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Authors: Aidan Harte

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BOOK: Irenicon
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CHAPTER 50

Sofia was close enough to the water now to hear the last gasps of prisoners as their cells went under. And she was close enough to see that the surface was alive with buio driven mad by the vortex of churning water. All Nature was imprisoned here.

Sometimes the rotation took Levi’s cell far away, but often they were near enough to talk. Levi was noticeably less animated than when he had arrived—and thinner too, though that hadn’t seemed possible. While she was fed daily, Levi was stoically suffering starvation and the lottery of the blue light.

After one of the historian’s morning visits, Levi asked, “Are you really that interested in his book?”

“I’m defenseless, and he’s a frustrated sadist who loves the sound of his voice. The longer I keep him happy, the longer I stay alive. Hungry?” She threw him the loaf she’d kept from her breakfast. “Catch!”

“Damn, I thought you’d woven a rope from your hair.”

“I’ll work on it. So what
is
your five-year plan, Levi?”

“It’s more of a target really: me, captain of my own company, and enough gold to take a bath in.”

“Well, good luck with that. Listen, I was thinking about Tagliacozzo. You
were
betrayed.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I was here when the battle took place, but what you described was familiar. Levi, I saw the plans in the engine room when the Apprentices questioned me. They knew your strategy before the battle.”

“Madonna!”
said Levi, and went back to eating.

“What, that’s it? Doesn’t it make you burn for revenge?”

“I want to live. Revenge won’t fill my belly.”

“You’d make a lousy Rasenneisi.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, Contessa.”

That night the collective tension was churned into frenzy until the pit resounded with mad cries. Sofia woke with water dropping on her face. She went to the door and peered out: another revolution and they would be under the water.

“Levi, are you awake?”

There was no answer, just an echo, answered by the moans and creaking of the pit. He might be dead already, and she would have done nothing to help him. Sofia looked up in desperation as the coffin descended for what might very well be the last time.

CHAPTER 51

The tale rehearsed thus far is well known,
29
but the present Author’s privileged access to State Archives has allowed him to uncover a more disconcerting narrative. Close reading of Bernoulli’s notes from the period before the Guild’s formation show that even as he planned his bridge, even as he sketched the
Discourses,
he secretly researched another subject: Miracles.

If it seems ironic to the Reader that the tyranny of priests was overthrown by one so devout, he will do well to remember that Natural Philosophy was not as rigidly defined then as now
30
if
we acclaim Bernoulli as the first Modern, we must remember he hailed from a medieval world as distant from ours as the Etruscan was to his. If we never learn why such a mind entertained such fantasy (indeed, there may be no explanation), his real achievements must always stay our censure.

Young Bernoulli wasted months researching esoteric subjects we have today dismissed as the grossest superstition. Regretfully, only a summary is possible.
31
He believed that the myths of Virgin birth
32
and Transubstantiation
33
were linked in more than a Scriptural sense. His ambition, it appears, was to give them some mathematical explanation.

Bernoulli abandoned these blind alleys from the tumult of the Thirties through the repeated crises of the Forties, but the reprieve was temporary. In the early Fifties the Molè’s final ascent mirrored its architect’s descent into senility, an unraveling that began soon after he began dissecting pseudonaiades by means electrical. Perhaps he pried out other secrets with their liquid anatomy. More likely he was already mad.

While the Molè occupied his days, the Etruscan Scriptures
34
consumed his nights. He reread their so-called
Books of Fate
, and,
coming to believe the old story that our ancestors had successfully predicted the hour of their Empire’s collapse, he sought to fix the date of Concord’s.
35

The present Author takes no pride revealing the pathetic last chapters of Bernoulli’s life nor does he believe that these revelations diminish our great debt to him.
36
That his secret half was unknown till now is some small reassurance that however deep this madness went, it never impinged upon his real duty. The Curia was unworthy to govern because it allowed itself to be governed by superstition, but Bernoulli suppressed that irrationality, and, rising above it, he showed his true worth.

It is the most signal victory of an uncommon life: before he conquered the World, Bernoulli conquered his soul. Reader, pass on in respectful silence. Who but genius knows the dark countries genius must traverse?

