“Conte!” the young page Niccola exclaimed sleepily as he stumbled to his feet, rubbing his eyes and trying to appear fully awake. He saw his master step from the shadows into the light of the four blazing torches, a man who seemed to be about forty-five, attractive without being beautiful in the current fashion, his bearing confident but lacking cockiness or arrogance; instead he evinced a self-composure that was both compelling and daunting at once. He was magnificently dressed in black damask silk, a wide fur collar on his broad-shouldered French dogaline-and-doublet, his eclipse device shining on a dark-red satin sash. His dark hair was shorter than the prevailing fashion in Venezia, its loose, dark waves falling just to the edge of his collar, and he was clean-shaven; it was past midnight and most of Venezia lay in darkness, dozing on the out-going tide.
Franzicco Ragoczy di Santo-Germano removed his plumed black hat as he came through the hastily opened door and fixed his astonishing dark eyes on the drowsy page; behind him, the Campo San Luca was limned in the pale wash of light from a gibbous moon, the darkness deeper by contrast to the milky lume. A cold, hard wind polished the night to a jewel-like shine. “Have there been any callers while I was out?”
“A messenger from your warehouses called to leave an inventory from the Gilded Angel, which arrived in port yesterday morning,” said Niccola. “No one else. At least, no one I admitted.” He put his hand on his chest. “I will not let villains into this house. And I suppose anyone who might call was at the Collegio.”
Di Santo-Germano frowned a little. “Nothing from Ulrico Baradin?”
“No, Conte; I’m sorry.” The youngster flinched, as if expecting a rebuke or a blow.
The Conte’s expression immediately softened. “You have no reason to be sorry. You have done nothing wrong, Niccola, nor has he.” He paced his loggia, his black, leg-hugging boots giving sharp reports of his progress. “Who will be on duty in the morning?”
“You mean my duty?” Niccola asked, his uncertainty flaring again.
“Yes: your duty. Who is assigned to man the door?”
Niccola was glad he had the answer. “That would be Enrici; since Rinaldo broke his arm, Enrici has—”
“So long as Enrici does not neglect his other duties, he is a fine choice.”
“Rinaldo is grateful to you for setting his arm; he says it is healing straight,” Niccola reported as if revealing great news.
“That is good to know: Rinaldo should be ready to resume his work in another ten days, I would think, if his splint holds.” Di Santo-Germano stopped by one of the torches and stared at the flame, his dark eyes fixed on some other vision. Finally he blinked, asking, “Is Ruggier still up, do you know?”
“He is in your study, or he was an hour ago,” said Niccola in a rush of relief. “He was out earlier, but returned.”
Di Santo-Germano started toward the stairs at the far end of the loggia, but stopped. “Niccola, have I ever struck you?”
“No, Conte, never,” said the page.
“And have you ever been beaten by anyone in this household?”
“No, Conte,” Niccola said, becoming more contrite.
“Then why do you behave at every turn as if you expect such usage?” di Santo-Germano asked, truly curious.
“Because, Conte, it is the custom,” said Niccola, his voice dropping with every word.
“Niccola,” said di Santo-Germano in a voice that commanded attention; the youth looked up. “It is not the custom with me.”
Niccola nodded. “Si, Conte,” he muttered, and turned away.
With a single shake of his head, di Santo-Germano made for the stairs, going up them two at a time, for though they were steep, they were also fairly shallow. As he climbed, he tugged off his embroidered gloves of black Fiorenzan leather and thrust them into his broad, ruby-studded belt. At the top of the flight, di Santo-Germano stepped into an odd little hall where two corridors met at right angles; an antique red-lacquer chest and two chairs stood in the broadest part of the hall, the chairs beneath a clerestory window. Taking the corridor leading south, di Santo-Germano went down to the end of it to a beautifully carved door; he opened the latch and entered his study.
