By IRC Round Robin
Rated PG Submitted March 6, 1998
Summary: HG Wells is our guide as we trace the souls of our favorite couple through time. "The Falcon" takes us to Italy during the Renaissance, where a bookish young nobleman and his beautiful wife struggle to triumph over evil in 1507. This is the first story in a continuing series of fanfics called The SoulMates Chronicles.
Editor's Note: This story was begun and written for the most part "live" on IRC. Some scenes were added or expanded later by the participants. We hope you enjoy this new kind of "enhanced round-robin." :)
An IRC Round Robin Fanfic by Lansbury (Lansbury1@aol.com), Zoomway (firstname.lastname@example.org), ChrisM^ (email@example.com), ChrisnDor (firstname.lastname@example.org), Eraygun (Eraygun@aol.com), and CrystalW (JCWimmer@aol.com)
H.G.Wells sat at his desk in the library of his own home, in his own time of 1899. He was full of excitement and in a state of awe at what had just transpired. His body told him he should go and rest from the journey in time but his mind would not take heed. He looked down at the small device lying on top of the black journal.
Smiling, he picked up the device and inspected it thoroughly for any possible damage. His thoughts flashed back to the place in time where he came across it. A time quite unlike anything he'd ever dreamed. He recalled with great clarity the fellow inventor who first taught him how to use it by locking onto the energies emitted by souls.
Laying the device to the side he opened the journal of blank pages to the first page. Wells looked out the window and murmured to himself. "Now, where do I begin? Oh, yes," he said to the sparrow sitting on the window ledge looking into the room. He picked up his pencil and began writing, a hint of a smile remaining as he wrote.
"I, H.G. Wells, will chronicle the human lives of two dear souls I first met in the year 1996. I discovered with the use of my Time Machine — and a new device which I will from this point refer to as the Soul Tracker — that I had the ability to trace the souls of Lois Lane and Clark Kent through the stream of time. This my first entry begins in the country of Italy in the first decade of the sixteenth century…
…It is the twilight of the Renaissance. Leonardo will soon pass from this time, and younger titans like Michelangelo will take up the mantle, though no one would replace the genius of da Vinci. I am excited beyond words to be a chronicler at this point in history…"
There was a rushing sense of forward momentum as Wells found himself in Milan circa 1507 outside an open square. He thought it was likely the Piazza del Duomo, the very hub of Milan. The dark building looming to the east had to be the Duomo, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Wells wished it were daylight so he could get a good look at its striking features. He knew to the south would be the church of San Satiro. Now there was something he'd like to see. Just think, Milan's foremost architect of the Renaissance, Bramante, had taken the old ninth century oratory and transformed it into a long-naved basilica. It would be brand new! Wells sighed. The one thing he did not want to miss was the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in whose refectory could be found Leonardo's 'The Last Supper'.
"Imagine," he whispered in the darkness, "to see that magnificent mural before the ravages of time and men began destroying it." He removed his bowler hat and scratched his head. "As I recall, it is south of Castello Sforzesco." Wells grinned ruefully. "I at least won't have to traipse through Napoleon's gaudy self-tribute 'Foro Bonaparte' to get there. It doesn't exist yet."
Wells' romantic reverie was broken by the sound of wooden wheels clattering slowly into the piazza. He looked up and noticed a drayman wheeling a cart of vegetables into the square. Likely other merchants would begin appearing soon, using the few hours before dawn to find the best spots to exhibit their wares. The pungent smell of onions pierced the cool, damp air.
Wells' stomach rumbled. What an excellent selling point to have aromatic onions to whet the appetite of prospective buyers. Suddenly the drayman began speaking to him. Wells tried not to fight the Soul Tracker's translation, but his mind, having an English default setting, was getting only bits and pieces of what was spoken. After a few moments, however, Wells was comprehending the merchant's comments. It seemed he found amusement in Wells' Victorian wardrobe.
The inappropriate clothing could get him into trouble, or at the very least attract unwanted attention. Wells slipped away from the drayman under the cover of darkness and hid inside what seemed to be a silk mill. It smelled of fresh plaster and there was scaffolding silhouetted in the darkness. A wall was under repair.
Looking around Wells found a long leather apron. He removed his hat and slipped the neck loop over his head and tied the straps at the back. He was grateful that the apron covered his clothing from neck to knee. There was a puffy 'muffin' cap hanging from a peg on the wall. With great regret Wells swapped his bowler for the muffin cap, and re-entered the street. He had scarcely taken two steps when he heard a commotion near the rectory. The vegetable merchant cringed behind his dray. Torches were streaming though the night, and shouts of 'Falcon' could be heard. Wells stood on tiptoe and saw a young masked man easily outrunning a troop of guards.
Dozens of boots made a clattering noise, like a handful of pebbles rolling over the cobblestones, as the soldiers huffed and puffed their way through the semi-darkened passageways. Their heavy armor and the weapons they carried made for slow going. Their quarry, however, ran light-footed and unencumbered and was fast outdistancing them.
H.G. Wells, famous author and occasional time-traveler, slipped further back into the shadows as he watched this drama unfold before him. By the light of the half-moon, he could see the masked man coming his way, his dark form obscuring the light reflecting off the wet cobbles, and thus giving this observer from the future a way of keeping him in sight.
Just when he thought that the fleeing man might collide with him, he seemed to disappear. Wells gasped in surprise and peered into the darkness, searching the nearby shadows, but was quickly recalled to a sense of his own danger by the increasingly louder shouts of the approaching soldiers.
"Here! He went this way!" "No, this way!" "Over here I tell you!" "Fool! That is the Bishop's house! He'd have to be daft to go there … the Bishop's a clever man with a sword, he is. Everyone knows that."
A sudden noise—slight but tantalizing—from the alley across the way drew their attention.
