The Last Snow of Winter
Thirteenth Century Florence, Italy under the de’ Medici Family is a hot bed of political intrigue and buying and selling of favors, and assassinations. A young servant slave girl Miriam Valente is bought by a wealthy textile merchant, Francesco Beato at the debtor's slave market and trained to be a textile merchant but trained as a master spy for the Medici’s. She is successful at both.
Francesco Beato took his time strolling through the market place of Florence looking the wares over, the fruits, vegetables, and baked goods vendors displayed. The noise of the market place
held its own messages to Francesco’s ear that day. Many people were still stunned over Pope Sixtus IV excommunicating all of Florence and the Medici’s following the Pazzi’s exile from the city. Lorenzo de Medici’s brother Giuliano was murdered Easter Sunday during mass in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
Despite the trade blockade imposed by the Pope, Francesco was occupying his mind with other matters. Studying people as he passed them, none suited his purpose. He needed a protégé. But, he mused, that was okay, a study of human nature.
Walking to the far end of the market he arrived at the slave sales pits. This is where prisoners, former prisoners, people in debt, petty thieves, some minor criminals, people who had been in either prison for one offense or another were bailed out of prison by the slave trader. The city let the trader take what he wanted, except the hardened criminals. The traders stock usually from the debtor’s prison sold them as indentured servants to settle the debt. One quarter went to the trader, a quarter to the lender, the rest to the city. The debtor has to work the debt off to his master before the debt is paid. Usually the debtor died in chains before the money was fully paid off.
Joining the men gathered around the first slave a stout muscular youth the bidding was furious the price went higher and higher until one lucky buyer walked off with the debtor. The bidding went until a young girl was brought up to the block. Francesco saw the girl was scared standing in front of a group of lust hungry men looking her over like hungry wolves as if she were a piece of fresh meat. The bidders had a chance to look her over, poke her, check her hair, teeth, eyes, a few even lifted her robe to look under it. The girl’s face was red with embarrassment, tears trickled down her fair face as the men pawed over her hoping they have enough florins to buy her for themselves.
Francesco wanted to guess her age around thirteen or fourteen – maybe older, long brown hair, an angular face, brown eyes, small frame, dressed in the plain beige robe of her station in life. Otherwise if she was bought by a good master, especially the females would be grandly attired in the finest silks and satins just to be seen out and about with a beautiful young girl on his arm. Listening to the bidders gave him a chance to study and decide if the girl would be a good fit in his business of dealing in textiles. Despite what the men had done to embarrass the girl he liked her pose, holding her head up, not slouched or stooped. Some of the bidders she looked them in the eye, her fair features showing her worry. Focusing her attention on Francesco Beato she saw him standing at the back not participating in the bidding. The girl did not why but she silently pleaded for him to bid on her. Their eyes met across the space a silent message passed between them.
‘Take me, I am yours…’
‘Not too worry, little one, you will be mine, you will be safe with me.’
Francesco knew without a doubt he could easily out bid anyone there. The auctioneer began the bidding process at one hundred florins. The bidding was even more furious than the first time. Francesco just watched as bidders dropped out. To the girl’s relief he waited until three were left before getting involved. Holding his hand up, he said, “Eight hundred and fifty florins!”
The auctioneer was surprised he was getting involved so late in the process. “Eight hundred and fifty florins! Do I hear nine hundred?”
The girl watched the furious bidding go back and forth. She especially watched the one man, she guessed was a merchant.
“Nine hundred,” a merchant called out knowing the other two would drop out. One did.
The auctioneer called out, “Nine hundred florins! Do I hear a thousand florins?”
One of the two left dropped out. That left Francesco and the other man they went back and forth. The auctioneer was wondering how high they would go. Never in all his days as an auctioneer had he experienced nodding go beyond eight hundred florins. All he could think of now was the handsome profit he would make off this one sale.
The bidding went back and forth until two dropped out, it was between himself and a merchant. He knew the other wanted the girl Miriam for more than to dust the upstairs statuary and tables. Francesco easily outbid the merchant with change left over. He walked up to the auctioneer to hand over the money.
“I have never seen such bidding in my life, my lord,” he said bowing to Francesco as he set the purse of money in the trader’s hand.
“It was close, sir.” Francesco held his hand out to the girl. “My dear.”
The girl knew the man who bought her was her new owner. Shyly she stepped down from the block taking his hand, not gripping it but holding on shy about touching her new owner’s hand. She was afraid he would beat her or the other servants or slaves would beat her. It was common in some households or shops where older or superior slaves would beat young ones to show them who the owner was; worse, young girls would be raped at night. A culture of fear and submission was established in the house.
Francesco looked around as they walked away from the market. Passersby knew on sight the girl had just been bought by the wealthy merchant, the beige robe was her brand. The merchant could if he wanted put his own brand on her later. Francesco had a different way of dealing with the girl, give her a special necklace
“What’s your name, girl?” he asked looking straight ahead, striking a regal posture drawing her closer offering her his arm.
“Miriam Valente, your lordship,” she answered with a weak voice slipping her hand through his
arm. She was leaving an old life behind her to start a new one. She would go where she was led, told to go, no life of her own.
“Francesco Beato. We’ll get to know each other better as time goes on. Why did a girl so young end up in the debtor’s prison?”
Miriam walked with her head down staring at the rough gray paving stones dodging puddles of water, refuse and other matter left on the street to rot.
“I was hungry and stole a loaf of bread.”
“Minor. You will not go hungry ever again. I am going to take you home now and my house keeper Agnes will see that you are properly scrubbed and attired, have a good meal then we’ll talk. And nothing to be afraid of. I don’t know what your experience has been, Miriam but I am not a monster or gruel master to use you for any perverse pleasures.”
They stopped along the way at different booths to buy fruits and vegetables and breads. Miriam was expecting to have to carry it all as some masters did. The vendors started to hand the things to the slave but the master would politely take them the girl standing at his side watching.
That was her first lesson.
They arrived at the house, a modest two story beige house, red tile roof, heavy oak front door,
grates over the windows, and doors against thieves. The house was located off one of the city’s many piazzas on a cool shaded street.
They entered the dark, cool interior of the house, tapestries decorated the walls, an oil of somebody the master knew, Italian and Greco-Roman statuary, flowers in vases scattered around the rooms gave the house a rich flavor. The house keeper, Agnes met them as they entered.
Agnes bent at the knees as they entered the house. “My lord was it a profitable day?”
“Very. Agnes Lovato, this Miriam Valente I just bought her from the slave trader in the market. For the time being she will learn her new duties about the house and accompanying you to the market. If you will take her to the seamstress tomorrow for new clothes. This robe she has on is not fit for a horse. As time goes on she will graduate to my assistant. She will be treated as one of the household.”
“Yes sir.” She looked the girl over estimating her age. She knew the master, for some reason wanted a young girl as his protégé someday to inherit the business and continuing to work with the Medici family as textile merchant and information broker.
“However, first things first she needs cleaning up after the slave market and given a hearty meal
then she and I will talk.”
Francesco left the girl in Agnes’ charge, walking away to the back of the house and his study.
