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Da Vinci's Cases
by Alfred Bekker
The scope of this book is 113 pages paperback.
When a beggar boy with dark spots in the face appears in the village, the inhabitants of Vinci are in bright excitement: The plague has broken out! Fortunately, a doctor is quickly available, who has a remedy for the Black Death. Leonardo would like to examine this remedy. But the doctor keeps his secret like his eyeball. And Leonardo is doing everything he can to disclose it.
Alfred Bekker, born in 1964, writes fantasy, historical novels, criminal novels and books for young readers. His historical adventures for young readers are full of suspense, stuff which even kids who hate reading cannot resist.
The German-language print editions appeared in 2008/2009 in the Arena Taschenbuchverlag;
Translations are available in Turkish, Indonesian, Danish and Bulgarian.
© by Alfred Bekker
© 2017 of the digital edition AlfredBekker/CassiopeiaPress
A CassiopeiaPress E-Book
Candlelight flickered in the half-dark room. Shadows danced on the walls of the cool vault.
Leonardo looked at the ranks of the mysterious signs. Some seemed like drawings, and were lovingly painted. Others resembled animals, were very complicated and were each surrounded by a long oval.
"What’s the meaning of these signs on the paper?" Leonardo asked.
"This is neither paper nor parchment, but papyrus," corrected the old man in the precious robe and with a golden chain around his neck. He held out his wrinkled hand with thin fingers. A ring with the seal of the Medici family decorated his fourth finger, one with the seal of the city of Florence was placed on the middle finger. "And the signs are Egyptian hieroglyphs, which were used long ago ..."
"How long ago?" Leonardo asked.
The old man raised his eyebrows and a mild smile glided over his face.
"You know the stories about Moses and how he demanded the freedom of the people of Israel from Pharaoh?"
"Yes, my Grandfather told me about it. And sometimes the priest in church ..."
"At the time of Moses, probably these signs were used."
"And what do they mean?"
"Nobody knows. Sometimes clear images are in between – of animals mostly. But what they mean in the context of the other characters and whether they are letters or if the whole sign stands for a concept ..." The old man shrugged. "I have not the slightest idea, even though I have made every effort to figure it out. I have brought the most clever scholars to Florence. But no one has solved the riddle. Who knows, maybe someone in the future will manage it. Someone who understands the secret scripture, like you, because there must be a system behind everything!"
The old man was Cosimo de 'Medici.
He was the head of the richest and most powerful family in Florence and also the Lord of the City. Cosimo had already been around for 80 years, but he still held the power in his hands and did not even think of giving it to a successor.
Through the trade of wool, Cosimo, as a young man, had ensured that the Medici family became rich and powerful. But he had not put a part of the wealth into palaces or luxury, but instead financed his collector’s passion. Cosimo collected old writings. Above all, works of the ancient Romans and Greeks, as well as Arabic and Hebrew books, were numerous. Through all Europe he himself had traveled to acquire ancient writings. Later he had scholars in his service who did this at his place. They traveled to the Holy Land to Jerusalem or to Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt. Thus, Cosimo de 'Medici had collected a vast collection in the course of time.
And that Leonardo had the opportunity to rummage around in this unique collection, he owed the fact that his father Ser Piero occasionally worked as a notary and clerk for the city of Florence.
"There is so much that humanity has forgotten in the last thousand years, my boy," Cosimo said. "The ancient Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Persians ... In their writings are so many discoveries, inventions, thoughts ..." Cosimo really seemed to be touched. He was looking towards nothingness, as if he was remembering the old days, when he had traveled through countless countries, searching for writings.
"How could it happen that these things have been forgotten?" Leonardo asked. "And why did you have to travel around Europe to collect all the books? It would have been possible to make a library to be visited by everyone, long before."
"The old texts in Greek and Latin have been partly erased from the parchments in order to write something else on it," Cosimo said. "Above all, of course, texts that arose before the Christian faith! For them, they were books by unbelieving heathens! Why should they be kept while parchment or paper was so scarce?
Fortunately, the Arabs copied and translated many of the Greek texts so that they still exist ..."
Cosimo now turned to Ser Piero, who was also in the room and had just listened all the time. "You have a very intelligent son, Ser Piero," he said. "Does he already know what he wants to be?"
