The Renaissance Legacy 4.05

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The Renaissance Legacy 4.05

  1. 1. Una nota per il lettore: Since the last chapter, about four years have passed. For the Moretti family much has changed. In case some details have been forgotten, I have made a small recap of what happened last. Nico was finally granted his wish to study canon law at University. He and Giacomo, recently married to Beatrice, parted amicably. Renata and Ghita moved in with Alessandra after their mother, Viola, was sent to live in a convent. Alessandra has begun to orchestrate a match between Alberto, her cousin and a diplomat, and Renata. Alessandra also began an affair with Lucio and has been forced to take extra precautions now that her husband, Carlo, has come back to the townhouse. Frustrated at his wife’s apparent lack of interest in their marriage, he has taken to dallying with the maids, particularly Rina. And finally, Giacomo is about to become a father by his mistress, Kari, whom he loves most. I want to say thank you for your patience and for continuing to read my legacy. I really do appreciate it. And now, on with the story!
  2. 2. Giro giro tondo Casca il mondo Casca la Terra Tutti giù per terra Alberto, affectionately known as Albertino, lisped along, singing with his mother the rhyme that his father had taught him during his last visit. Kari smiled at her son’s eager face, trying her best to recall to memory the lyrics that she had heard only a few times before.
  3. 3. Giacomo came to their small house whenever he was able, usually no more than a couple times a week, to see his son’s progress. Kari tended to leave them to their own devices, watching on as they traded silly songs and new toys. She was glad to see Giacomo take such an interest in their son, illegitimate as he was. “Babbo! Babbo!” * shrieked Albertino, tipping forwards in his mother’s arms when he saw his father come through the iron gate and into the garden. *Father, Tuscan dialect
  4. 4. “Buonasera, my son!” Giacomo said by way of greeting and took the wriggling three-year-old into his arms. He tossed him into the air, eliciting a laugh. “What are you doing outside, my fair one?” he asked Kari. “And in such heat? You two really should be indoors.” The summer sun had finally come to the city after a chilly, wet spring and already reports of plague were being whispered by peasant and nobleman alike. Giacomo, a merchant in his own right, had taken heed of the rumors and already sent his wife and two children to the villa in the countryside. But, try as he might, he could not persuade his mistress to flee the city with their son in tow.
  5. 5. “I was told this morning that one of the spigots on the fountain has become clogged. I only wandered out to see if there was something I could do, but the pipe seems to be blocked deep within.” “I shall have a repairman sent over early tomorrow morning,” Giacomo said in an easy tone. “For now, let us all go inside.”
  6. 6. Gladdened by her lover’s surprise visit, Kari turned her attention from the broken spigot and led her two boys from the courtyard.
  7. 7. In the shade of Kari’s rooms, Albertino pulled out his set of blocks to show his father. They were his most recent acquisition and currently his most favorite possession. Giacomo settled down with a bemused smile and stacked a few painted chunks of wood together.
  8. 8. Albertino followed his lead and put a couple blocks together to make a house. “He is following in my footsteps!” Giacomo chuckled. He had recently discovered his passion for architecture and, after several months of debate and close monitoring of his accounts, had purchased an out-offashion palazzo in the heart of Florence with the intent to renovate.
  9. 9. “That he does!” Kari agreed from the chair in which she rested. “I only hope that our next child does as well.” Their second baby was due in a few months, sometime in early fall, and Kari was already making preparations for the birth. She had commissioned a new cradle as well as ordered several yards of linen to be delivered within the next few weeks. All the preparations stirred emmories of the birth of her first child. It seemed as if hardly any time had passed since that beautiful, terrifying day yet in truth it had happened nearly four long years ago.
  10. 10. “Signore! Signore!” the maid had run all the way from the di Davide household to the Moretti villa at the very edge of the city. Panting from her effort, she bounded through the halls calling for the man to whom her mistress, Madonna Kari, wished her to deliver a message: the baby was to be born that day.
  11. 11. She had no familiarity with the house, but a kindly servant had directed her up the stairs, down the hall, and into the last door on her left. Entering without a knock, also at the insistence of her mistress, she found Signor Moretti deep in discussion with two important-looking gentlemen. She composed herself before lightly clearing her throat.
  12. 12. Signor Moretti recognized her instantly and could think of only one reason for her to have come. Cutting his meeting short, he said hasty farewells to his companions and turned his attention directly to the maid. “The baby…?” “Shall be born forthwith,” she finished.
  13. 13. Signor Moretti’s jaw dropped. His first child! “Let us go immediately,” he commanded. He knew he would have no patience to sitting idly until a messenger came with the news; he much preferred to be in the next room, waiting all the while.
