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Authors: Aidan Harte

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BOOK: Irenicon
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“Look, back there, I—” she began.

“That’s all right. What’s your name?” he said.

Sofia had hoped for anger so that she could respond in kind. Why did a Concordian care what a Rasenneisi was called?

“Honestly, I wouldn’t have let it hurt you.”

“But you object to someone else preventing it?”

She gamely tried to take offense. “Well, you’ve got a nerve, walking around Rasenna without permission, unannounced.”

Giovanni wondered how to respond politely. “But I have permission—that’s why they opened the gates to me. And I have been announced, so I understand. Your Signoria has been informed of my mission: I’m the engineer.”

“And I’m the Contessa. What mission?” She said it coolly, though she was fuming: yet another instance of the Doc’s secrecy.

“The bridge?” said Giovanni uncertainly.

“There’s no bridge in Rasenna.”

“Not yet there isn’t. I’m here to build one.”

She stopped walking and for the first time really saw the engineer’s uniform. “You’re going to bridge the Irenicon?”

“For Rasenna.”

“Let me get this straight: Concord sent you to bridge the river Concord itself sent twenty years ago? For
Rasenna
? Don’t be patronizing—Concord needs a bridge, and Rasenna happens to be where you need it.”

If she’d been looking for a reason to be offended, Giovanni saw she’d found it. Her reaction didn’t bode well for his mission. “My brief’s very limited,” he said. “They don’t tell me why, they just tell me
what
.”

“I’m wondering how you intend to build this bridge without getting yourself and a whole lot of Rasenneisi killed. You had better talk to my guardian.”

“I’m supposed to report to your Signoria first.”

“My guardian is Doc Bardini. Is he in your brief? If he isn’t, they left out something important.”

“General Luparelli mentioned him. Is he the gonfaloniere?”

“No, but he’s part of the Signoria. If you’re trying to get something done, you need him onside. Better idea than chasing buio into our streets.”

She sounded determined to pick a fight; was it personal or simply that he was Concordian? He attempted to change the subject. “What happened to your arm?”

“None of your business.”

The buio had stopped at the river, simultaneously drawn and repelled. The Reverend Mother was trying to coax it.

“Excuse me, Contessa. I need to tell her what’s stopping it.”

“I’m not stopping you,” said Sofia, twirling her banner casually.

Giovanni introduced himself to the nun and, after thanking her, tried to explain what was keeping the buio from the river. “The signal’s too strong at this point,” he said, gesturing at the crystal rod. “If you lead the creature away a few braccia, it falls off in strength.”

As Giovanni spoke, the Reverend Mother was studying him with interest. He could only guess that she had not seen many Concordians in her cloistered life. Stranger, though the buio was just a faceless column, he got the disquieting sense that it too was interested in him.

The nun thanked him and led the buio away.

Sofia walked over. “Looks like you made an impression on the buio, Concord. Must be attracted to cold blood.”

“Signorina, my name is Giovanni. Have I done something to offend you?”

“Let me think—oh, wherever did that river come from? That’s
inconvenient
. Never mind; I’m sure they’ll bridge it presently. I’ll just wait twenty years or so.”

“I’m just an engineer—”

“And who sent the Wave? The Cobblers’ Guild?”

“I wasn’t even born then!”

“Neither were you, Contessa,” the nun interrupted. “Don’t confuse blood with water under the bridge. He tried to save your life, didn’t he?”

“Bit generous, but I suppose you could say that,” Sofia said evenly. “Who asked for your advice anyway? Not me.”

“Not yet. But the offer stands.”

Sofia laughed hollowly.

The nun shrugged, and Sofia watched her, scowling, as she walked away. When she finally turned around, Giovanni’s attention was on the far side of the river and the boy standing there.

Pedro was red-faced and out of breath; he had run back to the riverbank after seeing Fabbro Bombelli safely home. He didn’t need his magnifier to know that the engineer could see him too: the foreigner was shouting and waving at him.

“I thought engineers were supposed to be smart. He can’t hear you,” Sofia said.

“I just want his attention.” Giovanni took from his bag a bundled rope and another metallic contraption, a cone with two thin scallop shapes and a spring grip, like praying hands, on opposite sides. Completing the resemblance to a toy angel, it had a golden sheen and was crowned by a small hoop.

“Well, I should be going,” Sofia said very casually.

He didn’t look up. “Good-bye, Contessa.”

He unrolled the scroll he had been jotting measurements in all morning and tore off a corner to scribble on. He pried the angel’s “hands” apart and placed the note in between.

Sofia studied the stranger as he worked, reminding herself that this was the real enemy. He might be a clumsy climber, but his thick fingers were dexterous and efficient. The Concordians they trained in the workshops were soft sons of soft fathers, but the engineers were a different breed. They had not inherited their authority; they had taken it.

When Giovanni glanced up, she was still standing there. He held out the rope. “Want to help?”

“Not unless you tell me what you’re doing.”

“Making a temporary rope bridge. How else am I going to get across to the Signoria?”

“The Midnight Road, of course.”

“Excuse me?”

