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Topic Subject: The Heir Unapparent - Story Thread
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posted 05-02-02 20:15 EST (US)   


WRITTEN BY: Cellish, GillB, Jayhawk, Lancer, Micah Aragorn, and thurdl01

Alfredo: Duke of Millefiore (Thousand Flowers). Middle-aged. Weary of duties. Father of Ricco, Loriana and Caterina. (Jayhawk/Micah Aragorn)
Bianca: 17-year old apprentice to Roberto del Strego. Quiet, clever and loyal. Slender figure, deep violet eyes, with a shock of dark curly hair that regularly escapes from her braids. She's not unattractive, but very unaware. Makes no effort to enhance her looks. Nicknamed 'Ceneri' (ashes) because she's always smudged with the ashes from various fires. (Jayhawk)
Caimbeaul: Captain of Duke Suciando's troops. Above average heighth and build; black hair with black goatee. Weather-worn facial features, reddened skin, dry wrinkles, cracked, chapped lips. Irritable disposition. Gains loyalty through fear of his wrath. Respected for his battle experience. (Cellish)
Carlo: Boyhood friend of Ricco's. Now one of his advisors and lieutenants. (Micah Aragorn)
Caterina: 19-year old, 3rd child of the Duke, nicknamed 'Cat'. Has slightly feline appearance.
She's of average heighth, slim build, with a slightly pointed face and large green cat-like eyes. She has long black curly hair and a smiling mouth. A mix of "romantic" and "wild child", she's fiercely loyal to her family but fears Ricco, her older brother. Overly sheltered by father. (GillB)

Cesare: Thief, opportunist, mercenary, can be loyal if the cause attracts him, about 31 years old, medium build, black hair, brown eyes. (Lancer)
Crimson Knight: Paladin of unknown origin. Wears crimson red clothing and full crimson head mask or bright metal armor with crimson plume and cape. (Lancer)
Dante: Boyhood friend of Ricco's. Now an advisor and lieutenant. (Micah Aragorn)
Figaro: Jester. Brown hair, brown eyes. Tanned complexion. 21-years old. Somewhat well muscled and slightly taller than typical. Wears multicolor, geometric patterned clothing. Adept swordsman who entertains with verbal humor and physical stunts. (Lancer)
Giangiacomo Ghaia: Minstrel. Very tall. Green eyes. Tendency towards melancholy. (Jayhawk)
Loriana: Duke's middle child. Has auburn hair and hazel eyes. Frugal, wise, practical with money. Sensitive and wise to the needs of the people. Widely liked by the people. (Micah Aragorn)
Ricco: Duke's oldest son, heir to title. Has dark eyes, black hair. Spendthrift; arrogant like a bully. Feared and disliked by populace. (Micah Aragorn)
Roberto del Strego: A wizard who lives in San Luca Maggiore. Bushy-bearded, thick-eyebrowed, portly, red-faced Roman, with big hands and an impressive (roman) nose. He moved north to get away from the Church. He's loud, bluff (rough, blunt, but not unkind). He constantly wipes a bald spot on his head with a handkerchief. (Jayhawk)
Suciando: Duke of San Luca Maggiore (Greater St. Luke). Spotty (salt n pepper) beard; thin eyebrows; entrapping turquoise-colored eyes. (thurdl01)

Millefiore: "Thousand Flowers" - The home of Duke Alfredo and family (Ricco and half sisters Loriana and Caterina).
San Luca Maggiore: "Greater Saint Luke" - The home of Suciando and his minions.

Please only post story episodes in this thread. To communicate with other writers, please use the following link to the STORY DISCUSSION THREAD.

One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 08-12-2002 @ 09:44 PM).]

posted 05-02-02 21:42 EST (US)     1 / 140  

In the town centers of dukedoms, citystates and villages all along the PO River, towncriers called out their summons in loud voices and the ringing of brass hand bells.

"To me! To me! There is news! Important news!" Anyone and everyone in earshot who could hear rushed to learn what news the criers carried. The centers filled with cobblers, butchers, tailors, carpenters, smithies and with every level of citizenry there present, from peasant to merchant to strolling nobility.

"There is news from the east and the west!" called out the crier. "There is war between Genoa and Venice!" The dukes in the west favor Genoa and ally with her! The dukes in the east ally with Venice! They battle at sea near Acre!"

An avalanche of voices called out questions, mostly the same. "Who won? Are we in danger? Whose side do we favor?"

The town crier answered only the few that he could. "The battle was indecisive! There is no danger at present! The Duke has yet to decide our alliance! All will be told when known! The Duke commands we pursue our trades and our business as before! Continue as before!" Knowing he would be beset with countless questions, the town crier quickly ran from the Center and made his way to the Keep to receive any news recently learned. The people in the Center found friends and neighbors to talk with about the news, and slowly the Center emptied of people as normalcy returned.

One old man sat by himself on a short rickety wooden stool carving on a piece of soft wood. He shook his head sadly, his melancholoy eyes mirroring his thoughts. Old memories returned. The battlecries of soldiers when the battle begins; the mechanical clumpf of war machines casting their missles against castle walls; the crackling of flames leaping from buildings into the night; the screaming of the wounded; and the crying of the children day in, day out.

He said out loud though no one was around to listen, "I'm too old for this. I hope the old Duke thinks he himself is as well."

Unfortunately, the old man would be disappointed.

One word deserves another.
posted 05-02-02 22:13 EST (US)     2 / 140  
The news of the battle was received elsewhere at the same time, as a lone runner came panting to the gates of a small town, ground wet and muddy from the recent rains. The man fell on his knees in exhaustion, and pounded on the great wood gates with what little strength he had.

"I must speak with the Duke!"


The air had a bite to it, and the Duke's nose felt scratchy as the stench of ozone filled the air. To many noses, this would be the smell of a clean renewal. To the Duke, however, it hit him like a slap in the face.

The fact that the rain also emphasized the smell of human waste did nothing to help the situation.

He then looked down at the shell of a man that had been brought to him, and left at his feet. His guards stood a few paces off, pikes held in their hands, knuckles white with effort, as though any moment the sticks might spring to life and attempt an escape.

Certainly there was more chance of the pikes springing to life than the messenger.

"Duke. Genoa and Venice are at each other's throats. They fight at Acre."

The Duke tugged slightly at his beard and managed a smile. He then spoke with a voice as much weasel as human. "Excellent. What was the outcome."

"A stalemate, Duke. It was merely a skirmish."

"So much more the better. Come now, you must be exhausted. The guards will see to it that you get plenty of rest." Duke Suciando then turned away, and began slogging through the mud that lay between him and his keep.

