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We meet Carlo Tocceri, an engineer, who is charged with an important message for Captain Archer. He has a string of life-changing events in the process.

Paola has trouble adjusting to the less traditional Archer/Hernandez household, but she has a helpful ally.

Ca'Rezzonico (Ca' short for Casa, house) This is now known as the Winter Casino. It's located right off one of the Venetian canals. Four hundred years later, in 1883, the composer Richard Wagner died here.

Francesco Foscari reigned as Doge in Venice. Unfortunately, the Council of Ten forced him to banish his own son Jacopo on trumped-up charges. Jacopo died in prison. Francesco died of a broken blood vessel when a bell rang, announcing his successor after the Council deposed him.

Palazzo Pisani Moretta: Also located directly off a canal, this was owned by Nicolo Pisani in the 1300's. The Pisani family was a wealthy and powerful family.

University of Bologna: The main university of the time...mostly concerned with anatomy and architecture.

Leonardo Da Vinci was known as a great engineer, architect, scientist, anatomist and artist. He eventually worked on the Duomo in Milan for the Sforza family in the 1490's.
Condottiere: This originally meant a mercenary soldier, but these men were powerful in both Milan and Venice. Often they were like 'generals' in the wars between the city-states.


Venice 1484

“We'll have to import the limestone for the courtyard and the boathouse, Signor. That will take some time, perhaps a month or so.”
“Then I'll allow you to explain to the wealthy merchant why his palazzo will be delayed in its completion.”

“He already has the Ca'Rezzonico, which is more than large enough for his needs.”

“Large enough for, perhaps, his family's needs, but not his business. It's ever expanding, with the trade from the East. The mezzanino is too small to conduct business and the piano nobile too cramped to house the important visitors.”

Francesco Foscari, the current Doge of Venice, rolled his eyes. He made a shooing motion with his hands. “Very well. I will send a message to Milan at first light. Now, out of my way, Master Builder.”

The architect bowed and scraped for a few moments before finally leaving. Foscari sighed and rubbed his temples. He shook his head then beckoned to the young engineer who was surveying the area for the proposed palazzo. “Carlo, will you come here?”

Carlo Toccari, a recent engineering graduate from the University of Bologna, looked up at the sound of his name. He sighed and approached the elderlyDoge. “Signor?”

“It appears that we have our work cut out for us, Carlo. Signor Kosso and his Master Builder expect the impossible. I need you to carry a message for me to the Palazzo Pisani Moretta.”

Carlo stifled a groan. He had better things to do than act as an errand boy to an elderly Doge, but he managed a boyish smile that disarmed any suspicion. “Of course, Signor.”

“An old friend of mine is lodged there at the moment, an English sea captain by the name of Archer. He used to work for Signor Kosso on the trade routes of the East. Will you ask Captain Archer if he will be so kind as to talk to his old employer? Persuade him to be more reasonable?”

Carlo frowned. “Signor Kosso used to employ an English sea captain for his business? I'd thought he was rather 'selective' about who worked for him.”

Francesco smiled, but it was only a stretch of his lips over his leathery skin. “Business and wealth do not discriminate on the methods used, and that includes whom you employ. You've always been a bit idealistic for your own good, Carlo.”

Carlo flinched at the rather accurate description of his nature. When he was in Bologna, he wanted nothing more than to study the great architectural wonders of the time and talk with the great engineers. Carlo had even traveled to Milan and talked with an extraordinary man, a Signor Da Vinci.

He wanted no part of this intrigue, but it seemed he was going to be involved in it anyway.

“Carlo?”

“I'm sorry, Signor. I was only thinking about your comment.”

The Doge gave him an indulgent look, as if from a benevolent grandfather to his grandson. “Such a innocent mind can easily be manipulated, so you must be wary, Carlo. After you relay the message, go straight home. Do not stray anywhere else, even onto your beloved ponti. Understand?”

He sighed again; so much for his favorite pastime, watching the sunset from the bridges of Venice. The Doge knew him too well. “Yes, Signor.”

“Off with you, and I will see you tomorrow. Buona sera, a piu tardi.”

“Until later, sir.” Carlo was more than relieved to hear the dismissal. He crossed the courtyard and spotted a passing gondola. Luckily, he was able to flag down the gondolier and give him the address of the Palazzo Pisani Moretta.

