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This Rough Magic: Chapter Twenty One

       Last updated: Sunday, September 7, 2003 12:58 EDT



    The great carracks and the smaller tarettes in the Basino San Marco twitched and jerked at anchor, responding to the winds, the short chop on the water and the loads being swung on board from the lighters. The fleet would proceed slowly to Outremer, hopping from Lissa, Corfu, Zante, Candia, Negroponte and points east as far as distant Trebizond. The loading would proceed for another week yet, but already many of the ships had to stay in deeper water. Weddings and celebrations were fine things in their way and at the proper time, but the ships must sail soon. So finery and jollification were best put in the past, to be talked about later. Now Venice hummed with industry. Spring was here, the time for trade was at hand, and the ships were outbound.

    Over at the quay-side the great galleys bound for Flanders were at the point of final deck-cargo. They would not proceed slowly, navigating out through the Pillars of Hercules, and then across stormy Biscay; with such a voyage ahead, there was no spare time to waste. Their stops were few, but they would pause at Corfu—the last safe port for a final refit at the Little Arsenal there. The trip to Corfu was a good "sea-trial," revealing problems, especially with new ships.

    And in Corfu, the ship would discharge a new assistant foreman for the Little Arsenal: Umberto Verrier.

    Maria knew that the new posting was, in a way, her own fault. If she hadn't led to Umberto's men capturing Torfini and Rossi in those first few days... Well, Umberto wouldn't have acquired a reputation for sorting out problems, quickly and efficiently. The more senior guilds at the Arsenal were, on the whole, not pleased with his wood-selection abilities. On the other hand, they were satisfied that he could fix problems, and the Little Arsenal apparently had plenty. So, Umberto had his new posting. It was further from Venice, but, as he said, it was in a real town. Maria wasn't as happy as he was about that part, but at least it would be back beside the sea.

    It was one thing to be married to Umberto. It was quite another to be married to Umberto and feeling as if she was going to have to be responsible for his success, while at the same time allowing him to bask in the illusion that his success was due entirely to his own effort. And it was a third to do so while caring for a baby...

    Two babies. Umberto is as much a child as the little one.

    But that was unfair. He was a good man. He cared for her.

    He cares for what he thinks you are.

    He loved the baby. And that insidious voice in her head could say nothing about that.

    She had thought that she was going be able to settle down, and now they were moving again. On yet another ship, so Umberto would be ill again. Two babies to tend, in the close confines of a ship. Another set of new people to meet and deal with, another strange place to try and make into a home. Harder, this time. She could not count on a fortuitous accident to show her what she needed to know. And she already knew that although Umberto was good enough at dealing with honest men, he was lost when it came to those who were less than honest.

    She had only traded one set of problems for another, in marrying the man. But he cared for her, and would do his best for her even if it killed him. It was up to her to see that it didn't. If she could not love him, she certainly owed him.

    Maria stood on the quay, watching the corded trunks and canvas bundles being loaded, as little Alessia nestled into her arms and nuzzled. Maria looked down at her child, and sighed.

    "To think a year ago I hadn't even been beyond the fringes of the lagoon... " she said, half to herself. "And now here you are, daughter, off to another distant place."

    Kat gazed at the ships beside her, and her eyes were still luminous with happiness. Maria thought that she had never seen a more contented person, and yet she knew that Kat was not blind to Marco's faults. Nor, for that matter, was Marco blind to hers. They had both known exactly what they were getting into, and yet they were two of the happiest people Maria had ever known.

    How very different, Maria thought forlornly, from the way I felt after my wedding.

    "I wish you weren't going," Kat said with a sigh. "Or I wish we were going along with you. I'd like to visit Corfu." Alessia stirred and Kat reached for her. "Let me hold her a little. It may be years before I see her again."

    Maria handed the baby over. She watched with some amusement at how awkwardly and carefully Kat took the child. Just on three weeks ago, she'd been just as tentative.

