City of stars, p.10
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       City of Stars, p.10

           Mary Hoffman
 

  In the end they all agreed to meet at Roderigo’s stables in an hour. Gaetano would take Falco back to the palace to collect some clothing and tell the servants he was going to visit his uncle at the Papal palace. He would bring his brother to the stables where he would be transferred into Luciano’s carriage, to make the journey into the city more comfortable for him. Gaetano would ride ahead to Remora to settle things with his uncle.

  The Manoush would also travel with Luciano, much to Georgia’s surprise. She thought that anything involving comfort might be something they ‘didn’t do’ but Aurelio had accepted the offer easily. It appeared that anything which assisted travel was allowed, although they usually journeyed on foot.

  *

  The longer that Arianna was Duchessa, the more her respect for her mother increased. It was hard work. First there was the tedium of having to be dressed by servants and changing clothes several times a day. When she had been an ordinary girl living on the lagoon island of Torrone, she had not changed dresses as often in a month as she now had to do every day.

  Now she had to submit to complicated underwear, with more laces and fastenings than she had ever seen, and even more complicated hairdressing, involving pins and often flowers or jewels. As the day wore on, the dresses, the hairstyles and the masks became more elaborate and luxurious. The masks in particular were irksome to Arianna, but since she was now sixteen, she would have had to wear them even if she had not been Duchessa of a great city.

  The freedom of movement she had enjoyed as an island girl was gone for ever. As a result, she grew into the role. Her stride was shortened by the stiff petticoat and heavy dresses and there was no question of slouching in her tightly laced corsets. So the young Duchessa gained a reputation for grace and dignity as well as beauty, which would have greatly surprised those who had known her in her hoyden days.

  While she was growing accustomed to the restriction of movement, Arianna also had to learn diplomacy and a lot more about politics, domestic and foreign, than she had ever wanted to know. Rodolfo was a demanding teacher. No matter that he was a fond father, whose life had changed with the recent knowledge that he had a daughter. He was also Regent of Bellezza and it was his solemn responsibility to make sure that Arianna was up to the job she had undertaken.

  It was also part of the deal. Arianna had agreed to stand for election as Duchessa after a lot of thought and discussion with her first family. She had thought that she knew what she was in for. But many times over the last few months she wondered if she would have agreed if she had fully appreciated what being Duchessa would mean.

  She understood her mother a lot better now. She could imagine how she might have grown weary of the endless presiding over Council and Senate meetings, listening to individual petitioners at her monthly People’s audience. How she might have wished to escape from her many public appearances by using a substitute. But this was one thing Arianna had resolved never to do.

  Two months ago she had gone through her first Marriage with the Sea, allowing herself to be lowered into the filthy water of the canal, till it lapped at her thighs and the people all cried out ‘Sposati!’ – ‘They are married!’ The celebrations had gone on all night. Bellezza was well and truly out of mourning for its last Duchessa and completely enchanted by the new one, who had just ensured the city’s prosperity for another year. And all the time Arianna was thinking about the Marriage of the year before, which she had watched from her brothers’ fishing boat.

  Then, she had plotted to become one of the city’s mandoliers and had spent the night crouching on the loggia of the great silver basilica of the Maddalena. This year, she had appeared on that same loggia, standing between the two pairs of bronze rams, waving to her people down in the Piazza, before returning to her palazzo next door for a fine wedding feast.

  Last year Arianna had found Luciano standing in that Piazza, looking dazed and lost. This year he had sat at her side, dressed in velvet and silver. Last year she had thought her parents were a simple museum curator and a comfortable housewife. This time she knew they were the previous Duchessa and the present Regent, sitting on her other side, guiding her through the formalities of the occasion.

  Today she had visited a school for orphan girls, received petitions from citizens with problems ranging from a dispute over a consignment of flour to a marriage contract between cousins, she had dined with a visiting prince from eastern Europa and received an embassy from Anglia on the subject of a trade agreement. She had also held a meeting with the admiral of Bellezza’s fleet, who suspected that aggression was building up in the countries bordering the lagoon’s eastern shores.

