DOME OF FLORENCE, PART II, by Richard Marsden:
Mahir continued to berate Filippo, both in heavily accented Italian and in his own dialect as well as a few choice curses from long-dead languages as they meandered through the winding streets of the city. Whereas Mahir had followed Filippo into Cosimo’s lair, head downcast, now their positions were reversed.
Men and women whispered to one another and gave the pair a wide berth. A few were bold enough to say no foreigner should speak to an Italian in such a matter.
Turning down a street, Mahir paused and frowned. He had been so intent cursing his friend that he couldn’t recall how to get back to the dome’s construction site. Obviously, the road leading to a blank wall wasn’t the way.
“Your city mocks me,” Mahir declared.
Mahir shook his head and spun on a heel to go back the way they had come. A gaggle of men barred their path. They were dressed well, donning tights of bright hues, and wearing half-capes that matched. Rapiers hung low in their belts and they swaggered as they walked. Mahir surveyed them in an instant. They were wealthy, young and staring far too intently at him.
“We were just passing through,” Mahir said and forced his voice back into a subservient tone. He lowered his gaze and tried to look as meek as possible, taking a few steps to place himself behind his friend.
Filippo’s glanced around, apparently disorientated for a moment. He blinked and upon noting the gang arrayed before them, puffed up his chest like a robin in spring. “Yes, we must have gotten lost. Aside! Aside! I have no time for you now. Perhaps call on me — ”
“Shut up,” one of the men said and spat. The afternoon sun caused the gold ring in his ear to shimmer.
“Do you know who I am?” Filippo asked.
The speaker for the group laughed over Filippo’s protests. “Yes, we do know. One of a dozen mewling dogs who wants to put a dome atop the church. You’re a so-called Master architect.”
“She looks fine enough without the dome,” one of the men said. “You are trying to mar her beauty.”
“She looked much better without all that scaffolding,” another added and the gang echoed his sentiments.
The men drew their rapiers from black, shining sheaths. The slender, deadly blades sparkled with a high polish in the sun. They were dangerous, thrusting weapons that were well suited to the narrow alleys and streets of the city.
The leader jerked his head at Filippo. “Clear off, Master architect. The Father is paying men of good name a pretty coin for this man’s death and we get a blessing from the pope himself as well.” He twirled the tip of his drawn blade and slashed once in the air making an audible whooshing noise. “I can live without the coin, but a pope’s kiss goes a long way in Florence.”
Filippo raised his hands, showing them to be empty. “Gentlemen, surely you fellows of fine breeding can see reason? We can work this out.”
Mahir did not enjoy drawing blood, but he would if he had to and this was such a moment. He reached into his robes and yanked free one of the many bottles he wore about his belt. While the leader’s eyes were on Filippo, Mahir hurled the glass container at the hireling’s feet. The time for parlay was over. If Mahir and Filippo were to survive, they needed the initiative.
The bottle shattered and exploded with tremendous force, as if hurricane force winds had been kept stored within, which in fact they had.
The swordsmen were blasted back and Filippo nearly lost his footing as the force of the wind erupted from the broken vial in all directions. They would not be stunned long.
Mahir bounded toward the men, reached out with one hand and grasped the leader’s rapier by the blade. Drawing his knee up, Mahir brought the flat of the sword onto his onrushing leg. The weapon had a deadly tip, but a poor edge and its stiff form broke with a ping under the collision. Keeping hold of the broken shard, Mahir plunged it into the gentleman’s throat.
“Mahir!” Filippo gasped. “You can’t!”
It was too late, he had to. Mahir pushed the bleeding, coughing, gasping man aside and drew another bottle from beneath his voluminous robes and flung it at the swordsmen who were recovering quickly. The glass broke and flames leapt forth in a flurry of smoke.
Fire immersed a trio of men and they wailed as their fineries ignited.
Some of the other noblemen ran, others, made of sterner stuff, charged, moving with practiced steps to run Mahir through. One jabbed, and Mahir sidestepped, using the broken blade like a parrying dagger to ensure the strike did not connect. Another noble thrust missing Mahir’s skinny frame as he twisted away.
A tingle alerted Mahir to the talent being used and his heart skipped a beat. Men he could handle, but he was not so sure about an Inquisitor.
Filippo produced a hammer from his apron and hurled it at a second story window nearby. It missed the window, but struck the chamber pot balanced on the sill. The pot of filth tumbled free of its perch and waste spattered the survivors; his talent was one of finding patterns.
Mahir breathed a sigh of relief that it was his companion’s power he had sensed and not a red-clad wizard-killer.
The men shrieked and staggered back as their forms were drenched in stinking refuse. They looked at themselves, then each other, in horror and scattered, screaming as if they had faced the devil himself.
A laugh escaped Mahir’s lips despite the dangerous situation. Magic winds, mystical fire and a mad Moor with a sharp bit of metal did not cause as much trauma as feces on their affluent attire.
Plucking his hammer from the ground and placing it back into his apron, Filippo said, “Let’s get to an inn. There will be more on the lookout for you.”
The stench of the chamber pot, mixed with the products of his bottles, struck Mahir. He wrinkled his nose and dropped the bloody, broken end of the rapier. He wrung his hands and stepped around the corpses and spattering of human waste on the street. “And the Inquisitor might have sensed us, but let us not go to an inn, Filippo.” He gestured to himself, indicating his unusual — at least by Florentine standards — appearance.
The Master architect bit his lip and took the lead, moving them down narrow, deserted alleys rather than the slightly broader streets with its peddlers and many eyes.
“Let me think for a moment. I’ll find us someplace safe to hide,” Filippo said.
Mahir followed in silence, pondering exactly how best to extricate himself from the position that Filippo accidently, and Cosimo quite purposefully, put him in.
“You’re mad at me,” Filippo said dejectedly as they made their way through the city and closed in on the Arno River.
Sighing in exasperation, Mahir said sharply, “Yes. Yes I am! What do you expect, Filippo? You cost me my home and now I am stuck in Florence with bands of men — not to mention an Inquisitor — trying to kill me. I should draw a hole in the city wall and just walk out.”
“You’d be right to,” Filippo conceded. “I didn’t know there would be an Inquisitor involved. They’ve not come here before.”
“Ever?” Mahir asked, not bothering to hide his disbelief.
“Well, not recently. They go to the Reconquista in Spain, to rainy England, to the dark places of the world. Why would they ever come to the glorious light that is Florence?”
Mahir believed he knew the answer. They had gone to those dark places and during their hunting had heard Cosimo’s name mentioned one too many times.
* * *
Dominus’ simple meal of cold bread and tepid water was interrupted by a powerful sensation of fire running down his back. Across from him, Moretto shivered and spat out a piece of bread.
The two stared at one another as each reacted to the use of the talent by another.
“That isn’t the same thing I felt before,” Dominus said.
Moretto nodded in agreement. He wiped his mouth with a small napkin and pushed his wooden plate aside. “That was powerful. As strong as anything I ever felt at seminary.”
The talent being used was far more powerful than the middling amount of sorcery he detected earlier in the day. The sensation remained, hovering within his mind, and Dominus turned his eyes toward the direction he could sense the talent being used. Other feelings tickled at his mind, a return of the familiar talent he noted earlier as well as the more powerful force. Dominus compressed his lips in thought. The clawing in his mind faded, but not his intense concentration.
“Prelate?” Moretto asked and tilted his head.
