Month: May 2014

Loyalty

Michael stepped into the golden throne room and walked towards his sovereign. His king sat upon a grand and glittering throne but his discomfort was visible. Michael regretted that he would have to add to that discomfort. He stepped before the throne and bent his knee, his armor clanking quietly.

“Your grace,” he said, his head still lowered.

“Yes, Michael? What news do you bring?” his king asked in a slow and thoughtful voice.

“Lord Lucifer has rebelled against you, your grace. His followers march on your keep as we speak,” Michael delivered his solemn news. The king stirred but maintained his composure. However his face showed his sorrow at this rebellion.

“He actually did it,” he said, “I didn’t think he’d actually have it in him to rebel,” Michael kept his feelings in check and continued his report.

“I’ve mustered our army. It will be assembled soon,” he said. There was a silence in the air, an unspoken weight between the two.

“You have something on your mind,” the king said. His ability to discern the thoughts of his subjects never ceased to impress and distress Michael as he weighed in his mind how to respond. “You have doubts,”

“I will defend your realm to my last breath,” Michael reassured his sovereign of his loyalty and devotion.

“That’s not what I said,” the king replied. Michael shifted slightly and then stood upright. Of course he had doubts. Almost every angel did.

“Many of your subjects see legitimacy in this rebellion,” Michael answered slowly. His king’s face was unreadable but he was sure that he was being judged and scrutinized.

“Including you?” His king asked. Michael was silent. He knew his duty but he had his convictions. He had shared Lucifer’s dream of a kingdom ruled by angels. To see it passed to those…humans.

“We have stood by your side as your faithful subjects. We have endured and sacrificed for your kingdom. We had hoped for a realm to call our own. Was that so much to hope for?” He said. He would not lie to his king. He made his confession and dropped the weight within his soul. Still his king’s face remained unreadable.

“Then why do you take up arms for me?” the king asked, with a slight change in tone. It was a tone of a thousand subtleties. Hints of anger, sorrow, sadness, confusion all blended together and were hid behind a regal voice.

“Because you are my king,” Michael said. “It is not my place to understand the wishes of a king. My place is by your side and loyal to the end,”

His king’s eyes sparked. “Loyal to the end,” he said.

“Now we can only hope that man can be so loyal,” Michael said. God looked him over with a calculating eye before dismissing him from the room.

The walk from the hall was quieter than it was before. All Michael could think of was the face on his king and the coming battle. He sighed and placed his helmet over his face as he walked to inspect and lead the army of his king.

Decisions

Vincenzo finished his goblet of wine and put his head back against the tavern wall. It was a busy evening with many patrons buying, drinking and spilling their beverages across the floor. They made for amusing, if at times annoying, spectacle. Vincenzo was thankful for his private seat in the corner of the tavern. He watched as barmaids carried drinks and as men cast dice and squabbled over coin. He also admired the pickpocket as he relived several patrons of their purses.

“Hail, friend,” Vincenzo heard a voice address him over the din of the evening and saw Diego Bocelli, lord Vittorio’s cohort. The man threw down his purse on the table and then took a seat across from Vincenzo.

“Are we friends?” Vincenzo asked.

“We may yet be,” Diego smiled a crooked smile, “I am-“

“Diego Bocelli, one of don Vittorio’s men,” Diego smiled at the comment and extended his hand.

“That I am. And you are Vincenzo, lord von Kessel’s servant,” The insult was not lost on Vincenzo. He was far more than a servant but knew better than to betray annoyance.

“What is it you want?” He asked.

“Your master has quite a talent for incurring the wrath of noble houses. His dubious pedigree is less than palatable to proper Italian families,” Diego said, leaning in and continuing with his detestable smirk.

“There are some within the city who would not shed a tear were he to simply disappear from the Republic,”

“Who could that not be said of?” Vincenzo replied.

“So true. But my dear friend would be very pleased to see this particular Teuton leave,” Vincenzo knew full-well what the subtext to this conversation was. Diego was somewhat lacking in tact.

“How pleased would your friend be?”

“Pleased enough to offer a fine reward to anyone who might help make this dream a reality,” Vincenzo knew that this was no idle promise. The Crivelli’s were monstrously rich in both land and gold. Vittorio was far more open-palmed than his father and always believed that wealth could remove obstacles.

