Searching for Rosso

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Chapter 2

The local Duke had a bastard son who made his intentions known to her in the most dishonourable ways. But she rejected him every time.” Even as he remembered all of this a fire crackled in Dom’s eyes and his fist clenched tight on the table. “Bastard by heritage and bastard by nature. He was an evil man as well as being a persistent one. One afternoon I came home early. I’d broken the axe handle and needed to get another when I heard her screams coming from the house. That bastard son was attempting to ravish her and had beaten her several times around the head to try and subdue her. I dragged him off her and hit him as hard as I’ve ever hit anything in my life. He fell, hitting his head against the ground. I can still hear the crack of bone on rock - it’s a sound you never forget - but I was wild with rage and the dog deserved it.

I knew straight away that we were in serious trouble. There was a man lying dead in our house, and his father was the Duke. I knew it wouldn’t be long before the news reached the Palazzo and then we’d have hunted us down and killed us without a moment of regret. We had only one thing on our side - time. We’d hoped beyond hope that he’d told no one where he was going, so we dumped his body in the river and trusted to the good Lord that it would be washed miles away before it was discovered. But we were wrong. It got caught in a fallen tree only a mile down the river and his friends soon worked out where he’d been.

But Ann and I must have been blessed by the gods. That very evening we fled with only the clothes we had on our backs and took the road to the north - Ann on our horse and me on foot. After a few miles she stopped and got down. She looked at me and said that if one of us was to survive then we must part ways. If God were to doubly bless us then we might both survive. But in our hearts we knew that the men who followed us would be vicious in their vengeance and that our slight hope of survival was try to divide their group. I chose the wild road through the forest and she took the main road with the horse. I chose a hidden life and she chose the open way that hopefully led to an aunt in a convent in Sienna.” Dom stopped and stared at his clenched fist which he now relaxed. “I’ve never seen nor heard of my sister since.” A mug of mulled wine appeared next to him and looking up Dom saw the face of a compassionate man looking down at him. “Thank’s friend” he said and carried on with his story.

“Being a woodsman it wasn’t hard to survive, but life on the road for a young man isn’t easy - especially in winter. I’d trap animals for food and fur, and work for a wage when I could.

One day I met another man on the road who simply wished me a good day and smiled at me. His name was Gino. He saw that I was hungry so he shared the little bit of food that he had. The two of us sat whilst our stomachs savoured every small morsel that went down into it. Gino had an easy way with him and when he got up to go I went with him. It was as simple as that. It wasn’t until later that I learned of his early life and how similar it was to mine. Looking back it’s funny to think that the one thing we had in common was suffering and yet it brought us together. His Papa was a simple man who was as honest as the days were long. But being honest can lead you into some terrible places too and it led to his Poppa’s murder. Do you know what those murderers did to him after they’d butchered him? They cut out his tongue and nailed it to a the wall of his shepherds hut just to show how brave and powerful they were. Gino thought about hunting them down and killing them, but on the inside he was stronger than they were. He stayed true to himself and true to the memory of his father.

We became like brothers, traveling the roads, working when we could and having fun when we could too. But Gino deserved better than a lonely life tramping the roads. One glorious day he found his childhood sweetheart who’d never stopped loving him. It was if he’d suddenly become complete when they first set eyes on each other after so many years.

He stayed on with her and her old father. I cried when we parted. Mainly they were tears of happiness, but they were tears for me too. Just before that happened we’d met up with Rosso, another of our lost generation.

Rosso stood out from any crowd, mainly because of his red hair and his white skin, but he was an angry young man on the inside. That anger threatened to consume the good and kind heart that he tried to keep hidden. But like most of us at that age, he was as green as grass and Gino took it on himself to guide him into the wider world, which was a good thing because at that time, as Rosso himself admitted, he could have gone either way. The three of us had some great times together before Gino stayed on with his sweetheart.