“Very well sir.” Agnes guided her back to the kitchen. Closed the door then opened it to assure Francesco was not looking. “Okay, first I’ll set out the tub start the water heating for you then get a clean gown. It will be a bit large on you but suffice for today.”
Agnes talked, the girl listened and only spoke when Agnes asked her a question. Finally the girl stripped and slid into the tub basking in the hot bath. Agnes checked on her the girl enjoying the luxury of the bath.
“I suppose you will get used to it,” said Agnes from the wash room door. “The master takes one almost every day he is here. And when you start working with him – as he says, you’ll do the same. Signor Beato is a good master. I suppose there can be worse in the city too. But he has no tolerance for laziness. You will be busy from sun up until evening but he wants everyone to have time for themselves. So tomorrow you’ll begin your chores under my guidance.”
This gave Miriam pause to think about what she had gotten into. But she would see what this led to. So far a bath, clean albeit new clothes and a meal – a meal. She had not eaten a decent meal in the three days she was being held in the slaves stocks. She was just cleaned up for the auction block and given a decent robe to cover herself. But the robe allowed the bidders to examine a person’s body whether they liked it or not. She shivered outwardly thinking of the men pawing over her body looking at her nakedness.
Agnes came back in the wash room to help wash her hair and comb it out, and tie a blue ribbon in it making a pony tail.
Dressing in dark blue with gold tracing, trimmed with baby roses of different colors along the front, and given a matching cap to cover her hair. The slippers for the house were a bit too big but they would suffice. A short time later she sat at a platter laden with a slab of roast beef, gravy, beets, cabbage with watered down wine. When the girl had eaten her fill Agnes took her to the master’s study. The girl walking behind Agnes tried not to trip over the dress’ hem. Agnes did a few alterations on it so it would fit her until the next day. Agnes knocked on the door. A muttered reply to “enter” could be heard.
Agnes stepped aside letting the girl enter closed the door then walked away. Standing inside the
door the girl was frightened again looking over the room with its strange objects, many defying description.
The man who was her acknowledged master was to become her mentor, she his protégé stood from behind a large ornate oak desk. Francesco Beato was handsome for a young girl of fourteen to look upon, tall, waspish hips, thick limbs, sandy hair held in place by a dark cap and closely cropped beard, matching dark unadorned attire, cold light blue eyes bordering on gray– eyes that could melt a young girl’s heart, but strike fear in the hearts of his enemies.
Bending at the knee Miriam lowered her head to Francesco. He stepped to the girl placing his fingertips under her chin gently lifting her eyes to meet his, Francesco said, “Let this be the last time you bow to me, Miriam. But I still want you to learn the position and responsibilities of a retainer from the ground up. In time you and I shall become one.”
Francesco held his hand out to her, she accepted it standing looking around the room again she inclined her head. “Yes Signor.”
“Please have a seat, Miriam.”
Sitting straight with her back just inches from the back of the chair Miriam gave Francesco her full attention. He studied the girl for a moment admiring her. She looked far different now that she had a chance to rest, bath, and have something to eat. There was an aura about her that briefly held Francesco’s attention.
He picked up a gold medallion from the table he sat at. Holding the medallion of thick intricately woven chain out to her he said, “First Miriam this is your brand, my seal and sign of ownership. Turn so I can put this on you.” The girl turned in the chair so Francesco could put the necklace around her neck. “There all who see the medallion will know you belong to me.”
Miriam lifted the medallion to look at the seal holding the medal though not very large was heavy for its size.
Getting her attention back he said, “A bit about myself first. I am a merchant of various wares. I deal mostly in textiles but most of all I am a merchant of information. Those who have access to the best and latest information wields power. And this is why the Medici family will pay me for the best information they can use to their advantage, knowing who to trust, not trust, who has – shall we say a big mouth and talks a lot. You will have to commit a lot to memory. You cannot be caught with any notes on you. When we start working together, Agnes will school you in the proper manners and etiquette for dinner parties and balls. You will be my second set of eyes and ears – a retainer. Listen for what is said and not said. Gestures, eyes, hands, coughs, sneezes.”
Miriam was now in the Beato household a week her fears of past weeks while in the debtors prison were unfounded, the horror stories of beatings were the least, many of the girls and women talked of rapes by the master or one of the chief retainers, the men doing perverse things to them in the name of the man’s pleasure and right. However she was enjoying herself working with Agnes until late noon then sit by the hearth in the cool of the afternoon in the Master’s study/office learning her business as his protégé.
Francesco was quiet staring out the window at the garden, Agnes puttering around the flower beds, this gave her pleasure to enjoy the garden and vast variety of flowers. Miriam knew not to say anything when Francesco was thoughtful.
“These are dangerous times again for Florence, Miriam. Lorenzo may be at the head of the Medici family but he has the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, the Albizzi family. At any moment that thin thread – that tentative hold he has on Florence can break. His brother Giovanni was murdered Easter Sunday in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the same cathedral his grandfather put the dome on, actually it was Brunelleschi's genius that designed and built the dome.”
“The Medici’s are still in danger then, Signor?”
“Very much so. Especially with the Church. They espouse the Risen Christ, yet they hold vast political and military power holding sway over the lands from Austria to the English and Irish isles. The Vatican is indebted to the Medici owing several thousand florin.”
The following week the first of Miriam being in the Beato household she was used to Agnes
sending her on errands. Like other household retainers she also listened to the gossip of the green grocers, the sellers of wares. Francesco taught her to listen carefully to the talk to pick out words that could comprise a code.
This was the period of family codes, hidden meanings, secret gestures, spies and double spies between landed families, specially the Medici. With great pain Francesco taught Miriam to write simple words and phrases that she would need in her daily work.
Agnes gave Miriam the exact amount of money to spend at the market.
“Now you know what the master wants for his supper tonight,” Agnes said feeling she was sending her own daughter out to the market for the first time.
Miriam strolled out to the end of the alley from the kitchen door. Crossing the piazza she walked a distance to the market the medallion swaying about on her neck catching the mid-morning sunlight. Spots of light reflected the Beato family crest, a rampant lion and dragon holding a shield adorned with a cloth. The medallion caught the attention of several people as she stopped at the first stall to look at the peas and cabbage. The lady tending the stall noticed the medallion around the girl’s neck.
Miriam began to sense the medallion was a talisman. She was treated different than other servants buying from the market stalls. It was as if Agnes or a lady of the house were about the market. Vendors plying her with their fruits, vegetables, baked goods. She learned to be wary of the strangers who hung around the market. Many were Pazzi henchmen and spies. Francesco went to the market with her a couple times to point out the agents and spies. The girl learned how to look but not look directly at the person. She could see a person in a glance and tell what he or she was wearing and what they were doing at the time.
Picking up an apple seemed to examine the fruit Francesco turned it and at the same time his eyes were active observing his surroundings. Miriam picked one up inspecting the fruit, Francesco gazed straight ahead. Miriam looked past the apple in her hand with hooded eyes as if it had a worm in it.
Softly in a murmur Francesco said, “What do you see?”
Setting the apple back she said, “The one leaning carelessly against the fruit cart and another trying to make conversation with the girl.”
