Bragadin’s Skin

Girolamo Polidori forced a few more tortured breaths in and out of his lungs, hoping to speed the return of his wind. Straining to sit upright without the use of his bound hands, he tried to get to his knees, failed, fell forward onto his face once more, rolled onto his shoulder and got first one, then the other knee beneath him. Then he sat straight up.

How are we to know this is the Polidori we sent for?” the older man said.

Right knee to right foot. 

Push. 

Left foot planted.

None too steady, but standing erect, Polidori took in his captors. The older man was tall, lean, and aside from his white linen shirt, well-dressed all in garnet: doublet, hose, shoes. In the guttering light cast by the fire popping and crackling in the room’s massive hearth, his choice of clothes made him seem alternately cut from the heart of a very large gem-stone or covered from nape to heel in blood.

Beardless, he kept his grey hair short. This, along with his posture, marked him as a soldier. Polidori realized with a start that there was something familiar about the man the rest of the room referred to as “bailo.”  Had he seen the fellow before?

***

Polidori spat blood at the expensively cut boots of the man before him, missed, took the expected kick to the ribs, and let the force of it roll him onto his side. A chorus of laughter followed the exchange, as he’d expected.

With some effort he was able to roll onto his hip, struggle for a single ragged breath, then another, then two more, then over onto his face.

Si, bello, Polidori of Genoa,” the Corsican said. “He was where you said we would find him.”

Polidori of Genoa wondered whether he would ever encounter a Corsican whose speech didn’t resemble the braying of an ass.

It’s BAILO, not ‘bello,’ imbecille. This gentleman is the ‘bailo,’ the ambassador representing La Serenissima Venezia, not a pretty boy you’re trying to bugger.” This came from a second man, the owner of the handsome boots. The fellow had a lisp so pronounced that at first Polidori mistook him for a Castilian—the words came out “sssignore” and “ssserenissssima.”

This younger man was shorter than the bailo, paler and thicker. Long, dyed-red ringlets spilled from beneath his plum-colored French bonnet, and did not match the patchy brown beard that failed to cover a weak chin. A doublet of cobalt blue and tight ochre breeches tucked into those beautiful matching ochre boots, cut in the Spanish style to mid-thigh, completed his wardrobe. Perhaps the man was Castilian after all, with his lisp and his boots. God knew his Italian was atrocious enough to the ear.

Taking a careful breath as a concession to his certainly bruised ribs, Polidori spoke for the first time. “If you seek the Polidori who escaped from the fabled seven towers of the Sultan’s worst prison, the Yedi Kule Hisar,” he said, “and cheated the Well of Souls itself, then congratulate yourselves. You have found him. Much good may it do you.”

The younger man struck Polidori across the mouth with the back of a well-manicured hand. He did it casually, as if he’d had much practice. The large signet ring he wore deepened the bloody cut running the length of Polidori’s upper lip.

Polidori recoiled, recovered, strained against the tight grips of the two Corsicans who held him.

Mind your mouth in the presence of your betters, cafone,” the fop said without heat.

I am no fool, bastardo.”

The fat aristocrat gasped. The ring glittered in the half-light of the fire as he struck Polidori with his closed fist.

Polidori was ready for it. Taking the punch, he let it carry him backward, throwing the Corsicans on each of his arms off-balance. He then exploited his leverage, darted quickly forward, momentarily broke free of his captors’ grip, and struck.

This time the blood he spat found its mark: the fop’s right boot, directly above the ankle. “That for La Serenissima!” He spat again, this time full in that fat, round, suddenly astonished face. “And that for you!” He took a painful breath. “You strutting, preening, hissing son of a Castilian whore!”

Knocked from his feet again, kicked and kicked some more, Polidori curled up as much as possible with his hands trussed up behind his back.

Lift his head!” The fop held up a slim dagger with enough jewels adorning the hilt to have bought Polidori’s freedom ten times over back when he was still a slave in one of the Sultan’s galleys.

