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The Little Dux

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The Little Dux

Filippo woke with a start. He had not been asleep long for the candle was still burning, though the flame was now very small. The boy’s eyes darted all over the room, searching for the hidden threat his nightmare had promised him was close at hand. After a few minutes of his heart pounding in his chest and the covers held tightly over his mouth, Filippo began his sometime-tradition of dithering between the warm bed (and the monsters beneath it) or the cold night air and the safety of his father. The latter always won in the end, even he knew that by now. This time then, he did not stay still for long before quickly pushing off the blankets and leaping into his slippers.

His father’s study was much brighter than Filippo’s room. The boy knew he had been working away in there for hours and would probably continue to do so once Filippo himself went to bed again. The Dux worked hard, the people said. Everyone said it. Even his big brother did, which meant it must be true. The scratch of pen upon parchment halted however when the little boy entered the room.

“Filippo,” his father’s voice sounded, “the nightmares again?” A great bearded face appeared around the side of the great chair before the rest of his father followed. As the boy nodded and began stammering out an explanation of his dreams, the Dux met him at eye level and took his hands. “I really must ask Maria or Roe to look into that. They’re good at dealing with nightmares you know. They helped me when I had them.”

Y-you had nightmares?” Filippo stuttered. Now that was a strange thought.

“Oh yes, for quite a while…though a long time ago,” his father smiled softly. His eyes flickered for a moment into the past and then just as swiftly returned to focus on his son. “When I was a boy myself.”

“What were they about? Were you falling off the tower as well? Or getting lost on the canals?” Filippo asked, trying to imagine a time when his father could have been anything other than…well, his father.

“Not exactly,” the Dux replied, “though those are frightful too of course. Mine were about Venice too I suppose, in a way. You see,” and here he paused for a moment, like when Filippo’s tutors did mid-lecture in order to appear cleverer, “I was quite afraid of Venice for a long time.”

“But…but you rule Venice,” Filippo said, for it was true. Absolutely everyone agreed on that as well, hence ‘Dux’.

“Not back then,” the ruler of Venice chuckled, “back then I was just Cosma. No! I was not even that, I was a…” He tailed off and frowned.

Filippo frowned too, “A what?”

Cosma Boi sat back down in his chair and took a long look at Filippo. He stroked through his beard and adopted his pondering expression, by which Filippo knew both that he would be in for a long wait for answers and that those answers would be fantastically wise.

“It is time I think, for you to hear your old father’s story,” Cosma said eventually. “Let us go back to your room. This may take several nights.”

Arm in arm with his father, young Filippo went back to his bed full of excitement and curiosity. Were there great secrets in his father’s past? Great battles and enemies? Dragons? Wizards? Perhaps a princess that needed saving? Filippo thought of his mother and quickly wished there wasn’t. His mother was an angel, not a princess.

Cosma tried and failed to supress a smile as his son, his heir if he had his way, bounced up and down in excitement in his bed. It was just as with his eldest, they were desperate for knowledge, all of them. He breathed deeply and centred his thoughts. Fortunately, he had already told this story a few times before and thus knew how to, in the words of Leo: ‘enrich it with excitement and Truth in equal measure’. Another deep breath followed, and then another. And then he began.

“No one knows who founded the city of Venice, but it is a well establish fact that it is a City of Many Peoples. The Romans, the Visigoths, the Huns, the Lombards and finally my people of modern Italia. But this only tells a small part of the story, for so many more have called this city home over the years. Jews, Muslims, lepers-they who toil outside of the area our society comfortably resides. The thieves and the beggars and the merchants, the travellers from distant Hindustan, the scholars from Constantinople. The mysterious dark-skinned sailors from the Atlantic coast. All have come here to work, to live.

Few have been accepted.

For such a place of peoples different and similar, there is still the seemingly unbreakable rule that passes through all men: Let none but your own pass. Let all others falter. And this is never clearer than in our city, of its many wards where none but the Jew might go, where none but the Frank and so on and so on. We build more dwellings and homes upon the space we have and the people keep appearing to fill them. If there is one prideful thing I can say of my time in Venice, it is that I have made all welcome here, provided they keep the peace. The Slavs and the Franks may snap at each other, the Germans and the Italians bicker, but there is peace in my city. Perhaps acceptance is too high a mountain for my people to climb, but to simply tolerate others existence? To let them live as they wish as they let you? This seems to be viable, at least for now.

It was not always this way, but it is what I made. I came to this city of my birth as an outcast, spat upon as a wicked little thing or a diseased animal. I walked their filthy streets lined with wooden houses and brick. I saw the putrid canals and the festering port. I saw it all and I made it shine. The air is clean now, the water is pure. The streets are made of marble and my people live in palaces. The whole world sings of Venezia and of their beloved Doge.