  14. 14. For Kari, the experience was one completely foreign to her; balanced with moments of extreme joy and moments of extreme terror. The only ladies that would deign to attend to her, a courtesan birthing her lover’s bastard, were the gracious Alessandra and her two sisters. The midwife had them all running at her beck and call, sending them bustling in and out of the room to fetch more supplies. In the middle of the chaos, Kari did her best to keep her bearings and pray that she and her child would be delivered safely.
  15. 15. Several hours later, her prayers were answered. The babe, a boy, was pronounced healthy and Kari clear of danger. He was bathed and swaddled tightly with a coral charm slipped around his neck to ward off danger. Reclining on the bed, Kari breathed a sigh of relief and held her son close. He was everything she could ever imagine. __
  16. 16. Giacomo didn’t leave Kari’s house until very late. Her house held so much for him, so much love, that it became harder and harder to tear himself away as the days wore on. Dashing through the streets, unescorted, he kept to the shadows and made it back to the Palazzo Moretti in one piece. He entered the courtyard dragging his feet. This place held no love for him. His wife and children had been sent to the countryside for fear of disease. He was willing to risk his own health, but that of his family? Never. If only Kari would agree to take Albertino to safety.
  17. 17. He went straight away to his study, noting a pile of letters on his desk that had been delivered while he was out. He picked the top one off the pile. It was from Rome, from Nico. He set it aside to look at later. No doubt he had written at length of the latest scandal in the church. Such things had never interested Giacomo much, but Nico, working to obtain a Cardinal’s hat, found the whole thing fascinating. Giacomo supposed he should be glad. One brother in the church could serve the family well in the long run.
  18. 18. The next letter was from Renata. He set it aside as well. While her last missive had informed the family that she and her husband, their cousin Alberto, were expecting their first child, he usually had little interest in his half-sister’s descriptions of the French court. He would glance at it in the morning and then pass it on to Alessandra. She really was much closer with Renata.
  19. 19. The rest of the stack was correspondence from various builders and sculptors he had hired to do work on the palazzo. The building had been built only seven years ago for a merchant family that had suddenly come up in the world. Sadly for them they fell as quickly as they had risen and it was sold off to Giacomo for an excellent price. There was no need for expansion, there were plenty of rooms to go around, but the stone edifice was sorely in need of restoration. By the time he was finished with what he had in mind, the whole city would be know the glory and power of the Moretti family even from the street.
  20. 20. He quickly scribbled out the necessary responses and made notes in his ledgers before dragging his tired self into the small bedchamber that jutted off his office. He had a proper bedchamber at the other end of the hall, but since Beatrice was gone he didn’t bother to use it. There were no appearances to be kept up. __
  21. 21. The journey had been harrowing. A three day excursion out into the countryside with two children, one three years old and the other not even one, in tow had been extremely vexing. The screaming children and bumpy ride had proved a detriment to her nerves which were already fragile due to her pregnancy and the heat. At long last they had arrived at the Villa di Salvo. The villa, with its miles and miles of farmland and vineyards, had once belonged to her father and when he died it had become part of her dowry. Beatrice, her arms tired from balancing two children, came up the path with a renewed vigor.
  22. 22. Entering into her childhood home, she was greeted by two familiar faces. The steward of the estate, an aging man called Valerio, and the woman who had attended her mother, whom Beatrice affectionately referred to as Nonna, stood stalwart and ever-faithful in the entrance hall. “Oh, such little angels!” Nonna cried upon seeing the children held in her beloved Beatrice’s arms. “This is Cosimo,” Beatrice shrugged her right shoulder, but he wouldn’t unbury his face from his mother’s neck. She sighed. “And here is little Giorgio.”
  23. 23. Nonna scooped Giorgio into her arms and cuddled him close, planting a kiss on his bald head. “He’s a sweet one, I can tell.”
  24. 24. Valerio hung back, stoic as ever, but out of the corner of her eye, Beatrice noticed a softening of his expression. She recalled fond memories from her youth when she and her sister were able to coax the occasional smile or treat from the intimidating steward. When he was first hired by their father, he had seemed scary, but over time he came to develop a soft spot for children. Catching her eye, Valerio cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. “I have had a bath drawn for you, Madonna, and the nursery is ready for the children. Supper will be served at sundown.”
  25. 25. Beatrice thanked him and fell in to step behind Nonna as they climbed the stairs to the nursery. “It is good to be back,” she said with an honest smile. “It has been so many years, mia creatura,” Nonna said wistfully.
  26. 26. The nursery was exactly the same as she remembered it, save for the pair of cradles that had replaced the beds of her and her sister. The nursemaid’s cot sat under the window and the crucifix still hung in the same spot on the wall. Even the candles looked the same. The familiarity comforted her.
