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[personal profile] trekwriter151
Carlo and the others are involved in the fight of their lives. We meet Traveo's family and Kosso's compatriots. Sometimes non-traditional strategies are the ones that work. More ENT counterparts make their appearances here. Can you guess who they are?

During this time, being left-handed was considered a curse of the Devil, and natural lefties were forced to use their right hand for everyday tasks. (I'm a natural lefty, and my dad was one of those 'retrained'. He writes right-handed, but does everything else left-handed).

If the code duello is broken, the transgressor's life is forfeit. Anything goes at that point.

There's one instance of Spanish. Translation is in bold. Italian: coltelleria, lit. 'silverware', i.e. cutlery. It's the closest I could get to the English meaning. :-D

Carlo knew there was no way this duel could be held in private, no matter what tradition decreed. Kosso had invited so many people to witness his 'redemption' that his guards were needed to keep order. A handful of members from the Council of Ten also came to watch, but Carlo noticed that most of the members were conspicuously absent.

The Council of Ten had clearly chosen to distance themselves from Kosso and his treachery. Carlo didn't blame them. He wasn't sure how to interpret the Council's sudden faith in his dueling abilities. Although he'd reassured Paola that he knew some tricks, as a commoner he'd never had formal training in the sword.

Kosso had had that training; Signor Cuvaccio had seen to that. So that was a disadvantage. Carlo shook his head as he regarded the rapier in his hands. Turn a disadvantage into an advantage. Kosso won't know what to expect.

“There's no talking you out of this, is there?” John Archer asked quietly.

Carlo glanced at him. Archer had volunteered to be his second, but Malcolm had intervened. Archer was a beloved figure, plus he was the captain of the Enterprize and the owner of a trading company. There was no reason for Archer to risk his life.

“In any case, I have my own score to settle with Kosso,” Malcolm had explained. “He insulted my betrothed in a place of worship, and when he did that, he insulted me. I must defend our honor as well.”

Archer stared at him, but Carlo wasn't surprised at all. He glanced at Lady Eriana, whose face showed her surprise, then her approval. She reached over and took Malcolm's hand and asked, “You would defend the honor of the Lady Estrella with your life?”

“Yes, my lady.” He turned his gaze toward Kosso, who glared at them from across the courtyard. Malcolm's own glare became as cold as winter ice, and he deliberately raised his voice loud enough for Kosso to hear. “Lady Estrella is innocent of all wrongdoing, and I will give my life for her salvation. Mark my words.”

Archer glowered at him. “Your shoulder, Malcolm. You're in no condition--”

“It's because of Kosso that I was attacked, and nearly died. Even if Estrella wasn't my betrothed, I still have an obligation to settle a score.” Malcolm's accent was harsh and clipped. “I have every right, captain. Let me do this.”

Archer looked torn between chastising his first lieutenant and praising him. Carlo smirked, then reached over and clapped Malcolm on the right shoulder. “I'm honored to have you at my side, Malcolm. Just make sure you don't get yourself killed.”

Malcolm returned the smirk. “I should be telling you that, Carlo.”

Carlo brought his thoughts back to the present. He twirled his wrist and the rapier slashed through the air. The dueling square, twenty paces by twenty, was clearly marked by handkerchiefs. Leaving the square, even by accident, was considered cowardice and grounds for forfeiting the duel. Doctor Floccia consulted with Doctor Lucasi, who had been drafted to help monitor the fight.

Tradition allowed up to three additional fighters on each side, for a total of four men. Carlo had planned on Malcolm being his second, and expected Kosso to have a second, but Kosso had chosen to fill the maximum limit. In addition to his cousin Tolario, he selected Signor Menos and Signor Josseni. Tolario was a tall, dark and sullen-looking man. Menos and Josseni were somewhat older, and condoterri for the Council of Ten.

Before Carlo had time to panic, Traveo BuonTempo volunteered to be a third. Captain Archer squeezed his wife's hand and crossed the courtyard to join the others. Carlo wanted to protest again, but this time, Archer silenced him with a single look.

Normally, the seconds would try to negotiate some sort of truce between the warring parties, to avoid the fight, but this time, no one bothered to try. Even if Carlo was so inclined, Kosso would never agree to a truce. He had too much to lose; this was his last chance at redemption, and he knew it.