“There are two.” Dominus rose from his seat and paced around the table in the dimly lit room they were sharing for a meal inside the ancient cathedral. “I’ve not simultaneously encountered two sorcerers since I was your age.”
He shut his eyes and extended his hand. He could barely feel the aura of power that had been used. It was like feeling the ripples from a pebble thrown in a calm pool. If he had the desire, he could trace the ripples back to their source. It was tempting.
Reading his mind, Moretto said, “Do we investigate? I think I can track it.”
“They’ll be gone by now,” Dominus said. “Our agents will return shortly and we’ll learn more from them.”
The young student picked up his half-eaten loaf of bread and bit into it. Between mouthfuls he said, “If they are still alive.”
It was a valid concern. They weren’t dealing with a minor peddler of the talent. Tension seized Dominus’ neck and he found himself clenching his hands into fists. Cosimo had brought someone with a strong, if wild, talent. Was it indeed the Moor? Who was the other? Only waiting would reveal answers and he forced himself to calm down. Doubt clouded judgment, and he needed clarity.
They did not have to wait long. A young layman of the church, Rodolfo, entered the simple dining room and dipped his head reverently. He was clad in brown sack-cloth and shifted from foot to foot in a nervous gesture.
“Prelate Dominus,” he said meekly, “there are some young aristocrats begging to see you.” Rodolfo cleared his throat and stammered.
“What?” Dominus said.
“I beg your pardon, Prelate, but the gentlemen are not fit to see you. They smell,” he said and swallowed, “quite badly. I told them to clean themselves and return later, but they are being very insistent.”
“I bet,” Moretto said. He glanced at Dominus.
Dominus in turn nodded. Their eagerness to see him was either news of victory, or dreadful defeat. He had a sinking sensation it was the latter.
Moretto rose and crossed his arms. “Send them in please, brother Rodolfo.”
With a whispered assent, Rodolfo scurried off and returned moments later with a trio of pale-faced men. Where once they had been overtly arrogant and entirely self-assured, they were now humble and had their heads bowed low. They smelled less than pleasant, just as Rodolfo had warned them.
Dominus didn’t recognize any of them as the band’s leader and surmised what had happened to him. He gestured to the man in the middle of the three.
“Tell me everything.”
The youth’s head rose and his eyes were glassy with tears. “It was horrible! Father, we approached the Moor and his master — ”
“Master?!” Moretto exclaimed.
With a wave of his hand, Dominus silenced Moretto and bade the noble to continue.
The man licked his lips and nodded. “Yes, a master; an architect here to compete for the honor of building the dome atop the Santa Maria del Fiore. I-I don’t know which architect it was. A famous one. He wore an apron and I think Benolio knew him by name.” He lowered his gaze. “But Benolio . . .”
Dominus could guess Benolio’s fate. He made the sign of the cross and whispered, “I shall pray for him and the others. You found the Moor? Then what?”
The young man nodded. He quickly spun his tale which involved the drawing of rapiers and facing off against exploding bottles and the showering of a chamber pot. That explained the stench. It also explained who had the true power and who was less skilled. The Moor was the real threat and the architect, whoever he was, had only a twinge of talent and could be discounted for the moment.
“You men are very brave,” Dominus intoned, “and you have done the Lord’s work. I promised you gold and the blessing of the pope, but perhaps it would be better if I paid for the men’s funeral and ensured the pope knew of their demise. They were good men and should be remembered accordingly.” He stared at them. In truth, he didn’t have the time to tend to the corpses. The city-guard and local clergy would have to tend to that, but a small lie would spare him coin that might find use elsewhere. Dominus reminded himself to beg the Lord for forgiveness at a later date.
The three shared quick looks then nodded in unison. Dominus dismissed them with a flick of the hand. He said to their retreating forms, “Tell no one of what you saw. You might be accused of things of which you are not guilty.” Additionally, a witch-craze in Florence might result in the Moor’s death at the cost of Cosimo going free. Florence was beholden to the spider and Dominus did not trust the public to do his job for him.
When the youth departed, Dominus wheeled on Moretto. “Tomorrow we go hunting ourselves. The Moor is probably in hiding, but his ‘master’ may not be so clever. It won’t be hard to find out which architect has a Moor in his employ.” He grinned. “If we are able to kill or apprehend two wizards, imagine what that will do during Cosimo’s trial!”
Moretto beamed. “Two bodies will indeed go well with your letter. Cosimo would flounder further if we had confessions of murder against Florence’s upper-class as well. I’ll do my best to keep one of them alive.”
“Cosimo,” Dominus said with only a little suppressed glee, “your days of wickedness are numbered.”
Moretto grinned in agreement. His smile suddenly fell and he gasped. He pointed behind Dominus.
Whirling, Dominus readied to summon his talent if need be. There was nothing but an empty doorway. He glanced back at his erstwhile student. “What did you see?” He had sensed no magic at play.
“Brother Rodolfo was listening in. He darted away before I could do anything about it.” Moretto frowned. “Do you think he is just frightened of sorcery? Will he be telling the bishop?”
Their mission was not a secret, only the name of their intended target. An Inquisitor did not visit a city just to soak in the warmth and sights. Everyone of note in Florence would know of his presence, fear it and be wary of him, including the bishop. Dominus let out a sigh. They had been too open in naming their quarry. It wasn’t the bishop that Rodolfo was running to. He returned to the table and resumed his meal. The bread was tasteless in his mouth.
“Brother Moretto, I believe Cosimo might be as informed as we are.” He bid the man to sit. “We must be very careful tonight.”
The student hesitated, as if about to chase after Rodolfo, then sat. He blinked. “Why?”
“Because I do not think Cosimo will just wait for us to bind him up and burn him at the stake. He’ll try to act now that he knows we are here for him.”
Moretto frowned. “Assassins then.”
“Two of them I do believe.” Dominus smiled and chuckled. “Which suits me fine.”
Tilting his head, Moretto gasped. “Of course! Ha! We should have just sent a letter to Cosimo saying, ‘we know’, and waited for him to pile the tinder about his feet in the first place.”
“Clever lad,” Dominus noted. He tore off another piece of bread. “Next time, you do all the planning.”
* * *
A wrecked ship’s hull on the banks of the Arno had to suffice in place of a cozy inn. The wood of the wreck stunk, and it was chilly for Mahir — despite the warm Italian sun — thanks to the river and the shade of the ship. He wound his robes about his body and watched as Filippo sat on an overturned bucket and broke a piece of bread in half. He had just returned from the market, and handed the bread to Mahir with a slight, almost apologetic, smile.
Mahir grasped it and shut his eyes as the delightful smell of fresh bread replaced that of the river and the damp, nautical corpse they were within. The bread tasted even better than it smelled. It was a welcome comfort in a city full of danger.
“So, what is the plan?” Filippo asked.
Mahir smirked. “Plan? We could leave. I could find a way.”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Then we would have an Inquisitor and Cosimo after us. Besides, if I leave now then Ghiberti gets to finish the dome. His name will be spoken of for ages!”
That was what it was still about? Mahir ripped a piece of bread free from the half-loaf. He stared at Filippo.
“Are you mad at me again?” he asked innocently and placed a hand over his heart.
“Yes,” Mahir growled. “Your dome will cost me my life. I hope Ghiberti wins, regardless.”
Filippo’s eyes became watery. “You don’t mean that!”
