Half A Dream
by Elena Clark
moved, the shadow
under his skin moved almost, but not quite, with him.
it could best be seen
in bright sunlight, but Giacomo knew it was still there even at
inseparable from the Prince as the inside of his head.
at high noon,
it stood out sharply
in the dark circles under his eyes and the hollows of his cheeks.
Prince Luca was a pale
boy, and had never
run to baby fat. He
that he felt perfectly well, but at thirteen he was still small and
he looked perpetually tired, even as he dragged Giacomo out to the
for sword practice.
Giaco; Marco and Gianni and Marcello will all be down there
already,” he said,
pulling on Giacomo’s sleeve impatiently.
you’d let all of
us spar together today.”
Marcello were all
dukes’ sons who were currently being fostered in the
Children’s Castle in order
to give Prince Luca someone to look down on.
Or so Giacomo had gathered from overhearing the
Queen’s remarks on the
matter. Only it
wasn’t working. Luca
had immediately taken to treating the
other boys like the older brothers that his real older brother, Prince
Desiderato, wouldn’t be for him.
it was because he was still so small, Giacomo thought.
He hoped Luca’s hero-worship of the bigger
boys wouldn’t blind him to their faults.
Luca was of an age to fall under others’
and his assumption that
everyone else was as noble as he was meant he had little protection
Marcello were indeed
already waiting for them down in the courtyard, horsing around with
wooden practice swords despite the oppressive summer heat. They
when Giacomo told
them, “At attention, my Lords.
not let me catch you at that again.”
just having fun because you were
late,” said Gianni. “You
us to sit around doing nothing but sewing wedding clothes, like
filled Luca’s face almost
covered over the shadow, but Giacomo could still see it lurking there.
duke’s son does not speak slightingly
of princesses,” Giacomo said, making Gianni’s face
go darker than Luca’s. “And
swords, even wooden ones, are weapons,
not toys. If you
are to train with me,
you will respect that.”
he wanted to argue,
but thought better of it and muttered, “It was only a
one. To your
places, your Highness, my Lords.”
boys until all of
them except Luca were drooping. He
pleased to see that Luca could outfight any of them easily.
He was small, but he was
quick and brave. And,
of course, he practiced with Giacomo
every day, while the other boys only had Maestro Terzio, the weapons
train them. Long
after the other boys
had begun to struggle sluggishly under the midday sun, Luca was still
his sword enthusiastically, and jumping from foot to foot whenever he
wait for the others to catch their breath.
your Highness, my Lords,” said
Giacomo eventually. “The
knows not to overtire himself training.”
just getting warmed up, Giaco!”
Luca protested as the other boys dropped their swords gratefully onto
gave Luca hateful looks
he seemed not to notice.
your swords, my Lords,” Giacomo
told them. “A
good fighter never allows himself
to be separated
from his weapon.
boys picked up
their swords and
followed Luca to the weapons rack, their backs radiating resentment
riding today, Giaco?” asked
Luca when he came back. “Please?
you’d take me riding!”
painting and dancing this
afternoon,” Giacomo reminded him.
Benvenuto stayed up all night
painting the Great Hall. He’s
to teach today.”
dancing lesson with Maestra
stayed up all night with Maestro
started laughing and
poking each other. They
stopped for a
moment when Giacomo looked at them, but then Marco made a crude hand
and they burst into gales of laughter again.
Luca stared at them in confusion.
don’t see what’s so funny,” he
hands get tired after a
while, so he needs her to hold things for him.
He says she’s much better at it than any of
made the other
boys laugh so hard
they had to hold onto each other to stay upright, to Luca’s
expression only increased their mirth.
what’s so funny?” he asked, hurt
creeping into his voice. “I
what’s so funny about that.”
prince should find amusing,”
Giacomo said, giving the other boys a look that penetrated even their
let us leave them to their base amusement.”
back at the other boys
as he followed Giacomo across the courtyard and into the
still don’t see what’s so
funny,” he repeated. “They’re
laughing about things I don’t understand, especially whenever
I mention Maestro
Benvenuto and Maestra Alessia. They
even make jokes about Adina, now that she’s going to be
people think that what goes on
between men and women is a subject for mirth,” Giacomo told
such crudeness is beneath a prince.”
Luca thought about that as they climbed the stairs to
top of his
what?” he asked.
sorry, your Highness?”
on between men and women that
they think is so funny? And
why is it
so crude to laugh about it?”
that need concern you, your
Highness,” said Giacomo swiftly.
to talk about it all the
time,” Luca said doubtfully.
“And so do
Desi and his friends. Even
talks about it sometimes, when he forgets I’m there.
But whenever I ask them
what they’re talking about, they either
get angry or they tell me I’ll find out soon enough.
But how am I going to find
out if they won’t tell me?”
wouldn’t worry about it if I were you,
your Highness,” Giacomo told him.
I’ll ask my mother or my sisters,
or Maestra Alessia,” said Luca thoughtfully.
“Maybe this is something ladies know lots more
about, like embroidery or
probably right, your Highness,”
said Giacomo. A
cold sweat of
embarrassment was breaking out over his warm sweat from training at the
of what the Queen would say to that.
The part of him that wasn’t agonizing over
to tell Luca was amused
at his awkwardness. “But
something they normally choose to discuss with men.
Ladies have things they like to keep to themselves,
But then how will I ever find out?”
happen of its own accord, your
Highness, and in good time.”
So can we go riding this afternoon?
Outside of the city?
please please? Everyone
else will be
welcoming the Astronomers’ Guild.
wanted to be there too and look at the astronomers, but Father said I
only get in the way and I had to wait until I reached my majority to
delegations. So can
we please go
not fair for me to be
locked in my room while everyone else gets to look at the
very hot today…” said Giacomo.
don’t mind! Please!”
you, Giaco, thank you thank
go tell them to ready our
turned around and rushed
back down the tower steps. Giacomo
followed just fast enough to keep him in sight.
Perhaps Luca didn’t mind the heat, but he did,
and he needed a
moment to think. He
wanted to make sure
that letting Luca go riding outside of the city was a good idea, and
wasn’t letting him do something dangerous because of his own
desire. Not to go
riding, but to keep Luca out in
the sun as much as possible, as if that would burn the shadow out of
knew it was
foolish, but he
couldn’t help but feel that enough time out in the light of
day would cleanse
Luca of the darkness he had been carrying around inside of him for the
four years. And the
more time Luca
spent outside with him, the less time he spent inside with Sauro.
He and Sauro had been
spending more and more
time in secret sessions. The
knew what they were up to, but Luca always returned from them shaking
silent, his face even more full of shadow.
Seeing it always made Giacomo swear that somehow, some
day, he would
break Luca of this shadow addiction.
But he didn’t want to give Luca heatstroke in
his attempts to cure him.
nonstop as they waited for
the stablehands to ready the horses, and continued talking as they
and rode away from the Castles. An
afternoon’s ride out beyond the city walls was a major event
for him, and he
seemed half-hysterical from this sudden good fortune.
go to the hills, Giaco, can we?”
he asked. “That
way we can look down
and see the whole city, like birds!”
suggestion, your Highness,” said
close to me now.” When
Luca was small Giacomo would put him up
in the saddle in front of him, but now Luca was much too big for that
to be allowed to ride on his own.
Giacomo was torn between pride at the way Luca sat his
skillfully as he did everything else, and nervousness at being so far
him. Until he had
bodyguard, Giacomo had always treated his mother’s anxiety
over his own safety
as a child with amused contempt. Now
shuddered just thinking of it.
the city streets
without incident until a beggar-woman standing at a corner suddenly
straightened up from her hunch and thrust a bundle of rags at Luca,
“For the baby, Signorino, for the baby.”
from her and looked
uncertainly at Giacomo.
Giacomo handed her a soldo.
had to brush her clutching hands from his leg before he could ride on.
she want, Giaco?” asked
did she want money?”
she had none, your Highness, and
she needed to feed her baby, or so she said.”
did she not ask her husband for
he has no money, or she has no
did not finish his question. His
mouth was pursed in a troubled frown, and it seemed to
Giacomo that the shadow stood out even more sharply in the hollows of
cheeks. He remained in his unhappy silence until they rode out the city
and climbed up the dusty hills to an overlook.
Up here, the scent of heat-scorched flowers overpowered
the smell of
nightsoil that filled the valley.
silent, Luca dismounted, tied up his horse, and sat on the bench,
over the city with a troubled look on his face.
many like her?” he asked
doesn’t anyone do anything about
they try, your Highness, but
still they cannot save all of them.
Some people will choose destruction even when they
don’t have to.”
Luca scraped his toe through the dust.
“Will the money you gave her be
today, your Highness.”
didn’t you give her more?
Why didn’t you give her enough for tomorrow,
and the next day, and the next week?
You have lots of money.” Anger rose higher in
Luca’s voice with every
enough money only for myself,
your Highness, and if I gave it all to her, she would only waste it,
would both be left with nothing.”
don’t know that. Why
are you always so quick to judge
people! Why do you
always think ill of
don’t you ever trust anyone!
I want to go home!”
Luca jumped up from the bench and ran over
to his horse, but not before Giacomo saw the tears he was trying to
have seen much more of the world than you, your Highness,”
Giacomo, following Luca over to the horses.
“And much of what I have seen has given me
to distrust my fellow
men. And my duty is
always to you and
no one else. I let
other people worry
about other people.”
maybe you should spend less time
thinking about me and more about other people!” Luca
finished untying his
horse and mounted, trying to keep his
back to Giacomo as much as possible.
“I’m going home!
Sauro told me I
could come to him this evening, and I don’t want to be
rode off, forcing Giacomo to scramble in
order to untie his horse and catch up with him.
he said, once he was level with
deliberately looked away,
probably to hide his tears.
is good that you care
so much about others. A
always thinks more of others than of himself.
And it is normal to be angry at your age.
Just remember that one day the anger will pass, and you
to live with yourself afterwards.
matter how angry he is, a true prince always…”
about a true prince!” screamed
up, shut up, shut up!! I
don’t want to be a true prince!”
himself from saying he
didn’t mean it just in time.
Luca ride ahead of him without speaking all the way back to the city.
He only broke the silence
as they drew near
the city gates, when he suggested that Luca clean off his face before
guards saw them, but Luca gave him such a look of burning hatred that
back at the Castles,
Luca threw his reins at the grooms and stormed into the
Children’s Castle and
up the stairs to his tower, his back radiating his overwhelming
to ignore the fact that Giacomo was shadowing his every step.
The only acknowledge he
made of Giacomo’s
presence was when he slammed his door in Giacomo’s face.
the matter with our princeling?”
asked Ulricco, who was patrolling the corridors and had unfortunately
to witness the scene. “Has
scorned by his lady-love?”
be,” Giacomo ordered, more
roughly than he meant to. “He’s
through a hard time right now.”
good whore wouldn’t cure, or
perhaps a willing chambermaid,” suggested Ulricco cheerfully.
“That would ease
He trailed off in belated embarrassment on
seeing Giacomo’s expression.
patrolling,” he said quickly.
be too careful with the Prince’s safety.”
cannot,” agreed Giacomo
nodded a couple
of times, took a few hesitant backward steps, and then turned and
his patrol, his posture indicating his unwavering commitment to his
least while Giacomo was watching.
room was right next to
went inside. Normally
the door between them was left
open, but now it was bolted shut.
hear Luca pacing back and forth on the other side of the wall.
He thought about knocking
and asking to come
in, but thought better of it. He
only make matters worse by trying to talk to Luca before he had calmed
down. He and Luca
had never had a serious fight
before—Giacomo didn’t count Luca’s
childhood tantrums as serious fights—but he
knew that Luca’s normally sunny disposition could turn to
sunstroke in an
instant, and when that happened the only thing to do was to wait until
fell on his mind and cooled it off.
sit down on his
bed. His room was
small and bare, and
there was nothing in it to occupy him while he waited.
Not that he would have been able to busy
himself with the activities of the enlightened, Reborn man he was
be while Luca was on the other side of a locked door from him.
His father would tell him
that making a
quick sketch or writing a sonnet would compose his mind, better
to fulfill his duties, but the anxiety that overcame him every time he
separated from Luca made it impossible to hold a pen.
He laced his fingers together and locked them over his
that he could pretend they weren’t shaking.
The sudden thought that maybe this fit of rage would
out of Luca made his heart squeeze with irrational hope.
sounded as if
Luca was sobbing with
rage into his pillows. Giacomo
not to listen too closely. It
to him that Luca had reached an age where he would not longer
Giacomo overhearing everything that went on his room.
Always before it had been a source of comfort to both of
remembered his own
childhood and was forced to admit that he wouldn’t have
constantly hovering over him when he had been Luca’s age,
the matter, your Highness?” said
a voice inside Luca’s room.
heart stabbed him in the chest
and began to hammer wildly. For
moment black clouds covered his eyes, and when they cleared he could
his pulse in his ears and throat.
cried Luca. “You
I’m so glad!
Where have you
detained on unavoidable business,
your Highness. But
I am back now. I
hope you are in no kind of trouble?”
sit down on the bed
next to Luca. The
thought made him feel
sick. But there was
nothing he could do
about it. He
couldn’t keep Sauro and
Luca apart, and he could do nothing to protect Luca from the shadow
carried inside him, especially since Luca had embraced it so
at Giaco,” Luca admitted
sure he will forgive you with no
hard feelings, your Highness.”
Luca’s voice trailed off, then suddenly burst
out: “Why does he have to
be like that? I
understand that Marco
and the others are stupid, they can’t help themselves, but
why can’t Giaco
understand me either? All
about is protecting me and turning me into ‘a true
prince,’ he never thinks
about anything else, and I’m tired of it!
And he acted like he didn’t even care about
poor woman we met on
told Sauro the
story of the beggar,
including everything that Giacomo had said afterwards, his voice rising
and higher with passionate indignation.
sorry you had to see that, your
Highness, but I am afraid your Giacomo has a point,” said
Sauro when he was
That can’t be true! We can’t just
leave people to suffer like that!
I won’t accept that!”
Giacomo could hear Luca jump off the bed and
begin pacing back and forth. “It
be right! Sauro,
you stand up for your
brothers who are being persecuted; surely you can see that this is just
bad! You should
help me in this!”
sorry, your Highness,” said
as you pointed out, I stand
up for my brothers who are being persecuted, and that takes all my time.
I cannot save everyone. No one
But I can save a few, and you can help me, if you wish.
I am glad to see you care
so strongly about
others. It is your
attribute. Use it
to help me in my
course, Sauro, of course! What
help do you need?”
me. I have been in
Prado, and came to Fiori only to see you.
I must return to Prado shortly.
Count Fabio has taken to persecuting members
of the Order with renewed zeal, and something must be done to stop him.
He seems to think that his
Princess Adorata has made him safe from Royal displeasure, and that he
as he pleases now.”
I’ll come! And
I’ve always wanted to go to Prado!
No one lets me go anywhere!
I’m not even allowed to go outside of the
Children’s Castle without permission.
Giacomo could hear Luca’s
face fall from the way his voice changed.
“They won’t let me go.”
take you anyway, if you wish, your
mean you can
just…take me away, like last time?
Can we travel all the way to Prado like
your Highness. It
is a long way, but you have made so much
progress in the arts of the Order that you will be able to help
let’s go right now!!”
will be worried if you disappear
again,” said Sauro, but Giacomo couldn’t hear any
concern about that in his
he’ll find me soon enough,” Luca
answered carelessly. “So
go? Do we need to
do anything first?”
in the corridor
before he had made a conscious decision to get up.
Luca had drawn the bolt on the door between their rooms,
door from the corridor opened to a key Giacomo carried on his belt.
hand and think of Prado,” said
smoothly into the lock and
turned obediently, letting Giacomo into the room before he had time to
breath, but no one can move faster than light and shadow. Sauro
and Luca were
Giacomo found himself shouting. “He
took him AGAIN!” He
made himself stop shouting and run out
the room, down the corridor, and over to the catwalk that connected the
Children’s Castle with the Major Castle.
The guard there opened his mouth to say something as
Giacomo rushed past
him, but was unable to get the words out before Giacomo was out of
range. He ran down
the narrow back stairs, almost
crashing into a maid, who shouted,
“Where’s the fire, dal Prado?”
through the servants’ corridors to the Great Hall.
A guard was standing at
the door and tried to stop him, but
Giacomo brushed past him and burst into the Great Hall.
There was a collective gasp, and shrieks
from the ladies, followed by coughing as everyone inhaled the scent of
paint that filled the Castles these days.
The sound of swords clearing scabbards could be heard
Hall. Two guards
grabbed him by the
arms, and then let go on seeing who he was.
Giacomo looked around.
was full of people, many of them strangers.
The delegation from the Astronomers’ Guild was
this disturbance!” shouted the
King, standing up from his throne.
“Explain yourself, dal Prado!!”
Majesty,” panted Giacomo.
King and Queen
both gave him
poisonous looks. Prince
watched him with interest, and the Princesses Adorata and Lucrezia
together “Luchino!” and then put their hands over
Prado, leave immediately!” shouted
the King, still standing. “I
with you later!”
said the princesses together.
deal with him now, your Majesty,”
said Prince Desiderato, sliding out of his chair.
King waved his hand in disgust and sat back down.
Desiderato and his guard Damiano began to
march Giacomo back to the servants’ corridors.
Adorata and Lucrezia suddenly jumped up, curtseyed to
their parents, and hurried after them, followed by their guards.
it, dal Prado?” demanded Damiano
as soon as they were in the servants’ corridor, at the same
time as the
princesses both asked, “What happened to Luca,
said Giacomo. “He
took him again.”
Where?! How?!!” shouted Damiano and Desiderato
I…Luca was angry, and he locked
himself in his room. Sauro
came to him
and told he had to go to Prado. He
asked Luca to come with him, and Luca agreed.
And they left, just like that.
By the time I got the door open, they were gone.
I don’t know how
fast Sauro can travel, but
they could well be in Prado by now.”
sure that they…did whatever Sauro
can do? They
didn’t run off by normal
means?” asked Desiderato.
didn’t come through my room, and I
would have heard them if they’d opened the door and gone out
always headstrong, and you let
him get away with it,” said Desiderato.
“It’s no wonder he keeps running off.
He should have been trained by many tutors, not just
smile showed his certainty that if he
had been responsible for bringing up Luca, there would not have been
sure the constant caring presence of
his elder brother was of great benefit to him,” said Giacomo.
smile suddenly hardened into
place, like that of a plaster statue.
right, Desi,” said
never did anything with
Luca if you could help it.”
can’t be nursemaiding some little brat
because he’s my brother!
Heir! I have
meanwhile Luca takes up with some,
some shady character, because his brother is too busy bothering the
play with him! You
should be ashamed…”
Highnesses!” Damiano cut it.
“This is not helpful!
Giannini, Benetto, escort the princesses to
their tower and keep watch over them.
No one is to go in or out of that tower without my
fell into a
sister, Giacomo, let us talk,”
said Adorata. “You
say Sauro has taken
Luca to Prado. Perhaps
I can be of help.” She
set off calmly in the direction of the
Children’s Castle, forcing the others to follow.
the Children’s Castle,
Giacomo went with the princesses to their tower, as Adorata had
requested. He knew
Damiano would want to search Luca’s
room from top to bottom and question every single man in the
whether or not they had been on duty when Luca disappeared, and he was
it would do no good, no more than it would to search for a shadow after
caster had stepped out of the sun.
to go find Luca, Giaco,” said
Adorata as soon as the door to her room closed behind them.
should leave right away,”
agreed Lucrezia. “Don’t
wait for Dami
or Desi or Father to give you permission.
