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1636 The Flight of the Nightingale: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2019 20:33 EDT



    “Your Grace,” was said in a quiet voice. Ferdinando looked up from where he was comparing two of the lenses to each other, to find Roberto Del Migliore standing two paces away from his desk. As soon as the other man saw that he had the duke’s attention, he gave a bow, somewhat deeper than the bow he had given earlier in the day.

    Ferdinando sighed. It was going to be bad news — he could already tell that. He set the lenses down on the velvet with care, then folded his hands together and looked at the palace-major. “Yes?”

    “At your direction, Your Grace, I went to the chambers of Maestra Francesca Caccini, taking with me Alessandro Nerinni, Cesare Falconieri, and my attendant, Paolo Gagliardi.”

    “Such a redoubtable group of men,” Ferdinando murmured.

    Del Migliore responded with a nod, and continued, “Her door was indeed barred, but Gagliardi was able to open the shutters and boost a servant into the room to withdraw the bar.”

    There was a moment of silence, before the duke observed, “And was the Maestra in her chambers?”

    “No, Your Grace. From all the signs, she had not been there in some time — certainly at least a day, probably two, possibly three.”

    Ferdinando sat up straight. “You are telling me that she may have left the palace two or three days ago?”

    “Very possibly, Your Grace. Captain Falconieri is checking with the guards now to see if any of them recall seeing her leave the palace, and Alessandro is checking with the servants, but based on what was reported and based on what we have seen, then yes, it appears she left the palace as much as three days ago.”

    “Madonna mia,” Ferdinando muttered as he sat back in his chair. “Grandmama will have a fit.”

    The palace-major wisely did not respond to that.

    Straightening, Ferdinando said, “Find her. If she is in Firenze or the surroundings, find her and bring her here to me. If she is not to be found, report that as soon as you have made that determination.”

    “Yes, Your Grace.” Del Migliore gave an even deeper bow in acknowledgment of the commands.

    Ferdinando waved his hand. “Go. Go.’



    Roberto headed for his office. He found both Alessandro and Paolo waiting on him when he arrived.

    “The daughter’s name is Margherita,” Alessandro said. “Her father was the Maestra’s first husband, one Giovanni Battista Signorini, another musician in the court. And the last anyone knew she was residing in Convento della Crocetta, as were some of the other daughters of members of the court. Her son was named Tommaso, after his father, Tommaso Raffaelli, the Maestra’s second husband. The boy died a year or so ago. A winter flux, one of the women said.”

    “And the convent is located…” Roberto said.

    “On the Via Laura,” Paolo replied.

    “Then what are you still doing here?” Roberto demanded. “I believe I gave you an order.” The smile on his face belied the sternness in his voice.

    Paolo straightened from where he leaned against a wall. “On my way.” A moment later, his footsteps were receding down the hallway. Roberto looked to his assistant.

    “I suppose it is possible that we will find the Maestra somewhere in Firenze, but I have a feeling in my gut she’s run farther than that. Accordingly, I think we need an inventory of what is left in her room. Take one of the clerks and see to it. And do a deeper search than we did. There’s always the possibility that something was left behind that we will find useful.”

    “Right.” Alessandro rose from his seat. “That shouldn’t take long. And you’re going to busy for the next little while, anyway.”

    Roberto raised his eyebrows.

    “The princess wants to talk to you as soon as I find you,” Alessandro said with a smirk.


    “So I’ll just go see about that inventory you wanted,” Alessandro said as he went out the door.

    Roberto stood alone in the room for a moment, after which he took a deep breath and betook himself to the quarters of the dowager duchess. He was met at the door by none other than the duchess’ trusted companion Maria, and was ushered to a room where the duchess obviously held court at times. There was a throne-like chair at one end of the room, he noted, albeit one somewhat less ornate and regal that that possessed by the grand duke. But all those present in the room were clustered around a lounge set to one side of the room, on which the dowager was reclining.

    Maria escorted Roberto through the numbers of women standing around, taking him through to the dowager herself.

    “Principessa,” Maria said, “here is Palace-Major Del Migliore, come in answer to your summons.”

    “Messer Del Migliore,” the dowager said, opening her eyes and holding out her hand.

