Thursday, August 4, 2016


Just like movies, as a book goes through the editing phase, there are often great scenes that need to be cut for the good of the overall book. The first draft of PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY: Da Vinci's Disciples Book One came in at over 500 words. I feel in love with the true facts of the horrific assassination that opens the book. I wanted every facet of the gruesome event to be chronicled in my book. However, the political machinations between the great Medici family and their rivals, the Pazzis, are the main focus of the book. With a breaking heart, but an understanding mind, I took the advice of my great agent and editor, and paired down the multitude of details on the assassination.

That doesn't mean they are lost forever. Today I begin a series that will highlight those deleted scenes...just like a deluxe edition DVD.

If you haven't read the book yet, here's what you need to know:

In Florence on Ascension Sunday in the year 1482, the Pazzi family, with the help of mercenaries, priests, and possibly someone higher up in the Vatican hierarchy, plan the assassination of the powerful Medici brothers: Lorenzo de' Medici, the defacto ruler of Florence, and his peace loving brother, Giulino. The attempt takes place in the great Duomo of the largest cathedral in Florence,Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers).

As the madmen draw their daggers, chaos and blood burst within the packed cathedral. Giuliano falls.Lorenzo escapes...but how? Here is the scene, firmly rooted in the actual history, that reveals it.

In the haze of half-life, Giuliano saw Lorenzo’s mouth form his name but could not hear the voice, the voice of his childhood, of his conscious, for the buzzing in his ears drowned all else out. He felt no pain, only gladness as he watched the attackers fail to assault his brother.
Their eyes met and, through them, all that ever lived between them—every moment, every word, all their love—was spoken for the last time.

Giuliano’s bloodless lips spread as if in smile, as he watched his brother disappear from his sight, alive and safe, beyond the heavy bronze doors and into the sacristy. He turned his whole head, or did he—he could not tell—to the door, now closed where he last saw his brother. Now instead death appeared before him and he greeted it wide-eyed, beautiful mouth open in silent denial.
        Nightmares exist in the wakeful moments of day

