Niccolo Rising . . .
Before I add another chapter to The Masked Ball, this time from myself, I must tell you that my Niccolo de Fleury is a mere caricature, a light pencil sketch, even a cartoon. He was loosely inspired by the real Nicholas van der Poele, alias Niccolo de Fleury, who is one of the most extraordinary creations in the world of Historical Fiction. Nicholas van der Poele, (de Fleury) is a blonde Renaissance man from Bruges with a stupendous intellect that enables him to range across all the political, economic and cultural demesnes of Europe in his time. Dorothy Dunnett wrote 8 books about him and I love every single one of them and would like to say without fear of correction that I believe she is the greatest historical fiction writer the world has ever seen. Equally my Sir Percy is a caricature of the most excellent Sir Percy Blakeney of The Scarlet Pimpernel and if either of my characters prompt you as reader to dash off and read of the real characters in the afore-mentioned books then I will, quite simply, have done my job. Having said that, if ever there was a movie made of The House of Niccolo, I can actually imagine Richard Armitage in the role as he has proved himself time and again through North and South, Robin Hood, Spooks and no doubt with his upcoming and more contemporary TV dramas that he could pull off the convoluted and intricate character that is Nicholas van der Poele. I must also add, if anything has really inspired me in this whole Masked Ball story, it’s the perfect creations from Bo Press Miniature Books
‘No Percy! You can’t . . . ‘
‘Ah, but I can! We need this tiny book.’ He gave a louche Sir P smile.
‘But it’s the Book of Cantrips.’
The Book Of Cantrips is the definitive text on charms, good and bad, that exist amongst Others. Priceless. And rumoured to have a charm on it, itself. Something about curses and death. ‘Percy!’ I grabbed his arm. ‘Don’t. You can’t remove it from the Museo.’ My heart beat quickly and I thought Percy would see it heaving in my breast.
‘No, but you can. Your hat is voluminous enough to hide a dog let alone a miniature book.’
My hat was huge, I would give him that, but I who could demolish a man’s face, heart and manhood with a flick of my wrist, quailed at what Percy was asking. ‘But the curse . . .’
‘Piffle, Lucia. You won’t be cursed.’ He lifted the little book in amongst the white feathers and frothing black and white ribbon of my hat.
‘But what about the cabinet ? ‘ As I spoke though, Percy’s hand moved and there in place of the original was a perfect minikin copy.
He began to head off in an alternate direction to myself as my mouth hung open as if to catch flies. ‘Sink me, Lucia, close your mouth. It’s not at all ladylike and for Aine’s sake act normally. Be your usual self and I shall see you back at your salon imminently. ‘
With that he was gone. Vanished like all my men and I stood encumbered with the knowledge that Sir P was an Other. Just another Other in Veniche. Sometimes I thought the city itself was enchanted and we the mortals were the interlopers.
I turned down a shadowed and very quiet hall, heading to the Museo entrance with my secret cargo when a hand grabbed me, pulling me into a dim doorway. A familiar stomach-turning voice spoke. ‘Signorina Brabante. I have been remiss.’ Lips pressed against my hand and moved to give first one kiss on one cheek and then a feathery one on the other. Long hair grazed my jaw and then my forehead and I have to say, and damn it because I hate the idea of being remotely smitten, my heart was skewered as surely as if a stiletto had pinioned it.
He rested an arm either side of me and would have pressed me into the frescoed walls if it wasn’t for the size of my hat. ‘Good day Lucia. How lovely you look and what a magnificent hat. Why it’s commodious enough to conceal . . .’ His hand moved and I was too overawed by his dark presence to react. His voice whispered in my ear as he held the book in front of me. ‘This!’
‘Ser de Fleury . . . ‘
‘Niccolo,’ he said and removed my hat, dropping it and the hat-pins to the floor. His voice reduced me to jelly, soft as velvet, and as he spoke, he kissed the corner of my mouth.
He continued to advance amorously until my lips were directly beneath his own and to hell with Percy, I let him. Now I would have crumbs with which to tease the cake-eating gossips of Veniche.
‘Where have you been?’ I finally managed to drag words from my mouth.
‘To where none can follow. And now I am back and you have given me what I want.’
I have? What, I wondered? Percy, amulets and books of spells ceased to exist as I allowed this tall man with the blue eyes and the slight flick to austere lips to mesmer me. Or so it seemed.
‘Come with me, Lucia, I want to show you something.’ He deposited the tiny book in the close-fitting leather folds of his tunic and tucked my hand through his arm, leading me to the Hall of Embroideries . . .