"So Much Ado about Paleness, Maestro!" - the 4th novelette of the fantasy novel-cycle "The Songs of Peter Sliadek"

By Henry Lion Oldie

Fantasy, Action & adventure, Historical fiction

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17 mins

CHAPTER FOUR

If you have seen two inveterate gossips quarreling while meeting at Piazzetta—one word leading to the other, approaching and leaping back, attacking brilliantly and parrying valiantly, finding arguments and comparisons with the speed of lightning, making oblique hints and false threats, alternating them with direct and sure insults, tatting the lace of quarrel with the skill of a veritable virtuoso—you’ll understand me when I talk about the true art of fencing.
Achille Morazzi Junior, comments to the second edition of the book The New Art of Arms by Morazzi Senior, revised and supplemented

Incessantly weaves
The gray-haired weaver.
Dust to dust.
Fear to fear.
Neru Bobovay

“Where are we sailing to, Signor?”
“To the Aunt Rosina Inn, Signor!”
Peter Sliadek had plenty of time. In a different situation, he would have surely saved the ten soldi that Maestro d’Agnolo had given him for his journey. However, from the La Giudecca Island, where Peter, thanks to the Maestro, had settled at the conservatoire, one couldn’t get to the central part of Venice by a bridge. The canal dividing the islands was too broad; only in a boat, a gondola as it’s called here, could he reach the center. Alas, he had to pay.
“A song, Signor?” asked the gondolier, turning his head to face Peter. “Just for a pair of coppers, I’ll sing for you…”
“For a pair of coppers, I’ll sing for you myself, Signor!”
The water purled, flowing past the boards. The gondolier winked at the passenger, murmuring in an undertone “The Sun over the Roofs”—as if saying, Don’t worry, Signor; it’s free!—and Peter, chiming in quietly, smiled in response. He never was a skinflint. And here in Venice, strange as it was, coins started jingling in his ever-empty pockets little by little. He had a roof over his head, food was almost free… In addition, Maestro d’Agnolo had hinted that he would permit Peter to attend his lute school. He patted Peter's shoulder and said, “When you get some money, you’ll pay for it! Eh, a vagabond soul you are!” It would seem, this was happiness! This was not hanging about in taverns, and carrying sacks when his voice was strained because of a bad cold. This was living in a warm place, in satiety, enjoying all kinds of andante and legato…
This was good. The very best. Yet, Peter already knew he wouldn’t stay at the school of the generous maestro. A week, two at most, and he wouldn’t be able to take it anymore. He had stuck around more than usual as it was. It had been three months since Peter Sliadek had stepped from the unsteady deck of the ship on the planking of the berth in the harbor, darkened by time and corroded by sea salt.
The road was now calling the vagrant again. The road? Or perhaps the odd craftsmen who had told him an old legend were right?

