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Renaissance Woman

Jodie Lane


Copyright © 2018 Jodie Lane

Cover Design © 2018 1231 Publishing




All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the author.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and unintentional.


This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold. If you’re reading this eBook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment, then leave a review on goodreads.com to show your support and respect for the hard work of this author.


ISBN 978-0-9946498-7-4

Published by Jodie Lane

www.jodielane.com















To Kate M, Kate H, Carrie, Tish and Keira.


Table of Contents

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

TWENTY-SIX

TWENTY-SEVEN

TWENTY-EIGHT

TWENTY-NINE

THIRTY

THIRTY-ONE

THIRTY-TWO

THIRTY-THREE

THIRTY-FOUR

THIRTY-FIVE

THIRTY-SIX

THIRTY-SEVEN

AUTHOR’S NOTE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

BIBLIOGRAPHY



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS



Thanks go to, as always, my friends and family for your encouragement, curiosity and support. I’m well over halfway through writing this series, and I couldn’t have done it without you all!

My excellent beta readers! Carolyn, Kate, Zane, Rebecca, Alicia and Jess—thank you so much for taking the time to pick out of the plot holes and ask the hard questions. I’m so fortunate and grateful to have such a terrific group of critically-minded writers and readers upon which to draw.

Barb and Mum—thank you for proofreading again. It’s getting better, isn’t it? And a special mention to Alan—the information you gave me on horse-riding gave me confidence to add those extra, accurate details. Feedback from you, David and Scott at North Lakes Writers’ Group encouraged me greatly as you’ve listened to snippets of this book over the course of the year.

And Dee, whose editing was far sterner this time round. I feel like we’ve stepped up our game, which makes the praise all the more worth it. Not to mention another excellent cover design—this series has come alive because of you.





ONE


1492 AD

“Stop her!”

“Demon!”

“Whore!”

Michelle bolted down the muddy alley, chickens squawking in her wake. The villagers were close behind. If they caught her she would be tried as a witch. She couldn’t afford to time travel away—so many jumps had worn her out, muddling her wits. She needed food and rest—not an enraged mob screaming at her heels, determined to burn her.

If she hadn’t been so tired she never would have walked directly into the main piazza where a crowd listened avidly to a preacher. She would have loitered around the edges, stolen a dress or begged a bite to eat. Instead she had strolled into the view of the ugly Dominican friar who fixed on her and cried indignation at her uncovered hair, her masculine attire.

“Sin!” He had pointed and the crowd had followed his enraged gaze. “Not only wanton with her hair uncovered, unbound, but flaunting her body in God’s eyes. Such sin!”

Michelle had frozen in the face of his fury. Like a pack of beasts, the crowd roared and surged towards her. Michelle did the only thing she could think of doing.

She ran.

“She’s getting away!”

She hoped so. Fit as she was, this unexpected sprint was unwelcome, and the fields around the Italian village provided no cover. A sideways lunge into a stable and a dash between stalls. She kicked open the back door then scrambled up a ladder into the hayloft. She flung herself behind some bales and hoped her hiding place was good enough.

“That way!” Angry men flooded the stable below, sending horses into panicked whinnies. Michelle forced her breath to slow and projected an aura of nothingness.

“Out here!”

Feet thundered on the flagstones below and out the door. Quiet returned. Michelle peeked out as a middle-aged man with a straggling beard emerged from a stall and petted his charges, calming them one by one. The groom circled the horses twice then stopped at the bottom of the ladder.

“I see you run up there, maybe you is agone now, but I don’t think so.” The musicality of his voice made him sound whimsical. “They is gone, they who is chasing you.”

Michelle raised her head cautiously. “Thank you. I’m afraid the preacher in the piazza took against me.”

The groom leant on a stall, stroking the head of the gelding that whickered over his shoulder. “That Savonarola. Don’ take much to get ‘im all a-riled up. I’ll be glad when ‘e goes to Florence.”

Savonarola. Just my luck.

“You’re not a fan of his?” Michelle slid down the ladder.

The groom shrugged. “I prefer looking after the horses—they is simpler.” He patted the gelding affectionately, feeding it an apple from his pocket.

“Sensible of you.” Michelle brushed stalks of hay from her trousers. “Now is there any chance you could tell me where I might purchase a dress, a place to sleep and some food?” She pulled out a small silver ring, one of those she’d been issued with for this perilous trip into the past.

The groom eyed the ring speculatively. “Si. Climb back up into the ‘ayloft and I is bringing a dress and the food. You can sleep there—there is no rats.”

Michelle smiled. “Thank you, signor.”


* * *


Kind as the groom seemed to be, Michelle still took precautions. She activated her tiny forcefield dome and stretched before she went to sleep. Footsteps below woke her and she deactivated the field seconds before the groom’s head emerged at the top of the ladder. He brought her an old, moth-eaten brown dress and a pail containing lukewarm pottage.

“I’ll be off and away at first light,” Michelle said, managing not to pull a face at the taste of the pottage. “Thank you for your help.”

“Si,” The groom watched her eat, to her annoyance. She would wait until he was gone before she changed into the dress. “Where is you a-going?”

“France,” she lied.

“Si. For another of those rings I could give you the direction?” he added hopefully.

“No thank you, I know the way.” She didn’t, but she wasn’t about to burn through her funds when she could use the chronokinetor to guide her.

“Hmph.” The groom didn’t leave. “It was not easy, getting the dress and the food up ‘ere. Folk in the village still a-riled up. Might be you need ‘elp leaving without a fuss.”

“I’ll be fine.” Michelle put steel into her tone. She ate faster, trying not to gag, and handed the pail back to the groom. “Thank you. You’d best get back to your duties.”

“Hmph.” He rubbed his beard and retreated down the ladder. Michelle waited until it was fully dark, snuck down and relieved herself just outside the door, then climbed back up the loft and set the forcefield before lying down in her bed of hay.

She rose well before dawn, knowing a groom’s day would start early. With her own clothes stashed in her backpack, she concentrated on being inconspicuous in her shabby dress as she crept down the ladder.

“Folk still be a-looking,” the groom’s hoarse voice sounded by her ear.