This then is my story, of a dwarf whom the people made king.”
}-:-{​
So then, time for a little experiment into narrative storytelling. This AAR shall follow the tale of Cosma Boi, a dwarf whom will, as the above text and title suggests, grow up to become the Doge of Venice. The game starts in 769AD with the usual ironman/very hard difficulty on, along with all available DLC up to and including the Reaper's Due aside from Sunset Invasion. The game itself has already ended and thus his destiny is already set, but I think this should be an interesting challenge to write, especially characters with views and opinions that might seem utterly alien to our modern perspectives. At times, I may insert a little note like this at the end of chapters to talk about interesting game events or things of historical interest. For the most part however, this will be a narrative focusing on the characters and city of Venice.

One more thing, as finding images to use for this story is going to be much, much harder than for EoA, any recommendations and aid would be very welcome and appreciated. Happy reading!
 
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stnylan

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Oh La Serenissima - a bountiful backdrop to any tale
 
Chapter 1: In which we meet Cosma and his Uncle, the Doge

TheButterflyComposer

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Chapter 1: In which we meet Cosma and his Uncle, the Doge

5th May 755AD
The House of Boi was established in the 5th century when Alfonzo Boi first found his fishing boat in Venetian waters and began a quiet little business of providing fish for a humble price in one of the many markets in the bustling city. From such inauspicious beginnings, his son Alfonzo, the second of his name (being the only word his father could spell) rose to become the premier fishmonger in all Venezia. He, through keen eyes and intimidating bulk, as well as a slippery tongue, muscled in on and took over the entire fish market and some of the grain exchange as well. Of course, this last grasp of the ladder rung upwards was met with extreme downward pressure from many boots already controlling the grain trade in and out of Venice. This pressure translated into one mugging, two assassination attempts and one successful murder, leaving the family business in the hands of his fifteen year old son Enzo-

The boy who had been reviewing his family history looked up from his desk. The whinny of a horse echoed up from the road far below from where the small but well-appointed villa stood. The valley saw its share of riders and horsemen of course but rarely coming up the high path to the house. The boy was thus intrigued as he heard not just the horse but the rider upon it once again, and closer this time. He quickly ensured that all of his notes and documents were safely put away in his drawers before picking up the stool he had been sat on and moving it to the window. He could, if he stretched, just about see the outside world-the sky, the clouds, the mountains of northern Italy-but alas, not enough to see below him. The boy pondered for a minute on which would be faster, finding a cushion of some sort to raise his height or going outside to look. The sound of footsteps on the corridor outside his room made such questions moot. He hurried back to the desk and was just about to take out the parchment again when the door opened.

“Child, your uncle is coming.”

The boy turned around in shock. His Uncle? But…alone? No guard? Unannounced? Surely not-

The light tap he received on the crown brought him back to his senses. The matronly woman stared down at him with something akin to humour in her eyes. Of course, to the boy’s mind she always seemed a little merrier than one could be without rather too much liquor inside of them. Not that he truly spoke from experience-he had taken precisely one cup of wine before thinking it as sinful to his stomach as the Church said it was to his soul-but the two kitchen boys said so behind her back often enough for it to be so.

A slightly firmer tap made him smile rather bashfully. “Sorry,” he said.

“Child, you cannot be seen like this! Ink on your hands, stain on your shirt-why what would the Master-?”

It turned out they were both going to find out what the Master of the house would have thought as he strode through the door at that moment. “The young sir,” he wrinkled his nose, “will be shown to the Dux now, if you please Madam Roe.” He certainly said it like he thought it was a terrible idea and one that would see the whole house collapse on top of them.

But then again, he always did sound like that when Cosma was in the room.

Cosma, for that was his name and what a name it was too, as Madam Roe said, stood and looked nervously at the woman.

“Well I suppose you must go out then child,” she said, placing her fingertips on his shoulder. She would have had to stoop to touch his back and one did not slouch in front of the Master. Still, it was a nice gesture, the best she could have done in front of him. Cosma wasn’t sure why the Master hated him but he did. Mind you-

“Go on boy!” the Master said irritably, and Cosma did so quickly. The gesture of the Master’s feeling would not be a gentle one should he be provoked. Walked as quickly as he could without appearing to run, he went through the door and down the stairs into the courtyard. Or he would have done, had he not been immediately hit with a bout of shyness as soon as he saw the figure of his Uncle tending to his horse. The Doge, or Dux as the Master insisted (he didn’t hold with all this ‘Italian’ nonsense. Latin was Latin, and that meant dead, dry and on a page if at all preferable) cut an imposing figure next to his charger. He seemed to Cosma to be an even larger giant than the ones he lived with. Better fed too, and as merry as Madam Roe but without the liquor-which, as the kitchen boys said solemnly, made him all the better.

“Ah! Cosma, my boy. Good to see you,” the man’s voice boomed from across the yard and engulfed the boy like a warm blanket. Even his words sounded heavy. And his eyes, those eyes that twinkled somewhat no matter how light (or not) it was, captured Cosma’s own and held them in a somewhat fierce gaze for a fraction of a second before melting into something rather nicer. “Come on, it’s alright,” he said, and suddenly it seemed to be so, at least a little. Cosma inched forwards and then tried actual steps with his legs. That seemed to not cause any disasters and so he continued forwards, trying to look as aloof and confident as the Master. He felt a little sick.