For a long time, Peter had dreamt of Venice. He remembered how at the Henning Fair he had seen, at the minnesinger Ernst’s, a pile of greasy sheets of paper dappled with strange signs—notes—and had heard how Ernst was playing, touching the strings not with his fingers but with a bone plectrum. Later on, while sitting with the minnesinger in a tavern, he was listening to Ernst’s narration about lute schools in proud Venice, the crucible of the arts. It appeared Ernst had even studied at one such school (until he no longer had the money for it), though this was hard to believe. It didn’t matter, however. From that very moment, Peter Sliadek became obsessed with Venice.
And there—it happened! The legendary city on waters, where instead of streets were canals, instead of horses and carts were gondolas; the city of merchants and seafarers, glassblowers and fullers, painters and sculptors, nobles and swordsmen.
During the first days, Peter was delirious at the city’s beauty: Piazza San Marco, Doge’s Palace, the recently built Bridge of Sighs, Palazzo Ca d’Oro and Vendramin Calergi, the church Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari with the altar paintings by Vecellio. Facades of buildings were inlaid with colored marble; tracery galleries and stained glass windows, where the sun would flash in a rainbow, looked wonderful. Curved arches of bridges that hovered in the air were reflected in the deep, dark-blue water of the canals. Narrow rows of stone buildings—all of them three- or four-storied—and over the roofs, the scent of the sea and the bright eyes of the sky, where the peal of bells flowed, drowning the cries of seagulls.
A piece of the wonderful world where we happen to live. Beautiful, alluring, approachable, and aloof like a local courtesan—yet it’s only a piece.
While the world is vast.
Once, when hanging about with a troupe of clowns from Milan, Peter had picked up a bit of the Italian language. Furthermore, he tried to use every possibility to extend his knowledge on the ship while on his way here. Languages came easily to him; when one knows a dozen of them, learning the thirteenth one is easy. Having landed, he found without much trouble the nearest lute school and also a conservatoire located near it. Conservatoires—that was the name given here to orphanages that existed on funds provided by the Signoria and donations of wealthy citizens—taught children, among other things, music and singing, and prepared them to become choristers at the numerous churches. Peter was envious beyond measure; his own childhood was cold and slush. As an orphan, he roamed with an old vagrant singer, who rewarded Peter with slaps on the back of his head.
He would now spend all of his spare time by the windows of the school of Maestro d’Agnolo or next to the conservatoire, memorizing, trying to pick out a tune by ear, accompanying the choristers who were learning psalms and hymns. He listened to musicians at squares or in taverns, trying to imitate their style of playing. However, he abandoned this occupation in a short time; he made sure he did not play worse than them.
Apparently, true artists ignored the plain audience.
His guess was suddenly confirmed by one signor when Peter ventured to enter a more decent tavern. The tavern keeper nodded indulgently, and the vagrant, picking up his courage, sat down in the corner and uncovered his instrument. Within an hour, the first coins jingled in Peter's hat. And by evening, the aforementioned signor, who resembled a tired lion, invited the musician to his table.
“You are a foreigner; it’s immediately clear,” the signor stuck his shaggy beard out, looking at the tavern keeper menacingly. In a moment, a dish of chicken breasts in spicy sauce appeared before Peter, and after it, there came a jug of wine. “It’s not even about your clothes or the accent. Our haughty fellows would rather bite off their own fingers than stoop to playing in a tavern!”
Peter thought it best to keep silent, filling his mouth with chicken.
“Everyone’s ready to sell their soul for a wealthy patron! To become a court lutenist or a harpist at the bishop’s, the senator’s, or with a bit of luck, at the Doge’s himself… To play for a bunch of arrogant fools! That’s why Venice is doomed to listen to the playing of ungifted hacks. It doesn’t concern you, young man. You’re a pleasant exclusion of that assembly of blockheads.”
“Thank you, Signor,” Peter forced himself to say while coughing. From such compliments, the pungent sauce seemed veritably scalding. The signor only waved his hand imposingly in response; that is, nonsense.
“While the result of searching, of creative ascension… Do you want me to recite some poems for you?” he said, suddenly finishing his speech.
“Sure!” Peter pricked up his ears. When would there be another chance to listen to the poems of a real signor? Maybe he would manage to put them to music!
The lion curved his brow sarcastically:

I’ve grown a goiter by dwelling in this den –
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be –
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin;
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine; my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp; a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.

