painting was not going
Prince was supposed to be
practicing still lifes under Giacomo’s direction. At the moment, the dish of
pears sat smugly in their ray of warm
light, while on the canvas several amorphous blobs lurked malignantly
in a pool
of dirty yellow.
said the Prince. He
gave Giacomo a
pathetic look. “It’s
not very good, is
it?” he asked pitifully.
isn’t it?” A
note of hope crept into
looked the canvas
over, squinting and tilting his head this way and that.
“I think it’s beyond
fixing,” he agreed
“Hurrah! Scrubbing out!” The Prince snatched up his
largest brush from the easel, ground
it into the palette in order to get the wildest mix of colors possible,
began making large circular strokes, mashing the brush flat against the
this how you would do it
when you were a boy?” he asked after a moment, pausing to
progress. He was a
pale child, and his
cheeks and the tip of his nose had gone pink with excitement.
I would do it like
this,” Giacomo told him, taking the brush and making violent
vertical strokes. “Scrubbing
out” was a treat Giacomo’s father
had permitted him to ease the disappointment of a bad picture, and now
passing it on to the Prince.
me!” shrieked the
Prince, grabbing the brush back and copying Giacomo’s motions. “Take
that!” he cried exultantly.
A vicious jab caused
the easel to go toppling over. There
was a long loud crash, combined with the distinctive high notes of
“Oh.” The Prince surveyed the
damage he had
caused. Giacomo had
jerked him out of
harm’s way as soon as the easel had started to go over. The Prince wriggled in his
me down,” he demanded.
deposited him on the
table, next to the pears. “Don’t
till I clean up the broken glass,” he ordered.
want to help,”
insisted the Prince. “I’m
nine; I don’t
need to be carried around like a baby.
Oh Giaco! I
got paint all over
your tunic!” He
had still been holding
his brush when Giacomo had grabbed him.
doesn’t matter,” Giacomo
assured him. “In
fact, I think it’s
your best work of the day! It
boring tunic. Now
it looks much
Prince’s lower lip
stopped quivering. “Really?”
“Really. I like it much better than
before. And I think
the rug has been improved
immensely, as well.” Pots
of paint and
oil, along with the palette and the still-wet canvas, had converted the
blue rug into a fantastic nightmare of color.
Giacomo could pick up
any of the glass, there was a knock at the door, immediately followed
appearance of the head maid.
caught sight of the mess on the
rug. Her thin
aristocratic nose seemed
to become slightly thinner and more aristocratic.
“Is here,” she finished.
“She wishes to visit Prince Luca
her up,” said Giacomo
promptly. The head
maid gave one last
look at the rug and retreated. The
sound of many ladies making a noisy progression up the spiral staircase
Prince’s tower was becoming menacingly clear.
Giaco!” wailed the
winked at him.
Queen, as was her habit,
burst imperiously into the room and stood framed by the doorway, her
favorites amongst her ladies-in-waiting arranged in a tableau behind
her. Most of them,
Giacomo noticed, were out of
breath from the brisk climb. The
whose lung capacity was legendary, didn’t seem to have
suffered at all, despite
her tightly-laced stays.
here, Luca!” she
ordered. She had
been an accomplished
singer before she had become Queen, and she still had a high ringing
filled whatever space she was currently occupying.
She still also had a singer’s bosom, which also
space it was currently occupying.
liked to crush her children’s faces against said bosom
whenever she embraced
them, possibly as a way of making up for giving them over to wet nurses. The Prince always
complained that she caught
his ears painfully on her stays.
Giacomo knew that lately he had begun to be embarrassed by
faced pressed into such an expanse of bare breast, and had started
avoiding his mother’s caresses whenever possible. And in fact, this time he
said, “Giaco told me to stay on the
queen allowed her gaze to
drop floorwards, to the mess on the rug and Giacomo on one knee beside
“Explain!” Her voice reached such a
pitch that Giacomo
suffered a faint twinge on behalf of the windows.
humbly apologize, Your
Majesty,” he said. “It
was all my
fault. His Highness
had finished his
still life, and I was showing him a defensive move, and I accidentally
into the easel and knocked everything over.”
Queen inhaled sharply,
and then went a little purple in the face as she stifled a coughing fit
on by the strong scent of paint. When
she had recovered herself, she said, “I am seriously
displeased with you! The
Prince has no need to be practicing the
defensive arts: that’s why we keep you.
It is your responsibility to defend
him, with your life if
Prince must study true
art! As the
youngest son, he must grace
the Court like a Master!”
changed from reprimand to interrogation.
“His performance was creditable, I
creditable, for a boy
his age, Your Majesty,” answered Giacomo.
The kindness of fate had caused the canvas to land
have him do the
same study and present it to me,” the Queen commanded. “The delegation
from La Valle del Sole will
be visiting. The
Duco del Sole has been
putting on the most ridiculous airs about his son’s
want to teach him a lesson.”
She gave the floor a look of distaste, and
began backing out the door. “Remember,
Luca, you must be a credit to your father!” she said, and
ladies-in-waiting forming up behind her.
Giacomo noticed that their gowns were the seven basic
colors, and they
lined up according to their place in the color spectrum.
The Prince flung himself off the table.
Only Giacomo’s quick catch saved him from
landing on the broken glass.
you, Giaco, thank you,
thank you, thank you!” the Prince said into
Giacomo’s neck. “You
saved me, Giaco, you saved me!”
He pulled himself away from Giacomo’s
shoulder and sat up on his still-bent knee.
“But what am I going to do about
tomorrow?” he asked despairingly.
“I won’t be able to do a good job of
paint so well,”
said the Prince with breathless admiration.
“Will you do the whole thing?” he
should do at least a
little bit,” Giacomo told him.
“Otherwise you’ll never learn, and
someday you’re going to have to do it
all by yourself.”
Prince sighed in resigned
acceptance, and allowed Giacomo to deposit him back on the table. Giacomo called a maid to
come help clean up
the mess, and listened sympathetically as she wrung her hands and
about the trouble she was going to get into over the ruined rug. He told her to blame
everything on him. Then
it was time for the Prince’s lesson
with the dancing master, and then with the fencing master (by far the
favorite lesson of the day–Giacomo had to wrest the wooden
practice sword from
him by force, enduring several painful swats in the process), and then
suppertime, and then it was bedtime.
be in the next room,
won’t you, Giaco?” the Prince asked anxiously, once
he had been tucked in. Although
he tried to hide it, the Prince was
still a little afraid of the dark, and sometimes even crept into
in the middle of the night.
will later, but right now
I have to go see someone.”
“Whom? Why do you have to see him? Is he someone I
just an old friend, no
one you know. I’ll
be back soon. Ulricco
will be guarding the door.”
“Oh.” The Prince thought for a
stay out too late. Ulricco’s
a good guard, I guess, but you’re
ever so much better.”
agreed. Ulricco was
a big hearty man
who had caught the King’s eye during the last battle with the
del Sole duchy,
when he had held a narrow defile single-handedly, cutting down man
man. After the
battle the King had made
him one of the King’s Best Fifty, who guarded the
it really was
single-handedly,” Ulricco liked to say whenever he described
the battle, which
was often. “Because
I only ever use one
hand to hold my sword!”
And he would
caress his sword, which for most men would have been a two-handed
a while Giacomo had
grown tired of this and asked Ulricco to be his training partner. He had disarmed Ulricco
combat is a chancy
thing,” Giacomo had told him consolingly.
“You never know who’s going to
continued to tell his story, but he also started holding his sword with
hands whenever he trained with Giacomo.
come look in on you
when I get back,” promised Giacomo.
used to kiss the Prince on the forehead when he left him for the night,
lately the Prince had started to complain that he wasn’t a baby,
Giacomo only winked at him as he went out the door.
went down the long
spiral staircase from the Prince’s tower to the Hall of the
Children’s Castle was a
small separate keep, connected to the Major Castle by a third-floor
catwalk. It had
been constructed about
two hundred years ago as a defensive measure against the ravaging del
family. The idea
had been to make the
attackers split their force in two in order to capture both the King
a hundred and fifty
years ago the heir had risen up against the King, using the
as his base. Fifty
of the King’s best
men had retaken the Castle. The
rebellious heir had been executed quite unpleasantly (he had been right
proclaimed that his father was a crazed tyrant who enjoyed watching
suffer), and the King’s Fifty had been set to guarding the
Castle ever since. Giacomo
had never told Prince Luca that
their job was as much to spy on the current heir and his siblings as to
of the ten guards on
duty were playing cards in the Hall when Giacomo came down. This often happened in
times of peace. They
invited Giacomo to join them.
have business,” he told
I think the watch should be
at full strength tonight.”
don’t think that del
Sole...” said Micco, the youngest and brightest of the five
at the table.
don’t think we should take
chances,” Giacomo told them.
“Especially after Fabiano’s
five at the table rolled
their eyes. Everyone
knew the value of
Fabiano’s tales. Gianni, the senior guard there, started to
“Out!” Giacomo snatched up
everybody’s cards. “Micco,
you won. Everyone
looked at him. “You’re
serious,” he said. “You
really think there’s something in
normally talks about
beautiful maidens offering him their favors, or how he’s the
secret son of the
Duco del Paesino and a washerwoman’s daughter.
I’ve never head him mention a shadowy man
but he was drunk...”
gave Giacomo a
surprised look, and then headed out to take his post.
The other four followed him, looking rebelliously subdued.
couldn’t explain why
he was so concerned about Fabiano’s story.
Fabiano had come to him the night before with his tale. He had clearly lifted the
liberally, and was having a hard time speaking coherently or even
straight. But he
had repeated several
times that a “shadowy man” had been in The
Hunter’s Rest with him.
Fabiano thought he had seen him again as he
was walking back from the tavern, and then, as he was waiting to be let
the Castle, he had suddenly been sure the man was somewhere in the dark
him. He had rushed
past the guards
manning the portcullis and run straight up the winding staircase to
do you mean,
‘shadowy’?” Giacomo had asked him. “Did
he have a dark complexion?”
answered that he had
never seen his face.
was he wearing a dark
said he thought so
but he wasn’t sure.
why was he ‘shadowy’?”
don’t know,” Fabiano had
slurred. “He was just...Shadowy.”
shuddered, almost falling down from where he was leaning against the
you told anyone? Does
Damiano know about this?”
Damiano was the personal bodyguard to
Desiderato, Prince Luca’s older brother and heir to the
Coniugato kingdom. In
theory, Damiano was in charge of all the guards in the
thought it would be better
to tell you,” said Fabiano.
practice, most of the
guards preferred reporting to Giacomo, who then passed the information
if he thought it necessary. Damiano
a del Paesino, and tended to look down his nose at the common
King’s Men in a
way that made them forget what they wanted to say and back out of the
stammering apologies. Giacomo,
other hand, was just Giacomo dal Prado.
Everyone knew he had a famous father and had done lots of
but he still listened attentively and made thoughtful replies. Many of the younger guards
spent much of
their free time gazing at him hopefully, waiting to see if he would
describe one of the great deeds he had done.
So far, they were all disappointed.
had sent Fabiano to
sleep it off, and ordered a search of the streets around both Castles. No sign of a shadowy man,
or any other
sinister figure, had been found. The
problem, Giacomo had thought in annoyance, was that there was no proper
around the Castles. Originally
been in the middle of a large piazza, which made it impossible for
anyone to lurk
around them unnoticed, but in recent decades all the battles had taken
outside of the city, and buildings had sprung up around the Castles. Now the entire city of
Fiori was a warren of
dark narrow streets winding around between tall houses and towers. Admittedly, no one was
going to be able to
storm the Castles en masse, but the possibilities for watching from the
and slipping away unseen were endless.
Giacomo had told himself to stop thinking about shadows,
but he had also
told himself he would visit The Hunter’s Rest.
leave the portcullis
up until you get back, Giacomo,” the guards at the gate told
him as he left for
the tavern. The
came down for the night at the tenth hour, and anyone who
hadn’t come back by
then had to find alternate sleeping quarters, but there was some
allowed the more senior men.
he told them. “Lower
Lower it now. I
have a key to
the catwalk door. Tell
duty there to expect me.”
only the eighth hour,”
the guards at the gate protested.
can’t be too careful with
the del Sole delegation arriving,” Giacomo said. He couldn’t say
why he had the obscure feeling that the Castle
was vulnerable tonight, but he insisted anyway.
