Back | Next

Chapter 75

The footsteps outside the door to his room were familiar ones, so Marco didn't start—or reach for his knife—when a voice hailed him.

"Hey, Marco—"

Marco Valdosta stretched out his leg and pulled the closed door open with his foot.

"Rafael, I thought you were in class." He raised an inquiring eyebrow at his tall, skinny roommate.

Suite-mate, actually, Lord and Saints. Still hard to believe that I'm actually in the Accademia, that I'm rooming with Rafael. Easier than believing I'm "married" and that my wife has gone to stay at a family estate in Fruili, rather than spend time with me. And the worst of it is that it suits me. I've tried . . . But the more I see of Angelina . . . I must have been crazy.

Rafael shrugged his shoulders, barely rippling the gray-black material of his cotte, and put his parchments behind the bookcase beside him. "The model got sick, so they threw us out."

"Not surprising, if she had to look at you for too long."

Rafael grimaced at him. "Thanks a lot! I like you, too. You coming across to Zianetti's for a glass of wine and a bite?"

It was Marco's turn to grimace. "No thanks. I . . . I don't like to go there much."

Rafael shrugged again. "I said to Luciano I'd try to bring you along. He's got some of those herbs from someone—Sophia?—for you."

Marco got to his feet. "I wish he'd picked some other tavern."

"You'll get over her," said Rafael awkwardly.

Marco sighed. "I used to think that."

Rafael patted him on the shoulder. "You will. Just give it time. These things blur eventually."

Marco shook his head, then pulled on his cloak. "It's been months since I saw her last. Time just seems to bring Kat into closer focus."

They walked in silence down the alley and across the campo to Zianetti's. They took up residence in one of the smaller back rooms and soon brought conversation around to happier topics, before they were joined by Luciano Marina. He looked tired and grim. "We must meet in private in the future. Things are getting too risky. Even the Jesolo marshes are less dangerous these days."

Marco's blank look made Luciano smile. "Even for you, young lord. For us more ordinary Strega it is dangerous enough."

Marco swallowed and looked at Rafael . . . Who nodded slightly. "I didn't realize . . ."

"We'd like to keep it that way," said Luciano. "Persecution is stepping up. Why a trade blockade should be our fault, I do not know."

Rafael shrugged. "The magical murders are easy enough to blame on the Strega. Except several of the victims have been among us."

Luciano pulled out a cloth bundle from underneath his cloak. "Anyway, here are some of the herbs that you wanted from Sophia. She misses you. Sends her love."

He stood up. "I've got things to do. Don't get caught up with the Church while carrying these herbs. It'll challenge even Petro Dorma to explain some of them."

A moment later he was gone. Marco and Rafael finished their wine in silence before following after.

As they headed across the torch-lit campo, Rafael coughed apologetically. "If you think it better to find other digs . . . well, I'll understand. It's not that safe these days to associate with the old faith."

"Safer than running into Filippo Recchia," Marco replied bitterly. "By comparison the Church inquisition is dull and gentle, and they aren't after me all the time."

Rafael frowned sympathetically. "Si—you managing to avoid the bully? Is there anything I can do?"

Marco shook his head when Rafael looked like he was going to say more. "Don't worry about it; there's nothing either of us can do about him. I've dealt with worse."

"The problem with Filippo Recchia . . ." Rafael shrugged. "The Recchia are a rising house. Before you arrived on the scene, Marco, Recchia had been the pack leader. But this new kid on the block . . . it's the old story. The Valdosta family is where the Recchia wish they were—and Filippo's young enough and stupid enough to let the resentment show."

"My disadvantage is Filippo's obvious physical prowess—which he shows off every chance he gets. Every other Case Vecchie boy learned to fence. I know how to fight—I'd kill Filippo in a real street brawl—but not how to fence. And Filippo's pushing it for all it's worth. Still, I'm not worried about it. As I said, I've dealt with worse before, and—"

The relative quiet of the night was torn by the explosive boom of an arquebus. The sharper crack of wheel-lock pistols followed. A yell of "A rescue! Students! A rescue!"

"That was Luciano's voice!" exclaimed Rafael.

They ran toward the noise, which was now an out-and-out riot, involving an influx of students pouring out of the taverns and lodging houses. Half of the Accademia were going to be there before them.

* * *

Half of the people in this "Accademia" must be involved by now, thought Erik. What a God-forsaken mess.

They were supposed to have moved in quietly and seized the entire group. Alive, for questioning. To that end, Abbot Sachs had insisted on cudgels instead of swords. Well . . . as they burst the door open, he'd had half a second's worth of seeing the group busy with some sort of ritual, when the candles had blown out and all hell had broken loose.