“Yes.” Francesco placed four apples in the basket. Passing the woman money he said, “We’ll
They walked through the stalls Miriam saw the odd number of fruit and vegetables in the basket but she did not say anything. When they got home Francesco revealed the purpose for the odd assortment of fruit and vegetables. He took the basket into the kitchen setting it on the table he took out the apples.
“Now I said you do not take written notes for obvious reasons as you saw today. But when you are shopping for Agnes you have another way, the fruit and vegetables.” Holding up the apples and a head of cabbage. He said, “We saw four Pazzi men near the cabbage seller.” He took out a bundle of carrots and two stalks of celery. “We saw two Albizzi men near a grove of trees.”
Miriam caught on to the word association Francesco used to explain the references to the spies and agents scattered around Florence. Over time Miriam became an effective spy in her own right. She looked forward to these frequent visits to the market for Agnes. Miriam learned to observe her surroundings watching the agents for the two families appearing in different locations talking to various people. She was not used to names of many people yet doing her best to describe them. Francesco guessing who was who about the city kept a secret journal on what each family was doing and not doing. The old hardline Pazzi and Albizzi families were closely linked by marriage assuring a strong bond opposing the Medici family who were considered new comers to Florence as upstarts.
Miriam told Francesco the Pazzi and Albizzi had realized she was with the Beato household and aligned with the Medici family. Worrying for the girl’s safety Francesco attached a dagger to the bottom of her basket so it would not be seen. She practiced drawing the knife becoming very skilled in wielding it under adverse conditions.
No one guessed a young girl was spying on the spies. Rushing into the kitchen after each trip to the market she took paper and quill to write down her observations. Agnes would help her get it all down then she would take the notes to Francesco.
They would sit at the desk poring over the notes. Francesco would lay out copies of her notes comparing them to see a pattern emerging.
“Did you see any Medici agents?”
“They were on the other side of the piazza, Signor.”
Francesco sat back staring out the window at the scene outside. Miriam remained quiet seeing he was deep in thought. Stirring himself he said, “Something is bound to happen. It has been too quiet between the families. I can send one of my men to Lorenzo they can use a couple blots of cloth as cover the note can be placed between the bolts of cloth. He’ll give the cloth to the guard at the side door who will take them with the note to Lorenzo.”
Miriam smiled. A simple idea.
The two sides kept a close watch on her but she went from the house to the market place and back to the Beato House, on occasion she took notes and instructions from Francesco to the textile shop. She would put the notes down the front of her dress inside the camisole were it was not evident. Once at the shop she would step behind a changing screen to pull the note out from her dress.
Philip, Francesco’s head tailor would read the note, burn it then tell Miriam exactly what to convey back to Francesco.
It was Thursday, market day Miriam consulted the short list of items Agnes needed for the kitchen and fruit Francesco liked at mid-day for eating between meals. There was a warm breath on her neck and hands encircling her waist.
“And who are you little one? You’re a pretty little thing,” a male voice softly asked. “I’ve seen you a lot now. Want to take a break here? I’m sure your Master won’t mind.”
Though set teeth Miriam said not looking up from Agnes’ list, “Get your hands off me. Now...! And leave!”
“You’re not upset are you?” he asked in a soothing tone. “A sweet thing like you?”
He reached around to take hold of the medallion to look at it and show his companion. “House of Beato I see. I see.”
“Get your hands off that medallion … Now!”
Miriam’s right hand slipped under the basket slowly drawing the dagger she turned in the other’s arms. Close by were Medici men watching drawing their swords ready to come to the girl’s aid. Rather she said slowly poking them in the stomach, “I said get your hands off me! Either that or you’ll get a belly full of dagger. Which do you want?”
She said it loud enough most of the market heard her. Unseen to Miriam, intent on what she was doing did not see Agnes who had forgotten to have Miriam get a bunch of beets to go with the cabbage for the late evening meal.
The two Albizzi men looked down to see a dagger poking them in the stomachs. Agnes watched from nearby Miriam steer the two Albizzi men with the dagger across the market toward another stall. Everyone watched with bated breath as the young girl backed the men up, neither dared try drawing their swords, their hands raised trying to get the girl to stop poking at them. Neither tried grabbing for the dagger. Miriam backed them into the stall selling cabbage and other
With a cry of surprise the two fell over backwards crashing into the display of cabbage and
beans. The lady selling the cabbage screamed at the two Albizzi men, “What are you doing? My cabbage! You ruined my cabbage you pigs!”
She picked up a cabbage hitting one in the head, picking up another threw at the other hitting him in the chest.
Miriam smiled wickedly as she sniffed. She and the lady traded winks of satisfaction. The girl stalked off leaving the two in an embarrassing situation, the lady calling them names screaming obscenities at them.
The Medici men laughing hurried back to the Medici Palace to report the incident to Lorenzo.
They hurried in to Lorenzo who was trying to make sense of the bank books.
“Lorenzo! Lorenzo we have good news for you!” they shouted barging in on him.
His wife Clarice was standing to his side helping him go over the books. She looked up at the intrusion with undisguised disapproval at the interruption but said nothing.
Sighing laying the pen down he said, “Yes Giuliano, what is it?”
“Sorry, Signor but we thought this would brighten your day. The new girl owned by Francesco Beato, the textile merchant …”
Disapproval at the interruption clouded his features. “Yes I am well aware of who Francesco Beato is. What about him?”
“No sir,” Valentino cut in trying not to laugh, “Not him, the girl – Miriam. Two of Albizzi’s men tried getting fresh with her in the market in front of the people. She pulled a dagger on them backing them in to a cabbage stall. They crashed into the stall spilling all the cabbage and beans. The lady who runs the stall hit them with cabbages. Miriam walked away from them.”
Lorenzo looked up at Clarice suddenly amused. “So what happen to Albizzi’s men after that?”
Giuliano said with a smile, “After they got themselves out of the mess they had to pay the lady for the ruined cabbage and beans.”
Lorenzo and his wife laughed. “Really.” She said with a laugh, “Serves them right touching a young girl in the market like that. And another man’s girl servant at that!”
Lorenzo thought a minute. Looking up at his wife he said, “I think we should meet this young lady, my dear.”
“Yes I’d like to meet this young lady too myself. Especially one who can single handily back down the Albizzi men.”
Agnes got what she went to the market for and hurried back to the house to Master Francesco.
Bursting in the house through the kitchen door she rushed past the other servants calling, “Master Beato! Master Beato! …”
Francesco looked up from his accounts he was going over. “Yes Agnes what has you so excited?”
“Miriam, my lordship!”
“Miriam? What did she do?” Francesco was afraid of the worse news. Something had happened
“The young Mistress put the Albizzi men in their place.”
Francesco was surprised. “Albizzi men at that? Really. Girl has more determination then she has been given credit for.” Francesco saw Miriam standing at the door tears in her eyes. “Miriam, come in. Sit.”
Agnes used a handkerchief to dry the girl’s tears.
“I am sorry, sir I caused a problem in the market this morning.”
Francesco leaned forward in his chair. “No Miriam you did not. You did right protecting your honor. That is why I gave you that dagger so if that ever happened you can protect yourself. And now you are the heroine of every woman in Florence.”
Agnes smiled proudly to the girl. “Yes. You’ll be able to go to the market holding your head high and no man will approach you if he has dishonorable intentions.”
