Please enjoy the latest excerpt of the Venice story. (I’ll figure out a better working title eventually.)

It was late in the morning; Davide had let me sleep. The almost-shadows of clouds briefly darkened some of our quick walk. We didn’t speak, but Davide kept surreptitiously glancing at me. I saw him make a few different wardings with his fingers. Subtle, but nonetheless I saw.

The house of Lorella and Vincenzo was a living thing near the water, so covered in plants that it was a miracle the stone hadn’t been bored through and fallen to powder already. A trellis arched around the doorframe with bright peppers dangling from the vines.

The shutters and door were open and I heard the gentle notes of a t’ukand drifting into the garden. A deep breath brought me the scent of citrus; lemon grass and something I did not recognize. It blended with the stringed notes of the t’ukand and seemed to freshen my mind more than a gallon of pinèt’i could ever do.

“Are you ready to go inside?” Davide asked.

We walked forward and he let me take the path first. I didn’t want to interrupt the music, so I followed it to its source and found Lorella bowing the instrument while Vincenzo danced slowly. The music was joyful and he was smiling, but he had tears on his cheeks.

His slow dancing made me smile, and we waited until the music concluded. He finished with a bow to me, which I returned. Lorella placed her instrument on its stand and gave me a wrinkled smile. She offered a hand and I placed mine in it.

“Are you ready to see your father?” she asked.

I swallowed hard, suddenly tearful, but her soft, aged hand was strong, and comforted me. She led me to the back room. Davide stayed behind, but Vincenzo followed. The room was bright and clean. There was a narrow table in the middle of the floor and a few chairs against the walls. Everything smelled of polish and freshly-dried linen.

My father was resting on the table. He was dressed in one of his finer suits, and I appreciated Vincenzo taking the time to do that. Even I’d rarely seen my father in any state of undress, and it seemed inappropriate for him to be so now. My fear of a bloated corpse was assuaged. He looked… fine. Mostly fine. His cheeks and lips seemed less full, and I imagined the words that always darted past his teeth had long since flown. Would never again fly.

I let the tears fall and was grateful for Lorella’s unwavering grip. A firm hand gripped my arm and another rubbed my back in slow circles. I took an uneven breath.

“He looks good,” I managed.

Vincenzo’s deep voice answered, “He was always a man who loved respect. He respected everyone on this island and I never heard a word said against anyone that did not need it.”

I nodded. He’d always insisted that I ‘praise in public’. Criticisms were never a public affair. It wasn’t rare that I was sent to my room after dinner so that he could speak necessary truths to an invited guest. He insisted that dignity was one of the few things a person could never give away, and you should never try to take it from anyone.

“Did he, um, file a will with you?” I asked. Lorella gave my hand a squeeze and released it. Vincenzo’s presence kept me upright.

She took a document from a shelf and said, “He has left you the house and all of the belongings therein. He’s left you a significant portion of his business with the requirement that you apprentice under Benedetta Rossi until she is satisfied with your education. You also inherit his banking accounts, and a property on the mainland and ‘all that entails’.” She handed me the document.

I blinked to clear my eyes and read his handwriting, frowning at the last thing listed. “What does that mean?”

The couple shared a look, but shrugged. “Your father did not share much with us outside of general kindnesses,” Lorella said.

I let out a deep breath as the future rose in front of me like a tidal wave.

“We’re all here to help you, Pietro,” Vincenzo said firmly. “You are not alone in this world.”

I nodded numbly.

“Will you be staying for his night vigil?” Lorella asked.

I squared my shoulders. “Yes, I will.”

“Do you know what to do?”

“Yes,” I said again. I’d learned about the custom in school and it had been running through my mind during the walk from Davide’s home.

“We’re going to let you rest a bit, Pietro,” Vincenzo said. “There are chairs for you, and incense and whatever else you may need. Please take as long as you like.”

I saw them share a glance again. “What?” I asked.

Lorella smiled gently, but said, “Ginevra Mariani has asked to speak with you.”

The name eluded me for a moment until I remembered. “The Commander. Of course.”

“We offered the privacy of our home to her. She will be waiting when you are finished.”

I looked at my father’s form, at his perfect mustache and his polished buttons and shined shoes. “I am ready now.”

Vincenzo squeezed my arm. “There’s no rush. You should take your time to grieve.”

“I will,” I assured him, “at the night vigil. But I would like to speak to the Commander now.”

