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Chapter 4

Kat closed the door of the Church of St. Hypatia di Hagia Sophia behind her. It shut off the riot of the Feast quite as effectively as one of her old tutor Dottore Marina's silence-spells would have done. The thought, as always, brought melancholy. She missed the dottore terribly. Still, after all these years.

This was a church designed to be full of light and space; the floor was of cream-colored stone, the timbers and woodwork of light ash. Even the wall frescos were painted so that the background colors recalled the white buildings and brilliant blue skies of ancient Alexandria, and the windows held clear, not colored, glass. There was discreet gilding everywhere so that the light of sun or candles was multiplied. The moment she entered the place, her spirits lifted.

With her footsteps echoing on the pale marble of the floor, she walked slowly around the walls until she came to the choir stalls. The whole church was empty except for herself and a few of the members of the Hypatian Order. By their white linen robes, they were all full siblings, sworn to chastity and celibacy, and very probably magicians. Somehow that made her feel safer than she had felt in days, as if, no matter what horrible magics were running loose along the canals and the back streets, nothing could come in here.

She eased into the choir stalls and knelt with her hands clasped before her on the rail, the familiar frescos of the life of Saint Hypatia glowing on the wall opposite her. They weren't the most beautiful frescos in Venice; they'd been painted by a mere pupil of Bellini, not the master himself. They had heart, though; that was what Kat loved about them. Lucia Astolanza must have felt a special kinship for Saint Hypatia of Alexandria to have infused so much life into them.

In a procession around the walls were the important events of Hypatia's life. Nearest the door at the back of the church, in the first panel, she lectured on Neoplatonic philosophy to her pupils. Not yet a Christian, Hypatia was shown garbed in Grecian robes with a laurel wreath crowning her close-braided hair to represent her great learning. Her pupils at her feet. Unlike many painters, Lucia had given this part of Hypatia's life as much importance as the incidents after her conversion.

Next, of course, the Unknown Shepherd Boy appeared for one of her lectures, debating her in front of her amazed pupils, and ultimately convincing her and all of her pupils as well that Christianity was a logical extension of her own beliefs. Lucia had, interestingly enough, portrayed the Unknown Shepherd with a faint beard, the halo of Sanctity, and the Dove of the Holy Spirit above his head, hinting that the Shepherd was actually a visitation of Christ. Very daring; rather an interpretation that Kat herself favored.

The next panel was more complicated, showing, on the right side, Hypatia lecturing to her pupils on the melding of Christianity with Neoplatonism into a new and inspiring philosophy. On the left, their faces scowling, were the Archbishop of Alexandria and his followers. Lucia had painted them in colors and shadows that suggested prejudice, close-mindedness, and treachery as they plotted Hypatia's murder. Their bitterness at her pulling more and more of their own congregation into her new flock and undermining their views was masterfully portrayed.

The next panel, the last on that wall, showed the Miracle. Hypatia being surrounded on the steps of the Great Library of which she was the Librarian by the followers of the Archbishop. They carried razor-sharp shards of clam and oyster shells in their hands, which they intended to use to slice her to ribbons. Hypatia stood facing them calmly, lips parted, presumably in prayer. She was not praying for herself; she prayed for them. She prayed that they should receive Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom—the Truth, as only a Neoplatonist would mean it.

The first panel on the altar wall showed the moment of the Miracle itself, the moment when Hypatia's prayer was answered, and God (shown in the form of hundreds of rays of painstakingly applied gold leaf emanating from a cloud above Hypatia's head) touched the minds of the would-be murderers. They saw the Truth, only too surely; all the Truth, about everything in the world, all at once, shoved into their narrow little minds until their skulls practically cracked with it. Lucia showed this with the shards of shell falling from their hands, the bulging eyes, the slackened mouths, the knees bent in a way that suggested they were losing physical as well as mental balance. Hypatia was in the same pose still as in the panel before, but the Dove of the Holy Spirit hovered over her, now. Kat had more than once thought that Lucia had painted just the faintest of smiles on her lips, and a knowing glint in her eyes.

Kat wondered, as she had before, how much of the scene depicted was truly accurate. From things which she remembered Dottore Marina telling her, she suspected that the defeat of Hypatia's enemies had probably been a lot messier and more complicated than the artist's portrayal of it. And involved more in the way of intrigue and maneuver—perhaps even violence—than the purely spiritual portrayal of the victory which was depicted on the wall of the church.