The girl smiled.
Francesco nodded sending her on her way. Shortly there was a ringing of the bell at the front door. Miriam went to answer the door. A messenger bowed to her.
“A message from Senior Lorenzo de' Medici for Senior Francesco.”
“Thank you. Do you need an immediate answer back?”
She took the message to Francesco. “Message from Signor de' Medici, my lord. The courier desires an immediate reply.”
She stood to the side of the table as had become her habit. Francesco broke the wax seal opening the note. Reading the note he smiled. “We have a request from Lorenzo de' Medici for an audience tomorrow and not one to make excuses to. He wants to meet you. Seems he is impressed by your bravery. Agnes knows you will be with me when I go out on business. She knows the importance of these meetings with Lorenzo d’ Medici and will lay out the proper dress for you to wear tomorrow.”
“What will you want me to do, sir?” Miriam asked feeling the thrill that she would meet the
powerful d’ Medici family.
“Lorenzo wants to meet you, you will be with me at the meeting. Philip will show the ladies the newest materials just in from India. A great fortune in material. You need to get to know Lorenzo. If ever I have to send you to Lorenzo by yourself you need to know him and how to address him. It’s only natural to be nervous the first time. You will do just fine.”
The girl could not help showing her excitement at personally meeting Lorenzo de' Medici. This was an advancement she would be expected to attend parties with the master. She learned from Agnes that Signor Francesco lost his wife soon after they were married. He’d never married again devoting his life to her memory.
Francesco nodded dismissing Miriam.
The next day Miriam was ready for her trip to the Medici Palace with Francesco. She was attired in a lilac shaded and white lace trimmed dress originally made from Francesco’s private stock of cloth and a silver gray cap. Her long brown hair carefully coffered by Agnes shimmered with the medallion. She was the part of a rich man’s daughter that day. The medallion, her hallmark glistened in the shafts of sun light reflecting bands of blue and yellow and white as she walked.
Francesco was waiting in the foyer of the front entrance as she walked slowly out from the servant’s quarters the dress swishing about her feet as she walked. Francesco caught his breath watching Miriam. It was almost as if he were transported back in time to his late wife, Michela.
Offering his hand to Miriam a servant opened the door for them a Medici retainer escorted them to a carriage for the ride across Florence to the Medici Palace with full military escort. It was all Miriam could do to contain herself during the ride to the Medici Palace. Francesco reached over to touch her hand assuring her it was alright. The carriage drew up to the Palace foot men met the carriage at the front door.
“You will do just fine, Miriam,” Francesco assured her as a servant opened the door for them to step out.
Stepping out of the carriage Francesco held his hand out for Miriam. Lightly taking his hand she stepped down pausing for the moment to consider a life time dream was coming true, she was about to step foot in the hallowed halls of the Medici Palace.
“Ready?” Francesco said quietly to her as she took his arm, picking up the hem of the dress with the other hand to walk up the stairs.
Swallowing hard Miriam looked at the front door that would soon become a common sight to her.
As if on cue, the front doors swung open servants stepped out bowing to them. Lorenzo’s personal maitre d` hotel met them escorting them to Lorenzo’s chambers. Miriam was in awe walking beside Francesco supported on his hand. They reached Lorenzo’s chambers where they would meet Lorenzo d’ Magnifico and his wife Clarice. Servants swung the doors open they passed into the richly adorned chamber, oils by the world’s great, statues, vases from the former Greek city states, flowers were set around the room.
Francesco and Miriam stopped a few paces in front of the couple, Francesco bowed, Miriam bent at the knee bowing. They straightened up Lorenzo gestured to chairs for them to sit. Servants stepped forward to hold the chairs as they sat then wine was offered. Miriam became conscious of Lorenzo watching her as they tasted the wine. Various treats were offered for them to sample.
“Francesco, I cannot get over what this young lady did in five minutes what the people of this city have been wanting to do for some time.”
Francesco was proud of Miriam. Lorenzo was praising her. “Thank you, Signoria she has come a long way in the past month.”
They small talked, Miriam listened carefully to the conversation between the men. She realized most of it dealt with the textile trade and certain products arriving over what became known as the Silk Road from the Orient.
Laying his hands on his legs he said, “Come I’ll show you the areas where many of the new works are created by artists and sculptures. I have just taken a new artist by the name of Leonardo de Vince. Radicle ideas.”
The city of Florence simmered with veiled intrigue and assassinations those weeks. Awakened from a sound sleep she lay in bed listening to the crowds on the street yelling and chanting, the wavering watery yellow glow of torch light reflected from her white washed walls casting elongated shadows across her bed, the silhouettes of the angry crowd dancing past her in procession. Feeling her throat it was as if her heart had slid up into her throat chocking her. Miriam was almost afraid to look out the window to see what the people wanted.
The door burst open Agnes stood in the door wild eyed pointing to the window.
“Have you seen the crowd, Miriam?” Agnes said in a wavering voice.
Shaking her head in a weak voice Miriam said, “No ma`am. What’s going on?”
Agnes shook her head. There was a vigorous knocking at the front door.
Still in his night shirt Francesco went to the door armed with a sword he cautiously opened the door expecting a crowd to come rushing in to kill him and everyone there. However, he opened the door and a group of men and several women stood on the door step smiling.
One man nodded. “You don’t have to worry about going to the market square anymore, the people have done what should have been done weeks ago – the Pazzi and Albizzi families are being exiled from the city.”
Turning Francesco saw the women huddled by the back hallway.
“Miriam,” he said with awe, “you have tipped the scales. This should have been done weeks ago.”
The next morning following a sleepless night bands of Florentine men roamed the streets until near sun up. Miriam with Agnes with her stepped out the kitchen entrance walking to the end of the alley. Francesco armed the two women with daggers before leaving the house. Reaching the end of the alley they stopped. Five young Medici soldiers met them. Bowing to the women, one soldier said, “Signoria Lorenzo wishes that we accompany you through the market today to assure the Signorina is safe.”
Another soldier said as he bowed, “After last night, the Signoria wishes you to be safe.”
Agnes glanced at Miriam with surprise. Nodding she said, “Please, Signor.”
They stepped out to the piazza the Medici soldiers following. They walked into the market a sudden ground swell of cheering erupted. Miriam and Agnes stopped to look around people cheering and clapping.
“Agnes – this all for me?” Miriam said trying to grasp the cheering and noise.
Agnes nodded gripping the girl’s hand as people hailed her a heroine.
“You rid Florence of the warring factions. We are at peace now,” a soldier told her.
But that pease was only a façade for Florence’s problems. The riot of the night before was a distraction for the people taking their anger out on the Pazzi and Albizzi families partly the cause for the city’s mounting troubles with the Vatican.
They did their shopping Miriam was cheered wherever they went in the market that morning.
When they returned to the house, Agnes slipped back to Francesco’s study. “Signor Francesco, did you hear Miriam was praised in the market for her bravery in stopping the feud between the Medici and the Pazzi and Albizzi.”
“No but I wouldn’t doubt it. She was the only one to take on the Pazzi the way she did and win.”
Francesco turned to the window looking over the city of Florence. “I think we will have the next
Lucretia of Rome, Miriam the heroine of Florence.”
