Doge Tarvixio was one of the true honest men of Italy; unlike the many mayors and doges of the scattered city-states, Armilio Tarvixio believed in honor, something few believed in anymore. His family had deep connections with past Venetian families, and even ancient Roman families, and honor had been a trait that had been passed through his family for generations. It had come to be that Armilio had found his way to the doge's throne of the city of Venice; it was not an easy rule, keeping both unruly citizens and neighboring city-states in check. But he was the best man for the job; honor went a long way in ruling a nation, and Armilio was respected by both commoners and nobles.
The day of April 5th, 1075 AD dawned brightly on the canals and cobbled streets of mighty Venice, the sunlight shining off the marble terraces and Eastern-style cathedral domes. Doge Tarvixio sat down in his normal wooden chair out on his palazzo terrace, enjoying his normal breakfast of fresh eggs and greens from the city gardens. As he sat back in the chair, watching the auburn sun creep over the rooftops of Venice, heavy footsteps echoed in the hall chamber that he usually sat in, the massive interior of the Venetian palace. The person was not wearing slippers or silk pajamas, as one of the royal family would wear; rather, they were wearing heavy hobnailed boots, and their stride spoke volumes about their haste and urgency. Deciding it was worth his time, the Doge swung around in his chair to face the visitor.
"Doge…Tarvixio…" the man spoke, out of breath. He clutched his knees momentarily, gasping, then stood back up straight to face the Doge. He was dressed in riding clothes, weariness seeping through the pride on his face.
"Yes? Are you—"
"A messenger, sir. From Paolo Arborita…"
Paolo Arborita was the Venetian fort located close to the Alpine pass that led into the Black Forest. The Doge started for a moment, fearing the worst; he decided to retain the calm composure that wouldn't betray his true feelings. If the Holy Roman Empire were invading or making a move against his boundaries, he could not show fear, or any emotion at all. He must be stoic, and face the threat.
"Paolo Arborita? What does the garrison have to say?" the Doge asked quizzically, watching the messenger's every move.
"The garrison commander…sends his respects to Doge Tarvixio. He relates that his scouts encountered the aftermath of an attack while on patrol down the Via Arborita early this morning—Milanese, by their clothing and standards."
"So…a group of Milanese soldiers were slaughtered on the border between our territory and theirs? By whom, exactly?" the Doge asked, deciding to brush it off as a bandit attack.
"There were few bodies besides Milanese…but they were Venetian in apparel, my lord."
The Doge was immediately struck by these words; he sat up in his chair, nearly knocking the china plate of cooling eggs onto the terrace floor.
"They were…Venetian?" the Doge asked, locking eyes with the shaking messenger. The latter nodded, stepping back from the Doge.
"Venetian, yes…they wore soldier's clothing, and were relatively well equipped. Cannot be peasants, sir, and unlikely mercenaries…they were simply too well equipped…"
The news was worse than the Doge imagined. Defectors? It was unlikely that he would have had defections without hearing about it—but who would use only Venetian soldiers?
"There were no other bodies at the site, you said?" the Doge asked.
"The commander related that there were only Venetian and Milanese bodies. No sign of any other nationality there, just Venetian and Milanese. That was what was related to me…my lord," the messenger spoke.
Doge Tarvixio had to ponder this, but not alone. He snapped his fingers at the messenger, who jumped visibly.
"Bring me the mayor of the city. He should be in the palace—GO!"
Ricardo da Sinatora was the mayor of Venice, and had been for fifteen years now. His daughter, Maria, was a strapping young woman with many a suitor at her doorstep. Ricardo had many times asked the aged Doge for advice on his daughter's courtship, but now he had been called in to advise the Doge. A reversal of roles, one might say.
"You called for me, my lord?" the mayor spoke, shaking sleep off as he slumped onto the terrace, visibly unhappy about being awoken. The messenger had taken off as soon as dismissed, most likely heading back to the fort at Paolo to relate the Doge's reaction.
"I did indeed…the messenger was most likely unable to relate these events to you clearly. Did you understand everything?" the Doge asked. Ricardo nodded, yawning visibly.
"He told me everything—seemed a bit shaken up, too."
"Well, he had reason to do so. This is a problem—no other bodies, just Venetians and Milanese. Couldn't have been bandits—the Milanese soldiers were too well armed and equipped to be massacred by bandits, even if they had forced some Venetians into fighting for them. It's one of our enemies," Doge Tarvixio said, his voice seething as he said those last few words. For centuries, Venice had been in conflict with surrounding city-states. Each one was willing to strike a blow at the more powerful states; they were just waiting for the right time to do so.
"Would you have any ideas as to how this was pulled off?" the mayor asked, now awake and energetic. He sat down at an unoccupied chair near the table, turning to face the Doge.
"That's not my concern right now. My main concern is not the how, but the who. Who could have pulled this off?"
"Well…it's someone both anti-Milanese and anti-Venetian. One of the lesser city-states, perhaps. Someone always yearning for power?" the mayor suggested, reclining in his own chair.
"Yes…I can see where you're going with that. Perhaps Parma?"
"Parma, my lord? Do you think they'd have the guts to do this?" the mayor asked, folding his arms awkwardly.
Parma had always tried to play Milan and Venice off one another; situated to the south of both, south of the mighty River Po, Parma had enemies aplenty, especially in the major warring factions, who could turn on the city-state at any given moment. It had always tried to play one faction off the other, in hopes of gaining an advantage in the process.
"Parma's always trying to get ahead. They're not above something as cowardly as this—slaughtering Milanese with our own soldiers. It'll look like we did it, for sure," said the Doge.
"Is that what you think they're going for? Pinning the whole thing on us?"
"Likely," the Doge responded. "If Milan gets aggressive about this, and they threaten war, we have no choice but to respond. And if we're at war, Parma is free to play one off the other or even attack an ally of ours without us even realizing us. They're the puppeteers, and we are the lowly puppets now."
"So…what action do you plan to take? You asked for my advice, my lord. Do you still desire it?" the mayor asked, starting to rise from his chair. The Doge motioned for him to sit down once more.
"I do desire it. I want your advice on what I plan to do."
"Then tell me what your plan is. I will try to give it credibility," the mayor said.
"Emilio will be wed soon—to Maria, no less. But he is still a general. I plan to dispatch him to Parma, just to encamp there. Cool things down a bit—if we have a show of force, the Parmise will be less likely to take action against us," the Doge spoke, biting his lip.
"You think that is the best route? Perhaps they are not behind it—"
"Perhaps they are not. But that does not matter—Milan will almost certainly pin this on us, and I know they'll be itching for war. Like it or not, war is on our doorstep, my good friend. We must prepare for it."
With that, the Doge dismissed the mayor, sending him back into the palace with a simple wave. He returned to his breakfast calmly; whatever storm was coming, he must face it with the same stoicism he always had. And there was a storm coming; it was inevitable.