Read States of Grace Online

Authors: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fantasy Fiction, #Fiction, #General, #Historical, #Horror, #Occult & Supernatural, #Historical Fiction, #Vampires, #Saint-Germain, #Inquisition, #Women Musicians - Crimes Against

States of Grace

BOOK: States of Grace
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For
Anne Eudey,
a Virgil in the labyrinthine world
of California politics
 
PIER-ARIANA SALIER
 
T
ext of a letter from Marcantonio Rosseli, apothecary in Verona, to his cousin, Pier-Ariana Salier in Venezia, delivered by private messenger ten days after it was written.
To the daughter of my aunt Gioella, of revered memory, Marcantonio Rosseli sends his most faithful greetings, and his congratulations on your securing the patronage of the eminent foreigner, Conte Franzicco Ragoczy di Santo-Germano, and the hope that neither you nor he will have cause to regret the association.
You tell me he has secured you a casetta near San Zaccaria, and that you have been provided virginals and a lute on which to play your songs, as well as the promise of publication of the best of them. To have so much distinction, and you only twenty-five, much younger than most patroned musicians: it is a very great honor, as I am sure you know. The terms of his patronage are most generous gifts, and I trust you will be at pains to deserve them. Few musicians ever have such good fortune as you have encountered, and as far as I am aware, none of those musicians who have achieved such success have been women. This requires your gratitude and careful performance of your talents, for to do anything less would shame your present benefits as well as deprive you of all opportunities in the future, for once known as feckless, no musician, and certainly no woman, can do other than fall in the eyes of the world.
It may be, as you suggested, that more than music is required of you, and if that is the case, then I urge you to make a formal agreement regarding how you are to conduct yourself. If di Santo-Germano were a Venezian, it would be another matter, but since he is not, you must be prudent and see that your patronage cannot be rescinded on a whim. Conte or not, Santo-Germano—however grand it may be—is not in La Serenissima Repubblica Veneziana, and so long as that is the case, his title is more courtesy than binding responsibility. You need terms of settlement as to what he will provide you, and be sure that such monies or property that he provides is secured in such a way that his absence will not adversely impact your situation.
For your own protection, be sure you maintain notes on di Santo-Germano’s activities, in case you are ever required to appear before the Doge in regard to di Santo-Germano’s affairs. You do not want any suspicions that fall upon him to fall upon you as well, and such a record would relieve you of any taint of wrong-doing. If di Santo-Germano did not own a press, it might be less important, but since il Conte is engaged in publishing, who knows what scandalous material he may decide to foist upon the world. The Maggior Consiglio takes a dim view of our own Veneziani undertaking to publish questionable material—they will be all the more stringent with a foreigner, noble or not, if he should go beyond the acceptable bounds established by the Doge.
I am sending you a gift of lace to mark this fortunate occasion, and I will write to my father on your behalf, so that he need not send you money for as long as di Santo-Germano attends to your keep. He will be glad for you, I am sure, and for the sake of your mother, he may send to di Santo-Germano to learn more of your arrangements with him. I pray you may flourish with such a patron, and that you will gain a favorable reputation, unattended by the notoriety that so often adheres to musicians in general, and to women in particular, for that would leech away the many advantages that now lie before you.
Your most affectionate cousin,
Marcantonio Rosseli
apothecary of Verona
 