The next day, the broken body of the messenger was thrown out of the town to bait the wolves of the forest.

posted 05-03-02 20:16 EST (US)     3 / 140  
The wooden covered wagon rumbled along on the cobbled stones of the ancient road that closely followed the twists and turns of the River Po. It was a Roman road, built centuries ago by the soldiers of the only great empire ever to rise from these lands. Now, only the Empire's ruined buildings could be seen... and the roads that seemed to defy time and the elements.

The driver snapped the reins just enough to remind the two horses pulling the wagon it was their task to do so. One of the horses, Giuseppe he had named him, tossed his head and mane as if to say, "Alright, alright, we know." The speed of the wagon, not particularly fast, increased enough to satisfy the driver that the horses were indeed doing what was expected.

The covered wagon had the look of the gypsy about it. A bench in front supported the driver and up to two passengers. Behind the bench was the front wall of the wagon. A small solid wood window was there that could be opened from either side depending upon the set of the exterior or interior locks. From there, the outer walls of the wagon swept back in a straight line of caulked wooden planks that supported a curved, waterproof (most of the time) wooden plank roof. The wagon ended in an entry that was shaped like the front, but featured a short door accessible only by stooping as one opened the door and entered. A short set of hinged stairs was locked in place at the outside foot of the door so that they could be quickly lowered to give acces to the wagon's entrance.

The eye-catching feature of the wagon was its gaily painted mix of colors applied to its exterior with obvious intent to capture the interest of anyone in the vicinity. They seemed to be placed 'just so' to enable the observer's eyes to travel involuntarily to the words painted in bright blue on each of the two broad sides of the covered wagon. The words were: FIGARO - JESTER EXTRAORDINAIRE.

Indeed it was Figaro, himself, who drove the wagon, the wheeled contraption being the only home he truly possessed; for Figaro was a "Jester For Hire" and never stayed anyplace long enough to call it his home. Just he alone shared the wagon and its contents. There was no one else... oh, except for the horses; but they lived outside. Only Figaro lived in the wagon. He presumed the horses preferred it that way so that they could have their privacy.

Figaro was somewhat taller than average, compared to most of the village folk along the river. He had brown eyes set in a tanned face, framed by brownish hair of varying lengths; but no strand too long or too short. He was moderately well muscled, mostly because his style of jestering required substantial physical effort and his body had responded by placing somewhat stronger than usual muscles where they would most likely be needed.

He had spent the last 5 of his 21 years an orphan, thanks to the last time the plague had struck his village. He survived only because he wasn't there when it happened. Instead, he had been apprenticing with the blacksmith in a nearby village because the local smithie in his own village already had an apprentice. They both fell victim to the plague as well.

It was the day after Figaro learned of his parent's death, he being their only child, that the jester and the mercenary passed through the village. His master the smithie, a good man, had pleaded with him not to go, that he, Figaro, was needed in the other village now that the shop was empty. Figaro, the youth, wouldn't listen (how many ever do). The boy set out to follow the jester and to apprentice in his trade rather than live in his parent's empty cottage and be reminded of his loss every day of his life.

The jester taught Figaro how to make people laugh; and the former mercenary who traveled with the jester, taught Figaro his skill with a sword. It was his master's wagon he now drove along the banks of the Po. One evening it seemed, after the mercenary had departed to be in one last battle and to secure one last pouch of gold, the jester had become exceedingly drunk. He stopped the wagon while Figaro slept, stepped to the side of the road to make use of some cover for personal need, stepped too far in his bleary eyed, foggy minded state, and went over the side of a steep embankment. Figaro found him later on, a contorted mass at the foot of the embankment, and knew with a single glance that his apprenticeship was concluded. A burial was the ceremony that marked the passage of one jester to his reward, and his successor to his work.

In the next town, for a few coin, the local artist made the changes. The lettering in blue came to life to replace the old lettering on the wagon's sides. In place of his master's name, a new name appeared: FIGARO - JESTER EXTRAORDINAIRE.

One word deserves another.
posted 05-05-02 03:54 EST (US)     4 / 140  
"Aw! Just in time for dinner.", bellowed the oldest child of Duke Alfredo tossing aside the coat he wore and sitting down upon the right of his father. He grabbed for the nights prepared meal of roasted fowl and vegetables from the Duke's tillered land.

"Your table manners are as bad as your timing, Ricco", said the old Duke looking at his son's savage eating. "I suppose you have been out again with those two friends of yours, Dante and Carlo, letting my people know who you are."

Using his sleeve to wipe away the juices of the meal from his mouth he replied to his father, "How else will they know not to disobey me. I wish them to know I am not to be ignored so that when my turn to rule them arrives they will know of me."

Ricco's brow lowered and accented the coal black eyes that pierced through what ever he looked at. He was of medium height with a muscular build that he used quite well to bully the inhabitants that lived within the limits of his father's lands.

"Fear! You think you win their loyalty with fear.", Loriana sitting on the opposite side of the Duke questioned her brother's method.

"And you think killing them with kindness works better" replied Ricco. "At least with me they know what to expect."

"It's not kindness,dear brother. It's understanding what they will better respond to.", said the second sibling of the Duke.

Smirking and laughing at Loriana's order of ruling, Ricco replied as he pulled a concealed dagger from his clothing, "This is what they understand." And used the weapon to spear another piece of the roasted meat.

Loriana tried not to let her brother's exhibition of his intimidating nature show him his bullying tactics were working. She continued to eat the meal in the proper etiquette as trained by her now deceased Mother. Her right hand wisped the auburn hair from her hazel eyes and let the candle from the table highlight her delicately beautiful features. She had inherited her Mother's beauty as well as her sense of being; while her father taught her the values of life itself and all the intricacies of it. And she had learned her lessons well.

Ricco, tired of his conversation with his sister, turned once again to his Father and said," You do know of the war between Genoa and Venice and of the sea battle fought between them."

"Yes, I have been informed", said the old Duke.

"And who are we to hold allegiance to, Father?

Duke Alfedo took his time to answer Ricco thinking upon his answer to make it clear to his son," I do not know yet. Nor do I know if I will at all. We buy and trade with both."

"You can't just wait and see if this will pass us over, Father. You need to take a stand as everyone else has or is. If you don't allegiance will come looking for YOU."

The Duke preturbed at his son's desire to enter a war remembering what it can only bring answered," You are young and full of fight. But I still am ruler of this land and make the decisions as to its well being. I will decide if and when."

Ricco flopped himself back in the seat and with a scowl on his face of a child who didn't like being corrected mumbled to himself," Maybe not for long!"

As all of this conversation was taking place a third sibling sat and ate listening intently forming her own opinions...........

posted 05-05-02 05:19 EST (US)     5 / 140  
Caterina sat back in the shadows. She hated it when Ricco was in this sort of mood and wondered, as she often did, how it was that her wise father and his first wife, a gentle kind woman she had been told, could have produced a son like him.

