Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 23

Chapter 13

In terms of raw power, both of intellect and in the actual ability to affect events, it would be hard to have eclipsed the people gathered in a quiet and rather nondescript salon in the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Both the doge, Petro Dorma, and Count Enrico Dell’este were more than capable of a display of pomp and finery, if they thought it would serve their purposes. But unlike many rulers, they understood that these were just tools, not ends in themselves.

Besides, they had no need to try and impress the other people present. The Venetian Council of Ten knew them all far too well. Marco Valdosta, and that which walked with him in spirit, were unlikely to even notice finery and rich throne rooms. They both saw far deeper than that. Count Von Stemitz had seen more Gothic splendor in Mainz. And Patriarch Michael, speaking for the church in Rome, had his eyes set on far more spiritual glory. Only Admiral Doria, the duke of Genoa, unfamiliar with the group, was in the least surprised by the lack of ostentation in the quiet private salon.

“Eneko Lopez is not a man to send such news without being very certain of it,” said Patriarch Michael, in reply to the admiral’s question.

“I have heard of him,” admitted the admiral. “He has a reputation for being a somewhat inflexible man. You will pardon my saying so, but the church has for so many years refused to send such communications. Why should it be different now? How can you be sure that this message is a real one? We have always enjoyed much better relations with the Byzantine Empire than Venice has. Our trade with the Black Sea is more extensive than Venice’s. We would surely have been aware of any such fleet.”

The patriarch nodded. “It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to be absolutely certain that no form of magical interference has taken place. Nonetheless, the clerics in Rome are very skilled, and have the greatest ecclesiastical protections that we have been able to devise, Admiral. They are as sure as they possibly can be that the communication came from Eneko Lopez in Jerusalem. He sent word of a threat to many nations and to the Church itself. That would be why he has decided to do this.”

“It is just that… Yes, our ships are restricted in their access to certain ports. But we would surely have known from our agents if something of this size was happening. We trade with the Golden Horde too. The Black Sea is something we know well.”

As Petra Dorma was all too well aware, the Black Sea was the region in which Genoa had most of its influence, other than the trade in their local Ligurian region and their colonies on Corsica. The admiral was unlikely to forget that Venice was its largest commercial rival in the Mediterranean. Both sides had used war and a plethora of dirty tricks to try and gain the upper hand.

However, the new duke had gained his place after the old duke had supported (largely tacitly, it was true) the blockading of the Venetian fleets. That had seriously angered the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles Fredrik had not yet taken substantial steps against Aragon and the Aquitaine. But when he had had an opportunity to intervene in the election of a new duke in Genoa, he had let it be known that he favored the captain-general of the fleet — and besides having the military might of the Holy Roman Empire to use as influence, much of the trade to and from the north flowed through the port.

Venice was the predominant power in the Mediterranean, but the Genovese would dearly like to change that situation. Petro could only hope that the admiral saw a greater advantage in cooperation rather than playing a spoiler’s role, which the Aquitaine was particularly infamous for. That was why they had not been asked to send a representative to this meeting. For the Aquitaine, their own immediate interests always came first. Of course, the Aquitaine would couch it in seductive terms; that, and the seduction itself were what they were best known for.

“We would be prepared,” said Petro, “to conclude certain treaty arrangements concerning the use of the Golden Horn, and also access to ports on the Black Sea. We would not be offering such concessions lightly, Your Grace.”

The Genovese duke looked somewhat taken aback. Such directness was unusual among Italian principalities. But he was an admiral first and a duke second, and plain speaking had value to a seaman. “It could certainly seem that you are in earnest,” he said. “Look, it is not that I doubt your sincerity, Doge. Or the fact that I doubt a message could have been sent from Jerusalem. But much of our trade depends on cordial relations with the Byzantine emperor. We have a somewhat different strategy to that of Venice. We have never occupied any of his territory. Should we now descend on Constantinople, as part of an attacking fleet, that relationship could not be reestablished.”

Personally, Petro Dorma doubted that Emperor Alexis was going to manage to keep the throne under his incompetent backside for too much longer, even if Venice and her allies left him alone. Whoever took over might not remember those who had supported Alexis with any fondness. But before he could think of a tactful way of pointing this out, the Old Fox came to his rescue.

“There is no need for an attack on Constantinople,” said Enrico Dell’este pacifically. “All we need is safe passage for the fleet. Should your friend the emperor grant us that small boon there will be no form of conflict. The fleet could even sail under your flag at that point.”

To put it mildly, that was a very flattering offer, and not one that Admiral Douro of the Venetian fleet was going to take kindly to. Admiral Doria — now the duke of Genoa — was plainly quite taken with the idea. It would elevate his status a great deal.

“But what possible reason could we had to do such a thing?” he asked, thoughtfully.

“Piracy!” said Duke Enrico. ” It’s always a problem, is it not?”

Patriarch Michael raised his eyes to heaven. “Deceit serves no one, my son.”

“There cannot be five years between us, father,” said the duke with a smile. “And if it proves false, both Venice and I will be punished.”

“And if there is no fleet in Dniepr bay? What becomes of our bargain then?” asked Admiral Doria.

“We will honor them,” said Petro. He knew that Venice was unlikely to prove forgiving if this was indeed a false alarm. Doges had been unseated before, especially as a result of costly and unsuccessful military adventures. But he would honor his bargains. He could only hope that whoever came after him had the common sense to abide by it also.

He had great faith in Eneko Lopez, however, and did not think that this would turn into a false alarm. Besides, there were several other reports from Venice’s agents, both in the Black Sea, and more particularly in Constantinople. This just added a final bit of weight to those reports.

Suddenly Admiral Doria began to chuckle. “I foresee that you will have great problems with my old enemy, Admiral Douro.”

Petro coughed. “We have taken some small steps in that direction. A fast galleass has been dispatched. I have recalled a young and very able commander from Corfu.”

Enrico Dell’este turned to him sharply. “Benito! What do you wish to do, Petro? Put hot coals down Admiral Douro’s breeches? Benito nearly drove him mad in the Arsenal.”

“Well, yes, but he has habit of getting his own way,” said Petro Dorma. “Benito fights to win. He will not let things like petty rivalries stand in his way. And the sailors who sailed with him before, will, it appears, follow him to hell and back. If he says that the fleet will sail under the Genoese flag, then not many men will disagree.”

Admiral Doria raised his eyebrows. “This is young Benito Valdosta?”

Duke Enrico nodded. “My grandson.” There was more than a trace of pride in his voice. “He is something of a hooligan. But a good leader of men.”

“And my brother,” added Marco, a little defensively.

“I have heard of his… ah, adventures.” Admiral Doria sounded a bit dubious.

“He is a great deal more respectable these days,” said Petro Dorma, smiling. “Although not everyone believes that. It’s quite a reputation to try to live up to. So we like to keep him out of the way on a nice quiet island until we need him.”