A continuation of the previous series dealing with the history of a hand from the game "Citadels" but this time focusing on the other two players.
Il Historie Gran d’Cara
Being a Treatise on the Histories of The Citadel of Wonders
As set down by Signiorie Giacomo d’Vrettzi
First Warden to the Magnificent Taumbrio di Castiara
“I likes it,” the little girl said.
“Do you?” d’Vrettzi paused, placing his pen back into its inkwell. “Unfortunately, this is as far as I’ve gotten.” The wind swept aside the gossamer curtains of d’Vrettzi’s study, blowing with it the faint smell of sewage from the canal below. The historian leaned across his desk and squinted down at the little figures riding their bicycles along the travelway.
“Allette?” he said.
“Yes, Ompa?” the little girl answered.
“Do you know why Anadio laid out the streets the way he did, hm? Why the First Artiste put bicycles and auto-carriages on one street, and the walkways on others, or up above them?”
The little girl stuck out her bottom lip and pulled on it with the forefinger of one hand. Her hair was so blonde, it was cornsilk, d’Vrettzi thought. And even this was darker than when she was born.
“I guess…” she said. “I guess ‘cuz all the people are real slow, and if when you’re on a bistickle you wanna go real fast.”
“Yes!” d’Vrettzi said. “Very good! But do you know why else?”
The little girl pulled on her lip some more, then said, “Well, I guess if everybody’s going fast on one street, and all slow on the other, then you can make the slow-street all pretty for everyone, and put all the cafes and stuff there, and everyone will know where everything is and how to get there.”
“Excellent!” d’Vrettzi cried. “Excellent! You are a genius, my little one. Yes, when Anadio laid out our great city, he built it for maximum efficiency. Which is just what you said.”
“Mackthimun eff-fishy-see,” she repeated definitively.
A sudden pounding at the door interrupted any chance of finishing the conversation, or, d’Vrettzi thought, his book. “d’Vrettzi!” an urgent voice called, followed by an enormous cough. “d’Vrettzi! Come at once, come at once!”
It was Cuolo, his patron’s seneschal. The historian leapt to his feet and dashed down the narrow stairs to slam into the doorframe a moment before the house-girl reached it. “See to Allette,” he whispered to her, smiling nervously. She nodded and turned away, quickly sidling up the stairs back to his study.
“d’Vrettz--oh!” Cuolo cried as the historian flung the door open in his face. Cuolo was a fat man, a direct contrast to d’Vrettzi’s own skinny frame, so fat that the seneschal could barely fit through the doors of the historian’s house. Thus, standing and crying was his modus operandi, though today seemed much more urgent than usual. Cuolo’s face was red and giant beads of sweat rolled down his cheeks, as though he had just run some distance.
“You must come quickly,” Cuolo said. “Come quickly. They have burnt the docks, the swine, they have burnt our fabulous harbor!” Indeed, d’Vrettzi had smelled smoke in the air earlier, but thought little of it, so engrossed was he in his penmanship. Now, he looked upward to see a great tower of it rising into the sky from across the city. He leaned past the seneschal and see into the canal. Bits of charred wood bobbed around the gondolas there, which moved inland with an unusual haste.
“Good lord!” d’Vrettzi gasped. “Are we safe?”
“For today,” the big man said, wheezing. “They have burnt the docks, they say to teach us a lesson, to curb our expansion no doubt. But the future is uncertain.”
“I do not understand,” the historian said. “What does Magnifico Castiari want with me?”
Cuolo waved his fat hand. “He assembles all his lieutenants before him today. You are First Warden, remember?” d’Vrettzi slapped his hand against his forehead and wailed. First Warden! An honorific title Castiari had bestowed upon him when he commissioned the book, nothing more. Traditionally, the First Warden was chief minder of home and estate, the man responsible for the day-to-day operations of a noble family’s business, but the title had lost significance since King Ludelpho II built the Town Hall and declared Cara to be a democratic state.
“All except the kingship, of course,” d’Vrettzi muttered.
