1636 The Flight Of The Nightingale – Snippet 11
They went down the hallway in the other direction and turned into a different cross-corridor. Roberto looked to Alessandro. “So how long has the Maestra been a part of the palace musicians?”
“Oh, for years,” his assistant replied. “Way before my time here. She started as a child, if I remember what someone told me correctly. The dowager duchess liked her so much that she even refused to let the king of France hire her when her family was touring there a long time ago.” He shrugged. “Or at least, that’s what the duchess’ ladies say. I wouldn’t know. Way before my time.”
“In you go.” They all heard Paolo’s voice sounding through the door. “Get the bar off the door, and don’t touch nothing else, chiaro?” A few moments later, they heard the grating sound of the bar being slid out of its brackets, and a moment after that the door swung open.
Roberto was the first through the door, followed closely by the others. Paolo stared at them for a moment from where he stood outside the window, flashed a grin, and disappeared, obviously on his way back. Roberto looked to where Ernani stood, still holding the bar. “Put the bar there,” he told the servant, pointing to the nearest corner, “then go stand in the hallway. I may need to send you someplace else in a moment.”
Ernani almost dropped the bar, he moved so fast to get rid of it and get out of the room. He nearly ran into Paolo as the attendant entered the room, but managed a fast side-step and disappeared into the hallway.
“Look around,” Roberto ordered, “all of you. What do you see?”
“Neat,” Falconieri said after a long moment of surveying the outer room. “Clean.”
“Too neat,” Alessandro added. “Looks like a presentation, not a room that is lived in.” He waved his hand at the table. “Everything organized and in its place. Like an accountant lives here, not an artist.”
“Capitano,” Paolo called from the bedroom. “Come see.”
Roberto led the way through the narrow arched doorway. He found Paolo standing at the head of a bed where a figure lay covered by a blanket. For a moment, he thought his fears were realized, but then Paolo flipped the corner of the blanket back to reveal that the figure was nothing more than a couple of sacks ofâ€¦he stepped closerâ€¦straw.
“So, no Maestra here, even though the door was barred and the shutters were latched,” Roberto said in a musing tone.
“Her court shoes and dresses appear to be here,” Alessandro said, his voice muffled from inside a wardrobe.
“Any plain clothes?” Roberto asked. “Any practical shoes?”
Alessandro rummaged around some. “No.”
“This looks like a jewelry box.” Falconieri held up a box he’d picked up from a table.
“Anything in it?”
Falconieri had it open and stirred the contents with a finger. “Some lead pilgrim medals, some brass chains. A couple of broken silver coins, and a small tarnished crucifix with one arm broken off. Trash.”
Paolo spoke up. “The candlesticks are wooden, painted with silver paint.” He set them back on their table.
Roberto walked back into the front room. He scanned the room again. “What’s missing?”
The others looked around with furrowed brows. Alessandro finally held his hands up in a “who knows” gesture.
“Maestra Francesca Caccini, La Cecchina, is a musician. So where is her music?”
“Merda,” Paolo muttered. “There’s none here.”
“Exactly,” Roberto replied. “And whoever saw a musician’s room without scraps of paper or parchment with scribbles on them?”
“You’re right,” Alessandro said disgustedly. “It’s like no one lives here.”
“Exactly. She’s left.” The others looked surprised, and Roberto shook his head. “Look at it: no sensible or practical clothes in the room, no jewelry worth anything — and don’t tell me a wife of even one of the minor nobility wouldn’t have some jewels — and most importantly, not a scrap of music. She’s left. She’s run, without telling us, the grand duke, or the dowager duchess.”
“But this is still here,” Alessandro said, walking over and placing a hand on the lute that hung on the wall. “This was her favorite. I heard her call it her bambino. She wouldn’t leave this behind.”
Roberto considered that, and after a moment began to nod. “Yes, she would if she was truly planning to break all ties and move fast and far. A woman traveling with a master class lute such as that would attract attention on the road, wouldn’t she?”
“Undoubtedly,” Alessandro said, nodding himself.
“The Maestra sacrificed it to gain speed and invisibility,” Roberto said.
“She’s serious about this, then,” Paolo said. “That’s a lot of gold hanging there on that peg.”
Falconieri snapped his fingers. “Her children. She wouldn’t have run without them.”
Roberto looked to Alessandro. “He’s right.”
Alessandro shook his head. “Her son died a year or so ago.”
“No. At least, I don’t think so. It was before she came back from Lucca.” Alessandro’s eyebrows raised. “Come to think of it, it was right before she came back from Lucca. That may be what caused the break with her dead husband’s family.”
“And that may have been what started her thinking about leaving altogether.” Roberto crossed his arms on his chest, then took his chin between his right thumb and forefinger, stroking the dagger-pointed beard that was there. “But didn’t you say she had a daughter? What of her?”
Alessandro shrugged. “I think I heard that she had been placed with a convent. In any event, I haven’t seen her around here for months, and I haven’t heard mention of her.”
Roberto pointed a finger at Alessandro. “Find out what convent, and send to see if the girl is still there. What’s her name?”
“Marcella, Marietta, Madalenaâ€¦something like that.”
“Find that out as well. Now. If the girl is still in the convent, she’s probably somewhere not too far away. If the girl is gone, she’s almost certainly with Maestra Caccini, and Dio only knows where they’re on the way to. Gagliardi,” the palace-major turned to his henchman, “you go with him, and as soon as you have the name and the convent, you go find out if the girl is there. Bring word back as soon as possible.
“Falconieri,” he looked to the guard leader, “put the guards on alert. If they see anything, if they know anything, if they hear anything, no matter how silly or stupid it might seem, I want to know it.”
Roberto looked to the hall. “Ernani!” The servant popped into the room instantly. “You can go. But you keep your mouth shut about all of this. Not a word to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Got it?”
Ernani said nothing, but his head pumped up and down several times.
“Go.” Ernani vanished.
“He won’t keep his mouth shut longer than two weeks,” Paolo said in a calculating tone, brow creased.
“Do you think so?” Alessandro asked. “Myself, I think it will be three weeks at least.”
Paolo looked at him from the corner of his eye. “Five soldi?”
“Done.” Paolo looked at Falconieri. “You want in on this?” The guard chief shook his head. “Your loss.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Falconieri said with a laugh.
Roberto sighed. “If you gentlemen are through placing your wagers, you have tasks to pursue. And I,” he stressed that last syllable, “must go inform the grand duke that his songbird has taken flight. I expect he will not be thrilled.”