It was around this time that we met Villeprieux. He was so different from the rest of us which perhaps is why he seemed attractive to us. Where we were dowdy young men living a life in the shadows, he was French, good looking, well travelled and educated. But looking back now, he was more lost than we were. I’ll admit that he had a way with him, and after Gino left, he took over as our leader. That was probably the worst mistake we ever made. Soon we found ourselves as mercenaries in a fight we had no place to be in and for a cause we knew nothing about. Villeprieux showed us some gold and told us of the great bounty we would get when the battle was over. He didn’t tell us that he’d sold us out to the other side, or, that if we got caught that we’d be killed or tortured.

I was supposed to be his body guard. He told me to stay with him at all times, probably because I was the biggest person there. He didn’t tell me that as soon as the fight began he would turn his horse and run leaving the rest of us to fight his war. He showed his true colours then. He was a traitor. He’d been been passing information onto the enemy. He told them to overpower me first and once they’d done that, the rest of us would surrender. But they didn’t. So they slaughtered them instead. They dragged me behind a horse around the camp and then lay me down by a fire. They teased me about how big I was and what a great view it must be “up there where your head is”. Then they said “Well let’s see how good the view is through one eye” and taking a branding iron from the fire they put out my eye. I screamed like a baby which seemed to make them laugh even more. Then their leader appeared and asked what was happening. When they told him I was VIlleprieux’s body guard, he smiled and said “I don’t think he’ll be needed your services any more” and with that he cut off my sword arm and left. They all thought this hilarious and left me.”

Around Dom the room fell silent. The sound of snow flakes hitting the window pane could be heard.

“I don’t know how I got to Rome and I didn’t know where I was even when I got there. Some urchins found me in a doorway and ..” here the Dom paused “and then he appeared out of nowhere” Tears appeared in the big mans face and streamed down his face and his body shook with silent grief.

Wiping away the salt from his face with his sleeve he cleared his throat and took up the story again.

“I’d been in my own mad world for so long. But then I felt a pressure on my chest, and when I opened my eye everything seemed clearer. I’d been dreaming that Rosso was telling me stories and one of them had made me smile. Yet when I awoke and saw a ceiling above my head and four cosy walls around me it felt like a new dawn. I looked down to see what was pressing on my chest and I saw his head.” And smiling broadly at the memory of it all, went on “at least I saw a bald head surrounded by a flaming ring of red hair. I knew the familiar smell of his body and immediately I knew it to be Rosso, even thought that shining, bald pate confused me for some minutes. Then a stranger with a kindly face appeared at the door. He smiled with a look that told me that ’he knew” that it was Rosso too and that he was so happy to see the two of us back together in the land of the living. It turned out that this man was called Pietro -‘I’m just an ordinary man’ he’d say - but I’d say that that’s the last thing he is. Pietro is one of the most extraordinary men I’ve ever met”

“He cared for me, which was a real challenge. You know, it’s a funny thing, when you are healing from a great hurt, every day you look at the same world as everyone else except that you look at that world through a lens crippled by physical and mental scar tissue. The only way you can know that you’re getting better is by looking back and seeing how far you’ve progressed. Healthy, normal people never have to worry about that. They go forward each day expecting life to be good and hoping that happy things will happen to them. It was only a very long time after, when I felt truly normal again, that I realised that those terrible wounds that I’d suffered would never leave me. The magical thing was though, that whilst I was recovering they had somehow changed. Instead of being the heavy burdens that ground me down each and every day, cutting me off from people and the ability to really enjoy life, they’d now become my companions. Now, instead of carrying those wounds, they walked with me. And not only that: they’d become a key which has allowed me to unlock those wounded doors in the life of others who’ve suffered like me. These badges of shared suffering have allowed me to enter gently and quietly into their lonely place - without any sort of judgement. I like to think that I’m a sign to them that their life has hope and has a future too.”

Dom had stopped talking. He’d drifted into a remote part of his mind and was unaware that he had been talking to himself. He’d forgotten that he was in a room with anyone else, but they’d all understood what he had said. And the words that he spoke were like the undoing of small and big locks in each of their minds. A light let into dark places and darker thoughts that they’d all hidden during their short lives.

Dom looked up and smiled at his companions, “Apologies friends, my mind still wonders. Some things never change eh?” And with a wry grin he picked up a leg bone that was on the plate in front of him, and waving at the group continued his story.

