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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Friday, January 30, 2004 23:43 EST



    Getting back to the embassy, Frank led his brothers up to their apartment. That was an odd notion right there; suddenly they had their own apartment, which was either a gigantic opportunity or put a whole lot more pressure on them to behave. Or, at least, on Frank. Sometimes, being the eldest sucked big-time.

    “Okay, guys, time to plan.” Gerry was matter-of-fact about it. Frank realized with no little horror that his brother was actually serious. It’d be a lot simpler if he just stick to humping the legs of girls he ran into, he thought. Or worse, maybe he wanted to turn himself into a real hillbilly hard-ass, instead of just the wannabe he was now. Either way, the signs of testosterone poisoning were getting frickin’ obvious.

    Frank paused to think for a moment. He had to handle this carefully, because there was a real possibility he’d send Gerry off to do the damn thing by himself. Chances were, Ron would go off with him, or at least do something similarly stupid like go handing out leaflets outside the Doge’s palace.

    And leaving aside the need to keep his younger brothers under control, Frank had to be seen doing something or he’d be out of luck real fast with...

    That though was the real clincher. Cautious enough to keep Gerry and Ron from haring off and getting themselves killed or thrown into a dungeon somewhere—and guess who’d get the blame?—while still daring enough to impress Giovanna.

    Worse than that, really. He had to do something daring enough to impress Antonio Marcoli. For all her own sprightliness and brains, Giovanna was obviously a girl who was much attached to and impressed by her father. His opinion of Frank would weight heavily with her.


    “Yeah, plan,” he said, vaguely, distracted by the very clear mental picture he suddenly had of Giovanna.

    “We need to find out what the deal is with Galileo’s trial,” said Ron. “Where he’ll be taken, what he’s charged with, who his lawyer is, that kind of thing.”

    That sounded practical enough. “I could see if Father Mazzare knows anything,” Frank volunteered.

    Gerry looked skeptical. “He’s a Catholic priest, remember. Won’t he go tell someone if we start asking questions about Galileo?”

    “Paranoia, Gerry?” Ron asked. “Been at dad’s stash?”

    Gerry didn’t answer, but just stood straight up and glared at Ron.

    “Well, come on!” Ron snorted. “Father Mazzare, an Inquisition spy?”

    “Yeah? You notice why he’s called ‘Father’?” Gerry demanded.

    “Cool it, guys,” said Frank. Testosterone poisoning, for sure. “Gerry, you’re right, but for the wrong reasons. Now, I’m not saying we should go help spring Galileo, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but Ron’s right, first we need info. And if we come right out and say why we want it, we’ll be actually grounded for the first time in our lives.”

    That brought silence. Their dad and the words “harsh disciplinarian” barely belonged on the same continent, let alone in the same sentence. Tom Stone had the sneaky, awful, borderline-abusive practice of being reasonable with teenagers, which was a lot harder to deal with than other kids’ parents ways of dealing with the occasional high spirits. Be that as it may, there was a line across which they had never taken him, a line on the other side of which there was the real possibility of Dad getting old-fashioned. Taking part in a commando raid on an Inquisition prison was definitely on the far side of that line.

    “So, what, you’re just going to go ask him?” But Gerry had lost some of the snarl from his tone.

    “Yeah, why not?” Frank said, shrugging. “I just got to be subtle, but straightforward so’s he doesn’t suspect anything. How hard can it be?”

    “Um, Frank?” said Ron, “You remember what Father Gus told us about playing poker with Father Mazzare?”

    Frank remembered. “Yeah, whatever you do, don’t do it, not for real money.” To hear the Jesuit tell it—and despite appearances, there was plenty of brain to go with the brawn when Gus wasn’t pickling it—Father Mazzare could see clear through playing cards, read minds, and had ice-water in his veins. There was a lot of admiration on Gus’ part for Father Mazzare, although how he squared that with Mazzare being a card-shark Frank didn’t know.

    “Yeah, so be careful, hey?” said Ron.

    “Uh, sure,” said Frank. “But how’s he going to suspect anything? I don’t believe we’re planning this, and I’m involved in it.”