“What?” Cuolo snapped.
The little man shook his head. “I get lost sometimes,” he said. “In the past. Nevermind.”
“You lose your mind is what happens!” Cuolo told him. “Now to the manor, post-haste! Magnifico awaits you. I have others to round up.”
“Yes, signiore,” d’Vrettzi said, bobbing his head up and down, practicing already to appear gracious before the Castiaris. “Immediately, signiore.”
Cuolo snorted, then waddled away, his bulk slowly gaining speed as it went until, with all his momentum behind him, he was able to accelerate to nearly a jog. d’Vrettzi raced inside as fast as his toothpick legs could carry him, grabbed his traveling cloak, shouted quick orders to the house-girl, who carried Allette’s struggling body toward the washbasin like a standard-bearer holding forth his nation’s flag, then darted out the door and raced down the civilian walkway.
The docks! he thought. The great harbor! No less than three of Cara’s greatest leaders, aristocrats of House Madiacha, House Castiari, and the former House Yulano, had sailed from those ports, as far back as the second era, when Cara was nothing but the beautiful keep of the First Artiste and the docks no more than a spit of wood in the bay. d’Vrettzi imagined Hugo di Castiari, his famed breast-piece and helmet agleam from a heavenly vessel, staring down in disgust as the flames of the South Men reduced his beloved docks to burnt timbers. And di Castiari’s descendant, of course, looking down on d’Vrettzi in disgust when he found his historian to be of no use whatsoever.
Castiari manor lay outside the downtown spiral of central Caralot, in the aristocratic districts where the buildings did not share walls, just high fences at the edge of estates. Marconi di Castiari, another famous ancestor of d’Vrettzi’s patron, had built it at the end of the Oligarchy, when the merchant-families truly ruled the city, before the rise of the monarchy. Ordinarily, d’Vrettzi would have admired its architecture, the soft sweep of its arches and rotundas, the elegant simplicity of its form-to-function design. But today was not a day to gawk or dawdle. Instead, he shuffled through the doorway, nearly tripping and stumbling over his own feet in his haste. The house-boy, one of them, reached out and snatched the cloak off his back as he passed. d’Vrettzi glanced back at him, but the servant simply raised a finger to point him onward, through a great arched doorway to Toumbrio di Castiari’s audience chamber.
The audience chamber itself had been designed to awe. Marconi had known a bit about architecture, and had taken a personal hand in designing it. Though not enormous in its own right, the walls bowed outward to give the illusion of vast space, and stretched upward some twenty feet. The Lord’s Chair, where the current patriarch would sit in these audiences, was set out just a little from the far wall on a slightly elevated dias at the confluence of a particular set of angles, such that any words spoken with authority would find themselves echoed and reinforced down onto whatever poor petitioner might make his case before the Castiari family. Even the color scheme was carefully chosen: austere white marble and onyx in a checkerboard pattern that, if one was paying careful attention, had slightly larger white squares on the patriarch’s end and larger black squares towards the entryway. Thus, without knowing it, the eye was drawn toward the Lord’s Chair, and its occupant seemed even larger and more powerful for his setting.
The chair’s current occupant, Toumbrio di Castiari, hardly needed its effect. Though not an overly large man, the current Castiari patriarch beamed authority in his posture, the relaxed demeanor of a man whose words are law and who knows it. A group of advisers, some of whom d’Vrettzi recognized, gathered about him, babbling and milling excitedly. The new arrival slunk into their mass, doing his best to keep his head down and blend into the dynamic crowd, but Toumbrio spotted him immediately and called out.
“d’Vrettzi!” he boomed in a voice that was at once soft and commanding. “My First Warden. You have, I take it, heard the news?”
The mob of advisers bounced and jostled d’Vrettzi to their middle, forcing him into the central position before the Lord’s Chair. “The docks, Magnifico,” d’Vrettzi said, bobbing his head up and down awkwardly. “I have heard. Cuolo explained. It is a tragedy.”
