The warm June sun shone brightly on the guests gathered in front of the Centowski home. Brothers, sisters,
aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends had traveled thousands of miles to witness the marriage between
Heather Centowski and Cosimo Costa. They crushed close together, not minding the fact that they were
practically standing on one another’s feet, in order to get a better view of the bride and groom.
Orlando Centowski stood as the head of his family and in the center of the wedding party, overseeing the
ring exchange and staring in disbelief as his oldest daughter made the transition to a new household. His
soon to be son-in-law came from a good family, some Venetian merchants distantly related to his wife, and
had made a good impression when he had asked for Heather’s hand.
The crowd watched while Cosimo pulled a ring from his pocket and slipped it on Heather’s finger, saying,
“I, Cosimo, take thee, Heather, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better,
for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, till death do us part. And thereto I plight thee my
Erocle, Cosimo’s older brother, stood in the front as well, acting as head of the Costa family and the notary
present to ensure the fair exchanged of the dowry. He smiled as he looked at his little brother finally tying
the knot with his lovely young bride.
She produced a ring as well and spoke her vows clearly, “And I, Heather, take thee, Cosimo, to be my
wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in
sickness, and in health, till death do us part. And thereto I plight thee my troth.”
With a final kiss, the ceremony was complete. Orlando announced that their union was final and that his
daughter was now a Costa, which was met with a loud round of applause from the guests.
From their clear vantage point in the front, Renee and Niccolo clapped along enthusiastically. “They make
a lovely couple, don’t you think?” Renee asked as she watched her niece turn to face the crowd on the arm
of her new husband.
“Of course they do,” Niccolo answered with a laugh, “But they do make me feel old. I know Heather was
adopted when she was twelve, but it seems our son is far behind his cousin. Giac has barely passed his fifth
“Don’t worry, Nic. His time will come soon enough.” Renee rolled her eyes at her husband’s enthusiasm;
he was always looking so far into the future.
The clapping stopped when Cosimo held his hand out for silence.
Two horses, one brown and one white, were brought around the side of the house and were mounted by
Cosimo and his bride. “And now, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, sitting astride, “If you will all follow me,
a sumptuous feast has been laid out at my house where this wedding shall continue.”
A cheer rang out and the guests fell into line behind the bride and groom.
The procession of party-goers made a rowdy train behind the horses, eager to showcase themselves through
the streets of Florence on their indirect route to the Costa’s Villa for dinner.
Heather and Cosimo took the lead, the only ones on horseback, smiling in anticipation of the cheers and
compliments they would receive once the wedding procession reached the heart of the city.
Niccolo steered Renee towards the back of the line, unsure if the exertion of the impending long walk was
a very good idea considering her condition.
Renee watched as skirts swirled and children skipped around her. She nodded to friends and exchanged
short greetings as they passed, but stayed beside her husband, grateful that he wasn’t pushing his way to
“Are you up for this?” he asked once everyone had passed them.
Renee nodded and suppressed a yawn which didn’t go unnoticed by Niccolo. He gave her a look asking for
the truth and she admitted “It would nice to be at home and rest for a bit. I’m getting tired.”
“As you wish!” he said, waving to their coachman who had been enjoying a small meal with the other
servants before they had to follow their masters to the new house. The coachman set down his plate
immediately and left for the stables to bring the carriage about.
“I will have our gift sent over tomorrow morning and we can pay a quiet visit in a few days. Signor Costa
will sure see our reason for not attending.” Niccolo mused as he waited.
Renee nodded in agreement and watched with slight disappointment as the guests made their way slowly
across the street. Deep down, she wished she could join them, but her reasonable side won knew it would
be best to go home and take it easy. She most definitely didn’t want a repeat of the birth of her poor
A minute or so later, the familiar sound of the rattling carriage caught the attention of Renee and the rest of
the guests. Several faces turned to see who was leaving, but no one raised any objections when Renee
signaled that she was tired.
Niccolo guided his wife to the carriage and helped her into the seat before joining her for the ride home.
* * *
“And he had the cutest little toes! All ten of them liked up perfectly in a row! It takes me back to when my
daughters were born…though this the shoe is on the other foot- my daughter will learn a thing or two about
parenting!” Caterina gushed as she moved chess pieces around the board.
