So they did," he murmured, smiling thinly. "And in so doing, did nothing more—in the end—than sharpen my blades." His eyes moved to the rack of swords. "There are no finer blades in the world, Antimo, than those of Dell'este."


 


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Framed