A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.02 – Dulcis Sermo {Sweet Talk}

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Lucrezia paused for a moment after the lock slid closed, letting the reverberations of the small noise in the large room die down entirely before moving again. The wide smile on her lips when she turned struck Elena as too gleeful for the surroundings.

“There, much better, much more private,” Lucrezia said. “It’s not unheard of for me to need privacy, but it’s rare enough that it gives me a little thrill, still needing it. That’s a little inside joke, sorry, you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about…or maybe you would? I’m doing this out of order, nevermind, how are you, Rhetor, are you well? That’s a direct question, you can answer those can’t you?”

The Plain Woman was so serene in the dream world, Elena was a bit taken aback by the sheer energy that she used in real life. After a confused moment, she carefully dropped her head in a single nod.

She brought me here because she wants something, Elena pulled her gaze from Lucrezia’s smile and focused in, the sooner I can figure that out the better, especially if she doesn’t want me to know what she wants.

“I’ll take that ‘yes’ to answer all four questions,” Lucrezia had barely paused for Elena to nod, and now she continued on at the same breathless pace, “you’re a curious one, aren’t you? That was the fourth question, don’t worry about that one. You see me, in there, don’t you.”

Elena hesitated for another moment, mind spinning, the worried feeling that had followed her all the way up from the councilroom growing.

“That one was the fifth question,” Lucrezia prodded, leaning forward and tilting her head as if Elena were hiding something.

She’s seen my eyes in the dream world, the thought was like icewater waking her from a dream, and Elena dropped her gaze to the floor. She raised a hand and made a “so so” gesture, then nodded.

“Yes, of course you can see me, but you know there’s more to it than that, which is interesting,” Lucrezia clasped her hands behind her back and began to pace. “That you can pay attention to me is, again, not unheard of, but it indicates that you want to pay attention to me, and that is…well, flattering, from a pretty thing like you, but mostly worrying.”

I was trying to keep track of all of the councilmembers…I wasn’t looking at you, not really…I’m a special kind of Rhetor that sees through your effects… worse and worse lies flowed through Elena’s head, and she was almost grateful for the mask that meant she wasn’t expected to speak any of them.

“The biggest concern I have is that there’s an assassination attempt on my life right now,” Lucrezia continued, “it’s more likely to come from a different quarter, but it means I’m a little jumpy right now, do you understand?”

Elena nodded, heart pounding. Even with different hair, more joined-together skin, and half her face covered, she was still Elena. Every time Lucrezia looked at her, she worried that the woman would finally recognize her.

Lucrezia stopped pacing and turned toward Elena, looking serious for the first time. “Have you been hired to kill me?”

Elena shook her head.

Lucrezia took a step closer and urged Elena to think, to really think, and tell her the truth. She asked again if Elena had been paid to assassinate her.

Elena shook her head again, more slowly this time.

Lucrezia asked if Elena had been bribed, blackmailed, or otherwise pressed into service to assassinate her.

Elena furrowed her brow, thoughts sluggish. The choice to kill Lucrezia had been a difficult one, but no one had forced her to make it. She shook her head a third time.

Lucrezia asked if Elena had any plans to kill her at all, and this time Elena didn’t need to think before shaking her head. Not having a plan to kill Lucrezia had been the problem plaguing her all week.

“Excellent, I’m very glad to hear that,” Lucrezia continued on with her pacing, leaving Elena to blink a few times before the full horror of what had happened hit her. She spun to follow Lucrezia with her gaze, eyes wide.

“Why yes,” Lucrezia grinned, “I am just like you. It’s funny, isn’t it? A different set of circumstances, a different story…” she shrugged.

A Twisted Rhetor, Elena forgot to avoid the woman’s gaze, no wonder the council seems so confident, no wonder even the cooks are protected against other Rhetors, no wonder-

“You look so horrified!” Lucrezia laughed, “I can tell you’re one of the good ones, aren’t you? You wouldn’t even take the mask off if I offered you a way?”

Elena shook her head fiercely.

“I didn’t think so. You intrigue me, nameless one. Do you know what that means? Don’t shake your head, that wasn’t a question. It means that I’m keeping you as far away from me as possible.”

Elena blinked.

“Oh don’t look so hurt! If anything you should feel flattered. It’s only the people I like that I keep away from me. Add to the mix that you’re so mysterious, what with your unknown reasons for noticing me, and I think my paranoia is, for once, justified. I like you, so I won’t kill you, but I’m keeping you as far away from me as possible, preferably with a wall in between us.”

There was only so much Elena could communicate with the mask on her face, and the fact that Lucrezia was entirely right to be paranoid made it that much harder to figure out a lie.

“I can read the thoughts in your eyes,” Lucrezia said, “you’re wondering why I elected to tell you all of this. It’s because I don’t much care for drawing attention to myself, even to dismiss a servant. Call it that same paranoia, staying out of the way has led me to where I am, and I’m very comfortable where I am. If I don’t need the risk, I won’t take it. No, I’m not going to dismiss you, you’re going to make a mistake and be dismissed.”

Elena tilted her head to one side, confused.