“There you are,” said the middle-aged man with sandy hair and pale-blue eyes; he spoke a dialect of Roman Latin that had not been heard in more than a thousand years. He was dressed in well-tailored servants’ livery of rucked-and-padded dove-gray wool doublet over a white-muslin camisa, distinguished with a silver-edged black shouldersash that indicated his high rank in the household; the Conte’s eclipse device was embroidered on his sleeve, as it was on all the livery in the household.
“Were you worried?” di Santo-Germano asked in the same tongue as he tossed his hat onto the handsome writing table against the western wall, in front of ceiling-high bookshelves. It was one of three tables in the large, well-appointed room, and it held only a sheaf of papers, an inkpad and standish, and a supply of quills. On the eastern wall, atop a heavy trestle-table, there was an astrolabe, a trio of retorts, two alembics, a beam-scale, a saw-clock, and two large, locked chests. The third table was lower than the other two, and placed in front of the fireplace in the southern wall, opposite the door, to provide a place to entertain guests. On it a pair of handsome branched, bronze candlesticks of Eastern design stood, squat beeswax candles surmounting them both. An upholstered settee and a pair of matched chairs were set around this table.
“No; since Doge Gritti provided you an escort to the Collegio, I assumed all was well,” said Ruggier.
“Why would that ease you?” di Santo-Germano asked with an ironic lift of one fine brow. “I would have thought such distinction would have alarmed you, given what we have experienced in the past.” In their nearly fifteen hundred years together, di Santo-Germano had been escorted away to an uncertain future nearly a dozen times, as both of them were well aware.
“Ah, but in those cases your escorts were soldiers, not clerks, and Venezia is supposed to be at peace. As far as I or anyone knows, no accusations have been made against you, and there is official toleration of foreigners in La Serenissima,” said Ruggier sagely, laying down the two volumes he had been inspecting. “The rest of this edition should be ready in a day or two.”
“Excellent,” di Santo-Germano approved, his demeanor lightening as he stared at the books. “I take it Giovanni sent those over by messenger while I was out.” He wondered why Niccola had not mentioned the arrival of the books, but said nothing of this omission.
“No; I went to find out how much more paper will be needed, and he gave them to me. I brought them back to this house.” Ruggier held one of the books out.
Di Santo-Germano took it, running his hand over it as if seeking to absorb its contents by touch alone. “This is very good. The embossing is precise and elegant. The gilding of the page-edges is not overdone, and the trim is very even.” He opened the cover and turned to the title page: The Far East, Its Peoples and Customs, it read in Latin. By Germanim. Ragoczy.
“What did you tell the Collegio?” Ruggier regarded di Santo-Germano with interest.
“That I will submit all the books we publish to them for their approval, as I am required to do. I said this second book was a work by my cousin—which they could all comprehend, having cousins of their own—and since Venezia is the city of Marco Polo, I thought it would be most appropriate to publish a book on the parts of the world he explored so long ago, and about which he dictated so many—” He stopped. “You know what I said, or near enough, and fortunately, the Collegio accepted it.”
Ruggier set down the book he held. “They believed you?”
“Of course they did,” said di Santo-Germano. “I flattered them shamelessly, and praised their erudition: what could they do but accept my terms?”
“You sound disappointed,” said Ruggier.
Di Santo-Germano shrugged. “I may be,” he allowed, and expanded on this, saying, “It is one thing to be able to set up a press without hindrance, but it is another to gain the good opinion of those under whose auspices the press exists through expected courtship, and appreciation expressed in gifts and gold. When it is necessary to adulate and bribe in order to gain acceptance, some of the satisfaction of producing books is lost.”
“You have done that before,” Ruggier pointed out. “Why is this any different?”
“Perhaps I’m growing tired of the hypocrisy of it,” said di Santo-Germano.
“I think it is that you believe the merit of the works you publish should be obvious, and not require your skill at courtesy to make them unobjectionable,” said Ruggier with a knowing nod. “You resent the lack of appreciation.”