Michelle whirled and stopped herself from hitting him. “I don’t have any more money for you!” She strode to the main stable door, conscious that he was a step behind her. When she reached for the bar his bony hand grasped her wrist. Michelle dug her fingernails into his skin and twisted her arm free. She yanked his own arm up behind his back and pushed him against the stable door. “I said, I don’t have any more money for you.”

“I was just trying to ‘elp!” he wheezed.

“Whatever you say, my friend. Now unless you want a broken wrist I suggested you stay in this stable while I leave. And don’t think about telling anyone I’m heading to France, or I’ll come back and break both your arms.”

She waited until he grunted affirmation and let go, lifting the bar on the door and slipping out before he could say anything more. She hurried along the back laneways of the town in the black early morning. By the time the grey light of dawn crept into the sky, she was well on the road to Milan.



TWO


1492 AD

Squaring her shoulders, Gwyn marched to the entrance of the Borgia house. “I have word of a plot against His Eminence Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia,” she announced to the astonished guards. “He would be most obliged if you advised him, as it will save his life.”

They stared at her, then exchanged incredulous looks, not bothering to stop leaning on their pikes. Gwyn cleared her throat. “I’m not here to waste time,” she warned.

Despite her confidence, her welcome had been less than cordial. One guard had reported to the mistress of the household, who had ordered Gwyn locked into the cellar. Dim light filtered in through a tiny grate at street level; it was getting dark outside. Gwyn closed her eyes and sank into the timepiece. The images she saw centred on a grim, grey-haired man, dressed in red robes, then white. Thankful for a subject of Renaissance Italy last semester, she recognised Pope Alexander VI: the Borgia Pope. Infamous for nepotism, lechery and corruption, yet his reign was critical in shaping Europe’s future. Gwyn didn’t care what vices the future Pope had. She just wanted to fix the turning point and go home.

Arrival in this year had been tumultuous. She had appeared in a haze of blue light in a wealthy home, heralded by screams of a maid. Two footmen had escorted Gwyn roughly out into the street and dumped her in the gutter. “It’ll be broken fingers for you next time, thief! Begone!”

Gwyn brandished her decidedly unbroken middle finger then fled. A street away she slowed to take her bearings. It was a very different Rome to the one she had left.

Renaissance clothing was garish compared to the simple tunics and dresses of Ancient Rome. Gwyn had made herself inconspicuous with the help of the timepiece and drifted through the crowd. She hugged her shawl tightly around her to hide the fact that her dress had neither ruffs nor slashes and petticoats didn’t buoy her skirts. She was a drab sparrow compared to these peacocks—men and women both.

In just over a week there would be an attempt on the life of the new Pope, Rodrigo Borgia. Gwyn asked the way to the Borgia household, amused by the Italian spilling elegantly from her mouth. Her question had received appraising looks—some suspicious, some knowing—and she was advised by one old dear, “You’ll never get anything out of them, lass. Best find someone to help you get rid of the babe and pray for forgiveness.”

Now, left in silence and now darkness, Gwyn paced the stone floor of the empty cellar and brooded. Until the timeline was fixed, she couldn’t escape. Even if she wanted to, all she had was a knife, brought with her from Ancient Rome.

At least this turning point revolved around saving a man’s life rather than killing him. She could redeem herself from the part she’d played in engineering Emperor Domitian’s murder. She shuddered, the memory too fresh in her mind.


* * *


Keys jangled and the cellar door opened. A man stood there, clad in a black robe with a solid gold cross on a long chain around his neck. He held up a lantern and Gwyn threw up her hand against the harsh light. When her eyes adjusted, she examined his face. Black curls worn loose to his shoulders, inscrutable eyes set above a straight nose and hard mouth framed by a neat goatee. “My mother tells me you came to our gate speaking of plots against my father. He is currently in conclave, electing the next Holy Father. Are you telling me someone would breach the sacred trust of that state and commit murder?”

His words were sceptical but his tone was not. Gwyn frowned and shook her head. “No, sir. Not during conclave. After he has been made Pope.”

She knew her words carried the impact she desired when the man flinched and gripped the doorway. “What do you know of this?” he hissed. “Speak!”

Here we go again. Gwyn cricked her neck. “I have been gifted with visions of the future. I know Cardinal Borgia will be made Pope, and I know that someone will try to kill him shortly after.”

The man leant in close and gripped Gwyn’s shoulder. She squinted against the lantern’s light but held his gaze. “And why would you warn us?” His voice was laden with suspicion. “For gold? Certainly not for love—too many hate us because we’re Spanish.”

What would this man believe? Gwyn chose her next words carefully. “There is a greater power than you or me, my lord, and I must do the right thing. You don’t have to trust me, just believe me enough to take precautions for your father. You can keep me here to ensure I don’t speak to anyone else, though I’d prefer not in this storeroom.” She glanced around and shivered. “In a week, you will know I speak true.”

The man let go of Gwyn and examined her. Innocence wouldn’t work here; practicality would, so she tried to keep her face blank. “If you are truthful, you shall be rewarded,” he said. “If you lie, I will put you in a sack and throw you into the Tiber to drown.”

Gwyn nodded. “I understand, my lord.” She repressed a shiver, not wanting him to mistake cold for fear.

“Come.” The man gestured to the door. “I’ll have my mother prepare a servant’s room and you will tell me everything you know. You will not speak to anyone other than her or me. You will not pass messages to the servants. If you try to leave, the guards will tie you up in this room and I will beat you.” He gripped Gwyn’s arm hard as she walked out with him. “You know who I am, don’t you?”

Candles flickered in the corridor outside the storeroom. Gwyn could see now his black robes were those of a priest, augmented by the gold cross. “You are Cesare Borgia, my lord, son of the future Pope,” she told the bishop.

“Correct.” Bishop Borgia twisted his mouth into a grim smile. “And you belong to me now, girl.”



THREE


1492 AD

“Father.”

Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia paused at the low voice and sidestepped to the open hatch where his son hovered on the other side. “Cesare,” he said.

“I have only a few minutes, Father—I bribed the guard to look the other way.”

“Good, good—take these scrolls and see they reach the right families.” He passed several tiny, tightly furled scrolls through the food hatch. Cesare accepted them.

“We delivered the gold as you instructed. How goes the voting?”

