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The first faint fingers of an autumn dusk pulled at the horizon over the Mare Mediterraneo. Smudging bands of purple-pink sky threatened to steal all color from the world as a shy moon and a dying sun shared the same hemisphere. Evening mimicked morning in reverse as long, lazy beams of dust-filled sunlight began to strip away from view. Thousands of these fleeting sunbeams touched places on land where cypress, oak, and linden trees grew.
From one such place, where a spyglass was all it took to see the rocky shoals and shores of the Riviera dei Fiori, two men emerged from a Ligurian villa whilst in conversation. They strode across the shadowy deck of a private patio and seated themselves in high-backed wicker chairs angled towards the sea; all light having left this setting with only enough ambient glow as to drink by, and share words.
“You should join me,” Armando announced, proffering a tall, green crystal goblet of Barbera. “It rather refreshes afterward.”
Lothario stretched and hissed his indifference. “My skin itches even from the waning warmth of the seat.”
“Ah, my son,” Armando began with feeling, ignoring Lothario and continuing with his established chain of thought. The goblet hovered under his nose. “How it reminds me of everything that is outside my world.”
Lothario’s chin rose as he admired a glint of envy that shone from the goblet’s depths.
Armando Danilo stood a whole hand’s breadth taller than his company, an air of disgust and yet in the same utter contentment solidified in his features. His jawline bespoke of unforeseen danger, tensing and relaxing between sentences. His eyes never moved quickly though seemed to take everything in without effort, the steadily half-closed lids of those supporting great fanning lashes that swept up and down with gentle ease. A few rogue strands of hair hung free at his ears framing a massive brow sloping back to where the remainder of his hair held tied. A collarless linen tunic, from which fine cords dangled at the wrists and waist, loosely concealed a powerful build underneath. Armando’s aura screamed of surly masculinity, even if it was clothed in a deceptive facade.
Lothario Fedele bore neither the nobility nor the domineering charisma that his elder possessed, but most—all but the most foppish—described him as darkly handsome. His posture was slightly hunched betraying him as something of a simpleton, though careful observation revealed a fragile confidence hidden behind his eyes. His brow was sharp and pointed at the center. His pale skin, almost grey, contrasted nicely with his ink black hair. A few noticeable, pure white follicles traveled backward from his temples bilaterally. Slightly soiled and simple, a crushed velvet doublet and knee-high leggings was all that bound this man, at once unremarkable and yet quivering with a weird predatory appeal.
“Outside our world—our home,” Armando restated, fixing Lothario with his gaze. “What measures,” he continued with his eyes closed, tilting his head back at an angle while reminiscing, “he must have seen fit to assure Seborga’s fate.”
Lothario perked up immediately realizing for whom Armando spoke. “You have never fully explained to me your master’s role in those times?”
“He was not a fool,” Armando began firmly, as if reassuring his stance in an argument long since dead. “If not for his planning, Il Principato di Seborga would exist only as a pleasant fiction to a few.”
Lothario thought out loud whilst averting his eyes, the words coming slowly at first. “And yet there are those for whom it does.” His question was obvious.
“It was not the how but the why that persuaded him.…”
Lothario’s attention snapped back to Armando as the story unfolded.
“Victor Amadeus the Second of the House of Savoy, then Prince of Piedmont and King of Sardinia, purchased the land upon where we now dwell and the village of Seborga rests.”
This Lothario knew. He had always known what role the House of Savoy had played in the annexation of Seborga. He knew that the Province of Imperia, where Seborga was hidden, had long been and still remained a southern holding of the Kingdom of Sardinia, and thus to the House of Savoy. He knew that Armando’s master had been a prominent landowner and vassal to the king during this time. And despite all this, he knew that Seborga enjoyed seemingly absolute autonomy; and he knew what danger there could be without it.
“Know though,” Armando continued, as if reading his protégé’s thoughts, “that it was mine master’s foresight and fear of the Habsburg’s that lead to this purchase, and not for any clout that said prince may have wielded.
“My master bled the royal coffers in secret agreement for the sale, enough to supply our affairs in excess. He exercised his will to guarantee that no registry of the deal would bear notice.”
How simple and yet devastatingly cunning! If one is unable to whelm the strength to defend one’s own, have another do it in your stead, and all at their own expense. But if there had not been official notice of certain annexed territories—namely Seborga—and only those who were present at the secret meeting knew otherwise, who would remain to challenge Seborga’s autonomy, or even know that it was there to challenge? And if those at the secret meeting had been subject to the will of Armando’s lord.…
Armando straightened. “Will, once possessed, is a terrible and powerful thing. Especially when impressed upon another, be he lord or servant.”
Armando leaned back as his chair creaked its protest. His view stretched out from the flowery heights of the piedmonts to where the sparkles waned on the sea beyond.
“My master concluded that if the arm of the Habsburgs were to ever grow too long, we would need a ‘garden of protection’ between us.” Armando spoke almost sadly. He stole a sip from the goblet as he seized a rose bud that encroached upon the patio from just beyond the rail. An eerie pall enveloped the bush—as even the tiniest insect seemed to take note—and not an eyelash fluttered as Armando drove his thumb into one of the rose’s thorns.
Lothario spoke as if reciting a mantra. “A garden must be nurtured and cultivated for its purpose.”
“And what a garden the Principality of Seborga has become, no?” Armando grinned.
“Thanks in many parts to your efforts, Lord.”
Armando snorted in delight. “I merely learned to forestall impending threats by ensuring the longevity of a flawless plan that had already been set into motion.”
Lothario chuckled inwardly at how easy it was. As he watched the memories stir in Armando’s head—the way Armando would sit up straight and proud like a liege before his guests preparing to dine—Lothario could not help but savor it again: how easy it was to earn the master’s good graces given that memory was all it demanded. Nevertheless, Lothario could not deny a stirring all his own that accompanied Armando’s relished remembrances. A feeling of furious anticipation blossomed from his center, and he drank it down like a smooth wine. There was something delicious about having your way with someone as they sought their own oblivious means. Lothario found these moments cathartic.
“It was no accident that the name Napoleon was entrusted to us to keep as our family’s own,” Armando remarked confidently, eyes closed as he spoke. “Le petit caporal knew the truth. A name bears with it great power. And it was with that power that the Congress of Vienna was made to,” he paused to pull aroma from the goblet into his nostrils, “overlook … our village … in its strivings to redistribute territories after the Battle of Waterloo.”
“All to conceal ourselves from the Habsburgs,” Lothario whispered, shivering in satisfaction. “Brothers and sisters apart.”
“The Habsburgs seek to consolidate their custodianship of the continent.” Armando spoke with a hint of euphemism that Lothario did not miss. “They would stop at nothing to assimilate or lay siege to our demesne, and so long as no official record of Seborga’s existence is known to them, all the better.
“Even still, the might of the Kingdom of Sardinia is fixed upon our enemies, and we are safe within its borders. No power on earth would have made me choose otherwise, not with the Habsburgs’ patriarch at the seat of Congress.”
Lothario slowly leaned back from Armando’s words as if they had the power to afflict him physically. He had trouble feigning calm as he realized that Armando was just getting started in his telling. His master had only ever revealed this much before—could there be more?
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