“Astounding, isn’t it?” di Santo-Germano remarked with a crack of self-taunting laughter. “At my age, too, and with all that has happened, I cannot entirely rid myself of such idealism.” He had no reason to remind Ruggier that he had been born over thirty-five hundred years ago.
Ruggier stacked the two new books together. “Idealism of any kind after so much time isn’t entirely unfortunate, my master.”
“No, probably not,” said di Santo-Germano, making no effort to disguise his doubts; he went on in a brisker tone, “I understand from Niccola that the inventory from the Gilded Angel has been sent over from the warehouse.”
Accepting this change of subject with the philosophical resignation borne of long association, Ruggier went to retrieve a sheaf of papers. “Yes. Captain Carazza has made a notation that they were chased by corsairs a day out of Antioch. Two ships, working together, pursued them for a full five hours. According to Captain Carazza, the weather, which was very rough and blustery, is all that saved them; in heavy seas, his merchants’ galleon fared better than the corsairs’ lighter craft.”
“From which we assume that someone in Antioch told the pirates about what the ship carried and when it would sail,” said di Santo-Germano, giving his attention to the pages he was handed. “Three barrels of wine were lost—as a diversionary tactic, do you think?”
“I don’t know,” said Ruggier, “but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
“It is one thing to lose a few barrels of wine, and another to lose an entire ship, along with its cargo and crew,” said di Santo-Germano, a touch of grimness about his mouth. “I prefer the former.”
“As who would not,” said Ruggier.
“Given what some of the Collegio were suggesting, I cannot guess,” said di Santo-Germano. “They are trying to find a way to persuade the Sultan to ban the taking of hostages for ransom.”
Ruggier looked shocked. “Don’t they know that will mean any captive will become an Ottomite’s slave? Or simply be killed?”
“Apparently not,” said di Santo-Germano. “Although I pointed this out to them as tactfully as I could.”
“Did they listen at all?” Ruggier asked, knowing the answer from di Santo-Germano’s demeanor.
“If I were Veneziano, they might have, but as I am not, they saw no reason to, not about that issue; they were much more concerned about the books I propose to publish, for my shipping business has paid handsomely for the state, and my printing is still under suspicion,” said di Santo-Germano. “I brought my accounts to show the taxes I have been assessed have all been paid, and I reminded them I have also paid over five thousand ducats in ransoms for my ships’ crews when they have been taken by corsairs, and that every man was returned safely.”
“To no avail?”
“To no avail,” di Santo-Germano confirmed, and a short, tense silence fell between them.
“Padre Bonnome at San Luca has offered to bless the ship again, before she departs on another voyage,” said Ruggier, a bit remotely.
“Padre Bonnome is a clever man, Ruggier,” said di Santo-Germano with a brief smile.
“As we have agreed in the past; a great component of the art of quid pro quo,” said Ruggier. “For the quid, I said you would like that.”
“You were right; no doubt he will inform us what the quo is to be,” said di Santo-Germano. “If not for the ship, for the men on her. If they think their God is protecting them, they do not fear to set sail. I will make a donation, of course, to San Luca.” He read through the rest of the inventory and notes. “When is the Gilded Angel due to set out again? Is she set for cleaning and refitting or standard patching and repair? I assume, since there is no damage assessment with this report, only standard maintenance is needed.”
“That’s correct. She’s scheduled to go again in ten days, bound for Sicilia, Sardinia, Genova, Barcelona, then on through the Pillars of Hercules to Lisboa, to pick up English wool and Hollander lace from the Evening Star,” said Ruggier.
“Do you think I should hire fighting men to sail on her?” Di Santo-Germano gave the sheets of paper to Ruggier.
“Ask Captain Carazza. He’ll know what will serve you best,” Ruggier recommended.