“Right away, sir,” said the gondolier. “It's an odd thing...I transported a pair of gentlemen there earlier today. It seems that particular palazzo is a busy place.”

Carlo's ears perked up at the information. “Oh? I know that building has been in the Pisani family for nearly two centuries. It's a beautiful place.”

“Yes, it is.” The gondolier smiled as he smoothly guided the boat through the canals. “They are reputed for their hospitality to everyone, even those not from Venice. Their most recent guests are English mariners.”
 
Carlo raised his eyebrows; this couldn't be a coincidence. “A sea captain?”

The gondolier spared a quick glance at him and asked, “Yes, and his first officer. Do you know them?”

“I've heard of an English captain by the name of Archer...an old friend of theDoge. And he's been to wondrous places, like on the trade routes to the East.”
 
“Yes, that's the man! He is also a friend of mine...my family owes him a debt that I can never hope to repay.”

Carlo smiled at the tone of hero-worship in the young man's tone. “He sounds larger than life.”

“Wait until you meet him and his wife. They are...rather unique.” The gondolier laughed and managed to extend a hand to Carlo, all without breaking the rhythm of propelling the boat. “I'm Traveo Buontempo, gondolier.”

“Carlo Tocceri, engineer.” He shook Traveo's hand without somehow ending up in the waters of the canal.

“Your accent...are you from Bologna?” asked Traveo.

He laughed aloud and shook his head. “I studied at the university there. I'm originally from Naples. My father's family is actually from Sicily.”
“From the south, then?” Traveo inclined his head. “You still have a trace of that accent, but it's almost gone.”

“What, have you some sort of miracle ear?”

“No, I transport people from all over, and I like to talk to them, as well as listen.”

Carlo considered that; having a contact like that could be useful for his stay in Venice. “With a job like yours, I can see that. I'm sure you meet all sorts.”

“Yes. Ah..here we go, and there's the palazzo. Well, Signor Tocceri...if you need to get around Venice, just ask for me, and I'll be willing to take you wherever you want to go.”

“Thank you, Traveo. I'll keep the offer in mind.” Carlo pressed more than the required fee into Traveo's hand. “You'll see me again.”

“I'm almost expecting it. Have a good evening, sir.”

He stepped onto the dock in front of the Palazzo Pisani Moretta and nodded at the ever-watchful guard at the entrance. He gave his name and his purpose for being there, and the guard nodded and went into the receiving foyer of the private home. As he waited, he watched the goings-on along the canal. A line of noblewomen crossed the nearest ponte, surrounded by red-and-black clothed guards. Carlo frowned; the colors of their uniforms didn't match any of the noble houses in Venice.

Four guards carried a woman in a sedan chair. Passers-by automatically took off their hats and bowed as she went past. Carlo was taken with her beauty: brown skin, black hair in a silver net, and a red silk gown decorated with golden thread and accented with jewelry. Whoever she was, she was not from Venice.

As per tradition, her ladies wore simpler dresses, but just as stylish as their mistress. Their faces were veiled from view, to preserve their innocence. Nevertheless, Carlo was struck at the expressiveness of their eyes. The one nearest to the noblewoman had almond-shaped brown eyes that had an almost exotic slant to them, set in a face as pale as porcelain. And the one next to her...

Carlo's heart tightened painfully in his chest as he met her gaze. The amber-golden eyes widened in response, and her mouth twitched under the veil. He couldn't breathe for a moment. God in Heaven, she is beautiful. Who is she?

Reflexes kicked in before his mind recovered from its daze. He immediately doffed his cap and bowed as the procession approached the palazzo. The men carrying the sedan chair gently lowered the noblewoman to the cobblestone street. Carlo didn't dare look up, but he heard the whisper of silk as she made her way up the stone steps.

Then the sound of footsteps halted. A musical voice asked, “Are you waiting for someone, Signor?”

Carlo swallowed hard and kept his gaze lowered. “I am charged with relaying a message to Captain Archer, from Signor Francesco Foccari, the Doge.”

The woman laughed. “Captain Archer is my husband. Arise, Signor, you do not have to prostrate yourself before me. I am a humble Spanish woman, a guest of this house.”

Humble? Carlo nearly bit his tongue as he got to his feet. “As you command, my lady.”

She inclined her head at him. “A message from Francesco is important, indeed, Signor--”

“Tocceri, my lady. My name is Carlo Tocceri.”

