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Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick

 

 

Published by Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick at Smashwords

Copyright 2010 by Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick

Cover photo by Oscar Calero –copyright- 10-29-06

Book design by Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real or historically accurate. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes:

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

United States of America

March 2010

 

ISBN: 978-0-557-36313-1

ISBN: 0-557-36313-6

 

 

 

CHAPTERS

 

  1. An Angel falls

  2. Reaching for freedom

  3. Sharing perfection

  4. Peace, without forgiveness

  5. Novia’s presence

  6. The Archbishop’s secret

  7. Awakening the stone

  8. The joy of creation

  9. An Angel released

  10. Waiting in Rome

  11. Chisels against hard stone

  12. Anoria’s Lesson

  13. Biani summoned

  14. The Eternal City

  15. Marble sanctuary; bitter prison

  16. A Saint is pulled down

  17. ‘…help, that I did not see.’

  18. Darkness and pain

  19. Gathering dust

  20. Two travel as one

  21. The bitter silence of winter

  22. Novia’s lies

  23. Songbirds

  24. Strange words and storms

  25. Strength to shape stone

  26. Furio

  27. Peace at the top of the trail

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Strong hands and backs have labored against mountains in Italy for longer than men could write words, to pull from them the most exquisite stone in creation, the very dust of Eden; marble, the only stone that seems to love the shape of man. It will not come out and down easily, and it will not be easily carved, it must always be broken and hewn with great force. Yet, when it submits, as only certain hands can seem to make it do – Angels can be made to stand still in our presence.

To some, precious as gold, for what can be made of it, the marble quarries of Tuscany; Massa-Carrara in Italy have no equals, and in that place are men of similar rarity, brought or bred there by generations that all wanted the wondrous dust upon their hands, under their feet. Sculptors, who would decorate an empire until it crumbled; and sculptors who would glorify God for a Church that also might desire to crumble, but stood rooted as the mountains were, in spite of the chipping away that never ceased.

What sculptors see in the stone, they never say before it is complete. To do so would be unlucky. What the stone reveals is not so much what they saw within it, but what they themselves were when they struck it, and thus the stone brings fame, and praise to hands that make it yield. Few can do it and remain pure, because fame loves to corrupt. A hard and powerful stone, it demands much, and seems to give much more in return; for that, even the Church will pay an uncounted loss of gold, and there are many hands open to that money. In the tangled city streets of a long-crumbled empire, the Church remains in place, paying mountains of gold to bring mountains of white stone to Rome – and with it, its curse; marble drives some men to madness.

When a master lays his mallet aside, he will wait to hear what others see there, and the answers will be as varied as the faces that gaze in new wonder. He will not tell them what to see, for that too would be unlucky. He lets the marble speak and will not say exactly what is there, because some will be moved to see something he did not create, something the marble alone chose to reveal. They would be the ones the stone could curse.

Furio Novia was such a man, who was never asked whether he was blessed by what he perceived when he gazed on marble figures that lured him, and many did. He would have lied, because he was a priest, and he carried gold in his purse - to purchase marble.

His was a life he hated, of luxury and some power, in a country he despised, employed by an Archbishop who owned his very breath. To be free of that old man, Novia would do anything that he could find the power to do. That scheme, to be free, was in motion long before marble finally caught him unawares, and opened his soul to torments his robes could not prevent. He had for years seen something in certain marble works that strained his vows, shattered his promises to God, put others around him in terrible danger. He had seen his marble dreams in smiling flesh, and the curse upon his heart was utterly sealed.

Novia was damned because he had found her, and not known she lived. Her name was Anoria, and marble had shaped her being as well.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE: An Angel falls

 

 

Anoria stepped quietly but determined, barefoot, among the shards and dust of broken marble around the great, injured stone. But for her dark hair falling around her shoulders, she seemed another delicate marble figure among the three already there, her light cotton shawl and simple night skirt were made milky white by the moonlight, and the light cloth barely moved until she eased her feet through the broken stones and fragments on the boards. As she moved closer to the incomplete figure into the shimmering moonbeam, her clothes became gossamer over her limbs, and her lithe form was revealed underneath, she was warm and soft, not stone. She was not dressed to keep warm, it was a fragrant, pleasant evening, the cicadas, and few crickets were filling the chestnut and apple trees around her home with a delightful music; she had just come from her comfortable bed, candle in hand, to steal into her father’s spacious workshop.

Her whale oil candle did not cast any of its flickering light to the side of the stone she wanted to see, or the figure her father, Antonio, had been drawing for a month from the cold rock. The moon was in the skylight window above the great marble, so she touched her fingertips to her tongue as she gazed upward into the curtain of dusty light around the stone, and snuffed her flame; the insubstantial ribbons of smoke picked up the light and made spiraling trails upwards into the beam. She did not want her light to be seen from the hut. To be found in the workshop, alone, late at night, would draw her father’s wrath; he never allowed her there. Yet, the waiting figure begged her gaze and she was desperate to see the flaw in the figure that caused her father such anguish that afternoon. It took her a full minute to see the awful crack, but less than a breath to feel the pain her father surely felt at its discovery. The work was ruined.

