Alchemist Gift and Alchemy – Emilio and Lorenzo – Dark Arts?
Alchemy and Alchemist Gift continued: The two men remained silent and sipped at their brandy. Even though the air was cleared the atmosphere in the room was heavy with the two personalities.
Testaoro set his empty glass on the desk. “Dear conte, I will have you shown to your room now, if you have no objection. I have some business to attend to.”
“Thank you signore,” Emilio drank the rest of his brandy and set his glass next to Testaoro’s so they touched.
Looking past Conte d’Benevita and without warning Testaoro clapped his hands in front of Emilio’s face which made him flinch. The white haired servant who offered his hand to Emilio when he first arrived immediately entered the room and bowed to Testaoro.
“Show the conte to his room, and make sure he is comfortable.”
“Yes sir.” The servant again bowed to Testaoro and then to Emilio.
“Until dinner, conte,” Testaoro crossed his arms and watched his future son-in-law leave the library.
* * * * * * * *
Dinner was to be a sumptuous affair. The long walnut table was dressed with a cloth of fine, gold linen accented with mulberry colored serviettes. Gold candelabras were placed toward ends and at the center of the table. Between the candelabras were crystal vases. Perfectly formed white roses were neatly arranged in the vases. At the end of the great table a smaller table ran perpendicular to it forming a T shape. This table which sat on a platform elevated those at it a head higher and was large enough to accommodate Il Signore and La Signora with room for five or six others. For the dinner this night only the master’s and the mistress’s, Rosalba’s and the conte’s high back chairs were on the platform. Very rare porcelain plates that were recently acquired from the orient along with pewter trenchers and skillfully blown goblets of Venetian glass were set out for the two dozen plus or so local guests made up of well to do merchants and their wives, and the newly appointed Bishop DiMars.
While the kitchen staff and servants were busy preparing for the dinner, Rosalba was in her room along with her cousin Benedetta. Rosalba was clad in her under skirt and chemise. She stood by the window and distractedly played with a strand of hair her as she looked down onto the courtyard and watched another coach arrive and the guests climb out and be greeted by her father and mother.
Benedetta, who was sixteen and two and half years older than her cousin Rosalba, had four dresses laid out on the bed. She seemed more interested in what Rosalba wore than Rosalba did herself.
“Rosie, which one? Which dress? I like the pink one.” Benedetta ran her hand over the elaborate bead work on the front of the bodice.
Rosalba turned away from the window and managed a smile as she approached her cousin. “I don’t know; they are all so beautiful. You decide.”
“Me? Oh no, not me, I’m not the one who is meeting her betrothed.” Benedetta voice bubbled.
“The pink is fine.” Rosalba’s cheerless tone gave away her feelings.
Benedetta put the dress back down on the bed and went to her cousin’s side. “What is the matter?” She put her hand on Rosalba’s shoulder.
“I don’t know. When I was waiting for this day everything was exciting and fun, now that the conte is really here… I don’t know… I feel maybe, afraid. What if he doesn’t find me pretty, maybe he won’t like me.”
Benedetta slipped her arm around her cousin. “Don’t be silly, cousin. You are a beautiful girl and who could not like you? You are like an angel.”
Before Rosalba had time to answer Benedetta, her mother bustled into the room with her seamstress Anna.
“Come girl, it’s time to get you in your dress.”
“Yes , mama. I think the pink one.” Rosalba ventured, her reply was more a question.
“Pink, heavens no, that would make you look like a little girl of four.”
Ursula Testaoro took the dress from Rosalba and handed it to Benedetta.
“The black one with the gold ribbing and full sleeves, that’s the one I want you to wear.”
With a nod to Anna, the seamstress pulled the footstool out from under the bed and bid Rosalba to stand on it. She took the black, open back, brocade bodice off the bed and slipped it on to Rosalba who was waiting with her arms outstretched in front of her. The seamstress circled around Rosalba and pulled and tugged everything tight and held it in place and shape with some well-placed pins.
“Breath in signorina,” Rosalba did and Anna teased away what little slack was left. “Now, signorina, please don’t move. My needle is sharp and I do not want to prick you.” Anna sewed the bodice onto Rosalba as a pleased Ursula looked on.
Rosalba gently laid her hands on her budding breasts with a look of concern.