"There! What did I tell you? He's gone that way. Come on!" And the whole party moved as one man, clattering and banging their way towards the sound and away from Wells' hiding place near the rectory.
He breathed a long-held sigh of relief. The soldiers' swords had looked unpleasantly sharp and well-cared-for. Wells straightened up from where he'd been crouching and was nearly startled out of his skin by the soft voice behind him.
"I know why I'm hiding from the soldiers, but what have you done, my friend?"
Wells whirled around and found himself looking into the grinning face of the masked man.
"I … I … Well, you see …" Wells stammered.
"Ahh, like that, is it?" the other man asked, amusement in his voice. "Well, you'd better come with me then, little man. They're not very bright, but they are tenacious. They'll be back, so we'd better not be here." He glanced around, as if to be sure they were still unobserved and cautioned, "Wait here."
Wells then watched in bemused wonder as his companion lithely scaled the south wall of the Bishop's two-story house, using handholds in the stone facade that were visible only to him. In no time at all he was on the roof and out of sight. Wells stood in the near darkness of the side street, craning his neck to look up at the roof, and all the while keeping an ear tuned for possible returning soldiers. Thus, he was startled anew when his masked benefactor appeared at his side from an entirely different direction. This "Falcon", Wells realized, was quite a character.
"Now we can go," The Falcon said, amusement once again apparent in his voice. "I'm sorry to keep you waiting, but I had to retrieve this." He held up a leather satchel, confiding to Wells, "Those soldiers were under the misapprehension that I had stolen this, but, in fact, I've been retrieving it from the real thief. It will be returned to its true owner tomorrow, but for tonight we need to find you a safe place to sleep."
Something about this young man made Wells feel that he could trust him, despite the disguise and the questionable satchel, so he followed as best he could as his guide led him through a seemingly endless succession of streets, alleys and passages.
Eventually, they came to the edge of another, smaller piazza. By now, Wells was completely disoriented
"Where are we?" he whispered as he looked around him
"The Piazz Santa Maria delle Grazie," The Falcon replied, "and here is where I must leave you, my friend."
Wells' eyes lit up with enthusiasm. Just the place he had most hoped to see while in Milan. So involved was he in his thoughts of great works of art that he nearly missed what the other man was saying to him.
"There's a modest inn on that side of the piazza. Tell the charming lady who runs it that The Falcon sent you and she'll take excellent care of you."
Wells looked in the direction that had been pointed out to him, and could just make out the inn in the moonlight. "Thank y—" he started to say, but when he turned back, the younger man had disappeared. "Who was that masked man?" he asked himself wonderingly, then shrugged his shoulders and went to beg a night's lodging from the kind proprietress of the inn.
Wells slowly crossed the piazza and knocked at the inn's front door. After a moment's pause, the door opened a crack. Squinting against the light streaming from inside the inn, Wells made out a lovely young woman. Her dark hair matched the color of her eyes and was pulled back in a knot. As his eyes got used to the brighter light, he noticed that there was something vaguely familiar about her features.
"Welcome to 'Lucia's.' How can I help you?" She gave her late night visitor a scrutinizing look.
"The Falcon sent me. He said to talk to the owner of this place. Would that be you by any chance?"
"Oh, so The Falcon sent you, did he now? I should have known …" She carefully studied her guest once more. "And in answer to your question, yes, I am Lucia." She smiled wryly. "All the servants are in bed at this hour."
"I'm sorry for the late call, my lady. I am new in town, just arrived tonight. And your friend said …"
"Oh, please forgive me. Come in. I shouldn't have left you out in the cold so long. You must be hungry and tired. There is soup on the fire still if you care for some."
"Thank you, my dear. I would indeed."
Stepping into the warmth of the inn, Wells bowed to her. Lucia led her guest into the kitchen and invited him to sit at the table. She found that she actually trusted the short elderly man in spite of his strange appearance and his vague answers to her questions. He told her that he was a traveler and scholar of sorts. When asked about the nature of his studies, he was evasive, telling her it was an important study, but not to be disclosed to the public at this time. Ladling the third serving into Wells' bowl, Lucia smiled while her back was turned to him. She had gotten used to some strange and unusual ideas that seemed as out of place as the little stranger's appearance.
"Then you are a writer?" she asked, turning back to Wells and putting the soup and a small loaf of bread in front of him on the table.
"Why, yes, my dear. You could say that." Wells smiled in return.
"Well, I think I know someone who will like to make your acquaintance." As if on cue, the back door screeched open, and a tall young man in black attire slipped into the kitchen. Lucia quickly stepped in front of Wells, partially covering the new arrival from view. "We have company tonight, Antonio. Someone your friend The Falcon sent by."
"Oh …" Antonio quickly turned and, pulling a pair of spectacles from his pocket, put them on. Blinking, he peered through the lenses. They still irritated his eyes, but he was grateful that his friend, the great inventor, had suggested wearing them. Both hoped they would help were The Falcon ever caught without his mask in place.
He was looking at their guest now. "I'm glad my wife made you comfortable. A friend of The Falcon's is a friend of ours. Please feel at home."
Wells rose to his feet and bowed to his host. "The honor is mine."
Lucia had taken another bowl from the shelf, filled it with soup and set it in on the table. She studied the two men for a moment longer. Wells didn't seem to have become suspicious. Relaxing, she smiled at her husband. "I was just telling our friend here that you may want to get to know him better. He is a writer, you know."
"Really?" Antonio replied as he flashed a familiar grin. "I also write or at least I try to. Perhaps we can exchange our thoughts on writing."
As he observed the young couple in the flickering firelight of the kitchen, Wells smiled inwardly with satisfaction. Once again his soul tracking device had drawn him to the intertwined spirits of Lois and Clark.