“Slow, my son. The Cardinal Orsini is my biggest enemy.” Cardinal Borgia pulled his weathered face into a grimace and removed his red hat. “Della Rovere is no friend of mine either.”

“We almost have the Sforzas on our side.”

They continued to whisper of bribes, threats and promises until Rodrigo said, “I must not linger. Continue the good work, my son.”

“Father, there is one more thing. You… you will succeed. God is on our side.”

Rodrigo raised a thick eyebrow. “Of course He is, Cesare, but we must help Him wherever possible.” He turned, hearing the hatch click shut behind him. Sweeping back into the Sistine Chapel, he gazed at the ceiling as if he had merely paused in contemplation.

When I am Pope I will have something done about this ceiling—it needs some colour. He added it to his mental list of future edicts. Better to concentrate on gaining the papal throne first, then consolidate his rule.

He needed a two-third majority to win. An unlikely candidate at first, several rounds of voting and much discussion had eroded the support of his opponents and built up his own power base.

“Looking for dinner, Borgia?” It was Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, a po-faced, chubby man in his late thirties. No lightweight himself, Rodrigo chuckled in the pretence of good humour.

“You have to admit, Sforza, the food becomes more limited the longer we are locked in here. I dread going to bread and water.”

“Oh, I think you and I will survive.” Sforza fell into step beside Rodrigo and they paced the length of the Chapel, passing other cardinals clustered in small groups. The susurrus of whispers breezed its way up the decorated walls to the vaulted ceiling above. Pausing by one of the tall windows, Rodrigo considered his fellow cardinal out of the corner of his eye, wondering what secret messages had been smuggled in from that man’s influential family.

“Yes, you and I will survive,” Sforza repeated, gazing out the window, unaware of Rodrigo’s intense scrutiny. “Bread and water do not frighten me; it’s skinny fellows like Della Rovere who should beware the fast. And if it gets cold you and I can huddle together for warmth.”

Rodrigo understood. “You know I would offer you my cloak if you needed it, Cardinal Sforza.” He smiled to appear amiable.

Sforza turned to him. “You are too kind, Cardinal Borgia, and very generous. If you lent me your cloak I would have to see you received a new one.”

This time Rodrigo’s smile was genuine, if akin to that of a shark. “Oh I do love new clothes, Cardinal.”

“Your attention, please!” The Master of the Ceremonies entered the chapel. “It is time for another vote.”


* * *


The poky servant’s chamber was better than the dank storeroom, but only just. It was dark, draughty and Gwyn heard mice scratching behind the walls. The shutters rattled in the breeze but at least there was a window. Cesare ordered a tray be sent from the kitchen with her meals to prevent her from speaking to anyone but the silent maid.

She wiled away the hours in her room, lying or sitting on the narrow cot. The chest at the end of the bed was the only other piece of furniture—Gwyn would lean close and inhale the woody smell occasionally to calm her mind and settle into watching the shifting patterns of the past and future through the timepiece. Threads that dipped and spun then merged into a central river of time showed her how individuals’ lives could change in a thousand different ways but the flow of history swept them on. In a few days the life of one individual—or his death—would impact the river of history enough to change the course.

After a day of this Gwyn waited until the maid came in to empty the chamber pot then, as she waited by the door, jammed the lock with a wad of fabric. The maid closed the door and turned the key but the bolt didn’t fall true, so once she was gone Gwyn snuck out to explore the house.

Spying on the family proved fascinating. Cesare was often out, muttering politics with his mother over wine when he did come back. His brother Juan also spent most of his time away from the house and usually returned late at night, dishevelled and drunk. The youngest boy Joffre had lessons with his tutor or played in the garden with his teenage sister, Lucretia. She was not yet elegant like her mother but with the same creamy skin and blue eyes she was a beauty. Kind yet spoilt, she adored Cesare and the feeling appeared mutual.

Gwyn lurked on a balcony above the courtyard and peeked down at the siblings, seeing a different side of Cesare. He was attentive, seeking his sister’s opinion though he mocked her gently if she said something naïve. He was also physically affectionate, kissing and touching Lucretia often. His black, high-necked Bishop’s robe contrasted severely with Lucretia’s light blue gown, square-cut over her décolletage and trimmed with lace. It was as if a crow had learnt to smile and sought to charm a singing bluebird.

Gwyn slid away from the balcony rail and ghosted back to her room. The Borgias were plagued with rumours of incest and fratricide. She could see how some of the rumours had begun.

“Just a few more days.” She rolled onto her pallet and slept.

A knock at the door the next morning stirred her. The hinges creaked and Vannozza dei Cattanei peered in. Cesare’s mother was gorgeous and poised. Age had added dignity and Gwyn’s heart sighed for a moment at the sight of her hostess in a brocaded red gown, low-cut over the breast and adorned with gold necklaces. She would never be that beautiful but she could aspire to be self-assured.

“My lady.” Gwyn got up from the pallet and bowed, then curtseyed awkwardly.

Vannozza smiled. “My son has not told me how long you are to stay, but I thought perhaps you might benefit from a walk in the garden. He cannot mean to keep you cooped up here forever.”

Gwyn could have kissed her. Relief that she no longer had to sneak around brought a smile to her face. “Oh thank you, my lady, that would be wonderful.” How was it Cesare’s mother was so much kinder than him? She dreaded his visits. He quizzed her about her visions and often asked the same question in different ways, picking on every detail. Gwyn remained calm and answered honestly about what she saw but collapsed once he left, praying her nerves would hold.

“Come,” Vannozza said. She led Gwyn down the narrow servants’ stairs and into the airy courtyard. Gwyn blinked at the light. She breathed deeply of the fresh air then bent to smell the flowers.

“Mama!” Lucretia sprang up from the bench. Vannozza greeted her daughter and they wandered through the garden, chatting affectionately. Gwyn was left to soak up the sunlight and trail her fingers through the leaves of topiary. She closed her eyes.

“Who are you?” Lucretia surprised Gwyn. Her eyes flew open and darted, searching for Vannozza. The woman was over by the courtyard door, speaking urgently to a servant.

“I, uh, I’m a servant of your brother’s,” Gwyn replied, eyes flicking back to Vannozza.

“Which brother?” Lucretia demanded.

