Alchemist's Gift

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Life

Days followed nights and nights followed days as time lazily passed for Cesare and Marcella. Even though they would never be able to marry in the church, Marcella was sure that God looked down at their love as something sacred and pure. She called Cesare “good husband” just as her mother had called Farintino. Cesare found joy in almost everything she did.

Giovanni Bellini visited Cesare every few weeks with news of Terra Sanctus and Antonio Gardetto, and his witch hunters stopped in only twice in the eight months that followed their first visit. Both times Marcella was not discovered. Cesare visited Terra Sanctus every few months for supplies. Sometimes he had to leave to accept a commission. Marcella missed him fiercely and could not concentrate on anything until she saw him in the distance on the road or heard him coming up the path.

The skies were gray and all but sunless over Terra Sanctus around the time of the autumnal equinox in the year of our Lord 1502. The weather had been troublesome so Bishop DiMars hurried through the trial of his six witches. He and Renaldi took it upon themselves to usurp Conte Emilio d’Benevita’s authority and speed the trials along. The date was set for the burning. It was on everyone’s minds. The town wags suddenly became quite sanctimonious and spoke of it day and night.

Giovanni Bellini sat with Cesare and a quiet and an anxious Marcella at the kitchen table in the cottage and relayed the story of the burning being halted by the rain and the miracle of Bianca Molina. Cesare was most interested in the wood that refused to burn.

“You are very quiet today,” Giovanni addressed Marcella, who had not said more than three words that entire morning.

“The thought of being burned at the stake is very frightening. Those poor women. If I had stayed in town I might have been one of them.”

“Thank your wise aunt and this kind gentleman for your safety.”

Marcella silently nodded and looked back down at a tiny knot on the tabletop that resembled an eye.

“Little Bird, you have not eaten anything for midday.”

Even though she made the vegetable stew as before, today the smell of it made her nauseous. She picked up some bread and ate just enough to settle her stomach. “No, Cesare, I have no appetite for stew today.” She looked at Giovanni and then back at Cesare. “Please excuse me. I must lie down. I feel so tired.”

“Of course, Little Bird. Do rest.”

Marcella poured her bowl of stew back into the pot and nodded to Giovanni and Cesare. She slipped behind the privacy screen, sat on the bed and had to pull the sandals off her swollen feet. Marcella rubbed the small of her aching back. Just yesterday she had noticed how hard it was to do the scrubbing.

She lied down on the bed and closed her eyes. Her blouse weighed heavily on her chest and only by pulling it up over her breast did she feel better. Marcella wondered why she had not been visited by the blood curse since the Feast Day of Saint Verena eight weeks past.

Marcella was unable to sleep but did find comfort in the birds’ songs and the wind whispering in the trees. Marcella just lay there with her eyes closed and listened to Cesare and Giovanni talk about the miraculous ending to the witch burning. She did drift in and out of sleep and was awakened by Giovanni’s laughter when he said goodbye.

She heard the door close, and Cesare cross the room. He moved the privacy screen. Marcella opened her eyes and pulled her blouse back down, and gave an embarrassed smile to Cesare. He knelt next to the bed and just looked at her.

“How do you feel? Any better?”

Marcella took his hand and entwined her fingers in his. “Maybe a little better. What is the matter with me? I cannot eat anything, and I am so tired. I have never felt like this before.” She dabbed away the glistening tear at the corners of her eyes. “And now this! I seem to want to cry over nothing and everything. Is God punishing me because we are not married?”

Cesare sat on the bed and cradled her in his arms. “God does not punish anyone. We punish ourselves. Marcella, God has given us a gift. Rejoice. You are with child.”

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