Damn it. Peter had been expecting high lyrics, but this… He tried feverishly to memorize the words. The signor continued declaiming until the dish of chicken was empty; then it was time to take the lute, and absorbed in playing, Peter didn’t notice how the odd signor left.
However, the tavern keeper did.
“Do you know at least who it was?” he inquired the vagrant in a hissing whisper.
“Me? N-no.”
“Michel Agnolo Buonarroti, the renowned satirist poet! In his youth, he’d worked as a sculptor, but he abandoned that occupation, considering it to be low. The Pope Julius II himself invited the Maestro to paint the Sistine Chapel—to no avail! He refused and told them that all sorts of Raphaels would decorate it for them! He’s hit many sore spots with his satires! Only that our Doge favors him.”
Eventually, Peter did put to music the acrimonious satirist’s verses, which he had managed to memorize. He wouldn’t forget to announce every time: “A song to the lyrics by Signor Buonarroti!” Usually, success was guaranteed, but once, the musician scarcely avoided thrashing. Among the listeners, there appeared to be someone who had suffered from Michel Agnolo’s sharp tongue.
But all of this would happen during the evenings. Every morning, Peter Sliadek would appear by the lute school, where Maestro d’Agnolo had noticed him finally. Moreover, having visited the conservatoire, at the request of Bishop Bramante, in order to give recommendations to the new choristers for the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, the Maestro realized that the vagrant was secretly, by ear, accompanying the choir quite successfully, using not the traditional plectrum but an absolutely original finger technique.
When d’Agnolo touched Peter, absorbed in playing, on his shoulder, the latter almost jumped up. The lute strummed plaintively; the tune was cut short.
Now he’ll drive me away, thought the vagrant helplessly.
“Come on, dear! From here: tram-pam-param-pa…” the Maestro said.
That was how they got acquainted. They stood in the street near the conservatoire for more than an hour. Peter, at the Maestro’s demand, was playing, playing, and playing, while d’Agnolo was gesticulating and mentioning the devils. After this, he ordered the “bambino virtuoso” to follow him. As a result, Peter Sliadek got at his disposal a small room under the stairs leading to the second floor, and in addition, permission to be present at the choir repetitions and the board in the conservatoire. He paid for these benefits by chopping firewood, sweeping floors, and going on various errands.
Sometimes, d’Agnolo would invite Peter to accompany the choristers; the Maestro’s pupils, who paid for their studies, thought it to be below them. The pupils’ arrogance brought even more benefit: the Maestro was seldom satisfied with playing by ear and would demand Petruchio to play from music. Peter didn’t know notes; so the Maestro had to teach the novice the intricacies of tablature. After that, the “bambino virtuoso” found out where there was a printing house that issued sheet music, visited it, and purchased a collection of frivolous canzones, which he immediately included in his repertoire.
It was approximately a week after they had been acquainted that the Maestro became interested in Peter’s lute. When another repetition was over and the young choristers rushed to exit the hall, D’Agnolo’s glance slipped over the vagrant’s instrument by chance… and froze as if the Maestro had seen it for the first time.
“Mamma mia! Give it! Give it to me!”
Peter seemed to hear trembling in the teacher’s voice, but he didn’t attach importance to this. Why should the Maestro be interested in the old lute? It did sound good; yet Peter, if he could manage to get money to cover the difference, would gladly exchange the old girl for a newer instrument. And why not, as a matter of fact? Here, in Venice, he earned a bit—maybe he should try his fortune?
The Maestro looked odd when he returned the instrument. He left without saying goodbye, which had never happened before, while Peter got overwhelmed with the idea of buying a new lute. Having inquired of the conservatoire cook where the lute shop was, the vagrant headed in the direction he had been shown. A gondola brought him straight to the place—the shop was not far from the granite steps descending into the water. An elderly, bearded man opened the door; from behind the master’s back, there came to Sliadek the smell of rosin, lacquer, and fresh wood shavings.
“Can I buy a lute here?” he asked of the bearded man.
The man squinted, examined Peter, nodded, and stepped aside.
Peter was dazzled. On the walls, there hung brand new viols, lyres, flutes, pipes, and a bass theorbo about seven feet long… Lutes! Twenty of them, no less. Dim glistening of lacquer, strict lines of fingerboards. Having received the silent permission of the master, Peter took one of them off the wall, carefully touching the strings to get acquainted. Yet, something felt wrong. He played the overture to a frivolous pavanilla, for a test. The first impression proved to be right. The lute’s sound was alien. The young man sighed and stretched his arms to his sides guiltily. After some hesitating, he took another instrument.
