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This Rough Magic: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 9, 2003 23:46 EDT



    "Kat says I should have a talk with you," said Marco, plainly uncomfortable.

    Benito put his hands on his hips. He could read the signs. Big brother time, he thought silently.

    He wished Marco would pick some other time for it. He wasn't exactly hung-over... just... blurry.

    "What is it?" he snarled. Marco frowned, ever so faintly.

    All right, so it was a sulky tone. He didn't need lectures from Marco, and even less from Kat. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth these days—but she'd been a night-bird, a smuggler, once, moving very gray cargoes of magical supplies. And, unless Benito misread the signs, by the vacant-space-to-let smile his brother wore these days, she hadn't waited for the marriage banns to share Marco's bed.

    Right now, Marco was not going to listen to a litany of Kat's past sins. "Kat's worried about you, Benito. And so am I."

    Benito could tell by the set of Marco's shoulders that his older brother wasn't enjoying this. He also knew Marco well enough to know that when Marco had decided that something must be done, it would be done. Still, Benito didn't enjoy this sort of thing either, and he was damned if he'd make it too easy for Marco.

    "Well, stop worrying, Marco. I'm grown up enough to look after myself. I'm the one who usually ends up looking after you, remember. Or do I need to remind you of your little escapade with the love-letters to Angelina, that got you into such a mess in the Jesolo marshes?"

    Marco winced. "That was then. I'm older and wiser now."

    Benito cocked an ear. Upstairs somewhere he could hear Angelina's shrill voice, berating a servant for something. Despite the fact that she was supposedly staying in one of the Dorma villas on the mainland, Angelina was forever finding some excuse to come back to Venice, to the Casa Dorma. "And heaven knows you've paid for it, Marco. What news on the annulment?" Perhaps he could head Marco off the lecture on his way of life.

    Marco looked gloomy. "She's balking about which convent and which Order again. I really don't think she wants to go to one. I feel sorry for her. She's not really suited to a contemplative life." But Marco was obviously determined not lose track. "But I want to talk about you, not my troubles. You can't go on like this, Benito."

    Privately Benito thought Angelina would be better suited to a brothel than a cloister, but saying that would offend Marco. Marco was a sympathetic soul; Benito didn't like to offend him unnecessarily. He was very fond of his brother.

    It would also probably also offend Petro Dorma, who was the Doge and their protector as well Angelina's brother. Petro was not a sympathetic soul, or wise to offend, although these days Benito was often tempted. Anything to get out of here. "Like what, brother?"

    Marco shrugged helplessly. "The parties. The women. The drunkenness. The fights."

    Benito shrugged in return. "The way I live my life is no concern of yours, Marco. Or of Kat's. Leave me alone."

    Marco responded by putting an arm over Benito's shoulders. "You've got to get over her, brother. She had a right to make her own choices. Maria wasn't ever the kind of person you could force to do anything."

    Benito shrugged off the arm. "She's just a woman. Like all other women."

    Marco stepped back, and this time he had more than a mere suggestion of a frown. "Benito, that's got to be about the dumbest thing you have ever said, and you've said some really..."

    "Ahem." The servant at the doorway coughed. "Milor'. Milord Dorma wants to see you in his office. Immediately."

    He left the two brothers, still glaring at each other. "Who did he mean?" said Benito finally.

    "Probably you," said Marco curtly. "Kat and I are not the only ones to hear about your stupid escapades. Especially last night's stunt. Well, I'd better come along and put in a good word for you."

    Benito tried to remember the details of last night. Truth to tell, he couldn't. He wondered what the hell he had done; he certainly wasn't prepared to ask Marco!

    "I don't need your help," he said, sullenly, setting off up the passage. When Petro issued this sort of summons, nobody, but nobody, actually dawdled. It was a bit of a mystery to Benito. The head of the Casa Dorma was plumpish, balding and good-natured, so how come everybody jumped when he said "frog"?

    "I'm coming anyway," said Marco, his long strides easily catching up with his shorter brother. "We Valdosta stick together. Besides, he may want me, not you."

    "Ha." But it was mildly said. The Valdosta brothers did stick together; for many years they'd had no one and nothing else. Marco's loyalty touched him as nothing else, and when they walked into Petro Dorma's office, and Benito saw Angelina already there, looking ready for a five-star tantrum, he realized his brother might actually be the one who needed help, this time. Petro had been calling for Marco after all.

