Or how the thieving, stubborn, greedy liar
Confessed his crimes
In Florence gaol.
Together with other fine and most useful information
On how to discover America,
And find the lost egg.
The whole corrected by Salaì
His own fair hand
In the Year of Our Lord 1508
Florence 1508. Just back from a trip to Rome, the handsome Salaì, godson and pupil of the great Leonardo da Vinci, has been arrested and is being interrogated by the magistrate.
The young libertine has been placed under lock and key at the request of the Papal Governor of Rome, from which he had fled post haste. The body of a man had been found in his bed at the inn, with his throat slit and wearing Salaì’s clothes.
Under interrogation, Salaì says he has no idea how this happened, affirming that he had been to Rome for the sole purpose of finding a very rare geography book, printed in Germany, for his godfather Leonardo. But in Rome the book was nowhere to be found, and Salaì claims that he returned to Florence empty-handed.
His tale is, however, soon contradicted, first by a witness, then by the magistrate’s inquiries, and, last but not least, by a whole series of inconsistencies. And so, pressed with questions, under the whip and the threat of a death sentence, Salaì retells his journey to Rome, then tells it a third and even a fourth time, adding ever more details, until the outline of a strange adventure emerges, at once tragicomic and atrocious.
In Rome, Salaì got involved with a strange trio of fanatical clandestine agitators dedicated to spreading weird and contradictory political theories, for all the world gross, pathetic fantasies spawned by sick minds. The three claim that, behind the discovery of America in 1492, 16 years earlier, there lies a gigantic esoteric conspiracy, which they confide in Salaì only after a thousand hesitations: Christopher Columbus is, they claim, the secret son of a Pope, who entrusted him with the task of conquering the new continent for the Church of Rome. America had already been discovered and colonised centuries before and, what’s more, all the lands now settled by the Spanish and Portuguese had already been visited and completely explored, while the so-called great explorers, Columbus and Vespucci, are nothing but shameless frauds.
But – the trio still wonder – who succeeded in suppressing the very memory of the sea routes and even the existence of America and other lands overseas?
Salaì believes not a word of what the three tell him, or at least, not until he finds clues which make him suspect that there may perhaps be some truth in their tale, however small.
Everything about the conspiracy seems to point in one direction, to mysterious Alsace, a German region far from the sea but in which, curiously, the name “America” was invented and printed for the first time in the very book which Leonardo is now seeking.
Obviously, the three clandestine agitators possess a copy of the book, which is most important for their propaganda speculations, but they are unwilling to sell it, even at the highest price.
By a series of clever tricks Salaì then ensnares each of the three, taking advantage of their weaknesses and putting them in desperate need of money.
But unexpected complications arise from Salaì’s past and interfere with his plans, amongst other things, an encounter with an old flame that turns out to be fraught with no few dangers. The lady is the daughter of one of the most important members of the Alsatian community in Rome and is perhaps not unaware of the conspiracy behind the discovery of America.
As the tale unfolds, Salaì’s position becomes more and more difficult. The dead man found in his bed, wearing his clothes, was, he confesses, one of the three agitators who got him in trouble. What’s more, in order to explain all that happened to him, Leonardo’s godson has to admit to fraud, blackmail, theft and lying: as the cards are uncovered, the judge becomes more and more convinced that he committed the murder.
At the same time, it emerges from Salaì’s statements that the rulers of Florence are involved, above all the Grand Gonfaloniere – or standard-bearer – Pier Soderini, on whose behalf the magistrate is questioning the young man. Salaì warns him: you know, Signor Magistrate, if anything should happen to me, I have instructed five lawyers to spread these accusations against Soderini throughout Florence.
In the end the magistrate finds himself faced with a dilemma: is he to believe Salaì and let him off, which would mean upholding accusations against the leadership of the republic of Florence? Or to disbelieve and condemn him to death, at the risk of a tremendous scandal?
Just when Salaì is about to be hanged, the magistrate opts astutely for a surprise solution.
A cross between political fantasy thriller, roman noir, literary pamphlet and Rabelaisian farce, Salaì’s Egg makes fun of the stereotyped esoteric thriller and comes to an unexpected conclusion, based – like all Monaldi & Sorti’s novels – on a rigorous study of historical sources, as set out in the final appendix.