Bill Bucko

BRING ME GIANTS!

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Here's a sneak preview of my 5th book, to appear this spring:

BLURB:

An unbeliever at the court of the pope

NICHOLAS V, first Renaissance pope, founded the Vatican Library,

hired an army of scribes to copy ancient manuscripts, and summoned

Europe's greatest scholars to Rome. His purpose: to foster learning.

But he had another goal as well: to tame unruly freethinkers.

There was one who wouldn't be tamed: GIULIANO DA FIRENZE




BRING ME GIANTS!

by
BILL BUCKO




Preface


Bring Me Giants! was my first novel, an apprentice work written in 1972-1974. As such, it will be of interest chiefly to those who have read my mature works, The Outcasts and Raphaella di Piero, and would like to see how I learned my craft.

It’s a good, rousing story, with an interesting setting, large-scale characters, surprising plot twists, and Hugoesque clash of dramatically opposed values.

Its flaws are as apparent as its virtues. The characters are not as deep as those I was later able to create, and occasionally the plot events are not as realistic. See, for instance, Giuliano’s decision not to run away from his enemies. And a girl like Caterina could not have freely roamed the lawless streets of Rome in the 1400s.

I’ve made minor stylistic changes, mostly by omitting unnecessary words, but have made no changes to plot or characters. I hope you’ll agree this novel has a charm of its own (as well as foreshadowing The Outcasts in its theme).






MARCH 2, 1451

Filiis a malis parentibus a quibus geniti sunt fugere licet …

Sons may flee from vicious parents who brought them into the world ...

Lorenzo Valla,
Treatise on the Donation of Constantine




Chapter 1 — The Monument



Giuliano stood outside the church of St. John Lateran, knowing that in another minute he might be fighting for his life.


He shook his head.

He knew he could run; but that would merely postpone it. The showdown had to come. He raised his head; the breeze stirred strands of brown hair, faintly, in imitation of a wayward caress. Slowly he fought down the tension of his body. He balled his hands into fists, then let them hang open at his sides.

What did you do, years ago, when you had to fight other boys starving in the streets?


He walked across the square to the shadow of the monument. The bronze figure towered over him like a colossus. A thousand years had worn off most of its gilding. He paused, half within the shadow of the horse and its imperial rider. One hoof was raised, pawing the air, with the man’s arm outstretched in an effortless, commanding gesture.

He glanced around.


Last year thousands of pilgrims had plodded into Rome for the Jubilee of 1450. But now there were just a few townspeople and peasants going about their business. The Lateran stood at the edge of the city, in the sparsely settled region away from the Tiber. Beyond it, outside the city wall stretched an empty countryside of poor farms and villages, crossed by aqueducts—broken and unused. Rome under the popes could support only a fraction of the population of Rome under the emperors.


He turned back to the Lateran.

No, he wouldn’t run. Sooner or later, his enemies would fall on him. And he wouldn’t live under that threat. He’d face them now, when he felt ready for them.


He stood on the broad, unpaved square as morning sunlight flooded across, creating no warmth. The church’s facade was in shadow, made indistinct by the glare of the sun behind it. But the piazza around him stood out startlingly clear, as though the air had become a lens of crystal, bringing all things closer, making them sharper.

Tall stone buttresses to his left were thick with dirt and decay—that was the Lateran palace, the pope’s residence in past centuries. The church of St. John Lateran to his right was the official cathedral of Rome. By ancient custom every pope rode here with the cardinals, at the beginning of his reign, to throw a handful of coins to the people, saying, “Gold and silver are not for me.” Then he rode back across the city to St. Peter’s, to begin his years as temporal sovereign of central Italy and spiritual ruler of the world.


Giuliano shook his head.


He had come here this morning with his sketchbook. Drawing was the only pastime he allowed himself, whenever he could spare a few hours from his work. He had sketched the sculptures and frescoes. Then came the confrontation with the cardinal, the white-haired prince of the Church who thought he held the power of life or death over him. He had managed to slip out the side door before the cardinal’s men could close in on him. The last words he’d heard still rang in his ears: “Wait! What will the pope say?” and the mocking reply: “What can he say? Even the pope can’t raise a dead man.”