Frankly, she was afraid of him. She loved her father and Loriana deeply, but she spent most of her time trying to avoid being with Ricco and had come to dread the meals when her father insisted that they ate together as a family. Loriana had told her to stand up for herself because bullies dislike confrontation but, as yet, she hadn't felt ready to try.

"Well, little one?" Her father's voice broke into her thoughts and made her visibly jump. "Don't shrink back in the shadows there. What do you think we should do?"

"I ... I don't know, father," she replied falteringly. She hated it when he tried to bring her into mealtime conversations. "I'm sure that whichever way you choose to go will be the right one." She cringed as she said the words, knowing that she was laying herself open to more mocking remarks from her brother. She wasn't disappointed.

"Father's little pet can't make up her own mind?" he asked disparagingly. "Why don't you go back to your needlework and leave politics to the people who know?"

Cat steeled herself not to cry. She was determined not to let him see how much his words affected her. However, her father would not leave it and turned on his son.

"If you can't keep a civil tongue in your head, then leave the table." It was lucky for the Duke that the subdued light in the Hall prevented him from seeing the malevolent glare directed at him by his son, but he subsided for the time being, resorting to tearing at his food as an outlet for his anger.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures

[This message has been edited by GillB (edited 05-06-2002 @ 05:49 PM).]

posted 05-05-02 20:13 EST (US)     6 / 140  
The children watching him giggled at his antics. Figaro always took note of the mood and mix of his audience; it was something his master had taught him repeatedly. Today's audience was mostly children and a few adults. In this scenario he played to the children, using juggling, disappearing tricks and odd expressions to amuse and entertain. His choice today was small multicolored balls.

Figaro made the six balls fly into the air seemingly bound for escape, then at the last possible second their arc curving and the balls descending into his other hand, only to be launched again in a different direction. The children were especially amused when he launched one in an unexpected direction and with a panicked expression made a leap and tumble to retrieve it, replacing his expression with a self-satisfied smile and a loud sigh.

Some jesters he knew from the trade seemed to revel in tight fitting clothes that appeared to be painted onto their bodies; but these jesters were dancers and poets and not acrobats or tumblers like Figaro. He tried to wear a thin material, tight fitting costume in one exhibition only to regret that decision. Pulling small pebbles out of one's posterior after a tumble, then treating the resulting bruises in the days that followed taught him the merits of careful site selection and thicker, looser material, though dyed colorfully as a jester's clothes should be.

He owed his current wardrobe to a particularly talented young seamstress with whom he spent some time in a village near Genoa. She never ceased to marvel at his tricks and never seemed to tire of his funny stories. Then the war started and... Well, the seamstress was expecting something Figaro wasn't prepared to do and so he felt it was time to leave. That's how he came to be on the road and found his way to this village on this particular day. For the moment though, he was thinking only about his performance, not upon the travel ahead, or even the lovely seamstress he left behind in tears.

Figaro's performance ended and small coins began to tinkle as they were pitched by the more affluent among the adults and caught by Figaro with his hat. A small girl of about 10 years of age approached Figaro shyly. "Master Jester," she said. "I think you are a very good jester, and very funny too."

"Well... Do you now," said Figaro, smiling. "Then for you, something special." Figaro waved his left hand to distract the girl's attention, then deftly withdrew from inside his shirt a small flower he had found and placed there before the performance began. He kept it hidden in his right hand and only allowed it to appear after waving his left hand across his right hand. "A lovely little flower for a very nice girl. Now go to your mother. I see her standing there waiting for you." The girl smiled, accepted the flower, curtsied and ran to her mother to describe what had just happened and to show off her prize.

Figaro watched her run off. Make them happy and you will be rewarded, his master had said. He looked inside his hat and counted 5 small coins. Not much in the way of happiness to be found there, but enough to buy supplies for a few days. The mother listened to her daughter's story and then glanced in Figaro's direction. Unspoken words were communicated in that glance, punctuated by the sparkling, happy eyes of the little girl who turned and waved as they both left Figaro behind. The master was right, concluded Figaro. There is indeed more than one kind of 'happy' and more than one kind of reward.

One word deserves another.
posted 05-06-02 03:02 EST (US)     7 / 140  
Duke Alfredo felt weary.
The new war between Venice and Genoa was not what he'd been hoping for and the trade he had with both, made it difficult to choose sides. He looked out of the window at the little town that sprawled around the castello, he'd seen it prosper since the days of his grand-father, a kind old man who'd always had time for his willful grand-child.

Alfredo smiled a sad smile at this thought, for his grandfather then hadn't been much older than he was now. Time...time was if not an enemy, certainly not a friend. It had taken away his first wife at the birth of his son Ricco, a child they had long waited for. The child had turned into a spiteful young man, definitely not the heir he'd hoped for.

His second wife, Beatriz had given him two girls, then passed away of a fever when Caterina was still an infant. He'd never remarried and wondered if he should have. If he should have tried for another boy, a better heir.

He sighed again, and drank deeply from the goblet of watered wine he was holding. He had to find a way to make sure all that they had built would not go to hell, but how to make sure Ricco would not feel slighted. Maybe Loriana would find a strong man to take her side.

If Fate was kind he would have some time left to wait for this to happen.

posted 05-06-02 18:54 EST (US)     8 / 140  
The flung goblet of wine passed inches from the faces of Dante and Carlo before it struck the wall shattering and leaving a large wet spot. The two looked wide eyed at Ricco who moments before had been holding that same goblet.

"Urrrr",came the deep growling in Ricco's throat. "My Father hides his head in the dirt hoping no one will see him. He has gotten too old. It's time for new blood."

Dante taking a chance that Ricco's temperment had subsided," But he is still master and the decisions still come from him".

"That can change quickly", replied Ricco.

Carlo sitting quietly quiped," What can you do to change this predicament."

Ricco sat down beside his two companions and leaning forward cupped his chin with his right hand. His eyebrows lowered and his eyes became small slits as his mind raced to find a solution to his problem.

Turning to Dante he said,"I need you to go to the township
of Duke Suciando."

Dante surprised by Ricco's words replied,"Why? What reason?".

"I need you to see what allegiance they lean to. And what his plans might be with his neighbors."

"Why can't you go yourself"

"Because I'm known to the Duke. Are you afraid?", Ricco stared at his friend.

In order to show his male fortitude Dante straightened himself in his chair replying,"No! But I have heard that Duke Suciando retained his land by dabbling in the dark arts. And still practices when the need arises."

"Dante, you are a fool to listen to such wives tales. He is no less a man as you or I. He has those rumors spread himself to keep others out of his way. He is just shrewed and calculating, the way my father should be. The way I would be."

Ricco took his hand from his chin and staring at Dante said,"When you get there seek someone close to the Duke who may listen to the possibliities of expanding his holdings for a little favor. If you can, set up a possible meeting."