She could discern in the moonlight a striking, incomplete figure of a man that would not reach to Heaven from the stone as her father planned. Finishing strokes had been dealt on enough of the marble that she could clearly see flesh; the figure was nude. Taller than life, nearly two feet taller than she, if she stepped onto its base, it promised to be beautiful; and Anoria already knew it well. Her father never said a word to her about any form he shaped in the daylight, but she understood his works nearly as well as he.

It might have been a glorious angel; the remains of stone behind the man could easily hide magnificent wings. However, no wings would be exposed in this block, no further work could be done; Antonio would have his two apprentices pull the great stone to the garden behind the shop. With fortune, a new project could be made from it, a different, but similar form, but the angel within, would never live.

Longing to see this wondrous being complete, Anoria stood in the shards of marble, her breath heavy and deep, stirring the tails of her candle smoke into the floating dust, and she felt sorrow for his loss; she was unaware that when she returned to her bed, drops of her blood would remain on the stones where she stood. They would remain and cause her such heartbreak, as she could not possibly imagine, if her father discovered the stains in the morning light. Those few red drops could lock a terrible door, one that must remain open or she would surely wither from grief. She must be able to steal into the shop with her candle, in secret, must be able to touch and whisper to the stones; she would be lost, heartsick, without them.

 

Anoria visited the workshop in secret, since childhood, always while her father slept in the darkest hours before dawn. She would light a candle from the dying embers in the kitchen hearth, to light her way behind their home to the shop. Her shoes never came with her; Anoria wanted the feel of the dust and chips on her naked feet as she walked where her father stood each day. She would pause at each statue in turn, but spend the longest time with the figures that were unfinished, studying the work done to each, guessing at the form emerging from the blocks.

Nights with a lovely moon, like this night, filled her with the most pleasure, there was less chance she would need her candle and she could take longer with the figures her father was creating. Those figures would seem alive to her, in the moonlight, there would be fewer shadows, and she could imagine them real as people, merely standing, waiting for her to arrive. It was a forbidden delight, but it fed her soul.

Only here in the shop could she find finished figures made by her father, Antonio Lisi of Resceto, a master sculptor. Her entire life, he had only carved fine figures for commissions, or charity; he would complete them, and they would be taken away. He worked on almost nothing for himself now, and he only kept a few precious, small pieces in the house: a crucifix, a small angel at the side of their doorway, which sometimes comically wore his garden hat, and a rounded, polished, and indistinct form of a woman, as a gravestone. That precious marble rested in a shaded dell on the hillside, beyond the brook outside their kitchen doorway, between two lovely chestnut trees; a single apple tree, bent and worn with age, shaded it. The apple existed from the time before Antonio was a boy. Years before that use, as a place to visit their Angelina, someone placed four beautifully wrought stepping-stones of dark marble to lie across the brook and make a path to the apple tree. Anoria adored the time she could spend in that serene place.

They kept no other finished marble works from her father’s hands, save the ones he touched in his workshop; those, he would not let her near.

Anoria ached to touch them as he did.

 

Antonio might understand perfectly, if he would but pause to listen, the stones drew her love as he was drawn; yet, he would never allow her in to touch the work or the tools. He might speak to the stones as he sculpted figures from them, she only whispered to them. She might see them hidden as he saw them, desire to bring them out, with the same desire as his. He would strike the rocks with great force; she would feel them with trembling fingertips, caressing their limbs as they emerged slowly as if from water into the air. Her father would leave the shop with dust upon his clothes; she would leave the shop with the dust and shards upon her cold feet. She would wear the dust into her bed, and not sweep it out but caress it gently aside as she warmed her toes again and sought sleep, hoping to dream of the lives she perceived within the marbles.

Twenty such great white stones had entered her father’s workshop to be carved in her memory, and nearly twenty breathtaking statues were brought out, sold away, but she loved each one. Countless smaller forms and shapes came and also left; Antonio’s marbles were sought from many distant cities. His churchwork figures brought the best price, and took the longest to create.

When finished, before removing and shipping the works, Antonio would bring her to each one, to pretend to meet them, and let her enjoy its beauty as it stood in the yard outside the shop doorway. It was such fun that game, pretending the marbles had never heard her voice until her father pulled them out to the sunlight for the first time. Some figures stayed outside their simple home for too brief a time, waiting to be delivered to their owners, yet becoming her friends in daylight, as well as the gentle moonlight.

