Burdens Of The Dead – Snippet 25


Chapter 18



It was wonderful having Benito back, Marco found. He hadn’t realized quite how easily he bonded with his half-brother. He knew how much he’d missed him, of course; almost every hour he’d found himself wondering how Benito would react to something, or what Benito would have said. But Benito and Maria stepped back into their lives as if, somehow, they’d never left, or had only stepped out for a pole around the canals.

And as for the little girl…

Marco shook his head. Maria had thought that the reality of little ones might put them off wanting one of their own. There were aspects of parenthood that were going to be a challenge, yes, and having a child right there, demonstrating those aspects was sometimes daunting. The occasional tantrum, for instance — or the absolute refusal, one night, to go to sleep. But Alessia had wormed her way right into their hearts. It was harder, now, than ever before that they had not yet managed to start one of their own.

The last time Benito had been in Venice he had been driven by a need to get back. Marco had not been fooled, nor had anyone else. Benito had been driven to get back to Maria, not Corfu. The time before that, he had been miserable because of Maria…because he had lost her, and had no prospect of getting her back. Now, back home in Venice again, with her, underneath it all he was dreading the inevitable winter of his bargain perhaps, but now at last he was with Maria. And he had changed, he’d grown. He was more of a man now, and less of the wild boy that he’d been. That was partly Maria, but also, seeing him with his daughter, Marco knew it was because of Alessia as well. And who could doubt now that she was Benito’s child, especially when she smiled or looked up at you with curiosity, to see what this exciting adult would do next, head slightly tilted, eyes bright? Benito might never realize it, but being a father had been good for him. It had given him stability that nothing else could. And the need to think, because he was no longer Benito alone, who could risk any mad thing. There was a small one depending on him. Who would be left helpless if something happened to him.

Marco saw that stability, that — call it what it was, maturity, and he was even more determined to get there himself. Finally it had driven him to the point where he had steeled himself to ask Francisco about it during their next language session. The fiction that Francisco was not a chirurgeon, or at least as skilled in medicine as most of the learned Dottores at the Accademia, had not lasted very long. His skill was undoubtedly in field medicine and plainly learned, by the examples he gave, in the tail of an army, if not in its van. But that was hardly a bad thing. Marco would take practical medicine over bookish speculation without a second thought.

Besides, the books all too often contradicted each other.

For a while now Francisco had been coming to the Casa Montescue, rather than Marco going to his shabby rooms. It was less restrictive for both of them, and Marco was less likely to get irritated by the Council of Ten’s watchers. It was bad enough having the Lion as part of himself, knowing far too much of what he was thinking, without having to bear the constant observation of others, who were all to mortal and would not know what he was thinking and would speculate and speculate without actually asking him.

“Francisco,” he said, a bit hesitantly.

The soldier-doctor-teacher stopped drinking beer and looked enquiringly at Marco, who had been attempting to read a simple Arabic passage aloud. Marco blushed. “The fertility of men…and women…How does it work? How can you…aid it?”

Francisco took his time in answering. And when he did it was with a wry smile. “My experience has tended to be with people who wanted the pleasure, not the results, M’lord. There has been some writing on the subject, but I think most of it is worth less than the paper it is written on.” He put his beer down, and gave Marco a direct gaze. “Look…it’s typical for a man who wants an heir to blame his wife. But, well, you can’t grow crops if the seed isn’t good.” He looked Marco up and down. “But most of the lords I’ve heard of having this sort of trouble tended to be elderly and on the corpulent side, and fall into bed blind drunk, and then wonder why nothing happens or why the baby looks like their groom. You’re not a heavy drinker. What sort of exercise do you do, M’lord? I mean something that makes your heart race, and your chest heave, and your breathing rapid, not a stroll to the plaza.”

The idea was rather odd to Marco. Military men trained at the arts of war. Other working people did what they had to do, be it pole a barge or carry bales. But that was really not something the masters or the mistresses of the Casa Vecchi did. One walked sometimes. Those that had estates outside the lagoon would go riding or hunting there. Some would go and fence in a salle. But none of these had really appealed to Marco. “I can’t really think of anything. I walk a little.” The only other exercise he could think of doing wasn’t having the desired result.

Francisco nodded, as if he had expected something of the sort. Venice was not the sort of city that leant itself to vigorous exercise. “Well, maybe you should consider doing something. You’re starting a little pot-belly, M’lord. A really brisk walk or something at least a few times a week. I like to ride or run, myself. I go across to Chioggia twice a week. More often would be better, but that is all that is practical right now.”

The agents of the Council of Ten had actually told Marco about Francisco’s “excursions,” finding them worrying and strange. It was nice to have that mystery cleared up, although Marco doubted the Council of Ten would grasp the idea very easily. Now that he thought about it, he remembered Kat had telling him that Francesca used to walk briskly for exercise every day. He’d thought it odd then. Maybe it wasn’t so odd, after all.

“The body is all part of one machine, M’lord. Making one aspect stronger may stir the juices in another.”

“Running?” Marco asked. “Really?”

“It’s useful. If I’d been faster at it once…well, that was long ago. As a boy I was entered into foot races by my father. He bet on me, so he made me practice, and I discovered that I liked the exercise.” He shrugged. “Otherwise beer makes me fat. So that’s one idea. Perhaps both of you should get exercise, and sun, and air that does not stink of canal-water. It cannot hurt, and it might help. And the reality is, there are those women who do not have children. No matter how often they try, or with how many men. You might have to accept that, M’lord.”

Well, that was disappointing. He’d hoped for a potion, or…well, something. Still. It was practical and easy, and as the man said, it would do no harm, this exercise.