But then his Uncle was in front of him and the man that should have been towering far overhead was looking him in the eye from his own height. Cosma thought that was rather nice too, especially as it meant his Uncle’s knee was going to get muddy kneeling like that.

“Now then, how are you doing my boy? I was passing through on business and Lorenzo-you do remember the Captain don’t you?-he said we would be close by and I decide to visit. He’s down in the town now. His horse lost a shoe so I went on ahead.” He winked and looked around conspiratorially, “He’s probably not very happy with me right now.”

Cosma giggled. The Doge possessed the bushiest beard imaginable and was thus both extremely funny and extremely scary when he wished to be. Only the Captain came close, with his well-maintained whiskers-oh, and the Master of course, whom possessed the freakish power of being terrifying without any hair at all. But the thought of his uncle being in trouble with either of the other two was funny, in a silly kind of way. The Doge didn’t seem to mind though, he smiled a little wider as if he shared the joke.

Cosma wished he could have a beard so he would never be afraid of being told off either.

“Uncle, I’ve learnt the history of the family, and the history of the Venetians, and the history of Rome this week,” the boy said, knowing that would be the next question. His lessons were easier now than they had been but even the Master had said learning the letters and knowing the numbers was harder than anything afterwards. And the Master knew so much that it was true.

“Excellent,” the Doge said, “and you have been good to your teachers?”

Cosma squirmed but admitted, for lying to his uncle was impossible, “It’s...it's hard to be nice to the Master.”

Fortunately his Uncle seemed to take it in good humour. “Ah,” he said, placing a hand on Cosma’s shoulder, “but Master Galbaio is the finest mind this side of the Alps and a good man, with a prickly hide. You will find in life Cosma that there are far stupider men than he, far more unpleasant and yet far more important and powerful. How we deal with others is important, as any wise man knows but to we Venetians it is essential! Trade and profit are in our blood and that is where our power lies, and our family’s too. And you cannot sell to a man whom hates your guts. But you will need to sell to such men, in time.”

“How do I do that?” Cosma asked, enthralled.

“By making them love you. A good marketeer knows everyone, is friends with everyone and enemies with as few as possible. A kind word or gesture will set you far ahead in most people’s books. There are other things too you will learn and be taught but for now, remember to be kind and polite to everyone, even your enemies. In private confidence you may plot against them, you may curse their mothers and their dogs and plan to have them all thrown in the dung pile but in public! Be the man who extends an arm and smiles to the world. Always.”

Cosma nodded several times at this. It sounded wise, and because it was his Uncle talking it was probably even wiser than that. “So I must be nice to the Master?” he asked tentatively.

His Uncle smiled and stood up, ruffling his hair. “Yes, you must. You can shout at a door all day and it won’t open. Knocking politely would get you much further, don’t you think?”

Cosma frowned. He could think of many reasons why that wouldn’t work. What if they were out? What if they were deaf? What if-

“And now, we shall walk together,” his Uncle said as if that made it so. Of course it did. Cosma smiled happily and took the huge man’s hand in his. Somehow, though he never got any bigger, he always felt three times his size when he was with the Doge.

…​

It was late, and it was very dark. But Cosma, for reasons known only to a small part of his head, was up and about. ‘About’ was presently being hidden behind some crates piled against the Master’s study and listening in to the fire inside crackle as the two men talked. The Master of course was present but so was his Uncle and that was more than enough reason for Cosma to listen in. Though he wished he could have skipped the Master’s bits.

“-so really, how is he?” one of them asked. Cosma thought it might be the Doge.

“The boy is as healthy as I can expect. If you could find those attachments we spoke of, it would be prudent for him to ride daily or as much as possible. If you speak of his mind, again I remind you that it is a singular one. He questions much, with increased frequency. Teaching him to read might be the biggest mistake I have ever made.”

His Uncle’s laughter rang out and Cosma bit his lip. He didn’t like it when the Master said something his Uncle agreed with. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

“I think it remarkable he does so well…considering…” his Uncle’s voice tailed off. He sounded distant, though he hadn’t moved from the room so far as Cosma knew. He sounded sad.

“Yes, a terrible business,” Cosma perked up at that. The Master sounded genuinely sad too! How odd. “But, well, your brother-”

“Will remain unmentioned in this house,” his Uncle said firmly.

“Of course. Forgive me,” the two voices stopped for a moment and Cosma found himself drifting off to the sound of the fire. Then suddenly, “Yes, he is clever. Very much so. He’s learnt three languages in six months, a general history as you recommended, the Latin alphabet and memorised a good portion of the Book. The local priest visited once and remarked that-”

Cosma shuddered. God, the priest was a bore and an unpleasant figure in general. How he managed to get so fat on his meagre meals, he did not know. The kitchen boys said he was so greedy he ate the air. Cosma could believe that.