The gate guards looked dubious, but as he walked away he
the portcullis come clanking down behind him.
Castles were lit with
hundreds of flickering torches that made strange shifting patterns on
and streets. The
nobles’ houses around
them had torches outside their doors, allowing a passer-by to move
enough from pool to pool of light.
Giacomo left the rich part of town behind and drew closer to the
though, he had to rely on his lantern.
A drunken man would have no problem imagining followers in
Hunter’s Rest was a
pleasant-enough tavern that sold cheap local wine and was consequently
favorite amongst the guards. Once
a time it had been on the edge of town and hunters had come there to
catches, but now it was firmly inside the city and hunters never came
was not a great
frequenter of taverns, but the proprietor of The Hunter’s
Rest was not the kind
of man who would fail to recognize Prince Luca’s personal
immediately offered Giacomo
the seat of his choosing and a glass of his best wine, on the house. Giacomo took up a position
at the bar and
tasted the wine. It
was not, of course,
as good as his mother’s, but you can’t have
complimented it handsomely when the
proprietor asked him how he liked it.
The conversation naturally flowed to the other guards, and
tavern’s regular patrons, and then on to any unusual visitors.
normally see the same
faces over and over again,” the proprietor told Giacomo. “Last night we
only had one stranger.”
allowed himself to
appear mildly interested, and asked if the man had seemed to enjoy
he just sat in the
corner and sipped his glass.”
asked if he had
seemed to have anything shady about him.
He was, he explained, a little concerned that some of the
scrupulous guards were lifting things from the kitchens–just
bits of plate and
silver, things like that–and passing them on.
He wondered if the proprietor thought the strange man
could be involved
in anything like that? And
if so, did
he look like he might have done business with any of the guards who
visiting the tavern last night? Had
for example, spoken to any of them, or followed any of them out onto
street? Giacomo was
suspicious of his man Fabiano.
proprietor said he hadn’t
noticed anything of that sort, although the strange man had left
Fabiano had. But so
had lots of others–anyone
who worked at either Castle had to be back before the tenth hour, and
sensible ones gave themselves enough time to get there without a rush. Fabiano always left it
until the last
moment, though, and then paid up in a great hurry and dashed off. Half the time he
underpaid, but half the
time he overpaid, so in the end it came out even.
The proprietor gave his opinion that Fabiano was too
loose-tongued to be involved in anything underhanded, and Giacomo
to his more tight-lipped men for the culprit.
Giacomo thanked him for his advice, and left.
still had a vague
irrational feeling that he shouldn’t leave the Castle for too
long tonight, and
stood in the street for a while, debating whether or not to go see
the hope of gaining useful information.
After a brief mental struggle, he decided to go. After all, there were
fifty men guarding the
Children’s Castle, and he wanted to put the matter of the
shadowy man to rest
once and for all.
was a surgeon,
although now that his hair was white he rarely practiced any more. He had patched Giacomo up
thought that there was no
one better than a surgeon for stitching up wounds or setting broken
they unquestionably operated close to the dark side of things. If someone were to know
shady going on, he felt, it would be Massimo.
he arrived at Massimo’s
rooms, which were only a few streets away from The Hunter’s
Rest, Giacomo had
to knock on the door several times in order to rouse anyone. Eventually he was let in
by a sleepy-looking
them Barbaro down the
street has a much steadier hand for stitching these days,” an
old man called
from the back room.
I ever need stitching,
I’ll bear that in mind,” Giacomo replied, brushing
past the maid and into
was just going to bed,”
said Massimo, by way of a greeting.
“Come back during the day.”
know I can’t leave the
Prince during the day,” Giacomo told him.
“I need information.”
between several conflicting poses, but curiosity and pleasure won out. “About
what?” he asked, sitting up in his
told him the story of
the shadowy man.
at his counterpane. “You
Alberto from The Hunter noticed nothing odd about him?” he
Fabiano was frightened
all know how much
credence to give Fabiano’s fears...”
was different. Sometimes
when he’s drunk he sees things and
screams and makes a fool of himself, but this time it wasn’t
like that. He
a horse who knows there’s something in the woods, but
tell whether it’s a squirrel or a wolf.”
fingered the counterpane a bit
you felt it too,” he stated.
at first, but when I
left the Castle tonight I made them lower the portcullis. And I keep
should go back.”
you think someone might
make on attempt? Do
you think Prince
Desiderato is in danger?”
hadn’t thought of that,”
Giacomo said. “I
only thought of Luca.”
would anyone be after
Luca?” Massimo asked. “Desiderato
the heir, and the Princesses are old enough to marry and bring a man a
Court, but Luca is hardly more than an ordinary boy.”
don’t know,” Giacomo
too fond of him,”
Massimo told him severely.
can’t help myself.”
sensible man with your
abilities would have arranged matters so as to end up guarding the
don’t like Desiderato,”
Giacomo confessed. “He’s
like his father,” said
he is what he is, and
this isn’t helping us solve your problem.
We need to concentrate on your shadowy man.” He returned to picking at
his counterpane, and pulled out a pink
embroidery flower. He
gave the crinkled
thread a disproportionately horrified look.
maid came in, her arms
full of the bedclothes she was using to make up her bed in the front
the thread, and left the room, shaking her head.
are various orders of
self-appointed assassins, alchemists, and other shady
characters,” Massimo said
once she was gone. “A
lot of them enjoy
sitting at the corner table in a black cloak and frightening the
course, that’s about all
they can do, so they might as well enjoy it.
Your shadowy man sounds different.”
He gazed at the tiny holes in the cloth where the
embroidered flower had
I was a young man, just
a journeyman surgeon, I served far down in the south, in the Forzesco
he said suddenly. “While
I was there,
the Forzesco heir was struck by an arrow. The
wound festered. The
chief surgeon wanted to take off the arm.
Otherwise, he said, the poisoning would spread to the
heart and Prince
Sandro would die. But
the King wouldn’t
hear of it. He
called in two more
surgeons. They both
said the same thing. So
he called in an herbwoman. She
agreed with the surgeons–but, she said,
there might be a chance. There
someone she knew of, someone who might be able to effect a cure without
removing the arm. The
King ordered that
he be brought over immediately, and the next day he was
paused for a moment
to clear his throat, which sounded curiously tight.
told me later he was
called Lo Sfilatro–The Unraveler, in their
dialect,” he said. “He
was a small dark man, but no smaller or
darker than is usual there. He
clothes of an ordinary man. His
was soft, with a strong Forzesco accent.
The only unusual thing about him was a blue and red tattoo
on his right
wrist. Somehow the
lines in it seemed
to writhe before my eyes.
was tending the Prince
when he came in. He
came over to me and
asked me how the Prince was–was he eating, was he sleeping,
what his urine was
like. He never
looked me in the eyes–he
only watched my hands. As
there beside me, my heart started to pound.
I answered his questions, and my voice sounded like it was
the bottom of a well. My
ringing and ringing.
will be a good surgeon
one day,’ he said when he was done questioning me. ‘I can tell by
the movements of your fingers. But
someday you will have to conquer your
fear of the unknown.’ Then
he told me I
wouldn’t be needed for what he was about to do, and sent me
away. I stumbled
out of the tent and sat on the
ground for a long time.
don’t know what he
didn’t see anything unusual
happening in the tent. But
while he came out, and said that the Prince would live, and would
use of his arm. Then
he left. As he
walked by me my heart gave me a sharp
stab, and I knew–just for a moment–what it would be
like to die.”
you think this Sfilatro
might be my shadowy man?” asked Giacomo when it became clear
that Massimo had
don’t know,” said Massimo,
looking at his hands. “But
like the same sort of thing. I
around tomorrow. Perhaps
have heard something.”
thanked him for his
information and his future help, and left.
On the whole, Massimo’s story had comforted him. If the shadowy man was
Unraveler, or someone like him, he didn’t sound like a
potential threat, no
matter how frightened Massimo and Fabiano had been of him. Surgeons and healers might
stray over into
things a sensible man would shy clear of, but it seemed unlikely
that would be plotting against the royal family.
walked back to the center
of the city and went in through the front gate of the Major Castle. He dropped in on Piero,
the captain of the
guard there. Piero
said that the watch
had been doubled, in preparation for tomorrow’s festivities,
but in general
things had been quiet as the grave.
wished him a good
night and climbed up to the catwalk.
The guard at the Major door greeted him and stood aside to
let him use
his key. He made
his way quickly across
the swaying rope bridge–Luca loved crossing it, and begged
Giacomo to let him
go out on it every day, but he was only allowed to use it on special
when speed was of the essence–unlocked the
Children’s door, and greeted the
guard who was there waiting for him.
has it been?” he asked,
surprised at the sudden return of his earlier anxiousness.
as the grave,
Giacomo,” the guard said cheerfully.
don’t like that
expression,” Giacomo told him sharply.
Hearing it twice in a row had made something heavy settle
you come up with something else?”
guard apologized with a
surprised look. Feeling
guilty for his
outburst, Giacomo apologized in turn.
must be turning into an
old woman,” he made himself say.
was standing guard
outside Luca’s door, just as he should be, when Giacomo
climbed up to the
has it been?” he asked.
Prince asked me to let
him out a couple of times, like he does sometimes, but then he settled
and he’s been silent as the dead for the past
hour,” Ulricco reported.
“Did you have a good time?
Was your outing...productive?”
He leered suggestively.
checked the lock on the Prince’s
door out of the corner of his eye.
seemed secure enough to hold off a mid-sized army.
He wished Ulricco a good night and went to his door, which
the next room over. Also
locked. For some
reason, his hands had a hard time
working the lock. Giacomo
he would have to arrange to have it oiled tomorrow.
He bolted the door behind him.
room was a small
windowless chamber, only slightly larger than his bed.
The door between it and the Prince’s bedroom
was the only thing ever left unlocked at night.
Giacomo opened it slowly, trying not to let it creak. Luca was a light sleeper
and often woke up
when he checked on him, but tonight there was no glad cry. Giacomo raised his lantern
a little in order
to look at the bed. It
was a warm
night, and the bedcurtains had not been drawn closed.
The bedclothes seemed awfully flat.
He rushed over and shook them out, his hands trembling
Prince was gone.
first, Giacomo told
himself that the Prince must be hiding somewhere, as a joke. He had done so before. But both his room and
Giacomo’s were turned
upside down with no result. Ulricco
swore on his mother’s life that he hadn’t left his
post and that the Prince
couldn’t possibly have gotten past him.
general search of both Castles
was ordered, with all the servants pressed into helping. Giacomo informed the King
and Queen of what
had happened himself. The
into a dramatic fit of the hysterics, requiring the aid of all seven
ladies-in-waiting to bring her back to her senses, and the King shouted
issued pointless orders. By
the Prince still had not been found.
was a brief lull in the
search then. Most
of the servants had
had to return to their normal duties. The Queen had demanded that no
one be allowed
food, water, or rest until Luca was found, but she had been persuaded
her mind. The
servants were busy making
and distributing breakfast.
Giacomo sat in the
Children’s Hall, trying and failing to force down a pastry. It was his favorite, with
almonds. The cook
had carried it to him herself, and
told him, patting his shoulder as she did so, that almonds sharpened
and he’d be sure to find Prince Luca as soon as he ate it. Giacomo had never heard
almonds sharpening the mind before, but he took a bite anyway. It seemed terribly dry,
however, and he
couldn’t manage to get it down.
Eventually he gave up and sat with his face in hands. This didn’t help
very much either, though,
and he was just rousing himself for further action when Damiano came
Desi and the
Princesses are locked in the highest tower, with ten men set to
has been arrested,”
jerked upright. “Is
there any reason to suspect him?” he
that he was the one
guarding the Prince’s door last night.
The Queen was insisting that someone be arrested, and
Ulricco was the
best choice. I had
him put in the most
comfortable cell, and brought him breakfast myself.”
could be insufferably aristocratic when he had nothing better to do,
times of trouble he showed why he was the heir’s personal
also took the time to
question him myself when I brought him breakfast,” Damiano
went on. “In
a friendly fashion. He
still says that he heard and saw nothing.
I’m inclined to believe him.
He talks a lot of nonsense, but if he were
going to lie, it would be to say that he’d seen a dozen
assassins roaming the
halls, whom he defeated one by one in single combat.