    The Doge looked at him with a mixture of irritation and surprise. "What are you doing here, Benito? Aren't you are supposed to be at dancing classes or something?"

    Best to dodge that one. He was in fact supposed to be at an elocution and poetry class that Dorma's mother insisted he take "to get rid of that working-class accent." Neither poetry nor dandified dottore from the Accademia, nor a desire to speak like the Case Vecchie motivated him. Besides, he'd been sleeping off last night.

    "Came to support Marco," he said stoutly. "He's my brother, after all, and grandfather said I was to look after him."

    That was true enough, and when your grandfather was Duke Enrico Dell'este, one of Venice's greatest allies... it carried influence. Even if Benito had not spent much time with the old man since he'd been eight years old.

    "Humph. Stay then. Even though this really has nothing to do with you." Dorma tapped the inlaid desk in front of him. "This is a document of the annulment of your marriage from the Grand Metropolitan in Rome. You will both sign it now. Angelina, I have arranged for you to take up the novitiate in the Carmelite sisterhood with the Cloister of Santa Lucia Della Monte outside Verona. Your escort will leave with you before Terce-bell."

    He said it like he meant it. He said it in a way that Petro Dorma, Angelina's indulgent brother, had never spoken before. Benito blinked.

    "What!" squawked Angelina, rage flying banners in her cheeks. "I won't!"

    "You agreed to," said Petro, calmly but implacably.

    I'd keep my mouth shut if I were you, Angelina, Benito thought warily. Or he might send you to some Pauline sisterhood in Sweden.

    Angelina pinched her lips. "I've changed my mind. I don't want to be a nun. And certainly not in the back-country!"

    "I don't want Angelina to do something that she doesn't want to, either," said Marco, though his eyes spoke volumes of despair.

    Benito raised his eyes. That idiot brother of his! His own marriage and happiness in the balance, and he worried about this selfish, spoiled brat.

    Petro turned to face Marco and Benito. "Marco, this is no longer a matter of what you or Angelina want; it is a matter of pledges and honor, the honor of the Dormas and the honor of the Dell'este. I have promised your grandfather that I will see you married, with all due pomp and ceremony, in the Doge's Palace, within three months. This is not an option—not for you, not for Angelina."

    Marco blinked, and Petro turned to Benito. "Benito, See that he signs that paper. You invoked your grandfather's name. See that his will is done."

    "He can sign anything he pleases," snapped Angelina. "I'm not going to. I'd rather stay in town as the Doge's sister. Marco might be worth absolutely nothing as a husband, but he's mine. I've decided."

    Petro stood up. He was not very tall. He was definitely plump. He still dominated the room.

    He picked up a scroll of parchment from the desk, and handed it to her. "Sworn affidavits about your participation in the black Lotos trade."

    Angelina's blossoming cheeks went white. "It's... it's not true!" She tried to tear the parchment in two. The vellum resisted.

    "The Signori di Notte and the Council of Ten also have copies." Petro said grimly. He picked up a second scroll. "This is a warrant for your arrest."

    Benito, watching his brother, saw Marco take a deep breath. With deliberate intent Benito stamped on his brother's toes. Hard. Having got Marco's attention he shook his head, fiercely.

    Angelina began to produce the beginnings of tears. She wept, as Benito had reason to know, very prettily. There was an artful hint of a sob in her voice. "You wouldn't dare let them do this to me. You control the Signori di Notte and the Council. Besides, mother won't let you."

    Petro Dorma shook his head. "I would prefer you to go to a convent, far from here. Verona is not as far off as I'd like, the truth to tell. I have been considering Spain, but I cannot be seen to be partisan. The people of Venice will accept your exile or your imprisonment and nod and forgive me as a slightly foolish brother; they won't accept my condoning your actions. And you forget, our mother was addicted to that same drug."

    Marco was not going to listen to Benito. "Petro..."

    The head of the house Dorma turned on him. "Stay out of this, Valdosta. She's my sister, and only your wife by my insistence, to give the baby legitimacy. Besides, I have agreed with Duke Enrico to send you off to Ferrara, today, under armed guard, if you don't do this my way. Now, Angelina, sign this."

    Tears abandoned as a weapon that no longer served, cheeks white with anger, Angelina Valdosta stepped forward, snatched up a quill, and signed.

