All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 33

She will die, whispered the asp in her bosom. Nothing lives through the poison of the great serpent, unless the serpent wills it… and even then, they live but for a while.

“I see,” said Lucia.

“As Francisco, and Cosimo de’ Medici did, I blamed it on an accident, a snake in the garden, which could possibly happen. It took our Venetian friends–whose Council of Ten are all too prone to use poisons in their assassinations–to point this out to me. And to point out that I should keep an extra guard on you, my dear.”

“Ah. Are you sure that Venice are our friends?”

“Who knows? Venetian politics are as murky as their canals and filled with even more dead bodies. But I think it a fair warning, and it brings me to a subject–awkward though it may be–that I wish to broach to you.”

“Speak your mind… My Lord,” she said, getting her tongue around the words with difficulty.

“Once you are married there is nothing to be gained by killing you. One of their pretexts for war disappears and some of the weaker camp-followers may decide the duchy of Milan has a rightful ruler. If even one leaves, their alliance will disintegrate, and those who remain can be dealt with easily. I hate to press the idea of a rapid marriage on you, I know all women long for the pomp and ceremony and show, but I think for your safety and that of Milan, the sooner we are wed, the better.”

To think she had worried about how to press this forward. She put on her best show of coyness and reluctance. “Not for myself, but for the sake of my father’s duchy,” she said.

“Good. Hopefully our union will be blessed with a child and they can put all this behind them,” said Sforza, blissfully ignorant.

There was something to be said for a marriage of convenience to a fool who has no nobility, thought Lucia. “Let it be soon, My Lord.”

“I will have the banns read out in the cathedral this Sunday, and letters will be dispatched to all the noble houses. Let them wonder about the haste, and whether I have to marry for other reasons.” He laughed at his own coarse jest.

She did not, but then he did not seem to expect her to. He took his leave.

“Mother and daughter?” she said to the asp. “I gave orders that it was not to be obvious. Not that it has not worked out precisely for the best, but I do not like being disobeyed.”

I will send a message to the great serpent. It will know. I will be told.

“In the meanwhile I have nine days to get suitable bride-clothes,” said Lucia.

Before the hour was out, her orders had gone far and wide across Milan. She did not go to dressmakers and silk merchants anymore. They came to her, and if they knew what was good for them, came quickly. Sforza’s coarse mercenaries were useful for that purpose, at least.


The letters Carlo Sforza’s scribes neatly wrote out and various messengers took to their varying destinations did not include Parma, but did include Venice, Florence, and even, though it would have been impossible for a response, let alone attendance, Rome and Naples. The letter provoked varying reactions, but most of them had a common theme.

It was not going to be a very well attended wedding.

Carlo Sforza expected that. But he had more important matters on his mind, a war to prosecute in the northwest, which, unless he judged incorrectly would soon spread to several more fronts. He knew all too well how expensive war could be, but this was the first time he had, so to speak, been drawing on his own coffers to pay for it. That was proving a shock! The only thing, he thought sourly, that seemed to have more ability to spend money than a regiment of cavalry was his bride-to-be.


For the first time that Marco could recall, Petro Dorma–living as he did in close proximity to Milan, at least when compared to Rome or Naples–was quite pleased that he had been poisoned.

He had called Marco up to the public chamber from his latest visit to his patient. “And how is she?”

It was a public audience, and Marco knew enough to be aware that anything he was asked here was for a greater audience. And he knew… and still doubted Petro’s theory that this had been assassination… but just in case he was wrong and Petro was right: he shrugged. “No real progress, Your Grace.”

That wasn’t strictly true. The flesh had stopped dying around the wound. The honey treatment seemed to be working, even it was a mess to apply. The circulation in her foot was definitely better than it had been. Her pulse was slightly slower and slightly easier to find. But she was still comatose, and showed no signs of recovering consciousness.

“How very sad. Poisons can be so terribly debilitating. And it is about that that I called for your advice: I have been invited to attend the wedding of the Protector of Milan to the lady Lucia Maria del Maino, the former Duke Visconti’s natural daughter. An occasion of some pomp and ceremony, which is taking place in a week’s time. As my chief personal physician, would I be fit for such a journey? It would have to be done in a great hurry, as, well, you know my work schedule here in keeping our great city running.”

Marco understood that too. Petro probably would suffer no ill effects that a bit of rest would not cure, provided he didn’t overdo things or eat unwisely. But… this was politics.

“I am not the doge, Your Grace. I am merely your medical advisor. If I were the doge, I would absolutely forbid Petro Dorma from undertaking any such exercise, yet. It could have fatal consequences, as you know. In easy stages, undertaken over a few weeks with travelling by galley, it would be risky. At speed, suicidal. I hope the Council of Ten will concur with my opinion, and advise you not to go, purely on the grounds of your health.”

“That is most awkward, because I would very much like to attend,” said Petro. “I will have to send a delegation in my place, to wish them well, as well as my personal message of congratulations.”

“I am sorry I cannot advise otherwise,” said Marco. Which was also true, but for a different reason. What he’d heard from Benito had begun to make him put his own youthful memories of Sforza in context. Marco had been his mother’s darling, and had been largely ignored by the bluff mercenary commander. Then had been the time when Mother had broken from Sforza, and the memory of those furious fights, and her belief–which he’d shared, and passed to Benito–that Sforza wanted them all dead and had hired assassins to kill them.

He’d been his mother’s partisan then, loyal to the last drop of his blood. Now, as an older person, knowing more of her cause and more of the people who had supported it, like the slave-trading Dandelos and the black Lotos smugglers…

He’d begun teasing out the truths from her ardent beliefs, particularly since Alessia’s kidnapping and Carlo Sforza’s part in rescuing her. The condottiere had never taken any real interest in Marco as a child, or even in Benito, who was his own son. Marco had resented that, at the time. On the other hand, they’d always been well fed, always been well housed, and had never been abused by him. Well, he had gotten a most unfair box on the ear for something that Benito had actually done once. But he realized, now that he was working in the city often with sick and injured children, and he’d seen for himself what could happen to step-children, they’d been lucky.

Also he could forgive much of a man who had Francisco Turner’s loyalty, and had sent his own physician to watch over his grand-daughter.

Peace between Venice and a Milan ruled by Phillipo Maria Visconti was never going to be anything but an excuse for Milan to regroup. But perhaps there could be a real chance with Sforza.

Marco would always choose peace over war. But if they come to take my marshes and Lagoon, said the Lion of Etruria, within him, they will have war.

And that too was true, and Marco knew his name would be right up there, first on the lists of volunteers in Piazza San Marco. He had fought for his city before, and would do so again, if need be.