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This Rough Magic: Chapter Twenty Six

       Last updated: Friday, September 19, 2003 23:12 EDT



    Benito was frog-marched onto the galley, still with leg-irons on. The Justices were making absolutely sure he didn't escape, he thought grumpily.

    As if he'd want to while he was still here in Venice! He'd spent a number of days in prison, any one of which was a day too many. It had brought home to him just how valuable being able to do things really was—especially being able to come and to go at times of your own choosing. Reluctantly, Benito came to acknowledge that maybe Marco knew him better than he knew himself. Staring at those walls for a solid year would indeed have driven him crazy. And if the food wasn't quite as bad as the swill the Casa Dandelo had fed their slaves, it was pretty close. Even the water was vile. Wine was a vain dream.

    So: he kept his head down, he kept his mouth shut, and he behaved himself, irons and all.

    It was only when he saw Erik Hakkonsen, with Manfred, staring down at him that he realized they'd played yet another trick on him.

    Erik had the keys to his manacles. They dangled loosely, but obviously, from his left hand. "I have been given the duration of the voyage to Corfu to drill some sense into you," said Erik coldly. "I have nine days, perhaps, so we will start right now. You will address me as 'Sir.' You will speak only when you are spoken to. And if you aren't quick enough to do as you are told I will beat you."

    "What the hell am I doing on board ship with you?" he blurted, more in surprise than anger.

    He got a sharp slap about the ear from Erik. "Have you already forgotten what I have told you? Sir. Speak when you are spoken to. Do everything as fast as your flesh will allow."

    Benito found himself fiery mad clear through to the core. Why the hell should he put up with this? It wasn't as if he'd been alone in his carousing. Manfred had been there too. He stuck his chin out. "Make me."

    In later years he would say that this proved the wise proposition that stupidity provides its own punishment. Erik proceeded, coldly and methodically, to prove that yes, he could make Benito do what he was told to do. Or, at least, regret that he had failed to do it.

    As he lay against the bulkhead later, groaning, Manfred leaned over. The Prince's grin was cheerful, but sympathetic. "Best just do it, Benito-boy. Erik is mad with both of us for partying when he thought I was tucked up in my little bed. What's even worse, he's crossed in love. He's in the vilest temper I've ever seen him. Most of the knights are creeping around on tip-toes. Me too."

    Benito heard Erik's ominous voice. "Manfred, I think it is time that you and I had a little more drill together."

    Manfred's big shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. "Not again, Erik! You beat up Benito for a while, that should do. You've got all the way to Jerusalem to take it out on me. And my ribs are still sore from yesterday."

    Erik's face loomed over him, his chill eyes back on Benito. "Up," he said. "You aren't nearly as damaged as you think you are. And once you've warmed up properly, most of your bruises will stop hurting."



    Benito was engaged in Erik's idea of warming up exercises, which he suspected would have him dead on the deck, when relief in the shape of Marco and Kat arrived to bid him farewell. And, to his surprise, Petro Dorma was with him.

    Petro had brought with him Benito's rapier, main gauche, and also several porters with the rest of Benito's clothing. "You sail within the hour, and it may be some years, five perhaps, before I see you again. I have taken one liberty. I have given to your grandfather the broken sword which was in the armoire in your room. The Duke requested it. He says he will have it reforged, since one day you may wish to give it back to Sforza. In which case, he says, it will be more useful if has a point with which you can drive it home. I will have it sent to you."

    Somehow that polite civility made it all worse. "Thank you. And Petro..."


    "I'm really sorry I made all this trouble. It's just..."

    Petro smiled. "That is behind us. You understand that as the Doge I have to be seen to be fair, dispensing justice, rewards and punishments, with an impartial hand. Even to my wards; perhaps especially to my wards. Now. Go well. Enjoy Corfu. Report to my senior factor there."

    "Couldn't I go somewhere else?" begged Benito. "Please?"

    "No." Petro shook his head emphatically. "You will just have to learn to live with her there too. I suggest you go and see her, make your peace. If, after a year or two I hear good reports from my factor, you will be transferred elsewhere to learn more of how the Dorma business is conducted. Now, farewell, Godspeed, and try to stay out of trouble, boy."

    Benito swallowed. "I'll do my best, Petro."

    The farewell to Marco was harder. He wouldn't be seeing his brother for years. They'd never been apart for more than a month. Even when Marco was hiding out in the Jesolo marshes, at least Benito had always known where he could try to find him if he needed to. Now it would be a long time before they saw each other again. "Goodbye, Marco. I'm sorry I've been such a fool."

    Marco was as gracious as Petro, and more understanding, perhaps. After all, he'd done stupid things for love, too. "We've both done that, Benito. Please take care. I know you usually ended up looking after me, but I won't be there to help. Remember to write to us."

    "I will," said Benito gruffly. "Kat, I hope I didn't spoil your special day for you. You know... I wish you both to be very, very happy."

    Kat smiled radiantly at him. "I don't think anyone could have spoiled the day for us, Benito. And we didn't even know about your adventure, anyway, until after lunch the next day." She blushed rosily and looked sidelong at Marco. "We didn't get out of bed until then."

    Benito re-evaluated his brother's enjoyment of pre-marital favors. "Beds are better than bridges," he said with perfect sincerity.

    "Benito!" They shook their heads at him in tandem. His brother sighed and smiled. "You're impossible, Benito."

    Kat grinned. "But if he wasn't... well, we might never have met properly, Marco. And he did sort out our misunderstanding, dearest. We'll have to forgive him."