"He is interested in so much," said Ser Piero. "He draws imagination machines and likes to watch the animals in nature. He likes to paint and is also a skilled craftsman. That's why I think it's best for him to learn in an artist's workshop."
Cosimo nodded. "That’s good," said the City Lord of Florence, and it annoyed Leonardo that they were talking about him now, as if he were not there. Just like about a child, he thought. He didn’t think about the fact that it was extraordinary that Cosimo de 'Medici took the time to rummage around in old writings with a boy from the village. But perhaps the City Lord sensed that Leonardo was filled with the same interest in these mysterious things. Steps were suddenly heard.
They echoed in the vault. A servant of the House of Medici approached, bowed, and said, "My Lord, you have told me to remind you that you must go now to the great hall. The negotiations with the envoy from Milan ..."
Cosimo raised his hand and made a strained face. "Ah, do not remind me of these unpleasant things," he replied. "Tell him that I am about to arrive!"
"Yes," the servant nodded, then bowed again and went away.
Cosimo now rose. "You heard it, my boy, the government business is calling me."
"Mr. Cosimo, leave this papyrus to me!" Leonardo said. "Maybe I could solve the riddle of the hieroglyphs for you!"
"I'm sorry, but this piece is too precious to give it out of hand," Cosimo said. "You can look at it, but only here in the rooms of my library ..."
"Then let me copy this document," said Leonardo. "Because I do not know if the right idea to decipher the meaning comes to me at this place."
Cosimo took a deep breath. But before the City Lord could say something, Ser Piero spoke up. "Excuse me, Sir, my son’s demand seems to me quite insolent and therefore ..."
"To me, it’s only right," Cosimo said to Ser Piero's surprise. "Who am I to stand in the way of a talent."
"You are very generous," said Ser Piero, bowing deeply.
"You too, Ser Piero," Cosimo replied. "After all, you must wait for your son until he will have finished his drawings – and not me!"
After Cosimo de Medici had left, Leonardo went to work at once. The notary Ser Piero always had paper and pencil in his pocket, after all, it was his profession to draw up contracts and letters for other people who were not able to do so.
Leonardo looked closely at the signs and pictures. The drawings of beings whose bodies looked like human beings, but possessed an animal head, were striking. Men with crocodile heads, catheads, and those who were similar to dogs, fell upon him. Especially a bird-headed individual. This bird's head had a very long bent beak, as Leonardo had never seen it at any bird.
He was especially interested in birds, which was simply because they were able to fly and he was hoping to catch the secret of flying. And while Leonardo carefully scanned every sign and image on the paper, his ideas were racing. Questions about questions opened up. Had these beasts really lived, or were they idols adored by men? And was that connected with the signs that were arranged around them? Leonardo had by no means the impression that even any stroke on this papyrus had been placed accidentally. Everything seemed to correspond to a wonderful order. It was an order about no one still knew anything, so that the message could not be read anymore. Ser Piero went up and down a little hesitantly. Then he finally said, "It has already become later, as I had thought. I suggest we stay here in Florence for one more night, and not before tomorrow morning we will be on our way to Vinci."
"I do totally agree," said Leonardo. "We could also stay here for two more days, because Cosimo certainly has a number of other extremely interesting documents lying here ..."
"That’s really out of question," Ser Piero explained clearly.
The next morning, Leonardo and his father set out to go back to Vinci. Leonardo rode on the mare Marcella, which his father had once taken as a pledge from a debtor and was now held by Leonardo's Grandfather in the stable. Leonardo had folded the drawing of the papyrus in a bag which he carried around his shoulders and which otherwise contained a few other things that Leonardo had taken with him on the short trip from Vinci to Florence and back again.
Actually, there had been a special reason that Leonardo had accompanied his father to Florence.
Ser Piero had hoped to be able to present Leonardo once again in the sculptor's and painter's workshop of the famous Andrea del Verrocchio.
There, according to his plan, Leonardo should go to the lesson and learn all about sculpture and painting. Andrea del Verrocchio was a master of his subject and Leonardo would also have liked to learn with him. But Master Verrocchio was able to choose his pupils, since it was considered a great honor to go to the doctrine with him. So the crowds of new apprentices were always quite large.