The only thing that would make him say he heard and saw
would be if he heard and saw nothing.”
he were part of the
doesn’t have the
he’s madly loyal to the
was inclined to
have to get back to the
Prince,” Damiano said. “I
have left him to see to Ulricco in the first place, but I
left ten men with
him, but after last night, it doesn’t seem enough. Good luck.” He turned and
Giacomo thought, I knew
I was on my own already. He
the pastry a bit more.
bodyguard’s place was
guarding his charge’s body.
At a time
like this, Damiano should be following Prince Desi’s every
step, including into
the privy. Coming
to see Giacomo had
been a breach of protocol. Giacomo
hoped he wouldn’t be punished for it.
Prince Desi should be perfectly safe
where he was, but Luca should
have been perfectly safe, and he was gone.
Once again Giacomo worried and picked at the events of
trying to figure out where he had gone wrong.
Of course, the mistake had been in leaving the Castle in
place, but the thought–he wasn’t sure if it was a
fear or a hope–that his
presence might not have made any difference kept intruding. No one had noticed
anything. If the
kidnapper had somehow stolen silently
into Luca’s room, would Giacomo have ever known what was
picked up his
shredded pastry and carried it down to the dungeons, where Ulricco was,
promised, in the most comfortable cell.
He had a torch, a pitcher of water, and no chains or
sorry they did this to
you,” Giacomo told him.
took it, but set it
not hungry, somehow,” he
keep thinking of Prince
I’d let him out when he
did he sound?” Giacomo
asked him. “Did
he sound upset,
shook his head. “I
heard him get out of the bed and come to
the door,” he began. “He
stood by the
door and said, ‘you know, Ulricco, you’re my
favorite of all the guards. Won’t
you let me come play with you?’
He stood at the door and wheedled for a
while, then I heard him go get back into the bed.
Then he came back over to the door and complained he
being locked in the room by himself, and there was a funny shadow in
away from the lantern. I
asked him what
it looked like, and he told me that now he was standing by the door, it
gone. I told him it
was just a trick of
the lantern, and he should draw the bedcurtains nice and tight, and
back quick as quick to come check on him.
I heard him go back to the bed and mess with the
bedcurtains, and that
was it. I
didn’t hear a thing until you
bedcurtains were still
drawn back when I went in,” Giacomo said thoughtfully.
they must have been
pushed aside when he was taken out of the bed.”
I mean, they were still
fastened to the bedposts with their loops.
The curtains are very heavy and unwieldy.
Leonora, the maid who does the room, has a special way of
them up and fastening them so that they lie flat.
They were still lying flat.
If you were kidnapping a prince out from under the noses
of his guards,
would you take the time to carefully fold up the bedcurtains and fasten
the bedposts, the way a high-class maid would?”
said Ulricco, looking
noise of the bedclothes
being disturbed must have been when they took the Prince.”
a feisty little thing,”
he said. “I
can’t see him being taken
without putting up a fight. It
me that he’s the type who’d scream and bite.
I don’t think even a sword would shut him
went through a phase of
tantrums a few years ago, and it would take three strong men to catch
drag him back up to his room.”
He rose. “Hopefully
we’ll have you out of here in no
time,” he said. “Meanwhile,
pastry. You never
know what fits the
Queen will take next.” He
he returned to the
surface, all the guards had been put on duty guarding, in case
strike twice. Everyone
leaving the city gates was being questioned and searched, and members
King’s Militia were circulating through the city, asking
about strangers and
letting it be known there was a reward for news of a nine-year-old boy.
was being left oddly
they thought he was
not actively guilty, but nonetheless he was in enough disgrace not to
any duty. After
pacing around the Hall
until his anxiety overcame both his good sense and his respect for
changed out of his uniform and slipped away from the Castles, heading
was sitting on the
couch in his front room, wearing a dressing gown that would have shamed
beggar. It was such
thing, and yet for a moment it filled up Giacomo’s head so
much that the first
thing he blurted out on entering the room was, “you should
get a new dressing
I thought you would be
here to ask me what I had found out, not criticize my sense of
dropped into a chair. “I
don’t know what I’m doing.
Have you found out anything about the
haven’t even gotten
dressed yet. How
could I have found
don’t know. I’m
But I think it might be important.
get it, I get it,” Massimo
very important. I
tell you what: we’ll go together.”
He heaved himself out of the couch, using
his arms, and made his way shakily to the back room.
sat with his face in
his hands until Massimo reappeared, this time dressed in a
stained tunic and what had once been hose but were now rags hanging
legs. Micca came
following him into the
Master,” she was
pleading, “my mother made you some lovely new hose, look! You might catch a chill in
holey old things.”
mother’s always making
me things,” Massimo answered querulously.
“I think she has her eye on me.”
father would be surprised
to hear that,” Micca responded with unexpected tartness, and
retired to the
back room, shaking her head.
moping about,” Massimo
told Giacomo, slapping him on the shoulder.
“It could be worse.”
debated with himself
for a moment–the Prince’s disappearance was not
supposed to be made known–and
then said, “Luca’s gone.”
sat down on the other
chair at the table. “And
instead of out looking for him?” he asked.
already searched both
Castles from top to bottom. The
militiamen are going through the city as we speak.
I had to do something else.”
me about it,” Massimo
told him the whole
story, understanding it even less this time around.
stood up. “Well,
let us go see a friend of mine. He
may have something useful to tell us.”
were just beginning to fill with people.
It was a clear sunny day, with gusts of wind that blew
bits of straw and
trash up and down the streets. There
was a festive feeling in the air.
Giacomo heard the words “the del Sole
delegation” more than once.
No one said anything about Prince Luca’s
seemed to assume
that the militiamen and the searches were due to the
still seemed a little
shaky and bleary-eyed when they set off, but he grew more alert as he
Giacomo away from the mercantile district and down a dark dirty alley
timber buildings that leaned inwards, blocking out the sky. He stopped in front of a
door with a human
skull nailed to it, and knocked.
that a real skull?” asked
is a student of the
human body,” Massimo explained.
corpses. He sees no
reason not to
advertise the fact.”
servant with an
expressionless face let them in. She
told them to wait in the front room, and went off to tell her master
room was dark, and
smelled of strange and unpleasant herbs with, Giacomo
couldn’t help thinking, a
faint whiff of rotting flesh. He
to convince himself it was just his imagination.
They sat down at the table.
It was a large butcher-block table, heavily scarred and
wondered if Benito did his
dissections on it. It
likely. Then he
wondered if Benito also
ate his dinner at it. He
tried to think
about something else.
when he came into the
room, turned out to be a small thin man wearing a large apron. Giacomo
convince himself he wasn’t dressed like a butcher, but he was. Then he tried to convince
himself that men
like Benito were doing a great service to mankind and that their
were saving the lives of soldiers like him, Giacomo, but he wished he
have to come face-to-face with it. No doubt his father would find it
warmly, and then came over to Giacomo, walking around him and surveying
like a man looking over a horse at auction.
looks a bit cleverer than
your average soldier,” he pronounced eventually.
is a bit cleverer than
your average soldier,” Massimo told him.
grabbed Giacomo’s head
and twisted it this way and that.
shook his head. “Soldiers
have no stomach for pain,” he
said. “But...” He suddenly pushed
Giacomo’s face down onto
the table. Giacomo
himself not to resist, and lay there, his nose crushed uncomfortably
the tabletop, which from this distance definitely held a suggestion of
pulled down his
Reborn man!” His
fingers traced the circle tattooed
around Giacomo’s vertebra, the one where the neck joined the
I knew by the way you held your hands!
You had to be more than a soldier.”
He jerked Giacomo back upright.
long have you been part
of the Rebirth?” he asked eagerly.
little over fifteen
years,” Giacomo told him reluctantly.
father wanted me to.”
“Your father is Giovanni dal Prado?” he asked.
nodded again. “I
am no art master, but even I have heard
of him. Of course,
we share many
interests. I saw
your father’s sculpture
of The Girl and the Bull in Prado.
man who made that sculpture understands anatomy.”
father was obsessed with
getting the proportions right. He
many books on the human body, and drew lots of diagrams,”
Giacomo said. “But
this has nothing to do with why I am
here. Please, if
you can help me, I
will introduce my father to you myself.”
am also part of the
Rebirth,” Benito told him, pulling down his collar and
twisting his neck to
show a tattoo like Giacomo’s.
“So if I
can help you, I will.”
told his story of the
Unraveler, and Fabiano’s shadowy man, and asked if Benito
knew anything about
anyone like that.
made a face. “They
are not part of the Rebirth,” he
old texts are not our old
texts, and they have no interest in gaining new knowledge–at
least, not the
kind of knowledge founded on reason.”
you know of men like
“Perhaps. As it is in the service of
the son of
Giovanni dal Prado, I will visit them.
I will take you with me.”
they were walking down
an alley even darker and dirtier than Benito’s. They stopped in front of a
door with a ram’s skull nailed to
Benito, shaking his head. If
been so worried about Luca, Giacomo would have been amused at his own
agreement. As he
had told Benito, he
had joined the Rebirth to please his father, but it seemed that no one
raised by Giovanni dal Prado and not be infected with the ideals of
harmony. It never
would have occurred
to Giacomo to attempt to read the future in the entrails of a ram, but
apparently others still believed in it.
fortune-teller who opened
the door to them was small and dark.
Giacomo had a moment of hope that this was
Fabiano’s shadowy man, but he
was unable to convince himself that the person standing before him
capable of striking terror in anybody’s heart.
Besides, as he followed the fortune-teller down a narrow
into a dark room, he realized the man was a hunchback.
Surely Fabiano and the proprietor of The
Hunter’s Rest would have mentioned that.
host’s room was even
smellier than Benito’s.
incense were burning on a platter on the table.
The shutters were closed, and there was only one candle,
also seemed to be scented. Through
gloom Giacomo made out a crystal ball, casting bones, a basin of water,
various other tools of the fortune-telling trade.
conversation took place
between Benito and the fortune-teller, with Massimo occasionally
in. Giacomo was
ignored. He sat
down at the table, suddenly feeling
light-headed from the fumes.
fortune-teller turned to
assume you are a Reborn man,
like Benito here?” he asked.
fortune-teller shook his
head disapprovingly. “This
will make it
more difficult. A
Reborn man finds it
more difficult to part with his reason than with his right
trying not to slur his speech. “If
can help me, I will part with both my reason and my right arm, and
worth the price.”
friends have told me
your story, or at least the part of it they think I am fit to
fortune-teller continued. He
seem to bear any ill-will towards Massimo for not telling him the whole
must say, I am
intrigued. I have
not heard of anyone
like your shadowy man in the city, but we must search deeper. Your friends will have to
leave the room.”
send them out.”
seemed not to have any
qualms about leaving Giacomo alone with the fortune-teller, but Massimo
him a look of deep suspicion as he left the room.
the Unraveler!” he
hissed in Giacomo’s ear.
fortune-teller did not
look like the bearer of latent menace to Giacomo, so he only nodded.
they had the room to
themselves, the fortune-teller walked around Giacomo several times,
over from every angle and occasionally passing his hand over his head
as if feeling for invisible air currents.
yourself have had no
contact with this shadowy man?” he asked.
that I know of.”
do not sense his presence
about you. Mostly
what I sense is...”
the fortune-teller screwed up his face in thought,
highness. You are a
guard for the royal family, am I correct?”
changed out of my
uniform!” Giacomo exclaimed.
fortune-teller gave him a
already told me you were
Giovanni dal Prado’s son.
well-known that one of Giovanni dal Prado’s sons is a
sculptor, but the other
is Prince Luca’s companion and personal bodyguard. The marks on your hands
and the muscles on your arms are from a
sword, not a chisel. Therefore,
must be the guard. But
that is beside
the point. The
point is that what I
sense most strongly from your aura is the presence of royalty. An aura is like a track on
the ground: by
examining it, you can learn about the ground, and you can also learn
those who have come into contact with it.
You and this shadowy man, if he exists, have not crossed
you believe he exists?”
asked Giacomo. The
fumes in the room
seemed to have dulled his skepticism.
believe it is possible
that such a man exists. But
so far all
we have is the story of a man prone to lying.
You yourself have not come across him.
