1636 The Flight Of The Nightingale – Snippet 14

“Margherita Signorini was indeed lodged with the sisters of the convent for a period of time. She was receiving tutoring in several subjects, as well as singing as one of their choir and occasional soloists.”

Roberto held up a hand. “I know the sisters and their reputation for music. She was that good?”

“From what I could gather,” Paolo replied, “she was. Not surprising, perhaps, when you consider whose child she is.” Roberto waved his hand to continue. “Maestra Caccini would visit the convent often to provide lessons to the lay students and the younger sisters, and she would always spend time with her daughter when she did. But about six weeks ago, she withdrew her daughter from the convent and took her away. No one there knew why it was done or where she was taken. The abbess was actually somewhat unhappy that that had been done, I think because she had hoped to convince the girl she had a vocation.”

“Six weeks ago,” Roberto mused. “One wonders what might have occurred about then or right before the time that would have brought the Maestra to the point of leaving Firenze.”

“You are sure she has left the city?”

“Oh, yes,” Roberto said. “If this had only been about leaving the court, there were other ways to go about it. Not least of which would have been joining the convent herself. No, something occurred that pushed La Cecchina to abandon everything she knew. I wish we knew where her daughter went. That would help us track them down.”

More footsteps sounded, and Alessandro and Cesare appeared in the doorway together. Cesare’s face was grim, but Alessandro had a small smile on his face. Roberto pointed at that smile, and said, “Tell me what you’ve found.”

“Well, I found the maid servant who usually cleans and straightens Maestra Caccini’s chamber,” Alessandro began. “She looked over the contents of the wardrobe, and stated that it looks to her like all of the Maestra’s court dresses and shoes were there. She didn’t know about any plain clothing, but she did say that there were two pair of outdoor shoes that had been there before that aren’t there now.”

“Confirmation of that much, at least,” Paolo muttered. Roberto waved him silent and pointed at Alessandro again.

“She also was shocked at the state of the outer room. She said that every time she had been there before there were pages and pages of music scattered around, and that the Maestra had cautioned her to leave the music wherever it was, even if it was on the floor, if she valued her life. The sight of the straightness of the chamber almost caused her to faint. She definitely paled, and I had to assure her that she had nothing to do with it, and if the Maestra were to lodge a complaint against her, I would defend her. She was almost pitiably thankful after that.”

“Anything else?”

Alessandro’s smile widened a bit. “I took young Antonio with me, and he made a discovery. He examined all the paper and parchment in the boxes, and as you might expect, none of them had any writing on them. He did, however, discover a piece that had been below another piece of paper that had been written on, and he was able to find this.”

He withdrew a folded piece of paper from inside his jerkin and handed it across the desk to Roberto. The palace-major unfolded it and laid it out on the desktop. At first glance, it looked like nothing but a smear of charcoal on the paper, but as Roberto studied it he began to perceive the faint traces of symbols. He looked up at Alessandro.

“Antonio apparently had a sideline in learning how to send invisible messages while he was in school,” Alessandro said. “And one of the simplest ways is to simply stack two pieces of paper, then write on the top one with a pen or pencil or stylus, pressing hard enough to leave faint indentations on the second sheet. Once received, you rub the sheet with charcoal, and behold!” He waved at the page.

Roberto looked at the page again, and this time could follow the chain of symbols well enough to determine:

F → F → B → M → M → C → B

“But what is it?” he muttered.

The smile slipped from Alessandro’s face. “I don’t have the faintest idea. Do you?” He looked at the other two men in the room.

Roberto spun the page and pushed it toward the edge of the desk for them to view it. Cesare shook his head after a few moments. Paolo, however, stood with creased brow for a moment, then turned without a word and walked over to a large cabinet against the side wall, rummaged around inside of it, and pulled out a roll of parchment, which he brought over to the desk. Roberto rescued the piece of paper just before Paolo plopped the parchment down on the desk and untied its ribbon to unroll it.

The parchment turned out to be a map, one of Italy north of Roma. Paolo spun the map to make it orient to Roberto’s eyes, then plucked the paper out of his hand and laid it on top of the map. His blunt square-tipped forefinger stabbed the map.

“Firenze,” he said, “being F. To Fiesole, another F.” His finger traced that line. “To Bologna.” His finger traced farther. “To Modena…”

“To Mantova,” Roberto interjected as Paulo’s finger moved again.

“To Cremona,” Alessandro added, making the next jump as the finger continued to move. “But where’s the B?”

They all looked at the map, until Paolo’s finger stopped moving. “Here.”

“Where’s here?” Cesare demanded. “I can’t read that scrawl.”

Alessandro leaned over to peer at the map closely. “Brescia? That’s the B?”

“Has to be,” Paolo said. “There’s not another town with a B name anywhere close to that line.”

Roberto picked up the paper and angled it around in the light. “There are no other letters. Why would she go to Brescia? I could understand Milano. I could understand Venezia, definitely, although I would have gone via the Ferraro road for that. I could even understand Genoa, although I think that’s too close for her purposes. But Brescia? Why Brescia? That’s almost in the mountains, for the Heavens’ sake.”

There was a long moment of silence, then Paolo said, “Look beyond Brescia, Capitano. It is but the gateway, I would wager.”

“The Swiss? The Austrians? Why would the Maestra go to them?”

“No, Capitano. The Germanies.”

“She is a good Catholic,” Alessandro remonstrated. “She would not go to the Swede. She would not join with the Protestants.”

“Gustavus Adolphus is not the only power in the north these days,” Paolo said.

Roberto looked at the map, and imagined what lay north of the Alps and the Swiss cantons. “Grantville,” he said slowly. “You think she means to go there.”

“The only reason for one like her to go that direction,” Paolo said. “To the northeast or northwest there are other large cities to provide refuge, but to go to Brescia…there is nothing north of there in Italy for her. So…”

Roberto considered his attendant’s words. He and Paolo had worked together for years, and he trusted the other man’s knowledge of both strategy and tactics and how people worked. It certainly made sense. They still didn’t know the why, mind you, but the what and the where seemed to be pulling together.