By my own hand at sunset, on this, the 9
th
day of February, 1530 Anno Domini
 
“Conte!” the young page Niccola exclaimed sleepily as he stumbled to his feet, rubbing his eyes and trying to appear fully awake. He saw his master step from the shadows into the light of the four blazing torches, a man who seemed to be about forty-five, attractive without being beautiful in the current fashion, his bearing confident but lacking cockiness or arrogance; instead he evinced a self-composure that was both compelling and daunting at once. He was magnificently dressed in black damask silk, a wide fur collar on his broad-shouldered French dogaline-and-doublet, his eclipse device shining on a dark-red satin sash. His dark hair was shorter than the prevailing fashion in Venezia, its loose, dark waves falling just to the edge of his collar, and he was clean-shaven; it was past midnight and most of Venezia lay in darkness, dozing on the out-going tide.
Franzicco Ragoczy di Santo-Germano removed his plumed black hat as he came through the hastily opened door and fixed his astonishing dark eyes on the drowsy page; behind him, the Campo San Luca was limned in the pale wash of light from a gibbous moon, the darkness deeper by contrast to the milky lume. A cold, hard wind polished the night to a jewel-like shine. “Have there been any callers while I was out?”
“A messenger from your warehouses called to leave an inventory from the
Gilded Angel
, which arrived in port yesterday morning,” said Niccola. “No one else. At least, no one I admitted.” He put his hand on his chest. “I will not let villains into this house. And I suppose anyone who might call was at the Collegio.”
Di Santo-Germano frowned a little. “Nothing from Ulrico Baradin?”
“No, Conte; I’m sorry.” The youngster flinched, as if expecting a rebuke or a blow.
The Conte’s expression immediately softened. “You have no reason to be sorry. You have done nothing wrong, Niccola, nor has he.” He paced his loggia, his black, leg-hugging boots giving sharp reports of his progress. “Who will be on duty in the morning?”
“You mean my duty?” Niccola asked, his uncertainty flaring again.
“Yes: your duty. Who is assigned to man the door?”
Niccola was glad he had the answer. “That would be Enrici; since Rinaldo broke his arm, Enrici has—”
“So long as Enrici does not neglect his other duties, he is a fine choice.”
“Rinaldo is grateful to you for setting his arm; he says it is healing straight,” Niccola reported as if revealing great news.
“That is good to know: Rinaldo should be ready to resume his work in another ten days, I would think, if his splint holds.” Di Santo-Germano stopped by one of the torches and stared at the flame, his dark eyes fixed on some other vision. Finally he blinked, asking, “Is Ruggier still up, do you know?”
“He is in your study, or he was an hour ago,” said Niccola in a rush of relief. “He was out earlier, but returned.”
Di Santo-Germano started toward the stairs at the far end of the loggia, but stopped. “Niccola, have I ever struck you?”
“No, Conte, never,” said the page.
“And have you ever been beaten by anyone in this household?”
“No, Conte,” Niccola said, becoming more contrite.
“Then why do you behave at every turn as if you expect such usage?” di Santo-Germano asked, truly curious.
“Because, Conte, it is the custom,” said Niccola, his voice dropping with every word.
“Niccola,” said di Santo-Germano in a voice that commanded attention; the youth looked up. “It is not the custom with me.”
Niccola nodded. “Si, Conte,” he muttered, and turned away.
With a single shake of his head, di Santo-Germano made for the stairs, going up them two at a time, for though they were steep, they were also fairly shallow. As he climbed, he tugged off his embroidered gloves of black Fiorenzan leather and thrust them into his broad, ruby-studded belt. At the top of the flight, di Santo-Germano stepped into an odd little hall where two corridors met at right angles; an antique red-lacquer chest and two chairs stood in the broadest part of the hall, the chairs beneath a clerestory window. Taking the corridor leading south, di Santo-Germano went down to the end of it to a beautifully carved door; he opened the latch and entered his study.
“There you are,” said the middle-aged man with sandy hair and pale-blue eyes; he spoke a dialect of Roman Latin that had not been heard in more than a thousand years. He was dressed in well-tailored servants’ livery of rucked-and-padded dove-gray wool doublet over a white-muslin camisa, distinguished with a silver-edged black shoulder-sash that indicated his high rank in the household; the Conte’s eclipse device was embroidered on his sleeve, as it was on all the livery in the household.
“Were you worried?” di Santo-Germano asked in the same tongue as he tossed his hat onto the handsome writing table against the western wall, in front of ceiling-high bookshelves. It was one of three tables in the large, well-appointed room, and it held only a sheaf of papers, an inkpad and standish, and a supply of quills. On the eastern wall, atop a heavy trestle-table, there was an astrolabe, a trio of retorts, two alembics, a beam-scale, a saw-clock, and two large, locked chests. The third table was lower than the other two, and placed in front of the fireplace in the southern wall, opposite the door, to provide a place to entertain guests. On it a pair of handsome branched, bronze candlesticks of Eastern design stood, squat beeswax candles surmounting them both. An upholstered settee and a pair of matched chairs were set around this table.
“No; since Doge Gritti provided you an escort to the Collegio, I assumed all was well,” said Ruggier.
“Why would that ease you?” di Santo-Germano asked with an ironic lift of one fine brow. “I would have thought such distinction would have alarmed you, given what we have experienced in the past.” In their nearly fifteen hundred years together, di Santo-Germano had been escorted away to an uncertain future nearly a dozen times, as both of them were well aware.
“Ah, but in those cases your escorts were soldiers, not clerks, and Venezia is supposed to be at peace. As far as I or anyone knows, no accusations have been made against you, and there is official toleration of foreigners in La Serenissima,” said Ruggier sagely, laying down the two volumes he had been inspecting. “The rest of this edition should be ready in a day or two.”
