I laid down for a nap only to be woken up by shouting. It wasn’t coming from any of the rooms, it had been all in my head. Someone had been shouting at me in my dream, I was also sure I heard a growl from maybe a dog or a wolf. The words Ula, Conall and Sloane, echoed around my brain, but the words meant nothing to me.
Was I one of those names? Perhaps not Conall or Sloane. I was pretty sure they were men’s name. The more I tried to remember what I had dreamed about the faster it slipped away like running water between my fingertips.
It was only when I heard Leonardo’s voice, I thought best get out of bed. I wanted to talk to him about my missing pendant. Entering the room, he was sitting at his desk drawing.
“Ah Bella, you are awake. So how is your head, any better?” He smiled looking up at me from whatever it was he was sketching.
Solai approached and handed me a small metal cup of warm wine.
“Solai has told me about your missing pendant…”
Solai cut him off. “I know it was Lucia that took it.”
Leonardo raised his hands. “Solai, it may be so, but I need to speak to her first. If she did then I am presuming she would have done so because of her husband Henricus. He is not a person I trust. I will go shortly and speak to her, by then Henricus will either be out cold from drunkenness or at a tavern.”
“Thank you, I really do need to get it back.”
“Of course, Bella, I will do my best for you.”
I moved closer to his desk. “What are you drawing?”
He looked down at his sketch. “Well after Lord Sforza found your crossbow so interesting, I am sketching one he may prefer more, although it is a much larger scaled one than yours.”
The sketch was indeed a crossbow, but it was gigantic by the look of how many men it would take to load a bolt and release it.
“That’s huge.” I said as something in the back of my mind was niggling its way to the surface.
“My Maestro has sketched many fine large weapons, he is most talented at it, do you not think so Bella?” Solai said his face glowing in pride for Leonardo.
Before I could think my mouth started yapping. “You will become one of the world’s most treasured and well-known artists, Leonardo. Your artwork and codex will be worth millions.”
They raised their brows looking somewhat confused.
Solai moved to stand next to me. “Bella how would you know this…codex?”
“I…I don’t really know, it just slipped out.”
“That would be truly a wonderous thing, but you have to be careful as such things could be misconstrued as being the work of the devil. I don’t want to see you tied to a pyre and burnt as a witch.” Leonardo replied still looking rattled at my statement. “I think now is a good time to pay a visit to Lucia.”
I stood there still lost in my mind as to why I would have said what I did, it was almost like a future prediction. I didn’t make predictions. Did I? I just wish I could get my memories back, this was driving me insane. I threw myself in the chair at the table in frustration.
“Bella, that was quite a prophecy you just told my maestro have you remembered anything else?” Solai sat opposite me.
“No, but I did hear some names in a dream, I just don’t know if any of them are mine.”
“Names, what where the names?”
“Ula, Conall and Sloane.” I felt despaired and frustrated not having any memory.
“Oh, I don’t think any of them suit you. You don’t look like an Ula, Conall, or a Sloane. I think your name would be more exotic than those. Maybe you’re a Marianna, or perhaps a Sophia. You could be a Persephone or an Alessandria.” He huffed.
“Persephone, I somehow don’t think so, wasn’t she a goddess or ancient Greek queen.”
Solai’s eyes lit up, so you remembered something else.”
I frowned at him. “Solai I hardly think because I recognize a name from ancient times that it gives me a clue as to my own identity.”
“Yes, but Bella you have memory of something, this is a good thing, yes?”
I gave him an incredulous look. “What like knowing how to use a fork and knife, or how to tie a shoelace?”
He grinned showing a dimple on his left cheek. “I think your memory will return soon. Trust Solai, by the end of the week you will have it back.”
“I do hope you are right, this is driving me fucking insane.” I flung my hand to my mouth, my eyes wide.
Solai laughed out loud. “Whatever your name is and wherever you come from, you would be quite an unforgettable person.” He continued to laugh winking at me.
I couldn’t work out why my mouth just seemed to run away with itself. Things just kept popping out before they had a chance to get in my brain.
I gave him a weak smile. Solai got up from the table returning with a board and some white and black small round stone pieces.
“Would you like to play a game of draughts Bella?”
“Sure, but you will have to tell me the rules.”
Solai set the board down and lined each color across the opposite sides of the board.
“White always moves first. We must get our pieces to the other side of the board. If I get mine there first my pedina is crowned king. If you get your piece to the other side first, then your dama is crowned queen. Each piece can only move one square at a time, forwards or backwards, but you can cross diagonally to take one of my pieces. However, the object of the game is to take all my pieces, or I take all of yours. If you have a queen or I have a king they then can only move diagonally, not forwards or backwards.”