Von Linksdorf had obviously triggered some kind of trap. Not only had the candles gone out abruptly, but a rigged arquebus had proved that steel armor might be effective against pagan magic, but it was damned useless against black powder. Von Linksdorf had been hammered flat by the heavy bullet.

In the charge and chaos that followed, the Knights had learned two more things. First, there was another exit—which they hadn't known about. Second, the pagans were not intent on being arrested without a struggle. And they were not only armed, but at least two of them were apparently wealthy enough to possess pistols.

The melee had burst onto the narrow, mostly dark street, and some clever pagan had called for a rescue . . . in a place where attacks and brawls were not uncommon, and students were the frequent victims of attacks. Knights on horseback, in open fields, dealing with lesser armed and less-armored foes were a deadly force. Here, in the narrow confines, armor was perhaps good for stopping knife thrusts and cudgel blows. Otherwise, it simply slowed them down and hampered movement.

"God and Saint Paul!" shouted Sachs. "Slaughter the pagans! Slaughter them all! God will know his own!"

A branch of candles appeared on a balcony. "HOLD!"

The voice was elderly but full of power. "Stand! Put up your weapons!"

Erik looked up and recognized Michael, the Metropolitan of Venice. Bishop Capuletti was standing beside him, staring down on them.

In the distance he could hear the rattles of the Schiopettieri.

Erik sighed and lowered his cudgel. What a mess Sachs has gotten us into. Again.

* * *

"What a mess." Petro Dorma, here in his role of Lord of the Nightwatch, was not smiling on anyone. Neither was the Metropolitan.

"I have forty-three of the scions of wealth, nobility, and gentry—including my own brother-in-law—arrested for affray. I have twelve monks, Servants of the Holy Trinity, involved in the same incident. I have nineteen belted Knights and Squires of the Holy Trinity in custody. I have three dead bodies to explain, as well as a number of injuries. Two of the dead are students of good family. There can be very little doubt that this will come before the Doge in the morning. He is going to ask me hard questions. I want answers, gentlemen."

"How dare you arrest us?" demanded Abbot Sachs. "We are the Church!"

Metropolitan Michael looked as if he might just have apoplexy on the spot and add to the death-toll. "You are the Church? In my See!?"

The old cleric rose to his feet, trembling with fury and speaking between clenched teeth. "Lock this idiot away, Signor di Notte. Lock him away and throw away the key. The Church is no man's! It is God's."

Bishop Capuletti bleated. "But, Metropolitan! They do but root out witchcraft. . . ."

Sachs was not so mild. "Petrine son of—"

"Silence!" bellowed Petro Dorma. "Let us not allow our tempers to betray us. I will remind you once, Abbot—once, not twice—that this is Venice. Here—in this city—I am the authority. Not you. And tonight it is my duty to uphold the law, without fear or favor."

He leaned back in his chair, bracing himself with both hands clenching the arm rests. "You will be released, Abbot, under your own cognizance, as soon as I have ascertained the facts. And I imagine most of the other Knights and Servants. But three people are dead—and one of them is Andrea Ghiazza, the son of the Count of Lissa. Dead with his head half severed. One of your knights has a bloody sword. At the very least, I must hold him in custody until he can face the judges."

Erik, standing with Manfred toward the rear of the crowd, cast a glance at the knight in question. Hans Dussel, that was. The young Saxon was a hothead. Erik hadn't seen it happen, but he was quite sure Dussel had seized Von Linksdorf's sword after the Prussian fell, mortally wounded by the arquebus. The Prussian officer had been the only Knight Sachs had allowed to carry a sword.

Abbot Sachs drew himself up. "He was a pagan man-witch and would have died in the fire! He was engaged in black magic ritual—"

One of the students yelled "Rubbish! He was in the taproom at Zianetti's with us. We came to see what was going on!"

Dorma lifted a hand. "My men or myself will take statements from each of you. Weapons will be confiscated, and returned if they do not show evidence of being used in this civil disturbance. You will all doubtless be appearing before the justices at the Doge's palace tomorrow."

* * *

They were taken, one at a time, to speak to Petro or to one of his officers. Not surprisingly, Marco found himself taken in to see Petro. His brother-in-law shook his head. "At least someone I can rely on. Tell me what actually happened."

So Marco did, omitting the fact that he knew who had called out. "So when we got there, there was this knight, bleeding from a pistol shot in the arm. I stopped the bleeding. Then Rafael and I went on to try and help Andrea. We were too late. The truth is, it would have been too late at any time. His neck was cut half through."

Petro took his head in hands. "What a mess! Half the Case Vecchie families in Venice caught up in this mess. These damned German fanatics. I've been trying to be evenhanded, but the city would be better off if we could get rid of them. Even witches are less destructive and divisive." It was the first time that Marco had heard Petro express any factional sentiment.