Therefore we will have to look farther.”
fortune-teller picked up
the casting bones, which were six-sided like dice, and rattled them in
cup with a ram’s head crudely burned onto its side, before
tossing them out
onto the table. Then
he stood over them
for a while, looking at them from different angles and making inaudible
comments to himself. Eventually
out a piece of paper and starting jotting down notes on it.
do you see?” asked
Giacomo, curious in spite of himself.
He peered over the fortune-teller’s shoulder,
trying to make sense of
unraveling, gates, change, stranger, fear)
death, life, birth, fear, change)
renewal, birth, change,
newcomer, courage, birth,
courage, stranger, chance, lover, birth)
(child, change, renewal, life,
are many, many ways to
read the bones,” the fortune-teller told him.
“I could spend days and days drawing charts and
diagrams and explaining
to you what they meant, and in the end we might still see two different
meanings. But in
very simple terms,
these are the six bones, with their six sides.
The first word next to each is the side that landed
face-down, and the
last word is the one that is face-up.
Those are the two most important sides in a casting,
although the others
are also significant. The
bones make is meaningful as well.
can be analyzed vertically, horizontally, in doubles, in triples, and
don’t have days and days,”
Giacomo told him. “I
don’t even have
hours and hours. What
can you tell me
away? The most
important bone is Death, which has
Hidden down and Fear up. The
important side in this casting is the Stranger side. It is linked with
Knowledge, and Child. And
thing: change is coming.”
what about the shadowy
man?” Giacomo demanded.
“What do the
bones say about him?”
fortune-teller gave him
another look. “First
of all, they say
that he most likely exists. Second of all, he is
hidden–hidden in fear. Third
of all, he is linked with a
child. But if you
are willing to
change, you will be able to gain the knowledge necessary to open his
is one reading,
yes. There could be
do I have to do in
order to find him?”
for a moment. “I
see how eager you
are,” he said eventually.
“I would be a
fool not to help one of the King’s Fifty and Giovanni dal
Prado’s son. I
will take you to someone who may be able
to tell you more.”
they were all leaving
the fortune-teller’s rooms and walking down yet another dark
doubted he had seen this
many nasty alleys in the ten years he had lived in Fiori.
came to a rickety wooden
house on the edge of the city. The
fortune-teller opened the door without knocking, and led them up a
staircase so narrow that Giacomo’s shoulders kept brushing
the walls on either
side. There was a
strong smell of dust
and old wood.
man in the room at the
top of the staircase was so fat Giacomo doubted he could squeeze
himself out of
the room. He must
there. He was
sitting in an armchair at
the head of a small table.
the fat man and his
chair, the room itself held only the table, four straight-backed
in the middle of the table, a massive crystal ball that drew the eye
refused to let it go. Giacomo
hardly tear his gaze away from it, even when he was being introduced to
man, who was called Andrea.
is the best
ball-gazer in the city,” the fortune-teller explained. “Most of us can
catch no more than the
occasional glimpse, but Andrea reads his ball the way other men read
who was too fat to
bow, only inclined his head in response.
sat down at the
table without speaking. The
fortune-teller handed the diagram of his casting to Andrea.
studied the diagram in
silence for a long time. Then
it face-down on the table, blew gently on his hands, and cupped them
crystal. It began
to emanate a warm
glow. He bent
closer, shielding the
ball with his hands so that the others were unable to see its images.
watched for a surprisingly
long time, occasionally emitting faint grunts and exclamations and
head this way and that. After
he seemed to be satisfied, for he let go of the crystal and
up. He pulled out a
quill and ink pot
from a shelf under the table, wrote something on the diagram, and
over to the fortune-teller.
him a soldo,” the
fortune-teller ordered Giacomo.
did he see?” asked
fortune-teller handed him
the diagram. Beneath
it was written Street
of the Apothecaries, 19.
is this?” demanded
he has seen,” replied
the fortune-teller. “Give
him a soldo,
and let us be on our way.”
over a bronze coin. A
soldo seemed too
little to give for information that was actually useful, but too much
Andrea had done.
soon as he set the coin
down on the table, the fortune-teller snatched up the diagram and led
the door, bowing repeatedly to Andrea as he did so.
It struck Giacomo that the fortune-teller was afraid of
even though he had brought them to him of his own free will.
has seen something of
me that I do not like,” the fortune-teller said, once they
his gift is
frightening. What I
do–it is mostly the
reading of signs. Anyone
could learn to
do it, if they had the patience. But
Andrea has powers denied ordinary men.”
you think he is like my
shadowy man?” Giacomo asked.
think he might know something about him?
Should we go back and ask him?”
has told us all he
wishes for us to know,” the fortune-teller replied. “Do not go back. Let us
make our way to the Street of the Apothecaries instead.”
Street of the
Apothecaries was back closer to the Castles and the respectable part of
city, even though the street itself did not have a very savory
reputation. Most of
the shops looked prosperous enough,
but there was something about them that told the passer-by they
realm of superstition, not reason.
19 had a sign over the
door that said Potions Made Upon Request. The shutters were open,
displaying expensive stained-glass
fortune-teller knocked at
the freshly-painted red door.
weasely-looking man cracked
open the door and peered out at them suspiciously.
here for a
consultation,” said the fortune-teller.
you have an appointment?”
demanded the man.
sent us,” the
fortune-teller told him. The
the door all the way and ushered them in.
were brought to a room
filled with a strong odor of herbs, and strangely-colored blocks of
the stained-glass windows.
“I’ll tell the
master you’re here,” said the weasely
man, and left them.
soon as he was gone, the
fortune-teller pulled a handful of something out of his pocket and
tossed it on
the table. It was
he said. He took
out his earlier diagram and
scribbled something on the back of it, before picking up the bones and
them back in his pocket.
looked over his
shoulder at the new diagram. It
Death (Gates, Stranger)
does it mean?” he
the stranger or the
knowledge necessary to find him is here,” the fortune-teller
looks as if we need to find a hidden
looked around the
room, but without seeing any sign of a gate, hidden or otherwise.
master will see you
now,” announced the weasely man, appearing suddenly. He was followed into the
room by tall, hearty-looking man wearing
impressive red robes.
what do I owe the
pleasure of visitors from Andrea?” he asked, smiling broadly. His eyes fell on the
came to you about
showed Flavio the diagram of
the original casting. “And
added, turning the paper over and showing him the second casting.
know I don’t do
castings, Michele,” Flavio told him, a hint of good-natured
reproach in his
you did,” the
fortune-teller replied. “You
to read them.”
am a Reborn man these
days, Michele, a man of reason! I
answered your summons out of respect for Andrea and our old
you can’t expect me to subscribe to your outmoded
And he pulled back his left sleeve, exposing a ring of
around his left wrist.
the gentlemen your
right wrist, Flavio,” the fortune-teller commanded.
they have no
need...Youthful foolishness, no need to drag it up...A waste of time,
right wrist,” the
pulled back his right sleeve. Blue
red lines that seemed to writhe against each other were tattooed around
Order of Infinity!”
exclaimed Benito, speaking for the first time since leaving his own
was once an important
member,” said the fortune-teller quietly.
I assure you, I have
left all that behind me,” Flavio put in quickly. “These days my
life is dedicated to reason; reason and
science. I am a
were members of the
Order of Infinity back in Prado,” Giacomo said skeptically. “They never
seemed to do much. How
can this help us?” The
thought that it was now midday, and the
shadowy man and Luca were no closer to being found, had suddenly
through the fog of worry and tiredness that was clouding his mind. “They just seem
to get together and have
dinners and drink lots of wine. I
could see what was so special about them.”
are members and there
are members,” the fortune-teller told him.
“Flavio was one of the second type.
Tell him what was so special about you, Flavio.”
of reason believe that
the laws of time and space apply to them without exception,”
Flavio said, once
again sighing heavily. “Members
Order know differently.”
was a pause.
Giacomo burst out, “I
don’t care about what you did or did not do in your wild
youth. I don’t care
what you do now. I
don’t care about you
at all. All I care
about is finding the
shadowy man.” And
he described the
shadowy man to Flavio.
“Hmmm.” Flavio laced his fingers
together and placed
them against his lips. “But
checked his aura,” the
fortune-teller said. “He
came near him.”
advice would be to avoid
him,” Flavio told them.
“If such a man
exists, it would be best to stay as far away from him as possible. You see, some
members–much more powerful
than I ever was–gained power over life and death, space and
time. Such a thing
would leave a strong presence,
a shadow if you will, hanging over them.
Some of them, they say, even had mastery over shadow
itself. That could
be what your friend sensed.”
don’t have the option of
avoiding him,” Giacomo said.
“I have to
matter of life and death?”
asked Flavio dryly.
more important than
that,” Giacomo answered.
shook his head. “Young
men!” he said. “Always
so worked up over women. Take
it from me, there is nothing more
important than life and death.”
there is,” Giacomo
this isn’t about a
woman. And...” He almost said I’m
not that young,
but stopped himself just in time.
was ridiculous for a man in his thirties to be offended by being called
have to find him,” he
am no longer welcome with the Order,” he
will have to find another
don’t have another
could feel himself waking
up more and more, as if the fumes and the superstition of the previous
were finally clearing out of his head, and he could think like a man of
I have is you. You
are going to help me find this shadowy
could give you some
names...” Flavio began doubtfully.
“No. I’ve had enough
wandering from place to
place, hoping to unravel the secret.
Where do you think this shadowy man could be?”
shook his head
could be so many places,
if he exists at all...”
do you think he is?”
wrung his hands. He
looked a good deal less impressive than
he had when he first came into the room.
“I am a man of reason,” he repeated.
“A man of reason.
I left that
world a long time ago. I
possibly guess. And
they wouldn’t be
happy with me if I betrayed their secrets.
I barely escaped with my life, all those years ago. Some of them still carry a
couldn’t just ask them...I am a
man of reason...”
I am a man of violence,”
said Giacomo. “Would
you like to see me
might not work!” Flavio
cried out, apparently not listening to Giacomo at all.
“I might not be able to do it!”
what?” Giacomo demanded.
focused on him again.
“There were many things I could not do,” he
I could see things, I could find
things. It is
possible that I could
find your shadowy man for you.”
I might fail!” he cried
out, wringing his hands so hard the knuckles turned white. “I no longer
believe as I once did! Or...Or
I might succeed,” he finished,
swallowing hard. “I
might see him. But...Sometimes
you see more than what you
would want to know. I
of this. I realized
that there are some
things no man should meddle with.
can only explain a tiny part of our world, but it is the part that is
men to live in. The
should be left alone.”
shouted Giacomo. “Not
I don’t care about anything else!
Just help me find Luca!!”
was a blank
realized that he had
just revealed Luca’s disappearance.
asked Flavio. “What
stared at him incredulously. “Is
it Prince Luca?”
put in Massimo, before
Giacomo could stop him. “I’m
share your secret, Giacomo,” he went on hurriedly,
“but Flavio has to
know. He has to
know what he’s looking
me everything about
it,” said Flavio. He
described his return
to the Castle, his discovery of Luca’s disappearance, and
Ulricco’s account of
what had happened.
say the boy said there
was a funny shadow in the corner of his room?” asked Flavio
when he was done.
but when he looked back
at it from the door, he said it was gone.”
kidnapper–had slipped out of the corner and under the
bedclothes when the boy’s
back was turned,” said Flavio.
then what? He–the
kidnapper–could have gotten in during
the day and concealed himself somewhere in the
room–it’s possible, although I
have a hard time imagining how he did it–but how did he
escape from the room,
with Luca, undetected? And
little resistance–Ulricco said all he heard was the sound of
rustling. Luca is
the kind of boy who
would scream and fight back. I
have expected him to have bitten any attacker to the bone, at the very
traced the pattern on
his right wrist. “I
told you members of
the Order know that the laws of time and space need not apply to
of them know this, but
are unable to put this knowledge into action, except in the most minor
ways. Some are able
to harness its
power enough for minor achievements in healing or prophecy. I myself was never able to
do more than look
across space and time, and I was considered to have achieved a very
of skill. But there
are some who could
do more than look. There
talk of some who could move across space and time with their physical
bodies. If that is
true, and that is
the nature of your shadowy man, then I suspect he would be able to pass
straight through the Castle walls like a ghost.”