"Why, yes, I'd like that," Wells replied. "But I'd really like to know more about my new-found friend The Falcon. And why those guards were chasing him through the streets tonight."
Lucia and Antonio exchanged worried glances. "These are dangerous times," Lucia replied. "It would be safer if you didn't ask such questions."
Wells tore off a piece of bread and smiled. "You'll find, my dear, most times are dangerous when one goes against those in power."
Antonio stepped forward, "You say you know nothing of The Falcon, and yet you seem to know he's at odds with those in authority."
Wells shrugged and swirled the bread in the broth. "You might say I'm a well-traveled alchemist."
Lucia folded her arms. "Alchemy is a heretical art."
"I suppose anything not readily understood in these times would be," Wells chuckled. "So, who is The Falcon fighting against? Certainly not the Milanese authorities."
Antonio straightened. "No, he's fighting the petty rule of Ludovico, my half-brother. Apparently The Falcon feels that wealth does not give a man the right to do what he will, to buy off the church and government officials."
Wells nodded. "Odd that he wears a mask. That would invite speculation that he's hiding another identity."
Lucia pulled the bowl away. "You ask too many questions, alchemist."
Antonio put his arm around her slender shoulders. "I think there is someone you should meet. Have you heard of Maestro Leonardo?"
Wells wiped his chin. "Leonardo da Vinci? Of course I've heard of him, my boy. I would enjoy nothing better!"
"Then it's done," Antonio smiled. "I'll take you there. He has a workshop, and a young apprentice named Giovanni. Besides," Antonio glanced at his wife. "I fear there's suddenly no room at the inn."
Wells and Antonio wound their way through the narrow streets in the dark. Despite the lack of light, Antonio's directional sense was unerring. He stopped at a large wooden double door and knocked.
A young man dressed in night clothes answered, a taper in his hands. "Antonio?"
"My apologies for the lateness of the hour, Giovanni, but this visiting alchemist needs some temporary lodging."
"A heretic? Why are they always drawn to Maestro Leonardo's lodging?" The boy shrugged. "Come in, please."
Antonio smiled and turned to walk back to the inn, but stopped abruptly when a shadow stepped out of an alcove.
"You are out late, brother."
"Ludovico, you startled me."
"You were always a timid one, brother. The humanist ideal, a man of art and rebirth - I'm surprised you don't reside in Florence. Milan must be quite…stunting."
Antonio shrugged. "Were I in Florence, I'd find my separation from you difficult to bear."
"Not to mention your spirited wife and her family being fixtures here in Milan," Ludovico said, and as always when mentioning Lucia, got something of a lecherous glint in his eye. He removed his riding gloves. "I've been riding the countryside in search of The Falcon, but he always seems to remain one step ahead."
"Terrible news, Ludovico. Does he still plague you?"
"Only a temporary setback, I assure you, dear brother. I have a plan for disposing of his irritating, albeit ineffectual, interference."
"Excellent news, Ludovico. Accompany me to the inn. I would love to hear your plan."
From the other side of the large wooden doors to da Vinci's residence, the young apprentice, Giovanni, listened intently to the conversation between the two half brothers. Wells had tried once to ask him what was wrong, but had been swiftly hushed for his pains. Giovanni looked relieved when the two men moved off towards Lucia's inn and motioned for Wells to follow him further into the interior of the large house. Wells wanted desperately to ask questions, but held his peace.
After the two men had walked down two halls and crossed through two large rooms, he was rewarded for his patience. "That Ludovico," Giovanni volunteered, jerking his thumb back towards the way they had come, "is a very bad man, alchemist. You'd be wise to stay away from that one."
"Thank you …Giovanni. I—"
"Shush," Giovanni pleaded. "Keep your voice down, in the saints' names! Do you want me to lose my place?"
Wells looked stricken. "No," he whispered, urgently. "Certainly not. So sorry."
They continued on their way in silence, Wells taking care to walk on tiptoe. By now they had traveled through the front part of the house. The young apprentice next took his visitor through the interior courtyard with its busy fountain, and on through to the kitchens at the back.
"We can speak more normally here, alchemist," he said. My master sleeps in the other part of the house. There is a place back here where you may stay for the night. In the morning, when the servants leave for the market, however, you can slip out and no one will be the wiser."
"Thank you, Giovanni. But …"
"Well, it's just that Antonio promised that I'd get to meet Maestro Leonardo …" His voice trailed off disappointedly.
The first smile that Wells had seen from his young guide now spread across Giovanni's face. "Very well, Signor Alchemist, if you make no more noise and allow me to return to my bed, I will see if I can get you an audience with my master in the morning."
Content now, Wells went into the room that the boy had pointed out to him. The moonlight coming in the window showed him a cot-like bed with a straw mattress and a worn blanket. There was also a small table on which stood a tallow candle in a holder. Resigned to his accommodations, Wells took a box of matches from his pocket and lit the candle, then sitting on the bed, gave himself over to deep thought.
Antonio allowed his brother to set their pace as they walked back towards the inn. Rather, Ludovico strode towards the inn with Antonio following three paces behind. Antonio actually preferred this state of affairs as it allowed him to keep his older brother under observation. It never seemed to occur to Ludovico that by always insisting on being first in everything, he couldn't then see who was coming up behind him. Antonio had to smile to himself. I wonder, he mused, what my not so dear brother would think if he knew he was keeping company with The Falcon himself?
Suddenly, Ludovico stopped and whirled around. "Do try and keep up, little brother. How can you ever expect to get ahead in this world if you do not keep up?" He then spun back around and continued on his way even faster than before, his heeled boots clacking on the cobbles of Milan's well-maintained streets.