“Sounds easy enough.” I said watching a grin creep across his face.
Solai won the first three games then I won the next six.
“You learn fast Bella, are you sure you have not played this before?”
I shrugged I didn’t really know. Although it’s not really a hard game to play.
When Leonardo returned several hours later, the expression on his face told me that he hadn’t found my pendant.
“You didn’t find it, did you?” I asked feeling utterly deflated.
He shook his head. “I didn’t I’m sorry. I found Lucia and it was indeed she who had taken it…”
Solai interrupted him. “I knew she was the one that took it, I told you I never trusted her.”
Leonardo raised his hands to calm Solai. “Yes, she did take it but Henricus has been threatening and beating her to do it. He took the pendant, he hurt her quite badly. Her neighbor was kind enough to take care of her.”
“So, we just have to find Henricus.” Solai added.
Leonardo let out an exasperated sigh. “No.” He shook his head. “Henricus’s body was found not an hour ago, dead, along with two other men, one I know as Antonius, the other I have never seen before. I did find out that Henricus had being visiting…Franchesca, for quite some time.”
“Who is Franchesca?” I asked, but by the look on Leonardo’s face I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know. I was determined though, to get my pendant back.
Solai sniggered. “She is…what one would call…a woman of the night.”
“Oh, a prostitute.” I muttered. “So, she may have my pendant?”
Leonardo move closer to me and propped his hand on my shoulder. “That may be so, child, but she is missing, and no one seems to know where she is, or where she went.”
“Oh.” I muttered feeling defeated. My pendant could be anywhere now.
“Don’t worry, Franchesca has to turn up sometime and when she does let us hope she has it or knows it’s location.” Concern flashed across Leonardo’s face, he knew more than he was saying.
“I hope so.”
“Bella, I would very much like to begin your portraiture, would you be so kind as to sit for me?” I knew he was trying to distract me, something I was learning he was very good at.
“Of course, Leonardo.” I was honored that he wanted to paint me, but I still couldn’t see why with so any beautiful women to choose from. Another feeling of déjà vu hit me, but I couldn’t think why.
Three weeks flew past without the hint of where the woman Franchesca was, not having returned to her rooms. Solai did his best to keep me entertained and providing me with never ending stories of his adventures and that of Leonardo’s but refused to let me go out with him again. I was bored being cooped up for so long.
Leonardo had returned from a meeting with Lord Sforza mentioning that he would very much like to paint my portraiture tomorrow. I agreed not having anything else to do and still waiting for my memory to return, if it ever was going to. Dar shadows and screams amid a greying mist continued to wreak havoc with my dreams, not abating or increasing.
We had just sat down to dinner when a knock came at the door. Leonardo ushered me to my room. I listened with the door open just a fraction. A man claiming to be Micheletto Corella was looking for a female he had seen several weeks ago, he was sent by Cesare Borgia to bring her in for questioning. Leonardo asked him if he saw a female here. He didn’t exactly lie, it’s true I wasn’t in that room. I recalled Solai mentioning the name previously of Cesare Borgia and I had a very bad feeling my situation had just become more problematic.
They had been worried about my little tryst in the alcove and if anyone had seen me take down my attacker. It would now appear my actions had been noticed, but why did they not approach at the time, waiting until now to come looking for me?
The man left but not before saying he would return in a few days with Cesare Borgia, and Leonardo was to ensure the female was here waiting for them, I was also to have the half pendant with me. What the hell, what had my pendant have to do with them?
As soon as I heard the door close I rushed back into the room to Leonardo’s pale face.
“Leonardo, I don’t understand.” I said walking slowly towards him.
Solai stepped forward. “Bella, he must have seen you take that man down in the alcove and trust me Micheletto Corella is a very bad man, not to mention Cesare Borgia.” Solai’s face had paled as much as Leonardo’s and that could only mean this Corella and Cesare Borgia were very bad news.
“Why do they want me and my pendant?”
“Do not worry.” Leonardo said taking my hands. “We will work something out, they will not be taking you, as for your pendant we have no idea where it is.”
The way Leonardo and Solai had spoken though didn’t make me feel very confident. I gave them both a weak smile and said goodnight before I went to my room. If this Corella and Borgia were as unscrupulous as the reaction on their faces, then I really had to think hard at what my next step would be. I could run, but where the hell do I go? I had to trust them, what other options did I have without knowing who I was.