From her position at the easel, Renee just murmured “uh-huh” and went on painting.
Caterina rolled her eyes and moved a couple of pawns around, “I also flew to England on a broomstick last
night and witnessed the murder of Richard III in the tower of London.”
Caterina sighed and gave up talking to her friend. Renee was always distracted when painting and it was
even worse this time. She was working on her son’s portrait and apparently had no interest in hearing about
Caterina’s first grandchild.
“Just a little more on the nose, here…and I think I’m done!” Renee stepped back and waved her paintbrush
with a flourish, announcing the painting’s completion.
Caterina kept her eyes glued and mumbled “uh-huh” as payback.
“Honestly, Caterina! Look! I think I captured his likeness pretty well this time.”
Caterina conceded to her friend’s enthusiasm and looked up. What she saw was nothing short of amazing.
“You have such talent, Renee!” she exclaimed and began to put the pieces away in a drawer.
“It’ll take a while to dry but I think I have an extra frame upstairs that will go well with the canvas. I’ll be
back in a minute.”
“Let me come, too!” Caterina said and shut the door with a slam.
“Aren’t you in the middle of a game of chess, though?”
“Yes, but it gets rather boring when your opponent abandons you to paint.”
“Fine, come with me.”
Renee led the way up the stairs, heading towards a closet at the end of the hallway, but they had barely
made it to the end when Renee let out an all-too-familiar moan.
Not that it was a surprise, though. The baby’s arrival had been expected for several days now.
Hearing Renee’s yelp, Caterina hastened to her friend’s side and let out a relieved sigh when she saw what
was going on. “It’s about time! I was beginning to think the baby would never come!”
“Oh, andiamo!” * Renee held out her arm for her friend to take.
Caterina took it and began to lead Renee to her room. The frame had been completely forgotten by now.
“Relax here while I send for the midwife.” Caterina said once her friend was deposited on the bench in
front of the fireplace. “I’ll be back in a minute or two to help set up the room.”
“It’s not as if I have anywhere else to be!” Renee said, feeling agitated and slightly uncomfortable.
“Just stay here.”
Half an hour later, a note had been dispatched to the midwife and she had shown up, carrying a bag of
instruments in tow. She was an elderly woman, called Laura, and had been well-trained in the area of
childbirth. Knowing his wife’s past complications during childbirth, Niccolo had scoured the town for a
midwife able to handle any difficulties thrown her way. Laura had been informed of the situation and had
been waiting to be called for the delivery for some time now. “Where’s the mistress of the house?”
“Upstairs and to the left, last door on the left. You’ll find most-”
At that moment, a knock on the door interrupted the instructions. Heather, who had also been sent for to act
as an extra pair of hands, had arrived and was immediately let into the home, only to be sent back out again
to purchase some herbs Laura required.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing?” Caterina asked upon finding Renee up and about, painting.
“Is painting a crime now?” she retorted, dragging the bristles down the canvas in long, even strokes.
“When one is in childbirth, it may as well be! Come, now. Let’s get you out of that dress and into
something more comfortable. The midwife is here; she’s downstairs collecting some water and, by the time
you’re changed, she will be ready to go.”
Renee found no strength to argue so let herself be shepherded to her bedchamber, stripped down to her
chemise, and her cumbersome headdress removed.
When they heard the door open in the other room, Caterina quickly placed the dress in a drawer and
ushered Renee down the hall.
“Sit here,” Caterina commanded as she helped Renee to ease into a stiff chair poised in a corner. “Laura
has informed me that this time around, a birthing chair is the method of choice for the delivery.”
Renee looked over at Laura who was lighting a fire. She had delivered Giac while lying down and last
time, well, she didn’t want to think about that. She pushed the memories of her last birthing experience
away and prayed that Laura knew what she was doing.
It was said that birthing chairs were very effective, but Renee had yet to try one.
Laura busied herself setting up various instruments on a side table that had been carried in. Heather
returned with several packages of herbs and began stringing curtains in front of the windows to provide
some privacy and to dim the chamber. Renee just sat back and watched the commotion that went on around
When Renee felt another contraction beginning, the rest of the ladies dropped what they were doing and
rushed to her side.
“How long has it been since I was sent for?” Laura asked, kneeling in front of Renee.
