38 The accursed - 1228
I conducted myself with care towards the window of the salon, resting my temple against its cool surface. Beyond the glass, I could make out the olive trees of the orchard, the naked branches drenched in sunlight. Dressed in thin woven gloves, my hands absentmindedly held the written inquiry of Honorarius,- asking me about the developments regarding the mobilisation of the troops; why had I failed to comply with his wishes? Why had I delayed the departure, yet again?
I bid his constant insistence no mind, preoccupied as I was: threatening excommunication or not, all I could think of that moment, were the hours that lay before me.
In the past fortnight, I had taken action by ordaining my enforcement guard to arrest another, redirecting the threat that hung above Julius. Yet doubt and guilt haunted me; so that whenever my heart failed me, I took up a drink.
This is for his sake, I reasoned with myself. I shall send an innocent to their doom, but all for good reason. It isn't wrong to protect someone I care for. I'm human. I wish to protect a dear friend; no matter whether he betrayed me.
It had become a mantra of mine.
At the door, I met with Louis, who was waiting for me. The sight of the duke, dressed in rich red robes with a pelt finish, recalled me from my contemplations to earth; I composed myself, concealed the letter within my garments and said, "let us depart. Inform me on the way."
"The prisoner is Antonius de Verce, philosopher and epistemologist, he enjoys the statute of professor at the University of Bologna."
"How does he relate to the Licentia?"
"The group we dubbed 'the Licentia' was but a figment of our imagination; as we perceived it to be impossible for one or even two men to gain this much influence upon the minds of our scholarly. We are now aware that it was indeed the doing of but one man. All the relevant papers found have been sealed and placed in the possession of your scribe."
"How long has he been teaching?" I asked as we began our descent. In between the persistent tap of Louis cane, my voice resounded trough the grand stairwell as if I were empty,- desolate. Questions and answers came in a manner that screamed disinterest and were followed by a fearful state of silence.
"Twenty-three or twenty-four years at the most."
"No wonder we now have to deal with whole generations of revolutionary academics."
"It will be a very public trial. In order to satisfy the enraptured nobility."
"I'm not fond of such theatrics."
"Me neither. But we'll have to make due." Then he proclaimed; "your majesty? Are you quite alright?"
"Are you sure?"
"I am, Louis. Pardon me, I must be more tired than I assumed."
The conversation flagged, although Louis tried his best to keep it afloat and did not comprehend what the matter was with me. I attempted to appear impassive, but I was haunted continually by the fear of showing my true thoughts and losing my self-possession. As we arrived at the floor upon which the throne room was located, Riccardo Travato, who seemed to be lingering at the bottom of the staircases, approached. His eyes were ringed in kohl and the long embroidered robes were stained with the last snow of the season.
"Your Majesty, I am delighted to see you. I hope I may have the honour of attending this trial by your side."
As of now he had no official post within the court, yet had proved himself to be a valuable asset. Hence, I said; "you'll be permitted to stand on ceremony by the administrators, but no higher."
A side door lay open to the study behind the great hall, where the scribes waited; I entered, having briefly nodded towards the palace guard who stood as if petrified on the spot. Someone was here in this lavish room, someone whose presence I had been unable to endure in these past weeks. A figure who stood now before me. And as Louis went on deeper into the study, urging Riccardo in the direction of the throne room, I braced myself, taking a slow breath.
"For the love of heaven, why are you here?"
"Am I not welcome?" Julius said.
I wished to scream; 'there is a man behind that wall, in the midst of a crowd. In chains. A man I am about to convict for your wrongdoing.'
But I did not need to - nor could I - as we were in the presence of others, who already threw questionable glances in my direction, eager to know the reason for my resentful demeanour. The emotions I felt were suddenly as bittersweet as daunting music; the deep intimidating blooms, chiffs and coughs of the organ that resounded trough rib-vault ceilings and the choirs that seemed to transcend from the heavens.
I passed him and felt his fingers come around my arm,- as if to halt me, to plead with me. There was a tremor in his hand. Why did that enrage me so? I turned sharply; I wanted to strike him, push him away. But what I saw stopped me. He wasn't even looking at me, and his expression was so distant, so wearied that I felt my own exhaustion all the more. I wanted to weep. The well-being of Julius had always been crucial to my own. What I saw filled me with foreboding. If I already felt bitterness, then he must be feeling despair. Yet, I reminded myself, he had brought any guilt he might be feeling over the upcoming sentencing of de Verce upon himself. He must have been aware that I would protect him - if he had not anticipated such, he was far more foolish and naïve than I had ever taken him for. So as I shrugged him off and made clear it was time for him to depart, I simply said;
"I have something to take care off."
After but half an hour, I entered the hall by the means of the main double doors, richly decorated with sculpture, marble and stone tracery. The audience stilled and bowed as they became aware of my presence. With Louis in my wake, I traversed the area towards the platform as out of the corner of my eye, I saw Julius against the far wall, a figure of satin and filigree.
