Thursday, May 31, 2012

When Scared Men Look Into The Future (Part 2)

A further tease to the prologue of my upcoming novel.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

More to come in the weeks to follow!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When Scared Men Look Into The Future (Part 1)

Here's a sample from the opening of my soon to be finished novel, tentatively titled, Rogue Blood.

* * * * *

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?

* * * * *

Stay tuned!