“Almost three hours.” Renee said between groans.
“You’ll be ready to have your baby very soon, as it seems. However, there is one issue.” Laura said in a
strangely calm manner. Renee just grimaced and braced herself for the worst. Was she destined to lose
“The baby is breech, turned around the wrong way. I am certain I can correct the situation, though not
while you’re sitting. Ladies, please help Signora Moretti to her bed and get her to lie down.”
Caterina and Heather leapt to attention and did as Laura bid. They each took an arm of Renee’s and lifted
her out of the chair. Renee leaned on them for support as they walked slowly towards her bed. In the
background, she could hear Laura dragging the table across the floor.
“What time is it now?” Renee asked for the third time in the past ten minutes. Caterina mumbled ‘six
o’clock’ from her spot in a chair, not bothering to look up from her book. “Where in the world has Nic
disappeared to? He should be home-”
Renee stopped midsentence when she was struck by another contraction. It had been several hours since
she was moved into her bedroom and, according to Laura, the birth had been proceeding rather slowly. The
baby’s position had been corrected about an hour ago, much to the relief of all present, but the baby still
wasn’t ready to be born.
The midwife made her way over to the foot of the bed and a wide grin spread across her face. “Looks like
there shall be no more waiting this evening! Heather, prepare the swaddling and the bath. Caterina, bring
me that small jar from the table. Renee, get ready; it’s just about time.”
With a new feeling of excitement and anticipation present in the room, each girl did as she was tasked.
Half an hour later, Renee gave a final push and heard the first cries of her new daughter before collapsing
back onto her pillow.
The infant was immediately passed off to Caterina who would bathe her in warm water and swaddle her
tightly. Heather worked to clean up the used linens while Laura focused on revitalizing Renee.
Outside, Niccolo was leading Giac up the drive. On his fifth birthday, Giac had been enrolled in his father’s
academy and walked to and the pair walked to and from the school each day, enjoying each other’s
company and conversation. Even at his young age, Giac was showing much promise in his studies, much to
the delight of his father.
They entered the house and Giac made a beeline for the desk in the front room to dispose of the practice
sheets he had brought home with him that evening.
Niccolo stood waiting in the foyer for his wife to come and welcome him home, as was customary. When
she didn’t show, he looked around and realized that none of the downstairs fireplaces or candles were lit,
but he pushed the confusion from his mind and just assumed she went to bed early.
Father and son made their way into the kitchen and dished out some leftover soup in bowls for their supper.
The food was cold but it provided the nourishment that had been lacking in the academy’s dinner that day.
Their meal was interrupted by the kitchen door opening and, to Niccolo’s surprise, Caterina entered.
Usually she left much earlier than this to prepare supper for her own daughters.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” she asked. She eyed Giac significantly and added “Alone.”
Niccolo got the hint and abandoned his bowl on the counter. “Why don’t you go out to the table to finish
Giac nodded, took his bowl and left the room, curious about what he wasn’t supposed to know, but
knowing that he should obey his father.
“Renee had her baby this evening.”
Niccolo’s immediate response was one of elation, but upon recalling the devastation that resulted from his
wife’s previous childbirth, he tempered his joy. “How goes her recovery?”
“The infant is healthy-a daughter, this time. Renee, on the other hand, isn’t recovering as quickly as hoped.
She collapsed immediately after the baby was born and the midwife is upstairs trying to rouse her.”
“And no one thought to notify me of this?” Niccolo asked angrily.
Caterina flinched at her brother’s harsh words. “There was no reason to notify you. There wasn’t anything
you could have done! Laura is doing all she can and I have confidence in her abilities. You yourself said
she comes highly recommended.”
Before Niccolo could respond, the kitchen door opened again and Laura entered.
“Not to worry, signor, your wife has been roused and is sleeping soundly.” Laura began the conversation
before she could be bombarded with questions. “I would recommend not rousing her before tomorrow. By
then, she should be well on her way to recovery.”
“Grazie mille!” Hearing that there was no cause for distress, Niccolo realized that he had been holding his
breath. He wanted to hug Laura for all the joy he felt at the birth of his new daughter, but instead he held
his emotions in check and exhaled.
“Her chamber has been properly cleaned, if you wish to see your new daughter.”
