Official Page of Game Designer and Author of Iron Will Rust
A New King
Castello Vezio near Varenna
Lake Como Region of Lombardy, Italy
January 15, 1515
The rider sped up the frosted cobble stone path at a furious pace, his horse sweating profusely. Ahead, the white stones of Castle Vezio awaited the delivery of his message. With each gasping breath of the freezing January air, the silvery mare’s nostrils erupted white plumes past her foam-covered bit.
Shrouded in a burnt sienna cloak wrapped tight around his freezing frame, Antonio Veneto leaned forward, shielding his face from the bite of the icy air. The feeble morning sun battled the lingering mist.
Antonio bore news of grave importance to his duke and as he rode up the winding stone path, he looked up.
The castle’s prominent square inner bailey loomed on the horizon. Framed by spruce trees and oaks, the compact castle sat nestled on a cliff overlooking Lago di Como and the village of Varenna. The steep rise made the remote Lombardy castle virtually impregnable, its stark white stones placed by Roman masons four hundred years prior. Today however, The Duke of the Duchy of Milano himself, Massimiliano Sforza, made Castello Vezio his personal winter retreat.
At the sound of the approaching hooves, a pair of archers along the perimeter circular tower shuffled from their braziers of glowing coals. The two peered down at the rider, wondering who would be out on such a miserable morning.
Below, a pair of soldiers opened the gates for Antonio, who spurred his Milanese mount forward. The animal clomped across the narrow wooden entry bridge, puffs of breath blasting through its nostrils.
One of the men grabbed the reins close to the bit with his gloved hand, steadying the animal.
Antonio dismounted, thanking the man with a silent nod.
Located 47 miles north of Milano on the east shore of Lake Como, in Iron Will Rust, Castle Vezio acts at the winter retreat for Duke of the Duchy of Milano, Massimiliano Sforza. In this scene, his agent, Antonio, returns from France with the news of Louis XII’s death, who died on Christmas Eve of 1514. An event that shakes up who will be king of France, Milano’s enemy.
Although normally the young duke would be at Castello Sforzesco in Milano, I fell in love with this location when I first discovered it years ago while doing research. What better place to hide from Cardinal Matthäus Schiner and read. As a work of fiction, I made a few embellishments to the inner bailey, expanding it to include fireplaces and an inner chamber for the young Sforza.
Today, we think of Lake Como as a summer vacation spot, especially after appearing in films such as Ocean’s Twelve and Casino Royale, but do a google search for Lake Como in winter and you’ll soon appreciate how frigid the mountainous area becomes. Heavy snow, frost, with the clouds touching the surface of the lake. Brrr.
I think the guards had this part figured out.
“Antonio!” A man with a bronze colored coif called out. “Welcome, my friend. Welcome.”
Antonio peeled back his frosty cowl from his head and gave Captain Argento a brief hug. “Holy mother of Mary it’s cold. How do you stand it?” Antonio asked.
“How do I stand it?” The captain looked around to his small contingent of men, all frozen to the bone and raised his voice. “We drink mulled wine and gamble our wages of course!”
The soldiers all laughed.
As with all of these articles, they reflect my research. I share them here for entertainment purposes only. I do not claim copyrights to any of the images, but hope that they inspire you and help crystallize images in your own imagination as you read Iron Will Rust.
Two of the key locations in Iron Will Rust are the Dominici villa and the Monte Antola Chapel. About an hour’s drive northeast of the port city of Genoa, the Monte Antola region lies along the border between the provinces of Genoa and Alessandria with heights as tall as 5,240 feet. (44° 34′ 28″ N, 9° 8′ 59″ E) During the early phases of writing, I searched for a remote location away from Genoa itself where the Dominici vineyard would sit near the shores of a lake. It was back in 2005 when I discovered Lago del Brugneto (Lago being “lake” in Italian.) Although man-made and artificial, I altered the lake's name slightly, adding an additional “t” to Brugnetto, and worked with it anyway. It was never my intent to create an archaeological history book, but rather to uncover inspiration for my story. From that early vision, I wrote the first draft of the chapter, Training where Vico and Lazzaro practice fencing near the barren grape rows in the dead of winter, a scene that inspired the book’s cover as well.
Father and son went through a flurry of attacks, feints, parries, and lunges along the edge of the silent vineyard. Snow dust kicked up around them as they shuffled their boots in the field, creating serpentine patterns of interlocking grey circles on the ground. The afternoon faded, its red orb sinking below the tree line and tinting the field’s grape posts ablaze with fire. The exchange between the duelists accelerated, charged with pressure and adrenaline. Metal clanged and sang, edges scraped, cross-guards resonated. Their attacks and counters elevated beyond that of mere practice and into something real. Something lethal with force, slashes, and parries that pushed each combatant to respond with commitment.