Farther down the wall, behind Kat, were the John Chrysostom panels. The first showed Hypatia in her study, writing to her fellow Christian philosopher. The two had formed an alliance, a meeting of minds that would steer the course of the Christian Church from that moment.

Again, Kat suspected that the portrayals were . . . sanctified quite a bit, with all the rough edges smoothed away. She knew, for one thing—her former teacher had told her once—that Chrysostom's bigotry against Jews had been the cause of frequent clashes between him and Hypatia. The famous alliance between the two theologians had not been as harmonious and trouble-free as the frescoes made it seem. The fact that the figure of the prophet Muhammad was included in the panel alongside the Jews and pagans made it obvious to Kat that the artist had given scant heed to picayune historical accuracy. Muhammad had not even been born until a century after Hypatia's death.

She smiled, for a moment. She thought that most historical accounts were probably like that: "cleaned up," as it were.

She leaned back and studied the ceiling. In the fresco above, Lucia showed Hypatia, silver-haired but still beautiful, being welcomed into Heaven by the Dove, surrounded by the ancient Prophets, Christ and the Madonna—and Muhammad, again!—along with a host of angels, peris, and figures that bore more than a passing resemblance to Plato, Socrates, and other pagan philosophers. She held in her hands the Library that she had guarded all her life, the Library that would have been burned to the ground if not for the Miracle, presenting it to God as representative of her life's work. If the Library had burned, all of the knowledge of the workings of magic that brought people from all over the world to study in Alexandria would have been lost forever. There would be no shining Order of Hypatia and the Siblings who studied magic and used it to defeat the powers of darkness.

Given the current situation, Kat found herself wondering if that would have been so bad, after all . . . for if there was no Order of Hypatia, there would also be no Servants of the Holy Trinity.

Don't be an idiot. If that knowledge had been lost, we'd all be worshipping Chernobog right this very minute.

Without the knowledge of the Library, the evil magicians of the barbaric North and East would have had it all their own way, and their warriors, disorganized as they were, would still have conquered everything now ruled by Emperor Charles Fredrik. They'd probably be storming the gates of Venice at this moment.

Still, Hypatia and Chrysostom hadn't prevailed, not completely. They weren't as ruthless as their foes within the Church, the followers of Saint Paul. If they had been, there wouldn't be the fanatical Order of Saint Paul, nor its offshoots, the Servants of the Holy Trinity and the Knights of the Holy Trinity, with their Inquisitions and their purgings.

What were you thinking? Kat asked the image of Hypatia silently. Why did you have to be so—so diplomatic and conciliatory? They wouldn't have been if they'd gotten the upper hand! You and Chrysostom would have been walled up in hermit's cells in the desert "for the good of your souls"! And why were you so compromising with Augustine? Without him, there never would have been a Pauline creed at all.

Hypatia's painted image didn't answer, and Kat sighed. She was no theologian, and this was getting her nowhere. She needed to talk to someone older and wiser. If she could have turned the clock back, her first choice would have been Dottore Marina. For all that he'd only come twice a week, in the evenings, Dottore Marina had been the one among her her tutors who had always seemed to understand. She still remembered the fight between her mother and her grandfather about his teaching her at all.

Her grandfather had insisted. For all that it was many years ago, she could still remember what he'd bellowed. "He is one of the Doge's own librarians! Yes, he is Magister Magi, and a Strega to boot. Saint Hypatia, woman! The child needs a bit of broadness in her education. And no one in all Venice has more broadness than Dottore Marina! Even Metropolitan Michael says he is a great scholar of Christian philosophy."

At first she'd been a little afraid of this "pagan" her mother had muttered about. But he'd been a good tutor, kindly and patient. He stuck out from all the rest like a beacon. He listened, for one thing. And, for another, she could use—today, in a way she hadn't needed then—the dottore's understanding of the dangerous complexities of Venetian politics.

But . . . he was gone; had been for several years. So one of the Hypatian counselors would have to do. At least she knew she could trust them to keep what she said under the Seal of Counsel. That was more than could be said of the counselors of some of the other orders.

Especially the Servants of the Holy Trinity.

She got up and left the choir stalls, returning to the rear of the church to the line of three enclosed closets where someone in need of counsel could speak with one of the siblings anonymously. She dropped the curtain across the doorway and sat down on the thin cushion over the bench inside, waiting for someone to speak to her on the other side of the scrim-covered window. Compared to the brightness outside in the church it was dim in here. Dim and cool.

