All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 50
“And on the other side of the Po?” asked Francisco, taking his commander’s pulse. It was faster than it should be. It was easier to keep him talking for as long as possible, while he got the examination underway.
“How am I supposed to wave my hands around if you’re holding my wrist?” demanded Sforza, half annoyed, half amused. “So far we’re sparring. They advance. We retreat. They assume it is a trap. They retreat. We advance back to where we came from, sometimes a bit further forward, because our logistics and communication is better. We threaten to besiege a town… and they rush to defend it. So we go elsewhere. But I need to get a bit closer to the action.”
In Francisco’s opinion, what his master had done was move a fraction closer to an early grave. “I’m going to purge you, for the bad news. For the good news, yes, I think you should move at least to Pavia.”
“Purge me? For Heaven’s sake, Francisco, I have no appetite, anyway, and now you want the rest of what’s in me out?”
“Yes. You had improved, and now your vital signs are worse. So is your temper. I think, somehow, that they’ve slipped you some more of whatever they had poisoned you with.”
“Hmph. Well, I’ll have to exercise that temper of mine by sending you to the east to keep an eye on matters there for me, at least until Goito is resolved. It’ll keep you from being a mother hen in Pavia. You know, I despised poisoners even before you thought that I was being poisoned. What is it they’ve given me?”
“I don’t know. If I did I’d be a little happier, because I’d know where to look and what to do,” admitted Francisco.
Later, when the examination was over, and Francisco had seen the purgative administered, Carlo said, in a quieter voice: “Turner. You know I am sending you to the east because there are few men I regard as highly, and none I trust more. And it strikes me, old friend, that I am sending you off to offer a fraud the gift of an estate. When, if, this is all over, my friend, we are going to look for a suitable set of estates for you. It’s in my gift, if we survive. A place where you can run in peace, eh? And titles and suchlike, as I can bestow them, and wealth enough to buy all the books you ever desire. A place at court, and a role in the running of Milan. You need to know that, as do all my loyal men, I think.”
“You pay me well,” said Francisco gruffly, knowing that his loyalty to the man had been freely given, but was at least appreciated. That made a huge difference, and while Sforza might know this was a good way to make loyal men more so, he was at least genuine about it. “And we trust you. Anyway, what would I do with an estate? I’m no noble.”
“Grow old comfortably on it. Not something every mercenary soldier achieves, and something you deserve. And titles, well, you can have those for the asking, friend. It doesn’t mean that much.”
“I’ll put it all off a while,” said Francisco. “Especially the growing old part.”
He took himself to see the bookseller, who was plainly expecting him. “Signor Jagr,” he said, bowing.
“Call me Kazimierz, Caviliero. That is one of my names, the latter part being a convenient fiction, which I will maintain.”
“Well, Signor. My master says he possibly has use for someone who can convince our foes we have a powerful magician in our employ. He empowered me to ask what you would expect to be paid? It is fair to say he is fighting several wars at the moment, and these are expensive, so he is unlikely to agree to vast sums of money, but he would offer you an estate, with some lands, and help with your experiments. I suggested a bombardier, since I have one at the barracks who has lost a leg and an eye, but is still a man with a great knowledge of explosives. It would give you privacy and space to conduct your experiments.”
Behind the mustache, there was definitely now a smile. Perhaps the old fellow had bad teeth or something that he wished to hide.
“I would need some money for materials and equipment,” he said. “For myself…” he shrugged. “Say the same rate as one of his newest captains. I think he will discover my worth.”
“He’s good at showing that appreciation. I will speak to him. As for materials, well, I would guess as long as they’re not ruinously expensive, he would be willing to agree to reasonable expenditure.”
“Oh, I think he will get good value. I have a good assistant in young Tamas. Good with his hands and good with adapting things. I showed him the drawings of the fire-thrower, and he has wasted several good pieces of parchment re-designing it. Keeping him still, as you prescribed, is hard for the boy. Unlike us, he cannot merely read a book.”
