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Historical Fiction Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

**** themes of violence *****

1681, Versaille, France.


Maestro La Motta saw his dead father walking toward him through the arched alcove, and pure terror washed through him. Had his Father has come across the world to haunt him, to torment him for destroying his legacy? 


Workmen’s voices shouted in French and in German outside the open windows of the long hallway. When he heard the vibrant tones of his own language, Venetian, La Motta looked out to see his two apprentices, the only people he could still trust in this foreign city. Marco and Giulio walked through the garden, carrying between them an impossible, illuminescent rectangle of clear blue sky. As they came toward him they turned, and the rectangle of light changed to show the immense palace, glittering in the waning afternoon light. At the sight of them, La Motta thought of his third apprentice, Paolo, poisoned just days before, by an assassin from the Council of Ten. Paolo would be still be alive if he stayed in Venice.  


“Mio Dio, tonite it must be done.” Already a small man, La Motta shrunk further into himself, nervously adjusting the weapon in his pantaloons, slipping as sweat dripped down his body.


“La Motta!” Rivetta said, a frown on his pinched face, as wrinkled as a dried out prune. 

“See here is the crack, what are you going to do about this?” The head of the new French Glassworkers, Rivetta wore voluptuous robes of red silk trimmed in mink fur, pillowing over his wide frame. He stood in front of a huge arched alcove, duplicating the arched window across the hall. Several French workmen stood near, twisting polishing rags in their hands, heads bowed before these powerful foreigners.


His Superior in the Manufacture des Glaces, La Motta despised Rivetta. Though both trained in Murano, Rivetta had no exceptional talent to create true glass art, but he could manipulate people and so had molded a place for himself in the hierarchy of Venice, and now here in France with impossible promises of bigger mirrors, completed on faster timelines. Rivetta acted as if they were building a box of wood, instead of crafting the most technologically advanced art in the world, mirrored glass. La Motta had enough of this man, and his demands. He confirmed again he was making the right choice, tonight it would be done.  


Following the gesture, La Motta looked into the mirrors and realized he had mistaken his father for himself; his own face carried the fearsome grimace so familiar from his youth. Looking into this immense alcove, entirely covered with 21 mirrors he saw his whole self. He no longer slept, anxiety he felt every day had written itself across his face in deep, dark lines. 


 Rivetta’s golden ringed finger pointed to one mirror, down on the right. La Motta kneeled down to examine the problem, careful no one could see the flintlock pistol in his pocket. The crack arched through the entire pane of the mirror.


 “This is from your shop, it is poorly crafted.” Rivetta’s voice cut, sharp and brittle as a shard of glass.

 “No, do not blame me!” Flecks of spit flew from La Motta’s lips, his voice echoing down the long hall of the huge palace. “Those fools broke it!” He gestured at the two downcast workers.


 A gust of wind flew in through the window, carrying a rough familiar voice, “Sei imperfetto”. (you are flawed)  

“What was that?” La Motta turned in shock, could that be the voice of his father? But only a cold breeze greeted him, cold and sharp against his damp skin.


The glass La Motta specialized in, the perfectly clear ‘Cristallo’, made the finest mirrors in the world, but was fragile. Even the tiniest flaw, thinner than a hair, could grow under pressure to become a deep crack. La Motta could not believe he had missed it, this must be a sabotage, could it be from Rivetta? All the more reason for his plan, La Motta thought, touching the cracked mirror pane.  

 “I don’t care.” Rivetta gathered his robes. “Fix it tonite, Colbert is coming in the morning.” La Motta’s eyes went wide at this. Jean Baptiste Colbert, the Finance Minister of the Sun King, Louis XIV, their Patron in France, had immense power over them and the Glassworks. 


“I will replace it. But tell these -peasants to take better care of the rest,” La Motta motioned down the long hall, or I will use their eyes for the next mirrors I make.” La Motta snarled, referencing a rumor that the clear ball of the human was used to make the glass so perfectly clear.


The French workers turned white, anxious stutter steps to get away from these mad Venetians, then running down the hall.


 “Marco, Giulio,” he called to his apprentices. “Put that mirror pane down to get this broken one off.”

The men used metal bars to get under the gilt trim, then pried the mirror off, breaking it into heavy shards, collected into a cloth on the ground. La Motta looked down, the pieces reflecting a cracked broken version of himself. As he picked one of the thin narrow pieces, a brightly colored dagger, it turned and he saw his own face, eye’s bloodshot red.