CHAPTER 52

Tremellius finished with a sigh that contained years. “The end.”

Sofia leaped to her cell window with wide-eyed interest. “It can’t be! What happened next?”

“You can stop now—the act. It’s the end for you, Contessa. Not my book—that’ll never be finished. I know what you’ve been doing these last few weeks. I know how wretched it is to live without hope.”

Sofia’s smile faded.

“And I know I’m just a slave with useful talents—nobody studies the Humanities these days. This place feeds on hope. Call me sentimental, but I wanted to deny it yours.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s stolen mine. Because you are the last Contessa of Rasenna. Because blood matters.”

“You don’t believe anything you write, do you?” she said sadly.

“Of course not!” Tremellius shouted. “It’s not History, it’s a creation myth—it’s all obfuscation and mystery when really it couldn’t be simpler: an exceptional generation of engineers sought a king. One got lucky—King Bernoulli, though of course none may call him such. The engineers insist that they came to liberate, that our religion and aristocracy were shackles. Well, maybe they were, but they just took our place! I write this story and weave a pattern into it, confidently explain the reasons why this followed that, but nobody really knows how we were made small. A power came into the world and swept us all away. My family were gonfalonieres! I know what we lost.” His voice tailed off. “I just don’t know how.”

“You have to help me!” Sofa cried. “I need more time.”

“Dear child, I’m just a noble—nobody listens to me.” He sighed and composed himself. “Best that you’re weak when the end comes.”

“What are you doing?” she screamed. “No, don’t—!”

He pulled the lever calmly, and blue light flooded her cell. Sofia fell and her head hit the ground, and the sound it made was
TAP
.

Her body sank into the cold water like the star falling. All the pain, the anger, she left them behind on the surface. Behind the darkness was the infinity of what might have been and might yet be.

But first she had to face the Darkness—or go back to the cell, to the drip, to a slow death. No. She swore that she’d drown before that. She swam
down
.

Fear, the Dark Ancient, boiled furiously, a black sun being born. A tentacle shot out of the darkness and another. It pulled her in. She didn’t fight it. She prayed:

Madonna, be my shepherd.

And suddenly it was the moment before dawn, an electric hum in the air; nothing was different, but everything had changed completely. The tentacles loosened, the Darkness fled. And then there was
light
.

And Sofia beheld Her: the Handmaid, adrift in timeless space, incubating salvation as She waited patiently. Then Sofia heard an insistent sound like becalmed thunder. A heart fiercely
beating—Her sacred heart!—beating in the darkness most silent and terrible, waiting to synchronize with History’s slow pulse once more. Then eyes that were old as the stars opened and beheld Sofia at last. Heaven roared in joy, but the world did not hear it. The voice that spoke was kind and whispered not in words but in music.

Do not be afraid. Years beyond counting, I waited for you. I see you now.

“I’m nothing!”

No, you are strong enough to break through fear, strong enough for what lies ahead.

“I’m not ready!”

Lies and all your fear, all your grief.

Giovanni fell again, slowly tumbling into nothing, into the black water.

Sofia closed her eyes to block out the vision, and when she realized she saw it still, she knew that She too saw. Those eyes that had looked upon the most terrible grief now looked on hers. A rumble then, like a storm brewing in the distance, and once more She spoke:

Changed but stronger, it will return.

“I’m not strong like you.”

I am not strong. Only my love was strong. That is what sustained me then, sustains me now, and no other power but Love can sustain you in the coming darkness. Only Love.

Love
.

Sofia opened her eyes. The next drop fell, but it did not land. She had it now. Control did not feel like something she had
learned
, it felt like something
recalled
.

Tremellius talked on, obliviously. “The Heavens revolved around us until King Bernoulli taught us there’s no scheme to History, no Music around the Spheres, only a bloody vacuum. Man’s triumphs and failures, his laws, his crimes, they’re nothing but dust—just stories for children. God’s breath does not warm us, nor inspire men to prophesy, nor virgins to conceive.”

Tap.

The water didn’t drop because it had to. It dropped because Sofia let it. She focused on the next drop and instead of catching it made it change direction. It splashed against the door.

