Half Brother Prologue: By The Cry of The Eagle
France, he figured, was always this off-center.
The individual knew how Carnivale worked, and so Quasimodo Day was nothing to which he was unaccustomed. There was laughing, dancing, feasting in the streets. General cacophony drowned out coherent sounds. Masks, costumes, flurries of disguises… none were recognizable.
The night was velvet blue, with a jeweled display of diamond constellations lacing, adorning the sky. Such fine, frail, dainty beauty would be the envy of all women, if the sky were a lady, with luscious dark hair and soft nebulae for eyes. After hours of laying in wait for the sky to be dark enough, whistling gunpowder took to the heavens and exploded in fine reds and yellows. The technology of the times. A halo of gold surrounded Notre Dame, which glistened in the finery of light. The Pope of Fools was appointed. It would take a while before his court finished their parade through the city.
A shadow, a stranger, crouched on the tallest tower of Notre Dame Cathedral, surveying the scenery. The fireworks silhouetted him, yet he went unnoticed, as Notre Dame was a behemoth and he was simply a fly on top. Light winds shifted through the high altitude, disturbing his cape. It was safe, but he had not spotted the informant yet. If he was found, then someone would drag him into the dances. He shuddered. He could not dance and he was happy to keep it that way.
It’s almost time, he thought. He stood and hopped down from his perch. At every tier of the cathedral, he adeptly caught himself and jumped to the next. It took several minutes, and he landed like a cat in the shadows set by the enormous building. He breezily sauntered away through the crowds.
The Italian was silent despite the sheer temptation to join the festivities. So many beautiful, delicious smells - whether it was hearty food or rich perfume - surrounded him and vibrant colors flashed around him in the bright lights chasing away the late night.
The streets of Paris were flooded with celebrants, dressed as fairies, characters from tales and novels, and animals. Music struggled to keep afloat over the noise of people chattering, guffawing, and dancing. The square was a sea of color and excitement that the Italian refused to partake in, leaning against a storefront bakery.
He was tall yet unassuming, with a benign presence and a gravitas of a commoner. He was costumed and his face was hidden behind a mask resembling a fox with golden trim. A white hood made the shape of his head a question. His lean form was defined by his fitted, deep silver jerkin and black trousers tucked into high boots. A red cape - the fashion of Italy - hung on his left shoulder, signifying his status in society. He stood underneath a lamp while he watched the festivities carefully.
Curse Odilon if he lied to me, he thought, trying to look nonchalant. The night would wane soon and he was cold and bored. He had waited at the rendezvous for four hours already. Where was the informant?
The parties continued, but the Italian waited still.
“A fox,” remarked someone to his left, “quite apt.”
The Italian turned and saw a man of his same age - about forty - come to his side, dressed all in black, excepting his white mask, painted to resemble a fool. He carried a rapier on his waist.
The Italian gave him a curt bow. “Signor Placide,” he said, “an honor.”
“Signor, signor,” Placide grumbled. “You’re in France, Italian. I am ‘monsieur’ here.”
The man nodded. “Si, Monsieur.” He straightened and gestured for Placide to follow him.
Through the dancers and the feasters, they wove their way to a more isolated space in the large city. The noise grew ghost-like, and once it was dead silent, the Italian stopped walking and tucked into a storefront verandah. After his two weeks in Paris, he found his way through the streets, and he came to the conclusion that it was somewhat like his hometown, Florence. He felt nostalgic of Florence and his family with the winding streets and the warm lights. He had to shake it out of his head for the instant as Placide reached into his coat pocket.
The Italian was trained in the ways of assassination, and this man wasn’t to be trusted as a friend. If he was carrying a knife, the man could easily sidestep him. His countless dealings with people like Placide had hardened him, made him quicker. He had almost been killed in a scene much like this one.
Placide produced a scroll from under his own satin black cape and gave it to the Italian. It was kept shut by a richly red stamp. “Directions from His Honorable King,” Placide said quietly, “confidential. Let no one see your mission.”
The Italian, however popular in the black market he was, had never been hired out by the mysterious crime lord under the codename His Honorable King. It was an honor to be found by him and an achievement to be hired by him. The kind of achievement that would be put on one’s resumé. Once he heard that His Honorable King had called him to Paris, he knew that his old life had been destroyed. Any mission carried out by the crime lord’s goons was almost always doomed to fail, they were too difficult. He had to become anonymous. He no longer had a name.
“Si, Monsieur,” the Italian said with a nod. “Is this all?”
Placide reached under his cape again and produced a jingling sack. The best part of any mission for a rich client: payment up front.
The Italian smiled under his mask. “He’s very generous,” he stated as he felt the weighted bag. At least five hundred euro. “Grazie. I’ll be on my way.” He pulled his hood a little further down to hide his black hair, and he stowed the scroll and the money sack in his jerkin pocket.
“Be wary with the Parisians, Italian,” called Placide after him. “There are monsters out this day.”
The Italian huffed as he took off in a steadily paced, light jog back to the square. His transportation had to be waiting for him at this point.
It would hurt. Not only would this mission tear him apart from the inside, it would scar his wife and his child. They never knew what he did. For him to have to legally die so that he could become anonymous would traumatize his daughter and leave his wife mourning.
It had to be worth it. He would come home to them a hero. They would never live a day out of comfort.
It was for their sake that he had to disappear.
To Whomever It May Concern-
I care not to know Your name, as it has left You now. Welcome to anonymity, Signor. This Business that I have so harshly brought upon Your shoulders is strictly for Your concern. Now, You have no name, except for Mine, which is Falconero. Stay silent as the Grave and embrace the Shadows.
Your first mission, Falconero, is to become dead. Stage it how You will, Signor, but by the End of Next Year, Your funeral shall be over and You shall rendezvous in Venezia with my colleague. If You are awaiting a time to do so and a place, follow the Golden Eagle. By the Eagle’s Cry, You shall know You have found Me. Further orders will be given face to face.
Welcome to the Underground,
His Honorable King
The Italian read it as he slowly reached for the door to his home.
By the end of next year, such a short deadline. Why, May was half spent in his returning to Florence from Paris. He had to stage a death, and quickly. What would be believable?
“I miei cieli, /Oh, my heavens/” he whispered, rubbing his lean face. “I have to think of this now?”