trekwriter151: by <lj user="cedarrapidsgirl>" (malcolm hoshi)
[personal profile] trekwriter151
Captain Archer must find a way out of Kosso's proposal. Carlo and Paola meet for the first time, and sparks fly. Estrella and Malcolm run into trouble in the streets of Venice.

More characters from ENT make appearances in this chapter. Can you find them, and who are they in the 'real universe'?

The Borgias: The original spelling of the name is the Spanish version, Borja. In 1455, Alonso de Borja was elected pope and took the name Calixtus III. He died only 3 years later, in 1458.

His nephew, Roderigo Borja/Borgia became a Papal administrator and cardinal (thanks to nepotism from his uncle's family). He later became Pope Alexander VI in 1492, succeeding Pope Innocent the VIII. Roderigo was the father of Lucrezia, Cesare, Giovanni (or Juan), Goffredo (or Jofre) and Ottoviano.

Paola sighed as Lady Eriana paid her respects to the ninth or tenth hostess of the morning. She smoothed down her new creation of emerald and blue silk, with delicate pearls sewn into every hem. Her elaborate headdress felt like a stack of bricks on her tightly braided crown. Nevertheless, she stood proudly next to Lady Eriana. She heard subtle enquiries about her design and couldn't help a surge of pride.

How does she do it? Paola glanced at Estrella out of the corner of her eye. Despite the long hours of polite talk, the woman looked as alert as when they'd started out. Her dark eyes missed nothing, and she managed to look interested in the most banal of conversations.

“Did you see how Lady Natalia simper at the mention of that engineer?”

Paola felt a thread of unease as she answered, “She sang his praises in many areas of expertise...including those that should be kept private.”

Estrella gave her a knowing look. “She is young, and eager to make an impression, although she will never attract a suitor with that sort of indiscretion. There are those who wish their potential brides to be unstained.”

She sighed and nodded. Paola was worldly enough to know the reality of life hardly measured up to the romantic fantasies of her youth. In fact, she felt like a simpleton next to Estrella, who had seen and experienced more. Yet, Paola noticed the color in Estrella's cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes that couldn't be attributed to the warm Venetian sunlight.

“ you have a suitor?” Paola regretted the question as soon as it left her mouth. “I'm sorry, forgive me, I shouldn't have asked.”

Estrella's ivory skin turned a shade of pink. “No, not at the moment. Although...”

“There is someone.”

“Perhaps. I've only met him, but there is something about him--”

“His eyes. The windows of the soul are in the eyes--”

“As if you've known him since the beginning of time--”

“--and you wish to lose yourself in them forever. You wish to hold on to him--”

“--and never let go.”

Both women fell silent as they realized they'd finished each other's sentences. They stared at each other, then for some strange reason, Paola began to giggle. Estrella smirked, then they both tried to stifle their laughter.

Lady Eriana appeared in the doorway of the mezzanino. She wore a knowing smile on her face as she said, “I'm glad to hear my ladies are enjoying themselves. I knew it was a good idea to bring you two together. You have many things in common, despite appearances.”

Paola lowered her eyes, mortified at being caught. “My Lady--”

“Come, Paola, do not feel ashamed. Estrella, we should return to the palazzo. My husband sent word that his meeting with Signor Kosso has concluded, and that he needs to see me at once.”

Paola stiffened at the familiar name. Kosso? Last I heard, he was still in Milan. What is he doing here in Venice? Perhaps there is another by that name? She doubted it was a coincidence. Umbrico Sovale's dislike of Kosso was well known; perhaps Kosso had left Milan to escape her uncle's wrath?

Estrella sobered at the message. “Has Captain Archer's meeting not been successful?”

“I don't know, but Signor Buontempo said he did not appear pleased at the outcome. We must make haste, ladies.”

All three hurried through the door of the Palazzo Pisani Moretta and down the elaborate halls to the study. Paola stopped abruptly at the threshold, nearly causing Estrella to run right into her. Eriana crossed the room in three steps to grasp her husband's outstretched hands; she wasn't aware of the stunned expressions on her ladies' faces.