“No,” Mahir said. He was rightfully annoyed with his friend. Filippo was a bad one right now, but he was still a friend and for those with the talent that was rare luxury. He’d not throw his friendship with Filippo away just because the fool had been blinded by his rivalry with Ghiberti and played like a puppet by Cosimo.
“Dominus knows I’m here, so that rules out any longterm plan. We must act soon. Where would he be? At the dome?” Mahir asked. It was the largest church in the city by far and seemed a fitting place for an Inquisitor.
Filippo shook his head. “No. The dome is my work-yard until Cosimo says otherwise. It’s hardly a church right now. The only praying you will see is from laborers hoping the Almighty won’t let a pulley come loose, or let a stanchion tumble free, but if Dominus is staying with his own then there is a cathedral near the city walls called San Lorenzo. It is the oldest in the city and in serious need of a rebuild. The Roman columns are barely holding the cathedral’s roof up. I could do wonders with the church and if Cosimo — ”
Mahir cleared his throat.
“Ah, yes,” Filippo said. He blinked his eyes rapidly as if clearing his thoughts. “San Lorenzo is a prime place to find him and thus a place to avoid.”
“Avoid?” Mahir paced down the length of the rotted hull. He brushed aside a dangling cobweb from his face. “We can’t avoid him. He must die if we are to live.”
Filippo shrugged. “I could get close, perhaps investigate and see if I can ferret out Dominus. To make amends for all the trouble I’ve caused you?” He smiled lightly.
The gesture was appreciated, but wouldn’t work. “We didn’t kill all of those fops with pointy swords, my friend. They did not call you by name, true, but the word ‘architect’ was used rather liberally, no?” Mahir sucked in a bit of air through his teeth.
“Then what?” Filippo shrugged. “We can’t stay in the lap of luxury forever.” He waved his hands to their decayed surroundings.
Mahir had a plan. It was by no means the best one he had devised, but it was quick, and time was something they didn’t have to spare. “You can make amends another way. Tonight, I think I know what we can do. You will help?”
“Of course!” Filippo said.
They waited until the sun vanished beyond the horizon and Florence was cast in a pall of darkness, broken by a myriad of torches and the light of a waxing moon. The stars twinkled in their millions and the heat of the day transformed into a chill, made worse by the Arno. Mahir did not regret leaving behind the shattered hulk on the river bank and moving further into the city where it was a good deal warmer.
Filippo led the way, choosing quiet, near-deserted streets for them to take on their way to the cathedral of San Lorenzo. The sun had set, but Florence was still alive by night. Wealthy revelers and determined merchants still wandered the streets, as well as armed Florentine guards.
“There,” Filippo said, pointing to a darkened courtyard. Beyond was a tall, decrepit structure that, as Filippo had indicated, was in serious need of refit and repair.
“It’s dark,” Mahir whispered. He ducked behind a stack of barrels in the yard and peered at the doorways and windows of the cathedral. He saw no shutters and the double doors leading into the structure were partway open. “And unguarded.”
If the Inquisitor was within, he was entirely confident that nothing could harm him. Such boldness made Mahir clench his fists and reconsider their course of action. Was the Inquisitor so powerful that he slept with unbarred doors and open windows? Perhaps he wasn’t there at all.
Mahir took a closer look at the barrels. He pushed on the topmost barrel and eased the pressure when he found it could indeed be toppled. “Filippo, when the time is right,” Mahir said and tapped the nearest barrel, “use your talent.”
The portly architect blinked in surprise. “Really? That will alert the Inquisitor. I hardly doubt,” he rapped his fist on the barrels and the sound was hollow and thick, “that a bunch of empty barrels will rid us of him.” He cocked his head to the side. “However, I shall gladly be bait. I owe you.”
He winked. “No, my friend. I will be the bait.” Mahir patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t hesitate, or this worm will be gobbled up.” He didn’t wait for a reply and broke from cover to jog across the courtyard.
He hadn’t traveled three paces when a man emerged from the doorway of the church. Mahir slid to a halt, kicking up a flurry of dust. Instinctively, he reached a hand into his robes and grasped the closest bottle. It didn’t matter what was within.
The robed figure in the doorway waved a hand and approached. No fire. No challenge. No sensation of the talent. It wasn’t the Inquisitor who had come to greet him.
The man was young, dressed in a simple brown robe and he looked repeatedly over his shoulder as he neared Mahir. He pulled his brown sack-cloth tightly about his frame and whispered, “Moor, I am a friend of Cosimo.”
That was somewhat good news. Mahir released the bottle he had been clutching. “And?” he prompted.
“I overheard Prelate Dominus talking about you and the architect. It is only a matter of time before he finds out you are working with Brunelleschi. I raced to Cosimo to inform him and he bade me to give you an important message.”
“How did he know I’d come here?” Mahir said and narrowed his eyes. He looked around, curious if Cosimo’s spies were following him from a distance.
“Where else would you go?” The informant looked over his shoulder again. “Cosimo says that the Inquisitor must die tonight. If Filippo Brunelleschi is implicated in anything unsavory it will be a direct connection to Cosimo. Anything you do or say can be denied, but the actions of the Master architect can compromise my master. People know Cosimo favors him.”
“How comforting to be reminded that I am expendable,” Mahir said dryly. “Well, worry not. I plan on completing the deed tonight. Cosimo can rest easy and he can prepare to give my friend the chance to finish the dome and give me enough gold to relocate somewhere far away from Florence.”
The monk shook his head furiously. “It’s not that easy. I was spotted listening in on the Prelate. He knows something.” He swallowed deeply. “I came back to San Lorenzo, but the Prelate did not question me. He’s inside, waiting. Who knows why? I think I might be able to fetch him and lure him to a spot of your choosing though.”
“He’s just waiting?” Mahir tilted his head. “You said he knows you are Cosimo’s creature?” He reached his hand back into his robes, reaching for a bottle: this time for one whose contents he was aware of ahead of time. It was a monstrous concoction in the vial and he hoped it would not be needed. Mahir felt his pulse quickening. He scanned the darkened windows of San Lorenzo.
“I don’t know! Maybe he’s figured it out, but who cares,” the man said in exasperation. “I’ll go inside and get him. You tell me where you’d like to kill the old buzzard.”
Mahir felt the talent being used. It wasn’t the weak ripples that Filippo caused, it was something hot, powerful and disciplined. It was as if a burning bell was tolling within Mahir’s mind, announcing his doom with every ring.
“Run!” Mahir spun on his heel and darted toward the darkness of the buildings opposite the cathedral. He heard the peeling bell in his mind joined by chimes. The sound was not as loud and overpowering as the bell, but it was distinct and different. The situation was worse than a solitary Inquisitor after them — it was a pair of papal wizards who wanted their blood.
Fire erupted in the place Mahir had been standing. The informant had failed to heed his words and shrieked as flames rippled over his form and turned his sack-cloth into a writhing torch.
The stench of burning flesh stung Mahir’s nose and gave him impetus to run faster.
There was nothing to be done for Cosimo’s agent and so Mahir lowered his head and pumped his legs. He yanked the bottle he had been holding from his belt and tossed it on the ground in front of his long, frantic strides. The container cracked open and green vaporous smoke rose into the air. Mahir leapt over the growing cloud, shuddering as he felt the dreadful presence within taking shape.
“Protect me!” Mahir ordered the entity he had allowed entry into the world.
