“Actually,” Ferenc Ragoczy, Abbe of Sanct’ Parasceva and Count Saint-Germain, went on as he strolled down the length of the old-fashioned atrium at Senza Pari on the outskirts of Roma, “Olivia would probably have issued stern orders rather than have pleaded with me.” The pain of speaking her name had faded but was not yet gone, and it showed in a slight tightening of his attractive, irregular features, and the momentary hesitation in his speech. “Of course I had to come, for her, as well as you. And she would have not accepted any delay; storms would have been no excuse.” His ankle-length Hungarian dolman and mente of black silk made him an emphatic shadow in the rich Roman winter sunshine; the white chaconne at his neck identified him as an Abbe, his sole indication of his position; instead of a crucifix, he wore a pectoral of his eclipse device on a heavy silver chain.
Beside him, Niklos Aulirios was able to chuckle. “Yes, that would be more like her.” His handsome face grew somber. “I could not make such demands, nor would I.”
“No. You have too high a regard for her memory to do that,” Ragoczy said. “But I apologize for taking so long to get to Roma. Had the messenger reached me sooner, I would have been here in November. The weather slowed my journey, unfortunately. I had hoped to be here before the Nativity, but Evangelista Giovan’s Feast will have to do. At least it is only late December and we have a few days to make a response to the claim before the end of the year; the magistrates will expect that.” They stopped by the fountain. It was larger than Ragoczy remembered, with a fine marble faun holding up his pipes, from which the water flowed. “This is new.” They had been speaking Greek but now changed to Italian.
“It was installed just before she died,” said Niklos, his brown eyes growing distant. “There was a fashion in statues and fountains, and she commissioned this. She was going to have more statues made, but—”
“Yes,” Ragoczy said thoughtfully. “But.” He had feared seeing Roma again would exacerbate the grief he had felt since Olivia’s death; he was relieved when that did not happen, although he had a kind of indefinable soreness within him that twinged from time to time, reminding him of his loss.
“The man who has made the claim must sense that there is some reason that her estate may be attacked in this way,” Niklos went on, determined to keep their conversation on the business at hand. His neat justaucorps was the color of wild honey, and his breeches, of the same cloth, were not quite as full as fashion required, but this conservatism in his dress was considered appropriately modest for a man in his ambiguous position. His jabot was edged in lace, but the ruffles at his wrists were moderate and unembellished. “I cannot think he would make the attempt if he had not some hope of gaining the prize he seeks.”
“Possibly; or he may believe he can prevail against a servant, if you will pardon my saying so,” Ragoczy observed. “He may be counting on the habits of the court, to favor heirs, legitimate or not, over servants, thinking that he will not have to do much to gain his ends.”
Niklos shrugged. “Perhaps,” he allowed. The two walked on to the nearest door that led into the house, entering the dining room where the steward, Alfredo Cervetti, was preparing an inventory of the silver. “The court has required it. We must inventory everything at her estates.”
“It would be expected in a case of this sort,” said Ragoczy. He glanced at the frescoes along the far wall that showed significant episodes in the history of the city, beginning with the building of the Flavian Circus, now called the Colosseum, for the huge statue of the Emperor Nero in front of it. The other events represented were the bribing of Attila, Pope Celestine III crowning the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, the death of Cola Rienzi, the elevation of Oddone Colonna as Pope Martino V, and the raising of the dome of San Pietro.
Niklos watched Ragoczy’s perusal, saying, “She decided to depict events that the Church would approve.”
“She was always a sensible woman,” Ragoczy responded steadily; his grief was banked now, like a slow-burning fire. “After so long, she knew how to protect herself.” He looked away.
“Not at the end,” said Niklos in an emotionless tone.
“No,” Ragoczy agreed. “Not at the end.” He turned his back on the mural. “So you must tell me how you have fared since this…ambitious fraud began.”
Niklos shrugged. “I have tried to find an advocate to support me.” He stared toward the door into the corridor. “One has agreed to act for me: Marcaurelio dal Prato.”
“And is he doing his work properly?” asked Ragoczy. He suited his pace to Niklos’, ambling toward the reception hall. “Are you satisfied?”