“Signor Tocceri. I am Signora Eriana Hernandez. Come, walk with me. I will take you to my husband.” Lady Eriana nodded at the handmaiden with the exotic eyes. “Estrella, will you make sure the others are settled properly in the guest quarters?”

“At once, my lady.” The woman named Estrella beckoned to the other women and they dutifully followed her. The one with the amber colored eyes hesitated for a moment, her gaze meeting Carlo's one more time before she disappeared with the other ladies inside the building.

“Do you see something you like, Signor?”

Carlo started at the amused tone and tried to recover, but his flushed face gave him away. “Ah, yes, Signora...uh, no, Signora...I mean--”
Lady Eriana regarded him with a look of sympathy and murmured, “It is the lightning strike. It happens once in a lifetime. My husband had the same expression on his face, five years ago.”
 
“I meant no offense, my lady--”

Her eyes twinkled and she answered, “I know. Now, please, follow me, and I will take you to Captain Archer. I believe he will find your message quite interesting.”

The palazzo was as sumptuous inside as it was outside. The analytical part of Carlo's brain approved of the layout of the building and the tasteful furnishings. The aesthetic part simply gaped at the show of wealth. How many golden mirrors do they really need?

A show of wealth was a show of power, and the Pisani family was an old yet noble Venetian house. The fact that they had allowed a foreigner and his family to reside here spoke volumes about Lady Eriana's husband. Carlo was honestly curious about the man.

Lady Eriana spoke kindly to the various servants as she passed. Carlo was impressed at the loyalty she commanded among her people. He had the feeling that they would give their lives in her defense. What kind of woman held that power? Most noblewomen would never stoop themselves so low as to engage in idle chatter.

He had the feeling that this particular household was hardly typical.

Voices echoed from the mezzanino, the room where business was conducted. Both spoke English with a lilting accent; Carlo found it difficult to follow the thread of the conversation. Lady Eriana rapped her knuckles on the door in a decidedly unladylike manner.

“Enter!”

She nodded at Carlo and walked into the room, with him following at a respectful distance. Two men stood up from their seats. One was slightly taller than Carlo, with brown hair and green eyes. Those eyes crinkled in genuine pleasure as he crossed the room in a few steps to greet her.

“Hello, John,” she murmured.

“Eriana. I've missed you.” He bent and kissed her gloved hand, but held it instead of letting it go, as was proper. “I hope your detour to Milan was productive.”

Carlo swore that Lady Eriana flashed a humorous look in his direction. She nodded and said, “Yes, and I'll tell you all about it later. It seems that we've both brought guests with us.”

He chuckled and introduced the other man, who was watchful and silent. “This is Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, my first mate aboard Enterprize. Malcolm, may I introduce my wife, Lady Eriana Hernandez.”

“Madam,” Malcolm said, with a bow of his head, and he also kissed her hand. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”
 
“And you. It is an honor to meet the man who has saved my husband's life countless times on the high seas.” She smiled at him, then turned to introduce Carlo. “Gentlemen, this is Signor Carlo Tocceri. Signor Tocceri, my husband Captain John Archer and his first mate, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed. Now, Signor, I believe you have a message for my husband from the Doge?”

The smile vanished from Archer's face at her words. “Is Francesco in trouble again?”

Carlo swallowed hard at the change of his expression then relayed the message word for word. The captain's face clouded over like a thunderstorm at the mention of Signor Kosso. Lady Eriana frowned and glanced at Archer. Reed glanced at Carlo; neither man understood what was going on, but they felt the sudden chill in the air.

“Kosso is a spoiled brat,” Archer muttered under his breath. “Like anything I could say would change his mind! And Francesco is only a mouthpiece for thecondottieri, the enforcers for the Venetian families.”

Eriana nodded soberly. “The Council of Ten holds the real power in Venice, not the Doge. John, you can't afford to involve yourself in their affairs again. It nearly killed you the last time.”

Reed scowled at her words. Carlo suspected that Archer hadn't told his first mate about that particular incident. Carlo didn't blame him at all; Francesco withheld vital information all the time, and although it was a survival tactic during these dangerous times, Carlo resented that.

“The condottieri have their spies everywhere, and if I don't make a token effort, they'll know about it,” Archer answered. “The last thing I want is to put you and the others in mortal danger, Eriana.”

“Sir, at least consider sending a messenger to Kosso and not place yourself in peril by going yourself,” Reed interjected. “Send me instead.”

