The Medici Strike Back

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Logline or Premise
In the second book of this series, in Italy 1478, Andrea de' Grigi has failed to save his closest friend from assassination. But he saved the chief leader of Florence, Lorenzo de' Medici. Now he must work with Lorenzo, and his English birth father, to protect Florence from further attack.
First 10 Pages

Chapter One

“I will redeem myself for what we have lost,” Andrea had told Lorenzo de’ Medici. It was an emphatic resolution with a noble ring to it.

Nevertheless, as yet, Andrea had very little idea how to go about it.

He was a soldier. Following the bloody attack in the cathedral of Florence, his job was to keep Lorenzo safe from harm. But Andrea could not scour through the city himself on the off chance of finding any of the escaped would-be assassins. And it was not Lorenzo’s style to declare war immediately on those who had ordered the killing of him and his brother in order to take over the city: the Duke of Urbino, the King of Naples, and the Pope.

For now, all Andrea could do was sit at Lorenzo’s side with others, around a table in the dining salon littered with papers and maps, watching and listening as Lorenzo responded with thought and words to the attack that had wounded him and killed his brother.

A momentous message came from the government palace. The gonfalonier and the priors had ordered the hangings of Francesco de’ Pazzi and the Archbishop of Pisa, along with several other men captured during the day’s attacks. They had sent guards out also to rake the countryside as far as Florence’s borders, searching for those who had escaped.

In the Medici palace, no one celebrated. Lorenzo heard the messenger out with no visible reaction. Then he gave the man a coin, dismissed him and turned his attention back to the papers and the men before him. A meal came and went, the plates taken away in various stages of ruin. Some men ate, some pretended, and a few—Andrea included—pushed the food away untasted.

The foreign troops on the borders—to the north east under Gianfrancesco da Tolentino from Imola, and to the south under Orlando Giustini—had not moved forward into Florentine territory. That presumably meant they had learned of the failure to kill Lorenzo in Florence. But neither had they gone away. Both forces stuck fast where they were.

The men with Lorenzo conferred. To discourage Tolentino, troops would be sent north, along with a message to Florence’s ally Giovanni Bentivoglio in Bologna. With luck, Signore Giovanni would be marching towards Florence by Monday afternoon.

To the south, the problem was more touchy, for Giustini was squatting with his own men and those of the Duke of Urbino in the territory of Siena. And the city of Siena was no friend to Florence. The men at the table argued until Lorenzo, sitting quietly while they talked, unclasped his hands and sent for his secretary.

They all looked at him.

Lorenzo said, “I believe we may have a friend in Siena who will help.”

Several sets of eyebrows rose. Andrea said, “You mean—?” and paused before the name passed his lips. “That is, I know he said he would stay out of it. But why would he help?”

Lorenzo’s dark eyes were inert. “He liked Giuliano.” He stood as Niccolò Michelozzi bustled in. To Andrea, he added, “You had better come. You will have to play errand boy,” and he looked at the rest. “Gentlemen, the connection is … sensitive. Forgive me.”

In the privacy of his study, the letter Lorenzo dictated was to Antonio da Montefeltro, Count of Cantiano, the Duke of Urbino’s son and captain of forces in Siena.

“Illustrious lord,

“I must tell you that my brother Giuliano has been killed today, during the solemnity of Mass itself, in the cathedral, before God and before many of our populace. I have related this now several times, yet it still strikes an unreal blow. I know you were his friend. I flatter myself you may feel for me, out of your fondness for him.

“You know better than I who are responsible for this deed, and why it has been done. The failure of their intentions beyond Giuliano’s atrocious death is a most bitter sweetness, a consolation that gives little comfort.

“You in Siena will be aware there are troops poised on our mutual borders, and even of their provenance. It appears to us here they will engender further distress and disturbance in our state if they are able. Yet we hesitate to march to meet them, for the anger and mistrust such a move may spark in Siena, which would bring greater trouble than any of us already faces.

“I do not request your aid in support of our Florentine state, for I know how you are constrained. I speak only of the affection you bore toward my brother, and of my hope for greater peace and better relations between the two states in which we sit. I do believe such thoughts should constrain us both to seek ways to remove any threats of strife and dismay between us. Florence, 26 April, 1478.

“Your servant,

“Lorenzo de’ Medici.”

There was no sound but the scratch of Niccolò’s pen.

Looking at Lorenzo’s downbent head, Andrea swallowed carefully. “I don’t know the man. But that would work with me.”

He wasn’t sure, but he thought there was a faint smile on the thin lips. Then it faded and Lorenzo began a second letter.

This one, astoundingly, was to the Duke of Urbino. Lorenzo used no wasteful verbiage, and the words as they appeared on the page flowed collectedly. Only Andrea and Niccolò heard the rock-strewn voice that dictated them.