“I came as soon as Signor Buontempo relayed your message, John,” Eriana said. “Are you all right? What has Kosso said to you this time? Is--”

“I'm unharmed, and so are Carlo and Malcolm,” Archer replied, “but we have a problem that involves some delicate maneuvering, carissima. I need your help--”

Paola hardly heard the conversation that swirled around her. Her gaze was riveted to the man who stood at the opposite side of the study. It was him, the man whom she had seen the day before. She now knew his name. Carlo. It fits him. His blond hair was unusual in a Venetian, but it complemented his blue eyes and fair skin. He was perhaps a shade shorter than Captain Archer, with a muscular build that hinted at great power.

His mouth dropped open, but somehow he regained his composure before she did. Too late, she realized she'd stripped off the stifling veil as soon as she'd entered the palazzo, and so he saw her face without any obstruction.

It is the lightning strike, she thought, but I thought that was an innocent maiden's fancy. Jesu Maria! I had never thought it could happen to me.

Then she heard Eriana mention her name and it broke the spell. Paola abruptly came back to reality, her eyes snapped back to the noblewoman. Eriana's dark eyes flashed dangerously, her mouth flattened in a tight line. There was fire behind that angry expression, one that scared Paola.

“He dares to be so presumptuous!” Eriana raged. “I promised Umbrico that I would protect his niece to the best of my ability, and so I shall! He can have the pick of adoring ladies in the whole of Milan, but why focus on Paola? He is not suited for her. Absolutely not, John! Not in the space of one month!”

Paola felt her knees gave way under her, but strong arms saved her from an embarrassing spill on the floor. She managed to turn her head to see Carlo supporting her within his easy strength. The concern in those blue eyes were for her, and her alone. Behind the concern was a righteous anger, but she instinctively knew it wasn't directed at her.

He would never harm me. Never. I know that.

“Paola? Paola?” Estrella called, but her voice seemed so far away. “She's in shock, my lady.”

“Lay her upon the recliner, Carlo. Estrella, run for Doctor Floccia; he'll know what to do.” Archer put a steadying hand on Paola's shoulder. “Don't worry, Paola. We won't give you up to him. You are part of our family. We will protect you.”

Estrella bowed her head in acknowledgement and started for the door. Malcolm spoke up, “Sir, I should accompany Lady Estrella. It is dangerous for her to go alone. I don't trust the condotteri, especially if they support Kosso.”

Archer nodded and said, “Go with her, Malcolm.”

Carlo carried Paola and gently laid her on the padded recliner on the far side of the study. He knelt at her side and held her hand as Eriana poured a glass of restorative wine. Together, she and Carlo coaxed Paola to drink from it. The shock gave way to a numbness that was even worse than the pain.

“Kosso...I've known him since we were children,” she whispered, “ever since my uncle took me in, after the plague destroyed my family. He has always been ambitious, just like his own father. If he wants me, he won't stop until he has me. I know him.”

“He won't take you,” Carlo reassured her. She started at the ominous tone that rumbled from his throat. “I won't let him.”

“I believe you.” She gripped his hand tightly. She tried to laugh, but it came out as a strangled sob. “How can this be? I hardly know you.”

He shook his head. “I don't know, Paola. But this I do know: I won't just stand aside and watch you marry him.”

“You would fight him...for me?”

Carlo held her gaze and nodded slowly. “I would. If you would let me.”

“I cannot allow that; he will kill you--”

He smiled. “I remember some tricks I learned on the streets of Naples, Lady Paola. All within the rules of honor, of course.”

“Of course. You are a gentleman,” Paola said, deadpan. She couldn't believe she could find some humor in this situation, but Carlo's teasing touched her in some undefinable way.

Carlo tipped an imaginary cap on his head and said, “Let's do this correctly. My name is Carlo Tocceri, late of the University of Bologna. I am an engineer in the employ of the Doge, Francesco Foscari.”

His gallantry brought a genuine smile to her face. She would have curtsied if she wasn't lying on a recliner. “I am Paola de Conti-Montagnari, niece of Umbrico Sovale of Milan, handmaiden to Lady Eriana Hernandez-Archer. I am pleased to meet you, Signor Tocceri.”

“Likewise, Signorina Conti-Montagnari.” He didn't break his gaze as he lifted her gloved hand to his lips.

Neither heard as Captain Archer murmured to his wife, “This makes things rather complicated, doesn't it?”