Ser Piero had already introduced Leonardo and had received the answer that he should wait until Leonardo was older. Sometimes there were very early gifted apprentices who were then twelve or thirteen years. Normally, however, Andrea del Verrocchio's apprentices had an age of fourteen or fifteen years, so that they were ready at the latest by the age of nineteen and were admitted to the Painter’s Gild of Florence.
Leonardo, however, was only ten.
And that was just too young for the master. Now, however, Ser Piero had heard one of the apprentices died of a sudden illness. No one had known exactly what a disease was, but Ser Piero had naturally hoped that the great Andrea del Verrocchio could be moved so that he would accept Leonardo. That the boy was gifted, he had never doubted.
But Ser Piero's plans had failed, for Master Verrocchio had gone to Pisa for a few weeks – one day before Ser Piero and Leonardo arrived in Florence!
"Perhaps you will have wondered why I urge you to become an apprentice right now, so soon," Ser Piero said to his son during the ride.
But Leonardo had not really listened. He was watching a few birds crossing the sky. Large birds – with long legs and very long beaks. Perhaps storks or fishers. One could not exactly tell from the distance, but if they'd been less far away, Leonardo would have known at once what kind of bird it was. In the meantime he knew very well.
"Are you actually listening to me?" Ser Piero asked. "Why are you staring at the birds up there?"
"I thought of the bird heads on the papyrus," said Leonardo. "They also had long beaks. As far as I have seen up to now, those birds always use long beaks to catch fish in the water, and I wonder whether the bird-man from the papyrus has also caught fish."
"Leonardo, I am talking about your future and you are watching birds!"
"Father, I do not know why you are thinking so much now, but Andrea del Verrocchio has already said that he likes to take me. Just not yet. That we did not meet him is bad luck, but if he does not take me, another workshop will pick me up. And if that takes a few more years, it is not so bad. Then maybe I can finish a few of my inventions so that you can really use them, and have finally cleared the secret of flying." He touched the bag at his side. "And, of course, the hieroglyphs! That’s funny: Greek and Hebrew can still be read today, and the signs on the papyrus may not be much more complicated than the secret scripture which I myself have invented."
"Leonardo, I've told you before that I think about whether we should move to Florence in the next few years. Maybe a little earlier, maybe a little later. But I am now working so hard for Cosimo de 'Medici, since that would be quite comfortable."
"Did you say ‘we’?" Leonardo asked.
He lived with his Grandfather in Vinci. His parents had not been married. His mother had married a peasant and potter from the area, and grounded her own family with him. He could not stay there. And even at Ser Piero he could not have grown up.
So he had lived with his Grandfather for the past five years – which was not bad for him, for hardly anyone else would have granted him so many freedoms.
"And what will become of Grandfather?" asked Leonardo.
"He's already old and nobody knows how long he's still alive. Who knows, perhaps he would come to Florence. In any case, I would be more comfortable if you were to learn something soon."
Leonardo thought about this for a moment.
Then, finally, he said, "I do not think it works, father. No one takes anyone as young as I am. They simply do not trust us, that's the problem!"
As they rode along, they met a boy a few miles away from Vinci. He wore rags. His garment seemed like a mended sack, and his trousers almost seemed to be made but of patches. He carried a bundle with him, containing doubtlessly all his possessions. He had knotted this bundle on a stick, which he had put over his shoulder. Leonardo reined in the mare Marcella when his father and he approached the boy. He was whistling a song, then turned to them, and went aside to give free way to the two riders.
Leonardo estimated the boy at perhaps eleven or twelve years. The curled hair fell into his eyes so that you could not see whether he was looking at you or not.
"A mild gift for a poor orphan!" the boy said, holding out his hand as Leonardo and Ser Piero were not immediately pushing their heals into their horses’ sides to make them galloping away. "You have a good heart, you are Christians, and believe in the Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. So please help a poor orphan to survive the next day. My stomach is groaning and probably I'll have to die of hunger soon if I cannot buy anything ..."
Somehow, Leonardo considered the manner in which the boy was begging to be exaggerated because – even though he was poorly dressed – his cheeks were full and round. Ser Piero gave him a coin.
The boy caught it.
"And do you coincidentally ride to Vinci?" he asked.
"We do, indeed," Leonardo answered.