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This Rough Magic: Chapter Sixteen

       Last updated: Thursday, July 10, 2003 00:02 EDT



    "She's beautiful! Oh, she's so cute!" Kat peered into the crib at the baby.

    Maria yawned. "She's asleep. That is beautiful enough for me right now."

    "She so tiny! Oh, look at those little fingers."

    Maria snorted, but fondly. "You should hear her yell. There's nothing tiny about her lungs. She yelled almost the whole way here to Venice, on the ship. Then I took her to see Umberto's sister to talk about the christening, and the baby screamed at her. You're lucky. Umberto's sister didn't seem to think much of being bellowed at. I thought she'd refuse to be a Godmother, and Umberto particularly wanted her to be."

    "I insist on being one of her Godmothers," said Kat loyally. "And whether he likes it or not, Marco is being the Godfather."

    Maria smiled. "You're not losing any time putting your foot down, are you?"

    Kat smiled back. "Start as you mean to go on. When and where will the ceremony be? At the Chapel at St. Hypatia di hagia Sophia?"

    "We haven't arranged it yet. Father Pasquari, the priest who married us, has died since. But we just need a small place. There'll only be a few friends."

    "I'll talk to Marco," said Kat firmly. "We have a wedding to arrange. Let him arrange this. He's very good friends with Brother Mascoli of St Raphaella."

    Maria smiled. "That's a canalers' church. He's good man, is old Mascoli."

    The more she thought about it, the better she liked the idea. Small, intimate, and none of her friends would feel uncomfortable, as they might in St. Hypatia's.

    "Marco will arrange it."



    Petro Dorma blew across his steepled fingers.

    "Of course a desire to please the Holy Roman Emperor must be a major factor. But... well. I'd have to clear a couple of great galleys. It's not just the entourage, Manfred, it's the horses, and at such short notice. The merchants are going to howl. The Republic of Venice is not like the Empire. The Casa Vecchie are all engaged in the trade. I wish you were prepared to take carracks instead."

    When Manfred and Erik and Eberhard had been admitted to the Doge's private working chambers earlier he'd been delighted to see them. "You've arrived in Venice just in time for Marco and Kat's wedding!"

    Now that they were asking to hire vessels to transport them to the Holy Land... he looked as if he'd just drunk a large draft of vinegar.

    "The Outremer convoy leaves in less than three weeks. Even deck-space is bespoke."

    From the corner of the room a stocky young man spoke up. "What about the four galleys that are in the Arsenal, Petro? The ones that are going to Cyprus? They should be finished by the end of March."

    Manfred recognized the lad; it was the hooligan who had taken part in the raid on the Casa Dandelo slavers, which Manfred and Erik had participated in. The one who'd been in jail for supposedly killing the priest. Manfred had been properly introduced to young Benito Valdosta as Dorma's ward after Venice had been rescued, but now, suddenly, the connection made itself clear. Then he'd been dressed like a beggar-brat. Now he was dressed as a Venetian noble. But a twist of expression as he'd looked at Manfred had let him place the face.

    Petro nodded. "It's an idea." He turned back to Manfred. "Would you consider remaining on in Venice for a week or two after the wedding? You would arrive in Ascalon just as quickly, as the vessels wouldn't accompany the convoy. The convoy stops for two or three days at each port to allow for trade. You'd be spared all of that, as well as all of the mess and confusion of herding pilgrims on and off again at each port. And with your two hundred men aboard, they'd be well-armed."

    Manfred nodded. "That sounds fair. What do you say, Eberhard?"

    The white haired statesman looked thoughtful. "A personal convoy of brand-new ships will look as if the Empire and Venice enjoy a very cozy relationship. Rome may not like that. Constantinople may not either."

    Manfred grinned. "We're expecting to have the Grand Metropolitan's very own delegation along, in the shape of Eneko Lopez and his companions, according to a letter I have from my Uncle. And as for Alexius, well, let him worry. The news is he may be a shaky ally at best. A good idea to fill his mind with doubts. In fact-on the whole, I think it would not be a bad idea at all for Alexius to think the Empire and Venice are on better than mere speaking terms."

    Eberhard looked speculatively at Manfred. "I detect Francesca de Chevreuse's hand here."

    Manfred did his best to look affronted. "I can think of ideas too, you know."

    The statesman shook his snowy head. "Explain to him, my Lord Dorma, that a wise politician always tells the truth. If one day it is necessary for you to lie, no one doubts your veracity."

    Manfred snorted. "The truth seems pretty rare in politics, Eberhard."

    "That," said Eberhard, grimly, "is because there are very, very few wise politicians. If you must play at politics, play by my rules."

    But Petro had picked up on another point. "Francesca!" he said with unalloyed pleasure. "You have brought her with you?"

    Manfred nodded, warily. There was a little too much enthusiasm in the way Petro had reacted to Francesca's name. And he began to remember a few things from their last sojourn here. How Francesca had made it very clear to him that their liaison was not going to be an exclusive one. That she had several clients. And once, to comfort him, she had said lightly that one of them was balding and big-nosed...