“How fine a reward?”

Diego smiled at that question. He felt he had hooked his prey and that now it was merely a question of reeling it in.

“If we are to talk of that, then I would need to know how much you’re willing to help us,”

“Well that depends on your plan. If you merely wish him to leave the city, that is no great task. However, removing him from this world is a different matter,”

“Our plan is something public, something that would send a message to any other family that thinks they may steal Venezia from proper Italians,”

“His sister’s wedding?” Vincenzo guessed.

“That would certainly be a public message,” Diego smile grew slightly.

“Public messages are messy and the von Kessels are no fools,”

“Precisely. That is why we’d be willing to handsomely reward any effort you could make to see that message delivered,”

“I am tasked with hiring bodyguards and sellswords. I could see to it that when the signal is given they will not interfere. For the right price, they could even assist,” Vincenzo said.

Diego’s eyes flared with a moment of euphoria at that news. “That would be a most valuable effort,”

“And what is to stop me from telling my master of your plans?” Vincenzo asked.

“Plans? What plans? I’ve merely painted you a portrait of possibilities. You’ve supplied the plan,” Diego said in an overdramatic tone.

“Just the same, what is to stop me from changing those plans?” Vincenzo replied.

“Well nothing is stopping you. You can do as you please. If your conscience dictates, then by all means run and tell your master of his peril. He may live some time longer for your service but rest assured, he will not live forever. And when he departs, one way or another, you will be nothing more than a dead man’s dog,”

Diego stood up to leave after finishing his speech.

“Think well on it. We look forward to hear from you,” he said, tipping his hat. Vincenzo picked up the discarded purse on the table. “You forgot your coin,”

“Keep it. Inside you’ll find many reasons to consider our offer,” Diego said with one last flash of his smile before exiting. Vincenzo felt the weight of the leather pouch in his hand and sat it back down on the table. He slipped his fingers inside and removed two gold pieces. He signaled for a barmaid and held out his goblet for more wine as he studied the coins.

Thin Stews and Long Winters

“Are we having lettuce stew again, Mama?” Willy asked his mother as she stirred a black battered pot over the small stove.

“Yes my dear,” Helene replied, her voice tired and almost in pain. She had been making stews thinner and thinner since the winter began. There hadn’t been meat in weeks and now even bread was becoming scarce.

Her two children were laying on the floor. Willy was playing with the little wooden toy plane her husband had made him last year while her daughter, Johanna read a book. It was clear to Helene that her children were getting thinner since the fall. Johanna used to fret about fitting into her Sunday dress but now it hung on her like a curtain. Willy’s rosy and full cheeks were thin and pale. It pained her to see her children waste away slowly. Almost as painful as it was to read the newspaper and think of her eldest child in the freezing mud at Ypres.

It seemed every day another family in the neighborhood lost a son, a father or a husband at the front. Helene’s sister lost all four of her sons last month at Verdun. She committed suicide a week later. Helene prayed every single night asking God not to let that happen to her.

The front door opened and her husband Johan walked in with a small basket filled with even smaller vegetables and a half-loaf of bread.

“Papa!” Willy cried out and was up on his feet and latched onto his father’s leg with blazing speed. The display choked Helene up a little every time it happened. In the midst of such hardship, her little boy could still find such bliss and happiness at his father coming home.

Johan rubbed his son’s mop of blond hair and made his way to the kitchen.

“Papa, are you hurt!?” Johanna cried when she saw her father’s face. Helene turned away from the stew and saw Johan had a black eye and a small trickle of blood from his nose.

“What happened, Papa?” Willy asked.

“I was chased by monsters. But no need to worry. I scared them off,” he said with a smile and kissed his boy on the head. He brought the basket into the kitchen and placed his meagre harvest on the table.

“Good God, what happened?” Helene asked. She held a cloth out and he placed it under his nose.

“Some hoodlums saw the bread and tried to steal it. I suppose I frustrated them,” he said with a half-smile. She wanted to cry at that news. Her face must have given away how she felt because Johan put his arms around her and kissed her on the head.

“The stew smells incredible,” he said, changing the subject. The children came in and sat around the table. The family said a small prayer and then began slowly eating their supper.

“Papa?” Willy asked, “When is Ulrich coming home?”

Johan looked up from his stew and after a long moment, turned to answer Willy.