“Sharing a meal” he said, picking a missed morsel from the white bone “that’s a special time too. Being alone can lead you into some bad habits, but when you share a meal with others then your body and mind are fed at the same time. Up until that time all I’d thought about was getting my strength back and getting used to the ugliness that I saw in my reflection: an ugliness I felt guilty about although none of it was my fault in any way. Although I was getting stronger, I was feeling more scared to meet other people, living like a recluse in Pietro’s room and becoming my own worst, and most critical companion.

Then they sprang what they called their conspiracy.” Dom chuckled quietly to himself. “I thought we were just going for a walk in the gloom of the evening and I’d hoped that the shadows would hide my deformities and my scars. We went down a darkening alleyway and into a dingy doorway, but nothing prepared me for what was on the other side. Children.”

“It was a taverna really, but it was also the home of a big family who were friends of Rosso. Little children tumbled out of the rooms and into the eating area and hugged Rosso and his friend the monk Julian who was their uncle. Then they turned and hugged me too. I was totally unprepared for those innocent arms that threw themselves around my neck and told me me they loved me - and me a stranger with one eye missing and a useless stump of an arm. There is something so utterly cleansing about being climbed over by a two year old who pulls up your eyepatch and says, ‘what happened to your eye’ and hops off again before you get a chance to answer because something more exciting has occurred to him, like food or a cat walking into the room. It made me realise that although that eye may have meant the world to me, the world was still a wonderful place with so many other wonderful things to see and do. All I needed to do was to see it with the eye of a child.”

“Watching a child eat is a pretty liberating thing too for a man with one hand and one eye. Although I might be slow to eat, and maybe sometimes I drop food on the table too, I’m no longer so self-conscious about it all. Whenever I stumble like that now I think about watching one of their little one’s face. He was eating his pasta with such a studied concentration, and yet there was a wasteland of dropped food all around the plate and on the floor. His face was smeared with sauce and drink, yet the looks of delight from his proud parents were enough to warm the saddest man’s heart. Living with that family linked me to back to life through so many experiences shared with those little children. They weren’t the only ones to thrive in the love showered on them by their parents and friends. I was restored to life too.”

“The parents made room for me in their home and I helped out in the kitchen in return. But the children found a place for me in their hearts and as they grew and learned, I grew and learned too.”

The sound of benches scuffing the floor as stilled limbs were stretched suggested it was time to take a break. “That is a strange story Dom and I suspect that there’s still much more to hear, but perhaps we’ll wait till tomorrow to hear more of that. My name is Niccolo and my patient friends are called Francesco, Carlo and Cristofero”. Here the three companions stood and greeted Dom with open arms, kissing him on both cheeks like a welcome friend. “We are traders”, said Nicolo. Francesco, Carlo and Cristofero all looked at each other and smiled. “But we have an unusual trade. We trade in good deeds” he said and held his arms out with palms upturned “and you know what, we haven’t made any money yet. But then again, we think we’re very wealthily men”, and he came down and gave Dom a big hug and two kisses too. “But now it is time to rest again and perhaps in the morning you will tell us more of what it was that brought you to this part of the world and at such a risk to your own life. So sleep and heal my friend, tomorrow is another day and it comes full of hope for us all”.

The night was long and cold but Dom slept deeply and woke refreshed. He washed his face with cold water and stirred the embers of the fire into life and joined Nicolo outside to watch the mists roll down the towering mountains that walled in the waters of the lake.

“It’s beautiful isn’t it” his host said. “Even though it’s winter and it’s raining and everything you see is grey, there is something wonderful about it all. Unless you’ve got aching limbs of course and then it’s pure murder” and giving Dom a nudge they both laughed freely. “Come on, lets rouse the others and break our fast, there’s more of your story to be heard and I suspect that you might be pressed for time if I’m any judge of human flesh”. And re-entering the shelter they prepared food for the whole group, then woke them to fill their stomachs.

