All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 28

All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 28

Petro looked at her. “Now, while I do my best not to be overlooked or overheard, I will speak somewhat cryptically here. Some of your old connections from harder times have been engaged in trafficking information. Word of Maria’s unhappiness and her desire to return to a… religious sphere of influence she holds on Corfu had leaked that way, I believe, from what my informant in Andrea Malatesta’s court tells me. I don’t actually know the precise source. I would hate to ruin Venice’s reputation for tolerance. Perhaps you should go shopping, my dear, and leave old Lodovico and I to talk. Lord Calenti will provide you with an escort. I suggest you use your family gondola, I will have the others conveyed home in my vessels.”

Kat knew what she was being asked to do, and where she would go, on the Campo Ghetto. After a number of other stops, and with a few more, after that. Also she knew her grandfather well, better than Marco. As the interview was going on, she’d realized that of the three of them, he was the one with the most reason to be nervous, and had not been. It was probable that the Council of Ten’s spies had ferreted out a great deal of this plan. It was likely that Sforza’s men had sunk the boat. And extremely likely that her grandfather had sent one of his old friends on the Council of Ten word of Maria’s intention. He had made no promise not to tell, and had apparently not been privy to all of it, or was not paying that much attention. Ha, when he was obviously not attending, then you had to be wary.

Lord Calenti, that sinister devoted servant of the state, had an unobtrusive footman for her, and, thoughtfully, a bag of coins. “It’s unlikely that you would have brought much with you. And one does not always wish to leave traces of debts behind.”

Kat wondered just how much he knew of her past dark-night delivery of gray goods to the Streghira, and other magic workers of the city, who did not like to advertise their purchases or leave traces of them either. “I suppose if I am doing Venice’s business, I may as well spend her coin.”

“Precisely,” said the spymaster, giving one of his reputedly rarer-than-diamond smiles. “A little pleasure will make it look like it is not just a cover.”

And will, no doubt, get various businesses, silver and gold smiths and a few cloth-merchants onto a list they’d rather not be on. Even if their noses are clean, thought Kat, making a mental list of a few that had, in prior years, given Casa Montescue no reason to love them. It was an odd wheel, but it turned.

She spent quite a lot of silver and some gold, and made the footman work, carrying parcels and boxes, before arriving at the goldsmith in the Campo Ghetto. She’d already made it clear to Calenti’s man, in their visits to several other establishments, that his job was to stand near the door, out of easy earshot, and make sure that Katerina was not overheard. She had several other people to visit but the old Jew had been a friend and a major contact in her trafficking days, and had passed information to the doge via Marco before. He was, she was aware, a Cabbalist, and had some magical skills with precious metals.

The goldsmith’s shop was just as tiny as Kat remembered; and, as she always had in previous visits, she wondered how the old man could get any work done in such tight quarters–or, for that matter, where he had sufficient space to hold his tools and supplies. Granted, gold and the other metals he worked with were not bulky.

His appearance hadn’t changed much either, if at all. He was wearing a wool black-and-white tallit katan, a fringed garment designed rather like an Incan-style poncho. The distinctive knotted fringes called tzitzit were attached to the garment’s four corners. It was a style of dress favored by particularly devout Jews–or, Kat suspected, by Jews trying to avoid the attention of Venice’s sometimes-overbearing rabbinate.

She was pretty sure this goldsmith fell into the latter category. At least, the cheery twinkle he usually had in his eyes didn’t seem to fit very well with a man pondering the miseries of the world.

There wasn’t a twinkle in his eye today, though. In fact, he seemed quite worried. Before she could even start, he said: “I’ve been wanting to pass word to the Council of Ten from the Streghira. Some of the Streghira I know… They dabble in foretelling. Some even get things right. And three of them have gone mad in the last few weeks. I got to talk to Donatzio before he slipped away. He said something about seas of dead bodies. And the Serpent… and that was all. But the talk is going around. A few people are leaving, quietly.”