  27. 27. Whatever reservations she had initially felt about bringing her boys out to the villa dissipated as they were laid down to sleep. She hoped that they would grow to love the time they spent here just as much as she did.
  28. 28. “I look at you and I see your mother.” Nonna smiled sadly. “Let us pray that I do not go the same way she did,” Beatrice answered in a matching tone. Her mother had died in childbirth, delivering another girl. Scarcely two months after that, Beatrice’s only sister died, leaving Beatrice alone in the world save for her father, a distant figure in her life. It was then she joined him in Florence.
  29. 29. “Oh, heavens, mia creatura! Do not say such things; all shall be well.” Both children having drifted off to sleep, Nonna gestured to the door. They slipped out, leaving the nursemaid behind.
  30. 30. They came to the next room, the master bedchamber. Beatrice gasped upon entering. Hardly a thing had changed in the years she had been away. Once it had been her mother’s room but now, she supposed, it was hers. Nonna went to the sideboard and poured out a glass of wine produced on the estate. “Pour another,” Beatrice commanded jovially. “Let us toast!”
  31. 31. Taking another glass, Nonna poured out a measure of wine for herself and raised a toast. “To your return, mia creatura. Long overdue and long awaited.” “To the Villa di Salvo,” Beatrice echoed. “My safe haven.”
  32. 32. Finishing her glass, Beatrice excused herself and left Nonna to start unpacking her trunks. As Valerio had promised, there was a steaming tub of water waiting for her to sink in to. The small windows and thick walls of the villa had kept most of the day’s heat at bay, especially in the smaller side rooms, and the hot water was not unwelcome. As the sun moved across the sky, she relaxed in the tub, letting her mind wander.
  33. 33. The morning after her wedding had dawned fair and bright. Giacomo had slipped away sometime before dawn, leaving her to wake up alone. After attempting to endure the snide comments from her ladies – Is your new husband a gentle lover? Perhaps a little rough? – she finally snapped and sent them away. Dressing herself, she took her meals alone and waited patiently for her husband to come. But he never did.
  34. 34. Her only visitor that day was one of her husband’s relations. A young girl called Giade had come to pay her respects to the new bride and groom on behalf of her parents who were unable to make the wedding. Beatrice welcomed her warmly and the two enjoyed amiable conversation, Beatrice making excuses for her husband’s absence. The hour grew late and the naïve girl, her tongue loosened by the generous amounts of wine provided by her hostess, let slip the location of the groom.
  35. 35. His relationship with a notorious courtesan was well-known to members of the family and, in Giade’s opinion, whenever he seemed to be missing, one could usually find him in her company. He had made it plain to everyone to whom his heart belonged.
  36. 36. She went about the rest of her day on the verge of tears. In the end she was thankful that her husband was nowhere to be found. She didn’t know how she would react to seeing him again. It was cruel, she decided, for him to have left her for the company of another so soon after their wedding. She could forgive a dalliance with a girl off the street or from the kitchen, but a proper mistress? Never.
  37. 37. When he came to her bed that night, she greeted him without malice. She was perhaps a bit colder in demeanor, but he hardly seemed to notice. She had come to the conclusion that she would try to win his affections by being a loving, obedient wife. She would not accuse or nag and in time, she was sure of it, he would come to love her only.
  38. 38. As time passed, she soon became aware that she was expecting a child. She broke the news over supper one night and he seemed pleased. Her own excitement was tempered somewhat by the rumor she had heard that his mistress was already with child. Though she could not give him his first child, she could at least hang her hopes on his natural child being a girl and his true child a boy. Those hopes were dashed, however, when she heard news that Kari, she had finally learned his mistress’ name, was delivered of a male child. Just over six months after the birth of Alberto, or Albertino as Giacomo called him, her own son was born. He was called Cosimo.
  39. 39. A year later came another boy, Giorgio, and now she was expecting her third. She still kept tabs on Kari – rumor had it she, too, was expecting a baby again – and she had not given up on the hope that she would be first in her husband’s affections one day. But, four years after she had made her wedding vows, she was beginning to tire of the whole ordeal. __
  40. 40. Cool night air spilled in through the window. Flames flickered in the light breeze that swirled the sheer curtains on the bed. Two knocks sounded rapidly at the door. She hastily adjusted her silk gown and, leaning languorously against the bedpost, called for him to enter.
  41. 41. “Margherita,” he murmured, shutting the door quickly behind him. “My beautiful flower.” He came to her and drew her close. He made a quick attempt at flattery, which she went along with. His words rang empty in her ears. He was only her patron, her third one at that.