“Rosso was studying at St Maria Maggiore and had decided to enter the Augustinians,” said Dom once their stomachs has been satisfied and empty platters had been pushed back. “He never did convince me that he actually knew why he had done that, but as he still hadn’t taken his final vows, I think he always thought he could back out at the last minute if he had to. Anyway, being an orphan like so many of us, one thing that he really cared about was the abandoned children he met around Rome. Whenever he came across any of them, he always did his best to feed them, clothe them and if possible find homes for them too. He had some successes, but it’s very hard because there are just so many of them.

One of the ones he’d found was a little girl called Clare. He’d seen her one day in the market square where she’d been abandoned. It was her great fortune that she met Rosso because he found a home for her with the local smithy. He and his wife Laura are wonderful people and they have their own little family of three - two boys with a very capable older sister called Sara.”

“Well, one day - out of the blue - Rosso got commissioned by Cardinal Visconti to deliver a message to another Cardinal in Paris - they told him it was because he could speak french so fluently and that they couldn’t trust any of the usual couriers, there being so many spies in the Vatican. Well Rosso decided to take Clare with him because there was a chance they might find her real parents in Paris.

He never did tell us what the message was or anything much about what happened whilst he was away. But when he got back, Clare was there with him too, and she went back to living with Marco the smith and his little family. Later on he told us that they’d discovered who her father was, but he was dead. And as for her mother, he told us that there was no lead whatsoever.” Dom paused and gave a wry chuckle, “If you knew Rosso then you’d know he’s a very bad liar. We all knew that he must be hiding something. It was Brother Julian who found out. It turned out that Villeprieux was Clare’s real father, though how that came to be we still don’t know, but what we did know was that Rosso hadn’t told Clare the whole story yet. Julian also found out that Rosso had been warned never to inquire who Clare’s mother was, for both of their sakes, which was a bit of a mystery and a worry to us all”

“Anyway, everything seemed to settle back into a regular routine. Life for me with my expanding family at the taverna meant everything to me. And Rosso returned to his studies whilst all the time trying to avoid any thought about the looming day of his final vows.”

“And then he disappeared.”

“Brother Julian came running into the tavern early one morning which caused great alarm because Julian never runs anywhere, and getting up early in the morning is not his strongest habit. All he kept repeating was ‘Rosso’s gone: he’s just disappeared’ and it took us several minutes to get him to settle and try and work out what had happened”. Dom paused as if trying to re-orient himself after waking suddenly from a deep sleep.

Then having found his mental landmarks he continued, “I just need to backtrack a few years. It was just after the battle when we got separated”, and just the mere mention of those evil times inscribed their horrors onto his face, his hand involuntarily went to the empty socket and he pulled his wounded arm back as if it were about to be severed once again. The sudden stillness where they were was total, and all felt the terror of Dom’s unseen, yet terror-filled memory.

“Rosso had been found by a woman who’d dragged him from that field of slaughter, floated him away up-stream to safety and nursed him slowly back to health. She was the one who’d taught him his words and how to read too. I think he loved her but he’d never experienced that sort of love. The closest he’d ever come to experiencing any sort of love was with his little sister Anna, and she’d died all too young. Perhaps it was this memory of innocent love that made him refer to her as his much loved sister Agnes”.

“She’d told him that she’d had small pox when she’d first arrived near Siena, and that’d left her face badly marked. But it always made us smile to see that big red headed monk with his tonsured dome, dressed in a black robe telling us about his Agnes’s brown eyes and her beautiful, wavy hair. I think the only one who didn’t realise that he loved her was Rosso himself. They used to write to each other when they heard of someone going in the other’s direction, and when a letter did arrive from her he’d rush off to a quiet spot and devour every word, and his face would be alive with happiness for hours afterwards. He was so proud of her and her wise words.” And looking up at his comrades added “Sometimes we men just don’t see what’s in front of our faces”.

“Rosso said that Agnes was kind to everyone and would always help the most vulnerable. Recently she’d been helping another young man who had stumbled into her path. He wasn’t a soldier or suffering any obvious illness but he wasn’t quite right in the head, which was how Rosso put it. Apparently, he was well educated and could both read and write. In fact he’d told her that he’d once been a scribe to a learned man in Milan but he’d been cheated out of his wages and badly beaten for his reward. Perhaps that’s why he had the dropping disease which made him foam at the mouth and bite his tongue. Who knows?”