“I don’t know; I have paid his fee and I hope he will prove capable of his task,” said Niklos. “I have never had to present a claim in court before, not on my own behalf. The man is not Catholic, which is both a strength and a disadvantage.”
“He’s not a Protestant, is he?” Ragoczy knew that Protestants were severely limited in access to court procedures.
“No. He’s a Jew.” He made a gesture to show he felt he had had no choice. “No Catholic would maintain an action against a member of an Archbishop’s retinue, and no Protestant could act against him.”
“Then you have chosen well, given what you must deal with,” said Ragoczy.
“Unless the Church decides I am deliberately acting to insult the court, which is possible,” Niklos cautioned him. “He has already told me this could happen. At which point I shall have no one to speak for me, unless you decide to.”
“If I had not decided to do so, I would not be here,” said Ragoczy quietly.
Niklos stared away, his brow contracted with emotion. “I did not mean to—”
“Yes; I know,” said Ragoczy, his voice gentle.
“It is because I find myself without allies that I sometimes forget that I am not alone in my fight anymore.” He stopped at the entrance to the reception hall. “It has been almost thirty years to the day since she died, but I still expect to see her come into the villa, or hear her voice.”
Ragoczy’s dark eyes were sad. “I know,” he repeated.
“I served her for thirteen hundred years. It does not seem right that she should be gone.” He stared into the distance. “I cannot forget her.”
“Nor would I expect you to. I will never do so,” said Ragoczy with such encompassing sympathy that Niklos blinked in surprise. “You did not think I would not share your sorrow, did you?”
“You were gone—” Niklos stopped himself.
“You had my letter when I returned; I would have sent it sooner had I been able to,” Ragoczy said. “From the hour she died, I felt the loss of her.”
“So you told me.” Niklos gave a single shake to his head. “I still do not comprehend how.”
“The bond of blood knows no distance,” said Ragoczy slowly, his slight, unidentifiable accent becoming stronger.
Alfredo Cervetti appeared in the doorway, a tablet in his hand. “I have finished with the silver in the dining room. I will now begin on silver vessels in the kitchen and pantry, if it will suit you.”
“Go ahead,” said Niklos in an abstracted way. “You do not need my permission to do what the court has ordered.”
“Very good,” said Alfredo, bowing before he left Niklos alone with his newly arrived guest.
There was a short, uncomfortable silence between Ragoczy and Niklos; then Ragoczy spoke. “How long have you been at this inventory?”
“Here at Senza Pari? For three weeks. I have sent word to the estates the court demands inventories of, ordering the staffs there to prepare them and bring them to Roma, but I doubt much work has been done yet, or if the orders have been delivered, for the passes may be closed.” He placed the tips of his fingers together. “They know about six estates. One is in England, and the Pope has no authority there, and so the inventory cannot be decreed without the endorsement of the Crown, which will not be granted.”
“That is something, at least. I will assume her other holdings are safe,” Ragoczy said. “This is not a complete rout.” He sighed once and sat down in a high-backed chair of rosewood. From this place he had an angled view of the corridor. “Who is this claimant, and how does he defend his claim?”
“Ahrent Julius Rothofen,” said Niklos said flatly. “He is part of the entourage of Archbishop Siegfried Walmund.”
“Graff von Oldenburg’s tool, I believe,” Ragoczy remarked. “Or do we call him Conte in Roma, and not Graff? Whichever title is used, the man is in a difficult position, being so much surrounded by Protestants. The old law that the faith of the ruler will be the faith of his people no longer holds true everywhere. He will want to demonstrate his dedication to the Church. The Pope cannot like to see so much of Germany lost to Protestants, and no doubt he occasionally vents his displeasure on the clerics from those regions where Protestants flourish, which would include Archbishop Walmund. To advance so far and be thwarted by the Protestants. He must feel his lack of promotion keenly; had he not been from Protestant territories, he should have had his red hat long since—he is doubtless aware of his foiled melioration, as is the whole of the Papal Court. He has much to prove, and he will do his utmost to do so, for himself as well as for his master: Oldenburg has need of men to do his bidding, and nowhere more than in Roma.”