Estrella knew the way to Signor Floccia's apothecary. The kindly physician was an older gentleman from Seville, a countryman of Lady Eriana's. Like the Borgias of Rome, whose name was originally spelled Borja, Signor Floccia had also adapted his birth name to his new home. Estrella continued to call him 'Signor Floja' out of respect.

Her mind whirled with implications of this new situation. Poor Paola; being married to Kosso would destroy her lively spirit. Even worse, a merger between Archer's family and Kosso's would never be an equal one. Kosso was nobility; Archer was not, despite his wife's status. Not only could Kosso seize control of Enterprize and Archer's trade company, but he could claim some Spanish acquisitions through Lady Eriana.

All in all, a brilliant plan. It would be a coup worthy of Duke Gian Galeazzo Sforza himself, and such an achievement would attract the attention of the Sforzas of Milan.

The politics was enough to give her a headache. She said as much to Malcolm, after she explained the potential fallout. Although he came from common stock, like Archer, Malcolm understood the dangers.

“Is there any way to avoid this travesty?” Malcolm asked her.

“I hope so. I have confidence in Captain Archer to find a solution.” Estrella managed a smile. “I think Umbrico Sovale might have suspected this for a long time.”

“You mean he foisted this situation upon the captain so he wouldn't have to deal with it. Brilliant.”

“He acted within his own interests, Malcolm. As distasteful as it might seem, it's understandable.” She fought to maintain her serene composure. She saw the scowl on Malcolm's face and sympathized with his anger.

They turned the corner leading to Signor Floccia's apothecary. Just before they reached the stone building, a tight knot of armed men came out of a nearby alleyway. Malcolm stopped abruptly and pushed Estrella behind him.

“We are on an urgent errand for Captain Archer,” he said. “One of his household is ill and needs Signor Floccia. Stand aside.”

“Malcolm, I recognize the leader. He works for the Council of Ten,” she whispered to him. She raised a hand and said, “Signor Arturo Grigio, please let us pass. Lady Eriana needs a doctor.”

The man's mouth twisted into a sneer, which didn't improve his looks. “Lady Estrella...I'm not surprised to see you in such company. It is a pity that you no longer have your patrons to protect you. The Grand Inquisitor 'requests' your presence; he wishes to discuss the salvation of your soul.”

Estrella paled at the words. “You would not dare lay a hand on me, Arturo Grigio.”

“I'm charged with my mission, my lady--” He stepped forward, but Malcolm blocked his way. “Stand aside, Signor. This does not concern you.”

Malcolm scowled at the words, even as Estrella translated them for him. He held Arturo Grigio's gaze and said, “Tell him that if he and his ilk want to take you away, he'll have to go through me first.”

“Four of them to one of you, Malcolm. They will kill you.”

He smirked, but didn't look at her. “I have friends at the Thames Docks who've taught me a few things, Estrella. Go get Signor Floccia. I'll be fine.”

“You aren't armed--”

His smirk widened, for she didn't know about his modified pistol in his pocket. “You know better than to underestimate me, luv.”

She blinked at his term of endearment. Did he actually say that, or had she imagined it? She shook herself as Arturo Grigio turned to issue orders to his men. So, the die was cast. He was willing to die to defend her. Her heartbeat quickened as she whispered back,

“And you should know better than to underestimate me, Malcolm.”

Doctor Juan Floja, late of the University of Anatomy in Bologna, rarely involved himself in physical fights. He had seen plenty of conflict in his homeland, especially at the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. His penchant for unorthodox cures had forced him to flee Seville, then leave Barcelona, for the trade routes of the East. He settled here, in Venice, a major port, and changed his name to avoid detection.

Doctor Giovanni Floccia, now a semi-respected apothecarist, knew better than to get tangled in matters outside the medical. But every word of the conflict echoed down his street and into his shop. His friend, the Lady Estrella, was in trouble, and she wasn't alone.

Floccia sighed and wiped his hands on his apron. A multitude of Spanish curses filled his head as he grabbed the nearest weapon at hand. The heavy marble mortar-and-pestle bowl was excellent for grinding up herbs and powders. Of course, it was also good for knocking sense into drunken heads.

He took a deep breath and plunged into the fray, just a stone's throw from his front door.

