Alchemist Gift Roland is seeing things
Alchemist Gift continued: Cesare left the yard by a side gate. As he crossed the square, he happened upon a carter Giovanni Billini who was leading his donkey and small cart out of an alley. Cesare hired Giovanni quite often to deliver his pieces.
“Hey Giovanni, here, over here.” called out Cesare.
Giovanni waved to Cesare. “Salve, Cesare. What brings you to town?”
“I have come to collect some wood.”
Giovanni laughed. “You live in a forest my friend.”
“So I do.” Cesare grinned and shook hands with Giovanni.
They first met when Giovanni asked for lodging one night nine or ten years past. Giovanni was just let out of the army. He lost his left eye in a battle with the Turks and was returning home to his little village to the south, very near the Convent of Santa Dorotea.
Giovanni was a well-built man of average height. He had a dark complexion and wavy dark hair and would be considered handsome except for the deep diagonal scar that crossed his cheek, over his left eye socket and ended just above his eyebrow. His eyeless socket was sunken and, with the help of a few stitches by the attending field surgeon, healed as best it could.
He returned home to find that his parents had died in one of the many outbreaks of the plague and that his sister, out of hunger and desperation, left with a rather brutal cavalry officer and was not heard of again. The news saddened him greatly. Giovanni never lost his positive outlook on life, though at times it was very difficult to maintain. He kept himself sane with a sense of humor and the firm belief that he was part of God’s plan.
“Where is this wood, Master Lippo?”
“At the blacksmiths; it’s behind his shop.”
“You lead, and I’ll follow.” Giovanni took the bridle and tugged on it. The fat little donkey gave resistance and pulled her head back and then brayed loudly. Giovanni smiled and patted the beast on its muzzle.
“Come on, Jezebel, be a good girl, pull the little cart for Giovanni.” He stroked Jezebel’s ear and gave another tug. The donkey took a few steps and the cart creaked forward. The three settled into a leisurely pace on the way back to Antonio’s shop.
“You still have your Jezebel, I see.” said Cesare.
“Ah yes, a match made in heaven, she’s a faithful partner, as long as she gets enough to eat.” He gave her an affectionate pat on the muzzle and made a kissing sound with his lips. If it wasn’t for Giovanni, Jezebel would have been slaughtered and eaten long ago.
When Giovanni found out the fate of his parents and sister he decided to leave the tiny hamlet. Giovanni enlisted in the army as a boy of fifteen and so he had no trade. If he stayed he could either be a woodsman or a shepherd. He found neither choice very appealing after seeing a bigger world. There was nothing left for him there in the village. His father’s few stony acres were barely the trouble to work, even for a simple vegetable garden. His parent’s little house was in a terrible state. It wasn’t abandoned long before the neighbors took the doors and windows and even the tile off the roof. With the roof no more than open rafters and the inner walls exposed to the rain and wind, the plaster cracked and large chunks of it lay on the floor.
Giovanni walked away preoccupied with the future. At the end of the third day he approached a farmhouse to ask for a place to sleep. The farmer’s wife opened the door and could not hide her revulsion at the ugly scar and sunken eye. She called her children to come see the “man with the evil eye.” They stood with mouths agape and their gazes transfixed on Giovanni’s war wound. After this sobering moment she told Giovanni he could find her husband in the corral behind the barn. She crossed herself, kissed her thumbnail, and quickly closed the door.
The children, three stair-stepped, curly headed boys under the age of eight, excitedly ran ahead to announce the “man with the evil eye” to their papa. Giovanni followed. When he turned the corner the stench of manure took him back a step, but he continued. The farmer was in the muddy corral. He was bald and lanky, wore a blood smeared apron and held a large knife with a dull gray, curved blade in his right hand and he had his left arm crooked around the neck of a healthy young donkey. He held the animal’s head back to expose its throat to the track of the blade. The boys scurried up and hung off the rails of the corral to watch.