Dante still not sure of Ricco's plan just nodded his head in compliance and soon was on the road .......

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 05-09-2002 @ 02:20 PM).]

posted 05-06-02 20:03 EST (US)     9 / 140  
Up ahead of the wagon, galloping hooves echoed off the banks of the Po River where its width narrowed and the waters passed swiftly through a gorge rather than shallow valley floors. The road diverged here, one branch heading southeast to higher ground to be followed when the waters were high and the other straight ahead. This route was the shorter of the two for it followed the path of the river and traversed an area exposed when the water was at normal or lower levels. Figaro chose the shorter route. That's when he heard the hoofbeats.

Five soldiers on horseback rounded the bend and pulled up abruptly when they saw Figaro's wagon. Figaro promptly reined his horses to a stop to show no intentions of fleeing. One of the men, their apparent leader, spurred his horse forward. "Ho, traveller. Where are you bound?" he said, studying Figaro, his horses and his wagon. Without waiting for an answer the soldier prodded his horse to a place where he could read the wagon's sign. It was a meaningless gesture as the soldier couldn't read anything anyway, never having learned. The soldier studied the sign for awhile and then shook his head in irritation. "I say again, where are you bound?"

Figaro answered when the soldier moved a little closer. "Eastward, Captain. Along the river... to ply my trade."

"I am not a Captain... At least not yet, maybe soon..." The soldier exhibited a self-satisfied expression. "I am well thought of in the Keep."

"Without doubt, Sir, and obviously worthy of such consideration." concurred Figaro.

"And what is your trade?" asked the soldier, the hidden meaning in Figaro's words passing him by. Well, that question proved what Figaro suspected about them already.

"A merchant, Sir. I sell prestidigitations."

"Presti... uh, prestidi... uh, pres..." The soldier's brow narrowed. "By the Great Tomato of Roma, what is that?"

"I perform the service of making things disappear, you know, unwanted infestations of flying insects, plagues of croaking toads, unruly orphan children." Figaro held his breath.

"I see... And how do you do this."

"Why, Captain to be, if I told you how I do these things then there would be too many who know and less business for me, wouldn't there?"

"Show me."

"Certainly, if you could please point out a flight of locusts, or show me the river emptying of toads or even point out just two noisy, nasty orphans I would be more than happy to show you." The soldier looked around briefly before he realized the fruitlessness of the effort. He stared at Figaro, suspecting he was being toyed with, but not of a mind that day to respond too aggressively.

"Alright, enough. Be on your way, merchant. But be warned... There are footpads about." His warning became a little more sinister. "Be glad we do not mistake you for one this day."

"I am warned, Sir, and thank you." Figaro knew when enough was enough.

The soldier waved to his comrades and he and the four other soldiers were soon out of sight on the road westwards behind Figaro. The jester shook his head. "Figaro, you fool. You shouldn't take chances like that. One of these days you'll get caught in the act and it'll be the point of a sword for you." Then he started to laugh. "But until then..." and Figaro laughed all the harder as he snapped the reins and directed the horses forward.

One word deserves another.
posted 05-07-02 06:41 EST (US)     10 / 140  
Caterina shot bolt upright in bed with a stifled scream. Within seconds Loriana was at her bedside.

"What's the matter Kitten?" she asked, using the family's baby name for her. "What woke you like that?"

"I .. I don't know" faltered Cat. "It was a dream, a horrible dream .. but I can't remember much. Ricco was in it and I was running away from him .. but the faster I ran, the closer he got .. and then there was a bang and I woke up."

Loriana noticed that Cat was shaking, whether from the cold or fear she wasn't sure, but she wrapped an old blanket round her shoulders.

"The bang is easily explained" Loriana replied. "It was Ricco coming in really late and not having any respect for those who were asleep. I think he must have dropped something on the stairway as it echoed all round the tower."

Cat smiled sheepishly. "Thank you. Things seem so much more harmless when there's an explanation for them. I suppose my dream was because Ricco was being spiteful at dinner." She gave an involuntary shiver and looked up at Loriana with her big green eyes. "What will happen to us when he becomes the Duke?"

Loriana looked down at her sister and decided this was not the time for the truth. "Don't worry Kitten. He won't dare do anything to us and I'm always here to watch out for you. Besides, we might both be married and living far away by then ..."

She watched a dreamy smile appear on her younger sister's lips. It was usually easy to take her mind off bad things. "Now settle down, Cat. It's really late. Shut your eyes and try to imagine your future husband. Everything will look better in the morning."

Loriana stood watching Cat until she was peacefully asleep but, as she was walking back to her own bed, she gave an involuntary shiver of her own and wondered what would become of them.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
posted 05-07-02 07:08 EST (US)     11 / 140  
Ceneri hurried down the staircase, her braids bouncing on her back as she moved. A smudge of ash was splodged over her left cheek and her clothes, while of good quality, showed similar smudges.

I'm going to be late, she thought, but then again, Signor del Strego hardly ever noticed whether she was on time for her lessons or not. Still, it was better to be on time, even if it was Signor del Strego who had send her to get a rare copy of Virgil at the last moment.

She slipped past a few servants and one of the serving girls flirting with the guard at the postern and soon was outside the castle proper, on the grounds of the old cloister garden. Here a cottage stood, shingles on it's roof, freshly daubed walls and flowers and herbs in containers.

The smell was wonderful, even mixed with the more acrid smells from the cottage itself. She opened the door, ducked below the bundle of herbs hanging from the doorstyle, and entered Roberto del Strego's work room.

The big man looked up, a thin trail of smoke rising from his singed beard.
"There you are child. Hurry, I need you to stir this."
"But the book..."
Her teacher picked up th eoffered book, flicked it open and carelessly tossed it on a stack of other books.
"Never mind the book, girl, stir!
I want you to stir this round, one full circle per heartbeat."

posted 05-07-02 08:13 EST (US)     12 / 140  
"GO! Ride!"

Suciando stood atop his gate house as the rain came all around. This was much more his style, the skies darkened with clouds with lightening making it's way here and there as though light itself was frightened of him, and needed to work up courage to make its noisy appearance.

His nose flared, and he caught the whiff of blood in the air. Whether it was real or his imagination, he knew not, but he still drank in the aroma, and fed on it as though it could sustain him.

Below him, four riders, cloaks flying out behind them, departed on horses that looked ready to break under the strain of life. Their speed, though, was deceiving, as they tore through the mud and the rain without hesitation.

The horsemen split at the fork in the road, and he watched as two rode on to Genoa, and two to Verona. He would have to wait for news from the warring cities. He turned to a man who stood watch beside him, shivering with cold and clutching a quiver of arrows.

"Always remember, life is a game."

"Is it my Duke?" the man stammered, caught in the spell that Suciando's eyes cast. They burned turquoise, a color the archer was sure shouldn't happen naturally.

