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Authors: Mary Hoffman

City of Secrets

BOOK: City of Secrets
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CONTENTS

Cover

Dedication

Epigraph

Prologue

Chapter 1 Birthdays

Chapter 2 In the Scriptorium

Chapter 3 First Impressions

Chapter 4 Double Danger

Chapter 5 Spellbound

Chapter 6 University Students

Chapter 7 Against the Law

Chapter 8 A Date with Doctor Death

Chapter 9 New Allies

Chapter 10 The People of the Goddess

Chapter 11 The Evil Eye

Chapter 12 Consequences

Chapter 13 Tipping the Scales

Chapter 14 Two Nights

Chapter 15 A Face from the Past

Chapter 16 When is it Right to Kill a Man_

Chapter 17 An Anatomy Lesson

Chapter 18 The Watcher Watched

Chapter 19 A Hallowe'en Party

Chapter 20 Brave New World

Chapter 21 The Day of the Dead

Chapter 22 Death by Burning

Chapter 23 The Condemned

Chapter 24 The Table Turned

Chapter 25 The Moon in Hiding

Acknowledgements

Epilogue

Map

About the Mary Hoffman

The Stravaganza sequence

Imprint

.

For Anni, who started the fan forum, and Lavita and Duchessa, the Vultures who kept it going

.

And for Douglas Hill

.

‘A secret may be sometimes best kept by keeping the secret of its being a secret.'

Sir Henry Taylor, statesman, 1836

.

.

‘There are no secrets except the secrets that keep themselves.'

Bernard Shaw,
Back to Methuselah
, 1921

Prologue:
Cloak and Dagger

‘I can't be apart from Luciano on my birthday,' Arianna told Barbara. ‘You understand, surely? You wouldn't want to be separated from your Marco on such a day, would you?'

Her maid Barbara was in an agony of indecision. Her mistress, the Duchessa, was asking her to do something very dangerous indeed. Proud as Barbara was to be taken into the Duchessa's confidence, she knew she ought to tell Senator Rossi, the Regent, what his daughter was planning.

Still, the maid also thought the Duchessa's plan was desperately romantic and Barbara loved anything that smacked of romance. She was engaged, just like her mistress, only to a young footman called Marco, and the Duchessa had promised her an expensive dress and jewels to wear at her wedding. But this new scheme of the Duchessa's might mean Barbara lost her job long before her wedding day. And she'd be lucky if it was just her job she lost.

‘Milady,' said Barbara cautiously, wondering how to dissuade her mistress without appearing disloyal. ‘Forgive me but there are things an ordinary serving-woman like myself might be permitted to do that are not . . . fitting for a duchessa. And running off to Padavia to meet the Cavaliere when there is a state celebration for you here might be one of them.'

‘But what if you were here to take my place at the celebration? You've done it before.'

That was when the maid had started to feel really afraid.

It was true that Barbara had impersonated her mistress once before and, on that occasion, had only narrowly escaped being murdered. Arianna had once sworn never to use a double but the longer she continued as ruler of Bellezza, the better she understood her mother who had been Duchessa before her. Silvia had used doubles for some state appearances for years. And on the final occasion it had saved her life.

The same was true for Arianna. She was only too aware that the last impersonation of her had led to a wound that would scar her maid for life, and could have killed her. After all, it was she, Arianna, who had stabbed Barbara's assailant, with her Merlino-dagger, before he could finish his attack. It still bothered her sometimes that she had never known the man's name or family.

Both the mistress and the maid were absorbed in their thoughts remembering that dreadful day.

‘That was different, milady,' said Barbara at last. ‘I didn't have to talk to anyone. I am sure the Regent and his wife would know in a moment that I was not Your Grace.'

Arianna decided not to press the point. She didn't really think that anyone would try to assassinate the Duchessa of Bellezza at her eighteenth birthday celebrations. Luciano – how she warmed just at the thought of him! – had told her that in his world eighteen was a very significant birthday and she had already planned to make his so for him, but it was not the case in Talia. Still, the city's ruler would have to have some kind of feast. And Rodolfo, her father and Regent, would be sure to make some very special fireworks. It was a pity she wouldn't see them.