Ludovico liked the best of everything … the best boots, clothes, jewels and women. He could not understand his brother's love for … books. Nor had he ever been able to understand why their father had encouraged this … this conceit. Surely, being a noble citizen of Milan should have been enough for anyone like his brother. For Antonio to play at being a scholar instead of entering into a respectable trade as befitted his position in life was an affront to the family. Ludovico could never forgive him for that … or for having been able to capture the beautiful Lucia for a bride.
If not for this accursed business with The Falcon, Ludovico might have managed to take care of his little brother before now. However, some day … when The Falcon had been disposed of as befitted a criminal of his ilk, Ludovico would once again have the time to turn his attention to the matter of his brother.
The two brothers arrived at the inn and Ludovico pushed against the door, not pleased to find it barred against him. He raised his arm and would have pounded his fist on the door but just then Antonio came up. "There is no need for violence, brother. I have the key."
"There is *always* need for strength of will, however, brother. Something you will never know about."
He barely waited for the door to be unlocked before he was pushing it open and stalking towards the tavern part of the old building. Antonio spared a brief moment for another smile at his brother's lack of insight. Then he relocked the door and followed him into the tavern. He was very curious to hear about Ludovico's plans for the capture of The Falcon.
"So, you say you have a plan to rid yourself of The Falcon."
"I most assuredly do, brother. It is a small mind that cannot outwit such a villain," Ludovico stated with confidence.
Antonio looked up from his brother's lecture to see his wife at the door. He smiled softly at her, encouraging her to enter the room fully. Lucia returned his smile until she saw the guest whose voice had roused her in the first place. Her steps slowed for a moment, and then she raised her chin and walked determinedly into the room.
"I see that you have brought a … guest," Lucia commented. "I am afraid the rooms are filled, and we will be unable to accommodate him."
"Lucia," Ludovico said as he stepped toward her, "surely you would find room for family. I am, after all, your brother as well." The leer on his face was clear, and it took all of Lucia's determination not to step away from his approach.
Holding her ground, Lucia answered quietly. Too quietly. "There is no room."
Antonio was mildly surprised by his wife's rudeness. It was no secret that she disliked his brother, yet it was unlike her to be this unfriendly without deliberate provocation. He raised his eyebrows in question, and was met with her cold glare.
"May I see you for a moment, husband?"
"Certainly." He took two steps toward his wife before remembering that he had a guest to provide for. It was not that he enjoyed entertaining this domineering man, but he needed to find out what was planned for The Falcon so that he could divert the attack. "Please make yourself at home for a moment, Ludovico. I will return with a cold meal for you, and perhaps some ale."
"Of course you will, brother. You always were the most efficient host."
Ludovico turned the comment into an insult with the tone of his voice, but Antonio chose to ignore it. He nodded, and left the room with his wife.
"What were you thinking! How could you bring that…man…into this inn." Lucia had barely closed the door to the empty room when she verbally attacked her husband. "That swine is not fit to be in the refuse heap behind the house, much less a guest in our home."
With a sigh, Antonio began the task of calming his wife. "He will be here but for a brief time. He has information that I need." Antonio paused for a moment to observe his wife's response. "He will not be staying the night."
"I should think not."
"Lucia," he said, laying his palm beside her cheek. "He is my brother. I would be unforgivably rude to deny him access to my home."
Lucia leaned into her husband's touch, then sighed. "You always have been too polite."
"And you have always been a bit too…*spirited* at times," Antonio replied teasingly. "But I think that is why we belong together, my love. We complement and complete each other."
Lucia smiled and nodded in agreement. "All right then, he may stay. But *only* because it is necessary to protect you."
"Thank you, my love."
"You'll find some cheese and stale bread in the kitchen."
"Lu-ci-a," Antonio admonished.
"The little alchemist finished all the soup, and besides, that is better than he deserves. He is lucky that I am not related to the Borgias!" Lucia hissed in response.
Antonio smiled. "All right then, my wife, you go back to bed, I'll attend to our *guest*."
Wells tossed restlessly on his small cot, unable to rest despite the feeling of exhaustion that had seemed to overwhelm him a few hours before. Rising from the bed he opened the door to his room and wandered out into the hallway. He noticed light streaming from under a large doorway at the end of the corridor. He made his way to the door, quietly opened it and peered inside, instantly recognizing the man intently staring at a manuscript on a work table.
Wells stood in the doorway staring in awe at the great Maestro. He ventured a step into the room and paused. In a loud stage whisper, he cleared his throat, trying to get the attention of da Vinci.
Without looking up, Leonardo said, "Bring me my sketching materials, Giovanni. I have the desire to capture the image that is robbing me of my night's sleep."
Wells looked around for what had been requested. Picking them up, he timidly walked towards Leonardo with the items held far ahead of him. "Here, sir. Is this what you are wanting?"
Leonardo turned and with a thunderous voice bellowed, "Great shades of Caesar! Who are you and what, pray tell, are you doing in my dwelling at this late hour?"
Wells was immediately taken aback at the tone of Leonadro's question but replied, "I, sir, am a guest in your home and having a fitful sleep desired to make my way to your kitchen for a drink of water. I spied the light coming from your doorway, my own curiosity got the best of me and I came to investigate. Your young Giovanni invited me to stay and meet you in the morning. But, " he rambled on, "let me introduce myself. I am H.G. Wells. I have heard of your many talents and have longed to make your acquaintance."
Leonardo took the outstretched hand of Wells. "You are welcome to lay your head on one of my many beds." Putting the sketching materials down on the table he pulled Wells towards the doorway. "The kitchens are this way."
Together they made their way through the darkened halls and down the rear staircase to the kitchen. "Cook keeps a pitcher of water over there by her mixing bowls. Please help yourself. I, for one, would rather partake in a goblet of wine."
Wells' head turned when he heard the word wine. "Wine, did you mention wine? I think my thirst tonight may lean towards the nectar of the gods."