    Roberto took her hand and dropped to one knee beside the lounge. “Principessa,” he said as he bowed his head.

    “Have you found La Cecchina for me?”

    “No, Principessa, we have not. She was not in her quarters. We are looking through the rest of the palace now, but I suspect that she is not within its walls.”

    The dowager’s eyes opened wide, and she struggled to raise up, aided by a young woman in servant’s clothing who stood at the head of the lounge.

    “You mean she has gone to the city and not returned? How long has she been gone?”

    “It’s not certain she has left the palace,” Roberto replied. “Until we have verified that, I would rather not speculate about anything else.”

    The dowager’s hand tightened its grasp on Roberto’s hand with surprising strength. “You find her, and bring her back to me. She is like a daughter to me, and I want to see her safe.”

    Releasing his hand, the dowager settled back on the lounge. “You may leave, Messere. I am weary.”

    Roberto rose to his feet and gave a courteous bow, aware of all the eyes upon him. He locked eyes with Maria for a moment, and quirked the corner of his mouth. Her own lips tightened in response. Message now sent and received, the palace-major retired from the chamber. Once in the corridor outside the chamber, Roberto stood, shook his head once, and returned to his office.



    Roberto sat behind his desk and reviewed the current ledger of palace expenses. It looked like he was finally going to have to speak to Grand Duke Ferdinando about the expenses being incurred by his grandmother. The dowager duchess was outspending the budget for her maintenance by a noticeable amount. Until recently he had been able to smooth it out by transferring some underspent discretional funds from other accounts, but those were gone. The duke was going to have to either authorize some significant changes to the budget and accounts, or he was going to have to rein in his grandmother. Either way, Roberto wasn’t looking forward to the conversation.

    Footsteps sounded in the outer room. “The capitano in?” Roberto heard addressed to the clerk outside his office. Paolo was obviously back from his errand.

    “In here,” he called out. He looked up from the ledger as his attendant entered the room. “Well? Tell me you have good news.”

    “I could tell you that,” Paolo said, taking his plumed hat off and lodging it on a peg in the wall near the door, “but I’d be lying.”

    “Merda,” Roberto muttered.

    “That and more,” Paolo agreed.

    “So what is the news?”



    “Margherita Signorini was indeed lodged with the sisters of the convent for a period of time. She was receiving tutoring in several subjects, as well as singing as one of their choir and occasional soloists.”

    Roberto held up a hand. “I know the sisters and their reputation for music. She was that good?”

    “From what I could gather,” Paolo replied, “she was. Not surprising, perhaps, when you consider whose child she is.” Roberto waved his hand to continue. “Maestra Caccini would visit the convent often to provide lessons to the lay students and the younger sisters, and she would always spend time with her daughter when she did. But about six weeks ago, she withdrew her daughter from the convent and took her away. No one there knew why it was done or where she was taken. The abbess was actually somewhat unhappy that that had been done, I think because she had hoped to convince the girl she had a vocation.”

    “Six weeks ago,” Roberto mused. “One wonders what might have occurred about then or right before the time that would have brought the Maestra to the point of leaving Firenze.”

    “You are sure she has left the city?”

    “Oh, yes,” Roberto said. “If this had only been about leaving the court, there were other ways to go about it. Not least of which would have been joining the convent herself. No, something occurred that pushed La Cecchina to abandon everything she knew. I wish we knew where her daughter went. That would help us track them down.”

    More footsteps sounded, and Alessandro and Cesare appeared in the doorway together. Cesare’s face was grim, but Alessandro had a small smile on his face. Roberto pointed at that smile, and said, “Tell me what you’ve found.”

    “Well, I found the maid servant who usually cleans and straightens Maestra Caccini’s chamber,” Alessandro began. “She looked over the contents of the wardrobe, and stated that it looks to her like all of the Maestra’s court dresses and shoes were there. She didn’t know about any plain clothing, but she did say that there were two pair of outdoor shoes that had been there before that aren’t there now.”

    “Confirmation of that much, at least,” Paolo muttered. Roberto waved him silent and pointed at Alessandro again.

