All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 27

All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 27

Maria blushed to the roots of her hair. “I…uh, thought it was out of respect. I don’t believe…”

“The Council of Ten’s agents are very thorough, Signora. And since that first incident, our watch has trebled. We have intercepted the messages. And we’re not your only watchers. Agents of Carlo Sforza saw to it that that vessel would not sail today.”

The doge sighed. “Benito Valdosta is one of our greatest assets, Signora. He has, repeatedly, shown his loyalty and faith in the republic. He has risked his life and well-being for us, and, I believe for you. He trusts us to do our best for his family. He does not fail us, and I will not fail him. If that means putting you in a nunnery or putting you in one of my cells–and I have some well-appointed ones–until Benito gets here, I will do so.”

Maria wondered in a moment of anger just how he would respond to her calling on the power that was hers, through the mother-goddess, and the Lord of the Dead… and then she realized that she had given that up, when she’d walked away from being the bride of Aidoneus for those four months. And besides, from what she now knew, Venice was the realm of another ancient power, the Lion of Etruria.

“You are a bad man,” said Alessia in the silence.

The doge’s mouth twitched, the first sign of any softness Maria on his face. “Yes. I am.”

“Tell Marco on you,” announced Alessia, looking sternly at him.

“I will be sorry,” said the doge, while Maria tried to hush her. “But this has to be done. Now, I suggest you both go. My officers will see to your safe transportation back to the Casa Montescue. Tell Marco and Katerina Valdosta and Lodovico Montescue that I await the pleasure of seeing them this morning.”

“They knew nothing of this.”

He peered at her from under heavy brows. “Try not to undo the good your daughter has just done you. I understand family loyalty. But stupidity is intolerable. My Lord Calenti, see them out.”

He turned back to the window.

Maria was escorted out of the salon, still seething, afraid, and wishing desperately she had not brought trouble to her brother and sister-in-law, and the best friends she had in Venice. It was a long and silent trip back to Casa Montescue. Well, it would have been, except Alessia was now in the mood for playing, and the fact that her mother had much to reflect on, was her mother’s problem.

She was rather dreading her return to the house, especially having to deliver the doge’s message. She was fairly surprised to find that her return and the summons to the palace were not unexpected. Kat hugged her. “Stop looking so upset. There’s not a lot the doge can do to the Lion’s vessel,” she said, cryptically.

“I’ve learned enough, now, to be very afraid of what he knows and what he can do,” said Maria, as her daughter prattled away to Marco. “I’m sorry I even thought of it.”

She was left alone with her thoughts, and her daughter, as they went off to the Palace.

****

Even out on the water, in their felse with their own gondolier rowing them along, Marco, Kat and Lodovico kept their conversation casual. Katerina was a little more worried than she let on. Petro Dorma might not be able to do much about the man who wore the mantle of the Lion, her beloved husband, but he was still a powerful figure in the commerce of the city. The Casa Montescue had made some recovery, and looked to make more. But expenses were high, and just a blighting word from Petro Dorma could hurt.

Kat really, really did not want to go back to running secret cargos around Venice at night. True, she sometimes missed the excitement… very slightly, on evenings when Marco worked late into the night, or when they had to attend something particularly tedious. But she really did not miss the insecurity, and the fear that had always gone with her.

She loved Maria dearly, who’d been a friend when friends were few. Maria had given her a great deal of good advice about Marco–whom she’d known forever, and about children. But she was plainly unhappy in the Casa. It just wasn’t her place, Kat guessed.

They arrived, and were conducted in to see the doge. Marco politely enquired after his health.

“I have been reliably informed that I am a bad man, and that you were going to be informed of the fact,” said Petro. “So I imagine my health, or at least my diet is about to get worse. But otherwise I have no need to see my physician.”

“Except to alarm my sister-in-law,” said Marco.