You’ll pay for your insolence with your tongue.”

Just then the bailo pushed between them. He pulled the fop away and began to whisper heatedly in his ear.

Mind your tone, Tiepolo,” the fop snapped, using the older man’s name rather than his title, as he shrugged off the older man’s grasp. “My ancestors ruled a vast trading empire when your ancestors were still drying their nets on the Lido.”

Tiepolo’s whole demeanor changed. “Rage,” he said coldly, “is a luxury you and your family can ill afford.”

Look what he did to my face, to my boots!”

Blood washes away,” the bailo said. “Insults fade. This is no time for aristocratic airs from the stateless son of a dispossessed family.”

For a moment the fop looked down at the blade in his right hand. He sheathed it awkwardly.

Neither of them spoke. The window showed them a now-benighted Pera below and the twinkling lights of the eternal city across the Golden Horn.

***

Polidori slammed the clay mug in his hand to the table. “You’re one of the Tiepolos?”

The three of them—Polidori, the bailo, and the fop—were at table in the bailo’s kitchen. The fop made no effort to hide the bejeweled dagger with which he’d threatened to remove Polidori’s tongue.

The bailo looked at him, clearly amused. “I had no idea our family’s good name was known in the brothels and taverns of Candia,” he said.

I was at Famagusta, on Cyprus. Are you a relative of Antonio Tiepolo?”

The bailo’s eyes widened. “Impossible! No Venetian survived that siege.”

You forget,” Polidori said, “that I am no Venetian.” He poked himself in the chest with the thumb of his non-drinking hand. “A Gattilusio. Genovese.”

What of it?” the fop cut in curtly.

The Turk slaughtered a garrison lured out of the city by a flag of truce, including my brother’s son,” the bailo explained with elaborate patience. He asked Polidori, “How did you survive?”

I was no soldier—I was your kinsman’s manservant.  And when they took him and the other generals and beheaded them in the dust, I groveled like a cur, wept like a maid, and asked to be converted to Islam.”

The fop was disdainful. “Betrayed the one true faith in order to save your hide?”

Polidori laughed and spoke slowly, as if to a small, witless child. “Of course. They spared my life, but were so worried mine might not be a genuine conversion that they chained me to a bench in the Admiral’s galley for three years, then threw me in that damned prison, right next to old Bragadino himself.” Polidori asked the bailo, “Is that why you had me brought here? To confirm that Marc’Antonio Bragadino survived Famagusta?”

In part.” Tiepolo had regained his composure. “Did he?”

Everyone’s heard the rumors,” Polidori said, “about ‘the Bragadin’.” His voice took on a sing-song quality. “Marc’Antonio Bragadino, captain-general of marines, he commanded the tiny Venetian force that resisted an army of a hundred thousand Turk for over a year, only to be betrayed while negotiating surrender terms, tortured, and forced to watch his troops slaughtered.”

Is he still in the Yedi Kule Hisar?” The fop’s lisp became more pronounced in his excitement.

Polidori addressed himself to the bailo.  “Your nephew Antonio died gallantly,” he said. “As for Bragadino, he was in his cell, his head still on his shoulders, and his hide intact when I escaped.”

What would it take,” the fop said carefully, “to get him out?”

You could not do it. You should not do it.”

You forget yourself, paisan—”

Polidori looked bored and scratched himself below the table. “You’re Francesco Crispo. Head of the Crispo family, late of Naxos, now of Venice. And you think yourself the duke of that island.”

How—”

Polidori waved his non-drinking hand. “We’ve met. You do not recall.” Before Crispo could reply, Polidori went on. “No matter. If you want Bragadin out, you should not try it yourself. Hire someone.”

Why?”

The basileus won’t like it,” Polidori said. He used the Greek word for “emperor,” rather than the Turkish sultan.

What?”

Old Palaeologus. The basileus—” Polidori crossed himself, going right to left in the Greek fashion—“the last basileus.  He won’t like it.”

