Fatal Charm of Italy 1

@copyright 2006 Anne E. Fraser and Jean G. Hontz 

What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can
be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be
human,which other places, other countries, lost long ago. - Erica Jong
______________


Italy had a reputation to protect.

Not that the Villa Medici in Fiesole, above Florence, was ever
less than immaculate...still, the place had been scrubbed and
polished even more severely than usual.

The Court had their orders. The guest rooms were aired and
ready. The junior members of Carmine's court had been shipped
off to the Riviera to get them out of the way

Trucks had been arriving for days, bringing in the freshest of
groceries for those who needed them, wines and liquors for those
who indulged, and bottled pigs blood for fastidious courts who
tried to pretend they were too civilized to drink fresh human
blood. Still, the fresh human blood tended to be consumed quite
enthusiastically in private, often by the most vocal of those
who condemned the habit. Such was vampire (not to mention
human) nature.

Uberto and Siena, mostly charged merely with Carmine's security,
were detailed to liaise with security teams for each of the
European Princes.

Travel now was far easier and quicker. What used to take weeks
could be accomplished in hours. Planes were used by quite a few
Princes, others preferred to drive. Some might stay a night or
two, others were a bit too paranoid to remain where they were
within the sphere of control of a foreign Prince, especially one
whose reputation was chequered.

Still, Council sessions were hard to predict. Mostly things
could be accomplished in one meeting. Sometimes however several
nights might be needed to hammer out an agreement - preferably
without resorting to swords, but there had been times in the
not-to-distant past when a duel decided the final vote.

Nervousness was quite evident due to the happenings in Belgium
so recently. The Princes had been most unkindly reminded that
their security was, after all, mostly based on illusion. It was
one thing to protect themselves from other vampires, but demons
and mages, oh my!

Orsino was recalled from Venice. Luckily he wasn't the only
magician the Prince of Italy had to call upon, but he was well
known to the other Council members whereas Carmine's other mage
preferred to keep a much lower profile.

It was not Carmine's concern as to how the other Princes
travelled, nor even was he responsible for their safety during
those travels - well, at least not until they crossed the
borders into Italy. From there on....

Carmine squinted into the scrying sphere. "I see," he said,
although truth to tell he couldn't really see much. But he had
a great deal of respect for his senior mage. And as things had
gone well before he preferred to keep his doubts and worries to
himself. And have Siena and Uberto ready with a backup plan.

__________

The contingent from France chose to drive. Jean wanted to take
his new Porsche, to show Carmine how much he appreciated the
gift (although he was also uncertain exactly what his relationship
with the Italian Prince was going to be--Carmine had called him his dear
friend, a signal honour, but had also beaten the merde out him). Owen,
Erica (who still smiled whenever bottle imps were mentioned), Toan and
Chantal comprised the security team following in Jean's old Renault, now
given to Owen.

The beautiful Claire, protected by the remainder of the Gardiens
and with Nyree to keep her additional company (Nyree had politely
refused Gen's invite to be a retainer and come visit Italy), was interim
Prince in France. This was possibly the first step of her
being officially named successor, but Gen was still thinking that over.
Claire seemed the only possible candidate at the moment.

The small convey made it out of France and into the Alps without
much incident other than Jean having to wait for Owen's slower
car to catch up. This cause endless griping from the security team--it
was hard to protect a car you couldn't see half the time.

"Let me drive," said Gen for the umpteenth time.

"Non," replied Jean for the umpteenth and oneth time. "This is a
very delicate car, you do not understand all her nuances."

"Please? I will let you drive the SAAB."

"Promise?"

"Oui."

"D'accord. After the next stop, you may drive. For a little
while."

"How kind of you." But Gen smiled, glad to see Jean nearly back
to his old self. He was a little quieter and more given to
introspection, and the pirate had not yet returned--he hadn't grown back
the van Dyke or gone back to his usual clothing style. But at least he
was no longer moping and had been playing music. Sad music, granted,
but if it helped him, she did not mind. He had brought his guitar on
this trip, just in case.

"We had better stop soon," Jean said, glancing in the rear view
mirror at the Renault chugging faithfully behind them. "The
Nameless Ones must be hungry, and we are nearly at the Italian border."

"Yes," Gen agreed. "There is a safe hotel nearby, and I made the
reservations."

"Oui, I know the place."

"Did you stay there after...?"

"Non, it was too expensive. I found safe places not run by
bandits."

