Chapter Twenty Four
I awoke to the still shuffling and rocking of the caravan, having had the same dream as every night ending with someone calling me.
Rosa turned her head a wide smile on her face. “Ah you are awake child, we will be stopping soon for the night. Just beside you there is a skin of water.” She turned back as I wiped the sleep from my eyes.
I found the skin and took a gulp of the warm water, it wasn’t the best tasting more like the leather it was encased in than fresh, still my mouth was dry, so I couldn’t really complain. It would seem I had slept most of the day as the sky beyond the caravan began to dim into twilight.
It wasn’t until I descended from the caravan that I saw there were at least another thirty caravans had been travelling with us, I thought we had been travelling alone. The caravans were parked in a circle and already fires were being lit. Someone was playing a concertina instrument and singing.
Rosa had been shuffling around in the caravan but when she descended approached me with clothes in her hand.
“Child, I need you to go into the caravan and change. We may be stopped by soldiers and you need to look like you belong. I have also left you a bowl of water and a cloth to dry so that you can refresh yourself.”
“Thank you.” I took the clothes and climbed back into the caravan washed and dressed in the clothes that Rosa had given me. A bright red and black striped skirt had plenty of room and sat over the top of a white under skirt. A black shirt with wide sleeves, was elaborated decorated with colorful embroidery of flowers and vines. The bright blue laced vest embroidered with purple flowers.
Rosa climbed in and wrapped a purple tasseled shawl around my waist, tied at the hip. She slipped soft leather boots onto my feet then undid my plaits that Solai had spent an hour creating to let my hair fall, wrapping a scarf around my head.
When I was fully dressed, she lined my eyes in black kohl and large hoop earrings in my ears.
“Child now you look like a Romanian gypsy, like one of us.” She clasped her hands beneath her chin with that beautiful motherly smile before handing me a small mirror that had a crack down the centre splitting my face in half, I hardly recognized myself, I certainly looked like a gypsy.
Rosa took my clothes, crossbow and harness and lifting a hatch in the floor she dropped them in. When she closed the hatch, she covered it with a small carpet.
“There they are safe for the moment.” She smiled then removing some metal bracelets from her arms Rosa slipped them onto mine. She helped me down out of the caravan, for such a big woman she was extremely agile. Her husband Germaine strode up to us.
“Germaine does she not look like a gypsy now?”
Germaine smiled. “Yes, Rosa she does, do you know she looks a little like your sister Maria.”
Rosa looked sad but only for a moment before her face lifted once more into a smile. I wasn’t going to ask her about her sister, it was obviously a painful memory by the look that had crossed her face.
We spent the night laughing and I was taught some dances to music from guitars, tambourines, flutes and concertinas. Everyone laughed and smiled and ate. I was introduced to many of the other gypsies. Without any warning Rosa and Germaine had given me a new name, Mariana. It didn’t really bother me because I still couldn’t remember what the hell my name was.
The evening had been fun and helped me to relax. I was though still worrying about the trouble Leonardo and Solai could have gotten into with my disappearance. I sat back and watched the love that Rosa had for Germaine, he touched and kissed her often as if they were just married.
An ache and tightness spread through my chest as if I was missing someone, but who, I wish I could remember. Others around the fire all seemed to be happy, but now and again I caught a haunting in their eyes that these people even though they laughed and sang had horrors in their past, losing loved ones on their journey.
As people said goodnight and fires burned down, I felt totally exhausted. I had enjoyed myself laughing and dancing and for just a short while forgetting that I was running from Lord Sforza, Cesare Borgia and someone invisible that I had no clue who they were. Even the shouts and shadows that wrecked my sleep, forgotten, just for a little while.
“You enjoyed yourself little dove.” Came a voice behind me.
I turned to see a young man with glinting brown eyes sparking with lights from the fire.
“Er…yes thank you, I did.”
A handsome young man with a white shirt that was open to a golden-brown chest. He smiled with a grin revealing white teeth, his dark hair falling over his forehead into his eyes.
He held out his hand. “I am Mihai.”
I looked at his hand and took it in a weak shake. “Mariana.”
“I know.” He said as he bent and kissed the back of my hand before I could pull it away. “A beautiful name for a beautiful woman. I watched you dance.”
I pulled my hand back, he was definitely a smooth talker. “Well, it is nice to meet you Mihai, but I think it is time for sleep now, so I wish you goodnight.” Stepping to the side to walk around him he grabbed my wrist, not in a hurtful way, but firm. I stopped, and my breath hitched.
“Will you dance with me on the morrow?” I was distracted by him rubbing circles with his thumb on the back of my hand, jerking my hand back once again.
“We’ll see, now I need to sleep.” I hurried to Rosa and Germaine’s caravan and heaved myself up as quick as I could, not turning back to look at him, I didn’t miss hearing his chuckle.