Luca with him?”
he was sufficiently
can I find him?”
hesitated, then said,
“no doubt the King would be grateful to me for rescuing his
sure a reward can be
arranged,” Giacomo told him dryly.
reward would also be
welcome, of course. But
what I mean is
that certain activities would have to be...overlooked, shall we say. Now is not a good time to
with...with the kind of thing the King does not believe in. This current craze for
reason, for art, for
rational harmony, has made anything else rather dangerous. The Order in particular is
coming in for a
good deal of persecution these days.”
can deal with that,”
Giacomo said impatiently. “Just
sighed yet again. “Very
well,” he said. “Wait
left the room, returning
shortly with a basin of water and a lit candle.
He set the basin on the table and dripped melted wax into
wax reading!” exclaimed
the fortune-teller. “Surely
didn’t send us here for a wax reading!
I could have done one myself without ever leaving my
said Flavio. Now
that he had decided to act, he sounded
more sure of himself. He
index finger of his right hand into the water, and swirled it around
three times and counterclockwise three times.
tried to look over
his shoulder, but Flavio pushed him back and stared at the water
intently. Every now
and then he would dip his finger
in the water and give it another swirl.
he said. “Michele,
give me your bones.”
fortune-teller handed him
the casting bones. Flavio
drew a circle
on the table using his wet forefinger, and then cast the bones onto it. The Death, Stranger, and
Change bones all
landed inside the circle, while the Life, Lover, and Birth bones rolled
said Flavio again,
and gave the water another swirl.
Giacomo noticed that the light reflecting off the water
onto the ceiling
had changed quality. It
no longer made
water ripples, but was forming definite patterns, although he could not
what they were. Once
again he tried to
peer over Flavio’s shoulder, and once again Flavio elbowed
him back, although
apparently without conscious thought.
suddenly passed his
hand over the basin. The
the ceiling went dark, as if the water had lost its reflective
saw an underground
chamber, like a dungeon,” Flavio told them.
“I was unable to see anyone in it, but what you
are seeking is there, I
am sure of it. When
I cast the bones
they told me to look for the stranger and the hidden gate. There will be fear, fear
and change, of that
I am certain.”
was the underground
chamber?” Giacomo demanded, ignoring the part about fear and
shook his head. “It
was nowhere I have been.”
must have been some
kind of a clue! It
would take ages to
search all the underground chambers in the city, and it sounds as if it
be concealed, anyway.”
thought for a
I was descending into
it...” he said slowly.
went down a long hall,
with torches on brackets every five paces or so.
Between the torches crossed swords and shields with
symbols were displayed on the wall.
catch any of the symbols, I’m afraid.”
Hall of Swords!” Giacomo
was so relieved, he almost
is a long underground
hall underneath the Major Castle.
swords and shields of former kings are displayed there. It leads to the
catacombs. That was
what you saw, I’m
sure of it. Did you
see how to get into
the chamber? ”
shook his head. “Everything
blurred at that moment. It
will not be easy, I fear.”
you go all the way to
the end of the Hall of Swords?”
cannot say. I went
quite far down it, but as I said,
everything became blurry. The entrance to the chamber, wherever it is,
guarded in some way.”
I’ll find a way to get
past it. Thank you
raced out the door before the others
could stop him.
ran down the twisty
streets towards the Castles, dodging around other pedestrians. The bright sunshine was
melting away the
last remnants of his previous confusion, and his mind was approaching
of clarity it reached in battle. He
able to see the street and all the other people on it, and react to
leaping from side to side with an agility he had not known even he
but he could also see the Hall of Swords, and dozens of possibilities
searching it and discovering the hidden chamber, and how they would
the shadowy man once they found him...He realized he was being forced
down. The streets
were now so thick
with people it was hardly possible to move forward at all.
so crowded?” he asked a
man who had jostled up against his left shoulder.
man gave him a
patronizing look. “The
delegation has arrived,” he explained, speaking as if to a
turned and ran back the other way, till he came to a
deserted back alley. It
led to the
Children’s Castle’s storerooms, and no one was
making any deliveries right
sprinted up to the
storeroom door and pounded on it until it was opened by a
guard, removing a good deal of the peevishness off his face. “Where have you
been? The Prince is
still missing, and the
delegation has arrived! People
been saying...There’s been talk...”
you made off with
Prince Luca yourself!” the guard burst out.
been looking for him,”
Giacomo explained, not bothering to say anything about the rumors. Of course there had been
think I know where he is. Where
are the off-duty guards?”
the delegation in
the courtyard,” replied the on-duty guard, a trace of his
returning as he remembered he was missing the big event because he was
doing good work,”
Giacomo told him, slapping him on the shoulder before dashing off.
portico running alongside
the barracks looked out onto the courtyard.
All the off-duty guards were crowded onto it. The King and Queen were
seated on a raised dais in the middle of
the courtyard, surrounded by important people of all sorts. By the sounds of things,
the del Sole delegation
was about to enter the courtyard.
cried several of
the guards, when Giacomo suddenly appeared amongst them. “Where have you
think I know where he is,”
Giacomo interrupted them.
of them gasped.
he ordered them. “The
delegation was making its way into the
courtyard in a profusion of bright clothing and flashing jewels.
we all leave it will look
peculiar,” he went on. “I
need about a
dozen men...Gianluca, you come with me, and you, Luigi, and you, Marco,
Giacomo and a dozen
off-duty guards were able to slip away from the portico, back into the
barracks. They went
into the Children’s
Castle and climbed up to the catwalk, which unfortunately was in plain
just have to hope
everyone thinks we’re part of the display,” Giacomo
decided, and they all
crossed the catwalk into the Major Castle.
No one seemed to notice them.
rushed down the three stories from the catwalk to the ground floor and
entrance to the Hall of Swords.
Hall of Swords ran
diagonally underneath the Major Castle.
There was a guard posted at the top of the stairs leading
down to it,
since the armory and treasury chambers opened out of it. He insisted that no one
unusual had gone in
or out of it, and that it had been thoroughly searched the night before
but he let them go down into it.
looking for a secret
chamber,” Giacomo told the others, once they were in the Hall. It was quite dark, with
only one torch near
the entrance and another at the far end, by the armory and treasury
thought about going back for more light,
but the thought was somehow disconnected, unreal, and he did nothing
began working their way
down the Hall, testing the swords and tapping the wall, looking for a
entrance. They made
their way to the
treasury door. It
was locked, and they
had no keys. The
armory was also
locked. Again, the
thought of going
back for lights and keys floated up in Giacomo’s head, only
to settle back down
again without causing him to take any action.
It also occurred to him that it would have been a good
idea to have
brought Flavio along, so that he could have confirmed that this was
what he had
seen in the water, but Giacomo quickly forgot about that, as well. He
men right to the end of the Hall, to the entrance into the catacombs.
Castle’s stone walls
formed a corner that was cut off by a heavy wooden door. Unlike the armory and
however, this one opened, although reluctantly and with a loud scraping
that caused several of the men at the back of the group to jump.
air wafting up the stone
steps into the Hall was very cold, and smelled of the underground. There was no torch. Giacomo started down
of the men followed
him unhesitatingly. The
rest hung back,
whispering, until one of them thought to take the torch by the armory
of its bracket. Then
they went down the
had never been in the
catacombs before. Sometimes
about exploring down there, but he always lost his nerve and postponed
stairs descended for at
least two stories before leveling out into a flat passage between stone
walls. After about
a dozen paces, the
corridor opened up into broader aisle that ran at right angles to it. There was a pile of unlit
torches on the
floor against one of the walls at the intersection.
Several of the men snatched up torches and lit them from
they already had, making the corridor much brighter.
anyone been down here
before?” Giacomo asked, regretting his rashness in rushing
off without Flavio
more and more.
was Luigi, the oldest guard in the
they buried the old King,
I helped carry the body down. The
entrances to the tombs lead off from this corridor.
If you go left and left again you will come to the oldest
tombs. To the right
and right again are
the next oldest. If
you cross this path
you will come to another corridor.
you turn right and right again there you will come the newest tombs,
old King is. Across
the corridor from
them are a series of empty tombs.
you go left instead of right at the junction, you will find some unused
and an empty unprepared area.”
sounded to Giacomo like
a lot of ground to cover. It
sounded like there were lots of good places to hide, although Flavio
that he had seen a chamber, not a tomb...But according to him, it had
of hidden entrance.
split up and search,”
decided to cross the
main aisle and go left at the next corridor, to the empty tombs and the
unprepared area. He
took Luigi with
him, as the man most familiar with the area.
second corridor was much
narrower than the first, barely wide enough for two men to walk abreast. Even narrower corridors
led off to the
left. They all had
alcoves at waist
height in the walls, but no coffins.
Giacomo wondered how the other men were faring, and if the
ones in the
already inhabited areas were losing their nerve.
and Luigi ran their hands
over alcove after alcove, holding their torch up to examine in all the
corners, in case there was some sign of a hidden gate, but found
is the last one,” said
Luigi eventually, as they left yet another side corridor. Giacomo looked around. The narrow aisle did in
fact come to an end
two paces to their left. There
low opening in the wall in front of them.
that the unprepared
area?” he asked.
I think it’s just an
empty space,” Luigi told him.
ducked through the
opening, which led into pitch darkness.
Luigi followed, his torch showing the reluctant expression
on his face.
nothing here,” he
said, holding up the torch and showing an empty chamber.
look more thoroughly,”
Giacomo said, feeling the stirrings of desperation in his chest. If they didn’t
find anything...No one else
seemed to have found anything, either...Maybe it had been a completely
different Hall of Swords that Flavio had seen...Like the Duco del
the Valle del Sole was several days’ ride away. Admittedly, if the shadowy
man did not have to obey the laws of
time and space, the distance might not matter.
But this still seemed to Giacomo to be the most likely
place. He continued
running his hands along the
wall, occasionally knocking on it to see if it was hollow.
they made an entire
circuit of the empty chamber without finding anything.
must not be it,” said
has to be,”
Giacomo heard himself saying. “There
to be a gate somewhere...A hidden gate...”
Suddenly his legs felt very tired, and he sat down on the
the opening that led back into the corridor.
He closed his eyes and put his face in his hands. Why had he rushed off like
hadn’t he waited for the others, the
ones who had actually had the visions and read the castings? He wasn’t acting
like himself at all. He
knew he could be brave, even recklessly
so, but most of the time he was calm, calculating.
Dashing around like an idiot wasn’t his sort of
all. His fear for
Luca, even when it
was hidden under layers of action, was turning him into another person
It was one of the other search parties, calling for them
got up, still feeling very tired and
weak, and stuck his head out into the corridor.
He saw Marco, along with Alessio, who was hardly more than
standing there uncertainly. He
remembered that they had been searching the oldest part of the
you find anything?” he
shook their heads. “We
searched and searched, Giacomo,
honestly, but we didn’t find anything, and we wanted to come
trailed off and glanced
involuntarily behind him.
what?” Giacomo demanded.
got scared,” Alessio whispered.
those coffins!” Marco
shuddered a little.
nothing to be afraid
could feel his old self
returning, Giovanni dal Prado’s son, the man of reason. “Those bodies
have been there much too long
to pose any danger of disease, and surely you don’t believe
know, Giacomo,” said Marco
just that...We got to
the end of the corridor, by the oldest tombs, and...we got scared, like
said. We stayed and
searched,” he went
on hastily. “But
we didn’t find
anything, so we...we turned and ran like little girls.” He grinned in an
was really scary,” said
Alessio in a small voice. Normally
Alessio, like many very young men, was brash to the point of being
annoying. He had
changed...Giacomo suddenly threw himself out into the corridor.
scary than the rest of
the catacombs?” he asked.
suddenly feel fear when you came to a particular tomb?”
and Alessio looked at
each other. “All
the old tombs were
creepy,” said Marco, “but it got worse and worse,
the farther we went in. And
then when we got to the very end, to the
oldest tomb, it was like...It hurt to breathe, I was so
too,” said Alessio. There
was a hint of tears in his voice.
closed his eyes. He
could see the diagram the fortune-teller
had made for him. In both castings, Death had been at the top. In the
casting, it had landed with Hidden down and Fear up.
In the second casting, it had landed with Gates down and
up. Giacomo had
heard what the
fortune-teller had said about the hidden gates, but he had ignored his
about fear and change. Now
them all over again.
me back to that tomb,”
and Alessio looked very
apprehensive, but did not refuse.
led the way around corner after corner.