Leonardo's laughter echoed around the huge kitchen. He came towards Wells and placed a large chalice of wine into his small hands. Wells looked down and began to drink.
"Oh, my, this is good. Very good indeed." The two men walked to the large table and sat and drank their wine in a companionable silence.
"May I ask a question, sir?" Without letting him answer, he continued. "You were looking at some drawings when I entered your chambers. I couldn't help but notice they were of a printing apparatus."
Leonardo looked at Wells suspiciously. "How is it that you recognized the new design? Were you sent here to spy on my works or the works of young Giovanni?"
"Oh, no, I assure you I met young Giovanni only this evening, and he seemed quite concerned that I might wake you."
Leonardo took a sip of wine. "It seems my pupil's worry was well-founded. If you are not a spy, then who are you?"
"An alchemist, and a chronicler of sorts."
"Well, I was accused of being a practitioner of the black arts in my youth in Florence. The Night Watch wanted to burn me alive, but fortunately a nephew of Lorenzo the Mighty was accused as well, and the Night Watch suspended the hearing pending more investigation."
Leonardo laughed into the goblet. "The Night Watch put a Medici on trial? My dear heretic, the day that happens, Michelangelo will cease to have an ego."
Wells grinned. "Then perhaps you can answer something else. In trying to chronicle your life and works, Maestro, it has been remarked that you seem to start more things than you finish."
To Wells' surprise, the comment did not anger Leonardo, who seemed in a much more mellow mood, perhaps inspired by the wine. "When you never finish something, no one can ever be critical, because you can always claim you meant to redress the error."
"Commendable," Wells chuckled. "But you did finish the magnificent Last Supper."
Leonardo set down his glass. "The monks want to cut a door in the base of it so that food can reach the refectory more rapidly. I am a glorified house painter."
"I think you underestimate your lasting contributions, Maestro, but another matter equally fascinates me. You are so…solitary."
"When you are alone, the whole world belongs to you."
Wells, who had searched his whole life for a soulmate, found this reasoning incomprehensible. "So if you share your life with someone, the world is lesser by half?"
"Yes. Alexander's conquests will never last, but my private one always will." Leonardo, now grown philosophic, tapped the strange little man's arm. "Would you like to see some of my mechanical models, artisan?"
"Your charming wife not joining us, Antonio?"
"No, Ludovico, she was very tired, and has gone to bed. She sends her regrets."
Ludovico stared into the ale, his eyes darkening. "I'm sure she did."
"So, Ludovico, you spoke of a plan to trap The Falcon."
"Yes, a great plan. It's such a pity our father, while being an unwitting implementor, won't be around to see its fruition."
Antonio felt his blood turn to ice. "Perhaps the grog is too strong, Ludovico. What could our father have to do with The Falcon?"
"It is my opinion that the only way The Falcon can stay one step ahead of me, is to have a confidante close to my blood."
"Ludovico, please," Antonio implored. "Our father is blameless in this, I am sure! Why not turn your suspicions to me?"
Ludovico's laughter pulled all the warmth from the tavern fire. "You? You, Antonio? I'd sooner think a washwoman more capable of treachery."
"I could be The Falcon, brother, and be pretending the part of a fop to throw you off the scent."
Ludovico pounded the table as he laughed. "Antonio, it must be your wit that stokes the fire of your lovely wife. If one can't bring forth ardor, then humor will suffice. Keep a woman merry, and she will forgive all else."
Both brothers stood with only the table to separate them and their anger. Antonio was the first to speak. "Ludovico, it is late and I, for one, must rise before the sun to do my day's work. It is time you take your leave." This was truly unlike the mild-mannered Antonio but he'd had his fill of his half brother and his biting comments.
Ludovico walked to the door and placed his hand on the door handle made one more parting jab. "The day anyone mistakes *you*, dear little brother, of being The Falcon will be the day I will take my dagger and place it in my own heart." Ludovico turned and walked out into the night. He did not look back but if he had he would have seen the corners of his brother's mouth turn up into a smile.
Antonio walked around the room and extinguished the flame of each candle. Darkness fell around him as he made his way to his bed and the arms of his Lucia.
Antonio opened the bedroom door slowly and carefully. He could faintly see the outline of Lucia lying under the covers. He tip-toed around the bed and began to disrobe. He had just finished removing the last of his clothing and was reaching for his night garment when he heard Lucia say, "Don't…not tonight. Come to me as you are now."
Lucia watched as her beloved husband moved towards her. The sight of his magnificent nude body made her heart pound in her chest and a wave of warmth travel over her body.
Antonio smiled down at her supple form illuminated only by the waning moonlight. He grabbed a bottle from the dressing table and knelt next to the bed. "Wine?" he asked, and teased her flushed complexion with the cool bottle.
"No," she smiled coquettishly, and stretched her arms above her head feigning drowsiness.
Antonio's grin widened. "I can see you're much too sleepy for wine," he said casually as he uncorked the bottle.
"If you drink the wine and get sleepy, then what's left of the night will not be very memorable," she gently scolded.
"No?" he asked, then suddenly threw back the covers exposing her flesh to the fading light. He marveled at the warm iridescence the moonlight cast upon her body.
He drew his hand gently across the smooth skin of her abdomen. "Like silk," he whispered, and before Lucia could protest, Antonio dribbled a few drops of wine onto her stomach. Lucia gasped sharply as the wine streamed down to her navel. She laced her fingers into the latticework of the bedstead as Antonio's warm mouth pressed against her skin in sensual contrast to the cool wine. After sipping away the drops of wine, he moved his body over hers and eclipsed the moonlight with fire.