The cloud blossomed into the shape of writhing, green flesh, bearing a thousand eyes and just as many gaping mouths. It was a horrible thing to summon, but was perfect as an impediment to a pair of pursuing Inquisitors.
Mahir reached the wall of a building and pulled himself tight against its cool surface. He watched as the monstrosity he had released swayed in place, like some grotesque and giant weed. Its form produced squirming tendrils and its many yellow eyes looked about wildly while the teeth-laden mouths jabbered.
A pair of men exited San Lorenzo, each holding a ball of flame in their hands. One was dressed in the infamous red of the Inquisition. His hair was white and unruly and his face a mass of wrinkles and old scars. The other was young and in the brown robes of a disciple. While the proper Inquisitor had a hard expression, the younger man was quaking at the sight of Mahir’s abomination. Good, Mahir thought with a glimmer of satisfaction.
He doubted the fight would last long, one way or another, and he had to flee. Mahir reached into one of his many pockets and produced a piece of chalk. Like the bottles, it was infused with his talent. He drew a wide circle on the wall in front of him and swiftly inscribed the necessary numbers and symbols needed to get the glyph to work. Once complete, he tucked the chalk back into his robes.
“Filippo! Run!” He’d find his friend later.
Mahir cursed himself. He’d used his friend’s name aloud! It was too late to change the misdeed. Mahir jumped headlong into the wall where he had inscribed his mystical circle.
* * *
“Jesus Christ,” Moretto gasped and took a step back as his eyes fell upon the growing, burbling monster.
“No,” Dominus said grimly, “I think that thing works for the ‘other’ side.” He stalked toward it and extended his hand. “Blaze beneath the light of the Lord!” He willed fire to roar defiantly from his hand toward the column of flesh, eyes, tentacles, and mouths.
Heat seared the thing, but it did not cry out in pain, though to Dominus’ satisfaction great hunks of flesh fell from its body and sizzled on the ground before disappearing.
Now a ball of flame arced from Moretto’s hand to strike the creature, leaving portions of it blackened and smoking. In response, tentacles tipped with open maws lashed at the pair of holy men.
Dominus leapt from the steps of the cathedral and avoided the questing tendril, while Moretto backpeddled. Moretto flung another ball of flame, but it sailed high into the air and vanished well above the creature. Green flesh wrapped around Moretto’s leg and the tentacle’s mouth bit into his thigh.
Moretto restrained a cry, even as he was hoisted in the air with ease.
He had been trained well, Dominus noted with a level of pride. “Fiend,” Dominus said and from the confines of his red robes drew a dagger with his left hand. He tossed the weapon to his flaming right hand and stormed toward the monster.
Tentacles reached for him, but Dominus leapt over one, ducked under another and used the fiery dagger to slice aside a third. He flung his wrist forward and let the knife fly.
The weapon hissed through the air, leaving behind a trail of smoke, and struck the tentacle clutching Moretto. The flesh bubbled and the coils relaxed, before melting into green gas.
Moretto fell to the ground with a heavy thud and the flame about his right hand went out in a shower of gleaming sparks.
The creature loomed over Dominus and its mouths drooled, and its multitude of eyes fixated on him. Coils unraveled from its central column, each seeking to grasp and bite the Inquisitor.
Dominus threw his hands forward and used his talent to send a wave of fire ahead of him. He felt comfort, not pain, at the heat embracing him and shut his eyes tight as the back draft struck him.
A foul, rotting odor filled Dominus’ nostrils and he opened his eyes a crack. With a wry smile, he watched as the blackened, shuddering horror began to fall to pieces and turn into harmless, if fetid, mist. Ashes swirled through the courtyard as the creature slowly was returned to the Hell from which it had been summoned.
So, Dominus thought, the Moor was a demonologist. The worst kind of offender.
Groaning, Moretto rose to his feet and clutched his wounded leg. “He went that way,” he said and used his head to gesture toward a nearby building.
“Wait here,” Dominus ordered and strode through the decaying monster. It fell apart as he passed through it and the horror’s return to the abyss was sped up. Straining his eyes, Dominus could see no sign of the Moor. There were a few alleys and beyond major roads. He could hear people in the distance. Nothing alarmed, just people enjoying themselves, unaware of what had occurred at the foot of their oldest church. Florence had a nightlife, and that meant people would take note of a Moor running through their streets. The chase was on.
“Moretto, heal yourself and keep up. We have him!” Dominus broke into a run, when he heard the clattering of wood. His eyes snapped in the direction of a stack of barrels and with it, he could sense a weak talent being used. A figure behind the tumbling barrels melted back into the darkness.
The barrels rolled, bounced and spilled out in all directions. They moved unnaturally slowly and most halted after only a few feet. Dominus tilted his head as one barrel meandered toward Moretto and came to a rest in front of him.
The young Inquisitor laughed lightly and shook his head. “Strange.” He took a single step away from the barrel, wincing as he did so.
The talent was still being used.
“Moretto, no!” Dominus reached his hand out, but dared not move himself. Something was wrong.
Moretto paused a moment and gave Dominus a quizzical look. “I’m fine,” he said and straightened up. His eyes widened and his foot slid forward on his own slick blood left behind from the attack. Moretto’s arms flailed in the air and he took a large step to balance himself and in doing so, slipped again. He let out a surprised yell and fell face forward. His head smacked the edge of the stationary barrel.
“Patterns,” Dominus whispered sharply. Of course an architect would have such a talent! He jumped toward Moretto and then slid to the side and purposefully broke his stride. To an outside observer it would look like he was a madman performing a jig. In truth, Dominus was breaking up any patterns the architect had set.
The sensation of the talent fled and Dominus leapt to Moretto’s side, who lay slumped beside the barrel. Dominus grasped him by his wool robe and turned him over.
His head was bloody, and Dominus had seen enough corpses to know that there was nothing to be done for the young man.
“Oh, no,” Dominus moaned. He turned his gaze away from Moretto.
He placed his cooling hands over Moretto’s chest. “Sleep well in the kingdom of Heaven, my brother.” Dominus made the sign of the cross and kissed the dead man’s forehead.
“Filippo,” Dominus growled, recalling the name the Moor had called out. He rose to his feet and stalked toward the busier streets of the city. There could not be many architects named Filippo residing in Florence. He would find the architect, and the Moor, and put an end to their wickedness tonight. On the morrow, God willing, Cosimo would be hauled before a tribunal and burned for his crimes: amongst them the murder of one of Rome’s last students, Moretto.
* * *
Mahir passed through the wall into an empty kitchen. He bolted through it, into a dining room filled with a large — and very surprised family — and darted through the nearest door out onto the streets of Florence.
The plan to murder the Inquisitor in his bed had failed. He had told Cosimo he was no assassin, but just had to go ahead and prove it as well! Mahir felt his heart skipping beats and his eyes panned up and down the darkened roads, half-expecting the pair of Inquisitors to come forth with their hands blazing. The chimes within his mind halted, but the tolling bell continued to drone with its powerful tune.
For a few streets, Mahir blindly ran. The plan was simply to put distance between himself and his hunters. Soon, he was out of breath and considering the best way out of Florence. But first he needed to find Filippo. The architect may have gotten him into the mess and it would serve him right to be forced to leave Florence, just as Mahir had been forced to flee Tunis.