“But back to the story I began. When Julian had settled down enough to tell us his story, we went to the monastery on some pretext to pick up a bundle for Clare, and we searched his cell. It didn’t take long. Monks don’t have much in those cells of theirs. But we did find a letter from Agnes, torn and crushed in the corner. When we’d pieced it all back together, it was all a bit of a mystery. In the letter she’d written that she hoped that the it found him well but that she wouldn’t be writing to him again as she’d decided to marry this man Stephano and go and live in his region - but she gave no clue as to where that was. She wished him well in the rest of his life but begged him not to try and find her as she’d made her mind up and it would be pointless for him to even write to her.”

“It must have been like a volcano exploding in his mind when he read those lines. His foundation stone had just been blown up under his feet. That was when he upped and left. Brother Julian talked with the novice master, Brother Bart who’s a kindly man and who seemed to know Rosso’s mind better than he did himself. He told Julian that recently Rosso had been reading the works of an Englishman called William Flete, an Augustinian like himself, who’d come to Sienna to live a simple life in a cave. People had started to call him the Brother of the woods. By all accounts he’s a very holy man. They say he knows our own Catherine from Sienna and he’s heard her confession too”. This final piece of information made all those present look at each other and an eager look infused all their eyes. Everyone had heard of the famous Catherine.

“Go on brother Dom” said Nicolo.

“Well, according to Brother Bart, the writings of Brother William had been deeply affected Rosso, and it was the novice master’s humble opinion that that was where Rosso would be headed - to the caves near Sienna. So after we’d left the monastery we went to Gian’s taverna. We also thought to send a messages to Laura and Marco, and Pietro to let them know the news of Rosso’s sudden disappearance.

The three of us came to the conclusion that the letter from Agnes had been the tipping point. Why else would he up and go to live like a hermit with this English holy man? Why else would he turn his back on the world - a world where there was no more Agnes and no more love? But after some deliberation and some good common sense from Gian’s wife who said “Just let the lad be”, we decided to do nothing for the time being and wait for Rosso to contact us.”

“Oddly enough, we didn’t think it strange when we hadn’t heard back from Pietro immediately. Perhaps that was because it’s in his nature to just disappear for days or weeks at a time. Sometimes he’d be absent because he was in so much pain with his back that he literally couldn’t move. At other times it was because he was doing what Pietro always does, helping those less fortunate than himself whoever, and wherever they are. But we did find it odd that we’d heard nothing back from Marco or Laura. So after a couple of days I decided to pay them a visit”.

“When I got to the forge it was shut up tighter than the timbers on a ship. No one seemed to be certain where they were. Some said they’d heard that Gino had been called to the country to visit a sick father whilst others said that Laura had been called away to family somewhere near Naples - but no one was really sure. I went back to the Taverna and told Gian what I knew and we came to the conclusion that all we could do was wait.”

“A couple of weeks later, Pietro appeared looking older and leaner than usual. He was exhausted and his back was obviously causing him great distress although he never uttered one word of complaint. He declined the seat offered to him by Gian’s wife but gladly accepted her offer of food and wine. When he’d finished his meal he ran his fingers through his hair and said ‘Kidnapped’. That was the only word he uttered: ‘Kidnapped’!

Pietro’s story.

As you know, I live a quiet life. I have my room and from it’s one door I can stand and watch the dance of humanity as people go about their affairs living the life of normal souls.

It would surprise you to know how much I see that people don’t think I see. Just because I walk slowly with a cane doesn’t make me blind or deaf, but it does seem to make me invisible to a lot of people who prefer to rush and bustle through life.

