Alchemist Gift – Marcella Flees Terra Sanctus
Alchemist Gift continued – They grabbed her by her arms and pulled her up out of the water. Amelia’s body fell loose. Her arms hung at her sides, her legs collapsed and one ankle turned in the other out.
“Mama, please say something.” Marcella pleaded.
Amelia’s head leaned forward to one side; her eyes were just barely open and vacant. Eduardo and Marcella laid Amelia down next to the vat and Marcella dried her mother’s face with her apron.
Amelia opened her eyes and looked at her daughter and the priest. She was in a dreamy state but when she spoke to them they couldn’t seem to hear her. And when she sat up and went to embrace and comfort her crying daughter, Amelia’s arms could only gather ether and shadow. Amelia watched as Father Eduardo helped Marcella stand up. He put his arm around her shoulder and Marcella cried and buried her face in his chest. And Amelia was lifted by invisible hands into the air and floated away, light as thistle down and as dust is scattered by the wind so her being dissolved into its individual atoms, spread and became one with the cosmos.
* * * * * * * *
The Andano house was now a place of silent sorrow. Farintino did not realize how much he grew to love Amelia. He did not understand why she was taken away. Marcella questioned her faith. Father Eduardo told himself and Marcella that the Lord worked in strange and marvelous ways. In the abstract that explanation was acceptable; in reality it seemed thin and dubious. She could not understand how an all loving God could collect the soul of someone who had lived such a pious life and then not be given the opportunity to confess her sins, do her penance and receive Holy Communion to insure her place at His side.
Rini, Farintino’s favorite, stayed on along with her two year old and her servant for a few months after her mother’s funeral. Marcella lied when she told her sisters, Farintino and Father Eduardo that their mother confided in her not that long ago that she felt unworthy to be laid to rest next to Master Fausto and Mistress Beatrica. It was a fabrication that wasn’t questioned and so Amelia was interred with the space of two graves between a mother-in-law she never met and the man who bullied her into a life of guilt and shame.
The market place gossipmongers greedily told and retold the story in an orgy of incredible and delectable details. Depending on whose version piqued one’s interest, Amelia was slain by Saint Michael, who in an invisible form, entered the bath water and wrestled her under to her death for desecrating Fausto’s grave. Another believed Amelia drowned herself as her own punishment for being “that tart from the south.”
Marcella had always been marked as odd. She matured too early with the responsibility of taking care of her little sisters. She was a little too serious and to her detriment she did not recognize her femininity as a barrier to anything. Her natural curiosity took the place of a friend or playmate. She was gangly, shy and awkward away from the house.
She wore her hair short and sometimes ventured out of the house in boy’s trousers, which made her an easy target for her contemporaries to tease and taunt. Because she quietly held her head high and acted indifferent she was considered secretive, conceited and aloof. Finding no sport in it, the taunting stopped. Marcella was a disappointment. She became unimportant and invisible. Because of her peripheral status the most damaging tale was that Marcella was a blasphemer who was in league with the Dark Angel and caused her mother to drown to show the young and inexperienced Father Eduardo the powers of her evil master.
Marcella was noticeably absent from Mass since her mother died. She was angry at God and she let the feeling slip at the market place for everyone to hear. Prunella knew the power of ignorance and the wicked charge some people feel when they cause another pain or to fall. Prunella was far seeing enough to realize her niece’s untimely diatribe might be cause for her to be called before the bishop. Though that action was only a rumor at the moment, she knew rumors, with a little help, had a way of actualizing.
The remedy was to send Marcella away until this limelight faded and eventually vanished, and even then there was no guarantee she wouldn’t be sought.
Armed with a piece of gold gratefully offered by Farintino that would keep Marcela for a year, Prunella along with Pietro as her walking companion headed away from Terra Sanctus down the dusty country lane those four long miles and up the dirt path to the secluded cottage of Cesare Lippo.