    "When I left for Istria, I was never coming back, Kat. Never ever. Now here I am again. Things change. Who knows? Petro Dorma might get so sick of Marco that he'll ship you both off to Corfu."

    Kat shook her head. "Marco is as much part of Venice now as the canals."

    Involuntarily, Maria glanced across the thronged piazza behind them to the tall pillar where the bronze statue stood. "Or as the Lion of St. Mark."

    Kat nodded. "The Lion is Venice after all, and Marco is the Lion too. He can't leave, Maria."

    Alessia twitched, gave a tentative whimper, and then burst into full bellow. Kat rocked frantically, an expression of raw panic on her face. "What's wrong, my cherub? There, there...Help, Maria! What is wrong? I didn't do anything to her. What do I do now?"

    Maria found laughter a welcome gift. "By the smell, I think she's probably done something to herself. Don't worry, that's not what's making her cry. It doesn't seem to worry her."

    Kat hastily held out Alessia at full arm's stretch, as if she were a precious piece of porcelain suddenly found to harbor a poisonous spider. Maria did not reach for Alessia. "I'll show you what do about it," she said cheerfully.

    Kat searched frantically for rescue. "Ah. Er... I see Papa's Vinlander partners are here. I'd—I'd better go and speak to them. I'll come back and see you in just a moment." She thrust the bellowing Alessia at her mother, and bolted.

    Maria, familiar now with all the less pleasant aspects of babies, took Alessia off to change, glancing as she went at the tall, large, blond contingent that Kat was greeting. And there, hastening down the quay-side from the Doge's palace, was Marco. Probably been to see Benito. Benito's face, when he'd seen her, had been quite a study.

    She scowled as she thought about it. If Umberto was one sort of child, Benito was another—a brat, a bridge-brat, destined to hang, no doubt. But Venice would not forget that latest exploit of his in a hurry. Being Venice, it would become quite a favorite story.




    Eneko Lopez was on a high balcony of the Doge's palace, his eagle eyes looking out over the Jesolo marshes when Marco finally tracked him down. The stern visage cracked into a smile on seeing Marco. "And how is wedded bliss, Marco Valdosta?

    Marco felt himself blush. "Um. Blissful, thank you, Señor."

    This reply lightened the stern visage further. "It is intended to be, you know. That is why Christ sanctified the institution of marriage with his first miracle." He pointed out toward the sky. "Tell me: what is happening up there?"

    Marco peered into the blue. "I'd say that a bird... or a pair of birds, rather, are being mobbed by seagulls. The gulls around here can be quite territorial, and there are thousands of them."

    The part of him that was the Lion stirred. And so am I, it said within him. They do not belong here.

    Of course, Eneko Lopez could not hear that voice, and Marco did not feel easy enough to explain. But he knew, now, why the gulls were attacking the hawks. The gulls were as much part of the lagoon as the water was, and the hawks were the eyes of the Lion's ancient enemy. The Lion would blind that enemy, if he could—and if he could not, he would at least deny him the use of those eyes over Venice.

    Eneko nodded. "A pair of what I should guess were goshawks, although I am not an expert on birds. Are such things common over Venice?"

    "Well, I've seen hawks in the reed-brakes and barene close to the fringes of the Marsh, but not really out here," Marco temporized. "They don't belong here. The gulls will see them off."

    The gulls will kill them if they can.

    "I have seen two hawks in the sky rather often of late. They appear to be hawks, at least," said Eneko. "I have attempted to scry them. Birds are difficult to connect with, and raptors most particularly difficult. They think mostly of hunting and killing, and not a great deal else."

    Well, this was the opening Marco had rather wondered how to make. "But if you were scrying and it turned out they were not hawks... wouldn't you be very vulnerable?" He took a deep breath. "Brother Mascoli said I should ask you for help with magical defenses for protection against evil."