“His Excellency Bishop Borgia,” Gwyn answered. “But he has ordered me not to speak to anyone save him and your honoured mother. Please don’t get me in trouble, my lady.”

Lucretia pulled a flower from its stem and plucked the petals idly. “Cesare won’t do anything—he’s too busy trying to make sure Papa wins the election. I’ve been cooped up here while he and Juan go about having fun. I’m bored. What kind of a servant are you? Are you his mistress?”

Gwyn gaped. Not so innocent after all. “I, uh, can’t say, my lady. I really should go.” She gritted her teeth. She wanted to stay out in the sun a while longer.

“Lucretia.” Vannozza returned, cheeks flushed. “Go and put on a better dress, your father will be here soon. They have made him Pope.” She turned to face Gwyn, “You must return to your room.”

Gwyn bobbed a mangled curtsey and obeyed, smiling. One part down! Now that Rodrigo Borgia was Pope she just had to make sure Cesare prevented the assassination that—by her reckoning—would take place in four days at a banquet. With the turning point thus corrected Gwyn could return to her own time and get back to normal life.

She fidgeted in her room for the rest of the afternoon. She stretched and did exercises in the cramped space and played with her knife. It was made for domestic use, but maybe she could find someone to teach her how to throw it. Meric, the Wallachian-born, Ottoman soldier she had befriended in Transylvania, had taught her some fighting moves. She wondered if he was still alive. Unlikely—he’d be in his fifties by now, an age most mercenaries didn’t reach.

She sensed it was Cesare at the door when the key turned—he never knocked. She turned and bowed. His dark eyes were unreadable, as usual.

“Congratulations, my lord.” Gwyn kept her voice steady. He was like a panther, poised, ready to pounce at any second.

“Your prediction has come true,” Cesare said. “My father is Pope. He will take the name–”

“Alexander the Sixth,” Gwyn interrupted, trying to keep the upper hand.

Cesare regarded her through narrowed eyes. “Alexander the Sixth,” he agreed. “As for your other visions, tell them to me again. I want to be prepared. My father believes that now he has won he is safe. I know better. I want to know exactly who my enemies are, the enemies of my family.”

Gwyn took a breath to sigh then held it. She let it out slowly. “Of course, my lord, My visions show me that four days from now you will dine with your father at the palace of Cardinal Orsini. You will be Cardinal by then.” Cesare’s lips tightened at this. He had reacted badly when Gwyn first told him Rodrigo would promote him from Bishop to Cardinal while making his younger brother Duke of Gandia. “I would make a better general than Juan,” he’d raged, frightening Gwyn. She’d tried not to cower. While the timepiece helped her convince Cesare she spoke the truth, he didn’t always like it, and he had a temper.

Gwyn continued with details of the assassination attempt. “Someone poisons the wine—a servant—and serves it to you and your father. In one of my visions he drinks it and dies at the table. In another vision you are there with a monkey on your shoulder and you let the monkey taste your wine and food. The monkey dies. You and your father leave, outraged.”

“And the killer? Who orchestrated the plot?”

“I don’t know, my lord—my visions don’t show me.” It frustrated Gwyn. The timepiece gave her the ability to focus on the critical event but it didn’t make her omniscient.

“You spoke to my sister today,” he changed tack, eyes narrowing.

Gwyn blinked. “She spoke to me, my lord. I am sorry. You mother let me walk in the garden and Luc–your sister wanted to know who I was.”

“You should not have spoken to her! I told you not to talk to anyone save my mother and me!” he thundered.

“Please, my lord. I said I was your servant and I wasn’t to talk to her. That is all. No harm was done. She thinks I’m your mistress or whore.” Gwyn pressed her back against the wall. There was so little space in the room that Cesare and his anger occupied most of it.

“Spy. Whore. What does it matter?” Cesare glared. “How else could you know these things except by betraying your former master or overhearing a cardinal plot in a brothel.”

Please, my lord. I’m neither.” Gwyn drew strength from the solid wall behind her and stopped her shaking. Keep it together.

“Not a whore.” Cesare’s voice was quiet now but no less dangerous. “Would you like to be?”

Gwyn started shaking again. “No, my lord,” she whispered. His dark eyes raked over her and he leant in, pinning her. Gwyn raised her hands and shoved—his chest was hard despite his slight build. “NO!” She tensed for another attack.

Cesare stepped back and watched her. “Not a whore then.” His eyes ran up and down her again. She still wore her dress from Ancient Rome, with the addition of stockings, a petticoat and a sleeveless smock over the top—spares from another servant. She felt naked despite the layers. “Pity. But I will discover how you know these things. I don’t believe in visions. And don’t speak to my sister.”

He left. Gwyn sank to the floor and hugged her knees. Four more days, she promised herself. Then home.




FOUR


1492 AD

Michelle examined the tavern and decided it would do. Not as dingy as some of the others in Milan, The Duke’s Head boasted a wide entrance and several unshuttered windows open to the street. It wasn’t over-crowded, but as stars crept into the evening sky Michelle expected business would pick up.

She strode inside, projecting an aura of masculinity. No one expected to see a woman dressed as a man—knife on her belt, squared shoulders—so no one did, thanks to the chronokinetor. She had purchased clothes in a town on the way; dark tunic and wide-sleeved shirt belted over trousers tucked into knee high boots. She enquired about a room in a gruff voice and haggled over the price before ordering a meal. Halfway through her tankard of ale and bowl of stew a gaggle of local soldiers wandered in and spotted the newcomer.

“We ‘ave not seen your face before,” one young man declared.

“Just passing through.” Michelle nodded and kept eating. The soldier sneered.

“Come on, Filippo! Sit down, ‘ave a drink,” his comrades encouraged. Filippo sniffed before stalking over to the soldiers’ table, pinching the barmaid’s bottom on the way. More people entered the tavern; jovial voices rose as a piper struck up a tune in the corner.

Michelle mopped up the last of her stew with bread and sipped her ale, then stood. An early night for an early start—a bustling centre like


Milan would have both horse and supplies to see her on her way to Florence.

“I think you should buy us all a drink.” It was Filippo again, not drunk but fuelled by several cups of wine.

“Sit down, Filippo,” a deep voice intoned. Michelle glanced at the speaker, a grey haired captain who sat with the soldiers, before returning her focus to the aggressive soldier.