The master frowned gloomily, looking at how the customer was hanging the seventh lute back in its place. He muttered unkindly, “Is the Signor so fastidious?”
“You see,” Peter said, confused, “I… I wanted the sound…”
The bearded man burst into laughter openly. “What sound exactly? Would the Signor desire a lute by Vasari? Romane? Pazotti himself?”
Peter didn’t quite understand the point of the gibe.
“You see, I would like… something like this…” He unfolded the rag, pulling his shabby instrument out, and he saw: the jaw of the shop owner was slowly dropping. The bearded man became surprisingly like Maestro d’Agnolo.
“Mamma mia! Give it! Give it to me, you Barbarian!”
Peter shrugged his shoulders and fulfilled the request. He was pondering if it was worthwhile to just repair the old girl. It would surely be cheaper.
“The brand! Where is the brand? Apparently it was here… Savages! Blockheads! Who has tainted this masterpiece?”
“It wasn’t me!” Peter hurried to reassure, just in case. “I’ve taken care of it; without a lute, I am dead! If this is about the burnt stain, I did buy it with the stain on it…”
“Where? Where did you buy it?” In the man’s eyes, there was a tossing flash of madness.
“At a fair in Boleslavetz. From the blacksmith Kovaltchik,” Peter replied.
“Blacksmith? What does a blacksmith need a lute for?”
“That’s why he was cursing and saying, ‘what the hell do I need it for? Take it, guy, I give it for nothing.’ Yet, what a price that villain charged! Only with difficulty did we come to eleven groszy. He wanted fifteen. Is it possible—fifteen groszy for an old lute?”
“Eleven gro-chy?”
Peter made a quick calculation in his mind: “Well, about a scudo-and-a-half in your money.”
“A scudo-and-a-half? A scudo-and-a-half?! Bandito, bandito monstruoso! Giuseppe!” From the scream of the excited shop owner, the vagrant got an earache. “Run in here! Madonna, a scudo-and-a-half!”
Out of the back door, there appeared a second bearded man—an exact copy of the first one. “What are you shouting for, Antonio?”
Antonio stuck the lute into his hands, and for a long time, there was dead silence in the shop.
“Where from?” croaked Giuseppe at last with an effort.
“From a blacksmith! From a dirty, stinky blacksmith! This one has brought… Young man, do you know you’ve been born a Fortune’s favorite?” And without waiting for an answer, he added, “Unfortunately, the brand was destroyed, but I would risk assuming that this is early Pazotti! Genuine Del Diablo, yet before his repentance!”
Giuseppe nodded convulsively.
“It’s priceless! Besides, it’s in a rather good state. I see you’ve treated this treasure well…”
Peter remembered how he had gotten wet under a downpour along with his “treasure,” how he had roamed from one town to the other in the bitter cold, how he had once forgotten the instrument near a hot stove, how he wanted all the time to change the rag for a leather cover but had never done it…
“I implore you, young man; don’t sell this lute for any money! If you wish, my brother and I will adjust it; it will serve both you and your children!” the shop owner said.
“How much… how much will it cost?”
The bearded brothers waved their hands like two windmills. “Not a soldo, Signor! To restore an early Pazotti… We’re ready to pay you for trusting us!”
Returning to the conservatoire, Peter was thinking for a long time about what he had heard before leaving the shop. If the brothers were to be trusted, at the age of forty, the great Geronimo Pazotti repented the mistakes of his youth and rejected his foul nickname “Del Diablo”. The modest interest of the Saint Tribunal had strongly assisted the Maestro’s repentance. The instruments that he had made before this disappeared. There were attempts to find them, but all in vain. An especially thorough search was carried out for the first lute by Del Diablo, named “Madonna Luna,” which means, “The Capricious Mistress.” It was said that “Madonna Luna” forced its owner to eternal wandering. According to a fine legend, if the owner opposed it, staying in one place, the lute would change its master. Peter even decided to make a song about the debut of the sinful Del Diablo.
The new lute that he took while the old one was being repaired was pressing into his side confidingly. It wanted very much to please him, to become his own.
Sorry, dear, thought Peter, it won’t do. I'm a one-lute man. Even if the great Pazotti has never touched my old girl. It’s about something different.
He didn’t know himself what it was about.
The next day, Maestro d’Agnolo nearly went mad when he saw a new lute in Peter’s hands. But, having realized that the old instrument had been given for repair, he calmed down. He also offered a lot of money if Peter sold him the lute. A monstrous sum. Impossible.
“I am sorry, Maestro,” Peter Sliadek lowered his head despondently. “If you wish, you may throw me out.”
D’Agnolo didn’t.