  42. 42. He came to her and drew her close. He made a quick attempt at flattery, which she went along with. His words rang empty in her ears. He was only her patron; her third one at that. His kisses grew fevered and she sighed in pleasure. She thrilled in his touch. Perhaps this was to be the great love of her life. His predecessors had turned out to be flops, but she told herself that this man would be different. And what if it turned into more? After all, she had seen affairs of this nature blossom into marriage, children, and respect with her own two eyes.
  43. 43. Until that day, she reminded herself, she could allow herself to have fun. She could sustain herself on pleasure alone for the time being. After all, she was still young and beautiful. There had been a time when all she desired was a fat, rich husband with half a dozen sons running about, but that time had long since passed. Now she was mature and wise. And experienced. Yes, she could hardly believe there was a time when she was so naïve.
  44. 44. “I do not think I shall ever marry, Renata,” Margherita whined, attempting to communicate the sense of utter depravity she felt over the matter. She tugged on the strings of her head covering in frustration. “Alessandra is so busy arranging your marriage to Alberto she hardly has time to think of me!” “Now is not the time to be such a featherhead,” Renata answered in a cool tone. “There are more important matters at hand.”
  45. 45. The hour was late; it usually was by the time the girls got around to going to sleep. Carlo, their brother-in-law, had returned to the townhouse in full force and insisted that all be in their rooms by sundown but he had said nothing about actually getting in bed. Renata and Margherita took full advantage of this loophole, gossiping until the wee hours of the morning. “Like what?” “I received a letter this afternoon.”
  46. 46. “You receive plenty of letters – mostly from Alberto,” Margherita said with a grimace. She had grown tired – and jealous, though she would never admit it – of Renata reading her snippets of the love letters her betrothed sent. “Not from Alberto, Ghita! From mother…”
  47. 47. Margherita’s mouth fell open. She hadn’t had had word from her mother in, well, ever. Not since she had gone to live in the convent after the death of their father. “What did she say?!” “Well, it wasn’t from mother exactly. It was from one of her friends from the convent saying that mother has died.”
  48. 48. The letter was from a nun called Sara who both girls vaguely remembered from their childhood. Renata recalled that she had, long ago, been their nursemaid though Ghita had been too little to remember. Her letter detailed Viola’s life at the convent leading up to her death. For years the nuns had pressed her to renounce her worldly goods and take her vows, but she resisted. She spent her days lost in a growing fog that clouded her memory as well as her perception of reality until she finally succumbed to her paranoia. Hers was not a noble demise but at long last it had passed and she was far from the weary world.
  49. 49. “We shall pray for her soul,” Margherita intoned in mock seriousness. Renata caught her tone and a small smile flickered at the corners of her mouth. Both girls had grown up estranged from their mother and it was only a small sense of filial duty that bowed their heads in prayer that night.
  50. 50. A date was set for the wedding and, with the days drawing ever closer, Margherita tried to make the best of what little time she had left with her sister. They spent their time in each other’s company, sharing secrets, gossiping, and designing such fantastical dresses as they would, in all likelihood, never be able to afford. In all, it was a joyous year, marred only by its atrocious end. That particular winter afternoon, the girls had taken to beating one another senseless with their pillows. It was a delightful game cut short by the sudden appearance of Carlo.
  51. 51. He flung the chamber door open, a fiery expression on his face. “You…” he spat, pointing ominously at Renata. “You may have gotten away with it this long, but I have found you out, harlot!” “What are you talking about?” both girls asked in unison, taking a few nervous steps back. “Renata Moretti, you are a whore and I will not tolerate such flagrant debauchery!”
  52. 52. Margherita shrank back even farther, flinching from the accusation. “I know not of what you speak, Signor,” Renata said, raising an eyebrow and her hands in confusion. “Do not feign innocence!” Carlo roared. “You were seen slipping into Lucio’s chamber last night and I heard the cries of you and your lover; as much as you may have tried, they were not muffled. I will not have a whore living under my roof ! You desecrate this house and my reputation along with it!” “Please, Signor –”
  53. 53. “Silence! Your betrothed will not stand for this either. He will never take you now…noody will. You are spoiled in the eyes of men. If fact, it would be best to put an end to this before word gets out. Perhaps we can keep you an innocent maid in the minds of all Florence.” Margherita’s eyes widened in panic when she detected the bulge of a dagger tucked under Carlo’s doublet. A cold chill ran up her spine. “Stop!” she interrupted, distracting him before he could reach for the hilt. “Stop! You misunderstand, surely.”
