Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

This Rough Magic: Chapter Thirty Eight

       Last updated: Thursday, November 27, 2003 23:29 EST



    Benito was assigned a room in the Castel a mar. After washing, he found himself in no state to sleep. So he set out to do what he been told to on arriving in Corfu: reporting to the Dorma Factor.

    Asking directions, Benito set out, got himself thoroughly lost and eventually found his way to the man's residence. He was not at home. So Benito left a message and walked across to the hospital to see how Falkenberg was doing.

    "You can't see him," said the monk. "He's finally asleep. He's in pain, young man. Sleep, even assisted by laudanum, is the best thing for him."

    "Tell him... I'll come back later. Is he going to be all right?"

    The monk shrugged. "If he doesn't get secondary infections. We've prayed over him. We've used such skills as we have. We have used a fragment of the blessed St. Landry's hand."

    Benito wished, desperately, that his brother were here. But all he could do was thank the monk and leave.

    He stood outside on the street, looked about, and bit his lip. Finally, with a feeling in his stomach as if he'd been kicked there by Von Gherens, asked a passerby: "Where can I find the home of Umberto Verrier?"

    The man shrugged. "Never heard of him."

    "He's a master caulker. Just come out from Venice."

    "Try the store-yards down at the outer north-eastern gate."

    So Benito passed out through the inner curtain wall, and on down to the store-yard. Given the way his day had been going so far, he was not surprised to find that Umberto had taken a belated breakfast and was now back at home, which was inside the curtain-wall.

    "Look for the last house before the road to St Agatha's. Between the hills. He's got a goat in his yard. You can usually hear it. It leans over the wall and bleats at passers by. They feed it. Only man I know with a watch-goat," said the Corfiote laborer, grinning. "It's got a weakness for Kourabiedies."

    Benito knew exactly which house the man was talking about then. He'd passed it on his way to look for the Dorma factor, and again while walking to the hospital. He sighed. It had been that sort of day.

    "What's wrong?" enquired the burly laborer.

    "Nothing much. I've just walked down from virtually next door. Anyway, thanks."

    The man grinned, showing missing teeth. "You're welcome. I saw you coming in from the ship this morning. And working with old Umberto. He's not bad soul for a Venetian."

    So Benito walked back up. He found the house. The goat leaned over the wall and bleated at him. Taking a deep breath, he walked up to the door and knocked.

    Maria opened the door, baby on arm. "Benito! What are you doing here?"

    "You know this young fellow?" asked Umberto, smiling and getting up from the table. "He gave me a lot of help this morning. Come in, young man. We never got formally introduced. I know your face from Venice. This is my wife, Maria... but you already seem to know that?"

    Benito bowed. "Maria was very good to me while I was growing up. I'm Benito Valdosta."

    "Marco Valdosta's brother?" Umberto looked faintly awed. "The ward of the Doge?"

    "And more trouble than he's worth," said Maria. It wasn't exactly welcoming... but at least she wasn't yelling at him.

    Benito held out his hands pacifically. "I'm trying to reform. Really. Back when Maria met Marco and I, we were both bridge-brats and always in trouble."

    Maria snorted. "You were. Marco wasn't. He was a trainee saint even then."

    Benito grinned. "Even when he ran off into the Jesolo, after writing love-letters to Angelina Dorma?"

    Maria shook her head, a reluctant shadow of a smile coming to her face. "He was a young idiot. He grew up."

    "Oh, I agree. About the saint part and the idiot part, which he never grew out of. I still love him dearly." He sighed. "And if this wasn't such a hideous situation, I'd wish he was here now."

    Maria smiled properly now. "He and Kat are both idiots—at least by your standards, Benito—but I also love both of them very dearly. They're our Alessia's Godparents, you know."

    "I know," said Benito. "She couldn't ask for better ones."

    Umberto beamed on both of them. "Well, why don't you come in and have a glass of wine with us, you being by the way of things a sort of god-uncle to my daughter. Then you can tell us what we can do for you. You have a place to stay?"

    Benito had to swallow hastily. He nodded, looking around.

    Maria and Umberto's little home was small, spartan, and lovingly tended, from the simple table-cloth to the little wicker cradle in the corner. Umberto certainly hadn't been able to smother Maria Garavelli in worldly goods. But he'd given her what she'd needed: a home, stability, and a reliable father for her baby. Someone who wouldn't go doing crazy things that might get him killed.

    "I have a place to stay, thank you. I just came to pass on Kat's messages. She sends her love to you and to little Alessia. She said I must tell you to write. I also came to offer my help if there was anything useful I could do for you..." he finished lamely. It didn't seem like a very good reason for seeking someone out. He looked at the baby and Maria, standing Madonna-like. "She looks well-fed."

    "At least you didn't say she looks beautiful like everyone else does," said Maria, tartly. "Here. Hold this well-fed baby while I get the wine." She passed the plump bundle over.