She didn't have to wait for very long. A male voice, one she didn't recognize, the intonation slightly foreign, coughed, then said: "Peace be with you, my child. How may I counsel you?"

A very good question, that. "I'm not sure how to start, Brother," she said, in frustration. "It's all gone so horribly wrong!"

"You might start with what has gone wrong," the voice replied helpfully. "Although from the sound of your voice, I fear that you are going to tell me that it is everything."

"It very nearly is." She tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice, but it was still there. "But most of it is nothing I had any control over—and it's the situation now that I need advice with."

"If it has any bearing on the present, I should like to hear it anyway." The voice sounded patient, but Kat wondered about her own patience level. I'll sound self-pitying and whiny, I know I will. Despite that a sibling wasn't supposed to let such things color his counsel, she couldn't help feeling that it would make her look—well, unpleasantly petty.

But the counselor had asked, and you weren't supposed to hold back. Kat took a deep breath and started. She did her level best to keep the nasal complaint out of her own voice that she heard so often in her sister-in-law's.

She tried keeping things as brief as possible, but the voice interrupted gently from time to time, asking more questions about her father, her grandfather, and her own studies as a girl with a private tutor, dwelling on Dottore Marina for reasons she couldn't fathom.

Still, that segued very nicely into the current situation. "That was why—I remembered Dottore Marina seeming so good you see—that when we needed money, we began delivering things for the Strega, and not just the Jewish community. My . . . family has always brought in some cargo that the Doge's Capi di Contrada never saw. You know, Counselor: every trader in Venetia does a little. At first it was just because of the duties I think. Then, when the Sots—I mean, the Servants of the Trinity—began to have more influence on the Doge it was to avoid possible persecution. Then Dottore Marina just vanished. . . ." She paused.

"Then?" prompted her counselor, gently.

Kat took a deep breath. "Then the Strega I knew became very frightened and needed me to get things for them more than ever. We made more money from them. And we became more reliant on it."

"Did they ever ask you to obtain things of a"—the voice paused delicately—"dubious nature?"

"No, I don't think so. I don't know, of course, what some of the things were . . . still, even the best of things can be put to evil use, Counselor. But I always wear the Saint Hypatia medallion that my father gave me—it's supposed to warn me when there's evil magic around—or that's what the sibling who bespelled it for him told him—"

She paused; was that too superstitious for this counselor? What if the medal was bogus?

But— "Quite right," the voice replied. "If there had been evil in what you handled, you would have felt the medallion grow warm, even hot, depending upon the strength of it. You should be certain to continue to wear it at all times."

Kat bit her lip; should she tell him about the warning it had given her when the Knots and the Sots brought that shrouded box into the embassy? It had been so hot even when she'd gone under water that she'd been surprised the water hadn't boiled, and equally surprised that there wasn't a burn on her chest.

"So, the Strega have not asked you to convey anything for an evil purpose?"

"No. Well, I don't think so. It's because of the persecution. The preaching outside their houses and shops. But—we don't dare take their commissions any more and I don't know what to do!" she cried. "If they aren't asking me to help them in dark magics, then why are the Servants saying that dark magic is all they do? And if the Servants are wrong, why is the Doge going along with what they tell him to do? The next package I carry might get me arrested. If that happens grandfather will go mad, and the House will be ruined. Why is everyone letting the Servants do what they want, anyway? They aren't Venetian, they aren't even Petrine! Why are they doing this to Venice? Why has everyone gone crazy? How am I going to keep my family from getting destroyed by all of this insanity?"

The last came out in a wail, and she clapped her hands over her mouth, only belatedly realizing that she had blurted out far more than she should have.

But the voice only asked, curiously, "Before Dottore Marina disappeared . . . Had he said anything to you that makes you think now that he was warning you he was intending to leave?"

The Counselor seemed entirely fixated on Dottore Marina—which caused Kat to reply in a flash of irritation: "No. If he did, it was years ago when I was only fourteen and I don't remember. And even if I did, what has that to do with my difficulties today? You remember—the ones you're counseling me with?"

There was a faint sound from the other side of the scrim; something like a muffled snort of amusement, and it didn't sound male, it sounded female.

Well, maybe this counselor was new to the task, and was being overseen by an Elder Sister. If that was the case—Kat felt some of her annoyance fade. He must have gotten distracted. Maybe he even knew Dottore Marina and was trying to find out what had happened to him.

