Plague Doctor: Maestro Lodovicetti

Because the story took a different direction, the following is a piece that didn’t make the final cut for Conjurers, an epic historical fantasy set in 14th century Europe. This snippet ultimately transformed into a kind of exercise or character sketch for my primary antagonist, the alchemist-cum-vivisectionist, Maestro Lodivicetti.


The journey had been easier than the Maestro expected, with only a few irritations along the way. During the early days of the procession, a baby had caught the croup, so that between coughing and crying the child was almost never silent. Lodovicetti had asked, quite reasonably, that the order of wagons be changed to place him farther away, but the Hansa captain was inflexible.

Lessons babyFinally, the Maestro could take it no more and he acted, as anyone would who possessed his knowledge. Gathering the instruments of his Art, he performed a ritual in the candlelit privacy of his conveyance to strangle the baby’s weak, fluttering spirit.

That night the child died. The Maestro gave the matter little consideration until he encountered the Law of Unintended Consequences: no sooner had he silenced the infant than the wailing of the baby’s mother began.

This infuriated the Maestro, who would have struck her down along with every sniveling mourner that gathered round her bier but this, alas, would have suggested plague.

It had been only ten years since the countryside they traveled had been swept with waves of pestilence, and terror of the Black Death continued to grip Europe. People still whispered stories of how so many of the disease’s victims had languished for long days while others died with terrifying rapidity.

A doctor who contracted the illness from a patient on his visit expired before he could even leave the man’s bedside. A family had been found seated around the dining room table with their supper—now festering with maggots—set before them.

Plague doctor

Plague doctor with beaked plague mask

The plague had been a time of great interest for the Maestro since there was then a plentitude of cadavers available for study and myriad intellectual curiosities. Protective charms kept the illness from his household, so his only concern was its cessation. Oh, not from the vantage of wanting it stopped, quite the contrary. At the point where it seemed the civil authorities had gotten the disease under control in Genoa, Lodovicetti had reintroduced a most virulent extraction, and the cries that this was the end of the world had redoubled.

But no, he had learned his lesson with the sick infant. On this journey, restraint must be the byword, forbearance his rampart. Every turning of life’s road brought a chance for perfecting himself, gaining self-mastery, and he must take these opportunities as they came.

Even so, he indulged in one little thing. An item of such insignificance it could hardly be counted against him. He inflicted a long, painful, and ultimately deadly liver disease on the merchant captain whose refusal had begun this unpleasant series of events. That at least he could do.


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