Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 19
Benito Valdosta read the message from Petro Dorma very carefully, for the third time. It was something of a relief, in part. It would get him away from a myriad of petty problems, and might stop him from murdering some Libri d’Oro idiot.
On the other hand, the idea of leaving his wife and daughter while he led a naval campaign was considerably less than attractive. However, unless he misread the time line, it could just work out. The Byzantine emperor would be expecting both trouble and relief in spring. If Benito had his way, he’d have trouble long before. In autumn, if possible. There was always the risk of storms. On the other hand it would be a very unwelcome surprise for His Imperial Idiocy.
It could be a worse surprise for the fleet in the Dniepr. The most serious flaw in this plan could be the arrival of the Golden Horde. Benito wished that he had more knowledge of what was happening in the lands of the Golden Horde, to the west of the Black Sea. He began to toy with the idea of spying at or at least surveillance, possibly from the lands of Iskander Beg. He wondered just how Petro Dorma had come by all his information in the first place, and if Benito would be able to access those channels. The old established order in Venice tended to regard him as a loose cannon. “I can’t imagine why,” he thought to himself, with a chuckle, getting up to go and collect a map of Constantinople from a cupboard. He could imagine Admiral Douro’s delight at the news that Benito Valdosta was coming back to the Arsenal.
However, that was still a trivial problem compared to the one he was going to face when he broke this news to Maria. That would require a lot more than mere military tactical skill. It might just involve the ability to dodge flying china. Living with Maria could be a lot of things, but it certainly was never dull. He considered the best possible ways of approaching the subject. Regretfully, he decided that sneaking off without telling her probably would not be worth the pain. In the end, the truth might just serve him best, even though he doubted that it would serve him very well.
Still, the problem would have to be faced, and soon. Petro wanted him back in Venice within three weeks.
Maria watched her daughter indulging in the traditional pastime of chewing her toes. She had begun to worry about winter. It was a thought that was never too far from her mind. She would have to leave Alessia and Benito and go down into some vast and unearthly realm to spend her four months with Aidoneus, the Lord of the Dead.
She really, really did not wish to go, but that was the bargain that she had made. No matter that she had risen to be a scoulo wife, and now the wife in all but name of the acting governor of one of Venice’s most valuable colonies: she was a canaler born. There was a code of honor that went with that. Canalers had very little, except for that code. They made their bargains, and they lived and died by them.
She sighed. Honoring her bargain also meant that she was going to have to leave her daughter with Benito for four months. She knew he was surprisingly capable. But that did not make it any easier.
Benito came in, without his usual smile, but with a piece of paper in his hand. “Read this,” he said, handing it to her.
Maria had learned to read late in life. It still took more concentration than she felt happy about, but Kat’s letters from Venice had made her a little more practiced. Still, she had to read this message twice. She closed her eyes, and put her hand to her head. “I thought that we had won some peace.”
“The only kind of peace that Grand Duke Jagiellon will ever recognize is total surrender to his will,” said Benito. “And that is not a peace I would have my daughter live under. I saw what he did to Caesare. He must be stopped.” There was a certain implacability that statement, a grimness that belonged to a man far older. At times like this, Benito frightened her a little. And yet this was what made him the man that he was. A man who had literally gone to hell for her and brought her back.
“Yes, but why must it be you that stops him?” she asked plaintively.
Benito grimaced. “Because Petro Dorma thinks so. Of course I’ll have Admiral Douro as well.”
“You are not to kill him,” said Maria sternly. “And anyway, if there is danger Corfu needs you.”
“If Jagiellon succeeds in taking control of the Bosphorus it won’t just be Corfu that is in danger,” said Benito. “His armies will ravage everything from Alexandria to the gates of the Mediterranean. This is a fight we must take to him. We must destroy his fleet. We really need to deny him access to the Black Sea if the Byzantine empire is going to be a weak reed.”
“Oh? And why don’t you just conquer all of the known world while you’re about it?” Maria had never entirely come to terms with the sheer size of the world. Part of that was because she had spent her formative years in the narrow canals of Venice. In a way, her world had been defined by the confines of the Lagoon. Travelling first to Istria and then to Corfu had changed her perception a little, but there still seemed far too much world to get her head around.
One thing that she was sure of: the Black Sea was both far off and large. Yet she also knew that Benito was almost impossible to stop once he got going.
He chuckled. “I think that the whole world might take more than two or three months. I might just have to settle for Constantinople.”
She was taking this far too easily. Benito knew that he ought to just be grateful and not to pursue the matter. But he loved her very much, too much just to take the easy way out.
“Explain why you are not throwing dishes at my head?” he said gently, taking her into his arms.
She was silent for quite some time, leaning into him. Eventually, she said slowly: “I suppose it’s because I wished that you and Alessia would go to Venice while I was… away. Kat and your brother Marco are there. They will be good to our daughter. Also, Petro Dorma is the doge. He is responsible for the well-being of all of Venice. I do not think he is a man who would lightly ask this of you. He must have real reason to fear. And the canals are still full of my relations. But,” she said fiercely, “this is my Corfu now. Mine. You will see that it stays safe.” That was a strict instruction.
He nodded. “Too many people have bled and died to keep it free and safe for us to neglect it now.”
” And you will be careful?” she said, her eyes narrow.
“I never promise what I can’t deliver,” he said with a wry grin. “I promise I’ll take reasonable care. Well, as much as possible.”
“Huh!” she snorted. But she did not pull away from him. Instead she snuggled closer. “Alessia has fallen asleep. And I don’t think you have to go back to that office just yet.”
Benito knew just how much work there was waiting for him. But, all things considered, it was probably less important than staying here right now. So he picked her up, the muscles he had built up while working in the Arsenal paying a handsome dividend, and carried her through to their bed. Briefly, he thought about where he would get good maps of the Golden Horn, but then he focused on more important and immediate matters.