I like to think that I notice the little things. But when you add them all up, they can sometimes create big things too. I find that each little thing has its own beauty, like the way seedlings can appear halfway up a fortress wall: how spiders webs can be strung with dewey beads between towering trees: and how secret lovers will dart lovers looks, and smile as only lovers can. I also see little people who’ve been discarded by bigger people and left to fend for themselves in a cruel world. I like to think that I can help them and they seem to respond to such kindnesses. It’s these little people who are even more invisible than I am and yet who hear things that sometimes they shouldn’t really be hearing. These little ones are closest to my heart. I am honoured when they confide their secret confidences in me, even if they haven’t a clue what any of it may mean to anyone.

It was one of these urchins who just happened to mention that he’d seen some strangers down at the market a few weeks back. Just that: they were strangers and that they acted “different” to the rest of the stall holders and customers who roamed randomly around the piazza. ‘It wasn’t that they was dressed different’ he said, ’it’s jus that they smelt different. Must ‘ave been scent or summink’ was his conclusion. It didn’t register with me at the time so I put it aside in the recesses of my memory. Then a few nights later I was woken from my sleep by knocking on my door. It was that lad again but this time he kept saying ‘There’s sumink funny goin’ on at Marco’s place. You’d better come quick and see this’ and having given his message, he disappeared into the darkness.

I can’t rush things, but I dressed as quickly as my body allowed me to, grabbed my cane, put my beads in my pocket and set out for the forge. The sound of my stick tapping along the cobbled streets sounded like stones being thrown down from a great height. Everywhere was dark and silent. Thankfully the moon was halfway through it’s phase and the night was clear. I avoided all the detritus left behind from the day before and after a time the open area that was the Piazza fanned out in front of me. The silence was palpable. The gentle music that’s rarely heard from the fountain’s flow echoed off the walls and shuttered windows of the surrounding buildings.

The small figure of my urchin friend appeared out of the fountain’s shadow and came towards me. ’Over ‘ere’ he said and led me to the forge. The widows were barred and shut. The forge doors had been sealed with a heavy chain and a fastened with a large padlock. The place was silent and empty.

“I ’eard ’em earlier” he said wiping his face with a his sleeve as he ate an apple I’d brought with me. “They ’ad Marco trussed up like a chicken but ‘e was still givin’ ’em a real ta do. It took four of ’em to bundle ’im into the cart then they all piled in on top of ’im and gave ’im a real wot for. Then out comes the muvver with a rag stuffed in ’er mouf, kicking and struggling like a wild cat. I reckon she did more damage than poor ole Marco. And then four blokes wiv four bundles flung over their shoulders appears - I reckon that was the kids, but they couldn’t do nuffing. Then, quick as a flash, they was gone. They must ’ave muffled the wheels of that cart, ’cos it ’ardly made any noise whatsoever” And swallowing the last piece of apple core he wiped his face once more.

“Did you see any faces or recognise any of them laddie” I asked him.

“Give us a chance Pietro” he objected “It’s bleeding dark out here at this time of night and I ain’t no bleeding owl. But I’ll tell you this, remember those blokes I told you about the uvver day? Well, I couldn’t see much, but they smelt the same. Sort of scenty - nuffing like you and me if you knows what I mean”.

“Do you know which direction they’re heading in then” I asked my satisfied spy. The light of the moon was reflected in the teeth that were revealed as he smiled broadly at me.

“I may be a kid Pietro, but it don’t mean I’m stupid. There’s about ’alf a dozen uvvers like me what sleeps in small places near ’ere. You’d never spot them unless you knew where to look. Like human door mice they is, tucked up all warm and snug in some dry drain, or behind a water butt. As soon as that there cart ’ad turned the corner, I upped and woke a couple of ’em and give ‘em orders to follow that cart, and not ta stop until their little legs was fallin’ off. So I reckon I should be getting some news when the sun comes up. But those little blighters is goin’ to be mighty ’ungry when they gets back” he said looking up at me with big pleading eyes.

“Don’t you worry, they shall have their stomachs filled until they cry for mercy” I replied with a smile to match his. Then putting my hand on his shoulder, slowly turned to head back to my room.

“I’d better wait ’ere Pietro. Its me what they’ll be looking for and I’d better wait for ’em. Don’t you go worrying about me, you get off ’ome and get some rest. After all, a man of your age shouldn’t aught ta be out on a cold night like tonight” and with that he gave a wink and disappeared into the gloom. It’s an oft stated fact that the bravest hearts can often be found in the most unlikely of people. If that’s true, then that little urchin was to be counted amongst the elite of them.