    That, at least, got a chuckle.



    There was a reception room on the second floor of the Palazzo, and, the next morning, Frank waited outside it for a good five minutes wondering if they could hear his heart hammering through the big wooden doors. He’d gotten his brothers to agree to leave it to him. Just one of them being curious about the stuff they’d “heard around town” about Galileo was all very well, but all three of them would look suspicious.

    Calm, he thought. Use the force, Frank.

    He went in. He’d checked with the staff, and he knew Father Mazzare was in there. Sure enough, just as Frank came in the priest was sending Gus Heinzerling off somewhere. Mazzare had laid out a whole bunch of stuff on a table by the window, getting the best use he could out of the daylight to go through what looked like the world’s supply of paperwork. Frank didn’t envy him that one little bit.

    “Morning, Frank,” said Father Mazzare. “As you see, growing up doesn’t stop the homework.” The priest indicated the stacks of paper and vellum in front of him. “And this is just to rent a small palazzo. I’m glad we didn’t hire a big place.”

    Mazzare’s face twisted up into a wry grin. “How it’s going to be when we start putting together trade deals, I dread to think.”

    “Morning, Father,” said Frank, when Mazzare had run down. “Should, I, uh...” He looked back at the door.

    “Oh, no, no. Sit down, there’s coffee in the pot there; good stuff, too. Get yourself a mug.”

    Frank got himself a coffee and sat down at the table with Father Mazzare. His carefully-rehearsed opening gambits were all failing him. “Uh, I...” he got out, and then dried up.

    “Something troubling you, Frank?” Mazzare asked.

    “Well, not as such, no,” he said. “Only you seemed to be the best guy to ask about it, and, uh...”

    “So, not girl trouble, then?”

    Frank nearly fell out of his chair. How did he know? “No, no, no!” he said hurriedly, thankful for the small mercy that he hadn’t had a mouthful of coffee at the time. “It’s, uh, it’s more of a religion thing, actually.” There, that’d explain the nerves, he thought.



    “Well, don’t worry about offending me,” said Mazzare. “I’ve almost certainly heard worse.”

    “Uh, sure.” Frank stopped and thought. He was settling down a bit, and took a sip of his coffee. It was good, just as advertised. Probably the Nasis again, he thought, and then got back on track. “It was just that me and Ron and Gerry were out and about yesterday, and we heard some guys talking about the Galileo thing, you know, with the Inquisition?”

    “Hmmmm. Yes, there would be talk about that, wouldn’t there? Where did you hear it?”

    “Oh, you know, around.” Frank realized that this was heading into dangerous territory. He wondered if that whole silence-of-the-confessional thing would extend to him telling Father Mazzare that he was involved with bunch of lunatic revolutionaries who wanted to stage a raid on the Inquisition, and he was going along because he’d fallen madly in love with the daughter of the head looney even though some part of Frank understood perfectly well that it was probably just youthful infatuation but so what? Look what happened to Romeo and Juliet and they were still talking about it half a millennium later.

    Probably not, he decided. Firmly, he fought down the sudden urge to confess everything. If he was grounded, he probably wouldn’t see Giovanna again—a thought that was a lot scarier than any number of Inquisition goons.

    Mazzare waited, patiently.

    “Just... around,” Frank said, to fill the silence.

    Mazzare gave a sly grin. “And not, in any sense, in any kind of taverna or wine-shop where you might have stopped off for a refreshing glass of wine or two, right?”

    Frank felt the whole of Venice give a slight lurch under him. How does he do this? Can he really read minds like Gus says?

    The grin was still there. “Oh, all right, seal of the confessional, Frank. It’s down to you what you tell your father. Just try and stick to the respectable ones, and know your limits, all right? A little wine for thy stomach’s sake is all very well, but it’s easy to overdo it if you don’t have experience in handling the stuff.”

    Relief. Mazzare thought he was out drinking on the sly. A small sin to cover a greater one.

    Frank grinned back. “Don’t worry, Father, we learned our lesson about hangovers and throwing up. It’s cool.”

