Just a note to remind everyone that tonight I'll be reading and signing at KATE THE GREAT'S on Broadway in Chicago. We start at 7:00. See you there!
Just a note to remind everyone that tonight I'll be reading and signing at KATE THE GREAT'S on Broadway in Chicago. We start at 7:00. See you there!
This is me around page 517, in a delicate moment of suspense, hitting the reader over the head again and again. Needless to say, it's not in the final version:
Opening his eyes, Pietro tried to look for a gap in the falling clods of ground above. There was none. If he could only reach the tunnel! What if Pathino was waiting? The hell with Pathino! Dragging Cesco with him, Pietro clawed towards where he imagined the edge of the cavern was. He was choked, the boy was coughing and retching, they both felt the weight of loose earth striking the mounds already piled on their shoulders.
Atlas. This is what Atlas felt. The little voice returned once more to taunt him. Hector, Achilles, and now Atlas. Will she mourn, you think? Or will she only notice that you failed to save her precious Greyhound?
Pietro struggled forward. Dirt got into his mouth, his hair, his face - his whole body was being forced to the ground, crushing the very child he’d come to protect.
The weight was incredible, forcing the air from his lungs, and still the dirt poured down. He knew he shouldn't move, he should maintain a safe space that he could dig his way out of after. But he couldn't lie still and be buried. He clung one-handed to Cesco and clawed forward through the terrifying denseness of the dark. Beneath him the boy was kicking and flailing at the falling dirt and Pietro alike.
You never were worth very much, Pietro. You were never important, like your father. No philosopher-warrior-poet, you. You're going to die here. You can't save the boy. You can't even save yourself.
The child was clutching him now, trying to breathe the clear air in the pocket of space created underneath Pietro’s body. It made the going easier not to be fighting the child as well as the walls.
It doesn't matter. Face it, boy. You've failed her. You've failed your father. Most of all, you failed Cangrande. Did you want to be like him? You're not. You never could be. You don't matter. You’ll be forgotten no matter what you do, so why not lie down and give up?
The thudding stopped. There was air to breathe. It was heavy and thick with floating dirt, but it was air. Pietro realized that the weight had lessened. He couldn't see, he was surrounded by darkness as the landslide finally came to a halt, but they were alive.
Reaching up a hand, his fingers found not earth, but hard timber. Two of the hidden supports that had caused the avalanche had struck at an angle, leaving a space open beneath them. They were in an alcove.
From the moment the lever was pulled, the whole disaster had taken less than a minute.
Coughing, Pietro checked Cesco, who was shaking, but conscious. “Don't worry, Francesco. I'll get us out of here. You just - think of your favorite puzzle.”
The child moved slightly and Pietro felt something metal bump into his shoulder in the darkness. Grasping it, he ran his fingers carefully about it. A sword. Not Cangrande’s, which was still clasped in Pietro’s right hand. It was his own Spanish sword. Cesco must have dragged it with him through the tumult.
“Thanks,” said Pietro. He twisted and began testing places in the soil to dig. He was concerned that shifting the weight of the earth around them might bring more crashing down. He found a place he thought safe and, using the crossed hilts of the sword to drag the soil out and down, began digging. At times he burrowed like a hare, sometimes he pulled with the swords. At times he hacked at roots of the fallen trees. All the time he tried to push their way to freedom.
The digging went well until, moving one particularly solid clump of earth, Pietro's fears were realized. Everything shifted, and Cesco's cry was muffled as the world came crashing down.
Again, Katerina and the Count of San Bonifacio, somewhere between pages 495 and 499:
Not in mood to rise to the old man’s bait, Katerina asked, “Why did you want him? What use was he to you?”
Vinciguerra’s laugh was weak. “I had a hope – a slim one, I confess – that I could cause the Scaliger to resign in my favor. I would have even granted him land - there’s an island in the middle of the Laga da Garda that would be a fit home for a young, exiled nobleman. But I had a secondary plan – one that could not have failed.”
“And that was?”
“Guess, my sweet girl, guess.”
“I have no time for games.”