“Sit down, Filippo!” the other soldiers chorused. “He is just pissed because his lover ran away with a Frenchman,” one added. They chuckled.

“Sit down, signor,” she said. “Enjoy the rest of your night with your friends.” She concentrated on influencing him.

It might have worked, save for a passing drunk jolting Filippo into Michelle’s arms. Automatically she steadied him but the realisation on his face as he felt the softness of her chest was damning. “A woman!”

Michelle tensed and forced out a laugh. “Have another drink, signor, and maybe I’ll look like the Queen of Spain!”

Filippo wasn’t fooled. “I’m not drunk,” he hissed and leant forward, sniffing Michelle. “What kind of abomination are you, to dress in men’s clothes?” He squeezed her breast. She snatched his wrist and twisted his arm behind his back. Second time in a day.

She put her mouth close to his ear and whispered fiercely, “Sit down with your friends, signor.” With one last tweak of his arm, she released him and pushed him towards his table. He stumbled then rebounded with a roundhouse swing. Michelle dodged it easily. She tripped him and he landed face down on the grubby wooden floorboards. Michelle knelt on his back and wrenched his arm around again.

Stunned silence filled the tavern. Michelle wondered at it—surely they had fights here?

“Who would like to take charge of this young man?” she asked loudly. Pulling a coin from her belt purse with her free hand she flipped it to the gaping barmaid. “For the meal. I will seek accommodation elsewhere. I prefer somewhere… quiet.” She waited to see if the soldiers would come to Filippo’s aid. She’d have a real fight on her hands if that happened.

A small gesture from the captain removed some of the tension in the room. Two soldiers stood and approached. “We will take him.”

Michelle nodded and got up quickly. She slung her bag over one shoulder and made a swift exit. “Well, shit,” she muttered as she considered the darkening street.

“Signora.” It was the captain from the tavern. His uniform strained across his shoulders and a gut crept over his belt, but to have lived long in his profession meant he knew how to handle himself.

“I don’t want trouble, signor.” Michelle held up her hands. None of the other soldiers had followed him out but she eyed him warily and kept a watch to both sides.

“Neither do I, signora, I just wanted to ask you about that.” He pointed to her left hand where the chronokinetor lay embedded. Michelle was astonished. Most people didn’t notice it or thought it a tattoo or strange scar. She clenched her hand.

“Just a birthmark.” Was he trying to distract her so his lads could get the jump on her? She turned to walk away.

“Gwyn,” the man said. Michelle froze. She turned back. The man frowned. “You look like her, but older. Not as old as you should be, but I suppose anything is possible with that thing.”

Michelle spoke slowly. “No, I’m not her. But I think perhaps you and I should talk. Somewhere…”

“Quiet,” he supplied and grinned, displaying broken teeth. “Take a walk with me, signora.”


* * *


The barman silently served a flagon of wine and placed two cups beside it. Michelle sighed. Avoiding alcohol was hard in these times. “Water too, if you please,” she asked. When that arrived Michelle’s companion eyed it suspiciously.

“That won’t be clean, not in this city.”

Michelle smiled and dipped a tiny metal rod into the carafe. “I’ll take my chances.”

The man opposite considered Michelle, then held out his cup for her to pour water. “Spent my younger years drinking mint tea and water,” he explained gruffly. “Miss it now and then. Now, you’re not Gwyn, but you have a thing like she did. It was thirty years ago, but I remember.” He sipped his water and looked distant.

Thirty years ago. Michelle calculated. “Transylvania? Wallachia?”

The man looked at her and nodded. “Aye.”

Michelle settled in. This tavern was quiet, as the man had promised. Several other customers huddled in the dim light and appeared to be minding their own business but that was no guarantee. The man noticed Michelle glancing around and said, “What’s said in this place won’t go further, signora.”

“Not signora, please. Just call me Michelle.”

“Meric.”

“So, Meric,” she sat back and stretched her legs under the table. “How did you meet Gwyn? 1459 would have been the year, am I correct?”

“Aye, perhaps you can give me some answers first. You’re not the first person I’ve met who dresses as something they’re not, but others—like young Filippo back there—aren’t so tolerant.” He finished his cup of water and poured himself a wine. The rich red smell told Michelle, by no means an expert, that it wasn’t the usual taproom swill.

“How about an answer for an answer? I sent Gwyn to Wallachia, to the year 1459, and I know she influenced some events there.”

Meric chuckled. “That she did, though I don’t think it was her intent.”

Michelle’s eyebrows drew together. “It should have been!”

Meric sobered but his grizzled face held the hint of a grin. “Aye, she fell in love instead and caused all sorts of trouble. My turn. Does that thing,” he pointed at her left hand, “do the same as hers? Take you to a different time?”

Michelle was incensed. “Did she tell you that? What an idiot! Falling in love too! I knew sending her was a mistake. But…” She remembered the last report she’d read. “The timeline was correct. Vlad the Impaler fought against the Ottomans. She must have convinced him.”

“I think it was more to do with her running off with his wife that tipped him over the edge,” Meric replied, considering his wine. “Not that it would take much—bloody maniac. He slaughtered the Sultan’s envoy.” His casual tone juxtaposed the hollow look in his eyes. “I’ve seen many terrible things as a soldier but that bastard… he was something else.”

Michelle didn’t doubt it. She huffed and downed her water. Pouring a wine and topping up Meric’s cup, she answered his earlier question about the chronokinetor. “Yes, it allows me to time-travel. Did Gwyn tell you what it did? And you believed her?” She didn’t bother to hide her incredulity.

Meric guffawed. “Better than that, she took me with her on several damn trips. Made me sick in the gut but I’ve an extra three years of my life thanks to her.”

Unbelievable. Michelle sat in silence for a moment. “Irresponsible little minx,” she muttered.

“She was young,” Meric said. “Tough though. Not much of a fighter but didn’t complain, and could think on her feet.”

Michelle shot him a disbelieving look. “So, despite her incredible foolishness she managed to bring about the desired result. And then she left you?”

Meric shifted and looked guilty. “Aye, we left her with Vlad and then the Hungarians arrested him. I think she escaped. Alina and I hightailed it to Moldavia and I served her brother for a while as a mercenary. Made my way here after some years—I’m in the service of the Duke of Milan now. Do you know if she survived?”