Their passion been fully spent, a passion that might have caused Ludovico to reconsider his hastiness in dismissing his brother as being The Falcon, Lucia's soft words broke the silence in the dark bed chamber. "Am I a sinner, Antonio?"
"A sinner?" Antonio laughed softly against his wife's hair.
"My mother says that I am," she replied airily as she traced her fingertips in ever larger circles on Antonio's chest. "She says that pleasures of the flesh are a sin, even in a marriage bed. She told me that husbands are duty; some are honor, but none are for pleasure."
"Then if you call yourself a sinner, that must mean your husband pleasures you," he said and hugged her closer. "Does he, Lucia?"
Lucia kissed her way up Antonio's chest until her mouth was next to his. "You know you do. You pleasure me so much that whether I'm checking the cook's broth, carrying bundles to washwomen, or spying for The Falcon, I can't think of anything else," she said, and began to stroke his long, dark hair.
"It would stun all of Milan if they knew you were the eyes of The Falcon," he said thoughtfully. "That this inn everyone believes you are running under the auspices of an 'ailing uncle' is a haven to the oppressed." He lifted her chin. "I worry about you, Lucia."
She kissed him tenderly. "You shouldn't. As much as I don't agree with my mother, it is her world we live in, and in her world, no one pays attention to a woman. Soldiers, merchants and even criminals will speak freely as if I am not there," she said ruefully. "But have a *man* come near them, and they will halt their conversation until he passes."
He laced his fingers through the hair at the back of her head. "The folly of your mother's world keeps The Falcon in the sky. What I don't understand is why we live in her world, but are never part of it."
"I used to be a part of it, Antonio." Her words were somber. "The world was the world. Things happened, and I never once questioned them. A master beat his servant, but that was life. Then you rode into Milan and stopped a master from beating his servant. You said it was unjust, yet you were the one who spent a week imprisoned.
"Ah," he smiled. "But it was in that week that I met and fell in love with you. Not to mention you suggested if I could not stop doing the things I do, then I should at least wear a disguise while doing them."
"If my uncle hadn't struck a profitable deal with the prison so that only his inn could provide them food, it would not have happened," she said. "Providence works in strange ways."
"The best part," Antonio said, his voice husky as desire began once again to overtake him, "is that you ran away and married me even though Ludovico wanted you, and could offer you all the splendid things that wives of noblemen possess."
"If I had married Ludovico," Lucia said, her voice reflecting her husband's passion. "Then I would have the marriage bed my mother described. I would be a saint in Hell."
"And now?" Antonio asked, moving his hands sensually down Lucia's slender body.
"Now I am a sinner in Heaven."
Wells followed Leonardo down a corridor and marveled as the man grabbed what seemed a wall ornament, and tugged. The wall, dropped by counterweights, became an accessway into a large gallery.
"Oh my," Wells whispered. "Astounding."
There it was. The model of a flying machine. It was full size, suspended near the rafters. Wells craned his head back. "May I?"
Leonardo nodded, and pulled a cord. The model looked like a great bird descending. It had a fine metal skeleton spanning soft leather wings. Wells grabbed the two protruding handles and flexed them. The wings flapped slowly, but it took all of his strength to make them move. "Magnificent, Maestro. It's a pity it can't possibly work."
Leonardo rubbed his beard. "Bold words for a heretic. And just why is this design impossible?"
"Oh dear, I spoke out of turn. My apologies. The apparatus is genius, but—" Wells cut himself off and stared a moment at the Maestro. Something so familiar about him. Even with the age and the beard he looked familiar..he looked like…what was his name? He was in Utopian history. Klein! Doctor Bernard Klein. The man who made it possible for Lois and Clark to produce children. A revered man indeed.
"But what?" Leonardo prompted.
"Oh yes, quite. The flying machine. Put simply, a man can no more fly by imitating a bird, than he can swim by imitating a fish. Otherwise it is a splendid working model of a bird's movement. Jolly good, in fact. You saw the future and helped create it."
Leonardo had ceased listening to Wells, completely missing his 'future tense' form of address. He studied the model. "Then man is not to conquer the sky."
"Yes, well, of course that will happen. Simple equation, lift plus thrust minus drag. It just can't happen yet. The 'thrust' is missing."
"Thrust?" the Renaissance genius asked of the 19th century dreamer.
"Thrust, yes…power..a force that can keep the apparatus airborne when air thermals aren't available."
Leonardo shook his head. "Perhaps you are in league with the devil, or just one of those poor unfortunates that roam the square at night baying at the moon."
Wells' eyes twinkled. "No doubt, Maestro."
At the first blush of dawn, a masked figure on horseback galloped into the courtyard of a small villa outside of Milan. He dismounted quickly and ran to the door. Alarmed when no one answered his knock, he scaled a trellis under the second story balcony, and entered a window.
Climbing into the room he breathed a sigh of relief to see his parents sleeping in the bed. Quietly he crept around to his father and tapped him briefly on the shoulder. "Father? Father, I need to speak to you."
"Antonio?" The answering voice was groggy. "Why are you here?" Giuliano sat up in bed, concerned at the expression on his son's face.
Despite their attempt at quiet, Maria stirred beside her husband. As she opened sleepy eyes, she noted that her son was present. With a smile that failed to acknowledge any abnormality in the situation, she greeted her son. "Antonio! How is it that you are here? Is Lucia with you?"
"No, Mother. I need to talk to Father for a moment. It's important."
"I will rouse the servants then, and tell them to start the morning meal. Come to the kitchen when you have finished." Maria pulled on a warm garment over her nightgown and kissed her son on the cheek before leaving the room.
Antonio had absently kissed his mother good morning, and now turned his full attention to his father. Antonio immediately went to the point. "I'm worried about Ludovico."
"Of course you are, son. He is a worry to us all."