  54. 54. “What in God’s name is going on?” All three heads turned simultaneously to the door that was suddenly opened by Alessandra. “I heard your shouts all the way from outside!” Carlo, still glaring at Renata, moved his hand slowly and menacingly towards his waist. “Your sister has disgraced herself and I must put an end to her antics before she drags this household down with her.”
  55. 55. Margherita’s mind whirled as she tried to understand exactly what was happening. Carlo thought Renata had been having a love affair with Lucio, but she knew that her sister slept by her side each night; ever faithful to her betrothed though he was far away. Alessandra was the one carrying on a dalliance with the houseguest, but the situation would likely take a turn for the worse if the truth were exposed. Ghita herself was the only unattached female in the house; perhaps if… “It was I, Signor!”
  56. 56. Shock registered on Carlo’s face, echoed by everyone else in the room. “What are you talking about?” Alessandra asked in a stilted tone. Her eyes narrowed and her hands fluttered at her throat, clearly in a panic. “Yes, what are you talking about?” echoed Renata.
  57. 57. “You saw me going into Signor Lucio’s chambers, but-” Ghita’s explanation was cut short by Carlo’s palm connecting with her cheek.
  58. 58. She stumbled backwards into Renata’s embrace. Her skin stung and there was a dull buzzing in her ears that blocked most of out the obscenities that Carlo was shouting at nobody in particular. Her sobs drowned out the rest. Renata draped her arm across her sister’s shoulders and pulled her close. “Why did you do that?” she whispered harshly. “I was only trying to help,” Ghita answered in a voice barely audible above the shouting match that had erupted behind them. “He cannot learn the truth and I could not bear to see him hurt you. I cannot see you dead.” “So you let him hurt you instead?” “This way no contracts, marriage or betrothal, are broken. I will have done nothing to hurt him.”
  59. 59. “I have left you in charge of this household for too long!” Carlo bellowed at Alessandra. “Under your lax watch you have allowed your own sister to debase herself. That man should have never have even been allowed to enter into her presence. She has spoiled herself for marriage. Nobody will have her now!” Trembling, Alessandra took a few paces back. “I – I had no idea. Surely this news can remain a secret. Nobody outside of this house has to know…”
  60. 60. “Don’t be foolish! Soon enough everybody will know and your stupid sister will never be able to find a husband. Not with the pittance of a dowry your father left her.” Alessandra’s mouth opened and shut a few times, searching for words to calm the situation. Only a few nonsensical sounds came out.
  61. 61. Carlo, fed up, charged ahead, heading straight for his wife. “Out of my way,” he growled. When she didn’t move from her spot blocking the doorway, his hand moved menacingly to his dagger. “I said, out of my way!” Again she held her position, refusing to move. Carlo whipped out his hand, connecting with her chin and sending her reeling back into the doorjamb.
  62. 62. Her forehead connected with the stone, drawing a thin line of blood. Behind her, the girls shrieked and clung to one another.
  63. 63. “Stop it! Come back!” Alessandra ran after Carlo, trailed by her sisters. They echoed her words, begging their brother-in-law to put aside his aggravation. Alessandra took hold of his arm, trying to drag him back with her weight. He pushed forward as if her grip was nothing. The girls watched in horror at the scene playing out before them. Renata was frozen where she stood; Margherita edged towards the stairs, unseen. Shaking herself, she broke free from her fear and ran wildly through the streets.
  64. 64. Fueled by equal amounts of guilt and anger, she went to one of the only places she knew how to find. Alessandra had led the girls to attend to Kari’s birth barely a month ago and the directions were still fresh in her mind.
  65. 65. Kari’s single maid immediately recognized the poor girl and ushered her into the private apartments, asking no questions. Her tear-stained face and ragged gasps for breath were reason enough. Margherita lingered in silence by the base of the staircase, watching Kari place her newborn son into his cradle. Such a picture of domestic happiness tore at her heart. Regret weighed heavy on her mind. Her actions had most likely cost her such a future; Carlo had been right in saying that no man wanted a spoiled woman for a wife.
  66. 66. Alberto sound asleep, Kari turned her attention to the sobbing maid that had rather suddenly appeared in her bedchamber. Of course she recognized the girl – the half-sister of her paramour – but they were hardly what could be called close. She could think of no reason for the visit. “What on earth has brought you here?” she asked, patting her awkwardly on the shoulder. It was supposed to be a comforting gesture. “I…have…done…something…terrible…” Ghita barely managed to get the words out between sobs. She was beginning to hyperventilate.