“Excellent,” di Santo-Germano approved, his demeanor lightening as he stared at the books. “I take it Giovanni sent those over by messenger while I was out.” He wondered why Niccola had not mentioned the arrival of the books, but said nothing of this omission.
“No; I went to find out how much more paper will be needed, and he gave them to me. I brought them back to this house.” Ruggier held one of the books out.
Di Santo-Germano took it, running his hand over it as if seeking to absorb its contents by touch alone. “This is very good. The embossing is precise and elegant. The gilding of the page-edges is not overdone, and the trim is very even.” He opened the cover and turned to the title page:
The Far East, Its Peoples and Customs,
it read in Latin.
By Germanim. Ragoczy.
“What did you tell the Collegio?” Ruggier regarded di Santo-Germano with interest.
“That I will submit all the books we publish to them for their approval, as I am required to do. I said this second book was a work by my cousin—which they could all comprehend, having cousins of their own—and since Venezia is the city of Marco Polo, I thought it would be most appropriate to publish a book on the parts of the world he explored so long ago, and about which he dictated so many—” He stopped. “You know what I said, or near enough, and fortunately, the Collegio accepted it.”
Ruggier set down the book he held. “They believed you?”
“Of course they did,” said di Santo-Germano. “I flattered them shamelessly, and praised their erudition: what could they do but accept my terms?”
“You sound disappointed,” said Ruggier.
Di Santo-Germano shrugged. “I may be,” he allowed, and expanded on this, saying, “It is one thing to be able to set up a press without hindrance, but it is another to gain the good opinion of those under whose auspices the press exists through expected courtship, and appreciation expressed in gifts and gold. When it is necessary to adulate and bribe in order to gain acceptance, some of the satisfaction of producing books is lost.”
“You have done that before,” Ruggier pointed out. “Why is this any different?”
“Perhaps I’m growing tired of the hypocrisy of it,” said di Santo-Germano.
“I think it is that you believe the merit of the works you publish should be obvious, and not require your skill at courtesy to make them unobjectionable,” said Ruggier with a knowing nod. “You resent the lack of appreciation.”
“Astounding, isn’t it?” di Santo-Germano remarked with a crack of self-taunting laughter. “At my age, too, and with all that has happened, I cannot entirely rid myself of such idealism.” He had no reason to remind Ruggier that he had been born over thirty-five hundred years ago.
Ruggier stacked the two new books together. “Idealism of any kind after so much time isn’t entirely unfortunate, my master.”
“No, probably not,” said di Santo-Germano, making no effort to disguise his doubts; he went on in a brisker tone, “I understand from Niccola that the inventory from the
Gilded Angel
has been sent over from the warehouse.”
Accepting this change of subject with the philosophical resignation borne of long association, Ruggier went to retrieve a sheaf of papers. “Yes. Captain Carazza has made a notation that they were chased by corsairs a day out of Antioch. Two ships, working together, pursued them for a full five hours. According to Captain Carazza, the weather, which was very rough and blustery, is all that saved them; in heavy seas, his merchants’ galleon fared better than the corsairs’ lighter craft.”
“From which we assume that someone in Antioch told the pirates about what the ship carried and when it would sail,” said di Santo-Germano, giving his attention to the pages he was handed. “Three barrels of wine were lost—as a diversionary tactic, do you think?”
“I don’t know,” said Ruggier, “but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
“It is one thing to lose a few barrels of wine, and another to lose an entire ship, along with its cargo and crew,” said di Santo-Germano, a touch of grimness about his mouth. “I prefer the former.”
“As who would not,” said Ruggier.
“Given what some of the Collegio were suggesting, I cannot guess,” said di Santo-Germano. “They are trying to find a way to persuade the Sultan to ban the taking of hostages for ransom.”
Ruggier looked shocked. “Don’t they know that will mean any captive will become an Ottomite’s slave? Or simply be killed?”
“Apparently not,” said di Santo-Germano. “Although I pointed this out to them as tactfully as I could.”
“Did they listen at all?” Ruggier asked, knowing the answer from di Santo-Germano’s demeanor.
“If I were Veneziano, they might have, but as I am not, they saw no reason to, not about that issue; they were much more concerned about the books I propose to publish, for my shipping business has paid handsomely for the state, and my printing is still under suspicion,” said di Santo-Germano. “I brought my accounts to show the taxes I have been assessed have all been paid, and I reminded them I have also paid over five thousand ducats in ransoms for my ships’ crews when they have been taken by corsairs, and that every man was returned safely.”
“To no avail?”
“To no avail,” di Santo-Germano confirmed, and a short, tense silence fell between them.
“Padre Bonnome at San Luca has offered to bless the ship again, before she departs on another voyage,” said Ruggier, a bit remotely.
“Padre Bonnome is a clever man, Ruggier,” said di Santo-Germano with a brief smile.
“As we have agreed in the past; a great component of the art of quid pro quo,” said Ruggier. “For the
quid
, I said you would like that.”
“You were right; no doubt he will inform us what the
quo
is to be,” said di Santo-Germano. “If not for the ship, for the men on her. If they think their God is protecting them, they do not fear to set sail. I will make a donation, of course, to San Luca.” He read through the rest of the inventory and notes. “When is the
Gilded Angel
due to set out again? Is she set for cleaning and refitting or standard patching and repair? I assume, since there is no damage assessment with this report, only standard maintenance is needed.”
“That’s correct. She’s scheduled to go again in ten days, bound for Sicilia, Sardinia, Genova, Barcelona, then on through the Pillars of Hercules to Lisboa, to pick up English wool and Hollander lace from the
Evening Star,
” said Ruggier.
“Do you think I should hire fighting men to sail on her?” Di Santo-Germano gave the sheets of paper to Ruggier.
“Ask Captain Carazza. He’ll know what will serve you best,” Ruggier recommended.
BOOK: States of Grace
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