“-but I doubt the Church would take…him.” Cosma had missed some of the conversation whilst thinking but pricked his ear again.

“Fools, the lot of them. I shall make him a bookkeeper of the highest order, you see if I don’t. All the gold in Venice and he can count it all. Though if he is as smart as you say, I might point him at the architects as well. We’re in dire need of some refits to the-”

Cosma zoned out again. Venice, it was always Venice. He did dream of the city often but it was fast becoming something of a sticking point in his throat. Why, oh why did the place matter so much? He didn’t live there, he wasn’t going there anytime soon and it didn’t even sound like a particularly fun place to be if he could improve it a touch. Still, counting lots of gold sounded interesting. He hoped it wouldn’t take too long though. He wouldn’t want to spend an entire day doing it. And now he was back listening to the crackle of the burning logs as the night swept onwards and then…

“Well now, a spy.”

Cosma jerked awake and fell into the arms of his Uncle. His mouth was covered as he shouted in surprise.

“None of that, child. It’s too late for shouting and screaming today.” The Doge did not seem that put out at finding his nephew sprawled on wooden boxes, asleep after listening in on his secret meeting. “I’ll be taking you to your room now and you shall be staying there, are we clear? I shall know if you wander.”

And Cosma knew that he would. His Uncle knew most things and the Master knew the rest.


The next morning, Madam Roe had outfitted him in a much nicer shirt that he must on no account get dirty in any way and sent him to the Master’s study to meet with the Doge.

“The Master tells me you find your studies well,” Cosma’s Uncle said slyly after wishing him a good morning. It seemed that there would be no mention of what was or was not heard last night. “Now, are you happy here? Do you have everything you need?”

Cosma thought about it. Compared to what he had before, having enough food and clothes and warmth to stay healthy seemed like more than enough. He fought down a desire to ask for the Master to go away. He doubted his Uncle would be that mean, since it was the Master’s house and all.

“I think so,” he said carefully, but he wasn’t really sure. If the Doge was asking the question, it meant he certainly thought there was more to give. What he didn’t seem to understand was that being given something after a lifetime of nothing meant the something given became exceptionally special, precious even. The Master had a term for such gifts from God, miracles. If this was Cosma’s miracle, then he was happy to have had it.

“Hm. Good,” said the Doge, after looking at him carefully. “But I wonder, would you like a companion?”

“A companion?” Cosma did not fully understand. By which he meant, he did not have any idea what one of those things was.

“Yes, I think it would benefit you to have one and the Master agrees. It so happens that one of his many relations is in need of one also…and a better tutor. What say you?”

I would be a companion?” Cosma asked.

“Yes,” said the Doge. Then he tilted his head and smiled, “A friend, I mean.”

“Oh.” Well, that sounded much nicer than being a companion. And the kitchen boys gave Cosma the impression that they didn’t like him much. The name calling and such gave a little away. “I would like that.”

“Splendid,” the Master said, speaking for the first time. He didn’t sound like he meant it. Mind you, Cosma was in the room so that might have been it. “I shall send for him at once.”

“Him?”

“You thought I would subject a lady to your continued presence boy?” the Master said before shuffling out of the room.

The Doge snorted. “Hmpf, he is in a mood today little one. But I do believe it would be a good thing for both of you to be friends and companions you know. A man needs allies yes, and perhaps even servants but the services of a friend grant far greater earnings than any other. It…it’s also fun.” He shrugged. “The boy’s name is Leone. Of the House Galbaio. Be nice to him, he’s younger than you. Might even be smaller.”

Cosma nodded. Youth, and the more you had of it, seemed to be a very important ‘commodity’ in life, at least to adults. Children were most precious because they had the most, or something like that. In any case, he would be nice to the other boy. It was too small a house to have enemies…and his Uncle didn’t want him to have them, even if he lived in a palace the size of the valley.

“Very good. Now I must be off. I will try to write every few weeks, and you must practice the same. Keeping correspondence is a key skill.”

“Yes I know. Thank you Uncle.” Cosma said it dutifully, because he had to but also meant it a lot, because Madam Roe said that thanking someone with your heart sounded different than merely doing so with your lips. He didn’t really understand what she meant, and yet he thought he did when he said it to his Uncle.

The man paused, seemed to consider something and then crouched down in front of Cosma. “I have thought about adopting you, bringing you into my own household. I…will not, yet, I don’t think. But I think in time things will be different.”

Cosma thought about it for a while, which was hard because his eyes seemed to have gotten rather moist. “I hope things are different soon then,” he finally managed.

The winning smile and crushing hug he received told him he had given the right answer far more succinctly than anything the Master had ever said. In that moment Cosma understood that actions spoke louder than words. Even when the words were important too. The world was funny like that. It didn’t feel funny right now though. It just felt right.
 
