Hello AARland! After far too long, I am back with a new AAR. My last one failed due to CTD and I have at last decided to reecommence writing with a familiar narrative style AAR. I hope you enjoy reading it. Rex Angliae.
SEVERAL GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
The city lay bathed in unseasonably balmy early spring sunshine. This warmed the rich terracotta tiles that covered many of the houses of this prosperous place. Steam rose from the tiles as the water they held captive from the winter’s rains was slowly released from its clay prison and evaporated into the thin blue air. In just a couple of months the heat in the old city would be getting unbearable but right now it was just a pleasant warmth that had encouraged many of the city’s inhabitants out into the narrow streets and wide piazzas. The river that circled the medieval city was still running high and faster than its lazier self of the coming summer. The small peninsula that had been formed millennia ago by the fast running Adige was known as the Thumb for this was its shape, and it had formed a naturally defensible site that the Romans had developed over 1500 years beforehand. Their massive amphitheatre, situated at the base of the thumb, dominated the small city. In parts it still rose to its full three storey height and the colonnaded arcades bore testimony to the builders’ skill in erecting such a huge construction – only the Coliseum in Rome itself was larger in the whole of Italy. The bulk of the city’s inhabitants lived on the Thumb. Tall, narrow houses crowded upon one another along the city’s busy streets. Here and there the congestion was relieved by a small piazza around which the houses of the more wealthy merchants and city officials could be found. These houses were starting to be built more for comfort than defence, but the city still bore a sombre, business like facade that warned would be assailants that this was not an easy nut to crack. It would be more than another 250 years before the city would find international fame thanks to the works of an English playwright, but for now it was simply a small, peaceful place situated in the north of Italy about 20 miles west of the great fleshpot of Venice…… Verona.
Not far from the base of the thumb where the great amphitheatre stood, hard against the Adige where it begins to curve northwards around the city, stood the castle. This was already known as Castelvecchio, the old castle, for it had stood here for several centuries. It was an imposing edifice with soaring brick crenelated walls punctured by several high towers that afforded protection to its inhabitants. This was the seat of Mastino della Scala, Duke of Verona and like many of his fellow citizens, he was enjoying the early spring sunshine as he walked along the wallwalk that overlooked the fast flowing river. His favourite dog, a large mastiff called Bruno, loped along easily beside him, perilously close to the 40 foot drop into the courtyard far below.
As Mastino looked out from his vantage point he could just make out in the far distance the mountains of the southern Dolomites, visible as grey sentinels through the heat haze that even this early in the year the sun had generated. Much nearer too, just over the river in fact, lay the newer town, most of it enclosed within the city’s stout defensive wall, although several hardy, maybe even foolhardy, citizens had started to build beyond the protection of the wall and up the hillside that rose up gently from the riverbank. A bridge, the Ponte Scaligero, connected the castle to the other bank of the river and the newer town.
Mastino had been duke since the age of 3 since his father’s untimely death at the early age of 27. He and his older illegitimate brother, Alboino, named after their father, had been brought up by their step-mother, duchess Beatrice. On her death in 1320, Mastino had declared himself of age and begun his personal rule over his realm. This consisted of the counties of Verona, Brescia and Parma which together made the duchy of Verona. At the time of his majority, Alboino was elected as Magistrate of Padua, despite his illegitimacy, and he had declared himself Mastino’s vassal. Over the years, Mastino had grown to full manhood and showed great promise as a ruler. He was energetic, both in the council chamber and the bed chamber, where his lustfulness had seen him father a bastard son, Fregnano plus two bastard daughters, Beatrice and Altaluna. But most importantly, Mastino was a genius with money. People likened him to another Midas such was his skill at maximising his income.
Verona was rich and the duke liked to spend his money on the beautiful things of life. Thus he and his children always wore the latest fashions, and his small, old castle was nonetheless hung with the richest of tapestries and even the latest paintings from both the Italian and the Flemish schools. Mastino was a great patron of the arts and as our story begins his fame was spreading across the northern Italian plain.
