Homecoming

Prompt 1093

As Marcantonio ascended the worn marble steps of the hospital, he smiled. The clip of his new boots resonated from the arched ceilings, announcing his arrival with confident echoes.

I want him to know I am coming, he thought, eager to see the Senator’s reaction.

He reached the top of the stairs, his cloak flowing around him as he spun on his heel to the right. He was thinking of the perfect words to make the Senator squirm when a knife point pressed into his spine.

He chuckled as the scent of fish wafted from his assailant. “Lupo, you really should stop spending all your free time at the Rialto. The stench of old baccalà follows you like a shadow.”

“The stench of that meretrice follows you. You are one of La Syrena’s lovers now, eh?” The knife tip pressed harder. “Will she shed a tear when I drive this between your ribs and dump you in the canal?”

“And why would you do that?”

“For what you did to my master!”

Marcantonio smiled again as the man searched him for a weapon, but found none. “I did not attack him, tho’ I am flattered you think so. The Senator has other enemies besides me. I suggest you hide your little sewing needle before the ducal guards see it, and think it a threat to the Doge.”

Lupo scowled and sheathed the blade when the Doge and his brightly-liveried guards emerged from the Senator’s room. As they came down the corridor, the Doge’s travelling cloak just barely hid his shimmering cloth-of-gold robes. He broke into a wide smile when he saw Marcantonio.

“Ah, cousin, good to see you. Terrible business, this, no?”

“Yes, terrible,” Marcantonio said, as the Doge pulled him into a hug.

“Try not to look too pleased,” the Doge whispered in his ear.

“How does he fare?” Marcantonio asked as they separated.

“Not well, thanks to you! Or, one of your men!” Lupo said from behind.

The four guards twitched, their fingers flexing around their halberds. Marcantonio turned to face Lupo and straightened to his full height. “You are speaking in the presence of the Most Serene Prince, my lord the Doge, Francesco Molin. Have a care with your words…”

Lupo squinted from one man to the other, but Doge Molin smiled at him. “The Senator must be very proud to have such a loyal servant. Show that loyalty now by going to fetch the physician. Your master has requested his presence.”

Lupo blinked, then bowed awkwardly. “Aye sir, er, my lord. At once.”

As he retreated down the hall, taking the scent of fish with him, Molin clapped his cousin on the shoulder.

“I nearly believed you there, when you used my full title. Very authoritative.”

Marcantonio chuckled, but his face fell when the Doge grimaced and clutched at his side.

You should seek the physician’s help, cousin. You are not well.”

Molin waved his hand dismissively and made for the stairs. “It will pass. It always does.”

Marcantonio frowned, knowing his cousin would never willingly reveal his frailty in front of his guards. Molin had commanded enough galleys in battle to know that any sign of weakness was the first step towards defeat. But to survive all that, and die from an unknown illness before seeing fifty? It would not befit a man of his honor.

The Doge smiled again. “Do not concern yourself with me, Marco. Your head should be filled with other, finer things. I hear La Syrena makes for a most engaging companion at the opera.”

A hint of pink tinged Marcantonio’s ears. “Christ, does everyone in Venice know?”

“Venice is a small city, cousin. Did you forget that during your time in Padua?”

Marcantonio chose not to answer. He knew how fast rumors travelled here, but he had hoped to keep some semblance of privacy a little while longer. Their first public appearance together was last night at the opera, and while subtlety was not one of La Syrena’s strong suits, he had hoped – naively, it seems – that the bauta mask he wore might help to conceal his identity.

“What did you think of the performance?”

“Very fine,” Marcantonio said, clearing his throat. “Most…stimulating.”

Molin’s eyes twinkled. “You don’t even know which opera it was, do you?”

Marcantonio spread his hands in defeat. “As you said, I had a most engaging companion.”

“Well, I suggest you complete your courtesy visit to the Senator as soon as possible, and return to your companion. I hear she is quite taken with you as well.”

Marcantonio’s brows lifted. “And how would you know that?”

Molin swept down the stairs, his robes swishing behind him. “I am the Doge. I have eyes and ears all over the city. Remember that.”

He watched the Doge depart, musing on his words before carrying on to the Senator’s room. He straightened his cloak and gloves before knocking.

“Enter,” came a voice inside.

Marcantonio paused so his eyes could adjust to the darkness. The windows were covered to prevent any natural light or air from entering, and clouds of incense hung heavy in the room. A lone candle burned on the bedside table. Its feeble light was reflected in the clear eyes of the Senator as they sharpened.

“Oh. It’s you.”

Marcantonio bowed low, sweeping his arms out in a wide gesture that looked like deferment, but was really to dispel some of the unnecessary incense. “Senator Sagredo. I come to offer my regret at your injury, and my wishes for your swift recovery.”

“Well said. Did your poetess-whore write that for you?”

Marcantonio mimed shock. “I am perfectly capable of penning a lyrical bit of prose. It’s adding the genuine sentiment behind it that I struggle with.”

“How dare you? I am gravely injured-”

“You were set upon by bandits and fell from your horse, Senator. Or so the story goes. Yet there is hardly a scratch on you. So unless it is some internal injury…”

The Senator shifted in his sick-bed, and the pitiful face he had been pulling disappeared.

“As I suspected,” Marcantonio said. He clamped a hand over the Senator’s mouth, then bent down and slipped a knife from one of his boots – his new pair, with the bespoke hidden sheath – and held the blade against the Senator’s throat. Sagredo struggled, but Marcantonio held firm.

“I’ll say this once – stay away from my family. And her. You’ve no right to treat them like criminals when they’ve done no wrong. I swear on my honor, that if you threaten my kin – or her – again, I will use this knife in only the most exact and painful ways.” He pointed the tip at the throbbing pulse in Sagredo’s neck. “Are you aware, Senator, that when you exiled me to Padua, I trained at the academy of surgeons? I know more about the human body than that quack coming down the hall now.”

Sagredo let out a muffled cry, but Marcantonio stifled it. Harried footsteps echoed from the corridor.

“Do I have your word?” He kept his knife at the Senator’s throat, but uncovered his mouth.

“Yes, yes. You have my word!”

Marcantonio slipped the knife back in its sheath as the door opened and the doctor entered, followed by Lupo.

“Senator, are you alright? You look flushed,” the doctor said.

Marcantonio headed for the doorway, then turned back. “I think, Dottore, it is a fever. I of course defer to your judgment, but from my training at Padua, I would recommend a course of-”

“Leeches!” the physician said. “Yes, that should do the trick!”

The Senator’s jaw dropped. Marcantonio tipped his forehead in farewell and swept from the room.

As he emerged from the confraternity’s hospital into the silky Venetian dusk, he took in the soft falling of the light, the glow of a lantern on the surface of the canal, the lilt of laughter and song from a nearby tavern. He could sense the old city coming alive in the perfumed embrace of the night, where the shadows could hide a lover’s tryst, or an assassin’s blade.

Or both.

He breathed in the scent of sea-air and spices, of history seeping from the stone walls, and sighed.

It’s good to be back.


6 thoughts on “Homecoming

  1. OMGGGGG this gets me so giddily excited. First off, VENICE. It’s a testament to that place that I automatically love any story set in Venice. Even better, historical Venice. And the pacing of this story was incredible, so tense and tight with conflict and mystery until the big reveal at the end. More, please!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!! When I saw this prompt my mind immediately went to Venice, and now this has jumpstarted a whole new novel idea, of which this is a snippet. Nothing like a shiny new idea to distract from the WIP….But I’m so glad you enjoyed it 😀

      Like

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