“Giuliano! My brother, my brother,” he shrieked with mania and anguish, not even the nasal twang enforced by the deformed nose could forsake the abject grief in his voice as Lorenzo pounded against the door, pulling and pushing against those who would keep him inside, keep him safe.
The battle raged within the cathedral still, but here friends fought against friend, Lorenzo against his protectors, as he quaked with vengeance to be released from their grip, to be freed from the small room where he was imprisoned away from his brother.
“Leave me,” he screamed, veins popping out in blue ripples upon his reddened forehead. “Leave me be. I must get to my brother.”
Golden chalices clanged raucously as they fell from the golden oak table once in the center of the rectangular room, now abruptly slammed against the back wall made of the same wood, the shimmering paneling encircling the entirety of the small space. Table legs screeched against the marble floor as the bevy of men fought to keep Il Magnifico from raising the barricade someone had quickly dropped into place upon their entrance, locking them safely within the sacristy’s confines. 
“You cannot, My Lord. I cannot allow it.”
Somehow the young Cavalcanti, a cousin branch to Lapaccia’s own, named for and devoted to the Medici Lorenzo, wedged his body between his namesake and the bronze door. But the older man abused the body as he had the bronze, barraging it with tight-fisted, blistering blows.
“But I must see to Giuliano. I saw him fall. Though he lives still, I know it.” Lorenzo’s dark eyes, protruding but sightless, bore into and through the young man’s face, seeing only the crumbling of his brother’s body over and over, losing sight of him again and again behind the legs of the crowd, tree trunks in a dense, demonic forest. The not knowing ate at him like famished vultures, teeth sharp and stabbing. “Or does he? Has he died? Do you know?”
The other men bundled in the small room peered at each other as if looking in a mirror. Gapping mouths, eyes wide yet unseeing, spatters of blood, it was all there in an indisputable portrait. But the fear now came from the great Lorenzo de’ Medici himself. Never had Il Magnifico behaved in such a way. His words, those of the most intelligent man they knew, made no sense. His hands moved in a frenzy; from his stomach, to his face, to pounding Cavalcanti’s chest, to reaching for the door as if he reached through it.
The young man shook his hair of oaken brown, now a tangled and stringy nest falling to his shoulders, his youth revealed in the quivering lip and tear-filled eyes. “Please, My Lord, please.”
It was begging, no doubt, but for what was unclear; capitulation, perhaps, but of what sort.
“Lorenzo, my friend.” The deep soothing voice came from behind the Medici, a voice now low and melodic, one Lorenzo had known since his memories began. He turned to the call as the bruised child would to its mother.
Sigismondo della Stufa stood but a breath away, reaching out a hand, placing it upon his shoulder, and turning Lorenzo from the door and the spent Cavalcanti. Even taller than Il Magnifico himself, his was an imposing figure, to anyone. Lorenzo’s forehead creased as he raised his brows in silent, pathetic questioning.
“You cannot go out there, Lorenzo.” Sigismondo took Lorenzo by both shoulders, holding the shuddering man tightly with his eyes as well as if to still the tremors of both body and mind. “Those who long for your death may be waiting. They want your blood and nothing less.”
The words were hooked arrow tips, wounding in as well as out. 
“W…who?” Lorenzo stammered.
Sigismondo shook his head of tight black curls. “The…the Pazzis, I know, but I cannot be sure which. Others with them.”
“They would not. They could not,” Lorenzo protested, pushing the turban, long since twisted askance, off his head, thrashing it to the ground. “Not here, not so sacrilegious an attack. It cannot be.”
But the stalwart Sigismondo did not move nor speak and the truth clung thickly to the silence.
Lorenzo dropped his head; the distemper once seizing him draining away, downward, like water expulsed from mountain rivers. It was then he saw it; the streak of thick blood, darkening as it dried, running from the beneath the door and past him, further into the small room. He followed it with eyes newly keen and his chest heaved and collapsed with the pain of the sight.
In the farthest corner, though but a few steps away, his friend and savior Francesco Nori laid in a pool of his own blood, hands gloved in his life’s liquid pressed uselessly against his open gullet.
A moan, a whimper, and a lunge; all compelled Lorenzo to his friend’s side, nudging— without thought—Antonio Ridolfi aside, he who had pulled Nori within.
“Francesco. No, not our Francesco,” Lorenzo muttered, splotching his own hands with Nori’s blood as they touched the man’s wound, the man’s face. 
The cold, wet contact roused the injured man, but barely.
Francesco’s blue eyes, ones so quick to glint with mischief, now the gray of a winter sky, fluttered open. The slits spread as if in smile at the face hovering above him. And, as if the sight were enough, the eyes closed…never to open again.
Lorenzo dropped his head back upon his shoulders, neck bent in half, convulsing; shoulders shuddering with silent sobs. 
“What is this?” Beside them Ridolfo swiped at his own tears, rustled his damp fingers through his long ash brown hair, then took Lorenzo by the shoulder with one hand and pulled the cowl of the man’s robe away with the other.
There for all to see, a gash the width of a large dagger, bright with fresh bleeding, at the base of the neck, as if a line had been drawn upon Lorenzo’s collar bone.
Sigismondo leapt to their side with two long strides, followed quickly by the shorter Loris Tornabuoni, Lorenzo’s cousin, he who had been keeping an ear to the door with Cavalcanti. Pulling Lorenzo’s tunic even farther aside, tearing it in the effort, Sigismondo saw, as did they all, the skin reddening in anger around the laceration.
“Poison?” The venomous world slithered from between Antonio’s teeth.
Sigismondo silently nodded, jaw clenching beneath stubble-covered skin.
Still in a crouch, Antonio sidled once more to Lorenzo’s side, padded and pleated leather doublet creaking as he lowered his head toward the wound.