He turned.

An oxcart was crossing the square, slowly rumbling past the dome of the baptistery. Peasants from the Campagna sat stolidly among sacks of grain, in their rags and broad-brimmed hats, whistling to the oxen as they flicked the reins.

He turned back to the Lateran. His eyes were a deep brown, always darting, always insatiable. He crouched for a moment to loosen up his body, then straightened, hand coming to rest on the hilt of his knife. He was tall, thinly built, with long arms and legs: a body that could move quickly, charged with energy. His youthful, square-cut face had a look of determination shaping the mouth, inspiring the eyes, setting the angle of the chin.

He wiped his brow.

He’d expected problems when he came to Rome. He’d known the dangers. But this kind of problem he hadn’t thought about—at least, not since his days as a starving lad in the streets of Florence.

Perhaps he should have taken refuge in a corner inside, to fight them off one by one. Out here he could be surrounded. But somehow he liked his chances better under the open sky –free and unrestrained.

There was a sudden movement above his shoulder. He turned quickly.

“What in the—?”


The girl eyed him with a grin on her round, untroubled face, dangling her legs over the statue’s stone base. She was perched between the bronze horse’s legs.


“Hello!” she called, saucy as a kitten that’s climbed dangerously higher than was ever expected of it. For a moment he was too surprised to speak. She fidgeted like a child, her brow wrinkled, she seemed almost ready to stamp her foot.

“Hello.”


“I’m Caterina.”

She scrambled down quickly, using the projections of the statue’s base, her soles grating on the rough stone. She dropped lightly onto all fours, was up immediately, and was upon him. “My name’s Caterina,” she repeated. She seemed a jumble of motion; hands and feet could not hold still. She had no doubt that he’d want to talk with her, get to know her.


Then she stopped. She had the sudden impression he was judging her or weighing her, in some way.


“They call me ... Giuliano da Firenze, ‘Giuliano of Florence,’” he answered.

He reached out to wipe a streak of dirt from her shoulder. She stretched her legs, smiling up at him. The girl seemed about fourteen, roughly half his age. She had wide-open eyes of crystal blue, a freckled snub nose and wide, crookedly-grinning mouth.


“What were you doing up there?”

She was delighted to be asked.

“I’m a street urchin. I make it my business to go everywhere and see everything. Now I’ve met you, Giuliano. I’m glad.”

“A street urchin?”

The question was an obvious one; for under the short, battered cloak wrapped around her slight figure he caught a glimpse of the most exquisite gown he’d yet seen in Rome, made of black silk striped with gold, cut by slashes that let rich crimson show through.

“Oh, that,” she laughed, pulling her cloak shut to hide the dress. “When I go out I wear my street urchin’s clothes. People take me for a beggar, and leave me alone. But once in a while I like to dress up, underneath ... You know, I love to wander through the city, looking at the buildings and ruins and statues and people ... I won’t be kept inside. Not when there’s so much to do!”

“Don’t you have a … family?”

She shook her head.

“I guess I’m an orphan.”

She leaned back against the cold stone pedestal, then straightened, standing as tall as she could. The top of her head, with its light brown curls bared to the wind, almost reached the level of his chin.


“Tell me, little Caterina. How did you become a ... street urchin?”

“Little” Caterina wrinkled her nose at the unfair epithet. “Well ...” she sighed, with a wry grin, staring at the distant hills to the north. “My father was lord of a few castles, near Spoleto. He fought the Church, and even beheaded a papal governor or two. But finally he had to come to terms. He sent Ginevra and myself to Rome, as hostages.”


“Ginevra?”

“My sister. An old Roman family took custody of us. Or at least, they lodged us in a corner of their palazzo, and then seemed to forgot about us … Father kept several of his castles. I saw him once when I was six, and again when I was ten.”