  67. 67. Kari hushed the girl and led her to the bed. They sat together, silent for a few moments while Ghita’s tears subsided and her heart stopped racing. “Would you like to try again?” Kari prompted gently. A great sigh escaped Ghita’s lips. “I am ruined.” She hesitated for a brief moment before letting the whole story tumble from her lips. She was fed up with secrets and motives and it was a great relief to trust somebody, anybody, completely. Kari listened in earnest. In truth, their stories were not so very different and her heart went out to the girl. In the end, all she could offer was the same advice she had received from her mother when she was very near Ghita’s age. “It is time to look past marriage now. Yes, you acted in defense of your sisters – for which they will be most grateful – but you have cost yourself that future which you desired and you must accept the consequences.”
  68. 68. Ghita’s eyebrows drew together in distress and tears threatened to spill again. “It cannot be so!” “But it is, Margherita, and there is nothing you can do but accept it and move on. Tell me: do you truly wish to be bound in marriage to some fat, old, boor? To suffer his authority and his touch every day? To be subservient and meek for the rest of your life; just as Alessandra is and Renata soon will be.” “I hadn’t ever thought of it like that.” “There are other options, you know.”
  69. 69. Ghita shook her head forcefully. “I will not take the veil. I cannot.” The idea of being locked away in a convent to die as her mother had terrified her more than the one she was facing even now. Kari chuckled to herself. “No, no. I speak of something completely different. I can offer you a life of freedom, of knowledge…of true love.” “So this is what my life has come to,” Ghita said sadly. “I must choose between the life of a nun and that of a prostitute.”
  70. 70. “That is not so, my little pretty one! You shall be much better than both of those; you shall be a courtesan. I will teach you everything you need to know and, before you know it, you will be independent. You will have an income of your own, a place of your own, and, best of all, you will be master of your own destiny. You will choose whom to take to your bed and you will decide to whom you will give your heart. And someday, you may find yourself a pleasant man to take as your husband, as most of us ladies end up doing. How does that sound?” “Better than I had imagined.” “Good; then we may shall immediately. It is not safe for you to return to hour sister’s home; not with Carlo there, at any rate. You shall stay with me from now on and I will send for your things.” “But what will my family think?”
  71. 71. From his cradle, Alberto whimpered softly. Kari rose and took her son up in her arms, rocking him until he quieted. “They will be grateful. Eventually. With proper training and guidance, you can rule the hearts of the most powerful men.” Seeing Ghita’s unconvinced look, she added, “Or you can choose yourself a nice man and settle down with him; much as I have done. The choice will be yours, really.” Ghita ran her fingers over a set of perfume bottles that were sitting on a table in the middle of the room. The oily substances clung to her fingers, sending floral scents wafting up to her nose. “These are lovely,” she murmured.
  72. 72. “They’re almost empty,” Kari said, still rocking the baby. “I am expecting my profumiere, the lady from whom I purchase all of my scents, shortly.” “I’ve never even tried perfume before.” “Why don’t you stay for the appointment? I’ll help you choose your own scent. It can be your first lesson.”
  73. 73. Ghita caressed the smooth glass as she contemplated Kari’s offer. There really seemed to be no other option. “Alright…I’ll stay.”
  74. 74. Guided by Kari, Margherita blossomed into an entirely desirable young woman. Secure in her knowledge of the art of seduction, she caught the eye of many a noble- and clergyman and little more than a year had passed before she was able to install herself in her own set of rooms. She set about enjoying her new position in life for all that it was worth. And she hadn’t gone home since. __
  75. 75. Warm air wound itself between the strands of Beatrice’s loose hair, tickling her neck and face with un-coiffed tendrils. She relished the loose waves cascading down her back. She hadn’t worn her hair down in years. The sun ducked behind a cloud, casting them in shadow. Little Giorgio slept unperturbed in his basket. Cosimo, confused, looked around for the reason behind the sudden dimness. “Sun, mamma?”
  76. 76. “Yes, darling. The sun is behind a cloud.” Beatrice propped herself up on one elbow, not a very easy task for someone in her condition. “It will come back.” Appeased, Cosimo turned his attention to the cool water in the fountain and the joy that came from splashing in it. Beatrice supervised his play with delight. Her children were what brought her any happiness in life now. Her husband was distant and obviously preferred another woman. Now the heat of the summer and the accompanying plague had exiled them from the pleasures, and parties, of the city. So naturally she devoted her time to her boys.
  77. 77. As the afternoon wore on, clouds meandered across the sky and the sun came, went, and came again. Snacks were brought, the fountain was splashed in, and amusing little games were played to everyone’s enjoyment. Such languid pastimes brought back fond memories of Beatrice’s own childhood. Eventually the sound of footsteps caught her attention. Expecting it to be one of the servants coming to announce supper, she spared only a quick glance over her shoulder. She was startled to see a stranger instead.