Michelle tapped her fingers on the table. “Yes, she survived. I’ll have to rescue her later, wherever or whenever she is. Probably Ancient Rome by the latest report I received in my own time. I’ve got more important things to worry about right now. It’s not my job to fish her out of every mess.”

Meric frowned. “Forgive me, Signora Michelle, but are you not working with her? You both…” He gestured at the timepiece.

“Working with her! No—she’s an accident. She shouldn’t even have one of these.” Michelle waved her left hand. “It was desperation that made us send her to Wallachia—I was against it. I’m here to make sure certain things happen—it’s my job. Now, can you recommend me somewhere to stay? I need to buy a horse in the morning too. I’ll pay for this.” She gestured at the drinks. “Can I buy you a meal?”

Meric frowned. “They don’t do meals here. I’ll eat back at the palace guardhouse. Where are you going that you need a horse?”

“Nowhere you need to worry about,” Michelle replied. “I won’t be causing trouble here, if that’s what you’re asking.” She sipped her wine. Tiredness trickled down her throat with it. She had walked all day to reach Milan and wanted nothing more than to go to sleep.

Meric frowned. “I can ask about a room—they won’t ask questions if I tell them you’re discreet.”

“I’m discreet.”

The old soldier got up and talked softly with the barman. A middle-aged man walked in and greeted Meric at the same time. Meric pointed to Michelle and the man joined her at the table. “I’m a friend of Meric’s,” he smiled. “Leonardo’s the name.”

Michelle ran her eyes over him. “You’re a painter,” she stated, noting the stained hands.

“And sculptor, and inventor, amongst other things.” Leonardo smiled. “Buy you a drink, young man?”




FIVE


1492 AD

“A monkey, Cesare? Why in our Lord’s Name do you have a monkey? This isn’t the university.” Rodrigo Borgia sounded baffled and his son hid his exasperation behind a smile.

“They already think we’re Spanish barbarians, Father. Let them be horrified and gossip and I will listen to see who is merely disgruntled and who plots treachery.”

The Pope shook his greying head. “You worry too much. Our person is sacrosanct—they’ll bicker and mutter but that is all.”

Cesare looked out of the carriage window and petted the monkey on his shoulder absently. It nuzzled his fingers then hid in his curly black hair. “We’re here.”

The carriage rolled to a halt. Liveried footmen opened the door and gave flourished bows. Cesare waited for his father to exit then followed, watching the servants carefully as he padded in soft slippers—red to match his cardinal’s robe and hat—through the arched entrance of Cardinal Orsini’s home. The palace was even more sumptuous on the inside—frescos decorated the walls, elegant vases and urns adorned doorways that led from hall to hall. Servants glided between guests, offering refreshments from silver platters.

“Welcome, Holy Father!” Cardinals crowded around, kissing Rodrigo Borgia’s ring, looking like bright parrots pecking at seed and equally noisy. Cesare listened to their squawking and smiled at the dismayed chuckles that met the appearance of his monkey. He stroked his chin, noting that Cardinal Sforza wasn’t present.

A feast lay on a groaning table set for the dozen or so guests. Orsini himself ushered the Pope towards a seat. “Such an honour, your holiness. Please—this way. I’ve ordered the finest Spanish wine for you tonight—only the best for our Holy Father.”

Cesare wanted to sneer at the sycophancy but displayed a congenial smile instead.

“A new pet, Cardinal Borgia?” A cardinal oiled over to Cesare and put a hand up to the monkey. It shrieked in outrage and bit. The cardinal snatched back his bleeding finger and sucked it.

“My apologies.” Cesare threw him an insincere smile. “He hasn’t learnt who his friends are yet.”

The man harrumphed and skulked away. Cesare drifted through the crowd, exchanging greetings with the other guests. He noted who was there and who wasn’t, who talked with whom and who kept apart. Cardinal Della Rovere hovered like a vulture, his bald head shining in the light of the chandelier. Orsini was jovial, patting the Pope on the back and gesturing broadly, but it was either too hot in the chamber (Cesare didn’t feel overly warm) or Orsini had a sweat problem. Cesare eyed the hovering servants too. They poured wine and served bite size portions of cheese and pigeon-stuffed pastries. All their attention seemed to be on keeping their guests sated.

He sidled out a door and followed the trail of servers to the kitchen. No one dared question him as he wandered past dishes being prepared, breaking off titbits for his monkey. Finding nothing suspicious, he returned to the dining room and joined his father.

“Where have you been, Cesare? We are about to start,” the Pope demanded.

“Oh, just talking.”

“Would you honour us by saying grace, Holy Father?” Cardinal Orsini beamed. His forehead shone.

The Pope intoned the blessing and servants carved stuffed pheasants and dished out richly cooked vegetables. Several cup bearers poured more wine. The same man poured for the Pope and Cesare but no one else. Before his father could drink Cesare stood, raising his goblet. “A toast, your eminences! To our Holy—oh, the cheeky beast.” The monkey, used to Cesare raising food and drink for it, lunged forward and stole a swig of the wine. Several cardinals laughed along with him. “Just keen to drink the Pope’s health.” Cesare smiled around at everyone. Cardinal Della Rovere sat silent—a foreboding expression on his face. Cardinal Orsini poured perspiration.

“You wanted to give a toast, Cardinal Borgia?” Orsini pressed.

“Oh, yes!” Cesare patted the monkey and handed it to his father. The Pope frowned but said nothing. “To our Holy Father.”

“To our Holy–” Orsini chimed. Cesare held up a hand.

“We all have our differences, I know,” he spoke kindly. “But our purpose should be God’s purpose, and the work we do should glorify Him. We are but servants in His grand plan—even his holiness here is but a servant of the Lord.” He looked at his father and smiled, eyes flicking to the monkey.

“Praise our Lord and His servant!” Orsini declared, raising his cup.

“Yet, my brothers, we bicker and squabble!” Cesare went on. “This is foolishness and part of our weakness as mere men. I, for one, pray to our Lord for the strength to move past my foibles and aspire to glorify His name!” He could have gone on, but a gasp from his father gave him the sign he’d been waiting for. He looked and the others followed his gaze.