“Most illustrious lord,

“Today my unfortunate brother Giuliano has been killed in a disastrous plot aimed at taking both our lives and devastating our city. By the grace of God, I have come through without serious harm.

“Those who have perpetrated these acts are already receiving the justice they merit. Yet we are still threatened by forces who would march against us and destroy our wellbeing.

“I know I may trust in your kindness and support at so perilous a time. I pray there will be no further violence to disturb the peace we all desire. But we must defend ourselves as we may.”

Reaching the end, Lorenzo’s voice stopped. A moment later, he looked up at Andrea. “What do you think?”

“I think,” Andrea said slowly, “you think, if the Duke hears all that from you, he may decide to recall the troops he gave to Orlando Giustini, rather than be caught bloody-handed, involved in it all. That would leave Orlando with only whatever men he brought himself from elsewhere. And those men probably aren’t as good as the Duke’s.”

“Is it worth trying?”

“I think anything’s worth trying,” Andrea said. “This—certainly yes.”

Niccolò had completed his notes and begun on the fair copies of the letters.

Lorenzo did not stand and leave. He said, “You loved him, I suppose—my brother.” As an afterthought he glanced at the secretary, but Niccolò’s pen did not falter.

Sliced and bruised as Andrea was, there were parts of him that were enduring far, far worse. He knew Lorenzo must feel the same. “Most people loved him. I was only one of many.”

Lorenzo’s eyes lowered as he nodded gently. “Of course.” He rose. “I must return to the others. I’d ask you to stay with Niccolò. Take the letters when he has written them. Send the one to the Duke by relay post to Urbino. But have the other carried solely by a man you trust. No one else must see where it goes.”

“I understand,” Andrea said.

Their eyes met briefly. And Andrea understood something more. Lorenzo had not asked him if he could do it properly.

* * *

Much later, the stream of messages ceased, and all the political and military planners left the Medici palace for the night.

But no one slept easily. Lorenzo passed the dark hours alone in his gloomy chambers, his wife and children absent, and absent too his brother, on the opposite side of the house.

In the wake of what must be viewed as a failure, Andrea spent the night with the men he had worked with for months, the Medici bodyguards in their quarters at the back of the house. They talked for a time, seized in purposeless analysis and evaluation.

Andrea knew very well what he might have done differently. But that was hindsight. He had no desire to scrape about in the slag of his deficiency. All the same, he let the others talk, and when the wine was finished and they fell asleep at last, some confidence and conviction had been salvaged.

He fell fitfully asleep himself for a few hours at a time. And each time he woke, the ache of his grief engulfed him, even before he remembered.

* * *

Edward Grey, in his rooms on the first floor, also rested little that night. He spent some time in his bed, but sleep contended inadequately with ghosts past as well as present.

Still awake in the darkest hours of the slow night, he saw a light glimmering through the gap in the door broken open on Sunday morning, leading to Giuliano’s chamber. Edward stared at the light of a candle dancing on the architrave. When it did not retreat after a few minutes, he rose, pulled his robe about him and stepped noiselessly over to the open crack.

He had expected to see Lorenzo, and to check all was as well as it could be before returning to his bed, allowing the man a few hours of the solitude to which Edward himself had often wished to retreat in the past. What he saw, however, gave him pause.

In the room beyond was Lucrezia Tornabuoni. Over her nightgown she wore a brocaded robe, her dark hair loose down her back, her face softened in the warm, weak glow of the single fat candle in her hand. She wandered slowly, drifting about the room, her eyes traversing, stopping, fixing here and there, shifting on. The bed, decently made by a servant, its white spread flawlessly smooth. A little sloping desk on the table with a pen bravely erect in the inkstand. The books on the shelf, dominated by volumes of poems. A dove-grey cap thrown onto the rack above the settle. A walnut chess set abandoned on the seat.

One by one, all of the items of a young man’s existence caught in voiceless stasis. Lucrezia touched nothing; she looked at everything. When she had visited it all once, she began again where she had started.

Edward tapped on the door.

There was no need to speak. She seemed to accept his presence as an ancient gardener accepts a cat amongst the flowers.

He walked to a chair and sat, and gestured as she watched him, and after a moment she came, setting down her candle, and sat not too far off. The hush of the room enveloped them, and he joined her in still vigil, desolate in company, and in the sense of presence and of absence.

Chapter Two

The dawn came subdued, but by mid-morning the house was teeming again. Outside in the streets, people thronged as they had the evening before, shouting, demanding Lorenzo show himself periodically at the windows. Pushing through them, leading men of substance came for admission to the palace, some from houses of the city, some even from districts beyond the walls.

