The Palace
PART II Chapter Thirteen

 Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

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The lantern which she held aloft shed a dim, ruddy light over Demetrice's face as she came through the hidden door and said, very softly, "They've gone."
Ragoczy turned to her as he finished adjusting his heavy riding mantle. "Did they believe you?"
"Of course. There was no reason not to. I let them search the rooms and they found nothing." She put the lantern down on the nearest chest and sank onto a low stool. "I was frightened, San Germano. I've never seen any of the lancers like that." She pressed her hands together to stop their trembling.
"Demetrice," Ragoczy said in a different tone as he stopped tugging on his heavy leggings, "if you're frightened, then come with me. You'll be safe in Venezia. Think carefully. I don't want to leave you in danger."
She shook her head and turned her face up to him. "San Germano, how can you understand? This is my home. Fiorenza is where I live. I would die away from it."
"I understand," he assured her. "More than you know."
"You're very old, aren't you?" she asked, not really hearing what he had said to her. "It must seem foolish to love this city so, or to want to stay here."
Ragoczy reached for his riding boots, and before pulling them on, he held them up and tapped the thick soles. "Do you know what's in them?" he said, and there was a command in his tone that caught her attention and held it.
"No." Her face had lost some of its fear and there was the familiar spurt of curiosity in her eyes.
"Earth," he said shortly. "My native soil. Without it I would be unable to cross running water or walk in the sunlight for fear of being burned as you would be by hot metal. Don't tell me about the pull of home. I know it. I have known it for more than three thousand years, in lands you know nothing of. The earth is my life as much as blood is." He took one of the boots and began to tug it on.
Demetrice watched him, her face serene, her eyes troubled. "They think you killed Gasparo Tucchio," she said at last. "They think you made a pagan sacrifice of him."
"Of course," Ragoczy said with disgust. "They'll be saying every filthy thing they can about me in a few days."
She was alarmed now and reached out to touch his arm. "Oh, no, San Germano, not after what-"
He cut her short, placing his fingers gently to her lips. "And you must let them." He spoke softly, and the gravity of his expression defied contradiction. "Donna mia, if you defend me, you will be in danger. Condemn me with the rest. I ask you to do this for me. Agree with those who vilify me."
Her eyes searched his face. "But why, San Germano?"
"Because, cara," he said as he pulled on his other boot, "if they are willing to believe that I am diabolic, that I desecrate altars, that I cause demons to attack women, they may never discover what I truly am. A sacrilegious ravisher is a bogey to frighten children and give adults a few moments of titillation. But a vampire? A vampire is a dangerous, hideous, voracious thing that will kill them all in their beds." Impulsively he reached out and took her face in his small hands. "Demetrice, you have trusted me until now. Will you trust me again?"
She felt a sting behind her eyelids and she blinked to stop the tears. "If that is what you want, San Germano."
For the first time he kissed her mouth. It was a swift delicate kiss, their lips hardly touching. Then he straightened up and reached for his large leather wallet that lay open on the chest. As he tied it to his belt, he said, "I've made arrangements to have Joacim Branco moved to Siena. There is an alchemist there who is willing to look after him. He will need more care than you will be able to give him, if God's Hounds get after you."
At this mention of the Domenicani nickname, Demetrice flinched. "They will leave me alone, I think. They have too little to gain from me. I'm not notorious. I'm not important." She rose and was secretly pleased to find that her knees were steady and her hands no longer shook.
"That may not be enough," Ragoczy warned her. His wallet was secured, and he reached into the chest, drawing out two long poignards, which he turned into the sheaths in his sleeves. "I will want to hear from you every month. Ruggiero is making out a deed even now that will give you title to this palazzo until such time as I myself return to claim it. There is money enough in the coffers in the measuring room to keep taxes paid and to allow you a few servants. I'll sign the document before I go."
This was too confusing for her. "Wait," she objected, then was silent as she saw how weary he looked. "Are you able to travel? You seem tired."
"If you were my age, you'd be tired, too," he said with a poor attempt to cheer her. "No, you deserve an honest answer. I am able to travel, though I'm... hungry. Well, that will wait. My need isn't urgent." He tugged his cloak from a peg by the door and motioned her to follow him.