  78. 78. “Can I help you?” she asked, rising to her feet. “Buongiorno, Signora,” the stranger said, dipping into a shallow, unbalanced curtsey. Beatrice noted that she, curiously, held a small child in her arms. “My name is Serena and this is my daughter, Mella. I have been hired as wet-nurse, Madonna, for your youngest son. I am here to collect him.” “May I ask by whom you have been chosen?”
  79. 79. “The steward, Valerio. He was close with my husband and knows me to possess the qualities of a good, caring mother. My husband passed away in the spring and I am left to care for our daughter who, as you can see, has grown healthy on my milk.” Beatrice scrutinized the child. She certainly seemed healthy. The woman appeared strong and able-bodied and her mannerisms hinted at an educated mind. Beatrice, considering her own weak supply of milk, had lamented the loss of her wet-nurse in the city and had written ahead instructing Valerio to comb through the countryside in search of a suitable replacement.
  80. 80. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Serena. I am assuming that your background and character have been thoroughly inspected by Valerio and that you have not been found wanting.” “Of course, Madonna.” “Then I shall allow it.” Beatrice sank back down onto the warm clay tiles, arranging her skirts comfortably around her. “Giorgio is lying in the basket.” Serena deposited her daughter next to the fountain and peered over the baby. He smiled at the face that appeared above him. “You’re a sweet one, aren’t you?” she cooed.
  81. 81. Beatrice felt one small twinge of jealousy, which she quickly pushed away. She knew that she was doing the right thing by her young son. “Two things I’d like to add, Serena. One: I will notify Valerio to have his things sent over this afternoon.” “Yes, Madonna.” “And two: Giorgio is very dear to me and I shall be around to look in on him quite often. Do not forget that.” “Of course, Madonna,” Serena answered with a warm smile. “Of course.” __
  82. 82. “We there yet, mamma?” Alessandra, with a benign smile, scooped the impatient child into her arms. “Almost, my darling. Ten more minutes, I promise.”
  83. 83. The rocking of the cart continued, swaying and bruising the bodies inside. The road from Florence had been long and arduous, but they were finally nearing their destination and it was a welcome change for all involved. “Almost home, then?” “Yes, my sweet one. We are almost home.”
  84. 84. Carlo wasted no time that afternoon in storming his way through the townhouse. His clipped pace outstripped Alessandra and Renata and Margherita had disappeared into the shadows somewhere along the line. He barged into Lucio’s bedchamber, dagger drawn, and obscenities flying. Taken aback, Lucio was entirely unprepared for the attack when it came.
  85. 85. Carlo took hold of his waist and drew him in close. He plunged the dagger in to the hilt, twisting the blade cruelly. Lucio’s face contorted in a mixture of pain and confusion. “My honor is restored,” Carlo spat, thrusting deeper.
  86. 86. Lucio sank slowly to the floor, struggling in vain to support his own weight. Pain clouded his vision and dread overwhelmed his heart as he watched through his scraggly hair as Carlo turned on Alessandra. He had sheathed his blade, but the smear of blood on her forehead did not go unnoticed. She recoiled. “I am leaving this place, Alessandra. You have until sundown to be rid of the body. I want this place cleaned up before I return. Do you understand?”
  87. 87. “No,” Lucio gasped weakly. His arms shook under the strain of his weight. His midsection felt as if it was on fire and he saw droplets of blood beginning to drip onto the stone. “I said do you understand me, woman?”
  88. 88. Alessandra drew herself up to her full height and, with one quick glance at the writhing man on the floor, extended her arm fully. “Get out of here, Carlo. Of course I understood you, husband,” she spat. “I will do what needs to be done. I am not an imbecile.” Satisfied, Carlo stomped through the door, managing to jostle both of them on his way out.
  89. 89. He was barely even out of earshot when Alessandra dove to Lucio’s side. Tears spilled from her eyes, mixing with his blood on the floor. Her hands fluttered about, not even knowing where to start. Blood flowed from the wound, soaking through the linen and leather he was wearing. “I am so sorry. So so sorry,” she intoned in a raspy voice. “This was never supposed to happen. I don’t know why this has happened. I am so sorry.” “Stop,” he begged softly. “It’s not your fault.” “It’s all my fault,” she sobbed. “All my fault.”
  90. 90. Trembling, he pushed himself up and tried to crane his neck to see her face. His arms buckled under his weight and the world tilted at an odd angle. The loss of blood was beginning to affect his vision. “Just do what needs to be done,” he slurred as his eyes slid shut.
  91. 91. Lucio was honestly surprised when he woke to the metallic scent of blood and deep shadows flickering on the walls. The vision knelt in prayer at his bedside looked like an angel but his swimming head and eyes that crossed nauseatingly convinced him that he hadn’t made it to Heaven quite yet.