Lorenzo saw them all. They came to condole, and also to pledge their support. They offered arms and food, horses, vehicles and men. They spoke with affection of Giuliano, and with anger of the Pazzi, the Salviati and their backer Count Girolamo Riario, nephew of the Pope. None comprehended yet the greater threat, the axis of the Pope himself, Naples and Urbino. Or if they comprehended it, they avoided it for the time being.

Andrea took no chances. Lorenzo wore a cuirass under his gown, sitting and moving a little stiffly with it. But no man commented, even when embracing him. The guards and Andrea wore brigandines openly, earning some unsettled glances which they returned unmoved.

Edward circulated among the guests, drawing what attention he could from Lorenzo, and thankfully, they all departed by dinner time. Later, after a brief meeting with Lorenzo, Edward slipped away from the palace alone.

He visited Anna first, and found her much improved in health since her illness, but anxious for her brother. Edward said what he could to comfort her.

After that, he presented himself at the Macinghi palace. He had noted with Anna, and found now with Bess and Zanobi, the state of him startled them. It reminded him, if he needed reminding, that he had now been the larger part of two nights without sleep. He explained objectively all he had come to explain, omitted what it was prudent to omit, and left them a little relieved, if not cheered. He told them Andrea would come as soon as he was able.

He made his return journey via the government palace. Outside in the piazza, the numbers of people had dwindled as the city made a pretence of returning to ordinary life. But the pavement was stained in great blotches and smears, and from the windows of the palace, the hangings of plotters and their soldiers were continuing. Bodies dangled there as Edward passed beneath.

Cesare Petrucci met him at the top of the stairs and invited him in, and had wine brought to them in the meeting room where, a day ago, Edward had hurled furniture across the floor. One chair stood leaning against a wall, its support snapped in two. He turned his eyes from it and caught the gonfalonier’s smile. “It took almost two hours to clean up the chancery,” Cesare remarked.

“Do you wish me to apologize?” Edward said.

“Hardly. The alternatives would have been considerably messier. Which reminds me—” Cesare paused, and putting his hands to his belt, he removed a purse and put it on the table before his guest. “I believe this is yours. We retrieved it from those you dropped it for. They have no use for it now.”

Edward leaned forward and opened the little bag. Inside was a mixture of coins, gold and silver, English and Florentine, as well as some from other mints. There were more than he remembered forfeiting when he had tipped his own over the floor of the chancery. He closed the purse and pushed it away. “I’d be grateful if you would divide it among the staff who tidied.”

“If you wish.” Thoughtfully, Cesare paused again. Then he said, “I wonder, do you understand what we are doing here?”

“Yes,” Edward said shortly. Then, because it seemed too short, he added, “I have seen it before.”

“I suppose you have. I have heard of England’s Towton battle at least,” Cesare replied mildly. “Of course it is more than retribution for the death of one young man, however popular. The Medici have guided Florence a long time, and when surrounded by pirates we need a stable captain in charge. Now, foreign powers have attacked us, with foreign soldiers in our city and on our borders, using a few of our alienated own as their tools. In some situations, I believe what is condign is not necessarily what is proportionate.”

Edward was almost too tired to care. “You are making an example. And sending a message. Like Judith with the head of Holofernes in her hand.”

“Just so,” Cesare said. “We must annihilate the participants and connivers in what occurred, for our unity, for our self-respect, and for those who sent them and others to know, we will not be subdued.”

“Yes,” Edward said. “Well. Your ship’s captain has asked me to ask if you have any recent news regarding the fugitives who have escaped annihilation thus far.”

Petrucci’s look was wry. “Very little, I’m afraid. And none to cheer Lorenzo. The two priests have disappeared, and Giovanbattista da Montesecco and Bernardo Baroncelli. There has been a sighting of Jacopo de’ Pazzi to the east, we believe, but nothing more. It seems Renato de’ Pazzi also went east. He left the city for his villa on Saturday, with two of his brothers, but when our guards of the Eight raided the villa this morning, he had gone. A servant gave up his direction. If we are to catch these men, it must be before they cross the border into Romagna.”

Edward stared at him. “Messer Renato fled? Yesterday?”

“Interesting, isn’t it,” Petrucci reflected. “We knew he was aware of his cousin Francesco’s plot, at least. But after the failure to kill Lorenzo, news went to him immediately and he fled. Our guards discovered his two brothers, the elder fleeing on the road and the younger at the villa. They were brought into custody an hour ago. There was also a woman who tried to hide the younger brother as well as Renato’s two eldest sons. She is being held at the villa until we decide what to do with her. Our guards did not want the burden of bringing back a woman. But she bit one of them so that the blood flowed from his hand, and then struck him.”

“Not Mona Francesca?” Edward asked, incredulous.

“Heavens, no. Renato’s wife had taken to her bed. No, it was a companion of hers—Mona Caterina Cambini, she is called.”

Edward did not speak, but at his expression Cesare said curiously, “You know this woman?”