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This Rough Magic: Chapter Thirty Three

       Last updated: Thursday, October 23, 2003 01:13 EDT



    Benito was left scowling, trying to think if there was any obvious hole in the plan which had now been laid squarely at his door. He was scowling too at Manfred's reference to his parentage.

    "I think that went off rather well," said Francesca to him, smiling. "So why do you look so unhappy, Benito?"

    As if he was going to tell her. "Oh. Nothing."

    She looked quizzically at him. "It was that reference to your blood, wasn't it?"

    "It's not exactly my favorite point of public knowledge," he said grumpily.

    She patted him on the arm. "Benito, it is public knowledge. And Manfred needed to mention the fact that you are descended from not one, but two of the greatest strategists of the age to prevent any doubt."

    "That doesn't mean I inherited anything from either of them," he pointed out, still irritated. But his irritation was fading fast. It was impossible to stay out-of-temper around Francesca, particularly when she was exerting herself to be charming. Maybe she was a little old for him, but... on the other hand, older women were.. He forced his mind away from that line of thought.

    Francesca nodded. "Benito, whether or not you have inherited your strategic sense, nevertheless, you have it—and if it's suggested that you inherited it from the Fox and the Wolf both, people will accept it as genius and be willing to act on it instead of thinking you're just an impudent boy."

    Benito sighed. Well, that much, he could accept. "But Manfred's a commander-"

    "Manfred is neither a seaman nor a Venetian. He isn't even Italian. Had this scheme been put forward as his idea, the seamen might have refused. They trust you and they trust that reputation."

    "Von Gherens could have severed a few heads," said Benito, though he didn't really mean it. Well, maybe he did.

    She shook her head. "Manfred, and especially Erik, are well aware that it would not have helped. You can threaten a weak-kneed captain that way, but not entire crews. Knights are not seamen. If the seamen thought what was being proposed was suicide—a hundred Von Gherens wouldn't have stopped them. De Castres, Bortaliscono, and Douro are not cowards, even if Capitano Selvi is."

    "I suppose so. But tell him I wish he hadn't done it."

    Francesca dimpled. "He knows that. Just because Manfred is big, people think he doesn't notice things. Besides," she pecked Benito on the cheek. "It wasn't his idea. I told him to do it. I apologize. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't thought it necessary. But I think you let it worry you too much."

    "Being illegitimate is not important, is it?" he asked sourly.

    She raised an eyebrow. "Was it important when you were staying alive by your wits on the canals of Venice?"

    He shrugged. "Not really, I suppose. Half the canal-side brats and bridge boys didn't know who their fathers were."

    "So it was one of the Casa Vecchie who mocked you about it?"

    "Caesare did," admitted Benito. "Back after I went to live at Casa Dorma."

    Francesca gave a little snort of laughter. "And you are letting the opinion of such a one as Caesare worry you? A liar, a spy, a breaker of every oath he ever made, who was for sale to anyone who had the money? He was a bigger whore than ever I was—at least I always keep my promises."

    Benito acknowledged a hit. "I hadn't thought of it that way."

    She smiled. "It's all right, Benito. You may be of the bloodline of the strategists of the age, but I am a woman and therefore infinitely more perceptive. And now I'd better go and correct Manfred's spelling. For someone of royal blood he is near to illiterate. Mind, you should see his Uncle Charles Fredrik's handwriting! The Emperor normally has a scribe, but anything he considers confidential or really important he insists on writing himself."

    As she left, Eberhard of Brunswick came across from the other side of the table, and clapped him on the shoulder. "I hope this complicated plan of yours works, boy. I don't actually like complicated plans. Too much can go wrong when the actual fighting starts."

    Benito nodded. "I don't like plans where things have to be well coordinated or rely on something else happening right or exactly on time either. Um. In my mis-spent youth, Milord, I was involved with a thief who worked like that. It got him killed. Caesare Aldanto also liked multi-faceted, multi-pronged plans." Benito cleared his throat. "I admired him, Milord. I did understand that often his plans only worked because he was very good at what he was doing, and he changed his plans as he went along. He also didn't mind who else got killed or hurt, as long as he was all right."

    The old man smiled wryly. "I've dealt with commanders like that when I was a soldier. I've dealt with kings and chieftains like that, as a statesman. If they must go down they'll pull everyone and everything down with them, but they'll sacrifice anyone and anything to keep from going down themselves."

    "Well, yes. Except most complicated plans rely on other people. And if the word gets around they can't rely on you, your reputation is ruined. People need to know they can trust you to be where you said you'd be, and do what you said you'd do, before they'll even consider taking part in complicated plans."

    "Which is why you wish to be seen as reliable?"

    Benito blinked. "Actually, I hadn't thought of that. What I meant is: these people don't really know me. So: this plan doesn't rely on other people. It might be crazy... but it is dead simple, really. It doesn't rely on others having done something. It's just a simple sequence of events."

    Eberhard laughed. "Events that just wouldn't occur to most commanders."

    Benito smirked. "I've found plans work best when the enemy isn't expecting them."

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