So the opposing groups faced each other from opposite sides of the square. Carlo, Malcolm, Traveo and John on one side. Kosso, Tolario, Menos, and Josseni on the other. Doctors Floccia and Lucasi stood at vantage points along the square. The crowd fell silent.

Floccia looked at Lucasi, whose eyes betrayed his utter dread. Flocci smiled at him reassuringly, but that smile vanished as he glanced at the ones who were about to throw their lives away for honor. He shared Lucasi's dread, and knew their services would be needed before this was all over.

The doctors nodded at each other, then simultaneously dropped their handkerchiefs to signal the start of the battle.

Paola clamped tight control over her emotions as the crowd burst into raucous noise. She prayed for Carlo's safety like she'd never prayed before. If Carlo died, she would never allow herself to be awarded to Kosso. She would rather die first. Suicide was a grave sin, but Paola preferred eternal damnation in the afterlife than a living hell.

She shivered; since when had she thought this way? Since when had she decided this could be her fate? Paola realized her time in the Archer/Hernandez household had radically changed her outlook. Perhaps some of Carlo's recklessness had rubbed off on her own behavior.

Movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention. A blonde-haired woman stood at Estrella's other side, dressed in a warm cloak and she clutched a swaddled bundle close to her chest. A little boy dressed in a plain shirt and breeches clung to her skirts. The boy was no older than five or six; his skin was darker than his mother's, more of a honey-color. He turned his head and stared directly at her.

Paola's heart froze in her chest. The smile was tentative, but it was a mirror of Traveo BuonTempo's. Traveo had mentioned having a wife and a newly-born son, but Paola had never seen his family until now. She felt a flash of guilt, for Traveo had no reason to be in this duel, but had volunteered anyway.

Why? He has a wife and two young children. He cannot leave them. Paola was about to say something, when the two women felt her horrified gaze. Traveo's wife smiled at her and made her way to Paola's side.

“Lady Paola? I'm Elisabetta Coltelleria-BuonTempo,” she whispered. “Traveo has told me about you and the Lady Estrella. Please forgive me if I don't curtsey in your presence, Milady.” Her tone became wry. “As you can see, my hands are full, and Paolo is clinging to my skirts.”

“Paolo? Your son?” Despite herself, Paola felt a slight thread of amusement at the similarity of names.

“He is named for Traveo's father and brother, who are traders. This is Giovanni, the little one. He is only a few weeks old, Milady.”

Giovanni. John. The one who is named for Captain Archer. “Mistress BuonTempo, your husband shouldn't be involved with this affair--”

Elisabetta shook her head slightly, though her lips trembled. “My husband doesn't give his loyalty just to anyone, Lady Paola. When he does, it is absolute. When he finds a worthy cause, he is involved, heart and soul. Traveo believes a great wrong has been done, and wants to make it right.”

“You'd allow him to make you a widow?”

Elisabetta flinched and Paola regretted her harsh words. “I know my husband. He will be all right. I must have faith.”

Paola blinked away tears, for Elisabetta's courage made her ashamed for her self-absorption. Could she be so stoic in Elisabetta's place? Paola put a hand on her arm and whispered, “Your family will always have a place with mine. I will make sure of it.”

“I am grateful for your generosity, Milady, but--”

“No buts. I will never forget your husband's fortitude...or yours.”

Elisabetta managed a nod, but the fear shone within her blue eyes. Paola tried to smile, but her own fear for Carlo made it difficult.

She felt someone squeeze her other hand in comfort. Estrella was pale, for again her betrothed was risking his life for her sake. Paola guessed that Reed had nearly died the first time; despite the ministrations of Doctor Floccia, Paola's sharp eyes saw the severity of Reed's wound.

If he manages to keep his wits and doesn't reopen his wound,...he has a chance of surviving this. Paola kept her eyes on Carlo and the others in the square, but she addressed Estrella in a low tone.

“When did he propose to you, Estrella? While under the care of Doctor Floccia, or before then? And why did you keep it secret?”

Estrella answered, “He is the only one for me; I know it. As for why I didn't tell you or Lady Eriana- -” she hesitated, then went on, “--I hadn't known he was planning to ask until he announced it. But I would have accepted without hesitation.”

Paola's hand tightened on hers. “Tell me truth, Estrella--”


“Did it hurt?”

Estrella started at the direct question and she flushed crimson. Yet her tone was even as she replied, “He was as gentle as he could be, Paola, but pain is unavoidable in such a situation. Though I must admit...I hardly noticed it at the time.”