“Well, yes. But I did it for good reason, Marco. She very nearly ended up as the ‘guest’ of Count Andrea Malatesta, which would have annoyed me, your brother, Enrico Dell’este and quite possibly Carlo Sforza. And they would have been angry with me for failing them. If you could, by those channels you are so carefully not telling me about, tell Sforza that I do not appreciate his spies taking direct action in my territory. Informing my men is all very well, but they overstepped the mark”

“What did they do?”

“Drilled several holes below the waterline of the galley. That part of the port will now be out of action for several days until we get the boat lifted.” The doge did not sound particularly displeased. “I’m tempted to have them ornament my interrogation chambers. The Council of Ten are mostly in favor having them found floating face down in the back canals, along with the captain of the galley, except that they mostly seem to be here to watch your niece.”

“I suspect that didn’t help the captain of that galley,” said Lodovico, dryly.

“Your years of experience have not misled you,” said Petro Dorma. “Now, I wish you all to understand that Maria and the little girl are not to leave Venice. Not without going as part of the whole fleet, not without my consent. I expect to be informed of any attempt at such folly. I expect you to tell me if it is contemplated. Family considerations aside, there are things afoot that make her and the little one valuable hostages. You will tell her this is what you are constrained to. I do not think she will ask it of you again, but you are watched. I would like your word on this.”

They all gave it. What else could they do?

Petro smiled. “As I said, we are watching. After last time… anyway, actually Marco, I asked you to come to see me because I have a request from… a very powerful person for your medical skill. You were recommended by the man you called in to help me when I was poisoned. Francisco Turner thinks if anyone in all Italy can do anything for the young woman it will be you.”

“Oh. Of course, if I can help, I will. Although Francisco flatters me. He knows so much more…”

“He seems to think it goes beyond mere knowledge. He says you have a healing touch that he does not.”

“Just what I have always said,” said Lodovico, with satisfaction. “I liked that man, for all that he was a bit rough and ready, plainly spoken, and liked beer.”

The doge nodded. “A testimony of some worth that, Lodovico Montescue. But I would be very obliged if you would give this woman your especial care, Marco. Usually one ends up owing Cosimo de’ Medici. It would be good for Venice if the boot was on the other foot.”

“Who is the patient, where are they, and what is wrong with them?”

“It is the Lady Violetta de’ Medici. Cosimo’s second cousin. My men have carried her into chambers on the northern side of the building, as she arrived by boat this morning. I believe she was bitten by a serpent, but her major domo will tell you more, and provide you with a letter from Francisco Turner. I would like to know just what he achieved in Florence, as I was under the impression he’d failed to meet with Cosimo, and had left in a high dudgeon, information which it would seem was… misleading. The young woman in question is, as you may know, one of the closer female legitimate blood relations to the late and unlamented Phillipo Maria Visconti. There are only two others closer, and the one is somewhat disqualified by being an illegitimate daughter, and the other is according to my messengers last night, dead.”

“Someone is doing all they can to deprive Carlo Sforza of the fig-leaf of legitimate rule. I would be guarding that bastard daughter very closely.”

“I sent a message, indicating that I thought that would be wise,” murmured Petro Dorma, as if talking about the weather. “I should imagine that it hasn’t passed him by, though. On the other hand, Sforza had been refused–rather pointedly–by the woman who died. He is being blamed for poisoning her, and I gather the duke of Parma and his allies–who just happen to include the person who ordered Maria and her daughter kidnapped–now go to war over this matter.”

“If you don’t mind, I think I had better go and see the patient,” said Marco. “The sooner the better.”

“Of course,” said the doge. He tingled a bell. “Barossa will take you down to her immediately.”

Katerina had to smile to herself. The doge might rule Venice, but when it came to the sick, it would seem nothing could stand in Marco’s way, and it would seem even the doge knew it. Marco was meek and mild most of the time, but every now and then the Lion in him was very visible.

“Interesting times,” said Lodovico, with the relish of a Venetian for intrigue and politics.

Kat could swear she’d felt her baby move in her belly. She had no appetite for interesting intrigue at all, as Marco took his leave of them.

 

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