Giacomo was fairly sure that the oldest tomb was only a
few dozen paces
away from where they had started, but they had to make at least half a
turns before they came to the corridor that led to it.
Marco and Alessio began walking more and
go in front,” Giacomo
told them, taking the torch from Alessio, who surrendered it willingly
immediately moved back between Marco and Luigi.
corridor they were in was
just wide enough for one man to walk down.
Other corridors, at least as narrow, branched off to the
right and left.
had not thought that
he was afraid, and he certainly had not expected to be.
As he had told Marco and Alessio, a man of
reason had no need to fear the catacombs.
But once he took the lead, he began to notice how close
the air seemed,
and how he was sweating, even though it was cold.
He told himself it was fear for Luca, and thought that he
corridor came to a dead
end, with passageways going to the right and left.
that way,” whispered
Alessio, pointing left.
down the left-hand passageway, which was so narrow his shoulders
against either wall.
soon as he had stepped
fully onto it, his heart began hammering so hard black spots appeared
eyes, and he felt nauseous. His
fell onto his hands, and he saw that every vein on his hands and
standing out from his skin. He
and tried to listen past the blood pounding in his ears.
anyone hear anything?”
he whispered, trying to keep his teeth from chattering.
Marco whispered back,
his voice quavering.
there someone behind us?”
he asked, hoping that he had been unwittingly startled by the sound of
party coming behind them.
took another step
forward. He had
heard the expression “I
thought my heart would burst” before, but never experienced
it. The only time
he had ever felt anything close to this much fear had been his first
but even that had been more tolerable, because it had been
was nothing unusual in a novice
soldier fearing battle; a hardened guard almost fainting from fear for
rational reason at all was something else entirely.
took another step. The
fear had become so great that it seemed
his mind had separated from his body and was observing it from a
distance. This made
it easier, and he was able to
start walking again.
a dozen steps took him
into the chamber of the oldest tomb.
Unlike the newer sections, there were no alcoves, but
rather a large
stone coffin on a raised stone pallet.
The likeness of Prince Felix, the founder of the Coniugato
grimly up from the top of the coffin.
looked around the
flickering of the torch
and the trembling of his hand made shadows swarm over the walls and the
so that it was impossible to see anything clearly.
None of the others had followed him.
He opened his mouth to call for them, but his voice was
choked, and he gave up.
circled the coffin
counterclockwise, examining it from every angle.
Felix had been given a much grander chamber than his
so there was just room to walk around the coffin.
The walls had the names and dates of Felix’s
victories carved on them. Giacomo
the words “Felix il Felice” carved on the head of
the coffin. Even in
his terrified state he almost
laughed: Felix’s statue certainly didn’t look very
happy. The next
side of the coffin said “Felix il
Conquistore,” which made more sense, and the foot said
“Felix il Fondatore.”
Curious in spite of himself, Giacomo continued
around to Felix’s left, which he had already passed once
without reading the
were two. One said
“Il Sinistro,” which at first
Giacomo thought must be a mistake.
coffin maker must have put it there to remind himself which slab was
left side, and accidentally placed it facing outwards rather than
was surprised the mistake had been
allowed to remain.
“The Dark One” seemed like
a fitting title for Felix, but Giacomo was still surprised to see it
onto his coffin, especially with “Felix il Felice”
just around the corner.
carvings on the lefthand
panel looked like they had been done by a different hand. Giacomo went back to the
head of the
il Felice” had obviously
been carved by a master. The
were even, proportional, and graceful.
Giacomo’s father could have told him the school
and era to which they
belonged by the distinctive shape of the “F” and
circled around the coffin again. “Felix
il Conquistore” and “Felix il
Fondatore” had undoubtedly been carved by the same hand. But the letters on the
lefthand panel were
smaller and less elegant. The
had had trouble with the “S” in
“Sinistro” and “Oscuro,” and
the “I” was a
although his breath was still coming quicker than normal, his ears were
longer ringing from terror, and he was able think more clearly. He squatted down in front
of the lefthand
panel and ran his hands over the carvings.
“I” in “Il Sinistro”
certainly was very oddly shaped.
Giacomo traced it with his fingers, and realized that the
crossbar had a tiny arrow on one side of it, pointing to the bottom
corner of the panel. Giacomo
around on the corner, and found a little niche just the right size for
hand. He pulled on
the panel, and felt
Luigi!” he shouted.
help me!” But
there was no reply.
pulled on the panel
some more. With a
stony grinding noise,
it slid a couple of inches to the right.
He shouted again for the others, and again got no answer. He tried to peer through
the gap he had
opened, but all he saw was darkness.
order to pull back the panel
more, he would have to use both hands.
He looked around and saw that there was a bracket on the
wall. When he put
the torch in it, the space
around the coffin seemed much darker, but most of his former fear had
dissipated by now and he enthusiastically pulled back the panel another
inches. A cold
draft rose out of it.
now that this had to
be the entrance to a passage, and not a coffin at all, Giacomo braced
on the stone pallet and managed to pull back the panel enough that he
stick his head through the opening and look around, which he did with a
recklessness that he would not have imagined possible when he entered
chamber. He met
nothing but a cold
darkness that defied all his attempts to see anything.
He felt around for the floor and fell
forward, only saving himself from tumbling headfirst into the drop by
his shoulder on the panel.
heavily despite the
chill, Giacomo extricated himself and wrestled the panel back until
there was a
space big enough for him to fit through.
He was surprised that none of the guards had come to see
what all the
noise was about, since the stone had made loud rasping sounds as he had
it open. When he
saw them again, he was
going to have a talk with them about the importance of not deserting a
brother-in-arms at crucial moments, no matter how afraid they were.
retrieved the torch
from the bracket and thrust it and his head back through the opening. This time he saw that
there was a flight of
stone steps leading down from under the coffin into darkness.
first instinct was to
rush down the stairs, shouting for Luca, but instead he went back to
chamber entrance and called once more for the others.
There was no sign of them or their torches, and no one
to his call.
small part of the fear that
had engulfed him earlier came back, telling him to go find the others
assemble a strong fighting force before descending into the hidden
another part of him whispered that if he left now, he might never
gather up the
courage to return (a very galling admission), and he was strangely
turn his back on the dark opening.
after waiting for long enough to be convinced that no one was going to
his aid, he sat down on the stone pallet and awkwardly slithered
opening, catching his elbows and shoulders painfully and almost
soon as his whole body had
passed through the opening, the fear came back, even stronger than
before. For a
moment he sat on bonelessly on the
steps, struggling to breathe. There
a sharp pain over his breastbone, and his chest felt tight. When he tried to stand up,
turned over and he retched up the few bites of almond pastry he had
he had regained control
of his stomach, he began sliding down the steps on the seat of his
pants. His knees
were strangely weak, as if someone
had cut all the tendons in them (an image, unbidden and unwelcome, of
of a flayed knee from one of his father’s books of anatomy
rose in his mind),
and he did not trust himself to stand.
He had to clench his teeth to keep from whimpering like a
steps were narrow but not
very steep. By the
light of the torch
he could see that the passageway was large enough for a grown man to
upright. After a
dozen steps he came to
a landing and a 30-degree turn to the left.
Using the wall for support, he pulled himself to his feet,
realized his eyes and
nose were running, and wiped his face with his sleeve.
His nerveless fingers dropped the torch.
a moment he could not
believe what had happened. The
had gone out as if doused in a bucket of water.
He found himself back on the floor without knowing how it
scrabbled around until he
burnt his hand on the torch. He
himself full length on the floor and tried to blow life back into the
the embers stubbornly refused to so much as glow.
a while he gave up and
lay there, his faced pressed into the floor.
The fear was like a clawed beast sitting on his back,
down. His present
unbearable, and yet he was unable to rise even to his knees.
All you have to do is
crawl back up the stairs, he told
impossible to get
lost. Just turn
around and crawl
before had seemed distinctly inhospitable, now appeared in his mind as
friendly and welcoming place.
Just turn around, he told himself again. Just get up and
crawl up the stairs. He
moved an arm experimentally. The
fear, like very hot bathwater that can
only be tolerated in absolute stillness, attacked him even more
making his throat seize up for a moment.
image of Luca floated in
front of him. It
was so dark he
couldn’t tell if it was in his head or a real vision. If he, Giacomo, had been
so unmanned by this dark passage, what
had it been like for Luca?
began to slither
belly-down away from the stairs that would take him back up to the
no no, his mind cried out, but it
was unable to stop his forward progress.
Go back, go back, go back, he told
himself, but when he came to
another set of steps leading downwards, he rolled over and began slowly
his way down them on the seat of his pants.
This is a very bad idea, he thought.
With no light, he could walk right past Luca (if he was
even there) and
never know it. If
he was attacked, he
would be unable to see his attacker, and his sword would be useless. If he should stumble onto
drop-off...His breath caught in his throat again, and he sat paralyzed
moment. When he
summoned up the courage
to move again, he found himself clutching at the steps with both hands. He felt all around with
his feet before he
could make himself slide down to the next step.
twenty steps, he came
to another landing and a turn to the right, followed by more steps. The fear had receded
again, although it had
begun to encompass what was behind him as well as what was in front.
the time he had come to
the bottom of the last flight of stairs, he felt quite calm, and was
rise to his feet and walk along the flat passage normally, guiding
trailing one hand along the wall.
dark was still so thick he could not see his hand when he waved it
front of his face, but he was able to sense when the passage came to an
stop before crashing into the wall.
ran his hands over the
wall in which the passage ended, expecting to find
something–a door, an
inscription, or anything that would justify the building of this
found nothing. It
was just a stone
carefully running his
hands over it several times, he began feeling around on the walls to
side. But they,
too, were nothing more
than stone walls, as far as his fingers could tell.
insisted that there had
to be something, that no one would have gone to all the trouble to
passage if it just dead-ended in a blank wall.
He tried the wall in front of him again, going
methodically from stone
to stone, feeling for some hidden catch.
that failed, he leaned
back against the wall and closed his eyes, although it was so dark that
his eyes made things seem brighter, since lights flashed in his head
pressed the heels of his hands against his eyelids.
was very tired. The
fear had left him, but it had also left
him weak to the point of fainting.
felt a powerful urge to burst into hysterical tears.
He knew that he needed a plan, and that this plan should
a return to the surface in order to gather men and torches, but somehow
couldn’t do it. It
was as if the fear
was lurking in wait for him at the top of the steps, and he
couldn’t face it
again. He rubbed
his face, seeing a
cascade of images. Luca...The
her ladies-in-waiting...Luca knocking over his
easel...Andrea’s face, somehow
terrifying in its fat blankness...The shifty eyes of the
diagrams...The fortune-teller had said there would be hidden gates, and
and change, all surrounding the stranger and the child.
He had found the hidden gates and the fear,
and it seemed to Giacomo that he had already changed considerably, if
taking bone-casting seriously, but even so, he still couldn’t
get through the
rubbed an itch between his
shoulder blades against the stones.
what Flavio had said was true, then there were men who could melt
like shades. Perhaps
that was what was
needed here. There
was no door, because
the people who used this passageway didn’t need doors. Almost lazily, he imagined
what it would be
like to be able to pass through solid stone.
Did you feel anything?
be aware of what was happening, or did you just suddenly find yourself
other side of the wall?
was so tired...He could
feel himself falling asleep, right there against the wall. He tried to jerk himself
back awake, but he
was falling asleep, falling, falling...
really was falling...It
must be a dream...He was falling through the wall...It must be a
suddenly felt that he couldn’t move, he couldn’t
breathe, and he was still
falling...He tried to struggle, but he was being held absolutely
still falling...He woke up on the floor.
was lying on his
back. After several
realized there must be a light somewhere, since he could dimly make out
wall in front of him.
sat up, still feeling
passageway seemed much
larger than it had been before he fell asleep.
He looked around, and saw that he was no longer in a
but a large chamber. A
lit torch was
flickering in a bracket in the farthest corner, which explained the
light. There were
deep pools of shadow
in the other corners of the room.
I must still be dreaming, he thought to himself. Sometimes he had dreams in
which he could not wake up, even
though he knew he was dreaming. He
shook his head vigorously, to no avail.