Agnes backed out of the room leaving Francesco to ponder the fate of Florence.
As Miriam brushed and combed her long hair to a fine sheen working knots and snarls out she gazed out the window at her side. The lights at doors and windows were like a string of pearls across the night. The time just before dusk always seemed a lonely time to Miriam. No matter the gaiety and cheer of the moment but she felt the loneliest; all this for a loaf of bread because of her hunger. They put more value on a loaf of bread then the people. Looking at herself in the mirror, an expensive item that was hard to come by under most circumstances. Most ladies used a bowl of water as a mirror when they did their hair, or girls as she did. But she and the other women of Francesco’s household had the luxury of true looking glasses.
Francesco returned from the Palazzo Vecchio, the offices for the Republic and City of Florence and a meeting about the pending crisis between Lorenzo, the Pope Sixtus IV, and Duke Alfonso.
Changing into another dress for the evening, Miriam returned for her evening talks with Francesco.
Francesco looked up as the door slowly opened and Miriam entered closing the door behind her. He caught his breath each time he saw her. He often questioned his feeling toward the girl. Since she had been part of his retainers and showing her independence, he was feeling something for her, she had become like a daughter to him. He hoped no young blade would come along to snatch her from him.
She sat in what became her chair in the study the next evening. Francesco gazed across the desk at the girl. In his mind she was turning in to a true beauty. Already the young blades of the city were noticing her. But just as many avoided her after the episode with the Albizzi men in the market place.
Miriam sat across from him in the chair that had become her chair during their talks.
“It is time, Miriam that we begin the next phase of your training. Learning the textile trade. Tomorrow you will accompany me to the textile stalls and shops. You will be shown the layout and the purchasing of the material. But you will continue to keep eyes and ears open to your surroundings. The Signor Lorenzo sends his high praises for your work in sending reports his way that are saving him hundreds of florins. At the end of the month we will travel to Venice to purchase the new lots of material needed for the shops. But tomorrow I want to take you to the shops to see how the material is made into dresses for the well to do ladies of the land and attire for the gentlemen.”
Nevertheless, rumors were running rampant through the market, the Republic of Florence, the Tuscany region, the Pope’s forces under Alfonso, Duke of Calabria was leading the invasion of the Florentine Republic. Many of Florence’s citizens were suddenly scared but still standing by the Medici family despite the Duke sending a message ahead demanding Lorenzo’s surrender to the Pope’s representative and forces which would occupy the Republic of Florence.
“What did Signor Lorenzo do – after he read the message?” Miriam asked sipping her wine watching Francesco over the rim of the goblet.
“Laughed.” Francesco smiled recalling Lorenzo’s reaction. “The Papal messenger,” he related, “stood uncomfortably in front of Lorenzo, hands tucked up his sleeves telling Lorenzo that he, all his household, the city council, and the city of Florence was excommunicated. Of course he laughed telling the messenger to tell the Duke, the Pope and whoever else what they could do.”
“But – how did all this come about, Signor Francesco? You told me abit one time.”
Finishing his wine setting the goblet down on the table he looked toward the window, his favorite view of the garden where he would walk in the evening, the setting the sun casting its fierce yellow and orange glow across the pale blue sky, the clouds drawing their black bands in the twilight, the waning light formed a cozy blanket in its wake over the land he loved.
Beginning slowly Francesco related the incident as best he could recall. “This all started with the murder of Giuliano, Lorenzo’s brother killed by the treachery of the Pazzi Easter Sunday in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. They especially wanted Lorenzo but he escaped with only a stab wound. Lorenzo’s followers brutally put the conspiracy down with the lynching of the Archbishop of Pisa and the murder of the Pazzi family members who were involved. Of course with the suppression of the Pazzi and the punishment of Pope Sixtus IV's supporters, the Medici and the people of Florence are suffering from the wrath of the Vatican. The Pope is even attempting to cut us off from the sea trade with the rest of Europe. The Papacy has seized all the Medici assets His Holiness could find, excommunicated Lorenzo and the entire government of Florence, and ultimately put the entire Florentine city-state under interdict. When these moves had little effect, Sixtus IV formed a military alliance with King Ferdinand I of Naples, whose son Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, is raising an army right now to invade the Florentine Republic, which is still ruled by proxy by Lorenzo. In other words, King Ferdinand was doing the Pope’s work for him.”
“How long will it take the Duke to get here then?” the girl wondered trying to control her worse fears if it came to a war. Which it most certainly would.
“Don’t know. It depends on how long it takes him to raise his army and outfit them, organize and
train them. Then begins the long march north. This is almost a bad time for me to want to leave Florence. This is the time of year I go to Venice to purchase new stock.”
“Then are you? Going to Venice to purchase the cloth, sir?”
“Really, Miriam I am uncertain. When I do I want to take you so you can see how it is done. But this problem has cast a shadow over my plans.”
Smiling to herself, Miriam felt a thrill that Francesco was taking her more and more into his confidence and she was given a wider berth of responsibilities.
Miriam made daily trips to the market keeping her eyes and ears open for every scrap of news, rumor, or gossip that came her way. She arranged the fruit and vegetables in her basket to key her memory what she heard in the market. Whispered rumors circulated the market of the impending attack by forces loyal to the Pope and King Ferdinand I of Naples. Some had the Duke already striking north to Florence, others had him delaying his march, while others said it wasn’t a very large army after all.
Miriam stepped through the kitchen door stopping in the pantry to get a large kettle to put the vegetables in.
“More rumors, Miriam?” Agnes said the knife she was using chopping a beet pausing she watched the girl hang up her cloak by the door.
“Yes. But as the Master said, what’s really true and what is not all amounts to the same thing – rumors and hearsay.”
Miriam sat at the table with paper and ink pot and quill to write down the notes, picking vegetables and fruit from the basket in order that she placed them remembering the details of what she heard. Finishing blotting the ink she picked up the sheet of paper with the notes taking
it to Francesco.
Francesco read the notes standing at his side Miriam watched as he transcribed her notes to a special code devised by Lorenzo that was virtually impossible to decipher.
She quickly left with the note from Francesco the notes in code stuffed down the front of her dress. She hurried to the Medici Palace, using the servant’s entrance the guards recognized her
passing her inside, a servant knowing why she was there hurried her to Lorenzo’s chamber. Miriam took the message from her dress as she hurried along the corridor to Lorenzo’s chamber.
Entering the chambers she said, “Message for you, Signor Lorenzo from Master Francesco.”
“Sit Signorina, let me take care of this first.” Lorenzo stood taking the message from Miriam he excused himself going to a back room.
A servant poured a small amount of wine in a goblet giving it to her. Sipping the wine she waited for Lorenzo to return from the back room. Sometime later he emerged. Sitting he pulled a folder from a cabinet at his back laying it out he laid the message with others he had received over the past weeks.
“This confirms the reports reaching me that Duke Alfonso is starting north.” He showed her her message then turned another around to show her. Taking a quill he dipped it in the ink well then circled the key item that he had been expecting. “There was somebody in the market place when you were there, an agent of Pope Sixtus possibly watching us slipping out at the right time to Alfonso’s camp to let him know what we are doing.”
