Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 10

Chapter 4

“I was not in any real danger, Maria. They take honor seriously over there. And now we have a peace agreement, and maybe more.”

“With them,” Maria hissed, glowering at him. “Illyrians! How could you!”

“Given a choice between another war right now, and reaching an agreement that could keep the Corfiotes sleeping peacefully in their beds, I thought that it was not a bad idea,” said Benito calmly.

“The Illyrians drove the great Mother’s people to take shelter here. Made us call on the Lord of the Dead to put the sea between us and them! Kerkiria’s women can never forgive them. There can be no peace between us.”

“Maria, you have an Illyrian rug on your floor. You bought that happily enough, thinking that you had got a bargain. This is a business arrangement too, and Petro Dorma will be well pleased, I think. Besides, you were born and bred in Venice, not here. The people of Venice’s canals are ‘us,’ not the women here.”

Benito tried to keep his own voice completely cool. He had no love nor trust for Corfu’s ancient religion. He tolerated it. Barely.

“They are my people now,” she said stiffly.

Benito was too tired for an argument. He shrugged. “Then maybe you should actually ask them what they think, instead of getting on your high horse and talking for them. Thalia seemed to think that it was a good idea.”

“Oh.” That seemed to take the wind out of her sails a bit. “You’ve been drinking.”

Benito nodded. “Slilovitz. For breakfast.”

Maria sniffed. “Don’t they have food?”

“Ewe’s cheese and bread that’s rich in stones,” said Benito, feeling a tooth. “Trust me. I needed slivovitz to be able to eat it. Seriously, Maria. Illyria is a hard, poor country. I’d rather they weren’t using us as a larder to raid. Let them trouble Emeric and the Byzantines instead. Besides, you’d like the Lord of the Mountains. I must see that you never meet, or you might run off with him.”

Her eyes filled with sudden tears. “You know that’s not true, Benito. I love you. It’s just…”

“It’s just that I didn’t tell you before I went,” he said skating away from the other man in her life, the Lord of Dead. Aidoneus was always somewhere in the back of Benito’s mind, as was the fact that he would have to lose her for four months, come winter. It made their relationship just that bit more tricky, along with the fact that the church would not marry them, as a result. That drove her further into the arms of the Mother-Goddess worship and paradoxically toward Aidoneus. Life was never simple.

“Partly,” she said. “And partly…”

“I know. And now is there any chance of real food? Without rocks or slivovitz? And how is our baby?”

“Grumpy and sleepless without her father. And fast asleep now, having kept me awake half the night. I suppose I could find you a bite to eat. There is some cold frittata.”

Benito grinned and hugged her. After a moment she responded. “Our time together is so precious, ‘nito. And I miss you like fire when you’re away.”

“Better away for one night than fighting a war again,” said Benito. “But yes. I missed you too. I need you, remember.”

She nodded, and buried her face in his shoulder. Together, a little later, they walked to Alessia’s crib. Benito felt his face soften as he looked down on her. “Did she give you a hard time last night?”

“She’s your daughter,” said Maria. “So, yes. And I was worried about you. Boars can be dangerous.”

“They’re not a patch on an Illyrian with a sense of humor, or sailing with Taki after Spiro’s finished the wine. Come, let her sleep a bit longer, and let me get some real food. And then maybe…”

Maria smiled wryly. “And then she’ll wake up.”

“She’s trying to prevent any competition for your affection.”

Later — when, as predicted, Alessia was awake — Benito went back to his office. Inevitably, there were a slew of minor matters that people thought would be better if he dealt with in person. Perhaps some of them would, at least for the people concerned. He also had to go and talk to Belmondo. The governor was in semi-retirement, but still wielded some influence back in Venice.

Benito was keen on having Belmondo’s wife — and the old man himself, purely as an ancillary — shipped off to somewhere like Vinland. So far, Renate Belmondo seemed to have understood that in choosing to accept Benito’s Maria as a willing bride for the Lord of the Dead, and, what was almost worse, having put Alessia at risk, she had made herself an implacable enemy. An enemy who would take her slightest miss-step as a reason for dire consequences.

Renate may possibly have had reasons, and made innocent misjudgments in an effort to do her best. Benito could see that now. But he was never going to tell her that. He’d learned to believe in checks and balances to power, no matter how good that power was. It was faintly amusing to know that Renate and the non-humans of the island considered him to be a check on their power. They were a little afraid of him. Bringing Maria back from the kingdom of the dead had engendered some respect from them, it seemed. That was good. Non-humans had advantages over most mortals. Reminding them that they shouldn’t abuse their powers was no bad thing, Benito felt.