She grimaced, turning back to him.

“Well ... he’s dead now ... So we grew up as we pleased, with no one telling us what to do. When I want to see the sights, I just climb out the window.” She threw up her arms in girlish enthusiasm. “Good clothes, more money than you can spend, and only yourself to
talk to, as your best friend! ... You should try it.”

She saw the gleam in his eye.

“Only yourself? I thought you knew everyone in Rome.”

“Oh, I do! I suppose it’s just that I pay most attention to myself (Don’t you?). I like being by myself. And I like meeting people, too.” She grew thoughtful, running a strand of hair through her fingers. “I don’t think we’re hostages anymore. Nobody’s checked on us for years.” She shrugged, scratching her cheek with a grubby finger. “So my sister married a nobleman’s son. She lives in Perugia now. And me ...”

“Yes, what about you?”


“Why, I told you. From the Forum to the Tiber, from St. Peter’s to the Capitol: I see what I can see.”

He laughed, shaking his head. He could picture this impish girl sallying forth on Rome, butting her way into everyone’s affairs, seeking excitement and adventure wherever she went.

He looked past her to the great tarnished monument, which she had graced shortly before. She looked up to follow his glance. The horseman’s face was in shadow. But the pose of the group was eloquent.

“I like that old statue, don’t you?”

He nodded. Perhaps the sculptor had studied this master of the world in the Forum or on the battlefield; he had certainly managed to capture a sense of regal calm, of self-control, of steadfast virtue.

“What are you smiling at?”

“Nothing, Caterina.”

He reached up to run a hand over the cold stone of the base. The Christians of the Dark Ages destroyed most pagan statues; but they had spared this one, thinking it was Constantine, the first Christian emperor. In fact, though, the emperor was the pagan Marcus Aurelius, who believed it his firm duty to rule for the good of his subjects. So when he saw the followers of a new superstition, who worshipped a certain Christus or Christ, attack their neighbors with bigotry and intolerance—he threw them to the lions.

Caterina interrupted his thoughts:

“Do you know what I saw? A cardinal and his retinue. See, their horses are tied over there.” She pointed to the right of the cathedral, where a few stable hands were visible in the distance. “I want to watch them when they leave. I climbed up there to wait.”

That brought Giuliano back to his own situation; and the events of the past hour became real again. He suddenly realized this girl shouldn’t be here with him, she should leave at once. It wasn’t fair to endanger her.



* * *


Earlier that morning they had filed into the chapel: Cardinal Vicenza first, stately and dignified and aged; and then Sandro Crepuscolo, his protégé, followed by all the others. One of the attendants, watching the old man and the youthful flatterer, thought to himself: the lion followed by the jackal.

Sandro knelt at the cardinal’s side, bowing his head. The air was filled with incense and a vague odor of decay, as though the bones of the men who had built this church, three hundred years after Christ, were still here under the pavement. The mosaics were faded, and dirt streaked the walls.

Yes, I’ll pretend to pray, Sandro told himself, waiting for Vicenza to finish. But the minutes dragged on like hours, passing in a haze through his mind, as pain throbbed through his knees. He looked up at the tall candles that flickered around the altar, casting their light on a painting of a mother holding a child. A virgin mother, he thought wryly ... What fools men were!

Vicenza was done at last. Sandro sprang up to help him. The cardinal leaned on his arm, then straightened with a grunt.

“Thank you, my son.”

Sandro bowed, and followed the old man back to the main aisle. He paused to tighten the cord at his waist.

It was done now, with the laying on of hands, the vows, the first tonsure, and he was committed. He was started on the ladder of Church advancement, on the lowest rung, as a deacon who helped the priest to celebrate the Mass. Still, he hadn’t intended this, and he felt a venomous hatred at being maneuvered into it. Cardinal Vicenza had taken him at his word. That was more than he’d expected. The more Sandro spoke of his devotion to the Church and his deep religious feelings, the more convinced Vicenza had become that he had a vocation for the priesthood. It was damnably obtuse of the old man. Couldn’t he realize it was a position in the government Sandro wanted? the power that went with that? That an appointment at the court of Pope Nicholas, prompted by a word from the cardinal, would have suited him far better?