“We can help out where God has left off, do not worry about that.” re-assured Anna. From her basket she pulled two padded rounds and with a deft hand and some gentle maneuvering passed them under the tight bodice to enhance Rosalba’s bust.
While Ursula and Rosalba admired Anna’s work Benedetta picked up the pink dress off the bed. “What’s he like zietta?” asked Benedetta. She held the pink dress up to herself and swayed back and forth as she spoke.
“He’s a conte, what does it matter what he’s like.” After a pause and the uneasy look that crossed her daughter’s face she added gently, “He is very polite and soft spoken.”
Rosalba stepped off the footstool and went to her mother and hugged her. She closed her eyes and rested her forehead on her mother’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry sweetheart, I’m sure he has sensibilities, he seems a good sort, and from a very old family. Thank your good fortune, and your papa.” As she spoke she gently stroked her daughter’s hair.
Benedetta already held up the gold ribbed sleeves. “Rosie, let’s see what it looks like on you. Come on, I’ll help you put it on.”
Ursula kissed her daughter on the top of the head. “Yes, let’s see how beautiful you will look in the dress.”
Reassured, Rosalba quit her embrace, returned to the footstool and turned to her cousin who was all smiles.
“Zietta Ursula, can I wear the pink dress tonight?”
“Of course, dear. Help Anna, I have to greet guest and in a little while I’ll send Magdalena in to do your hair.”
Ursula answered Benedetta’s hopeful look. “And if there’s time, your hair too, Benedetta.”
“Thank you, auntie.”
Ursula left the room. Anna beckoned Benedetta to bring her the sleeves. Anna and Benedetta buttoned the sleeves on to the bodice. The button holes and buttons were covered by a scalloped affair that was attached to the bodice at the arm openings. Benedetta held the gold and black brocade over vest so Rosalba could slip her arms through the arm openings. With the vest on and buttoned Rosalba was ready for her stockings. These were white silk and Benedetta tied them with a pink ribbon just above the knee.
Rosalba stepped into her silk over skirt. It was full and free; a deep shiny black with a golden hem. Anna adjusted it here and there and pulled the lacing tight at the back of the waist band. She made a lovely transition between the bodice and the skirt with a gold colored sash. Rosalba stepped into her waiting slippers and looked into the mirror. Her dress was beautiful; she felt pretty in spite of the pubescent angst.
Magdalena entered the room. She looked at Rosalba and smiled. “You look lovely signorina, like an angel.” Magdalena nodded to Anna who was collecting her sewing things and putting them back into her basket. Magdalena spoke to Anna. “La Signora wants you to help the guest with their dresses. Please go to her.”
“What about me?” asked Benedetta.
“If I have time, I will come back.” Anna smiled once more at Rosalba and left the room.
Magdalena had been with the Testaoros for many, many years. She came as part of Ursula’s dowry, so to speak. She was an ageless, tall, thin woman with dark skin and even darker eyes. Her face was angular and the constant clef on her brow made her appear always angry. Her looks did not really reflect the gentle soul within. She wore her gray hair in a tight bun at the back of her head. Her clothes were the same cut and color as long as anyone could remember. A simple black over dress and a gray, long sleeve blouse with a large white collar.
Magdalena had combed and braided Rosalba’s and Benedetta’s hair for them since it was long enough to tie in a ribbon. “Girls, come sit at the dressing table,” she said as she set a basket down.
“Which dress do you like best?” chirped Benedetta.
“They are all beautiful. Which one do you like?” Magdalena asked as she took little pots and bottles and wrappings of pastes, balms and potions out of the basket and set them in a neat row in front of the mirror.
“I like the pink one.” Benedetta looked over at the dress that lay on the bed.
“A very good choice signorina,” Magdalena did not bother to look over at the dress. She ran her fingers through Rosalba’s hair getting out the major snags and freeing it up. She brushed Rosalba’s long curly hair and with each brush stroke the girl’s head was pulled back along with her hair.
“Ow, please Magdalena, that hurts.”
“Your hair is so tangled signorina. I am being as gentle as I can. We must tame this wildness. We must pull it back away from your face.”
Magdalena set the brush down and gathered Rosalba’s hair up in her hands and pulled it back and deftly tied it fast. She looked at the girl’s reflection in the mirror; Rosalba looked so young and unsure.