    He felt the eagle gaze again. "Mascoli is a good man. But he sees only good in everything. If he thought you should consult me on this, I must conclude that something particularly evil happened. Tell me about it."

    So Marco explained.

    Eneko Lopez's eyes narrowed when he came to the part about the undines and San Raphaella. "I was aware of this. I was also aware that the undines that live in Lagoon have a great deal to do with the Strega-mages. In particular with the late Luciano Marina." Something about the way he said it filled in the word "unlamented" before "late."

    Marco nodded, but innate honesty forced him to defend Chiano. The Strega mage might have intended to kill him to save Venice—but... he'd also saved Marco's life before that. And been a friend when a terrified boy needed one.

    And it was entirely possible—

    Probable, chuckled the voice in his head.

    —that the knife had been intended for some other purpose in the ceremony.

    Bloodletting does not mean killing. Some ceremonies require the spilling of a token of blood, given freely. Ask your black-robed friend. He knows.

    "Luciano was good man, even if he was not a Christian," Marco said with more firmness. "And he helped the undines and they liked him, yes. Brother Mascoli said it was not wrong to aid non-humans. No evil creature would come to the sanctified water, and no evil creature would ask help."

    "We differ in levels of trust and points of theology," said Eneko, dryly. "But continue. I accept that you are a Christian soul, even if you are bonded to a creature about which I am less certain." He smiled. "And I do not mean your wife, whose Christianity I know well enough from the counseling booth of St. Hypatia. She gave me a lesson in honesty, once, when I was her counselor."

    Marco took a deep breath. "Well, according to Brother Mascoli, it was only the strength of that 'other' that saved me. I got the fright of my life, Senor. It was like being thistle-down slapped around by a maelstrom, just for an instant. The ward candles nearly burned up completely in that instant. Whatever it was, it was waiting out there for me when I went looking for the Triton. It was... lying in ambush, so to speak, waiting to kill me."

    Eneko pursed his lips. "The power of the Lion is very much tied to the area of the old marshes is it not?"

    Marco nodded.

    "And you were scrying outside of this area, and you were attacked."

    Marco nodded again.

    Eneko stood in thought, his heavy brows hooding his eyes. "I conclude that Chernobog still retains an interest in you. I cannot see why any other creature of power should take such a risk with a mage. You see, as much as you are vulnerable, so is your attacker. I should imagine that Chernobog uses an intermediary or a lesser servant, rather than direct intervention. Still, that servant is likely to be one who is himself-or herself-very powerful and dangerous. There are defenses. The first one however, is 'stay home.' Without you the Lion of St Mark would be somewhat less effective, am I correct?"

    "Well, in times of crisis one of the four families must direct the Lion's power," agreed Marco.

    "And if I am correct, all that remains are three Montescues and two Valdostas of the old blood?"

    Marco bit his lip. "Well, Benito... He's my half-brother, Sir. We had different fathers."

    Eneko nodded. "That is easy enough to guess without even seeing him, just to judge by his behavior. So: in fact it is only yourself and the three Montescues, one of whom is away, and one of whom is very elderly. This is a good reason to want you dead. And it is a good reason for you to keep scrying as the aspect of mage-practice you use only in dire emergency. However, I will teach you to attack when you are attacked, and how to best defend yourself—if you will agree to restrain your scrying to matters which are vital to your survival."

    Marco nodded. "If you will extend that to 'what is vital to the survival of Venice,' then I will. You see, the Lion is Venice, in a way. So by defending it I defend myself too."

    "A fair caveat," agreed Eneko. He took Marco by the elbow and turned back to the chamber. "Come. Let us go inside. The gulls appear to have driven the hawks away. Gulls are less formidable than hawks, but gulls are certainly more numerous."

    Marco watched with interest as Eneko Lopez laid out a few, very simple objects. Four Ward-candles, which he placed in each corner of the room, a silver mirror, and, of all odd things, a sharp needle stuck in a cork. With the mirror on a low table between them, Lopez invoked the four Wards as Marco had learned to do, and set up the circle of protection around them. It was all done very quickly, neatly and efficiently.