"I beg your pardon, my child," said the voice apologetically.

"All anyone knows is that Dottore Marina just disappeared one night," she told him earnestly. "I know; I've asked all over in the years that have gone by since, and no one knows what happened to him. He wasn't even—" she gulped "—found—floating."

"Ah." Just that one syllable, but it held a world of disappointment.

"But what am I supposed to do?" she continued stubbornly. "My House depends on me; how am I going to help them when I can't even tell from moment to moment what next piece of insanity is going to threaten us?"

Silence. "If I told you to trust in God, I suspect you would be tempted to throttle me through the scrim," the voice said dryly, which surprised a tense and strangled giggle out of her. "Nevertheless, that is all you can do for now. But child, believe me when I tell you that God and his angels are not far from us, that they move to protect us at those moments when we have given the last of ourselves and have no more to give. I know. I have seen it."

There was something in his tone that sobered her; she couldn't doubt him, not for a second. He had seen such interventions.

Not that the Archangel Raphael is likely to drop out of the clouds bearing one of our lost ships in his hands . . . 

"You and yours are in the exceedingly uncomfortable position of being sardines in a sea in which great sharks are maneuvering," the voice went on. "I cannot at this moment give you any counsel that will make you any safer."

Her heart sank into her shoes, but the counselor wasn't done, yet.

"I can advise you that regular counseling—here—will not only be of aid to your soul, but might also be of benefit to your secular self. While I may not have any advice other than what I have given you today, there is no saying whether something the order learns might not be of benefit to you on the morrow, or next week." He uttered a dry little laugh. "After all, our blessed Hypatia herself was no mean politician; it will certainly be in the tradition of the order."

Her spirits lifted a little. At least this brother—whoever he was—had a firm grasp not only on sacred matters, but on secular, and he wasn't afraid to give advice on both sides of life. "All right, Brother," she said, feeling as if she was making some kind of a bargain. "I'll make a point of being—more regular in my devotions."

"Go in peace, my child," came the standard response, signaling the end of a session.

* * *

Once the sound of the girl's footsteps on the marble had ended with the opening and closing of the door, the priest emerged, moving with a pronounced limp. Sister Evangelina followed, her lips compressed over the laugh that threatened to burst through them.

"I don't know that I've ever seen anyone put you so firmly in your place, Eneko," she finally said, eyes twinkling merrily.

"I'm overjoyed that you found it all so amusing, Gina," he said dryly. "If I have brought a little humor into your humdrum existence, my life has not been lived in vain."

He stared at the heavy doors through which the girl had left the church, his face tight with calculation. After a moment, the sister at his side cleared her throat.

"She spoke under the anonymity of counseling, Eneko." The woman's tone was half-admonitory, half . . . almost fearful.

The priest twitched his shoulders irritably. "I am well aware of that."

Apparently, the answer did not satisfy Evangelina. "You may not—"

He waved her silent with an abrupt motion. "Please! I have no intention of violating the sanctity of counseling. I just wish I knew who she was. If we could find out anything about what happened to Dottore Marina . . ."

For a moment, Evangelina seemed to shrink away from his intent gaze. The priest recognized the expression which lurked half-hidden in her face. He had seen that same expression many times now, in the years since he received what he thought of as his "calling." Respect for his well-known learning and piety, combined with uneasiness—almost fear—at the intensity of his convictions.

He suppressed a sigh. Then, managed a smile. Whatever else he was, Eneko Lopez de Onez y Guipúzcoa was also a superb politician. He needed to maintain good relations with the Petrine clergy in Venice, whatever his misgivings concerning the laxity of their faith.

"Please relax, Gina. I assure you—again—that I have no intention of violating the sanctity of counseling. I neither asked the girl's name nor did I make any attempt to see her face. I have no idea who she is—I wouldn't even recognize her on the street if she walked past me."

Evangelina's lips quirked. "You'd recognize her voice readily enough, if you heard it again. Don't deny it, Eneko!" A soft laugh emerged from her throat. "Your acuity is already a byword in Venice, even in the short time since the Grand Metropolitan sent you here."

Lopez returned her words with a rueful little smile of his own. "True enough," he admitted. "It's odd, really. As a young man, before that cannonball ruined my leg, I was rather notorious for being hard of hearing. But since I gave up a soldier's life—"

He broke off, twitching his shoulders with exasperation. "I'm hardly likely to encounter her again in casual conversation, Gina! So I think you may set your fears to rest. I am simply, as always, frustrated by the lack of clarity which seems to surround everything in this city. I can't tell you how much I wish the Grand Metropolitan had allowed me to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, instead of sending me here."