“You have such a beautiful face signorina, let’s make your hair your crown.” Magdalena parted the hair at the front of Rosalba’s head. Magdalena then began making small braids and loosely coiled them in a gold ribbon and wound together in an elaborate pattern towards the back of Rosalba’s head. She took back the cloth that covered one of the little clay pots and dipped her fingers into a gooey mass made of olive oil, beeswax and essence of roses, then smeared Rosalba’s newly parted locks with the concoction to help keep the hair away from her face and as high on her forehead as possible.
Magdalena took a long string of seed pearls out of the basket and arranged them around the coils and braids. She reached back into the basket and retrieved a small pearl necklace with a large tear drop shaped pearl as its centerpiece. This string of pearls she fastened in Rosalba’s hair so the tear drop hung down on her forehead just under the point where her hair was parted. Magdalena held up a hand mirror so Rosalba could see the back and sides of her handiwork.
“It looks wonderful,” Rosalba smiled.
“Thank you signorina, now I must attend to the guests.”
Benedetta spoke up. “Do you have time for me, Magdalena?”
“I am sorry Benedetta, I must go now, but if I am not needed I will come back.”
Though disappointed, Benedetta smiled and looked at her cousin who was still admiring Anna’s and Magdalena’s work. Magdalena bowed and left the room.
Benedetta approached the dressing table and stood behind her cousin.
They both looked in the mirror at themselves.
* * * * * * *
The guest had arrived by early afternoon. They were greeted and shown the greatest hospitality by Il Signore and La Signora. Conte Emilio d’Benevita received countless curtsies and bows. The women were taken by his good looks and witty replies. He was used to this kind of attention and was eager to learn about the men and women whom he would ultimately have to deal with. He fancied himself a fairly good judge of character and relied on first impressions as being the true telling of the person.
The time before dinner was spent in chit chat and anecdotes, bragging and business and gossip. The Patriarcas, always a little standoffish but not really aloof, were one of the oldest families, and the closest to Testaoro when it came to money and holdings but they were a very distant second. Emilio was the center of this gay little universe with the heads of the different families orbiting around him vying for his attention and looking to impress him. All he had to do was ask about someone who was out of earshot and his current conversation mates gave a steady flow of information.
As the afternoon wore on Emilio had enough of the dull and stuffy merchants and their endless talk of treaties, trade and the Turks. He excused himself and made his way out to the flower garden. He followed a gravel path to a fish pond and sat on a stone bench. The fresh air and the cool stone were a wonderful tonic. He hadn’t been there for more than a few minutes when he heard the crunching sound of footsteps coming up the path towards him. Emilio sighed.
It was Lorenzo Patriarca. Patriarca was surprised to see Conte Emilio sitting there alone. Lorenzo too had his fill of the others and was looking for a respite.
“I’m sorry to disturb your quiet, conte. If you find my presence disagreeable, merely nod and I’ll will away.” Patriarca stopped several paces from the bench.
“Oh no, I needed some fresh air. It is so beautiful out here right now.” A mocking bird twittered in a nearby tree as the conte spoke. “I invite you, please sit.”
Lorenzo sat on the bench next to the conte. For a good long minute they remained silent and stared into the fish pond and watched a dozen multi colored carp glide gracefully just under the surface of the water.
“I know we were introduced, and please forgive me, but I have forgotten your name.” Conte Emilio gave an apologetic smile.
“My name, so much is in a name.” there was a haunting distance in his eyes. “It is Lorenzo Patriarca.”
“So you are looking for a rest from the party as well.”
“Oh yes. I have known these men for years. I can tell you almost to a word what they will say and what stories they will tell and how much they paid for this or that. I am looking for a rest.”
Again they were silent. Emilio spoke. “Tell me, signore, who exactly is this man Testaoro? Yes he is very rich and this world of his rivals some duchies.”
Patriarca reached into his doublet and pulled out a silver flask, “Anise, dear conte?” Lorenzo offered the flask to Emilio. Emilio took the flask and unscrewed the lid. He took a sip of the sweet aperitif and handed it back.
“Thank you, very good,” Emilio licked his lips.
Lorenzo then took some. He held the syrupy, licorice flavored liquor in his mouth and with closed eyes and a smile swallowed it. He savored the warmth that spread throughout his chest. “ Testaoro ? How he got such vast wealth is a mystery. Well, maybe not too much of one. His family has only been here for forty or so years.”