“Your brother keeping us safe but that takes time,” he said.

“Will he be home soon?” Willy asked, blissfully ignorant of the harsh realities of the world.

Helene felt tears welling up behind her eyes and Johan’s unshakeable optimistic twinkle in his eye disappeared.

“I’m afraid not, my boy. He could be gone for a long time,”

Religion in a Time of Digestion

As I lay in a ball around the toilet, my insides feeling like twisted hamburger patty, I try to remember where it all went wrong. Ever since the morning, I’ve been on a course of digestive thermo-nuclear destruction. What wasn’t being propelled out one end was being sprayed out the other. I took a moment to thank God that my roommate was gone for the weekend.

I started to replay the previous night’s events in my head. I had been drinking that night but I was well in control by the time I went to bed. A couple of cocktails and beer was a tame night for me and certainly wouldn’t leave me in the fetal position on my bathroom floor. Jeremy and I had been drinking at a nice relaxed pace and we even had soft pretzels to serve as a snack to prevent us from getting too drunk.

Just the thought of food makes my stomach curdle and I can feel myself turn greener than I already was. After leaning my head over the toilet waiting for the dry-heaving and muscle spasms, I continue my quest to discover the culprit.

We had gone out around 9:30 and I had just been in my room before. Nothing out of the ordinary there. I had some leftover M&M’s but those couldn’t have been the reason why. The smell of vomit looms in the small bathroom and refuses to dissipate. It only exacerbates my predicament and keeps my stomach from settling. I feel the involuntary motion creeping up my throat and I pray to every deity I can think of from Jehovah to Dionysus to Sigmar asking all of them to either cure me or put me out of my misery.

When I finally regain control of my body, I limp up to the sink and stare at my bloodshot eyes and pale face. I look like a creature you’d find in the morgue in a horror movie. I’ve spent most of the day in this white tiled room of hell but I don’t dare try to leave. It’s one thing to get the smell of beer or your lunch out of the room; it’s another thing entirely to remove the stain and smell of puke.

Then it all comes to me. A sudden realization that gives me a grim sense of closure out of unveiling my poisoner. It was the sloppy joe I had for dinner! It didn’t taste quite right but I washed it down with a can of coke and thought nothing of it. That had to be it. I’d eaten plenty of them throughout my life; why should one that seems a little off make any difference?

What an ignorant beggar, I think of myself. However, the American classic has not yet grown tired of having it’s way with me as I feel my intestines quivering. As I sit on the toilet, I try to break the space-time continuum and stop my past self from ever taking a bite of that hellspawn sandwich.

Honors

Lord Monroe,

As of yesterday, Sunday the 23rd, the last field army of the state of Ioia stationed within our borders had been destroyed. The enemy army commanded by general Lucius van Bergan was defeated at Stephan’s crossroads. Of their force of 68,000 men, we have captured close to 12,000 men and have accounted for close to 35,000 enemy fallen. I must add that this victory was made possible thanks in part to the contributions and valiant efforts of the mercenary band, the Orc Free-Company. This small band was under impeccable leadership and displayed selfless courage in the heat of battle.

As they are not members of the imperial army, I cannot recommend they be awarded any imperial honors, medals or titles. However I do think that it would be acceptable to make a special notice of their service to the empire and to their accomplishments. I would propose that the award of foreign preserver of the empire be presented to the company as a whole.

Of course, given that the company is comprised of Orcs, such a presentation should naturally occur privately and the company should not be permitted to march in any victory parades. To allow mercenaries, especially green-skins, to hold the same prestige and position as our imperial servicemen would be a discredit to the imperial army and to the emperor.

Should your lordship agree with my suggestions, I would request to be in attendance of the award ceremony and if possible to present the honors myself. Having led them on the field of battle, it is only fitting that I present any awards or honors to them.

As always, I await the instruction of your lordship and the ministry of war.

Long live his Imperial Majesty and Long live the Empire.

Sincerely,

General  Maxwell Biesty

Brothers in Arms

The chirping of crickets and other insects provided a gentle music to the low grumbling of the army camp. The fire crackled and snapped as the flames grew lower underneath the cooking pot. Jubei tossed a twig into the flame and looked to his brothers. Kato was stirring the stew and adding a few spices to give it flavor. A few others were gathered around the fire, laughing or telling stories. Some told stories of previous campaigns, others of romantic conquests. Ushia was the loudest with his infamous story of how he had served in the 1st Guard Regiment, the Emperor’s Own.