“Of course I do!” Niccolo said enthusiastically and pushed past Laura and Caterina on his way to the exit.
“What’s going on?” Giac asked from his chair. His soup had been finished and the bowl was sitting
patiently on the table. He had been poking at the slats of the table and swinging his legs back and forth
while waiting to be let back into the kitchen.
When no one answered, he asked again, “Where are you going, father?”
Niccolo was too preoccupied to answer, so Laura took pity on the young child and replied shortly, “Yes, the
kitchen is free. You have a new sister, but it would be wise, young man, to wait to see her until your father
sends for you.”
Giac hopped up eagerly from the table to wash his dish. A baby sister! He had been waiting the longest
time for one of those!
Niccolo gently leaned over Renee’s sleeping form, afraid that any squeak of the floorboards would wake
her and put her health in jeopardy. He had taken the midwife’s warnings to leave her alone seriously and,
although he had been assured she would sleep well with the concoction of herbs she had been fed, he most
certainly did not want to risk anything.
He looked at her tenderly, amazed at the strength she had shown in giving him another child. A daughter
this time! Niccolo felt his heart swell at the thought of becoming a father again. He heard soft coos coming
from the antechamber and decided he had intruded on Renee enough.
Caterina was cuddling the baby in her arms, trying to get her to stop fussing. Niccolo crossed the room to
get a good look at the newest addition to his family.
He bent over her tiny form and pulled funny faces to aid in Caterina’s attempts to stop the baby’s cries of
discontent. She had his eyes and what looked to become the perfect mixture of his and Renee’s hair color.
When she smiled, Niccolo felt his heart warm.
Niccolo’s heart cringed, however, when she stopped smiling and let out a loud cry.
“What’s wrong with her?” he asked, grimacing. Who knew babies could be so loud?
“Oh, she’s hungry.” Caterina said and rocked back and forth.
“I’m afraid I can’t help you there.” He turned away and walked to the window, wishing there was
something he could do, but, alas, he was no woman, a wet nurse couldn’t be found at this hour, and the
baby’s mother was out cold.
“I think I can help,” Heather offered in a small voice. She came over and held out her arms for the girl to
be placed into.
Niccolo returned and looked on questioningly.
“I had my son nearly a week ago, so I’m capable of feeding her, if you don’t have any objections, signore.”
“Of course not, Heather! Please, take her!”
Caterina handed over the baby with pleasure and Heather left for the next room which offered more
“Signore, I think I shall take my leave now.” Laura announced and began piling her equipment back into
“Si, bene. I shall send payment over in the morning.”
“Your wife seems to be in good health, now, but if anything further occurs, please, do not send for me. Call
a physician instead as delivering babies is my forte, not healing women.”
“As you wish, signora. If you’ll give me your bag, I’ll see you out.” Niccolo held out his hand for the bag
and turned to follow Laura from the room.
Caterina stoked the fire while waiting for Niccolo to return. When Niccolo came back, he opened the door
slowly and walked across the floorboards with heavy feet.
He plopped down on the bench and rented his head in his hands. “What’s wrong?” Caterina asked and
“Oh, sister, plenty is wrong. At least, not much seems to be right. Renee cannot be roused, the baby needs
fed, Giac needs looked after, it’s too late at night to get much done, and I don’t know when Renee will be
“Giac is perfectly capable of looking after himself for the night. Heather and I will be here in the morning
to look after him since he has no classes tomorrow. Renee will wake in the morning, and I’m sure Heather
can take the baby for the night. She has a wet nurse employed for her son and will surely not mind one
“You don’t think she will be too much of an imposition?”
“Of course not! She’s a very pleasant child when she’s not starving.” Heather interjected as she came into
the room. “I think it’s time we are going. She’s falling asleep in my arms and my husband’s probably
convinced I’ve been kidnapped by gypsies by now.”
Niccolo rose and helped Caterina, who insisted that she should be getting home as well, to her feet.
Niccolo offered the use of his carriage to the traveling ladies and saw them to the door.
He came back after seeing Giac to his room and promising him that he could see his sister tomorrow when
Heather visited. He scooped Renee up into his arms and swung her around to tuck her under the covers.
Once she was lying peacefully under the blankets, he crawled in next to her. He turned on his side and fell
asleep listening to her slow, even breaths.