*

It didn't look like a haven for someone on the run but that's what it was. The house in Padavia had lost its mistress and acquired a new tenant. The Widow Bellini had left for a new life in Bellezza with her new husband. And a tall slim young man, not yet eighteen, with black curly hair, now sat at the stone table in the garden, contemplating his future.

An elderly servant, rather flustered from the move to a new city, brought wine out to his master.

‘Sit down a minute, Alfredo,' said the young man and the servant gratefully lowered his bulk on to a bench.

‘Just for a minute then, Cavaliere,' said Alfredo, pouring the wine. ‘There is so much to do. That housemaid Signora Bellini left behind has let the house go. It needs a thorough spring clean.'

‘In October?' said his master, taking a deep draught of wine. ‘I don't mind if it isn't spotless. I'm going to be spending most of my time at the University.'

Luciano smiled to himself, thinking about the kind of messy house-share or communal university hall he might have lived in if he had remained in his old life in his old world. By comparison, Silvia's house was a palace.

The smile turned to a sigh. It wasn't often now that he thought of might-have-beens but his move from Bellezza to university in Padavia was just the sort of rite of passage that brought his old life back to him with renewed vividness.

His mother Vicky and his father David would have pored over prospectuses with him, asking his views about where he wanted to go and what subject he wanted to study. He imagined them packing his belongings into the family car and driving him off to Brighton or York or Edinburgh, wherever he had got a place.

The application process had been quite different in the lagoon-city of Bellezza. For a start, he was a year younger than he would have been in England but that was normal for Talia; some students went to university at fifteen. Then again, he was engaged to the Duchessa. Thinking of Arianna brought the smile back to Luciano's lips.

There was no way he would ever have dreamed of asking a girl in his old world to marry him when they were both only seventeen but a lot was different about his new life. He was a Cavaliere, which his foster-father had explained was something like a knight in Elizabethan England. And now that he was going to marry Arianna, he would soon be a duke.

That is, if he lived to see the day.

There was a warrant out for his arrest, signed by the Grand Duke of Tuschia. It accused him of killing the previous Grand Duke, Niccolò di Chimici. And it was true; he had done it. But it had been in a duel and Niccolò had played dirty, poisoning one of the foils. It wasn't Luciano's fault they had somehow been switched.

That had been nearly six months ago. He had escaped from the Grand Duke's city of Giglia, smuggled out in a crate with a marble statue of Arianna. And as soon as he had been released from the crate he had asked the subject of the sculpture to marry him.

There was something about life in Talia that speeded things up. Life expectancy was short: a phial of poison or a silent dagger could cut it off in its prime. People married young. Luciano had decided he just couldn't wait any longer to be with Arianna.

*

Professor Constantin was a Stravagante. And, oddly, he wasn't Talian; he came from an Eastern part of Europa and had settled in Padavia, where he taught Rhetoric at the University. He was a middle-aged, mild-mannered man with a neat grey beard but there was more to him than met the eye.

He was in charge of the Scriptorium, where all the books written by professors at the University were printed – a respectable extra job for a respectable-seeming man. But only Constantin and a chosen few knew that there was a concealed door at the back which led to a second Scriptorium where a hidden printing press made copies of books of secret lore.

He was an old friend of the Regent of Bellezza. And he had recently accepted from him an important charge.

‘Luciano is as dear to me as my own child,' Rodolfo had told him. ‘I want you to teach him what you can. And keep him from being killed.'

And it said a lot for their friendship that Constantin was as ready to accept the second commission as the first.

Chapter 1

Birthdays

It was a real downer having a birthday so close to the beginning of term, thought Matt, as he did every year. It should feel special, turning seventeen, legally able to drive a car, but starting his first year in the sixth form and being nearly a year older than some of his mates made him feel stupid, as if he had been made to retake a year. Matt was used to feeling stupid but that didn't mean he liked it.

It didn't help that his younger brother, Harry, was June-born and top of the class in every subject. But then Harry wasn't dyslexic. He was just a normal, rather bright kid.

‘Being dyslexic doesn't mean you aren't clever.' That was a mantra Matt had been hearing ever since his problems had been discovered in primary school. His mother said it, his father said it and every ed psych he'd ever seen told him the same thing. He'd often wondered whether he should have it tattooed across his forehead or printed on a T-shirt. Whether that would help him believe it.

