Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Necessary Sacrifice, Part 2

((This is set some 20 years in the past in this universe.))

 . . . . . A crowd surrounded Master Vincenzo's residence well before I'd finished the mile-and-a-half sprint to reach it. Elua forbid that I should ever try such a stunt again. Bent over my own heaving bellows, I tried not to vomit my breakfast onto my shoes while I listened to the angry rabble around me. I recognized several students among them and was certain that many more I simply did not know were there as well.
 . . . . . “The Masters are exploiting us!” came one angry Caerdicci shout.
 . . . . . “It is the foreigners corrupting our virtuous women!”
 . . . . . “Oh, shut it, Andros, you're foreign!”
 . . . . . “Your mother is foreign!”
 . . . . . An elbow crunched down on my bowed spine and it was truly just instinctive reaction which led me to shove my shoulder sideways into my unwitting attacker's knees. With a yelp, he fell, flailing out to catch another man in the stomach with his fist. That man, enraged – once he stopped barking for lack of air – fell upon the first with fists. Cries of “Fight!” rang through the crowd and before anyone could quite put stop to it, the crowd gathered in front of the residence had devolved into fisticuffs.
 . . . . . I gained a few bruises for my troubles, but I managed to dodge the worst of it as I battled free of the riot and found myself at a wooden door set into the stucco-brushed stone walls protecting the Master's loggia. The door itself was painted a rich green. While I was busy considering how to scale the wall and gain access to the balcony above the loggia's arches, the door creaked open. A furtive face peered out, marked by the broad nose and curly hair of a Hellene.
 . . . . . He spied me and made to close the door, but I hissed “Wait!” as loudly as I dared. “Wait, please, I beg” I repeated in Hellenic.
 . . . . . That earned me a skeptical look, but the man glanced towards the corner I'd rounded which separated us from the rioting crowd at the front and nodded once. I was attired – and dirtied – as a gardener, not a University student, and my Hellenic was of the common man instead of the orator.
 . . . . . “What has occurred here?”
 . . . . . At the man's beckon, I pressed my back against the wall next to the door and listened to his quiet words. “Great tragedy has befallen my master's household,” he bemoaned. “Lady Basilia has been foully murdered for refusing the advances of one of my master's students. A sweet and innocent lady! I shall never see her warm smile and soft brown eyes again!” I heard the clack of komboloi as the servant fingered his worry beads. “Master Vincenzo has gone to the magistrate with the city guards to provide information so the student may be caught. He fled! Oh, the misfortune, he slipped right past me!”
 . . . . . “I am sure all will be righted in time,” I murmured to the servant as the beads clacked somewhere behind the door. “Dike throttles Adikia.” An old Hellenic saying, I assured him that moral justice prevailed over injustice.
 . . . . . An approving cluck of the tongue was the response, followed by, “You should leave before this gets worse, especially being Kriti.”
 . . . . . “Especially?”
 . . . . . “The student was Kriti. Actually, he looked a bit like you, with longer hair.” The servant peered out as if inspecting my shoulders for recently clipped strands.
 . . . . . “No, I've not had a haircut recently,” I demurred even as I strapped a bit of mental steel to my spine in preparation for another full-speed flight.
 . . . . . “Even so,” the servant warned.
 . . . . . I took him at his word and pushed off the wall, fleeing into the streets.

. . . . . Several blocks before the house of the magistrate, I ceased running to allow myself time to catch my breath. I had no plan, no idea what I would do – I knew only that this entire thing must be a tremendous misunderstanding because I knew a glaringly obvious fact which Master Vincenzo's household did not: my dear little brother could not abide the touch of a woman.
 . . . . . Six armed and armored men loitered outside the magistrate's home. I swallowed hard; the points of their halberds looked very, very pointy indeed. But beyond them, in the courtyard, I could see a small gathering of liveried men and the black robe of the magistrate.
 . . . . . “Excuse me,” I said in my best Caerdicci to the guard with the shiniest halberd and least-dented armor. My brain raced at the speed of thunder – or was that lightning? – as I threw together the flimsiest lie I'd ever told in my life, “I am here to clear pox from the magistrate's laurel bushes.” With a wave of my soil-darkened hand, I indicated my working man's attire. For a mercy, Elua and all the angels smiled upon me in that moment for I was let into the courtyard without further question. If only I had known then that even angels smile in malice.

 . . . . . “Yes, I did invite him over to my home,” Master Vincenzo was explaining as I puttered around the well-trimmed bushes in the courtyard. The plants had a militant air, each in line and on a strict schedule, admitting no frivolity such as out-of-season blooms or shows of excess such as errantly-tall stalks. “He was one of my better students, in fact, but I never imagined he had such designs upon-” The Master's voice broke, “-upon my dear Basilia.”
 . . . . . It was a convincing auditory move, but something in the Master's shoulders called it a lie. I could not tell you if I tried how I could see it. He was not as enamored of his wife as he put out.
 . . . . . “You left the two of them alone?” the magistrate questioned.
 . . . . . “I did. Just for a few minutes. Our servants had the evening off after preparing dinner, so I left to fetch a new pitcher of yansoon for the three of us. When I returned... Oh, my heart!”
 . . . . . The liveried men surrounding Master Vincenzo seemed more aggrieved at the murder of the lady than the Master did. I made my way to naught but a few strides from the gathering, gaining no attention at all as I pruned leaves from the bushes with my bare hands and rustled the foliage in a business-like manner.
 . . . . . The magistrate looked suitably pitying for a moment before nodding at Master Vincenzo. “You must continue, please.”
 . . . . . “When I returned, I found her on the floor of our triclinium,” – the Caerdicci dining room – “and my student, Timotheos Iraphiotes, fled! My dearest, my heart, stabbed through the eye!” Master Vincenzo brandished a bloodied length of metal, some five inches long.
 . . . . . “My laurels!” I shouted, standing up from the bushes.
 . . . . . The entire assembly turned to look at me. I had a moment of absolute clarity. Master Vincenzo would describe my brother as he had just named him, the entire city of Tiberium would turn itself over for the search as Caerdicca Unitas had no love for the Kriti who never bowed to their fallen Empire, and my sweet, harmless baby brother would be caught and crucified.
 . . . . . “I killed the lady.”
 . . . . . The assembled gasped. Yet, I noted a flash of calculation across the Master's face. He said nothing.
 . . . . . “That is mine in his hands. I know it by the laurels twining up the shaft. And I know it because I put it in Lady Basilia's brown eye.” Thank you, Hellenic servant. “She should know to never spurn a D'Angeline in love.”
 . . . . . “D'Angeline? You are Kriti!”
 . . . . . “But,” I said in my mother tongue, the language of my homeland which even now enfolded me in the rustling greenery of Anael's wings, “I was born in Terre D'Ange. We D'Angelines are mad in our passions, and I was mad for Lady Basilia. I could not abide being turned away by her. If I cannot have her, no one will!”
 . . . . . “Seize him!”
 . . . . . It is not my own fate I lamented as Master Vincenzo's liveried men swarmed over me and beat me into the ground with fists and metal-tipped boots. No, let 'Fool' be stamped on my forehead – I mourned the damage to the magistrate's damned laurel bushes.

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