The younger men were enthralled with his lusty tales of cannon smoke and the king’s colors. Ushia was a showman and knew how to embellish a tale and keep it believable. As his stories grew larger and grander, he would become more animated, waving his hands or acting out how the battle unfolded. When he was at the peak of the story, he produced his most prized possession; his sergeant’s stripes and the Imperial family crest of his old uniform.

Even the most veteran of the company were impressed at that. It wasn’t uncommon for Orcs to serve in the Imperial army, but it was rare to see them in the Guards, much less as a sergeant. Ushia had every right to be proud.

The moment was tarnished when Jubei noticed a human officer waiting for an audience. Knowing better than to keep his employer waiting, Jubei quickly rose to his feet and walked over to the officer.

“Colonel,” the human captain said to him. The human looked slightly uncomfortable to be in the orc camp, like he was trying to avoid getting too close lest it stain his uniform. Jubei didn’t care much. Discomfort was nothing compared to the looks his father received or his father before him.

“Yes, captain?” Jubei replied with a hint of superiority at reminding the human of his rank.

“By the order of General-Lord Biesty, you and your company are to form up behind the 25th Light Foot. You will defend the 25th’s right flank and join them in their assault on Stephen’s hill,” he spoke while holding a small map to illustrate what the morning’s battle plan was.

Jubei and his men had already surveyed the battlefield when they first arrived. The enemy had the advantage of terrain with a series of knolls and low hills giving their cannon perfect position over the imperial army once it took to the field. The cannons would have to be captured or they could disrupt the entire army. Jubei could see the necessity of it but it still wounded his pride to be the escorts of skirmishers and scavengers. He had hoped to be placed on the line; to charge at the heart of the enemy with the proud red and silver colors of the Free-Company at the head of his men. However, money was money and if he was being paid to defend the 25th, then that was exactly what he would do.

“Very well. Inform General-Lord Biesty that my men will not disappoint,” the captain bowed before turning to leave. Jubei returned to the warmth of the fire and the company of his men.

Kato was ladling stew to the men and there was a quiet as the men ate. Jubei sat down where he had been before and Kato picked up a violin. Kato was a world apart from Ushia; a quiet soldier who sought only to raise the men around him at no benefit to himself. He played an old marching tune and a few of the veterans joined him in singing. Everybody joined him for the chorus.

“Sing our story and our graces,
Of our deaths in foreign places!
Sing them loud and fear our faces,
On this battlefield!”

No matter the battle, no matter the side they fought for or against, they would do their colors and each other proud. They would leave a legacy worthy of songs in any language across the continent. Jubei felt emotion welling up inside his chest at his boys, his brothers.

A Shot in Anger

James rubbed his temples and clenched his jaw as he felt his headache growing more and more virulent. Samantha was screaming at him and throwing the night’s dinner across the apartment. He knew it was a bad idea to bring up that he had lunch with Kendra but he knew lying was worse. Normally, he could expect some cold-shouldering. What he didn’t anticipate was that Samantha was already on the warpath because she was laid off.

“This is all your goddamn fault!” she screamed at him. Whenever she was angry, everything was his fault. He knew that she would rant and rave, maybe throw some stuff around but it would pass. The storm would cease and she’d make it up to him. All he had to do was stay calm and keep his head down.

Samantha threw the mixing spoon at him and it bounced off his arm. Her yelling and the crashing of plates were like nails on chalkboard. All he wanted was to lay down and call it a night but it was clear Sam wanted to go ten rounds.

“I’ve been fired and came home to cook your fucking dinner but you have time to go out with your ‘friend’!” she shot out at him. He rolled his eyes and sighed. “We just went out to lunch. She was downtown and had a few minutes  bet-“

“Shut up! You want to fuck her! I know you do!” she hollered at him. He ignored the bait to start a fight. Sam was the jealous type. From day one, she pegged Kendra as a rival. No matter how many times he said that they were just old friends, Sam wouldn’t listen. He also knew that when Sam started telling him what he was thinking that it was time to either end the fight or leave the room.