Where to go was answered by the sensation of Filippo’s talent being used. Mahir picked his way through the inky streets and pressed himself close to black alley walls when torch-wielding citizens of Florence wandered by.
He kept his gaze moving over every figure he came across, hoping to see Filippo’s portly frame, dreading to see the frightening crimson vestments of his hunters.
The blasted city was a maze and by night it was entirely disorientating to Mahir. He needed Filippo. Mahir shut his eyes, took a deep breath and grabbed a bottle of water on his belt. He used his talent to turn the contents from water into a purple liquid that would turn into a pall of obscuring smoke should the bottle break.
He waited and clenched his fists.
“Come on. Come on,” Mahir breathed and he shifted from foot to foot. He couldn’t wait long.
He again sensed Filippo’s talent. It was for just a moment, a flash and nothing more, but it gave him direction. Mahir bolted toward the source and prayed Filippo was doing the same.
Down a narrow alley Mahir sprinted, stepping over refuse and taking ragged breaths. A shadowy figure emerged on the other end of the alley. Mahir flung himself against a wall.
“Mahir?” Filippo whispered sharply. “Is that you?”
Relief flooded through Mahir and he felt his knees wobble a moment. “Yes! It’s me.” He stumbled toward his companion and was caught off guard by the man’s embrace.
“Two of them!” Filippo exclaimed as he stepped back. “I may have taken care of one, but not the stronger.” He rubbed his face. “I’ve not sensed someone like that before. So, so . . .” he fumbled for the right words.
“Strong,” Mahir supplied. He crossed his arms. “I have encountered such men before and found the only sensible solution is to run. I can get us through the walls and we can leave. Better to risk Cosimo’s ire than tempt papal fires.”
Filippo stepped back farther, his brow furrowed. “Flee? I can’t do that. What about — ”
“The dome?” Mahir flung his hands in the air. “You’re obsessed.”
“I know! I’ve given my life to beating Ghiberti with my skill alone — my skill — Mahir, not my talent. Building that insufferable dome is my only chance to prove myself a true Master architect.” Filippo paced the narrow confines of the alley. “I’ve sold my soul to Cosimo, cost you your home and brought down upon our heads an Inquisitor we can’t handle.” His eyes sought Mahir’s. “But I can’t just leave. The dome must be built, by my hands,” he held them up, “or I have to die trying.”
“Filippo,” Mahir said evenly, ready to use reason to sway his companion’s opinion.
“No, Mahir. No. The dome or nothing.” Filippo hung his head. “I’m an ass. I know. You’ve done enough for me and this is my problem –- like the dome. It is something I need to do.” He smiled weakly. “Get going. Write to me when you can.” He sighed. “And thank you, Mahir, you are a better friend than I.”
Mahir rolled his eyes. He re-crossed his arms and kicked at the ground, sending up a spray of loose pebbles. “Are you trying to make me feel guilty?”
“Just a little.”
“Bah!” Mahir was sure he would regret staying, but there it was. “I’ll see you win the contract. Then I’m going. Which means we need to deal with our hunters.” He cleared his throat. “You do know we’ll probably die, or if we’re really unlucky be captured, tortured and then die?”
Filippo beamed. “I’m happy to hear it! The you staying part, I mean — not the death and torture bit. What’s the plan?”
“I shouted your name as we fled San Lorenzo.”
Filippo shrugged. “So?”
“The man I was talking to, before he turned into a blazing pyre, was a monk that worked for Cosimo. He told me the Inquisitor knew that a Moor and an architect were involved in sorcery. The fop told the Inquisitor, just as I feared, but I made it worse. How many architects in Florence are called Filippo?”
“Only me,” Filippo said. He bit his lower lip. “So, now what?”
“They know your name; they will find out in no time where you live. I say we do unto them what they did to us.”
“Ah!” Filippo said and his eyes lit up. “An ambush.”
“Correct, at The Dome of Florence. We’ll make or break you there. Fitting, that if you die, it will be at the base of that stupid church.” Mahir looked down the alley and could make out the silhouette of the enormous, incomplete structure blotting out the stars and moon behind it. If things didn’t go well, it would be his tombstone as well.
* * *
Dominus stalked the streets of Florence; Moretto would get his Christian burial later. He felt brief flickers of the talent from the two he sought: the Moor and the architect, Filippo. Not enough to track them though. He would have to use more mundane means of ferreting out the pair of wicked sorcerers.
He barged toward a group of men and women laughing, under the light of a torch near a city well. They smiled at him, up until they saw the color of his robes in the glow of the torch’s fire. The laughter halted.
“Filippo, an architect. Do you know him?” Dominus demanded. He glared at each man and woman in turn, peering into their eyes as if scouring their souls for sin.
“Of course,” one of the men said. He pointed at the shadow of a huge building near the center of the city. “He’s competing to finish the dome.”
“He and a dozen others,” one of the well-dressed women said and lowered her gaze. “But he has Cosimo’s favor.”
Dominus sucked in a breath and clenched his fists until he felt pain in his fingers’ joints. “Oh, really.” He leaned in close to the citizens of Florence. “Where might Filippo be now?”
“He’s at the dome, Father.” The man who answered also failed to meet Dominus’ gaze. “He’s been there for months and will remain until the Arte della Lana decide who gets to complete the project.”
“Probably Ghiberti will take it,” the woman said.
“God willing,” Dominus replied. He stormed past the small group of friends and left them silent under the flaring, orange light of the torch.
Finding a direct path to the dome, or duomo, as the locals named it, was no easy feat. Even when Dominus sensed the talent of the Moor being used numerous times, as an outsider he found the city to be almost impossible to navigate. Dominus was forced to demand directions from startled citizens.
As he closed in on the path leading to the construction site, he paused. He could feel the whirlwind of the Moor’s talent being used. Narrowing his eyes, Dominus stared down the path and made out squat buildings, stacks of lumber and stone, pulleys and a web-like coating of scaffolding about the towering dome. The light of the moon and stars cast everything in black and silvery white. He could see no sign of the Moor, or Filippo, but they were there and they were up to something.
Dominus slunk along the wall of a nearby structure and fell to his knees. He clasped his wrinkled hands together and bowed his head. His lips moved, but he kept his prayer silent. He would need strength. Doubt slithered into his mind. Not at his ability to take down the Moor and Filippo, but at the loss of Moretto. He had exposed the young man to unfamiliar danger. Few understood the talent of patterns. Dominus had not been sterner in his warning. Moretto’s fault was inexperience; Dominus’ was one of carelessness.
“Forgive me for my sin,” Dominus whispered. He would redeem his mistake tonight. Cosimo would pay for his crimes and Moretto’s death would not be in vain.
After a period of rest, preparation and holy retrospection, Dominus rose to his feet and let his talent of fire fill his senses. The enemy would know he was here, but stealth was not an option. The ground had been prepared for his arrival and he would have to pit his skills against that of the other two. He had faith good would triumph over evil.
Dominus marched down the path and detected magic at work along the walls bracketing the entrance to the dome’s courtyard. Black shadows swirled and red eyes flicked open. In an instant, smoky humanoids leapt from their inky perches and charged Dominus with outstretched, questing claws. They spoke in a litany of blasphemous voices and the hellish horde gave Dominus a moment of pause.
Surely, the Moor knew no bounds to his evil. He had summoned up lost souls from Hell itself to do battle.