  It was now time to be undressed by her women and allowed to sink into her comfortable bed. Her personal maid, Barbara, was brushing her hair when there was a knock on the door. It was Rodolfo.

  ‘I’m sorry to trouble you, my dear, but we have not had a moment to talk all day. Are you too tired to stay up a little longer?’

  ‘Of course not,’ said Arianna, dismissing her maid. It was always a relief to be on her own with her father and away from the cares of state.

  He sat on one of the little tapestry-covered chairs which had belonged to Arianna’s mother Silvia, the last Duchessa. Rodolfo used to visit her in her chamber by means of a secret passage from his own palazzo, which was next door to hers. Now that route was even more of a secret, but not closed up. It could be useful again in an emergency. Both he and Arianna were always aware that Silvia had supposedly been assassinated, and the fact that she was alive and well and living in Padavia was neither here nor there. A woman had died in that explosion, and danger surrounded any Duchessa.

  ‘I have two pieces of news,’ said Rodolfo, as Arianna continued to brush her hair herself.

  ‘Good,’ she said. ‘Is one about Luciano?’

  ‘It is indeed,’ said her father, smiling. ‘Doctor Dethridge contacted me today by means of my mirrors. They are both safely arrived in Remora and already having adventures.’

  ‘Adventures?’ said Arianna longingly. Then her face clouded. ‘But they aren’t in any danger, are they?’

  ‘No more so than any of us would be in a stronghold of the di Chimici,’ said Rodolfo. ‘And that brings me to my other piece of news, which I think you will be less happy to hear. I received an embassy today from Duke Niccolò.’

  ‘Oh, about the Stellata, I suppose,’ said Arianna. They had stalled on replying to the Pope’s invitation to watch the race, until Luciano and Dethridge had checked on the safety of accepting.

  ‘Not this time, my dear,’ said Rodolfo. ‘The purpose of this embassy was to seek your hand in marriage with the Duke’s son. Apparently Gaetano di Chimici would like to marry you.’

  Chapter 9

  Written in the Stars

  They had spent a long time in Santa Fina, and by the time they got to Remora it would be getting late. Georgia knew she must go home in less than an hour. She and Cesare were to ride with Gaetano, even though they saw Luciano was not too happy about it. He knew what the di Chimici were capable of and, although he was beginning to like the two brothers, he thought it was too early to trust them. They didn’t yet know that he and Dethridge and the Horsemaster were Stravaganti too, but Gaetano was unlikely to forget Georgia’s outburst and would certainly pump her for information.

  Before the party broke up at the stables, Luciano took Cesare aside.

  ‘Be careful,’ he said. ‘And if he brings the conversation around to the Stravaganti again, don’t let Georgia give anything else away.’

  Cesare nodded. He was not about to put his father in danger.

  ‘I know the di Chimici,’ he said. ‘Trust me.’

  The three riders made good time along the road to Remora. Each was at home on horseback and enjoyed the physical sensation of the exercise. There was no opportunity to talk until they slowed outside the Gate of the Sun, waiting their turn to enter the city through its busy portal. Gaetano manoeuvred his horse next to Georgia’s.
r />   ‘I should like to visit you tomorrow. You are staying in the Twelfth of the Ram?’

  Georgia had learned her lesson and turned to Cesare as if to ask his advice. He shrugged. The young noble would be coming to see the Manoush anyway – that had already been arranged. And Georgia could decide not to be there. But she couldn’t avoid him for ever, not if she wanted to keep coming to the city. And it would seem as if that was what she was meant to do.

  ‘Yes,’ she said, after a pause. ‘You can find me and Luciano at the Horsemaster’s house. But I don’t think I can do anything to help you.’

  ‘Believe me,’ said Gaetano, leaning closer so that Cesare couldn’t overhear. ‘I’m not interested in the secrets of your brotherhood. I want to help my brother. That is all.’

  *

  ‘He’s very ugly, isn’t he?’ said Arianna much more calmly than she felt. She was looking at the miniature of Gaetano di Chimici which had been brought from Remora by the envoy. ‘And he must be even worse than he looks here,’ she added. ‘The court painter must have tried to make the best of him.’

  Rodolfo looked at her. ‘We are not seriously entertaining this proposal,’ he said.