“To build such, for a lack of a better word, a magnificent villa and grounds in such a short time.” Emilio was on the verge of being impressed.
“Oh no, no, no, he did not build it. Casa Bella was built after the last crusades.” Lorenzo moved in a little closer to Emilio and gave a quick glance over his shoulder ensuring they were alone. He spoke softly drawing the conte in even closer. “There are stories.” Lorenzo moved in so their shoulders touched. “It is said his grandfather was a pirate who preyed on the trade ships either going to or coming back from the East. The man was as well organized as he was merciless. The first thing he would do after he boarded a ship was to kill the captain and the officers, put armed men on the captured ship and force the crew to unload the trade goods to a few of his ships he had waiting and transport the goods to different ports and sell to brokers. It is also said he would kill the crew and scuttle the ship he just plundered. Mind you these are just stories.”
Emilio nodded. He understood the wealth one could gain in the spice and silk trades. His family had ships captained by brave men and brave crews who crossed the Adriatic for Persia or Africa. One of the devastating monetary losses his family incurred which lead him to this marriage was due to losing five ships in unseasonable storms in the course of two months. Losing the ships and the men was a human tragedy. Having to pay back the money lenders the loans the d’Benevitas took out to stock the ships with trade goods was a financial catastrophe.
“A pirate you say.” Emilio could not hide the concern on his face. “My grandfather was a seafarer, the captain of a trade ship. He told me once he evaded pirates by sailing into a fog bank and stayed there until the danger had passed. I wonder if…”
“Only stories,” Lorenzo said wistfully. “Another rumor is that he comes from a long line of alchemists who’ve learned the secret of turning lead into gold. But I doubt that. From what little I know of him and the way he deals with the rest of us, I don’t believe he has the right sensibility for such work.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s just say he likes to get his way.”
“I see. And, what is your story, sir? Your name has a noble ring to it.”
Lorenzo smiled and looked over at the conte. “Perhaps during the ancient Roman Empire, there is some family myth to that extant. The story goes that one of my ancestors was in the Ordo Equester but you know that a myth might have a seed of truth in it and it can be made to grow into something to suit one’s fancy. We live in the ancestral home not that far from here, on two hundred or so acres. We raise fine horses as my father’s father, and his father and on and on back to the sack of Rome, and of all things, hazel nuts. It seems one of my great grandfathers enjoyed them so he decided to cover acres with trees. And of course we also collect our rents.”
“So, you don’t think Testaoro could be an alchemist.”
Lorenzo shook his head ‘no’. “He’d be more of a pirate. Do you have an interest in alchemy, conte?”
The conte gave an easy smile “Of course, I have an interest in many things, alchemy, magnetism, necromancy, philosophy, poetry.” Emilio said enthusiastically.
Patriarca backed away from his intimate pose. “A dabbler in the black arts?” Lorenzo’s smiled at the careless revelation.
Emilio was quick to explain himself. “Oh, not me, but I do have an interest, I like to read treatises and writing by wise men on such subjects, purely out of curiosity you know.” He hopefully added, “Do you?”
“My interests lie in more practical and earthly things: horses, hazel nuts and rents. I unfortunately do not have the time for such abstract diversions. I’m not a wise or an educated man such as yourself, but I dare to offer that you not tell too many people of these controversial and in some cases heretical interests.”
Emilio thoughtfully nodded. He could not tell by the tone of his voice if Lorenzo was being sincere or droll.
“Now, I take my leave, I must return to my wife, before she gives away all of my family secrets. I’m sure you know how gossip can be.”
Emilio wasn’t quite sure if he was being patronized. Lorenzo Patriarca stood, bowed, gave Emilio a wink and headed back down the path to the villa.
Emilio sat there for a few moments more. There was something unsettling about the way the conversation ended. Lorenzo Patriarca seemed to be educated, more than just another grasping merchant. Emilio thought he and Lorenzo connected on some kind of personal level but Emilio was irritated with himself for mentioning his interest in alchemy and magnetism and necromancy. Discussing such things or even mentioning them to the uneducated might leave him vulnerable to rumors.
Conte Emilio thought about how easy the conversation was between his fellow alumnus Rene Hermes and himself in the confines of the coach just that morning. Rene went to the same university, and they had common interests, and they were both educated; both reasonable young men.