“Back!” Dominus ordered and he stretched his hand out, willing a wall of fire to burst forth in a protective shield. The first few entities screeched and were unable to halt their progress before falling into the barrier of flame and vaporizing. The others held up their claws to shield their shapeless black faces and protect their gleaming, ruby eyes.
The flames died down, leaving the scent of sulfur in the air from the demise of the first hell spawn. The others leapt, contorted and shied back from Dominus, having a newfound respect.
“Cowardly things,” Dominus hissed. He saw a flicker of movement at his side and spun to face the new threat. One of the shadowy humanoids had scaled the walls of a building and was gazing down at him. When his eyes met the red gleam of the other’s, it leapt.
A shout of defiance fled Dominus’ lips and his right hand was wreathed in rippling flame. As the creature bore down on him, Dominus swung. As his flaming fist made contact with the shadowy creature, Dominus felt a moment of resistance and then nothing. With a squeal, the creature was turned into fluttering ash.
The others sprung at him. Dominus swept with his fist, and chanting in Latin he waded amongst the monsters, striking them down with blazing strikes. A few managed to rake their claws along his robes, but they failed to mar his flesh. After a furious few moments, it was over.
Ash rained from above and Dominus took heaving breaths. Sweat dripped from the end of his nose and he shouted a challenge. “Unlock the gates of Hell all you like, Moor — I shall rebar them!”
Dominus strode into the courtyard and scanned the piles of construction material. He took another step and, too late, felt the use of the talent beneath him.
A ring of green formed around Dominus and a blast of energy shot upward. He felt his robes and hair flutter and then a grasp and yank upon his very life-force. He fell to his knees and gasped in terror as he saw a ghostly image of himself being pulled upward out of his true-form. Dominus reached his hand out and grabbed the vision of himself. Wind continued to dance around him and pull with increasing force in an upward direction.
Flames would do him no good here, Dominus thought. He reached with his other hand and clung to his ghostly image’s robes. He fought to rise and pull his ghostly countenance to his own chest. Again and again, wind roiled about him trying to break his hold, but Dominus grit his teeth and refused to relent.
“Mine!” he howled and flung himself into the air while using all of his strength to stuff his life energy back into his corporeal form. The winds halted and Dominus found himself hovering a few feet off the ground. The green circle inscribed upon the earth flashed once and Dominus fell.
He landed on his feet and his knees buckled. Pain surged through his bones, but passed quickly enough. He patted his chest and made a thankful sign of the cross. Letting out a heavy breath, Dominus stood.
“Enough tricks, wizards! Stand before me, submit, and I promise your deaths will be swift — and that Cosimo Medici’s will be long, painful and very public.”
The answer wasn’t surprising. From behind a pile of building materials, a pair of bottles spun through the air, glinting in the light of the moon and stars. Dominus flicked his finger toward them and a streak of flame darted forth.
Fire and glass collided and flames billowed along with crackling, electric sparks. The display was blinding, and Dominus turned away and sneered. As dramatic as the explosion was, it was also brief and harmless. If the Moor and architect wanted to die painfully, then so be it. He hoped Moretto, safe in the bosom of Heaven, was witnessing the righteous revenge at hand.
No sooner had the bottles been dealt with did Dominus sense the minor talent of the other wizard. While Moretto did not know how to handle the powers of one skilled at patterns, Dominus did. He ran forward, halted and spun in wide circles, not caring where his feet led him. He promptly became dizzy and shut his eyes. He heard a heavy twang and the earth shook.
Opening his eyes, Dominus let a satisfied smile grave his lips. Where he had been once standing a heavy block of stone resided. Dust was still settling atop it, and an intricate trap of wood, pulleys and counter-weights lay not far off. The impromptu catapult had failed just as surely as the Moor’s tricks.
Dominus glanced over his shoulder and willed a wall of fire to erupt. The gates of hell were now closed and the pair of demons would not escape.
* * *
As plans went, Mahir thought it had been a good one. Time and location were of his choosing. The time: well into the night when the darkness would help cloak him. The place: the courtyard before the incomplete dome. It was large, but also deserted at night and a suitable place to do battle, filled with places to hide and strike from. Mahir had used his talent to summon shadowy minions, plant a delightfully wicked glyph, while Filippo orchestrated various traps using scaffolding, pulleys and stones. They both used the talent openly, knowing full well they would be tracked down eventually. It was a great plan — up until the Inquisitor arrived.
Every beast, every trick and every trap had been foiled by the Inquisitor’s mastery of the talent. While Mahir could ‘sense’ Filippo as a minor disturbance when he used his talent, the presence of the Inquisitor was palpable from far away as that dreaded tolling of a doomsday bell.
While Filippo’s catapult had been impressive, all it had succeeded in doing was moving a very large block of stone from one end of the courtyard to the other. The Inquisitor stood defiant and unharmed by the recently deposited stone.
So much for a clever ambush.
Worse, the Iniquisitor’s fire formed a wall, blocking any easy exit from the courtyard. Flight was still possible, but that wasn’t why Mahir and Filippo were there.
The only good news was that so far, the Inquisitor had been acting alone. Filippo was right in that he had probably dealt with the other priest. This also might have explained the ‘passion’ of their enemy during their last exchange.
“Reveal yourselves, heretics! And burn for your sins before my eyes,” the Inquisitor roared. His head shook and white hair spilled free, waving to and fro in the night air.
His frosty hair and the scars he bore filled Mahir with dread. They spoke of an experience he certainly did not match. Dominus had probably put to the torch more users of the talent than Mahir and Filippo would ever meet in a lifetime. How were they to face him down when all their pre-planned attacks had floundered?
The Inquisitor’s right hand ignited, fire licked up his arm, but did no harm to his flesh or vestments. Dominus slowed his pace as he advanced into the work-yard of the dome. His head tracked from side to side as he sought out Mahir and his companion.
Filippo clutched at Mahir’s sleeve as they hid and watched all their best laid plans fall to pieces in a matter of moments. “Up the scaffolds,” the Master architect urged.
Mahir blinked. “What? We’ll be trapped up there. Let’s flee through one of the buildings and try again,” he said, though he had no idea what else they could possibly do. He had used his abilities to their fullest, and it had done little other than annoy the papal wizard.
The Master architect wiped his brow. “He can’t use fire if he follows us up there. The whole place will go up in flames and unless he can fly — ”
“Which he might be able to,” Mahir whispered harshly.
“Assuming he can’t, then no more fire. Which, judging by all that,” Filippo gestured to the piles of smoldering ash and the burning wall, “he is quite fond of.” Filippo tugged at his sleeve again. “Let’s take away his favorite toy.”
“Fine,” Mahir relented. “You stay though and do not use the talent. Let me handle him.” Mahir didn’t wait for objections. He rose and darted toward the nearest ladder leading up the incomplete dome.
“The light of Christendom gazes upon you!” Dominus shouted.
Before reaching the ladder flames erupted around Mahir’s body and he felt the searing heat. He grasped one of his unprepared bottles, then opened himself up to the mystical energies of the world and infused the glass container before smashing it upon the ground as pain encapsulated him. Cold wind swirled in all directions, dousing the flames and layering bricks, timbers and scaffolding in a layer of pale, white frost.
Mahir’s teeth chattered, and as he ran, he noted that sis robes were scorched. He smelled singed hair. But he was alive. He continued his run for the ladder, nearly slipping on the quickly melting frost coating the ground around him.