"Yes. And I intend to cheat."

posted 05-07-02 16:04 EST (US)     13 / 140  
Perspiration dampened Figaro's brow, his shirt where it touched his skin and his hands where they touched his sword. No matter. Unconcerned, he leaped, whirled about, dodged and ducked, swinging his sword in a practice drill learned in years past from the mercenary who traveled for a time with his master and himself.

Mercutio was the mercenary's name. He was somewhere past thirty, an old man to 16-year old Figaro's reckoning. The mercenary's face was weather-worn and scarred. He was neither short or tall, but exceedingly strong. The mercenary seemed skilled in all weapons from sword, to mace, to lance. It had been a little over a year since Figaro had seen him last, but the lessons he learned from Mercutio had taken very well, though it had been some time since Figaro had been astride a horse, lance in hand.

One exceptionally hot summer evening a woman on horseback met them on the road. She spoke to Mercutio alone. As she spoke to him, Mercutio nodded gravely. The mercenary said a few words to her and her expression changed from worry to relief. It was shortly afterwards that he announced to the master and to Figaro that he was taking his leave to complete a promised task. He departed the next day, back along the road they had just travelled, the very same road that Figaro travelled this day.

For some reason this did not set well with the master. That's when the master's drinking began, and finally came the fall that ended Figaro's apprenticeship. Yet, even as Figaro practiced and performed in the manner taught to him by the master, so too did Figaro practice with the sword and the mace, gifts left for him by Mercutio. And now, as he continued to exercise with the sword, as it always did, came back the memories of his times with Mercutio, and for the joyful jester in him, it became another little touch of lonliness.

What's that?! Figaro halted in mid spin to drop and duck with his sword at the ready. His sharp hearing had detected an unusual noise, a rustling in the nearby bushes. Something or someone there... maybe...

A small rabbit hopped out of the bush, sat on its haunches and studied Figaro curiously. Figaro let his breath out slowly and then lowered his sword. This spooked the rabbit enough to cause it to spin on its long flat feet and leap back into the bush. There was no other noise to be heard, so Figaro concluded practice and stowed the sword out of sight in the bottow of the wagon's bench seat where it could be grabbed in the event of any dire need. Then he went about his business of preparing for the night.

A pair of eyes watched his every move, and had been watching since he began his practicing with the sword. At first there was fear that a slight misplacement of a foot and a rustled bush would alert the swordsman. The appearance of the rabbit was a godsend as it adequately distracted the swordsman from finding the real source of the noise that disturbed him. With a near silent sigh, the boy watched with relief as the swordsman hid his sword and then went about doing the chores necessary with night fast approaching. The boy noted the fading light and without making a detectable sound, left the swordsman behind and hurriedly sought his father in the midst of the forest that bordered on the southside of the road in the same manner the Po River bordered this same road on the north.

One word deserves another.
posted 05-08-02 20:00 EST (US)     14 / 140  
"Worthless!" The voice of the Captain was harsh, cold and unfriendly- yet by now his troops had grown accustomed to it. To him, perhaps not, but at least by his voice they no longer were bothered. "Who among you was not informed that war draws near?" None stepped forward or offered a response. "Why, then, are you so incompetent? Is death so attractive to you?"

Again there was no response. "In one week's time I want all of you to be prepared for war. I trust that none of you wish to discover what will happen to those who fail."

Without a further word, the Captain departed, leaving them to do what they would- whether it was simply idle chatter, or training to prepare as they were warned to do did not seem to matter. As for Caimbeaul, he departed to his own home, and there talked long with one close advisor. Only the flickering candlelight accompanied them, as the conversation drew later into the evening, until the sun had set and night had come. The candle shortened, and yet they talked.

"My men do not serve as they should. They have no motivation to fight on, or work on, either for the Duke or for myself. I need to find new ways to earn their loyalty- ways to motivate them to prepare for this war. Defeat is a shame that I could never bear. Not again."

"If the Duke sides with they who begin to lose, what then? Would you turn to the winners? No longer would you, nor your advisors, need worry about defeat."

There was a moment of silence. The Captain was not pleased with these words, it was clear, but he did not immediately respond. The candle was very short, flickering violently, and clearly ready to die. "Coward! Would you turn against me if it were convenient? If you deemed that my defeat drew near would you then betray me to my foes? Get out of my sight!"

With these words spoken, the counselor departed hastily, and the candle flickered out, leaving Caimbeaul in silence and darkness.

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!
posted 05-08-02 20:37 EST (US)     15 / 140  
Figaro slept so soundly that as the first rays of morning light illuminated the sign on the side of his wagon, he did not hear the footsteps of the gang of men who emerged from the bushes and invaded his camp. Without warning a large, strong hand covered his mouth and a cloth was wrapped over his eyes blinding him to all else that occurred. Then the hand that originally covered his mouth was replaced by a gag. Figaro was turned over on his sleeping mat and his hands were bound behind his back. Finally, he was lifted off the mat and carried to the back of his wagon into which he was unceremoniously deposited.

He heard men's voices, and in particular one exceptionally forceful, though not gruff voice, giving direction to the men outside. The horses were being hitched to the wagon, he presumed, because he could hear the clanking of the metal hitch and the whipping about of the leather straps and harnesses. He heard the door to the wagon open once more and felt the cool morning air whoosh over his face where the cloth hadn't covered its surface.

"Keep it quiet, jester, and nothing ill will befall you. Understand?" said the same voice he heard outside giving directions. Figaro nodded indicating he understood. "You are being watched. Remember that." The door opened once more and he heard footsteps on the stairs. There were too many for just one person. Someone had entered the wagon as the man with the commanding voice had left.

Figaro decided he would do as he was told. There was no perceived advantage to him in doing anything else considering the condition of his captivity. He heard the reins snap and felt the wagon begin to move. Figaro had no idea what his new destination might be, nor what lay in store for him there.

One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 05-08-2002 @ 08:42 PM).]

posted 05-12-02 05:44 EST (US)     16 / 140  
Dante, as Ricco had wanted, arrived in the township of Duke Suciando. It was not a colorful place and in fact was very dismal. It's thatched houses seemed to provide an effecient dwelling and the shops were plainly noted. Its narrow streets were potholed and mudfilled as if rain continuely kept the streets from provideing an easy access to anyone's destination. Dante felt a shiver run through his body at the look of desolation he saw here and was glad that Duke Alfredo's holdings were indeed much more pleasant.

The quicker he found someone to talk to, the easier the task at hand would be. And the quicker he could leave this place. He tried to blend in with the people but they knew when a stranger was amongst them and though not saying anything they were always vigil.

He sought the nearest inn and then purchased a goblet of wine whose flavor was as deluted as its color.