Only three times in her twenty-two years had any single stone refused to live, as this sorrowful, great stone now did, because her father took tremendous care selecting his blocks; only those three times did a crack appear in the marble, forcing Antonio’s work to stop and the figure to remain trapped inside. One such stone was in the back garden still, but not so great as the angel’s now useless block, which would be pulled behind in the morning, and set to share the sparse sun under the chestnut trees. Other stones lay in the garden as well, of various sizes, new and old, halted or never begun, for untold reasons. Those were wonderful company to her, it saddened her to see the angel left among them, and she vowed to touch it every day; she was free to wander in the garden as though those stones had never been important.

The garden was the only place she could put her hands upon any of her father’s unfinished marble works without fear, no place else could she openly express her love for them; he cared nothing for them. Well shaded by the high chestnuts and surrounded by apples they planted when she was a child, the garden was her favorite place in their corner of the hills. The stone wall was tall enough to keep the donkeys out, or in as needed, but never so tall she could not get over it anywhere she liked. She rarely used the sturdy gate to enter; she would reach with both hands to a stout limb on the greatest apple tree and swing herself over the low wall, only touching it with her teasing toes.

Within the wall were the some dozen or so blocks and neat piles of fragments, which may still have some life as a small figure or bit of decoration, if Antonio remembered them. Anoria owned the mounds of marble bits; they were nearly perfectly sorted by her hands since childhood, into many groups of similar sizes and a few of special colors she adored.

Her least favorite unfinished stone was covered with lush, olive colored grapes, and she was glad of it; her father rarely created angry or twisted forms, but it had been started as some creature in ghastly torment. When its patron changed his mind about the decorations of his hall, he declined to use the beastly form he first requested. Now the grape leaves mostly hid it from view. She cherished all the other blocks, however, and spent most of her free time resting in the cool shade among them.

It was here in those solitary moments, Anoria would pretend to carve on the forms in the marble. She would tap her fingers on them in time with the ‘click-click-tap’ sounds of the chisels being used against the stones in the workshop.

The largest stone had been her favorite, nearly in the garden center, for years. It also was a ruined stone, an unfinished altarpiece; a lithe, graceful woman with an empty woven basket for manna or fishes resting lightly on her hip. Anoria could stand beside this smiling woman and look into her eyes, wondering if some time, long ago, such a beautiful person truly lived and breathed. A child had been planned, perhaps the beauty’s own child, but when the smaller figure was begun, the great stone cracked. If ever completed, the woman would never be able to touch the child; the flaw would sever her hand at her wrist above the child’s head. Anoria keenly felt the longing for such a soothing, motherly touch; when younger, she would be both comforted and saddened by the break in the stone. At least, unfinished, the woman somehow held the child forever.

Anoria knew and loved the garden stones, and years before would tirelessly ply her father with ideas how to complete them. At times, she longed to see the child completed, almost to be her companion, and as companion for the poor woman with the lovely basket.

Her father listened for a while in her youth, when she would express desires to see something done with the single great block, forgotten for years. Her youth was passed; his attention was not so easily drawn, he ceased to listen, or ceased to care she carried his love of the alluring white stone in her own heart, and in her dreams. All other things they could share, but not this.

In every other manner he was a doting father, and she loved him dearly, but about marble, he was cold as the surfaces he shaped with his hands every day. His refusal to let her near his work drove her to the nightly visits. Antonio never seemed to suspect she violated his trust and his law; she took great care, convincing herself he never would.

They shared their simple lives otherwise contented, even happily, at the end of a twisted path, high in the dusty, gray-white hills and remaining groves of chestnut trees some half hour’s walk above the tiny village of Resceto, Italy, at the feet of the Apuan Alps. Surrounded by the jagged mountains of marble, ancient quarries, and foothills circling the town, they enjoyed the beauty of a steeply sided, evergreen-washed valley that was dotted with the rooftops and church steeple of Resceto below, hardly a mile away.

Lower, between a cleft in the hills, lay the smaller gathering of homes called Serretta, a single rooftop visible amid the thickening mane of trees. Below even that, on the twisting westerly road, hidden behind the lovely hills, lay the city of Massa, and the restless sea. Not for many years had she gone farther than even Serretta. To her, the guarding peaks and ridges embracing Resceto were her entire world.

Their worn path sometimes followed the tricklings of a brook down to the village, a single small wood-beam bridge crossing the tiny stream just below the hut. Bringing large marbles up the path was difficult work; the quarry master, Tito Benzetti, would send only skilled drivers. A team of six mules could barely make the twisted climb, but Antonio rarely ordered marbles so large, having his apprentice’s stones brought on a small but solid marble wagon, and driven up with his two amusing, stout donkeys.

A home and workshop closer to the mountain quarries behind Massa would have made for swifter deliveries, less costly blocks, but her father was born in the hut they shared. He loved being above the constant wagon traffic below Serretta, on the lower Frigido Valley roads, and he dearly loved Resceto.