“The ruins of the old town wall. Enough still stands to jump across.”

Giovanni looked down at his measurements. “Sounds like the long way around.” He was looking at her again. “Will you help me?”

Sofia was surprised. Rasenneisi made do, and Concordians took what they needed.
Nobody
asked for help. She took the rope and slowly knotted it around the broken statue’s base while Giovanni skillfully tied the other end to the angel’s bottom half.

After consulting his notes on the river’s breadth he began winding the halo. “Tied off?” he asked.

“Madonna, wait!” she said, then, “All right, now.”

The angel shot up into the air, and she laughed despite herself.

As the contraption hovered across the river, Pedro laughed too. He’d heard descriptions of mechanical carrier pigeons—
annunciators
, they called them—but he’d never imagined he’d get to see one.

Suddenly his smile vanished. He looked around. If he could see it, so could other southsiders, and Virgin help anyone the Morello saw associating with civilians or, worse, northsiders. But it was early yet, and no one else was around. Most people avoided the river anyway, preferring to imagine it—and Rasenna’s other half—did not exist. He knew his father would warn him to avoid entanglements with strangers, but he
had
to know how the contraption worked.

As it passed the halfway point, the wings’ rhythm slowed and it started to descend. It was going to undershoot. Bracing himself on the remains of a wall, Pedro caught it before it fell into the water.

The note was written in a small precise hand.
Please help,
it said.
Tie rope off, rotate halo 25 times, face north & release. GB

“What’s he doing?” said Giovanni.

Sofia squinted. “Did you think flags were just weapons? He’s signaling. It’s how we primitives communicate between towers.”

Giovanni ignored the sarcasm. “You can read it?”

“Of course. He says, ‘Why should I?’ Cheeky little—”

Giovanni brightened. “Can you answer for me?”

“And say what?”

“Tell him I want to build a bridge.”

Sofia waved the message and read the reply: “‘Is that an order?’” She laughed and explained with a shrug, “Southsiders . . .”

Giovanni frowned, attempting to employ the logic he’d studied for so long. He knew he had authority to give orders—all Etruria had learned to fear Concord and thus to comply with its agents. He didn’t know if the Contessa was a typical Rasenneisi—she didn’t seem a typical anything—but she was not being in the least cooperative. It would be illogical if the towns that had suffered most were the least afraid, yet. Giovanni just
knew
that the boy would balk at an order, and that wasn’t logical either.

“Tell him I’d consider it a favor.”

She chuckled skeptically as she signaled back.

After a moment, she said, “Well, fancy that! In return, he wants to know how the angel works.”

“Tell him it’s a deal.”

Sofia relayed the message, then said, “I’ve got to go tell the Doc what’s up. There’s an emergency Signoria meeting this evening. Guess you’re the emergency.”

He smiled. “This should be ready when you return.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“Trust me,” he said.

Typical Concordian presumption . . . Strangely, she did.

CHAPTER 7

Girolamo Bernoulli’s origins are, inevitably, surrounded by the clutter of legend. None dared broach the subject after the Re-Formation, and he never discussed them. The folktales agree with each other as rarely as they match the historical record, and that occasional scholar courageous enough to eschew hagiography’s siren song is obliged to discard these several picturesque versions.
2

The Engineers emerged in the last decades of the thirteenth century from a controversy soon forgotten,
3
and the stage was
clear for an actor of genius. The innocent lad we meet in the early thirteen twenties, dazzling the Curia’s preeminent Natural Philosophers with his mathematical gifts, is all but unrecognizable. While the man was solitary and secretive, the boy was noted for his friendships with the great theological and philosophical minds of the day. He cultivated many masters.
4

CHAPTER 8

Before the Wave overturned Rasenna, the city was already upside down, its poor packed into high towers looking down on the nobility in their thick-walled palazzi. There was one exception, in the heart of old Rasenna, where the palazzi clustered around Tower Scaligeri like worshippers praying to an idol. The family name derived from the dizzying stairway to the tower’s only entrance on its uppermost floor.

The Morello family grew up on the southern periphery of the center of power. They were the Bardini’s only real rivals in
Art Banderia
, but they were ambitious to be more than mere soldiers, and on the back of their growing wealth they gilded the scales of their Dragon crest and descended from their towers to a palazzo more suited to their rising status. Their abandoned towers went to poorer cousins, bodyguards for the new palazzo, betraying an insecurity that names of longer standing and surer footing had outgrown.

This was obvious to those Rasenneisi who remembered life before the Wave, but there were few of those left. To everyone else, Palazzo Morello was simply the finest building in Rasenna, and Lord Morello the city’s first citizen—excepting, of course, the Contessa, the last of the Scaligeri.

Gaetano Morello was a broad-shouldered youth combining strength with restless agility, as balanced as a good sword should be. So why did he never feel sure of his footing in his father’s study? It was a refined, high-ceilinged chamber of wood with too much varnish lined with scrolls with too much ink, and he hated it.

