She led me to a long hall lined with portraits and statues; each held an inscription, but I listened to the information she provided, asking a question for clarity now and again. I’d hoped to impress her with my interest and appeared to succeed. Her knowledge on the subject of her lineage was incredible. It was no wonder she wanted to flaunt it; how often did she get the chance?

The hall ended in a window overlooking the rear of the estate where the hills rose and a road meandered into the distance. “Why have you come here, Don?” she asked quietly. Her tone was different from what I’d expected and I glanced at her, but she was looking out the window and her face revealed nothing. “De Santis wrote that you held a new inheritance and wished to travel and meet your peers. We both know Gentillini is not a family outside of the stories, and ‘Don’ does nothing but hide your true title.”

“Who do you believe me to be?” I asked.

“Questions with questions until only questions remain. My grandfather taught me that.”

“I expect he was a wise man.”

“Don, it is not my intention to alarm you, but I have a three-edged knife pressed against your hip and if you move in the slightest I will have to run it through your kidney.”

My blood froze. “How very efficient of you, Viscontessa.”

“Yes, I went ahead and poisoned the tip in case you thought to overpower me in any way. One is best served in caution.” She smiled thinly.

“In what manner should I assuage your concerns?”

“First with your name and title.”

“I cannot do that without a measure of guarantee from you, alas.”

“And so you are either my superior or my rival.”

“I assure you, it is never my intention to be your rival – I am certain you would find me to be lacking in any contest of your choosing.”

“Is that so?”

“It is possible I am the worst ansil player you have ever met, at best I am a moderate horse rider, and I never learned to play an instrument.”

She smirked. “You are at least amusing.”

“You flatter me.”

“What guarantee do you require?”

“Safety for myself and my people from enemies both domestic and foreign.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Trouble, are you?”

“The best kind.”

“Would this guarantee place myself or any in my household in danger, physical or financial?”

“It would not.”

“Done.”

I waited. “Still the knife, Viscontessa?”

“Yes, Don, until your end of the bargain is made. It could be that I require more assuaging.”

“Ah. As requested, then: my name is Pietro and my title is Principe.”

“What was your mother’s name?”

I blinked. She hadn’t removed the knife, nor did my revelation appear to have swayed her in any way. I wasn’t sure what kind of interactions the Contessa De Santis had with the Viscontessa Greco, but this woman was anything but ‘unbearably ordinary’ as she had been described.

“My mother’s name was Benedetta Camilla Cecilia Marchetti from the House Galli. She died when I was barely months in this world.”

“Who hid you away?”

“Were I to share that knowledge unprompted, his teaching would be for naught.”

“Tiziano Moretti was a clever beast. Did you know he once stole my uncle’s best stallion, entered him in a race, collected his winnings and returned the creature before my uncle noticed he was missing? I hear it told he was caught in the act of brushing the horse down and managed to convince my uncle that he’d merely been admiring such a specimen. My uncle offered him a trot around the corral.”

She looked at me. “Close your mouth, boy.” The knife disappeared into a sheath I couldn’t locate even after seeing it. “Let’s eat. You’ve made me nostalgic and there are few things for cure more than news from afar.”

April 29, 2021

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