    “Good. Well, no more lecture, then.” Mazzare sighed, reached for the coffee pot and freshened his mug up. “About Galileo, then, what did you want to know?”

    “Well, it’s the whole deal with the Inquisition, you know?” That about covered it, and it wasn’t an outright accusation that Mazzare was an agent of a sinister organization trying to hold back the progress of science.

    “Ah, I see. You want to know if we can do anything about it?”

    Another lurch. He can’t know—or can he? Who knows what they teach priests how to do in those seminaries. The Catholic church didn’t stick around for two thousand years by being a bunch of dummies. Play it safe. “Well, it’s not so much that, as, well...”

    “You want to know what I think? Because I’m a priest of the church that’s putting him on trial?” Mazzare’s face was taking on a decidedly severe look, now.

    “Uh, if it’s a problem, or you don’t want to talk or anything or if, uh, I should...” Frank realized he was gabbling.

    Mazzare waved him down. “No, no, relax. I can’t say I’m too happy about the whole business, to be honest. Just because I’m on the staff, I don’t have to be happy about head office policy, you understand? At least, not on non-religious subjects, anyway.”

    Frank felt really uncomfortable about that. Was Mazzare in danger of a visit from the Inquisition as well? He didn’t want to think about that. For all that Grantville’s priest sometimes intimidated him, Frank genuinely liked the man. He didn’t think he knew anybody who didn’t. There was nothing ostentatious about Larry Mazzare, but he could have served as a poster model for Priest, Catholic, small town, finest example thereof.

    Mazzare sighed, deeply. “It was all very amusing when it was three hundred years ago, you know, Frank. Everyone talking about Galileo like he was some plucky pioneer, fighting against the forces of mediaeval reaction. Of course, when you looked into it, it wasn’t that simple. Just like it never really is. And it’s even less simple now that we’re here, of course.”

    “How’s that?” Frank asked, intrigued in spite of the slightly icky sight of a priest being very definitely human about something. Being brought up the way he had—which was a long, long way away from anything that could even be slightly described as traditional religious beliefs, Christian or otherwise—made ministers and priests seem like slightly awesome figures to Frank Stone. Either ogres—like the televangelists, or the mad-eyed Reverend Green—or uncanny wizards, like Father Mazzare. Watching him in what was unmistakably an irritated mode was unnerving.

    “Well, to start with, his trial’s late. In the universe we came from, it would have been over by now. He was found guilty and sentenced in June of 1633—almost nine months ago—whereas in this universe his trial has even started yet.” Mazzare took another sip of his coffee. “I don’t pretend to understand the mathematics of it, but they call it ‘the butterfly effect.’ You know, a butterfly flaps its wings in South America somewhere, and it affects how tornados form in Kansas.”

    Frank nodded. He’d watched Jurassic Park, too, and at least knew the buzz-words for chaos math.

    “Well, it seems that we brought some butterflies of our own. Pretty big ones. Somehow, in whatever complex ways, the Ring of Fire scrambled this ‘historic result’ just like it’s scrambled so many others. Galileo’s still in Florence in this time-line. In the old history, he’d been tried and was under house-arrest by this date.”

    “Eh? I thought he’d got burnt at the stake?” Frank blurted that out, and regretted it. “Uh, sorry.”

    Mazzare chuckled. “For astronomy? No, the church has plenty of astronomers of its own. You’re probably mixing him up with Giordano Bruno, Frank, who was burned at the stake. No, you see the real story is that Galileo, to use the cop-show phrase, copped a plea to heresy. And, technically, that was right, he was a heretic.”

    “What, for saying that the earth went around the sun?”

    “Well, that’s technically right, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Frank, do you know what heresy is to begin with?”



    “Well, uh, it’s...” He thought about it for a moment. “There’s probably a proper definition, isn’t there? It’s not just disagreeing with the church, is it?”

    “Actually, that’s rather close to what the real definition is, if the ugly truth be told. It’s like this, and I’m simplifying here, you understand?”

    Frank nodded.

    “The church is in the business of guiding people to Jesus, right?”


