I am no ordinary assassin. As one of the foreign agents of the Most Serene Republic, it is my task to bring our wayward glassmakers back into the fold. I prefer the carrot to the stick, and the stick to the dagger.
But if need demands it, I am an assassin. In Normandy, I left one recalcitrant glassmaker with a dagger in his heart. And, lest his colleagues think it a chance street killing, I attached a note to the hilt. It bore but one word: “Traditore.” As the French say, ” pour l’encouragement d’autres.” Or perhaps that should be, ” decouragement”?
How I despise these ingrates. The security of the Venetian Republic rests on its economic power, and that, in turn, on its mastery of certain arts, glassmaking being primus inter pares. Yet they dare to pass on our precious secrets, knowing full well what damage it will do to their homeland. And are not the glassworkers the most pampered of craftsmen? Why, regardless of their birth, the masters are permitted to marry the daughters of the nobility.
My bird, Tomasso, had flown the coop again. We had tracked him to London, and a member of the Ambassador’s staff had been sent to offer Tomasso a nice sum of money to return home. He had laughed, assuring our envoy that his noble British patron would pay him more, and that if he had to be confined to an island, he would rather it be England, not Murano. Despite the difference in climate.
The domestic branch of my department had been watching his family, of course, hoping that he might come home for a conjugal visit, and arrested his wife as she tried to slip out of the country to join him. She was imprisoned, and persuaded to write letters begging him to return. We passed those letters on to Tomasso.
They seemed to have some effect on him and he promised that he would come home as soon as he finished a particular job for his nobleman. One, he assured us, that didn’t implicate any Venetian secret. Then it was until an outbreak of the plague subsided. Then he had to wait for the roads to clear.
I decided I had heard enough excuses, and set up the arrangements to abduct him. Such are tricky, since you must find the renegade alone, if at all possible, and get him out of the country before he is missed. He must have noticed something, because next thing I knew, he was gone.
I rode the post to Dover—which ate quite a chunk in my expense account, being eighty miles at two and half pence to the mile—but by the time I got to the docks, he was off and away.
Nor did I find him in Calais.
The first new rumor I heard of him was in Paris. I hoped he would settle down there long enough for me to set up a retrieval, but he didn’t oblige me. Couldn’t find a good enough deal, I suppose.
My pursuit was a blur of long roads and bad food, crisscrossing France, the Netherlands, and Germany. I caught up with him at last in Lauscha, in Thuringia. There, he had settled down to a life of making titanic gilded waldglas beer goblets for the feasts of barely literate princelings. What a comedown!
The town was small enough for strangers to be noticed, so I spread some coins about and waited for him to head out. I knew he would do so, eventually; he was in town only to sell his wares and buy supplies. The walglashutten, where the glass is actually made, have to be located near a source of wood for the fires, and as soon as they exhaust the local supply, they are moved.
We took him like a coney in a trap. Within a trice, he was disarmed, bound and gagged. At first he thought we were common bandits. Well, that was probably the usual occupation of my hirelings, but he realized quickly enough what I was.
He made gagging sounds.
I cuffed him. “You wish to scream for help? So sorry, I cannot oblige you.
He shook his head vigorously.
“You wish to tell me something?”
“Very well. I will let you speak. In a whisper.” I put my knife against his throat, and one of my henchman removed the gag, then stepped back. “Remember. Whisper.”
“This is an exercise in futility. There is nothing I know that is of any real value to Venice. Not anymore.”
“Do you not know the secret ingredients and proportions of crystallo? Have you not the craft of blowing bubbles of glass, and spinning them out to form a perfect circular pane? Or of swinging it into a sausage, and slitting and unrolling it to make a broadsheet? Are you not also one of the specchiai, who know how to make a glass mirror without cracking it with heat?”
“All of that, and more, but I say again, it doesn’t matter. Look at the manuscripts in my bags.”
“Bide a moment in silence, then,” I said, and replaced the gag. I searched his belongings.
What I found there was . . . disturbing. The worst offender was a manuscript, written in English, and entitled “1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica—Glass.” It contained both formulae and descriptions of manufacturing techniques. What shocked me the most was its nonchalant statement that the methods could be used to produce single sheets measuring more than twenty-seven feet by thirteen feet. How did the English make such an advance, and how could our ambassador have been so derelict as to fail to report it?
“Where did this come from?”
I had heard of Grantville, of course, who hadn’t, but up to this point it had had no obvious connection with my work. I was more concerned with the mundane disappearance of glassworkers than the magical appearance of alleged towns of the future.
“So . . . you have stolen their guild secrets? You offer me their secret craft manual in return for your freedom, and that of your wife’s?”
He laughed, but not pleasantly. “I am tempted to say yes, but you would probably think better of the bargain too soon for my wife to be released. That is no secret manual, you can buy it in any bookshop in town. As you can many other articles of the infernal 1911 Encyclopedia.”
“Perhaps it’s a scam,” I said. “Whoever heard of single sheets the size of a house?”
“Tell you what,” said Tomasso. “I will wait with your men. You go into the town of Grantville, and look at their windows for yourself. Then decide if my secret knowledge is so important, anymore, that you must immure me and my wife on the island of Murano for the rest of our lives.”
After some thought, I consented to this arrangement. I moved Tomasso off the road to a cave my henchmen knew of. Their knowledge of potential bandit campsites didn’t surprise me in the least.
I visited the town of Grantville. Many times since then I have wished that I hadn’t, for there I saw that the great days of the Most Serene Republic were past.
“Well?” Tomasso asked, when I returned to our little cave away from home.
“You were right,” I admitted. “Even little stores had windows, so clear that a bird could fly into one by mistake; larger than that found in any palace in the world. And mirrors, likewise of fantastic size, and with images so clear that you thought that the legends of doppelgangers must be true.”
“Just to be fair, those windows were made by a technique which isn’t in that 1911 encyclopedia. Let glass spread on molten tin, under a special kind of air. But before you think that a trade secret, it’s in another encyclopedia, and you can buy copies of articles from that one, too.”
I didn’t know what to say, at first. At last, I sighed. “Very well. For my masters to save face, I will have to offer them something in return for your family’s freedom. Give me the 1911 manuscript, and write out a description of that molten tin business. For that, I will endeavor to obtain the release of your wife, and the cancellation of the order against you.”
“I suppose I will have to be content with that,” said Tomasso.
I ordered my hirelings to release him. They hesitated for a moment, until I assured them that they would be paid just as if we proceeded with our original arrangement.
As Tomasso clambered back onto his mule, he delivered one parting shot.
“So, Mister Secret Agent, I am no longer a master of the glassmaking art. No Venetian is, anymore. I eke out a living now in this little forest village, but it’s only a matter of time before the Grantville methods come here. And what happens to me when that happens?
“And I imagine there isn’t going to be much of a market anymore for secret agents to retrieve Venetian glassmakers, since they don’t know this new technology.
“In short, we’re both out of a job.”