* * * * * * * *
Exactly ten days from meeting Conte Emilio d’Benevita and then his fortunate encounter with Duke Gunter’s party returning from Rome to Alder Lager, Rene Hermes took heart when the large wooden wagon he and the delegates rode in lumbered over the last rise and his home town finally came into view.
The afternoon sun illuminated the pale gray city walls made of neatly cut and fitted stones. The walls stood a little over twenty five feet high. Rene saw the proud campanile that dominated the saw tooth roofline that flowed together under a mantle of dusty pink roof tiles. The wagon made its way to the south gate and stopped at the wooden bridge that spanned the moat. Lilly pads floated lazily on top on the still, green water. Duke Gunter abandoned the draw bridge and replaced it with a permanent bridge and two massive wooden doors that were open. The wagon passed between the two great turrets, under the narrow observation bridge that connected them and onto the cobble stone street that broaden into the flag stone square.
Two and three story pastel colored buildings lined the lanes. Their small windows were framed in the geometric designs of the dark, exposed half-timber. Rene drank in the sights and sounds and smells that welcomed him home. He was bursting to get out of the wagon and make his way to Bella.
The wagon stopped. There was a collective sigh from the men; quite a bit of stretching and yawning. They were in that transitional place in time when the novelty and excitement and risk of travel that frees one from the humdrum and routine is sadly over. Things would return to normal. When the doors were opened and the sunlight washed over them the camaraderie and closeness they shared rapidly vanished into the all too familiar atmosphere of status and rank.
Rene thanked his hosts and the captain and gave smiling nods to the soldiers who were dismounting. Wives and families and friends greeted the returning travelers. Though the crowd was small it seemed as if Rene could not get clear of them fast enough. He quickly walked past the baker’s shop, by the chandlers and around the corner. He took his usual shortcut through the Widow Eider’s garden. With his mind only on Bella he did not even notice the old woman who was stooped over cutting some Swiss chard. He rushed on past startling the widow.
“Who’s that?” she called out in her distinctive shaky voice. Rene had no time for the courtesy of an answer. He reached the lane and headed for the fifth house on the right.
The picket fence in front of the house and the trellis that surrounded the doorway were heavy with morning glories. And there she was; the lovely centerpiece framed in this profusion of deep green, heart shaped leaves and cobalt flowers that danced on the breeze. She had her back to Rene. Bella was kneeling down, brush in hand, bucket of water next to her, scrubbing the front steps. The sun deepened the richness of her auburn hair. Rene slowed his pace so he could savor those last delicious moments before he would take her in his arms. He approached her as quietly as he could. She was unaware of his presence; she was lost in the sounds and rhythm of her work. Rene knelt down next to her and leaned against her shoulder. “Bella, sweetheart, I’m home.” he said gently.
He had taken her by surprise. She looked over at him, eyes widened, lips slightly parted in an unsure smile. “Rene, it’s you. You’ve really come back to me.” She dropped the brush and sat back onto her heels.
Rene took Bella’s hand and they stood. He pulled her close and felt excitement and relief and the longing of so many months and days and hours away from her disappear into a distant recess of his mind where this time in their lives would become a sweet and callow memory. She gave an airy sigh as he held her tighter. He felt her yielding breasts against his chest, her thighs pressed against his. He felt her shiver in his close embrace. Rene closed his eyes and put his cheek against hers. He smiled when her hair, her beautiful auburn hair with the scent of lavender, tickled his neck.
They stood in this embrace for as long as they dared. They breathed as one, their hearts beat as one, their individuality flickered and faded only to be reborn and rush to merge into something so inexplicable, so fantastically joyful that again, as they experienced so many months before on the first day of May, time and space melted away and they found themselves on the threshold of eternity. Their long awaited kiss opened that door.
Bella kissed him again and again. His stubbly beard was a new addition and she welcomed the way it prickled against her face. She was flooded with a thousand sensations at once. She felt that every moment, every action, everything she had ever done or said or planned to do was a step in her life’s journey leading to this moment to this place, to the embrace. She was finally there; she finally arrived and she felt herself opening like a flower under the warm rays of the sun at dawn. Her past was like a veil that slipped off and floated away behind her. There was only the present and the future.
“Who is this man? Get away from my daughter!” Bella’s mother, Gelsomina, stood on the top step, narrowed her eyes, and armed with a broom was ready to swing it at Rene.