    “And, for an assortment of reasons that seem good to us, we have a whole hierarchy set up to decide the best way to go about it, yes?”

    Nod. Frank wasn’t sure he got it, but this probably wasn’t the best time to pick an argument he wouldn’t know how to conduct, let alone win.

    “And, again, for an assortment of reasons we think are good ones, the church gets the last word with Catholics about what we ought to believe. That’s supposed to be one of the big differences between us and Protestants, by the way. They’re supposed to believe that it’s really down to each man with scripture and his faith to find his best way to God. If the Reverend Jones were here right now, which he’s not, he’d be correcting me six ways from Sunday on the subject, but that’s about the theoretical size of it. I don’t suppose you followed the Rudolstadt Colloquy?”

    “The what?” Frank knew where Rudolstadt was, but—no, hold on, now he remembered something. “Wasn’t there some kind of big conference there last year?”

    “Indeed there was. A big argument between one lot of Lutherans and another lot of Lutherans about what kind of—but I’m getting off the point, here. A good few of the speakers at that conference reckoned that they were the last word on what a Christian ought to believe as well, and don’t think for a minute that I’m taking advantage of Simon’s absence to make a few cheap cracks at the expense of the competition.” Mazzare smiled broadly.

    The smile was infectious, and Frank found himself chuckling. “So where you’ve got one Pope, they’ve got a whole bunch of ‘em?”

    “Oh, that’s good,” said Mazzare, “I’ll have to remember that the next time I get Simon going on this topic, I really will. And it’s sort of accurate, too, although they do deny it. It’s why you get lots and lots of little Protestant churches. I mean, there’s something to be said for it, they’re all Christians at heart and it must be easier knowing you can just head on down the road if you lose an argument.”

    Frank got the feeling he was getting a look in on an old, old, argument.

    Mazzare sighed. “I shouldn’t just sit here and slam the competition, should I? I was talking about heresy, and Galileo. Anyway, the formal definition of heresy goes something like this: ‘the obstinate denial, after baptism, of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith.’ There’s a bit in it about obstinate doubt, as well, but I’m not going to subject you to a lecture on formal theology. The thing is, there’s a difference between proposing a subject for debate and deliberately expressing denial, you see, and Galileo got himself on the wrong side of that difference.”

    “But he was right...” Frank was wondering where this was leading.

    “Yes, well, we knew that by the twentieth century. Actually, we knew it by the eighteenth as it happens, and church teaching changed.”

    “I thought dogma couldn’t—” Frank grinned. “You’re going to explain it to me, aren’t you?”

    Mazzare’s smile was still on his face “I’m carefully not using words like dogma and doctrine and faith and so on, you know. They’re actually bits of theological jargon, with subtle shades of meaning. Let’s stick with teaching. You know that if you want to be a Catholic, you have to believe the same things that all the other Catholics believe? I think we established that.”

    Frank nodded. He’d heard some of the things Christians believed, and figured they had some nerve calling his dad a weirdo for what he believed in. At least Tom Stone didn’t claim to be smoking the body of Christ when he lit up a joint.

    “Well,” Mazzare continued, “in the time we came from, if you stop believing what all the other Catholics believe, you just stop being a Catholic. That’s sad but it happens. In theory, at least. There’re are some fairly out-there Catholics in the twentieth century. But I digress. Here and now, if you stop believing what other Catholics believe, it’s a crime. Heresy both ways, but different ways of dealing with it.”

    Mazzare stopped to heave a big sigh. “That’s Galileo’s problem right there. He disagrees with the church about what Catholics ought to believe about the shape of the world. Now, the Pope told him—back when he was plain old Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, I think, although I could be wrong about that date—”

    “What, he personally told him?” That sounded odd, to Frank. He’d picked up enough about how the seventeenth century worked to know that who you knew was very, very important indeed.

    “Oh, yes. Galileo and the Pope are actually old friends. Or they were, at least.”

    “So how come the Pope sicced the Inquisition on him?” This wasn’t following the script that Frank was expecting.