You know how slow they are.”
would have chided
anyone, even a princess, for speaking ill of the King, but now he had
urgent business than observing propriety, especially since he agreed
Lucrezia. It was
not that the King,
Desiderato, or Damiano were stupid, exactly, they just didn’t
tend to venture
outside of their own heads very often.
And they had never taken Sauro seriously.
you my command to go after Luca
at once,” said Adorata.
“Any member of
the Royal Family who has reached their majority can command any member
King’s Fifty, so you must obey me.
will answer to Father for you.”
will be angry…” said Lucrezia.
Father not angry with us?” said
Adorata. She tried
to smile, but it
came out painfully. “The
Kings of Fiori
have never been known for their strong paternal feelings. Let
Someone has to take care
of Luca. Everyone
knows my days are numbered here at home, but I doubt
they will end over this. The
Fifty is supposed to protect the Royal children, and Luca is the only
left. The rest of
us only live in the
Children’s Castle because the Heir and the King must live in
residences, and Father doesn’t want us girls around, but your
first duty is to
Luca. Take whomever
you need. You can
even have Giannini and Benetto if
you, your Highness, but no,” said
doubt more men will
help. I should go
alone. But before I
leave, I must ask you for the
latest news from Prado. My
not written to me recently. Is
that Count Fabio has started another attack on members of the Order of
true,” said Adorata. “You
know how fearful and superstitious he
is. He claims to be
a Reborn man, but
he knows no more of reason than he does of life on distant stars.
He fears that the Order of
working to undermine his position and cast curses on him, and so he
destroy it. We
stopped him four years
ago, when Sauro first came to Luca, but now he thinks he is
safe—from us, that
is. He has put
several members or
people accused of being members of the Order on trial for specious
the past months, and each time the punishment has been more severe.
This time he hopes to have
his victims put
not a very flattering assessment
of your betrothed,” said Lucrezia.
how do you know all that, anyway?
Surely he didn’t tell you.”
attention in Council,” said
Adorata tartly. “And
I have spoken with
gave her a suspicious
blushed but said
of Infinity is not my
concern,” said Giacomo.
Luca. Has Sauro
told you where he might
be found in Prado?”
Adorata began straightening a flower arrangement.
“But I know he
sometimes goes to a certain
card reader named Amanda while he is there.”
know anything else about
her? Where can she
be found? What is
her family name? What
does she look like?”
don’t know. I’m
continued arranging the roses, her back to the others.
start. Thank you,
Luca. I am sure
Sauro would not hurt him, but…It might not be safe for
him to be in Prado right now. And
cannot sleep easy unless I know you are with him.
Do you need anything?
Money, horses, papers?”
you, your Highness, I have all of
left. As he went
out the door, he heard Lucrezia
saying, “I’m sure Sauro wouldn’t hurt
Luca, I’m sure you don’t have to worry
about that, Adina, I’m sure…” and then
he was out of range of their voices.
indecision for a moment
at the bottom of the stairs leading from the Princess tower, and then
across the Children’s Castle and up the stairs to
Luca’s room. Damiano
and Desiderato were turning back the
sheets on Luca’s bed, as if he might be hidden somewhere in
going to Prado,” Giacomo announced.
shaking out the
sure, then,” he said.
I’m leaving immediately.”
can’t just set off like that without
permission,” said Desiderato.
acting under the Princess Adorata’s
Heir has the right to give
commands,” said Desiderato.
has no business poking her nose into things she doesn’t
member of the Royal Family who has
reached their majority can give commands to the King’s Fifty.
Princess Adorata has had
that right the
longest of all of you, and she knows how to use it, just as she knows
pay attention in Council.”
said Desiderato, but he couldn’t
seem to find a fitting response.
Damiano gave Giacomo a look as if he wanted to say
something, but didn’t
have the time or the patience for the kind of reprimand that was
bowed and left.
better off without him!” he heard
Desiderato say as he closed the door behind him.
“He may have been a great fighter once, but
previous incident with Luca and Sauro, his mind has gone soft.
Something happened to him
down in the
catacombs, and now he’s…” Giacomo
started down the tower stairs, cutting off the sound of
coming on as Giacomo
went back down to the stables. The
stablehands looked a little surprised when Giacomo asked them to saddle
courier horse for him, but did it anyway, only asking with a wink if he
“special assignment” somewhere out of the city.
trouble from the lady?” asked
one of them, punching him lightly on the arm.
“Or do you always take a sword to these kinds
that’s why he has such a gloomy
face,” said one of the others.
doesn’t know how things are going to turn out!”
And all the stablehands
burst into laughter.
stable from Diecimiglia will send
Stella back tomorrow,” said Giacomo.
whores in Diecimiglia have the
pox,” said the stablehand who was holding Stella.
know too well, Miccino!” said a
stablehand who was leaning against the wall and holding a pitchfork as
were about to start working. There
another round of laughter.
stalls smell of urine,” said
Giacomo, taking Stella’s reins.
wonder the Prince’s horse has thrushy feet.
He was complaining of it earlier.
You know he loves his Vittorio like a brother.”
He led Stella out of the
stable. There was a
sudden flurry of pitchforks and
brooms behind him. He
mounted up and
streets around to the
other side of the Castles and onto the road to Prado.
Servants were lighting torches on the fronts of their
houses. Viale Prado
was the largest
street in Fiori, and was lined with villas all the way to the city
you off to, dal Prado?” asked
the guards at the city gates when Giacomo passed through. One
of them winked at him
of the company of little boys
be kind of bony,” agreed the
other guard, laughing and winking as well.
a moment Giacomo
considered riding on
without answering. His
duty was to
protect Luca, nothing else. But
had to be protected from ordinary dangers as well as extraordinary ones.
He reined Stella to a halt.
care to explain your meaning?”
small crowd was gathering to watch the fun.
“It was just a joke,” said the first
didn’t mean anything by it.”
joke can get you hurt,” said
sorry,” said the first guard,
shuffling his feet and looking down.
“It was just a stupid joke.
didn’t mean anything by it.”
did,” said the second guard, who was
bigger and younger than the first guard, and had the eyes of a yearling
recognized the type. He
had to stifle a groan. Next
there was going to be a challenge, and
then a fight, and Giacomo would have to waste his time defeating him,
he wasn’t going to learn any other way.
Giacomo wondered whether Stella was trained to stay calm
in a fight.
knows you’re no good anymore,
dal Prado,” said the second guard.
knows you lost your nerve when the Prince was taken, and you
haven’t been right
in the head ever since. So
there must be another reason why he keeps you around.
I guess he likes your
second guard was
sprawled out on the
ground, clutching his cheek and staring in incomprehension at the blood
bits of tooth that were pouring out of his mouth.
put his foot
back in the stirrup
and stroked Stella on the neck.
Apparently she had been trained to stay calm in a fight.
you do!” shouted the second
guard. More blood
sprayed out from his
to Giacomo dal Prado and go
inside, Andrea,” said the first guard.
“You’re lucky he only knocked you
and kicked you in the face.”
coming out of the
guardhouse to join the crowd of onlookers.
Andrea jumped up and tried to draw his sword.
It spun away from him and
landed at the feet of the first guard.
Andrea up and have a surgeon look
at him,” Giacomo ordered.
“I hear Barbaro
on Via delle Taverne has a steady hand for stitching.”
He sheathed his own sword. “Dock
for a couple of days. I
think he has grasped the importance of
keeping his mouth shut.”
saluted nervously and
began helping Andrea back to the guardhouse.
A few of the onlookers cheered Giacomo as he rode by.
nerve looks fine to me, dal Prado!”
one of them shouted. Giacomo
himself from saying “thank you” just in time.
let Stella pick
up a trot as they left
the city gates behind. She
unaffected by the altercation at the gates, but pricked her ears
every bush and building that appeared out of the dusk.
When a stray dog ran out at her, she gave
it a stern look and took a step towards it.
It backed off, and she continued cheerfully down the
a bold horse deserves an equally bold rider,
Giacomo thought. Where
is my courage? At
least his old fearlessness in battle had
not deserted him. He
Andrea without hesitating, and now that the fight was over, there was
of shakiness in his hands or heart, but he knew it did not mean he had
cured of fear. He
could feel it lurking
under his skin, an invisible shadow to match Luca’s visible
I ever be free of it?
asked himself, but even as he did so, he knew it was a pointless
question. From some
injuries it was impossible to
Sauro had taken
Luca four years ago
and Giacomo had gone down into the catacombs after him, he had not
be afraid of anything other than failure.
He had not been in the habit of worrying about himself.
As a bodyguard, his
greatest fear had always
been for his charge’s body.
His own was
of small concern to him, and his mind even less.
He had always assumed that anything his body could
have no effect on his mind. He
was a Reborn
man only because his
father had wanted it, but even so he had accepted the foundations of
Rebirth: reason, harmony, humanity.
had believed that everything could be mastered through reason and that
was a rational explanation for everything.
He had believed it so strongly that he had protested
his father had
tattooed the circle that marked him as “Reborn in
Reason” on the back of his neck.
Surely, he had argued, men of reason had no
reason to mark themselves with magic symbols like witch doctors. His
said something about the tattoo representing his commitment to the
promoting a feeling of solidarity and brotherhood, and Giacomo had
given in and
allowed him to do it, but now he knew he should have taken it as a sign
even the most committed members of the Rebirth could not let go
the superstitions they claimed to despise.
And, he had discovered, they were right to cling to them.
he had gone
down into the catacombs
after Luca, the fear he had found there had swallowed him whole,
particle of his being. The
fact that it
had been unfounded had made it even more terrifying.
and Luca were safely
back above ground, he had told himself that there had been a rational
for everything that had happened.
had put a spell on him. If
the possibility of spells—and a rational, Reborn man was
always ready to accept
new knowledge—then it was all logical.
Sauro had put spells on the catacombs, so that anyone
for him and Luca would be overcome by uncontrollable fear and turn back.
Giacomo had not turned
back and had found
Sauro and Luca instead. Sauro
dispelled the fear spells and let them return unhindered to the surface.
It should have been all
over, at least for
Giacomo, and at first he thought it was.
He could see that Sauro’s shadow had infected
Luca, and for a while he thought
that the fear that followed him around was for Luca.
But it wasn’t, not entirely.
had dismissed the
way his skin crawled
whenever he saw Sauro as hatred, until he realized that every time
near, he flinched away from him like a beaten dog.
The sight of Sauro’s thin body and dark sunken
eyes made the hair
on the back of his neck rise, and worse than that, it made his hands
shake. Giacomo was
not used to weakness. Once
or twice he had taken ill with fever
and his hands had fumbled so clumsily when he tried to close them
sword, but in a day or two the weakness had always passed from his
body, and a
week later it had passed from his mind as well.
He had waited for the disease of fear to pass, too, but
few days after
Sauro had taken Luca the
first time, Giacomo had found himself in the Hall of Swords, near the
to the catacombs. Suddenly
had risen in his throat, and he had backed out with his sword
back in the Great Hall, he had had to
rest on a bench for a long time before his legs were able to carry him
Children’s Castle. That
night he had
dreamed of the door to the catacombs.
next morning he
had dismissed it as a
normal battle reaction. Everyone
bad for a few days after fighting, and then they got over it, just like
other sickness. But
the next night he
had had the same dream, and the next night, and the next. He
kept waiting for it to
go away, but it
kept coming back. Sometimes
he went so
far in the dream as to open the door and take a few steps down the
terrible ever happened, and he knew
that the only dangerous thing down there was his own fear, but neither
the dream went away.
fear made him
angry with himself, which
made the fear worse. Soon
it had spread
from the catacombs to everything else in his life.
Some of it was centered around Luca.
They would be at sword practice, and all of a sudden
would see his sword smash Luca’s arm and cripple him.
Giacomo would realize he
was having a vision of his own
nightmare, nothing more, but even so he would call a halt to their
they would be
walking up the stairs to Luca’s tower and Giacomo would
imagine that Luca was
about to fall and break his head, or they would be eating and Giacomo
suddenly be overcome with terror that Luca was about to choke and die,
would wake up in the middle of the night, convinced that Luca was about
smother in his own bedclothes. Giacomo
tried to listen to his good sense, which told him it was all in his
the visions were much more real than reason, and they hung over him and
him, no matter how much he tried to send them away.
thing of all, though,
was when he realized that he also feared for himself.
One day he had been sparring with the weapons master and
a clumsy parry, and suddenly he had had a vision of his own arm being
his own head breaking, and had been unable to continue.
He had called off the training session,
making some kind of joke about no longer being as young as he once was,
could see by Terzio’s face that it was something much worse.
that day he
had been eating and had
been overcome with fear that he was choking.
He had put down his food and walked out of the dining
deeply because in fact he wasn’t choking at all, he was just
afraid. For the
first time in his life he had
realized that his body was a fragile and precious thing. It
would be so easy for it
to be hurt beyond
repair, and if that happened, there would be nothing left. And
no matter what
happened, he was no
longer as young as he once was, just as he had said to Terzio, and one
would no longer be able to lift a sword, and one day after that he
gone forever, no matter how hard he fought against it.
He knew this was not a new thought to have,
but it was new to him, and just as terrifying as it was to everyone
had ever had it.
had spent a long
time that night lying
in bed and thinking, despite his desire not to.
He realized that something terrible and irrevocable had
to him, and that his life had become fundamentally worse and was never
get better, not completely. His
had been broken in the catacombs, and now he was like a soldier who had
lost an arm. At the
moment all he could
see was the pain, and that his life as he knew it was over.
Somewhere beyond the pain
was the dim
awareness that if he survived this, someday the pain would die down and
would go on living. But
even so, he
would always be missing something.
would have to learn to manage with his broken courage, just like old
had to learn to manage with their broken bodies.
at it that
way made it a little
easier to bear, at least part of the time.
If he thought of it not as cowardice, but as a brave
struggle, he didn’t
feel so much of a failure. There
merit in overcoming almost-fatal wounds, even if they were invisible.
But every day he was
forced to face how
brave a struggle it was going to be, and how little credit others were
give him for it.
something had happened to
him down in the catacombs had swirled around him ever since he came
but despite his breakdown with Terzio they probably would have died
the King had not decided to hold a public examination of everyone
they had had
to persuade Sauro to
explain his part in it, it had taken several weeks to arrange.
By then Giacomo was
feeling a little better
and had thought he would be able to face it with no trouble.
But as he described going
catacombs, and finding the secret entrance, and the fear that had
him as he went down the stairs, his voice had started to shake, and
he had had to stop in order not to start crying there in the Great Hall.
He had sat through the
rest of the
examination with his hands trembling and his heart racing. His
shame of his weakness
only made it that
much harder to control. He
had tried to
tell himself that it had not been that noticeable, but afterwards
to him in the voice used for sick people, and the next day it was known
over both Castles that Giacomo dal Prado had lost his nerve.
next day Damiano
had come to talk to
him about it. He
was, he explained,
concerned about Giacomo’s ability to guard Prince Luca.
Giacomo had told him he
was merely a bit shaken
by the unnerving experience he had had.
Damiano said that he might feel better if he
“got it all off his chest,”
and ordered Giacomo to describe everything that had happened.
But within a few words
Giacomo saw that
Damiano didn’t want to know anything about an all-consuming
fear. Giacomo had
stopped his story and told him
not to worry about it, he was sure he would be fine, and the discussion
never continued. Giacomo
hidden his fear away, promising himself he would never speak of it to
again, because it was clear they would never understand.
later, he sometimes
forgot about it, just like someone might forget an old wound, but then
something would remind him, and he would spend the rest of the day
it, imagining over and over again what it would be like if he had to go
down there. What
had happened to him
down in the catacombs was over in the outside world, but inside of
was still going on, and would only stop when his thoughts finally
Stella’s shoes made
Giacomo realize it was already full dark.
He shook off the fears that were shadowing him and
around. When he saw
there was no other traffic, he
let Stella break into a canter, and soon they were galloping at a pace
normally never have contemplated in the dark.
The lights of Diecimiglia appeared long before he
the inn there
they took Stella,
promising to return her to the Castles the next morning, and gave
Giacomo a big
blue roan named Cielo. One
of the girls
the stablehands had claimed all had the pox came up to Giacomo and
suggest a business transaction, but the hostler shouted at her,
“Can’t you see
it’s Giacomo dal Prado, and on urgent business, you stupid
slut,” and she
apologized sullenly and backed away.
Giacomo mounted up and set off.
was the kind
long-eared horse that Giacomo always expected to be slow and stubborn,
turned out to be surprisingly soft-mouthed and light-footed, and moved
down the road. A
couple of times they
encountered others out for a late-night ride, but Cielo pinned back his
ears and plowed past them without slowing, much to Giacomo’s
covered the twenty
miles in very good time, and reached Prado by midnight.
justified waking up his parents in order to ask for their help, and
straight to their house, where he found he needn’t have
worried about waking
them, as there was a dinner in progress that looked as if it had many
hours to run. In
fact, at first the
servant at the gate refused to let Giacomo in because he
didn’t have an
invitation, but then the old housekeeper came out to see what the fuss
about and scolded the servant roundly, before calling for a groom for
leading Giacomo into the house herself.
pleasure, carissimo,” she said
over and over again, pinching Giacomo’s cheek and patting his
see what comes of never coming to
visit; we’ve all forgotten your face.
You should be ashamed of yourself!”
She left Giacomo in a side room and hurried off to get
muttering joyously to herself all the while.
his swordbelt and sat
down gingerly. Years
of city life had
made his seat grow shamefully soft, and the thirty miles had not been
mother burst into the
room and threw her arms around
the matter? Why are
you here? What
awkwardly and helped
her to a chair, where she sat wiping her eyes and beaming at him.
well come, Giacomo,” said his
father, shaking his hand. “What
you here?” Alarm
flickered across his
brother is well.” Giacomo
paused, trying to decide how much to
tell his parents, but he saw that his arrival had thrown them both into
of suspense, so he hurried to begin his explanations.
“I am here on official business,” he
said, and was ashamed of the
relief that immediately filled their faces.
It had never occurred to him that they would still worry
so much about
he had assumed that
they rarely thought about him at all these days.
Prince so old now that he is
sending you on errands of state?” asked Giacomo’s
has he grown tired of the backbiting of
courtly life, and run away to the country?”
He smiled to show it was a joke, and sat down in the
worry, son, we’ll
find him soon enough. A
little boy like
that can’t outrun a man like you.”
reached over and patted Giacomo’s knee playfully, and Giacomo
suddenly saw that
his father was terribly, terribly glad to see him and was having to
himself from throwing his arms around Giacomo’s neck and
bursting into tears.
not,” Giacomo said, trying to
smile and speak lightly in order to put his father and himself at ease.
“I hope I can
run away!?” cried his mother.
Oh, his poor mother!
made him do it?”
what, thirteen now?” asked his
father dryly. “A
good age for running
Giachino always said he was such a
good boy, so level-headed and obedient…”
kind,” said Giacomo’s
always the ones who
cause the most trouble when they take it into their heads to be
isn’t entirely his fault,” said
was persuaded by someone
woman!” guessed his mother in
women will stop at
nothing in order to corrupt an innocent young boy…”
nothing like that. It
was a man.”
worse,” said his father, laughing
and making a face at the same time.
himself flushing with
irritation. Why was
everyone making all
these coarse remarks about Luca? Luca
probably wouldn’t even notice—or maybe he would; he
had always been an
observant child, and was only becoming more so—but Giacomo
didn’t like to have
that kind of thing touching him, even in others’ thoughts.