                       Golden afternoon light poured into the vast gallery from the 17 bay windows overlooking the garden, the trim and molding bright and glossy gold, glistening in the last rays of the sun. Scaffolding stretched up 10 meters in the air to the vaulted ceiling where a few men worked to begin painting. Paintings, La Motta had been told, but did not believe, would rival the famed works of Michelangelo in Rome. To provide illumination for the painted ceilings, across from each bay window faced a matching alcove, a mirrored recess. The effect blazed in a lustrous glow more incredible than La Motta, experienced in the magic of mirrors and light could have imagined. The reflections from the windows made the hallway larger, doubling the width, and the luminous light glowed in vibrant colors.


 Voices echoed in the hall.  “Morte, morte al traditore.” (Death to the traitor) a rough voice accused. 


“Did you hear that Marco?” La Motta asked, but turned away without waiting for a reply. His father, and his ancestors were angry at him he knew, for he had betrayed their legacy. Born in Murano, an island in the Republic of Venice, his family had worked for generations to master the art of turning simple sand and lime into magical glass, in color blue, green, yellow, and rarest of all, perfectly clear. 

 Had he made a mistake? The thought of his arrogant older brother who he had inherited the mantle of the family, angered him all over again. He was head of their glassworks, but La Motta as the third son, he could only be subservient to his older brothers, forever just a tool, never the hand in control.


 La Motta had initially rejected the offer, until the letter, signed by Jean Baptiste Colbert himself, offered him the unbelievable sum of 600 livres a year. Double the money his entire family's operation made, to go to France to build a factory to create his masterpieces. 


The Nobles of Venice had made a fortune on the Sun King’s love of mirrors, he had them in every room, and even had a salon for his mistress, each wall entirely covered in mirrors, all in gold frames. But the mirrors of a quality deserving of the Sun King could not be made in France, their artisans could not achieve the clarity and transparency of the Murano glass. The proprietary technology to make, and apply the right type of back coating for the best mirrors was kept secret on the island of Murano, isolated from espionage, and to protect Venice from the flames of the glassworks.  Colbert had smuggled La Motta and his three apprentices first, and then Rivetta from Murano, each with promises of money and glory. 

Enraged at the traitors, the Security Council of the Ten prominent families promised to imprison their families, and if need be hunt them down and kill them. 


                    La Motta stood in an alcove, examining the mirrors he had built, trying to see the flaw in himself, the hairline crack that had grown, fracturing his life into broken shards. La Motta breathed out, his breath fogging the mirror in front of him, and he remembered back in time to when he received the letter, delivered in the dead of night by a traveler. 


His view from his home looked out over the Canal Grande di Murano, the salt air thick around him, the smooth waters bringing a fresh breeze. He had chosen to give up his life there, everything he knew, his wife and daughter, to chase his ambition. As the fog slowly cleared he saw in the mirror the truth, he had always wanted to leave. His Father and his brothers only despised him, even though his Father had said, once, La Motta could be the greatest artisan of all his sons, if only he could control his temper, and accept his place in the family. Instead, like Narcissus, he drowned in the smooth lake surface of the mirror, believing only in his own talent.

         Waiting for his apprentices to finish, La Motta moved through this hall of mirrors, now reflecting the dark night sky. The candlelight from the chandeliers glowed off the mirrors in sparkling, moving images. A flicker moved behind him, was that shadow an assassin waiting for him? Voices called to him, echoing down the hallway, faint, in Venetian, ladro, (thief), traditore (traitor).


 La Motta turned fast, his hand on his flintlock pistol, pointing it behind him down the corridor. Nothing but the dark shadows, and his regrets moved slowly across the hallway behind him. Ghosts of his past chased him in the mirrors, reflecting the flickering candles of what could have been, in sconces along the walls. 


He reviewed the plan for the evening. He had to act, and with Colbert arriving tomorrow the timing could not be better. He would take Rivetta’s place as head Glassmaker, and with Rivetta gone the Council of Ten would be appeased. Threats had reached him from his wife in Murano. The Venetians could not have their orders flaunted, they wanted blood spilled.  


Marco and Giulio completed the installation of the mirror, and now they prepared for the evening action, pulling pistols, and swords from La Motta’s bag. Rivetta would be alone, their attack would be blamed on the assassins everyone knew were here. Nodding to each of his apprentices, La Motta moved finally, to overthrow this arrogant man.


La Motta looked into Marco’s eyes, he had so few people he could trust, in Marco he felt a connection like his own son. He would create a new legacy here, with a new family. In Marco’s eyes he saw the reflection of himself, tall and strong, a leader to build something new. La Motta knew he had to take his fate into his own hands. They walked quickly down the alleys of the manufacturers until they came to Rivetta’s own workshop.


 “Marco, have you noticed any one following us, I thought I saw someone-” La Motta whispered. He had betrayed all of his heritage for Livres, for gold, for the chance to work in this greatest of Palaces, in the Galerie des Glaces. With Rivetta eliminated, he would take his rightful place as the leader of the greatest glass factory in all the world. 


