The Long Shadow
On the first Sunday after Easter, the year he returned from his studies, Rene and Bella wed. After a two-year engagement, Rosalba and Emilio were married by Bishop DiMars with all the grandeur, pomp, and excess that one might imagine. Testaoro laughingly paid the sumptuary taxes. He clad his daughter in a dress that was so heavy with gold thread and jewels that the dressmaker had to work with a metal smith. He created an umbrella-shaped frame with little wheels that supported the bell-shaped outer skirt and kept it off the floor.
Cesare and Marcella at last became lovers. She was hesitant at first to give herself to Cesare out of wedlock, and he did not insist. She changed her mind when the four horsemen galloped up the path and into the yard between the cottage and the workshop. They turned their neighing horses about and trampled part of Marcella’s garden. She hid inside and watched from behind the shuttered window. They were one of the groups of witch hunters sent out by the bishop or the mayor.
Antonio Gardetto, a known thug and bully, wore a bronze badge on a heavy chain, proof that he was an agent of the bishop. Marcella stepped away from the window. Her heart beat wildly and, even in a state of fright, she had the presence of mind to collect her clothing draped over a chair back to dry and stash her wash under the bed.
Gardetto dismounted; handed the reins to Nino, his loyal half-witted aide; and went to the workshop. Gardetto dragged the door open and cast a shadow across the threshold. Cesare heard the commotion and readied himself for whatever Chance might deliver to his door.
Cesare removed his apron, draped it over his arm and a held a large, sharp chisel in his hand. He felt like a gladiator, his apron his net and his chisel his trident. Cesare greeted his unwanted guest with a cordial smile. “Good sir, how can I help you today?” he asked.
“Hear me Lippo, Bishop DiMars has sent us to the country. We seek witches and demons.”
Cesare gave an expectant look that invited Antonio to continue.
“Have you seen anyone suspicious or women traveling alone on the road below?”
Cesare wrinkled his brow and cocked his head and held his inquisitor in suspense for a long few seconds. “Good sir, I spend time in my workshop. How can I help you? How can I tell if someone is suspicious?”
Antonio relaxed his shoulders. “We will decide if they are suspicious.”
“It reassures me a man like you represents the bishop and his effort to root out the witches and demons in our midst. God bless you.” Cesare gave a very convincing, heartfelt nod. “Would you and your men like drink or food?”
Antonio was unused to the cooperative manner and respect he received from Cesare. “We must be moving on,” he said briskly.
“Sir, I rarely leave my work, how will I get you word?”
“We will come back by and by.” Antonio took the reins from Nino and mounted his horse. The other two horsemen, also known troublemakers, maneuvered their horses so the animals could eat the vegetables and greens they just trampled while they waited for their leader.
The four took off in a slow canter down the hill. Cesare went to the head of the trail and waited for them to be out of sight before he returned to the cottage. He called out, “Little Bird, where are you?”
“Are they gone?” Cesare heard her muffled voice.
“Where are you?”
“Under the bed,” she answered.
Cesare lifted the corner of the bed. Marcella was on her stomach. She held the sharp cook knife in her hand, pulled herself along the floor, and when she was clear of the bed rail, she got to her knees. Cesare offered his hand. She dropped the knife, and he helped her to her feet. The moment she was up, she wrapped her arms around Cesare and held him. Marcella pressed her cheek against his chest. When she felt safe and secure again, she looked up at Cesare and gave him several long, lingering kisses. Marcella wriggled her shoulders free of his embrace. She held Cesare at arm’s length and looked at him with glowing serenity in her eyes. She took his hand, kissed it, slipped it under her blouse, pressed it to her breast, and held it there. Marcella surrendered to his touch. She no longer felt vulnerable. Instead she felt the full purpose for her existence. A rare excitement coursed through her body and stung her in that most secret place until she overflowed with the anticipation of passion.
Marcella slipped off her clothes and stood naked before him in the golden light that streamed through the open window. She looked beautiful. Marcella knelt and removed Cesare’s clogs and socks. She unlaced his britches and slowly pulled them down so he could step out of them. She stood and pulled his shirt up over his head, folded it, and placed in on the side table; then she took his hand, and they sat on her bed.
Cesare shared Marcella’s embrace and warmth and passion. He was gentle and kind with his lovemaking. She welcomed his kisses and the capable and delicate touch of his fingertips as he guided them over her breasts and down her midriff, playfully circling her navel and finally cupping her downy Venus mound. Marcella pushed against his warm hand, lifting her hips off the bed until an uncontrollable tremor rolled through every part of her body. He loved how willing but unsure and awkward she was and the brave way she bore him until he entered her.
They nestled in each other’s arms and shared the effortless endearments of two lovers until twilight. Not once did Marcella feel guilt or shame or sin, only the gift of love she allowed herself to have.