“I will kill Ettore!” Falconero stormed into the inn once more as Lupo and the last man, Veleno, stood. “I hate that man beyond belief.”
Lupo slowly pulled back his hood again while Falconero tore his off. “What happened?” he asked tiredly.
Falconero roared and flipped the table, along with his cape. As he leaned forward against the broken table on tight knuckles, his back arched like a wolf ready to pounce. He growled and shook his head. “The will was not distributed to anyone but Ettore,” he said breezily.
The inn was silent as the three patrons sat stiffly in the candlelight. Veleno kept the tavern quiet and empty and safe from prying eyes as a way in and out for Lupo and Falconero. It was warm and comfortable and the ale was homemade. Falconero felt the need to sit down with a pint, so he made his way to the back and dunked his flagon in. He returned to the table taking it in angry gulps.
Lupo rubbed his scruffy chin. “This may not be very complicated,” he murmured, “though I see your concern, mi amico /my friend/.”
Veleno shrugged and crossed his arms over his lean chest. He was younger than Falconero by almost a whole generation and still juvenile in his way of strategy. So far, Veleno kept to his inn and left the planning to Lupo and the attack to Falconero. Nevertheless, the young man never let a meeting adjourn without his thoughts. “That makes it easier for us, Falco,” he said exasperatedly. “We kill Ettore, take the villa, and send it all to His Honorable King. Easy as Tuscany.”
Falco, at the understatement of his job, rolled his eyes and surveyed the inn. Locanda di Veleno was abandoned and well to be so, given its name meant ‘inn of poison’. The interior was comfortable and warm, with a hearth housing a crackling fire to one side, a bar counter to the other, and the stairs to the rooms were well repaired. What may have been offsetting was the target hung on the entrance filled with stilettos and knives, the rack of weapons, and the map placed on one of the tables pricked with blood red pins, ink marks, and tags that read: ‘eradicated’.
Falconero sighed and leaned back again, his eyes closed. “At least Gaspare was willing to hand it to us,” he snarled. “The death threats were not necessary with him. I’m tired of Ettore, either way, and I want him dead as soon as possible.”
Lupo remembered Gaspare well, the old traitor. He was underhanded and two-faced, but Lupo had worked for worse. Gaspare had called on the mercenary a few times beforehand, for jobs that were under his reputation and dignity. Lupo couldn’t say he was proud of those desperate days.
Lupo nodded and ran his hand over the counter, stopping as his fingers kissed the sheath of Falco’s throwing knives, which he had thrown unceremoniously in his tantrum. “You always know how to arrange that,” he said calculatingly, easing the scabbard into his hands. He balanced the stiletto between his pointer fingers and twirled it. “And may I remind you that you haven’t finished your true duty yet…” he aimed the stiletto at the door - “eradicating Pierotto Battaglia first.”
Falconero paused from his second ale. “I know,” he said quietly as he lowered his mug, “I know, I know. He has to go.” He swallowed and nodded. “And it will be done, I swear it.”
Lupo, with one powerful flick of his arm, sent Falco’s stiletto flying through the air until it devoured the middle of the target with a starved, satisfying thud. The target shivered from the impact, and Veleno calmly applauded it. Lupo smirked and bowed. He then turned back to Falco.
“What if there is a way to frame Ettore and Pierotto together?” he mused as he crossed his arms over his chest. His calculatingly cold blue eyes passed Falco and he slowly nodded, as he thought about how it would work. “It just takes some well placed pawns, a weapon of choice, the gallows, and down comes toppling the chess piece.” He smirked. “Would you do that for me, Falco?”
The mercenary thought about it. Pierotto was to be dead, that much was certain, for His Honorable King to be satisfied with him. He had to be gone, and quick. On the other side of the coin, Ettore was going to be dead as soon as possible.
Killing two birds with one stone never seemed so easy.
“Sidestep, Pierotto! Sidestep!”
Pierotto was hit again. Ettore slashed him across the knees, to which he winced with surprise. Ettore, the better fencer, chuckled and shook his head. “You have the poise, but not the grace of reflex.” He posed beginning stance again, his rapier in perfect position, while his other hand was placed behind him, and he motioned with his blade for Pierotto to do the same.
Ettore decided that, if he was to live in Grandfather’s villa, then he may as well soak up his favorite parts of the garden. Pierotto invited himself over and Ettore was tempted to send him away until Mama Rosa - still at it in making magic in the kitchen - advised him to take his brother in and to really see him as a character.
It had been about a month now, and January met the Tuscan countryside in a wave of Mediterranean heat. The lush, rolling swells of grass were painted into the horizon from the view of the third tier of the villa’s garden, where Ettore invited Pierotto to fence. Trees created the frame of God’s nature piece as the two men stepped forward and back in a swing of thrusting and blocking.
The sun grew higher as the garden’s chorus of birds was joined by the violent clashing of the rapiers. Ettore was having the time of his life, simply stepping aside Pierotto’s wide swings while thrusting at lightning speed. He had found his match in Pierotto concerning many things, but not swordsmanship.
Perhaps he had found a friend in him as well.
Ettore had grown accustomed to his older brother’s presence and his constant voice of reason. There was some fun in him, too, though the younger man hadn’t wanted to admit it at first. Pierotto’s wife, Flavia, was a precious character at Ettore’s dinner table, and their daughter, Giada - who was closer to Ettore’s age - had been a friend for quite some time before she was married off to the lord of Navarre.
He was almost content, now.
Their last spar ended with Pierotto, out of breath, kneeling in the soft grass, while Ettore stood over him, both rapiers in hand.
“You need to hone your skills, mi fratello /my brother/,” Ettore laughed as he brushed the sweat from his brow. He gave Pierotto his rapier, and the brothers, laughing, hiked back up the hills to the enormous villa. Ettore tied the loose lacing of his collar back up to his throat before they entered the house.
Pierotto took Ettore by the arm and stopped him from venturing further into the villa past the elegant entry. They stood square beneath the heirloom chandelier that always worried the young lord. Cassio had promised that it was fixed, but the ropes were still frayed. The lord made Cassio swear to fix it before Easter, to which he agreed.
“What, Pierotto?” Ettore asked carefully, smoothing out his white sleeve. “You look pale.”
Pierotto paused. His eyes were distracted and his grip was loose. Ettore was slightly worried.
“Pierotto,” he urged with a hand on his brother’s shoulder, “what is wrong?”
His half brother let out a shaky exhale. “I was right,” he mumbled, “about the assassin.” He swallowed. “I was attacked last night by a hooded shadow who wielded stiletto knives, like the ones they found at our father’s murder site.”
Ettore’s eyes widened and his heart stopped. “What?” he breathed. “The assassin returned?”
Pierotto nodded. “I say we be wary, mi fratello.” He looked over his shoulder, making sure no one was listening. “You may not be able to trust everyone in the villa.”
A little more on Falconero and his besties, Lupo, and the newbie, Veleno. These chapters tend to be pretty short, so for the future, there will be MANY chapters of Half Brother.