Curzio Inghirami had learned a great deal during his visit to Grantville, but he now was back home at Villa Scornello, the family seat. It was a few miles outside of Volterra, a town in the grand duchy of Tuscany.
He beckoned to one of the family servants. "Tell Father that Lucrezia and I are going fishing." Lucrezia, his younger sister, giggled for no apparent reason. "Have Cook pack a picnic lunch for us, and then meet us out back in half an hour."
Curzio and Lucrezia whiled away the time, gossiping about their friends in Volterra. In due course, the servant joined them, basket in hand, and the three began the half-hour walk down to the bank of the River Cecina. The two siblings fished for a while, handing each catch to the servant, then started throwing stones into the river. Curzio reached down for another, then exclaimed, "Wait a moment! Look at this!"
"Oh, it's just an old pottery shard," said Lucrezia. "Throw or drop it, but don't talk about it."
"No, wait, it has writing on it. In Etruscan, I think. And here's a Latin word: 'thesaur'–the rest of the word is lost." He thought about it for a moment. "I am sure it must be 'thesaurus.'"
"I don't think Father Domenico has taught that one to me, yet." Father Domenico Vadorini was the Anghirami family priest, and their tutor.
"It means . . . 'treasure.'" Their servant blinked, but said nothing.
"Treasure?" Lucrezia put her hands on her hips and stared at her older brother. "Well, what are you waiting for? Let's find the rest of the vase. Perhaps the treasure is inside!" They started rummaging about.
"Here it is!" said Lucrezia triumphantly. She turned the broken vase upside-down, and shook it. What came out wasn't a treasure. At least not one which was recognizable as such. It was a lump of what looked like pitch, but with many hairs sticking out of it. "Yuck. Some treasure."
"Don't jump to conclusions, little sister," said Curzio loftily. He was six years her senior. "There might be something inside. Let's take it back up to the house and examine it more closely."
"Very well. I am tired of fishing, anyway." Curzio and Lucrezia tramped back up the hill. The servant, a respectful couple of yards behind them, carried the fish.
Once on the veranda of the family villa, Curzio threw the lump against a stone wall, and it broke apart. "Now we're getting somewhere. Look, there's a folded cloth inside. Some kind of linen. And there's writing on it. Let's go show Father."
Their father, Inghiramo Inghirami, was impressed. At least by the reference to treasure. However, the writing, some of which was in Latin, was not too informative. It suggested that the 'treasure,' whatever it might be, was located in a citadel, and that the latter was set on a hill near where the little stream, the Zambra, met the Cecina. They knew such a hill, and there were ruins of some kind there. Inghiramo told them that if they were interested, they could, on his authority, direct some of the tenant farmers to help them excavate the site.
"Hello, Curzio," said Raffaello Maffei. Raffaello was Curzio's best friend, and a noted antiquarian. "What brings you and the good Father down to town today?"
"Have a look at this." Curzio proffered the linen scroll. "I think this message might be in Etruscan."
"Come with me. We'll compare it to the inscriptions my namesake found." Raffaello led them into the Palazzo Maffei, where they could inspect the Etruscan inscriptions on a funeral stele and on a statue of a mother nurturing a child. Sure enough, the letters were similarly formed. As a frequent guest, Curzio had, of course, seen these Etruscan exemplars many times before.
"Did you find any more of these scrolls?" asked Raffaello, with the eagerness of a true scholar.
"Indeed, we did. I found this one inside a strange hairy, tarry offa." The Latin word could mean a ball of dough, or a tumor, or indeed any shapeless mass. "But we have others we haven't opened yet. I wouldn't think of doing so without the benefit of your company."
"I thank you. You have them here?"
"A few. Father Vadorini is carrying them."
Curzio, as the discoverer, was granted the honor of the first incision. He took out the new scroll, and read it. "This is astounding—read this sentence, Father."
Father Vadorini read aloud, "I am an augur, a prophet of my people. Yet it is not prophecy which compels Man, but the Great Aesar, who, when he created Man, permitted him to possess his own Will." He crossed himself.
"This is of great theological import! We know that of all the ancient peoples, none were more religious than our ancestors, the Etruscans. And we know that over the centuries, that the Lord prepared the world for the coming of the Savior by granting inspirations to learned and worthy pagans, such as Homer, and Plato, and Virgil. Here then, is proof that he moved among the nobler of the Etruscans."
His companions immediately recognized the significance of his comment. This Etruscan divine had apprehended, at an early date, one of the major teachings of the Catholic Church, and one on which the Protestants had grievously erred.