“A pity, that. It seems to me that I am the one for whom the sand is slipping.” The Count lowered his voice for emphasis. “I planned to raise the boy myself.” Her eyes flickered in surprise and he grinned, looking like a naughty child. “Ah, you understand. Cangrande’s son has the best hereditary claim to the ancient throne of Verona, as well as a link to the greatest Scaliger in the history of the city. Yet the Pup hasn’t formally adopted his son, nor claimed him as the heir. I wanted to beat him to it - adopt the child as my son, make him my heir. The next Count of San Bonifacio, sprung from the loins of the great Scaliger. Cangrande’s son, my heir. With my title and Cangrande’s blood streaming through him, he would be untouchable.”
Katerina was still for a long moment, thinking of al-Dhaamin’s prophecies. “It is a good plan. But what of your blood, Count? Doesn’t the concept of Cangrande’s son usurping your bloodline bother you in the slightest?”
“Let us just say I see no impediments in it. There’s a delicious irony in it, don't you think? Using heredity to bring down the new ruling class. Which was why I was determined to take the child while he still is a child. I wanted to bind him to me as to no other.”
There was originally quite a bit to the interrogation of the Count in the later chapters, while Cesco and Pietro are sitting in the cave. Most of it had to do with verbal sparring between Vinciguerra and Katerina. This is one of those exchanges:
“What about the oracle?”
Vinciguerra’s face grew stony. “I had nothing to do with that.”
“But, again, you know who did.” The Count said nothing. “I grow weary of carrying the conversation, Count. You must hold up your end if we are to find any ground in common.”
“I see no need to find a common ground. When one possesses the high ground, moral or otherwise, one need not descend.”
There was a long pause while Katerina stared into the middle distance. Finally she said, “Have you heard the ancillary effect the oracle had? My nephew, Mastino, is convinced he’s the one the oracle referred to. He preens and tells everyone he is a mythic figure.”
“From what I've heard of the boy, he’s his father's son,” said Vinciguerra. “Only if he were the direct descendant of his namesake would he have a prayer.”
Katerina had nothing to say to that, so she applied herself to the dressing of the Count’s wound, already bleeding through despite all precautions. When she was finished, she raised her eyes to look about the room. With a nod, the servants withdrew, leaving them alone. The rest of the wounded nobility of both sides were being treated in a larger hall, but she had had the Count brought to her own chambers.
“You will not tell me the name of the man who has been assisting you?”
The Count’s smile creased slightly.
“Ah,” sighed Katerina. “Thank you. An answer at last.”
Yesterday when I listed the upcoming reviews and interviews, I didn't include the Armchair Reviews - because I didn't know it was coming! These are folks who only review a book if they like it, so having a review pop up is lovely.
Clearly the reviewer had difficulty with the names - the review itself is evidence of that - but it's a common complaint with any major work of historical fiction, so I'm not going to take it too personally.
Anyway, here's the link, for those interested in keeping up with these things, even as they pile up... And thank you, to the Armchair folks, for giving me their thumbs-up.
Morsicato is a character of my own invention. With the Moor he plays a larger role than I had originally intended - he's part of a regular cast of characters that will continue through the series.
On page 400 we gain a little backstory to the doctor. Originally there was a bit more. I share it now in its unadulterated form, as a glimpse further back into the good doctor's past. (NB - I reserve the right to totally contradict this as the series continues).
Morsicato frowned. He should have been at war now. Cangrande was in the field somewhere. The doctor tore into a piece of bread and ruminated as he chewed, masticating slowly. If not for Fracastoro, Morsicato could have the post as chief doctor to the Scaliger. It was a lifelong dream, bring the head physician to the Capitano da Verona. In his late thirties, he had little hope. Aventino Fracastoro was only forty-eight and looked to thrive until he was a hundred.
Not that Morsicato resented or disliked working for Bailardino and his wife. The Nogarolese were good folk, even if Katerina was a touch too clever. Lucky him, he hadn’t had to be a part of the delivery of her first child last year. That was an ordeal he wanted no part of. Let women’s mysteries stay mysteries.
He chided himself for his longing for war, remembering that his first knighthood had nothing at all to do with battle. When he’d been doctoring on loan to the now-dead emperor, he’d managed to save the adopted son of one of Heinrich’s men. Of course, as everyone knew, it had been Heinrich’s own bastard son that Morsicato had saved. The Emperor had been so grateful that he had created Guiseppe Morsicato a knight of the Order of the Knights of Santa Katerinaat Mount Sinai. It was an entirely honorary Order, with no obligations binding the recipient to the giver, but it was the best the Emperor could do politically. Morsicato had felt, then, the stirring urge to go to make the pilgrimage to Sinai and worship at the reliquary of the sainted woman. It was only fair, if he wore her badge.