No one was fencing now.
A beautiful Renaissance villa on a lake, charming right? So now, I needed to infuse conflict and kick off the major plot line of the book. The more I investigated the surrounding area the more I fell in love with it, especially when the tiny renovated chapel appeared, La Cappella di San Pietro. With a magnificent view to lake below, I knew then that Mercede would ride up there to visit her friend, setting the stage for her nightmarish encounter with Alessandro and his lackeys.
Mercede heeled her spurs into Luce della Luna’s ribs, pushing the horse upward. The mountain path ahead turned a sharp J-shaped corner, continuing its sharp rise. The open expanses of thick overgrown grassy fields ahead marked her arrival onto the upper range of Monte Antola, the forested valley of Lago del Brugnetto far below. Hundreds of tiny stones sprinkled the white dusty trail leading up to the peak, crunching and crumbling under the weight of her Andalusian’s hooves. Along the trail, an open field of tall brown grass swayed, dotted with hundreds of yellow flowers, patches of softer green weeds marking their bases. The early spring air tried its best to be warm, but too many clouds lingered from the fading winter. Rain slipped down from the Alps each day to make the weather miserable. Today was one of the first times in many weeks that the sky opened up to let a blue canopy peek through what normally was dismal and gray. Although the northern horizon threatened with dark purple clouds bearing down, the wind direction seemed to assure that it would not come this way. Despite the surprise break from rainy weather, Mercede still wore her cloak over her vested tunic, just in case.
The winter was unusually wet this year and seemed to pass as quick as it had arrived, a change she welcomed for it gave her a chance to get away from the vineyard and visit Mara. As her horse cantered up the trail toward the peak of the mountain, she glanced over her left shoulder. In the valley below, she saw the outline of the cross-shaped lake and beyond the rising peak of Monte Collero. Squinting, she spotted her home along the north shore, where her brother and father were undoubtedly back at their fencing again.
Ahead, a simple mountain chapel stood silently, its doors facing the deep lake valley below. The rugged limb fence that surrounded the grounds was dry and rotted with roughly nailed railings. Along the west yard of the chapel, a few grave markers reached above the tall grasses, consisting of old lichen covered crosses or simple flat panel markers with poorly etched names and dates.
I won’t spoil what happens of course. Many chapters later, Lazzaro and Vico ride up to the mountain chapel atop Monte Antola to investigate.
The morning sun tinted the green hills a soft purple and orange hue. Distant rain clouds moved west leaving a clear sky in its wake. The two rode along the crushed white-rock path. The fields on either side of the trail sagged limp and damp, their grasses bent and folded. Hundreds of puddles on the ground took on the color of blue, reflecting the sky like broken shards of a mirror. The occasional droplet of water trickling down from branches overhead was the only sound.
It was silent.
The mountaintop was at peace again, a contrast to the previous night’s terror.
A lone gray mare wandered the fields, casually grazing, wearing a waterlogged saddle. The mare lifted its head a moment to look at the arriving horses, and then lowered it back down to nibble at a patch of damp flowers.
“That’s not Mara’s or her grandfather’s,” Vico said.
“Stay alert. A saddled horse wandering in a field is a sign of a missing rider.” Lazzaro held his hand out to stop Vico, who had begun to move closer to the animal. “Let us check the chapel and farmhouse first, but do so quietly.”
Father and son approached the chapel, Lazzaro looking at the hoof marks in the mud without speaking.
Vico’s eyes noted the kicked in door. “Look.”
The chapel door, knocked flat off its frame, lay covered with muddy boot prints.
Later on, upon Lazzaro’s return in August of 1515.
Lush grasses, half a calf deep, shimmered on the sunbaked plateau of the mountain. Yellow buttercups danced in the breeze, dipping back and forth like swans on a green lake. Dandelions with their spherical domes swayed side-to-side, clinging on to their fluffy white seeds until just the right moment. The white stucco belfry of Father Pantaleo’s chapel rose over the sea of emerald, its terra cotta roof tiles parched.
In summary, the region worked perfectly. If you get the opportunity and if you are looking for a hidden gem of Italy of natural beauty, look no further than the Parco Naturale Regionale dell'Antola. As with all of these articles, they reflect my research. I share them here for entertainment purposes only. I do not claim copyrights to any of the images, but hope that they inspire you and help crystallize images in your own imagination as you read Iron Will Rust.