    Benito found himself with a soft, milky-breathed baby in his arms. After the initial shock, it didn't feel too bad.



    The habited woman on her knees tending the flowers outside the Hypatian Order chapel looked up as Eneko Lopez and Brother Pierre approached. "And how can I help you, my sons?" she asked pleasantly.

    "We're looking for a Sibling Eleni," explained Pierre.

    The Sibling got up, dusting her knees. She had the ageless sort of face, ornamented by bright brown eyes, that Eneko tended to associate with Hypatian Siblings. There was something about the cloistered life that kept age at a distance.

    "That is me. Actually, there is only me here. How may I help you?"

    Eneko nodded. "It's rather a long story, Sibling, but we have here a letter from the Grand Metropolitan of Rome. We were on our way to Jerusalem, before our ship was diverted here."

    The nun smiled. It was clear then, as fine lines appeared around her mouth and eyes, that she was, if not old, certainly no longer young. "If it is a long story, let us go into the Chapel. God doesn't mind listening out here, but it is cooler for us there."

    She nodded politely at Eneko. "Your reputation and description go before you, Señor Lopez. I'm afraid I don't know you," she said of the Franciscan-clad monk.

    "Brother Pierre," he said simply, smiling.

    "Ah." She said nothing else until they were within the tiny chapel, and seated on some stools she brought from the back of the building. "Well, now, how may the Hypatian Order on Corfu serve you? You've come to heathen parts, I'm afraid." She shook her head, but with more fondness than irritation. "The locals attend church faithfully, but I know for a certain fact that many of them continue their worship of a pagan deity. A bloodthirsty goddess of some sort, I suppose. That is, I suppose she is bloodthirsty, because the men seem to hold her in some fear. The women—well, they keep their secrets to themselves."

    She sighed. "It's all nonsense, of course, but they are happy in their nonsense, and we try to educate them slowly. The island is simply stiff with such superstitions."

    "You would not mind, Sibling, if we enact the ritual of the veil of divine privacy?" Eneko shook himself. "I've just seen two birds of prey high in the sky. I know there is a war on and the hawks and eagles come to feast... but I'll swear I've seen those birds following us since we left Rome."

    The Sibling spread her hands wide. "You may do as you wish, Father Lopez. You know the Hypatian order believes strongly in the appropriate use of Christian magic whenever needful."



    The chapel was built with a careful alignment to the four cardinal directions. Statues of the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel stood on plinths in their corners. Eneko and Pierre set about raising the wards. Soon the distant sounds of the Citadel were shut off inside the veil. It was with a feeling of relief that they returned to their stools.

    "We have had scryings both of great deeds and portents of magical conflict here, Sibling," Eneko said, certain now that nothing could overlook him. "Evil in the shape of Chernobog, and an ancient power that we could not identify."

    The small Sibling started. "Here? Here on little Corfu? Oh, no, Father Eneko! Nothing ever happens here. The locals talk about magical Corfu, but it is small magics, if there are any at all. Superstitions and mutterings about the Goddess, but never have I seen a sign of great pagan power. There are a few Jews who may be involved. A Strega charmseller or two. Virtually every hamlet has its so-called wise-woman, who might dabble in birthing spells... but that is it."

    She shook her head emphatically. "Unless it is something the Hungarian invaders have brought with them, not something from here."

    "Hmm. Might we try a scrying?" As an afterthought, Eneko added: "And also a contact spell. If there is any chance of contacting him, Brother Mascoli of St Raphaella in Venice could pass word to the Venetians about the siege, and perhaps get it relieved."

    "Of course, the chapel is yours, Father! I wish I could help you, but I fear that I myself am very unskilled in such matters." The Sibling smiled, but wistfully. "You know that the Order welcomes those with many skills-and there never seemed to be a need for a magician here, so they sent me. I'm better with small children and gardens than I am with great magic. A little magic to make my herbs grow, a soothing spell for a colicky child, that sort of thing. I do not believe these will be of service to you now."

    "On the other hand, I could not sooth a child," Lopez felt impelled to tell her. "In fact, I rather think I would give it nightmares. The Lord welcomes all who serve, Sibling."

    But a few minutes later, when concentrating on Brother Mascoli's image, Eneko Lopez discovered that now the greater magics were beyond him, too. It was a shock-like reaching for something you knew was there, only it wasn't. Or waking up to find that someone had amputated a hand.

    "Look at the Archangel Uriel," whispered Pierre, round-eyed.

    Eneko turned, slowly, to look. What he was looking at... just wasn't there. The golden glow, haloing the statue, summoned by the invocation, was gone. There was no Ward of the North.

    "We enacted the veil ritual without any difficulty."

    "A power great enough to attack an archangel..." He took a deep breath and tried to steady himself. "No wonder our scrying didn't work!"