Addressing the innkeeper Dante asked," Tell me good sir, what news do you have of the war between Genoa and Venice".

The innkeeper rubbing his short mustache with his right thumb while the next two fingers held themselves to just under the left side of his mustache, studied the young man in front of him. He knew he was not a part of this township but answered him,"Its seems that there is no clear victor yet."

"And to which side would the Duke be pledging?",replied Dante

"The Duke, for the time being," replied the innkeeper, "Has not yet decided. This does make us a little nervous but his Lord has always seemed to provide for us."

"Do you ever see the Duke?",Dante inquired.

"On occasion."

"Have you ever talked to him?" again questioned Dante.

"Not directly," replied the innkeeper. "He will usually send his tax collector to do the talking for him."

"And where may I find this person."

With a curious look upon his face at the strangers request, the innkeeper replied, " If you wait a short while and purchase more of my fine wine you will be able to talk to him. Today is his regularly scheduled day to collect from me what meeger monies I have."

"Good I shall wait for him.", replied Dante and reluctantly holding out the goblet in his hand continued," And I shall have another goblet of that fine wine."

posted 05-13-02 03:58 EST (US)     17 / 140  
It seemed to be another fine morning, Duke Alfredo mused as his valet helped him dress. He broke his fast on bread and cheese, washed down with watered wine.

He read the few letters with overtures from Venice and Genua, both promising him power if he chose their site and hell to pay if he didn't. How very similar these two cities were, for all their vaunted differences. He smiled a sad smile and wondered again what side he should chose, what side would ensure his continued existence, without the danger of being swallowed by either of the two cities?
And what of after he died?

Ricco he felt sure now would drag the Duchy into endless, profitless strife...if only Loriana had been a boy. Still there were precedents, maybe he should follow them...

The Duke nodded to himself, yes, he would go see the bishop and tell him of his decision to change his will.

"Luigi, my cloak please. I will see the Bishop Capelli."

The valet frowned, then pulled his face into it's neutral position again and folded his master's cloak over his shoulders. Then he followed Duke Alfredo down the staircase.

Halfway down the duke tripped, something gave way under his feet and he grabbed for a hold. Luigi seemed to reach for him then lose his grip, or did he push him away?

There was no making sense of that thought as Duke Alfredo tumbled down the spiral staircase and ended up a crumpled heap at the bottom. His body hurt unbelievable and colours flashed for his eyes. Was that Ricco he saw? Did the boy smile and turn away? The world was spinning.

Then Caterina was at his side, her lips moved but he only heard the blood roaring in his ears. He tried to comfort his little cat-ling, yet his mouth wouldn't work.

He tried to reach for her hand, pain lanced through his arm and the Duke lost conscience.

posted 05-13-02 12:28 EST (US)     18 / 140  
Caterina ran towards the bottom of the staircase. She had heard a dull thud and thought she had heard her father's raised voice. The sight that met her eyes made her stop dead. Her beloved father was in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the narrow spiral staircase, his limbs at seemingly strange angles, blood beginning to stain the rushes on the stone floor.

"Someone, help" she screamed at the top of her voice. "Loriana, Ricco, somebody." She thought she heard running footsteps but they seemed to be receding into the distance so she raised her voice even more.

At the same time she moved towards the body that was her father, knowing she must do something, and quickly, but feeling panic rise within her. She took a few deep breaths and tried to think what Loriana would do in such circumstances .. as if Loriana had ever had to cope with something like this.

She knelt on the floor beside him and said softly "Father, can you hear me?" Through the tears that had welled up unbidden in her eyes, she thought her father's eyelids flickered. At least he is alive she thought to herself.

She quickly searched for where the blood was coming from and found a deep cut on her father's head. She looked round desperately for something to staunch the blood flow but apart from the rushes on the floor, she could see nothing. She felt the panic rising again but as she looked down at her father, relief hit her. With shaking hands she ripped at the fine silk of her robe and eventually managed to seperate a piece large enough to press onto the gaping cut.

He seemed to have lapsed into unconsciousness again and, as she continued to call out, she thankfully heard hurrying footsteps coming down the passageway towards her. It had seemed like a life-time but, in reality had probably only been a few minutes before help arrived. She shook back the long black hair from her tear-stained face and saw with relief that it was Loriana with two of the kitchen hands.

Loriana took in the dreadful scene before her in an instant and immediately took charge. By this time more servants had arrived so she sent the quickest of the young boys to fetch the doctor and organised some of the men to gently pick up her father and take him up to his bed to await the doctor's arrival, although looking at him she felt there wasn't much hope.

She turned to Caterina and seeing her white face and shaking body immediately sent one of the boys to the kitchen to fetch a strong drink for her. "You did well, kitten," she said soothingly, putting her arm round Cat's shoulders. "Come, let's go and sit with father until the doctor arrives." The boy returned and Loriana insisted that Cat drained the whole cup of sweet strong liquid. The colour started to return to her face and the shaking slowly stopped as they mounted the stairs to their father's room.

No-one noticed a stealthy figure creep a little way up the stairs, pick something up and creep away again.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
posted 05-13-02 12:57 EST (US)     19 / 140  
"Who is he?"

"I d-don't know, Duke, but he is asking too many questions..."

In a town such as this, it was necessary to have many eyes and ears. Being granted only the normal two of each by genetics, Suciando had taken to hiring out more of them from any place that might be helpful. Since the first stop in town was often the ale hall, it made sense to have a few barflies with greased palms. Good information paid out a single gold coin, sometimes two. It wasn't much, but many of the recipients had little to begin with.

"I can tell you, the questions marked him as coming from another town, but he did not identify himself further."

"What else did he ask."

"Where you sat with the conflict between Genoa and Venice."

Suciando knew that the conflict would not be a secret too long, but this stranger was going to do much in churning the rumor mill. Too many citizens would start wondering about that same question.

"What answer did that fat swine of an inn keeper give him?"

"He was noncommittal, sir."

"Anything else?"

"Yes, sir. The inn keeper told him it might be best to talk to the tax collector, as Mr. Genosha often acts as your voice around town."

"Perhaps, then, I should inspect today's take in person. You may leave."

The barfly caught a coin that was tossed at him, and knew it was wise not to stick around any longer than yesterday. "You may leave" was actually high praise, coming from the Duke, as being an informant for him often turned into a game of Russian Roulette.

posted 05-13-02 14:45 EST (US)     20 / 140  
As it was said the Duke's tax collector arrived at the inn. The inn keeper nervously addressed Mr. Genosha," Good...Good...Good day,sir."

Mr. Genosha didn't answer the inn keeper right away but simply nodded. He needed no introduction since all knew why his presence was here. He spoke very little to those his job was to collect from unless, of course, you were unable to meet the Duke's demand. His words then were as harsh as his narrowed eyelits and his pointed nose. He had come from Genoa where the Genovese had a reputation for the handling of money. Thus the Duke had appointed him as tax collector and Treasurer of the estate.