    He found himself eyeing Petro Dorma's balding head and lumpy nose with new understanding. "Yes, we have," he said curtly, trying to keep hostility out of his tone. "But understand this: she is strictly off limits to anything but polite social calls, Dorma. Even if you are the Doge of Venice."

    Petro smiled, not at all discomfited. "Ah, well. My loss is your gain. But Francesca's conversation is a jewel even more rare than her magnificent body."

    Manfred coughed. "Hmm. Well, we are going to be staying at the Imperial Embassy. Francesca's already gone to see Katerina Montescue. But she will be in this evening."

    Petro bowed. "I will come and make a call. And I don't mind if Rome and Alexius of Byzantium see it as Venice wishing to cozy up to the Holy Roman Empire."

    "I'll send you a messenger when she gets in," said Manfred. "No. Wait. A better idea. We'll take young Benito with us. Trusty native guide, y'know. Well. Native, anyway. And then I can send him back without exciting comments about a messenger running between the two of us."

    Petro looked at Benito, who was grinning like a horse-collar. "Why do I feel this is a bad idea, Prince? Well, I can hardly refuse. Off you go, Benito."

    Looking at Benito's eyes, alive with devilry, Manfred himself actually wondered briefly if this was a good idea. Then he dismissed the piece of caution with the contempt it deserved. What trouble could this young Casa Vecchie cause that he, Manfred, hadn't had Erik rescue him from a dozen times already?

    Surely none.



    "Well, there is a font, yes," said Marco, thinking. "But it is a very small and very poor church."

    "Maria likes the idea."

    "I'll talk to Brother Mascoli, then. I don't think he'd mind. I've hardly seen you for days with all this arranging. Come with me. Mascoli is a nice man."



    So he and Kat went down to San Raphaella, taking simple joy in just being in each other's company.

    Brother Mascoli didn't mind. In fact, he was delighted. "Sometimes people seem to forget that St Raphaella also does the work of an ordinary church. It will be a pleasure to christen this child."

    His eyes moistened. "The child is healthy? Well? So many of those that I christen here... their mothers just wish to make sure that at least their souls are safe, since we cannot help their bodies."

    "Marco has been to see them," said Kat. "He says the child is strong and healthy."

    Mascoli smiled. "Well, that assessment is good enough for me. We can do it whenever suits the parents."

    "Brother, Mascoli—" Marco hesitated; then, as the little priest cocked his head to the side, he went on. "Brother Mascoli, would it be out of order to ask the water-people to come add a blessing of their own? Just in case, you know? Umberto's family doesn't all approve of this marriage."

    He decided he had better not say anything about the fact that the baby had been, well, "early." Brother Mascoli knew the dates of the wedding and the birth, and he was fully capable of adding for himself.

    Brother Mascoli blinked. But to Marco's relief, he answered with no hesitation. "I think that would be an excellent idea. Would you care to ask, or shall I?"

    "Would you?" he replied, with relief. "If I ask, they might feel, well, obligated. If you do, and they'd rather not, there'll be no hard feelings."

    "Consider it done."



    "What was all that about?" Kat asked, as they left the chapel and stepped into her family's little gondola.

    "Call it... a little something extra," he replied. "Maria's always made her living on the water, and they're likely to be in and out of boats all their lives. I just thought it would be a good thing to get the baby a little extra blessing." He left it at that, and Kat evidently forgot all about it, for she said nothing else.

    The next morning they gathered outside the church. Maria had underestimated her popularity, and the grapevine among Venice's waterways. There must have been at least thirty people. Brother Mascoli, clad as usual in his faded, light colored robes, but with a special surplice for the occasion, smiled and let them all crowd in.

    "Your friends said they would be happy to help you, Marco," he whispered, as Marco and Kat took their places beside the altar-rail. And that was all he really had time to say, for the crowd parted for Maria and Umberto to come to the fore at that moment.

    The only person missing was Umberto's disapproving sister. They were already inside the chapel, voices upraised, when both Marco and Kat realized that Maria was looking around frantically for her.

    "What's wrong?" whispered Marco.

    "The other godmother," whispered Kat. "She isn't here. Can't you do something, Marco?"

    Marco drew his breath in. And felt a deep roaring within him of anger and determination. Umberto's sister didn't have to take her disapproval of the marriage out on an innocent child!

    He almost said something, when he suddenly knew that he wouldn't have to. It would be all right.

    Brother Mascoli took the baby into his arms. The baby girl didn't scream at him. "She is a beautiful, healthy child, my daughter," he said. "Now, who is going to stand as the godparents to this child?"

    "We are." Kat and Marco stepped forward. There was a hiss of approval from the crowd of canalers and Arsenalotti. Marco had treated enough of their children, many of them here in this very chapel, and they all knew that he and Kat had played very large roles in the salvation of Venice less than a year ago.