Sauro,” he said coldly.
“From the Order of Infinity.
Luca and I…Luca and I had had an argument,
and Sauro came to him and told him he needed his help here in Prado,
persuaded him to come with him. They
left…They used Sauro’s…They probably
arrived here hours ago, and are in hiding
somewhere. I must
find them and bring Luca
back home before something happens to him.”
mustn’t feel bad about the argument,
carissimo,” said Giacomo’s mother.
bent forward and stroked his shoulder.
“Boys his age are always looking for a fight.
couldn’t help himself, and it’s not your fault
gratefully. It was
soothing to be told it wasn’t his fault.
blow over soon enough,” she told
him, smiling the smile she had used when he had skinned his knee as a
these lovers’ quarrels never last
long,” laughed his father.
mother’s hand and
jumped to his feet. “I
broke a man’s
face this evening for words like that,” he said.
father drew back
in his chair. “It
was a joke. Why
can’t you take a joke?
And you have to know that rumors about you two have
reached even here to
What do they know?”
snatched up his swordbelt. His
shrank back even farther into his chair, and his mother gasped.
“I do not permit
others to slander his
Highness, nor do I associate with those who do.
Whatever you may have heard, I suggest that you refute
first opportunity. Now
I beg you to let
me leave. Do not
expect me back any
father’s face filled with shock and
need to learn to take a
joke, son,” he said.
gave him a
look and he flinched,
surprising Giacomo. He
had not thought
he could have such an affect on his father.
For a moment pity kept him silent, but then his father
in his chair and opened his mouth to say something, his face already
condescending expression, and Giacomo’s disgust with
everything he had heard
that day burst its banks. “Some
are no laughing matter. I
expected an old man like to you to know that by now.
Surely someone so close to the grave would have learned
serious thoughts. Or
has the Rebirth
you have devoted yourself to so befuddled your brains that you think
will be reborn? Pray
signore. Duty calls. I
must go and sift through
fortune-tellers and card readers in Prado.
Perhaps they will have something of use to say, since
father sat there
and gasped like a
beached fish. Giacomo
left the room,
closing the door firmly behind him.
him at the door as he
was trying to buckle on his swordbelt with shaking hands. Tears
were standing out in
her eyes. “Your
father means well,” she said.
“He isn’t always aware of what
when he talks, but he means well.”
does,” said Giacomo. “But
that doesn’t render his words
harmless. I must
protect Luca from many
things, and it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the greatest
faces are from the things other people think.”
Giacomo was finding it hard to breathe and speak at the
same time, but
he couldn’t stop himself.
mother would understand the duty he felt towards Luca, even if no one
have always been ready to
protect him with my body, but it turns out it’s not enough.
I need to protect him with
my mind, and my
tongue, and everything else I have at my disposal.
And that won’t be enough either, but I cannot
stand idly by while
others hack and slash at his reputation and his peace of mind!
don’t you have children of your
own!” cried his mother.
wasting yourself on someone else’s son?!”
Giacomo yanked his swordbelt tight.
“I have to go now.”
His mother face showed she knew she had said the wrong
of the fortune-tellers are on La
Vietta delle Erbe. Are
you looking for
one in particular?”
I don’t know her family name.”
l’Interpretrice is the third door
on the right after the fountain. Try
her. She always
reads the cards
true. Even if she
is not the Amanda
you’re looking for, she will be able to help you.”
his mother. She
smiled with embarrassment. “You’re
father doesn’t know,” she said.
“And it would hurt him if he did. But
and Giuseppe so far away…I
cannot find the same comfort in reason that your father
does…I have to know
what is happening to you, and Amanda always reads true.”
you,” said Giacomo. He
squeezed her hand. “Thank
I will come back, if I can.”
mother moved as if to grab his sleeve and hold him back, but he shook
hand, and left.
Vietta delle Erbe
was on the far side
of Prado from Giacomo’s parents’ house.
The thought that Luca might be waiting for him there
him break into
passed through La
Piazza Centrale, and
saw his father’s sculpture of the Girl and the Bull.
The bull was stretched out
in its endless gallop, and the girl
clutched its neck in eternal terror.
Even in torchlight, the muscles of both them stood out
relief, uncannily life-like. Giacomo
remembered how his father had spent months preparing for the sculpture,
dissecting corpses and making his mother pose nude for the part of the
all the while grumbling that she no longer had the unspoiled figure he
needed. In his
great piles of sketches
he had drawn multiple versions of the mythical abduction and also the
the story, and had shouted at Giacomo in exasperated condescension when
had turned away from the sketches in disgust.
too soft, son,” he had said.
“Don’t you recognize true art when
mother say?” Giacomo had
she know of true art?” his
father had demanded, snatching the sketches out of Giacomo’s
you know how difficult it was to draw
the muscles like that? How
many men do
you think could depict pain and fear like that?
Look at the expression on the girl’s face!
I tell you, it took more
than one day of
research to come up with that!”
was then that
Giacomo had decided he
was going to be a soldier.
he stopped for a
moment to see if the
statue still had its old power over him.
Two drunks wavered up to it and stopped to get their
bearings. One of
them suddenly bent over and vomited
copiously, while the other ran his hands up and down the
girl’s marble leg and
laughed raucously. Giacomo
Il Viale Maggiore towards La Vietta delle Erbe.
fountain marked the
the right the street
became La Via Commerciale, and was lined with shops lit with torches
the middle of the night, when there were no customers.
To the left the street became La Vietta
delle Erbe, which was unlit even though people were moving furtively up
the street and stepping as inconspicuously as possible into doorways.
third door on
the right had been
freshly painted, which set it apart from many of the other doors on the
street. A large eye
stared out from the
middle of the dark green paint. The
pupil was made of glass.
before Giacomo could
knock. A tall woman
with black spirals
of hair covering her shoulders stood in the threshold.
understand how you could see me
through the door,” said Giacomo, “but how did you
know to look at just the
woman laughed. “Surely
coming to visit Amanda
l’Interpretrice would know better than to ask such a
question,” she said. “Come,
follow me. I have
been expecting you.”
She turned and began to walk deeper into the house.
Giacomo followed, shutting
the door behind
went down a
narrow corridor to a
room in the rear of the house. She
not look back, apparently sure Giacomo would not stray into any of the
they passed on the way. And
Giacomo stayed close enough behind her that her long spirals of black
almost brushed his face.
only things in
the room at the end of
the corridor were two chairs, a table, and a deck of cards.
Amanda sat down in one
chair, and gestured
for Giacomo to sit in the other.
you know to look out for me?” he
asked again, once he was seated. “And
so late at night?”
smiled. Giacomo was not
by the air of mystery that surrounded
her, but he was surprised by the air of intelligence.
He almost expected her to give him a rational
she had been waiting for him at the door—some system of spies
cards, of course,” she told
him. She picked up
the deck and turned
it over and over in her hands. “I
reading for myself every night before bed, and tonight they told me to
midnight visitor on urgent business.
I stayed up. Now
tell me, midnight
visitor: what is your urgent business?”
says you always read true,”
who is your mother?”
wife of Giovanni lo Scultore.”
You must be Giacomo il Guardo, then.”
nodded. Amanda began to
the cards. “No
need to say more,” she said.
“Let me do a reading, and then if I need to, I
will ask you more
spread the cards out in
a smooth line, facedown. Her
hovered over them for a while, as if feeling for air currents, before
suddenly picked up three cards and laid them out in front of her.
the first reading,” she
you will do a reading.”
didn’t like the idea of
doing a reading. What
if he did it
wrong, and failed to find Luca because of his own ineptitude?
There was a time when he
would have laughed
at the idea of anyone’s fate hanging on his ability to read
unfortunately, that time had passed.
the first card. A
rider on a black horse was galloping under
a new moon.
Horseman,” she said. She
turned over the next card. A
red horse was standing under a full moon.
Its rider was holding an upraised sword
gave Giacomo a considering look, and
turned over the last card. A
rider on a
gray horse was walking under a waning moon.
gave Giacomo another long look, and
turned the cards over several times, examining them with interest.
mean?” demanded Giacomo when
he couldn’t stand it any more.
don’t think I have ever had a reading
that was all Horsemen before,” said Amanda, still studying
the cards. “It
is very interesting.”
what does it mean?”
ever read the cards before,
said Giacomo, trying and failing to
conceal his impatience.
impatience and the cards’ peculiar
behavior seemed to make her grow more cheerful, and her eyes were
she talked. “Each
card has a list of
meanings, most of which are obvious,” she said. “The
Horseman means things like flight, ominous news, and
change; the Red Horseman means courage and stalwartness; and the White
signifies death, loss, and fear. On
of those individual meanings are those of the cards in combination.
For example, two or more
always means that someone will be called upon to take action.
And then there are the
meanings that the
cards whisper to you. Anyone
can read a
book about the cards and learn their surface meanings; it is the
ability to hear
their whispering that sets true readers apart from the false.”
are they whispering to you?”
asked Giacomo sharply.
laughed again. “So
that I cannot make them
out. We must do
another reading, and
this time, you must choose the cards.”
She gathered up the cards, shuffled them, and spread
out on the
three cards,” she said.
“Hold your hand out over them, and pick the
three that call to you.”
hand out over the cards
and waited, but they whispered nothing to him.
After a while he picked three at random, not sure
disappointed or stupid. He
to Amanda, but she shook her head.
over yourself,” she said.
“Listen to what they tell you.”
first card over. A
gray-haired man staring up at the starry
sky looked back at him.
Magician,” said Amanda.
“Knowledge, revelation, and danger.
next card over. A
weaponless soldier was fleeing a battlefield.
Fleeing Soldier,” said Amanda.
“Cowardice, fear, and betrayal.”
Giacomo flinched, and she
looked at him with
a good card,” he explained,
trying not to sound awkward.
not,” she agreed calmly, but
it seemed to him that she watched him for much longer than she should
have. In order to
distract her, he
hurried to turn over the third card, fumbling with it in his haste.
A young woman wearing a
white dress and
holding a bouquet of many colors gazed back at him from under a
again, but this time her
voice was full of joy. “The
fidelity, and love, among
other good things.”
cancel out the Fleeing
Soldier?” asked Giacomo.
sounded much more desperate than he would have liked.
looked at him
for a long time
before answering. “Perhaps
she said gently, “but only if you let her.”
they mean?” asked Giacomo.
His voice was horrifyingly tremulous.
“What will happen?
Will I find him? What
does the Fleeing Soldier mean? Why
he turn up?”
that card bother you so much?”
a good card,” Giacomo
repeated, looking down at the table.
your hands,” Amanda ordered
can read my palms?”
not in the way you are
took Giacomo’s hands
in her own and ran her fingers over them.
“You have strong hands,” she said.
“And many calluses from the hilt of your sword.
You must train every
Giacomo’s throat didn’t want to obey
him, and he had to squeeze the word
out by force.
help keep the fear at bay?”
hands jumped. He
tried to pull them away from Amanda’s and
pretend it hadn’t happened, but it was too late. His
hands were caught in
hers, and no matter which way he turned
his face, she could still see him.
fear?” he asked, hating the sound
of his own voice lying. It
something he was used to hearing.
people were the liars.
fear,” she told him. “The
fear that follows you everywhere you
go. The fear that
hangs over you like a
vast shadow, blocking out everything else around you.”
don’t know what you’re…There’s
fear, that’s nonsense…”
do another reading, and let the
cards tell me if it’s nonsense or not?” asked
Amanda. Her eyes
caught his and held them. They
were, Giacomo noticed, large, dark, and very beautiful.
This observation calmed him somewhat.
He was unused to looking at a woman and
noticing that she was beautiful. He
supposed there were beautiful women in the Castles, but they were
noblewomen or servants, and so out of his sphere.
He supposed Amanda was also out of his sphere, but she
enough that he could look at her.
Seeing her as a beautiful woman instead of a card reader
made her seem
less threatening. Even
so, the thought
of those eyes looking into his cards was unsettling.
Giacomo had the impression that there was nothing they
long time I didn’t know what fear
was,” Giacomo said, looking down at the cards.
let go of his
hands and leaned
back in her chair. “That
is often the
case for the young,” she said.
was arrogant…I guess I had to
be struck down sometime,” said Giacomo, still staring down at
the cards. If he
didn’t look at her, he could almost
pretend she wasn’t there, which made it easier to talk.
Amanda said nothing, which
made it even
easier. For a
moment the urgent need to
find Luca was lessened, and the things he had wanted to explain to
the past four years came pouring out.
I…When Luca was taken the first
time, I went after him, of course.
the time I went down into the catacombs, I already knew I was dealing
something uncanny, something out of the realm of reason, but I went
anyway, and I didn’t expect to be afraid.
Which made it even worse when the fear first hit me, I
think. It was so
unexpected, and I didn’t know what
to do about it. I’d
never had to fight
my own fear before.
seen soldiers unmanned by fear
before, of course—everyone does, in battle—but I
never thought it could happen
to me. I
always…I was arrogant, like I
said. I always
assumed I was above
that. I just never
knew how terrible
fear could be. But
I went on
thought…I thought my heart
might burst from fear, but I went on anyway.
And I found Luca, and I brought him back, and I thought
me. For a moment, I
smiled slightly at his former hopefulness, “I thought it
might have made me
stronger. I thought
that by conquering
my terror like that, I had reforged myself in the fire of fear and had
from it a new man. But
I hadn’t. Not
like that, anyway.”
picked up a
card and turned it
over and over to give his hands something to do.
He saw that it showed a wounded soldier clutching his
breast, and quickly put it down. But
his hands still strayed nervously over the cards, and he picked up
without thinking. A
mother gazed down
at the child in her arms, filling the entire card.
Giacomo ran his finger around and around its edge, and
has taken hold of me, and it
won’t let me go. It
is part of me
now. It follows me
everywhere I go,
hanging over me like a shadow, like you said.
It blocks out the sun.
ruining me. It is
ruining me, and I
cannot shake it off. It
has weakened me
forever. I will
never be the man I was
before, and I don’t know what else to do.
I cannot leave Luca, and I cannot be anything other than
what I am, but
I have lost the most important part of me.
Without my courage I am nothing.
What happened to me was as cruel as cutting off my right
hand. And now Luca
has been taken again, and I
must go after him, and I am afraid.
am afraid I will lose
him, but that is a fear that can be dealt with.
I am afraid that something will happen to me, and that
with shame, which makes the fear stronger.
And worst of all, I am afraid of my own fear, and that
difficult to fight, because no matter what happens, I know I will be
afraid. Even if
Luca and I get out of
this unscathed, I will still feel fear.
It is inescapable. I
be rid of it, and the more I try, the more it tightens its grip on me.
Fear is my constant
companion. I will
never be free of it.”
card he was holding
was betraying his shaking hands, and put it down.
While he was talking his heart had started beating so
could feel his pulse jumping in his throat and pounding in his ears.
Sweat was running down his
sides. He suddenly
wondered if Amanda could see the
sweat under his arms, and that ordinary concern made him feel a little
better. He idly
picked up another card in order not
to look at her. A
with violets in her hands stared out from under the rain at him with a
that looked very much like Amanda’s.
Violet Maiden makes three,” said
Amanda softly. “You
have had a good
her in confusion.
three cards as you were
talking,” she said. “You
Wounded Soldier, the
Mother, and the Violet Maiden.”
at the cards he had
picked, and saw that Amanda spoke the truth.
“What do they mean?” he asked.
laughed. “So many
things. But let
us organize them according to their temporal flow.”
She gathered up all nine
cards and laid them out in three rows of
row is the first card from
each reading,” she said.
the first phase of what you will be undertaking.
As you see, it has the Black Horseman, the Magician, and
Wounded Soldier. So
at first there will
be fighting, urgent news, acquired knowledge, revelation, uncertainty,
setbacks, and things hanging in the balance.
I would say you are in that phase right now.”
nodded. “And the
phase?” he asked.
second phase is represented by the
Red Horseman, the Fleeing Soldier, and the Mother.
Courage, battle, cowardice, fear, unselfishness, and
see,” said Giacomo.
looked at him. “The
is not necessarily your own,”
she said softly.
neither is the courage,” said
depends on you,” Amanda told him,
smiling again. “But
if I were a betting
woman, I would always bet on the courage being yours.”
smiled, too. He
wanted to tell her she wouldn’t be wrong
to do so, but stopped himself. It
be ridiculous to brag of his bravery.
phase,” said Amanda after a
White Horseman, the Bride,
and the Violet Maiden.”
like the Bride should come
before the Mother,” said Giacomo before he could help himself.
laughed. “But so
she does not.
And in this case, it is not who they are that is
important, but what
they represent. The
self-sacrifice can cancel out the Fleeing Soldier’s cowardice
and betrayal, and
the Bride’s hope, love, and fidelity can cancel out the White
death, and fear. And
the Violet Maiden
means birth and renewal.”
but especially now. Each
reading was more hopeful than the
you tell me where Sauro is, or
rose from the
is veiled from the cards by his shadow,
and you outshine everything in my readings like the sun anyway.
I can only see your part
in all this. But I
will give you what I can. Follow
led Giacomo back
down the corridor to
the front door. “Look
out the glass
eye,” she said. “Can
you see the gap
between the two houses across the street?
It is an alley, called Il Vicolo dell’Ordine.
Most people think it
refers to Prado’s renowned Ordine delle
Puttane, but there are other Orders in Prado as well.
Follow it until you come to a red door.
Ask for Dimitrio. He
Sauro’s closest friend in Prado.
will be able to tell you more.”
you,” said Giacomo. “For
see each other soon enough, so
no need to go thanking me now.” said Amanda.
“One more thing. Tell Adorata she has nothing
fear from me. I
have read my cards, and Sauro is not the
man meant for me.” She
thought for a
moment and smiled. “Not
that I would
have him even if he were. But
tell anyone that.” She
on the cheek, whispering, “for luck,” and let him
out the door.
dell’Ordine was no more than a
series of spaces between houses. As
ran down it, chased by the feeling of urgency that had come rushing
soon as he had stepped out of Amanda’s house, Giacomo
discovered very quickly
that the inhabitants used it for dumping their slops and nightsoil.
Luckily the light of all
the red lanterns
lining the alley illuminated the worst of the filth.
several real streets
and turning his boots into a sodden, stinking mess, Giacomo was
wonder if he had missed his destination, when he saw a small red door
lit by a
small red lantern. He
walked up to it
hadn’t realized Amanda
had been sending him to a bordello.
reached for the knocker, and saw a pattern, so discrete it was hardly
painted under it. Blue
and red lines
wound around each other in an eye-watering twist, forming a circle.
Giacomo knocked boldly,
a long wait
woman wearing a
tremendous amount of face paint and a dress that had once been
was now only sad, opened the door.
tonight, caro, the house is closed,”
she said tiredly. “The
pox. Try three
here to see Dimitrio,” said Giacomo.
the pox, too. If
that’s what you’re looking for, try two
sent here. I saw
the pattern on the door. This
is the right house.”
woman stood up
straighter and looked
at him with interest. “Who
come in!” She
pulled him through the door and shut it
quickly behind them. “I
hope no one saw
me letting in a customer,” she said with a smile that made
the rouge on her
cheeks crack like porcelain glaze.
“I’ve been working for years to
the reputation of the bordello
that never opens. Being
a failed madam
is harder than it looks. Putting
this face paint, for example, takes simply ages.
