34 On the stone floor - 1227
On account off my newfound asset, in the form of Riccardo Travato, the investigation was precise and meticulous. As Louis had told me, Travato was relentless and ruthless; frightened by little. He had a violent temper, which caused him to make sudden emotional overturns in the mere passing of a moment. Moreover, I found him to have a love for rivalry, which led me to believe he would compete with himself were he ever to find no one to challenge. Together with the man, I spend time in and about the dungeons; personally overseeing the questioning of several known academics who were found to be in possession of the writings.
Between the fundaments of the palace lay a network of cells, which made for a sombre surrounding; small rooms with single access in the form of a heavy door with grated air vents. Inside these cells, the air was thick and mephitic, and I started hiding perfumed satchels in my coat whenever I required myself to be there.
The days passed accordingly; many of the captives scarcely tasted food, and walked round and round their prison like wild beasts in their cage. They would be objected to hours and hours of torture while the scribes that were often called on to record the confessions did their best to remain in the background.
"I didn't write them." The man before my feet quivered. The wounds on his torso were no longer distinguishable from one another.
"You mean to tell me that they were given to you?" Riccardo was standing behind me, resting his right arm on the back of my chair.
"I was only given those to copy."
I remained quiet during the whole of the exchange, reclining against the back of the chair, my legs crossed, merely being the lonesome spectator of a gruesome show. Bare and reeking walls embosomed me, damp, as if they were permeated by tears. Riccardo advanced on the shackled figure.
"You may think that's rather convenient," he squatted before the dishevelled man, his silhouette enhanced by the fireplace on the opposite wall. Leaning forward, he grabbed the sweaty hair sticking to the back of the man's damp neck and heaved it downwards; compelling the other to return his gaze. Straining against his bonds, the scholar's breath became haggard. Riccardo lowered his voice to a whisper, "if not you, then who is the original author?"
The fire not only warded off the cold of the underground, but heated the constricted space with such ferocity that I felt as though it's flames breathed upon my burning forehead. I watched in apparent yet quasi-contrived indifference, how Riccardo whipped a tear off the man' cheek. Tutting, as if he appreciated the man's soft pleading, "you need to tell me who gave you the initial text. Otherwise, how do I know it doesn't just end with you, my dear man?"
"The person who gave me the original is dead."
"Alright," Riccardo shrugged, "all the more reason to tell me his name."
The man shifted but refused to respond.
I recognised the look in his eyes. I could dissect the thought process behind those wide sockets, I had seen it in brave and weak men alike. He appeared broken, yet a small voice going by the name of self-preservation told him to keep the reason he was still alive, to himself, and I knew Riccardo to have come to the same conclusion.
"Why not kill you," I said as I rose from my chair.
"Please, as I said," the man weeps, "I'm not the original author."
"Why take the risk? Such things have the tendency to spread like the plague, seeing that you can give me no source as to where you attained them, I could kill you, merely to set my mind at ease," I rested myself against the stone mantle, "let us say that I allow you to live. How can I be sure that no one gets another of your copies once I let you leave."
"Because I know you would kill me."
"So, you fear me."
"Such an accord is based on mutual trust. I trust you not to continue this practice,- while you trust me not to kill you. The problem being that I don't trust you. We only need a name - one name - the source of these blatant works."
"I cannot." All his emotion then burst out; he threw himself on the ground, weeping bitterly, asking the heavens what sin he had committed that he was thus punished.
I started to feel nauseated. I shouldn't have risen. But I would finish it; how could I sentence men to their doom if I couldn't even withstand to watch it?
I sighed and crossed eyes with Riccardo, upon which he dragged the man to his knees and threw one leg on either side of his face, trapping the man' head in between his thighs. The scholar remained still, his spine in an uncomfortable backwards arch. Dislodging an iron chain from overhead, Riccardo threw it into the fire, heating it until the metal turned into a sickening red while he whispered;
"Last chance, beautiful."
The man let out a feverish cry as Riccardo fastened his hand around his victim' chin and drove two fingers of the other into the left eye. He stiffened his grip as the man fought against the assault, and ultimately pulled back. Yet due to Riccardo' position, I was unable to fully distinguish the result.
Riccardo retreated, releasing the man' head. He halted beside me; his fingers wet. He produced a handkerchief from the inside of his tunic and wiped his hands with casual proficiency. Blood leaking out of the socket, leaving a gruesome trail on his cheek, the man was seated on his knees, resting his forehead on the cold underground.