His family came there when his father was a boy; strong men were hewing a road over the peaks, because a Duke in Modena wanted to carry his goods over, westward to the sea. The Vandelli road was completed many years before Antonio was born, though it quickly went out of regular use, and the Lisi family stayed in the village that grew at the foot of those peaks. Resceto once pulled the irresistible marble from the slopes, and earned itself a reputable bit of commerce while Antonio grew to manhood.

He would laugh and say even as a child, he could fling a stone across the length of the town, but in time, a charming church was built, when there were enough families for a priest; his tiny village was growing. By the time Antonio was beginning to cut stone with his father, Resceto added a good market, many good things always being brought from Massa in the valley below.

Two beautiful bridges spanned the rivulet they called their stream, making a lane to homes that stood on the other valley slope. It was on that lovely cobbled lane the Benzetti family settled, the first merchants of marble the town would employ. Antonio and Tito grew up together there, and in Resceto, they made their own families.

Anoria’s children would be born there, her father promised, if she would only come to the villages by his side more often. An invisible daughter draws few admirers, and Antonio made countless trips down to the villages and to the city, without his daughter at his side. It pained him greatly when some acquaintance would express surprise he had any daughter at all. He cherished her dearly, but longed for her to have a life for herself and feel love in ways more fulfilling to needs she must surely have.

She was now a woman of subtle beauty, nearly tall as he, and he admired how she matured, time shaping her form in delicate, careful strokes, more perfectly than any figure he brought from the marble. She was more than his muse on many works; she was his guide to perfection, because she wore it in every graceful movement. A dozen of his best-carved figures wore her gentle hands, nearly all shared the laughter of her eyes, and her feet became their feet, if they displayed their own.

Anoria was his perfect marble brought to life, and he always sought to show her through it, because she refused otherwise to show herself. Even the apprentices found her fleeting at best, scarcely any knew well the music of her voice. She was rarely outside when they walked through the gate; she never shared the food she prepared for their meals. They never entered the house; she never entered the shop. Had she been allowed in they would have known a different girl.

She might have married happily to any one of those apprentices, or to another in the village, had the door to the shop been opened for her. She lived only for the moments she enjoyed with her father, and the stolen moments she craved with his work. He could not see this truth, and sadly for Anoria, neither could she. She had become what his unfinished marble stones had always been, hidden. He took dust and chips from them, now they had taken blood from her.

 

The apprentices usually swept the dust and marble fragments from the shop every morning before work continued. No one was sweeping yet this morning and they stood quietly behind Antonio, reverently, as he traced his dusty finger along the nearly invisible crack in the figure. The stone need not be turned; the light was perfect already. Antonio caressed the flaw along its length and held a small chisel in his hand as he stood in silent thought. The flaw was about to be tested, to determine if it could be worked away, or if the entire stone was to be abandoned to the garden. All three hoped it would not, they did not desire the effort it would force from them.

Months of careful work would be lost, unless he could save this work, but he would never hear praise if he did. None would say his angel was broken, or that Antonio saved it. They would not speak of flaws, inviting questions - could they move the figure safely or ship it to its owner; his apprentices knew to be silent.

As he listened to the stone, scarcely breathing, Antonio was unaware Anoria stood silently outside the door, waiting to hear his chisel strike. She heard it not against the stone, but ring sharply upon the floor and the chisel lay still. Her breaths seemed frozen, as the silence deepened behind the wooden door. For a few heartbeats, nothing happened, and then her father looked down.

Hurried sounds shattered the stillness, prompting Anoria to lift her gaze from her feet; her hand, lightly against the rough wood door, fell to her side. Movements behind the door surprised her and she prepared to bolt around the corner, lest she be found listening there. She turned away and ran beside the shop to the trees, hesitating, to see if the door opened; only the apprentices came out into the sunlight. Without pause, Donetto and Geppa walked passed her hut and down into the path, turning to glance to the workshop. She watched them walk fully out of sight, the trees swallowed them at the first bend; Antonio did not follow - nor did he call after them, or to her.

Pretending to be about her morning chores in the yard, she waited several moments to see if he would emerge, and the moments became more than an hour of waiting in her doorway. She feared no accident, the apprentices had been calm, still, she feared something serious was amiss. He made no reply from the shadows of his workshop when she called to him and it alarmed her, but she waited.

She placed their noon meal on the table under the dense wisteria shade of their patio, and took a seat she hardly ever used at midday. Nibbling absently at bites between glances towards the shop, Anoria finally called out a single time that he should come and sit to eat; he did not come. There would be no meal shared and food went uneaten, she carried it all back into the hut lest it spoil.

As Anoria sat in the doorway of their home, watching the workshop door, she bathed her bare feet in the white dust that colored all the ground in the front of their hut and the shop. She blamed the disagreeable day on the broken block, her father’s reticence on the grief he must feel, and she played her toes into the sensuous marble soil as she would fingers. She layered the beautiful dust upon her feet, as she loved to do, nearly to her ankles and played that way without any pleasure, until the sun fell behind the crowns of the hills above them, and her bottom ached from sitting so long.