  ‘But what are we going to do about it?’ asked Arianna. ‘We can’t just ignore it and we can’t offend them by a flat refusal.’

  ‘Now you are thinking like a Duchessa,’ said Rodolfo, smiling. ‘It is a tight corner, but we will get out of it. They are sending him here, to escort you to the Stellata.’

  Arianna’s eyes widened.

  ‘They want you to have the opportunity to get to know one another,’ said Rodolfo, ‘and you must take it.’

  *

  Duke Niccolò was pleased to see his youngest son and happy to see the two brothers back in accord. His two older boys and his daughter were in Giglia and Niccolò loved his children. He was feeling particularly pleased with Gaetano, who had raised no objections to the marriage scheme with Bellezza, and now he had brought him his heart’s darling. Niccolò had hoped that Falco would come with him to the Papal palace when they left Giglia but, perhaps because of the awkwardness with Gaetano or perhaps because of his love for its great lonely expanses, the younger boy had insisted on being left at Santa Fina.

  Of course, Niccolò could have overridden Falco’s wishes; he was only a boy. But ever since the accident, the Duke had been so eaten up by grief that he could not deny the boy anything that might give him pleasure. And now here he was, by choice, reconciled to his brother and smiling. Niccolò felt as if a long winter was drawing to an end, even though the spring could bring no real hope of an improvement to Falco’s condition.

  ‘You must hear Aurelio, Father,’ Gaetano was saying. ‘I tried to persuade him to come here, but he said he doesn’t play for money. I’m sure he will play though, and you must hear it. It will make you feel as if you are in heaven.’

  ‘Yes, Father, do try to hear it,’ said Falco, his delicate face flushed with pleasure at the memory. ‘He does play like an angel.’

  ‘Sorry, boys,’ said Niccolò, dragging his attention back to what they were saying. ‘Tell me again who this musician is.’

  ‘He’s called Aurelio,’ said Falco patiently. ‘And he and his sister are Manoush. They won’t come here because they don’t sleep in buildings. But we can visit them in the Ram.’

  The Ram! Everything seemed to lead Niccolò’s thoughts in that direction. He had a nagging feeling that he had missed something important on his last visit there. He would have to get Ferdinando’s spy to dig further. And it made him uneasy to hear the Ram linked to the Zinti. Niccolò did not like the tribe. They did not conform to the di Chimici philosophy of growth and acquisition. There had to be something wrong with people who disprized possessions and did not own land.

  Out loud he said, ‘That is because all Zinti must be conceived under the stars. Even their unmarried women will not sleep indoors, in case a chance encounter leads to the beginning of a child. Foolish in the extreme, since it is more likely to lead to rape than if they stayed safe inside a house.’

  Falco looked shocked, and Niccolò wondered if this would be a good time to bring up his plans for his youngest son. Better for him to accept a life of celibacy before he had experienced the force of desire.

  Georgia spent most of Sunday in bed.

  ‘Told you she was sickening for something,’ said Russell, adding, ‘or just is something sickening,’ under his breath.

  ‘There’s no need to fuss,’ Georgia told her mother. ‘I’m fine. I just had a bad night. I’ll take my schoolbooks to bed and get ahead with my coursework.’

  But, though she was propped up on a heap of cushions and pillows and surrounded by books and files, she spent a lot of the morning trying to sketch out a plan of Remora. She drew a rough circle on her lined pad and bisected it top to bottom. ‘Strada delle Stelle,’ she wrote, ‘Road of the Stars.’ She put in the Gate of the Sun at the north and that of the Moon in the south and drew a little circle halfway down the great thoroughfare to represent the Campo she had crossed with Cesare.

  She drew lines across the bigger circle until it was segmented into twelve. She knew where the Twelfths of the Ram and the Twins were and roughly where they had escaped from the Fishes into the Twelfth of the Archer. But filling in the other sections was harder.

  She muttered an old rhyme that she remembered from childhood:

  g

  The Ram, the Bull, the heavenly Twins

  And next to the Crab the Lion shines

  The Virgin and the Scales.