He stared at the door through which the girl—whoever she was—had left the church, his lips pursing. "And that young lady was quite right. The things her family transports may not in themselves be evil. Tomb-dust is not evil. But it can be put to evil use, and I do not share her naïve belief that all Strega are simply harmless healers. It is good that she has her medallion, but—as you well know—magic can be shielded from detection by other magic."

He rubbed his crippled leg, in an old and absentminded manner. "I just wish it were all less . . . murk and shadows."

The sister laughed, a bit ruefully. "It is a foggy city, after all, as often as not."

Eneko shared in the laughter and then produced still more laughter by recounting several amusing anecdotes concerning the ways in which a rural Basque priest had often found the metropolis of Venice a most confusing place. By the end, whatever doubts Sister Evangelina might have had concerning his own intentions seemed dispelled.

* * *

She departed, thereafter, leaving Eneko alone. He drifted over to the wall where the frescoes depicted John Chrysostom, the Golden Preacher, and stared up at the panels. A few minutes later, he heard the footsteps of two other men coming into the church.

He did not turn around. Eneko Lopez knew those footsteps as well as he knew the arhythmic sound which his own limp produced.

He gestured with his chin toward the frescoes above him. "He was a false man, you know, in many ways. Intemperate, harsh, often arrogant, full of error and wrong-headedness. Still, they made him a saint. And do you know why?"

He swiveled his head to bring his companions under his gaze. Diego and Pierre said nothing. After a moment, Eneko looked away.

"They made him a saint," Eneko said harshly, "because whatever his faults the Golden Preacher understood one thing clearly. There is such a thing in this world as evil. Not simply—"

The next words came out almost like a curse: "—error and misunderstanding."

Brother Pierre spoke, in his heavy Savoyard accent. "True enough. And what is your point, Eneko?"

The Basque priest's lips twisted wryly. Then, he turned his head again and looked at the other priest.

"Brother Diego, I need you to begin an investigation. I have been led to believe that the Strega Grand Master was once the tutor for a girl in this city. Fourteen years old, she was, when he disappeared. Find out who that girl is. It should not be too difficult. Only a very wealthy and prominent family could have afforded his services as a private tutor—and would have dared employ him, for that matter."

Brother Diego nodded. "What was the source of your information? That might help me in my search."

"I have no doubt that it would. I also have no doubt that you don't wish to know."

Diego looked at the counseling booths. Sighed. "Can you offer me any other clues?"

"And how do we know she is not a witch herself?" asked Pierre.

Eneko smiled faintly. "Oh, I think not. Whatever that girl might be, I rather doubt you will find a witch."

"You never know," countered Diego. "We are surrounded by evil here."

The Basque nodded, his eyes returning to the frescoes. "No, you don't; and yes, we are. Still—"

The hawk eyes of John Chrysostom gazed down upon him. He did not seem to find the weight of them hard to bear. Not in the least. "Still, I doubt you will find a witch there."

* * *

Casa Montescue looked—from the outside—as if it belonged to one of the wealthiest families in all Venice. It was only once you got inside, thought Katerina bleakly, that you realized what a hollow front that was. She walked the long corridor moodily. It was a case of too much grandeur . . . and too little upkeep. Show was very important in Venice, but more than one Case Vecchie family had found that keeping up appearances could be ruinous. This place needed an army of servants just to keep it clean. Without them it deteriorated fast. There had been six upstairs maids when she was a child. Her father had once told her there'd been ten when he was young.

Her musing was cut by the sound of her grandfather's voice.

"—nothing to do with us! It was Fortunato Bespi who killed her. He was a Montagnard assassin. She must have fallen out with her masters."

Another voice, higher pitched. "Nonetheless you spent a great deal of money pursuing her sons, Milord Montescue. Money long outstanding with our house."

The first voice, again: "And now we discover that you just recently hired yet another assassin! Such men do not come cheaply, even incompetents like the ones you apparently employ." There came a snort of derision. "The man's body was found just this morning, you know. Imagine—a blade man poisoned by his target. What kind of assassin—"

Kat winced. Grandpapa's obsession with taking his revenge on the Valdosta family disturbed her deeply. More for its unhealthy effects on the old man's state of mind than the Montescue purse. But she hadn't realized he'd started hiring assassins again. And, wincing again, she could just imagine what kind of fumble-fingered dimwits the old man could find with the few coins he had available.