Morsicato’s twin knighthoods by Cangrande and the Anziani of Vicenza had followed shortly thereafter, given out of a kind of piqued pride, so now Morsicato carried three Orders of Knighthood on his shoulders. All for saving a bastard son of a bastard ruler.
Thinking of that set of circumstances, his mind came inexorably around to the present one. It always came back to the children. Progeny. Heirs. Cangrande’s bastard was being raised under this very roof. The boy was a demon, but so damn delightful! Rumor said that there had been two more attempts to kidnap the child since that horrible night with the leopard, neither successful.
Okay, this is one cut scene that I'm not at all proud of - but it's an excellent example of a trap that writers can fall into. Even Dorothy Dunnet, the writer I esteem above all others, waded knee-deep into this mire before beating a wise and hasty retreat. It is - the address to the reader, in the guise of a character.
In a novel that has a narrator, this is all well and good. The narrator can speak to the reader and, as long as it stays consistant, it can work. But in a novel with a third-person narration, the faux "I found this manuscript, the real writer is someone else, definitely not me" crap grates on the nerves.
But, when you're working on the third or fourth full edit, and feel the need to make changes for the sake of changes, that's just the brilliant four-o'clock in the morning idea that can ruin a good book.
Mine was that the novel was written by someone who had studied at Shakespeare's feet, another actor in his company, who penned the novel after Shakespeare's death and passed it down through the ages until I "discovered" it. Total crap. Complete errant nonsense.
But it let me play with spelling for a day. Then Jan read it, screwed up her face in disgust, and walked away from the computer. No words were necessary to convey her contempt for the notion, leaving me to cut and paste the text into another file, to be hidden from all light of day - until now, when I willingly share my shame as a cautionary tale to other writers - "Beware! This Almost Happened To Me!"
This shovld haue beene a Playe, I do confess. This heere shovld haue beene a Playe or a Poem, but I lack the Wit. Neyther wit nor words, nor worth, Action, nor Utterance, nor the power of Speech, to stirre mens Blood. Like Antony, I doe but onely speake right on. ‘Tis true I am a prosean creatvre. The Master did always call me Dull.
But Master Will, as I oft heard his Players call him, had Faults of his owne. He loathed Surprises, and he enioyed endings more than starts. As with The Life and Death of Julius Caesar he told the Death onely, so too with his great Comedie of Romeo and Juliet he told just the end. Told it gloriovsly and well! But I haue seen the Bookes he vsed for Inspiration, from which he breathed such life. The tale was Full, but not Complete.
I have heard the actors say there is no character kens he is just a bitte rolle. I belieeve this to be trve. It depends onely on whose is the story told. And that rests with the storyteller.
I haue not the Measure to matche him, nor Desyre to trie. Plaine and blunt, I write from the start I see. But since children make poore heroes, I choose a soul with an affinitie for myne own. His is a large rolle in another’s Play, even if I must inuent it so. A life stolen for my ends. The Master might even have been provd. He was all ways a most excellent Theefe.
Kimberley over at Enduring Romance has just posted a lovely review to THE MASTER OF VERONA. Despite a terrible cold, she has a very conversational style that brings up a lot of things often glossed over in reviews.
It strikes me that there are a lot of reviews/interviews out there at this point, and with the Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicagoist, PerformInk, Backstory, and the Page 69 Test all pending (among others!), it might be useful to gather all the links in one place.
Meanwhile, the second short story is complete, and out to be edited. It is currently entitled VARNISHED FACES.
So here are the reviews and interviews (some are external, some internal). Enjoy!
Author's Den (part of a piece comparing play and novel writing)
Enduring Romance (as mentioned above)
Yet another cut snippet, this one from page 244, after Morsicato touts his excellent taste in wine:
“What about the wine, oh Culinary Maestro?” demanded his goad.