    Pierre shook his head. "It's not so much 'attack', as 'nullify'. It just isn't there."

    Eneko Lopez stared at the statue of Uriel. "It can't be the creature of Chernobog; we sent that scuttling. And the Archangels were potent enough against him, anyway. Why the keeper of the creatures of the Earth?"



    Maria watched sidelong to see how Benito took Alessia, waiting to be amused at his awkwardness. To her surprise, there was none. He didn't, as Kat had, hold Alessia as if she was made of fragile porcelain. He didn't, as Umberto did, seem to have a problem knowing what to hold. He took and held her as if it was the most natural of things. He supported her head... without being told. And he looked oddly pleased. Not something most men looked when handed a baby.

    Maria went into the kitchen, drew a jug of wine, and... sighed. At times like this, Benito—

    She shook her head firmly, snatched up three wine cups and returned to the outer room.

    Benito was rocking Alessia with a peculiar smile on his face. After Maria put down the wine and cups, Benito handed Alessia back to her mother.

    "You know, that's the first time I've ever held a baby. They're heavier than they look." He sat down and took the cup of wine that Umberto poured out. "Thank you."

    Maria smiled wryly. "And noisier, too. You know, Benito, there is something you could do for me. I've been trying to think how to get a message to him since I saw him this morning. Do you know Erik Hakkonsen? Prince Manfred of Brittany's companion? Sort of a bodyguard?"

    Benito grinned wryly. "You might say so. He's beaten me, drilled me till I fell over, and made my life a misery for the last ten days or so."

    "Oh," she said, sounding disappointed, but with a twinkle in her eye. "Well, then you're probably not the right person to tell him that a Vinlander girl called Svanhild, who was on the ship with us, has waited on Corfu to see him. Her and her two brothers. A whole crew of them, in fact."

    Benito jumped to his feet, almost spilling the wine, grinning. "I'll go and find him right away. He's been like a bear with a sore tooth because of this woman—if it is the right woman. Svanhild, you say she's called? I'll go and ask. Where is she?"

    Maria lost the twinkle, and sobered. "That's the bad part. She's outside the walls, somewhere on the island. I forget the name of the Count whose villa they were staying in. Oh, wait—yes, Dentico, I think it is."

    He stared at her in shock. "Out there? But why aren't they inside? I mean I thought all the people would have been called into..."

    Umberto shook his head. "Nobody was called in. See, some of the townspeople and Venetians who got wind of it just happened to be here. The call has to go out from the Captain-General. The Commander readied the citadel, but when he asked Tomaselli if the cavalry should go out and escort the people in, the Captain-General refused permission."

    Benito swallowed. "So they're out there—with the enemy burning, raping and looting. And you want me to tell Erik?"

    She nodded.

    Benito took a deep breath. "Well. I thought he was bad before. But I have a feeling that this is going to be worse. She definitely wanted to see Erik?"

    The corners of her mouth went further down. "They waited here on Corfu, getting off the Atlantic convoy, just so that she could see him. She was on the breakwater-head waiting when the Outremer fleet came in because she thought he'd be on it."

    "She was in tears because he wasn't on it," added Umberto.

    "Oh. Like that, is it?" said Benito. "I got the impression that she'd given him the push."

    Maria sighed. "It was a bit of a bit of a misunderstanding. Tell him to come and see me and I'll explain."

    Benito swallowed the last of his wine. "In that case, I'd better see if I can find him. Today's been my day for not finding people easily. Thank you for the wine."

    Umberto smiled. "It is our pleasure. Come again."

    Benito gave a wary look at Maria. "I will... If I may?"

    Maria snorted. "If you stay out of trouble. Which probably means 'no' in your case."

    Benito grinned. "I'll do my best. But I think you've just landed me in it with Erik. Anyway, ciao. Goodbye, Alessia." He waved to the baby.



    Benito walked out and set off in search of Erik, full of mixed feelings. Yes, it hurt seeing Maria, listening to her acerbic tongue. But still, he found himself curiously at peace. He had always regarded babies as good things for other people, something to be personally avoided at all costs. But his heart had gone out to Maria's child. He must think of ways to help her. To help Maria... and Umberto for that matter.



    The search for Erik was like the rest of his day—a roundabout. Erik was not in his quarters. He was not with the knights who were assembling under Von Gherens' tongue lash. Von Gherens told Benito to try Manfred and Francesca's rooms. It was where, had Benito thought about it, he should have gone in the first place.

    He knocked with some trepidation on the door. Manfred, Benito had noticed, was cavalier about the privacy of others, but protective of his own.

    The door opened. Manfred grinned down at him. "Ah, Benito. So have you run to earth all the taverns in this place, and maybe some exotic dancers?"

    Benito shook his head. "I can't run anything to earth in this place. Besides, I'm trying to stay out of trouble."