I had a fitful night’s sleep, with shouting, screaming, black and grey faceless figures running around. In the distance I could hear someone shouting at me to come to them. I woke yelling with a feeling of deep sincere loss. My nightdress wet from perspiration, my hands shaking. I punched the pillow out of frustration, this was a nightmare and not just in my sleep.
The images slipped away the more I awoke. Dragging my body out of bed feeling more tired than when I went to sleep, I was exhausted wanting to just sink in a dark hole and never come out. Surely my memory has to come back soon, I don’t think I could face it if it never returned. The more time I spent here in Milan with Leonard and Solai the more I felt I didn’t belong.
By the time I had seen to my ablutions and went to the kitchen Solai had a plate ready for me.
“You look like you could do with a few more hours of sleep.” He said pouring me a cup of milk. I shrugged.
After breakfast Solai brought me a gowned that he thought would look good for the painting. I took the gown from him my mind still wedged tightly on trying to remember anything else from the nightmare. The lump on my forehead had disappeared some time ago, and Solai had remarked more than once that I had recovered extremely quickly.
These clothes were beautiful but damned uncomfortable, tight and heavy. I knew that I was not used to wearing such things, how I don’t really know of course because I couldn’t remember a bloody thing.
Dressed I returned to the dining room so Solai could do my hair. For such a young man he was very adapt and fussy to the wearing of the clothes and how my hair was to look, he’d practically done it every day I had been here. When he finished with his fussing, he hung a necklace around my neck and a metal circlet around my forehead.
He stood back. “You look perfect.” I gave him a weak smile. I didn’t feel perfect, tired yes, frustrated bloody oath, angry, absolutely.
Leonardo already had a canvas on his easel and his paint and brushes set up. I simply smiled not wanting to converse with them. I was worried with what I was going to do if this Corella fellow came looking for me again, which from the conversation yesterday it would seem he was not going to give up. I just trusted Leonardo had a plan.
Added to worries of trying to get my memory back now I was worried for Leonardo and Solai. I didn’t want them to get into trouble over me. Maybe if I just disappeared, they would be safer. I could just change into the clothing I had arrived in and slip out without anyone seeing me. Then what? Where would I go? This was all such an utter mess.
Leonardo hung a large sheet of grey material on the wall as a backdrop. He motioned for me to take a seat on the stool he had in place.
“Bella you are beautiful.” I dropped my eyes to the floor I didn’t feel beautiful, I felt I was causing them more problems and putting them in danger. Could it get any worse?
Leonardo fussed with the way I was sitting finally happy when I sat facing slightly to my right but with my body angled towards him and his canvas. One thing I had learned about Leonardo was that every action was consummately planned, he was a man of defined detail.
I had been sitting for over an hour, my back a little strained from keeping the same position when the door burst open and a man entered the room. He was dressed in rich blue tones, from his stockings to his cape. Not a handsome man but he had the air of someone important, he was short slightly podgy in build, with a double chin. His hair looked like someone had stuck a bowl on his head and just cut around it.
“Ah, Leonardo there you are.” He said then his eyes fell on me. “Oh, and who do we have here?”
Not waiting for introductions, he strode straight to me taking my hand, bringing it up to his lips. He kissed the back of my hand before slurping his tongue across my skin. Urgh the dirty bastard. What is it with the men here and their ruddy tongues.
I jerked my hand out of his wiping it down the side of my dress. Yuck, that was disgusting.
“My Lord Sforza this is…” Before Leonardo could finish Solai jumped in.
“La Bella Ferroniere.” He said bowing to this Lord Sforza.
“Ha, La Bella Ferroniere, Beautiful iron, that is an…unusual name. Where are you from Bella?” He asked a wicked glint in his eye that I didn’t appreciate one iota.
“She is from Spain my Lord Sforza.” Leonardo added. That was a lie but who’s to say where I was from.
“Why has she not been presented to court, Leonardo?” He asked with a shocked look on his face. “Oh yes she must be presented to court.”
Leonardo bowed his head. “Sire, she has not long arrived, and you have been so busy with your new role as the Lord of Milan.”
“Nonetheless you will present her to court in three days’ time for the Festa, and after the celebrations, you will escort her to my private suite. You will ensure Leonardo that she is dressed accordingly.”
Private suite, well that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to anyone’s bloody private suite and especially not this tongue slurping brute. I don’t care if he is the Lord of Milan or the king himself.
Solai was stood behind the rude man, when he caught my eyes, he put his fingers to his lips and shook his head, a sign for me to not speak. I said not a word, though it didn’t stop me from glaring daggers at the toad of a man.