She didn't pursue that conversation, because it would lead to an
argument. He should have told her where he was, but he had been
told to keep quiet about his mission... she repressed a sigh.

They pulled into the parking lot of the safe hotel half an hour
later, with the Renault putt-putting behind them, and were
immediately swarmed by obsequious staff.

The remainder of the night and the following day passed without
disturbances of any kind. The small convoy refueled in every
sense before crossing the border into Italy. They had not
travelled very far into Carmine's country (Gen, to her great
pleasure, was driving) when they were met by a security
contingent from his court. For Gen, he'd sent his best.

Siena bowed to the Prince of France and her consort--they had
all pulled over to a lay-by on the road to speak when the
Italians joined the convoy.

"Capitaine," she said to Jean. "It is good to see you again.
You honour us by coming."

Jean returned the bow. "It is I who am honoured, Siena," he
replied.

"Why all the security?" Owen asked, looking at his Italian
counterpart. "We're all armed." There might have been a stink
at the border about that, but they'd merely been waved through.
Obviously bribes or threats had been made.

"We have had a rumor of possible ...difficulties. We thought it
best to be prepared. After all, Prince Carmine is responsible
for even you now that you are in Italy," Siena replied with a
somewhat dismissive yet ever-so-slightly respectful tone. The
Italian Court was nothing if not nuanced.

Owen wrinkled his nose at her.

"Everyone is all right?" the Prince of France asked worriedly.

"I've had no reports of permanent injuries," was all Gen was
able to worm out of Siena. Given that Siena's Prince seriously
spanked, Gen was not surprised.

Although Jean was a bit pleased by the respectful tone Siena
took in public with him. Yes, she'd been as kind as she could be
after his beating, but he'd been worried that private kindness would
be masked with public censure. But no, not at all. Which gave
Jean even more pause as to what his relationship with the
Italian Prince was to be.

-------------

Paula followed Rodrigo (she suspected Carmine called the boy
that for reasons other than it being the young man's name) down
into the gardens. She felt uneasy. When Carmine sent a servant
for you at the crack of the evening, it made anyone uneasy.

And down into the gardens? Where _was_ the Prince?

She looked about at how the gardens had been decorated. It did
not dare rain in Florence for the next few days. Carmine would
box God's ears if it did.

The trees were outlined in fairy lights, and chairs were spread
out in arbors and along pathways for the visiting members of the
court to enjoy the beauty of Italian weather. And to indulge in
whatever tastes they had. From the sexual to ... well, whatever.

There was a string quartet that would play on the upper terrace.
And buffet tables with all requisite vampiric and non-vampiric
refreshment to be arranged on them.

But instead of stopping at either of these areas the boy led her
downward and of toward where the cliff fell away to reveal the
Arno and Florence spread out below.

He walked up to a garden wall, reached in amongst the climbing
roses and opened a door. He stood aside and motioned her to
enter.

She'd heard of this garden. How secret Carmine kept it, how few
had ever seen it. She took an entirely unnecessary deep breath
and walked through the doorway.

"My Prince?" she looked around for him, spotted him over by the
far wall, and started to courtsey.

Carmine waved at her. "No need, bella," he said. "Here, in this
garden, with just the two of us, there is no need."

"Signore?" she asked, bewildered. At least he didn't seem to
have a stick and he didn't look angry.

"Take off your shoes, Paula," Carmine requested. "Stand and
feel the stones, the grass."

She still looked completely pole-axed, but did as he asked.
"The stones are still warm, Signore!"

"That is the point, cara. Feel the sun that we dare not see. It
anchors us to the world of the living, giving us a taste of what
they must feel and see."

Paula somewhat nervously stood there. One foot on the warm stones, the
other in the soft grass. The scent of the grass as she stepped into it
reached her nose.

"You see?" he asked her, watching her but revealing little of what he
was thinking.

"Si, signore."

"Here I am Carmine," he corrected her.

Paula wrapped her arms around herself. She was afraid to hope.

Meanwhile the Prince walked over to a low stone wall that looked
out over the cliff. He said, not looking back at her, "I love
the city. The smell of it, the view of it, every stone of it."

She walked slowly across the grass to join him where he stood.

They stood that way for some time, he staring out at the city,
she wondering what she ought to say.

"Have you forgiven me for sending you to Genevieve?" he finally
asked. "Was that a wise move do you think, or was it not?"