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Chapter 79

The passage outside was full of people. Anyone with the least excuse was hurrying to the great council chamber. Marco, as the oldest Valdosta, was supposed to be there. So was Petro Dorma.

Marco was instead engaged in hugging Kat.

Petro took a deep breath. "I suppose, as Angelina's brother and head of Casa Dorma, I should ask for an explanation. Or at least a formal introduction." He sounded resigned.

Flushing a little, Marco broke from Kat. "Petro. This is Kat. This is the woman I . . . I would have married, if I hadn't married your sister."

"Oh." Petro had the grace to look a little embarrassed.

"Don't worry," said Kat. "There is nothing between us." She sounded slightly wistful.

"Um. Yes. I suppose I'd better go and listen to the captain and hear what the Doge has to say," said Petro, uncomfortably.

Katerina smiled. "We're under blockade by the Genoese, the Dalmatian pirates out of the Narenta, and a fleet up from Ancona—presumably supplied by Rome. There is no sign of either the eastern or western fleets. The captain came island hopping from Ascalon, and sneaked up the coast at night, having heard about the blockade in Corfu. Which is more than he will tell you."

It was Petro Dorma's turn to smile. "And as I helped to draft the Doge's response, I don't need to listen to that either."

"On the other hand," Kat added, no longer smiling, "I can tell you who killed Bishop Capuletti."

"She . . . never . . ."—pant—"did it, Dorma." It was Lodovico Montescue, red faced, with rivulets of sweat on his choleric face. He looked ready to keel over.


"Away from him . . . girl." The old man went off into a paroxysm of coughing. Benito, quicker on the uptake than most, grabbed a chair from against the wall and sat the old man down on it. "Thank you. You're a good lad. Listen, Dorma. My granddaughter knows nothing about this . . . killing."

"I do." Kat said firmly.

Lodovico shook his head. "She's got a maggot in her head about this Marco Valdosta here. But leave my granddaughter out of this. I've forsworn my vengeance against Casa Valdosta anyway."

Marco stepped forward. "Kat isn't implicated. And I won't let her be. Not while I'm alive."

Lodovico looked at him in some surprise. "What? Who made you free of my granddaughter's name? But that's well said, for a Valdosta," he granted, grudgingly.

Petro laughed. "They're none of them guilty, Montescue. It was an attempt to falsely implicate them, and through them, me. We don't know who killed the bishop . . ."

"I told you," interrupted Kat. "I do. I saw him just after the killing. It was that Spaniard. Senor Eneko Lopez."

Petro Dorma put his hand over his eyes. "You saw him actually do it?"

"Well, no," admitted Kat. "I saw him running away from the scene."

Petro looked at her with absolutely no expression. "If I asked what you were doing there just before midnight . . . would I regret it?"

Marco beat Lodovico to the punch. "Yes. Just leave it please, Petro. We'll follow it up through that dagger. If we need to, we'll take action. Forget the court. We can even call Aldanto in if need be."

Lodovico looked at him very speculatively. But he nodded approvingly. Started to speak . . . But his words were lost in the thunderous applause from the piazza.

When the cheering had died down Kat asked: "What's happening?

Lodovico smiled crookedly. "I think, Katerina, that Venice just went to war. If they have any sense they'll pick off our enemies one by one."

Dorma nodded approvingly. "Correct. The Scaligers in Verona first. We need Fruili secure."

"The other vultures will try to attack the Republic on other fronts when we're engaged."

Dorma nodded again. "That's why I'm supposed to organize the formation of a militia. Angelina's been at me to engage Caesare Aldanto to head it, Marco. What do you think?"

Marco found himself in a quandary. He owed Caesare. Lord knew he'd owed Caesare. But Venice stood in danger. "He has been a soldier. He served with Sforza."

Dorma's eyes narrowed. "I read caution in what you say. I'll employ him with caution. You're very honest, Marco."

"Good," said Lodovico Montescue, his snowy brows drawing together. "Because I need to ask some honest questions which need honest answers."