And that wasn’t all. While the attendants were falling into line, Vicenza led him aside.


“Sandro, a word with you.”


He bowed.

Vicenza’s voice was cold and harsh, with an authority that made Sandro tremble.


“From now on, in Holy Orders, you must live in absolute chastity.”

Sandro froze; he couldn’t take his eyes off the old man’s face.


“God commanded it. You cannot live as you have been living.” That was all; Vicenza turned and walked away, expecting no answer or reaction.


Sandro bit his lip. If he knew that much, then how much else did he know? Did he know of his disrespect? lying? hypocrisy?


In fact, Cardinal Vicenza knew nothing whatever of Sandro’s private life. He had in mind only one thing: that Sandro was a human being—with all that that implied. As far as he could see, Sandro was a devout, devoted young man. But however strongly Sandro’s divine part longed for heaven, surely his earthly part still yearned to lie between a girl’s legs. That was the depravity of human nature. But now that he was in Holy Orders, that sin couldn’t be tolerated any longer.

They walked down the aisle, pausing to cross themselves before the altar.

“So much for that.” The servant tried to look dignified, in his black and white livery, but only succeeded in looking envious.


“No murmuring, now. Don’t forget who the new favorite is.”

“It makes me want to spit. Having to lick this Sandro’s boots. He’s the lowest of any of us.”

“That’s why he won.”

Vicenza raised his eyes sternly, and they fell silent.


The cardinal had felt nothing, during the ceremony, but a sense of awe at the miracle of Holy Orders. The sin of Adam and Eve, he thought, left its mark of corruption on human nature, on all human beings. But now the grace of God had flowed through his hands, into Sandro. What happened when the two forces met—and clashed? Whatever struggle took place in an ordinary man, was magnified a hundred-fold in a priest. He became a battleground of good and evil. Christ chose Peter, the humble fisherman, as the first pope; yet as a weak man, Peter had denied his Master three times.


Vicenza’s hair and beard were completely white, with no trace of gray left. He was seventy years old. It had been a hard life, one that—he found himself admitting it—was ending in bitterness. It was a life of sacrifices, renouncing the world and the happiness it gave. He shook his head, surveying the long train of attendants behind him, youthful figures with none of the gravity of this day in their bearing. He had pain-filled eyes, set deep within shadowed hollows. But that was the only hint of a flaw in his armor, in his indomitable will. The face had been shaped, through the years, by a refusal to make any compromise. His only inner struggle was the one that, he thought, all men faced, between soul and body: between the love of God, drawing man on high, and an inescapable and inborn remnant of wickedness, dragging him down.


Always he had chosen for the welfare of his soul. That was the reason for the suffering in his eyes, which the tightly shut mouth, prominent cheekbones, and jutting chin tried to deny, by sheer power of will—leaving the struggle mapped in the taut muscles of his face. He knew that chastity didn’t leave a man content. He wondered why the saints praised it, when it left him, after all these years, no more than a pile of ashes ... but still endowed with a soul, that wouldn’t find peace and release from pain until it left the earth forever.


While Cardinal Vicenza was brooding about the next world, Sandro was doing some quick thinking about this one. He glanced around. Could one of the others have betrayed him? It seemed unlikely. Why would the cardinal believe their word against his own, when he was practically Vicenza’s adopted son? And then he thought of Giuliano.


Of course, that must be it. Giuliano was an outsider. Vicenza hated him; but he might very well believe him; Giuliano was like that. He was straightforward, his words carried conviction—and who else would have the courage to tell Vicenza anything of the gossip about town? It had probably started that day last winter. Perhaps he had offended Giuliano; or maybe the scholar had some reason of his own for undermining his position. At any rate, Sandro had already acknowledged defeat: he knew he would have to enter the Church he despised, or face Vicenza’s wrath. Then—since he knew everything that went on in the Palazzo Vicenza—he heard that the cardinal wanted to buy him a gift for the occasion. Sandro sought out Giuliano at his desk in the Vatican and asked whether he knew where to get medals, jewels, and art works from pagan times.