Archer shook his head and said, “No, Malcolm. Kosso is notorious for his secrecy and his paranoia. He'd order his men to kill you on sight. Kosso knows me; one brief meeting is all it will take.”

“John, I beg you to reconsider.”

He shook his head again at her. “The sooner this is over with, the sooner we won't have to worry about it anymore. And the sooner we can return to our well-deserved holiday.”

Lady Eriana fell silent, but her expression indicated how unhappy she was with her husband's decision. Reed also disapproved of it, and Carlo silently agreed with both of them. Archer glanced over at Carlo again with a rueful look.

“I don't hold you responsible for this, Signor. Politics is a dirty game, which is why I prefer my life on the seas at times.” He nodded and said, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”

Carlo bowed his head at the implicit dismissal. “I live to serve, Captain.”

Archer took out a couple of silver coins from his coat pocket and pressed them into Carlo's hand. “Return here tomorrow at first light. I might have need of your services again.”

“Yes, Captain.” He silently rejoiced; perhaps he would catch a glimpse of the mysterious handmaiden again, and lose himself in her eyes once more.

Paola said very little during the evening meal. She found the chatter of the other women vapid and boring, and longed for some conversation of substance. Lady Eriana's handmaidens avoided her as if she carried the plague. Perhaps she seemed cold and aloof, but that couldn't be helped.

“You seem preoccupied, Paola. Are you all right?”

She looked up at Estrella, Lady Eriana's chief handmaiden. Estrella wasn't her true name, but she did say that the meaning of it in Spanish was the same as in her own language, Star. Paola hadn't seen anyone quite like her before: not from any of the city-states, not from Spain, and not from England.

“I am...” Paola considered lying, then shrugged and finished, “...adjusting.”
 
“It's all rather sudden, I know. I had a period of adjustment when I first joined Lady Eriana's household. The other ladies were suspicious at first, and oh, the rumors that flew around! Now I've become comfortable here, and so will you.”

Paola sighed and leaned back in the small cot. All of Lady Eriana's ladies shared a dormitory- like hall, under the strict watch of the guards of the palazzo. “May I ask a personal question, Estrella?”

“Of course.”

“Where were you born? It's obvious you aren't from Venice, Milan, or Barcelona. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound rude--”

Estrella shook her head and replied, “I'm asked the question often, so I don't mind answering it. My father was a merchant from the East, who worked with Captain Archer for a time. When my father fell victim to pirates, I had nowhere else to go. The captain allowed me to accompany him to Spain, and his wife adopted me into her household.”

“You speak Venetian with hardly an accent.”

“I've served as a translator for my father; it's useful in business. I do the same for Lady Eriana, on occasion. The dialect in Venice is different from the one in Milan, Naples or Genoa.”

Paola stared at her because of her matter-of-fact tone. So Estrella was also widely traveled, despite the fact she was a woman and actually had an important function in Captain Archer's trading company! She saw how radically different the Hernandez/Archer household was compared to Umberto Sovale's, but she had no idea how radically different it was.

“You seem surprised. Does this bother you?”

Paola blinked. “Bother me? No, it doesn't, but I am surprised. I have spent most of my life bound by tradition and protocol...the thought of seeing a world beyond the palazzo walls has always appealed to me, but I'd never dreamed it was possible.”

Estrella chuckled and raised her eyebrows. “Although Lady Eriana and Captain Archer are unconventional in many ways, there will be times when even they must bow to convention. The Captain does uphold a code of honor and propriety when it is necessary.”

“Of course...I never meant to imply--”

“There is no offense taken where none is meant.” That sounded like a quote from a book somewhere; Paola made a mental note to ask Estrella where it came from. Estrella smiled and went on, “In fact, tomorrow, Lady Eriana will pay her respects to some of her friends here in Venice, and we will accompany her. It will be wise to get some rest. The Lady rises with the sun.”

Paola nodded in agreement. “Very well. Thank you, Estrella.”

“You're welcome, Paola. Sleep well.”

Paola lay awake long after the candles were blown out. She tried to blank out her mind, but a haunting pair of blue eyes kept surfacing at the edge of her consciousness. Who was this young man and why did his image stay with her?

She sighed. What were the odds that she would ever see him again? She didn't know his name or if he was a Venetian native. Chances were good that it was a one-time encounter, never to be repeated.

At least, that was what she told herself.

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trekwriter151

May 2012

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