The ceiling beams were enormous; the old chandelier above was empty as a multitude of fireplaces, each with a roaring blaze, had been build into the stone walls. The place was crowded with nobility and court officials, splendidly attired, possessing jewels and finery, in the midst of whom, carefully watched by a band of six guards, stood the prisoner. A man of fifty-two years of age, with grey hair, calm bearing, and exceedingly gentlemanly attire.
De Verce was a widely appreciated man, in that he had published not only in Latin as well as a diversified reach of more common languages. Not directly, of course; he had often made use of several transcribers, ever so often his own students. It was a point he readily admitted as the trial went on.
"It is true that I have published often and that my reach spreads far across the empire, your majesty," Antonius de Verce said, "and I have been forced to accept that some may construe certain lessons in a manner they were not meant to be interpreted. I have, however, slept soundly in the knowledge that the works that originated from my hand were never of an indiscriminating nature against your majesty or the position you uphold."
"It is reported your political opinions are quite extreme," I said.
"But not of any criticism upon your person, I wouldn't dare."
As the affair came to a conclusion, turmoil sprang up. A man with a high forehead and short blonde hair stepped forward from the mass. There lay courage in his dark eyes and a frank sneer upon his visage, though the thin line of his upper lip was covered in sweat. He seemed resolute, withal the slightest tremor was heard as he said; "your Majesty. Please hear me."
The guards surrounding de Verce seemed to hesitate. I exhaled as if entirely exhausted, inclined my head towards Louis and inquired; "Who is that?"
The duke opened his mouth, but was interrupted by the young man, now kneeling upon the red carpet:
"My name is Nichola de Verce, your majesty. This is my father."
I stifled the feelings of compassion that were rising and composed my features. I cast aside a glance at Julius, as to collect myself.
This is for his sake.
"And what do you hope to achieve with your interference?"
"Your majesty, I beg your forgiveness, but you do not know my father. I do. My father is the most estimable, the most trustworthy man I have the pleasure of knowing, and I will venture to say, there is not a man on this earth that is such a keen student of human ethics and morality. I simply cannot perceive him to be capable of such treasonous thoughts. Oh, your majesty, I beseech your indulgence for him."
How trivial all my bitterness seemed when confronted with this pitiful youth.
"You are aware that a person may be estimable and trustworthy in their private life, and a high-profiled academic within our scholarly, and yet be a criminal."
"Your majesty, I implore you,-"
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"As you have a familial duty to defend your father and I do not condemn you for the love you have towards him, as well as the grief these revelations must bring you; I shall forgive you for your interruption."
I glanced at the lace figure at the other end of the room. Pale and restive, I fixed my gaze right upon him; culpability cramped my throat.
This is for his sake.
"Do not test our patience, young man!" Louis bellowed. Tall and proud, almost arrogant in his stance, he was steady and commanding in voice and manner. Nichola de Verce's interference clearly irritated the duke, who seemed to feel that further humility on the young man's part would have been appropriate. Under the thunder of the duke's statement, the unfortunate younger de Verce bowed and retreated within the mass, not without the occasional pained expression he threw in his father's direction. And by the rapid glance that his eyes shot forth, I saw how much energy lay hid beneath his youthfulness. The elder man himself merely seemed to sigh with relief as he deemed his son to be out of the direct line of attack.
"Have you propagated certain political perspectives upon our society within the term of your lengthy career?" I asked him.
"I did, your majesty, on occasion."
"And you claim they came forth out of a certain sense for morality and rectitude?"
"Yes, your Majesty. In the sense that I find it essential to dissect our social and political values so we might come to understand them, - instead of, one might say, - hold them in high regard out of habit."
"How is it that you imagine yourself more morally astute than others?"
"In general I have made no such claims, your majesty. I merely sought to point out my perspective upon certain aspects of our culture and social hierarchy."
"Certain aspects of the aristocracy, in particular, I recall."
Hesitance momentarily struck his visage; "I wish to point out that while I can consider myself part of the noble class, however low, and have been enjoying its privileges for the duration of my life, and, as such, do not wish to come across as hypocritical, I might, or must,-"
"Yes or no; I require you to give me a straight answer."
"Yes, your majesty."
"De Verce," an elder man shouted, "surely you have gone mad!"
Louis called for silence.
I continued; "apart from the venturesomeness of your opinions and the variety of indiscriminating papers found in your possession, you claim to be innocent? You did not encourage insurrectionary beliefs? You did not author a severe quantity of discerning pamphlets who were - I repeat - found in your possession? You did not take advantage of the naïveté of your students by propagating and teaching fatuous theories? You did not dispute nor question the authority of my station?"
"I assure you I had no such intention." De Verce said, "whilst I am entirely guilty of teaching political views and ethics that could be perceived as rather daring, I never disputed your Majesty's role in society nor had I any part in the writing or distribution of fomenting pamphlets amongst the scholarly."
This is for his sake.
And so the innocent was condemned. The young Nichola rushed out of the great hall in agony, and his father let his head hang. Upon the executioner's block, the elder man assumed an air of cheerfulness, while he with difficulty repressed his bitter tears and cried out to his son as he was pushed to his knees; "May heaven bless and care for you; live, and be happy. Farewell, my dearest boy."
Thus the sentence passed upon Antonius de Verce.