“Yes, I do,” Giuliano had answered. “I know several traders in antiquities. And my friend Cyriac of Ancona brings back art works from Greece, every now and then.”


Sandro eyed him slyly.

“Tell me. Do you count yourself a friend of Cardinal Vicenza’s?”

Giuliano stared, surprised.


“No, I don’t.”


Sandro nodded, content.

“Then here’s what we’ll do. You get something of small value, and sell it to Vicenza for a great price; then you and I can pocket the difference.”


“No.”


“But—”


“I won’t.”


He wasn’t angry when Giuliano refused, merely, for one brief moment, afraid; he couldn’t tell why. Then he turned to Oddone of Viterbo, a copyist at the Vatican, who, he supposed, hung about Vicenza for reasons similar to his own. Oddone readily agreed to help. But they had failed; Vicenza brushed aside Oddone’s advances ...

Vicenza laid a firm hand on Sandro’s arm, recalling him from these thoughts. “Here, my son. I want you to have this.” He held out a small manuscript. “I obtained it through Giuliano, who ordered it from Vespasiano da Bisticci, the noted bookseller of Florence.” He saw Sandro’s expression, and added, “True, it isn’t a relic or memento of the saints. But this, I trust, will serve to fix your mind on divine things, more than ever.”

Sandro took the book in his hands, cursing under his breath. He would have much preferred a gem, a cameo, something of that sort, that he could sell someday for a good price. The manuscript was small, about eighty pages bound in thin wooden covers, fastened with silver clasps. He weighed it in his hands, then opened it.

“Though I hate all worldly things,” the cardinal was saying, “it would show a lack of respect to house this treasure in lesser form. Look at the illuminations, Sandro. And the cursive hand. And the rich parchment.”

“Thank you, your Excellency,” he said mechanically, though with becoming respect. As he thumbed through the book, mind racing, suddenly he saw how to do it. He couldn’t be sure how much Giuliano had given away yet; but he could neutralize anything he might tell Vicenza, if he did it carefully.


And for a moment he could hardly keep from laughing. This book, before which Vicenza wanted to go down on his knees, was a rank forgery—the supposed letters of Paul the Apostle to the philosopher Seneca! Unfortunately the letters were written in a Latin dating from centuries after either man’s time; their composition had beguiled the idle hours of some devout but ignorant monk of the sixth or seventh centuries. His pious fraud gained currency, copies of the work were made, and up until the present day the letters had been regarded as genuine ... Until the forgery was exposed by Lorenzo Valla.


The cardinal watched as Sandro closed the book, fastened the clasps, and kissed it. He saw the narrow brows contract, in thought or concentration; and the cool green eyes seemed to avoid his own.

“Sandro?”

The youth shook his head. “It’s nothing, your Excellency. I was just thinking for a moment.”

“Of what?”

“Of ... Lorenzo Valla.”


The cardinal glared at the hated name, clenching his fists. For a moment he looked like a gnarled satyr. His beard, to his regret, matched the pagan image, which the rest of his person contradicted or tried to repress Attendants gathered around, hiding smirks or winking to each other, as Sandro went on, “Lorenzo Valla claims these letters are forgeries ...”


“I’ve heard of that.”

“And do you know what they’re saying at the Vatican? It troubles me, your Excellency, it really does. It was about Giuliano da Firenze ... You know how influential he is; the pope takes his word, on such matters. Now he’s gone and confirmed Lorenzo, just for the mischief of it ... out of his own hatred of God. Those scholars are trying to convince the world that holy old books like this are without value.”


“Go on.”