Mr. Genosha simply put his hand out to the inn keeper who quickly placed the expected amount in the hand. The inn keeper looked to have sighed in relief for if were not for Dante's purchasing of the wine would not have met his tax. This was a thought the inn keeper dreaded. But as the tax collector turned to walk away the inn keeper lightly grabbed his arm and leaning over whispered something in his ear. Genosha turned slightly and looked at Dante sitting at the table.

Dante watched the approach of the tax collector with nervous anticipation. Quickly he worked over and over in his mind what he would say and hoped his life would not be forfeit after it.

"You wish to speak with me, stranger?", Genosha addressed.

Trying to look unafraid and confident Dante answered," Yes, please sit."

"What is it you wish to talk about."

"I represent a certain party that would like to discuss the possibility of expanding Duke Suciando's holdings if an agreement is made.", replied Dante hoping these words may catch the curiosity of the man seated.

"And who is this...certain party.", Genosha asked.

"That is not important!", replied Dante, "Would the Duke be interested in expansion?".

Genosha stared at Dante trying to solve the mystery of his words then replied," Yes, the Duke is always willing to gain more than he has already."

"Good than meet us on the road halfway between here and Duke Alfredo's land on tommorrow after sunset."

Genosha looked into Dante's eyes and asked,"What guarantee do we have that this is not a trap."

Dante replied,"The same I do that you will not attempt one. We are in agreement then?"

"Alright!", said Genosha

Dante put his right hand out in a gentleman's agreement at which Genosha did the same and both shook hands even though both knew they were by no means gentlemen.

Genosha left to talk to Duke Suciando and Dante mounted his horse to tell Ricco of their meeting.

posted 05-13-02 14:55 EST (US)     21 / 140  
"He said he guaranteed no traps?"

"He said his assurance of no traps was the same as ours."

"So there is no guarantee then. Summon troops, have them wait out of sight but within ear shot, this is not a meeting you should attend alone."

"You will not be attending yourself then?"

"My riders should return from Genoa and Venice soon, and I wish to hear their news immediately when they do. I believe you will speak well for me, as you know what will happen if you do not."

That was a signal that Genosha should leave. He summoned a dozen pikemen, and instructed them for tomorrow's meeting. Suciando made alternate plans.

posted 05-13-02 15:30 EST (US)     22 / 140  
Figaro heard the wagon driver call to the horses and they and the wagon came to a halt. He heard footsteps inside of the wagon. Whoever was watching him was walking towards the back of the wagon, apparently to open the door. Figaro guessed the purpose since the air in the wagon suddenly exchanged with outside air and the cool breeze again wafted across the uncovered parts of his face.

Footsteps sounded on the stairs once more and the commanding voice again said something in a low voice to another. Then the voice was near him giving instructions.

"Rise, jester. We shall remove you from this wagon. Stay calm and all will be well." Why the reassurances, thought Figaro. No... This made no sense at all. He was a prisoner and they reassure him? More out of curiousity than anything else, Figaro allowed the commanding voice to direct him. He did precisely as he was told. Soon he was standing outside of his wagon on the ground.

Figaro could smell smoke, like that which drifts from a campfire. He heard other noises too. Other men, women and a few high pitched voices of children. He felt fumbling hands at the back of this head and his blindfold suddenly was removed. Daylight blinded him momentarily. Whoever undid the blindfold waited patiently for Figaro to open closed eyes, changing them from squinted slits to generally open and focussed. Then the gag was removed.

Standing before him was a sword-wearing peasant in a woven cap who stood a fraction of an inch taller than Figaro. "Welcome to our humble encampment, jester. What is your name?" The voice was the one Figaro recognized as the order-giver. He answered directly, "Figaro. And yours?"

The man smiled. "So you say, jester. We shall see momentarily. And then I'll decide whether to give you my name or the edge of my sword." Figaro swallowed a little harder than usual, but kept his expression as steady as he could.

"So you say, stranger," retorted Figaro. The man smiled again. The taller man laughed and spoke to the others who had gathered around the scene. "He has spunk, does he not! Another test passed. Now for the final test."

"What final test?" said Figaro.

The man answered promptly, "You'll see."

Figaro was turned around and directed with firm hands to a hovel built of branches, sticks, sod and other earthen materials. Before Figaro was pushed inside, the taller man pulled aside a piece of hanging cloth that served as a door. Figaro was guided inside. The dim light prevented Figaro from seeing clearly the face of the man propped up by worn cushions on a roughly constructed sleeping cot. If he had seen the man's face clearly, Figaro would have recognized immediately that this was someone he should have known at first glance. Instead, Figaro stood there staring at the man until he spoke.

The man's dry lips moved in his weatherworn, strained face. It was a face drained of color, pale, almost deathlike. The voice was weak, but distinct and recognizable, and only now did Figaro have an inkling whose face it really was. The man said, "Don't you recognize me Figaro? Has it been that long?"

"Too long, Mercutio," said Figaro, recognition now coming in a flood. "My friend, my teacher... What has happened to you?" They were at Figaro's bound hands immediately, removing the bindings that held them behind his back; but it was as if Figaro didn't notice or care that his hands had finally come free. All he thought about was how poorly his friend, the mercenary, looked lying there. Why... It was almost as if the cot itself was death's doorstep.

It seemed as if Mercutio was reading Figaro's thoughts. "Yes, Figaro. You see before you a dying man. One who is happy to have found you before his life ran out." Mercutio drew in a labored breath. "I am wounded to death, Figaro. My last battle... A small one, albeit. Come, sit here, at my side." The others in the hovel left, except for the man who seemed to command. Figaro sat on the hard ground to hear what Mercutio wanted to say.

"I told them to find you. A jester, I said. He will be a jester. But they did not know you by face and they had to be cautious, so when the boy brought word of a jester nearby they decided this would be the best way to bring you here... and the safest. Antonio, there, is their leader." Mercutio raised a shaking hand to indicate the only other man in the hovel.

Antonio bowed his head. "Forgive us, Jester, we had no other choice. We did not treat you too harshly, we trust." The expression on Antonio's face was that of concern, not insolence. Figaro thought, no real harm. "Call me Figaro; and no, there is no ill will on my part." Antonio's expression changed to relief. "Bene, I am glad."

Sudden coughing wracked Mercutio. "I have little time so listen closely, Figaro. These men are not thieves, they are rebels. They fight to overthrow foul Duke Suciando's reign. These men have lost loved ones to the evil doings of the Duke. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters... and some even their children. The men of the Duke don't care about how they carry out their orders, and the Duke doesn't care what his men do when they are acting on orders from the Duke. Only that they fulfill his orders." Figaro glanced at Antonio only to see in reply a steely eyed glance of hate and determination when the Duke's name was mentioned.