“It would probably be wise to ask the other seven captains when they get back into port if they want fighting men on their ships. I want each man to be able to decide for himself rather than impose my decision upon them. It wouldn’t do to have rivalries develop over protection, considering how intense their rivalries are already.” Di Santo-Germano put his small, elegant hands together and stared contemplatively over his fingertips. “Nothing more from Ulrico Baradin, I understand.”
“What makes you say that?” Ruggier asked in some surprise.
“Niccola said there was nothing from—”
“Niccola hadn’t come on duty yet,” said Ruggier. “A messenger came with his quotes for paper and ink. I left them with Giovanni, for his review.”
“What manner of prices is he asking?” Di Santo-Germano looked down at the two new books. “My guess is that he has raised them.”
“Of course he has. You are a continuing market now that you have produced two books, and he intends to make the most of it.” Ruggier rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger and yawned. “Forgive me. I have spent too long staring at sheets of uncorrected type today.”
“If you want to rest, do so,” said di Santo-Germano.
“Only my eyes are tired,” said Ruggier, and prepared to continue.
“Then you should rest them, old friend,” said di Santo-Germano, reaching out and laying his hand on Ruggier’s shoulder. “There’s nothing that can be done before morning, in any case, and San Luca’s bells will ring at sunrise. You need not think you’ll spend a slothful day—although that would not dismay me.”
“As you wish, my master,” said Ruggier. “I was beginning to think that I should go find Captain Carazza and bring him here for a report.”
“If I know Captain Carazza, he is at Leatrice’s house, and would not like being disturbed,” said di Santo-Germano. “Leatrice would dislike it, as well.”
“He has expensive tastes in women, if he goes to Leatrice,” said Ruggier.
“So it would seem,” said di Santo-Germano, faint amusement turning the corners of his mouth up. “And if that is the case, I hope he enjoys himself thoroughly.”
“So we must hope,” said Ruggier, not quite able to conceal the hint of a smirk that played over his lips. “And hope, as well, that he is coherent in the morning.”
“That may be too much to wish for,” said di Santo-Germano. “He has been at sea for many days; his first night in his home port, you cannot expect him to spend it in penitence.”
“No,” said Ruggier. “Although that may come.”
Di Santo-Germano chuckled. “For his sake, I trust it may.” He went and picked up the two new books. “Is Baradin going to come back tomorrow?”
“He said he would, sometime in midafternoon.” He shook his head. “He’s greedy.”
“That he is,” said di Santo-Germano with a thoughtful look. “Perhaps I should look elsewhere for my paper and ink. Grav Ragoczy has suppliers in Antwerp and Bruges—perhaps I could avail myself of them, as well.”
Ruggier frowned. “Wouldn’t that be taking a chance?”
“Why? If I say my relative, the Grav, recommended the suppliers to me—” di Santo-Germano began.
“What if your ruse is discovered? You should be more cautious than you are. If the Collegio discovers that you and the Grav are one in the same—This isn’t like Karl-lo-Magne’s time, when messages were few and many portions of the country were neglected for years on end,” Ruggier interrupted. “Merchants exchange regular correspondence, and rulers have ministers to keep track of all manner of commerce. The Collegio would not look kindly on you having another identity in Protestant countries, particularly an identity as a publisher, for that would cast questions on all you have published here. They would shut down your press, seize your books, and confiscate the goods in your warehouse.”
“If they found out. But why should they? They are unaware of my other identities—why should this one attract their attention more than any other?” di Santo-Germano asked. “I will not tell them, nor will you. Who else would know?”
“You are taking a risk,” Ruggier admonished di Santo-Germano without apology.
“Of course. Living is a risk, even my sort of living. Why should I not gamble on myself? Is there a reason?” He brushed at an unseen blemish on his wide, turned-back sleeve.
“Because more than you could be harmed by what you do,” said Ruggier bluntly. “I know I often urge you to be open to the possibilities in the world—”
“Hence my patronage of Pier-Ariana Salier,” di Santo-Germano interjected gently.