Foam spewed from the monkey’s small mouth and it writhed with awful, high pitched screeches. Within moments the animal twitched into silence and the Pope hastily dropped it on the table. “Poison,” he croaked.

Cesare grasped his father by the arm. “Let us go, Father. It’s not safe here.” He glared at the white-faced Orsini and the stone-faced Della Rovere. Many of the other Cardinals looked shocked—Cesare memorised who didn’t. He hustled his father out past them all amidst the cries of outrage and dismay and bundled him into the carriage. “Go!” he ordered the driver, who clacked the reins.

“Cesare, someone tried to poison me!” Rodrigo Borgia grasped his son’s arm as they rattled through the streets.

“I know, Father. Our enemies are everywhere.”


* * *


Escaping the room to spy was the only respite Gwyn had from her thoughts. She drifted through the servants’ quarters, the storerooms, the halls and courtyards, using the timepiece to stay inconspicuous. No one questioned her, their eyes glazed over if someone looked at her. Gwyn wished she could talk to someone. I wonder if Michelle will ever come back to my time and find me. As annoyed as she was at the Time-Space Agent for getting her into this mess, Gwyn rather thought Michelle would be quite proud of what she had achieved with Vlad, Domitian and now the Borgias.

This mission has been easy compared to the others. But I’m over it now. I want to go home.

Gwyn’s dreams were full of murder, so she abandoned sleep to sit in the garden. The household was asleep—she heard the gate guards change shift at midnight—so she sat and waited. Tonight should be the night it was all over—the timeline would be fixed.

There was a clatter of hooves on the street. Gwyn straightened but didn’t rise from her seat under a fruit tree. “Mother!” she heard Cesare yell as he bounded up the marble steps. Light flared above from hastily lit candles. Doors slammed and voices exclaimed as Cesare went from room to room, checking on his family.

“Cesare, what is it?” Vannozza demanded. Gwyn kept still and listened. The garden was dark and the fruit tree hid her from the balcony above.

“They tried to kill Father tonight, at the banquet.” Cesare sounded out of breath. “They put poison in his wine. I had to know that you were alright. That Lucretia was alright.”

“Who tried to kill him?” Fright abounded in Vannozza voice.

“Della Rovere and the other cardinals. Orsini, some others, I don’t know all their names but I will find out. Go back inside, bar the doors. I will put extra guards on the house.”

“But, Cesare!” Gwyn heard Lucretia protest before a door shut and the voices became muffled. Gwyn released a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. It was done. She would return to her room and gather her things, then jump back to her time and find her family. It would mean re-orienting herself in modern Rome but damned if she was going to try to find the ruins of the Colosseum in the dark, on a night of plots and murder.

She slipped out of the courtyard and into the passage that led up the stairs to the servants’ quarters. Back in her room she cricked her neck and smiled. Time to go home.

The door opened behind her. Gwyn whirled. Cesare loomed, looking like the devil in his cardinal’s red, hat missing and eyes alight. “It happened.” He advanced. Gwyn backed up and thudded against the wall. Calm, stay calm, get ready to jump—never mind about your things.

“I know,” she told him.

Cesare sagged, putting his head in his hands. He raised it again and stared at Gwyn, puzzled. “How did you know, really? Were you a servant of Della Rovere? Of Orsini? Did you hear them plot?”

Gwyn shook her head. “No.” She didn’t care enough to try to convince him anymore. “Look, it’s done, your father is alive, he can go on Poping or whatever it is he does.” Her words slipped back into casual speech, no ‘my lords’—she was done with that.

Cesare’s expression was incredulous. Gwyn suppressed a laugh. “Do I sound like a servant? No. Why don’t you go get some rest? I’m sure you’ll be busy chasing plotters and planning your revenge. You’re not a nice person but you’re essential it seems. So I wish you all the best.” She gave a half wave. Would he just go so she could concentrate?

His eyes boggled. She risked enraging him but didn’t care. She’d had enough. “Go on, go!” Flapping her hands she herded him back into the hall and shut the door.

A soft knock had her rolling her eyes. She opened the door a crack. “Yes?”

Cesare fiddled with his sleeve. “May I speak with you in the morning?”

“It’s morning now,” Gwyn pointed out. “Don’t bother me too early. But sure.” She’d be gone so it hardly mattered but she was on an assertive roll. Cesare nodded and left. Gwyn shut the door.

Her things—which were few—went into a cloth bag that she slung over her shoulder. She closed her eyes and sank swiftly into the meditative state that connected her with the timepiece. Gwyn expected to feel ahead on the timeline and rush past the centuries to her own year.

She barely made it a month.

“What?” Gwyn opened her eyes, breaking the trance. She tried again.

A few weeks from the moment she was in, the timeline diverged again. Nothing was certain from then on. No clear path led her into the future.

“Shit!”




SIX


1492 AD

Gwyn slept late and woke cranky. She was not going home. She was stuck in this time until she sorted out another turning point.

“Signorita.” A maid opened the door. “Please come with me—my lord wishes you to breakfast with him.”

Gwyn looked at her creased dress—she’d slept in it—and decided she didn’t care. It wasn’t Rome she had to stay in, so Cesare could go hang. She wasn’t going to try to impress him.

The maid showed her into an airy parlour with east-facing windows. Cesare entered from another door, looking as fresh as she was rumpled. She hid her scowl. She wanted a bath and fresh clothes. “What can I do for you this morning, my lord?” Her words were deferential but her tone was not.

Cesare looked as nonplussed as he had the night before, though a high-necked doublet and soft breeches that ballooned above his boots lent him an air of elegance. “Uh… sit down. Please. Have something to eat.” He hovered until Gwyn sat and helped herself to some fruit. She was confident she could jump herself into the night and escape if need be, though she’d have to fetch her bag from her room.

“I’ll have the maid move your things to a better room.”

Gwyn shot Cesare a look. “I’m afraid I can’t stay, my lord. I have to go to Florence.”

“Florence! Whatever for?”

Gwyn sighed and kept eating. “Another vision. Another man’s life needs saving. I know I said I didn’t want money but if you could advise me the best way to get there I’d very much appreciate it.” She hoped the hint would be enough. He owed her, after all.