She sent Pietro off to the apiarist and after offering Cesare some very good brandy she brought with her, sat with him and told this story. Upon hearing what Prunella had to say Cesare decided to take in Marcella. It wasn’t the gold, although it was a very generous incentive; there was something more, a profound empathy, a kindred feeling that Cesare felt the few times they met. Cesare, always a quiet man, was at a point in his life when he realized that his work, though very satisfying, could not take the place of human intercourse.
As soon as Prunella and Pietro left, Cesare began to clean out a corner of the house that had long been abandoned to a disorganized collection of household things. It had been his aim to build shelves when he first built the house but for some reason never got around to it. Today was the day to do so. He cleared away the area.
Cesare took his measuring string and determined how long to make the shelves by tying a knot in the string to mark their length. Cesare went to the work shop and selected six or seven suitable boards and cut them. He made enough brackets, collected his pegs, mallet and chisels, his hand brace and auger and saw and started his task. He spent the greater part of the day installing the shelves. When he was finished he sat on a low stool and looked at his work. All was level and even. He drank water and looked at the piles and stacks of things that needed to be organized and put on the shelves. He had to laugh at himself for not doing this so long ago and how it took him such a short time to do so.
With everything put up and in its place there was more than enough room for a bed and a small dressing chest. Those things would have to come later. It was time for rest. Cesare slipped his boots off, pulled his shirt over his head and in the tradition of a man who has lived alone, draped it over the back of a chair, watched it slide to the floor, shrugged and left it there. He shed his trousers and lay back on a well-padded chaise lounge that also was his bed. He reclined there wearing nothing but a pair of light wool socks and a loin cloth. Cesare felt his eye lids grow heavy, and even though he was a trifle hungry, he pulled the blanket up over his shoulder and nodded off to sleep.
* * * * * * * *
Pietro and Prunella finally arrived at the Andano household. Prunella must have told Pietro a dozen times “this will be my last excursion beyond the walls of Terra Sanctus.” Marcella was in the kitchen sitting at the work table. She looked at the flask of vinegar and the few papery garlic skins that Rini didn’t tidy up from making the mid-day meal.
Marcella just returned from the market not more than a few minutes ago and had a most unpleasant experience. No one except Maria Cutri the herb and potion seller would have anything to do with her. She was shunned at every stall and the most un-nerving incident occurred when the butcher’s wife spit on her. Marcella said nothing; she just returned home with an empty basket and tried to make some sense of what happened.
“Hello, hello…” called Prunella, “are you here Marcella?”
Marcella called back. “I’m here in the kitchen.”
Prunella asked Pietro to go to the work shop and tell Farintino they had returned safely. When he was out of the room Prunella went to her niece’s side and put her hand on her shoulder. She could tell by Marcella’s countenance she was distraught.
“What is it, dear, you look pale.”
Marcella took her aunt’s hand and held it against her cheek. “Zietta Prunella, today was awful. No one except Maria, the herb seller would
talk to me, and Signora Carbone, she spit on me.” Marcella looked down at her blouse and touched the spot.
“Carbone? All the tough and stale meat they’ve sold to all of us over the years, they’re the ones who should be spit on.” Prunella patted Marcella on the top the head. “He can take you in tonight. You haven’t told anyone?”
“No, I haven’t told anyone.” Marcella became sullen. She asked herself how something as a simple bath and blessing could turn into something so awful and ugly. She knew she had to leave Terra Sanctus for a while anyway. The sudden shocking knowledge of her parentage, Fausto’s and her mother’s deaths, all in the span of just two weeks left her emotionally reeling.
The stories of the witch burnings in Germany, France and Rome were on everybody’s lips. Some happened not more than a few days on foot from Terra Sanctus. Marcella and her aunt discussed her safety and Marcella had to agree she needed to leave. She had mixed feelings. Terra Sanctus was her home. She grew up here, but she was never a good fit, not with her family or the townsfolk. With her mother gone she would only perpetuate Fausto’s lie by staying.