Dorma sighed. "I'll leave you to ask them, Signor Montescue. Just remember, my arm is very long." This was said completely pleasantly and urbanely. Yet the feeling of power and potential threat went with it. "But now my duty to the Republic calls. I shall see you boys at the Casa Dorma tonight."

Lodovico Montescue watched him go. "Francesca said he was the rising man and I should throw him my support. I can believe her now." He turned to face the youngsters. "But I'll throw him my support soon enough. For the moment—Marco Valdosta, answer me honestly. What are your intentions as regards my granddaughter?"

Looking at him, Marco knew that if he said the wrong thing, no threat of Dorma or even the Doge would stop this fierce old man. "None. I'm married. I have a baby daughter. But . . ." He paused. "If that were not the case—and Kat would have me—I'd have married her, even if you or hell stood in my way. I was a fool not to have asked her the moment I saw her."

Kat leaned over him. "And if you lay just one finger on him, I'll . . . I'll . . ."

Montescue patted her arm. Smiled his crooked smile. "He's very like his grandfather Luciano. One of the good Valdostas. Gentle and soft, but good steel underneath. I tried to have you killed once, boy. My best chance came nearly two years ago now. My agents searched Ferrara, Milan, even Rome. Then I got word one had found you here in Venice. He never came back for the bounty."

"I killed the assassin," said Marco quietly. "It was an accident and I was lucky."

Lodovico snorted. "Luck? I doubt that. Any more than it was luck that enabled you to evade my spies thereafter." He coughed. "Who were, I admit, not the most competent at their trade."

His granddaughter was glaring so fiercely at him that the family resemblance, not usually that noticeable, was now obvious. Old Montescue winced.

"I gave it up entirely anyway, Kat, a few months ago. Stopped even looking for the lads. After Francesca—" He coughed again. "Well. I had a dream, also. About my boyhood friend Luciano. I woke up thinking I had ordered the death of a boy like Luciano. It was chilling."

He made a bit of a rally, presenting a stiff face to Marco. "So I called off my dogs, boy. But I still think your father had my children killed. I won't bring his sins on your head. My vendetta is over, and I have given my word. But there can be no friendship between you and Katerina, with this between us. Not even an honorable one. You have your life, and your wife. Go and live that life with your wife."

"And I respect your decision," responded Marco, just as stiffly. "But I must know one thing. Did you have my mother killed?"

The white-haired head of the Casa Montescue shook his head. "No. Her defenses were too good. I wasn't really hunting her, anyway. I wanted the Valdosta sons . . . you, in particular. Word of a Montescue. I didn't have anything to do with her death. She was involved with Montagnards, you know. The only ones who could have easily penetrated her defenses are her own people."

Marco nodded. "That's what Chiano and my brother both said. I chose not to believe them for years."

The old man struggled to his feet. Both Marco and Benito stepped forward to help. He waved Marco off. "I'll take this other Dorma lad's arm, Valdosta. I'm not ready to take yours."

Marco nodded. "I'll meet you at the foot of the winged Lion of Saint Mark, Benito. Good-bye, Kat."

* * *

Kat found herself unable to speak. Her eyes burned, but she managed a tremulous wave. They set off, leaving Marco behind in the rapidly emptying piazza. Benito provided support for the old man, who leaned on his shoulder. "Sorry, boy. That was too much for me. I ran . . . I'm too old." He sighed.

"Sir. Um. I've got a suggestion. Your granddaughter Katerina going out on these night trips on her own. It's not safe, sir." Benito ignored the poisonous look Kat gave him.

The old man sighed again. "You're right, boy. But I'm too old these days. And who else do we trust?"

"As it happens, I have someone you can trust. Absolutely. Good with a knife too, and knows how to keep a still tongue."

Old Lodovico shook his head. "Montescue can't afford any bravos, boy. Certainly not good ones. And I'm not having Kat going on these night trips with a man."

Benito smiled. "Maria is no bravo, sir, nor a man. And I reckon Kat can trust her. She owes Kat, and she doesn't forget a debt."

Kat stared at him. "Maria? But what about . . . Caesare?"

"He threw her out."