And this dress is damn drafty.”
sure,” said Giacomo. “Is
Dimitrio in? It’s
in the back. Take
off your boots—the jack’s in the
corner—and follow me. I’m
Bella, by the
boots were so slimy it took
several tries for them to catch on the bootjack and come off.
He followed Bella down a
corridor into a
backroom furnished with a couch, chair, and table.
As they came in, a man sat up from where he had been
couch and turned one ear towards Giacomo’s stocking feet.
is as dirty as ever, I hear,”
he said. “What
brings you here so
looked up, and Giacomo saw
that his eyes were completely white.
sent him,” said Bella. “Looking
sent him, he must have a
reason to be here. Sit
stranger. What is
your reason to be
here, and in the middle of the night?”
looking for Sauro. It’s
urgent. Very urgent. I
find him tonight.”
Sauro? Sauro dal
Paese, or Sauro dal Paesino, or Sauro dalla Fiumetta,
or Sauro il Fabbro, or some other Sauro?”
Giacomo realized for the first time that he
didn’t know where Sauro was
from, or who his family was, or anything else about him. Of
course there were many
Sauros. It was a
common name, especially in Prado.
dell’Ordine,” he said.
several men who could have
that name,” said Dimitrio after a while.
Sauro delle Ombre,” said
is unique, trust me.” He
was about to describe what he looked
like, but realized it would be pointless.
That Sauro. What
makes you think
I would know his whereabouts?”
sent me, as I said.”
in the advice of Amanda
l’Interpretrice is always a sign of a wise man, that is true.
Give me your
you’re going to do a reading, then
please, make it quick. I
say you didn’t hurry Amanda like
this. But who can
blame you. Tell me,
is she still as beautiful as
ever? When I last
saw her, she was
barely more than a girl, and as black-haired and bewitching as that
Maiden she so loves.”
still…” Giacomo began, and then
stopped himself. He
drawing the Violet Maiden, and blushed. “I must find
Sauro!” he repeated.
me your hand. I
will make it quick, I promise.”
Dimitrio his right
closed his unseeing
eyes, and ran his fingertips over Giacomo’s palm, tracing all
its lines and
soldier,” he said. “And
a trustworthy one. Now
listen, soldier. I
saw the Sauro you are looking for only
this morning. He
came to tell me that
Count Fabio has demanded death for my brother, Telemachio, who stands
of black magic. Sauro
said not to
worry, that he had a plan, that he had the Prince of Fiori on his side,
had to go get him. He
said he would be
back tonight, prince in hand, and that by tomorrow morning Telemachio
free, the King would be forced to offer his protection, and Count Fabio
be exposed for the hypocrite and murderer he is.”
demanded Giacomo. “And
Where can I find him?”
look in Count Fabio’s dungeon,
if I were you. In
the death cells,
where Telemachio is presumably being held.
If Sauro wants to free him, he will have to go to him at
some point. I would
hurry if I were you.”
but Dimitrio caught
his wrist before he could leave. “One
more thing. Your
reading. You have
courage, soldier. But
it may not be enough. Another
line cuts through it, breaking it
off. You will have
to find something
else to carry you through. Bella,
the soldier my old guard cloak. It
serve to get him into the dungeons.”
for a moment and came
back carrying an old cloak with the chevrons of Prado down the front.
She threw it over Giacomo
and moved to do up
the clasps at the throat.
this?” she asked suddenly.
She touched the back of Giacomo’s neck,
where it joined with his shoulders.
“What is this circle?”
Reborn man,” said Dimitrio.
“One can tell from his hands.
I am not surprised he has the tattoo.
But he will not betray us.
He is already too far gone into the shadows
to escape. One can
tell that from his
hands as well.”
nothing to do with shadows,” said
not like Sauro!”
different kinds of
shadows. One does
not have to be like
Sauro to carry them around. Now
good luck, but remember that more than your prince’s life
hangs in your
lay back down on the
couch and pulled a blanket around him.
Bella hustled Giacomo back down the corridor, into his
boots, and out
memory of the streets of Prado,
which had become grown over with over events in the twenty years he had
away, had been reviving ever since he had arrived, and now he
turned right when he left Dimitrio’s and picked his way
around piles of filth to
the next cross street, where he took a left onto La Vietta Attraversale.
Though still narrow, it
was cleaner than the
alley, and he was able to break into a run that carried him back to La
to gather since he
had last passed through, and he had to push several of them out of the
he rushed through the square, ignoring their cries of, “Buy
us a bottle,
didn’t slow down until he
was past them and onto Il Viale del Castello.
Then he dropped to a walk and tried to come up with a
would only fool those who
weren’t actually guards.
guards would recognize him instantly as not one of them. So
he needed to rely on
something other than
steps of indecision, he decided to risk honesty instead. He
took off the cloak,
folded it over his
arm, and walked boldly across La Piazza del Castello and up to the
the castle gates.
they both shouted at once. “Who
dal Prado, personal bodyguard to
his Highness Prince Luca di Fiori,” Giacomo told them, trying
to look as
imposing as possible. It
worked, because both guards snapped to attention so fast their
audible popping noises.
Highness have business here in
Prado?” asked one of them, his eyes darting all about, as if
entire Royal Family to materialize out of thin air and start demanding
respect and special accommodations.
certain prisoner in your
dungeons. I must
speak to him
flickered between the
two guards. “Telemachio
dangerous, Signore,” one of them said.
“Visiting him is restricted.”
dangerous,” said Giacomo.
already the third hour of the
night, Signore,” said the talkative guard.
“Why not wait until morning?
Telemachio is not going anywhere.”
of the torches
above the gate
suddenly guttered and almost went out, before flaring up brightly,
shadows in every direction.
business with him cannot wait even
until morning,” said Giacomo.
Signore…” the talkative guard
shuffled his feet, “all visitors to Telemachio must be
cleared by Count Fabio
first, and he is currently…unavailable.”
in bed,” the other guard burst
out with a coarse laugh. The
guard gave him a disapproving look.
understand,” said Giacomo.
“But I repeat, I must
speak with Telemachio immediately. It
is of the highest
directly affects the welfare of Prince Luca.”
we in Prado know well the name
of Giacomo Il Guardo, and we take pride in Prado’s most
famous son, but you
must understand that his Grace will not take kindly to being disturbed,
The talkative guard
trailed off in embarrassment.
at the moment, you mean? I
understand. But I must…”
Now Giacomo was the one to
trail off. His eyes
thought a shadow had separated
itself from the one cast by the guard, and was lying in a pool of
beckoning to him.
is here?” Giacomo demanded.
is hidden here, but I can see
their shadow. Who
else is here, Signore,” said the
talkative guard, puzzled.
you see the shadow?” Giacomo
pointed to what seemed so clearly to
him to be the shadow of a man in long ragged robes.
torches here cast all kinds of
shadows,” said the guard who had made the joke about Count
guards always think ghosts are swarming
out from under the portcullis. But
just the torches.”
right,” said the talkative
just the torches.”
Giacomo watched as the shadow beckoned again, then,
gesture, began to slide out of the pool of light and towards him.
He took a step backwards. The
completely into the
pulse jumped in his
throat. The shadow
briefly in another pool of light.
Giacomo could see its fingers calling him.
it, Signore?” asked the
felt something like cold smoke brush against his leg, and
turned and ran.
in the third
hour of the night,
torches were still lit in front of the nobles’ houses lining
Il Viale del Castello. Every
time he passed through a pool of
light, Giacomo could see the shadow gliding along, effortlessly keeping
with him, like his own shadow’s twin.
Every time he passed back into the darkness, it would
but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
he ran, Giacomo
tried to think what to
do. The shadow had
filled him with a
fear that made it seem he was running very fast and thinking very
couldn’t be sure it wasn’t just an illusion and he
wouldn’t do something very stupid.
He wished he knew if the shadow were friend
or foe. Was it
leading him towards
Sauro, or luring him towards danger?
And was there any difference?
they reached La
Piazza Centrale the
shadow cut in front of him and, beckoning to him again, crossed the
to La Vietta Attraversale, back the way Giacomo had come. Giacomo
wavered for a
moment, and then followed it.
Attraversale was too dark for
heavy-legged, as fast as he dared through the darkness.
At the intersection with Il Vicolo
dell’Ordine, the shadow showed up in the light from the
lantern of a late-night
customer coming from one of the real bordellos.
It pointed up the street, towards Dimitrio’s
the second time
that night, and
feeling much more frightened and angry than the first time, Giacomo
the red door. Bella,
this time without
the face paint, opened the door immediately.
told us to expect you again,” she
a shadow with me,” said
am afraid it will come in
anyway,” Bella ordered.
across the threshold,
he saw the shadow step across with him.
me,” said Bella, either not
seeing or not caring about the shadow.
She led him back to Dimitrio’s room.
This time Dimitrio was sitting up in his couch, and
at the table, shuffling a deck of cards.
cried Dimitrio. Giacomo
looked around, but all he saw was
afraid, Giacomo dal Prado,”
Amanda told him, spreading out her cards.
“I also see the shadow, both with
these,” she touched her eyes, “and
with these,” she touched her cards, “and I see that
it means you no harm. Come,
sit beside me, and I will protect
smiled like a mischievous
little girl. Giacomo
sat down on the
chair next to hers. The
shadow sat on
the couch next to Dimitrio.
you here?” Giacomo whispered to
told me you would come back,
and in need of help,” she whispered back.
the cards only tell you about
me?” he asked, still whispering.
can’t they tell me exactly when and where to find
many reasons,” she said into his
one thing, he is veiled, as I
told you before. And
for another, I...”
throat loudly. “If
the young lovers would stop cooing to
each other and direct their attention to the matter at
hand…” he said.
from Amanda, drawing
a laugh from everyone else. Even
shadow looked like it was laughing.
you,” said Dimitrio dryly.
“This, as you may have guessed,” he
indicated the shadow next to him, “is my brother,
isn’t he in prison?” asked Giacomo,
and immediately felt stupid. Clearly
prison bars weren’t going to hold in a shadow.
“Is he always…In that
like it was laughing
in his cell, he is as
fleshly as you and I,” said Dimitrio.
“This is only his shadow.
most shadows, it does not need to be cast by his body, but instead can
free. You might
think of it as being
cast by his mind. Normally
it, too, is
trapped in the castle, but the wards holding him in dropped for a
he slipped out and brought you here.
Now he has something to say to you.
I can only read the simplest of his thoughts, which is
Amanda has so graciously agreed to come in the middle of the night and
the cards, shuffled
them one more time, and laid them out in a wide swathe on the table,
facedown. She began
picking up cards
here and there, her hands hovering in the air for a moment before
diving down and snatching up a card, like a heron snatching up frogs.
When she had gathered a
dozen cards, she
stopped and laid them out in front of her, face up.
Giacomo looked over her shoulder, but the only cards he
recognized were the White Horseman and the Fleeing Soldier.
Seeing them again made his
twist. Several of
the other cards also
cards this way and that,
apparently trying to find some kind of coherent pattern, occasionally
to make notes on a piece of paper.
Eventually she stopped, but she looked at the shadow and
then back at the
cards for a long time before saying anything.
through the meanings of the
cards, so that you see what a difficult reading this is,” she
can be shuffled in so many ways, of
course, but I will present them in their suits.
Horsemen we have the White and
the Piebald. Death,
change. From the
Maidens we have the
Sunflower, the Rose, and the Lily.
and jealousy, passion, death and sorrow.
From the Women we have the Sisters and the Crone.
Friendship and envy,
passing. From the
Soldiers we have the
Fleeing, the Dead, and the Victorious.
Cowardice, defeat, and victory.
From the Scholars we have the Herbwoman and the Witch.
Healing and poison, secret
so much death there,” said
Giacomo, who didn’t like the reading at all.
is everywhere in life.”
Amanda smiled at him.
“Don’t let it bother you.
And some of this reading
is not about you
anyway. But it is
murky. I must draw
a thirteenth card in order for
it to become clear.”
time her hands
hovered in the air
for many breaths before slowly descending and gathering a card.
Her fingertips stroked its
back and edges
before hesitantly pulling it towards her, and she sat with her eyes
her hands folded over the card for longer than Giacomo thought he could
over!” hissed Bella impatiently.
sure it’s the right one,” said
Amanda, but she turned the card over.
skeleton was walking under a sickle moon with a scythe over its
screamed Bella. Giacomo,
Dimitrio, and even the shadow all
jumped in their seats, and Giacomo felt sweat break out on his back.
calm!” Amanda ordered. “There
are many kinds of death, and many
meanings for this card! I
made more notes
on her piece of
paper, drawing little diagrams and making cryptic little inscriptions
jagged, decisive handwriting. In
end she drew a dodecagon with a point in the middle and lines radiating
from it to all the angles.
written next to the central point, and the names of the other cards at
the outer angles.
it mean?” demanded Bella when
Amanda was finished.
things,” she answered.
would stop saying
that, even though he knew she was saying it because it was true.
What he really wished was
for it not to be
true. He wished
someone could say,
“Sauro and Luca are hiding in thus-and-such building, and if
you go there now,
Luca will come running out and go home with you without a word of
other people will take care of all the other problems.”
But no one said that. Dimitrio
and the shadow
were sitting on the
couch and apparently looking at each other, even though neither of them
see. Amanda and
Bella were bent over
the dodecagon, tracing the lines between the angles and talking in low
suddenly raised her
tell the whole the story,
Giacomo, there is something I want you to see,” she told him.
She pointed to an angle in
right-hand side of the figure.
“Sunflower” was written above it.
you see what it is connected
with?” she asked, running her finger to the opposite side of
the drawing, to
the word “Dead.”
Soldier,” said Giacomo.
jealousy,” Amanda told him.
“And do you see this?”
She slid her finger down to the next corner,
which was labeled “Rose,” and then across to its
opposite, which was labeled
and victory are linked,” she
told him, “but you will have to pass through death to get
from one to the
doesn’t sound much like victory to
me,” said Giacomo. “Or
not be what you would call
death,” she said seriously.
be the end of something else. Besides,”
she smiled, “Death is not such a bad fellow.
She showed him the
Death card. “I
always think he is
looking up wistfully at the stars,” she said.
imagine that Death was
gazing up at the night sky, but all he could see was two empty eye
a horrible grin, locked forward in a blank destroying stare.
away,” he said.
well. It is time I told the
story the cards have given me, anyway.
It will all be over by sunrise, so you have
very little time.”
towards Amanda, even
the shadow. She
began talking without
explaining how she knew it would all be over by sunrise. Giacomo
tried to figure
out how long he had
until then, but his brain felt muddled, and his calculations slid away
him. As she spoke,
he thought he could
feel Time blowing past him like a strong wind, bringing some
disaster down on him while slipping uncatchably through his fingers.
this I already knew, and some
was revealed to me by the cards just now,” she began.
“I will tell you
the whole story as I currently understand
it. As you know,
Count Fabio feels a
strong enmity for members of the Order of Infinity.
He is a Reborn man, and says that he only believes in
harmony, and humanity. But
we all know
that what he really believes in is fear.
He fears what he cannot understand, which is almost
everything, and so
he is determined to protect himself by destroying others. He
would like to get rid
of Sauro, as the
strongest member of the Order, but he cannot, so he has gone after all
other members. He
was stopped once, at
the gracious insistence of Prince Luca,” Amanda nodded at
Giacomo, “but of late
he has felt safe to start persecuting those he feels threaten him again.
people to be caught up in his
search for evildoers this time were herbwomen and healers accused of
witchcraft. One of
them caught Count
Fabio’s attention in particular.
was reputed to be highly skilled at smoke-scrying.
Whether or not she really had any skills is a matter of
debate. But what is
certain is that she
had a very pretty face. Count
who is as susceptible to a pretty face as the next man, was charmed by
offered her her freedom if she would foreswear all magic. She
Then he offered her her
freedom and his hand in marriage if she
would foreswear all magic and give up the names of her associates.
She refused again.
Count Fabio tried to
persuade her of the error of her ways, but
he tried a little too hard, and she died before he could convince her.
But before she died, she
names. One was
‘Luca,’ and the other
Fabio was convinced that these men
were the cause of her refusal to submit to his demands, and immediately
out all the Lucas and Telemachios in Prado.
Luca, however, is such a common name that he soon had to
give up on that
endeavor, and concentrate on the Telemachios.
Most of them were merchants from the Southern Islands,
the particular Telemachio he was looking for turned out to be closely
associated with the Order of Infinity.
Fabio had been forbidden to
persecute members of the Order once before, but now luck shone down
him. After losing
the lady of his
heart, he was offered something much better—Princess Adorata.
The King wished to
solidify his ties with
Prado, his largest city, and it was time for Adorata to be married
anyway. Her own
preferences in the matter were not
consulted, and she was much too noble a princess to refuse the
command. If she had
read the cards, she
would have seen how unwise her self-sacrifice would turn out to be, but
not. She currently
has an aversion to
himself now freed from Royal
observation, Count Fabio turned his attention from herbwomen and
those he had truly wished to persecute from the beginning, members of
Order. Anyone to
whom even a shadow of
suspicion had ever been attached was brought in for questioning.
Some of them even made it
back out again,
missing only their teeth or their fingernails, and were able to warn
brethren. The news
came to Dimitrio and
the Order’s headquarters here, and Dimitrio tried to warn his
brother to leave
Prado, but before he was able to escape, someone found himself unable
up the courage to resist Count Fabio, Telemachio’s identity
were revealed, and the Count’s guards came and took him away.
was only herbwomen and foolish
girls who were being dragged into Count Fabio’s dungeons, the
Order did not
concern itself with what was happening, but when men of the Order
disappearing, it felt itself compelled to act.
Sauro, always its bravest champion, spirited many of the
through the shadows, but when he tried to rescue Telemachio, he
the prison walls stood firm against him.
Count Fabio had found his own shadowstalker.”
he?” asked Giacomo.
cards cannot tell me that. He
is veiled. Whenever
I search for him, all I draw is Death.”
he could not save Telemachio
through the normal means, so he went to get Prince Luca,” put
what? Does he plan to demand
Telemachio in exchange for Luca?”
The back of Giacomo’s neck began to itch
with rage at the thought of Luca being used as a pawn in the game
and Count Fabio. He
wished he could
just lock the two of them in a room together and let them finish each
off. After it was
over, he could go in
and dispatch any survivors. But
it could never be. Luca
forgive him if he killed Sauro—if he could manage it, a nasty
in the back of his head—and Count Fabio was one of the
King’s closest allies,
especially after his betrothal to Adorata.
Although given what he had just heard about the
Count’s penchant for
torture, Giacomo doubted the marriage would last long.
For a moment Giacomo considered whether it
would be a breach of duty to give Adorata’s guards some
advice on silent methods
of assassination. But
the more pressing
matter of Luca quickly pushed that worry to the side.
shadow sat for a moment
in silent communion, before Dimitrio said, “Telemachio says
no. He says Sauro
has some other plan.”
to lean over and
whisper something into Dimitrio’s ear, which was ridiculous,
since it didn’t have any real lips.
inquiringly at Amanda
with his blind eyes. She
Dimitrio seemed to sense, and shuffled the remaining cards in her deck
pulled out three.
Horseman, Magician, Surgeon,” she
course,” cried Dimitrio.
“Telemachio is uncertain of the exact nature
of Sauro’s plan,” he told Giacomo, “but
it involves you. And
if you want to find Sauro, you should go
to La Via dei Barbieri. Look
Miccino il Nero.”
number four,” said Amanda.