    "Now, your first and best protection when you attempt to scry when you do not know if something is watching for you, is to arrange so that you are not noticed."

    "But how do I do that?" Marco asked.

    "By finding some other thing that is in the area, and concealing 'yourself' within it. Those gulls, for instance. Scry for one of those gulls over the Lagoon just now."

    Obediently, Marco bent over the mirror, and easily called one of the gulls into its silver surface, which was silver no longer, but reflected the blue sky and white clouds.

    "Very good. Now move in closer," Eneko instructed.

    In the mirror, and in his mind, the gull loomed nearer, nearer, until he was looking directly into its black, bright eye.


    He couldn't imagine how he could do that, but then that familiar warmth inside him gave him a nudge—

    And now, he looked down on the Lagoon, felt the wind in his feathers, adjusted the tilt of his wing for better lift in a thermal-

    Good, said a voice from very far away, as he went very still and quiet. Now, don't actually do anything. Just sit, and watch, and when another gull comes near, make that same jump to it.

    It wasn't long before a second gull joined the first, and the two locked gazes long enough for Marco to make that "jump."

    Practice this for a while. Move from gull to gull. But don't try to interfere in what they do. Just observe.

    It was a little—a very little—like being the Lion. The gulls didn't have much on their minds but food and flying. He made the jump into four more gulls, when Eneko's voice came back.

    Now think about flying towards the Piazza and landing on one of the piers.

    But the gull didn't want to do that; he felt the resistance.

    You could make him, but that would make you noticed. At the moment, unless a magician was aware that you were riding this particular gull, there is no way that you would be detected. This is how you can scry and not be seen. So, find another bird and see if you can jump to one that will do what you ask.

    It took two more birds, not one, before he found one that felt that landing on the pier would be a good thing. This was a big, strong bird who often managed to snatch food from lesser gulls down there. With a tilt of its wings, it made a dizzying plunge down towards the water, skimmed along the surface, and made a graceful landing on the stone.

    Good. Now reverse how you got to the first gull. Pull back. See the gull in the mirror—

    And before the voice was done, Marco was looking into the eye of a fine, bright-eyed gull, then watching it strut nonchalantly along the stone walkway of the Piazza...

    He was startled to see that Eneko Lopez had his left hand firmly in the grasp of Eneko's own, with the needle poised over it, as the mirror went to ordinary silver again.

    "Excuse me, Father, but what are you doing?"

    "A precaution," Eneko replied, immediately letting go of his hand. "In case you got lost in the gull's thoughts. A sharp reminder to your spirit that it still has a proper human body would swiftly recall you back."

    "It would?" Marco was impressed by that; he could think of any number of ways that he could practice this trick with Kat's help, if this was the safeguard he needed to take.

    "Oh, yes, indeed." Eneko smiled. "How are you feeling?"

    "Um-tired." He was, suddenly. But he knew why, now; this leaping about from gull to gull was something that had all come out of his own reserves. "Can I draw on some other power to do this, next time?"

    "Only at the risk of being noticed," Eneko warned. "You will make the gull look different to another mage if you start drawing on more power. Just as, if another mage was to try to scry the bird you were riding, he would notice you unless you take care to be very still and not draw attention to yourself."

    "But could I scry, say, a bird over Cremona, and ride it?" he hazarded.

    "Yes," Lopez said. "But if there was anything watching for you, it would find you. Your risk would be less, once you began riding the bird, but it would still be there."

    Marco nodded. "But what about defending myself?" he asked, quietly.

    "That will be the next lesson; I want you first to learn how to make yourself so inconspicuous when riding a bird or a beast that a mage will have to be very skilled to find you." Eneko softened his stern look with a little smile. "After all, the very best defense is not to need to defend yourself at all."

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