  The Scorpion, Archer and He-Goat,

  The Man who carries the Watering-pot,

  The Fish with the glittering tails.

  g

  The only difference between Talian signs of the zodiac and the ones Georgia knew was that the Reman lion was a lioness and Remorans always referred to Virgo as ‘the Lady’. When she had filled it all in, it was clear that Remora was arranged like an astrological map of the year, with the Twelfth of the Ram at the centre left, in the west of the city.

  ‘Good, I should be able to remember that,’ thought Georgia. Paolo had told her that she mustn’t bring anything to Talia with her except the talisman and the clothes she wore at the time of stravagation. She had always found herself dressed in her Talian boy’s clothes on her arrival, but they were on top of her night things, just as she had put them on the first time.

  She wouldn’t be able to take her map with her, but it made her feel better to have drawn it. On a fresh sheet of paper she wrote down what she knew about each of the Twelfths, but there were huge gaps. She knew more about the Ram than any of the others. ‘Their adversary is Fishes,’ she wrote, ‘and their allies are the Archer and the Lioness.’

  Suddenly she understood why. Georgia didn’t believe in astrology, but she read her horoscope in the paper every day, like the rest of her family, and she remembered Maura once telling her that each sign of the zodiac was linked to Earth, Fire, Water or Air – three signs for each element.

  ‘We’re both Air signs,’ she had told Georgia. ‘Gemini for you and Libra for me.’

  ‘Oh no,’ said Georgia now. ‘I’m Gemini – the Twins! I belong with the di Chimici!’

  But a moment’s thought showed her this must be wrong. However passionate the Remorans felt about belonging to their Twelfths, they couldn’t arrange for their children all to be born under their matching signs.

  Still, she was right about the pattern of alliances. As soon as she had remembered that Aries, Leo and Sagittarius were Fire signs, it made sense that the Lioness and Archer were allied with the Ram. Just a quarter of an hour’s work produced allies for all the other Twelfths. Adversaries were harder, but she remembered what Cesare had said about the Twins and the Lady.

  ‘Your adversary is the opposite to you, like Fire and Water,’ she murmured, ‘so Earth and Air must be the other opposites. And your adversary seems to be the nearest opposite to you in the city – Ram and Fishes, Bull and Twins, Crab and Lio
ness.’

  ‘Can’t you shut up while you work?’ yelled Russell, thumping her door as he went past.

  ‘Adversaries!’ hissed Georgia. It was what she and Russell were, no doubt about that. The Twelfths of Remora had a history going back hundreds of years, but Georgia and Russell had packed enough hatred and opposition into the last four to make up for centuries.

  ‘But who are my allies?’ thought Georgia, and a vision of Mortimer Goldsmith in his half-moon glasses came into her mind, making her smile. She wouldn’t fancy his chances in a showdown with her stepbrother.

  The enmities and alliances in Remora were complicated by this funny attachment of each Twelfth to another city, which Georgia didn’t really understand. How could you live in one city but give your allegiance to another? It was like living in London but thinking of yourself as Liverpudlian. Still, you could live in London and support Liverpool football team, or Man U, or Aston Villa, come to that. She remembered first thinking that the Twelfths were like rival football clubs.

  But it was even more serious than that. She had seen Cesare’s fear when the Fishes were following them, and he was not a coward. And she had seen the dagger at Gaetano’s belt. Luciano carried one too, although he was the least aggressive boy she had ever known. Talia was a dangerous place, in a dangerous time, and Remora seemed to be the most dangerous city in it. And the tension would presumably get higher during the Stellata. Still, she preferred the dangers of the Talian city to those of sharing a house with Russell.

  The Manoush rolled out their bedding in the main courtyard of the stables of the Ram and settled themselves as comfortably as if they lay on goose-down mattresses instead of cobbles. The hospitable Teresa was perplexed and bustled out with extra pillows and blankets, which were courteously accepted but not used.

  Georgia had disappeared to her hayloft just before sunset, so she missed the sight of the tall blind man and his companion stretching out their arms in farewell to the west as the red sun sank behind the city wall somewhere behind the Ram. They chanted softly in their own language. Later the whole household fell asleep to the sweet sound of notes struck gently on the harp.

 
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