I sit down on the bed as Rose climbed aboard.
“Mariana it was good to see you laughing and having fun.” Her brilliant wide smile made you feel like you belonged. “Germaine will be on guard duty tonight, with several of the other men. Sleep now we will be leaving before dawn.”
“Rosa where are we going?”
She patted my head as if I was a child. “We are heading east and then we will turn north to Bergamo. Sleep now, we have an early start.” And with that she made her way to the raised bed and settled herself on it.
I lay on the bed listening to the sounds outside, men giving orders and pots and pans being reloaded. The whines of donkeys and the tinkle of bells around some of the horse’s necks. I laughed to myself thinking there was no way this procession could sneak by anything with the clanking of pots, pans, bells and singing.
As the sounds from outside dinned down my eyelids became heavy and I drifted off to swirling grey mists and darkened images.
The face of a man appeared encircled by a swirling mist, dark hair and blue eyes, a rugged handsome face, high cheekbones and a cleft in his chin. He looked so sad and alone as if he was searching for something or someone. Rosa stirred in her bed.
“Child it is time to rise we must be on our way.” Rosa muttered as she heaved herself down off her bed. Any images I had dreamed about had always dissipated as I woke but this last one of the handsome man from my dreams stayed with me.
Was he friend or foe? Was he looking for me? His image stayed in my mind as questions of who he was circulated my thoughts. Did he love me, or did he want to hurt me? A niggling feeling had me believing he meant something to me, that he was not anyone to be afraid of.
It was still dark outside but the sound of stirrings and horses and donkeys being readied and harness to caravans grew. Rosa disappeared outside only to return minutes later with bread and water.
“Here child renew your strength, we will stop at midmorning for food and drink, but for now help me to put these things away. She said quietly pointing to pans and pots that she used last night.
Soon we were once again underway the caravan lumbering along with the sounds of bells and the jangling and clatter of pots and pans. Thoughts to the man with the handsome face of my dreams came to the forefront of my mind. My chest clenched with that same feeling of loss again. I was certain he belonged to me. Whoever you are come find me.
When we stopped late in the day and the caravans made a circle the way they had done last night. I helped Rosa with her pots and pans, and she showed me how to make a stew that smelled delicious. I was though, only half there in mind, not being able to let the face I had seen in my dream go.
My heart felt heavy for the sadness in his eyes. I sat on the ground with a hot tea, stirring into the flames of the fire unaware of the singing and dancing going on around me. I almost prayed for the end of the night to come, hoping I could see his face once again.
I excused myself from the evening before the young man that had approached me last night could come and want to dance with me. Germaine escorted me back to the caravan.
The following week I helped Rosa but wouldn’t spend any night near the campfire. I told Rosa I wasn’t feeling well and she or her husband brought me dinner each night. They didn’t ask but I could tell by the look on their faces they were worried about me. I didn’t tell them it was a simple case of not wanting to dance with the young man.
On the tenth day of travelling we stopped for the night near a stream. I had run out of excuses why I wouldn’t take dinner with the rest of them and allowed Rosa to lead me to one of the fires that had been built and blazing in dark of the night.
Everyone seemed a little more relaxed the further we travelled from Milan. I listened to beautiful music and laughed at the antics of a man name Callias juggling soft balls in the air.
Once again, the image of the man from dreams pushed forward in my mind. Please come for me soon.
The deep voice of Mihai came from behind me.
“Mariana would you dance with me?”
I didn’t really want to, content to sit by the fire thinking about the face. Mihai came around and took my hand pulling me to my feet and to his chest. “Please Mariana, come dance with me.”
I sighed. “Very well but just one.” I agreed letting him lead me to the ground were others were dancing.
We danced but Mihai wouldn’t let go of my hand, spinning me around and looking at me with hooded eyes. When the dance came to an end I tried to pull away, but he pulled me harder against him. “Mariana come walk with me.”
“No, I think I need to go and sleep, but thank you for the dance.” Again, I tried to pull away, his hands holding my wrists firmly.
“Mihai, please I need to go.” I didn’t want to walk with him. He was a handsome man but the face from my dreams still haunted me and the last thing I wanted was for Mihai to make an advance, as if the dancing had not been enough.
Mihai suddenly brought his lips to mine holding me against him hard. I brought my hands up and pushed him away, slapping his face hard. “No.” I said firmly and backed up a few steps. “You had no right.”
Angered crossed his face and once again he grabbed my arm trying to pull me away. I dug my heels in the ground and pulled back. “No! Mihai let go, Now.”
A rug of war ensued, he thinking that I was some simple little girl who would do as he told me. If he thought I was going to be submissive to him he had another thing coming. I didn’t want to hurt him but he wasn’t taking my no as an answer.