Demetrice stood her ground and she barely flinched as she spoke. "If you are, as you say, hungry... you need not be."
Ragoczy stopped in the act of opening the hidden door. "Ah, sweet Demetrice." There was a gentle, sad rebuke in the words. "I don't ask that of you. Look at you. Your mouth is white with dread. You're as malleable as a marble statue." He came nearer, but not so near that her fear overcame her. "Amica mia, I take blood from those who want me. You make yourself an unwilling sacrifice. I'm grateful for the gesture. I know what it costs you to face me now. But no."
"No?" Demetrice's eyes widened, and she found herself on the verge of anger. "If you think I will not satisfy you..."
Carefully he took her hands in his. "No, Demetrice. I fear that I will not satisfy you." He gave her time to consider this, but went back to the door, drawing her after him. "There are papers yet to sign." As he led her onto the landing of the grand staircase, he secured the door carefully. "I think it would be wise," he said as he regarded the hidden door, "if you change the entrance system for the door. And lock all entrances but this one and the one through the kitchen ceiling. The palazzo will probably be searched again."
"But why?" She climbed the stairs beside him. "Surely you don't think that the Console would allow the Lanzi to come here again? There would be no point to it."
"If Girolamo Savonarola wants this building searched again, it will be searched. If he wants its contents, he will try to seize them. That, in part, is why the land will be deeded to you."
She regarded him through widened eyes. "But women cannot own property. If there is real opposition, la Signoria will authorize the sale of the property."
They had reached the top of the stairs and Ragoczy gestured her toward his own chamber. "This is a provisional deeding. You are acting only as my agent and representative. Unless I refuse to pay taxes, neither la Signoria nor Savonarola can claim this building."
Her face was dubious, but she said, "If you're sure..."
Once again he stood aside for her as they entered his chamber. "Donna mia, I am not certain that the Emperor Caligula is not at this moment a haloed angel. But knowing what I do of Caligula, if he's an angel, heaven is not what I've been told it was. Be calm, Demetrice. If the laws of Fiorenza are so overset as to take this place away from you and me, you may be sure you will have warning, for much worse will have occurred already."
As he closed the door to his chamber, Ruggiero came from the alcove where Ragoczy's writing table stood. He held a parchment document in his hand. "It's ready, master. Your signature and that of Donna Demetrice are all that's needed."
Ragoczy made his signature with his left hand, then gave the quill to Demetrice. "There," he said, pointing to the place prepared for her name. While Demetrice read the parchment, Ragoczy spoke to Ruggiero. "Are you ready, old friend?"
Ruggiero nodded. "I leave tomorrow at noon, on the road to Pisa. From Pisa I will go to Modena, then to Milano, and on to Venezia. It must be a quick journey, and at Pisa I will hire guards so that I and your goods will not fall victims to brigands." He repeated these instructions in a flat voice, like a student repeating a lesson.
"Do you think you'll be able to leave so soon?" Ragoczy made a gesture to include the furnishings of his room. "You have a lot to take with you."
"I will leave at noon," Ruggiero said evenly. "If I am detained by la Signoria, I will use the Papal summons Olivia sent you. Even Savonarola dares not deny that."
"Not yet," Ragoczy allowed. "Very well. Do as you think the wisest." He took the finished document from Demetrice as she finished sanding her signature. He rolled the deed, bound it with ribbon and reached for his wax and seal. In a moment he had affixed his eclipse crest to the seal.
Ruggiero took the deed, holding it carefully while the wax cooled. "Your horse should be ready, master," he said in a carefully neutral tone. "It's the Turkish stallion. He's in good form, and he's strong. You'll be many leagues from here before he'll have to rest."
"The Turkish stallion," Ragoczy approved, then turned again to Demetrice. "Cara, you can still change your mind."
She shook her head. "No. I do want to stay." She looked toward the dark windows. "And you must be gone soon. It will be dawn in little more than an hour."