Morsicato composed his face into a sneer that was purely French. In his best Paris dialect he replied, “Take a gallon of Gascon wine. Get some ginger, cinnamon, nutmegs, annis seeds, fennel seeds, and carroway seeds – a dram of each. Then a handful each of sage, mints, red roses, rosemary, wild thyme, chamomile, lavender. Break down the spices, bruise the herbs, the mix it all together and let it simmer for, oh, about twelve hours. Be sure to stir it. Then distill by a limbic of pewter keeping the first clear water that comes to the surface by itself, and so likewise the second. You get about a pint of good spiced wine for every gallon.” The doctor's face relaxed into something much more Italian. “I learned that from one of our host's many guests.”
“Yes,” said Cangrande, turning to explain. “Guillaume de Machaut. He and his son were returning from a pilgrimage, and honored us with a visit. The child – also a Guillaume – is a prodigy. He picked up every one of Manoello’s instruments in turn and played some of the finest notes I’ve ever heard.” He smiled wryly. “Unfortunately, he could only sing in French, so I had to send them both away. But they do make good wine.”
This was actually a reference to a famous musician of the next generation - and far too obscure to aid my story. Still, I was trying to link all of these various great artists, since the ultimate theme of the series is the Birth of the Renaissance - and the death of Mercutio.
Oh, and I plan to have at least one recipe in each novel - and after the inside-out fish, this seemed overkill.
Here's another cut scene - a long one. After leaving Verona, Pietro kept company with the Moor and the astrologer Ignazio as far as Venice. There they met with Manuel's cousin, Shalakh. This scene was more a over-clever attempt to bring Shylock into the novel. He was already mentioned, but as he plays a much larger role in book three, I thought I could lay the groundwork here:
- 3 March, 1315
It was Pietro’s first trip to Venice, and he ferverently hoped it wouldn’t be his last. Used to the bustle of Florence, Paris, and Verona, the Serene City was a revelation. Not that it wasn’t a hive of activity. But navigating streets made of water made everything seem calmer, more refined and stately.
The islands of the Venetian lagoon were first settled during long past barbarian incursions when the people of the Feltro sought refuge in the marshes. The refugees built watery villages on rafts of wooden posts, laying the foundations for the floating palaces that Pietro had sailed past. He asked, “Are we going to call on Ambassador Dandolo?”
“Later,” the Moor replied.
Ignazzio found himself explaining. “We’d never escape the palace. The Doge is rather fond of having his chart reviewed, reinterpreting it in light of recent events. Better to take care of business first, before they know we’re here.”
Pietro’s guides clearly knew their way about. Once landed they set off at a brisk pace. Ignazzio seemed wary of every stranger, but Theodoro’s bulk cut a wide swath through the crowds, careless of the angry stares. There were many Negroes in Venice, but most were servants or slaves, and none dared walk with such careless ease as the Moor. Pietro, who was awed by the man, felt a mixture of fear and pride to be in his company.
Theodoro led the way to the Rivo Alto, known more commonly as the Rialto. It was the highest point of land in the lagoon and the natural focus of settlement. All around him flew flags bearing the Seal of San Marco. The device was engraved on a dozen walls, and atop a pillar stood the lion holding a shield bearing the Cross. Venice had forever linked its name with San Marco when the apostle’s earthly remains were spirited out of Alexandria four hundred years before to rest in the aptly named Basilica da San Marco.
After a series of turns – the streets had no names, so Pietro wondered how the Moor knew his way – they arrived in the small section of the Rialto, known as the Yellow Crescent. A curved street only two blocks long, it was so called because it was there that the Jews plied their one and only trade – usury.
As they approached the house Manuel had described, Pietro could feel many eyes upon them, sizing up their strange party with mistrustful sidelong looks. A knock on a solid-looking door produced nothing at first. From inside Pietro could hear the wail of a newborn child. “Manuel said his wife had just given him a daughter.”
“I should offer to make her chart,” Ignazzio replied. The Moor looked dubious. He knocked again.
The door opened with a suddenness that surprised them all. Facing the Moor had been a small man, a head shorter than Pietro and barely reaching the Moor’s breastbone. In his own home the man didn’t wear the cap mandated for his people, and his bare head showed a considerable mass of white and grey curls, with a few traces of their original black. The face under the white moustache and chin beard was kindly by nature, almost comical. But use had made sagging pouches along the frown lines, and deep depressions around the eyes. Still, there was a twinkle in the eye that struck Pietro as canny as they surveyed the three visitors. “Yes, lords?”