"Tell her to come to me," said Kat decisively.

Her grandfather actually managed a chuckle. That was a good sign. "Minx. We can't afford any more people."

"We can afford a roof. And food. And maybe a bit for risks."

The old man shrugged. "Find a roof that doesn't leak at Montescue these days! But you've made up your mind, Kat. I know I'm wasting my time."

"You won't regret it, sir," said Benito earnestly. "I'll get word to her, Kat. She needs a woman-friend right now. Might take her a day or two to make up her mind, huh? She's really stiff-canaler proud. But I'll talk to her. Well, can I call you a gondola?"

"Thank you. You're a good lad, Dorma."

Benito smiled. "My name is not Dorma, sir. It's Valdosta. The good one is my brother."

* * *

They were silent for a good part of the voyage. Finally Lodovico sighed. "So. I was wrong about them. But Kat . . . The Montescue will not pursue the vendetta. My promise. But he is married, Katerina. I want your promise. You will leave him alone."

Kat sighed. "It wouldn't make any difference. You don't know him. He won't do anything no matter what. Sometimes Grandpapa, I think we could choke on our own honor. And Marco is like that. Dorma tricked him into marrying that sister . . ."

"He had to do that, child," Lodovico said stiffly. "You shouldn't know about that sort of thing, but honor demands—"

"I'll bet that child has a good chance at a blond head of hair, Grandpapa!" snapped Kat angrily. "And not dyed blond like its mama, either."

A short time after, still angry, Kat was back to glaring at her grandfather. "And what's this mention you made earlier of a 'Francesca' telling you this and that? Surely—"

Lodovico's face was as stiff as a board. "My own grandfather!" Kat wailed. "I can't believe it!"

"I'm not so old as all that," he muttered.

"My own grandfather! I'll kill her!"

Lodovico smiled wryly. "That's the spirit, girl. Start a vendetta of your own."

Kat choked on the next threat. Her grandfather shrugged. "She got me to stop hunting him, you know. Your precious Marco, I mean."

Kat swallowed. "Well." Swallowed again. "Well. All right, then. Maybe I'll just break her leg."

Lodovico shook his head firmly. "Better to go for an arm. Good advice from an old vendettist. Her legs are awfully strong."

"My own grandfather!"

* * *

Manfred poured some more wine into his glass. He'd paid very little attention to the justice's order of eviction from the chamber. And the two Schiopettieri with the two "false witnesses" seemed very unwilling to give force to the justice's words. Steel cladding and a reputation for mayhem had some advantages.

"I think we should get back, Ritter," said Brother Uriel sternly. "And not sit about idling with a glass of wine."

"Ritter Von Gherens needs a glass to build up his strength," said Manfred solemnly.

Von Gherens looked briefly startled, but he caught on quickly. "That's exactly what Brother Samson the Hospitaler said. I'm feeling very weak after the walk, Brother."

Uriel snorted and shook his head.

"They might as well have their glass of wine," said Erik, pacifically. "We won't get a vessel, while the half of the town is here to listen to the report from this sea captain. And Von Gherens is in no state to walk all the way home yet."

Uriel accepted this, and relaxed slightly. "True. But I do not hold with too much wine drinking. And I want to tell Father Sachs about the death of the bishop. He was of course a soft Venetian, but open to Pauline persuasion."

Manfred put a booted foot up on the bench. "Heh. But the Holy Saint Paul himself said: 'Take a bit of wine for the good of your stomach.' "

Uriel brightened. Ecclesiastical argument and knowledge of biblical quotations was his weakness. "True, but . . ."

He made no objection to them pouring him a glass, which he drank as he talked at length, and he didn't even notice them finishing the rest of the bottle before they left. Finding him and Von Gherens a gondola was by this stage possible, and Manfred kindly volunteered Erik and himself to walk.

* * *

"It's August, Manfred. August in Italy. I sweat standing still. When we've finished going to visit Francesca, which is what you intend—I can tell—we take a boat. In fact we wait five minutes and we take a boat to Francesca."

"Just exactly what I was going to suggest," said Manfred.


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