“He has stated he supports Rothofen’s claim. I know the magistrate has been sent an official statement from the Archbishop,” Niklos said, looking uneasily toward the doorway to the corridor.
“That is not convenient,” said Ragoczy in a very unconcerned way, but with a warning flick of his fingers. “We will have to find some manner to address it.”
“Do you think it wise to try?” Niklos asked, taking the hint from Ragoczy’s signal. “I do not want to compromise my claim.”
“Then we will have to make the effort. It is a question of finding the means to present the facts appropriately.” He leaned forward. “How soon must the magistrate hear this case?”
“It is supposed to be argued in the spring.” Niklos stood facing Ragoczy, resisting the urge to glance toward the door.
“Tell me how you intend to counter his—Rothofen’s—claims.” Ragoczy smiled encouragement. “I trust you are prepared. You will want to be able to present strong arguments in order to prevail.”
“I have Olivia’s Will,” said Niklos. “It is very specific in its terms.”
“I would expect no less.” Ragoczy paused. “But it is the Will of a woman, a widow without sons or brothers to support her, and that is a disadvantage in these days.” In Olivia’s youth, when Claudius and Nero ruled, women had been able to bequeath their estates without male intervention. “It will take more than her Will to ensure your legacy.”
“It is true,” Niklos agreed. In response to a gesture from Ragoczy, he went on. “She was a widow and the executor appointed by her husband was dead. She filed a declaration to that effect. It was left to her to prepare her own Will.”
“That makes your case more difficult, beyond question,” said Ragoczy. “I am sure your advocate has told you as much.”
“He has said it may,” Niklos conceded. “But I must persevere. I would not only lose my inheritance, I would fail in my duty to Olivia, which is unacceptable to me.”
“Then we must find some means to preserve her legacy,” said Ragoczy, and stopped as footsteps sounded in the corridor, accompanied by a scurrying.
A moment later a lean, sandy-haired man of middle years in Hungarian servant’s livery came into the room. “My master,” he said to Ragoczy. “I have prepared your quarters.”
“Rugerius,” said Ragoczy. “Very good.” He waited a moment, one hand raised for silence. “Who was listening?”
“A young man, ruddy-haired, with a cast in his right eye,” said Rugerius without any change in his demeanor.
“Bonifaccio,” said Niklos, as resigned as he could persuade himself to be. “I thought he would have to be the one. His father is dead and he has a sister in need of a dowry.”
“He is not the only one, you may be sure,” Ragoczy warned. “The Church has its familiars everywhere.”
“I am aware of three others,” said Niklos. “It is worse than Constantinople, for there we knew we were in a nest of spies; here I would have expected loyalty from Olivia’s servants.”
“But most of them were not her servants, for they never knew her—they are yours, and you are a servant made master by a dead woman,” said Ragoczy steadily.
“That is true enough,” said Niklos, his handsome features made somber by his concerns. “I have thought about it for many months now, and I know any number of them resent me as much as they envy me.”
“That is, sadly, to be expected,” said Ragoczy as he got to his feet. “You must have foreseen something of the sort.”
“Oh, yes. I knew I would face some disapproval and estrangement because of my inheritance.” Niklos indicated the marvels of the reception hall. “They see all this and it makes them long for what they know is out of reach, and that leads to more rancor. Once that path is chosen, I am no longer fortunate, I am a usurper, and as such, must be made to answer for my temerity.”
Ragoczy’s expression softened. “I am sorry, Niklos.”
“I know,” said Niklos, adding brusquely, “but it doesn’t help.”
“No,” Ragoczy agreed. He was silent a moment, then went on briskly. “Which is why I am here to defend your inheritance. I can do nothing about your servants, but perhaps I can persuade the court that you are entitled to all Olivia left to you.”
Niklos looked abashed and began to stammer an apology. “That wasn’t…didn’t mean…you shouldn’t…I am grateful. Truly I am.”
“You have no reason to be; I have done nothing to deserve gratitude,” said Ragoczy. “And I would be surprised if you did not feel at a disadvantage.” He pointed toward the doorway. “Incidents like this must be discouraging; they have certainly been so for me, in the past.”