"Give me the author."
The man persisted in his silence. I walked up to him, impelling myself;
Don't feel anything. He is nothing. Only those who close of their mind are able to maintain their sanity.
"Give me a name, you filth."
Heavy breaths against the stone floor resounded through the cell. Riccardo reached for the pincers and retrieved the chain. The air around it brimmed with heat. I heaved a hand - halting him - and leaned down in order to hear the whispers leaving the man' lips.
My head flew backwards, my jaw was forced shut as my teeth slammed against one another. The man' forehead left a numbing feeling across my chin. His full weight dropped and send me on my back. The second haul hit the bridge of my nose. The grin on my assaulter's face didn't falter until Riccardo landed a kick against his torso; it send him against the wall, where he remained lying with pulled up knees.
Laughing bounced trough the constricted space; I was stricken with its audacity. The pertness of these academics was aggravating. I was back on my feet in the passing of a moment, striking the man in an abrupt wave of outrage as I called for the guards who were waiting outside. I waved away their efforts to aid me and cleaned myself up with the sleeve of my shirt; the light fabric tainted dark with my blood and sweat.
"Broken?" Riccardo stood with his back to me as he restrained the man, his chest heaving.
"Dead?" I pointed my chin towards the lifeless body lying against the wall. Rage emanated into disconsolateness upon seeing the doomed man.
"No," Travato turned around, a macabre smile splitting his elegant countenance.
"Very well. Finish it. Get anything out of him. You have until this evening, come find me when you're done."
I departed from the dark, airless room. From the corner of my eye, I could see the unfortunate man on the ground stretch forth his hands towards the open door; but the door closed.
Chances are he doesn't know any more than the others, I realised. Poor soul, may he be released from his suffering as swiftly as possible.
Upon ascending the stairs I adjusted my cloak in an effort to hide my sleeve. Still bleeding, I took out a handkerchief and pressed it against my nose, cursing as I realised I was obligated to change.
Stepping out into the hall, the door closed with a crash. I breathed in. On my left, the gallery was supported by pillars that arched into tall bows, opening up into a garden matching the length of the hall. The sun was at its highest, and though the temperature was pleasant enough, the breeze was sharp and raw - bringing with it the smoke of roasted bovine. I breathed out.
"Phillip?" I was startled, accidentally dropping my hand - letting the blood flood freely - and cursed as I pressed it once more. "What are you doing here?"
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The man wore a debonair vest and had with him two refined, brown sheepdogs. "I live here. And I hope you have a good reason for dragging this to my house."
Your house? This is my palace, I thought. You might be my representative, but I still own the very ground upon which you stand.
Taking into consideration the fact that he had neglected to address me accordingly, I immediately became defensive. "The Licentia seems to be spreading up to Burgundy - though you failed to mention that, last time we congregated."
"They weren't as much of a concern as they are now."
"Weren't they? Or were they simply no concern of yours?"
"What are you indicating?"
"I'm indicating that I'll diminish them."
"I see," he looked away in the direction of the door leading to the dungeons. "And you'll kill all our prominent intellectuals in the process?"
"If that's what it takes."
"Henry has been asking where you have been. You should tell him."
"He could ask me himself."
"Scared of what?!"
"Scared off you."
"He isn't scared of me, he's just an egocentric adolescent."
"He's scared. Same as many."
"You seem to manage."
"I don't get to be."
"I had imagined you would approve, I remember you and Louis doing the same during the succession campaign."
"Different time. Different people. I can't change what I've done - but I can still pursue my wish of teaching you better."
"Yet I learned all of this from you."
"So you do understand what I'm trying to protect."
"I'm monster enough to understand it. But by what means? Killing off the entire literate population?"
"Don't you dare lecture me,-"
"Does this have something to do with that man hanging around you?"
"No. I'm just protecting myself and what we fought for in the past."
"You could go home. Be with your family."
"You sound like Julius."
"In that case, he's perhaps more perceptive than I ever gave him credit for."
"I can't go home," I bypassed him. "I can't get soft."
"Once, I wished to do what I had to in order to see you grow into an honourable man. Mayhap I failed, mayhap not,- but I still mean to do right by you, just remember that," he shook his head. "Now go make it right with your son."