He nodded. "I want you to send me monthly reports. There will be scholars and monks journeying between here and Venezia, and they will carry messages. Brigands don't attack monks and scholars very often-it's not worth the trouble. If you have need of me, send for me and I will come. If there is no one you can trust with a message, go to Sandro Filipepi, and he'll see that I hear from you."
Demetrice shrugged. "If that's your wish, I'll do it, but you're worrying needlessly. What could possibly happen to me? I have your generosity and the strength of the Medicis to protect me."
Inwardly, Ragoczy felt that neither of these assets would be of any use if she were marked by Savonarola, but he said nothing. Loyalty like hers always humbled him, and he refused to help destroy it. He went toward the door, then turned back to her.
"San Germano? What is it?"
"I don't want to leave you." There was so much feeling, so much compassion in his words that she blinked in amazement and took an involuntary step forward.
Very softly in the distance there was the sound of sheep's bells, jingling as the flocks were led into the hills.
It was enough. Demetrice shook her head and hung back. "No. It's too late. You must go."
Ragoczy met her amber eyes. "Don't break faith with me, Donna mia."
"I won't." She managed a bit of a smile, and then added, "You said something about angels earlier. Do you believe in them, then?"
"No." He turned his head sharply as the sound of the bells came again. For the last time he looked at her. "I believe in you, Demetrice. And that is enough." He left quickly, his boots striking the marble floor like small explosions as he hurried through the silent palazzo to the stable.
Demetrice stood in the window, watching the sky turn from slate to silver to rose, listening to the sheep bells, and church bells and the distant birds. Once or twice she thought she heard the distant, receding thunder of a running horse, but there were so many other sounds that she could not be sure.
Text of a letter from la Signoria to Girolamo Savonarola, prior of San Marco:
With reverent humility, i Priori della Signoria send their greetings to Girolamo Savonarola, Prior di San Marco, and beg that he will approve the measures i Priori and the Console have taken after much prayer and discussion.
First: should the efforts of the foolish Piero de' Medici to placate the Most Royal Charles of Francia come to naught, we of la Signoria would count it most wise to banish him, his family, and all his kin from la Repubblica, for they are most impious and dangerous.
Second: in the event that the same King Charles is the ascendant in his dealings with the unfortunate Piero de' Medici, there should be measures taken to ensure the welcome of his Gracious Majesty to Fiorenza, and a good welcome for his troops. This would assure King Charles of our good faith as well as guarantee that Fiorenza would not suffer from mistreatment at the hands of the Franchesi soldiers.
Third: that fast days should be made mandatory, and strictly observed. The suggestion that you were willing to make to us, that there should be a squadron of young men who would see that these new measures are observed and respected is in every way desirable, and i Priori are more than willing to form such a group. It will provide good and holy works for our young men, and will ensure that the law is carefully and regularly observed.
Fourth: the Lanzi should be empowered to act on behalf of the religious leaders of Fiorenza as well as on the orders of the civic government. Heresy, as you were good enough to remind us, strikes not only at the Church, but at the State, for a state that is not founded on the fear of God, that does not adhere to the teaching of the Church, is doomed to destruction in this world, and utter damnation in the next.
Fifth: that those associating with suspected heretics, magicians, alchemists, and other Godless men should be put under observation, their right to travel revoked, their confessions recorded and questioned for error, their houses searched and whatever is profane and sacrilegious seized. Further, those who continue to consort with known blasphemers should be imprisoned and examined by your most pious and excellent Domenicani, so that their souls may be saved.
Sixth: the harboring of criminals, heretics, and other desperate persons will be punishable with the same severity as the crime for which the person harbored is punished. Lenience in matters of the law, as you have pointed out to us, has brought Fiorenza to the dreadful pass that now threatens her very existence.
Seventh: those openly questioning or scoffing the new laws should be shown their error and made to recant their views in public confession.
We seek your guidance in these matters, as in all matters, and we pray that through your wisdom and the justice of i Priori and the Console, our lives, our Fiorenza and our honor will be preserved, if it is the Will of God.
G. Ondante
clerk, la Signoria
In Fiorenza, October 12, 1494