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Well that is a promise and a threat all in one.
 

coz1

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Nice, Butterfly! I read the start yesterday while at work and did not have chance to comment until now, but a very intriguing beginning and an interesting main character. I admit, I don't read too many Venetian works, so that will be fun to follow and your characters already show promise as does your prose. Quite good indeed!
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Well that is a promise and a threat all in one.
Nice, Butterfly! I read the start yesterday while at work and did not have chance to comment until now, but a very intriguing beginning and an interesting main character. I admit, I don't read too many Venetian works, so that will be fun to follow and your characters already show promise as does your prose. Quite good indeed!
Thanks to both! I was wandering around the CKII map looking for something new to do (because as it turns out, there's lots of narrative AAR's set in Saxon England and Capetian France!). Since I'm still learning the game too, I picked Venice in the earliest start (first time I've played both) to see what happens. It was a great game. with all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff happening. I'm surprised more people haven't done a character piece on Republic games, family and role-playing is everything to them.
 

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Nice start to this! Good character writing with Cosma, with a keen mind but without the understanding of an adult (which is haaaaard to do well). The Doge is good too, but Cosma deserves special notice for that.
 

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Nice start to this! Good character writing with Cosma, with a keen mind but without the understanding of an adult (which is haaaaard to do well). The Doge is good too, but Cosma deserves special notice for that.
Don't I know it. Writing young teenagers is even worse, I think. 12 year olds are on the way to adult intelligence and understanding but fall down on experience, which means that you have to have such a firm grip on what your character's experiences up to that point have been and how it affects them.

Since I have to do that as well...we'll see how well I do. I shall avoid a cowardly time skip of ten years however.

I don't know how well the child Cosma's thinking comes off, but in-game and in-universe, this kid needs to be sharp to survive. So at the moment he's precocious but extremely naive and inexperienced about the world around him (for various reasons). It's going to be harder to balance that as he gets older and more used to other people and matures. But this whole AAR was a challenge to myself so what the heck?
 

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A very interesting start. Glad to see another AAR from you.
 
Chapter 2: In which Cosma makes a friend and the Master gives a Lesson

TheButterflyComposer

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Chapter 2: In which Cosma makes a friend and the Master gives a Lesson

“So I was named after your uncle?” Filippo asked in wonder.

“You were,” Cosma replied, “and a great name it is to carry. He was a good man, my Uncle.” Cosma smiled at some secret memory. Filippo the younger rustled impatiently under his sheets for a moment, and then giggled at something.

“Has Cousin Leone always worn such funny hats?”

Cosma let lose a short laugh of his own, “Yes, in a way. His outfit these days is far grander of course but I think his head has always been turned towards the Holy.” He sighed, “Which I admit caused friction between ourselves on more than one occasion. Still, he was my first, best friend.”

21st May 755AD
“Come on, Leone!”

The companion, as it turned out a few weeks later, was a four and a half year old boy from Venice. At nearly six, Cosma, being the much older and wiser lad, took the younger fellow under his wing almost immediately and saw to it to keep him out of mischief and harm’s way. Over the next month, that had translated into occasional boughts of truancy from the Master’s lessons towards safety and the outside world. The wilderness around the house, aside from being a steady mixture of steep drops and rocky outcrops, also had a rather better sort of tree for climbing than the Man-touched and tended specimens in the Orchard. The branches hung low to the ground, perfect for small hands and feet to clamber up them and since the Master always said that everything in life has a purpose and raison d'être, Cosma could find no better reason than to use these trees for their obvious purpose.

“But there’s trees in the garden,” his companion had said, not really understanding that if you wanted to stay hidden, climbing trees outside the Master’s window probably wasn’t the way to go about it. Cosma had learnt that in a short but memorable escapade back when he had first arrived at the villa.

But his hair had grown back by now and Leone always wore a hat anyway.

“These trees are better,” Cosma said wisely. And they were. Outside the bounds of Man’s carefully tended domain they had grown tall, warped and deeply impressive. They were also easier to climb, for they had more branches. And that was important too, for that must mean he-Cosma and now he supposed Leone too-were meant to climb them. Why else would they have branches so low down? He explained all this once again to Leone, whom nodded readily and then halted at the foot of the tree Cosma was climbing up.

“I’ve never climbed a tree before,” Leone said as they made it to the place Cosma usually did just that. The other boy turned round as if in shock, momentarily forgetting that he himself had never climbed nor seen trees before he had been sent away from Venice. At least, not green ones like this.

“Well, it’s all in the arms and legs,” he said, and demonstrated by using his various limbs to sit on a branch.

“But why?” asked Leone.

“Why what?” asked Cosma back.

“Why climb the tree?” Leone asked.

Cosma thought for a moment. “You can see further the higher you are,” he said firmly.

“But we just went down the hill…”

Cosma sighed. Children really didn’t know what they were talking about, did they? “The Master says ‘to observe the world from different places is the key to seeing further.’

“I thought it was from seeing things higher up?” Leone said, puzzled.

