Well, this is it, your last day to grab a copy of THE SHADOW OF THIS WORLD.
Today I offer up a wee history lesson about Venice and a time of transition from one era to another.
The 1515 World of Famiglia de’ Medici
The Shades of Time takes place in 1515 Venice during an especially tumultuous time in European politics and on the doorstep of the most staggering advances in the arts and science as the continent eases out of the Medieval period into the full flower of the Renaissance.
The main characters in this epic drama of war as commerce, cultural and social change are from the fabled Famiglia de’ Medici, a dynasty founded in the Republic of Florence during the late 14th century. They made their fortune in banking and textiles, and they exercised control not only over commerce amongst the Italian states but also throughout the continent.
During this period, the family brought to power Pope Leo (second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent) who served in the Papacy from 1513-1521. A patron of the arts, Leo contributed to overseeing the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, but his most significant contribution was of a negative variety. He seriously underestimated the growing Reformation Movement and was ‘immoderate in his personal luxury’ (translation: spendthrift) and prone to granting indulgences to secure financial backing for his various projects.
The senior branch of the Medici family extended from Cosimo the Elder and enjoyed a hundred year rule. The junior branch, descended from Lorenzo the Elder, includes the fictional Cosimo de’ Medici and his three sons: Antonio, the eldest, Nicolo, the half-brother and Stefano, the youngest. Each man has very special skills that Cosimo uses in the interests of family and state.
Venice in 1515 is a state in decline. The population was devastated by the Black Death in 1348 and subsequent wars against the Ottomans in the early 15th century cost the state a significant number of its Mediterranean holdings. When Columbus discovered the New World, Portugal rose to prominence and Venice lost its monopoly over the land route to India. In spite of these difficulties, the city was still considered to be the pearl of the Adriatic.
Florence was nominally a democracy but it was controlled behind the scenes by the Medici family. After Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in 1494 Lorenzo’s son (Piero) made an abortive treaty with France that resulted in Piero being forced into exile, thus leading to the establishment of a republic.
The church and the Famiglia de’ Medici existed in an uneasy balance of power that later resulted in a confluence of interests when Macchiavelli was tortured and driven into exile under the pretense of ‘sedition’ because of his ties to the old democratic government.
Rather than a period of enlightenment, the Renaissance was often the scene of mob violence as prominent families vied for power and influence.
If one were to characterize this period in Italian history, political factionalism, violence and corruption at every level of state and religious institution, along with a healthy dose of double-crosses and betrayals would be the hallmarks of an era wearing the mantle of enlightenment.
Veluria braced against the strong arms of her captor, her equilibrium severely compromised from the onslaught of mental and physical intrusion. Fighting the waves of disorientation and confusion, she catalogued what little she did know: she was being transported somewhere at speed, carried by … who? Not Stefano. No, this one had a scent she didn’t recognize, and it managed to overwhelm her with its sheer maleness. She risked opening her eyes only to find them bound in soft velvet.
Before she could reach outward with her compromised senses, motion abruptly ceased, followed by a sensation of falling, then swaying. She wished she could hear but the buzzing in her ears as she struggled against whatever had trapped her into a state of unconsciousness impaired her abilities, even her extrasensory gifts.
Damn, what had they … what had he done to her?
This, this… thing that ensnared her with unforgiving strength, was he the one who’d invaded her mind like a battering ram, inflicting such excruciating pain she’d been hard pressed to defend herself? Like a residual limb, the regret and dismay lingered, leaving her nearly enraptured with the whiplash change of emotions. When he’d come stealing once more, ever so sweetly, she’d allowed a boon, knowing full well the intruder would already know, or have guessed, her intentions.
He’d danced with her psyche, the steps mimicking a macabre courtship—a sultry rumba to a background rhythm of fear, desire and intense curiosity. Such delicious enticements—she’d almost forgotten herself in the rush of temptation to explore. Her last encounter with a Council operative had been far less engaging, his brute force approach and unrelenting machismo had proven no match for her training … and very special gifts.
But her intruder had power, power and control, and perhaps something more… One thing she knew for certain: the man was unique, and dangerous. As if someone of her time and place, though that could not be possible.
The man spoke, his voice a deep rumble against her breasts, “Get the lines, Stefano,” then with his breath fanning across her cheeks, he murmured, “and let me make you a little more comfortable, M’lady.” He chuckled deep in his throat, “No point pretending. You’re awake. Mostly.”
“Tonio,” Stefano’s voice came from her right and forward of their position. “Where do we go from here? That stalker of yours … he’ll be watching for us. If he is not alone it is possible that every route will be closely monitored.”
Stalker? That’s interesting. So the intruder and this man are not one and the same. Relief seemed foolish, given her current circumstances, but there it was.
Fumbling with the knot, the man adjusted the cloth to sit firmly against her eyes and said to Stefano, “Not to fear, il mio fratellino. The Papàl Guards will clear the way. They will unwittingly be our accomplices this night.”
Keeping her face secured to his massive chest, all she could feel on her overheated skin was a leather jerkin and a few stray laces that gouged her cheek.
Odd. He’d called Stefano ‘il mio fratellino’, a surprising endearment. Could he be…?
The man continued issuing instructions to Stefano. “Head us to the Grand Canal. We will take the traghetto to St. Mark’s, just three tourists seeking the pleasures of Venezia on this fine evening.”
Stefano clearly did not like the plan, judging from his muttered curses, but apparently he complied to her captor’s satisfaction.
“I wish to sit up,” Veluria hissed into the leather jerkin, unsure if her words were clear enough to understand.
Without a word, the man released her from his grip, lifting and settling her on the seat next to him. From habit she tucked the voluminous folds of her gown about her legs, smoothing the rumpled fabric down and away from the uncomfortable corseted bodice.
Damn, I hate corsets.
The gondola bobbed through a light chop, leaving her to guess they had exited one of the narrow feeder canals onto the Grand Canal proper. From the heat and angle of the sun on her exposed flesh, she knew she’d lost an entire day to this misadventure. Sweat beaded on her forehead, the gown far too hot for day wear. It would be a ruin in no time, if it wasn’t already.
Sweet Mother, if you can hear my thoughts, please do not let my sisters know this thing about me. Allow my vanity to remain unremarked, our little secret.
Veluria choked back a cough as acrid scents of refuse, smoldering lamps and the unmentionable stench of too many humans packed into too tight a space assaulted her sensitive nostrils. From the hubbub off to her right, they’d be approaching one of the many protruding docks, busy with commerce and Venetian citizens going about the evening’s activities.
The man cautioned, “Shush, M’lady. We will be at our destination soon.” His voice reeked of menace and determination. “You will do as I say, otherwise I will bind and gag you.”
Veluria nodded she understood. She was in enough discomfort already that incurring additional did not seem prudent. The more she learned about her situation, the better her ability to react when the time came.
She wondered about Stefano but from the sounds, the young man was busy securing the gondola to the dock. Since she’d awoken from that bizarre state, he’d been nothing but acquiescent to the stranger sitting next to her, his shoulder brushing against the bare skin on her forearm whenever the gondola rocked side-to-side. The sensation was not unpleasant.
If this man was Stefano’s brother, then which one? What little intel Mother Superior had ferreted from historical records was comprised of confusing rumor and supposition—and allegations of dark magic. Nicolo was the middle son, skilled in diplomacy. The other, the eldest, was Cosimo’s right hand… and a merciless enforcer of the Medici’s will. Private Papàl correspondence referred to that one as the Demon de’ Medici. If this was that man…
Damn her luck.
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