Now that the rights to VOICE OF THE FALCONER are mine again, I can have a little fun and share some pieces. I've been touched by the e-mails and postings from readers saddened by the publication fall-out, and without giving too much away, I want to let people in on where this story is going.
Amusingly, I wrote this prlogue so long ago - 2002 - that I've hardly looked at it since. Unlike the prologue to THE MASTER OF VERONA, this one is incredibly brief and sets the stage and stakes for everything that follows. Enjoy!
Verona - Friday, 12 July 1325
“The Greyhound is dead!”
The words spread quickly, an inferno of desperate tidings. The great man had been traveling in haste to Vicenza to head off yet another Paduan attack. But on the road he had taken suddenly ill and died.
Guelphs all over Italy were rejoicing at the demise of their nemesis, while those cities he’d embraced or conquered were looking around them at a world reshaped and wondered what would befall.
Within an hour of the news’ arrival in Verona, an inevitable crowd appeared outside the Scaliger palace in the Piazza della Signoria, hundreds of men staring upwards for a sign, a signal.
Along the north side of that same piazza, in the Giurisconsulti, the fourteen-member city council gathered to argue. “Why not hold free elections?”
“Because we have no idea who will step into the void!”
“The people will only vote for a della Scala! What we have to decide is which family members should be allowed to run!”
There were pitifully few choices. Cecchino della Scala would have been the ideal candidate, but he was dead, killed in a tournament last February. There remained three nominees, none suitable, none of age.
“Damn fool! The Greyhound never saw past his own delusions of grandeur, never took the elementary precaution of making a will!”
“Especially after Ponte Corbo, you’d think –”
“Shut your mouths, the pair of you,” snapped Guglielmo del Castelbarco the elder, a senior of the council. “We have work. First we need to confirm his death. I’ve sent three dozen couriers on our fastest horses. The next thing we need to do –” He paused.
“Is contact his wife,” finished a tough fellow whose ruddy cheeks betrayed a fondness for spirits. “In Munich.”
Castelbarco nodded as though that had been his intent. In truth, there was another message to send first, one that he alone could write. For his fellows were mistaken. There was a will.
“Actually, Bonaventura, I say we let her live in blissful ignorance,” drawled Nico da Lozzo. When heads turned his way, the short-statured knight uttered an exasperated cry. “Fut! We all know what she’ll say. But Paride’s only ten years old – there’s no chance the people will accept him.”
“The people will accept whomever we tell them to,” observed a clean-shaven man in the miter of a Franciscan Bishop.
“You’d nominate a child, your holiness?” asked Castelbarco, testing the water. “The Church would endorse one so young?”
“It’s a more palatable option than –”
“Even knowing,” interjected Nico da Lozzo pointedly, “who would be pulling his strings?”
Out of the ensuing uneasy silence, the ruddy-faced Petruchio Bonaventura observed, “At least the bride-thief and the cradle-robber aren’t here to add to our dilemma.” A grin erupted through his unkempt beard. “I for one can do without the bickering.”
Muttered chuckles of agreement were drowned out by a roar from the crowd that shook the walls. As one the Anziani of Verona bolted from their stools, hoping to see the Greyhound impossibly restored to life. Instead they reached the steps outside to discover the question of succession unpalatably resolved for them.
On the balcony of the main Scaliger palace stood three men, each as different as family resemblance allowed. The first was a whippet-thin man of middle years and middle height. He was shaking his knobby hands above his head as if he had just won a battle. Federigo della Scala, grandnephew to the first Scaliger to rule the city. He stood a little behind the others, the summer sun highlighting the silver in his hair.
The second was by far the largest of the trio, though only eighteen years old. Oft mocked by the citizens for his shambling gait, he was nevertheless well liked thanks to his liberal purse and generous smile. Alberto della Scala, called Alblivious by those who knew him.
The third man stood apart from his brother and cousin, right at the balcony’s lip. He didn’t wave, only inclining his head regally. Darker of hair than the others, his face owned a handsome leanness. Flashing in the late afternoon sun, his eyes were a blue so dark as to be mistaken for black. Named for the first Scaligeri ruler, he looked down from the palace built by his namesake that was now, by the power of the people’s cheers, his.
Mastino della Scala, the Mastiff of Verona. Sixteen years old last month. No one mocked him. Not ever.
The Greyhound was dead.
Long live the Mastiff.