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Tiny pieces of white fluff rained down from on high and landed lightly upon the dark, tranquil waters of a flagstone-ringed pond. Raffaele Donat watched the odd gaggle of ducks flit about the surface of the water, occasionally stabbing their beaks down below to snatch an oversaturated crumb of bread. A mask of deep thought was written across his face, almost abject in its intensity. The fist that gripped the breadcrumbs went limp as Raffaele’s eyes fixed upon a perfect ripple that radiated out from the far end of the pond. A swift gust of wind swirled around where he sat, toes brushing the surface of the water, and lifted the rest of his crumbs into the air. The ducks seized upon this sudden opportunity and crowded in on the bounty.
Raffaele shook himself out of his reverie, glanced up at the sky, and then back to where the perfect ripple had been. It was gone now, consumed by the spreading motion of the feeding fowl, and it was then that it dawned on him—that ripple had been caused by a drop of rain.
He stared up at the sky as a fine drizzle covered his face. His eyes fell shut as beads of rain formed rivulets that traced their way from his brow to his ears and down along his chin. He found that if he kept perfectly still the tiny streams of water felt like fingers running faint patterns over his flesh.
The wet began to soak his clothes and his breathing halted.
Quietly at first, then steadily, the hush of the rain accompanied the feelings of its passing over him. The sound filled his ears and he was fully transported.
No longer was he seated by the pond, but somewhere elusive and ethereal—a world all its own. There was a distant music to it, and an emotion at that, as sheets of rainwater washed over him. Brought on by Nature’s kiss, it was a moment out of body that he knew would not last—somewhere between the past and the future, but not wholly in the present.
A hand touched Raffaele’s shoulder and his eyes flashed open. How long had it been raining?
A small man in workman’s garb, sporting a thick black mustache and three-day-growth on his jaw, extended a soot-creased hand to help Raffaele to his feet.
“My name is Vicente,” the man spoke over the drumming of the rain, courteously removing his cap as he gestured to his left with a nod. “I was sent to fetch the one who fed the ducks at dusk, the one who would be found at Bonaparte’s mark.”
Raffaele looked down his shoulder at the old, heavily weathered crest of Bonaparte engraved in the flagstone at his feet. He nodded, “I am he,” and then moved to follow Vicente in the direction that had been indicated.
Rain began to sing off the roof of the villa as Armando and Lothario carried on with their discussion.
“What, then, would you have done in this day?” Lothario leaned in conspiratorially.
“What I would have done…” Armando purred, peering through the many facets of his now empty goblet. He blinked and his eyes turned to Lothario, “Is what already is.
“The government will remain in turmoil over the revolution,” he explained, going over the order of the day to his lieutenant-in-wait. “This will serve to stall the Austrian forces from acting, being that they are too proud. The House of Habsburg—the lapdogs—will not invade and risk angering the Church if it means bullying our people. No, they will wait. They will wait until we have found a strong leader. And whilst our enemies wait, the ‘children of the tricolour’ have time to find that leader.”
Lothario watched Armando from the corners of his vision, not fully satisfied by what he heard, but not brave enough to mention anything either.
Armando’s chin rose. “The leader of the revolution must be a king, stronger than the current so-called monarch. And not the pedantic cause of a republic,” he finished in acid tones.
Lothario nearly beamed. At last, they had come to the republic!
“And so, as all this upheaval goes on around us, we practice our motto: sub umbra sedi,” Armando said evenly. “‘Sit in the shade,’ and let the present chaos of the world we spin protect us.”
Armando settled back into his chair, seemingly spent, and a moment of silence passed between the two of them.
“My lord,” Lothario said quickly, not wanting the opportunity to escape him. “Raffaele, you must know, is one of them. He admires the Carbonari revolutionaries.”
Lothario’s eyes darted about Armando’s face for a sign of displeasure. “H-he admires them, Lord.”
“He has said as much to you?” Armando leveled the question at him as if it were a mild accusation.
“Ah-I—” Lothario fumbled, disbelieving that his lord would not be instantly angered by this news. “I have seen him with them—the charcoal workers. I have found ash on his boots and soot on his cape!”
“You have no proof,” Armando said flatly, setting the goblet down at his feet. He began to fasten the ties on his wrists and waist as he rose.
“My lord!” Lothario almost begged on the edge of his seat. “Raffaele bears the Napoleon name, but he is not kithless. He will divide us!”
Armando paused for only the time it took to meet Lothario eye-to-eye.
“When a seed grain is let loose of the pod, the wind carries it where it will.” Armando flung his arms out wide in a gesture that seemed to indicate himself and everything around him. “Some are meant to flower,” he pointed out by lowering his right arm, his left now clearly presenting the rose bush nearby and the village beyond, “while others are meant to feed the wings of the air.” Armando’s left arm tilted up and then took in his entire being in a flourish.
“If a bird were to eat a seed, does it know that it may destroy the home of future generations of its kind? Or destroy the future home of its rivals? Or does it do this one thing only to gather nourishment for the hunt?” Armando’s visage softened. “I say it is not so complex as that.”
Armando lingered a breath before turning to his right and sweeping through the doorway that led into the villa.
Lothario still stared at the blank air where Armando had stood. He looked around and blinked after a moment. Armando’s words echoed in his mind. Then, without preamble, Lothario’s face slid back into a cool smile.
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More to come in the weeks to follow!