Paola made a noise that sounded something between a laugh and a sob, and Estrella gripped her hand even tighter. “I'm sorry. I'm sure you see me as a hypocrite--”

“'The cause was sufficient'. In a way, I rather envy you. If the worst happens...perhaps you might still have a piece of him to remember him by.”

It was Estrella's turn to make a undignified noise.“It's too early to tell if that happened, Paola.”

“True, but it is still a possibility.”

“Don't give up on Carlo, Paola. He'll survive and return to you, and perhaps we will both have many celebrations in the future.” Estrella glanced at her friend, then they both resumed their tense watch of the duel.

Traveo wondered what in God's name he'd gotten himself into. As a gondolier, he kept himself in decent health, but fighting hand to hand was nothing like he expected. He forbade his wife to witness the duel, but Elisabetta had come anyway. If he was to die today, he didn't want her to be haunted by the memory.

Then again, he should have known better. Elisabetta loved him, and they had made a vow. They were bonded until death. Traveo took a deep breath to calm his nerves, but it wasn't helping. He was not a soldier, like Archer or Reed, but the lessons in street fighting served him in good stead.

Signor Josseni caught Traveo's saber in his spiked shield, his bocherio, and twisted his left wrist in an attempt to disarm Traveo. He kept a hold of his saber, spun around and stabbed at Josseni's side. The illusion of age was that, an illusion, as Josseni sidestepped the blow.

Traveo had the advantage of strength, but Josseni was much shorter and quicker on his feet. The man laughed and slashed to the right, then the left, and forced Traveo on the defensive. Traveo jumped sideways, as Josseni lunged forward. He glanced over his shoulder to see Tolario back Captain Archer almost to the border of the fighting arena. If Archer crossed the white handkerchief...

Archer realized it at the same time, and ducked under Tolario's swing. The man was younger than Kosso, and had the grace of a dancer. As Archer moved to his left, he flicked his wrist and his rapier made a shallow cut on Tolario's arm.

Tolario stared at the thin line of blood. Lucasi stepped forward to examine the wound, but then Tolario did something that no one expected.

He went berserk.

With a shout, he attacked John full force, tackling the older man to the ground. Eriana took a step forward, but Captain Ramirez held her back. John lost his weapon in the chaos, but he balled his right hand into a fist and punched Tolario square in the jaw. For good measure, John kneed him in the stomach and threw him aside.

Unfortunately, Traveo had his hands full with Josseni and couldn't help the captain. He spotted Menos and Malcolm trading sword thrusts and parries. Like Josseni, Menos had the advantage of years, but Malcolm's hit-and-run tactics were beginning to grate on Menos's nerves. That was all Traveo saw before he was forced to refocus on his own adversary.

If only I had a weapon with a longer reach! Even a gondola pole would do the job. Josseni's spiked shield deflected most of Traveo's attempts at broaching his defenses. All he had to do was allow Traveo to tire himself with fruitless attacks before going for the kill.

So Traveo took a step back, as if re-assessing the situation. The two men circled each other, as if daring the other to resume their attack. Josseni grinned and flicked his blade in a mocking manner, trying to provoke Traveo. He gritted his teeth, refusing to rise to the bait.

“A simple man finds himself in a complicated tangle,” Josseni taunted. “You should have stayed with poling your barge, gondolier, instead of getting involved.”

Traveo said nothing, and merely watched as Josseni went on with his intimidation. It didn't affect him at all as he watched Josseni balance lightly on his feet and take deliberate steps to draw him closer. So when Josseni shifted his weight for attack, Traveo was ready.

As Josseni lunged forward, Traveo anchored his right foot and pushed forward, as if steering his gondola, but instead of extending the pole, he swung his saber out and up. The point caught Josseni directly under the left breastbone. The expression of shock passed briefly over Josseni's face before his eyes rolled into his head and he crashed to the ground.

Traveo pivoted on his heel and went to help Captain Archer, who was locked in an all-out brawl with Tolario. He took a deep breath and took Tolario down with a flying tackle. The man managed to drag Archer down as well, and the trio ended up in a tangle of limbs on the ground.

Elisabetta is going to kill me, Traveo thought.