    Manfred laughed and opened the door wider. "That'll be a shock to the world! A first time, I should think. Come in and have a drink. Francesca won't. She enjoyed the Captain-General's liquor so much that she won't touch ordinary armor-polish like mine. And Erik is so crossed in love that I'm keeping him off the drink."

    "Um. Is Erik here?"

    Manfred nodded. "He is, indeed. In his personal cloud of gloom worrying about the Atlantic convoy and not this siege. Why? Are you in need of some drill?"

    Benito hesitated, then realized that not telling Erik—immediately—would put him in worse trouble than anything. "I need to talk to him," he said firmly.

    "Talk to me, then," said Erik from the corner.

    "I thought... a private word."

    Erik sighed. "I haven't any advice to give you, Benito."

    Erik plainly wasn't going to make this easy. "Well, I wasn't really looking for advice. I just heard about a girl called Svanhild—"

    Erik crossed the room in a single lunge, picking Benito up by the shirt front. With one hand. "I have enough of this from Manfred. You leave her name out of it. You leave her out of it! Do you hear me?" He put Benito down with a thump against the wall, glaring at him.

    "She's looking for you," said Benito, in a kind of undignified squeak. He had the satisfaction of seeing Erik totally rocked on his heels.

    "What? Where?" demanded the Icelander. The look of hope in Erik's eyes took away the satisfaction.

    Benito took a careful step away. "Erik... it's bad news. She's here on Corfu. But she's outside the walls."

    Erik sat down. His blue-gray eyes bored into Benito.

    But it was Manfred who spoke. "Where do you get this from, Benito? This no subject for your practical jokes." His voice, bantering earlier, was now deadly serious.

    Benito held up his hands. "No joke, I swear, I got it straight from Maria and Umberto, who specifically told me to tell you. It's true. Someone called Svanhild from Vinland, who was on the Atlantic convoy, stopped here so that she could wait and see Erik. Specifically. Maria said she had two brothers with her and a number of other Vinlanders. Only they stayed in a villa outside town. Nobody warned them about the siege."

    Erik's eyes were still boring into him. It was at times like this that Benito understood exactly why the Holy Roman Emperors relied on Clann Harald for their closest bodyguards. Erik Hakkonsen practically shrieked: Deadly!

    "Maria, you know..." he half-babbled. "Er... Katerina's bridesmaid-at the wedding!-was on the ship with her. Svanhild, that is. She asked me-Maria, that is-to tell Erik, I swear it. And her husband Umberto confirmed it."

    Erik got up, took a deep breath, and gave himself a little shake. "Benito, I owe you an apology."

    Benito shrugged and grinned. And paid back the scores of an entire week of training. "It's nothing. No one expects logic of a man in love."

    Then he lost his smile. "I'm sorry that I had to tell you she's out there. You can see fires up and down the length of the Island."

    Erik swallowed. "Has she got her bodyguard, her brothers and their hearthmen, still with her?"

    Benito shrugged again. "I don't know. I've told you literally all I've heard. Maria said you should come and talk to her about it."

    The rangy Icelander put a hand on Benito's shoulder. "Will you take me to her? Please? Now?"

    Benito nodded; he'd expected as much. Probably Maria had, too, if Svanhild had been as irrational about this as Erik was.

    But if the girl had a pile of brothers and whatnot with her that were like Erik—well, maybe she, and they, were all right. In fact, maybe he was going to feel a little sorry for the invaders.

    Manfred turned to Francesca. "I think we'd better tag along as well."

    Francesca stood up. "Yes, I'd like to see Maria anyway. I never really got to know her." She raised an eyebrow at Benito. "This is 'your' Maria, isn't it? The one you got into trouble over?"

    Benito reddened. "I've got over that now. Umberto Verrier is a very decent man. Gives her what I didn't."

    Francesca smiled. "If you can come to terms with that, you've grown up more than most men ever do. Come, Manfred. Erik wants to go."

    Manfred took her arm. "Do we need horses?"

    Benito shook his head. Horses were one of the aspects of being "promoted" to the Casa Vecchie that he really could do without. Living in Venice he'd not been on the back of one until he was fifteen. And then he hadn't stayed there for very long. "It's close. Five minutes walk."

    Francesca looked down at her little pearl-fringed Venetian leather shoes and grimaced. "Oh, well. I have ruined the purse that matched them already. Let's go."

    Erik was already halfway down the hall, forgetting that it was Benito who would have to show them where to go. And as they walked, he was constantly having to check his long strides for the rest of them to catch up.

    Benito didn't like this at all. It was fairly likely the Icelander's sweetheart had fallen prey to King Emeric of Hungary's forces. Erik was like a loose cannon with a lit wick on a crowded deck. When—if—he found out she'd been hurt or was dead, someone was going to pay in blood.

    Probably Captain-General Nico Tomaselli.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image