“That being the case,” Sandro continued, “he probably bought the manuscript for a trifle, far less than it was worth. And then, knowing that in your holiness you wouldn’t suspect such a worldly deception, the pagan said to himself: take advantage of the old man. He is (—I beg your pardon, but I know Giuliano and what he would say—) he is a fool. He can be trusted not to know the worthlessness of this ... old rag.” He paused, satisfied at the anger on the cardinal’s face. His confidence was now quite recovered from the reprimand he’d received earlier. He thought: the precipice is steep; but my footing is sure. This man can’t defend himself. I shall pick his bones clean.


He was too cool-headed, himself, to feel any rancor toward Giuliano. These things happened; you did what you had to, to get ahead. The important thing, now, was removing the present danger.

“Your Excellency?” an attendant stammered. “I saw Giuliano, just a moment ago.”

“Here?” The cardinal’s brows arched cruelly.

Sandro grinned. “That’s too much to hope for.”

“I swear I did. That way. See for yourself.”

They followed the servant to the side-aisle, a narrow lane of chapels whose ancient stained glass was darkened by soot. Unlit lamps hung from rusted chains far overhead, over a few forgotten, dried flowers surrounding an altar. There were long streaks of dust on the polished marble columns, which had been looted from pagan temples a thousand years before They found Giuliano sitting on a bench, long legs stretched before him, looking up at the frescoes with sketchbook propped on one knee. He turned at the sound of footsteps. The cardinal paused, then his voice rang out:

“Giuliano.”

“Yes?”

The scholar rose slowly to his feet, dressed in plain brown doublet laced across his chest, coarse linen hose, and leather boots, without ornament. He stood looking quietly at the cardinal and his men: no submission, no humility, as though a scholar and a prince of the church were on equal terms.

“Yes, your Excellency?”


“I regret that I employed a man of your ... suspected ways, to obtain this book for me.” He motioned to the manuscript in Sandro’s hands. “I’m told you deny the value of this work.”

“Any good scholar could tell you it’s a forgery. I tried to explain—”

“And yet I could obtain a copy from Vespasiano, through you, only at great cost.”

“Copying manuscripts, even worthless manuscripts, is slow work. It takes weeks or months, and painstaking care is necessary.”

“Is that your excuse?”

“My excuse for what?”


“Do you still claim this work is a fraud?”

“It’s obvious.”


“Have you been truthful with me?”

“What makes you think I haven’t?”

It was Giuliano’s indifference that drove Vicenza to fury. Damn the man to hell! Why, he had been making popes when Giuliano was still a boy playing in the dirty streets of Florence! He said in a low voice, barely controlled, “Punish this disrespect. In offending me, he offends the majesty of the Church.” He turned and walked away, not looking back.

“But ... what have I done?” Giuliano called after him. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“You don’t need to have done anything,” a servant laughed. “Right or wrong doesn’t enter into it.”

Giuliano stared, astonished, then saw that speech was useless.

He edged toward the main aisle.

“No, you don’t,” said a man, blocking his way.

He was pinned against the outer wall of the chapel. There were echoes from other corners of the church, far away, but no one would help. He edged along the wall, heart pounding, but outwardly calm, facing the crowd that pressed toward him. Several of them drew knives. He recognized two men: Sandro Crepuscolo, the cardinal’s favorite, and Oddone of Viterbo, one of Giuliano’s subordinates at the Vatican. It was Oddone who cried, “Wait! What will the pope say?” Someone answered, with a laugh, “What can he say? Even the pope can’t raise a dead man.”


They began to close in.

“Where are you going, atheist?”

“Don’t be afraid. We won’t hurt you.”

He had placed himself before a narrow recess, flanked by dark drapery. It was an old side entrance to the Lateran, not much used any more. He felt behind his back, facing the men. Nothing. He moved a pace farther. Still nothing. He reached to the right, groping. Then his hand found the latch. He tried it, and felt it turn reluctantly under his fingers. Before the men could stop him he threw his shoulder against the door, thrust it open, and disappeared outside.