Heavy hearted, she finally rose to make a broth for some simple soup, hoping her father would come inside as the light failed and darkness grew around the great stone; he never lit any lamps, or attempted any work in even the late afternoons or sunless days. She could not remember him staying so late and disappointment brought tears to her eyes. Lamps burned warmly in the house when she finally heard the shop door scrape aside, and she raised her eyes from her bowl of soup to see what expression her father wore when his eyes met hers.

No expression of his face could be seen when he entered, and he did not enter fully or attempt to close the door; he stood in the threshold, looking back out into the dusk. He spoke not a word - his clothing was clean. The lack of dust on his hands, and in his hair, was more disturbing to Anoria than the painful silence they shared. She knew he likely stood that same way next to the ruined marble, the entire lifeless day.

The whale oil candles lit nothing of the darkness in his eyes when he turned into the room. Night had crept into the corners of the hills as he stood in their door, and night seemed to follow him into the room when he closed the door at last.

Anoria, show me your feet, please,” Antonio seemed to sigh. His countenance was no clearer in the wavering light; his eyes were still shadowed, as they were in the doorway.

They are clean, Papi,” she said, trembling, but she placed her bare feet on the bench for him to see, suddenly shy to do so.

The bottoms, please,” he sighed again. Looking down to her slender toes, she moved her legs out straight, pointing her toes up to the candlelight, and up to his gaze. What he looked to see, he did not explain, or what he meant when he placed a shard of marble on the table beside her bowl. He simply left her in renewed stillness, turning away for his bed; tears filled her eyes as he took his shadows and silence into his room.

What is wrong? What did you see?” she called to him.

Other tears fell as she closed her eyes, gathering her bare foot into both hands. Squeezing her toes into her fingers and crying for him, a prick of pain stopped her breath. A tiny, vivid smear of blood showed on her fingers as she moved them up to gaze at her foot more closely. The tiniest of cuts, between her toes, nothing more, but it chilled her. She clutched suddenly at the mysterious marble chip next to her soup bowl, and a cry escaped her lips as she turned it over in the trembling palm of her hand. Drops of blood lay brown upon its side and along a bit of the edge. She knew it was her blood; her father’s broken angel had spilled her blood, and with it her precious secret.

Papi, please speak to me about this! Don’t leave me with this silence - please,” she wept against his door. “I have love for your work because you gave it to me,” she pleaded, her cheek against the wood. “I could not stay out; the garden has never been enough. I could never stay out. Forgive me…Papi?”

Anoria lowered herself miserably to the stone floor, against his door to wait, and her limbs grew stiff and cold, as the hearth fire eventually died and the untended candles went out, but he never spoke a word. Hours later she lay into her bed and pulled her quilts into a nest around her, not undressing or brushing her hair, nor caressing the crumbs of enticing marble she so cherished on her toes as she fell into dreams on other nights. She knew there was blood also on the bedclothes, smeared from the night before when she returned from the shop and swept the dust from her feet, into her bed. She finally fell asleep, discouraged, wondering what he would say when he awoke in the morning light. Were the marbles lost to her? Wouldn’t he explain?

Harsh sounds in the yard awoke her, a soft light already in her window, playing across her bed; it was later than she normally rose. Weary from the unhappy evening, her head was cloudy; stiffness from the hours of waiting in a cold doorway ached in her limbs. The rough sounds from the shop did not draw her to the window; they were not the tap-tap-tapping sounds of chisels upon stone, which were forever music to her ears. Windows were being shuttered; the great shop door was being locked. With each harsh hammering blow to wood, a similar blow found her heart.

Silence from him was torment, and he seemed to be tormenting her deliberately. She prepared their meal, but sat dejected in the house as they shared casual words amongst themselves, and he still had no kindness for her. How this caused his heart no pain, she could not understand.

Antonio had raised a willful, strong daughter alone. Their life was as normal as any other could be and they did sometimes argue. They naturally could make each other angry; never in her life had it been like this, though. Still, never had Antonio suspected she broke his only harsh command about the shop. Had she been marble, like his work, her blood in the shop would be the crack in her form. An overwhelming grief overcame her suspecting this, and she dropped her head down to her knees. Her father could easily abandon flawed stones. Anoria felt she had become one.

 

No - the stone cannot be saved,” Antonio was heard to say. Anoria sought every painful word he said as he ate his noon meal with his apprentices. “The figure is turned too far left for the arm to move aside, there is not enough stone.”

Would you like it pulled out after we eat then?” Donetto asked him. “It may take the afternoon to move it.”