Cosma frowned. Yes, that was a bit puzzling. Well, he supposed he couldn’t expect to be as clever as the Master yet. He wasn’t quite six. “I also do it because it’s fun.”

“Oh. Right.” That seemed to work a bit better. Leone began slowly approaching the tree as if it was a wounded animal but it was a start. Cosma remembered his Uncle’s advice that sometimes things needed to be said differently for different people.

Leone was a very different person, he decided. That hat for one, had to go. To his credit however, the younger boy had made it up to the branch after a bit of grunting and squealing. They sat together and watched their shadows shift as the sun shone through the branches and the wind rustled the leaves.

“I like it here.” Leone said somewhat abruptly. Cosma turned to him and tried to mimic the Master’s questioning eyebrow that seemed to compel people into speaking more. Leone giggled at his face. “The trees are nice.”

“A few months ago one blew down in a storm,” Cosma confided. “Madam Roe said the heavens were angry that night.”

“I didn’t think God did that sort of thing,” Leone said quietly. Cosma wondered if he too was thinking about what possible sin the tree had commit to cause it to be uprooted. What could a tree do that was wicked? He asked the Master but he had given him a tap and muttered something about women believing foolish things about false superstitions.

“Madam Roe said that Heaven does lots of things, especially to trees and things. She said her mother taught her all about the springs and the brooks.”

“What about them?”

“I don’t know. It must have been important though. Maybe the springs and brooks are different across the sea?”

Leone shrugged. He wasn’t very interested in the maps he had been shown from Cosma’s lessons. He had liked the Book despite not being able to read it. The pictures and lettering were pretty. Cosma hoped the Master would teach him to read. Then perhaps they could each take half the reading the Master was forcing upon him at the moment. That seemed fair. Lessons were getting harder and harder all the time.

“Cosma?” The younger boy was talking again.

“Yes?”

“I…are we supposed to be friends, do you think?”

Cosma thought about it. “My Uncle said ‘companions’.”

“Oh. Right.”

The two were silent for a while but by mutual agreement seemed to be looking at the sky. Cosma was wondering whether the clouds were really made of giant remains like Madam Roe said when Leone spoke again.

“What does being companions mean?”

Cosma thought about that too. “The Master said that we would be taught together, travel together and do everything together. I suppose that’s what it means.”

“Oh. Right.” Leone looked at Cosma. “But you’re smaller than me.”

“Am not! Besides, I’m smarter than you,” Cosma retorted, rising up to his full height and subsequently losing his balance and tumbling to the ground. It wasn’t a big fall but it seemed big enough to be getting on with. He wasn’t smaller than Leone. Leone just had a hat on. A stupid hat designed to annoy him.

“But…so…why are we companions then?” Leone asked, after a brief silence, peering down at him.

“I don’t know. My Uncle says we should be and he’s always right.”

“My father doesn’t like your uncle. He blinded my grandad,” Leone said carelessly.

Cosma was up the tree again in an instant, ready to smack him, “Liar! Why would do that, unless your granddad was very bad?”

“I don’t know why he did it,” Leone said, recoiling. “But grandad is definitely blind. Doesn’t have any eyes.”

That caught Cosma’s attention and the argument was quickly forgotten. “Really? What does he have instead?”

“A bit of cloth I think. I only met him once, or I think I have,” Leone frowned a bit. “I can’t really remember. He wouldn’t show me what was underneath.”

“Maybe it’s a secret?” Cosma said. The other boy shrugged again. Cosma found himself thinking of old men with mysterious patches and red angry flesh or darkened holes underneath. He shivered in the afternoon heat. “But I still don’t think my Uncle did that. He has really nice eyes.”

Leone nodded, clearly he too had met the Doge of Venice at some point. “I don’t know then. Who else could have done it? Would the Master know?”

“The Master knows an awful lot,” Cosma replied. He was curious now too. What did a blind person look like? They were mentioned in the Book a few times but it had no pictures of them in it. “But I expect he’ll be angry with us for not coming to his lesson.”

“But you said…” Leone tailed off and thought for a moment. “What should we do?”

Cosma hadn’t thought about that until now. “I suppose we go back when we want to, because they didn’t want us to leave at all and thus if we went back when they wanted us to, we never would have left.”

Leone nodded, not understanding at all. “Then hope we get caught by Madam Roe,” he said, hoping he’d said the right thing.

Cosma smiled. Whilst the Master had said that it was easier to ask forgiveness than permission, he didn’t think his teacher would be in a very forgiving mood today. Or ever.

He was glad the man wasn’t a confessional priest.

“Do you think they’ll send me home?” Leone said, a nervous look on his face. Cosma suddenly felt rather protective and warm towards his little companion.

“No. I mean, they could but punishing you for running out by sending you out again? Doesn’t make much sense. Much more likely that he’ll beat me and lecture you. Or lecture us both and beat me at the same time,” Cosma said, only half joking. He resisted the urge to sooth his bottom pre-emptively. The fact a cloud chose that precise moment to move over the sun and cast a bit of gloom over a sunny day didn’t give him much confidence of a good outcome.