"That isn't what I am referring to," Antonio corrected. "Ludovico believes that you are supplying information to The Falcon, and I fear for your safety."
"Ludovico would do nothing to harm me. He is my son, he has no reason to fear me."
"Father, he would do anything to capture The Falcon. He believes that you know who he is, and he would use that information to harm you. I feel you must leave, for your safety and that of Mother."
With a sigh, Giuliano stood to dress for the day. "Antonio, I have it on good authority that The Falcon will not allow harm to come to us." He gave his son a condescending look.
"He is close to the truth. He knows that it would take a family member to discover so many of his actions, and he does not believe that I have the strength to do so. He believes that it is you."
"Son, I will take this under advisement. I will be cautious, but I will not leave. Your mother and I have a home here, and a farm to care for. We cannot leave all this."
Antonio echoed his father's sigh. "I believe I knew that," he said with a small smile, "but I had to make this attempt."
"Of course you did, son."
Giuliano and Antonio turned toward the door quickly as they heard a large crash. Though Antonio had age on his side, he managed to descend the stairway only seconds before his father. As they reached the bottom of the stairwell, they were stopped by a group of armed men.
Antonio was the first to see his mother held securely in the arms of Ludovico. "Release her immediately, brother!"
"I fear that I cannot do that." He turned slightly, addressing Giuliano. "Father, I know that you have been supplying information to The Falcon. I believe that you can be as helpful to me as you have been to him. Until you give me his whereabouts, I will restrain your wife."
"Ludovico, you cannot do this. She is your mother," Giuliano called.
"No! She is Antonio's mother. She is merely the woman who is married to my father, a traitor. If you have no family loyalty, than I shall not show loyalty to you. You have your instructions, I will await your reply." With that, Ludovico turned and carried a kicking and screaming Maria to his horse.
"Don't worry, father," Ludovico called back, *Mother* won't be alone. I've arranged for her to have some company." Reaching into his pocket he tossed a small gold band tied in a scrap of lace at Antonio's feet. "I'm sure you recognize this, *brother*.
"What have you done with Lucia!?" Antonio exclaimed, but Ludovico just laughed and mounted his horse, dragging the struggling Maria up before him.
It was moments after the last hoofbeats could be heard that the armed men left behind allowed Antonio and Giuliano to leave the cottage. By this time, Ludovico's horse was no longer in sight, and the cries of Maria could not be heard. Giuliano turned grim-faced to his younger son as they watched Ludovico's men depart in a cloud of dust.
"I can't believe that an offspring of mine could commit such an act of perfidy!" he growled. "Not only did he kidnap his own brother's wife, but Maria cared for him as if he were her own. And this is how he repays her and me! I should have listened to you, Antonio - no, I should have listened to your sainted grandmother when she said on the day of his christening that Ludovico had an evil streak and I should have strangled that viper in his crib!"
"Father, this is no time for recriminations. We need to find him and soon. We have no idea what he may do to Mother." Antonio's jaw tightened. "Or to Lucia. Do you have any idea where he may have taken her?"
Giuliano shook his head. "Nothing definite, my son. There have been rumors that your brother has been constructing some kind of windowless fortress up in the mountains…"
Antonio scanned the nearby mountain range and used his keen eyesight to pinpoint the area his father was talking about. "I can make it there before midday if I use your quickest horse," he told his father.
"Son, my horses may get you there too late to save your mother and Lucia. There must be another way."
Antonio looked at his father and placed both hands on Giuliano's shoulders. "Father, I may know of a way of getting there before they do. But I need to seek the help of Maestro Leonardo."
Giuliano looked at his son with a frown. "How could that crazy inventor help us rescue your mother and Lucia?"
"I don't have time to answer, but trust me, Father. I will bring them home safely." Antonio was already on the horse his father had gotten. "Fear not, I will bring them back," he called as he sped from his parents' farm.
Giovanni, in a burst of enthusiasm, was explaining to Wells how the cylindrical drum printing press could revolutionize printing. "Imagine that all of the news, events, and gossip could be printed up the same day! Milan would know what all in the Milanese community were up to!"
"Simply fascinating, my boy," Wells said, easily recognizing Jimmy Olsen in the long hair and oversized cap.
Leonardo flexed an eyebrow. "One more way to make the world smaller, eh, Giovanni?"
"No, Maestro, I prefer to think of it as making the world 'closer'."
Before Leonardo could reply, a very breathless Antonio burst into the gallery. "Maestro Leonardo, please, I need your help. Some say you're a sorcerer … a wizard. Is that true?"
"Hmph," the old man grumbled. "The Middle Ages gone a century, and still the world of science is viewed as wizardry."
Antonio grabbed da Vinci's voluminous sleeves. "I don't *care* what magic brings back my wife and mother, but I need your help!"
"Oh my," Wells said. "They're dead?"
"No, no, alchemist. They've been kidnapped by my brother Ludovico."
"Ludovico is well fortified in the mountains, young man," Leonardo said. "And while I've done sketches of war machines for the likes of Sforza and Borgia, neither heeded my advice, so there are no working models."
"I don't want to carry out a full scale invasion, Maestro! Ludovico would have my wife and mother's heads on pikes."
"This!" Antonio said, pointing to the flying apparatus. "Make The Falcon fly!"
Giovanni's eyes grew twice their size. "You're The Falcon!"
"The alchemist has assured me my flying machine cannot fly."
Wells nodded. "Very true, I'm afraid, but it can *glide*."
"All I care is that it get me to Anghiari Pass before the men on horseback get there."
Giovanni thought a moment. "We're three hours ride from the pass, and once they move beyond, they'll be in the mountains."
Wells clapped his hands together. "Then we must stop them there, or they will be too high for any vantage point here."
"I … I don't understand, alchemist," Antonio said.