Giovanni posed the request for lodging. The farmer let the little donkey go and stood up straight. He was agreeable to the idea to let Giovanni stay the night and the two men fell into conversation. As was expected from any traveler Giovanni shared his story. All the time he spoke the donkey was gamboling about much to the delight of the farmer’s three sons who laughed and hee-hawed right back at the impish animal. Even Giovanni and the farmer had to smile at the animals antics. When Giovanni finished his narrative he couldn’t help but ask about the scene he came upon earlier. Why was the farmer going to slit the donkey’s throat? There were plenty of chickens scratching about and he could hear the not too distant bleating of sheep. The farmer said with a bit of dark humor that Giovanni and the donkey were very much the same. Giovanni gave the farmer a quizzical look. The farmer coaxed the donkey up close with kind words, snatched it by its ears and dragged the animal to where Giovanni stood. “Look.” With difficulty the farmer turned the donkey’s head and pointed to the animal’s right eye. “Look, she’s blind, like you. She’s no good, no one will buy her.”
It was true; the donkey’s right eye was dull and gray as the knife blade that was to be used to slit her throat. The farmer let the animal go and again she frolicked about, prancing from one end of the corral to the other. Giovanni had an epiphany. Without any thought of financial consequence he offered the farmer the unheard amount of one piece of silver for the donkey. The delighted farmer gladly accepted. Giovanni went from wayfarer to honored guest.
To the very vocal dismay of the farmer’s wife (which was quashed by a threatening glare from her husband) Giovanni, evil eye and all, ate with the family that night. He slept deep and peacefully as he had not done so for a long time.
Giovanni and his little donkey were gone before sunrise the next morning. With some trouble he wound up half carrying her out of the corral. She was quite timid and lost when she left her familiar world.
The field they had to cross to get to the road lay ahead of them. Jezebel was unwilling to move. Giovanni tugged on the rope that was around the donkey’s neck. She held firm with all of her strength and went into a long and loud bout of braying and bucking. He slackened the rope and she settled down. Giovanni next tried to entice her with an apple he was going to eat for his breakfast. The loud crunch and the sweet scent that perfumed the air around them when he bit into the apple immediately piqued the donkey’s curiosity. She stopped her fussing and leaned in close and cocked her head to see with her good eye what this new delight might be. Giovanni dropped the bite of apple from his mouth into his cupped hand and held it under the donkey’s nose. Her nostrils flared and her lips quivered. He felt her warm, moist breath against his hand. He tried to coax her by pulling his hand away from her mouth in the direction he wanted to go. She did not move; she wasn’t being obstinate, she was afraid.
It dawned on Giovanni that he had to be on the animal’s right to lead her. He changed sides and like magic, they began their journey. That morning an unlikely bond was formed between man and animal. She would be Giovanni’s faithful servant and friend and he would complete Jezebel’s sight and be her protector.
Cesare, Giovanni and Jezebel entered Antonio’s yard. The two men loaded the cart and left the town by the west gate. The road narrowed from a broad entry way of ancient paving stones to smaller cobblestones and then to a rut scarred country lane of packed clay that followed the lay of the land.
The four mile walk was uneventful, brisk and quiet. The dusty lane to Cesare’s cottage wound through low hills sparsely covered with evergreens. The ground was carpeted with dry golden grass and low dark scrubs. Along the roadside they came across an occasional fruit or walnut tree; their leafless, leaden branches captured shards of sky and clouds and sun and shadow within their myriad of intersecting angles creating the effect of looking through a stained glass window. The two men spoke very little. The air held the sounds of birds, the whispering breeze and a monotonous moan made as one of the cart wheels rubbed against a dry axel. Jezebel pulled her cart at an even pace.
Around the next curve in the road a sliver of stone chimney of Cesare’s modest cottage came into view. The house sat on a level area up a slight incline a hundred yards in from the lane. The men and beast with her load left the road and followed the fern lined path. The ground was damp and dark brown and the fronds were jeweled with dew. The path as well as Cesare’s house was in the constant shade of the pine, cypress and cedar trees. The humid, spicy air was crisscrossed with delicate, diagonal shafts of dusty sunlight. The trees protected Cesare’s house from the winter winds and rain and the intense heat of the dry summer days.
Giovanni gave Jezebel’s bridle a final jerk. The rear wheels of the cart were stuck in a rut at the very top of the path. With one last effort the donkey and Giovanni bounced the cart onto the level. He patted the little donkey on the head. Jezebel announced their arrival with a few loud brays and a sneeze for good measure.