    “Well, it was more a question of not being able to stop it, or not easily, anyway. I’ve only gotten this from a book we have back in Grantville, you understand, that was made up of translations of all the papers about Galileo’s trial that survived to the twentieth century, plus a book about Galileo’s daughter. And, I have to confess, I last read up on the whole thing a while before I went to Grantville because I did a stint as a university chaplain and I got into arguments with scientists about it.” Mazzare chuckled. “Actually, I used to really annoy them by pointing out that Galileo got caught by politics, and it was Protestants who suppressed the work of Copernicus and Kepler purely on the strength of it being contrary to scripture.”

    “Who and who?” Frank asked.

    “Oh, Copernicus was the Catholic priest who first discovered that the earth orbits the sun, and Kepler was the one who figured out the laws of orbital mechanics. He died only a few years ago, as it happens. But I’m wandering off the point again.”

    “You say Galileo got caught by politics?”

    “Yes. I said before that everyone thinks of it as a plucky scientist battling against the mediaeval darkness, but it’s not that simple. To start with, as I said, Galileo used to be friends with the Pope.”

    Frank heard where Mazzare put the stress on the words, and took his cue. “Used to be?”

    Mazzare grinned. “Right up to when Galileo called the Pope a simpleton in print.”

    Frank couldn’t think of anything to say.



    “Oh, not in so many words,” Mazzare added, “but he took every opinion the Pope ever expressed on the subjects of science and astronomy and put them into the mouth of a character called Simplicio. Now, at his trial—as I recall—he claimed that was supposed to be Simplicius, a philosopher from classical times. Thing is, he wrote it in Italian, and in Italian, Simplicio means...” He pointed to Frank.

    “Simpleton. So the Pope’s really ticked off, huh?”

    Mazzare wiggled his hand back and forth. “Hard to know, really. Urban VIII is a very sophisticated man, by all accounts. Not the type to fly into a rage over a minor personal insult—especially since he could, after all, choose to accept Galileo’s excuse. Anyway, just to make his own life more interesting, Galileo published his book in Italian, like I say. So he couldn’t claim that he was trying to start a learned debate, he’d written for the popular market. Even so, if he could have proven it, he’d have been fine. After all, if nature says one thing and the church’s teaching says another, the church’s teaching has to be wrong and the teaching has to be changed, right?”

    “They can do that?” Frank asked.

    “We can and we do, Frank. The thing is, a couple of places in the Bible, it talks about the sun going around the earth. Now, you can read that as a description of what really is going on, or you can read it as the guy who wrote the words down saying what it looked like.”

    “And the church is saying that’s what it really is, right?” Frank was following the logic, now.

    “That’s about the size of it. And Galileo couldn’t prove otherwise, you see. Part of that was that the astronomer who had the best evidence for the theory he was trying to prove was one of the many people Galileo had annoyed over the years. In fact, he’d denounced the evidence as fraudulent.”

    “What was it?” Frank was actually getting really interested, now.

    “It was a comet, as I recall. Scheiner, who’s in Rome right now, or it might have been Grassi, another of the church’s astronomers, I can’t remember--”

    “The church has astronomers?”

    “Sure. Most of the leading astronomers in this day and age are actually Catholic priests. Did you run into Father Kircher at the high school?”

    “He’s an astronomer?”

    “Among other things, yes. He does just about everything; a very bright man. But as I say, there are these two church astronomers who’ve got the evidence that goes a long way to prove what Galileo was saying.”

    “Then why don’t they, I mean why didn’t they come forward with it? Didn’t they want to get accused of heresy too?”

    Mazzare laughed. “This is why I said it was more complicated than everyone thinks. They published it, years ago. And Galileo called them both frauds. Galileo thinks comets are optical illusions in the upper atmosphere.”

    “He thinks what?” That didn’t sound like the Galileo he’d heard about.

    “Oh, yes. A lot of Galileo’s ‘science’ was off-base. He came up with a wrong explanation for the tides, too. To make things worse, he’s a notorious intellectual bully who rarely saw the need for common politeness. Take Scheiner and Grassi: he called one of them a drunk and the other one a plagiarist. Which is why they, between them, reported Galileo to the Inquisition when he published his last book. In which, as I say, he called the Pope a simpleton.”