“It has a green door.”
his feet. “Why
couldn’t have told me that two hours
ago?” he asked.
we didn’t know until I drew
those cards,” said Amanda.
are like that. Sometimes
stood up, pulling something
out of a pocket in her dress. “Take
was a small green
stone, warm from her
body. Giacomo took
protect you from poison, and
betrayal, of which there has been all too much of late.
And remember,” she raised her eyebrows at
him, “if you don’t come and tell me all about it
afterwards, I’ll just find out
anyway. La Via dei
where it is. I even
know where the house of Miccino il
Nero is,” said Giacomo.
Dimitrio’s old guard cloak over his shoulders from an
instinctive need for concealment,
he ran out of the house without saying goodbye.
he wove around
the puddles and piles
of refuse that filled Il Vicolo dell’Ordine, Giacomo was
forced to admit that
his legs were so heavy he could hardly run.
He always forgot how unpleasant all-night missions were
until he was
halfway through them.
carrying a torch. The
passerby’s shadow passed over
Giacomo. For a
moment Giacomo was sure
that the shadow was separating from the other man and coming after him.
Then it continued down the
street, and he
saw that it was still firmly attached to the other man’s body.
seeing shadows everywhere!
Giacomo ordered himself, and made himself keep going down the street.
Now that he had been
reminded of shadows,
though, he couldn’t stop looking for them.
He wondered if Miccino’s house would be full
shadows. Even if it
wasn’t, he knew, he would be
expecting them at every moment. He
so tired. He
wished, more desperately than
he had thought possible, that someone would come and lift his burden of
with the same ease it had been laid upon him.
He wished it could go away and he could have a few hours
of his old,
fearless self back, even for just long enough to find Luca.
He wished none of this had
ever happened to
him, and whatever was about to happen could be prevented from ever
pass. But he
continued moving slowly
down the alley, bringing his future inexorably down on his own head.
He slipped on something
nasty and had to
stop worrying about the future at the expense of the present.
he came to La
Vietta delle Erbe, he
saw that the alley carried on past Amanda’s house in the
direction of Il Viale
Maggiore, so he followed it. In
order he was on the main street. La
dei Barbieri was the first street to the left.
He reached it and turned right.
The house of Miccino il Nero was only a few doors down,
left. A sign with a
razor and scissors
painted on it hung over him as he knocked reluctantly on the door.
one answered, so
again. When that
failed to draw a
response, irritation started to replace dread, and he began banging on
with his foot. Still
no answer. He could
tell by the way the door jumped
that it was fastened by a latch on the inside.
The weakness that had filled him earlier had disappeared
unnoticed. He took
a few steps back to get a good
running start, and hurled himself shoulder-first at the door.
The latch tore out of the
more easily than he had expected, and he burst through the door and
into the wall on the other side of the entranceway.
The door bounced loudly off the wall and slammed shut,
whole front of the house shake. Giacomo
clutched at a coat to steady himself and pulled down the entire coat
almost falling down himself. Still
one came. The house
a few breaths
stopped spinning and his eyes began to adjust to the dark. He
made his way carefully
down the entrance,
laughing at himself in the back of his mind.
It was good that he could still break down doors with
skill and agility.
had come here
once as a boy. His
father had had to have a bad tooth
pulled, and he had wanted his sons to see it.
At the time Giacomo had not been at all grateful for the
now, thirty years later, he knew to follow the entranceway to the right
then take his first left to get to Miccino’s workroom.
stumbled over the barber’s chair in
the middle of it and had to stand there for a while to get his bearings.
As his own breathing
slowed down, he
realized someone else was also breathing in the room with him.
he called. “Luca,
is that you?”
breathing gave a
little whimper and
then tried to choke itself off, but in moment succumbed to the
to inhale, and gasped loudly.
harm, I swear,” Giacomo said
to the breathing. It whimpered again, but made no answer.
room a candle was
flickering behind a door, and distant moonlight was slipping in around
shutters. It was
just enough light for
Giacomo to let go of the barber’s chair and make is way
towards the breathing,
which seemed to be coming from inside a large wall cabinet.
harm, I swear,” Giacomo
repeated, and opened the cabinet, releasing a girlish shriek.
pulled the huddled
figure out from the bottom of the cabinet.
It turned out to be a girl about Luca’s age,
shaking all over.
be afraid,” Giacomo told her.
“Are you the maid?”
know where the candles
don’t you light a candle?” he
girl as she made her
way through the darkness to the next room, where the stub of a candle
guttering on a table. The
another candle, revealing a small dining room and her own frightened
Miccino?” asked Giacomo.
“Does he have guests?”
girl shook her
doesn’t, or you don’t know?”
girl shook her
head again. Giacomo
could feel his patience beginning to
have a boy with him?” he
fair, about your age, rich
called him a prince,” the girl
he really a prince?”
is,” Giacomo told her. “So
thanked me so politely when I brought
him wine and water,” said the girl, growing more animated.
“I knew he must
be a prince. Only a
prince could be so handsome. An
older man brought him, very thin and
dark. He arrived
just at sunset,
looking for Miccino. I
wine and water, and then they went downstairs.
Miccino told me not to let anyone in.
I went to bed, but then a ghost passed through the room,
and I got
scared and hid in the cabinet, and then you came, and I thought it was
ghost again, but it was only you.
you looking for the prince?”
am,” said Giacomo. “I
am his guard. Can
you help me find him?
What do you mean, a ghost passed through the
ghost,” the girl repeated
a shadow, only
often come here. I’m
scared of them, but Miccino promised
they wouldn’t hurt me, and they always leave me alone, but I
still hide in the
cabinet whenever they come, because they can’t get straight
into this room,
they have to come around. They
Miccino and the two visitors
went,” Giacomo said.
girl nodded. “That’s
where the ghosts live,” she
often goes down there
to talk to them.”
show me how to get there?”
then said, “I can
show you the door, but I don’t know if that will be enough,
because I don’t
know how to get all the way down. You’ll have to do that on
your own. But the
stairs are right over here.”
She pointed off towards the corner.
no stairs there,” Giacomo
to go around. Here,
I’ll show you, since you don’t know
the way.” The
girl made it sound as if
not knowing the way were a moral failing.
She picked up the fresh candle and led Giacomo around
kitchen, then through a bedroom, and then into a small hallway with
going up and down, presumably to the attic and cellar.
way,” she said, pointing down.
have the candle?” asked Giacomo.
I’ll have to go back through
the bedroom in the dark,” the girl protested.
know the house,” Giacomo pointed
out, trying to sound reasonable. “And
there’s another candle waiting for you in the other
but finally agreed he
could have the candle. She
into his hand and ran back towards the kitchen before he could thank
held up the
candle and tried to
see down the stairs. There
be a door at the bottom of them. He
walked carefully down them, but nothing happened.
When he tried the door, it was unlocked.
he called, slowly pushing the
door open. No one
held up the
revealing an ordinary cellar with casks of wine and oil and sacks of
along with old pieces of furniture and all the other things people
justify throwing away when they don’t want them anymore.
There was no sign of Luca,
or any of the ghosts the girl had talked about.
He made a slow circuit of the cellar, and found nothing,
sat down on a wine cask in order to think.
girl had said
she “didn’t know how to
get all the way down.” Presumably
meant something farther down than this, since as a servant she was
and down those stairs a dozen times a day.
So there must be something below.
Which meant there must be a trapdoor somewhere.
Giacomo surveyed the
cellar glumly. It
was not terribly large, but there were
still lots of casks and crates that would have to be moved in a search.
couldn’t I have been set to guarding the princesses?
he asked himself. Their
guards never have to go digging through strange cellars in the middle
he felt very tired
again, and he could also feel how time was rushing past him as he sat
are supposed to be a man of reason.
reason things out.
town-dweller who spent most
of his time shaving, and he must also be at least seventy-five by now,
meant he wouldn’t want his trapdoor to be too difficult to
get to. Probably he
wouldn’t be shifting wine casks
every time he wanted to get in and out of his secret room. Giacomo
held up the candle
again and looked
around. This time
he saw there was a
large cabinet, a twin to the one the girl had been hiding in, up
wall. Giacomo went
over and pulled open
the cabinet door. Something
dark came out of the cabinet and brushed up against him, causing him to
and almost drop the candle.
you not to be meddle with my
things down here, Carina,” said the shadow, and disappeared.
laughed. The shadow
must be a guard, one of the
“ghosts” the girl had been talking about, set to
keep her away from the secret
door. He pulled
open the other door to
the cabinet. Instead
of a back, the
cabinet had a door that led into the wall.
He opened the door.
shouted a shadow. “Go
back, you silly girl, if you know what’s
good for you!”
the cabinet and onto
the threshold of the secret door.
candle showed another set of stair leading down into the darkness.
Giacomo started walking
isn’t so bad,
thought as he went downwards. I’m
not scared at all. As soon as he
that, he wished he
hadn’t, because now the possibility of fear had entered his
head, and he
couldn’t shake it out. With
he kept expecting it to engulf him like a roaring flame, and every time
didn’t made him expect it even more.
thinking about being afraid!
he ordered himself. What kind of
thinking is this for Giacomo
dal Prado? Is this
how you thought at
the Battle of Cinquevie?
course not, he
back, because at Cinquevie I didn’t
what fear was. There
was nothing brave
about taking on all those men singlehandedly, because I
didn’t know how to be
afraid. It was just
a gift that got taken
away, and now if I want it back, I will have to fight for it with every
breath. It will
never come so easy ever
again. I was a
different man then.
not Carina,” said a shadow
suddenly, appearing in his candlelight.
“What are you doing down here?
Who are you?”
as ever, I see,” said a second
shadow, this one with Sauro’s voice.
you doing here?! Get
out!” shouted Luca. A
smaller shadow darted out from the
darkness and grabbed Giacomo’s arm.
a moment he couldn’t understand where the pain was coming
from, and then he saw
that his skin was searing from the shadow’s touch.
Luca, what are you doing?” he
cried, trying and failing to pull has arm out of the shadow’s
it said. “You
found me! How did
you find me?!”
His burning arm turned cold, and then the shadow slipped
away down the
Giacomo ran the rest of the way down the stairs, almost
candle, and into a small room. For
moment shadows seemed to smother him, making it impossible to see what
in the room, but then he broke free of them, and saw Luca, Sauro, and a
older Miccino il Nero standing in the middle of the room.
Giacomo wanted to throw his arms around Luca and weep,
patted his trembling hands all over Luca’s body, looking for
injury. He found
none, but even in candlelight the
dark circles under Luca’s eyes stood out sharply, and a whole
host of shadows
stood around him, watching Giacomo’s every move.
you find me so fast, Giaco?”
asked Luca. “I
knew you would find me
eventually, but I didn’t think it would be so fast.
Was it fast?
Is it still
the same night? I
can’t tell. I’m
sorry I burned you. Does
it still hurt? I
tried to heal you as best I could.”
still the same night,” Giacomo told
wasn’t going to let you out of
my sight for longer than I could help it, you know.
And,” he looked at his arm, where an old burn
was shedding its
skin, “you healed me very well.”
turned to the others. “What
done to him? He’s
swaying where he stands! What
have you done?!”
be Giacomo dal Prado,” said
are hundreds of
Giacomos from Prado, but you’re Il
Giacomo dal Prado. Quite
an honor for me
to see you twice. Didn’t
you come to me
with your father when you were a boy, oh, about thirty years ago or so?
I still remember you. You must
have been about
nine or ten.”
eight,” said Giacomo. “What
have you done to Luca?”
Sauro spoke from behind
has quite a talent for
it. But it is
draining, especially for
it stop! It’s
sucking the life right out of him!”
him…” Miccino began, but Sauro
cut him off.
is quite right. Luca
needs rest.” Sauro
made a motion with his hand, and all the shadow-copies of
Luca flowed over and into him, and disappeared.
terrible,” said Luca. “Like
I’m going to throw up.”
He suddenly sank to his knees.
The shadow hovered for a moment above him
before dropping back down inside him.
the matter with him?!” demanded
just tired,” said Sauro.
He pulled a flask and a small packet out from under his
him eat and drink something, and let
him rest on the bench. Now
here, we can get by without him.”
put his arms
around Luca and
helped him to a bench against the wall.
Luca pressed his head against Giacomo’s chest
like a small child while
Giacomo tasted what turned out to be watered wine in the flask and
bread in the
terrible, Giaco,” Luca repeated,
speaking into Giacomo’s chest.
to go home. And I
think I’m going to
wine,” Giacomo told him.
“That will make you feel better.
Then you won’t have to cry.”
don’t know why I feel like crying,”
mumbled Luca. “I
wish I weren’t such a
baby. I wish I were
brave like you,
bravest soldiers feel bad after
battle,” Giacomo told him.
then lie down.” Luca
straightened up to
take the flask, and drank thirstily.
have my cloak,” said Sauro,
coming over to them.
gave him a
cold down here, especially if you
have the shadow in you. He’ll
allowed Sauro to wrap
his cloak around Luca. He
Dimitrio’s old guard cloak as a pillow.
When he was satisfied that Luca was as comfortable as
possible, he set
the wine and bread down next to him, told him to rest quietly, and
Sauro back to the circle in the middle of the room.
he hissed as soon as he thought
they were out of Luca’s earshot.
did you take him? And
why, why did you
risk him like this?”
necessary,” Sauro answered,
wrapping his arms around himself.
his cloak off, Giacomo could see how thin he was.
What could he do that you couldn’t!
Why do you have to keep taking him!”
Luca as if he were your own
child, but he’s not,” said Sauro.
the youngest child of the King. His
whole purpose in life is to be somebody else’s pawn.
I’d have thought
you’d have accepted that by now.”
Giacomo’s cry made Luca sit up drowsily.
to sleep, Luchino,” Giacomo told
didn’t mean to wake you.”
tell me when it’s time to go,
won’t you, Giaco?” Luca asked.
won’t leave me behind when it’s time to do
something, will you?”
down in Sauro’s cloak,
leaving Giacomo to wonder how he was going to get out of his
to take Luca with him when it came time to take action.
always were softhearted,” said
remember how you cried when
your father had his tooth pulled.
he said you never really grew out of it.
He had to give up on making you into an artist; you were
took up soldiering instead,”
Giacomo told him. “It’s
a much better
profession for tender, gentle people like me.
And, of course, it’s so much easier on your
peace of mind as well. For
example, if someone gets in my way while
I’m doing my duty, I just kill him and never think twice
about it, whereas if
someone like you kills someone, you get hauled before the court and
to something unpleasant. Now
why did you bring Luca into this?”
to kill someone,” said
could use Luca to do it, but
we really want you. And
we knew that
the only way to bring you in was through him.”
should have just asked,” said
am unlikely to cooperate
with someone who threatens Luca.”
out of the kindness
of your heart, or because we are such good friends?”
Sauro almost smiled as he
rebut that somehow, but
he was forced to admit that Sauro had a point.
“What do you want?” he asked instead.
you to go after Count Fabio.”
rid of him, of course.”
filled with a long
silence. The only
thing audible was
Luca’s sleepy breathing.
be very clear,” Giacomo said eventually.
“You want me to kill Count Fabio.”
of my native city and the
King’s closest ally. Betrothed
said Sauro, this time rather more
that would constitute high treason.”
said Sauro. “But
the King wouldn’t necessarily have to
see it that way.”
the murder of the King’s ally
by a member of the King’s guard is the kind of thing that can
so easily be
you see, you are not a member of
the King’s guard, are you?
You are a
member of the King’s Fifty, who guards the
Children’s Castle, aren’t you?
And your primary duty is to Prince Luca.
Whenever the Heir has risen up against the
King, the King’s Fifty has risen up with him.
Everyone saw it as their duty.”
for the King, who saw it as
treason and sentenced the entire Fifty to death as soon as he regained
of the city. It
times. I know my
that what you fear, Giacomo dal
not,” said Giacomo
fear dying a traitor,”
he said more slowly. “To
die for one’s
duty—that is not such a bad thing.
to die for failing one’s duty—what could be more
someone like you, probably nothing,”
said Sauro. “But
fear not! Your duty
lies in line with my plans, and
Count Fabio is the one who must die.”
what?” demanded Giacomo.
“For inconveniencing you and your
friends? There are
things than your petty troubles. Whatever
Count Fabio’s faults, he is too important to kill.”
Giacomo remembered his
earlier thoughts on giving Adorata’s
guards assassination tips, but told himself that was completely
different—Adorata was a princess.
must be protected at all costs.
forget, Giacomo, that one of my
closest friends lies there on that bench.”
Sauro pointed to Luca.
Highness has been delving deeper and deeper into the secrets of our
as you witnessed, has proved himself a talented shadowstalker.
I have no doubt that his
continue to grow. If
Count Fabio were
to get his way, then Prince Luca would be sleeping somewhere a little
comfortable than this cellar. And
Princess Adorata is perhaps in even graver danger than her
Fabio wouldn’t dare….!” said
he? Miccino, the
scroll out from his
robes and handed it to Sauro, who handed it to Giacomo.
Giacomo unrolled it and read:
To His Royal Majesty, King
this missive I inform His Majesty
that the infection of black magic is spreading out across the land
so far as His Majesty’s own household, in direct defiance of
His Majesty’s own
stated intention of turning away from these dark and outmoded arts and
reason, harmony, and everything that raises humanity above the beasts
ensures our continued safety and wellbeing.
I have on my own initiative undertaken a cleansing of
Prado, which is
overrun with practitioners of these vile and unclean arts, and I
His Majesty to cleanse his own city, starting with his own family.
His Majesty, wise as he
is, cannot be
unaware of the corruption of his own children that the perfidious
bearers of this
infection have begun. His
look to the safety of his son and the virtue of his daughter before it
late. As the future
husband of Princess
Adorata, I cannot allow her to fall any deeper into the error in which
found herself, and I consider it my duty to bring her back to safety by
means possible. I humbly beg His Majesty to take my words with upmost
seriousness, and I offer myself and all my powers in the service of
light of the alliance
with his family His Majesty has been so kind to arrange, I humbly
request that His Majesty send their Highnesses Princess Adorata and
to Prado at once for safekeeping and, if necessary, cleansing of the
into which they have, hopefully unwittingly, stumbled.
humble and obedient servant,
del Prado, Count.
loyal to the Order intercepted
it and brought it to me instead of the King,” said Sauro.
“What do you say
that, Giacomo dal Prado?”
are all lucky it did not reach
the King,” Giacomo told him.
the truth, I cannot say what the reaction would have been to such a
communication, but it would have been violent.”
heads would have rolled,” agreed
I am even less sure than
you that those heads would not have been Luca and Adorata’s.
I thought of passing the
message on and
hoping the King would choose to move against Count Fabio instead, but I
I have little faith in his fatherly affection.
For Adorata, in particular—if even a breath of
scandal were ever to
touch her, I have no doubt that the King would rid himself of her
argue, but he was all
too aware Sauro was right. “I
that Count Fabio would dare to send the King such unfounded
unfounded,” said Miccino.
“Our Sauro’s been a busy
has been teaching Luca with the
King’s express permission!
It was me…I
was the one who objected, not the King!”
Princess Adorata?” said Miccino with
a nasty expression. “I
suppose that was
with the King’s express permission, too?”
said Giacomo, as Sauro said
coldly, “Adorata’s virtue is above
it is!” said Giacomo. “How
He realized he had been shouting, waking
the matter with Adina, Giaco?” he
asked sleepily from the bench.
said both Giacomo and Sauro
settled back down under
disappointed in you, Sauro,” said
Miccino, once it appeared that Luca had gone back to sleep. “A
there, and you turn her
you…!” cried both Giacomo and
Sauro together. Giacomo
understood what they had been talking about, and stared at Sauro.
not,” Sauro told him tiredly.