“I have encountered some of the same spitefulness,” Rugerius added. “When my master and I have been separated for long periods of time, and it has been left to me to maintain his holdings, my position was not welcomed by other servants.” There had been times he had been unable to keep Ragoczy’s properties safe from the rapacity of others, but he did not mention any of these to Niklos.
“I will do all that I may to bring about a good resolution to your case,” Ragoczy said, intending to reassure Niklos. “I only regret that the storms kept me from arriving sooner; I have much to do between now and February. Aside from offering my testimony and bona fides to the court on your behalf, I will need time to establish a presence here, or I will make myself as apt a target of spite as you are now, which will serve no one.” He smiled, his dark eyes showing an emotion that was not quite affection but had a depth of empathy Niklos had rarely encountered, except from Olivia.
Rugerius glanced in the direction of the door. “I think it would be wise if we plan to talk where we cannot be easily overheard. These corridors might as well be whispering galleries.” He looked toward Niklos, as much compassion as courtesy in his dark eyes. “The weather is good today. Perhaps you would like to take advantage of it and ride with us to the Villa Vecchia?”
Niklos winced at the name. “I go there rarely,” he said.
“Because Olivia died there,” Ragoczy said for him. “I understand your desire to avoid it; were it not my property, I would probably not visit it. But I will have to institute my claim to it if I am to restore it.”
“Are you going to restore it?” Niklos asked in astonishment. He tried not to disapprove of the notion and failed.
“Or build something new,” said Ragoczy. “I think I must. If I show no inclination to maintain my Roman property, it will not help your cause, Niklos, and it could bring about more unwanted speculation.”
Niklos nodded, his expression severe. “I dislike going there. It is a dreadful place for me. I know it is your villa and has been for sixteen centuries or more, but all I can see there is Olivia’s tomb.”
Ragoczy shook his head once. “No. Her tomb is on the Via Appia and she left it when Vespasianus was Caesar. The villa may be her mausoleum, but it is not her tomb.” His eyes had the distant look that told Rugerius that his thoughts were far in the past.
“It is where she died,” said Niklos bluntly and with a trace of anger. “Her bones are under the fallen stones. Call it what you will.”
“Niklos,” Ragoczy said as he turned toward the bondsman, “pardon me. I did not intend to cause you any dismay. I have been maladroit; I should not have spoken as I did.”
“I am not offended,” said Niklos stiffly.
“No; you are hurt,” said Ragoczy. He waited a long, awkward moment. “I will speak with you when I return. I should be back before sunset.”
“They say the weather is turning again. We will have rain by midnight,” said Niklos, to avoid mentioning the Villa Vecchia another time.
“Very likely,” agreed Ragoczy. “I will be back long before then.” He signaled to Rugerius. “If you will be good enough to put the crates of my native earth where they will attract no attention?”
“Of course,” said Rugerius. He had already planned where the crates were to go but took no umbrage at the reminder, which he knew was intended as much for Niklos as for him.
“If you will tell me what is appropriate dress for visiting the Vatican, I will plan to present myself to the Curia immediately after the New Year,” Ragoczy said. “I do not want to offend the very men whose good opinion will be needed for your claims to prevail.”
“You are from the Carpathians,” Niklos said, half-shrugging. “What you wear now should do.”
“Ah, but it will not,” said Ragoczy. “Not when I mean to live in Roma until this matter is settled. Were I asking for Papal support of my Hungarian troops, it would be different, but as I am to be an exile”—the light in his dark eyes grew more intense—“I must show my willingness to live as my new city lives.”
“I have the court clothes you wore in Vienna,” Rugerius remarked. “They were suitable for Emperor Leopold, it should serve the Curia well enough.”
“Initially, perhaps,” Ragoczy allowed. “But it will do once only, and then I must conform to Roman fashions or give offense to Vatican society. This is not a minor matter, as it would have been two hundred years ago.”
Rugerius nodded. “That is apparent.”
“And so,” Ragoczy went on to Niklos, “if you can recommend a tailor for me? It is well enough to wear the dolman and mente for a few more days, as I am newly arrived, but if I am to remain here, then the dictates are plain, and I will have to present a Roman appearance.” His smile was swift and wry. “The Magistrates’ Court will not accept me in anything but correct Roman dress.”