Constantine Palaeologus?”

Yes.”

He’s dead.”

Yes.”

Fell with the city itself nearly a hundred and thirty years ago.”

His spirit lives, haven’t you heard?”

The fop made a noise. “Paisano superstition.”

Truth. As the legend goes amongst the faithful in Constantinopolis, and throughout the old empire, his spirit inhabits a statue in his likeness, sleeping in a cave below the Golden Gate.”

And you know this how?”

I saw it.”

Bah.”

When I escaped, I found the cave. The old Golden Gate makes up the western wall of the Yedi Kule Hisar. I saw the spirit of Old Palaeologus. He won’t like someone from one of those Italian families who rolled over for the sultan traversing his domain. You’re taking an awful chance being right here in Pera! You’re lucky he doesn’t strike you dead where you stand! And why would the Bragadin himself, hero of Famagusta and bane of the Turk, want to be rescued by someone like you?”

Crispo’s face reddened. “Like me?”

The head of one of the Sultan’s Venetian lapdog families. People who change masters as deftly as a poor man changes his sandals?”

The younger man’s next move surprised Polidori. Rather than grasp his dagger, threaten and bluster as he had before, the fellow’s eyes flicked in the bailo’s direction then back at Polidori. With both hands palm-down on the table, he said, “A more accurate term for people like me would be: the head of a wealthy Venetian family willing to pay handsomely for assistance with the noble task of returning Marc’Antonio Bragadino to La Ssserenisssima, the city of his fathers.”

How much is ‘handsomely’?”

***

Crispo huddled in the bottom of the boat under his heavy blue cloak, furious and cold. Bitter night air rolled off the Bosporus and into what that oaf Polidori had called a caïque. The oaf sat behind him, giving orders in rapid Turkish to the caïque’s tatterdemalion owner. Polidori wore only a leather jerkin, yet gave no sign of feeling the chill.

The Eternal City was visible in the distance across the Bosporus, and Crispo’s gaze wandered to the seven hills of its skyline. Surmounting them all, the needle atop the Aya Sofya Mosque glinted red in the dying sunlight. Once a Greek church, the colossal edifice perched on the city’s spine, its towering dome and minarets, now crimsoned by the setting sun, dominated its surroundings. Even this late in the day it was visible far beyond the sea walls which the Turks had repaired with such care after taking the city from the Greeks.

When Crispo demanded to know how they were to retrieve the hero of Famagusta from his cage, and how soon, Polidori only said, “There is plenty of night left.”

Just when he was convinced that he would never be warm again, the skies above went from overcast and dark to pitch-black. They were no longer plying the waters of the Bosporus.

Instead the caïque now floated through a large, dark cavern, cutting through water so still this might be the first time it had been disturbed since God made the world.

Make ready. We move once we’re across the cavern,” the oaf said. “And give me a few coins.”

Crispo glared at him. “You’ll be paid,” he said with as much disdain as he could muster through teeth he barely kept from chattering, “when the Bragadin is safely away from the Fortress of the Seven Towers.”

Surprisingly white teeth flashed in that bearded countenance. “The coins are not for me. They’re for him,” Polidori gestured with his head in the direction of the Turk in the stern, busily working the caïque’s sweep. “And unless you want to swim for it on our way out, don’t stint on the amount we’re paying him up front. Even if you don’t believe in the spirit of the Palaeologus, he does. We’re buying his time, and time spent in the presence of the dead is dear to our Mohammedan friends.”

***

How can this be? Crispo thought as the unmistakable sound of running water grew louder in his ears. He knew they must even now be directly beneath the city walls, perhaps under the old Golden Gate itself. He had once toured the vast cisterns built beneath old Blachernae Palace—repositories of the City’s drinking water—none of them had a roof as high as the one surmounting this cavern. How had the Greeks kept something like this a secret during their thousand years ruling the world from this very spot, a wide-open, apparently defenseless corridor leading directly into the heart of Constantinopoli, the so-called navel of the world?

