Contessa, it is with great sadness that I must tell you that my father has died.”

Her eyes softened. “Death can be a tragedy. I am sorry for your loss, Don; what name did your father hold?”

“Moretti. Tiziano Moretti.”

The Contessa closed her eyes. I gave her time to process the news and my heart broke for her to see two tears drift slowly down her cheeks.

When she spoke, her voice was strong, “You are Pietro.” She smiled and reached a slender finger to touch my chin. “I should have known. Do you know why your father told you to wear Don Gentillini?”

“He is a trickster. A masked figure in old stories, and one who never reveals his true purpose until he has found a position of strength from which to act.”

“True,” she agreed, “but he is also gentle. He feeds the hungry, clothes the cold, and brings justice to those who think they have escaped her teeth.”

“My father told me the stories he could, but not all of them.”

“I will send you with those in my possession.”

“I would be honored.”

“Was your father a good man, Pietro?”

“Yes.” My throat tightened and I mirrored the Contessa’s expression from before. I let the tears fall, but spoke around the knot, “He was the best man I have ever known and I was never for a moment unloved by him.”

“I, too, knew him this way. We were the best of friends for decades, and it was my greatest sorrow when he had to leave, and I could not even send letters. But you had to be safe.”

I nodded sadly.

“I assume you have come to ask for my backing, Don Gentillini. Am I the first you have paid visit?”

“Yes, Contessa. My father was firm that you should be the first I spoke to. He praised your wisdom and wit and assured me that I would never lack for honesty in your presence.”

She nodded seriously. “I maintain my allies carefully. Should I choose to consider you such, you might regret it. What do you require?”

“All five.”

She raised a slender eyebrow. “Transport, wardrobe, retinue, guard, and signed contract of support. You ask so little, Don. Perhaps I can offer you my favorite great-grandson as ward and my family mansion in which to raise him.”

I smiled. “I will gladly guardian your great-grandson, Contessa. But I must settle my estate first.”

“Yes, you must. What do you offer?”

I touched my satchel. “You are aware of my holdings and accounts, properties and the like. I will reimburse you for all you provide in triplicate, to be paid no later than one year after placement. Late by even a day, that doubles. I will also grant title of your choosing, within reason, to a member of your house and keep them in my court without obligation. Your house will hold majority on my council for six cycles and thereafter will be considered lower-family. And I will personally see to it that your name is recorded in the Book Everliving.”

As I made promise after promise, the Contessa’s eyebrow rose ever higher. “That is quite a bargain, Don Gentillini. ‘Beware the flower too sweet’, yes?”

I acknowledged. “I am asking much of you, and without warning. And my father wished for you to be honored as highly as he was able, through me.”

“Very highly indeed. You present me with a trade to sweet to negotiate, which burns my teeth. I do so love a good battle.” She grinned toothily.

“What further demand can I satisfy, Contessa?”

“My great-grandson will be your ward, and you will take him when you leave this place. He will learn alongside your own lessons.”

I hesitated but nodded curtly. I couldn’t refuse now, not well, and she knew it. “So I shall.”

Her hands embraced mine. “Come then, Pietro. Let us tell the tailors to draw their needles and mount their mirrors. There is plenty to be done around here if we’re going to make a prince.”

I smiled. “I am a prince, Contessa. We must make a king.”Venice

April 17, 2021

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