The two lovers snapped back into reality and looked at Signora Fiore as if awakening in a stupor. “Mama, don’t, he’s back,” Bella held up her arm to shield Rene from the threatened blow. Rene turned toward Bella’s mother and offered an intoxicated grin.
La Signora’s glare changed to a smile and she brought the broom to her side and went to the couple. “Signore Rene, it is so good to see you again. We did not know when you were coming back. We did not think for two more weeks.”
Rene and Bella were reluctant to drop their embrace.
“Children, please, come inside, what will the neighbors think?”
Still euphoric and giddy the two held hands and followed Signora Fiore into the house. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the glow of being reunited. The Fiore family welcomed Rene back with an impromptu closing of the shop and killing two young cocks.
The aroma of the chickens simmering in white wine and oregano, basil, garlic and olive oil filled the house. Rene and Bella were sitting next to each other on a settee in the front room. They were holding hands much to the disapproval of Floriano Fiore who, every time he looked at his daughter he wrinkled his brow and stared directly at the couple’s clasped hands. He used every facial expression that he could to convey to Rene that he did not like, not in the least, how close he was sitting next to Bella. Even though they were quite busy looking into each other’s eyes, Rene did notice.
Bella’s parents and her two older sisters, Ornella and Giacinta and two younger sisters, Giglia and Perlita crowded into the two remaining chairs and asked Rene question after question which he answered most graciously. Bella’s mother entered the room and saw that her chair was taken by two younger daughters who looked gleefully at their older sister and her suitor. Signora Fiore smiled at the two youngsters and stationed herself next to her husband’s chair.
Rene looked at Bella’s mother, excused himself, went to the kitchen and brought out a stool. He offered her his seat next to Bella and sat on the stool which he placed next to la signora. Il signore smiled, the girls and their mother looked on Rene’s action as nothing short of chivalrous.
Signora Fiore sat next to her daughter and took Bella’s hand.
Before Rene could bask in the feminine adoration for very long, a loud knock on the front door echoed in the room. The two younger sisters ran to the front door and threw it open. Rene Hermes’ father and mother stood at the threshold.
“Fiore, I’m looking for my son, I believe he must be here.” Titus Hermes’ voice was strong but not grave or threatening. Rene’s mother Isabella looked around the front room at the chairs crowded with the Fiore girls. At the sound of Doctor Hermes’ voice Floriano quickly stood up and went to greet the unexpected guest himself.
Rene stood as well and crossed the room; his arms were extended as he approached his mother. They hugged. He went to his father and hugged him. Signore Fiore stood a little back from the reunion. By this time everyone in the room was standing. Signore and Signora Fiore bowed to Rene’s parents and gave a smiling side glance to each other.
“Good doctor, la signora, welcome to my home.” He bowed.
“Thank you, what is that glorious aroma?”
Bella’s mother answered. “It is chicken in wine. Will you do us the honor of sharing our table?”
The Hermes made an agreeable nod together. “That is very kind of you. This is a good enough time as any to get to know each other.” Signore Fiore guided Titus Hermes to his chair, and Gelsomina Fiore did the same for Isabella Hermes. The older daughters left the room and returned in minutes with a small serving table that they set out with a tray filled with fruit, cheese and biscotti. The younger daughters appeared with wine and glasses for Titus, Isabella, Rene and their father. La Signora did not drink. All of the girls, including Bella, left the room and crowded into the kitchen and spoke excitedly in hushed voices.
“Well Fiore, it seems we are to join families, how many daughters?”
“Five living, two died as babies, one son Andrea who is away fighting the Turks.”
“Cursed heathens, I see. Tell me something of your business.” Titus took a sip of wine. “I see donkeys and sometimes wagons come and go from here with what I think is soap, is it not?”
It pleased Signore Fiore that Hermes noticed. Fiore and his wife were sitting on the settee. “It is true sir, we sell our soap here at market and as far as Italy and Poland. Some we sell to a Jew who is said to take it to France, but I am not sure. Have you never bought our soap?”
“I’m not sure, have we Isabella?”
Isabella Hermes blushed with embarrassment; she made her own soap and did not think it necessary to buy it. “If not, we will in the future.”
Fiore looked at his wife. “Mama, go fetch some and check on the dinner.”