He dragged himself to his feet, using the wall as a
support. It felt
very rough and stony, but sometimes
dreams were incredibly lifelike. He
shook his head again and took a deep breath.
The air was not quite so cold as it had been in the
passageway, and held
the scent of living human beings, or at least fresh urine.
he was upright, he
looked around again. The
briefly, and he saw a pile of rags in the far corner that appeared to
small human figure.
he shouted. “Luca,
is that you?”
have done well to make
it this far,” said a voice in the shadows of the nearest
put his hand on his
hip, and was extremely glad to discover that his dream-self was wearing
sword-belt. He drew
his sword and
started walking towards the rags in the far corner.
continued the voice in
the near corner, “now that you’ve gotten in, how
will you ever get out again?”
answered dream-Giacomo, who was feeling much better with a sword in his
and a clear goal. “I’ll
have the eternal
confidence of a man of reason. So
faith, placed on such a slender support.
Such boundless belief in such a small object.” The voice was even and
detached, as if discussing the climate of
a far country.
you will,” said Giacomo,
who was drawing close enough to the far corner to see that it was
in the pile of rags. Forgetting
voice in the other corner, the problem of how to escape the closed
the fact that this was a dream, Giacomo started to run towards the
him,” said the voice
from the corner. Giacomo
turned to face it.
he demanded. “How
will you stop me when you won’t even
you must see me, I will
satisfy you,” replied the voice, and stepped out of the
darkness in the corner.
was a man. Giacomo
could not make out his features, for
he seemed to draw the shadows with him, so even though he stood in the
the torch, he remained wrapped in a twilight that resisted all attempts
he could think better
of it, Giacomo found himself in front of the shadowy man, his sword
resting against the man’s neck.
are you?” he asked.
of answering, the man
moved slightly to his left, so that although he still had
against his neck, he was now between Giacomo and Luca.
are you?” Giacomo
repeated, jabbing a little at the man’s throat. The man did not flinch,
although Giacomo felt the tip of his
blade pierce flesh. He
looked to see if
he had drawn blood. He
could see none,
but it seemed to him that a shadow was slowly working its way up his
sword. He told
himself it was only a
trick of the light, but as it drew near the hilt he realized he could
the thought of it touching him. All
earlier fear seemed to be concentrated in that shadow, and he felt that
reached his hand, he would be unmanned completely.
Without making a conscious decision, he pulled his sword
from the other man’s neck.
stepped to his right,
thinking to get around the man, but he only moved with him, staying
Giacomo and Luca. The
happened when Giacomo tried dashing to the left.
rather not harm you, but
I will,” Giacomo warned.
other man only
were talkative enough
when you were hiding in the corner!” Giacomo said. When the man still
didn’t reply, he drew back his sword in order
to shove the man aside with the flat, but before he could strike, the
caught his wrist, making him drop the sword.
have already said
everything I felt needed saying,” the man told him, twisting
took a humiliating amount
of effort for Giacomo to struggle free.
No one had managed to catch him out and twist his arm like
that for well
over a decade. And
once he had escaped,
he had no sword, and the man was still between him and Luca.
he shouted. “Luchino!
stirred in his
rags. The shadowy
man grabbed at
Giacomo, trying to cover his mouth, but Giacomo just managed to jump
out of his
again. Luca sat up
sleepily. Feeling a
rush of hopeful strength, Giacomo
threw himself at the shadowy man, but he slipped aside, allowing
crash to the floor. When
to get up, the shadowy man lightly pressed the toe of his boot on
throat. All the
shadows wrapped around
him gathered and coiled together at his chest, like a snake about to
asked sleepily. “Sauro...Giaco! GIACO!” he
shrieked, scrambling over to
back, Luca,” the
shadowy man told him. “I
have to deal
with this man.”
screamed Luca. “NO,
Sauro, don’t hurt him!”
He clutched at the shadowy man’s calf..
back, Luca!” ordered
again. When Sauro
tried to shake him
off, he bit his calf as hard as he could.
Sauro cried out and kicked him away, but the distraction
was enough to
allow Giacomo to slide out from under his boot.
Before he could get up, however, Luca had thrown himself
of Giacomo, pinning him to the floor.
“Giaco! You found me!”
soon as Luca touched him,
Giacomo felt a wave of the same fear that had engulfed him in the
wash over him, so that he had to bite his lip to stifle a whimper. He quickly looked over
Luca’s face. The
hollows under his eyes and in his cheeks
seemed very dark, as if a shadow was sitting under his skin.
course I found you,”
Giacomo told him. “Just
let me get up
and deal with this man, and then we’ll go back up to the
Castle, where you’ll
Giaco, no! You
can’t fight him!”
let me get my sword,”
Giacomo said, trying gently to disengage himself from Luca’s
boy is correct,” said
Sauro. He was
standing only a couple of
paces away from them, but was making no attempt to attack them again. “You
can’t fight me.”
wouldn’t be too sure of
that,” said Giacomo. The
himself that Luca’s touch had caused was receding, only to be
replaced by fear
for Luca, which was causing courage to rise up in him once again.
know you are brave on the
battlefield, and almost unvanquishable in single combat,”
said Sauro. His
voice, like his features, remained
unreadable: Giacomo was unable to figure out whether he was happy or
fearful or brave. He
was simply a dark
object that resembled a man. “But
kind of courage will help you little here.
It has gotten you to this point, that is true, but
courage, like reason,
can only take you so far. You
to fight past my wards of fear, but it was only when you stopped
you could come through the wall.
Frankly, I am impressed.
thought anyone who made it that far would give up.
Only someone who has abandoned his dependence on time and
could have entered. Prince
it that way when he founded the Order of Infinity, and as far as I
are the first outside of the Order to penetrate our chamber.”
tried once again to
slide out of Luca’s embrace, but Luca tightened his grip and
refused to let him
get up. Giacomo
knew he could throw
Luca off if he had to, but he was unwilling to force Luca away from
finally found him.
so, do not think you
can defeat me,” continued Sauro.
shadows that swathed him began to gather and coil once more. This time, Giacomo was
pinned by Luca, and
could only try vainly to twitch has leg out of the way when
flowed down and around his ankle.
was like being chained by cold smoke.
let me go!” Giacomo
whispered fiercely into his ear. Luca
shook his head stubbornly.
move out of my way,” Sauro
ordered him calmly. “Let
me deal with
this man. If he
does not fight me, I
will let him live. He
would be a
loosened his grip on
Giacomo’s neck and began to get up, but when he saw the
shadow flowing up his
leg, he shrieked “NO!” and flung himself back down
on top of Giacomo, pushing
back the shadow with his hands. It
flowed obediently away from him.
Sauro, please stop,
don’t hurt him.”
Tears started running
down Luca’s face. “I’ll
do what you
want, I promise, just don’t hurt him.
Let him take me back up.
promise I’ll do everything you asked me to.”
shouted Giacomo. This
time he shook Luca off onto the floor
and jumped to his feet. “Whatever
asked, Luca, don’t do it.
Giaco, he might hurt
was crying even harder now.
began circling away
from Luca, hoping to draw Sauro away from and also to get within reach
doesn’t matter,” Giacomo
said to Luca, not taking his eyes off Sauro.
The shadows had settled back down around him, obscuring
long as you’re safe, Luca,
nothing else matters.”
would be a shame to kill
you, Giacomo dal Prado,” said Sauro quietly.
The shadows suddenly lashed out, knocking Giacomo to the
wrapping around his legs again. “Tell
him, Luca,” he ordered.
“Tell him what
I want from you.”
wants me to know there
is more than logic and reason,” Luca said tearfully. Giacomo could hear that he
was repeating back what Sauro must
have told him more than once.
wants to teach me a different kind of art than paint on canvas. He wants me to know the
power of shadow, so
that I do not turn my back on it as my father and brother and many
have done. He wants
me to save him and
don’t seem to be in need
of much saving!” He
the shadow that was pinning his legs, but it only tightened around him
do you know!” Sauro’s
shadows drew closer around him. “I
suppose you have not heard what happened to men such as Paolo dal
Michele Fabbro, or what is in store for your own countryman, Gianmarco
“Gianmarco...” Giacomo knew his father
had mentioned it to
him in his last letter. “There
business...He was charged with something...My father was going to speak
favor at the trial.”
was charged with cursing
a well,” said Sauro. “A
to be brought by a supposed man of reason like your Count Fabio. Your father did speak on
his behalf, or
rather, he argued that there were no such thing as curses, and
charges against Gianmarco should be dropped.
But Count Fabio is like many of you so-called Reborn men:
he has sided
with reason because he fears the unknown, not because he is a rational
man. He said that
although he did not
believe in curses, if they did exist then Gianmarco had put one on the
and if they didn’t, then Gianmarco was guilty of spreading
lies and working
against his lawful lord, and sentenced him to hang.”
hang!” cried Giacomo
involuntarily. “Gianmarco! Gianmarco could never do
is too true,” agreed
Sauro dryly. “Gianmarco
is a member of
our Order, but he has never gained any of our knowledge. He cannot even scry into
tomorrow. But he is
a member nonetheless, and as such
Fabio feels threatened by him. More
more men of power are joining the Rebirth, not because they believe in
principles, but because they think it offers them safety. And they are using it as
an excuse to round
up and dispose of those whom they fear–herbwomen,
fortune-tellers, and, above
all, members of the Order. Already
than half-a-dozen have been killed, and Gianmarco appears to be the
next. So we decided
did you have to take
didn’t you just rescue
Gianmarco and all the others?” demanded Giacomo, struggling
again against the
shadow that held him. He
had no more success
this time than the last, but he was unable to lie there tamely.
do what we can, but the
more we act directly against men like Count Fabio, the more we inflame
against us. We
decided we needed to use
a less direct route.” Sauro
King has already joined the
Rebirth, as has Prince Desiderato.
neither of them are much amenable to persuasion anyway–or
reason, for that
everyone knows that Prince
Luca is not only young, he is open, obliging, eager to please. We wanted to show him what
we were capable
of, so that he would neither disbelieve nor despise us.”
you kidnapped him and
brought him down here! How
win him over to your side!”
has not been all bad, has
it hasn’t,” answered
Luca. His voice was
weak, but he seemed
to Giacomo to be speaking the truth.
“But now I want to go home, Sauro.
You showed me many wonderful things, but I want to have my
bed back. You can
come visit me any time, you know.”
has quite the gift for
what a man like you might call ‘magic,’”
said Sauro. “Quite
different from his ability in a ‘rational’ subject
painting, which he doesn’t like very much at all, do you,
very much,” agreed
other stuff is so much
better! Giaco, when
we get back home, I
want to show you some of the things Sauro has shown me.”
was astonished to
discover that the burning sensation spreading through his chest was
thought that Sauro not
only knew Luca didn’t like painting, but could offer him
something better, made
him more jealous than he could ever remember being in his life. Giacomo had always thought
was the man in Luca’s life, the one who looked after him and
everything he needed to know. The
had never taken an interest in him, and Prince Desi had better things
than spend time with a much younger brother, so Giacomo had had sole
Luca since the day he was weaned.
sight of Luca looking trustingly up at Sauro and agreeing that he liked
Sauro could teach him much better than what Giacomo could offer, made
Giacomo, want to writhe with jealousy.
He was heartily ashamed of the feeling, but unable to push
he was struggling to
bring this unexpected outburst of jealousy under control, Luca was
seriously to Sauro, “Sauro, please let me go home. I promise I’ll
keep believing everything you’ve told me.
Even if you weren’t my friend I’d have
believe you, because I’d be stupid not to believe what
I’d seen with my own
eyes. But you said
you were my friend,
so you have to let me go home. I
promise you can come visit me whenever you want to.
I like learning to do all those things you showed me much
than painting, I promise.”
about him?” asked
Sauro, pointing at Giacomo. “Will
let us be friends?”
promise he will,” said
Luca with conviction.
walked over closer to
you sure, Luca?” he
man like that will have a
hard time standing by. Everything
him–duty, honor, reason–will cry out that he must
hunt me down and put an end
to me. He
won’t want to leave someone
so dangerous free to go around as I please.”
with all that, but refrained from saying so.
said Luca, coming
over to stand next to Giacomo and still speaking very seriously. “You are my man,
are you not?”
course I am.” Most
of the jealousy unclenched its hold on
Giacomo’s breast. No
one but he could
have taught Luca how to act like a prince.
do you promise to do as
I ask here?”
rephrased his answer
several times in his head before speaking it out loud.