The second voice continued: "We were promised a payment within this month, and that is very nearly at an end. We really don't want to inconvenience such old and valued clients, milord, but the truth is you're far behind."

"We've had a delay," growled Lodovico Montescue. "Not a reverse—a delay." He said the words with a confidence which was far from what his granddaughter was feeling about the matter. Grandpapa was talking about the money they'd get from the parcel she'd had to drop into the water outside the Imperial embassy. What if that urchin Benito had stolen it? What if water ruined the contents? What if they couldn't find it?

"Milord. We can't give you endless time . . ." said the unfamiliar voice.

"Damn your eyes, man!" snapped Lodovico. "We've always paid at least the interest. We should have a tranche of cash in the next three days."

"I really hope so, milord. We'd hate to even think of foreclosure."

Katerina turned away. If she went in now she'd tear that moneylender's head off. He was being polite—which, she'd gathered, wasn't normally the case. The trade they were in did make some powerful people beholden to them, people she was sure had protected them in the past. Things must be dire now.

* * *

She came back some time later, intent on at least trying to cool her grandfather down. He was sitting at his desk, staring at a piece of paper. Not looking angry, just morose. His craggy face seemed more lined than Kat could ever remember it; his hair, thinner and whiter. Even his dark eyes—almost coal black, normally—seemed muddy-colored.

"What sort of mess are we in, Katerina?" he said grimly. "First that damned moneylender. Now this. They want their 'supplies'—but they're too scared to even sign their names." He waved the letter. "Your great-grandfather always told me 'stay out of politics and stay out of religion. Make money.' But he got involved in politics, because he had no choice. And we are involved, against our will, in religion. Still, I think my father's backing of Rome was the start of the rot. He granted the first mortgages."

Kat groped for his meaning. She understood the general point. The principalities of Italy were a maze of shifting alliances. But there were always two poles. Rome—and Milan. The Milanese under the Visconti were, officially at least, Montagnards—believers in one united Christian realm, under the aegis of the Holy Roman Emperor. Not without reason, their neighbors viewed this lofty and always-distant goal as little more than an excuse for the Visconti dynasty's insatiable lust for immediate conquests of territory in northern Italy.

Rome's priorities—which was to say, the priorities of the Grand Metropolitan of Rome—were more nebulous, beyond opposition to having northern Italy absorbed into the Empire. But those priorities had more than once involved taking occasional territory; always for the good of the people, of course. Grandpapa had said before that his father's politics—the Montescues were traditionally allied with the "Metropolitans," as the anti-Montagnard faction was called—had gotten Casa Montescue into trouble. But she hadn't realized the trouble had extended to their relations with the family's financial supporters.

"It can't be that bad, surely, Grandpapa?"

He sighed. "I'm afraid it can, dearest Kat. Floriano's—and we've borrowed money from Floriano's since I was a boy—have actually started talking about foreclosure."

Kat put an arm around him. The feel of her grandfather's still-broad but bony shoulders brought sadness. She could remember, as a girl, thinking that her grandfather must be the strongest man in the world. "Can't we sell off the farm? Or this place, for that matter? We can't keep it up, anyway."

He shook his head, sadly. "No. The truth to tell, we dare not sell anything. We haven't just borrowed from Floriano's. Much of what we have is double mortgaged. If we show any signs of failing . . . the gull-gropers will be onto the flesh of Montescue and rip it to shreds. There will literally be nothing left. We've been in difficulties for twenty years. . . ."

He leaned back from the desk, pushing himself away with arms that had once been heavy with muscle. Only the size of his hands reflected any longer the strength which had once been a legend in Venice. One of those hands reached around Kat's waist, drawing her close.

"The worst of it, of course, has only been in the last three years, since your father left. Vanished at sea. He borrowed heavily for that venture."

She felt the hand squeezing her. The slight tremble in the fingers was heartbreaking. "I don't know what I would do without you, Kat," the old man said softly. "You have been the mainstay of this family since your father . . ." Sadly, and for the first time, he whispered the word: "Died."

Kat didn't know what to say. Her thoughts were fixed entirely on a parcel at the bottom of a canal. Hoping desperately that it was still there; and hoping, just as desperately, that a street urchin named Benito could be relied upon to save the fortune of one of Venice's four oldest and—once—wealthiest and most powerful families.


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