All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 26
Maria had had enough of Venice. She had loved it, once. It had been all she’d known. She could have imagined no greater, better place. And now she was longing for the sight of Pantocrator, the mountain on the north end of Corfu, almost as much as she longed for Benito. The canals stank and La Serenissima left her feeling anything but serene.
She had gone down to the dock to see if there was any news of the Venetian fleet–sometimes coasters would make better time than a laden fleet, especially if they had stopped for repairs. Well, that was the story she told herself. It did happen. And it gave her an excuse to go down to the docks along the Ponto Lungo. She had dressed appropriately, so that they would know she was not a woman going down to the docks, without her own boat, for the reasons they usually did. She’d gone in one of the Montescue gondolas, rowed by a family retainer.
She’d been the very model of decorum, and not taken the oar out of the incompetent fool’s hands.
There had been no news in from the fleet, but there had been a vessel loading for Corfu. A good, well found vessel, with a Corfiote captain, who knew who she was. He knew her, she knew him and she knew his wife, and their new babe.
A berth to Corfu was easily arranged. She would get back to the island, back to the mother’s temple, and be there when Benito arrived. She would see him far sooner than waiting for him to come to Venice.
Feeling very pleased for the first time since she had come back from Aidoneus’ shadowy kingdom–well, very pleased since the first time she had hugged her daughter after her return–she had to stop herself singing on the way back to Casa Montescue. Now she just had to tell Marco and Katerina. They’d fuss, of course, but she and ‘lessi would soon be away.
“Well,” she said on her return, finding Marco and Katerina together. “Good news. You will soon be rid of me.”
“The fleet has been sighted?” said Marco, with palpable relief. “But you and Benito will be here with us a while yet, with things as unsettled as they are. The doge will not send Benito away from Venice until… I have said too much, but you may be here for the summer. And we love having you and ‘lessi!”
And it was plainly true that Alessia loved having Marco and Kat. She toddled to them as fast as her fat little legs could carry her, and was now using Marco’s elegant slashed breeches to wipe her nose on. “Um, no. I found a captain about to set sail for Corfu. I can meet the fleet there. I… I long to see Benito again.” She did, so badly it hurt. “I am sorry, but, I, we must go. My role on Corfu, as I have explained to you a little… is important too.”
“I don’t think you can go,” said Marco, slowly. “Not that I would try to stop you, Maria. But, well, I suggested it to the doge. Suggested it would be safer for Alessia. He said no.”
“I don’t see what it has to do with the doge,” said Kat.
“Or how he’d know,” Maria felt her anger rising. “It has nothing to do with anyone else. I am my own mistress. I do not take orders.”
Marco shook his head. “I would guess the Council of Ten’s agents have already reported it, Maria. And please, dear God, you would not be stupid enough to disobey that sort of order. Not from Petro Dorma.”
For a moment, she was tempted to tell him there was only one stupid person here, and that was Marco Valdosta. But Marco was not stupid. Blind sometimes to the obvious, but never stupid.
He interrupted her. “A poor choice of words, I am sorry. Not stupid but crazy. And we have enough craziness just with Benito, surely?” he said, plaintively. He then hugged Alessia, who snuggled into him, which took the wind right out of her sails.
She shook her head at him. “Marco, you obviously thought it would be good for me to go.”
“Yes, not because we don’t love you and Alessia, but because I thought it would be safer for her, and make you happier. But when I suggested it, the doge simply vetoed it out of hand.”
“But you won’t tell him I am going, will you?” she asked.
Marco sighed. “You do know how to make things difficult, don’t you? I am not looking forward to explaining this to him.”
“I’ll say my farewells here, and leave most of our things with you. We will just need clothing for a couple of weeks’ voyage, and you can claim that you knew nothing of it.”
“I’m a poor liar,” said Marco ruefully, looking at his wife. “And I wouldn’t try to lie to Petro Dorma. I’ve used up my ration of trying to deceive him. But I will not betray you.”
Maria did feel faintly guilty, but she thought Marco was taking it all too seriously. After all, Venice would barely notice she wasn’t here. She said her farewells, and found them tearful, nonetheless. Then she got into a hire-boat that she hailed from the waterdoor, refusing Marco’s offer of an escort, or sending her with a boatman from the casa.
