All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 03
“That’s what happens when you have pimps posing as aristocrats,” growled Carlo Sforza, who might pose as an aristocrat, but did not have to like them. “But they’re being unusually coy about it. One message from Cosimo, and that is it. The fat girl is being contrary, it seems.”
“Sometimes the woman is even consulted,” said Francisco, dryly. “That can add some time, M’lord.”
“True with Cosimo, by all accounts, which adds considerably more time and expense to the process. Whores by any name and description price themselves high, so they can afford to come down. It’s a waiting game, and they know that time is on their side, since I will need some illusion of right to rule. In the short term, sword and cannon work well enough, but people forget.”
“So I assume we will remind them, M’lord?” said Francisco.
The protector of the duchy of Milan nodded. “You know me too well, my friend. A border action, merely to remind the Da Corregio of Parma that a relation by marriage is more pleasant than a wolf on your doorstep. And a reminder to the people of Milan of what the wolf can do. They forget too fast and too easily.”
“Nothing like the sound of cannon to remind them.”
Carlo Sforza nodded. “And it’s a long way from Venice, and they’ve not been on the best of terms with Ferrara. Now that I have met him in the field, I want to annoy my son even less.” He smiled wryly. “It is odd to find myself not wishing to annoy him. But it is not a fight I would choose, for several reasons. And yes, Francisco, I like being in that position.”
“It has the charm of novelty, if nothing else,” said his personal physician. In all the years they’d campaigned together, he’d yet to see Sforza shy away from a fight. Plan, choose his time and place, yes. But back off, no.
Benito Valdosta simply wanted to go home, to his wife and baby daughter. The once great city of Constantinople, the bridge between East and West, the gateway to the immensely profitable trade in the Black Sea, had no appeal for him at all. Victory, delivering the Ilkhan Mongol ambassador to the lands of the Golden Horde, and retrieving Prince Manfred of Brittany with the remainder of his escort of Knights of the Holy Trinity from the same place were achievements. Lives and great power were affected. What Benito wanted, however, was his daughter’s arms around his neck.
Constantinople seemed determined to thwart this. As he peered glumly out over the city from his perch on a balcony, Benito was beginning to wonder how the Republic of Venice, would take to “I wanted to get home” as a reason for burning the place to the ground.
Hungary, a castle once part of the extensive estates of Elizabeth Bartholdy
Count Kazimierz Mindaug, the former Castellan of Braclaw and Voivode of Zwinogrodek, master mage, and aide-de-camp to various powers, had spent a great deal of his life making sure he was not around when things finally fell apart. In this he excelled, both in his own schemes, and in those of others. Thus he had fled the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, after the failure of his attempt to destroy both Jagiellon and the demon Chernobog–the demon that his then master Jagiellon had attempted to use and then been consumed by. He had fled to the protection of the satanically empowered Elizabeth Bartholdy. Through the compact she’d made, she had access to vast magical powers. When, as was inevitable, that had caught up with her, it had been sensible and easy to flee, as he had from Jagiellon’s wrath. He’d left before she’d known he had engineered the possibility of her downfall.
Then he’d taken shelter with King Emeric of Hungary. That had always been a mistake, as the military power and the vast lands he ruled were no substitute for the king’s weakness in magical and spiritual matters. Kazimierz Mindaug admitted he’d been overconfident at the lack of response from Jagiellon or his demon master. He’d thought that he could assume the position of power Elizabeth Bartholdy had occupied, without paying the same terrible price, by using his magical skill.
Now as he lay, groaning, bruised, and drawing desperate, painful shuddering breaths on the stone floor of the abandoned old castle where he’d done his best to hide, he knew that he had been wrong.
Chernobog had neither forgotten nor stopped hunting for him. And now the demon had found Mindaug’s magical escape route. The demon had waited for him, entrapped him, and very nearly killed him, when he had fled through the spirit worlds. That had been a battle on Chernobog’s home ground, where knowledge and subtlety had counted for little. He’d learned that he’d been stalked and hunted, that every spell he’d used had been visible to his foe like a fire on hilltop in the netherworlds crying “here I am!” Mindaug had known that magics had their signature, but he had not known how precise it was. He did now, and he wouldn’t make that mistake again.
The count still could hardly believe that he was alive. He had only escaped in the end by pretending that he was dead. Yes, he’d managed to hurt the demon, but not enough to win. That was almost certainly beyond his power.
Eventually he sat up. It was probable Chernobog thought him dead. He would do nothing to disabuse the demon of that delusion… at least until he had a new protector who could deal with that kind of raw power. And a new way of escape.
Maria, like Benito, was perched on as balcony and overlooking a city. In her case, the city was Venice, and the balcony was part of the house owned by Marco and Kat. More like a mansion, really, even if it had still not fully recovered from the ill-fortune into which Kat’s Montescue family had fallen over the years.
She itched to return to Corfu. It was said that a prophet was not without honor, except in their own country. Venice and her canals were busy proving that held true for the high priestess of the Goddess too. It wasn’t that they didn’t respect her as Maria Verrier. She’d earned that, working in the canals. Her relationship with Benito was also well known and quite accepted. But the Streghira of Venice had no place for foreign goddesses, or their priestesses. They had their own hierarchy and their own internal politics and she was not a part of it.