Alchemist's Gift

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The Light of a Single Candle

Giovanni Bellini trudged up the path to Cesare’s cottage. He was greeted with a joyful bird song and a cooling breeze. It was midmorning, and he was hungry and thirsty. He came without Jezebel, and he came with news for both Cesare and Marcella.

Giovanni knocked on the front door. When no one answered, he walked around the side of the house. He saw Marcella kneeling under the warm sun in her vegetable garden, watering her plants from a brown and white goatskin bag. She looked up at Giovanni and stood.

“Good morning, sir. It is a lovely day, is it not?” Marcella could not stop smiling. On this day, the sun shone brighter, and the air was fresher. The trees were greener and the sky bluer. All that morning, if a song came to her lips, she gladly shared it with the cosmos in a voice both confident and sweet.

“Why yes, a most beautiful day,” Giovanni took off his cap and wiped the sweat away from his brow.

Marcella quit the garden. She handed Giovanni the goatskin and after an appreciative nod he drank and dried his lips on the back of his hand. “And how are you, signorina?”

Marcella savored the question. “I feel wonderful.” She smiled and took the goatskin back, tapped in the stopper with the palm of her hand and slung it over her shoulder.

Giovanni was sensitive to Marcella’s joyful and radiant demeanor and could not help but smile along with her, “And Master Lippo?”

“Let us go to his workshop and ask him.” Marcella skipped ahead of Giovanni across the yard to the door to the workshop. She waited for Giovanni, and they entered together.

“Cesare, look who is here.” She already visited the workshop several times that morning, for no other reason than to stand next to Cesare and watch him carve.

“Salve brother Giovanni.” Cesare put his chisel down and dusted a few wood chips off the front of his shirt. He gave Giovanni a hug.

“Little Bird, go to the house and prepare us something to eat.”

Marcella wanted to hug Cesare before she left the workshop but held back. She was new to this strange state and did not know the rules. She left him with a loving look and a girlish grin.

When the two men were alone Giovanni spoke, “Ah my friend, I have some unsettling news. Bishop DiMars has the town convinced that there are witches everywhere. So now one must be very careful. He has even put a bounty on them.”

Cesare’s brow furrowed at the news. “A bounty? That is very frightening. Do you realize where this could lead?”

“Yes. As if the Turks and the plague are not enough, now we have witches and demons to contend with.”

Cesare and Giovanni entered the cottage while Marcella busied herself with their early lunch. She cut up some apples and pears and some hard cheese. She already had the half dozen rolls from last night on the hearth warming. Cesare brought a stool in off the back stoop and set it next to his chair. Giovanni sat. Marcella set out the food and poured some diluted wine for all three. Cesare took his seat, and Marcella sat next to him.

“Let us thank the Lord for our food.” Marcella, bowed her head, made the sign of the cross, took Cesare’s hand, and offered her other hand to Giovanni. “Bless this food, oh Lord, and may it give us the strength to do your will. Amen.”

After a few bites, Cesare spoke. “Giovanni tells me that DiMars seems to be following suite with the Rhineland, France, and Spain.”

Marcella chewed the bit of pear and swallowed it. “How?”

“Tell her, Giovanni.”

“Bishop DiMars and Mayor Renaldi have everyone doubting everyone else. Anyone might be a witch or in league with--pardon for saying its name in your house--Satan.”

“Why now? Why would there all of a sudden be witches and demons in Terra Sanctus?”

“Little Bird, too many people are driven by fear and too few are driven by love. What better way to have power over someone than with what they fear? And if the people have nothing to fear, those in power will find something new for them to be afraid of.”

Cesare’s words saddened Marcella. She looked at Bellini, who nodded in agreement with his friend.

“Is what you say true?” asked Marcella.

Cesare put his hand on top of Marcella’s. Bellini noticed and smiled inwardly. “Yes, Little Bird. We lose our freedom if we choose to live in fear.”

“Master Lippo is right, signorina. We are given the gift of free will, and it is up to each one of us to choose our path wisely.” Giovanni went to a brighter note. “Your Aunt Prunella seems in good health, I am happy to tell you. I spoke with her the other day at the market. The twins were with her, one on each side.”

“Did she mention me?” Marcella asked hopefully.

“No, not even after I intimated that I was your ally. She is a very wise woman to keep silent.”

“Especially with the townspeople on a witch hunt,” Cesare added.

“Do they say anything about me?” Marcella slipped her hand from underneath Cesare’s and onto her lap.

“I brought the subject up to everyone I spoke with, of course in a roundabout way.”

“What are they saying?” asked Marcella.

Cesare slipped his hand under the table and took hold of Marcella’s.

“You are still a topic of gossip and talk. But thanks to Signore Conino and his indiscretions, he has become the new talk of the town. Then there was the fire at the chandlers that also burned down Carbone’s butcher shop.”

Marcella felt a tickle of satisfaction at the news and a tinge of guilt for feeling so cavalier toward the Carbones. The crude and uncouth Signora Carbone had not only spit on her but helped turn the other townsfolk against her. “I hope no one was hurt.”

“No, no one was hurt, thank the Good Lord. It was fortunate you were nowhere near. Signora Carbone was sure the fire was the work of the devil and his demons.” Giovanni slipped a slice of apple into his mouth.

“I miss my Zietta, and the twins, and going to mass.” She turned her hand over in Cesare’s so they could lie palm-to-palm, and entwined her fingers with his.

Bellini looked over to Cesare. “If I may, Master Lippo…” Then he returned his attention to Marcella. “I would strongly advise you not to come back. Not now, anyway.”

“What is this bounty you mentioned?” asked Cesare.

“A silver piece for an accusation of witchcraft. Now every lay-about is a spy working for DiMars or Renaldi’s little political machine.”

“Renaldi too, eh?” affirmed Cesare.

“Yes. Renaldi and DiMars want to make names for themselves, and if it takes the lives of a few old women, so be it.”

“Even the fiercest lion only kills to eat, not for advantage, and certainly does not kill its own. That, my friend, is why I live away from Terra Sanctus.” Cesare raised his clay tumbler as to make a toast. “To the refuge we find in ourselves and those close to us.”

Cesare returned to his work, and Giovanni stayed a little longer for Marcella’s sake. They sat at the table and chatted for a good two hours before he felt it was time to go. “Give my love to Zietta Prunella and tell her I am learning how to read.”

Giovanni went to the workshop. “Well, my friend, I must away to town. I congratulate you and Marcella. It is a wonderful thing to see a handsome, strong young woman in love with someone as worthy as you.”

“Thank you, my brother.”

“La signorina wants me to convey a message to her aunt. What are your thoughts?”

“This might be time to visit Terra Sanctus. I do not want to put you in any danger, or any of Marcella’s family members. Travel well and safely, and thank you for taking the time to sit and talk with her.”

Giovanni patted his friend on the shoulder and left him to his work.

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