‘Here you are,' said his mother, beaming as she slid a hot plate of bacon, egg, tomato and fried bread in front of him. ‘Special birthday breakfast.'

‘What about me?' complained Harry, but his own plate arrived before he could get into his stride.

‘And me?' asked their dad, up unusually early and already waving his knife and fork as his wife produced his with a flourish.

‘Anyone would think it was their birthdays too,' mumbled Matt through a mouthful of fried bread.

‘Aah, diddums, would you like an extra tomato?' asked his mum. She wasn't having a cooked breakfast herself and she didn't usually wait on the rest of them, so that did make it special, even though she had chivvied the boys out of bed half an hour earlier than usual so they could eat a big breakfast before school.

Matt's mother contemplated her family with satisfaction. It was no mean feat to have raised two teenage boys in London without their ever having got into any trouble. Harry was doing really well at school and Matt was coping well with his dyslexia. Her husband Andy was smiling at her over his fried breakfast, his brown hair flopping into his eyes as it had when she had first met him twenty-two years ago. Jan noticed with a small pang that it was beginning to go grey.

‘Don't eat a big lunch,' she told the boys. ‘Remember we're going to the Golden Dragon tonight.'

But it was an unnecessary caution. Her sons could eat all day and still put away vast quantities of dinner.

On the morning of Arianna's eighteenth birthday, Luciano was missing her just as much as she might have wished. He had arranged for Rodolfo to give her a small package from him, containing the earrings he had chosen himself from the ducal silversmith, but it wasn't the same as seeing her eyes sparkle when she opened it.

He rode from Silvia's house near the many-domed basilica to the university building where he was due for a class in Rhetoric. He had to smile as he thought of it. If he had stayed in his old world, he might have studied Music or History. And when Rodolfo had first suggested sending him to study in Padavia, they talked about Alchemy and other subjects that might help a Stravagante to practise what Rodolfo called Science, though Luciano still thought of it as Magic.

But once he had asked Arianna to marry him, everything had changed.

‘You must have the education of a proper nobleman,' Rodolfo had declared and, surprisingly, Luciano's foster-father, Doctor Dethridge, had agreed.

‘Rhetoricke, Grammar, Logicke,' the old Elizabethan had said. ‘Thatte wich we calle the Three-folde Waye will give ye a good grounding in al ye neede to knowe.'

Luciano wondered what his real dad would have said about those as a set of A level subjects!

‘Grammar?' he queried. ‘You mean like nouns and verbs? I think I know that already.' He remembered his Head of English at Barnsbury Comprehensive School, Mrs Wood, who had been a great stickler for grammar.

To his surprise, Rodolfo and William Dethridge had both burst out laughing.

‘Harken to the ladde,' said Dethridge. ‘Ye might as well saye thatte since ye knowe whatte a bricke be, ye canne build an house!'

‘I don't know what Grammar means in your twenty-first century England, Luciano,' said Rodolfo, ‘but at university here in Talia it includes the study of History, Poetry, all kinds of literature. Including reading it aloud.'

Luciano had a vision of himself standing up with his hands behind his back, reciting a poem he had learned by heart. It was his turn to laugh.

‘I see it doesn't daunt you,' said Rodolfo, clapping him on the shoulder. ‘We shall make you a complete sixteenth-century Talian nobleman, able to take his place beside any duke or prince in the land.'

Even a grand duke? thought Luciano to himself. He could never forget that he had made a powerful enemy of Fabrizio di Chimici. But he was content to do what his foster-father and his mentor wanted. He trusted them with his life. And he was secretly a bit relieved not to have to study Science, since he hadn't been very good at it in his old life.

He turned his horse up the street of the Saint towards his first class of the day, which was in the Palazzo del Montone, the building of the ram. Professor Constantin would be waiting.

‘There's the postman,' said Jan as the rest of the family finished their breakfast. Matt jumped up from the table and fetched in a handful of cards and letters.

‘No parcels?' asked Harry.

‘Doesn't look like it,' said Matt, tearing open the biggest card. ‘But, here's a huge cheque from grandma and grandpa. My kind of present.'