He wrapped his arms more tightly around his
torso, making him look even thinner and more beaten down. He
smiled slightly through
Princess Adorata is a
person of impeccable virtue, and I offer little danger to a woman,
anyway. We have
spoken on several occasions, that is
conversations with the
princesses and with Amanda, now much clearer to him, returned to
mind, and he doubted that that was all, but he said nothing.
That heartache was not his
for which he was profoundly grateful.
said Sauro. “I
hope I have convinced you of Count
Fabio’s dangerous intentions.”
I can hardly go around killing
everyone who says something slanderous about Luca,” Giacomo
as I might like to. I
have recently become convinced that doing
so would take up all my time, and leave many who are even more
argument, as you know
Fabio is not
everyone. So will
you help us?”
will do it instead.”
not believe he could do it?”
only a child! And I
have taught him swordfighting, not the
skills of an assassin!”
more than one type of assassin,
and Luca has had more than one teacher, these past few years.
A shadow can be a very
dangerous thing, and
Luca’s shadow is capable of the same burning rage as Luca
himself. One touch
is all it would take, as you
almost found out to your cost.”
would never kill anyone!”
Are you so sure? Luca!”
sat up sleepily. “You’re
not letting me rest like you said
you would,” he said reproachfully.
sorry, my Prince, but this is an
important matter. Tell
Giacomo what you
have planned to do to Count Fabio.
was all his own plan, I might point out,” Sauro told Giacomo.
has shown a real talent for
this kind of thing. All
the time and
effort that has been put into teaching him painting and sculpture,
poetry, would have been much better spent on teaching him the
craft. His Highness
would uphold the
standards of the profession nobly, and of course it is much more
those other things.”
dead body!” cried Giacomo, aware
that Sauro was laughing at him even as he was speaking seriously, but
stop himself from rising to his bait.
“Luca will never become a killer!”
Giacomo what you have planned for
Count Fabio, Luca,” Sauro repeated.
I have been practicing
shadowstalking together for ages now,” Luca began.
His fatigue appeared to
have deserted him, to be replaced by the
undertones of hysteria that had been showing up in his voice recently.
“We roamed all
over the castles and the city
and even out into the hills beyond.
didn’t tell you because I thought you would be angry with me
and tell me not to
do it. It was so
much fun! And then
I discovered I could burn things!
Sauro said it was because of my fiery
temper. It was so
easy! I was
practicing when you came. I
didn’t know it was you.
I thought it was one of Count Fabio’s
when we came here Sauro
told me all about Count Fabio. He
me how he’s been plotting against the Order and even against
me and Adina. I
can’t let him do that! Especially
to Adina. I
realized today when Marco and the others
were making fun of her and Zia that I have to protect them.
There are so many horrible
people in the
world, even people who call themselves my friends.
You were right, Giaco: sometimes you have to take care
yourself, and let other people worry about other people. So
I agreed to help Sauro
Fabio. Count Fabio
says he wants to
destroy the Order and everything it stands for, but he has his own
shadowstalker, did you know that?
such a liar! Sauro
says that Count
Fabio’s shadowstalker has placed wards all around the castle,
so that it is
very difficult for anyone to get in or out.
Sauro can’t get in at all now.
walls won’t let him pass through.
said that we should arrange for Count Fabio to
‘rescue’ me, and then once I’m
inside the castle, I should burn him.
We could say it was an accident afterwards, that he fell
into his fire
or something like that. What
clever,” said Giacomo slowly.
“Do you really think that you could set him
I’ve burned up lots of logs,” said
different from a log. They
don’t catch fire nearly so well, and
when they do, they scream and scream.”
Luca’s face. Giacomo
couldn’t tell if it was hunger or
Fabio is a horrible
person,” he said.
enough to be burned alive?”
twisted on his
wouldn’t take that long,” he said.
it was happening, it would
seem like all eternity to both of you.
Even that little burn you gave me hurt
like…hurt like fire. You
can’t do this, Luca.”
I can! You
can’t stop me!”
must. If I
don’t, and you do this, it will mark you for the rest of
your life. It will
never let go of
you. Did I ever
tell you of my friend
shook his head
when I was still a green foot
soldier, barely out of my father’s house.
Sandro was just as green.
were sent on a minor sortie. We
one of the enemy, but before we could bring him back to our camp, we
they were preparing a surprise attack.
We decided we had no time to get back, and to question
and there. Only he
answer. He was an
old veteran, and
angry at being captured by a couple of boys.
We both hit him, but he still refused to answer.
Then we threatened to kill
him, but he still
said nothing. We
desperate. We could
tell that their
troops were moving, and we had to get back and warn our own side, and
him with us would take too much time.
So Sandro cut off one of his fingers.
None of us could believe he had done it, but there was
on the grass. Still
the man said
nothing. Before we
knew how it had
happened, all his fingers were gone, and he still wouldn’t
talk. The enemy
troops were almost upon us, and we
still knew nothing. Sandro
throat and we ran back. But
Sandro was no man’s friend.
followed him everywhere, and for nothing—we lost the battle
due to poor
happened to him?” asked Luca.
he fell into a river in full
armor and drowned, probably on purpose.”
you,” Luca cleared his throat, “did
you cut off any fingers?”
by, which was maybe worse.”
curiously at Giacomo, as if
he were seeing him for the first time, which he probably was.
“Was that the
worst thing that ever happened
to you?” he asked.
lied Giacomo. “So
you see why I can’t let you do this.”
Fabio wants to hurt me and
Adina! You saw the
letter he tried to
send to Father. If…Father…I
Highness is trying to say is
that kings rarely love their children,” Miccino cut in.
wouldn’t think twice about sending them
to the gallows.”
terrible,” said Luca, his voice
are horrible, even my
Fabio dies, who replaces him?”
Giacomo asked Sauro. “We
don’t want to
be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”
nephew Marcellano,” said Sauro.
“He claims to be a staunch proponent of the
Rebirth, but at least under him our lives would probably not be in
me, remember?” Luca put
practiced swordfighting with me
the last time he came to visit. He
we had a lot in common.”
not take kindly to anyone who
murders his uncle, however, even if it does gain him Prado,”
is rarely publicly
can’t look like an
we let Luca do
it, so that it looks like an accident,”
it, and make it look like you
were protecting Prince Luca. Which
madness,” said Giacomo.
“Assassinating the ruler of Prado!
Count Fabio is right to
fear you! I would
not have expected this even from
rat will fight if it’s cornered,”
Sauro said, almost smiling at Giacomo.
“I have the death sentence hanging over my own
head here in Prado, and,
it may surprise you to know, I will allow no harm to come to Luca.
Anyone who raises a hand
against him should
expect to lose that hand, and maybe much more as well.
At the moment, Count Fabio has his hand
drawn back at full stretch, and is about to let it swing. He
got two names out of
and Luca. He has
already found his
Telemachio, and he has finally guessed who Luca is.
In hindsight, I should have never let Rosetta meet Luca,
underestimated Count Fabio’s obsession, and Luca so wanted to
what is done is done. Rosetta
and Luca has caught Count Fabio’s eye.
You saw the letter; did it seem the work of a sane man
admitted Giacomo. Amanda’s
story of the smoke-scryer and Count
Fabio was coming back to him, now with much greater and more sinister
Fabio will stop at nothing to
protect himself from the dark menace he sees looming over him.
If he thinks Prince Luca
is in his way, he
will get rid of him any way he sees how.
When he fails to hear from the King, he will send
this one will be even more dangerous…The King will be forced
to act, and it
seems unlikely that he will act in Luca’s favor. The
Luca’s brother and sisters will most likely try to
stop him, but that will only serve to discredit them in the
King’s eyes. You
see the King frequently: can you claim
he is much more reasonable than Count Fabio?”
Giacomo was forced to admit again.
why we have to stop him, don’t
you, Giaco?” Luca spoke up from the bench.
“He has to be stopped!
won’t, then I will! I
don’t care what
you told me about Sandro and the fingers.
I don’t care if his death follows me for the
rest of my life. It
would be worth it!”
things call for too great a
sacrifice,” Giacomo told him.
would be one of them.”
that,” Giacomo said heavily.
“Which is why I will do it for you.”
Luca jumped up from his bench.
“I knew I could count on you!
can always count on you! You
sorry, Giaco, it will all work out, you’ll see. I
promise nothing will
happen to you, Giaco, no one will do
anything to you afterwards. After
you’ll be protecting me, and that’s your
you have a plan for this as
well,” said Giacomo.
came over to join the men in the middle
of the room. In the
face seemed so thin and pale that it was nothing but the dark circles
his eyes. A shadow was draped all around him like a cloak. Even
so, Giacomo could see
rising off of him like heat waves.
go to Count Fabio,” said Luca,
speaking very fast in his excitement.
“I’ll tell him I had to leave Fiori
for some reason. Then…Then
I should show him something, something
about shadowstalking. Then
when he threatens
me, you can kill him.”
he doesn’t threaten you?” asked
surely will. He
won’t be able to help himself.”
you think that is…right, Luca?”
Count Fabio into threatening
you, just so that we can kill him.”
looked at Giacomo curiously, as if he had just started
speaking of life on distant stars, or something equally far away.
“He wants to
kill me, doesn’t he?”
that way, but what you are
proposing, is, is, is underhanded. You
are giving Count Fabio
no chance to
doesn’t deserve that!” said Luca
say something, but he
was afraid that if he opened his mouth he would shout,
“Haven’t I taught you
question is not what he
deserves, but what you are honor-bound to offer him,” he said
prince does not just go around killing
defenseless men because of rumor and hearsay.
No matter what Count Fabio may have done or plans to do,
he deserves a
gets a fair trial, then he’ll
turn everyone against
me! You know what
the court would do if
they found out how far Sauro and I have gone!
Giaco, we have to, we have
stop him! And, and,
why are you talking
about a fair trial? You’re
soldier! How many
times did you give
the people you killed a fair trial before you killed them? Never!
You just killed them!
this different? It’s
not! Count Fabio is
our enemy, and we have to get
rid of him!”
well,” Giacomo said after a
won’t argue with you, because
you will not listen. We
will go to
Count Fabio, and if he…if he threatens you, I will deal with
face, which had turned sullen when
Giacomo had accused him of not listening, brightened.
“Thank you, Giaco, thank you!
I knew I could count on you!
Let’s leave right away!
agreed Giacomo. “The
sooner this is over with, the better.”
that Count Fabio has his own
shadowstalker, who could be anyone of his household,” said
will try to go with you in shadow, but it
is likely I will be stopped at the castle entrance.
You will be on your own.”
I’ll be with him!” said Luca.
smiled at Luca. “True
your Highness.” Despite
his smile, his words sounded sad.
Luca tugged impatiently at Giacomo’s
arm. With a
farewell nod at Sauro and
Miccino, he followed him up the stairs, through Miccino’s
house, and—catching a
glimpse of Carina, who waved shyly at them from around the corner of
hallway—out onto the street.
was not far
away, thought Giacomo as
they walked through the almost-deserted streets.
He was walking fast enough from irritation and dread
had to skip to keep up with him, but he didn’t seem to mind.
He gazed up trustingly at
Giacomo and talked
quickly the whole time about everything that had happened since they
seen each other. Giacomo
tried not to
listen. He was
angry with Luca for
talking him into this, and furious with himself for doing it anyway.
With every step that
brought him closer to
the castle, he became more convinced he was doing something very
that only made him walk faster. His
legs had suddenly become heavy again from the long ride and the running
and forth across Prado, and his boots, which were still covered with
of Il Vicolo dell’Ordine, kept slipping on the cobblestones,
but he didn’t slow
down. The adventure
had dragged on long
enough. He just
wanted to get it over
and done with.
they crossed La
Giacomo thought he caught a glimpse of a thin shadow flitting through
following us?” he asked,
interrupting Luca’s account of how he and Sauro had crossed
thirty miles in what
seemed like the blink of an eye.
looked around. “Yes,”
he said. “He’ll
probably come up to the gates with us, and wait there, in
case he can suddenly get in.”
disappeared once they crossed
the square and were back on the darker streets, but Giacomo was
could feel it just behind him. Its
presence was almost comforting. If
Count Fabio really did have his own
“shadowstalker,” then any weapon against it
was welcome, even Sauro, especially if it meant Luca would not have to
fight. Despite his
anger at Luca,
Giacomo was determined to protect him from having to kill anyone at all
casual attitude towards
assassinating Count Fabio had filled Giacomo with a whole new kind of
and fear. What if
all the effort he had
gone to in order to train and protect him had been in vain, and Luca
to end up amoral and cruel? What
Giacomo managed to protect him from sword and shadow, only to discover
been sheltering a monster? What
realized he should have been protecting the world from the Luca,
Luca from the world, and his duty lay in destroying him?
no no, Giacomo told
only a boy, and boys are naturally
thoughtless, even clever and
kind ones like Luca. The
thing is to keep him from getting a taste for killing.
In a few years he’ll settle down again, and
go from a good child to a good man.
just has to make it through this trying time.
same guards were
guarding the castle
gates when he and Luca arrived. “You
again,” they said.
with the Prince,” said
Giacomo, pushing Luca forward so they could see him.
know he’s not just some street
urchin you picked up?” the guards demanded.
you stand in our way!” said
Luca indignantly. “We
business with Count Fabio! Now
guards looked at
each other. “He’s
definitely not a street urchin,” said
he’s not the Prince, he’s still
someone important,” agreed the other.
They stepped aside to
let Giacomo and Luca through.
through the gates and
into the courtyard, they found a sleepy servant sitting by the castle
door. He stared at
incomprehension when he explained why they had come, but eventually
grasp the nature of their errand and led them inside.
here,” he said. “I’ll
send someone to warn the Count.”
He disappeared down a dark corridor, leaving
Giacomo and Luca to wait in a small room full of boots and cloaks.
Giacomo tried to clean off
his own boots
while they waited, but only succeeded in spreading the filth around
evenly. He hoped
the stink of slops and
nightsoil rising from them was not as apparent to others as it was to
less sleepy, came back.
Fabio is anxious to see you,” he
mind felt clear and calm as he
followed the servant through corridor after corridor.
From time to time he would inadvertently ask himself if
frightened, but then he would remember that those thoughts were never
and there was nothing to fear in a simple assassination anyway, and his
would return to his weapons. A
was a weapon of last resort for this kind of thing.
He had a small dagger in his right boot that was much
to close-quarter killing, if he could come up with a suitable pretext
pulling it out in time. Or
always his bare hands. They
the best of all. Giacomo
had only seen
Count Fabio once, a long time ago and from a distance, but he doubted
be able to put up much of a fight.
if only he could come up with a way to get Luca out of the room before
actual deed was done. He
Luca to witness this. Although,
it was being done on his initiative, perhaps he needed to see what he
in motion. Once
again, Giacomo heartily
regretted being drawn into this, especially without a firm plan.
at a large and
elaborately carved door.
in,” called a voice from the
the door and led them
into a sitting room full of dark heavy furniture.
Tiny curls of aromatic smoke rose from the fireplace,
summer heat. Luca
looked at the smoke,
and shook his head angrily.
us,” ordered the voice from a room
farther inside. A
woman’s voice rose up
for a moment, and then faded away.
out the door and shut
it. Count Fabio
came towards them from
the inner chamber.
an unexpected pleasure, and at
such a late hour,” he said.
“Is this in
response to the missive I sent the King?”
said Luca. He
stepped out from behind Giacomo’s back,
where he had instinctively hidden on seeing Count Fabio’s
long thin figure
appear before them.
betrothed? Is the
Princess Adorata also of the party?”
that Giacomo was
seeing Count Fabio
properly, he couldn’t help but agree with Luca and Sauro that
any measure would
be worth taking in order to keep him away from Adorata.
His bald head and deep-set eyes filled Giacomo
with almost as much aversion as the sight of Sauro, although in this
was the result of simple revulsion, not overwhelming fear. He
wondered if the
voice had belonged to a whore.
searching Count Fabio’s face for signs of the pox.
coming later, during the day. Ladies
shouldn’t travel at night.
But I had to come at once.
It isn’t safe for me to be in Fiori right
had to admire Luca’s
fluid lying, especially since he could feel him quivering from fear and
exhaustion. He had
thought he would
have to do the talking, but it seemed that Luca was more than capable
carrying the conversation.
so, your Highness? What
is the danger?”
Luca looked around with frightened eyes.
“A shadowstalker is after me!” he
is trying to corrupt me! I
had to leave as soon as I could. I
needed to see you.”
done the right thing, your
Highness. You will
be safe from all of
that here in Prado. Can
I offer you
anything? Some wine
Luca seemed to be coming to some kind of a decision.
please,” he said. “I
would be most grateful for any
refreshment you could provide me and my man.
We have had a long night, and are most tired from the
be my pleasure.” Count
Fabio went over to a small table, and
began to pour liquid from various decanters into glasses.
Luca whispered in his ear. “I’m
afraid of the wine. I
think it might be poisoned. I’m
sure of it. I saw
it in the smoke of the fire. But
what do we do now? I
asked him to pour it, but I don’t know how not to drink it.
If I just say
it’s poisoned, no one will
drink it first,” whispered
tell him that’s what we
duty, your Highness.”
Luca whispered fiercely. “I
can’t let you!”
He clutched at Giacomo’s clothing, as if to
him back. “What’s
in your pocket?” he asked.
had forgotten about it. He
pulled it out of his pocket. It
was still warm, as if it had just come
from next to Amanda’s skin, and it glittered slightly in the
light from the
wonder how you use it,” he
is that a poison-stone? Give
it to me!” Luca
held out his hand like someone expecting a dog to bring them
a stick. Giacomo
obediently dropped the
stone into his open palm. Even
current circumstances he was both proud and amused at Luca’s
air of command.
them both glasses of
wine and water. “What
is that you have
in your hand, your Highness?” he asked, raising his eyebrows
and trying to
sound like a good-natured uncle. “A
favorite stone? When
I was your age, I
also collected stones. Tell
Fabio’s vulture-like face twisted into an imitation of a
smile, “is it just a stone, or does it have other
it in something like this,”
Luca was speaking very fast from anger, and his hands were clumsy as he
the stone in his glass, “it tells me if there is poison
held up the glass for them to see.
The wine and water slopped gently against
the side of the glass from his shaking hands.
What happens if the poison is there?” asked
Count Fabio, raising an
fizzes. Like this.” Bubbles
gathering around the stone, which could just be made out through the
effect of dropping the stone into
the liquid,” said Count Fabio sharply.
said Luca. “Look.”
Froth was starting to rise to the top of the glass, as
it were full
of pink beer rather than wine.
alchemical reaction. Certain
powders will do that when mixed with
poison!” shouted Luca. He
was trembling all over. “You
really did try to poison me! Giaco,
he tried to poison me!”
Highness is hysterical,” said Count
Fabio to Giacomo. “The
effect of the
late hour. Let him
drink his wine to
settle his nerves, and go to bed.
will be calmer by morning.”
frothing glass out of
is poison, it is!
a simple way to solve this,”
said Giacomo. “Let
Count Fabio take the
a moment Count
a decision on how to
proceed appeared in his eyes. “How
you insult my hospitality!” he shouted.
“How dare you insinuate that I would poison a
guest! You, you,
commoner! Have you
no idea how to treat your
doing my duty,” said Giacomo.
“Take the first sip, and we will all forget
this ever happened.” He
held the glass
out towards Count Fabio. “Take
at the glass for a
long moment. He
stretched out his hand,
and then suddenly drew it back and struck at Giacomo.
Giacomo jerked out of the way, but the wine went
and Count Fabio both shrieked and
covered their faces from the flying wine.
cried Luca from under his
it on me? Is it on
let it run into your mouth!”
his face with his
sleeve, but it was dry. The
to have all splashed away from him, towards the others.
It was dripping down Luca’s shoulder and Count
the poison?” demanded
Fabio flinched back but
said nothing, only looking down at his shirt instead.
“What’s the poison?”
that he realized
the wine had not hit
his face, Count Fabio regained possession of himself.
“Poison?” he said.
was no poison, only an alchemical reaction with bad wine. I
am surprised you could
allow his Highness
to indulge his caprices like this, and against a person of my stature.
high time he was taken away
from you, and trained in the behavior of a true prince.
A true prince
screamed Luca. “Murderer!
was poison! It was
launched himself at Count Fabio, his fingers outstretched like
Giacomo tried to grab him, but his filthy boots slipped
a pool of
spilled wine, and he went down on one knee.
Luca landed on Count Fabio’s chest like an
burns!” cried Count Fabio.
He tried to push Luca off of him, but Luca
had both hands around his neck.
go!” ordered Giacomo, trying
to rise and pull the two of them apart, but Luca and Count Fabio were
struggling wildly now. A
caught him in the knee, and his legs buckled again.
Fabio was screaming. The
smell of searing flesh was filling the air.
Giacomo crawled on his sore knees till he
was out of the pool of wine and could get enough traction to throw
the fighters again. He
something go in his left knee as he lunged forward, but his leap still
him onto the flailing pile that contained Luca.
Somehow he got both arms around him, but not before an
shadow rose out of Luca and swooped down on Count Fabio, smothering his
shouted several voices at
once. Giacomo tried
to pull him off of
Count Fabio and catch his shadow at the same time, and failed at both.
More shadows were coming
through the walls
and surrounding them.
I feel sick,” said Luca in a very small voice,
a moment Giacomo
couldn’t see what
was happening. He
caught Luca, but his
sudden dead weight made Giacomo’s tired legs buckle again,
and they both went
down in a heap on the floor. Giacomo
somehow heaved them both up into a sitting position, but
Luca’s head lolled
lifelessly against his chest.
Giacomo’s hands knew what to
do, because his mind seemed to have frozen.
Somewhere very far away it was screaming,
dead!” but up close it was completely blank.
It was his hands, moving of their own
accord, that thought to feel Luca’s pulse, and it was his
hands that told him
that the little jumping beat under their fingers meant Luca was alive.
There seemed to be a great
deal of commotion
amongst all the shadows in the room, but Giacomo paid it no attention.
Still acting on their own,
his hands turned
Luca’s face towards his ear, and held it there until they
were sure the air
gusting against his cheek was from Luca’s breath.
Then his hands clutched
Luca to him, and Giacomo sobbed as he
hadn’t sobbed for more than half his lifetime.
only gained some
measure of control
over himself when something like cold smoke brushed against his back,
voiceless voice said in his ear, “Calm yourself, Giacomo!
The battle is not yet
looked up. Luca was still
Fabio was still
dead, his neck and face burned beyond recognition.
There was only one shadow in the room now, and it was
over him. As he
watched, it slid away
from him and back into an unlit corner.
When it reemerged, it was no longer a shadow, but Sauro
are gone,” Sauro said. “Count
Fabio’s shadowstalker must have
broken them when he fled.”
find a healer or a surgeon,”
Giacomo said. “He
won’t wake up.”
or surgeon can help him now,”
Sauro told him. “His
won’t wake up until he gets it
Luca’s face more
shadow was gone.
after the other shadowstalker,
most likely,” said Sauro.
“I tried to
hold him back, but with the wards still up, I was too weak.
He slipped away before I
could stop him.”
both too weak,” said Giacomo
I hadn’t slipped when he
attacked Count Fabio, I could have stopped him, and none of this would
happened. If I
could have held him
back, we could have arrested Count Fabio and proven the wine was
none of this would have ever happened.
But I didn’t.
I failed him. At
the crucial moment, I failed him, and
after I had sworn to myself I would stop him no matter what the cost.
I failed him.
When it really mattered, I
couldn’t do my duty, and now he’s
that!” hissed Sauro. “Do
you think you’re the only one thinking
those thoughts? If
I hadn’t taught him
this and taught him that, none of this would have happened either, but
so clever, so keen, that I couldn’t stop myself, and before I
knew it, he was
beyond my control. But
‘if I hadn’t’
will get us nowhere. What has happened, happened.
Some would say it was fated.
The dark gods of battle are cruel and capricious, and
worse than blood. Sometimes
that you lose for reasons known only to them, even when by all rational
measures you should win, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Now we stand where we
stand, and we can’t
run back and change things. The
gone, and the only thing we have left is the future.
So let’s make sure it doesn’t slip
of our grasp like the past
did! Get up!
We still have something to
Luca on the floor and
got to his feet. It
took a long time
because his whole body was sore and tired, and his legs had no fight
them at all.
don’t believe in the gods of battle,”
he said. “A
strong sword arm will get you
farther than prayers, and a strong will will take you farthest of
as ever, I see,” said
you ready to carry on?”
said Giacomo, trying to stop his
body from shaking as he stood there.
“What do we have to do?” he asked.
to get Luca’s shadow back.
He sent it chasing after the other
shadowstalker, and he must have lost it, or the other shadowstalker
and brought it under his control somehow.
We’ll have to free him from the other
shadowstalker, and help his shadow
come back to him.”
can’t believe I’m helping you do
this,” said Giacomo. “I
hoped every day
for the past four years that Luca would lose this shadow you infected
and now, as soon as he does so, I’m running to bring it back.
I would laugh if it
don’t tell me anything
about cruel and capricious gods. I
don’t think I could stand it.
me what we have to do.”
have to find Luca’s
shadow. I can do
that. Then, if it
is caught by the other
shadowstalker, we have to free it.
might mean destroying the other shadowstalker’s body.
You will have to do
I am fated to be an assassin
tonight,” said Giacomo.
“The gods damn
everyone from here to eternity! So
not wait. The
sooner this sorry night is over with,
have to wait at least a little
while longer,” said Sauro.
Luca, while I go looking for his shadow.”
into his dark
busied himself with
arranging Luca as comfortably as possible by laying him out flat and
up his head with Dimitrio’s old guard cloak.
The sight of Luca’s chest rising and falling
reassuring, but the
sight of his pinched white face was not.
He looked as if all the blood had been drained out of
to do it,” Giacomo said to
wouldn’t let me stop
you. They say the
burned hand fears the
fire, but sometimes that comes at the price of scars.
Why couldn’t you listen?”
made no answer,
but only continued
his barely perceptible breathing.
Giacomo sat down beside him with his legs drawn up and
rested his face
against his knees. He
hoped he wouldn’t
have to get up ever again. It
good just to rest like this. He
Sauro would find Luca’s wayward shadow and bring it back
unscathed, and he,
Giacomo, wouldn’t have to do anything or kill anyone,
especially not a
shadowstalker of unknown but apparently immense powers.
Because he wasn’t sure he could.
Even if he met no external obstacles, there
was no guarantee he wouldn’t fail at the crucial moment again.
Especially if he became
afraid. If the fear
caught him, there was no knowing
what he would do. He
was like a sword
with a flaw in it. It
cleanly, or it might shatter from the lightest touch.
But he couldn’t think about that. He
the fear take him, not now, not after all this…
was standing in
front of him. “Giacomo,
I found him. He
is caught, just as I feared. You
have to go after the other shadowstalker.
One swift strike, and it will all be over.
It is unlikely he will have any defenses other than his
shadows. If I keep
him distracted, you should be able
to go right up to him and take him down with no trouble, and Luca will
he?” asked Giacomo.
top of the tower at the far side
of the castle. He
seems to have a room
there. As I passed
through the stairs I
sensed wards of fire and fear set against intruders.
I will try to help you break through them, but we may
rely on your own courage. So
I have no
doubt we will prevail. Here,
and pulled Giacomo to
his feet. Giacomo
swayed, and Sauro
yet,” he said. “Just
one more brave move, and you can
to push himself
upright. He was
surprised at how thin
Sauro was, even thinner than he looked.
Giacomo could feel every rib, and every bone in his
shoulders. His body
seemed as light as a cat’s.
should take up swordfighting,” he
told him, sounding drunk even to his own ear.
“That would put some muscle on you.”
shadow would still melt it all
away. Can you stand
now? Where are your
Giacomo touched the sword at his belt, and pointed to
knife in his
boot. After a
moment of thought, he
pulled it out.
as well have it ready in my
hand,” he explained. Standing
starting to make him feel stronger.
still hoped the other shadowstalker was as thin as Sauro, though.
have to go back down to the
Great Hall, and up the other set of stairs to the far tower,”
will stay here with Luca, but I
will accompany you in shadow. I
be able to distract him enough for you to catch him off his
said Giacomo. “Let’s
He started towards the door.
steps were almost straight now. He
could sense Sauro’s shadow behind him.
continued to return as he
went out the door, along the corridor, and down the stairs towards the
Hall, although his legs still buckled dangerously if he took an
see, he told
himself, it’s not so bad.
All you have to do is keep going.
Across the Great Hall, up the stairs, into the tower,
one quick strike, and it will all be over.
One quick strike. One
pictured the strike in
his mind several times, until he was certain he knew what he wanted to
then he tucked it in the back of his mind and concentrated on keeping
body moving forward.
Great Hall was lit by a single torch.
Sauro’s shadow flickered briefly into sight in
the light. Giacomo’s
own shadow was right next to it. Then
Giacomo realized it wasn’t his shadow.
he started to shout, just as the shadow pounced.
a voiceless voice screamed in his head.
His legs somehow carried him at a dead sprint across the
Great Hall and
through the door to the back stairs, but at the first step a shadow
his head and he tripped and crashed to his knees.
His knife fell out of his fingers and disappeared into a
started hammering so wildly he thought he might be sick. It’s
right there, he told himself.
Right in that corner. Just
reach over and pick
it up. It’s
not a disaster. It’s
right there. Just
pick it up. There’s
no harm done. Just
pick it up. His
fingers reached out and felt around in
the corner. When
immediately find the knife, another bolt of fear shot through him, but
they closed around the knife handle and drew it safely back to him.
He thought he might weep
was nothing, he
stumble in the dark. Get
up and keep
going. It was
rose slowly to his feet and took a
careful step onto the first stair.
legs didn’t give way, and he kept a hold on his knife.
Just keep going.
started up the stairs. His
still racing from shock and exhaustion, and his stomach felt full of
sparks. As much as
he tried to tell
himself that tripping and dropping the knife meant nothing, he
feeling it was a bad omen. And
was drawing ever closer to the shadowstalker’s room, and
Sauro still wasn’t
with him. He
wasn’t sure what that
meant, other than there was no one to help him get through the wards of
and fire. At that
thought he stopped
again. He was
almost sure he could feel
them lurking up there, waiting to pounce on him as the shadow had
Sauro. At any
moment, he knew, the fear
would descend on him, and he would be helpless in the face of its
was no fighting
it. Once it took
him, all he could do
was try to get to the other side of it, and hope his courage would see
only fear, he told
only in your mind. It’s
only fear. All you
have to do is keep walking, and
eventually it will be over.
While you stand here, the other
winning. You have
to start moving
it took what
seemed like a long, long time for him to take that next step, and when
he flinched all over, expecting the fear to pour down on him like
happened. He took
another step. His
so-tired legs started working
independently of his head. Everything
in him that could think or feel couldn’t believe it was being
like this, but still he kept walking.
must be what it’s like to be walking to
your execution, he
of you is screaming to go back, and
half of you can’t believe that it’s about to
happen, so it keeps sending you
forward. I wish I
didn’t have this
knowledge. I wish I
could spend the
rest of my life in ignorance of how this feels, but I won’t.
I will never be rid of
this, but I am doing
it anyway. I could
stop, but I am doing
mind was full of thoughts, it was also full of feelings, so that he was
aware of the placement of his head, his arms, his hands, the ache in
and the sharp pain in his left knee, and the way his body was moving
dark hot staircase air, which swirled stuffily around him, smelling of
stone and dust. He
that it were over, or that he could somehow escape the curse of
that was making this so terrible.
now death seemed preferable to this eternal dragging of his tired body
endless staircase, with something even more horrible ahead of him.
fear of the
fear consumed him so much that at first he didn’t notice when
the real fear
came creeping in. It
wasn’t until he
suddenly gasped from the pain in his stomach that he understood what
stopped and leaned against
the wall for a moment, while everything rang in his ears.
just fear, he
all in your head. Keep
He straightened up and took another step.
The staircase was full of what felt like
cold smoke, and the air felt thick, as if he were swimming through
terror. He took a
deep breath. The
inside of his nostrils burned. He
looked up. A flame
from the ball he had dropped into when the flame had come rushing at
him. His left knee
let him know that he had hit
it hard on the edge of a step when he had gone down.
He patted himself down dreamily.
His clothing was hot and dry, but there was no other
burning. The flame
had been fake. He
must have passed through the wards of
fear and fire.
incredibly light. Everything
just gone through was behind him.
fake flame seemed to have burned away the fake fear.
He floated the rest of the way up the stairs to the
and opened it.
large, with many windows. The
light of dawn was showing through one of them.
A large shadow stood frozen in the opposite corner,
trapped by the
light. A man in a
hooded cloak stood on
the far side of the room from the door, watching Giacomo as he came in.
There was something
strange about him. Then
Giacomo saw what it was. The
dawn should have cast a small shadow
against the wall, but it was missing.
said the man.
should just rush at the man and slit his throat, but for a moment he
make himself attack an unarmed man, and also he was afraid his hands
tremble or his legs would give way.
stood still in the middle of the room, aware of how stupid that was but
the bodyguard,” said the man.
should go back and protect your charge’s body.
Soul and shadow are beyond you.”
and I won’t kill you,” said Giacomo.
“We could use you.
tell the King what Count Fabio was doing.
Your word in exchange for your life.”
I won’t kill you,” said the man.
could use you. You
could tell the King
what Count Fabio was doing. Your
in exchange for your life. I’ll
throw in Prince Luca on the bargain.
back to guarding his body, and wait for the rest of him to return as
well. I will give
him back to you, I swear, as
soon as he agrees to support me. In
fact, help me convince him, and I will reward you.
My gratitude will mean much, especially to a man of
Prado. Just cooperate,
everything will work for the best for all of us.”
hurting me!” cried the shadow with Luca’s voice.
hurting me, and he won’t let go!”
forward, and then stopped when Luca’s shadow cried out again.
man’s small dawn-shadow, instead
of being behind him where it should have been, separated from
Luca’s shadow and
held up its hands.
hurting him,” said the cloaked man.
“Only separating his shadow from his spirit.
Isn’t that what
you have long wanted to do? A
momentary pang of splitting, and then he
will be returned to you, the same happy, healthy boy he was before all
happened, before he was drawn into our dark underworld.
Just let me have his shadow, and you can
have the rest of him. Do
Fiori, really want the shadow-boy he has become?
Would the old Luca have ever run away?
Would the old Luca have killed Count Fabio? This
Luca has started down
a dark path, but
it is not too late to turn him back.
Just let me have his shadow, and let Luca return to the
light. He always
was a sunny boy; I will just be
returning him to his true state.”
Giacomo. He so
desperately wanted the
old Luca back, the one he had watched over before Sauro had come along,
that was his through and through.
had the old Luca back, he would never have to suffer the jealousy he
time Luca talked to him about Sauro, never have to share him with
dawn-shadow stretched out its hands into Luca’s shadow,
making it shrink. Luca’s
shadow screamed. Giacomo
could feel the hair all over his
body rising, and it seemed to him that another, fainter scream was
the other side of the castle, where Luca’s body was lying.
His own body lifted off
the floor and sailed
across the room, seemingly without effort.
His knife flashed out.
and the cloaked man fell in a tangled heap on the floor. Luca
had stopped screaming.
leaking out over Giacomo’s hand.
scrambled to his feet, shaking all over.
Even in the faint light, he could see that all the veins
out on his hands and arms. He
run through the castle, killing everyone in his path.
Instead he looked down, to try to understand what had
happened. There was
a small cut on his
right hand, and a lot of blood. He
looked down at the cloaked man. The
hilt of Giacomo’s knife was standing out from his temple like
horn. There was a
lot more blood around
him, most of it not Giacomo’s.
shadows in the room were cast by the sunrise.
Giacomo turned and ran.
the Great Hall he started to feel sick, but his legs still carried him
to Count Fabio’s chambers.
Sauro were lying on the floor, side by side.
Giacomo dropped down next to them.
Luca opened his eyes.
Giaco,” he said.
swarmed in front of Giacomo’s eyes.
could feel his veins shrinking back into his body, and with them, the
course,” he said.
hand,” said Luca.
rest. You look like
you’re going to be
sick. I think
we’re safe now.”
all safe. Let’s
just wait here for someone to find
arranged himself so that his back was against a chair, and
Luca’s head was
resting in his lap. Things
becoming brighter. When
the sun’s first
rays came through the stained glass windows and filled the room with
light, servants came through the door and found them.
on finding three strangers next to Count Fabio’s dead body
was great, but the
servants were quickly convinced that Luca was a prince, not a common
assassin. No one
but a prince could
have ordered them around so imperiously.
Giacomo tried to get up when the servants came in, but
Luca said, “no
Giaco, stay down,” and he did.
healers were called in. One
took charge of Sauro, who still hadn’t woken up. She
had him carried out to
some other room in order to examine
him. The other
healer looked over Luca,
pronounced him healthy, and then sent him to sit with Sauro before
Giacomo, despite Giacomo’s protests.
to be sick when you get up, and you don’t want him seeing
that,” she said. “Let
him remember you as the hero who saved
him, not the man who was sick all over his own clothes.
Let him stay with his friend for a bit while
I look you over. He’ll
be safe there.”
wouldn’t be sick, but as soon as she moved him onto the chair
at his back, he
retched bile all down his shirt.
you’ll soon be better,” she told him comfortingly.
only nerves and no water.
Here, drink this.”
him a glass of water. Giacomo
poisoned,” said the healer, laughing slightly.
sent you this, to
prove it to you.” She
took a small flat
packet out of her pocket, and unfolded it.
Inside were several cards, and a note in the same jagged
handwriting that had made the dodecagon.
the water, Giacomo, and look at the cards,
note. Giacomo drank
the water. His
stomach protested, but it stayed
down. He looked at
the cards. The Rose
Maiden, Death, and the Victorious
Soldier were tied together with a purple ribbon.
There was a fourth, separate card.
Giacomo turned it over.
The Violet Maiden gazed up at him mysteriously.
There were words written
around the edge of
said the words, if you don’t tell
I’ll just find out anyway.
Your parents want to see you.
reads true,” said the healer.
do what she says, if I were you.”
fussed over Giacomo for a little while longer, putting some kind of
salve on his cuts and giving him sips of water, until she was convinced
wasn’t going to throw up again.
servants came in and carried away Count Fabio’s body.
Half a dozen guards came
in and stood against the wall, watching
Giacomo suspiciously and obviously waiting for the healer to leave so
could question him.
rest,” the healer told him as she prepared to go.
“I think your
body will heal quickly, if you let it, but I
wouldn’t expect to feel better for a while, if I were you.
Your nerves will take a
long time to
she left, she slipped
something from the floor into her case.
Only after she was gone did Giacomo realize it was the
glass that had
held the poisoned wine. He
about calling her back, but couldn’t summon up the energy.
moved away from the wall and formed a circle around Giacomo.
The one in the finest
cloak stood directly
in front of him and demanded to know what had happened.
tried to kill Prince Luca,” Giacomo said listlessly.
“There was a
fell into the fire. By
the time we
pulled him out, it was too late.
Someone else came in and took the Prince.
I went after him, took care of him, and brought the
back. His body
should be in the top of
the far tower.”
Marcellano’s body, Signore,” said the guard officer.
“It was a bad
night to be a ruler of Prado, it seems.”
Count’s heir?” Giacomo asked.
to care about having just killed off the ruling family of his native
will be asked.”
to the King,” Giacomo told him.
guard officer asked him many more questions, but Giacomo only stared at
floor and said nothing. Eventually
locked him and Luca in the Count’s bedroom, telling him that
he would just have
to wait for word from the King. Giacomo
could hear the boots of many guards outside the door.
He wondered where the secret passageway that Count
companion had used was, but couldn’t summon up the strength
to look for
it. Luca fretted
for a while over
Sauro, who was still unconscious, and then fell asleep on the
Count’s bed. Giacomo
sat on a soft chair next to the bed,
and let his eyes close. At
one point he
thought he heard his parents’ voices shouting on the other
side of the door,
but it could have been a dream.
no windows, so Giacomo could only assume it was dinnertime when
into the room because they brought them dinner food.
Luca woke up and immediately began eating ravenously.
he said, after he had started on his second plate and realized that
hadn’t touched any of the food.
ate some food and listened to Luca tell him about all the things he and
had been doing behind Giacomo’s back.
He heard about shadowstalking, and smoke-scrying, and
Luca had been
learning to fight with fire, and so many other things he
didn’t want to know
about. Luca seemed
unconcerned about the deaths of Count Fabio and Marcellano, or his
fate. His only
reference to it was when
he said, “I wonder if Father will come get us, or will he
send Desi? How long
do you think it will take for them
to get here?”
they’ll come as soon as they can, your Highness,”
said Giacomo, which seemed to
satisfy Luca completely.
been late at night when the door suddenly opened again, and guards came
that behind the chevrons of the Prado guards were the rosebud-covered
the King’s Fifty.
said Damiano. “His
Highness and his
vouch for them
personally, and I’m sure her Highness Adorata will want to
them down. Gently,”
he added, when two guards took
Giacomo by the arms and hauled him to his feet.
his hands, Signore?” asked one of the Prado guards.
“He did kill at
least one man already today, by his own
sure he was only doing his
to feel glad that his hands had been left unbound and that Adorata,
sure to be
a much fairer judge than either the King or Desiderato, had apparently
herself to deal with the problem, but he was still incapable of either
or feeling. He
amongst the crowd of guards, listening to Luca’s enthusiastic
their adventures to Giannini and Damiano, who had one hand tightly
Luca’s collar, without understanding anything he was saying.
glimpse of the night sky through a window, and saw that it was quite
late. The party
turned from a dark corridor into
the Great Hall, which was full of torches and brightly-shining sconces.
Giacomo turned his face
away from the
painful light, but the guards prodded him on.
cried, breaking free from Damiano’s grip and sprinting across
the Great Hall to
the Prado chair of state, where Adorata was sitting.
He threw himself into her arms.
The Hall erupted in applause and cheers.
Giacomo realized it was full of spectators.
Giacomo?” Adorata demanded, when she had kissed the top of
Luca’s head and sat
him down beside her.
guards pulled Giacomo up to her chair and pushed him down on his knees.
It was a good thing he
didn’t want to
resist, he thought, because he wouldn’t have been able to.
Giacomo?” she asked. “Tell
around. By his
guess, there were
hundreds of people in the Hall.
better told in private, your Highness,” he said.
forward so that no one else could hear her words.
“Whose wrongdoing are you afraid of revealing,
And that of his
loudly, so that all can hear.”
them. It is important that
truth be spoken in
the open from time to time. You
stand, if you wish.”
better if I keep kneeling,” Giacomo told her.
“I’m afraid I might fall over if I
face that was halfway between a smile and sorrow.
“As you wish,” she said, sitting
back. “Your story,
you please, Giacomo dal Prado.”
her what had happened, leaving out large parts of it, such as his
Amanda, Dimitrio, and Miccino, but describing everything that had
he had arrived at the castle in great detail.
Several times he was interrupted by shouting from the
crowd, but every
time Adorata had order restored and made him continue.
When he was done, the Great Hall was filled
with the roar of hundreds of voices all talking at once.
Giacomo dal Prado,” said Adorata.
“There may be more questions later, but I
declare you free of all guilt
in the deaths of Count Fabio and his heir Marcellano.
You were only doing your duty.
Please rise, and take your place beside Prince Luca.
We will not detain you for
and went to stand behind Luca’s chair, trying to disguise the
fact the he was
leaning on the chair back in order to stay upright.
recent events, and in the absence of an heir for the Prado noble line,
Majesty King Beato has entrusted me with the city’s
silent, and then burst into loud cheering.
Hats and handkerchiefs were sent flying up into the
rafters as the
citizens of Prado expressed their joy—genuine or
feigned—at their new ruler.
Prado,” said Damiano in his ear.
too, your Highness. Time
to go to bed.”
here!” Luca said indignantly.
been locked in a room all day! I’m
is ready to drop where he stands.
owe him a night of rest, at least.
Tonight you can be the guard.”
Damiano pulled Luca from his seat and began marching him
towards a back
followed along behind
them to another bedroom on a different floor, and locked them inside.
Luca seemed to have taken
his charge to be
the guard tonight to heart, and ordered Giacomo to undress, get in bed,
to sleep, because he, Luca, would watch over him.
your Highness,” Giacomo protested.
or I shall be angry,” said Luca, pretending to pout.
tell Damiano you disobeyed orders,” he added when Giacomo
still made no move to obey.
began undressing. He
felt so awkward
about it he had to turn his back to Luca.
He slid under the covers, still awkwardly, and tried to
settle onto the
realized he had been
guarding Luca for ten years now, and Luca had never seen him when he
fully dressed and upright. Which
course was the way it was supposed to be.
But it meant that to Luca, he was only a soldier, not a
man at all. Which
was the way it was supposed to be,
too. Only it meant
that Luca would have
no reason to think of having mercy on him, any more than he would have
get those scars on your chest, Giaco?” Luca asked curiously.
all over your shoulders and back,
didn’t know you had so many
great battle that happened before I was born, wasn’t it?
I’ve heard the
other soldiers talking about
it. They say that
just when it seemed
everything was lost, you led a great charge, even though you were just
foot soldier at the time, defeating countless men singlehandedly and
day. Is that
that,” said Giacomo, pulling the covers up over his chest.
they hurt pretty bad,” said Giacomo, pulling the covers up to
his chin and
closing his eyes.
over it, didn’t you?” asked Luca, not taking the
stopped hurting, and now you’re a
hero, and you have the scars to
it, so it was all worth it!”
back up. “For
something like that,
there is no ‘worth it,’ do you
understand?” he said. “Some
sacrifices are so terrible that there is nothing, nothing,
that can balance out the scales
on the other side. You
don’t do things
like that because they are ‘worth it.’
Something like that, you give as a gift, and then if you
try to live with yourself afterwards.
Afterwards, you walk around—if you
survive—knowing you have broken
yourself so that others could remain whole, and you hope that they use
gift wisely and well, because they can never repay you, even if they
know what it cost you. That’s
what it means to be a
hero. Do you
to sleep, Giaco,” he said,
his voice full of tears. “I’ll
over you tonight.”
Giacomo dreamed he was standing in front of the entrance to the
Fiori, and the stairs to the tower in Prado, and he knew he would never
of the fear he had born for Luca’s sake.
It took him what seemed like a very long time to wake up
nightmare in which nothing was happening.
When he did, he saw that Luca had fallen asleep in his
chair, his head
tipped back. His
face had the same
expression of trusting helplessness it had had when he was three.
Shadows from the guttering
candle on the table
beside him were playing across it.
Giacomo said softly, lifting his head from the pillow and smiling at
him. Somehow he had
ended up on his stomach with
his head turned to one side, not his normal sleeping position.
It had made his neck
stiff, but he was still
full of sleepy lassitude, and didn’t turn over. Part
of him thought that
if he didn’t move, he might sink back
down into the bed and sleep for several more hours.
at the sound of Giacomo’s voice but didn’t wake.
Another shadow appeared
expect too much of him,” said the shadow in Sauro’s
is always to be the guarded, never the
guard. It is his
said Giacomo. He
propped himself up on
his arms. He
probably wasn’t going to
get any more sleep for a while anyway.
The stairs were just on the other side of the castle,
going to go away. “What
are you doing
here?” he asked.
return to my body and soul, which are currently lying in the next room,
you went up the
stairs, I went up ahead of you. Marcellano’s
flames hit me full on before they passed over you.
My shadow caught the brunt of them, and passed the
the rest of me, but it was even greater than I expected, and I was
give you any more help. I
sorry. You managed
in the end,
though. Not that
anyone would have
expected anything less.”
flames would hit you when you went on ahead of me, and you went
must have known even better than I did what was coming.
Giacomo trailed off.
night, in the semi-darkness, the very time for confessions, he was
ask what he wanted to know.
Giacomo, looking down at his pillow.
“How did you make yourself face that?
I would have…I thought I knew how terrible it
would be when I started up
the stairs, but if I had really known what it was going to be like, I
have been able to go on. I
turned and ran. Where…Where
find your courage? Is
it in your
I searched for
it here,” he gestured at the world around him, “and
in here,” he put his hand
on his chest, “and I couldn’t find it.
I thought I had an inexhaustible supply, but I was wrong.
I used it all up, and I
can’t find out where
to get more.”
those stairs. You
were able to find
something when you really needed to.”
Giacomo,” said Sauro. “Since
you are listening to me. Your
still be half-fuddled by sleep. But
will pretend that you are listening to me seriously.
And maybe you are. Being
awake is not necessarily the best state for understanding things.
You Reborn men like to
separate the world of
dreams from what you call reality.
for me, what others call reality is only half a dream, missing all its
reality there is so much
more, an inexhaustible supply of life.
So when I went up those stairs ahead of you, I knew the
waiting for me, but I also knew that even if they caught me, they would
kill part of me. Maybe
only my body
would survive, or maybe my spirit, but something of me would go
took more strength than I knew I possessed to go up those stairs.
Like you, Giacomo, I
thought I was
didn’t know that my courage
was so small, so small. So
you are not the only one broken on the inside.
But I will tell that courage is like lifeblood: you can
pour out so much
of it, more than you would ever think possible, and if you still live,
it will come back.”
said Giacomo. “Not
agreed Sauro. His
shadow began moving
restlessly around the room. “I
back,” it said. “I
am almost ready to
watching over you?” Giacomo asked.
a guard been posted? One
than my own?”
have my own Royal guard,
and I can guarantee that she will not fall asleep on her
same argument, when I found her sitting by my body’s bedside,
and she said that
she had paid her debt to duty already.
No one else could be trusted at this post, she said.
And there she
a fine ruler,” said Giacomo.
will. And now I
must go back.” Sauro’s
shadow melted into the darkness in
the far corner, and disappeared.
awakened the next morning by people coming into his room. Luca
continued to sleep
the sleep of the dead. Giacomo
hoped the intruders weren’t coming
to kill him, because he obviously wasn’t going to get much
protection from his
self-elected guard. He
was still lying
on his stomach, he found, and when he tried to turn over and see who it
groaned before he could stop himself.
of the people who had
into his room was his mother. She
rushed over to the bed. “You’re
he said into the pillow.
they wouldn’t let us in that we didn’t need to
worry, he had come through
unscathed,” his mother said reproachfully to the other
other voice belonged to
buried his face into
his pillow. He was
filthy, and his mouth tasted terrible.
Not his finest hour.
me get dressed,” he mumbled.
you can manage? Do
you need help?” his
mother asked anxiously.
from somewhere on the other side of the room.
“No!” said Giacomo firmly.
was acutely aware that he had kicked his covers most of the way off
night, and that his back and one leg were exposed.
scars!” his mother exclaimed, not
get dressed in privacy,” he said.
even get out of bed…”
Giacomo is trying to let us know that he is a modest man, and
doesn’t want a
couple of women to see him in, ahem, his natural state, even if one of
his mother,” Amanda cut in.
clean clothes on the table beside you,” she told him.
“I must go now. Princess
Adorata wishes to speak with me, now that I have examined the poisoned
but she will probably be with you very shortly.
Until we meet again.”
Giacomo started to say.
said Amanda. “That
deck was never any
good for reading anyone other than you, anyway.” She
waiting in the corridor,” said his mother.
Giacomo heard the door open and close.
He got painfully out of the bed and examined the clothes.
They appeared to be from
when he had last
lived at his parents’ house, at least twenty years ago.
Giacomo started to put
them on. He could
hardly pull his pants on, but the
clothes still fit. Snugly,
over the shoulders and chest, but at least he was decent now.
He caught a glimpse of
himself in a
mirror. Or maybe
not so decent. Luca
was still sleeping on obliviously.
quarter of an
hour and a basin of water turned both Giacomo and Luca into something
resembling awake and respectable.
apologized for falling asleep, but Giacomo told him not to worry about
were in the middle of a castle controlled by Luca’s sister,
probably safe, except from attacks by women wanting to worry over them.
The news that concerned
and friends were roaming the hallways, ready at any moment to burst in
ascertain the state of their health, alarmed Luca greatly.
them to leave us alone, Giaco?” he asked plaintively.
told him, trying not to laugh. “It
our duty to reassure them that we are well, so stop complaining about
face it like a man.”
pout at him from under his bangs, but Giacomo’s mother came
in at that point
and fussed over him so sympathetically that he was unable to continue
and started talking to her eagerly about his adventures instead,
when Giannini arrived to tell him that Adorata was waiting for him the
boy,” said Giacomo’s mother when Luca had left.
“You should be
proud of him, Giachino.”
going to have some of your own? You’re
not getting any younger, you know.
it will be too late.”
have duty, but it doesn’t stop them from having a family as
well. Even your
father managed to have a family,
despite the calling he feels so deeply.
Are you returning to Fiori today?”
more often. We miss
you, and we worry
when we don’t hear from you.
father. I know you
don’t think so, but
he does, terribly. It’s
not his fault
that he never knows how to say the right thing.
If you’re stronger than others, you have to
learn to overlook
uncomfortably aware that the veil of kindness normally covering his
tongue and eyes had dropped for a moment, and she was telling him of
path she had chosen, and that she had measured him and found him able
do. Well, we might
be seeing you more
often from now on. They
Adorata, as Count Fabio’s betrothed, is going to be made
ruler of Prado, even
though they were never married, and that she wants Luca to be fostered
this?” asked Giacomo.
don’t know if
she read it in the cards, or
just picked it up by listening. Either
way, she’s most likely right.
is. By the way, she
says that she has
friends in Fiori, and goes there quite often to see them, and she
whenever she does, she will drop by to see you.
I asked her to, because I know it’s hard for
to find time to
Giacomo, feeling both embarrassed and pleased, and trying to conceal
feelings from his mother. By
the sharp look
she gave him, he guessed he had failed.
knock on the door. It
begs me to convey to you that she is sorry to disturb you, but she is
King and Queen are anxiously awaiting Prince Luca’s return.
She wishes to see you
before you leave. A
carriage has already been made ready, with
a full complement of guards. I
them all myself, so you have nothing to fear on that score,”
directly,” Giacomo told him.
clung to him and made him promise again to write before she let him go.
Adorata received him in a
room down the
returned to consciousness, I thought you would want to know,”
said Giacomo. It
was not even a lie.
unpleasant things ahead in Fiori, questions and accusations,”
if there are, remember
that there is one member of my family who knows,” she
appreciates what you have suffered on its behalf.”
“Sauro and I
spoke at length this morning,” she said.
She stopped and
best courage is
unseen,” she said in a rush.
will never know you carry it inside of you instead of on your sleeve,
mock you for your lack of it, but it will be there when you truly need
it. But I
don’t have to tell you that.
You know it better than I.
I am sorry to be teaching you what you
should be telling others. Goodbye
the moment. I am
sure we shall see each
other again shortly. It
Father was so impatient to be rid of me, he decided to give me my own
order to get me out of Fiori. Being
ruler of Prado is perhaps not the safest position,” she
smiled at him, “but it
is still a better fate than I could have possibly hoped for.
But enough about that. Luca is
waiting for you in
the other room. I
know you cannot bear to have him out of
your sight for long.”
your Highness.” Guards
began to come in
from other rooms and assemble around Giacomo.
Their group carried him to where Luca was waiting for
and then down
to courtyard. The
sun shone down brightly
on the cobblestones, blinding Giacomo.
He climbed into the carriage behind Luca, and watched
as Prado rolled past him and turned into countryside.
Luca was talking with the other guards in the carriage,
Giacomo couldn’t make out what they were saying. His
mind was finally
telling him that everything was over, and
his body seemed to have gone somewhere beyond his control. All
he could sense were
the sun’s rays
striking him and casting sharp shadows on the carriage wall.
He raised up his unfeeling
hands and looked
at them. Skin and
scars, veins and
calluses, and one small cut. He
not see beneath his own surface.
Whatever had happened to him had left only the faintest
trace. To anyone
else, it was as if it had never
happened to him.
let his eyes
travel back out the carriage window.
Everything was so bright, so real.
And according to Sauro, that realness was only a thin
that were just as real, or more so.
Just like Giacomo’s body was a thin film over
all the thoughts and
feeling inside that were what he would have called his real self, if
had asked, and he had trusted them enough to answer.
strength, but his head turned to look at Luca of its own accord.
Luca was laughing loudly
and trying to beat
one of the guards in thumb wrestling.
Every time he moved, the shadow under his skin moved
almost, but not
quite, with him. He
carried it lightly,
as if it weighed nothing and cost him no pain.
Giacomo wondered if that were really true.
He wondered what the shadow was sucking out of Luca with
breath, every heartbeat, and whether Luca ever wished he could be free
he, too, will know what it means to be a
Giacomo thought. Or a villain.
I gave that to
him. I saved him
from others, and now
it is up to him to save himself from himself, if it comes to that.
I wonder what is more real
to him now:
shadow or flesh? Is
this already all
half a dream to him, to be burst like a bubble at any moment?
Will he always be able to
lives so lightly, because he sees things beyond them, that they cannot?
What kind of man will he
shook him by the
Flying by the
your Highness. Very
guards tried to reach out and catch a butterfly, but Luca stopped him.
them!” he said angrily.
“They need to
be free. They say
that good people’s
souls come back as butterflies. Do
think that anyone we know is flying next to us right now? What
kind of butterfly
would you like to
like to be a big yellow and
black one like that one over there.
looks like a little piece of sunshine come down to earth,
don’t you think? With
shadows across its wings. That’s
the kind of butterfly I’m going to be
you’re right, your Highness,” said Giacomo.
© 2008 Elena Clark
Elena Clark is a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she reads
really, really long novels and studies obscure languages. She is also a
keen football (soccer) fan and finds the pain of Chelsea's defeats in the
Champions League to be extremely conducive to writing about these particular
characters, for some reason. Her stories have most recently appeared in
Brave Blue Mice, Silverthought, and "Arcane Whispers: The Best of Sorcerous
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