1636 The Flight Of The Nightingale – Snippet 09

Chapter 6

Ferdinando, Grand Duke of Tuscany, second of that name, looked up as his grandmother Christine, Dowager Duchess of Tuscany and Princess of Lorraine, swept into the room through the arched doorway.

“Ferdinando, have you seen La Cecchina today?” The duchess’ voice was shaky. Today was obviously not one of her better days, the duke thought. Her addressing him informally in public was another indication. His grandmother was normally the height of formality. He knew that the musician was one of the duchess’ favorites in the court, and one of the few people who could help calm or soothe her when she got upset about anything.

“No, Grandmama,” he responded in matching informality. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen her in at least a couple of days. Why do you ask?”

“She was supposed to come to me an hour ago and sing her new song for me,” the duchess said with a frown. She looked back at her attendant lady. “Isn’t that right, Maria?”

The middle-aged lady who acted as the duchess’ seneschal nodded. “She said three days ago that she would come today an hour before noon and play the new song.”

“Maybe she forgot, or was interrupted,” the duke suggested, looking back at the new lenses on his desk that had been ground for a new telescope. He took one carefully between the fingertips of his left hand and picked up a magnifying glass with his right to make a careful examination of it.

“No, no,” his grandmother said in a querulous manner. “She always comes when she says she will, or she sends word if something prevents her. Something is wrong.”

Ferdinando suppressed a sigh. He was fond of his grandmother. She had been one of his regents after his father died in 1620, and had been effective at it. And when Ferdinando achieved his majority in 1628, she had relinquished the role with some grace. But there was no denying that her last year or so had not been good to her. She had reached the age of 71 within the last few months, and unfortunately her wits were beginning to wander. Poor Maria was becoming as much a keeper as an attendant or steward.

“Have you sent to her rooms to see if she is ill?” he asked.

“No, Your Grace,” Maria murmured.

Ferdinando sighed, set his magnifying glass down, and raised his hand to beckon with a finger. A quiet unassuming figure stepped forward from where he had stood against a wall. “Piero, go check on Maestra Caccini in her rooms.”

The page hurried out of the room. Ferdinando looked toward his grandmother. “I suspect that she has been ill, and simply not left her room.”

“Even so, she should have sent word,” Christine said petulantly.

Ferdinando narrowed his eyes, and gave a direct glance at Maria. She sighed, and said, “Come, Principessa, it is time for your posset.”

The duchess smiled. She did that a lot these days whenever someone used her birth title, Ferdinando recalled. And a smiling dowager duchess was usually a pleasant dowager duchess, so most of the staff at the Palazzo Pitti had taken to calling her Principessa. It probably wasn’t proper, but if it made her happy and kept the peace in the palazzo, Ferdinando wasn’t going to object. And since he was the grand duke and it was his palazzo, that meant no one else was likely to object, either. Even the occasional figures of the church who passed through Firenze, cardinals and nuncios and the like, did the same. Of course, for them, it was for political reasons, dating back to when the dowager duchess had been one of Ferdinando’s regents after his father’s death. Flattering the dowager duchess by using her higher ranking birth title had been the rule, then.

Of course, back then, when her mind was still sharp and focused, his grandmother had understood exactly what they were doing, and why. And she had taken some pains to teach Ferdinando some of the truths of being a ruler, including the proper use of flattery.

“All right, Maria.” The duchess looked to her grandson. “I do want to see La Cecchina, Ferdinando.”

“Yes, Grandmama. As soon as we can find her.”

The duchess turned toward the door, and Ferdinando rolled his eyes. His grandmother’s retreat into senility seemed to be a little worse every day. He shook his head after she left the room, trailed by Maria, and picked up the magnifying glass again.

Sometime later, a small noise penetrated Ferdinando’s concentration, and he looked up to see Piero standing in front of his desk. He raised an eyebrow.

“I went to Maestra Caccini’s rooms, Your Grace. Her door is barred, and no one answered my knock, even when I pounded very hard.”

Ferdinando frowned, and after a moment set the magnifying glass down. “Go find Palace-Major Roberto and tell him I want to see him.”