Cesare looked alarmed. “No, no. You cannot go to Florence. You must stay and tell me what you see for my father, for me. Even my sister—my father is arranging a marriage for her and I want to know she’ll be happy.”

Gwyn frowned and said sharply, “I’m not a fortune-teller.”

“But it was true! Just as you said! I took the monkey; it drank the wine and died right there and then! Orsini was guilty—Della Rovere too. Who knows how many others were in on the plot but I’ll have my vengeance! What’s to stop them from attacking my mother or sister?” He was agitated now, rocking back in his chair and clutching the table. Gwyn poured herself a juice and swallowed contentedly.

“Look, I don’t know what will happen to you, or them.” Why couldn’t he see it was useless? He could threaten, bribe or cajole—she couldn’t see what he wanted her to see. She saw the events surrounding a turning point in history—how, she didn’t know, but it was what it was.

Cesare’s eyes narrowed. He stood and grasped a knife from the table. Gwyn paused and watched him. “You will stay and scry for the future of my family. I command it.”

He was dangerous—she was stupid to have forgotten it. And while she was faster connecting with the timepiece to make a jump these days, she might not be fast enough to escape. Better to placate him now and jump later with her things. “Fine,” she said flatly. “But on two conditions.” She wasn’t ready to give him the upper hand completely—he was suspicious enough to disbelieve her if she gave in too easily. She barrelled on before he could interrupt. “One: I assume you will pass me off as your mistress or similar? A mistress should bathe, and have a new dress perhaps. You shoved me in that rat-hole for over a week and I stink.”

Cesare opened his mouth. She kept going. “And two: you might pretend I’m your mistress but it is that only—a pretence. You don’t touch me. That’s all I want: to be clean and to be safe.”

Cesare sat down slowly. He tapped the knife menacingly. Gwyn held


his gaze. She was quaking inside but didn’t dare show it. Had she pushed too far?

“Very well,” her captor murmured. “And in return, you shall not try to escape and you shall read the future for my family and me.”

“You already threatened me about escaping when I first came here,” Gwyn pointed out. “And I will do my best, but that is all.” Her nerve threatened to fail. The tension was palpable.

Cesare shot out a hand and Gwyn jerked backwards, but he was only reaching for the servant bell. The maid came in and he ordered, “Draw a bath for the Signorita, and send the seamstress to her new chamber with fabric for a gown. Something… pretty.”

“Yes, your eminence.”

“Thank you,” Gwyn said to the maid and Cesare. He stood.

“Come this way.”

She pocketed a pear from the platter and followed him.

“This is your new room.” It was a chamber adjacent to the breakfast parlour. “My chambers are through there but the door will be locked. You may go into the parlour and the courtyard down the stairs. If my sister finds you there you may speak to her, but yes, I will tell her you are my mistress.”

Lucretia will be satisfied, Gwyn thought. “And your mother?”

“My mother knows you have information but not how. You will not speak of visions to anyone but me. I’ll not have our house accused of witchcraft.”

“No problem.”

Her casual response made Cesare frown. “I will come to you tonight after supper. I suggest you have something to tell me then.”

Of course.” Gwyn wobbled between sarcastic and deferential. I need to wash and sleep some more. I’m not smart when I’m tired.

Cesare sniffed. “Very well. I’ll see you tonight.” He stalked from the room.

Gwyn slumped onto a chair. The maid came in, holding her bag. “Thank you. What’s your name?”

“Maria, Signorita. Your bath will be here shortly.”

“Thank you, Maria”

Gwyn relished the bath despite the fact the tub was only hip deep. She scrubbed ferociously with pumice and cloth, giddy on scented oils. Her hair she attacked with a comb and the towels felt ever so soft when she climbed out. The portly seamstress measured Gwyn’s hips, breasts, arms and legs, clicking her tongue and muttering about scrawny wenches. She curled her lip when Gwyn requested plain fabric instead of silk. “I wouldn’t waste silk on you anyway, girl. I dress my mistress and dear Lucretia and they deserve the finest gowns money can buy. You’ll be out of here in a week and no doubt you’ll sell any dress I make you.”

“Whatever,” muttered Gwyn.

She lounged on the bed the rest of the afternoon, dressed in a fresh shift and enjoying the luxury of dozing in a state of cleanliness. When darkness fell the maid returned with the dress, whispering that the seamstress had cut down an old dress rather than stitch a whole new one. Gwyn didn’t care. The dark blue gown had lightly-puffed sleeves and a square-cut neck with a narrow band of brocaded material that ran down the centre to the hem. It was simpler than Lucretia’s and Vannozza’s dresses, but Gwyn was grateful for that. She didn’t think she could pull off a more elaborate outfit, especially with the minimum curling and pinning of her hair as done by the maid.

Alright, Gwyn, don’t get distracted. What’s the plan? Cesare wants visions and you can’t give them to him. Do you jump into the night and escape the house somehow? Or do you bluff your way through and buy more time? She was tired, that was the problem. Not just physically, but emotionally. Another escape, another challenge to get to Florence and prevent Lorenzo de Medici’s death. She was sick of it. Here she was almost comfortable. Getting to Florence meant stealing a horse and disguising herself as a man for safety.

“Ugh,” she groaned and flopped onto the bed. “I just want to go home!”


* * *


Several days passed. Gwyn drip fed Cesare what she knew of the Borgias, avoiding anything too controversial or political. She told him that Lucretia would marry but the union would be annulled, and that there would be conflict between the powerful families of Italy. She touched on the extremism of Savonarola without naming names.

The longer she stayed, the worse the pressure to divulge important information became, but she couldn’t muster the energy to escape. She told herself she was gathering information and making plans, rather than rushing into things.

Lucretia sought her out, as Cesare had ordered his sister confined to the house while he sought the plotters who would have poisoned him and his father.

“I’m bored,” the girl complained to Gwyn, lolling on a half-couch in the breakfast parlour. “I want to go out riding.”

Gwyn perked up. “Me too. I wonder if I could convince Cesare to let us go out with guards.”

“I’ll take you out riding,” a male voice said.

Both females turned. Juan, the dashing soldier brother, stood in the doorway. He walked over to his sister and drew her up off the couch. “Sister, dear, you are like an exotic bird trapped in a gilded cage. We need to let you out to show off your plumage.”