He rubbed my back again and they led me into the sitting room. A dozen instruments were around and on the walls with sheeted music and various artworks. There were a few chairs, similar to those in the body room.

Commander Ginevra Mariani was standing, hat politely in her hands, and was looking out the window at the garden. She looked like she was ready to wait all day, and I saw the surprise briefly flit across her features when she saw me. She glanced at the doctors, but they closed the doors to the room and left us in privacy.

Her eyes were an earthy brown, like soil enriched and fertilized with the knowledge she gleamed in studying me. Satisfied with her assessment, she nodded at the room I’d come from. “There was no need to rush.” I hadn’t had cause to speak with the Commander before, but I liked her soft voice. It was comforting.

“I didn’t. I wanted to speak with you. And I’m sure you have as many questions as I do.”

She nodded while she considered my words. “Who should start?” she asked.

“How did my father die?”

“The doctors did not tell you.”

“I forgot to ask,” I admitted.

“He was stabbed.”

“Through the heart?”

She grit her teeth in a moment of hesitation. “Through various organs. It seemed your father was unwilling to take death’s hand until he’d had his final word.”

“He loved words.”

She quirked a small smile at me. “Very much, I know.”

“Do you?” I asked, surprised.

“We were friends,” she told me. “We’d walk together and he’d share his words with me.”

I didn’t know how to answer.

“Pietro, your father was meeting with two merchants on the night of his murder,” Commander Mariani said. “Do you know who those merchants were?”

“No. He told me to stay with Davide, though; he was going to offer them my room to sleep and wanted privacy for his work.”

“Was that unusual?”

I shrugged a shoulder. “He’d done it before. For large deals. But not often.”

“When were these merchants set to arrive?”

“With the dawn tide. At the southerly docks, I think.”

“You encountered one of the merchants before his death in your home.”

“No.”

“No?”

“He wasn’t a merchant.”

“Why do you say that?”

“He wasn’t dressed well,” I explained. “Merchants, and even their servants, would want to show their prosperity. This man…” I shook my head. “Patches and scuffs and he had no jewelry. And his accent was not from here – he was from the northern continent to be sure.”

Commander Mariani absorbed this information. “We found another body,” she said. My eyes widened as she continued, “This man was dressed much the same as you describe the other, which would suggest he was no merchant either. This tells us that your father met with merchants whom we have not yet encountered and they brought along these men for some purpose up to and including his murder, or these men came in the place of merchants. I expect that your father was not fooled by their ruse any more than you were.”

I remembered the man’s words to me, but wasn’t sure if I should say them.

Commander Mariani saved me the decision when she said, “You say your man had a northern accent. What did he say?”

My knees trembled for a moment and I felt nauseous again. My heart was racing.

“He said that I was supposed to be home.” The Commander’s eyes narrowed. “When I asked why he killed my father he said ‘succession’ and that he was hired for the kingdom.”

“Which kingdom?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well that is interesting, isn’t it.”

I nodded. Her brown eyes studied me anew, as though she might have missed something.

“Do you know what he would mean by that, Pietro?”

I shook my head.

Commander Mariani turned her back on me and locked her hands behind her back. She turned to the garden window. “Do you know what the very first thing your father did when he arrived here was, Pietro?”

“He, he painted the door.”

“That’s been a mystery to everyone, and I expect he enjoyed that. Do you know why he spent his money on paint?”

“He said he’d always wanted a blue door.”

Commander Mariani smiled thinly and dropped her chin to her chest. “An unsolved mystery, then. For now.” She let out a long breath through her nose and asked, “What will you do next?”

I swallowed hard. “Vigil tonight. After that… I expect I will net the canal with Davide.”

She turned to face me. “Did he leave you so little?”

“He left me very much. My father was generous to me, but I like netting the canal.”

The Commander’s right cheek pulled up in a smirk. “It’s good work.”

“Sometimes.”

She put out a hand and I pressed the back of my hand to hers respectfully. She rotated the grip and squeezed my palm like an equal. I was surprised, but gripped back. “I hope you will not hesitate to come to me, should you have need, Pietro, even if only to talk. I cherished my friendship with your father.”

“Thank you, Commander.”

She stepped outside and put on her hat. Her hand took a pepper from the vine with practiced ease and she hummed while she walked away. I recognized the tune. My father often hummed the same one.

February 03, 2021

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