Burdens Of The Dead – Snippet 07

“Venice is more tolerant than most places.”

“At the moment. But it will come here too.”

“That is the story of our people,” said Itzaak, philosophically. “And yet…there are good people here. Marco Valdosta…”

“I am going to go further,” interrupted the visitor. “Vinland, I think. Unless the temple of King David is rebuilt.”

“One day, my friend. Now, I value that bracelet at three ducats. To be honest, the workmanship is not good. That’s for the metal and the value of the topaz insets…”

*   *   *

Later that evening Itzaak had sent word to Marco Valdosta. Marco was trying hard to avoid politics and too much involvement with any faction, even the Strega. The boy still really merely wanted to heal the sick. But he and his wife had…connections. And if one duke could work iron with his own hands, there was no reason why another could not be a physician. Who knew? It would probably make him even more beloved than the Old Fox.


In Milano, Duke Filippo Maria dispensed orders to a man he hated…and yet needed and feared. “And that will be all that you need to know,” he said, his prim, plump little mouth set in its usual false smile, which did not carry to his close-set little eyes.

“Perhaps just a little more information on what you require of me. I am a soldier, not an agent provocateur.” So spoke the lean, scar-faced man staring unblinking back at him.

“A military provocation of the Scaligers. And the town of Nogara.”

“We would be wiser to expand westwards,” said his condottiere.

“I will decide on what is wise and what will be done,” said Filippo Maria.

*   *   *

Carlo Sforza was relieved to be back in the saddle, heading away from the Palazzo Ducale. He trusted Filippo Maria not at all, and he had a good grasp of how the cunning, devious little man’s mind worked. The duke was deliberately goading him a little. Testing his loyalty. Pushing his condottiere, playing one off against another. But Filippo Maria always did that. He was up to something more than his strategy of divide and rule.

Carlo felt the front of his tunic, felt the golden pilgrim medal that hung there. He remembered how it had come back to him and the message that had come with it. Damn Lorendana. Damn her. Even after all these years, she made him angry, and he was a man who had always been in control of his emotions. Unlike her.

He’d made mistakes…and this too was something unfamiliar. Sometimes, very rarely, he had been out-thought, but even there brute force had seen him clear. Except against Dell’este. Her blood. Carlo would, at a time and a place of his choosing, possibly risk another throw against Ferrara’s lord. Maybe. The Old Fox was neither that wealthy nor able to muster that large a force.

Carlo touched the medal again. He was much less sure about someone else he might have to face if Filippo Maria continued to prod Venice. The duke of Milan assumed that he was subtle in his maneuvers. But so were the secretive Council of Ten. This fencing in the dark could get messy, and there were certain things they should avoid messing with.

He had his own agents, of course, if not as many as either Filippo Maria or the Council of Ten. They kept him informed on the movements and actions of Lorendana’s sons. Filippo Maria would be wise to avoid conflict with Venice, or the older boy, if the reports were true. Of course the duke only believed in magic when it suited him. But that was not the focus of his thoughts. Carlo Sforza wondered — as he had many times — about the younger boy instead.

His son, that one.

Who would, one day, almost inevitably come to kill him.

By the stories out of Corfu, and the stolen pilgrim medal he had sent back to his father, Carlo Sforza faced that prospect with a degree of respect bordering on fear, which was something he was totally unaccustomed to. There was a twisted pride, too, which was perhaps odd.

The snippets of information that had come to him, and the plots and plans that the duke of Milan was not entirely revealing…it all came together. Carlo Sforza was a man whose success rested on making quick, forceful and accurate decisions. He made one now. Francisco Turner was not a man he would lose easily or lightly. The man had a knowledge of ships as well as a grasp of several languages. His father had been an English sailor who had deserted his ship to stay on in Genoa and marry his light-o-love.

He’d left his son his name and a liking for beer. The rest of Francisco’s skills had been acquired since then, mostly among the Barbary pirates who had once enslaved him.

“Francisco,” he called the man forward. The rest of his men fell back. If the condottiere wanted to discuss matters with Francisco, they really didn’t want to listen in.

It sometimes meant unpleasant things. Like bathing. Or purgatives. Francisco was a man of odd and dangerous ideas.

“I need you go to Venice for me, Francisco,” said Carlo Sforza. “There is someone I need watched. I need them to trust the watcher. And that means it must be you.”

Francisco nodded. He was not a man who questioned his lord’s orders, even if this was not his usual role. He was adaptable, and, while he was no assassin, he could use a misericord and had an alarming knowledge of poisons. “Who, M’lord?”

“Marco Valdosta. And it will not be easy. He’ll be watched by the Council of Ten’s spies, possibly Ferrara’s and almost certainly Visconti spies. We know how they work and will arrange a cover, but it is dangerous. And if rumor is to be believed he has divine guardians, too. Or at least magical ones.”

“I understand,” said Francisco, with a wry smile. “Well, M’lord, I’ll do my best.”

“He may be joined by his younger brother, Benito. That one is not a healer. If he arrives I need you to send me word. The barman with one eye at Marisco’s will arrange it.”

“Yes, M’lord.”

“To make your life slightly easier, I believe Valdosta has been attempting to read Alkindus’ Quia Primos. The translation, not the original. And not the Greek.”

Francisco scowled. “The translation is dreadful.”

“I thought I remembered you saying that, Francisco,” said Carlo Sforza, with a slight smile. “I did have a fever at the time, though.”

“You don’t forget much, M’lord.”

Carlo knew other people forgot things. He did not. It gave him an edge in what could be a dangerous profession. Many of Carlo Sforza’s fellow condottiere were experts in the art of avoiding real conflict, unless it was a sure thing. They were good at noise and fury, and martial displays and soaking their employing cities and states. Mercenary soldiers preferred to work for pay and loot, and to avoid dying. Without a reputation for seeing to that aspect, a mercenary commander struggled to find the men who were tools of his trade.

Sforza was different. His men fought because the rewards were great, and worth the risk of dying for. With Carlo Sforza to lead them, they believed they’d get the rewards. His precise memory was one of the reasons they did. The other was his readiness to use overwhelming force. The Old Fox had the tactical edge on him. He also had the tactical edge on any of the commanders Carlo had met, but he lacked the brutal application of calculated force. When the time came, Carlo would exploit that. But Benito…

Benito would have been surprised to know just how much detail about his exploits had made its way to his father. It was especially the story of his conduct in the raid on the Casa Dandelo, when he had used the desperation of the slaves to apply overwhelming force on a superiorly armed and positioned foe; that kept coming back to Carlo’s mind.

That was the way Sforza would have done it himself. And that…that made him a little afraid.