Gaetano knew his father was waiting for him to go. The old man’s jealous fingers were fondling the seal on his ring, fearful even of those of his own blood. Gaetano did not shout or pound the desk with his fist. He did something more foolish: he attempted reason. “Say what you must in the Signoria, it doesn’t matter anyway, but afterward we should make terms,” he said quietly.

“What for?”

Gaetano groaned and put his hands on his head, which was shaven, like every bandieratoro’s. He was still beardless, and his dark brows framed gentle, sincere, and now pleading eyes. “If we stop now, we can consolidate. If we keep pushing, Doc will push back.”

The very martial qualities that made Gaetano a leader on the streets as well as in the workshop somehow disqualified him from being taken seriously in his father’s study. Ordinarily, he didn’t care—he’d never envied Valentino’s influence—but now, when their father’s unrealistic ambition was making more bloodshed inevitable, he wished for just a portion of his brother’s glib verbal facility.

Quintus Morello pushed back his chair with a beleaguered air, retreated to the window, and sighed. “I miss Valentino, don’t you?”

Valentino’s mischievous counsel would only acerbate their problems, but suggesting that would be a complete waste of time. “I do, Father. His delay is strange.”

“Stranger still that he hasn’t written to explain.” As usual, Quintus Morello’s attention was fixed on Tower Bardini. The old man was a contradiction. The hair that had once curled up like a tower fire at night was now graying, and just as his pale skin became more wine-blotched, so the expensive gonfaloniere robes had faded to the colors of wilting autumn. But he was still a Morello, descended from fearless bandieratori, and such blood would never be water. He had the bearing of a patrician; his brow was noble, his nose Grecian—but beneath these assets, his face crumpled into skeptical lip and timid chin.

“Gaetano, everywhere I look I see Bardini reversals,” he said. “You say it’s different on the streets, but look! There is the smoke of another burnout, proof writ large that we are winning. What do you see that I cannot?”

“We’re winning because Bardini hasn’t struck back.”

“Because he can’t,” Quintus said blithely.

“Because he’s strong enough to wait!” Gaetano took a breath and regained his composure. “The bridge will let them use that strength. If it goes ahead, we are undone. If you let this become a war, we lose, either way—they beat us, or Concord makes us an example to enforce peace.”

“Perhaps.”

Gaetano watched his arguments running aground against willful blindness. His father had never stooped to study the
Art Banderia
even though it was the means by which the Morello had risen. Gaetano had been taught by an uncle he promptly succeeded as workshop maestro. History had repeated itself in Quintus’s sons: while Gaetano dutifully trained the Morello bandieratori, Valentino pursued politics and power.

That
was the real reason Quintus missed Valentino. Deciding was difficult. It was easier to let his sons fight it out and then choose a middle path.

Quintus lifted his chin and straightened his neck against the tall collar, as he always did when he had to exercise authority. “I will,” he announced with gravity, “see what comes from the meeting.”

Gaetano sighed. This ambiguous commitment was obviously the best he could hope for.

A strangely smiling servant opened the door suddenly, and Quintus became suddenly lordly. “How dare you enter here without knocking?” he barked. “I should have you—” He stopped suddenly. “Why the devil are you grinning, man?”

“Your Lordship’s son has returned!”

“At last!” cried Quintus, and flew past Gaetano to the door.

Draped still in his ambassador’s cloak, Valentino Morello climbed the stairway slowly. In the great hall below, servants and bandieratori alike looked on in disbelief as his father and brother simultaneously backed away. The young man was much changed. His hair, once dark and neatly coiffed, had grown long and wild and was streaked with white. His pallid skin stretched insubstantially over a bruised skeleton.

Quintus strove to fill the uncomfortable silence with babble. “What timing! Arriving the very hour you’re most needed, Valentino. The prospect of victory makes Gaetano nervous. Could you credit it? He counsels me to make peace with the Doctor.”

Valentino ignored Gaetano. “Father, I have seen the future in our enemy’s face. If we do not pacify Rasenna, Concord will do it for us. With fire.”

“I am so glad to have you back!” Quintus exclaimed, drawing his older son into the room. “Gaetano, that will be all.”

As the door slammed behind him, Gaetano felt the small influence he’d built in the last few weeks collapse like a burning tower, but as he walked down the steps to join his bandieratori, he discovered he felt unburdened, not disappointed. He did not belong in that room. Servitude was more congenial for a sword. “Back to your sets!” he shouted, clapping his hands.

Quintus quickly released Valentino from an awkward embrace. “Barely there at all, son. You’ve left the better part behind in Concord!”

“I have just been exhumed.”

Quintus choose to treat this as a joke. “We shall fatten you up as we talk. The Signoria meets in an hour.”

Valentino’s face was ashen like the faces of the damned in the murals of Hell’s torment, though he did not grimace or weep like those doomed souls. His smile was that of one who had retreated from flesh too far to find the way back to the common symmetry.

“I may accompany you?” he asked.

“Of course—you must tell us all of Concord’s answer.”

For an instant Valentino’s courtier smile warped into a bestial snarl before he mastered himself. “I must show you,” he whispered.

BOOK: Irenicon
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