“I remember someone talking to the merchant who sells wares in the market. I’ve never seen him until today.”
“I wonder if he is still there?” Lorenzo glanced off thinking for a minute then he called the servant over. “Get two of my soldiers and bring them here immediately.” Then he said, “We’re taking a chance on him still being there.”
A few minutes later the servant returned with the soldiers following.
“Good. I want you to go with Miriam, she will point out a possible spy to you if he is still there. Arrest him and bring him back here for questioning.”
They bowed, Miriam stood bending at the knee she followed the soldiers out. Out on the street she walked ahead of the soldiers to the market. Looking the street over, people thinning out returning home, stalls closing for the day. Miriam saw the man, quickening her steps the guards walking faster to keep up with her, Miriam struck a purposeful pose passing the spy she singled out to Lorenzo. At the last second as she passed the other she wheeled about, shouting, “Arrest this man!”
He looked at her aghast, the guards drew their swords rushing forward to grab him. The spy panicked running, a stall tender took her empty display board swinging it around in his path tripping him. One of the soldiers drew a length of thin rope tucked in his sword belt.
Miriam walked to the man accusingly pointing to him, “That’s him – the Papal spy.”
“On your feet – spy!” the soldier ordered lifting the other to his feet. His partner poked him with his sword.
“No! I’m not a spy!” he insisted looking around fearfully at people gathering giving him hostile looks. But letting Miriam know she was still the heroine of Florence.
Arriving back at the Palace a short time later they entered by another door near the back that took them to the cellar.
The guard turned as Miriam started to follow. He said gently, “No Miriam this is not for a lady to see.”
The door closed but she could still hear the other’s protests. She knew what would happen to the Papal spy.
Starting back along the alley she stepped out to the street. The sound of the man’s protests still echoed in her ears for hours after she arrived at the house. Agnes served her supper then sat across from her.
“So, what did the Master have you doing this time?”
“Delivering a message to Signora Lorenzo. It must have been difficult for him to decipher. But the Papal and Naples troops are supposed to be here within the week.”
“And Signora Lorenzo, what is he going to do?”
“Rally the people tomorrow.”
Miriam and Agnes with Francesco and several other of Francesco’s servants hurried to the piazza and the market to listen to Lorenzo stir up the crowd and rally support for the pending war against the Papal States. On the surface this was not hard but there was still those who resented the thought one man caused the populace of the Tuscany region to be excommunicated from the church. The Pope excommunicated the City of Florence and the Kingdom of Florence leaving the people without the Sacraments of Holy Communion, Baptism, and confession. The cathedral and churches in the towns of the kingdom of Florence were closed. The war would be the deciding factor.
Lorenzo stood at the base of the fountain that dominated the Piazza della Repubblicain front of the Palazzo Vecchio, the city hall. He was addressing the growing crowd. Some stayed to listen others left claiming business elsewhere. This would be a test of Lorenzo’s popularity and leadership.
Striking an impassioned pose Lorenzo gazed over the gathering crowd as if searching for a friend or friendly face. He began slowly drawing the people in to his appeal for assistance.
“In the dangerous circumstances in which our city is placed, the time for deliberation is past. Action must be taken... I have decided, with your approval, to sail for Naples forthwith, believing that as I am the person against whom the activities of our enemies are chiefly directed, I may, perhaps, by delivering myself into their hands, be the means of restoring peace to our fellow-citizens. As I have had more honor and responsibility among you than any private citizen has had in our day, I am more bound than any other person to serve our country, even at the risk of my life. With this intention I will go. Perhaps God wills that this war, which began in the blood of my brother and of myself, should be ended by any means. My desire is that by my life or my death, my misfortune or my prosperity, I may contribute to the welfare of our city... The enemy marches toward our city. They give no mercy, take no quarter, care not for our citizenry. The freedom of this city and the lands of Tuscany are at jeopardy if I fail to turn the Papal forces back that invade our lands, the lands of our ancestors…”
However, with little support from the traditional Medici allies in Bologna and Milan threat of war dragged on another few days.
The day following Lorenzo’s impassioned speech before the people of Florence, Francesco took Miriam to the shops. They entered a world far removed from the uncertainty of war. Miriam was already familiar with the shops having to pass messages back and forth between the Medici and Basto households but to see how it actually worked she knew would be another matter.
“Philip,” Francesco said as the men vigorously shook hands. “I know you know Miriam my protégé.”
They nodded to each other. “I want to show her around the shops.”
Francesco showed her the cutting tables, people were busy sewing garments while others with patrons were looking over their purchases.
“Color, shade, style Miriam is extremely important to people. It is a philosophy all its own. From the peasant toiling in the fields to the wealthy merchant at the bazaar color, style fashion has a meaning for everyone.” They continued along the tables until they stopped at a tailor working on a pair of red silk stocking for a prestigious client. “Self-esteem, erotic appeal, self-advancement. Green as in this pair means hope.” They continued to the next table. “The city, believe it not does have ordinances stating the type of material and in some cases even the colors each rank may wear. For example heart-shaped bags for men, there is a shop that specializes in artificial braids for women. Their effects, which may range from delight in wonderful craftsmanship to concern that a look may or may not have been achieved or that someone’s appearance was deceiving.”
The tour of the shop was only a relief from the pressures of the pending invasion and war – if there was going to be one.
They left the shop walking back along the street toward the Arno River, a meandering ribbon of silver, the ancient wall surrounding the Piazza della Repubblica. They watched as boats passed carrying wares of different manufacture. Not all commerce came to a halt in the republic.
For a few minutes they stood on the embankment gazing at the water, the boats and water fowl. On the far side a group of boys were calmly fishing seeming unaware of the impending danger to the city. Looking at the water near the cataracts and the short canal, Miriam watched the ducks diving for food. She briefly wondered if that were the sum total of a person’s existence, hunting for food all day long?
Glancing to her left she watched Francesco for a second. She knew what this embargo and the commercial blockade would have on the business. Even if it were lifted tomorrow the loss of business and recovery would take at least a year for him to recover.
She felt a hand touch hers. Looking down she saw Francesco’s hand touch hers. They clasped hands, turning to face the other their eyes met. Neither said a word as they gazed into each other’s eyes for a minute. There was no one about to say ‘no’, there was no one to tell them what was right, what was wrong, there was no priest to tell them of the impropriety of the kiss of love that they felt for each other. They wanted it to go on forever.
Miriam walked to the market to buy vegetables and fresh fruit for the household. People greeted her but not with the same enthusiasm as before. People were worried, scared not knowing what to expect or would happen. Rumors once more had the Papal and Naples troops laying siege to the city gates. Miriam tried to show her confidence in Lorenzo in the face of people’s worry the worse could happen.
Miriam was aware of the city’s ancient history dating to the Romans, at one time it was one siege after another. This time the Papal and Naples troops would be at the gates. But the people’s enthusiasm to fight the Papal States was wearing thin the longer it took the two armies to reach Florence. Many thought they should take the fight to the Papal coalition, meet them before they could invade their lands.
Early morning Miriam was dressing getting herself ready to help Agnes prepare the morning meal when she stopped. The furious ringing of bells throughout the city got her attention. Miriam sat on the edge of her cot listening for a minute.