“I know of two or three who may meet your standards,” said Niklos. “Their work is superior and their prices, while high, are appropriate for what they do.”
“Thank you; I realize that foreigners are usually charged higher prices than Romans, and I am prepared to pay,” said Ragoczy, starting toward the corridor. “I thank you for receiving me and Rugerius.”
“There is no need,” said Niklos, somewhat surprised at this courtesy.
“Of course there is,” said Ragoczy. “You have undertaken a difficult task that will require your full attention. My visit, no matter how welcome, is also an intrusion. I will do my utmost to upset your work as little as possible.” He stepped back and offered a short bow to Niklos. “My horses should be housed in the old stable, and put out into paddocks when the weather is good.” He raised his hand as he saw Niklos preparing to protest. “No. I have fifteen horses with me. Your stalls are full in the new building, and the old is sound. Have your stable-boys give the stalls a good sweeping and bed them with new straw, and we will do well enough. My tack will be kept there, and my two carriages.”
This concession from so honored a guest took Niklos aback. “You need not,” he said, trying to determine why Ragoczy had made such a decision.
“It would lead to speculation about my motive for helping you if I did otherwise.” Ragoczy continued to walk toward the door leading to the stable. “Roma is full of hangers-on who batten on the goodwill of their more prosperous relatives or ambitious friends. I do not wish to appear to be one such, for it would compromise any efforts I may make on your behalf.” The heels of his tooled black boots rang on the flagstones as he went out into the stable yard, Niklos half a stride behind him.
“No one would think that of you,” said Niklos, moving up beside him.
“You think not?” Ragoczy challenged, and nodded when he received no answer. “We must be very careful to establish the separation of our interests. This is a beginning, and a necessary one.” He raised a hand, calling out in Hungarian, “Matyas! The six-year-old. Saddle him for me.”
Matyas appeared from one of the stalls, bowed hastily, and hurried off to do his bidding.
“The damage is severe,” Niklos warned, referring to the Villa Vec-chia that a thousand years before was still known as Villa Ragoczy.
“I supposed it would be,” said Ragoczy, pausing while drawing on his black Florentine gloves. “It is good of you to try to soften the blow, Niklos.”
“I think you should take a servant with you. There may be beggars and worse living in the ruins,” Niklos said, as if this were somehow his fault.
Ragoczy laughed once. “I am not afraid of a fight, although I would prefer to avoid one.” He put his hand on Niklos’ shoulder. “It is kind of you to worry for me, but it is also unnecessary: believe this.”
Niklos did his best to smile. “We fought well against the Huns, didn’t we?”
“Yes. We did,” said Ragoczy. He squinted up at the sky, the brightness hurting his eyes. “I will not be any longer than necessary. I know the way well enough. And I have my sword with me.” He patted the side of his long clothing. “It is best if an Abbe wears his weapons out of sight.”
“I should have thought you would not want to wear one at all,” said Niklos. “The Pope has spoken against the clergy going armed. He says it shows a lack of faith.”
Ragoczy laughed. “I assume his rule is more honored in the breach. Half the priests I have seen carry knives openly, and many of them have swords. As I am not known in this place, I believe caution would be my wisest course.”
“Then I suppose I have little more I can say.” Niklos stepped back, bowed, and was about to turn when he stopped himself. “I am grateful to you.”
“Niklos, all I have done is arrive with horses, carriages, and servants, upsetting your life here, hardly an event to inspire indebtedness except on behalf of my entourage,” Ragoczy said, his amusement faintly sardonic. “I remind you: worry about gratitude when I have done something deserving it.”
“Very well,” Niklos said. “But I will not be fobbed off forever. I know what you are doing is dangerous.”
Ragoczy bowed elegantly. “Here, in Roma, everything I am is dangerous.”
“For which you shall be recompensed,” Niklos promised.
“As you wish,” said Ragoczy, and went off in the same direction Matyas had taken.