  92. 92. He raised his leaden arm to tap her on the shoulder, making her gasp. Her eyes clouded with tears and she rose from her knees. She sank gently onto the mattress, careful to not jostle him. “I take it Carlo found out about us,” he said with a groggy smirk. “Can’t say I wasn’t expecting something like that to happen – although I’d always imagined I’d have had the chance to defend myself.” “Oh, stop it,” Alessandra hiccupped through her tears. A gentle smile rested on her lips. “He doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. First he accused Renata, then Ghita of cavorting with you. He never even made it to me.”
  93. 93. Lucio laughed sharply, wincing from the pain that rippled through his side. “Leave it him to get everything mixed up. I’m guessing he doesn’t have any clue about the baby, then.” “Not at all,” she said, rearranging herself so that she sat at the head of the bed. She pulled his head gently onto her lap and ran her fingers through his hair. “I hadn’t even broken the news yet. I don’t know how I’m ever going to convince him that it’s his.” “No need to worry yourself over that now. We can cross that bridge when come to it – assuming that I even make it to the bridge in the first place.”
  94. 94. Alessandra swatted him gently on the shoulder. “It’s well past sunset and he’s still not back. Even so, I’ve locked us in here so, unless he’s got a small canon to blast the door down, you’ll be safe here for the night.” “And long-term?” “In your words: we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I’ve stitched you up well and I’ve been changing your bandages as needed. I’ve even brought up a nice supply of liquor to help dull the pain. The only real danger now is that your wound goes septic, but I’ll have a physician come as soon as possible.” “You’re amazing, Alessandra. You really are. I cannot begin to tell you how much I admire and appreciate you.”
  95. 95. Alessandra planted a gentle kiss on his forehead and encouraged him to rest. He really was past most of the danger, now, she insisted. He drifted off and she stayed at his side, she herself exhausted but unwilling to give up her vigil. Carlo was bound to return sooner than later – she could already see the moon outside just beginning its decent – and when she did, he knew what had to be done.
  96. 96. Alessandra kept her watch through that long, agonizing night and for many nights thereafter. It was weeks before she gave up on the idea that Carlo would ever return. Her husband’s body was found soon thereafter. His bloated, decaying corpse washed up on the banks of the Arno and it was she who identified it by the dagger still strapped to his waist. His cause of death remained a mystery for most. Equally as mysterious was the story surrounding the birth of his posthumous offspring.
  97. 97. Early that summer, the widow of Carlo Giordano entered her confinement. She was attended by her maid who, as rumor had it, was equally as large as her mistress and her two sisters. Renata’s wedding had been postponed due to her grief, as the story went, and Ghita was on loan from Kari, for whom she worked as a maid, as her story went. A skillful midwife oversaw the whole affair as it stretched on for days. Alessandra was swiftly delivered of a daughter, pronounced healthy and energetic. Rina was dosed with herbs to speed up her labor and was soon delivered of her baby as well; this time, a boy.
  98. 98. Pockets heavy with coins in exchange for her silence, the midwife left late one night once both mothers were deemed sufficiently recovered. Publicly, it was said that Alessandra had given birth to a set of twins. Privately, the intimate circle knew differently.
  99. 99. Rina’s son was called Carlo for his true father. It was decided that, as the supposed heir of his late father’s estate, he would be raised at the family’s property in the countryside. Rina, his dutiful nursemaid, would go as well. In return for her sacrifices and loyalty, Alessandra released her from service and gave her charge of the baby as well as his estate until he came of age. She would live out her days in luxury, her son by her side.
  100. 100. Alessandra called her daughter Lucia after her true father. A daughter as well as a second child, she was to live with her mother. Lucio, having made a full recovery, was barely persuaded to wait an appropriate amount of time before taking the enigmatic widow as his wife, declaring in public that he would generously raise the child as his own. If anyone were to look closely into the story, the truth could easily be sorted out, but Alessandra trusted that her position in society would prevent such scandal from blackening her name.
  101. 101. And so it had. The cart finally reached its destination and Lucia happily tumbled out into the fresh air, slipping one small hand into her mother’s palm and the other into her father’s. Together they entered their palazzo for the first time.
  102. 102. It was a grand building, built over the past year with the remarkably large dowry Alessandra brought to her second marriage. It rested on top of a hill just half a day’s journey from Florence, surrounded by a little village that both husband and wife hoped to someday develop into a center of culture and sophistication. That dream was a long way off, though, and for the time being they were content with the peace they had finally found in each other’s arms. __
  103. 103. Some time ago,,,

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