“No it isn’t,” Toumbrio told him. “But then, you are a man who cares about memory. A memory lost, I suppose.” d’Vrettzi felt the heavy weight of his patron’s gaze leave his shoulders and move to the crowd surrounding him. “Leave us, if you please, gentlemen. I wish to speak to my First Warden of family matters.” The babble rose briefly, then dipped as each man muttered a formal farewell and the mob of whispering attendants shuffled its way from the chamber.
Toumbrio followed them with his eyes, watching in silence for a long moment after d’Vrettzi felt sure the last adviser had gone. Finally, his gaze returned to the thin man in front of him. “The docks are gone, d’Vrettzi,” he said. “Burned by the slant-eyed mongoloid southmen. With them goes His Majesty the King’s dreams of empire, I fear. I am right on that, am I not?”
The historian nodded. “The crown has never survived a direct assault, Magnifico,” he stammered, unsure if he was to speak at that time. “It passed from the west to the southmen in Sonnen the first time a warlord raised his hands, and it passed again to Cara, in the days of your illustrious ancestor Marconi, again in the heat of fire. Once one of the other cities has shown itself willing to wage war against the crown city--”
“The Pax is and always has been an illusion,” Toumbrio finished for him. “The four great citadels all pretend to obey the king, but each is as its own city-state, running its own affairs, and at odds with the others. When one takes up arms against the crown, the illusion is shattered, and the crown must pass.”
d’Vrettzi nodded, his eyes fixed to the floor. Fortunately, his patron had marvelous shoes. “Yes, my lord,” he said.
“Our King Filip intended to change that, to truly unite the world under a real sovereign. He has now failed. The crown must pass. It is the way of things.” Toumbrio leaned forward. d’Vrettzi glanced up briefly and met his dark eyes, but only for a second before looking away. “I fully intend,” he continued, “that it will pass to me.”
“Lord?” d’Vrettzi muttered.
Toumbrio leaned back again, waving his hand sharply in the air. “Not to me personally, you understand, but to my line. My son. He is just a boy now, but Filip will hold the crown for some time anyway. We will wrench it from his hands, d’Vrettzi, you and I. We may die in the process. But it will land on my son’s head, I assure you.”
d’Vrettzi scuffled his feet lightly. “You and I, Magnifico?” He nearly choked on the words. “I am a historian. I have nothing to offer you, I fear.”
The other man studied him in silence for a moment, then vaulted from his seat. He strolled past the stunned historian to a side table and poured two glasses of wine. Without offering one to d’Vrettzi, he sipped slowly from the other. “You were a student of Veda, the engineer, were you not?” he asked as though meeting d’Vrettzi at a party.
“I was,” d’Vrettzi said. “Briefly. I fear I am no good, though. I was his apprentice for a year, a year only, before he realized I have no aptitude for the mechanical. He dismissed me, and took on another.”
Toumbrio turned and stared him straight in the eye. This time, the patrician’s gaze was so powerful that d’Vrettzi could not look away. He began to shake beneath it. “That is what Veda told me as well,” Toumbrio said. “But I have big ears. My family has… many connections. You should not lie to me, d’Vrettzi,” he said calmly. “But it is a personal affair, and I have known for many years, and so I forgive you. This once.”
“Magnifico?” d’Vrettzi stammered, but already, he slouched into defeat, his eyes dropping away from the bigger man’s gaze and back to the floor and the shoes.
“I hear,” Toumbrio continued, “That you were in fact a star pupil. The best Veda had ever seen, or even heard of. I hear he used to call you the ‘next Artiste,’ did he not?”
d’Vrettzi closed his eyes and swallowed. Veda had been the last true follower of the school of Nikolos the Builder, the Primer Artiste (for the title of First Artiste had been taken and Nikolos would not accept Second), the man who had designed the steam engine, the autocarriage, the bicycle and the mortar. True, Nikolos had never built anything, but his machines, built on the groundwork of Anadio, the First Artiste, had revolutionized Cara, truly turning her into the Citadel of Wonders. Everyone still built Nikolos’s creations, but few understood them. Fewer still innovated upon them. Veda had. So had d’Vrettzi, if only briefly.
