EXCERPT: “JEANNE D’ARCHITONNERE!”

To celebrate the release of CHICKS IN TANK TOPS, an excerpt from my story, “Jeanne d’Architonnere!”

Even inside the armor of the tartaruga that she was preparing for battle, Gia could hear the bellowing of the Florentine leaders. Them, and the crunching thunder of the siege guns. 

“This is your army? You are trusting the fate of the Republic to a blind man and a crippled girl?” shouted Soderini.

“It’s better than trusting the mercy of that son-of-a-whore Borgia and His Profanity Julius II!” hissed back Machiavelli.

Gia inspected the turret. Bearings, greased. Springs and gun-track, polished to a shine. She snapped the slats of the viewports up and down on their hinges. She saw the Florentine militia wavering in their ranks, the dust and smoke where mortar stones had fallen, and finally, the sour, square face of Gonfaloniere Soderini, red jowls flapping.

“You call him profane!” he cried. “But you’re the one dealing with a sorcerer!”

“Well, if he can conjure up a spine for your militia, then he is no wizard, but a worker of miracles and therefore a saint!” growled General Machiavelli. His smooth face was a saturnine mask. Gia was not fooled. The man’s rage was hotter than the copper of the architonnerre. And that shone with heat, steam venting from its valve.

“They’re your militia!” roared Soderini. “You trained them! You led them! You led us all: to this!”

“And you refused to let me train them more,” Machiavelli went on, implacably, “You and the rest, so worried that I might declare myself a prince that they are now – as I warned you! – unable to save us from the devils beating at Prato’s gates!”

Gia snorted. At least she and her fellow tartaruga crews had drilled. They’d had to learn the machines inside-out.

“Have faith,” said a voice with an odd accent. French? A short man in blue uniform under a breastplate stepped into view. “Gaston de Foix comes from victory over Spain at Ravenna, and though wounded, he rides to your aid. But he cannot retake Prato if it has already fallen, and Prato is the key to Firenze. Better to fight now than beg Christ’s mercy from the black hearts of Pope Julius II or Borgia.”

At that name, rage mounted in Gia’s belly, spreading even to the legs she could not otherwise feel. She looked at the Florentines with disgust: they’d wanted to wait like princesses for some dashing French officer to ride to their rescue without having to fight. She’d never had any such illusions. She looked down into the belly of the tartaruga.

“Carlo, are we loaded?”

Si, donna.” The squat man gestured to the long trough of cast-iron balls.

“Gun-breech?”

He grinned. “Smooth as a whore’s passage.”

“Don’t talk dirty about my baby, Carlo. Gun-barrel?”

“Hotter than Borgia’s soul in Hell.”

Gia listened to the Florentines’ cursing and said, “I think it’s time for a valve test, don’t you?”

Carlo’s smile turned wolfish. “Si, Donna.

Gia looked out, making sure that the gleaming muzzle was turned well away from the arguing lords. The general’s hand was drifting slowly toward the hilt of a large dirk at his belt.

“Lock breech.”

“Locked and empty.”

Gia reached over and slammed the valve shut. The steam hissing through the turret vent cut off. Boiling water rushed through its siphon tube and hit the barrel of the gun, heated by its cage of coals. It flashed instantly into steam. The copper barrel loosed a jet of vapor with a roar that silenced the shouting Florentines.

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