Alchemist's Gift

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There Is No Darkness But Ignorance

The Andano house was now a place of silent sorrow. Farintino did not realize how much he had grown to love Amelia. He did not understand why she was taken away. Marcella questioned her faith. Father Eduardo told himself and Marcella that the Lord worked in strange and marvelous ways. In the abstract, that explanation was acceptable; in reality it seemed thin and dubious. She could not understand how an all-loving God could collect the soul of someone who had lived such a pious life and then not be given the opportunity to confess her sins, do her penance, and receive Holy Communion to insure her place at His side.

Rini, Farintino’s favorite, stayed on along with her two-year-old and her servant for a month after her mother’s funeral. Marcella lied when she told her sisters, Farintino, and Father Eduardo that their mother had confided in her not that long ago that she felt unworthy to be laid to rest next to Master Fausto and Mistress Beatrica. It was a fabrication that wasn’t questioned, and so Amelia was interred with the space of two graves between a mother-in-law she had never met and a man who had raped and bullied her into a life of guilt and shame.

The marketplace gossip mongers greedily told and retold the story, adding an orgy of incredible and delectable details. Depending on whose version piqued one’s interest, Amelia was slain by Saint Michael, who in an invisible form had entered the bath water and wrestled her under to her death for desecrating Fausto’s grave. Another believed Amelia drowned herself as her own punishment for being “that tart from the south.”

Marcella had always been marked as odd. She matured too early with the responsibility of taking care of her little sisters. She was a little too serious, and to her detriment, she did not recognize her femininity as a barrier to anything. Her natural curiosity gave her little time for a friend or playmate, and that left her socially awkward. To make matters worse, she wore her hair short and sometimes ventured out of the house in trousers that made her an easy target for her contemporaries to tease and taunt. Because she quietly held her head high and acted indifferently, she was considered secretive and aloof. The girls stopped their taunting as they found no sport in it. Marcella was a disappointment to the other girls, and so she became unimportant and invisible. Because of her peripheral status, the most damaging and fantastic tale made Marcella a blasphemer who was in league with the Dark Angel and caused her mother to drown to show the young and inexperienced Father Eduardo the powers of her evil master.

Marcella was noticeably absent from mass after her mother died. She was angry with God. After hearing “God works in mysterious ways” once too often from a well-meaning townsman, she let her feelings slip out in a barrage of angry words aimed at the Creator. Unfortunately, she was at the market place for everyone to hear. Prunella knew the power of pettiness and the wicked charge some people feel when they cause another pain or to fall. Prunella was far seeing enough to realize her niece’s untimely diatribe would be cause for her to be called before the bishop. Though that action was only a rumor at the moment, she knew rumors, with a little help, had a way of actualizing.

The remedy was to send Marcella away until her limelight faded, and even then there was no guarantee that she would not be accused of heresy or of being a witch.

On this particular morning, armed with a piece of gold readily offered by Farintino, Prunella, along with Pietro, headed away from Terra Sanctus down the country lane those four long miles to seek the safe and secluded cottage and favor of her acquaintance, Cesare Lippo.

With the story just told Prunella asked, “You are an honest and trustworthy man, Cesare. You will you give Marcella refuge? Yes?”

Cesare abhorred cruelty of any kind and the special madness of the witch burnings. He remembered the day Marcella had come with her sister Miranda to buy the coffin. Prunella brought him the chance to help at least one person. “Yes. She may be my guest and for as long as she likes.”

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