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Under The Walls
 

Carlo di Chimici* was not a happy man. His older brother, Fabrizio,* had made himself Duke of Giglia, married and produced four sons in quick succession. It was quite clear that he saw himself as the head of the family in waiting, as soon as their father was dead. Their two surviving sisters hardly counted; women were not important in the powerful di Chimici family. Their role was to look beautiful and produce children, preferably sons.

Carlo had a beautiful wife himself — Eleanora — who had presented him with a son as their first child, and then a daughter. But there were also some lost babies and no other son had graced their marriage. It was looking now as if there would be no more.

So little Jacopo — now aged four — was very precious. But what was he to inherit? Some son of Fabrizio would have Giglia and it was clear that the family was expected to take over more Talian cities, to create more mini-dynasties for generations of di Chimici Dukes and Princes to rule.

?It was easy for Fabrizio,? Carlo grumbled to his wife one hot night in the summer of 1459. ?We live here in Giglia. Strictly speaking our father should have been Duke before my brother was but he just sat back and let my brother have all the power and the title too.?

?Your father is old, dearest,? said Eleanora. ?And tired. He was happy to hand the business over to you and your brother.?

?Huh, there is not much for me to do,? said Carlo. ?Father and Fabrizio have it all wrapped up between them.?

It was true that he did work in the family perfume business but he never felt truly at home there. His father and brother were branching out and becoming bankers to the great houses of Europa, the family wealth growing day by day. But Carlo saw himself more as a man of action and he was restless.

Then one day he was sent with an order of perfume to a city he had never visited before. It was north and west of Giglia and was called Fortezza. It was the best place in Talia to buy a new sword and he came with a commission from his brother to buy him a new weapon, once the perfume business had been completed.

I wonder, thought Carlo. Could I make this city mine?

But he had no idea how to do it, except that it would take a lot of money; and, although he had a fine palazzo in Giglia and plenty of money to buy himself a new sword, he didn?t have the sort of wealth that would enable a young man to buy himself a city.

He was in a swordsmith?s workshop when a sweating messenger tracked him down.

?Back to Giglia, Signor,? the man gasped out. ?Your father . . .?

Carlo didn?t wait for the rest of the message. It could mean only one thing. He ran back to his lodgings, gathered up his things and was back in the saddle before the messenger had properly recovered his breath.

The miles fell away under his horse?s hooves but by the time they clattered into the courtyard of the Giglian palazzo, it was already too late. Alfonso di Chimici was dead.

Fabrizio, the newly minted Duke of Giglia, was pacing the salone.

?Ah, brother! You are back.?

The men embraced awkwardly, feeling it was expected of them, while their sad-eyed mother looked on.

Within days in that hot summer, old Alfonso had been buried and mourned.

And then Carlo found himself suddenly rich. He had not had any idea until then how much wealth his father had amassed. Even with dowries for his sisters, Francesca and Lucia, and the substance of the perfume and banking businesses being left in Fabrizio?s hands, there remained an impressive sum for the younger son.

He went straight to his brother?s palazzo and had himself admitted to Fabrizio?s study.
?I need your advice,? he said abruptly. ?I want to leave Giglia and try my luck in a new city.?

?Where will you go?? asked Fabrizio.

Carlo noticed he was not going to try to persuade him to stay.

?I want to return to Fortezza,? he said. ?Now that I have inherited some money, there are things I could do there.?

He didn?t specify what but Carlo had decided: if Fabrizio was going to be a duke with a banking business, he would become a military man with an army, a soldier-prince perhaps.

Carlo set off for Fortezza soon afterwards, leaving Eleanora and the children in the care of his mother.
In a very few months, the Signoria of Fortezza became sympathetic to this vigorous man and his schemes to protect the city, particularly since he was offering to pay for them all.

Carlo di Chimici drew up plans for a massive castle, to be known as the Rocca di Chimici, and, while the foundations were being laid, he set about recruiting soldiers for a permanent standing army.

It took two years for the mighty Rocca to be built and it was a proud day when Carlo moved Eleanora and their son and daughter into it. Little Jacopo was six now and was given a wooden sword. His sister Beatrice was only four and easily menaced by her brother.

Jacopo ran up and down the battlements of the curtain wall, waving his sword and uttering bloodcurdling battle cries.

Privately, Eleanora thought the castle was far from elegant, but she said nothing to dampen her husband?s pride in it and it certainly did feel very safe and well defended. Although she didn?t know exactly what it needed defending against.

As for Carlo, he felt he had found his mission in life, defending his family and what he increasingly thought of as ?his? city.
It wasn?t long before he was elected the Signore of the Signoria and effectively Fortezza?s leader.

They had never had a noble family to lead them before and the di Chimici were building up a power centre in Giglia such as Talia had never known before. And lots of that di Chimici fortune was coming Fortezza?s way, what with the building of the castle, the creation of an army and lots of work for the city?s famous weapon-makers.