Farintino wanted her gone, although he did not say so, he also thought that Amelia’s death was more supernatural than not. Prunella was wise enough not to tell him where Marcella might be going, just that she needed some funds. Farintino made the decision almost instantly. He did not care where Marcella went as long as she was gone.
That night while Cesare slept, miles away, Marcella prepared to leave. She dressed herself in a dark men’s shirt, and a pair of Fausto’s dark trousers. Marcella spent the time after supper packing. She had her three dresses, one dark brown and the other two were black, a pair of open back slippers , a pair of wooden clogs and she wore her one pair of “descent, leather shoes” as she called them. She had two bodices, both plain white and cut high on the chest, three plain white underskirts, and four pair of linen stockings. She also took two pairs of Fausto’s trousers and two of his shirts. She opened a small trinket box that contained her mother’s wedding ring, a fine, gold chain with a small gold cross, a gift from her aunt, and a crucifix fashioned from the scraps of palm fronds that were passed out after mass on Passion Sunday. She gathered her meager art supplies: the lead pencil she found as a girl, a few twigs of charcoal, a few scraps of paper, she used for her enthusiastic but amateurish drawings.
Marcella put all of these things in her large leather bag along with a little piece of mirror , her sewing things and her Holy Communion veil that was worn by her three sisters and eventually made its way back to her.
It was dark out but the moon washed the town and the country side with a milky glow. The only light in the house came from the stub of a candle that was burning in her room. She blew the candle out, put a slouch hat on her head and picked up the bag. Marcella heard Farintino snoring as she passed by his room on her way to the front door. Marcella opened the door as quietly as she could but it still made that loud hollow click and the low quiet moan as it moved on its hinges. She went out and closed the door behind her. Marcella passed through the front gate and quickly headed across the street to the alley that passed behind the stables. Half way down the alley she stopped short and held her breath when she saw the silhouette of a couple locked in a feverish embrace. The two kissed and whispered gushy amorous things to each other. The woman’s back was against the stable wall and she was suspended off the ground. She clung to her lover’s shoulders, her dress was pulled up in the front and Marcella could see the woman’s naked, white legs wrapped low around the man’s waist. He drove himself against her. Each movement spawned a passionate groan from deep in their throats. As the lovers reached the throes of climax, Marcella lowered her head, closed her eyes and rushed past them as quietly and quickly possible.
The man noticed, “Who’s there?” He called half laughing and out of breath.
Marcella kept running toward the end of the alley. She heard the woman ask her lover. “Who was he?”
“He’s gone, don’t worry, he didn’t want to see us.” answered her lover.
Marcella turned right when she left the alley. Her destination was the town’s western wall that laid thirty paces ahead. Once in the shadows she made her way to a little known opening hidden behind a long disused, low, wooden door in the wall. The door was obscured by thick shrubbery that had been planted along the inside of the wall years before. On the outside of the wall the narrow and almost impassible opening was draped over with vines from above and obscured by thick weeds that grew up from below.
The wall kept its secret until Marcella found out about it. In that brief year and a half she had to herself one of her amusements was to fancy herself a spy for the Count and Countessa. She enjoyed skulking about behind the buildings and the through the dark narrow alleyways. She wouldn’t have even noticed the door if it wasn’t for two seedy men who burst around the corner and ran right to it. Unbeknown to the two, Marcella squatted behind a rain barrel as soon as she saw them enter the alley and watched the curious goings on. One held back the leaves and branches of the shrubbery while the other man, who was clutching something draped in a cloth under his arm demanded of his partner on an urgent note, “Which one? Which one?”
“The fourth one, push the fourth one.” said the other. Marcella heard a “click” and they pulled the door opened. The men slipped through the door and closed it behind them. In less than a minute a fat, little red faced man, Signore Turinni the barber, ran into the alley way. He held a walking stick in one hand like a sword and he was quite out of breath and panting. He slumped against the wall for a moment to rest, looked up and down the empty alleyway, muttered something that, though inaudible to Marcella, was certainly a curse, and left the alley.
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