“Let him learn. He’ll make a better assistant that way.”
The man blinked. “He’s a good worker, but he’s a peasant, really. They don’t read.”
“Not unless you let them learn, no.”
“It’s a dangerous idea,” said the bookseller. “Like giving women guns. Far more dangerous than wars.”
Francisco was not sure if he was joking.
In Venice, Marco Valdosta was experimenting on his patient. He felt as if he was both losing and gaining ground at the same time. The necrosis around the puncture had halted, and gradually the flesh itself was healing and the wound drawing closed. She would have a nasty scar, but the leg itself now had almost normal circulation. Unfortunately, that was the only real victory he’d had. The wound was healing, yes, though not at the pace a normal healthy person would heal, but with a glacial slowness. And her breathing and heartbeat too had gone from fast and weak, to slower… and no less weak. She’d come in fat. She wasn’t that any more.
He was finding that having a pregnant wife was hard on the whole household, and him in particular. A war on the northern borders, even if Venice was not involved… Yet, at least. Marco knew there were those on the Council of Ten saying quietly and in the senate calling loudly, for Venice to take up arms, to punish its old enemy and make territorial gains while it could.
That was worrying enough. But the very idea of the plague was deeply disturbing–and he hadn’t heard back from Francisco. He’d even been to ask the undines if they knew if the message had been delivered… and been told yes, but that Francisco was no longer in Milan. So Marco had decided to try some experiments on the de’ Medici girl, before she slipped away completely. Marco, and her attendants, massaged her limbs gently every day. At first that had been to insure the circulation of blood, and possibly to keep up a little muscle tone. But he noticed that after the sessions, she stirred slightly. Tiny movements of the fingers, a twitch of the cheek. This would last a few minutes and then she would return to lying like the dead. She did suck, weakly and swallow of her own volition. But it could take an hour to get a cup of broth into her.
He’d tried scents, and sounds, and even pricking her with a pin. That was futile. But she did respond to music and smells. She turned her head a bit toward the music, and her nostrils flared slightly with various odors. He’d tried pleasant, and unpleasant. Rose-water and ammonia, burned hartshorn, vinegar, garlic… she had actively sniffed at that.
It still had not woken her.
He’d tried saints’ relics and prayers, spells of healing, and small doses of various stimulants.
He not winning, and felt that there was something he’d missed.
Violetta de’ Medici knew she was somehow trapped in a dark and terrible place with a serpent. At first, she had been so full of that paralyzing weakness that she’d been barely able to feel anything at all, not even terror.
She was dimly aware of the lion walking down in the darkness. She was not sure how she knew that it was a lion, but was certain of it. She knew that she should have been terrified of the vast and savage beast, but was not.
She wanted, desperately, to warn it of the serpent. But she had no breath or strength to scream.
And somewhere, somehow she caught the smell of osso busco… at least of the garlic. That was good, and comforting.
It was all about sparring for position, Count Andrea Malatesta knew. They’d pushed Sforza’s forces back, and even had a minor victory against one of his captains, to make up for the reverses suffered by that idiot Duke Umberto Da Corregio. The big difference, of course, was that Milan was outnumbered and largely surrounded. His allies in Venice assured him that the Republic would join in the war just as soon as the fleet arrived back.
To improve things, and the morale of the troops, was the news via spies out of Milan that Sforza had been taken sick, and had come back to the city with his personal physician. That was sweet music to the ear of Count Andrea, although he was irritated by the fact that his allies and his troops gave such weight to the legend of Sforza, the Wolf of the North. Venice and Ferrara had humbled him in the past, had they not? Surely, with all the allies Malatesta now had and Venice together with Ferrara, they would break him. They greatly outnumbered his troops already. And there was word that a thousand more men would be joining them from Naples. They all wanted a piece of the loot.
Even that coward Cosimo would be there eventually, like a carrion crow after the eagles had made their kill. If Andrea had his way, the Florentines would get precious little. The money-grubbers were already owed far too much.