All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 21

He was in for a long afternoon, and then night. But by just after dawn the next day he began to feel he would not lose the second patient. She was still comatose, and still had clammy extremities, but her breathing and pulse had stabilized. Cosimo came in, looking grey and exhausted himself, bringing with his own hands a goblet of wine for Francisco.

They had long since passed from “Your Grace” and “Caviliero” to first name terms. “I have sent two of my men back to Florence, to fetch the best of her physicians, Francisco. I should have thought of it last night. At least they could give you some rest.”

Francisco took a deep gulp of the wine. He felt he’d earned it. “Well, the good news is I think that they will not be needed. She’s certainly gotten no worse, and has possibly improved slightly.”

“You sir, are a miracle worker,” said Cosimo. “I curse myself that I thought this would be a suitable place for them. It was the only one of my cousin’s estates that he had not sold to fund his military adventure. And that, purely, because there was a law-suit pending on it at the time. Lady Calimet resented my charity, and I am afraid my wife disliked her very much. But Violetta… she was always my favorite among the cousins. I pray she lives.”

“It might well have been a miracle,” said Francisco, tiredly. “Or the prayers of the priest. Look, she was young, strong and had only one fang of venom, and was the second person bitten. Whatever that snake was, it was very deadly. I’m sorry I couldn’t save her mother, but, Cosimo, you must realize that it is not over yet. Her heart or her liver–they could be damaged. So could her nerves. She may never recover consciousness, and may never recover movement. We just don’t know.”

There was a long silence. Finally Cosimo said: “Earlier, much earlier, you said you knew the best physician in Italy.”

“What? Oh. I know the young man who will become that. Marco Valdosta. I assisted him in the treatment of the doge, when the doge was poisoned. Privately, I will tell you I was sure Petro Dorma would never recover. But Marco seems to have, and I mean this literally, a healing touch.”

There was another long silence. Then Cosimo nodded. “I will write immediately to beg him to come to see her. May I mention your name?”

“Certainly. But, to be realistic, we should wait a day or two, and see if she makes any progress or… relapses. I’ll stay on hand to stop these doctors of yours from undoing my good work.” He smiled, which turned into a yawn.

“Do you think he would come?” asked Cosimo, patting the girl’s hand.

“Marco? It would be difficult. The doge seems determined to keep him close, I gather. But… well, you could arrange to send Violetta to see him. I don’t think travel will make a great deal of difference to her. It is not as if she has any broken bones. It is some distance, but a part of the journey may be accomplished by river and by sea. I will be going some of the way myself, and could watch over her. But we need to check that she is stable, first.”

“I will immediately send a messenger to the doge, to beg this favor, at least to have Signor Valdosta examine her.”

“Oh, Marco Valdosta’s problem is that he would help anyone,” said Francisco, tiredly.

“I will still send messengers, and have my men organize transportation and a suitable escort. But I would be further in your debt, Francisco Turner, if you could at least see her safe to the river, and bestowed on a fast, comfortable vessel for Venice. And… If you ever look for another employer, look no further than Florence. Land and titles are yours for asking.”

“I’m flattered, but I merely did what I could. And the girl is far from safe or healed.”

“I saw your effort, read the stresses on your face, Francisco Turner. If you could have dragged them through by sheer force of will, you would have. You are a physician born, not a soldier, I am afraid.” It was said with a smile and a hand on his shoulder.

“Funnily enough, that’s also what Marco said. You’re both wrong. Projecting yourselves onto my nature. I’d rather be a man who drinks beer and reads books, and avoids sick or injured people.”

“I don’t particularly believe you, but I shall send you a suitable gift of books,” said Cosimo. “Which brings me to another subject. One I wished to broach in some security that I could not be overheard. The church is apparently preparing itself–and giving warning to a few trusted individuals–that there may be another outbreak of the plague of Justinian, in the duchy of Milan. Church warnings are not always to be trusted, but I would still like to send word on to Carlo Sforza. And as his personal physician, I should imagine you would be consulted.”

“We have had this rumor already sent on to us,” said Francisco. “I’m not sure that it is anything but an attempt to destabilize the duchy of Milan, Cosimo. The disease is always recorded as originating in the east, and has always spread from the ports into the interior.”

“Ah. I did not know that. Still, I suppose someone could sail up the Po River with it. I doubt that the rumor is being set about as a tactic against Carlo Sforza. I could be wrong, but, well, Monsignor Di Marino is a man of some honor. He’s a great humanist.”

“I hope I’m right, simply because we have never successfully stopped the plague. It just burns itself out, when it runs out of people.”

“That is even more terrifying, coming from you, Francisco. Well, I hope it is a mere vicious rumor then. How odd to hope for that.”

Francisco was too tired, just then, to analyze what Cosimo had said. He was just grateful that the girl survived his short sleep, and he was able to somewhat forcefully dissuade the physician from Florence from cupping her. Violetta de’ Medici showed no signs of recovering consciousness, although the circulation to her limbs had improved somewhat. Francisco took that as a good sign: less blood was being directed to her vital organs and some could be spared to warm her hands and feet. Of course, there was no telling what damage had been done to those organs already.

Cosimo had arranged a horse-borne litter for his cousin, a letter to Marco Valdosta, another to Doge Petro Dorma, and a major domo to bear the letters and to see to the transportation and any other matters. The man had suitable funds and the right to draw on more from a certain banker on the Rialto Bridge. They would have an escort of fifteen guards.

“Enough to make it not worth an attack by petty bandits and unlikely to attract the attention of the large ones,” said Cosimo. “Sometimes indistinguishable from the local nobility. A sick woman, though, is not likely to be considered a valuable hostage, or worth their trouble.”

“And I will have my eight rascals to add to that, as far as the Po River, where we will put her aboard a vessel. She’ll be safe enough, and travel fast enough.”

By now, Francisco was quietly certain of what he had begun to suspect the afternoon before: Cosimo de’ Medici was in love with his “little” fat cousin. Probably not as a lover in the physical sense, but as an affair of the heart. There was a gap of many years between them and Cosimo was married, but Francisco had seen that often enough. He’d probably have accepted her marriage to someone suitable, because that was the nature of the man. But he would cherish a soft spot for her and woe betide the fellow, if he hurt Violetta. Cosimo de’ Medici might seem a mild and sensible man, but Francisco had seen enough of him during the period they’d fought for the women’s lives, to realize he could be brutally efficient, and was very well able to out-think most Italian nobles. Cosimo was also fabulously wealthy. He had the money and the intellect to crush them, even if not the martial prowess.

So, besides for other reasons, that made Francisco hope the girl lived, and recovered fully. He was Carlo Sforza’s man, and Sforza needed allies, especially ones like Cosimo de’ Medici.