I walked back to my room in those dark hours before dawn and thought how totally alone I seemed to be in such a busy city. And yet a hidden thread tied me to so many unseen souls, and each of those threads were so vital to the integrity of the woven garment that is my life.

I don’t have much in my room, just those things that I find essential to my life: my chair, my bed and a small desk beneath the window where I can sit and read or just sit and watch. Food is not a big part of my life but I knew that those small children could eat their weight in bread and meat given half a chance, especially after the night they’d had. Which meant that they’d have an extra layer of hunger to deal with. So as soon as life began to stir in the market place I was down there buying what I could to help fill and reward their willing bodies, and listen out for any gossip that might be abroad.

I needn’t have been so hurried in my purchases because it wasn’t until toward noon that three tired and hungry ragamuffins appeared in the street and headed for my room. The poor things were bone wearingly tired, almost too tired to eat, but at the smell of the fresh bread their hearts lifted and their mouths opened and soon there was the usual pushing and shoving that is an intrinsic part of children’s play.

“Is there any more Mista” a little girl called Lola asked wiping the last crumb from her platter.

“I’m so sorry Lola” I replied “you’ve just eaten more food than I normally eat in a week”. But I was so very happy that they’d eaten so much even though there was nothing left to give them

“That’s OK Mista. That was more than wot I’ve ate in the last mumf”. And she gave me a huge smile of thanks. “”ave you ’ad enuf Coppino” she asked the little lad who turned out to be her brother. His mouth was still so full, all he could do was to nod in the affirmative. “You should ’ave seen little Coppino last night Mista” she continued looking up at me with pride “”e might appear a little small, but them little legs of ’is can gallop as fast as an ’orse when ’e gives ’is mind to it. ’E followed that cart all the way to the big ’ouse up at Monte Sacro dodging in and out of doorways whenever they slowed down to see if anyone was following. Little Coppino ’ere could ’ide under a leaf I reckon and no one would notice” and she gave the little man a big hug, smacked a kiss on his forehead and rubbed it in “so that the fairies can see ’e’s a precious little man”.

Their leader, who’d stayed out all night waiting for them, was known to his small flock as the Bishop, and he now took charge of the small gathering. Tucking his thumbs into his jacket he said, “If I was one of them proper bishops then I fancy that I’d make youse both Cardinals” And bowing low he addressed his companions “Your Heminences Cardinal Lola of the Pantheon stables and the most majestic Cardinal Coppino of the Colloseum’s caves”.

“Well, if we is Cardinals, then that means you should kiss my hand” said Lola holding out her finger tips for him to kiss. And we all laughed happily innocent fun of it all.

“I’ve heard of sillier suggestions than yours Bishop. And come to think of it, some of the new Cardinals aren’t that much older than you are, and they probably aren’t half as smart as you either” I said. “But back to the story, did you get any news as to where they’ve taken Marco and his family, or did you get any clue as to who it was who kidnapped them?”

“Dunno” piped up little Coppino. “They took ’em to that Convent up at Monte Sacro and then the cart ’eaded off back to the city. I ’ad to fink what was the best fing to do. So I upped and followed the cart, ’cos I thought to miself that the convent weren’t going to go nowhere in the meantime. Trouble is, Monte Sacro’s a long way from ‘ere, and it’s just as far comin’ back too” he added with the innocence of logic. “And even I get tired after a bit of a gallop. So I was mighty pleased when them blokes stopped at a place to get some vittals. For miself, I got some stuff from a nice lady wot serves there. But then she give me a clip round the ear and told me to ‘be off’ ‘cos her master was watchin’. When them blokes came back out ta the cart I just up and said, ‘mind if a young lad gets a lift inter town Signors?’ and the bloke what was in charge just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘op on then laddie’, and off we goes right up to the Vatican itself. I slipped off before anyone of ’em seed me, but they just ’eaded straight fru the gates and that was the last I saw of ’em”.

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