Her father sat as always in the beautifully carved armchair in the center of the high table on the dais. For some reason, he did not hear her coming. Rather than turn to smile at her as he usually did, he remained sunken in thought. She caught a glimpse of him unprepared and unguarded, and a shudder ran down her spine: her father looked very old and very unhappy.
“Papa!” Cecilia exclaimed as she ran toward him. “Is something wrong?” Reaching his chair, she stood beside him and searched his beloved face.
He forced a smile. “Of course not, of course not, child. Sit. Have your breakfast. I have some business to attend to, but don’t worry your pretty little head about business.” He shoved the heavy chair back and stood. As he passed Cecilia, he kissed the top of her head and stroked her cheek. “My angel,” he whispered.
“Papa, you’re so sad! What has happened? There’s no bad news of Maurizio is there?”
“Of course not, of course not,” he waved her concern aside a second time, but the smile he gave her was more a twisted grimace than a real smile. “It’s just business,” he insisted. “Nothing to concern you.” He kissed her again, but she could feel his thoughts were elsewhere. She wanted to ask more, but she had been raised to be obedient and dutiful. It was not her place to question her father, so she sat down
Giovanni descended to the ground floor where his large, corner shop manned by three employees faced the busy junction of two important streets. He made a cursory inspection of the nearly empty sacks of saffron, cinnamon, cumin, almonds, and pistachios. His stock was running very low. Not good just before Christmas when sales were always best. He’d miscalculated a little when he’d sent so many wares with Maurizio. All would be well, of course, if Maurizio returned, but there were rumors.
Giovanni took a cloak that hung beside the courtyard door and exited. It was a cool, damp day with rain squalls coming in off the Mediterranean and gusting through the narrow streets. A gust rattled the shutters on the sides of the buildings and chased bits of rubbish along the gutters. The beggars had taken shelter in the doors of the many churches, and no one was about that had no need to be out of doors.
Giovanni made his way to the Palace of the Genoese. This was the large building constructed around a central courtyard and occupying a city block. The ground floor consisted primarily of storerooms, where the poorer members of the community who could not afford their own warehouses could rent space by the square yard. On the top floor, it had apartments that were rented out to Genoese who were transient rather than resident in Acre. But the first floor was composed of the offices, archives, council chamber, audience chamber, and festival hall for the community. It was half again as high as the floors above and below, with beautiful rib-vaulted ceilings, tall pointed windows, marble floors and wall-panels of mosaics or marble inlay. It was here behind the audience chamber that Signor di Sanuto, the Consul of the Genoese, had his offices.
Since the previous Friday, rumors had been circulating that the Rose of Acre had been lost a sea with all hands. Giovanni had been stopped in the street by one man asking if he’d heard the news, and the household steward had likewise reported to his master that he’d heard men talking about the wreck of the Rose of Acre when at the market. Giovanni had sent his personal servant down to the harbor to see what he could learn, and the man had returned with the news that the loss of the Rose of Acre was indeed being talked about in the dockside taverns.
Giovanni did not like to believe rumors, but when you heard the same thing from so many sources, it was hard to deny the possibility. Yet it was a possibility he could not—or refused—to fully grasp. Lost. A complete loss. With all hands. It would mean his ruin. His absolute and complete ruin—and it would break his little Cecilia’s heart. He couldn’t bear to think about it. Such a loss. He had to track down the source of the rumor.
There were already men waiting in the Consul’s ante-chamber. In great agitation, they were discussing the latest rumors about the charters the Emperor had given to the Pisans. “He’s virtually given them Arsur!” One man protested.
“Isn’t Arsur still abandoned?”
“That’s just it! It’s been deserted ever since Saladin raised the defenses in 1187, but it used to be one-third ours! Now the Emperor has just handed it over to the Pisans.”
“But the Lord of Beirut technically holds it by right of his wife, doesn’t he? Surely only he can make grants.”
“Legally, maybe, but that doesn’t seem to interest the Holy Roman Emperor! Look how he tried to take Athlit from the Templars! He thinks he can dispose over the Kingdom of Jerusalem as he does over Sicily—like a despot!”
Sanuto’s secretary emerged out of the inner chamber and gestured for Gabrieli to follow him into the office. Giovanni was grateful for that. He couldn’t bear waiting any longer.
“Ah, Giovanni, my dear friend! Have a seat.” Sanuto jumped to his feet and came around his desk with outstretched hands. “I’m so sorry! So terribly sorry! Indeed, words fail me. Who can forget how beautiful and in love they looked at their wedding! What a charming couple. And your dear Cecilia still so young, not yet sixteen is she?”
Giovanni staggered and would have fallen if Sanuto had not caught him. “Here, here. Have a seat,” Sanuto urged again, sending the secretary to fetch water and wine.
“Then it’s true?” Giovanni gasped out, his chest constricting about his heart so sharply that it hurt to breathe, and he could hardly speak.
“There can be no doubt, I fear. Young Paulo di Ferrario arrived on Friday from Limassol reporting that the wreck had washed up on the west shore of Cyprus a week ago. There were a couple of crates of wool and other wares from the Baltic still in the hold, but not a soul aboard. At first, they hoped one or another of the boats might turn up, but they never did.” He paused as Giovanni grasped his heart, his eyes seeming to pop out of his face. “I presume this was a serious financial blow to you,” Sanuto concluded.
“I’m ruined—” Giovanni gasped out. “Ruined.”
“You have the house, of course, you could—”
Giovanni shook his head and rasped out “The Templars. Mortgaged—”
The servant arrived with the glass of water, but Giovanni couldn’t swallow. He spat the water out and crumpled forward. The pain in his chest was unbearable. He could no longer make sense out of what was being said around him. The world was spinning, Cecilia’s radiant face, Maurizio’s confident smile, the hardnosed Templar banker, his creditors, Cecilia. Dearest, sweetest Cecilia. He couldn’t face her. He couldn’t bear to tell her Maurizio was dead, that she was a pauper, without a roof over her head. He couldn’t.
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