Chapters 4 and 5 comprise a formal mystery, complete with disguises, multiple agendas, and a big sit-down at the end to explain it all.
They also reintroduce the protagonists of the first three chapters, under new names.
The mercenary put a coin on the bartop, [...]
"Ah, Swiss. Not too far for you to go, then, when this damned Milan falls to pieces."
This places the chapter, roughly, in space and time. The inn is in Italy, Milanese territory, near the Swiss border; and it is winter of the same year as chapter 3 -- 1477 AD. (See p105.) (It will turn out to be November; see p129-130.)
Milan was a threat and a power a few pages ago, but now Duke Sforza is dead. And the soldiers marching from Rome (p95) will be taking the opportunity to acquire Milan, as well as Florence, on Byzantium's behalf.
"Timaeus Plato," the old man said, then smiled. "Soldier in the service of Learning."
Thus the dilemma of Captain Hector the mercenary: the state that employs him is collapsing, and he's probably not going to get paid.
Note that Sforza's death is recent news. This implies that the year is still 1477.
"Ah. I think, that thing to speak on, two wizards in same inn."
Plato said "Who's the other?"
Hector looked blank, drank.
This is an impressive number of lies in four lines. Charles asserts that Plato is a wizard, which Plato pretends not to understand. Charles does not buy this incomprehension (as Plato must have expected) -- but he does not press the subject; and he may or may not believe the implicit denial. Which is itself a lie, because of course Plato is Hywel.
A tall, slender man in glossy boots and a silk cloak stepped down, then reached up to assist another passenger: a woman wrapped tightly in yellow velvet. A gust pushed her hood aside, and gold hair blew out straight. The man's cloak flapped back as he steadied her on the steps, showing the courier's wings of Mercury on his jacket, the Rienzi wand in his belt. There was a large leather pouch slung across his chest.
There had been two passengers on the coach from Switzerland. One called himself Antonio della Robbia, a Medici banker. He wore a long gown of brown stuff, hose particolored brown and white, and he fairly dripped jewelry. Della Robbia's voice was thick, and he sneezed and apologized.
The other had on a severe, straight-lined gown of white linen with a loose cowl. His boots were practical, if unfashionable, and well worn. Perched on his large nose were eyeglasses with tinted lenses and fine silver frames. He introduced himself, in careful schoolbook Italian, as Gregory von Bayern, natural scientist.
"Yes," Falcone said distantly.
"Maybe then I know your message."
...And Falcone is not a Sforza messenger.
The Sforza in question would be Ludovico Sforza.
In the corner of the hall, a man stood next to one of the servers. He wore a voluminous gown of dark blue cloth, coarse and patched, and a cylindrical Turkish cap with a yellow tassel. His shoes were undyed leather nailed over wooden soles, his hose heavy wool.
We meet Guido Tommasi, also called Nottesignore the wizard. He was noted as sleeping in the barn (p105), and here we learn that he has not paid for dinner either. His clothes reflect this penury. (Except for his hose, which are sturdy if not fancy; see p131.)
The hot bath had done wonders for [della Robbia's] cold.
His rough voice was mentioned on p106-107.
Around [Gregory's] neck was a light silver necklace, with a convex black disc pendant: a pellet, a heraldic cannonball.
The pellet or gunstone is a standard heraldic term. Gregory von Bayern will turn out to be an artillery engineer.
"Where's the French... fellow?" Captain Hector said, taking a sip from the silver-footed mazer cradled in his hard hand.
"You're right," Plato said. "He's not here."
"The lady is too modest, of course," Falcone told the others. "I know she appeared on stage many times--"
"Really, Messer Falcone; for a courier you are not very closemouthed! Very well, yes, in Plautus I was a favored knockabout" -- she smiled as the others tried to control their expressions -- "and in the great production of the Odyssey I was Penelope's understudy, and for two hundred productions I had to be ready..." She glanced at Falcone. "...to put my suitors off."
Falcone is flattering Cynthia -- sincerely, as far as we can tell. He may be repeating the story she told him in the coach, of herself as Caterina Ricardi of Milan. (In which case she probably overembellished, and is now regretting it.)
Plautus was a comic playwright in early Rome. (A "knockabout" is a low-comic role; everyone is reacting to the contrast with "Caterina"'s noble comportment.)
