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Chapter 11


Marco had received a message from Brother Mascoli that some of the water-people wished to see him. By now, even Venice’s spies accepted that he spent time in the poor Hypatian chapel, and had also accepted that they could not follow him in there. There wasn’t much, besides spend their time pretending to pray, that the most ardent spy could do in the chapel. They’d tried watching the place, and found it was empty of other people waiting for Marco, and that no one came when he went there. It was not a rendezvous that they could see. They’d even searched it and found the little water-chapel below. But that—while odd—definitely could not be accessed unless one were a fish, except through the church above. So a man might as well have a mug of wine, in the tavern across from the door, and wait…and see which other agents were doing the same.

Those who came to see Marco in the water-chapel had no problem swimming there, of course. But people preferred to deny the existence of tritons and undines and nyxes and others of that kind, unless they were in trouble, and then they’d believe anything.

“Your friend Francisco did not want to be my lover,” said Rhene, pouting a little. “But he did give me this message for you.”

Marco took it eagerly, cracked the sealing wax, drew the cork with his teeth, and then fished in the bottle with the tweezers from his bag of medical supplies to extract the folded letter. He read it hopefully. He’d been doing considerable research into the subject, and so far, found little to comfort him. But Francisco’s knowledge was years ahead of his! And indeed, he hadn’t disappointed him—although the idea of it starting in Venice horrified Marco. He had a pregnant wife here, apart from anything else. The very idea of his precious Katerina being at that sort of risk was enough to make him shudder.

“Oh, this is wonderful! I need another message taken back to him. I didn’t know Francisco knew anything about magic in the area of healing. I thought he was very skeptical about it.”

“He is in my debt. I will be going to see him again. But I think that he has left Milan.”

Marco bit his knuckle. The need to prepare for the onset of the disease was obviously urgent, but another secure way of sending secret messages was not apparent to him. “I will give you a message for him anyway. Please, give it to him when you next see him.”

He dug a piece of paper from his bag, blessing the fact that he had a quill and several small bottles of ink in various colors that he used in various medical situations. It was amusing in a way that it was Francisco who had showed him how to do this, to mark the progress of inflammation. “They’ll believe that it is magical, of course. They always do, for anything they don’t understand. Sometimes it seems that very belief helps.”

Marco trimmed the quill and wrote:

“My dear Friend in Medicine,

I thank you so much for your reply, which has brought me much relief. The good Father Thomas Lüber of Baden who informed me of the problem, had told me that no cure or effective treatment has so far been known. Please, I beg of you, share this knowledge with us.

I shall see what can be done to persuade Maria to return to Corfu. We will miss my niece terribly, but her health is a priority with us, too.

I have as yet been unable to identify the snake which bit the patient you consigned to my care. Her progress is very slight, and I do not know that she will ever recover.

Later, after he had given the resealed bottle to Rhene, he left the chapel and went to the Doge’s palace. He had less trouble in securing an interview with Petro Dorma than most people, but he still had some time to kick his heels before he was ushered in. Petro was thinner than he’d been before the poisoning, and was still prone to get tired quickly and to grumble almost incessantly about the dull diet. On the other hand, his old energy with work and his sharpness of focus did seem to be returning. That was good for Venice, and good for his young physician’s happiness, if not because it turned more of the rich and powerful and terrified of poison to Marco for protection. He’d always seen himself as tending the sick because they needed help, not because they were wealthy or poor.

“You’ve come to tell me that I am cured at last and can eat what I like?” said the Doge, mock hopefully. “That fat goose-liver pâté studded with truffles is good for me?”

“No such luck,” said Marco. “I heard you felt quite queasy after buttered scallops yesterday.”

“I suspect the quality of scallops,” said Petro. “Anyway, you were not quite called. I started feeling better soon after.”

“Which did not affect any other person present at the meal. No, Petro, I’m afraid we have to consider that the damage may be long-lasting.” Marco did not say “permanent.” He didn’t think Petro was ready for that! “Anyway, I have come to talk to you about a message from the physician who assisted me with treating you, when you were poisoned.”

“You really need to be less cryptic in your letters. The Council of Ten got quite worried about what it might mean.”

“It wasn’t them I was trying to confuse. Seriously, it is time medicine was above such spying. Disease knows no borders and does not care if the victim is rich or poor, a friend or a foe.”

“A nice idea, Marco. But that would simply be viewed as a window to all the spies.”

When Petro used that tone, there was no point in debating the matter. Marco had heard him use the same finality in dealing with his sister. The subject was closed. “Anyway, he had also heard that the coming season would be bad, and says they have taken various measures to prevent it, including magic. I’ve asked for help in getting that protection for Venice.”

Petro pursed his lips. “I don’t think we wish to be beholden to Milan, or to be seen to be. There have been developments, not encouraging ones. I will say no more now, but we’ll be glad to see your brother back soon with the fleet.”

“I was wondering whether Maria could go back to Corfu and meet him there. I think, by a few things she’s said, that she is not too happy here in Venice. And it’s a healthier place than Venice in high summer.”

“I want no reason for Benito Valdosta to linger on Corfu, or to think he’s not wanted in Venice,” said Petro, also in tones of finality. “The sooner he and Enrico Dell’este get back, the happier I will be and the safer Venice will be.”

Marco attempted to direct the discussion towards taking some preventative measures against the bad air which was reputed to carry disease. But that, too, was not a subject—as it involved cleaning up Venice’s canals—that he got very far with, either.

He had to hope Francisco would come up with some form of magical charm against the disease.

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