The roar of the water grew louder. Off to his right, something caught and reflected the light from Polidori’s torch. An underground stream feeding this underground bay?

Gloria abbastanza per uno…He glanced from Polidori’s broad back down at the stain still marring his boot, thinking back to the moment days ago, when Genoese blood ran down his own face.

The bailo had been wrong, he thought. Some blood does not wash away.

***

Their way was blocked once they reached what Crispo reckoned to be the northern wall of the vast cavern. “What now?”

Polidori turned and grinned at him, white teeth flashing again. “Now we wade.”

In there?”

I told you not to come,” Polidori said. “I told you to pay someone. Now there’s nothing else for it. Retrieving the Bragadin is a two-man job. I cannot do it alone. So either follow me or lead the way back to our caïque and plan to pay me the agreed-upon amount. In full.”

Crispo had no intention of allowing the oaf to collect. He waved a hand. “Lead on.”

***

The two men negotiated the sharp turns and odd angles of the channel passage that would lead them to the Well of Souls, then upward and into the Yedi Kule Hisar itself.

The water rose and ebbed, sometimes reaching nearly to the shorter Crispo’s chin, and at those times it was all Polidori could do to keep his torch lit. At one point he slipped and nearly dropped the torch, the current plucking at his clothing, and his thoughts flashed back over the months to the night of his escape, and how he’d nearly drowned in this very passage.

At last they faced the spot where the torch would do them no further good. This was the place where he’d almost lost his life to the current, to the spirit of the well, and to that of the Palaeologus, the old, dead basileus himself.

Polidori called out over the thunder of the current, “It’s a long held breath up from here! Not far…”

How far?” The torch had mostly burned itself out, and the damp of the tunnel helped reduce it to little more than a sputtering cinder. “You said nothing about swimming!”

Polidori shrugged “Mezza pertica.”

Half-a-rod!? Twenty feet!?”

And then, up into the Well of Souls.”

***

Crispo flailed, clutched at Polidori’s outstretched hand and gasped for air. “Mezza pertica, God’s eyes!” he said once he’d caught his breath. “The longest twenty feet of my life! How will we ever get Bragadin through it?”

Polidori laughed. “Once he’s free of his cell, the Bragadin will have no difficulty navigating that tunnel.”

Crispo realized that he could see Polidori, with no torch for light. And then he also saw a figure, taller than Polidori’s six feet, looming behind them.

Dread struck him. “Polidori,” he whispered.

Polidori gave an unconcerned glance over his shoulder. “I told you he dwelt here, waiting.”

You mean…that is…the Palaeologus?”

The old basileus,” Polidori said, patting a stone shoulder affectionately, “nearly scared the life from me when I came through here last year.”

Crispo squinted. What he could now see was a massive statue shaped like a man, yet nothing like the Greek or Roman sculpture with which he was familiar. It was at least nine feet tall, carved from some dark stone, perhaps obsidian. The face was eternally patient, square, with a bristling beard. Everything about the figure was boxy.

No Greek carved this,” Crispo said. “The workmanship is far too crude.”

It’s Varangian. Rus. Northmen carved this. You can find its like from Thule to Scandia.”

And this is what you claimed housed the ghost of the basileus?” Crispo was reproachful.

A small round circle of dim light sat framed in the blackness directly above their heads. The overcast night sky, Crispo reasoned, complete with clouds diffusing the light from a full moon that had been completely obscured when they entered the cavern.

The well,” he said. “What did you call it?”

This,” Polidori whispered dramatically, “the Turks call the Peki Ruhlar. The Well of Souls.”

Why is it called this?”

Because the Yedi Kule Hisar contains mostly political prisoners. Diplomats who have displeased the sultan, merchants caught cheating his subjects, even back-sliding batili converts such as your obedient servant here before you.” Polidori bowed low. “And when one of these unfortunates angers the sultan enough to have his head separated from his body, the head goes on a pike beside the Thessalonica Gate, and the body?”