Wells pointed out the window. "Meet us at the top of the hill, Falcon. We'll make you fly."
Antonio hurried from the gallery, and waited impatiently as a small dray carried the flying machine to the hill. Wells and Giovanni removed the flying apparatus while Leonardo watched with rising excitement.
"I've added bracing to the wings so they won't 'flap', but rather hold a slightly curved form," Wells explained.
"How do I make it work? I'll be a prisoner of the wind."
"Not entirely, my boy. The rods the Maestro had which manipulated the flapping motion will now allow you to dip left or right and keep a fairly accurate direction," Wells said, his outstretched arms imitating the banking movements.
"I will *be* a falcon," Antonio smiled as he strapped himself in. "So how do I start?"
Leonardo smiled. "A leap of faith."
Antonio peered over the edge and swallowed. He backed up a few paces.
Giovanni kept wringing his hands. "Please, Antonio, think better of this. You'll be killed!"
Antonio's demeanor was suddenly calm. "If I were to lose Lucia, I would rather die." With that, he ran for the ledge.
Wells and Leonardo watched. Giovanni covered his eyes and repeated a prayer over and over as Antonio fell rapidly out of sight.
"Dear God," Wells gasped, but then The Falcon rose into the sky, a valley thermal boosting his wings.
"He flies!" Leonardo cried out, tears on the old man's face.
Giovanni looked at the clouds above his head. "Thank you," he whispered.
Antonio looked down at the countryside, but took no notice of its beauty, or the wonder of flight. Though there was something in his soul that told him he was meant to have wings, at this moment he could think of nothing but his goal. He scanned the road ahead, easily passing wagons and even a flock of sheep disturbed by the huge shadow overhead.
He finally spotted Ludovico and his men. Antonio instinctively pitched himself forward, thus forcing a descent, and circled the troops riding to the back of Ludovico. The horses were thrown into an uncontrollable frenzy, rearing, bucking and dislodging their riders. Others simply turned off the path, running in a wild panic. Ludovico was suddenly all alone, and far enough ahead to have taken no notice of his lost troops.
Bringing his feet up, Antonio planted his boots in Ludovico's back, tumbling him from his horse. Lucia and Maria, both on the same horse being escorted by a soldier, saw Ludovico go sailing past them. The soldier ran to his fallen master, but upon seeing a giant bird of prey bearing down on him, ran for cover shouting the name of every saint he could remember.
Maria and Lucia dismounted their frightened horse and watched the giant bird land, rather awkwardly, on the road near them. The bird turned around.
"Antonio!" Lucia shouted, and ran to her husband, Maria close behind. Antonio disengaged the cumbersome harness and embraced his wife and mother.
Ludovico moaned by the roadside and looked up at his younger brother. "What sorcery is this?"
"I believe the Maestro called this sorcery 'science'. Had Icarus this 'science' his story might have ended better."
"I promise I will not rot in some cage, Antonio," Ludovico hissed. His words turned out to be prophetic, as an arrow seemingly from nowhere pierced his neck.
A man, in soldier garb, stepped from the rocky terrain, and removed his helmet. "It looks as though you didn't need my help, Antonio, and here I went to the trouble of insinuating myself among Ludovico's men."
"Piero? But..but you're a priest."
The portly man nodded, his expression somber. "Yes, and I dispatched a sinner. When a man robs from a church and makes no distinction between a gold coin and a gold cross, then his contract is already with the devil."
Antonio knelt next to the fallen Ludovico and placed a hand on his chest. "The Falcon will find and return the things Ludovico has stolen, Father Piero," he said, but did not look up. "I'm sorry, brother."
Ludovico's eyes opened slowly. A gray cast had settled over them. His life force was slipping away. He clenched his teeth. "If Hell has a gate, I'll find it. I'll find *you*. This will never be over between us, Antonio. Never."
Lucia shook her head as Antonio moved to her side and put a comforting arm around her shoulder. "The last words of his life, a threat. No apology, no asking for forgiveness, no redemption."
Piero tossed his bow and helmet into the rocks. "I'll pray for his forgiveness," he whispered. "And mine."
As Father Piero headed toward the path, Antonio placed his mother back onto the horse, but when he tried to lift Lucia, she declined, preferring instead to walk arm and arm with her husband back to the city.
Wells smiled, and began descending the hill. Giovanni watched him curiously, as the man discarded his leather apron and soft hat, and was about to call after him when he noticed a beautiful young woman with red hair climbing the hill, her skirt slightly hiked so as not to touch the muddy ground.
"I heard that a great bird sprang from this hillside," she said.
Giovanni just stared.
"Are you mute?"
"No..no, I…yes..a great bird sprang from this hill, and I helped it fly," he bragged, and took her arm to help her up the rest of the way. "I'm Giovanni, apprentice to the great Maestro Leonardo da Vinci."
Out of the corner of his eye, Giovanni saw their strange visitor take something from his pocket. As he stared down at the thing in his hand, his image became more indistinct, and then vanished.
Giovanni closed his eyes, and prayed again.
When he opened them, the woman gave him a dazzling smile. "I am Isabella. It's strange, but I feel we've met before."
Giovanni suddenly did not care about the vanishing alchemist. Leading the lovely Isabella down to the road, they set out after the others to return to Milan.
"…and so my sojourn in the sixteenth century ended on a note of triumph and high adventure, not an uncommon experience, I have discovered, when in the company of those two heroic souls whose love binds them through all eternity."
Wells made a final notation in his book, and turned off the small lamp. Removing his glasses, he rubbed his eyes. The window that had offered a perch for a friendly sparrow earlier in the day now glowed with the reflected glare of the setting sun.
Wells stood and stretched, and with a reminiscent smile checked his pocket watch. "Enough for today," he murmured, and locking the journal in his desk, he left the study.