…​

The silence in the Master’s chambers was far from companionable. He had the two boys stood ramrod straight in the centre of the room, staring at a cabinet filled with various parchments and mysteries. He had held them like this for at least half an hour. To Cosma, it felt a lot longer. Saints and mystics could do the stand still and silent thing for years at a time but it was becoming readily apparent how far from that level he was. He felt that odd mix of intense fear and boredom that had often poked its way into his heart whenever the Master was nearby.

“So…” the Master finally began whatever foul sermon he had concocted. “You felt the pressing need to wander around cliff tops today, boy. Or perhaps climbing what you insist on calling ‘real’ trees.”

The silence stretched on for another unbearable minute.

“I asked a question, boy.” He hadn’t, and that was the cruel thing. Cosma felt the need to try anyway, for Leone’s sake.

“Trees si-”

The smack cut him off and broke the quiet in the room in one swift stroke. Leone flinched away from the sound and sight as much as Cosma did from the shock and pain.

“Three times in five days…gentlemen,” the Master’s voice lifted dangerously. “I wonder whether you would both rather sweep out the stables and work in the kitchens and play like the animals rather than be taught the skills to survive and thrive in this world. Regrettably, that option is not open to us. Regrettably for you, this does not absolve your sins one bit. You will both learn, very quickly, to love this room and adore those scrolls. You will find your escape, such that it is, perusing ancient knowledge and well-founded modern theory, rather than in the mud and dirt of the wild. I was conscripted to mould you into the perfect little scholarly workers for the illustrious Doge,” he pursed his lips and sneered at Cosma directly, “and I will do it boy, if it kills you.”

The two children were given a few moments of silence to allow their minds to fill with that speech and all its terrible promises.

“Now then…Leone, you shall begin letters tomorrow at daybreak after prayers. You are of no use to the boy or to me like this, ignorant of even the extent of your own ignorance. Leave us. Now.”

Leone spared Cosma a glance that broadcast several sorrowful and apologetic things before he ran away to safety.

“As for you boy,” the Master loomed over head. “You are the smartest lout I have ever taught this young and I am not spiteful enough towards future generations of scholars to rob them of what you might accomplish. So let us make a deal.”

Cosma perked up. His Uncle talked about deals and contracts all the time. And the Master thought he was clever! How-

“Listen closely,” Cosma suddenly had two matching red cheeks instead of one, “I was not asked to do this. I was ordered, very firmly, to make you smart. This is impossible. I cannot make you intelligent, but it is fortunate for us both that you are. So now I must teach you something possible: to think cleverly. You will never again do anything so overtly arrogant and insulting as to doge lessons from the greatest mind in Italia. You will aspire and you will become the smartest boy to ever grace the land you walk on. You will speak many languages, read many tomes. You will struggle and strain and sacrifice to become my equal in every way and surpass everything those fools in Venice think you are capable of. And then you will march into the world and you will do something clever with all that. If you fail at any point, falter at any part of your journey, worse people than I will ensure you are punished severely.”

Cosma looked ready to interrupt and nearly formed the words “My Uncle-” when he was interrupted again.

“You will not always have an 'Uncle' to protect you, as you should well know already. That boy you wasted an afternoon with? Your father blinded his grandfather and the heads of two other Houses in that cursed city. Outside of these walls, you bear mighty burdens because of who you are, what you are. A dwarf, a Boi from that line…the Church views your entire family, that entire city, as sin incarnate. The other families hate you. Venice remembers your father and hates you for him. And as I said, the Holy Father hates you for existing. You are merely the culmination of everything that they hate. So you must be smarter.”

The Master stood up and strode over to a shelf. “I have ten years-ha! Ten years only to teach you what I know and what to do. If I believed it would help, I would scream to the Heavens asking why, oh why? But I know why, and one day you will too. For now…remember what has been said. Tell no one of what has been said. If you cannot keep this secret, you cannot keep any and you will be hated even more. Any questions?”

And Cosma thought, for once, that the Master was genuinely asking him. So he thought very carefully, which was a hard thing to do when your heart was hammering in your chest and your knees were knocking into each other and your face felt like ice and fire mixed together.

“Not yet,” he said quietly. Dare he say he saw a flicker of approval in the Master’s face?

“Good. That’s the smartest thing you’ve ever said, boy. I hope that you haven’t just peaked. Get out.”

Cosma ran for the door, thrust it open and didn’t stop running until he was buried in his own bed under the blankets. The Master had done the impossible. Cosma was now more afraid of him than his own father.
 
Last edited:

stnylan

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Quite the awakening for Cosma. The illusions of child-hood are being quite efficiently punctured between this companion Leone and the Master.

As for Leone - not an especially pleasant situation to be in.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Quite the awakening for Cosma. The illusions of child-hood are being quite efficiently punctured between this companion Leone and the Master.