Along the shores of the canal, lanterns were lit up. Familiar steps descended into the water. The gondolier lit the lamp on the prow to avoid collisions, and the boat departed soundlessly. Now, he had to cross the Piazza San Marco, desolate in this hour, where the almost-invisible, five-domed mass of the cathedral was looming over him, and the four bronze horses galloped on its central portal; to turn into the Piazzetta, where during daytime there was a noisy, crowded market, to dive into a narrow street—and there it was, the shop. Also, the inn where he was to deliver notes was quite near.
“Welcome, young man! Come in, please.”
Sliadek froze where he stood. The lute that Antonio (or Giuseppe?) held in his hands was shining with new lacquer; the former grazes disappeared, and there were no traces of scratches or the burnt stain. Peter’s heart ceased beating as he received the instrument. He touched the strings with trepidation—what if the sound was gone, along with the injuries?
No. The twins knew their business well. Moreover, they flatly refused payment, even a symbolic payment, and presented Peter with a brand-new leather cover, specially oiled against dampness and rain. Peter did manage to give them money for the cover, though it wasn’t easy.
As a result, he was late with delivering the notes.
“Why are you so late?” asked the Maestro’s pupil, his lips curled, when Sliadek finally arrived.
“I beg your pardon, Signor! The printing house doesn’t manage with the orders… I came at once! I’ve hurried!”
The haughty youth only waved his hand dismissively, and Peter bowed and left. At first, he headed for the arch leading to a trattoria by the inn, out of which came the tasty odor of roasted meat, onions, and bean soup. Suddenly, his intuition, which had developed during his years of wandering, pushed Peter into a pitch-black shadow under the nearest cornice. At first, he didn’t see anything. Yet, when his eyes got used to the dark, he peered—and understood. There were people hiding in the arch.
Weapons clanged, and someone cursed in a low voice.
Peter Sliadek moved away from the saving wall, intending to take to his heels, but at that moment, the door of the inn slammed. There was a lantern lit over the door, and in its light he could see the face of a man who seemed familiar.
When Peter went to the market with the conservatoire cook, they saw two men walking in front of them; both were tall, sinewy, and armed with rapiers. They wore strict, dark coats and tight breeches tucked into the boots. The one who was taller was completely grizzled, while the young one’s curls were jet-black. The cook touched Peter's sleeve: “This, Petruchio, is Maestro Achille Morazzi, the famous fencing teacher, and his son. You see?” The father and the son passed by.
Then, there was the conversation Peter overheard a week later: “Have you heard? A dagger! In his back! Now they’ll start fighting for the leadership in the Brotherhood.”
It was the son of the murdered Maestro who had just left the inn.
Perhaps Peter acted foolishly. Murderers never did like unnecessary witnesses. Life was an excellent thing for those who lived according to rules and didn't want to die as fools.
Then again, for all the rest, life was beautiful, too.
“Signor! Wait! There’s an ambush!” Peter cried.
Morazzi didn’t even turn his head. Only, his step became bird-like, carrying his body aside. Something clanged against the wall.
A knife, guessed Peter. It was just the time to run away, but his feet froze to the pavement.
“You needn’t do it, Cesare. He’s not like his daddy.” The darkness under the arch spat out a supple, dancing figure. Behind it, foreboding a storm, there was emerging a vague wave: the murderers were moving in closer. “I’ll finish off this milksop myself, face-to-face.”
“Uncle Bertuccio?” There was a calm taunt heard in the voice of Morazzi Junior. “You mean you couldn’t meet my father face-to-face? You had to aim at his back?”
“You’ve become quick-tongued, Nephew! It wasn’t characteristic of you before.”
“People change with age, Uncle. Haven’t you been told about that?”
The lantern over the entrance swayed from a blast of wind, and Peter seemed to notice the flashing of blades.