“Come on, before he—”

“Wait!” Sandro held up a hand. “Tommaso, Benedetto ... put your knives away, for the moment.” After all, he reflected, the pope probably would avenge Giuliano’s death, if it came to that. “I’m sure the cardinal will want to give us more precise instructions, now that he’s had a chance to think about it. Don’t worry about this Giuliano, he won’t go far.”


“But—”

“You’d better think what would happen if you angered the pope. Who’s master of Rome—Vicenza or the pope?”

He gathered up his priestly robes (he felt like a fool in them), and led the way back to the nave. Their boots echoed across the inlaid marble floor. The old man stood waiting for them, in robe, cope, and hat of bright scarlet; calmer, now, but still with an air of affronted dignity.

“Yes, Sandro?”

He stepped forward, bowed, and started to explain. As he talked—the shrewd adviser now, no longer the obsequious servant—he did have time to feel something genuine and unfeigned. His hatred wasn’t for Giuliano. It wasn’t so much for the other attendants, the members of the cardinal’s “family;” most of them were indifferent to Vicenza’s values and were merely playing a role, as he was himself. It was for Vicenza, for Pope Nicholas, and for all the others who made the world what it was, that he reserved his deadly enmity.

He felt a sullen anger at the lack of freedom this kind of life forced upon him. Well, he would see that his enemies paid for it.




* ^ *


It was too late. Giuliano had no sooner decided to send Caterina away, than he saw the men spread out from the steps of the Lateran, to either side, to encircle him. The cardinal came onto the piazza and halted within speaking distance. Attendants brought his white mare from the side of the church and held the bridle, waiting.

Giuliano hoped there was still a chance to stop the fight. Before he could speak, Vicenza began:

“Listen, Giuliano. I don’t want to know if you’ve wronged me. Earthly wrongs die away. I’m insignificant, I’ll dismiss all that. The Church is everything; and, as I love her, I compel you to answer. Do you make submission to her, and promise future obedience in all your deeds? Or do you count yourself her enemy? Whatever evil has been in your heart, that can be forgiven. Become a loyal and humble servant to her ... If you love her, you may go your way. I shall take your word.”

There was a long pause, during which no one moved.

Giuliano shook his head.

“I mean no disrespect. But I prefer not to answer. His Holiness the pope is satisfied to employ me; what more can you ask? ... I don’t understand what you have against me. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

The cardinal laughed. Nothing wrong! ... It was strange to hear the bitter sound, which rang across the piazza. Sandro thought: has there ever been such hatred? Vicenza had been forced to watch these men—the impious, profane ones, enemies of the Church, whom he wanted to crush and destroy—forced to watch the pope advance them, shower the riches and wealth of the Church upon them, give them honor and position. It was something to wonder at. What surprised Sandro more, though, was why it should matter to the cardinal. What made him like that? Sandro couldn’t imagine why a matter of principle should mean so much, to anyone.

The morning was far advanced, the shadows on the piazza had shortened and were nearly gone. A small crowd gathered to watch. No one was likely to interfere, though, not even the city police, should they happen by: Vicenza was a prince of the Church. One didn’t interfere when a prince was dispensing justice.

Caterina, in the shadow of the monument, had been watching breathlessly. Giuliano turned to her with a frown.

“Caterina, please leave me.”

“No.”

“You don’t belong here!”

“I’m staying with you.”

He sensed that the time had come. Before she grasped what was happening, he seized her by the hips and swung her up to the base of the monument. As she grabbed the horse’s legs to steady herself, he boosted her up. He wanted her out of the way.


He turned to hear Vicenza address his men:

“Put your knives away. I will not have you kill him. Beat him, then drag him to Sant’ Angelo. I’ll answer to the pope.” The Castel Sant’ Angelo was a massive round structure on the banks of the Tiber, the fortress and dungeon of the popes.

A brutish man stripped off his doublet, eyeing Giuliano. “He won’t be hard to manage.” He waved a hand and led the group as they moved forward.

Giuliano retreated till he felt the monument at his back.