Piero bowed, and again hurried from the room. Ferdinando carefully slid the lens he had been examining back into its pocket in the velvet cloth spread on his desktop. He sighed. Always other things required his attention whenever he tried to focus on his love of science and optics. His old tutor Galileo Galilei had warned him there would be days like today.

Piero ducked back into the room and flattened himself against the wall beside the door. Roberto Del Migliore, the Palace-Major, appeared in the doorway. Ferdinando was, as always, struck by just how sinister the palace manager could appear. He was dressed, as usual, in a very dark color — a very dark forest green today — with a small collar and very little ornamentation or jewelry but for his badge of office hanging from a heavy gold chain and a very functional looking dagger hanging from his belt. The dagger was in a very nicely tooled sheath which was adorned by a gemstone or two. But the plainness of the serviceable hilt made it very clear that this was a serious weapon, and not some nobleman’s equipage that was more flash than utile.

With his iron-gray hair and the patch that covered his left eye-socket, Del Migliore gave much the same impression to Ferdinando as that dagger did. The palace-major had spent much of what Ferdinando had once heard an English cleric call his ‘salad days’ as a mercenary soldier. And he had apparently been a good one, having ended his career following close behind Ottavio Piccolomini, the well-known Firenzian condottiere who had been heavily involved in the warfare north of the Alps.

Having lost his eye in some skirmish in 1630, Del Migliore had returned home to Firenze, where a tidy sum had been saved from the spoils of his wars, and where Ferdinando had presented him with the prestigious (and lucrative) palace-major position when its previous occupant of the position had been caught with his hand too deep into the duchy’s coffers. That appointment had come about to a great degree because Roberto was a cousin of some sort to Ferdinando Leopoldo Del Migliore, a noted historian and scholar in Firenze that the grand duke had taken a liking to due to the coincidence of their names.

Del Migliore served well in his position, having noted on occasion that running the palace was no more difficult that running a mercenary company that was short of wine and hadn’t been paid in three months. And the grand duke was certainly both aware and appreciative of the competence of his new palace-major. Nonetheless, the presence of the occasionally grim and frequently dour palace-major sometimes made the duke uneasy.

“You summoned, Your Grace?” Del Migliore said with the slight bow that Ferdinando allowed all the senior palace servitors in private.

“Yes. This is a matter for which I might ordinarily utilize the talents of Lieutenant Bartolli, the Grand Duchy’s Consulting Detective, but he is traveling back to Grantville and Magdeburg to report to the owners of the borax operation and will be gone for some time. This cannot wait until he returns.”

Ferdinando stopped to make sure that Del Migliore appreciated the seriousness of the situation. When the palace-major nodded and murmured, “As you wish, Your Grace,” he was assured that the proper understanding had been reached.

“The Dowager Duchess has noted that Maestra Francesca Caccini has not made a promised appearance. Piero tells me that the door to the Maestra’s chambers is barred shut, and no one answered his attempts to rouse a response.”

“Indeed,” the palace-major said. “I’ve not seen her myself in some days. I shall see to the resolution of this matter, Your Grace.”

“Your attention will be appreciated, Messer Del Migliore. The Dowager Duchess will be most appreciative. La Cecchina is one of the few bright spots in her life as it draws to its close.” After a moment, Ferdinando added, “You needn’t repeat that last to her, of course.”

“As you direct, Your Grace,” Roberto murmured. “With your permission, I shall see to this small matter.”

“I leave it in your capable hands, Messere,” Fernando said.

The palace-major gave another of the slight bows, and left to see to ‘the matter’.

Ferdinando relaxed. He did so appreciate competent service.

The grand duke reached for the nearby wine cup. Empty. When did that happen?

“Piero, my wine cup is empty. A dolorous condition, that is. Please alleviate it.”

“Immediately, Your Grace,” the page said as he stepped away from his station by the door. “Would you prefer the red or the white?”

“I believe the red.”

And as Piero busied himself with filling the empty wine cup, Ferdinando removed a new lens from its velvet pocket and held it up between his eyes and the light. Beautiful, he thought. Flawless work…as good a lens as I’ve seen anywhere from anyone. He picked up his magnifying glass and lost himself in the detailed examination of the lens. He wanted his new telescope to be perfect.