"So . . ." Marco said cautiously. "Who does Dorma—that is we—stand behind?"

Petro gave him the first smile he'd seen on Dorma's face that evening. "Nobody. We stand for Venice. If that means we must put up with fanatics, we do. But Venice is not anyone's lapdog. Not Rome's, not Milan's. Not the Holy Roman Empire's either, and I feel they too must be dabbling in this lot. The winged lion stands alone." He sighed. "Anyway. I'll see you tomorrow. In your case, it will be a token appearance. Angelina's due in town overnight. Come to Dorma for the night, at least. I'm worried about 'Gelina. She seems very moody these days—worse than usual."

Marco held out his hands, palm up, to Petro. "She's unhappy. Pregnancy can cause moodiness. But I am—always—her friend."

Petro sighed. "Given that you're married to Angelina, I can't say I'm unhappy to hear you say these things. But she's always been unsettled, moody. The pregnancy has just made it worse. But right now I think she needs a friend more than anything else in the world." Petro massaged his temple as if his head hurt.

"It'll be better once the baby's here," he told Petro earnestly. And then felt a lurch in his stomach, himself.

Lord and Saints. Me and Angelina, married, even if it's only in name. When I want—now—

What he wanted would not satisfy anything or anyone but himself. What he wanted was time—to turn time back. Time for himself, and Kat.

Benito had told him he'd seen her. Marco knew now that she'd written that letter believing that . . . well, he could understand how she must have felt.

Lord, Kat. If I'd had any choice—

But he hadn't had a choice. And now it was too late. He couldn't back out of this, not now. Not ever.

He still wanted to see her. Talk to her. But Benito had said that while she understood . . . she didn't want to see him. Not now. Not ever. A clean break was best. He could understand and respect that. Chains of family and honor . . .

"I can't say I blame you for staying roommates with that friend of yours over at the Accademia," Petro continued, looking up with a wry twist to his mouth. "There are times lately when I wish I could move out of Venice entirely. By the way, those herbs you brought do seem to be helping Mother."

It was an oblique sort of "thank you," but neither of them particularly wanted to openly allude to Rosanna's addiction to black lotos—and that the only thing that could help the addiction was the substitution of the less potent blue lotos. Hopefully, the addict could slowly be weaned off that.

"I'm glad Doctor Rigannio was willing to trust me," Marco replied.

Petro smiled faintly. "He was rather dubious at first, but you've convinced him that you know what you're talking about. In fact, he's invented an 'old herb-doctor' to account for the things you brought him, and he's been leaking the information over to the Accademia since the remedy seems effective."

"I'm glad to hear it. That—stuff—it's still a problem," Marco said soberly. "Nothing seems to keep people away from it, once they start. You'd think people'd have learned by now." He shrugged. Petro shook his head.

"People never seem to learn—"

By his face, unguarded for a moment, Marco could read the unspoken words—

Not even Mother.

Petro Dorma sighed. "But we've still got to try to help them." He stood up and went to a nearby window, looking out over the Bacino San Marco. Instead of the usual forest of masts it stood near-empty.

Marco knew a dismissal when he saw one; he stood likewise, edged past Petro to the door, made the right noises, and took his leave.

* * *

The justices thanked him for rendering medical assistance to the injured, and dismissed him. It still left Marco shaking inside. Did they realize that he was the child of Lorendana Valdosta, who had planned to give their Venice to Milan? The world changed with one's perspectives. He'd spent years dreading that court . . . those justices . . .

And now it was "thank you, Signor Valdosta." Dorma's influence was not small, and the Valdosta name itself seemed to be a good and popular one. Well, except with Filippo Recchia. And that woman at the soiree at Gian Cecchi's palazzo. Signora Katerina Montescue, who had turned away rather than be introduced. Snooty. Even the Brunellis were more friendly. Lucrezia to the extent that he avoided her. What did the most courted and supposedly most beautiful woman in Venice find attractive about him? Or did she pursue all men like this? Maybe the stories weren't exaggerated!

He and Rafael walked back to their rooms, in companionable silence.

Two bedrooms and a sitting room. And even if it isn't Dorma, it's a world away from anything I've ever had before. Yeah, and I'm earning my way. So, tonight I will be nice to Angelina. Still, Benito and I keep paying the rent for that little pit over in Cannaregio. We need some place nobody knows about. And these days, with the allowance we get, we can afford it.

He felt guilty about the money. Benito had paid last month. What spare he had, he'd actually spent on food that he'd given to Tonio for some of the children. The trade was thin. And canal-people were getting thinner. The kids were the first to suffer.


Back | Next