“It’s not Sunday time for Mass.” Then it occurred to her. “Oh no! Sweet Jesus! The Papas States and Naples have invaded!”
Finishing dressing Miriam ran out to the kitchen looking for Agnes. She found Agnes in her room on hands and knees praying the Rosary. Looking in the door she moaned silently seeing there was nothing she could do, the poor woman was too scared to be of much use. Running back toward the study she stopped seeing Francesco pulling on a chain-mail hood and helmet.
“Francesco! What are you doing?” she demanded. She watched him pick up the sword buckling it on.
“It’s my city too my love. I must defend it against all foreign enemies.” He stopped to look into the girls eyes. Their lips met in the kiss they soon enjoyed. “It is time for me to join the other people.” Francesco strode toward the door. In the street people were streaming toward the city walls ready to defend their city.
People were in various pieces of armor, chain mail, no protection, just a sword, a pike or halberd, or nothing at all just their hands.
Miriam looked around realizing the rest of the servants had joined the defense of the palisade too. Looking around for a weapon she saw she only had the dagger Francesco gave her some time ago to defend herself. If she were going to be taken by the Papal troops they’d die trying.
Getting the dagger from her room she slipped it into her belt running out to the piazza looking for Francesco, the man she had come to love. Gripping the medallion as if holding a talisman she ran past the Cathedral of Santa Maria In her mind she was no longer a slave, but a free woman to love and care for the man of her choice.
Catching up to Francesco she followed him to the wall she was between the area of the Gardens of Boboli, the watch tower and Fortress of Belvedera. Mounting the steps she looked back to see the Ponta Alla Carraia spanning the Arno River and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Reaching the wall’s promenade already crowded with soldiers of all houses and merchants and people brandishing weapons from meat cleavers to brooms. Working her way to the front she looked left and right, people waiting for the Papal army the wall bristled with weapons of every type. Looking down she saw large iron kettles sitting on open fires heating the oil to be dumped on the Papal troops if they attempted to scale the walls.
However, an hour passed before the troops showed as a long thin silver and white line. The Naples and Papal standards led the way, flags and banners of the houses leading troops to the assault fluttered in the early morning breeze, drums beating a steady tattoo setting the pace. Shields held high, pikes straight, swords drawn and held straight up, bowman and musketeers following, cavalry on the flanks. They marched across the fields in close order formation.
A heavy silence fell over the Florentine people as they watched the two divisions of close order troops led by the Duke crossing the field. Miriam heard the clatter of something hit the floor of the stone promenade. Several people looked down to see a heavy two handed Soldat sword laying on the walkway. Without thinking about what she was doing Miriam bent down picking the sword up.
“Miriam that is awfully heavy,” a soldier who heard the noise called. “You want a lighter Rapier maybe?”
Swinging it about a couple times she said, “No thank you, Marco. This is just what I want.”
Holding the sword aloft she started down the steps to the gate. The guards at the gate were nervous about the gate holding. Stories were whispered among the soldiers of the siege by the French, the gate came crashing in opening like flood gates. The French troops poured into the city to ransack and wantonly kill and rape and pillage.
The guards looked at her aghast. “Miriam, there is an army out there. You are just a girl.”
“I know and I intend to stop them – my way! Now are you going to open that gate or do I have to do it?”
With reluctance the bars were slid aside the gate opened enough to allow the girl to step out
stopping just past the gate. The guards surly thought Miriam mad facing down two full armies. They’d cut her to ribbons – if they didn’t take her and use her first.
Lorenzo standing at the crinolines gasped when he saw Miriam start along the old Roman road that led to Rome dragging the tip of the sword along the road, the scrapping sound loud and clear on the slight breeze of late morning. The wheat just beginning to turn from green to its golden shade. The fruit trees budding in the early summer dawn. Miriam crossed the space with a determined stride, the sword hardly a weight to her now, she walked with head up, eyes on the Duke[HED1] [HED2] .
The Duke with his two standard bearers, the flag of Naples and the Papal flag presented to him with great religious ceremony by Pope Sixtus IV, and five body guards, the two armies marched out of Rome north to Florence the flags and banners snapping in the summer breeze, the troops in high spirits thinking of the plunder and women they’d seize.
Duke Alfonso was determined this upstart Lorenzo de’ Medici would pay the ultimate price for defying His Holiness Pope Sixtus IV edict, his head would be mounted on a pike by tonight.
Alfonso and Miriam approached each other along the road, the sound of the sword being dragged behind her grew louder the closer she approached the Duke and his entourage. The sound of the iron blade scrapping on stone irritated the Duke, it held a secret ominous message for the Duke.
No one on the wall facing south toward Rome spoke a word, many prayed, many knew she could never go one on one with the Duke or his guards. Several, especially the guards knew she was dragging a two handed sword, the type the knights used to carry. But she was determined to have her way.
Miriam stopped standing she held the pommel in front of her the tip of the sword pointing down. Pushing the hair out of her eyes she called, “You don’t go any further Duke Alfonso! Go home!”
Alfonso kept riding unable to make sense that the City of Florence, especially Lorenzo would send a mere girl to confront him.
“Move out of the road girl. This is none of your concern”
“This is my city and you will go no further.”
Duke Alfonso ignored her, the guards ignored her concentrating on the walled city and its defiant citizens. Miriam stepped to the side as the Duke passed her, the standard bearers ignored her, the guards ignored her. Miriam saw the opening she hoped for, the space at the arm pit the space produced by the armor and chain mail so the wearer could flex his arms when fighting.
The Duke underestimated the girl. She was small and light but swift.
She brought the sword up thrusting into the slight gap with a grunt of effort she drove the sword in several inches. The Duke gave a strangled cry not knowing what to do with the sword as his life blood oozed out of the wound. She penetrated the padding under the armor. The Duke stiffened in shock looking down at the girl surprise in his eyes he slouched in the saddle leaning over the horse’s neck in pain.
The entourage was shocked as she wheeled, the dress flaring out in the space of an eye wink she struck the Papal standard bearer between the breast plate and leg armor jabbing him in the side. The soldier dropped the standard as he bent forward grasping his middle section. A guard reacted swinging his sword but Miriam met the blow to the guard’s horror he did not have a firm grip on his sword and to the girl’s surprise she knocked the sword out of the others hand. She came back catching him under the helmet at the neck tumbling him from his horse.
Horses and bodies were in the way the Naples standard bearer fumbled the Naples standard grabbing for his sword. Without thinking Miriam stepped in between the horses making a sound deep in her throat thrusting for the space at the bottom of his breast plate close to his hips. The soldier cried out in pain dropping the standard tumbling from his horse, the animal bolted and ran. A guard’s horse reared throwing the soldier from his horse. Hitting the ground with a crash of armor he lay stunned.
The last soldier looked around himself in shock. Drawing his sword back in anger not believing that a mere girl was able to do so much damage in so short a time with a weapon nearly as long as she was tall. The Duke and his comrades lay at his feet dead or dying. Making a growling sound, “demon witch!” He swung carelessly, the girl easily ducked, the sword singing over her head. With effort Miriam raised her own even though her arms were tired, muscles aching, iron on iron struck with a resounding clang across the open fields and river; metal on metal sent a shock through her arms.