    "Good." said Petro. "You have until terce. I suggest you spend the time saying farewell to our mother. I'd say you should spend it with your child, but I know you have not been into her nursery since you have arrived in Venice three days ago."

    "I didn't want her!" snapped the beauty.

    Petro Dorma smiled wryly. "We do. So we will keep her. Good-bye, Angelina." He stepped out from behind his desk, his arms beginning to reach for her.

    She evaded them. "I hate you."

    Marco stepped forward too. "Angelina..."

    "And you too! You're so boring!" She turned on her heel and stormed out.



    Marco turned to follow, but Benito grabbed his sleeve. Petro took the other. "I'm sorry, Marco," said the head of Casa Dorma, with more sympathy than Benito had expected. He had to wonder if Petro wished he'd had Marco as a brother rather than Angelina as a sister. "Stay. There are still things I need to say, and I need your signature on that document before Angelina can go to that convent."

    "I don't think I should sign," said Marco, seriously. "I made my promises."

    Petro shook his head. Benito noticed that there was a tear trickling down the man's face. "I love her very much, Marco. She'll always be my little sister. We spoiled her after papa's death, mother and I, and perhaps that is why things turned out this way. But there are two reasons, both compelling, why this is the best thing for her. Firstly, she has been experimenting with black Lotos herself. She's been spending time over at the estate of a sister of Count Badoero. The Council of Ten have spies watching it. The Badoero house suffered what should have been punitive financial losses when their attack on Venice failed, yet there is money and lavish entertainment at Contessa Mirafioro's estate again. Badoero himself is dead, but the trade he set up in that narcotic continues, and my sister is in the thick of it."

    Marco's mouth opened, then closed again. He looked as if he'd like to deny it; he also looked as though he knew that he couldn't.

    Petro rubbed his eyes with a weary hand. "Angelina was drawn into the wild set the Contessa cultivates. She is implicated in bringing some of the drug here, to Venice. We both know how addictive Lotos is; the sisters are healers, and specifically are skilled in the rehabilitation of addicts. It really is the best thing we can do for her. Besides, there is a large force of Schiopettieri going to raid the Mirafioro estate soon. I really don't want her taken, or possibly injured. There's only so much that even I can keep quiet."

    Marco bit his lip. "I can't believe she'd use the stuff—after your mother, and the difficulty we've had weaning her off it. I should think anyone with two eyes in her head would know better."

    Petro shook his head. "It does seem insane, doesn't it? But Angelina always believed she was special, different from other people. Superior, maybe, and immune to their problems—despite her pregnancy proving that there was one thing she wasn't immune to. Besides, it is a popular myth among those who buy and sell the stuff that the addictiveness is totally exaggerated, and she was always readier to believe the people she wished to emulate than she was to believe people who love her."

    He turned to his desk again and picked up another document. "There is another reason. Angelina has her ear to the network of gossips and rumor. I wanted her away in isolation before news of this one reached her ears."

    The document bore the seal of Ferrara. "Word from your grandfather. Caesare Aldanto has been seen in Constantinople."

    Benito went cold, and quite sober. Trust the devil to save his own. "I'm going to Constantinople, then," said Benito. "I've got unfinished business there."

    Petro shook his head, and once again, it was in that implacable manner that warned of dire and inescapable consequences if his will was ignored.

    "You are not, and for two reasons. Firstly, after Caesare had seen the Emperor Alexius, he re-embarked on a ship. Bound, most likely, for Odessa. So he is no longer in Constantinople for you to find. And for a second reason, both the Council of Ten and your Grandfather have placed considerable prices on his head. We have more competent assassins in our pay than you would be. And in this case we will not hesitate to use them."

    Benito looked mulish. "I know his ways. How he operates. They don't."

    "That may be true," said Petro calmly. "But he is not where you can find him now, and what is more, even if you could, there is no reason to believe that he is not... contaminated. Think, Benito. There are only two sorts of power that could have saved him from his fate—and of the two, it was not likely the angels. Furthermore, where he has gone to, you are at a huge disadvantage. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania would eat you alive, Benito."

    "What has this got to do with Angelina?" asked Marco.