Leaping, Mahir grasped the icy rungs of the ladder. He shivered, but it was a far cry better than being immolated. Without glancing behind him to see if Dominus followed, he scaled the ladder and dashed across a wooden platform to another ladder, repeating the process and taking the fight higher and higher.
“Flee all you like,” a voice said from below.
Mahir risked a glance and saw charging across the platform below him the crimson form of the Inquisitor. For an old man, Dominus moved with speed and determination.
After scaling several ladders, Mahir’s arms burned and he labored to breathe. In an attempt to catch his breath, Mahir halted at the next ladder and turned to see where his pursuer was. A dagger sailed past his head and thudded into the stout wood of a support beam.
The Inquisitor was on the same level as he was, though at the far end. He glared across the platform at Mahir. The man extended his hand and the dagger returned. He hardly looked winded, though his eyes were squinting and his face was twisted up.
“Someone taught you more than the talent of fire, Prelate Dominus,” Mahir said. He cursed Filippo’s plan to scale his way to safety.
The Inquisitor’s eyes gleamed in the moonlight and Mahir felt the scaffolding shake. A mighty crack resounded and the ladder Mahir was ready to ascend shattered into splinters in his hands. The tolling of the bell took on a deeper, more ominous drone.
“Nowhere to run to, heretic,” Dominus said. “Tell me your name, so that I might write it down alongside all the others who have fallen before me.” Dominus stood on the narrow walkway of the scaffolding. The wind whipped past, rustling his blood-hue robes and his white hair. The ropes binding the scaffolding in place creaked in tune to the breeze.
Mahir looked over the edge of the platform. They were well above the red-tiled rooftops of Florence. It was a long, obviously fatal, drop. He clutched a bottle and infused it. Mahir hurled the bottle at Dominus and it exploded into a wispy pale cloud. Tendrils of smoke wrapped about the scarlet robed figure and Dominus staggered back, swiping with his dagger at his newest assailant. The blade cut silvery lines into Mahir’s summoned entity.
Mahir didn’t have much time; Dominus had defeated every other creature Mahir could summon. A clingy cloud of smoke wasn’t likely to impede the man for long.
Kneeling, Mahir produced from his robes a piece of white chalk and began to draw a series of mystical letters and numbers on the wooden decking. There could be no mistakes. He felt his pulse quickening and he gasped as the platform swayed, nearly causing his hand to stray. One wrong letter and he’d die at Dominus’ hands.
A snap of an entity being forced back to its native realm alerted Mahir to the plight of his latest pet.
“Your demon is no more! Join him in Hell!” Dominus sliced with his dagger, dissipating the last remains of the smoky entity. He charged and his blade glowed with silvery, flickering light.
The tolling of the bell became near-deafening in Mahir’s mind as he rushed to finish the magical drawing, creating what he hoped looked like a barrier between himself and the Inquisitor. He looked up from the freshly completed circle.
“None can enter what I have drawn,” Mahir said in the most dramatic voice he could muster. “You will suffer a thousand deaths should you try to breach it.” It took considerable effort to produce a confident sounding laugh; Mahir hoped the terror he was feeling was hidden beneath his false-bravado.
The leather boots of the Inquisitor skidded on the wooden decking. He halted before the circle and sneered. His eyes looked over the markings and he frowned.
“You stall for time, puppet of Cosimo. You quake with fear and hide behind a barrier I will tear down. Bear your throat and let us end this quickly. Repent now, and your soul might be saved. Better yet, submit to my judgment and help me bring Cosimo to justice.” Dominus tilted his head. “This is your last chance to avoid Hell, Moor.”
Mahir forced out another villainous laugh, playing the role the pope’s wizard expected him to. “Why would I do that when you can come no further, papal tool? I am unassailable. My circle of protection is supreme — ”
Mahir clapped his hand over his mouth and let out a heavy gasp. “A mistake!” Mahir crawled out of the circle as if it pained him to be within its confines.
The real trick came as Mahir covertly drew the final symbol as he retreated, completing the magic as he left its supposedly protective embrace.
Wasting no time, Dominus raised his dagger and charged boldly across the circle — through which he promptly fell. Mahir heard Dominus scream as the Inquisitor tumbled to the level below.
The ploy had worked and Mahir whipped the last two bottles from his person and infused them with something Dominus would be well familiar with: fire. He dropped the mystical containers and they passed through the circle and a second later he heard them burst.
The screaming beneath the platform intensified. Mahir could smell smoke soon after. Dominus had restricted his use of fire, just as Filippo had guessed he would. Mahir had not.
Racing to the edge of the platform, Mahir peered over the rickety railing to get a glimpse of his foe. He could see flames swirling as Dominus tried to douse himself. Parts of the scaffolding had already caught fire and black smoke billowed from the flailing wizard. Going down the ladders was not an option.
“Well, serves me right for planning on the go,” Mahir chided himself. He looked around for another method of escape. The way up had been shattered. The way down was blocked by flames spilling from the still shrieking Inquisitor. Magical fire had a tendency to spread quickly.
“Jump!” Filippo’s voice echoed from the darkness below.
Mahir leaned over the edge. He could barely make out the form of his companion waving wildly below.
“I used the talent. I can see a pattern. Jump toward my voice and it will work,” Filippo said while beckoning. He added, “I think.”
“You think?!” Mahir looked around. Perhaps he could find another way. His eyes caught sight of fire moving up the ladder. He gasped when he realized what he was witnessing.
Dominus, bathed in magical flames, parts of him no more than blackened bones, ascended the ladder. Fire rippled around the Inquisitor, leaping to the timbers. Dagger still in hand, the mobile inferno charged.
The bell ringing in Mahir’s mind clanged out of tune and sent him backpedaling in terror.
“Jump to my voice you fool!”
Mahir turned around and looked at the long drop. He could feel heat closing in on his back. There had to be another way.
Mahir gripped the railing, hopped atop it and leapt. A flaming hand clawed at his boot as he sailed into the night sky. The grasping heat was replaced by cool air rippling against his robes and face.
Dominus bellowed with rage as he burned. The tolling bells went mad and then eerily silent. The screaming of the Inquisitor ended as well.
Mahir screamed in terror as he fell toward the cluttered work-yard below.
The sound of pulleys moving and rope whizzing came to his ears. He felt bands of pain across his arms, legs and body. His descent was slowed and then halted. His senses spun out of control and he fell through a crisscrossing web of ropes and landed on another web, then another. By the time he hit the ground the impact only hurt a little.
Mahir rolled onto his back. He could see, stretching from all parts of the courtyard, pulleys and ropes, which like a rigging from a sail, extended from the ground to the burning scaffold. The series of makeshift nets had managed to turn his deadly leap into a much more preferable hard landing.
Filippo jogged to Mahir’s side. “It worked! I saw the patterns. It worked!” He clapped his hands together. “It’s hard when you aren’t sure what your target will do, but you were great!”
The conflagration had built up enough that a bell started to peal. Black smoke billowed into the sky, blocking out the moon, and the work-yard was illuminated in hellish red and yellow. The bell droned on and on.
Mahir and Filippo tensed.
The architect let out a sigh. “It’s only the city bell.” He nodded at the burning scaffolding. “The bell is to alert the people of a fire.” Filippo sighed again. “We’re safe.”
A held breath burst from Mahir’s lips. Dominus was truly no more.