Tap.

“If there is no pattern, there are no constraints. We’re free of Commandments. Free of God.
Madonna
help us, we’re
free
.”

Anger rose up, but she didn’t release it. She let the drop hang in space as another fell into it, and another, until it was trembling under the growing weight . . . just a few seconds more . . .

She grabbed the banner she’d used as a pillow.

Tremellius sighed again and made his way back to the coffin. “Farewell, Contessa. Dream golden dreams.”

It blasted through the window and out across the void, and Sofia dived though the gap, rolling as she landed on the walkway.

Levi woke to see the fist-size hole blasted in his door.

“Ungrateful
troia
, get back in your box!” Tremellius screamed.

Feeble as they were, Sofia couldn’t block his kicks.

“After all I’ve done for you, you’ll get me in trouble! I should drown you right here!”

Water had pushed back, and Sofia could hardly move her arms, let alone fight. As she fell back on the walkway, her hand touched the lake surface. Seeing how weak she was, Tremellius was emboldened to catch her in a choke hold, using his weight to push her head down. She saw buio rising from the depths toward her.

Suddenly, Tremellius slumped over. Behind him stood Levi, brandishing the window bar from his cell. He pulled her up as the buio lunged.

“Thanks,” she coughed.

“Thank
you
, Contessa! Technically, this is your breakout.”

“I thought you were dead.”

“Takes more than a few days’ fast to kill me. I’ve endured army food.” He laughed.

A metallic groan heralded a new revolution of the pit.

“Help me!” Sofia shouted, and together they dragged Tremellius into the coffin with them.

“Didn’t he just try to kill you?” said Levi conversationally.

“He kept me alive first. Besides, we might need help up there.”

“It’s going to be awfully tight. How do you make this thing go up?”

“I don’t know; someone up there always operated it. Wake him up!”

“I shouldn’t have hit him so hard,” Levi lamented. “There’s got to be a button!”

“Is it this?”

“How the hell do I know? Just hit it!”

The coffin stopped in front of the second colossus. Levi jumped out, ready to fight, but the great hall was empty. The darkness was barely dented by scattered candles and the last faint rose glow of sunset spilling in misty wisps through the open doorway.

Sofia looked up at the statue, wondering if it was the original or the shadow. Whichever it was, there was something about it that made her heart glow despite the circumstances.

“Getting dark. Well, that’s lucky.” Levi was talking to himself nervously as he looked around for another weapon.

She walked toward the base of the colossus until she was standing in front of the carved letters, each a braccia tall:
Although changed, I shall arise the same
.

She realized suddenly
why
the angel’s smile was comforting; the statue’s idealized portrait was familiar. Horribly familiar.

She went to the coffin and dragged Tremellius to his feet. He was groggy but conscious.

“The statue,” she demanded. “Who is it?”

“The angel?” he said dazedly, trying to keep up, “T—that is Saint Michael triumphant, he who cast out the Serpent. An allegory of the Re-Formation, I suppose. The artist was, let me see—”

“Whose
face
does it have?”

“Oh, I see; well, naturally the portrait is he who cast out Superstition.”

It hit her like a blow. Choking back tears, she asked, “What was Giovanni’s surname?”

“Oh, no need to be coy with me, Contessa. I’m not an Apprentice.”

“What was it?” she screamed.

“Bernoulli—”

Sofia pushed him against the glass. “You lying
cazzo
!”

“Giovanni was his grandson—I can prove it,” he gurgled.

“The darkness will help, but we need some kind of distraction,” Levi said, prying an antique sword from the wall, oblivious to what was happening in the coffin. He turned to see Sofia getting back into the coffin. “Hey! Where are you going?” Tremellius was still with her.

“I have to see something. I’ll be back,” she promised, and before Levi could protest, the coffin door hissed shut.

“If you’re not back in five, I’m leaving!”

Tremellius led the way from the coffin to his desk between the towering stacks of books, babbling nervously. “I just
assumed
he would have told you—it’s only natural to be proud of
that
lineage. But having proved himself unworthy, perhaps it was natural to be ashamed—”

This last finally penetrated Sofia’s stupor, and she mumbled, “It’s certainly a name to be ashamed of.”

