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Late night counsel

(Rome, 1693)

A well-appointed carriage sped down the long lane that led to the front entry of Mafalda’s mansion. Two horses, lathered from exertion, clopped to a standstill, as Pietro greeted and showed a grumpy old solicitor to his master’s temporary drawing room. The portly man was none other that the chief counsel for the Imperialis, a storied legal firm, “handling everything, respectable or questionable,” for the family’s vast empire.

Matteo spoke salutations to his solicitor, welcoming him into his study. The man complained, “This is most irregular. Personal visits, which I do quite infrequently I might add, are always arranged well in advance, never on such short notice. However, in view of our longstanding relationship with your house, an exception has been made.”

Matteo looked at the aged counsel, thinking to himself, old fussbudget. “My deepest apologies, sir, I know this is unusual, but it is a matter of greatest urgency.”

“Harrumph,” the old man exhaled as he sat heavily on the chair Pietro provided.

Looking at his manservant, Matteo said, matter-of-factly, “That will be all. See to it that we are not disturbed.”

Listening in

Stiffly, Pietro left the room, quietly shutting the door, but not all the way, standing on the back side, listening to their muffled voices. Finally, unable to hear, he dared open the door a crack wider, putting his ear to it. Barely breathing, straining to access the conversation inside, all Pietro could make out was the occasional burst of disagreement. “You’re daft, man!” or, “Be reasonable! Listen to my counsel,” or, “That’s what you pay me for!” Both men argued late into the evening, Matteo’s voice remaining calm, although the solicitor’s counsel sometimes bellowed. Finally, Matteo’s voice rose, too, declaring emphatically, “My mind is made up! Do as I say or I will find someone else to accomplish it for me!”

No need to be bellicose

At that, the old man retreated, saying, “No need to be bellicose, young prince, you pay me to speak prudence. But, if you are determined, I will have two sets of documents drawn up and brought to you on the morrow. All that you will be required to do is put your signatures to them. Return one to my office for safe keeping.”

“Quite,” Matteo said dismissively.

After parting small talk, counsel to the Imperialis left. Pietro showed the gentleman out the main door, into the night, opening the door for his carriage. The ornate buggy creaked and pitched, straining as he entered, then settled again. As the old man slumped into his seat, he muttered, “Damn fool…”

Blood Money

Lot, The Order’s chief assassin, sat in the office of Cardinal Lambert, waiting impatiently. On his face, his nose perched like the beak of a predatory bird. A man of discretion, he displayed no emotion, as he took in his surroundings, noting possible weapons, escape routes. The Cardinal’s office seemed sparse, impeccably neat, with no personal mementos. A very private man, he thought.

Dark, wavy hair lay across his broad shoulders over a crimson cape draped roguishly to one side. Eyes darting here and there, finally settled upon the mosaic of Christ that loomed above the Cardinal’s desk.

It was his request that it be done a certain way, that was the problem, he thought to himself. I know my business, why meddle in how it’s done? In the field, circumstances change – at the last minute – you have improvise. Of course, you can arrange things afterwards how you like… if there is time, but the actual deed, that should be left up to

Enter the priest

Just then the big doors of the office swung open, as the priest walked briskly in, robes flowing, taking a seat at his desk with great finality. Staring at Lot for a moment, leaning back, fingertips pressed together, tapping his lips, he said, “Speak.”

Sensing danger in his employer’s demeanor, Lot simply said, “I missed.”

A faint flicker of surprise registered across the cardinal’s features. The man never fails, it’s why I use him. I’ve never known a more ruthless and efficient killer, he thought. Is it fate? Divine intervention? Uncharacteristic doubts began to take root in the cracks of Tim’s resolve.

Then, ice and menace in his tone, Tim said, “I don’t pay you to miss.”

Angered, Lot stood up, removed the blood money out of his vest, and tossed the bag of coins onto the desk, declaring, “Then this one will cost you nothing, but leave the manner in which I execute it to me.”

Also rising, Tim said, “Fair enough.”

Bowing slightly, Lot left, pride wounded, resolve firm.

It may all work out after all

Fia, hair loose around her shoulders said, “I feel like a great weight is lifting off my shoulders, Maria. There is hope that things may actually work after all. It’s been a long time since I felt this way.”

Maria, standing up to give Nico to her mistress, thought, After seeing the prince last evening, I expected darker. “How did the meeting with Prince Imperiali go, Mistress?” daring to pry just a little.

“Oh, it was pleasant enough,” Fia said, leaving the question dangling in mid air.

Maria, feminine curiosity brimming, longing to ask more, held her tongue, thinking it impudent to do so, simply saying, “That’s nice – for a change.”