“See, he’s afraid,” the brute taunted.

Giuliano crouched and said nothing.

“We’ll teach him a lesson. Come on.”

But he had a surprise for them, as they sprang like a pack of animals. He was not, as they had supposed, unarmed. They didn’t see where the knife came from; but their leader felt it, as his arm was torn open.

“Look out, he’s got a knife!”

They fell back for a moment. “Oh, God ...” the wounded man moaned, clutching his arm as blood spurted through his fingers. He sank to his knees to lie panting, teeth clenched, in his own blood.

Vicenza snorted. Wasn’tthat presumptuous of the scholar? He had offered him a merciful way out, a way to escape with his life. And Giuliano had rejected it.

“Oh, God,” came from the wounded man, again. The others ignored him.

Now, of course, thecardinal’s command not to use knives meant nothing to them. But, though set free of that restraint, many found an armed opponent not to their liking. They were secretaries, valets, hangers-on—the miscellany of people who made up a cardinal’s household. Most stayed back, leaving only three or four to face Giuliano.


A stable hand was first to build up his courage. He crept forward, then jumped, knife extended. Giuliano side-stepped and hit it away with his own. Unexpectedly he moved in close, slashed at the man’s chest, and tore his doublet. A second attacker came from the side with his fists. Giuliano couldn’t turn in time, and was struck on the jaw before lunging back. The man retreated. Giuliano followed, caught him off balance, and shoved him into the first man. They fell back.

Another lackey circled around the monument. Giuliano saw him coming. He struck out, missed, but movedaway as the other’s knife tried to find him. He kicked at the man’s knee, missed, then followed as he dodged away. Giuliano lunged at his throat. The man caught his wrist, but a line of red appeared across his face. He yelled, stumbling out of reach.


Giuliano’s breath was coming in quick gasps. He glanced up at Caterina. She was still safely out of the way. The bronze emperor extended his arm over the scene of bloodshed, like a solemn admonition.

“Don’t let him catch his breath.”

“We’ll make him beg for mercy, your Excellency.”

They came at him again.

He didn’t wait for them. He darted forward in an unexpected direction, putting the leader between himself and the rest of the pack. He struck out, coming within an inch of the other man’s heart. Just as quickly he sprang back. A man with a sneer on his face came forward. They faced each other. Giuliano feinted, the man moved clumsily to meet the attack, and Giuliano landed a fist in his stomach. He was careful to keep the monument at his back, for protection. He leaped to the side again; now two men were coming at him at once. He was moving toward the nearer with his dagger when something struck the other to the ground.


Caterina lay sprawled over him. She had leaped onto his head.


What was she doing? She should have stayed out of the way! He was running to protect her, when he saw her kick the man in the face, kick him again, and stamp on his fingers to free the dagger.

“Look out, Giuliano!”


He spun around, almost too late, and caught the knife on his own, striking a spark from it. They grappled. Giuliano caught the man off balance, drew back his leg, and kneed him as hard as he could. Then he ran to Caterina’s side and threw an arm around her
shoulders.


“Are you all right?”

“Umhm,” she gulped, eyes very wide.

“Are you sure?”


“Yes.”

He drew her back to stand against the monument with him.

The cardinal’s servants kept their distance. Three prone figures on the ground stirred, but didn’t rise. Giuliano glanced around in triumph. The air was still, pierced with sunrays in the dust that had been raised. The sun hit the monument. The arm seemed to be dripping fire: stretched out almost languidly, but with hidden power.

He tasted blood in his mouth. With disdain in his eyes, he spat toward his enemies. No one said anything. He led Caterina across the dirt piazza, glancing back at the cardinal and his men. They didn’t follow. He pulled her cloak more tightly about her, he thrust his dagger into his belt, and wiped the hair from his forehead with the back of a hand. They entered a street of small houses and vineyards, turned a corner, and were gone.


They had won.






Copyright © 2013 by Bill Bucko


Revised from the original version of 1972-1974

All rights reserved.



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