He easily pushed her sword away coming across in a cutting or slicing gesture racking the sword across her neck knocking Miriam backwards sprawling on the ground. Blood oozing from the wounds a searing pain briefly clouded her vision. Miriam was saved by the heavy chain of her necklace. The soldier hesitated in shock. Miriam lay on the ground getting her breath back.
However, he made the fatal mistake to dismount intent on finishing the girl off. Pulling the helmet off he threw it aside. “The Devil’s prodigy!” he yelled at her. “I’ll finish you now, she-demon!”
Sprawled on the ground her skirt lay above her knees Miriam looked up glassy eyed everything briefly disoriented. Her chest sticky with blood, gasping for air from the sharp blow to her chest Miriam showed an anger she had not shown before. She made a low animal sound in her throat lifting the sword one last time. The soldier hesitated seeing the girl’s bare legs. He looked up seeing the black fury in the girl’s eyes he rushed forward the sword raised for the killing blow.
Holding the sword over her chest he yelled. “Die she-demon! Die!”
However, he carelessly left himself open, without the helmet on he had no protection. Raising the sword to drive into her heart. Raising the sword up she held it single handed the other bent forward for the killing blow. Miriam thrust the sword into his neck. The soldier cried out in shocked agony the sword stabbing him through the neck. Dropping his sword he tumbled over gagging spitting up blood gasping for air the death rattle in his throat as his life blood spilled on the ground.
Blood oozed down Miriam’s chest from the sword cut, her chest aching where she was hit, it felt like she had been hit in the chest by a sledge hammer. Her long brown hair a tangled mass in her eyes she was able to stand bracing herself on the sword her legs shaking. Holding on to the sword she looked toward the lines of soldiers in contempt.
Standing in the middle of the carnage she looked down at the two fallen standards. Smiling at the standards Miriam stooped down to pick a sword up she jammed it through the Papal standard pinning it to the ground. Then picked up another sword jabbing it into the flag of Naples. Stopping Miriam saw one more sword then looked at the other two. The symbolism was striking. Lifting her eyes toward the massed armies she picked the sword up sticking it in the ground, the three swords formed the three crosses of the Passion. The symbolism was not lost on the soldiers. To a man they dropped to their knees dropping their weapons they made the sign of the cross and folded their hands. The bishop, priests and monks accompanying the army stood in shock that a mere girl stopped a massed army. The Duke was dead, his entourage dead or dying, a sword driven through the Pope’s standard. They dropped to their knees.
Miriam turned her back on them walking away dragging sword behind her. Without warning she dropped to the ground, the sword by her side. Suddenly the gates opened people led by Lorenzo de’ Medici and Francesco led the people out the soldiers for the moment unsure who the people were running to.
But they heard them call, “Miriam! Mariam!”
They realized when no one approached, two men led the people to the girl, they dropped to the ground at the girl’s side, the two men openly crying.
Francesco gently lifted Miriam holding her limp body close stroking her sweaty hair brushing it out of her face. Lorenzo dabbed at the caked blood on her chest with his silk handkerchief.
“Let this blood soaked handkerchief be adored as a holy relic,” Lorenzo told the crowd of on-lookers. “This girl gave her life for our freedom!”
People began weeping knowing one young girl did what none other did that day – single handed stop an army. The Duke dead the war no longer made sense to the troops. They stood and began walking away from Florence never to return.
Francesco noticed through his own tears the two cut marks in the gold chain close to Miriam’s heart and the cuts from the sword on her chest; the chain stopped the sword from killing her. Lifting the chain he showed the chain and medallion to Lorenzo.
“She is a free woman,” Lorenzo declared standing, “Let this day live forever. And this medallion a token of her selfless sacrifice for Florence.”
The artisans under Lorenzo’s patronage gathered close by saw paintings and sculptures in the scene. Michelangelo saw a portrait of the girl laying on Francesco’s legs as he cried openly for the girl he had come to love.
Francesco did not realize how light Miriam was until he picked her up to carry her back to the city. Everyone was solemn as he carried her along the lines of people crying for her, praying, making the sign of the cross as he carried her past them. Lorenzo bent picking the sword up leading the way back to the city.
People crossed themselves, others bent at the knee, men doffed their hats all knew the girl showed more strength and willingness to die for Florence then they did. Some turned away in shame knowing she sacrificed her life for them.
Miriam was carried in Francesco’s arms through the streets to the Cathedral of Santa Maria through the open doors passing under the dome that his Grandfather commissioned to be completed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The Duomo was filled with women and children led by Lorenzo’s wife Clarice praying for a miracle to save them from the invading armies. The miracle was carried to the font of the church and laid at the altar. Her long hair draped over the steps, her skin pale, arms and hands limp. Women started to become aware of Lorenzo and Francesco kneeling at the communion rail and Miriam laying on the steps at the altar.
Clarice stood from the pew walking to the front looking down on the comatose girl tears slid down her face. Lorenzo and Clarice held hands gazing at the girl barely breathing. Clarice stepped to the side to hold Francesco hand. Those who saw the fight nodded to the girl, “She saved us.”
A lone monk who stayed hidden in the cloister entered the church stopping to dip his fingers in the Holy Water made a sign of the cross. Walking to the front he looked down on Miriam then knelt praying.
Miriam opened her eyes, blinking them she said, “I am thirsty. May I have some water?”
Two days later a desperate runner reached Rome but did not stop until he arrived at the Vatican and was shown to Pope Sixtus IV chambers. Kneeling before the Pope he waited until Sixtus recognized him. The man was scared of what the Pope would say when he heard what he had to say.
“Speak my son. What news do you bring from Duke Alfonso of Naples?” Hoping for good news the army under Duke Alfonso had taken Florence putting the city to the torch for its heresy.
However, the soldier shaking as if from a palsy said in a quaking voice, “The Duke is dead, your Holiness the army of Naples and the Papal States has capitulated.”
It was a few minutes before the Pope, stunned by the news demanded, “How, how did this happen?”
The soldier moistened his lips bracing himself for Sixtus’ response knowing the Pope’s virile temper. “A young women, a slave girl by the name of Miriam killed the Duke and six of his men in open combat, your Holiness.”
It was a few minutes had passed before Sixtus again responded. “WHAT! Impossible – a girl? A
mere slave girl killed seven men? This is impossible!”
Bishops, priests, monks, nuns cowered at the outburst from the Pope. The look of extreme fury at the second humiliation from the Medici family. But this time from a slave girl with no experience with a sword. Sixtus immediately stormed out of the audience chamber taking to his bed chambers locking himself in refusing to see anyone for a week praying and fasting. He cried out in a loud voice tearing at his cloak and robes, beating his chest, wailing at the loss.
Fatigued from the fight, the stress and strain of swinging a sword meant for a knight Miriam exhausted herself passing out from the anxiety sweeping over her.
Days later Lorenzo and Francesco and the entire city council and a lone monk appeared at the second floor balcony of the Palazzo Vecchio. Miriam was proclaimed by the people “Heroine of Florence.’ Miriam was venerated by a generation of Florentine women.
~ Struggle, perseverance, and triumph ~
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