As for Leone - not an especially pleasant situation to be in.
The game began with three head of houses blinded and a long list of executions and banishment. I have no idea whether this is standard fare for the start of a Republic game but in my head the last Doge was clearly a monster of epic proportions. So he shall be one here.
 

coz1

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I think you capture the mind of a young child quite well in this update. For both of them, really. And a rather elegant way of alluding to Cosma's dwarfism by having him climb trees to see farther...aka grow taller. Nice. :D
 

TheButterflyComposer

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I think you capture the mind of a young child quite well in this update. For both of them, really. And a rather elegant way of alluding to Cosma's dwarfism by having him climb trees to see farther...aka grow taller. Nice. :D
Heh, and of course higher than anything else in that environment is the Master's house, full of learning and wisdom. That's how you see the furthest and metaphor and point and evidence and explination. Ah, the things I may or may not have done deliberately or accidentally. This reminds me sooo much of GCSE English Lit.:) But now that you've mentioned it I need to watch out for consciously placing in too much reference. Don't want Venice to end up being a city filled with stone towers and massive turrets just because it makes him feel big. And I suppose obvious phallic symbols as well.

(Incidentally, there actually is a town in Italy, San Gimignano, filled with stone towers because the ruling Houses got into what was essentially a measuring contest. City States in the Renaissance were nuts. Venice apparently has been mad for most of its history so be advised, there'll be some weird stuff happening if I can find good references to back up some of these legends.)

I've found the children's voices to be simple enough to think about but hard to write in some areas. It's doing the general thing of thinking about what's going on in the world and the plot and what the (adult) character knows about it and how they react to it, plus the extra bit of knowledge diminishing that a child's mind will do. I'm not sure how others do it, especially when it is a body of work about the child and they stay children throughout. It's very hard to have things happen because of what the child is doing, and having things just happen to them isn't as engaging. But we shall see what develops, I suppose.

Anyone else ever tried writing kids before?
 

JabberJock14

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More good characterization here. And dialogue. I particularly enjoyed this line:

“Listen closely,” Cosma suddenly had two matching red cheeks instead of one, “I was not asked to do this. I was ordered, very firmly, to make you smart. This is impossible. I cannot make you intelligent, but it is fortunate for us both that you are. So now I must teach you something possible: to think cleverly.
I have avoided writing children too much because I always tend to make them too smart for their age (which is common, kids are either too smart or given thoughts that are too complex but "dumbed down" by having them mispronounce and make up words). But your Cosma is good because you do focus on the thought processes, which are simple.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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More good characterization here. And dialogue. I particularly enjoyed this line:

[There would be a great line from a story here but Paradox's quotation system can't handle its power]

I have avoided writing children too much because I always tend to make them too smart for their age (which is common, kids are either too smart or given thoughts that are too complex but "dumbed down" by having them mispronounce and make up words). But your Cosma is good because you do focus on the thought processes, which are simple.
Smart kids are common in real life as well as in fiction, but almost never with an adult vocabulary like they seem to have in the latter. Not every child has obsessively learnt their native language to perfection by the age of six (and elocution isn't a sign of intellect anyway, it's a societal construct for clear communication yes but hardly indicative of anything other than coaching/training) and Cosma and Leo are no different. What they both are is smart (Cosma especially so but the other kid was chosen for multiple reasons in and out of universe) and yet unaware of the world around them to a great extent. Essentially, their intelligence at the moment is mostly surface level. I don't really want to give them 'kiddy speak' (because children do not speak like that unless encouraged and I can't see the Doge or their Master tolerating it much) but Cosma at the start of the game has a stutter stat, which will come into play later.

Basically, they are clever but unaware and simple in their thoughts and desires. In some ways I think the harder thing to write will be what you quoted above, teaching them how to think properly. The philosophy of how to do it has been around for a long time so there won't be inaccuracies there but to effectively write someone who is as smart as the smartest people alive today (which is certainly what the Master and several others in Italy are) but with a knowledge base that is so wrong that it's hard to conceptualise will be a challenge indeed. The cliche of the 'superior intellectual atheist' whom is centuries ahead yet brought down by an absurdly dogmatic and ritualistic medieval society is mostly a false one and one I'm keen to avoid but at the same time is certainly the easiest pitfall someone could fall into writing about this period. I have a feeling I might falter there.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Thanks for all the good comments. The next chapter is done and will be exploring the origins of this story a little bit. I do however have a problem in that it also shows some of what Cosma had to live through before his Uncle got hold of him.

History did not treat people like Cosma very nicely, especially in this time period. So when I was researching stuff, I found I couldn't find it within me to actually write a version of the true things that might happen to what they used to call 'freaks' and so wrote my own thing. But that's been hard too...

Any advice? I would rather not skip over it competently because it's a part of his story and would be a disservice to people who actually suffered if it was just glossed over entirely.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Implying horrible events with sufficient context for readers to fill in the gaps?
Maybe. Committing the dreadful sin of telling not showing though.

I'll have a rethink. Chapter probably sometime tomorrow.