‘They want you to put it towards your driving lessons,' said his father.

‘What driving lessons would they be?' asked Matt innocently but he could see from his parents' faces that he was right about what they were giving him.

‘All will be revealed at the sign of the Golden Dragon,' said his mother. ‘But now you'd better get a move on. No, wait, you've missed one.'

There was one unopened white envelope in Matt's place, which he snatched up. ‘I'll open it later,' he said. ‘I have to hurry now.'

But he was in no hurry to open that card; he'd recognised the writing and he knew who it was from and what it was. His great-aunt Eva, his mother's aunt, sent him the same present every year: a twenty-pound book token.

It was a sore subject. Eva was a nice woman in her seventies, a bit vague but very loving. Jan's parents had both died young so Auntie Eva was the closest thing Matt had to a grandparent on his mother's side.

Eva lived alone in a big flat in Brighton and Matt had loved going there when he was little. He felt guilty now about how long it had been since he'd visited his great-aunt. She had always plied him and Harry with specially made meals and cakes but there was this great big rift between them: she assumed he was as much of a reader as she was.

Eva's flat was packed with books, arranged double on the bookshelves that lined every room – even the loo – and stacked in dangerous heaps up the sides of the stairs. New books came all the time, as Eva had taught English Literature at Sussex and still reviewed titles for several journals now she was retired. She had been told that Matt was dyslexic, of course, and even seemed sympathetic, but the information somehow just didn't stick in her head; like a lot of things she didn't want to remember, Jan said. And every birthday along rolled the generous book token.

Sometimes Jan gave Matt money for it, since she was always buying books herself, or she used to go with him to a shop and choose kids' books she thought he could manage. But that would have just been embarrassing now. He just shoved Eva's card into his duffel bag as he pulled his jacket on and then ran towards school. He didn't want to be late. It was bad news having a mother who taught at your school; it meant nothing you did wrong ever went unnoticed.

His girlfriend, Ayesha, was waiting for him at the gate and they just had time to snatch a kiss, to the delight of a few whooping Year 8 stragglers, before running in for registration. ‘Happy birthday,' said Ayesha. ‘See you at break.'

Matt felt really happy for the first time that day. He had to kick himself regularly to believe that Ayesha, the most gorgeous and the brightest girl in his year, liked
him
, Matt, the big stupid lunk. She had glossy black hair and eyes that looked as if she had been born with mascara and liner already applied. And, unlike him, she knew exactly what she was going to do about university next year. Go to Cambridge and become a high-flying lawyer. According to Matt's dad, she would probably end up as Attorney General, or at least a High Court judge.

Ayesha knew about Matt's dyslexia and, unlike Great-Aunt Eva, understood it. She said it didn't make any difference, that he was clever anyway and gorgeous with it. Matt didn't see it himself. When he looked in the mirror, he saw someone built like his dad, like a rugby forward, which is what he was. Matt, that is. Andy Wood had given up rugger years ago and put on quite a few pounds since. He was now a professional singer in the chorus at the opera house and couldn't risk any injury to his throat or chest.

It would have been even more embarrassing to have a parent who was an opera singer than one who was a teacher in your school, if Andy Wood had looked anything like that sounded. But anyone less ethereal and arty than Matt's father would have been hard to find. Six foot three and broad with it, with a full beard when he didn't have to shave it off for particular operas, Andy looked much more like a navvy than a singer, and only Matt's closest friends knew what he did for a living.

But his musical talent had passed Matt by. Harry was different; he played trumpet in the school orchestra and sang tenor in the school choir. Music came as naturally to Harry as sport did to Matt.

At breaktime, Matt went to the sixth-form centre, where several kettles were already boiling and mugs lined up for coffee and hot chocolate.

‘Look at all that steam,' said an upper-sixth girl with red, black and white striped hair. ‘We're probably contributing more to global warming at Barnsbury Comp than – I don't know . . .'

‘A field of farting cows?' suggested a tall honey-coloured boy with dreadlocks.

A fair girl at his side giggled.

‘It's true,' said the boy with dreads. ‘The methane gas produced by all the cows in the world is causing more global warming than transatlantic flights.'

BOOK: City of Secrets
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