Figaro looked at the dying man in puzzlement. "But how did you come to be wrapped up in this cause, Mercutio? Forgive me, but I do not see the incentive for you. There is no money in rebellion."

"Still think me a mercenary, do you, Figaro? I guess my disguise worked as well on you as others. God forgive me for lying to you, Figaro. I am not a mercenary. I am a fool of a paladin, that's what I am. Why else do you think I've remained so poor my whole life? There's enough conflict around the Po to make a mercenary rich three times over; but not me. I could never bring myself to apply my skills for personal gain. Oh... I was given money now and then, which I accepted. A man has to buy bread now and then, but that was all. It was the Master who provided; and it was my sword who protected you both while he taught you your trade."

"Why did you leave with that woman?" asked Figaro.

"She told me about her son and husband, both imprisoned by Suciando. I tried to save them... and failed. They were cruelly butchered by the Duke's men on his orders. It was then I found these rebels and joined them against the Duke. The result of my many battles since is what you see before you." *cough* *cough* *a deep, gurgling, cough* *involuntary shudder* Mercutio drew in a long, labored breath, perspiration forming on his face. "Figaro... I have asked them to give you... my things... They are placing them in the compartment... You know which compartment I mean... Inside the wagon... They are yours..." *another long labored breath* "Promise me this one thing. Use them well, wisely... for good... to help these people. Do them... no harm."

Figaro heard someone answer with a voice sounding like his, in fact, it was his. "Yes, Mercutio I promise. But how shall I do this thing you ask?"

Mercutio raised his fevered body a little higher in the cot. "Apply every skill... the master... taught you..." *a labored breath* "and every... skill... I taught... you."
*cough* *slow breath in* "Know and learn... the Duke... Find his weak... ness... Then strike..." Mercutio fell back onto the cot. "Antonio... will... help. You... must... lead..." *one last breath* "The saints... protect... you... Figaro... my friend." All breath left Mercutio's body and his eyes stared blankly at nothing.

"The saints receive you, Mercutio," said Figaro as he placed his hand on the man's face and closed his eyes for the last time.

One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 05-13-2002 @ 04:50 PM).]

posted 05-14-02 03:56 EST (US)     23 / 140  
Dottore Tozzi washed the blood of his hands and held them out for his assistant to dry. Once the young man had finished he turned back at the two young women standing in the room. Loriana looked deeply concerned and held the youngest Caterina close to her. The girl's face was streaked with tears.

"Your father has broken several bones, including some of his ribs. One of them may have punctured a lung, but it's too early to tell."

Tozzi who had started out as a field surgeon, had a knowledge of the human body that went far beyond that of many of his contempories and his reputation as such was that of a good, but unconventional doctor.

"He will probably regain concious in the next few hours. He'll need to be fed on broth.
I can't promise that he will not die of his wounds, but with a little luck and the God willing he should pull through."

Edited for continuity with the next post

[This message has been edited by Jayhawk (edited 05-14-2002 @ 04:49 AM).]

posted 05-14-02 04:44 EST (US)     24 / 140  
Ricco entered the bed chamber of his father.

Loriana upon seeing him immediately asked where he had been all morning.

"I was out riding and only just a short while ago received the news of Father's fall." As he spoke to Loriana he continued to his Father's bedside. "How is he? Has the doctor arrived yet? How bad are his wounds?"

As Ricco asked these questions Caterina sat on the opposite side of the bed,a handkerchief drying her tears, keeping a constant vigil. She would let Loriana answer Ricco's questions as any thoughts or words of her father's condition were too much to bare.

Loriana answered Ricco's questions,"The doctor just left. The fall has done irreplaceable damage. And the doctor feels there may be internal bleeding. He blood-let to try and releive any pressure but fears that there is no hope."

Caterina began to sob once more and Loriana put her arms around her sister to help console her.

Ricco replied," Has he become conscious at all?"

"Yes", replied Loriana, "Long enough to look around quickly and then asked the doctor to send for the Bishop. I sense he realizes the seriousness of his wounds and would make his peace with God and put his affairs in order."

A slight smile came to Ricco's face at the mention of affairs in order and to himself said,"It's about time."

The Bishop Capelli arrived soon after and although the Duke seemed not to be conscious it was as if his body sensed the presence of the Bishop and his eyes opened.

With short gasps of breath and struggling to move his lips the dying Duke asked the Bishop to have everyone leave except the doctor, who had returned with the Bishop, and the Bishop himself.

All three children complied with their father's request and waited outside his chamber door. Caterina impatiently waited.

The Bishop leaned closer to the Duke so he could hear his last confession or so he thought.

Painfully trying to form the words and gasping with every breath Duke Alfredo said to the Bishop," I....I...I need to change will."

This was not at all what the Bishop had expected but he listened and counseled and wrote what the Duke was telling him. His own facial expressions forewarning of the tempest that would soon be growing.......

posted 05-14-02 05:29 EST (US)     25 / 140  
Caterina sat hunched up on the floor, her head on her knees whilst Ricco paced up and down the narrow landing.

"What's taking them so long?" he asked harshly. "How long does it take for that doddering old Bishop to give him the Last Rites?"

At the mention of Last Rites, Cat started sobbing again. Loriana glared at her brother. "Can't you see how upset she is? Do you ever think of anyone but yourself?"

Ricco shrugged and turned away, continuing his pacing.

Caterina jumped to her feet as she heard the door opening. She looked hopefully at the Bishop standing in the doorway but saw the look in his eyes and realised there was no hope.

"You may go in now, children" the Bishop said. "He doesn't have long with us in this life and he wishes to speak to you."

The three went into the room and stood round the bed. Their father's eyes were just open and he slowly lifted his damaged arms taking hold of his daughters' hands. His mouth opened and all three bent over him to hear the faint words.

"Bless .... you .... need .... it .... strong ..." His voice trailed away and they could hear the harsh gasping for breath becoming shallower, the breaths further and further apart until his grip on the girls' hands loosened. Cat listened, waiting for the next breath .. but it didn't come. She lifted startled eyes to Loriana's face and saw the tears pouring down. She gazed back at her father, her beloved father and, with an anguished cry of "Nooooo" gathered the lifeless body in her arms.

Loriana looked at Ricco and saw no sorrow, no grief, not even regret on his face. She bit her lip but still ventured softly "Ricco - you want to say your farewells?"

Ricco looked down at her contemptuously. "Why? He never loved me when he was alive so why should I regret his death. Now get that wailing child out of here and let me make sure he is truly gone and I am now Duke."

The Bishop turned away shaking his head, realising that it was going to be up to him to tell them what their father had decreed and wishing fervently that it wasn't.


He drew a deep breath and turned to the Duke's children.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
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