No, we need to go down to see if Benzetti can send wagons early tomorrow. I need to select another block and begin this figure anew, but quickly. I promised it before winter and can finish it, if we have good weather,” her father replied. He knew she was sitting on the back step, and his calm voice surprised her.

Anoria, would you like to come with us? Surely there is something you need?”

No, Papi. I will not come today,” she muttered, pressing her eyes to her knees and wiping tears.

Her reply brought no other question from him; they soon left for the town. She remained on the doorstep, listened until they could not be heard on the path, and it was perhaps an hour more she held her knees to her breast, and sat on the step. Every breath was miserable to her, and cheerless.

Their return was nearly as quiet; she hardly noticed them from her kitchen, where she put her mind to normal chores – preparing a meal, should they work late into the afternoon. Her father must have guessed she would set about such work because he called into the house and told her to stop. It was like throwing cold water on her skin; she dropped her hands to her side and stood motionless in surprise. Why would they not eat? She called back from the doorway to understand why they would not stay and her father’s reply took her breath.

We are eating in the village tonight. You and I.”

I do not want to come, Papi!” she protested.

You will come, Anoria,” he commanded. The sounds in the workshop rose again and she knew they were returning to work.

 

Antonio, your mood is dark today and it seems not only this poor block of marble,” Donetto said while they worked.

It is not a matter between us, pull your ropes so we can harness this,” Antonio grunted. He pulled hard on his lines.

No, it is clearly some cloud between you and your daughter. There is some other cause, and you can either find no end for it-” Donetto continued.

You are not employed to help raise my daughter, Donetto.”

No, Antonio. But, I have been apprenticed to you for eight years. If in that time I cannot call you friend, and counsel you when troubled…you would be a strange man to me.”

We are friends, Donetto. Unless you slack that rope end and this harness slips,” Antonio chuckled.

I have never seen such a mood as you wear, Antonio. I do not like it much, even if my words are no help, you should hear them.”

Do not pull too hard,” Antonio warned.

I have never seen any cruelty in you, Antonio, but you seem to treat her poorly today.”

She has angered me, Donetto, and you are very close yourself. We have a block to move, nothing else needs to be said.” Antonio said brusquely.

Donetto looked across the frame of wood bracings to Antonio, then over to Geppa, who averted his eyes. Donetto continued his work, but also continued to seek Geppa’s eye; they exchanged several glances and Geppa always seemed to urge great care, and more silence.

Antonio brought the donkeys to the hitch at the doorway and the block was tied and ready. No lifting was necessary; it would have been impossible for the small donkeys anyway, the stone was too heavy. They could pull it however; the dusty soil would make it easier for them, until the skids reached the garden grass. Once there, the men would push and strain against poles as the animals dug the garden up with their hooves. Antonio did not care whether this stone wore sun or shade as it rested, perhaps for years, so they pulled only a little way into the garden.

The sunlight was fading to only a bluing glow in the corners of the hills around them when they finally made their last few yards. The donkeys were beginning to refuse anyway, having worn their harnesses for nearly four hours now. One of the donkeys promptly sat down and blew its nose when the lines were dropped.

Pulled fully into the garden, out of the way of the gate, they did not let the stone block the others. Closer to the front wall than any other stone, it was nonetheless almost invisible from the front of the house; only if one walked beyond the corner of the shop toward the garden would it be spied. Two small apple trees stood to one side; they would shade it completely when they grew their full crowns, it would not move for perhaps years. The angel within the block was turned away from the path, and looked to the back wall of the garden. From the gate, this appeared to be a new, untouched stone. When Anoria looked at it later, as she and her father walked down the path to the village, she felt sadness the angel could not look out into the valley while it waited.

Donetto and Geppa washed at the brook and bid their employer goodbye within minutes of untying the donkeys. The animals were left, content to graze the weeds in the garden. Anoria tickled the ears of the closest one over the stones of the wall while she waited for her father to take his turn and wash. Geppa seemed shy, but Donetto stopped to meet her eye; she saw compassion there. Both men were far enough along the path, into the trees, their voices could not be heard when Antonio was ready with his lantern to follow them. Eyes lowered, she began down the path, slowly, within a few paces he was ahead of her; always side by side, since her childhood, holding hands whenever they would go to the village together, there was no such comfort now. They went silently into the trees after the two apprentices, the dusk not yet deep enough, even under the chestnuts, for the lantern to be lit.

She took great care to stay in the bare lines of their wagon-rut path, her shoes in her hands, and the sandy warmth in her toes with each step. Her father’s boots raised dust ahead of her, while her bare feet hardly stirred the dirt at all. She was suddenly a child again, the fragrance of chestnuts in her nose, the dirt on her toes, and the terrible trouble between them a waning worry. She defied the sadness the entire walk and their quiet made it easier.

When she was younger, Anoria would make the walk several times each week with him, certainly on Sundays, as a good girl should be in church then. Time brought less interest in songs, or admonitions that, however hard she tried to be good, God still spied the wickedness in her heart, all the way from Heaven. Many Sundays she would sit next to Antonio, angry that she had been better than just good, but never seemed to get credit from God.