“Well, you are not Concordian,” he said reasonably. He pushed some heavy volumes out of the way and fished out a scroll. “Look, this is Girolamo Bernoulli’s family tree.”

“What about those stories of him floating down the river?” Sofia said as she took it from him.

His fat little fingers scrambled for a paper cutter under the books. “Oh, more nonsense: the Bernoullis were just common masons. He
appeared
to come from nowhere because Small People
were
invisible to the Curia.”

Seeing her staring at the family tree, totally absorbed, he lunged.

Almost without looking up Sofia caught his wrist, took the knife away, and slapped him hard across the face.
“Don’t.”

As he raised his hand to his cheek, she said, as if nothing had happened, “He proved unworthy, you said.”

“At first, he
did
live up to expectations,” he gibbered. “This was a boy expected to be the youngest First Apprentice ever. He had his grandfather’s intelligence, and not just that, he had his ambition and ferocity too—it was he who revealed his father’s plot.”

“No!” she cried. “Giovanni wasn’t a traitor!”

“Technically, Jacopo Bernoulli was the traitor. But yes, the Giovanni you knew was very different. Something went wrong in his third year at the Guild Halls.”

Sofia looked at the scroll. The tree narrowed to Girolamo Bernoulli, his son Jacopo, and his grandson Giovanni. The truth had been staring her in the face all along.

Tremellius’s eyes darted to the waiting coffin—this might be his last opportunity. He leaped up.

She slammed the knife into his hand.

“Ahhhh! Ah ah ahhh!”

“What went wrong?”

He squealed, “I don’t know! No one does. He was—how to put it?—
active
at Gubbio.” He glanced timidly at Sofia’s face. “In the aftermath of the Wave he was engaged in fieldwork with the pseudonaiades, continuing his grandfather’s research. All was going well until he was attacked by one, or so he said. Most people just thought he lost his nerve—burnout’s common among young engineers—but whatever happened, he returned to Concord different, though at first he seemed just the same. Before, well, everyone knows about Gubbio—he had no qualms, he was willing to do
anything
, but when he came back—”

Tremellius wiped sweat from his brow. “Dissection’s nasty work by all accounts, and I can see that most people don’t have the stomach for it, but with his lineage—and after such a promising start—you can imagine the disappointment. Gradually the Apprentices lost confidence in him, and interest, until the, um, incident that brought you here. The last chapter, you know, a disappointing career ending in the disgrace of mutiny.”

Sofia cocked her head to the ceiling. “Why did they care if he’d told me his name?”

“Hard to say. The current First Apprentice has taken a rather mystical turn. He’s convinced that the second meeting of Scaligeri and Bernoulli was more than coincidence. I assume he wanted to know if Giovanni was simply a traitor like his father or if it was more than that.

“Certain secrets are not written in books, Contessa, but whispered over the years. The First Apprentice believes that a new age is dawning. More than that I cannot say.”

Sofia twisted the knife handle.


Ahhh!
I can’t say because I don’t
know
! That’s all I know, I
swear
!” He looked shifty for a moment. “Why do you
care
, Contessa? The boy’s dead; his history’s of no consequence. All that lives of Bernoulli is this temple.”

“I loved him,” Sofia said more to herself than to the historian.

“You—
aha ha
—”

She could feel it even as she stood there: the Darkness was regenerating, more powerfully this time. Anger is stronger meat than grief. She was angry at herself, angry at the nun for keeping the truth from her, but most of all angry at
him
—she would not say his name—angry for making her love him, for making her grieve him.

She held the paper to the candle.

“What are you doing?”

“Blood matters,” she whispered as she walked back to the coffin, dragging the burning scroll behind her.

The historian watched as scraps of paper lit up in her wake. He tentatively touched the dagger’s handle, but the pain was too great. As the hungry flames climbed the bookshelves, as the towers tumbled, he wept.

Levi breathed a sigh of relief as the star ascended once more.

“We should leave,” he said quickly.

BOOK: Irenicon
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