Rene sat silent. He kept looking towards the kitchen door hoping to get a glimpse of Bella. Whenever she passed by the doorway she would stop and look out to see Rene and smile.
“My son had quite an adventure on the way home.” Titus looked over at Rene with an expectant look that conveyed he wanted to hear the story from him. He had heard little pieces from one of the delegates and the bishop; something about Conte d’Benevita.
Rene related what happened. He didn’t put too much into the meeting with the conte. They were only together for maybe an hour and a half. But for his father’s and mother’s sakes he went into great detail about how lovely the conte’s coach was and how both he and the conte attended university at Padua and how generous the conte was by giving him a basket of food. Rene told them about the conte’s impending marriage. Rene excluded their conversation about alchemy, magnetism and necromancy.
The rest of the trip was uneventful except for two of the soldiers who hunted down an immature black bear which was a welcome change to their diet. And the heavy rain storm that muddied the road so much the wagon nearly slid sideways into a fast moving stream. “And by the grace of God our wagon was stopped by a boulder.” His audience sat rapt by the adventure quite thankful that Rene was here to tell his story. Isabella made the sign of the cross. Gelsomina also made the sign of the cross at the same time. Both women smiled.
Gelsomina excused herself and left the room. She went to the pantry which was just off the kitchen and selected two lumps of soap for Isabella. One was heavy with the scent of lavender and the other, a favorite with the Fiore girls, was scented with jonquil. She wrapped the soaps in a little scrap of cheese cloth and stood at the kitchen doorway and surveyed the progress of the dinner.
Giglia and Ornella took the heirloom table cloth out of the cedar chest and spread it out on the table along with matching napkins for everyone. Giglia placed the salt cellar to hide a stubborn stain that no one had been able to get out. Bella dragged two high backed chairs and put them at the head of the table for her mother and father. Ornella put out clay tumblers and a pitcher of lemon water for the girls.
Perlita and Giacinta filled three wooden trenchers with cut up pieces of chicken, carrots and slices of raw cucumber. Bella took the lid off the shallow clay pot that was nestled in the coals. A steamy cloud laced with rosemary swirled up around her into the already spiced air. Bella quickly lifted the hot rolls out of the clay pot and placed them in two baskets. She covered the rolls with a cloth and placed the baskets on either end of the table. Giacinta and Perlita followed with the steaming trenchers; placing them within easy reach. Signora Fiore returned to the front room. There was a lull in the conversation. Her husband and their guests were sampling the dainties her daughters set out on the serving stand.
“Signora Hermes, I have something for you.” Gelsomina bowed and handed the soaps to Isabella.
“Please, call me Isabella.” She extended her hand and took the soap. Isabella held the soap under her nose, closed her eyes and savored the delicate scents. She opened her eyes and smiled at Gelsomina who looked on in anticipation for Isabella’s opinion. “Oh thank you so very much. These are heavenly. If I had only known, Titus, it’s as if I was holding a bouquet of lavender. And the other is so sweet.”
“Jonquil,” offered Gelsomina.
“Mama, Papa the table is set.” called out Bella.
At those welcome words everyone went to the dining table. Il signore and la signora sat at the head of the table, with Titus at Floriano’s right and Isabella at Gelsomina’s left. Rene sat next to his father and Bella sat next to her future mother in law. The rest of the girls took their usual places.
“Papa, we are ready.” said Gelsomina. Everyone held hands around the table and bowed their heads. Floriano cleared his throat and began. “Oh heavenly father we humbly give thanks for these gifts of food. We give you thanks for safely returning Rene to Bella, and we give thanks that our two families will become one, through our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
When the blessing ended Titus and Isabella looked on the bright faces of Bella’s sisters. By the way they acted so light of heart and spoke so kindly towards each other there wasn’t the slightest hint envy or jealousy towards Bella, only the satisfied serenity of knowing someone you love will be happy. Rene and Bella looked across the table at each other. An n aura of joy and warmth and love they had for one another spread and embraced the two families. There were no more thoughts of rank or gold or status or dowries or courtly opinions. The company was warm and sincere. Everyone present knew Rene and Bella were meant to be together for now and always. A smile, an innocent observation, a heartfelt compliment made this simple repast a glorious feast.
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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.
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Copyright 2013 Mark D. Giglio, www.theartofgiglio.com
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