Sovereign Silk(10)

By: Elizabeth Gilligan


“I am not privy to such information. I know only that she is seen very little these days. I chanced to encounter her in the gardens one afternoon and she is most definitely with child,” Cristoval said. “If you will forgive the lack of delicacy . . . and taking my—Prince deMedici’s words, he has likened her to a—a mare near her time.”

Caserta blocked his face with his goblet momentarily, whether to hide his embarrassment at the coarseness or to hide a laugh, Cristoval could not be sure. Personally, he found such remarks incredibly distasteful, made all the worse that he spoke it of an indefensible woman who was his queen. The prince thought himself amusing and clever. From where he sat, it seemed the prince took aim at easy targets while biding his time to make one feel yet more insignificant and powerless such as he had become . . . but Cristoval was in the beehive and no longer had any business criticizing the honey.

“How much longer do you want me to wait?” DiSotto’s voice, coming from the other room, was curt, angry.

Manners, or a sense of survival, brought Cristoval to his feet.

DiSotto looked better cleaned up. He was the type of man that made young women giggle and blush when he entered the room. Nothing about the man put Cristoval at ease.

“You will excuse me for a moment, Don Batista?” Caserta asked. Rising, he set aside his goblet of wine and joined his surly comrade in the corner. It was impossible not to overhear their discussion, though diSotto put his back to Cristoval. The more Cristoval tried not to listen, the clearer the whispered words seemed to become.

“What do you mean you didn’t deliver the message? The cardinal—”

“Is dead. I saw his corpse myself!” diSotto growled. “I went into the catacombs.”

“This is no secret that cannot be shared with our guest. It will be known to all soon enough,” Caserta said.

“Will it?” diSotto demanded. “Who else knows about the catacombs? Who else can report with confidence that he’s dead? For all the royals and their followers know, he could have gone back to the Holy City—”

Cristoval rose, trying to quiet his mind, which latched one whispered detail to another. “Scusi, perhaps I should leave—”

DiSotto turned, shooting Cristoval an angry glare. “You see? He listens in!” He practically hissed at the priest.

Caserta looked from one man to the other. “Basta! Sit, diSotto and share your information with both of us.”

“But—”

“He has sworn himself a member of Magnus Inique, just as you have,” Caserta declared. He turned to Cristoval, “You are faithful to our cause—to suffer no witch, to purify Tyrrhia of its Neoplatonic philosophies and bringing it closer to the Church, are you not?”

Cristoval nodded. Yes, in a gathering of members of Magnus Inique arriving in his very own home without notice, without option, Cristoval had become a member of Magnus Inique.

“You see, diSotto? Come, let us do away with the pretense and allow me to return his favor as a good host,” Caserta said. He returned to the fire and the arrangement of chairs. He held out the wine he had poured for diSotto, waving it at him insistently.

With obvious reluctance, diSotto took the wine and, eventually, the chair.

“Now, diSotto, your report,” Caserta demanded.

DiSotto swallowed the vinegary wine as though it were water and set aside the empty goblet. “As I said, the cardinal is dead, his body found in the catacombs, the secret catacombs where he worked with that Gypsy witch’s body.”

“How did he die, could you tell?” Caserta asked, running his hands through his light brown hair dusted with gray.

“It was violent, but I could not be sure . . .”

“Magic, then?” Cristoval dared to suggest.

DiSotto never looked at him, but nodded his head in agreement. “There could have been no other way—aye, and to take that witch from him as well. There was sign, near the main entrance, of a large conflagration. I could not be sure, but what remained looked like one of those wagons of theirs.”

“Madre del Dio!” Caserta swore. “We have lost many players in such a short period. There has been Princess Bianca and her man, the Conte di Vega, and the cardinal found it necessary for him to vacate the palazzo and lose his position.”