“You’ve turned pale, Nephew! You’ve always been a chicken!”
“So much ado about paleness, eh, Uncle? But what can be worse than disgrace?”
Word-lunges, word-parries, word-ripostes were biting precisely and mercilessly like razor-sharp blades of Milanese steel. Uncle Bertuccio was evidently losing this duel. Peter missed the moment when the rapiers started clanging in reality, not just within his too-vivid mind. It wasn’t the dim light of the lantern that was to blame—his eyes could hardly follow the fighters' movements. It seemed they continued the argument that they had begun, yet with weapons in their hands.
The arguments in this discussion were truly deadly, in the strictest sense of the word. Soon, Morazzi Junior's heavy rapier penetrated Bertuccio’s chest with a sickening resonance that made Peter’s stomach turn.
The son of the deceased Maestro pulled his blade out of the dead body and turned to the others.
My Lord, this is beautiful! The vagrant stiffened with fear mixed with admiration, listening to the hymn of death, to the accompaniment of steel. He remembered a square in Wrozlav where a clown was teasing the crowd before the show, jeering at five or six citizens in the first row. He had time to answer everyone, so mordantly, that the poor fellows were at a loss, not knowing how to scoff at the clown in response. The spectators were rolling on the pavement with laughter.
But no one was laughing now; and Peter was the only spectator, an accidental one. Yet Morazzi, like the glib-tongued clown, answered his opponents effortlessly, preceded them, slipped away; his rapier and a dagger, which he had snatched out of the belt, composed precise and laconic phrases, forcing the murderers to be tongue-tied. One of the assailants grabbed at his shoulder with a cry while the other doubled up. The third retreated into the darkness but gave way, turned his back, and ran.
With his legs barely holding him, Peter approached the winner, who was looking around him wildly.
“Are you alive, Signor?” he asked.
The young Morazzi nodded, his eyes finally landing on Peter. “I’m in your debt, lutenist. Damn it! My thigh is cut. Help me get to the trattoria.”
“Of course, Signor! Lean on me.”
The trattoria was empty; only a decently dressed drunkard slept at the farthest table in the corner. The tavern keeper appeared immediately. He shouted to the servant woman to bring clean linen and hot water and helped the wounded man sit down on the bench.
“Send someone to the Morazzi family palazzo, at San Pietro. Tell them Achille came back. Let them send someone here. And also, bring wine, for me and my friend… What’s your name, lutenist?”
“Peter, Signor.”
“Wine for me and my friend, Petruchio.”
There began turmoil. A servant woman, along with the tavern keeper’s wife, were sighing and lamenting, as they were bandaging the wounded signor’s leg and another wound that was found on his shoulder. Meanwhile, the signor drank. A lot. At one gulp; eating without hurry.
“Did you see? Did you see it all?!” he asked, turning to Peter.
“Yes…”
“Tell me!”
“At first, you were quarreling with this… with Bertuccio. Your tongue’s like a razor, Signor! He had nothing to answer you with, so he attacked you. Then you killed him. Very fast. Then the others attacked you—”
“Wait, lutenist, you’re wrong! Bertuccio attacked me immediately! We fought… then stopped, began arguing, wrangling! But I crushed him with my arguments. And later on—the others, too.”
“You’ve crushed them indeed, Signor! Yet, you’ve done this with your rapier rather than with your arguments.”
“Are you sure, Petruchio? Are you really sure?” Morazzi Junior neared Peter, and grabbed him by the lapels of his coat. It seemed he was quite drunk; or on the verge of madness.
“Of course, Signor!”
The wounded man fell silent and relaxed on the bench. For a long time, he was staring at a single spot before he started talking again. “So that’s what you’re like, Quirinus's gift!”
“Excuse me, Signor?”
“You don’t understand, do you? Of course you don’t! I’ve only guessed vaguely myself, but now… I’ll tell you, Petruchio! I’m drunk; I’ve lost a lot of blood. Listen to the confession of a madman!”