“Sam, please. You’ve had a long day and you’re right I should have told you th…” she walked out of the room. That was a bad sign. She never left the room when there was a fight.

“Dear?” he asked. There was no response.

“Sam?” he asked a little louder. There was still no response. James thought to himself that she went to lock him out of the bedroom and things would calm down in the morning. There was no point in trying to engage with her now so he’d clean up the kitchen and then go to sleep on the couch. He leaned down and picked up the fragments of plate.

“You son of a bitch,” Sam’s voice was quieter, but still full of anger. He had barely started to turn when he heard a loud bang and felt a flash of pain rip across his shoulder blade as he fell to the ground.

He had shown her where he kept his father’s handgun from Vietnam. He even walked her through how to clean and assemble it. He always kept it unloaded and in the locked case. He was certain he never showed her the key for it. Even if he had, he never expected she’d remember. But she had and now there was a tear from a .45 caliber bullet grazing his arm.

That one shot seemed to carry all the anger out of Sam’s body because she lowered the gun and just stared at what she’d done in disbelief. Her face was full of panic and shock. Her hands were trembling.

James was up on his feet and threw open the front door. Anybody who’d shoot you in a fit of anger wasn’t worth sticking around to hear the apology.

He stumbled down the steps and felt more blood running down his shirt. It hurt like hell and was bleeding but it wouldn’t kill him. He’d call Eric and get help. He wouldn’t tell them that Sam shot him. He’d get the gun back and he’d leave. She could keep everything else. He’d start over and try living alone for a while.

And maybe staying off the dating scene for a while too.

No Good Deed

Sharon wretched and convulsed over the bathroom sink. Her stomach had been emptied the last three times she vomited but her body kept trying to expel the very memory of cranberry vodkas. She desperately tried to make her world stop spinning but it was no use. She was like a train that had jumped off the rails and was now moving with an unstoppable momentum. She tried to focus on her cell phone screen but even that was blurry.

She could vaguely make out texts from her roommate and people she’d met that night. She knew that she needed to text her roommate and get into bed. She ponderously typed out a message for Kelsey and hoped for a swift reply. The last time she saw Kelsey, she was going up to her boyfriend’s room. The realization washed over Sharon as she recognized that Kelsey probably wouldn’t be coming back down.

Her phone’s screen told her the time of 2:40AM, and she groaned aloud. She was too drunk and disheveled to even try to walk back to her dorm and she didn’t know anybody from the party. It seemed like the only option was to curl up at the foot of stall toilet and wait the night out.

She opened her contacts to see if there was anybody who could possibly get her out of this bathroom or at the very least bring her some water. She scrolled down, passing over people from her high school, her sisters and parents, random numbers that didn’t have real names until she found one.

Danny was the tall kid in her Japanese history class. He was nice and helped her with their first paper assignment. They had hung out a few times with mutual friends and he seemed like a good guy. She opened up a message and tried her best to recall the important details of where she was.

The message sent and she stared at her phone as best she could while her head bobbed about. Her eyes drooped and she felt sick again. She wasn’t sure whether she’d pass out or throw up again. Before either could happen, her phone rang. It was Danny calling her.

“Hello?” she asked out of reflex.

“Hey, where are you?” Danny’s voice filled her ears. She mumbled something about which hall she was in and kept repeating the word bathroom.

“Ok, I’ll find you. Just sit tight,” he said and then the endcall tone followed. Sharon tried typing facts or information that might help his search. It was a struggle just to find the spacebar as she held the phone close to her face. The light made her head hurt so she put the phone down and closed her eyes.

“Sharon. Hey Sharon. It’s time to wake up. C’mon, let’s get you home,” She heard a voice as she slowly opened her eyes. Danny was kneeling down next to her with a bottle of water in one hand.

“I am…so sorry,” She said, still not fully awake.

“Can you stand up?”

“I need a blanket…,” she replied, her mind and body equally exhausted.

“Alright then. Here we go,” Danny said, placing the water bottle in his pocket. Sharon felt an arm go underneath her knees and another around her back. With one heave, Danny lifted Sharon up and out of the stall.

The elevator up to the 7th floor was an awkward one as Danny held Sharon asleep and clearly drunk. The two guys with boxes of Domino’s pizza just stared at Danny as they all made their way to the upper floors. Danny ignored them and kept his focus solely on the floor level. When the door opened to the 7th floor, he stepped off quickly and turned a corner. The sound of shock and laughter traveled up the elevator shaft.