“Well, I have something for you to pass on to them, from the Council of Ten, and unless they want to leave Venice, fast, something needs to be done.” She explained how news of Maria’s desire to get back to Corfu and to the shrine of the Mother Goddess had been reported to Count Andrea Malatesta, and what had nearly happened as a result. “The doge said he would hate to ruin Venice’s reputation for tolerance. Read that as a warning to find the informant and deal with them, Isaac.”

The old man nodded. “I like it here. I want to stay, to call this home. And,” he gave a little smile, “I would think the Streghira want Benito Valdosta hunting them even less than the Council of Ten.”

“If Maria, or heaven help anyone, Alessia got hurt, I would think you might have Marco after you too. And that could just be worse, Isaac.”

“We know that,” said the old man. “Trust me, we know that. For those of us who work with things not of this world, we’d far rather take on Benito and the Council of Ten’s agents than the Lion.”

****

Two days later, Marco, on his way into the palace to see his new patient was met in one of the passages by Lord Calenti. “Please tell your wife that her little shopping spree was successful. The Schiopetteiri fished a body out of the canal this morning, with a message pinned on it. It said: this one will not be sending messages to Ancona again. The woman was a fertility charm seller. Perhaps she had a grudge against Maria Verrier for that reason.”

“Oh. Kat did say something about it. I’m sorry, I have been so deep in research. This snake bite…”

“How does your patient do?” Lord Calenti inquired politely.

“She isn’t dying,” said Marco, grimacing. “Her swallowing reflex seems to work. But if the poison of the snake does not kill her, the poison from the hemorrhages it has caused may. She was fortunate it happened to bite her on the thigh, where she has plenty of flesh. If it had been a hand the swelling might have been too much for the circulation. She’s fighting for her life. I’ve had to open and drain several of the pustules. She has messy, pussy sepsis.”

He saw the spymaster was looking faintly green, and stopped there. It was strange that a man who had without doubt ordered deaths and torture, and quite possibly done and overseen them, should be affected thus. So he said no more and went on to the room when the man and woman chosen from among the doge’s staff were busy changing her sheets again. It was a job they’d done a number of times already, and doubtless would many times again. He checked Violetta’s pulse, temperature, the circulation in her limbs, and the state of the necrosis around the bite. That had at least not become any worse, although it was still weeping and the dressing would need changing soon. The circulation in her right leg–the bitten one–was poor, so he set about gently massaging it, while trying to decide if anything else should be done.

The problem was that he was on unknown ground. Francisco had carefully described the purple-black snake, and even sketched it in the letter he had sent. He hadn’t recognized it, though, and neither had anyone else that Marco had shown it to. Something about it made his flesh crawl, and the part of him that was the Lion even felt the drawing as of something evil. He wondered, not for the first time, if it was actually just a snake, or something magical. But that was a more difficult question still, and he had no-one really to ask. He’d searched the doge’s library, and at the Academia. He’d finally asked Professor Balti to find him two dedicated but poor students that he could pay to go on searching, as he really did not like to leave his patient for too long. He knew liquids had to keep going into her or she would die, but these had to carefully administered, a sop at a time, or they would end up in her lungs.

If she lived it would be a good thing she’d been a fat girl, he reflected, because broth was the most they’d been able to give her.

The little major-domo who had accompanied her came to him while he was busy dealing with the wound, which had grown into a necrotic hole. If she recovered she would have bad scarring on that leg. He just hoped it would not affect the bone.

The major-domo did not interrupt Marco, but watched patiently. Eventually Marco paused and asked what he wanted. He bowed. “My lord. Is there any news I can send to my master? I have just received another message from him asking how she goes on.”

“Not right now. Let me finish here and I will see what I can say. I’ll have you called,” said Marco tiredly, also thinking that it might take a little consultation with Petro Dorma, on how best to phrase what wasn’t a particularly happy state of affairs.

The man nodded. “I will write at least what I have seen your lordship doing, the hours you work and the goodness of your helpers.”

Well, that was a start. And fair.

 

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