“I am he,” said the short fellow warily. The Moor passed him a sealed note, two papers folded into another. Shalakh glanced at the seal and snorted. “Manuel’s friends? Oh very well. Enter my house, but please keep your voices low. My wife is with my daughter,” at this his chest doubled in size, “and I shouldn’t wish her disturbed.”
They introduced themselves sotto voce and he showed them into a small room, very neat, just to the left of the entryway. The only furniture in this room were chairs and a small strongbox. It bore a series of intricate hasps and locks. Waving them to a seat, he perched himself upon this and broke the seal on his cousin’s letter. He read it twice, then removed a folded paper that bore a drawing. It was a copy of the medallion the scarecrow had lost in his attempt to kidnap Cesco. The real medallion, Pietro knew, was secreted away in Ignazzio’s luggage.
At last Shalakh lifted his grave gaze from the papers. “I see. Setting aside the secured loan I am to make to Ser Alagheiri, there is this other matter. To sum up – you are looking for the name of a tall, thin man advanced a large sum this month, who wore a medallion like this one,” he held up the drawing, “and who did not receive the remainder.”
“His name, and the name of the account holder,” said Pietro. He knew how flimsy it sounded. Judging by his expression, Shalakh seemed to think so, too. Pietro added, “Money is no object.”
The little Jew laughed mirthlessly and snapped his fingers. “Oh, well then, I’ll have these names by sundown! Heaven knows, give a Jew enough gold and he can bribe the Pope! You will excuse me, gentlemen, but I have real business to attend to.” Despite his words he seemed to be enjoying himself. He stared at them, eyes glittering, daring them to speak.
“You won’t help?” asked Pietro.
“Or he cannot,” said Ignazzio.
Shalakh made a wry face. “Oh yes, play on my vanity. As it happens, I have contacts in all the banking houses, for often men of means require ready monies, theirs being tied up in trade. Since I am forbidden to trade, I have nothing but ready money. So, yes, I could make enquiries. If I so chose.”
“What could influence your choice?” asked Ignazzio.
Shalakh considered, stroking his trim moustache. “I am a fortunate man. I have a new daughter, and she makes me near giddy. I should be providing for her future, so I will accept the Scaliger’s gold – oh, don’t, please. He sent you, it’s no use denying it. But, to keep his name out of my inquiries, there must be an additional enticement.”
Pietro felt himself bristle. Ignazzio, however, was unruffled. “What would that be?”
Shalakh looked up, as if for inspiration. “Oh, anything that would bring a smile to my face.”
Pietro almost stood to leave, but the Moor’s hand restrained him. Theodoro said, “There is a shipment coming along the Adige this week, a large amount of pine and larch. It will pass safely through Verona, but it will never reach Venice. River pirates shall waylay it.”
Pietro looked around in surprise. Ignazzio seemed equally taken aback at the Moor’s comment. But Shalakh’s face was hawkish with interest, all pretence of airiness vanished. “I suppose if I consent to make these inquiries, I shall be granted the name of the unhappy owner of this wood?” The Moor nodded. “I could find out myself, of course, given this much. But then, I suppose if I do not consent, these mysterious river pirates may decide to take a holiday and let the shipment through.”
“A clever man could use this information,” said Ignazzio, picking up where the Moor had stopped, “and purchase a great amount of timber. Through surrogates, which I’m sure you have.”
“Perhaps,” said Shalakh. He made up his mind. “Very well. Because he has been so generous to my cousin, and in the hope that he shall look as favorably upon me, I shall brut about for the great Greyhound. I make no promises, and it may take weeks. If this transaction was made in Venice, no doubt we shall soon learn of it. But it could have happened in Genoa, or Constantinople, or Bruges. It could take some time. Now, the name.”
Pietro looked at Theodoro, whose face was expressionless as he said, “Ambassador Dandolo.”
One might have thought the Jew would quail at that, but instead his face lightened as if it were a lamp lit by some internal glow. “You have done it,” he said. “Now, to more mundane matters. Ser Alaghieri, I learn from this letter that you are traveling to Bologna to pursue your studies. How much money do you require at purse, and how much upon credit?”