    Frank mulled over that for a moment. “Can’t we send some astronomy textbooks to Rome, or something? If Galileo can prove it, he gets off, right?”

    “Well, again it’s not that simple. You know who Galileo works for?”

    “I thought he was just, well, a scientist.”

    “He is, but he has to have a patron to keep him in eating money. There aren’t universities with tenure in this day and age, so he gets paid by the Medici family. Now, that means that the Spanish, who as it happens own about half of Italy, are his enemy in order to get at the Medici, who just happen to own one of the bits of Italy that the Spanish want but don’t have. Now, I’m simplifying this a whole lot, but basically the Pope has a lot of pressure on him to throw Galileo to the wolves to do the Medicis a bad turn. Even so, in our old timeline, the Pope stacked the trial as much as he could, and it was his nephew, Cardinal Barberini—”

    “Hold on,” said Frank, shaking his head with confusion. “I thought you said the Pope was Cardinal Barberini?”

    “He was, before he became Pope. Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, he was then. And his brother’s a Cardinal Barberini as well, and both of his nephews are Cardinals Barberini.”

    “Doesn’t that get confusing?”

    “Very,” said Mazzare, deadpan, and then broke into a chuckle. “We shouldn’t laugh, of course. His Holiness had a terrible crisis of conscience over his nepotism later in life, even though it’s the way things are done nowadays.”

    “Right, so one of the Barberini nephews got Galileo a plea bargain?”

    “That’s right. He admitted that what he’d done gave the appearance of heresy.”

    “So what did they do to him if they didn’t burn him at the stake?”

    “Made him promise not to do it again, and sent him home with orders to stay there. He wrote a couple more books after that, and was a lot more careful not to insult anyone.” Mazzare sighed again. “It was still a fairly embarrassing business all round, of course, even if the ban on his book never really got enforced outside Italy and was revoked later anyway. I’d like to think that the fact that they’re waiting a lot longer to put him on trial than they did in the old history means that someone in Rome is thinking a lot harder about all these issues.”

    “Isn’t there anything we can do? It doesn’t seem right, him being in jail. Especially because he’s an old man by now. I know that much.”

    “I don’t honestly know what we can do, Frank. I’ve got a job to do here in Venice, and I wouldn’t want to go meddling in a situation I don’t fully understand. And no, he’s not in jail just now, if they’re doing it the same way they did in our history. They’ve just banned any more sales of his book and ordered him to stay home pending his trial.”

    “He’s not in jail?” Again, things Frank had thought about the Inquisition were turning out not to be true. He’d had a firm image of old Galileo shackled with chains in a dungeon somewhere.

    “No. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the Inquisition’s a blight on the church and does a great deal that is, by any standard, wrong, but they’re not complete barbarians. Galileo got very mild, very respectful treatment from them. Apart, that is, from being made to stand trial and having one of his books banned. But he wasn’t ever imprisoned or tortured, and he certainly wasn’t ever treated with any physical harshness.”

    “Um.” Frank was wondering how he was going to put this over with the guys. And especially with the committee. He could just see Antonio Marcoli’s reaction to him passing on apologies for the Inquisition and then asking for a date with his daughter.

    On the bright side, on the other hand, if worse came to worst...

    Springing him from house arrest might not be so bad. It’s gotta beat fighting your way into a dungeon.

    Mazzare interrupted the formation of a truly horrible image. Frank Stone, expiring on a pike in the bowels of a castle, his last sight the slime oozing down the damp stone walls... a skeleton nearby still sagging from the chains...

    “Speaking of the job I have to do in Venice, Frank, the day after tomorrow there’s a formal reception for us at the Palazzo Ducale. I was going to suggest to your father that you and your brothers come along. Would you be interested in that? I don’t want to drag you along for something you don’t want to go to, but you might find it interesting, and certainly educational, to see high Venetian society in action. The Palazzo is a sight to see, as well, and going to an event like this is about the only way you’ll see it, since they don’t do public tours yet.”