“We defeated an Inquisitor,” Filippo said. He ran his hands over his balding head. He gave a nervous laugh. “Two of them.”
Mahir rose to his feet and wobbled. “Yes.” He gazed at the growing pyre. “Let us never try it again.”
Filippo let out a gasp. “My dome! Mahir, we have to — ”
Mahir shook his friend by the shoulders. “Filippo. You said you wanted to finish the dome. Now there’s just a little more work to be done, that’s all,” he said and winked.
“Oh.” Filippo turned his eyes to the fire. “True. Let it burn. I’ll make it all the greater in the days to come!”
* * *
Mahir hid within Filippo’s chambers for the rest of the night while the Master architect personally led in the efforts to douse the flames. Soon as the scaffolding had toppled, there was a mad dash with buckets, but overall little left to put out. The incomplete dome was blackened, but relatively unharmed. A new set of scaffolds would be easy enough to rebuild, a washing and coat of paint would do the rest.
The next day Filippo visited with Cosimo, then returned to his room and promptly set himself to work.
Just after Filippo’s visit with Cosimo the Arte della Lana ‘just happened’ to decide a contest would be held in which the competing architects had to find a way to balance an egg upright atop a slab of marble. When they traveled together to where the competition would be held, Filippo brought no model, just the egg.
Too smart for their own good, Filippo’s competitors concocted all manner of ways to complete the task. Mahir had to admit the looks on their faces was almost worth the danger he had been put through when Filippo plopped the egg onto the slab hard enough to break the shell and balance it in its own yolk.
The contest was over and the Arte della Lana proclaimed Filippo the man right for the job to cap the dome of Florence.
Mahir adjusted his robes and watched the angry architects file out of the grand audience hall where Filippo’s egg sat triumphant upon a slab of white marble.
Ghiberti brushed past Mahir with a growl. “Out of the way, Moor.”
“Forgive,” Mahir said in an obsequious manner before shuffling to Filippo’s side. He smiled at him. “You ruined my life,” Mahir said absently.
“You breathed fresh life into mine. Filippo grasped his hand and shook it. “I will repay you. I will!” He glanced to either side. “This job pays very well and I am in your debt.”
“You are,” Mahir said, “but I will choose how the favor is to be repaid. In the meantime, I must go. The Inquisition will send others and it will not take them long to know a Moor was behind Dominus’ death.”
“Where will you go? What will you do?” Filippo tilted his head.
The crowd filed out and the armed servant from the Medici home approached the pair. His face was devoid of emotion and his mannerism was brusque.
Mahir was hardly surprised.
“Master Cosimo wishes an audience with the both of you.”
* * *
Mahir stood in the shadowy meeting room of the Spider of Florence. He crossed his arms and watched the ancient man pace the room. It was unsettling how Cosimo avoided the sliver of sunlight the drapes allowed in.
Filippo stood at Mahir’s side, still brimming with a wide smile from his victory over Ghiberti. He muttered at times about what tools would be needed to finish the project.
“You two have done me a great favor,” Cosimo whispered. “The Inquisition may send others after me, but I think not.”
“Really?” Mahir asked.
“The world isn’t what is used to be. Dominus was of a dying breed. I doubt anyone within a thousand miles has the slightest idea of my more ‘unusual’ operations.” He flicked his pale hand in the air. “His death frees me to act. That doesn’t mean there are not Inquisitors to worry about though.”
“Then it is best that I go. If anyone comes searching for Dominus, you can put them on my trail. Tell them I went back to Tunis.” Which Mahir had no intention of going to ever again.
Cosimo smiled and his sharp teeth shone white in the darkness of his chambers. “Filippo has his beloved dome. I would not send you off without a reward, Mahir.”
Mahir agreed. “A pile of gold will do.”
“Of course, but I have more than that.” Cosimo approached Mahir, his eyes glinting in the dimness he dwelled within. He nodded to Filippo. “If you would excuse us, Master architect.”
Filippo looked at Mahir and tilted his head.
“It will be fine, Filippo. Cosimo and I can discuss my well-earned reward.” Mahir offered a reassuring smile and his eyes followed Filippo as he exited the room. When the door closed he returned his gaze to Cosimo.
The Spider of Florence had managed to get nearly nose to nose with Mahir in the time it took Filippo to depart. His skin was waxy, and Mahir was uncomfortable by how he didn’t seem to blink, or breathe for that matter.
“My reward is something you’re not going to like,” Cosimo whispered. He leaned in, grasped Mahir by the shoulders and spoke into his ear.
* * *
Filippo paced in the Medici waiting room, much to the annoyance of the guards and servant who repeatedly told him to sit down and relax.
Relax!? Relax!? He had won his bid for the dome, but that was just the start. He would need to turn his intellect on how he would reconstruct the scaffolding and how he would get materials from the ground into the heavens. The Arte della Lana was specific in the requirements. They wanted a dome with no visible flying buttresses. Like the trick with the egg, Filippo already felt sure of a solution — the bigger task would be all the temporary work needed to put the shell in place.
Mahir was taking his time. Good, Filippo thought. The man deserved riches and he hoped he bled Cosimo as dry as he could before leaving Florence.
When Mahir exited the chamber, he looked visibly shaken and he rubbed his face. Filippo doubted he looked much better himself. The pair of them had been nearly without rest for two days. Mahir bowed his head and said in his thick accent, “Filippo, let us leave this place.”
Outside, the sun was warm and the wealthy denizens of Florence milled about. Filippo nodded to those he knew and took the lead as a weary Mahir followed.
“Well? How much coin did you wrest from that vulture’s talons?”
Mahir snorted. “A small pouch, but his other reward was most dreadful, my friend. I need to leave Florence. Now.”
“Now?” Filippo turned and raised a brow. “We need to celebrate. I can’t just invite you into mortal danger and see you off again.”
Mahir stroked his thin, black beard and turned his eyes away. “Cosimo drew me in close and he said he had a secret for me.” Mahir sniffed. “I expected the location of some treasure, or a key to power. Instead, he told me the location of a girl.”
“A girl?” Filippo asked.
“Yes,” Mahir confirmed. “A young girl in France who has the talent. She is very mighty, or rather she will be if the Inquisition does not reach her first. Cosimo has no reason to be a hero, but he says I can be.” He smiled faintly. “If I so choose.”
“Mahir, you saved me! Let the girl figure it out on her own.” Filippo crossed his arms. “How old is she? We were avoiding the papal fires before we were twenty.”
She would have no chance if the Inquisition were already on to her at that age. Filippo bit his lower lip and he let out a long breath. “That is younger than I expected. You are going now?”
Mahir nodded. “Wish me well, my friend.”
Filippo stepped forward and clasped his companion’s hand. He shook it firmly and looked him in the eye.
With a nod, Mahir turned and wandered toward the city gates. Filippo watched him go.
Before losing sight of Mahir he blurted out, “What is her name?”
“Jehanne d’Arc,” Mahir said over his shoulder. “She’s from a little town called Domrémy.”
Filippo watched him vanish amongst the maze of buildings. He hoped his friend could reach Jehanne before the fires of The Church did.
Richard Marsden was born in Canada and is currently a resident of Arizona. He has been fencing with the rapier for fifteen years, dabbles in economics and holds a Masters Degree in Land Warfare courtesy of AMU. His wife, AJ, lovingly encourages his eccentricities.
You can read more about Richard and his writing here: www.worksofrichardmarsden.com