Cesare looked in at the load of wood. He held out his hand and ran his fingers over the thick branches and trunk. Again felt a surge of energy travel up his arm which immediately stopped the instant he took his hand away. “Giovanni, my friend, I feel it in my soul, I will make something from this like nothing anyone has ever made before.”
* * * * * * *
Roland slowed his pace after he put a few blocks between Homeless Freddy and himself. His head still hurt from hitting it on the table rim. His arm and face still smarted just a bit from Freddy’s unexpected man handling and of course he was still in turmoil over Liz walking out. A laughing couple, minor acquaintances of his, nodded as they hurried the other way to The Edelweiss. Once they were out of earshot Roland asked himself in a loud whisper. “What was I thinking? Damn that Lila. Why did she have to do that? From now on just mind your own business. Oh Liz, what did I do? I’d give anything to do that whole thing over again.”
He decided to try Liz on her cell. Roland stopped and stood with his back to a travel agency store front. The shop was closed. There were two posters taped on the inside of the window. One of the posters was a beautiful picture of the Italian Alps and had a banner that read: Visit Northern Italy and the other poster had a picture of a German castle on it with “Live a different time and place, visit Bavaria”. Roland fished his phone out of his pocket and called Liz’s number.
“Come on, pick up.” He said impatiently. The call did go through and he heard the familiar message. “Hi, you’ve reached Liz Parker and the sometimes phone of Roland Hughes. Leave a message after the beep and have a great day.” Roland snapped the phone shut and shoved it back into his pocket.
The sky darkened as clouds rolled across the horizon and climbed high into the sky twisting into backlit grottos and bizarre formations. A strong breeze whipped through the alleyways and down the streets. He arrived on the very western edge of North Park where the older residential and commercial co-mingled in a menagerie of art deco, Craftsman, and Spanish style architecture.
Roland turned down Arizona Street, past Wightman, down to Landis, took a right on Louisiana and headed towards Myrtle. The street was lined with jacaranda trees and the sidewalks under them were carpeted with lavender flowers. A sole shaft of sun shone through the clouds and poured its golden light down the front of a Victorian house. For an instant the house and sky began to quiver. The ray of sun remained constant but the house he was looking at flickered. A sick feeling came over Roland; he gripped onto a branch of a jacaranda tree. His eyes were clouded by a white light and he felt dizzy.
Roland caught his breath and when he opened his eyes he found himself on a shaded country road that stretched out in front and behind him. Roland stood motionless and watched a young, short haired girl, dressed in old fashioned clothing pass by him without even a nod or an inkling that she noticed him. She did nod to a young man on foot with a pack over his shoulder and a walking stick with a natural crook at the end. Roland recognized the renaissance style of clothes the young man wore. The girl and the young man said something each other. To Roland the exchange was echoic and unintelligible. The young man took off his hat and turned it around in his hand as if looking it over and put it back on, smiled at the young girl and moved on. The young man passed by Roland without as much as a nod. He did stop and with a quizzical look on his face looked on either side and right through Roland. But he did stop for a second and look back at Roland. The young man shrugged his shoulders and continued.
In what seemed like less than a heartbeat Roland was back holding on to the tree branch a half block from Myrtle. He still felt queasy but that passed. After he took a few deep breaths he carried on. Though he had no destination in mind he needed the steady cadence of walking to relax and calm him. He heard hurried footsteps coming up behind him and the excited banter between a man and a woman.
“This estate sale will be the best. This guy has museum pieces;
The real deal. They say he was quite a collector.” The man said a little out of breath.
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The Alchemist Gift is a book about the lives of people in the Renaissance and the alchemy that brought them together with its repercussions on our modern-day hero, Roland.
I am writing the novel Alchemist Gift online in real time. I will share a few paragraphs of the book with each blog. I am still writing the book. I’d like to know how you like what you are reading. Please use the comments section to share. If you make suggestions in your comments, I may incorporate your ideas into the book. We hope you will enjoy the process as much as I do, follow the saga and share it with your friends and colleagues.
2013 Mark D. Giglio, www.theartofgiglio.com
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