But Lorenzo came back from his grief at the movement, at the words. “I am fine. Be gone from me. I must get to Giuliano.”
“Be still, Lorenzo!” It was a bark, this time, from Sigismondo, no time or patience for coddling. “You could be dying. What help to your brother would you be then?”
Lorenzo took the slap but not without a dark stare. “You cannot tell me if he lives. Why should I care if I do?”
Sigismondo rolled his eyes heavenward, but instead of returning to his stubborn friend, the suddenly curious gaze flit to the left wall, back up and then down. “Allow Antonio to extract the poison and I will endeavor to find out.” With his words, he jabbed a thumb over his shoulder.
All eyes followed and found what he had, a slim and slithering spiral staircase, of the same highly polished golden oak wood of the walls, standing against the partition anonymously.
“You go and then—” 
“No!” Sigismondo ended Lorenzo’s negotiation before it began. “I will go while or I will not go at all.”
Eyes closing in defeat, Lorenzo leaned back against the wall, raising his chin, and opening his wounded neck to Antonio.
With the honor breed among these men, Sigismondo rose and made his way to the steps. As he climbed, Antonio lowered his head, this time Lorenzo allowed the man’s lips to latch upon his skin. The sounds of Antonio’s sucking kept time to the beat of each step Sigismondo took upon the rails, loud in this small room fecund with the odorous of blood and excrement. 
A few draws and Antonio pulled back his head, spitting the viscous liquid of blood and saliva away and over his shoulder. A few more steps and Sigismondo reached the apex of the spinning stairs, those which would bring him to the entrance of the organ loft above the cupola.
Sucking again, Antonio spit, this time the liquid he spat made a clear glob upon the floor. 
“Just once more,” he said, to himself as well as Lorenzo. Doing so, he withdrew and stepped away, mouth still full, and hunkered down in the opposite corner. Spitting, emptying his mouth, he stuck two fingers down his throat. Up came more liquid as his body heaved, parts of his morning repast spewed as well, an assurance no poison remained in either of them. 
Spent, Antonio dropped back on the floor, curled his slim body up with his head on his knees.
Lorenzo de’ Medici, the great leader of the Florentine people, a despot some whispered in shadowed corners, crawled to Antonio’s side and wrapped his arms about his care giver. 
“Your valor and service this day will not be forgot,” he told the exhausted man. Turning to the others in the room, he assured them all, “Nor that of any of you.”
Almost dropping Antonio, Lorenzo released his hold and jumped to his feet. Sigismondo was no longer in sight.
“He must have crawled into the loft,” Cavalcanti said in a voice as crooked as his bent neck.
In silent minutes untold, they waited. Lorenzo could not even fathom how long they had been sequestered. Was it just this morning he had been in his brother’s chamber, berating him like an irate father? Or was it a day ago? A year?
With far more noise than accompanied his exit, Sigismondo entered the high space of the sacristy, descending the slim stairs with as safe a swiftness as possible.
Lorenzo stepped to the bottom to greet him. “My brother? Did you see my brother?” He yelled upward.
Sigismondo’s foot slipped on a slim step; body pin-wheeling, he caught himself quick, righting himself with a grunt. “I will tell all whence I am down there, or else I will fall to my death and be able to tell naught.”
Chided, Lorenzo stepped away, but his dark eyes remained locked upon the back of his friend.
Jumping down the last two rungs, Sigismondo bent over, hands upon knees, as he drew deep gasps of air into his depleted lungs, or perhaps to forego the coming conversation.
It was clear what Lorenzo thought. He crouched below Sigismondo. “Tell me all.”
Raising his head, giving it a shake, Sigismondo reached out and gently pushed Lorenzo so he sat on the floor. Slowly sitting before Lorenzo, burly body collapsing, Sigismondo’s story had already begun. Before he said a word, Antonio turned his face back to the corner; Loris slithered down the wall.
“I will tell you this first,” Sigismondo took the hands of the man across from him, a man he served without question, a boy he had called friend for the whole of his life. “There are no enemies on the other side.” He ticked his square head toward the ten-paneled bronze aperture. “There is no one there but more of your friends, more of your loved ones. Your father, for one, Loris.”
Loris sighed to hear of his father’s safe keeping.
“They wait for you, Lorenzo. I could hear their worried chatter from above though they could not hear my calls. They—”
“My brother is dead, isn’t he, Sigi?” Lorenzo found only the pet name as he squeezed the man’s hands. “My brother is gone.”
Sigismondo bit upon his own upper lip, clamped upon it till a small dollop of blood came forth.           He nodded then, a small, simple gesture screaming the blasphemy. With a squeeze of his lids and a clench upon Lorenzo’s hands, Sigismondo pulled the man into his embrace. It was all he could do.
There was no sound; the world had become a hollowed, empty place…until the scrape of the bar upon the door broke it. All save Lorenzo watched as Loris lifted the barricade and slowly opened the door. 
The men beyond the door made to rush in, but one large, raised hand by Sigismondo held them, slowed them. Giovanni Tornobuoni, the poet Poliziano, a Medici cousin Martelli, and others checked their relief at the life of Lorenzo in the face of his grief at the death of Giuliano.
Sigismondo raised the bereaved man to his feet, and, wrapping him in a silent blanket of care and tenderness, the men closed around Lorenzo, leading him out of the sacristy and the cathedral itself, steering him far from the covered body of his brother where others stood sentinel.
The silence held almost to the door. Almost.
There, knowing he left forever his beloved brother behind, Lorenzo loosened a cry to smash against the dome ceiling far above, to berate the Gods even higher.

Learn more about PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY: Da Vinci's Disciples book one here and here.

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