The Well of Souls,” Crispo finished for him.

So mind your step from here on out. And we have a climb ahead of us. Straight upward.”

With no rope? No ladder? How far?”

The Genoan opened his leather jerkin and began unwinding something from around his waist. He held it up before Crispo’s eyes. “Silk. Strong. Light. Worth more than all the jewels on the hilt of that dagger of yours. And measured out a full pertika… a good forty feet, which is about ten feet more than we’ll need.

It won’t be much help for me, but it ought to help you get up there once I’ve climbed these walls, and then of course on our way down and out.”

And you think the Bragadin will be able to negotiate this rope on our way out?”

Polidori only grinned at mention of the object of their quest. Again Crispo failed to see the humor the big oaf seemed to associate with the hero of Famagusta.

***

Quickly! This way!”

There was too much light in the wide-open expanse of the castle’s courtyard. Polidori hustled the fop past the block where the Turks did their beheading. They reached the lee of the north tower.

He kept his eyes fixed on Crispo. The subdued light of the cloud-shrouded moon shone on a bedraggled figure. The fop’s once rich clothing was soaked and stained with both mud and sweat. The fat bastardo had probably never worked so hard in his life.

This key,” Polidori said, holding it aloft for the aristocrat to see, “opens this door.” He pointed to the massive portal in the alcove where they crouched. “Bragadino awaits us on this very floor.”

What about guards?”

Take a look at the parapets, if you can make them out in this moonlight,” Polidori said. “They’re up there, but their focus is directed outward, especially along the seawall to the south.”

No, no, they are worried about someone coming over the walls, not under them. No one has ever broken out of the Yedi Kule Hisar.” He paused, then said with unaccustomed modestly, “your humble servant excluded, and even then they had no idea how I managed it. It’s why you sought me out in the first place.”

And did you get word to the Bragadin? Does he know we are coming for him? Will he be ready?”

All is in readiness,” Polidori said. “Bragadino has been ready for this moment since the day he left Famagusta on the ship of Lala Mustapha.”

***

The dispossessed Duke of Naxos wondered whether the oaf suspected what was coming. Reaching beneath his dripping cloak, he found the pommel of his dagger even as the lock turned with an audible click.

The hinges on the enormous oak door were as stiff as the lock, and the Genoan had to open the door carefully. Crispo waited for his chance, but still Polidori did not turn completely away from him.

After you, signore,” the oaf said mockingly, never quite averting his gaze from Crispo.

He suspects something.

Crispo drew his dagger, held it blade forward, while winding his drenched blue cloak about his left arm, as he had seen knife-fighters do. “Gloria abbastanza per uno, e non di più,” he hissed as he aimed for the jerkin-covered left side of Polidori’s torso, and struck.

His aim was spoiled by a sudden strong tug on his left arm, while at the same instant something white and heavy came smashing down between his blade and Polidori’s body. Crispo’s dagger sliced along and into it even as he realized it was Polidori’s linen-clad arm. A trail of red sprang up in the dagger’s wake.

Then a savage second jerk on Crispo’s left arm pulled him off balance and dragged his attention away from the other man’s torso. Struggling to right himself while also keeping the oaf at bay, Crispo swung his dagger in a wide arc once, twice, a third time, meeting empty air each time. The only sounds that came to his ears were his own pulse pounding between them, and the gasps and grunts as the two men struggled.

Another vicious tug on his left arm pulled him in the opposite direction before he lost his footing, and he heard a sound like a dinner gong, only louder, and deeper, as his head struck something and rebounded, the corridor suddenly so white with light he was blinded for the second time that night.

Panic rising in his throat, Crispo swung blindly and felt his dagger connect solidly, followed closely by a gasp of pain, then another shock to his head, and his left arm twisting nearly out of its socket. Then another gong and flash of light, and his knees failed him and he was falling.