And of course Penelope is (in legend) the wife of Odysseus, who spent twenty years putting off suitors while she waited for her husband to return alive. Cynthia is telling Falcone that he shouldn't take his interest in her any further. (Everyone gets the joke, but Plato takes the heat off Falcone by changing the subject.)
Antonio della Robbia, who had talked mostly of how bad the exchange rates were at the Medici branch in Bern, turned casually and said "Lady Caterina, were you involved in the production of Vita Juliani, written by my late master Lorenzo de' Medici?"
"Yes," Caterina said. "Of course. I remember it very well."
Falcone spilled sugar on the front of his black doublet. He looked discontented.
Della Robbia has just referred to himself as a representative of the Medici -- which he is not. Falcone, who really is a Medici agent, is presumably making an identification signal (see p133-134). His expression is because della Robbia, not knowing the signal, does not respond.
Kronig beamed. "Buona notte, Signorina."
Italian: "Good night, Mistress." This phrase replicates "Nottesignore," the name used by Guido Tommasi. This is probably a coincidence in the story; but it may have been a mild gesture by Ford to underscore the meaning of the name to an English-speaking audience.
Gregory said "I thought I saw it actually move, with the living one."
"I have answered the Captain's request for an artillery scientist, somewhat too late, it seems. And you asked me auf's Deutsch to be quiet and trust you until we could have a discussion. [...]"
German: "in German." (See p107.)
Dimi, as Hector, was a mercenary captain employed by Milan. As we now learn, Sforza planned to invade Switzerland, with the support (or at least acquiescence) of the Empire. Dimi intended Gregory to assist in this attack.
"I have some cause to know that they are planning to disrupt Britain; are disrupting it. You know that there was a dynastic war?"
The Wars of the Roses, which set the stage for chapter 1 (see p3).
"Are you then a very powerful magician?"
"Oh, no one's that," Hywel said mildly.
"You know well enough I'll go with you," [Dimi] said to Hywel. "I've no more mercenaries, and no more war here. And if you could learn my name, it's time to move and change again. But why should the Doctor join an enterprise like this? Fighting the Empire is the nearest thing I know to an unarmed charge uphill."
Dimi implies that he has been in hiding since he fled Gaul eight years ago. He has presumed that Byzantine agents would kill him if they discovered he was alive, and therefore he has changed his name repeatedly.
German: "How long has the blood-need been with you?"
"What is this?" Dimi said, a dangerous edge in his voice.
"Or leprosy, which spreads," Dimitrios said. "The enemy of my enemy is not my friend." He muttered rapidly in Greek.
"...There is not much blood involved, actually, not at one time, unless the person is driven to gorge. And infection is not inevitable. That is what a young man says to a young woman he desires, is it not? There is not so much blood, not so much pain, as she has heard, and no consequence is inevitable. Until one morning one wakes up, and is sick."
More details about vampirism. (The chance of infection is later given as one in eleven for a single feeding; see p320.) Gregory's grim joke is to compare the disease with pregnancy; specifically with morning sickness.
Gregory's story implies that a vampire cannot teach at the University at Alexandria. But he describes no consequence for the Imperial magistrate who infected him. Apparently vampirism is not illegal in the Empire, nor does it bar one from government service.
"I have killed animals, yes, who cannot be infected. And I have taken human blood, because without some little of it I would go mad, gorging-mad, but always I have taken it with the knife, or the hollow needle, and a cup, never with nails or teeth. I am Gregory, Fachritter von Bayern, and I have done what I must, but I have never infected another man or woman!"
"I can, but I don't. Faces and bodies can be read as well, or better, and much more easily."
Just above Falcone's left shoulder was a patch of congealed blood. A piece of hollow quill had been thrust into the neck, into the large artery. The open end was blocked with granular blood.
On the bedside table were a small knife and a wooden drinking mazer. There was blood on the knife, and in the cup.
Everything in the scene points to a vampire attack...
Gregory looked up, smiling below his dark glasses, flushes of red brilliant in his cheeks. "Good morning," he said. "Are you all late to breakfast, or am I early?"
...And Gregory shows the signs of a recently-fed vampire. (Although this might have been missed if the viewers had not just seen the scene upstairs, and had not included Cynthia, who is familiar with vampire physiology.)
The circumstantial evidence against Gregory would be convincing, if he were not so blatantly ignorant of Falcone's death. If he were actually a murderer, he would go anywhere but downstairs to breakfast (pretended innocence notwithstanding).