Alchemist's Gift

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Cesare was up early the next morning. He grabbed a few rolls, a handful of nuts, and an apple, and put them in his hip pouch. He donned his cloak and placed the strap of his water skin over his shoulder. Cesare looked in on Marcella. She was asleep. The faint glow of dawn barely lit the room. He gently kissed her on the forehead and quietly headed out the door.

It was cold enough outside for him to see his breath. He plunged his hands into the folds of his cloak for warmth. His face and ears tingled. He trudged down the dirt path onto the muddy road. The rising sun crested on the mist-shrouded hills and Cesare welcomed the warmth on his back. He held a steady pace.

Cesare was going to Terra Sanctus to seek out and employ a metalsmith to create the small shields that were part of the decorative element on the cabinet he was going to make. He had received a commission from Conte Emilio d’Benevita for a very special cabinet. After seeing Cesare’s other work, the conte left the overall design to the master craftsman.

Over the years, Conte Emilio and his fellow alumnus Rene Hermes, now doctor to the court of Gunter the Just, had become very close friends. The cabinet was to be a very special gift for Rene. The conte stressed that it was of the utmost importance that the cabinet be executed exactly as illustrated on the detailed diagram as to the arrangement of the decorative metal scales.

Cesare wanted the perfect wood for the cabinet. He wanted the wood that came from Signore Mezzi’s apple tree. Cesare was sure the wood was blessed with some unusual qualities.

His thoughts also happily returned to Marcella. She had been away from the cottage less than a dozen times in the past year and a half. She was still hunted as a witch and each time she entered Terra Sanctus she was hidden in Giovanni’s cart. Marcella made her secret visits to Aunt Prunella whose health and mind had, unfortunately, begun to decline. On her last visit, Prunella did not know who Marcella was. That was the last time Marcella risked returning.

The witch hunters found their practice a lucrative business and others found it morbidly exhilarating. Now every woman, every wife, and every daughter did their public errands humbly and quickly, and when their errands were done, they fled to the relative safety of their homes.

The people witnessed public whippings, beheadings, and hangings. As far as Bishop DiMars and Mayor Renaldi were concerned those public displays were over much too quickly. There was no spectacle to it. A burning had spectacle. Everyone could be made fearful for their souls. Anyone could be a witch’s victim, anyone could make an accusation with no more proof than their word, anyone could be burned as a witch.

Cesare heard talking and looked up. He saw two men coming toward him. One led a donkey that was pulling a two-wheel cart. They stopped when they came upon each other.

“Good day, sir,” the young man leading the cart said. His companion nodded, and the donkey exhaled cones of frosty breath from its nostrils.

“Good day to you, young man. Certainly a brisk morning, is it not?”

The young man rubbed his hands together and blew into them several times to feel the fleeting warmth. “You will get no argument from me, sir.” The other young man pulled his cloak that much tighter and shivered. “Were you here for the burning yesterday?”

“No, I was not. I take it you were.” Cesare slipped his hand through the slit in his cloak, opened his pouch and pulled out two of the four rolls he had brought for his lunch. He offered one to the donkey’s handler and tossed the other one to his companion.

The boy took a bite. “Oh yes, sir, a remarkable day. We saw our Contessa Rosalba. The campanile bell was struck by lightning and fell to the ground. And we saw the miracle. Oh yes, sir, our Lord cleansed Bianca Molina of leprosy.”

“A miracle, you say.”

Both men gave an enthusiastic nod. Thank you for the bread.

“Travel well, and may you reach your destination safely.”

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