"We really need a more attractive name for these packages than offa."
Raffaello considered the problem. "Perhaps you can call it a chrysalis. That is the container from which a butterfly emerges, and these messages, at least to learned men, are as beautiful as a butterfly."
To His Grace Ferdinand de' Medici, Second of that Name, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Magnus Dux Etruriae:
As you requested, I thoroughly investigated the claims of the Inghirami family to have discovered Etruscan antiquities of great significance in the vicinity of their villa of Scornello. I have heard the testimony of Curzio and Lucrezia Inghirami, the discoverers of the first artifact, and of the manservant who accompanied them. I have also questioned the tenant farmers who carried out the further excavations, under the direction of young Curzio, of the ruined citadel overlooking the Cecina. And I have also considered the words of Father Vadorini and of the noble Raffaello Maffei.
Naturally, we have spoken to scholars. They have not reached any consensus as to the authenticity of the artifacts. However, it does not appear that there is anything in the circumstances of these discoveries that would lead one to suspect that the chrysali are not of great age. The chrysali were found within ancient pottery, or in cracks in old masonry, or even entangled within great tree roots. We have no reason to suspect that someone has attempted to deceive your Grace in terms of their provenance.
Moreover, even the critics have conceded that, according to the ancient Greek and Latin writers, the Etruscans wrote on books of linen. If the artifacts are authentic, then they are the first such Liber Lintei to be found, making this an archaeological breakthrough. It is possible that the dissenting professors are merely expressing their indignation that such a discovery has been made by someone outside the usual academic circles.
Curzio's father Inghiramo is your Salt Inspector for Volterra, and his uncle Giulio is your Postmaster General. Both have urged that this young man be appointed "Defender of Etruscan Antiquities," with certain privileges pertaining to excavation of known and suspected Etruscan sites. Such an appointment would honor Curzio's achievements and also gratify two of your most steadfast supporters.
Sincerely, your kinsman, friend and servant,
Tommaso de' Medici
Provveditore de Volterra
Curzio and Lucrezia were by their fishing spot. They were temporarily alone, having sent the servant back to the villa to fetch something. "They fell for it!" shouted Curzio and Lucrezia simultaneously, and hugged each other in delight. Lucrezia's long, dark, Etruscan hair bobbed up and down.
For Lucrezia, the whole venture was just a lark. Like most twelve year olds, she was convinced that what adults knew could be written on the head of a pin. She had happily donated her hair to the cause, and had especially enjoyed her little stage role on the day of the "discovery."
Curzio's motivations were of a more somber nature. Curzio had attempted, several years before, to persuade his father to let him study history and classics at the University of Florence, or its counterpart in Pisa. Since his formal education had been limited to weekly lessons with Father Vadorini, the faculty had been . . . discouraging.
In order to prove himself as a scholar, Curzio had spent many hours at the archives of Volterra. He had painstakingly written up his findings on genealogy and local history, in both Latin and Tuscan vernacular, and had sent them to professors at the two great Tuscan universities. He had fondly hoped that his essay would impress the faculty members sufficiently so that they would insist that his father allow him to become one of their number. The only one who bothered to answer had crushingly remarked that he did not have time to tutor country bumpkins in the rudiments of historical scholarship. Curzio's father urged him to forget all the nonsense about studying history and become a lawyer. Curzio was not enthusiastic about this idea.
Then Curzio had gone to Grantville. The grand duke encouraged his trusted noblemen to visit, and study, that eldritch place, and, since the plague had not fully loosened its grip on Tuscany, his father had thought it was a good idea for his heir to leave the duchy for a while.
In the up-timers' libraries, Curzio had researched his pet interest, the ancient history of Tuscany. The saga of the glorious days when the Tuscans were the Etruscans, and Rome was just a village of primitives.
Nor was Curzio the only Tuscan fascinated with the past. The Medici collected Etruscan artifacts, such as the "Etruscan Chimera," found at Arezzo in 1554, and restored by Benvenuto Cellini. They also encouraged their court to speak in "Tuscan vernacular," supposed to be descended from ancient Etruscan, rather than in Latin.
After a few months in Grantville, Curzio had a stroke of luck. One of the Americans owned the "Lost Civilizations" series of "Time-Life Books." And these included one entitled, Etruscans: Italy's Lovers of Life. While the owner wouldn't sell it, there were alternatives. Thanks to one of the English-Latin translation services which had sprung up in Grantville, Curzio had been able to obtain a complete Latin translation.