Danny opened the door to his dorm and sat Sharon down on his bed. He had turned his head for thirty seconds when she flopped down hard into his bed. Danny rolled his eyes and then opened up her phone. Her roommate had texted her a few times asking if she was ok. Danny typed out a message letting her know that Sharon was fine and where she was.

After answering the roommate’s concerns and plugging in her phone, Danny looked at his bed and its drunken occupant. He knew that the only thing for her was to let her sleep and then explain the story in the morning. He didn’t envy the hurt she’d be in when the morning came. He also could see that she’d fallen squarely on his pillows, leaving no hope of getting any of them back. Danny shook his head and changed into sweatpants and hoodie.

He laid down on the floor, close enough to the bed so that he could help if needed but far enough away to avoid and collateral damage. As he lay there, his phone buzzed and it was his roommate Josh. Josh was home for the weekend and wanted to hear how the weekend was going. Danny typed out the story but left Sharon’s name out in a half-measure to save face.

As if on cue, the sound of vomit followed by dry-heaving filled the room. Danny cringed just as his phone buzzed with his friend’s sarcastic remark, “mad or nah”

Scrum

You thank God for the whistle and the moment of peace. You grab your knees and draw air into your lungs as hard as you can. With each pant, you feel sweat rolling off your hair and face. Your leg still hurts after the last play but your body is too exhausted to care. The call from the referee is for a scrum. You make your way over to the other forwards and mentally prepare for what’s to come. Your teammates are as bruised and tired as you are. Their uniforms are filthy, speckled with dirt, grass stains and the occasional blood stain.

You and the other prop grab the hooker by the pants and test your grip. Being so close to him is enough to make you wince from the smell of sweat and body odor. Just being close, you can feel how damp his jersey is. It may have bothered you before but by now you couldn’t care less. You feel the second row get in position behind you and you take a moment to look at your opponents. They’re just as ragged as you are.

You stare down the opposing prop. He’s bigger than you but he’s not in shape and has poor form. You size him up and stare him right in the eye. You are determined to hit him as hard as you can in one last epic show of strength. He’s let his weight win the last few engagements but you know his moves now. You’re ready to charge across and crash into him. The ref motions to get ready.

You squat down and feel a burn in your thighs. Part of it is the stretching and part of it is from when the other team’s scrum half flew into your side at full speed just after halftime. With the bodies of the hooker and lock woven into the scrum with you, you can practically feel how haggard the team is. Everybody has bruises and is tired. The scrum lets out a subconscious groan as you get into the ready position. It sounds like a locomotive engine slowly turning and cranking to life.

When the ref starts the count, all the pain and weariness vanishes in a moment. Despite your pain, despite your exhaustion, despite your secret wish to be benched just so you can sit down, you are focused and ready to play. Like a wave of energy or a spreading fire, you can feel that same readiness echo across your teammates. You all have made your mental peace and are ready for one more play.

There is a static charge between the two scrums. You feel like air between two freight trains before they collide. You can feel a fresh burst of adrenaline into your bloodstream as you reach out and touch your opponent’s shoulder. Then a breathless eon of a second. You hear the ref say engage and you collide.

You were ready for the big guy to try and roll over you. You duck down lower than he can and push with your legs against him. You feel the pressure on your shoulders but you dig on, determined to make him step backwards. The grunting of the forwards pushing against each other is muffled by your own arm and the other prop covering your ears. You push your cleats into the grass and expand like a car jack. When you see the other prop take a step back, you feel like Hercules and it spurs you on to push even harder.

You can’t see but you’re fairly certain that your hooker got the ball. Suddenly, you hear your scrum half screaming. You’ve come to know what he’s saying without hearing the words. The tone and ferocity of his voice tells you that your team got the ball and the backs have it. The scrum starts to break apart and you lift your head up in time to see one of your backs sprinting full speed down field. A few of their backs try to catch him but you’ve seen this kid juke and dive out of the way of whole teams. He flies into the tri-zone and from your team’s side of the field you can hear the fans cheering. You make a sideways face at the back getting all the glory for the work the forwards did but it passes as your team extends its lead in the closing minutes of the game.