In addition to his illegitimate offspring, Mastino had a son and heir born in wedlock with his wife, duchess Tadea. He was called Cangrande, but everyone about the court knew him affectionately as Little Dog. He was born in 1332 and despite repeated and frequent attempts toi impregnate his wife with another heir, Mastino had been disappointed in that regard. But the duchess was young, still only 27 years old, enough and had proved her fertility. And she was tolerant of the duke’s many dalliances and allowed his bastard offspring to be brought up in the ducal court (not that she had any real say in the matter!)
As for his advisors, well Verona was still a small court. His bastard half-sister Omelia was his chancellor, and her husband, Paolo Pico da Verona, was steward. His wife, Tadea acted as spymaster, whilst Lodovico di Simiano acted as marshal, more by default than any innate martial skill. But it had been many years since the ducal army had been raised and for the time being Mastino had to make do with what resources were available. But he had earmarked identifying and appointing a new marshal as a priority. Despite his religious sincerity, Mastino also had to do without a proper court chaplain. Services were said daily in the castle chapel by itinerant priests usually sent from the nearby ancient Basilica of St Zeno Maggiore, patron saint of the city.
The duke descended from his perambulation of the battlements and summoned his sister cum chancellor.
“Dear Sister, may God be with you.”
“And with you too, your Grace.” And she sketched a deep curtsey to her brother.
“Omelia, I have been thinking. I am concerned that I work you too hard. I know that as yet you have no children, and far be it from me to concern myself with the intimate secrets of your bedchamber, but I worry that your work is too much for you. Accordingly, I have decided to relieve you of your duties as chancellor. Claudio della Gherardesca is competent enough and I am going to use him as chancellor for the time being. If you need an outlet for your time and skills then I am sure your dear husband, Paolo Pico will welcome an assistant steward.”
Omelia is shocked at the suddenness of this decision but she is gracious enough to hide it from her liege lord.
“As your Grace wishes, so be it.” And with another curtsey she leaves her brother’s presence, her long skirts scattering the rushes on the floor as she passes.
Some hours later, Paolo Pico presents himself in the duke’s withdrawing chamber.
“Your Grace, this is, er, most delicate. You have seen fit to dispense with my good wife’s services as your chancellor. I fear no that you will also be dismissing me. I have served you faithfully over the years and seen you grow to manhood and into full possession of your realm. I hope and trust that my services are valued. Please speak honestly my Lord – if they are not then I may need to seek service where they are.”
“Paolo, dear Paolo. Brother. Of course you are valued. I have noted a certain look about Omelia of late and I am genuinely concerned for her health. Claudio is well suited to the role of chancellor and I am sure you would welcome some assistance. And it may be that ere long Omelia’s thoughts will perforce turn to motherhood.”
Here the duke winked at his steward who blushed.
“As your Grace wishes.”
“And maybe this purse of gold will assure you of my earnestness in the matter. Take it with my blessing.”
“Your Grace is too kind.”
And with a deep bow steward Paolo backs out of the duke’s presence.
It is later that same evening and the duke has decided to visit his wife Tadea instead of availing himself of one of the many whores he can call upon to satisfy his lust.
“My Lord, what an unexpected pleasure” says duchess Tadea as the duke emerges from the shadows with the brush that she had just sent her maid for.
“You are still very beautiful Tadea, and your hair has the lustre of gold. Let me comb it through for you.”
“As you wish.”
And the duke begins to comb through his wife’s long deep golden tresses. It is not long before his left hand descends to her breast, and he can feel her reaction as he gently caresses her. Putting the brush down he turns his wife around to face him and loosens her shift so that she is standing naked before him.
“Let us go to bed, Tadea. It has been too long.”
“That it has my Lord, but be gentle with me, for despite the wait I am with child. I have not bled these last 8 weeks and my body betrays itself to me. Your Grace, we are to have a son, a brother for Cangrande to play with and to help him rule after you. What say you?”
“Tadea, Tadea, that is most wonderful news. I will make sure you have every comfort and care. You will want for nothing.”
And with that duke Mastino took duchess Tadea to bed for the last time.