“Why do you think I gave you this title, First Warden?” his patron asked. “Here you are, a man of infinite talent, and you give it all away, while your successor, by all accounts a poor imitation, rises to role of Lord Engineer to the King! And you are left here, pretending to be a nobody, for me to come and…” He cupped his hands and pressed them together dramatically-- “Scoop up!”
d’Vrettzi shook his head slowly. “I did not wish to be a tool,” he said. “I did not wish to be an instrument of power.”
“We live our roles, d’Vrettzi,” di Castiari told him. “We cannot escape them. My role is to bring greatness to my line, though I myself may fade to obscurity. Your role is to be my instrument. This is as it should be. It is fate.”
“What do you wish of me?” d’Vrettzi asked.
“Two things. First, you will help me build machines. War machines. Peace machines maybe after. But first war machines. Come here.” Toumbrio waved his hand and d’ Vrettzi obediently trotted over to the side table. A scroll was perched on it, which the patriarch unfurled before him. It was a complicated schematic, a platform on wheels topped with three rows of narrow tubes, ten to a row, one over the other. A small spring-loaded engine sat behind the tubes, with a coil connected to each one.
“You recognize this?” Toumbrio said. d’Vrettzi nodded. “You should, you drew it. A ‘machine-rifle,” I think you called it. Theoretically, it could fire non-stop, if you loaded fast enough.” He rolled the scroll up quickly and handed it to d’Vrettzi. “I want you to make it work. After that, there will be more, but this first.”
“And the second thing?” the historian asked.
“This you will like more, I think,” Toumbrio said, turning to face him. “My son, he will be king, of this I have no doubt. But I wish more than for him to hold the crown. I wish him to be a good ruler. To that end, you will teach him history. You will teach him where he comes from, where Cara comes from, that he may know where to guide her.”
Toumbrio reached out, placing his hands on either of d’Vrettzi’s shoulders, and gripped tightly. “I ask a lot of you, d’Vrettzi. I know this. But I ask this not for me. For my children. For our children. This is a time in history where strength is needed. The monarchy teeters on the verge of failure. The church in the north, the mongoloid kingdom to the south, even Janeus to the east, all vie to rope us under their yoke. It takes men of strong spirit. I am one of those men. Will you help me?”
And I have a choice? d’Vrettzi thought. “I will,” he said.
Toumbrio di Castiari, Patriarch of the great House Castiari, descendant of Hugo the Navigator, looked down on the little man and smiled. “Excellent,” he said.
“A king,” d’Vrettzi muttered to himself, back in his drawing room, huddled over the plans for the machine-rifle. “The last thing we need is another king.” He studied the firing mechanism carefully. The main problem was the reloading-- how to get it done quickly, and without a man having to stand in front of the firing barrels? He sighed. “I give up,” he said. “Allette, come here!”
His daughter peeked out from behind the door.
“Have you been watching me work?” he asked. She nodded shyly. “Well, you have probably heard some words you are too young to be exposed to, then,” he laughed. “Come, sit on my knee.” She trotted over to him, grinning, and clambered into his lap.
“Have I told you the story of the School of Magic?” he asked. Allette shook her head. “No?”
She shook her head again. “No, Ompa,” she said.
“I have been remiss, then,” he said definitively, pulling her further up onto his lap. “There is a school on the hill, my dear, you may have seen it from afar, it sits up where the mountains just north of here rise from the ocean. It is said that no less than Biero Madiacha, the great merchant-prince, ordered it built, paid for in gold brought back from across the sea by his famous father.
“But that was not all the navigator brought from across the sea. He brought knowledge, knowledge of the places of power in the earth, like footprints where the gods once walked, and of how a man might harness that power to himself, even if he were a thousand miles away from its source, and perform miracles!”