Sadly, for Antonio, they stopped going to the village together very often at all. Yet, she remembered every stone in the path, the swells of the little brook, and each tree; some had grown nicely from tiny things. She still loved the walk - she rarely walked it alone, and this walk seemed much like being alone, because Antonio did not speak until they were within sight of the walls of Resceto.

We have been invited to Benzetti’s house for dinner,” he mentioned over his shoulder.

You will only talk of marble through the meal,” she replied quietly, not really wanting to be engaged in such a discussion.

Would you rather have our bread at the Inn?”

I would rather have made your supper as I always do.”

Benzetti’s or the Inn, Anoria.”

I will not decide. Perhaps you would rather talk of stone. I don’t know.”

He stopped his walk, just as they entered the village wall, and sighed as he turned to look at her. She stopped as quickly as he, anticipating he would, but her eyes were only on her dusty feet. She dropped her slipper shoes and wiggled into them before he could laugh, or be cross; she could not tell what he felt anymore.

There will be many people at the Inn, and dancing. Benzetti’s will be quieter. His daughters always ask about you. Either way you will be doted upon.”

I will do what you wish me to do,” she hinted at resentment, and when she glanced up, he could see she hid tears. Putting her for several hours in the midst of music and laughter only seemed to her more punishment.

I will not force you to do either. This can be a pleasant evening; you can meet someone nice. There is no harm in that.”

Except, I don’t wish to be here, I told you.”

I will treat you as I did when you were a child if you play stubborn with me.”

You have been treating me like a child since yesterday morning. Until you speak with me about it, making me dance will only be more punishment.”

Anoria, I am not punishing you,” he raised his voice.

Then why the silence, and why the locks and shutters?” she asked in anger, stepping sideways to him, watching his expression and searching his eyes; his gaze made her look away. “I will let you discuss marble with Benzetti, and I will listen to his daughters chatter about nothing and everything,” she surrendered, smoothing the dirt with her foot, feeling the child again. “I have no heart to dance with anyone.”

Their argument clearly finished, Antonio turned and continued into the village. She waited a few steps, and like a good girl, followed where he led, though she knew the way by heart.

 

The four young Benzetti daughters: Anna, Gissela, Savina, and little Teresa, rushed around Antonio and each grasped either a hand or part of a hem, and dragged her into the house. The enticing aroma of warm bread and roasting lamb met her in the doorway, and Benzetti himself got somehow between his girls, hugged, and kissed Anoria before she could protect herself. His wife shoved him away and grabbed Anoria’s hands and smiled beautifully at her.

Please, come to the kitchen with us, darling, let the men bore themselves. I have something special I want you to taste!” Pia Benzetti gushed and led her into the house and down the wide hall to the kitchen. The fragrance of sweet spices hung in the air with the light smoke of the roasting fire, and Pia’s daughters instantly began chattering as expected. Anoria quite forgot being sad, settled onto the bench next to Pia, and was handed a cup with a wonderful dark liquid. Teresa put herself nearly in Anoria’s lap.

It’s for the lamb. I wanted something sweet for it,” Pia said, her eyes widening with a question. “It is nice, isn’t it?”

Yes,” Anoria smiled, after dipping her finger generously and tasting. She wanted to dip into the warm cup again. “Is this honey in the wine?”

Yes and there is so much of it, I was afraid this was too much! But it’s wonderful, right?” Pia tickled her neck gently.

Perfect. It will be perfect, Pia,” Anoria laughed softly and kicked off her shoes to slide them under the bench. The kitchen stones were warm, luscious, and smoothed to soft edges. “Thank you for inviting us. You have gone to such trouble. Papi asked me if I would rather have dinner at the Inn. It would have been terrible for you had we not come,” she said, pulling Teresa up into her lap.

That was a very strange thing for him to do,” Pia looked surprised. “The Inn has closed its kitchen’s this week, the ovens are cracked; your father learned that today. Ezio sent word to ask if he would make some new bricks for the repairs.”

Anoria was abruptly troubled again, she wanted to burst into the other room and confront him again with her questions. But, the noise from the girls swept her up in their attentions, and anger at her father abated. Pia’s bright smile helped. Anoria needed the kindness.

Oh, how old are you brats now? Has it been so long between visits that you are nearly old enough to be married?”

Boys are dirty,” came the first reply.

Anna doesn’t think so,” came the challenge.

I most certainly do not…yes- they are…” came the stammering refusal. Anna was blushing and trying to hide from Anoria’s laughter, and her mother’s direct glance.

Anna thinks she is old enough to kiss the postman’s son, Benjamin.” Gissela teased her.

I do not!”