    Suddenly Frank was presented with something he understood with perfect clarity. Before his eyes flashed a clear and perfect vision of him escorting Giovanna into a roomful of nobility, of her turning to him and expressing her admiration for how suave and debonair he was, and the rarified circles he moved in, and—

    “Can I bring a date?” he blurted out.

    Mazzare burst out laughing. “By all means, Frank. When you said you didn’t have girl troubles, you weren’t kidding, were you? How long have we been in this town? Three days?” He shook his head. “Seriously, Frank, check with your father first. And, I know this is a cliché, but whoever she is, don’t do anything I wouldn’t approve of, all right?”

    Frank nodded, dumbstruck for a moment. He hadn’t meant to check with a Catholic priest if it was okay to advance his love life—what had he been thinking of? Still, Father Mazzare seemed to be okay with it.

    Mazzare went on: “And keep in mind that you can have worse troubles—a lot worse—than gaining my disapproval. In this day and age they don’t just get annoyed about teenage tomfoolery. If she’s got brothers or a father, they might actually come and kill you. Or hire it done, if they’re rich. In fact, you make sure you check with her father first, all right? I don’t want to have to get you on a fast horse out of town.”

    “Uh. Okay,” said Frank. That actually made sense, now he thought about it. “I’ll, uh, go find my dad, and, uh, make arrangements. Thanks for the, uh, you know.”

    “It was my pleasure, Frank.” Mazzare smiled.

    Frank left before he embarrassed himself any further.



    Some hours later, Frank stepped out of the Casa Marcoli into the watery sunlight of a Venetian spring evening and heaved a sigh of relief. Discovering that he was shaking, he leaned against a pillar and tried hard not to throw up.

    And then he remembered what he had just done, and whooped for joy. “Yes! He shoots, he scooooores!” he yelled, punching the air and drawing slightly alarmed stares from people in passing boats.

    “I gather it went well, then?” Ron called up from the gondola they’d hired to get over. Frank had brought Ron for moral support. He’d not brought Gerry, on account of Gerry being more than likely to try something to spoil his chances. A kick me sign on his back would be the least of it, with Gerry.

    “Oh, I reckon so,” said Frank. He swaggered down the steps to the water.

    “You actually got a date, then?” Ron helped Frank into the boat. “I admit, I’m impressed.”

    Frank grinned. “She said yes! And her daddy said yes, too!” He punched the air again, and drummed his heels on the bottom of the boat in delight.

    “You got to bring a chaperone?”

    “Nope, messer Marcoli says he trusts me. Fellow revolutionist, and all. He also thinks it’s a great idea I should take his daughter into a reception full of nobs and such because it strikes a blow against medieval privilege.”

    Ron laughed aloud as the gondolier poled them into the stream of traffic. “He actually said all that? How big a pack of lies did you tell him anyway?”

    “Enough, Elrond,” Frank said. “I assured him my intentions were entirely honorable. Um. Which they are, actually, and not just because the assorted Marcoli brothers and cousins have me outnumbered and her father’s downright scary. I promised I’d bring her straight home.”

    “Sure, with maybe a detour on the way?” Ron sniggered.

    “Jesus, Ron, you think I want to get killed? Besides, I think this is the real deal. Got to do it right, you know?”

    “You said that about Missy. And Gudrun. And—”

    “This time it is,” Frank said sternly. “And you are, I kid you not, dead meat if you mention any of that to Giovanna, understand?”

    “Scout’s honor,” Ron said, raising his right hand.

    “You weren’t ever a scout, and that’s the Vulcan live-long-and-prosper sign anyway,” Frank pointed out.

    “Same difference.” Ron shrugged. “Besides, enlightened self-interest. I may need your silence about my past one day.”

    “Point.” Frank leaned back on the gondola seat. He took a deep, satisfied breath and sighed it out.

    In Germany, winter still had its grip on the land. But Venice in March was Venice in spring.

    Venice was truly, truly beautiful in the springtime. Even the stink of the canals seemed pleasant.

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