****

He was the acknowledged leader of the San Giorgio Brotherhood, with the right to cross the borders at will; for many need the services of masters of the blade.
He was Achille Morazzi, formerly, one of the three beloved pupils of the famous Guido Antonio di Lucca; after that, he became a free and independent citizen of Venice, wealthy enough to accept pupils according to his own choice and refuse ordered duels (in other words, hired assassinations).
He was a virtuoso of the sword, genius of the rapier, master of the dagger and the rondel, favorite of the halberd. Even without a weapon, he was dangerous.
He was.
Yesterday, Maestro Achille perished from a treacherous stroke to his back, delivered from out of the evening dark near the quay of the La Nave Canal. Informed people assumed that the murderers weren’t strangers to Signor Morazzi and had conciliated his trust in advance, for it was hard to suggest carelessness so fatal in such an experienced Maestro. Yet people, especially informed ones, preferred to hold their tongues. The deceased had close relatives including his son, devoted pupils, and friends of the family. There would be no trouble finding someone who would devote his life to revenge, according to the law of duty and blood.
Besides, a man who was able to finish off Maestro Achille would not spare chatterboxes.
The widow, Julia, didn’t shed a single tear at the funeral. Wrapped in a black cape, straight and stern, she was looking into the distance, and those assembled cautioned against crossing the line of her look. It was as though they were trembling under the severe look of Morazzi himself. Maestro’s son, Achille, named after his father, stood silently next to the widow. Morazzi Junior; he was feeling how the appendix “junior” was leaking out of his name like blood out of the veins. His father was murdered. Now, Father's shadow waited invisibly behind Achille's back, asking him, “Well? What of you, Son?” A dagger stuck to his father’s liver—forever.
Forgive me, Father. You know me better than anyone does. I'm ready to die. Whereas, to take my revenge… thought Achille.

From the cemetery, the family headed home. The Morazzi family palazzo was situated at San Pietro, the easternmost of the islands of Venice, and only a single gondola was moving along the canal in that direction. The relatives, pupils, and friends of the deceased had felt the widow’s desire to remain alone with her thoughts; as for the young Achille, it would also be better for him to think of his further actions. No one doubted that the old Maestro would be avenged. Yet, even after the guests had gone, their words hung on his ears like a refrain.
“My regrets, Signora Julia…”
“I’m so sorry, Signor Achille…”
“Your husband was…”
The word “was” haunted the mother and son mercilessly on their way back to San Pietro. The widow retired to the upper room together with Fra Giovanni, the family confessor, whereas Achille went down to the inner yard that also served as a place for training. Morazzi Senior could allow himself such a yard—a vast and quiet one with rough flagstones under foot. Black and red squares. Six squares—one full-length lunge.
Achille pulled his rapier out of its scabbard, feeling its heaviness, touching the basket hilt. He thought a little and extracted his dagger from the belt.
It was dark; the moon holed up behind the clouds like a fugitive convict. The upper window of the palazzo gave dim light, and over the corner, there were lit candles in the kitchen where the servants gossiped. The young man threw his cloak off, shuddering from the chill. From the canal, there came dampness.
Dritto squalembrato, a diagonal cut to the right clavicle, and continuing the attack, an abrupt lunge with the dagger under the opponent’s armpit. The most complicated variant: the long blade blocked the short one, and the dagger, like a cunning, crafty servant, should be lower than the master, letting the latter move forward for one-third of a movement. Now to jump away. Two black flagstones back. Three red ones to the left. “Allegro! Allegro, the devil take you!” The irritated voice of his father was distinctly heard. Achille Junior objected silently, Presto, Maestro! Not allegro but presto.
Indeed, he repeated the attack not fast but very fast. And once again. And again. If there were more than one enemy, one should move swiftly, interspersing retreats with dashes to the side, venturing to flash-like approaches. We’re not some Frenchmen; we don’t shun rough skirmishes!
The moon, peeping out in fear, flooded the yard with yellow light.
Forgive me, Maestro, Achille thought. Your keen eye penetrated deeper than many experts were able to reach with a blade. I am swift, strong, and dexterous. I am a worthy son to my father. Awake me at night, put into my hand the pole of a broom, and I’ll perform for you brilliantly all these roverso tondo and montante. Any blade, any speed. Any chapter of The New Art of Arms, at your choice. The spectators will burst with delight. Thus, a nut that is rotten on the inside looks more attractive than the others. Thus, beneath brocade and gold, there is hidden vice, ugliness, or decrepitation. Alas, Maestro. I have to go away. Don’t be angry with me.


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