“What kinds of miracles?” the little girl asked.
d’Vrettzi threw his hands out. “Oh, all kinds of miracles! They say one could travel across the land in a flash, or pull living animals from thin air! Or cast up walls where none before existed. Turn the water to boil, then make it freeze in a second. Wondrous things!” She nodded attentively.
“So they built the School of Magic on the hill, in a special place, to study its special powers. But the magic, it only works when it wants to. It is a testy thing, and none but a very, very few ever became more than simple magicians, performing parlor tricks for kings. But the Primer Artiste, Nikolos, realized the power of even parlor tricks. He realized that with a very simple ability, something that would ordinarily be useless, say the ability to throw something in the air and make it heavier before it comes back down, one could build marvelous machines!”
“Is that how the autocarriage runs?” she asked.
“Yes, yes! You’re getting it,” he said. “The spring fires the weight into the piston, the piston turns, the weight gets heavier in the air, and the fall of the heavy weight reloads the spring. Then the weight gets light again and repeat. Precisely.”
Allette giggled. “I want to go to the School of Magic!” she cried. d’Vrettzi smiled.
“Maybe someday you will,” he laughed. “But little is done there these days.” He stared off into the distance. “Magic is rare, strange stuff, my little one. It is increasingly hard to find… though I hear rumors, rumors only, that this may be changing.” He looked down at her and she stared back up in rapt attention. “They say the White Men now walk the halls of the school more than ever before. And where once they were faded, almost invisible, now they have grown shades more pale, and nearly tangible. The times are changing, my little one, the times…” He trailed off for a moment, then shook his head.
“Stay here, Allette,” he whispered. “I will fetch us some water.” He lifted the little girl off his lap, stood, and replaced her on his chair. The times are changing indeed, he thought as he shuffled into the hallway, down the narrow stairs, and to the kitchen. The house girl nearly dropped a carrot she was chopping when he entered, but he smiled at her and waved for her to return to work. Carefully, he picked up a pitcher in his now-shaking hands and poured two glasses of water. Then he put the pitcher back down, put his elbows against the countertop, and pressed his face into his hands.
I cannot do it, he thought. I cannot build the war machines. Even if I wanted to, I have forgotten how. Even if I knew how, I do not have the will. I do not have the will to burn Cara in fire for the sake of the pig son of Toumbrio di Castiari. Not for him.
The house-girl’s thin hand pressed against his back. “Signiore?” she asked. “Is there something the matter?”
d’Vrettzi stood up straight, sniffed once, and turned to face her. “No, Mariana,” he said. “All is fine. All is as it ever has been.” Then he grabbed the two glasses of water, turned, and headed back to his drawing room.
When he entered, Allette was on her knees in the chair with her back to him, drawing furiously on a piece of paper at his table. d’Vrettzi smiled gently to himself. Now for her, he thought, I would do anything. He walked over to the table and set the water down beside her.
“Making a picture my dear?” he asked, craning over her. Then he stopped. His eyes widened. The paper before her was the same one he had left there-- the plans for the machine-rifle. Only now, in a childish scrawl, a new device had been added. d’Vrettzi studied it carefully. It was a long loop of chain on gears, threaded through holes in the back end of each of the barrels. On the chain were multiple cylinders, and each cylinder held a ball, a single shot. From its design, d’Vrettzi could tell that the force of the explosion of black powder in each cylinder would drive the chain on, feeding it through them one by one, pulling in a new ball each time the last one was fired. Thus, so long as the chain’s cylinders were continually loaded, the machine-rifle would, in effect, reload itself.
Allette looked up at him expectantly, an enormous grin on her face. d’Vrettzi looked down at her, his mouth agape. “Mackthimun eff-fishy-see,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Yes,” he breathed. “Yes, indeed.” At that moment, Giacomo d’Vrettzi, the historian, saw the history of the future written large. And knew what he must do. He would follow his patron’s plans as requested of him, but with a little twist. For the future belonged to their children, as di Castiari had said. And d’Vrettzi would make it ready. But he would not do it for the next king. He would do it for the next Artiste.