The Exiled Blade (The Assassini) - By Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Dramatis Personae

Tycho, a youth with strange hungers

The Millioni

Marco IV, known as Marco the Simpleton, duke of Venice and Prince of Serenissima

Lady Giulietta di Millioni, his young cousin, widow of Prince Leopold, mother of Leo and lover of Tycho

Duchess Alexa, the late duke’s widow, mother to Marco IV. A Mongol princess in her own right. She hates . . .

Prince Alonzo, Regent of Venice, who wants the throne

Marco III, known as Marco the Just. The late lamented duke of Venice, elder brother of Alonzo, godfather of Lady Giulietta and the ghost at every feast

Members of the Venetian court

Lord Bribanzo, member of the Council of Ten, the inner council that rules Venice. One of the richest men in the city. Sides with Alonzo

Lord Roderigo, Captain of the Dogana, Alonzo’s ally

Lady Maria Dolphini, heiress

Captain Weimer, new head of the palace guard

Amelia, a Nubian slave and member of the Assassini

Pietro, an ex-street child, now a royal page

Prince Frederick zum Bas Friedland, bastard son of Sigismund, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, one-time suitor for Lady Giulietta and a guest at the court

Late members of the Venetian court

Atilo il Mauros, once adviser to the late Marco III, and head of Venice’s secret assassins. Alexa’s lover and long-term supporter. Was engaged to the late Lady Desdaio, daughter of Lord Bribanzo

Prince Leopold zum Bas Friedland. Also dead. Until lately leader of the krieghund, Emperor Sigismund’s werewolf shock troops. (Brother of Prince Frederick)

Dr Hightown Crow, alchemist, astrologer and anatomist to the duke. Using a goose quill he inseminated Giulietta with Alonzo’s seed, leaving her with child

Iacopo, once Atilo’s servant and member of the Assassini

Captain Towler, mercenary leader in Montenegro

The Three Emperors

Sigismund, Holy Roman emperor, King of Germany, Hungary and Croatia. Wants to add Lombardy and Venice to that list

John V Palaiologos, the Basilius, ruler of the Byzantine Empire (known as the Eastern Roman Empire), also wants Venice. He barely admits Sigismund is an emperor at all

Tamburlaine, Khan of Khans, ruler of the Mongols and newly created emperor of China. The most powerful man in the world and a distant cousin to Duchess Alexa. He regards Europe as a minor irritation

PART 1

“There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now . . .”

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

1

Austria

The emperor rode ahead on a high-stepping stallion draped with a cloth of gold, and behind him came his flag bearer, the double-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire snapping in the winter wind. A small group of carefully selected courtiers followed wrapped tightly in furs against the early snow. Old men riding down a valley towards a troop of younger men who were the future if they lived long enough.

Sigismund of Germany had come to meet his son.

The emperor was in his fifties, long-facedx and tired eyed, exhausted by the effort of controlling an empire for which he hadn’t provided a proper heir. The boy he approached was a youthful indiscretion. Well, as Frederick was seventeen, perhaps not that youthful on Sigismund’s part, but still an indiscretion.

Since he was a bastard, had lost his battle against Venice and was returning with a dispirited army, having gained little glory from his siege of the island city, Frederick wondered why his father bothered to greet him.

At a word from the emperor the courtiers halted, and though they stayed in their saddles they relaxed enough to let their tired mounts feed on the thin Alpine grass of the high meadow. The emperor rode on alone.

Sliding from his horse, Prince Frederick knelt on the damp grass, bowed his head and waited. Only for his father to vault from his saddle with the enthusiasm of a man half his age. “Stand,” Sigismund insisted, dragging his son to his feet.

Frederick said, “I apologise. The fault is all mine.”

Clapping him on the shoulder, the emperor grinned. “Nicely said. Always take the blame and share the glory. It costs nothing but words, and makes your followers love you.” He glanced beyond Frederick at the returning troops. “Sieges are always hard – especially when they fail. You could have done with a proper battle and a few more deaths.”

“Your majesty . . .?”

“What did you lose? A half-dozen of your friends, no real soldiers at all. Your troops need comrades to mourn and enemy outrages to make them angry. I’m riding for Bohemia to put down a Waldensian heresy, your army can join mine. There’ll be killing, mourning and drinking enough to make any soldier

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