Malcolm didn't want to kill anyone if he could help it, but he knew it might not be possible. He didn't want Estrella in the hands of the Grand Inquisitors. The stories of their atrocities reached even the high seas. He wasn't a religious man, not really, but he couldn't condemn Estrella to torture and death.

Unfortunately, the narrow alley worked to his disadvantage. He couldn't risk using the pistol without someone overhearing and he certainly didn't want to shoot Estrella by mistake. If the Council of Ten got their hands on the weapon, they could easily modify their own to suit themselves. Malcolm decided not to take that chance and relied on hand-to-hand.

He managed to knock one of the swordsmen unconscious and appropriate the fallen man's sword for himself. Just in time, for the second man nearly took his head off with a broad sweep of his blade. Malcolm ducked, side-stepped, and slammed the pommel of his weapon into the back of the man's skull.

Estrella slid a thin stiletto out of the sleeve of her dress. Arturo Grigio grinned maniacally and made a gesture for her to approach him. She held the knife at the ready, but stayed where she was. The smirk on Arturo Grigio's face became one of undisguised fury. He slashed at her side, but she nimbly avoided him. Her purely defensive attitude only increased his anger.

Malcolm immediately saw what he was doing: driving Estrella farther down the street, away from the apothecary, separating the two of them. He hefted the sword in his hand like a javelin and threw it. It sailed through the air and sliced through Arturo Grigio's arm. The man howled in pain and dropped his weapon.

Unfortunately, Malcolm didn't have time to savor his victory. He twisted, cat-like, out of the way of the third swordsman, but not quickly enough. He hissed in pain as the blade bit into his left shoulder, drawing blood. His adversary smiled as he reversed the blade for a gut blow, but before he could thrust it into Malcolm's body, a heavy object crashed down onto his head. The swordsman's eyes rolled up into his head and he fell like a stone.

“Signor Floja!” Estrella shouted. She rushed up to Malcolm and supported him just as his legs folded under him. A heavy-set man with brown hair and blue eyes slipped over to his other side, being careful of his injured shoulder.

“I saw what happened, Estrella. We should leave here as quickly as possible, before they send more men in pursuit,” he said in flawless Spanish. “ should refer to me by my other name, just to be safe. Your friend, he needs his wound attended, and I know where to go. Tell him we'll take care of him.”

She nodded and translated his words. Malcolm nodded grimly and replied, “I trust his discretion, Estrella. We need to warn the captain--”

“They'll expect us to head back to the Palazzo, Malcolm. We need to bind your wound first.” She nodded at the apothecarist, and together, they half-carried, half dragged Malcolm to safety.

Carlo sat by Paola's side, unable to believe his luck. He spent an hour just talking with her and listening to the sound of her voice. In that hour, he learned about her life's history, and about her talent for designing clothing and about her childhood in Naples. Her family had been strict, but loving; his was large, loud, and brash.

They found plenty of things in common but strongly opposed in other subjects. Carlo discovered she'd dabbled in the academic life of Milan, something normally forbidden to women.

“Philosophy's well and good, but I've always been one to apply theory to practice, Paola.” He'd dropped the formal title and used her name. “I suppose that's why I became an engineer. I build things, not destroy them.”

“But like any building, a good foundation will support you,” Paola objected. “There is a reason why certain edicts have lasted through the centuries.”

“Yes, but circumstances can change, like the waters of the tide. What has worked for our ancestors might not work for us now. Sometimes, we must adapt, but it doesn't mean we must deny who we are.”

“But there are still certain customs that must be followed, certain obligations to fulfill--”

“What if those rules are broken, Paola? What then?”

She paled and was silent for a moment. “What then, indeed?”

Carlo smiled and squeezed her hand before he said, “There are some things you have to take on faith, Paola.”

Captain Archer entered the study from the hall, with Traveo Buontempo close behind him. Carlo was glad to see the young gondolier, but that brief spark of pleasure died at the grim expression in Traveo's eyes. Paola felt the change of atmosphere as well; she shivered, and Carlo automatically tightened his grip on her hand.

“Lady Estrella and Malcolm were attacked on the way to the apothecary,” Archer said. “They've disappeared from the streets of Venice.”

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May 2012

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