“Give them a reason to dismiss you, and I’ll ensure that you’re taken care of and given a job somewhere else in the castle if you want it,” Lucrezia walked to the door a second time, “it’s the most painless option for both of us.”

The lock clicked again.

“Marielle, time to return to your lovely guard,” Lucrezia called, then lowered her voice to speak to Elena. “Cheer up, nameless one. Whatever lets you keep focused in on me, I’m sure you can find it somewhere else just as well, especially with a pocketful of gold for your trouble.”

The Plain Woman reached out and flicked the nose of the metal mask affectionately, her fingernail “ping”ing off the metal, and then threw the doors open.

“They’re all yours, guards, thank you for sparing them for a few moments,” she said. Frederica rested her heavy hand on Elena’s shoulder, competent enough not to give her the searching look Elena knew she wanted to give.

For Elena’s own part, her mask hid a smile. Lucrezia may have been paranoid, but she had given Elena the plan she had been waiting for.

***

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5 responses

  1. Bart

    Ooh, things are getting hotter…

    Like

    2016-07-07 at 11:22 pm

  2. Deinos

    hm I like the chapter, it’s a nice narative and turn, so I understand why you let her ask the questions she did. But I’m wondering if maybe going another route would be more logical? I mean she is (lucrezia) one of the Twisted, and terribly paranoid to boot, all good and well.. but then she asks questions so full of holes and convoluted as if she is begging the MC to find the narrow path in between.
    If I’m a Rhetor and want to find out if someone is trying to murder me I’d simply ask, do you plan to assassinate me in any way or measure or do you contribute to my assassination in any way. Simple and straight forward.
    Of course, you could argue that she did that on purpose to “trick” the Rhetor in giving away Info before realizing what happens.. but still, it’s so sloppy.

    Just know that I’m totally fine with the story as is, it’s just my pedantic readerheart that likes to poke at sore spots.

    Thanks for the chapter!
    Deinos

    P.S.: the RRL version won’t get updated no more, will it?

    Like

    2016-07-08 at 9:27 am

    • I agree, I’ve been a little iffy about this chapter ever since I posted it. I added another line which I think makes it a little better, but chances are this entire chapter will be heavily modified when it comes time to edit it for the book.

      Thanks for the critique, and thanks for reading!

      (Bah! I’m not ignoring RRL on purpose but I keep forgetting to post chapters there, thanks for the reminder)

      Like

      2016-07-10 at 6:51 am

  3. jimhenry1973

    I’ve just caught up after reading for a few days. I like the characters and the storytelling a lot, and I mostly like the worldbuilding — there aren’t many fantasies set in (some version of) Renaisssance Italy; the only other one I know of if Lois McMaster Bujold’s _The Spirit Ring_. I notice some readers find Elena frustrating at first; but I like her initial naivete and softheartedness, as well as the way she develops greater toughness and perceptiveness at a plausible rate.

    One aspect of the worldbuilding that fails for me is that if this setting is based on Renaissance Italy, I’d expect Christianity to have more impact on the plot and characters. I think the Church has only been mentioned twice, once in connection with what the Pope said about the Stormtouched, once in connection with Vittoria’s mural on the cathedral bell tower. It’s fine if you don’t want to write about a religious main character, but at such a time and place, with such a large cast of characters, it’s implausible that we never see any of them pray or go to Mass or anything. Out of so many characters we’d expect to see at least a few who are devout.

    I can only guess that in this alternate history the Church has a lot less influence than in our world at the same time, and maybe Stormtouched have a strong tendency to be atheists or nominal Christians. It would be nice to point this out explicitly and give some hint as to why and how that happened; I suspect it’s related to the fact that Italoza is a united kingdom where in our world it’s a group of independent city-states at this point in history. In the nineteenth century, Italy’s unification involved supresssing the Church’s influence, and nationalizing church property, not only in the former Papal states but all over, and I guess it would have been the same in your alternate fourteenth century or whenever the unification was. It has to have been before the Stormtouched appeared, based on the flashback chapters. It’s probably also related to the fact that at least Milia has same-sex marriage. The Church wouldn’t approve of that, but they apparently don’t have the power to do anything about it.

    Like

    2016-07-10 at 11:16 pm

    • Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you enjoyed most of it!

      It’s a wonderful question you ask here. The relationship between church and state in Europa is something I’ve put a little thought into, but it is so natural to the characters of the story that it’s a bit hard to naturally work it in! I’ve often thought about whether or not to make a Twisted Cogs Companion, which would explore a bit more of the lore and background (and perhaps floorplans and character bios).

      Your guess is completely correct; as you point out, the Church is much less influential in Italoza than it was during our own Italian Renaissance. Much of this had to do with the Church’s strong opposition to Stormtouched early on, and the fallout between the political and religious powers over that disagreement. At its roots, however, the early “fall” of the Church from power boiled down to the actions of several of the very first Stormtouched, ones who had powers long before society at large realized the Storm existed.

      That, as they say, is another story, but I love your analysis of the differences between this alternate world and the one we live in!

      Like

      2016-07-11 at 12:41 am

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