The members of the Stonemasons? Guild came to the Signoria with a proposal: now that the di Chimici castle was finished and was clearly such a strong fortress, would the governing body approve the building of walls all around the city itself?

The Signore, Carlo di Chimici, was all in favour and willing to pay half the cost himself so the proposal was soon passed and before long, an artist was approached to design the city?s fortifications.

Mariano Matrielli was a sculptor and painter who had lately come to be known by the newly defined skill of engineer. He was a testy and difficult individual but superb at what he did.

Carlo summoned Matrielli to the Rocca.

?Well, what do you have in mind?? asked the artist, not at all overawed by his surroundings in the great red salone of the Rocca.

?Walls to surround the city,? said Carlo, happy to meet another man who didn?t beat about the bush.

?All the way round? Continuous walls?? said Matrielli, rubbing his hands. He was beginning to get interested in this commission.
?Well, yes. But we?ll need some gates, and a moat, and I suppose some guardhouses — maybe some prison cells too.?

?You are expecting trouble? Some invasion or siege??

That was the trouble. There was no threat that Carlo knew of to Fortezza. He just liked the idea of an impregnable city — one that he could rule.

?It is always good to be prepared,? he said.<
BR>?I agree,? said Matrielli. It made no difference to him, as long as he was being paid and had a free hand in the design.

He was back a week later with drawings that took Carlo?s breath away.

Massive walls with twelve heavy bulwarks set evenly into them and so wide across the top that a platoon of soldiers could march twelve abreast!

With defences like these Fortezza would surely live up to its name and never be conquered. And there were tunnels inside the walls leading to banks of prison cells. And guardhouses in each bulwark and in the space above the main gate, which was not near the castle.

?Magnificent!? said Carlo di Chimici. ?I shall take them to the Signoria for approval but can?t imagine they will be anything except delighted.?

?Of course, if my plans are approved, I shall need a large sum of money to order materials and start hiring men.?

?Of course,? said Carlo. ?There will be no problem about that.?

He had recently heard that the King of Anglia had repaid a massive loan from the di Chimici bank in Giglia, together with considerable interest on the original sum.

The massive bastions were to be built first but before work could begin on their foundations, the old walls, now seeming very inadequate, had to be pulled down and the land outside the city cleared and levelled. Vast teams of labourers were employed in the city and the whole of Fortezza was abuzz about the walls and Matrielli?s grand designs.

At last it was nearly time for the foundation stone to be laid.

The week before, a visitor came to see Carlo one night He was a strange figure in a cowled robe and would not give his name. The only reason he was admitted was that he said he had an urgent message for the Signore about the coming ceremony.

?Who are you?? asked Carlo.

?My name is not important,? said the man.

?Reveal your face then.?

?My face is not important either. Do you want to hear my message or not??

?Say what you have to and get out,? said Carlo. ?You have already tried my patience.?

?These walls of yours,? said the man. ?Do you want them to keep out enemies??

?What a ridiculous question! Of course.?

?Then there is one more thing you need to do.?

Carlo felt uneasy; there was something sinister about this man and yet he had a compelling presence that was hard to ignore.

?This is a Tuschian city, built on the remains of one built by our ancestors, the Rassenans,? the figure continued.
?I know its history,? snapped Carlo.

?History comes with responsibility,? said the stranger. ?If you do not complete the rituals, the project will not thrive. However strong they seem, the walls will not keep out the enemy.?

Carlo felt his throat dry; he was not going to like these rituals, he was sure.
?What are you saying we should do?? he asked, more calmly than he felt.
?Blood,? said the man. ?The foundations need blood. You must find a sacrifice.?

For all that he was a man of action, Carlo did not like the unnecessary shedding of blood.

?An animal, you mean?? he said. ?A cockerel or a goat??

?Something bigger,? said the visitor. ?A man. Remember — without it the walls will fail.?

Then he turned abruptly and left the salone. It was almost as if he had disappeared.

?Stop him!? cried Carlo to his guards. But it was too late. Of the hooded man there was no sign.

Carlo spent a restless night. Of course what the man had suggested was out of the question. The official foundation ceremony had already been arranged and would not include even an animal sacrifice, let alone a human one. The very idea was preposterous.

And yet Carlo, like many Talians, was deeply superstitious and also eager to impress the citizens and Signoria with these walls. He was hoping they would agree to make him the city?s prince.

He was seriously thinking of postponing the ceremony.

And then a solution seemed to open up. A murder suddenly seemed to give Carlo a way out.

A man had killed his wife in a jealous rage; this was unusual for Fortezza, whose citizens were fairly peaceful. And, as it turned out, the woman had been blameless. Her husband had been condemned to death and was deeply penitent of the crime.