    "And the other..."

    The presence light on the altar flared, burning with a peculiar greenness. From behind the statue of St Raphaella a voice came. "I do."

    It wasn't, as many of the stunned audience concluded, the voice of the saint herself. Marco recognized it. That was the voice of the undine, Juliette.

    She plainly had the ability to cast a glamour on her appearance. She came out from behind the statue. To Marco she looked her green-haired, green-toothed self. He could even see the line of the scar. But to the others in chapel, she obviously didn't look quite like that. Marco wondered if they could see the pool of water she stood in.

    Brother Mascoli smiled. "She is a lucky little girl to have such Godparents." He took the oil and anointed the baby's head, and the water, which Juliette contrived to touch. Marco was aware of the green glow to it.

    Baby Alessia, in her delicate white shawl, was angelic throughout the ceremony. Juliette took the baby into her arms. "She will never drown. And if her mother is not there to care for her, she just has to touch running water to call me or my kin to help." She spoke quietly, so that only those at the altar could hear her.



    Maria sighed happily, when the ceremony was over and the crowd had left the chapel, looking at her daughter who had lapsed back into sleep. "Thank you both. I... I so desperately want Alessia to have what I didn't. I must find that other woman who stepped in for Umberto's sister and thank her too. I really thought..."

    Marco smiled reaching a finger to caress the baby's cheek. "You won't find her, Maria. But your daughter has a fairy-godmother."

    "What?" Maria looked at him as if she thought he had gone mad.

    "That was an undine," said Marco, calmly. "One of the water spirits of Venice."

    "What!" Now her mouth dropped open with shock.

    "She gave Alessia a powerful blessing too. Your little girl will never drown, and can call on the water-sprites for help."

    "But... she looked just like an ordinary woman." Fortunately, Maria had far too much trafficking with the Strega in her past to be offended by the notion that a pagan creature, inhuman to boot, had just become the godmother of her child.

    For an answer, Marco pointed to the pool of water on the floor, and the wet prints leading behind the statue of St Raphaella. "There's a water door and a water chapel through there. It is a consecrated place too."

    Maria shook her head and stared at the footprints. "I don't think I am going to tell Umberto about this."

    Marco patted her shoulder "I don't think he'd understand and it would cause complications. Besides," he continued, feeling a laugh rising in his chest, "given the glamour that she used to make herself look human, I wonder if Umberto would believe you anyway. He'd probably think you'd just been seeing things!"



    "Well, this is certainly an unexpected honor, Signor Lopez," said Petro Dorma, bowing. "You are the second great visitor I've had today."

    "My companions and I are simple men of God, Milord Dorma," reproached Eneko.

    "Traveling with a letter which bears the seal of the Grand Metropolitan in Rome? Not exactly 'simple,' I'd say. However that may be, you will do me the honor of staying here, I hope? Rooms will be made available for you."

    "We'd be pleased to. But we do not intend to stay very long. We want to find a passage to the Holy Land."

    Petro Dorma allowed himself a small smile. "Well, unlike Manfred of Brittany, you haven't walked in here and asked me to do so for you. He was here doing that not two hours ago. And-of course!-space for a couple of hundred Knights, and-of course!-their horses. Emperor Charles Fredrik doesn't mind asking the impossible."

    "The Emperor is here?"

    Petro shook his head. "No, just Manfred, Erik, Ritter Eberhard of Brunswick—and an old friend, Francesca de Chevreuse. Oh, yes—and two hundred of those steel-clad Teutons. On their way to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage. Manfred needs one, I should think."

    Eneko Lopez smiled. "I will talk to Prince Manfred. I suspect our journey is for the same purpose. Perhaps he'll have space for a few priests among his Knights."

    "He seemed to assume you would be joining them, in fact," said Petro. "Or, at least, he said so in our conversation. However, I'll pass on a message that you are desirous of seeing him, as I'll be seeing the fascinating Francesca this evening. And, speaking as the person who organized his ships, he does have space. Now, not to make too fine a point of it, Signor, but you and your companions appear to be generously splattered with marsh mud. I'm sure you'd all appreciate an opportunity to get clean, put on some fresh raiment, and then join us for our evening meal."

    Brother Pierre laughed. "You mean, Milord Dorma, we smell like a swamp, and you'd prefer us to come to dinner without the bouquet?"

    "Well, I wouldn't have put it quite like that," said Petro Dorma, tingling a small bell. "But... yes."

    "We're lucky we just smell of swamp," said Brother Francis, looking across the piazza to the column where the winged Lion of St. Mark gleamed in the late afternoon sun.

    A factotum arrived, bowed. "You called, Milord?"

    "Alberto, take these good men and see them to the rooms reserved for our guests. Arrange hot water, baths, and fresh clothes, and the cleaning of their present clothes. See them comfortable and happy, please."

    The factotum bowed again. "If you will follow me, Sirs."

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