Lord Sforza caught my unabashed sneering. “Oh, oh, I see why she is called La Bella Ferroniere, look at those eyes, such iron, such passion.” Fucking fool.
“Carry on with your painting Leonardo, I will watch for a moment, I find I cannot take my eyes from this creature, such iron, such fire in her eyes I have never seen.” Sforza said striding around the canvas to watch Leonardo pick up his paint brush and continue painting.
I didn’t though miss the slight eye roll from Leonardo. Creature? I’ll give him creature. I did not like this person, making my skin crawl as if covered in a mass of beetles.
I sat straightening my back, and although I tried to keep my face with as less emotion as I could, I continued disparaging looks at the pretentious Lord, who was not watching Leonardo, but kept his eyes on me and winking at me ever few moments, maybe he had an affliction of the eye. Keep staring you slimy creature and you’ll get your twopences.
Leonardo continued to paint ignoring the Lord of Milan standing beside him until the brute eventually left, telling me he would see me in three days’ time. I don’t think so, there was no way I was going to be presented to his court or visit him in his private suite, the lector.
If Leonardo couldn’t come up with a way out of all of this I would just pack up and leave, not caring if I knew where to go or not.
The maestro put down his paint brush and both he and Solai released a breath of relief. I had a feeling that Leonardo had the greatest respect for this Sforza but at the same time he didn’t trust him.
“I’m sorry I did not expect him to come here, especially seeing as he has not long taken over the role of Lord of Milan and has been extremely busy.
“Well he can go and suck eggs for all I care, there is no way I will be visiting him, in his private suite, he’s a creepy keely.” I huffed.
“Bella what is a keely?” Solai asked looking confused.
“I don’t know but I hope it’s nothing nice, He’s a toad, he licked my hand the dirty bastard.” I wiped my hand down the dress again and shivered at the thought of what he had done.
Leonardo was looking worried, his frown creasing between his eyes. “Bella I cannot send you to Lord Sforza, I have no idea what he will do. Even though he is known for treating his…mistresses with respect and gives them whatever they want, I don’t want you to become one of them.”
“I don’t want to find out either. I will kill him before he has an opportunity to make me one of his lady friends. If he slurps that disgusting tongue down my hand again, I’m going to poke his eyes out.”
My situation continues to fall apart. “And what did he mean by having me dressed appropriately?”
Leonardo swallowed hard. “He means you are to be wearing somewhat less than you have on now.”
I spun around to glare at him. “What? You mean he wants me naked?”
Leonardo raised his hands in a placating gesture. “No, no Bella, it means he wants you in…a nightdress.” Leonardo looked incredibly uncomfortable not daring to look me in the eyes.
“Ha, well that’s not happening either, gees, the man has a young wife and mistresses. What is he? A nymphomaniac or something?” I let out a sigh my problems had just grown, now I had the Lord of Milan wanting a piece of me too.
I threw myself in the chair at the table. “What am I going to do?” With Cesare Borgia wanting to take me in for questioning and now this tongue licking Sforza insisting I have to face his court and his private suite, I felt as if I was stuck between a rock and a fifty-foot drop to a cavern full of snakes.
Leonardo put his hand on my shoulder and Solai hugged me from the side, it was comforting I can’t deny, and comfort was what I wanted at this moment.
“Do not fear we will find a solution.” Leonardo murmured. “Now let us eat and then work on your painting for a little longer.” He was trying to sound confident that we could solve all these problems, but I could hear it in his voice that he was just as anxious as I was.
I spent the afternoon sitting for Leonardo and by the time he was finished for the day my back and neck ached. The maestro hadn’t said much during the afternoon, whether he was concentrating on the painting or on the problem I couldn’t say.
Solai came up behind me and massaged my neck and kneaded my back. It felt wonderful as his hands worked out the kinks and knots. I moaned with the relief.
“I said did I not Bella I have great hands?”
“Hmmmmm.” I moaned at his kneading. When he was done I stood and stretched out, feeling better for hs massage.
Coming around the canvas to see what Leonardo had done, it caught my breath. It was only the bones of a painting but there was no disputing that it was me.
“Oh Leonardo, that is beautiful.”
“It is only the beginning, I do think though that I have captured the iron in your eyes.” He laughed no doubt thinking that was from glaring at Mr tongue licking toad.
“Well you are indeed an extraordinary artist. I can’t tell you how honored I am that you would even consider painting me.” I was flattered, how many could say that they had sat for the famous Leonard da Vinci. Now why would I even think that, how strange my thoughts were. I said things and thought things that made no sense at all. Come on memory show your bloody self. I cursed.