“My Prince,” he said carefully,
consider myself to be failing in my duty to you if I allowed you to
take what I
thought to be a rash and foolish step without expressing my feelings on
subject. The world
is a very
complicated place, and you still have little experience in
cannot say that Sauro is
wrong, though,” said Luca.
seen what he can do, and you have heard from your father what is being
innocent men like Gianmarco dal Prado, all in the name of reason. And anyway, he
won’t let us out of here
unless we agree, and I want to go home, and I want you to come with me. You have to come back with
me, Giaco.” Most
of Luca’s serious, grown-up air slipped
away from him, and his lips started to tremble.
will let you go free, if
you agree never to work against me,” said Sauro, sounding so
Giacomo was almost inclined to believe him.
kidnapped him,” said
took him away and hid him
from me. Do you
know what it is like
when the child in your care disappears like that?
Do you know how it feels, not knowing where he is, or whom
with, or what has happened to him, or even if he’s still
alive or not? Do
you have any idea what that feels
like? I was sick
with worry! I
couldn’t even think straight!
If anything had happened to him...I could
barely breathe for thinking about it!
If I hadn’t found him, I would have killed
had struggled up into
a sitting position as his voice had risen to a shout, but he was still
to get free of the shadow’s grip on his legs.
When he fell silent, Sauro pushed him back down with his
wrapped him in more shadows, so that his arms were pinned to his sides.
see, Luca,” he said
not sure that this one is
entirely trustworthy. I
don’t think he
should be allowed to return to the surface.”
no, you have to let him
take me home,” cried Luca.
you’re big enough now
to make it back to the Castle on your own,” said Sauro. Another shadow was coiling
at his chest, and
Giacomo was suddenly sure that it was meant for his face or throat, and
substanceless as it seemed, it would have no trouble cutting off his
breath. The horror
of dying like that
made him struggle like a wild thing, but without freeing so much as a
Sauro!” screamed Luca,
throwing himself again onto Giacomo.
The shadow holding Giacomo’s torso dissipated
like smoke at Luca’s
touch, so that while his legs were still bound, Giacomo suddenly found
able to sit up and clutch Luca to him.
you hurt him, I won’t do
any of the things you asked!” shouted Luca. “I
won’t, just out of spite!
I’ll only go back with Giaco!
You have to let him go!
If you let him go, I’ll do everything you
ask, but if you don’t, I’ll ask my father to round
up all your brothers we can
find, and hang them all! I
looked at them for a
while before saying, “very well.
means that much to you. I
will show you
that you are right to trust me. I
I can say the same of you.”
with his fingers, and the shadow around Giacomo’s legs flowed
back to join the
others around him.
got cautiously to his
feet, still holding Luca in his arms.
Sauro made no move to stop him.
Giacomo looked around the chamber for the way out. There was no sign of a
door. He remembered
that this was a dream, which
meant that he should be able to pass out through the wall just as
easily as he
had come in. Luca
began to squirm in
me down,” he
reluctantly let him
you need to collect
anything before we leave?” he asked.
shook his head. Giacomo
gathered up his sword, took Luca by
the hand, and began walking towards the far wall.
will I see you again?”
answered Sauro. It
was difficult to tell with all the
shadows around him, but it seemed to Giacomo that he was sorry to see
go. Giacomo almost
wall through which he had
entered seemed extremely solid when he touched it.
He ran his hand over it doubtfully.
There had to be a way out, since there
had been a way in,
but now that he was faced with the need to find it, it eluded him. Normally in dreams these
kinds of obstacles
just melted away effortlessly.
are you doing, Giaco?”
asked Luca, fidgeting impatiently.
cold. Just do
whatever you did to get
in. Just concentrate on where you want to go.”
tried to concentrate
on where he wanted to go, but the wall remained as solid as ever.
said Sauro brusquely,
coming over to them. “I’ll
take you through.” He
put an arm around each of them, and
before Giacomo had time to object, he found him trapped in immobility
cold. He could feel
Sauro’s thin rib
cage pressed against his own, but could not see or hear anything. Suddenly the feeling of
disappeared, although everything around him was as black as ever.
are at the bottom of the
passage that will take you to the first tomb,” Sauro told
am sorry I have no torch for you, but if
you make your way upwards, you will come to your companions eventually. There are no false
presence was gone from Giacomo’s side
before he could thank him for taking them through, or threaten him with
would do if he ever came near Luca again–Giacomo
wasn’t sure which he meant to
don’t like the dark,” said
Luca in a small voice.
keep holding onto my
hand,” Giacomo told him.
“All we have
to do is go upwards.” He
unsure whether he was currently awake or dreaming, but everything felt
extremely real. Of
course, it often did
in dreams. He began
leading the way up
the stairs. Luca
clutched his hand very
hard, and stayed as close to him as possible.
take his mind off his fear
of the dark, Giacomo asked Luca to tell him about everything that had
happened. Luca said
that Sauro had been
in his bed when he had gotten back in after talking to Ulricco, and
that he had
grabbed Luca and covered his mouth before he could cry out, and they
suddenly dropped through the bed and spent a long time dropping down
through the walls, which had delighted Luca almost as much as it had
him. Once they had
arrived in the
chamber, Sauro had introduced himself and talked to Luca for a long
explaining who he was and what he wanted, and shown Luca many wonderful
he could do, and given him a shadow of his own, and had even had Luca
scry in a
bowl of water, to Luca’s great excitement.
said that ordinary
fortune-tellers just look for signs and try to interpret them, but
know the secrets of the Order can actually see what is happening in
and places, and I looked into the water, Giaco, and I saw you! You were walking down the
street, and I knew
you were looking for me. I
bowl to Sauro, and he saw the same thing, but he didn’t know
who you were, so I
told him all about you, about how you know so many things, and what a
fighter you are, and how you would find me soon and take me back home,
Sauro asked me if I knew you were coming because I saw it in the water
because I hoped you would, and I said I already knew you would come get
I also saw it in the water, and Sauro asked me if I really wanted to go
with you, because he thought you probably wouldn’t want me to
what he could teach me, and I told him you were my best friend and I
go back with you as soon as you came for me, but that I also wanted to
learning and I was sure you wouldn’t try to stop me when you
saw all the
amazing things Sauro can do and you heard about what is happening to
it amazing that I saw
you in the water before you came?
so excited! I’d
never done anything
like that before! Giaco,
it was so much
better than painting! It
might even be
better than swordfighting, I don’t know.
I like them both.
when do you think we’ll see Sauro again?”
very soon, I hope,” said
not sure he’s the best teacher
but Giaco, he can do so
many things! And we
can’t keep him away
even if we wanted to, you saw that, and I want him to be my friend. I’m going to
make my father promise not to
hurt any more members of the Order.
was wrong of Sauro to take me away like that, but he couldn’t
help it, could
he? I mean, I think
I would do the same
thing if I were him, wouldn’t you?
much longer, Giaco?”
long now.” And
in fact, Luca had been so enthralled in
his tale that they had covered most of the distance without him once
of his fear of the dark, and in very short order they had come to the
tomb, and had crawled through the opening into the chamber. It was unlit, but their
could pick up the faint flickering glow of distant torches, and when
called out, many voices hailed them in return.
gotten worried when he hadn’t come back from his examination
of the oldest
tomb, and, although unable to conquer their fear themselves, they had
in search of reinforcements, and the entire party of guards was just
down the passageway to the oldest tomb when Giacomo and Luca came out. Sauro must have disabled
his wards of fear,
for no one had any trouble this time, and Giacomo and Luca were soon
by a dozen very happy men.
ran on ahead to
report Luca’s discovery to the King and Queen, who excused
themselves from the
del Sole delegation and met them in the Hall of Swords. The Queen burst
dramatic tears and pressed Luca to her bosom.
Luckily for him, he was very dirty, and as soon as she
realized he was
soiling her best gown, she released him.
The King congratulated all the guards and demanded to know
villain was, and why they had failed to bring back either him or his
head, and how it had happened that the first search had failed to find
him. Luca tried to
explain, but he was
quickly hushed up and told he needed to be bathed and put to bed
immediately. A good
rest would cure him
of his wild fancies.
Giacomo had handed Luca
over to the ministration of three maids and half-a-dozen guards,
voluble protests that he wasn’t tired and he wasn’t
making anything up, he
reported everything to the King. He
changing or concealing parts of the story, but he could see that Luca
determined to reveal everything, and he didn’t have the heart
to call Luca a
King listened to his
report in silence. When
finished, he said, “we are very grateful for your discovery
of Prince Luca,
however it was contrived. I
that you take some rest, and we will continue this discussion when your
clearer. Now, if
you will excuse me,
the delegation awaits.”
went back up to
Luca’s tower, to see how he was fairing.
He found him bathed and tucked into bed, but wide awake.
all dirty,” were his
first words to Giacomo. “You
take a bath.”
soon as you are ready for
me to leave you,” Giacomo promised him.
“How do you feel?”
feel quite well. I
wish they hadn’t put me to bed; I’m not
tired at all. I
want to talk to my
father, and tell him everything that happened again.
He doesn’t believe us, does he?”
afraid not.” Giacomo
bent over Luca and smoothed down his
still-damp hair. Despite
his claims of
not being tired, he could see by the dark circles under
Luca’s eyes and the
blueness around his temples that he was suffering from his missed night
sleep. He blinked
and yawned, and
Giacomo thought he could see the shadow lying under his skin, rippling
quite with his movement.
you sure you feel well?”
sure. Well, if my
father won’t believe me, I’ll
just have to make him believe me.
He listens to Desi all the time; it’s time for
him to start listening to
me. Giaco, I know
what I saw, I know
that Sauro was telling the truth.
know that too, don’t you?”
said Giacomo, with
more conviction than he felt.
knew I could depend on
you, Giaco,” said Luca happily.
yawned again. “Will you stay with me for a little while? Sit on the bed next to me;
I don’t care if
you’re dirty, the maids can just wash the sheets
sat down on the bed
next to him and held his hand until he fell asleep, which was not very
time at all. When
he was convinced that
Luca was sleeping, Giacomo reluctantly peeled his fingers out of
grasp. The shadow
under his skin was
still there, if he didn’t look at it too hard, but it seemed
to offer Luca no
immediate threat, so he kissed him on the forehead and quietly slipped
walked down to the
courtyard, which was temporarily deserted now that the delegation had
inside and all the servants and guards were busy attending them. He sat down on a bench in
the portico, and
looked out into the warm sunlight.
was almost too tired to stand up straight, but he didn’t
think he could go to
bed yet. His eyes
ached from the
brightness, and his head swam heavily back and forth, so that one
minute he was
focused on the join between two stones flagging the courtyard, and the
was down in the catacombs again and the fear was waiting just over his
shoulder, pressing down on him, ready to pounce on him again.
shook his head to clear
it, and almost slid off the bench.
knew that he should eat something, bathe, and go to bed, but he
himself up to move. He
put his hand on
the stucco of the portico railing, and the sensation of its rough grain
his palm was so intense that for a moment he could think of nothing
How do I know this is not
he asked himself. Everything
seemed so real and so familiar
that it had to be true, but at the same time it was
the reality of a
dream, which is unquestionably real to the dreamer.
Reason and everything he had known all his life insisted
could not have spent the day running from fortune-teller to
then followed their instructions, and then been almost unmanned by fear
and then gone down in that dark passage without a light or a companion
back on it, that seemed the most unlikely thing of all–every
protested against such an irrational action), and then somehow passed
solid stone, not once but twice, and fought with shadows, and...His
slipped off the railing. He
asleep for a moment. But
now he was
definitely awake. Unless
he had been
awake then, and now he was dreaming.
Perhaps Sauro was right, and the laws of space and time,
of sleeping and
waking, were only constructs made by men in order to make the world
enough for their understanding. He
thought of the shadow under Luca’s skin, and a new, dreadful
kind of fear clutched
at his heart.
it doesn’t matter,” he
said to himself. “It
doesn’t matter if
it was a dream or not, when he looked into the water he saw me,
King or Prince Desi or anyone else, but me. He said he knew I would
come even before he looked, and when he
did look, the first thing he saw was me.
Shadow or no shadow, he’s still mine through and