Menos saw Josseni go down with a stab wound near his heart. He spared a contemptuous look for the former condotierri, then at Tolario, who was currently trying to fight off Archer and BuonTempo...and badly losing. Menos smirked at Malcolm before he unleashed a flurry of stabs, cuts and thrusts that forced Malcolm to parry and riposte as best as he could. The ache in Malcolm's left shoulder increased with every minute of the bout, but he ignored it as best as he could.

Their blades clinched and both men struggled to free their edges. Menos cursed in both Venetian and English, then he hissed through gritted teeth, “God will punish you and your woman for your transgressions. The righteous shall prevail.”

“I leave the judgment to Him,” Malcolm replied coolly, “not you.”

“Then I will be His agent,” Menos snarled, “and strike you down. A pity the first time was unsuccessful. I won't fail like Arturo Grigio.”

“I invite you to do your best, Signor.” He freed his blade from Menos's and took a step back.

Menos raised his saber in a high guard close to his right ear, the edge parallel to the ground. With a deadly smile, he stabbed towards the juncture of Malcolm's head and neck, forcing Malcolm to avoid the blow. Menos reversed the blade and struck Malcolm's left arm with the flat part of it. Pain slammed into him as he felt the arm go numb. Malcolm was barely able to raise his sword arm in time to block Menos's next blow.

I must end this and quickly. The impact made him stagger back several steps. Menos pursued him, the saber coming within inches from Malcolm's left side. Another smack with the flat end of the blade caused Malcolm to lose his grip on his sword. Menos laughed in triumph as he thrust his sword forward, intending to spear Malcolm in the stomach.

At the last minute, Malcolm spun out of the way and grabbed Menos's wrist as he went past. Menos cursed as he lost his balance and stumbled as Malcolm jerked him around in a circle, as if in a bizarre dance. A jolt brought him to a dead halt.

Menos glanced down to see Malcolm's hand still on his wrist, but the sword he held was now buried deep within his own stomach. He'd swung around on his own momentum, unable to stop, and impaled himself with his own blade.

Malcolm felt Menos's body tremble, but the man didn't cry out. Instead, Menos only smiled faintly and whispered, “Ingenious move.”

“Forgive me,” Malcolm whispered.

He coughed and grated out, “I will see you in Hell, Englishman.” Then his knees buckled and he collapsed dead to the ground. Malcolm let him fall.

He heard the sudden commotion behind him and turned just in time to see the flash of sunlight on metal.

Carlo was too busy on warding off Kosso's attacks to pay much attention to anything else. Kosso's technique was almost flawless; he parried Carlo's attempts to get through his defenses. Carlo, on the other hand, tried many things, even switching the rapier to his left hand at times. He had trained himself to use either hand in his engineering work, though it was generally frowned upon. A naturally left-handed person was an agent of Devil, and had to be rehabilitated by being 'retaught'.

Kosso raised his eyebrows at the unorthodox strategies, but he still managed to hold his own despite them. As time went on, his mouth twitched in grim amusement and his arrogance reasserted itself. He teased Carlo with feints from all sides, but Carlo refused to give in.

All right, he thinks I'm easy prey. He's playing with me like a cat with a mouse before he eats it. Carlo stemmed a rising panic because his own stamina was starting to run out. He kept the thought of Paola first and foremost in his mind. If he fell, Kosso would claim Paola for himself, and Carlo could not allow that to happen. He was willing to die for Paola, but this circumstance required him to live for her.

Kosso smirked and flicked his wrist. The edge of the rapier came within centimeters of Carlo's right eye, enough for Carlo to feel a slight sting of air as it rushed past him. It was enough to make him drop his guard for a split second and Kosso pounced on the opportunity.

“For Paola,” Kosso snarled. “She belongs to me, Tocceri. I trusted you, and now you will die.”

Carlo felt an unnatural calm come over him. This was the moment where Kosso threw all caution to the winds, but Carlo only reacted with cold deliberation.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Kosso raised his weapon to bring it upon Carlo's head. Instead of retreating under the onslaught, Carlo waited to meet him. Then Carlo brought his own rapier up, the point cutting into Kosso's left hip and slicing diagonally upward across his belly and chest to his right shoulder. Kosso's eyes bulged in shock and pain, but Carlo reversed the blade and pivoted on his right foot before slashing back down in the opposite direction.

Kosso dropped his sword, his left hand coming up to the bleeding diagonal cuts on his chest. The crowd sighed collectively as both Lucasi and Floccia headed towards him. Carlo took a deep breath and stepped back to allow the doctors past him.