“—but I worry when you become reckless. You have done so before, and—”
“Are you comparing Pier-Ariana to Csimenae? They have almost nothing in common.” Di Santo-Germano managed to look shocked, not from genuine distress but in an effort to deflect the conversation.
Ruggier relented. “No, I am not, and you know it.” He sighed. “Very well. I will say no more on this matter, at least so long as we have no cause for alarm. But if there is any indication of problems, then I will—”
“Yes,” said di Santo-Germano. “I know you will. And I will thank you for it, no matter what it may seem to be now.”
“Do you suppose I don’t know this?” Ruggier asked.
Di Santo-Germano relented. “Of course you do. And you are gracious enough to permit me to be cow-handed about your understanding from time to time.” He looked about his study. “This is certainly one of those times.”
“You are tired from an evening of courtliness,” said Ruggier.
“Which you, Rogerian, demonstrate superbly,” said di Santo-Germano with a fleeting, rueful smile.
“But only when I choose, and only for as long as I choose,” Ruggier reminded him, and went to the door. “Are you going to sleep at all tonight?”
“I may.” He lifted his head at the sound of rising wind. “There will be rain again before tomorrow night.”
“It’s March. Of course there will be rain,” said Ruggier, and let himself out of the room.
For a short while, di Santo-Germano stood by himself near the low table facing the fireplace. Then, with a small sigh, he went back to the writing table, drew up a chair for himself, selected a sheet of paper, prepared fresh ink in the standish, chose a trimmed quill, sat down, and began to write, his small, precise hand quickly filling the page with the characters of China. He wrote freely, secure in the certainty that no other man presently in Venezia could read what he was writing, except Ruggier.
Text of a letter in regional German from Hagen Arndt of Ansbach to Ulrico Baradin of Venezia, carried by merchants’ courier, and delivered nineteen days after it was written.
To my most industrious colleague, the distinguished ink-and-paper broker Ulrico Baradin of the Most Serene Venetian Republic, my Lutheran greetings, as the city requires, with the request that you remember me in your prayers, in case Brother Luther is wrong, after all.
Your letter came in good time, taking only two weeks to arrive. I am pleased to say that I have more than enough on hand to supply your order; I will make arrangements for it to be sent south with a well-guarded merchant-train in the next ten days, and you should receive it approximately thirty days from now. I will, myself, verify the quality of the paper and the consistency of the inks so that you will not be dissatisfied in any way with the product I deliver. Payment for your shipment will be expected in my hands within sixty days of your receipt of the order, which should allow you time to collect from the publisher ordering the ink and paper.
I was sorry to hear that Alessandro Sole lost his paper-mill on the tributary of the Po (I forget what the people call it—it flows south from the mountains, west of Udine). His disaster may be fortunate for me, but the savor of success is lessened when it is mixed with ashes. Has anyone yet found out who started the fire that burned his paper-mill? I cannot help but be uneasy while such a criminal is abroad in the land. You may say that Ansbach is a long way from that mill, but a man may walk the distance in ten days if the weather is good, and that is too close for my comfort.
You have stated in the letter accompanying your order that you may have some associates who may be interested in having their books printed in Lutheran territories rather than those of Mother Church. I will see if any of the publishers in this area are interested in such an arrangement, and will inform you of what I learn as soon as I have something to report. In the meantime, I would advise your publishers to consider leaving Venezia if their books are so controversial, for, as we know, the Church is still capable of putting dissenters in the hands of the Inquisition, another abuse of power, or so Luther says.
I anticipate hearing from you shortly, I thank you for your business, and once again, I condole with you on the death of your children. It is always hard when all are lost, no matter how young they are. Three dead in two months is a heavy burden for you to bear, particularly since you haven’t yet remarried. All this, difficult as it is, would be more easily endured with the comfort of a second wife. I ask that you bear that in mind, and that the advice is given with the highest regard for you.
At Ansbach on the 10th day of March, 1530