In a hidden room, in a gilded palace, a wicked man regarded a city on a map with greed in his heart.
With one bony finger he traced the line of the coast north to where a collection of lagoons provided a natural harbour and allowed the city to dominate the trade routes from all directions, and command the seas beyond. He tapped the map, once, twice, three times and cleared his throat.
The man opposite him at the table inclined his head, almost imperceptibly, as if granting the older man permission to continue.
"This city is an abomination in the eyes of God and the church. They refuse to pay us tribute, they steal our most holy relics and display them as their own, their cathedrals and basilicas are a mockery of the splendour of our own fair city. They govern themselves as a so called, self styled republic - an affront to the divine right of Kings and Dukes to rule in a natural order, under the guidance of their spiritual mentors."
He coughed again, this time reaching for a delicately laced handkerchief and dabbing his lips with the grace of a courtesan. He picked up an obscenely bejewelled golden goblet and sipped some sweet red wine to moisten his throat.
Again the younger man waited. He knew the rules of this game well, a dance as intricate and convoluted as any quadrille performed by the perfumed dandies at court. He would not have come here if he didn't know what he was going to hear.
"Two of our clerics in the city have been arrested and accused of the most petty and ridiculous crimes. Their council has passed a law interfering with our right - our God given right, no less - to own and enjoy our property and churches, and to collect our rightful tithes from our flock. They have thumbed their noses at the Papal interdict that was their last opportunity to repent and return to the paths of righteousness."
The prelate snatched up his goblet again and drained it in a single swallow, before slamming it down upon the table, sending a fine spray of wine flying across the map.
"Enough is enough, I say!"
Rage and exertion caused the man's face to purple, matching the colour of his robe and the droplets of wine that had stained the map, and he was briefly incapacitated by another fit of coughing.
"I charge you with the authority vested in me as a Cardinal of the most Holy Roman Church by the true apostolic succession to act as an independent agent to bring this renegade republic under the discipline of the church. I grant you a full indulgence to commit any act that you deem necessary to achieve your goal"
"Break each and every one the ten commandments if you must. If you succeed in your holy mission you will have ample reward, both in this world and the next. If you fail, we will of course, deny you."
"I will need resources"
"You will have them. Now, go and bring these curs to heel."
He touched the heavy gold crucifix hanging around his neck and then mirrored the shape with a familiar gesture with his hand in the air.
"In nomine Patris, Fili et Spiritus Sancti"
The younger man rose from the table and turned to leave, the hint of a smile playing about the corners of his mouth. Father Vittorio Carmelo knew that the victory that his name promised was within his grasp.