All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 25
Carlo Sforza’s use of heavy cannon was well-known. What was not well known–Sforza and indeed Francisco Turner hoped–was that the artillery was successful because it was substantially better than that owned by other states or condottieri. Success was not just because Sforza applied more force and larger numbers than others. Carlo went to some lengths not to make the difference in the quality of his guns or bombardiers obvious.
“So he is reluctant to go to war with us, and we, with him.”
“And we will continue, if possible, to let him think he is the one who doesn’t want to fight,” said Carlo with a wry smile. “So tell me what has happened to Violetta de’ Medici. I’d heard she was a fat termagant.”
“She’s certainly not thin. I can’t say much about the termagant part. I don’t know if she’ll recover. But she’s brave enough to take on a snake with a pair of garden shears. Cosimo thinks very highly of her. He values her a great deal.”
“She was his mistress?”
“I doubt it. There was genuine affection, Carlo, but I didn’t get the feeling of anything more. Not from the responses of the servants, or… well, anything else. He took me there in person, to see if I could persuade her to change her mind about your proposal. That’s not the act of a lover.”
“Yes. I will grant you that. And I didn’t know he’d go that far for my sake.”
“A complex man, Cosimo. I think that if he did decide to pursue a war, he would be devious and relentless. And far tougher than most guess. I saw a different side of him that night.” Francisco went on to tell his commander as much as possible. “He’s also had this plague rumor fed him, by the way. The Church is mixing quite heavily in politics as far as you are concerned.”
“Oh, they do, while they pretend not to. I think the Hypatians have decided I’m a bad man, despite spending time and money in their hostels on my way to the Holy Land. And they’re in the ascendant at the moment.” Sforza sighed. “It would be all very well if the Paulines had not also decided that I was a bad man.”
“So: It’s not them being right that is a problem, but them both being right at the same time?” said Francisco, pouring more beer.
“Precisely. Now all we need are problems from Venice. Ferrara I have against me just by breathing. Next thing I know we’ll have the Holy Roman Emperor sending troops over the Brenner Pass to kick out the usurper. And given that Eleni Faranese will not be my bride, and Violetta de’ Medici is comatose and on death’s door, even if she was willing, it’ll have to be the bastard daughter. She arrived today.”
“Ah. And is she willing?”
“Well, she hasn’t treated me like something you’d scrape off the bottom of your boot, this time around. She was wearing enough scent to make my eyes water. I suppose it was always a case of something I would have to put up with, a marriage in name, but I was hoping for something else. Not that the choices sounded much better.”
Francisco grinned. “If it leaks out, my friend, that you are a starry-eyed romantic, you’ll have even more of the states going to war against you.”
“Romance? No, thank you. I once made a fool of myself with a woman, and once is enough for a lifetime. But I’d hoped for someone who would at least be able to make conversation that did not bore me to tears, and make sensible decisions when I was away campaigning. Condescension has never sat too well with me. I’ve known a few nobles I’d respect, Dell’este, for all that he hates my guts, and some fine soldiers born on the wrong side of blanket. I’ll not hold it against a man, but Lucia’s ‘I-am-the-duke’s-daughter-and-don’t-you-forget-it’ used to get up my nose and itch. Phillipo Maria publically acknowledged that she was his get, but never made any effort to legitimize her, so he didn’t think much of her nobility.”
“Well, Carlo, it’s what choice you have.”
“I know. I’ll start to take steps tomorrow. And speaking of tomorrow, I must ask you to go to Arsizio. The troops there are afflicted with a flux that makes them near useless for combat, and it keeps coming back. I’ll need those men. I’ll need them fighting fit, and soon.”
That, by the way the thunderheads were piling up, was true. But Francisco had great faith in his commander. As long as Sforza headed them, his mercenary soldiers were worth considerably more than the soldiery of most of the states that opposed them, in skill, experience and loyalty, and his artillery even more so. The reputation of the Wolf of North had been dented by the Venetians and Ferrara in that attack down the Po, but he had rebuilt it with his men, and, to the limit that he had been allowed, with Milan’s enemies.
They might discover that with the Wolf in charge and not the mercurially moody Phillipo Maria Visconti that things were quite different, Francisco thought, with some grim satisfaction, preparing himself to rise early and ride out.
Three days later, having shot a thieving cook, and had a new well dug, Francisco got a visit from Carlo Sforza and his personal bodyguard troop. “I thought I’d check on your progress. And tell you the news in person.”
They met inside the tent in that Turner had set up as his headquarters. He’d had the tent erected in the city’s center, in the square that fronted the shrine of Santa Maria di Piazza, as something in the way of a none-too-subtle political statement. Normally, Francisco–like any sensible commander inside a city rather than in the field–would had used a large tavern with good sleeping accommodations for the purpose. But he’d suspected corruption from the beginning, and had used the tent to reinforce his image as an untainted outsider.
“I found out that a cook and several of his apprentices were using the old salt meat, and selling the new. I shot him, and hung his apprentices.” He gestured with his hand to the open flap of the tent, beyond which could be seen part of the square and one of the arched windows of the shrine. “If you’d gotten here yesterday, you’d have still see their corpses out there, displayed for the education of the troops.”
Sforza nodded approvingly. The Wolf of the North wasn’t given to pointless acts of cruelty, but he was no stranger to savage disciplinary methods when he felt they were warranted.
Francisco wrinkled his nose in disgust. “And you should have smelled the well! You couldn’t tell it from a sewer, it had gotten so bad. So I had a new one dug some distance from the privies. I think we’ll see an improvement in the number of melted entrails.”
“Should have forced him to eat his own melted entrails,” growled Sforza. “On another subject–I won’t be able to give Eleni Faranese to the men for a communal slut, after all.”
“Why? Did you find out how much she’d have liked that?”
“Pure rumor, Francisco. No, she’s dead, and I am blamed for poisoning her even though I do not and have never resorted to poison. But Umberto sees it as a reason to go to war, and to urge his camp-followers to do the same. Oh, and I have become affianced to Lucia del Maino. She deigned to accept my offer, on the condition that her child will be heir to the ducal throne.”
“I suppose congratulations are in order,” said Francisco.
Sforza snorted. “Yes, it should be a nice little war.”