If not Loved; Feared

I rose from bed when the sun had poured through the open windows and the bustle of the city had filled the room. The smell of fresh bread from the bakery across the square filled my nostrils and tempted my stomach when I went to the window. The late morning sun was heating the city, baking the dirt paths and heating the air. The clamoring voices of merchants and traders blended together into a dull buzz, perforated with the occasional whiney of a horse.

I lazily dressed myself and stepped into my boots. I felt assured in the notion that any business that my family required could wait until the afternoon. There was still time to enjoy the morning. As I made my way towards the front door, I walked past the modest collection of family portraits. My happy and corpulent grandfather, my honest and course father, my unamused mother; all of them were watching me as I walked down. Inside this villa, they were safe from the glances and mockery of the other noble families. My grandfather always laughed and simply held more feasts. If only my father had inherited his father’s care-free charm.

I stepped out onto the streets and felt the sun breathe on my face and my skin. The wind passed through my open shirt and kissed the sweat on my chest. I took a moment to adjust to the light and heat before setting off to find Vincenzo, my personal agent. As I started walking towards where I knew I’d find him, I could not help but notice the small graffiti carved into the side of my villa.

The streets were busy and commoners walked to and fro. At times, I maneuvered through the crowds with practiced dexterity. Other times, I felt entitled to strut with the grace and posture befitting my rank, much to the distress of any Venetians who observed my spectacle.

Time passed and the number of merchants I passed diminished. Slowly the number of courtesans, beggars, thieves and knifemen rose. I knew I was close to my charming colleague. I rounded the corner and found myself looking directly at his particular sanctuary; Madame Dirot’s brothel. It was an impressive Romanesque building with arguably the most attractive courtesans in the city. I couldn’t help but smirk as I saw a lady of the house leaning over the second-floor balcony. I knew where I would find Vincenzo; inside the back bedroom with the green walls in the company of the two red-heads.

“German swine!” I heard the voice and saw the spit hit the ground next to my boot. I turned to see Vittorio Crivelli and his companions. He looked at me with such disdain, as if I wasn’t worthy to breathe the same air.

“Vie, whoreson. The day is so beautiful and your presence is an insufferable blemish,” I replied.

Vittorio’s face flashed with anger. “You’ll learn to respect your betters,”

His men cracked their knuckles and a few brandished clubs. I put my hand on my rapier and prepared to put up my guard.

“By order of the Doge, there is to be no brawling or violence in the street,” A band of city guards announced, having arrived just in time to prevent a conflict.

“There is no violence here, merely a discussion of vermin,” I replied, mocking the nobles with an overdramatic bow to the guards.

The captain walked up and put his face close to mine. His sweaty face and his thick black mustache were etched with annoyance. He had many things he wished to say, but he knew better. He merely let his glaring eyes speak for him. I used the opportunity and stepped into the brothel after avoiding a fight with the aristocrats.

Inside the green-walled bedroom I found Vincenzo at the climax of pleasure with his two mistresses. My arrival startled them but did not prevent my man from reaching his goal. He basked in his conquest even as the two skulked out of the room.

“A clear sign of a good day,” he said, taking a goblet full of wine from the end table.

“Good day or no, get dressed. We have work to do,” I said to him, the confrontation on the street still fresh on my mind. I felt anger settling in my stomach like a heavy stone.

“Of course, my lord. What work is there?”

“What do you know of the house of Crivelli?” I asked him, not even bothering to turn to face him.

“They are an Italian family. The patriarch is don Leonardo, a close adviser of the Doge. I believe he has a son,”

“That he does,” I replied, Vittorio’s face still sneering at me in my mind’s eye.

“What business have we with the Crivelli?” Vincenzo asked. I knew full-well what our business was. After a lifetime of being insulted and harassed, I could take it no longer. I would not live with constant mockery as my father did. If the Italians would not embrace me as an equal, then they would fear me as a ruler.

“Our business is simple; to repay the Crivelli’s for their slights,” Vincenzo’s face told me he understood that I was serious.

“That road will cross our paths with many dangerous men,” he warned me.

“That it will.  And if they stand in our way, then they will meet a similar fate,” Vincenzo stood before me and placed his hand over his heart before placing it on my shoulder.

“If that is your wish, then I am yours to command, Lord von Kessel”