***

The old Greek physician who’d sewn up Polidori’s arm the previous night out in Galata had exclaimed over his patient’s good fortune, because the sharp knife that sliced him from wrist to upper arm had somehow missed an artery. The knife wound to his hip, right in front of the fat of his left buttock, had needed packing, but took only two stitches to close. The second wound was the reason for his refusal of a seat when he had entered the bailo’s presence moments before. It would be some time before he could again sit comfortably.

Gloria abbastanza per uno, e non di più.’”

‘Glory enough for one, and no more,’” Tiepolo repeated slowly. They sat together in the bailo’s comfortable study.

That’s what he said, and then he tried to fillet me like a mackerel. And I disagree with the little bastard,” Polidori continued. “There’s glory enough in this for more than just one man. I would gratefully share it with you, the honorable kinsman of my honored maestro, martyred so nobly at Famagusta.” He crossed himself, again in the Greek fashion, as he said it. Then he raised his cup, “I drink to his memory. Antonio Tiepolo!”

The bailo raised his own cup. “Antonio my brother’s son!” he said, and they both drank.

But what glory?” Tiepolo said. “What have you accomplished aside from adding to your collection of scars?”

Polidori reached into the satchel he’d brought with him and with some effort pulled from it the bulky, folded piece of tanned leather he’d come to deliver. Mindful of its delicacy, he handed it over to Tiepolo, intoning in his most solemn voice, “Signore Bailo Tiepolo, I, Girolamo Polidori, humble seaman from the city of Genoa, present to you the hero of Famagusta, Marc’Antonio Bragadino.”

Is this some sort of jest?” the bailo said as he began to unfold the leather. He had not gotten far when he gasped, cursed, shouted, and dropped the hide onto the side table next to his chair. He locked his horrified gaze on Polidori. “There’s black hair and…”

The remains of a face. Complete with a handsome mustache. Come now, bailo,” Polidori said, “You must have heard things. Suspected?”

That he was dead? Yes. I’ve heard that many times over my five years here. And also that he resided in a cell in the Yedi Kule Hisar, still clad in the fine matching crimson clothes he wore on that morning he surrendered Famagusta to the Turk.”

All true. And this is what remains.”

This is what you found when you opened the Bragadin’s cell?”

Polidori shook his head. The movement cost him. “They sewed him up and stuffed him with straw, and he was still dressed in the same red finery he wore that day in Famagusta. Did you know him?”

Only by reputation.”

He was quite the arrogant peacock, no question. Did you hear how he strolled out to meet his conquerors, after a year-long siege?”

The bailo shook his head.

Why, he strutted through the city gates, decked out in his best crimson suit of clothes, a servant trotting along behind him carrying a matching red silk parasol to block the sun from his face, like a carefree gentleman doing the paseo on the Lido.”

You witnessed this as well?”

I was that servant. I saw everything that happened on that terrible day, as I’ve told you. Lala Mustapha—” Polidori paused to spit into the fireplace at mention of the name—“the black-hearted Turkish commander, was the one who ordered the Bragadin seized and forced him to watch as his officers were executed.

Then they went to work on the Bragadin.” He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts, dredging up long-held memories. When the bailo continued to sit quietly, rapt, he went on.

Mustapha,” he paused to spit again, “ordered his ears and nose be cut off. They were. Then he insisted the Bragadin convert to Islam. He refused, and even though in terrible pain from his wounds, cursed the lala for the double-dealing cur he was.

At that point my own courage failed me, and I begged to be converted. I was dragged away immediately, to begin my own instruction at the end of an overseer’s whip, once they’d circumcised me, of course.

I only heard most of what came next. For three days they forced the Bragadin to help clear the city walls of rubble, carrying debris from sun-up to sun-down. On the third day, Lala Mustapha—” he paused yet again to spit—“again offered him his life in exchange for conversion. Again he refused, and cursed his tormentor.