The fire in Kosso's eyes flickered, but he wasn't finished yet. His right hand jerked upward from his belt and sunlight glimmered on metal. Carlo's brain registered the make-shift pistol that Kosso had hidden there, but there was no time for him to react.

A loud explosion erupted from behind and to Carlo's right, accompanied by the sudden tang of smoke. Kosso's body spasmed violently once, twice, then he fell on his back, his eyes staring dully up into the sky. He was dead before he hit the ground.

Carlo spun around to see both Malcolm and Captain Archer with pistols in hand. They had fired simultaneously. A glance at Kosso's slack face confirmed it: two bullet holes, one at Kosso's left temple, the other at the right temple. Carlo shivered at the men's accuracy, and he wasn't the only one.

Malcolm glanced at Archer, who nodded back, and both men put their pistols away.

Carlo held his breath as the doctors knelt at Kosso's side. He looked up at Paola, who gazed back at him.

They had won. She was his, and he was hers, forever.

Lucasi shook his head and murmured, “He's dead.”

Floccia nodded and looked up at the shocked crowd. “Niccolo Kosso attempted to win the duel by dishonorable means. His life would be forfeit, if he wasn't already dead.”

The audience shifted uncomfortably at that proclamation, but there were no cries of protest. Carlo had drawn first blood and stopped his attack for the doctor's assessment, according to the code duello, and

Kosso had taken advantage of that. Granted, both Reed and Archer had been armed with the pistols, but unlike Kosso, neither man used it during the duel itself.

Thus honor was satisfied, even more so since Kosso had broken the code with his final action. Floccia got to his feet and deepened his voice into an operatic bass that rang out over the courtyard. “The duel is over. Signori Kosso, Menos and Josseni are dead; Signor Tolario is...indisposed. Signor Tocceri has proved his worth in the eyes of the community and of God. Let no Man declare otherwise.”

An answering murmur came from the crowd, but there were no cheers or celebration. Instead, the audience melted away from the courtyard. Lucasi attended to the unconscious Signor Tolario, but Floccia saw the negative shake of his friend's head. Tolario would be lucky to survive with his wits intact after this.

News of the duel was sure to spread through the streets of Venice like wildfire. Niccolo Kosso was dead, his family's honor in ruins, and those associated with him. The Council of Ten knew better than to protest against the results. In time, they would be back to their rivalries and schemes, but at this moment, discretion was the prudent course.

Floccia knew, without a doubt, that Venice had become too dangerous for him to stay. It was time to move. Again. But to where?

A small hand touched his arm and asked in Spanish, “Doctor? I still have need of a physician for my household. Are you still available?”

Floccia inclined her head at Lady Eriana, then at Captain Archer, who stood next to her. “Claro que si,” he replied. “Donde usted va nunca, iré, mi señora.”

Of course. Where ever you go, I will go, my lady.

Estrella smiled as she saw Traveo pick up his son and swing the boy up on his broad shoulders. Elisabetta smiled as she gave her husband a kiss. The baby stirred slightly in her arms, and Traveo reached out and put a hand on his younger son's brow.

Paola and Carlo stood nearby, locked into a tight embrace. They were free, and if events continued on their presumed path, they would be married before spring's end. Estrella sighed and shook her head to herself. Paola already started designing her wedding trousseau. How fortunate of her. I'll need to ask for her assistance for mine.

“Estrella? Love?”

She accepted Malcolm's embrace and thanked God he was safe. He had proved Kosso's accusations to be false, but Estrella was practical enough to know that neither of them would be welcome in Venice for much longer. Wherever Lady Estrella and Captain Archer went after this, Estrella knew she and Malcolm would follow.

She turned her head and whispered, “Yes.”


“Yes.” She drew back and looked him in the eyes. “I will marry you.”

He smirked and pitched his voice low. “And this isn't just because of...that night, is it?”

She blushed fiercely, but couldn't help a beatific smile in return. “My love, I have the feeling that turnabout is fair play...and it will be your turn to be surprised.”

Malcolm's eyes widened and he gazed at her in shock. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out.

“And what are the two of you planning this time? More scandal and mayhem?” Carlo asked. He raised his eyebrows at them, even as he smirked. Paola only sighed and smiled, but there was a mischievous look in her eyes.

Malcolm tightened his hold around Estrella's waist. “Mayhem, perhaps. Scandal...always.”


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May 2012

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