Was there a chance that the execution could be carried out at the site of the first tower and the body buried under the foundations? The man was going to die anyway; why not use him to appease the gods of the Rassenans? Carlo thought this could be the answer but still he didn?t know how to suggest it to the authorities.

His wife was beginning to worry about him. Carlo slept badly, was hardly eating, had taken to gnawing at the side of his thumbnail and was always distracted. He took hardly any notice of the children. Eleanora just couldn?t think what could be the matter. His building plans were going well, there was the beginning of a fine army and the family had settled well into their new home in the Rocca — even though for her part she would have preferred an elegant house in Giglia.

And then the Manoush entered the city.
In their colourful and glittering clothes, with long hair streaming and music playing, the group of wanderers passed easily across the ditch that had been dug around Fortezza in preparation for a moat. Citizens hesitated on the rickety plank bridges that had been thrown over the gap but this exotic group just flowed across, not missing a step of their dance.

Their leader was a tall woman, her long dark hair streaked with silver and threaded with ribbons. She was leading her people into the cathedral square when Carlo di Chimici, not looking where he was going, bumped into her.

?I?m sorry, Signora,? he said. ?I had my mind on something else. Please forgive me.?

?I can see that,? said the Manoush, scrutinising his face with her dark, intelligent eyes. ?You are troubled about something.?
She signalled to her people, who dispersed about the square.
?Would you like to tell me what it is??

And Carlo had the strangest feeling that he would like to tell this person, that she might even be able to help him.

They went into a tavern and he ordered wine for them both. Within minutes he had told her who he was, his plans for the city, and about the mysterious stranger who had told him of the bloodthirsty ceremony he should carry out.

?I have heard of him before,? said the woman, who had introduced herself as Daria Vivoide. ?And whenever I have heard of him, the word has not been good.?

?But is he right? Will all my plans come to nothing without this gruesome ritual? I have been going mad thinking of it. How can I tell the Signoria that we must mix human blood with the mortar or Fortezza?s enemies will be able to breach the walls??

?It is good to respect the old gods,? said the woman slowly. ?My people do not build cities — we are nomads. But I have heard of a ritual that might replace this cruel custom and still appease the local deities.?

Carlo felt hope for the first time.

?But it would not be without danger for the person who carried it out. It would be best done by one who does not expect to live long.?

Carlo told her about the murderer.

The day for laying the foundation stone dawned pearly-clear and cloudless. Long before the official party assembled at the site of the first bastion, Carlo di Chimici met a small group of masons, the engineer Matrielli and a few brightly-clothed people, including Daria Vivoide.

Soon afterwards a party of guards came from the jail, leading the wife-murderer in chains.

The wretched man shuffled along, his head down, as if expecting the worst.

Matrielli stepped forward with two workmen and moved the prisoner to a deep trench. The morning sun shone on him, throwing his shadow across the hole. The two workmen, directed by Matrielli and the Manoush, took the measure of it with a length of rope and then Carlo stepped forward.

?Throw the rope into the trench,? he ordered. ?And release the prisoner.?

The man rubbed his wrists and looked into the eyes of his rescuer. Carlo had explained the risks to him.

?I am free to go?? he asked.

?Absolutely free,? said Carlo. ?As long as you do not return to Fortezza.?

He put a cloak around the man?s shoulders, gave him a small bag of silver, and sent him on his way.

The little party watched as the murderer walked away, staggering at first and then straightening up, until he was a just a small figure in the distance — like a child?s sketch of a man.

?Do you really think it will work?? Carlo whispered to the Manoush.

?It is the civilised way,? said Daria. ?Once he would have been thrust into the foundations and buried alive. But the old cruel rites are being replaced over Europa. The burying of a man?s shadow will satisfy the gods but it is still likely he will be dead within forty days.?

?He told me he wouldn?t care,? said Carlo. ?He killed his wife. His children hate him. And it will be forty more days of life than he would have had. He was due to be executed today,?

Carlo heaved a big sigh.

?Thank you for your help,? he told the Manoush.

?Now, can we get on with the real ceremony?? asked Matrielli.

?As soon as I?ve had some breakfast,? said Carlo. He suddenly felt ravenously hungry. ?Come and have breakfast with me,? he said with an expansive gesture, including the engineer and the Manoush. ?We can?t start such an important enterprise on an empty stomach.?

Carlo cast one look back in the direction of the condemned man. Was it his imagination or were there now two figures on the horizon? It seemed to him that the first man had been joined by another, wearing a hooded robe, but it was too far away to see clearly.

He turned towards the Rocca, his heart lighter than it had been for many days.


* The Fabrizio and Carlo di Chimici of this story are not the ones we know from City of Stars onwards. They are the sons of the first founder of the di Chimici dynasty, as you can see from the di Chimici family tree.