That sealed his fate. I witnessed what came at the last. They wanted all the Christian slaves to see it, so they brought up every one of them from the galleys and cast me in among them. I like to think of the score or so of us there to witness the final atrocity as being with him at the end, a small group of well-wishers in that sea of hatred.

The next morning they strapped the Bragadin face-in to a massive column left over from the ruins of the original Greek city built there countless centuries ago. And then they slowly flayed him. Alive.”

The bailo gasped.

I would not have wished the sight even on the Duke of Naxos,” Polidori said, staring straight ahead and seeing something very different from the interior of the bailo’s study. “They commenced at his hairline and began by peeling his skin back and downward from there. At first he sang a Te Deum. Then he screamed, and sang more, and then he stopped singing and only screamed for a few minutes. By the time they had cleared the skin from his head, he was insensate.

Lala Mustapha—” another pause to spit—“ordered him revived. The Turk physicians were unable to do so. By the time they reached his waist, he was dead.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Signore Bragadino, he was a proud man. And Lala Mustapha—” again the ritual of spitting—“mocked his memory. He ordered the skinned corpse burnt, like carrion, and the flayed skin sewn together and stuffed with straw, then dressed once again in his red suit, now doubly red with the martyr’s blood, and ridden through the Turkish camp on an ass, exposing it to the jeers and flung offal of janissaries, common soldiers and camp followers, alike.

Lastly, the admiral, he whose name I have mentioned far too often, ordered the stuffed skin of the martyr Bragadino hung from the yardarm of his flagship. Then he set sail for a triumphant return here, to Constantinopoli, where it was tossed into a cell in the Yedi Kule Hisar, and has been the butt of crude jokes about the ‘crimson-clad prisoner Bragadino’ in his cell.”

Barbaro,” the bailo said.

There is no other word for it. You heard the rumors he’d died horribly at Famagusta?”

The bailo nodded.

I started them.”

Wait!” the bailo said. “The lala, the one whose name you spit upon, he died just last year.”

In his bed,” Polidori said with grim satisfaction.

Of old age.”

Possibly. Although the bowstring I had wrapped around his pig throat to help speed him straight to Hell might also have had something to do with it.”

You slipped into the palace of a lala and killed him?”

With a bowstring,” Polidori repeated.

Ah, yes!” Tiepolo clapped his hands together. “The sultan’s time-honored method of executing servants who fail him. You made it look as if he was killed on the sultan’s orders! No wonder they covered it up! Would never do to have that manner of shame heaped on his sons.”

Polidori shrugged. “I owed it to the shade of the Bragadin. He kept his courage to the end. I have not had one anxious moment, not drawn one frightened breath since that day he went to our Lord there on that terrible column.”

And Crispo’s money?”

I’m a sailor, not a monk. I must live.”

Tiepolo snapped his fingers, leaning forward. “And what of Crispo? You promised to speak of him by and by.”

Him I left trussed up like the fat swine he is, in the Bragadin’s cell, decked out in the hero of Famagusta’s tattered crimson finery.”

The bailo started, recovered, and said, “You noted his taste for the latest fashions, did you?”

Maybe he’ll grovel and beg to be spared, and convert to Islam.”

Tiepolo clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Surely a man of such breeding would not stoop so low merely to preserve his own hide,” Tiepolo looked again at the tanned skin of the martyred Bragadin, as if for emphasis. “Perhaps he can trade that pretty dagger of his for his freedom.”

Polidori’s white teeth flashed. “That I left at the feet of Constantine the Paeleologus, as I departed the Well of Souls with the Bragadin here tucked beneath my good arm. After all, the spirit of the Palaeologus has been exceedingly kind to me.”

About the Author

Brian Thornton

Brian Thornton is the author of nine books, including The Book of Bastards and The Book of Ancient Bastards, in addition to serving as collection editor for the BSTSLLR-published anthology West Coast Crime Wave. His short fiction has appeared in such venues as Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and the Akashic Books anthology Seattle Noir. A native Washingtonian, he lives in Seattle with his wife and son.

 

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