“The less you are seen to have to do with it, the better,” she said firmly, playing on his ridiculous fears. The truth was she relished being independent again, even if it cost her money.
“Ponto Lungo, the south end,” she said, while making sure Alessia was securely seated. She didn’t recognize the boatman, which, she thought, just showed how long she’d been away.
He nodded. “Right, Signora Verrier.” Well, he obviously knew who she was. He rowed out, skillfully, onto the Grand Canal. However, he did not take the San Troverso. Just kept going.
“You’ve missed the Rio di San Troverso. Where do you think you’re going?” asked Maria, irritably.
It was broad daylight, there were dozens of other watercraft within fifty cubits and even a bunch of Schioppetteri going the same way in a caorlina about ten yards off. Maria was more irritated than worried. She knew that one did not mess with a boatman on his own vessel by choice, but she’d spent too many years staying on her feet to be any kind of push-over.
“Doge’s palace,” said the boatman. “Orders from the Signori di Notte.”
Maria felt the blood drain from her face. “I get the message. You can just take me back to the Casa Montescue.”
The boatman shook his head. “I have my orders, Signora.”
For a brief, mad moment, Maria considered tipping the testa di cazzo into the canal. Or yelling to the Schioppies that she was being molested, and leaving while this bastard explained who he was and why and what he was doing. But then she realized that the Schioppetteri weren’t just accidentally going the same way. And neither was the boat on the other flank. They weren’t in uniform, but they were just too well fed a set of bully-boys to be anything but enforcers of some kind.
That feeling was confirmed when they escorted her and Alessia, and the boatman, in through a water door into the doge’s palace. No one said anything, not even Alessia, who plainly realized that something was wrong and clung to her. She’d gotten rather upset at leaving Uncle Marco and Aunt Kat and all her other friends in the Casa Montescue–and everyone, it seemed, was her friend. Except of course when they wanted her to do what she didn’t, when matters were loudly proclaimed to be otherwise.
Maria was escorted up several flights of stairs, and then into a small empty salon. And there they waited, Maria getting steadily more nervous. It was the silence that made it so alarming.
Of course, Alessia soon got bored and squirmed free and engaged in exploring the high ceilinged room. Maria let her. She traced patterns on the tapestry. And then there was a startled, but very adult curse. Maria stood up hastily, to find her daughter poking a plump little finger through a hole so much part of the pattern that it was very difficult to see. Maria had to smile at the idea that some spy had got a finger in their ear or eye. It served them right.
A few minutes later a footman came in. He bowed perfunctorily and said: “The doge will see you now.”
Maria had little choice but to pick up Alessia, and follow him down the passage, past several more footmen, and into another salon which plainly served as a study. She had met the doge, and knew most people considered that a great privilege, at the great celebration of Katerina’s and Marco’s wedding. But a private meeting? She knew it had happened to Benito, and Marco, as the doge’s trusted physician, saw him often. But for an ordinary citizen of the Venetian Republic? It was almost unheard of. And she had been doing something he had explicitly forbidden. Yes, she had lived with an ancient god as his bride, met with and found remarkably human Prince Manfred of Brittany and various grandees who had come to Corfu. But… this was Venice, and she was Venetian. The worst part was, she realized, that it had to hurt Marco, because no-one would believe he hadn’t known.
Petro Dorma was sitting, looking out past San Giorgio Maggiore towards the sea. Calenti coughed. “The Signora Maria Verrier, Your Grace.”
The doge turned slightly to look at her. He did not show any sign of pleasure at seeing her, or utter a word of greeting. Maria curtseyed, bowing her head deeply, wishing she was somewhere else.
The doge pointed out to sea, at a coaster galley. “That could be your vessel. Her captain claims the ship is going to Istria. She is actually heading for Ancona. Her purpose was to make sure the goods that had been ordered were delivered to the right person.”
“The goods in question were you and your daughter,” said Doge Petro, steepling his fingers. “Did it not occur to you that you would make a very valuable hostage? There has been one attempt already to take the little girl. Did you think that meant that there would never be another? That Corfiote captains showed up just by chance, eager and willing to take you… anywhere you could have asked for? But as you have spoken of going back to Corfu, that would obviously be what was offered. Did not even the fact that he asked for no money up front and less than the normal passage fare strike you as odd?”