Curzio had figured that over the four centuries which separated the up-timers and the down-timers, surely the former had made some interesting finds. And they had. Unfortunately, the most important ones were located on the property of other noble families. So they would get the lion's share of the glory.
Then Curzio had his brainstorm. He would use his secretly acquired up-time knowledge to plant Etruscan artifacts in his own neighborhood. The professors would reluctantly acknowledge his achievement, and the prestige he would acquire by "discovering" the antiquities could be parlayed into a grant of general authority over archaeological sites from the grand duke. Then he would go to the other sites and uncover them.
He would then lord it over the professors who had mocked him in the past. Yes, it was a perfect plan. And the up-time books had told him what he needed to know in order to fake an Etruscan message. Such as the fact that their books were written on folded, tightly woven linen with black ink.
Lieutenant Lewis Philip Bartolli was nervous. He had never expected that his first mission outside of Grantville would be a solo one. But here he was in Florence, the capital of Tuscany. His nearest superior, Ambassador Sharon Nichols, was a good hundred miles away, in Venice.
It was amusing, actually. Lewis' parents had planned a trip to Tuscany, but then the Ring of Fire had changed everything. But thanks to that cataclysm, and the USE Army, Lewis was now in Florence nearly four hundred years ahead of schedule.
The French, the Spanish and Austrian Hapsburgs, and the USE's other foes definitely had the bigger battalions. If the USE was to win the war, it had to maintain its technological edge. In that war, the chemical industry had a vital role to play.
Trouble was, Grantville was just a small West Virginia hill town. Its technical people didn't know all the details of the important industrial chemical processes. That meant that it would have to do chemical research. And to do that research, it needed apparatus which was likewise in short supply.
If you wanted laboratory glassware, you wanted borosilicate glass. It was resistant to acids, high temperatures, and thermal shock. To make it, you needed boric acid, or one of the borate salts, such as borax.
Borax was available in seventeenth century Europe. It wasn't used to make glass, but it was used by goldsmiths as a flux, and by assayers as a reagent. It was imported, under the name "tincal," from Tibet. The Venetians held a monopoly on it and charged dearly for it, around three hundred thousand New U.S. dollars to the ton.
The Grantville encylopedias had revealed that, in 1777, boric acid had been discovered in the Maremma of Tuscany. During the nineteenth century, until large deposits had been found in the American West, Tuscany had been the world's chief supplier of boron compounds. An up-time picture book of Tuscany, owned by one of Grantville's many Italian-Americans, had directed the USE's attention to the town of Larderello, founded by Francesco de Larderel in 1827 to exploit the local boric acid.
Lewis' scientific training and linguistic skills had made him the ideal candidate for his current assignment. After his accelerated graduation from high school, he had enlisted in the Army, and was assigned to the Military Research Group. Joining the military didn't keep him out of school for long; they sent him right back to the high school. There, he served as a teaching assistant, and received advanced training in chemistry.
There were only so many young men in Grantville who had chemical laboratory experience . . . and Lewis had grown up speaking Italian. Picked up Latin pretty quickly, too. So he was the logical choice, despite his age.
The plan, as devised in Grantville, was that Lewis would test Tuscan waters for boric acid. He would start in Larderello, and then move to the other sites mentioned in the up-time books. Once he identified the most promising locations, the Cavriani office in Florence would acquire the mineral rights and hire the workers and foreman. Lewis would then, somehow, figure out how to get the production process up-and-running. While a method of recovering boric acid had been described in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, Lewis was sure that he would have to improvise.
Lewis was welcomed to the Tuscan city of Florence by Niccolo and Lorenzo Cavriani. Niccolo Cavriani was the capo of the Cavriani Brothers branch office in Florence, and Lorenzo was his son. The Cavrianis were the USE's informal commercial agents in Italy.
After taking precautions to make sure that there were no eavesdroppers, Niccolo began briefing Lewis on the political situation. "Grand Duke Ferdinand II de Medici is only twenty-four years old, and has been ruling Tuscany for only the last seven years. Before then, his mother and grandmother were co-regents.
"Ferdinand's mother was Maria Magdalena, who died in 1631. That is probably just as well; the Austrians have enough influence in the Tuscan court as it is."
"What was her connection to the Habsburgs?"
"She was the Holy Roman Emperor's sister. After Breitenfeld, she persuaded her son to send a Tuscan contingent to join the imperial army. He promised six thousand soldiers, under the command of two of his brothers. He thought better of it, but allowed Francesco and Mattias to serve as volunteer officers. They are somewhere in Germany now."