    Marco hugged his brother. "I'm going to miss you, Benito."

    "Yeah. Likewise."

    Kat hugged him too. "Listen. Try to be understanding about Maria? Give her and little Alessia my love when you see them."

    "I will do. I promise."

    The Capitano of the galley came up and bowed respectfully to Marco. "We'll need to be getting underway, Milord Valdosta," he said.

    So Kat and Marco went. The ship cast off, and the rowers began edging her out into the lagoon, towards the sea. Benito watched and waved.

    And then Erik bellowed in his ear.



    By the time Benito collapsed into sleep that night he was: first, sore in places he hadn't even known he had muscles; second, awake to the realization that Erik was possibly an even better swordsman than Caesare had been.

    Benito was a lot of things: but a fool he was not. Not about learning combat skills anyway. Erik had had him in a quilted jacket, practicing with a blunt-edged, round-pointed rapier until he could barely keep the point up. Then Erik had pulled up a grizzled old knight, who was at least as broad as he was high. "Semmens' weapon of choice is the axe or the morningstar. He will drill you for an hour. You're not really big enough for those weapons, but knowing how they work will help you to stay alive when people armed with either are trying to kill you."

    Then, when it seemed things could get no worse... Eneko Lopez came up on deck. "I have been asked by Petro Dorma to see to your spiritual welfare. This task is probably beyond me, but I will do my best."

    He did, with an incisive tongue. When he finally left, Benito realized that having his brother's superb memory would have been more useful at this point than an ability to climb buildings. He also knew a great deal more than he had about St. Hypatia, St. Simon, and aspects of ecclesiastical magic he'd never even considered before. Magic was more complex and more frightening than he'd realized. He wished Marco wasn't involved in it.

    Then more drill. Then Erik produced a stocky, bow-legged knight with the characteristic blue-speckled facial powder burns of a bombardier. The bombardier had a peculiarly high voice, totally out of keeping with his "pet:" a small cannon, chased, ornate and heavy.

    "Erik Hakkonsen has told me that the best way to your mind is to drub it into your hinder end with the flat of a sword. However I am prepared to give your mind a chance. If it fails, I will assist it with this cleansing rod. If you are lucky, I will only beat you with it."

    By the time the day ended, Benito was only too glad to collapse into an exhausted sleep. To think he'd once dreamed of being one of these Knights!



    The great eel-like-creature burrowed into the ooze and lay as still as if its physical movement could betray it to that which sailed above. The adversary's presence and magic burned like a balefire on an overcast moonless night to the shaman's perceptions. He lay still and tried not to even think. If he could sense the adversary... then surely the mage could feel him?

    For weeks now, his hawks had watched the roads away from the great marshes. He had driven them into it at first. He had nearly lost both birds doing that. Not only had the ancient lord of that place detected his hold, and sent his creatures to harry the hawks, but it had also attacked and somehow weakened the bonds that the shaman used to control them. The shaman found his creatures far less biddable now. They would turn and hunt, even when he commanded them to follow. And they would not go out over the open sea. It was contrary to their natures, but that had not stopped them obeying him before. They were becoming wilder, more their own, less his.

    Above him the ships sailed on. At last he felt safe. As soon as he was sure this was the case he called: Master, open the way.

    Not with his voice, of course; this shape didn't have a voice.

    The answer came immediately; a kind of hole in the real world opened before him, with a shimmering green-black curtain across the mouth of it that kept off the sea-water. Not a round hole, though; more a kind of rift, an outline that changed constantly, warping and writhing like a living thing.

    The great eel-shaped creature swam through the twisty contorted gap between the real and the spirit world. The passage, too, twisted and writhed from moment to moment. But the monster was well shaped for negotiating it.

    He fell out of the passage onto the floor of the palace, where Jagiellon waited. The shaman shook himself back into a shape that could speak, taking care that the shape was prostrate on the floor before he tried to utter a word. One could not be too servile with Jagiellon.

    He bowed his head right down onto the stone. "Master. The adversary is at sea. He sails south from Venice." Only when the report was given did he look up.

    The black eyes glowed. "I fear he must somehow have gotten wind of my plans for Corfu. The old shrines there must be far more powerful places than I had realized. They must be found, and the rites of blood enacted there. And if possible we must destroy Eneko Lopez. Sink him beneath the waves before he gets to Corfu. Where are the Byzantines and Emeric?"

    "Master, Emeric's galleys are already at sea. His army should be landing on Corfu by morning. The rest of his fleet is still to the north of the island."

    "I am aware. My slave Aldanto is with them. Emeric plans to blockade the straits of Otranto. It will be difficult to do this effectively. But maybe his blockading fleet, and those which come with the rest of his troops, can be used to kill Eneko Lopez. That could be worth more than Corfu itself, in the long run."

    Jagiellon's eyes flared. "You will return. Keep a watch over my adversary. I will use the slave Aldanto to direct forces against them. There are several of the galliots with the transport fleet of carracks. Between you and the slave they can be directed to contact the blockading galliots. We will direct them like a pincer on Eneko Lopez."



    The priestess in the cave was old. The magics drew more from her each year. Soon she must find another acolyte to serve the great Goddess. Someone who could chant the ancient words, and who could instruct the women in the rites. It was no small responsibility.

    And there must be a new bride for Him. Of course, ideally, the two should be one and the same. But that happened very rarely; not for many centuries now.

    She sighed. Well, spring was here. And, though men might war and burn, the earth and the women of the island would bring forth new life.

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