January 8th 1583
The last rotare fitted into its socket with a satisfying click. Matteo Galdini sighed and leaned back on the tall stool, removing the magnifying lenses from his eyes and stretching his knotted muscles.
“It is done?” asked the dark-clad man behind him, and Galdini nodded, turning slightly towards the voice.
“Aye, sir,” he replied softly, shifting his attention back to the machina that glowed in the hissing alchemic lanterns that illuminated the workshop.
He inhaled deeply, laying the small docking-tool down on the square of soft leather spread out on the ancient, chipped workbench, before raising his head to gaze upon the icon of Saint Leonardo da Vinci, whose ancient, angry stare glared out into the workshop. The little smelting pit flickered, its flame dying now, untended as Galdini had spent the few last hours fitting the final pieces of this device together. He crossed himself, muttering a swift prayer to the Patron Saint of Mechsmiths. He was surprised to hear the gentleman behind him echoing his words.
Outside Galdini’s workshop, the square was deserted; the winter chill and gathering darkness had forced the citizens of Florence from the streets. The air smelled of snow, sweeping in from the hazy, distant mountains, and piles of gray slush from yesterday’s storm still lay around the margins of the square in the heart of the old Fortezza de Basso. The merchants still plied their trade, even on the coldest days, but today had been quiet, affording him the opportunity to work on this device, a special commission the like of which he had not seen in all his years. Galdini smiled to himself; Florence was so alive these days. It was one of the reasons he had moved here from Siena, whose ascendancy had long since passed. Florence was the place where a mechsmith could build a thriving business, in amongst the new alchemists’ workshops, on the trade routes that had brought new alloys and new money flooding into the Italian States from France and Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.
Despite the Guild’s traditional proscription that warned against concerning oneself with the purpose of a commission, Galdini found himself intrigued by the device. The case was around eighteen inches square, and perhaps twelve inches in height, fitted with several hidden drawers containing yet more parts that could be exchanged for those already fitted within the intricate workings.
The tiered keyboard as one might find on a clavichord took up the front half of the device, twenty-six in all and marked with letters immaculately inlaid in gold upon each pale ivory face. Behind that lay the visible machinery; a spider’s web of fine rods and thick cylinders, the rotare, also marked with letters, above which was a metal tray on a toothed carriage, bearing a flat sheet of soft red wax. A tiny keyhole beneath allowed the elaborate clock-work of the mechanism to be wound. The oiled bronze and brass of the rotare gleamed in the yellow light.