 “I haven't sir, but this Palace has many eyes signore” Marco said.

 Checking their pistols and swords, La Motta gripped a pistol in each hand, and stepped through the door. Rivetta stood huge behind a work desk, panes of glass and mirrors surrounding him like an army of eyes. How could he be so calm? 


“You are a fool La Motta. Do you think I did not know of your treachery? Put down your weapon, you are surrounded.” Rivetta’s jaw locked, not fear in his eyes but vengeance. More men stormed in the door, guns ready, pointing at La Motta.


“Rivetta, you have sold us all out to the Frenchmen, you are not even an artist.”

As La Motta spoke, Marco then Giulio moved away, disappearing down a small door, gone.


 Rivetta and his apprentices pulled long guns from under blankets and pointed them at La Motta. 


“No!” La Motta screamed. Paolo, his dead apprentice pointed at him with an accusing hand. La Motta aimed his flintlock in his shaking hand, and fired, the image exploded in hundreds of glass shards.

Then La Motta’s father reared up shouting, traditore! and La Motta fired his other pistol, cracking the image into oblivion.

Rivetta and his men fired, mirrors in the workshop crashed in explosions of light, bullets and smoke.


La Motta felt the punch in his shoulder as he dove out of the way. He smelled the iron of spilt blood, or was it the salt air of Murano? A cool breeze washed over him, refreshing and joyful. La Motta picked up a glass shard, the heritage of his family. In the mirror he saw the thief, he had stolen something more valuable than the glassmaking secrets. He pushed the shard through his own heart. He had stolen the trust of his father and he would be punished forever. 


November 23, 2023 00:35

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14 comments

Michał Przywara
21:34 Nov 23, 2023

Great historical fiction - it nails that guild mood, where specialized crafts are fiercely guarded secrets, protected with violence if need be. It's also quite suspenseful, and I had a vague Shakespearean impression. Perhaps this was due to the Venetians, and the guilt conjuring up accusatory apparitions. “Rivettta’s golden ringed finger” - too many ‘t’ The story is a very personal struggle for the narrator, but it also seamlessly introduces the wider world, and gives us a neat political/economic intrigue as a backdrop. And as is often th...

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Marty B
05:55 Nov 24, 2023

Such an interesting part of history! Something we take for granted now, a clear mirror was a technological marvel a few hundred years ago. I loved the fact the Venetian artisans were smuggled out of their small island to make a mirror, and then assassins were sent for them! thanks!

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22:13 Nov 27, 2023

Very interesting historical fiction story. Lots of research has gone into it. Riveting tale. Well done.

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Marty B
04:28 Nov 28, 2023

Ohh- 'Riveting tale' is high praise! The technological history of glass and mirrors is filled with drama people with a lot of ambition and the quest for money and power. Thanks!

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Mary Bendickson
20:51 Nov 27, 2023

I'm our modern age we forget what an achievement a clear mirror or a piece of glass would be back when. Nice historical piece.

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Marty B
21:44 Nov 27, 2023

There a lot of modern marvels we take for granted, a mirror was not one I normally think about though. Thank you!

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Helen A Smith
15:40 Nov 26, 2023

It was fascinating being transported to this world of craftsmanship and beautiful Murano glass, family history and treachery. Glass and mirrors had an impact on an already shaken psyche. The broken relationship with his father was the background to the setting, making for an intriguing tale. I think I need to read it again to get a deeper feel for the complex history. Thanks for sharing.

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Marty B
17:49 Nov 26, 2023

There are amazing stories throughout history, and with a lot of gold, there is always a lot of drama! Thanks!

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Helen A Smith
20:40 Nov 26, 2023

That is true. What interested me was the family history.

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AnneMarie Miles
05:53 Nov 25, 2023

Marty - what a cool story! I learned so much I did not know about glassmaking and glassmakers, and how intensely guarded these trades were at the time. You packed this full of action and suspense. And I agree with Michal - it did feel Shakespearian, especially with the ending and the deep regret of betraying his father. Very happy I got to read this, thanks for sharing!

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Marty B
17:47 Nov 26, 2023

The incredible story of the kidnapping of Venetian glassmakers and the assassins sent to Versailles doesn't fit in a 3000 word story! There is so much more, including the glassmakers wives who were smuggled out under armed guard, the secret letters, and gold, so much gold! Now I need to go to Versailles!

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AnneMarie Miles
18:01 Nov 26, 2023

I had no idea! History has always been my worst subject, but I think if I got to learn about it from your stories, I would have enjoyed it much more!

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Philip Ebuluofor
12:00 Nov 23, 2023

Fine work Marty. Action scenes, I am useless. I am learning.

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Marty B
05:51 Nov 24, 2023

Thank you!

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