    Petro raised his eyebrows. "We know how Aldanto works. How he uses women and..." he looked pointedly at the two boys, "intermediaries. Angelina still claims he was wrongfully accused, and refuses to accept he was in any way responsible for the attack on the Republic. Just by being part of Casa Dorma, she is privy to a great deal of information that the enemies of Venice would appreciate. I love my sister, and no matter what she is and has become, I will continue to love her, but I know her weaknesses now. And I love and have a duty to the People and the Republic of Venice too. What I am doing here is the best for both of them."

    Marco bit his lip. And then he stepped up to the desk, took up the quill, dabbed it in the ink and signed. "I'll go up and try and see her now. I still feel she's getting a very poor choice in all of this," he said, sadness tingeing his voice.

    Benito raised his eyes to heaven again. He loved Marco dearly, but... Here Marco had just received the freedom to marry the girl of his dreams, had his mistakes corrected, and he was worrying about the cause of those troubles. No doubt he'd be worrying about Aldanto next.

    Well, if Caesare Aldanto ever came within Benito's reach, Benito would make sure his former idol was very dead. They'd been used, and the worst was they'd been grateful to be used by the traitor and murderer. And he owed Aldanto for Maria's account too. He turned to follow his brother.

    Petro put a heavy hand on his shoulder. "I want to talk to you too, Benito. Seeing as you're here."

    He led Benito to the mullioned windows of his study. They could see out along the quays, busy with canal boats and lighters, to the forest of masts of the ships at anchor in the Basino San Marco. Benito knew it was the merchant-prince's favorite view. But instead Petro pointed to the quay-side, to a solitary man lying in squalor against a bollard. "I know that man. He used to be good boatswain. Made a pretty penny or two out of various colleganzas. He should be comfortable, well-off and happy."

    "So?" Benito replied, though he had a good idea what was coming. "Sir," he added belatedly.

    Petro sighed. "He can't find a job, even when ships are desperate for crew. If he doesn't drink, he shakes and hallucinates. He'll do absolutely anything for another glass of wine. He doesn't care how bad the wine is. Just so long as it is wine. We don't like to admit it, but too much wine can be as bad as Black Lotos. It just takes a bit longer. Are you going to turn out like that old soak? Because it can happen to you too. Like my sister, you are not immune. You're behaving just like her at the moment."

    Nothing Petro could have chosen to say would have made more of an impression than that last line. For the second time that day, Benito felt something hit him with a distinct sense of shock, hit him in a way that made him grow very cold for a moment. Finally Benito shook his head.

    Petro patted the shoulder. "Good. Because I don't think you'd fit into a monastery any better than Angelina is going to enjoy that convent."

    "I'd drive 'em all mad. Sir."

    Dorma managed a smile. "I'm far more inclined to send you out to factor in one of Dorma's trading posts Outremer, now that spring is coming, than keep you here or send you to a monastery. I've told mother that I'm wasting my time trying to make you into a Case Vecchie gentleman. Besides, I think the Valdosta and the Casa Dorma would lose something of value if they tried to cut and polish you. It's like trying to make a stiletto out of a perfectly good battleaxe."

    "More like a rapier out of a cabbage," said Benito gloomily. "But the truth to tell, Petro, I really want to get out of here. I don't care where to, but out of Venice. And out of this 'education'. It doesn't suit me and I don't suit it."

    Petro sat himself down again. "Very well. After your brother's wedding. And only if you learn to pull in your horns a bit. I've no objection to some wild oats, but it was only your status as my ward, and something of a hero in the last attack on Venice, that kept you out of jail last night. And you know Venice; there's only so long that you can trade on that before they start treating you exactly as you deserve."

    Benito nodded. He really had to find out just what he'd done last night. "I've always had a fancy for Negroponte."

    Petro gave a snort of laughter. "Benito, you are to subtle maneuvering what a randy stallion is to subtle seduction. If you asked for Golden Horn, Petro might smell a rat, eh? But Negroponte... is close enough to Constantinople? Not a chance, Benito. Not a chance."

    Benito grinned, in spite of feeling somewhere in the bottom of his stomach that his world was not right, and probably never would be again. "It works on other people, Petro."

    The head of the Casa Dorma smiled back. He looked younger. Nicer. Less like the Doge.

    "But not on me. Now go and try to stay out of trouble. And pretend to be learning to be a good young Case Vecchie for my mother's sake. She has enough to bear with Angelina being taken away. You can speak like a gentleman when you wish to. Do so."

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