Nature didn’t stand a chance against ruthless inventor Volante Volanti. By carving a simple channel through a gentle rise, he changed the course of a river for the noblemen he served, thus moving the border between two city-states and annexing to his benefactors’ gain the fragrant fields of the left bank valley, its shining marble quarries and the towns wherein their bitterest rivals quartered and trained. Then, when the new pope matched the fee he had earned to move the river, plus a single florin, he moved it back. For every friend he ever made, a flooded town wanted Volanti tortured. Wealthy but indifferent to comfort, he spent everything on projects. Barges, elephants, cedar trunks as tall as the duomo, anything he pointed at would move where he directed. Botanist, anatomist, metallurgist, engineer, he was a free-spending customer for suppliers of sulfur, cadavers, carving tools and flint. But he could never keep a kite aloft. Gliders called volantis he invented, to drop fire on warring encampments. Catapults with the power to throw small chapels were no challenge, but every kite of his design snarled itself in tight circles and crashed. One day, making notes in a field with his latest failed design, he was captured by supporters of the deposed pope and knocked deeply unconscious. When he woke, he saw what they had done. Following his own diagrams, they had scalpeled neat lines down his arms, legs, chest and abdomen and peeled the skin from the muscles, stretching it into sails, then stitched the sails to a frame of thin lath. He was a kite, darting uncontrollably left, now right, high above the plains in the winds off the coast. When his gut failed and its ropy contents spilled toward earth and dangled, he thought, Of course! A tail!

Copyright © August 6, 2008 David Hodges

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