    “She also was shocked at the state of the outer room. She said that every time she had been there before there were pages and pages of music scattered around, and that the Maestra had cautioned her to leave the music wherever it was, even if it was on the floor, if she valued her life. The sight of the straightness of the chamber almost caused her to faint. She definitely paled, and I had to assure her that she had nothing to do with it, and if the Maestra were to lodge a complaint against her, I would defend her. She was almost pitiably thankful after that.”

    “Anything else?”

    Alessandro’s smile widened a bit. “I took young Antonio with me, and he made a discovery. He examined all the paper and parchment in the boxes, and as you might expect, none of them had any writing on them. He did, however, discover a piece that had been below another piece of paper that had been written on, and he was able to find this.”

    He withdrew a folded piece of paper from inside his jerkin and handed it across the desk to Roberto. The palace-major unfolded it and laid it out on the desktop. At first glance, it looked like nothing but a smear of charcoal on the paper, but as Roberto studied it he began to perceive the faint traces of symbols. He looked up at Alessandro.

    “Antonio apparently had a sideline in learning how to send invisible messages while he was in school,” Alessandro said. “And one of the simplest ways is to simply stack two pieces of paper, then write on the top one with a pen or pencil or stylus, pressing hard enough to leave faint indentations on the second sheet. Once received, you rub the sheet with charcoal, and behold!” He waved at the page.

    Roberto looked at the page again, and this time could follow the chain of symbols well enough to determine:

    F ? F ? B ? M ? M ? C ? B

    “But what is it?” he muttered.

    The smile slipped from Alessandro’s face. “I don’t have the faintest idea. Do you?” He looked at the other two men in the room.

    Roberto spun the page and pushed it toward the edge of the desk for them to view it. Cesare shook his head after a few moments. Paolo, however, stood with creased brow for a moment, then turned without a word and walked over to a large cabinet against the side wall, rummaged around inside of it, and pulled out a roll of parchment, which he brought over to the desk. Roberto rescued the piece of paper just before Paolo plopped the parchment down on the desk and untied its ribbon to unroll it.

    The parchment turned out to be a map, one of Italy north of Roma. Paolo spun the map to make it orient to Roberto’s eyes, then plucked the paper out of his hand and laid it on top of the map. His blunt square-tipped forefinger stabbed the map.

    “Firenze,” he said, “being F. To Fiesole, another F.” His finger traced that line. “To Bologna.” His finger traced farther. “To Modena…”

    “To Mantova,” Roberto interjected as Paulo’s finger moved again.

    “To Cremona,” Alessandro added, making the next jump as the finger continued to move. “But where’s the B?”

    They all looked at the map, until Paolo’s finger stopped moving. “Here.”

    “Where’s here?” Cesare demanded. “I can’t read that scrawl.”

    Alessandro leaned over to peer at the map closely. “Brescia? That’s the B?”

    “Has to be,” Paolo said. “There’s not another town with a B name anywhere close to that line.”

    Roberto picked up the paper and angled it around in the light. “There are no other letters. Why would she go to Brescia? I could understand Milano. I could understand Venezia, definitely, although I would have gone via the Ferraro road for that. I could even understand Genoa, although I think that’s too close for her purposes. But Brescia? Why Brescia? That’s almost in the mountains, for the Heavens’ sake.”

    There was a long moment of silence, then Paolo said, “Look beyond Brescia, Capitano. It is but the gateway, I would wager.”

    “The Swiss? The Austrians? Why would the Maestra go to them?”

    “No, Capitano. The Germanies.”

    “She is a good Catholic,” Alessandro remonstrated. “She would not go to the Swede. She would not join with the Protestants.”

    “Gustavus Adolphus is not the only power in the north these days,” Paolo said.

    Roberto looked at the map, and imagined what lay north of the Alps and the Swiss cantons. “Grantville,” he said slowly. “You think she means to go there.”

    “The only reason for one like her to go that direction,” Paolo said. “To the northeast or northwest there are other large cities to provide refuge, but to go to Brescia…there is nothing north of there in Italy for her. So…”

    Roberto considered his attendant’s words. He and Paolo had worked together for years, and he trusted the other man’s knowledge of both strategy and tactics and how people worked. It certainly made sense. They still didn’t know the why, mind you, but the what and the where seemed to be pulling together.


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