Watching him go, Niklos felt both relief and chagrin—relief that he finally had a chance in prevailing in his suit, and chagrin that it had been necessary to ask for such help. After a short while, he turned and went back into the villa to finish accommodating his newly arrived guests.
* * *
Text of a letter from Bonaldo Fiumara to Ferenc Ragoczy at Senza Pari.
* * *
To the revered Abbe, Ferenc Ragoczy, the most heartfelt greetings of the builder Bonaldo Fiumara, with the hope that what follows will be acceptable to you.
For removal of damaged buildings at the site known as the Villa Vecchia, the sum of one hundred golden scudi, with twenty apiece for each workman participating, along with a grant of fifty golden scudi for every serious injury sustained by the workmen. The workmen are to be paid in accordance with the terms agreed upon: delay in payment will be held just cause for stopping work. Should any workman injured require a surgeon or a physician, it will be the responsibility of the Abbe to provide it promptly. Any additional funds for injuries will be determined by the Console Artei.
For the preparation of plans for a new villa on the site, one hundred fifty golden scudi.
The price of the building will be determined by the materials you may choose, Abbe, and cannot be presented with these figures.
The time to finish removal of the old buildings as well as preparing the site for new ones, three months, four if the spring is wet. All materials removed from the ruins, with the exception of human remains, shall become the property of the builders, and no claim of any kind may be made upon those materials without the approval of the Console Artei. Any delay occasioned by weather shall require a good-faith payment to cover half the wages paid for actual work to be done. Should weather cause further damage to the buildings being pulled down, or damage the preparations for new construction, a suitable adjustment in payment shall be determined by the Console Artei, the decision of which shall be final.
The number of mule-teams needed for the removal, five, of eight mules apiece. The cost of each team, twenty golden scudi per week, plus food and stalls for the mules. Wages for the muleteers, fifteen golden scudi per week. If weather prevents work being done, the teams and muleteers will receive half their established wage for the days when they cannot work.
In accordance with your stated wishes, I have ordered my men to restore the one undamaged wing of the main building for your occupancy. Your drawings are sufficient to make it possible for the work to be done without consultation with an architect, or an additional charge. I must tell you that accommodations that will result there will not be very modern, but as it is your wish, my men will strive to have the rooms liveable in six weeks, their pay to be set at fifteen golden scudi for each man.
I will attend the work every day, and keep a record of progress of work, along with a full description of materials removed from the site. These will be available for your review as described in this agreement. I will supply my men with such tools as they will need and do not already possess. I will also see to the feeding of the men, which cost will be borne by me and cannot be added to those required of Abbe Ragoczy. Any construction of specific tools such as scaffolding shall be shared between Abbe Ragoczy and me in equal portions at the time such expenses arise.
As soon as I am in receipt of your initial payment of seventy golden scudi, we will commence our tasks, and will keep you informed each Friday before the Angelus, of our progress, and to answer any reasonable questions you may have. A second payment of seventy golden scudi must be in my hands before the first day of February, so that work may continue unimpeded by lack of funds. Should the reserve monies drop below thirty golden scudi at any time, work will cease on the project until the balance is paid. Any complaints you may have may be addressed to me at that time, along with any orders of modification in your plans. Should any mishap befall the men or the buildings, you will be notified by a messenger before sunset on the day of the accident, and arrangements for compensation will be discussed within one full day of the incident.
A servant of Abbe Ragoczy is to be at the service of the workers, to carry any messages that may require prompt response. To that end, you will appoint a second authority to act in your stead if you are not available on short notice. That second authority is to have full power to order payments, summon any assistants needed, or fulfill any other obligation that would fall to you. The servant given the task of waiting on the workers is to be informed of all these matters before he takes up his post.
Any disputes between you and me or my men will be resolved by the Console Artei, in accordance with law and custom.
I thank you for this fine opportunity to serve you, and the chance to demonstrate the skills of the men in my work crew. Your name will be in our prayers for all the days we labor on your behalf. May God and the Saints favor this project and aid us in its completion.
Most respectfully submitted, and trusting the amounts quoted will meet with your approval, I remain
Your most obedient servant to command
On the 30th of January, 1689, at Roma
True copy on file with the Console Artei Romana
Copyright © 1999 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro