First Words– Columbina
“You’ll end a heretic, girl, burning merrily at the stake and begging in vain for what you will not freely have from our hands now! Excommunicant! The fires of Hell will claim you!”
Words of the past, distant and unaffecting, echo faint in the shadows where I stand; a plump, pale nun, flapping her black wings, herds a procession of children across the red-brick piazza and into the yawning shadow of the church. I shudder some, in sympathy.
Not for these children—they are no concern of mine—but for the child I once was, when they still thought to shape me into one of these sheep-like offspring of the Church, herded by the looming magpie nuns, from one cloistered vault to the next, lest I ever see too much of the wider world…
The last of them vanishes, swallowed whole; the great door closes behind them and I turn away.
I do not take children, unless He desires it particularly. When He does fancy a taste of the very young, He is particular. He uses the French, caressingly: “L’ enfant sauvage…” He requires me to bring to him, then, “… an unbroken child, savage as it was born, unchastened by civilization. I do not care for gentled blood.”
I think it was how He chose me.
I stroll the broad pavement, as if idly taking the air.
But I am not idle nor strolling for my health.
I am hunting.
My quarry is no challenge to find, they mill everywhere in their vast, dull herd. They stroll like me, seeming casual and careless, or they bustle off in a hurry to get to places that will wait patiently enough till they come. Cattle, they are, as blind to life’s beckoning, as they are to death stalking.
They have their wiles and brute strengths, but I am stronger and more cunning by far, and unencumbered by the sensibilities they assume in me. It is no wonder they make such a mistake, for I look as human as they. But I am not, quite. I am… something else. Something greater.
And they are easy prey.
Fiorenza is barred in light and dark: The afternoon casts a golden glow through its colonnaded streets and winding ways. I amble in and out among the shadows, wearing an open innocence on the pale and delicate features of a girl of 15 or 16 years, rather tall and awkward, but otherwise pretty enough. Red curls escape in tendrils from the little cap that tries to confine my hair. I smile inside to see the glances of strangers, who think to read me, to know my story and circumstances.
They see a girl who has lost or escaped her nurse, who gazes about with guileless eyes, charmed the seductive hazards of the town. Some pity, some condemn, some consider how they might make some profit… Inside, I laugh at them all… There is no pity in me. Were they to see the smile I smile to myself within, they would blanche and scurry off.
I have selected my quarry from the crowd.
He is dressed in the Venetian style: a foreigner. His garb is frayed and scuffed, dusty from the road; he carries a loose, near-empty bag over his shoulder. His eyes are lonely. I place myself, as if by merest chance, in his path, and let forlorn tears well up in my big blue eyes…
Gallant lad that he is, he takes pity on me and will see me home, will see this lost innocent safely to her door… He says, to cheer me, “I’m just arrived in Fiorenza and know my way about but a little, so if we cannot find your people or your house, at least we shall be lost together!”
Fool! I know who I am, what I am, and where I’ll take my rest.
He is more lost than he knows.
This is the first part of the first part of my novel HERETICS, a work-in-progress. A second part is coming… introducing the two main voices who tell this story. I have recently launched a Patreon site where the whole story will be on offer in a variety of ways.