The row between them lasted a full minute and Pia did nothing to stop it. Nearly an hour more passed in playful conversation and continued tormenting of Anna; it was quite dark on the patio when they stepped outside to light the torches. Pia set about making a cheery fire in the pit; Anoria helped calm and busy the girls with setting the tables.

The mingling sounds and wafting fragrances of food were agreeable along the Benzetti’s cobbled lane. Twice someone called to Anoria with a hello from another patio, both times, she struggled for the name, but they did not seem to mind.

The girls did not cease their arguments entirely. When they rushed together upstairs to put on their clean dresses, other gentle sounds filled the quiet - Pia playing at the fire, soft music through the trees - some hidden neighbor playing his lute; a strong voice was singing the song. Her father laughed, then Benzetti. The girls were still arguing upstairs.

Did your father ask if you would like to stay with us a few days?” Pia suddenly asked. “I nearly begged him this afternoon. We miss you so, and the girls would love to have at you.” Then she added softly, “So would I.”

No, he mentioned nothing of it,” Anoria answered with a flush of anger. “He has been rather quiet since yesterday.”

I would love to walk up the path with the girls in a few days to fetch you. Would you like to come? Please say yes!”

Well, can I decide, after we see if you destroy the lamb?” and they both laughed. “Yes, I will be happy to come. Did he say I could?”

Lord, Anoria. He can say yes or no and who cares?” Pia asked with surprise. “I didn’t ask if he would let you, I asked if you might want to. You do need to come down more!”

Anoria lowered her eyes. “Papi will be waiting for a new block it seems, he will have plenty of time to cut his own cheese and bread.”

You have him so spoiled, we never get to feed him here in town either!” Pia laughed. “How the two of you live up there alone, I cannot imagine. I need noise and I do love gossip,” she commented with a grin.

So, is there a story between Anna and this Benjamin fellow?” Anoria got the girls involved in an argument again.

Dinner was brought to the tables and the men were pulled through the kitchen while Pia explained every sordid detail about her daughter’s ‘blooming’ interest in young men. It made Anoria blush and she was glad Anna was otherwise occupied with her sisters, and did not cry out in shame. Pia laughed and laughed.

Antonio was seated opposite his daughter. She knew he repeatedly sought her gaze but she refused it. There truly was no opportunity to look directly at her father, until the meal was nearly done and the question of the visit was suddenly heard in the confusion of voices. That one perfect moment she knew to look, he rudely busied himself in another conversation about the price of marble blocks, and the speed of deliveries that could be made. Anoria bristled, and promptly accepted the invitation with no further care he might have said no. If he wanted her gone for a few days, so be it.

Pia proved as excitable and talkative as her daughters were, but she watched Antonio and his daughter closely. She was used to subtle angers, and insults between relations who refused otherwise to speak; her houseful of daughters could be a seething, silent battleground over the smallest of arguments. Here, at her table, was a quiet battle of wills; some terrible wrong had grown between Anoria and her father, Pia hoped the trouble between them would not worsen, ruining Anoria’s chance to spend a few days away. Pia was convinced by the end of the meal, that it was urgently necessary Anoria be allowed some comfort, some peace.

The waxing moon was small and high, a glowing gallery of stars helped brighten the path when the goodbyes were complete; Antonio lit the lantern but shuttered it, they would not truly need it until more than halfway up the path and into the taller trees. Now the dust on the path was deliciously cool and felt almost wet, soothing on Anoria’s bare feet as she shuffled them along behind her father’s strong steps. She hummed the tune the neighbor played on the lute earlier before the moon had risen, she was convinced it was Father Biani, their priest, and was instantly surprised when her father picked up the song. She thought she was being quiet, and she barely heard him at all, but the unexpected sharing of their voices on their way home was a much-needed comfort. Or perhaps, she simply had enough wine to be relaxed and not really care, were he still angry or no. They hummed the tune together nearly the entire way, no other sound shared between them.

They were in sight of their hut before Anoria even noticed their distance from the village. It was already much cooler above the village now, and she slipped into her shoes to prevent too much chill. They needed to gather the sleepy donkeys to the barn before turning in, and the garden grass would be quite cold to tread barefoot. Their last few steps took them around the side of the shop and the newly shuttered windows spoke all too loudly in the gloom of the trouble that had come between them.

She did not want to look at them, but was drawn anyway and paused without meaning to as she neared the first one. They were bolted from the inside, truly placed as barriers, not just protection for the windows from the weather. She would not be able to get into the shop through any window, even if she dared try, she would not have the strength to force those shutters.

Anoria, come close the gate after us,” her father asked from the back of the garden.

She ran to the corner of the shop and the gate to wait for them to appear from the deep gloom in the back. The moonlight was shining brightly upon the smooth face of the large, damaged marble just pulled through the weeds that afternoon. She noticed immediately, the wooden skids had been removed. That block would see many winters in that corner. It could certainly not be cut in the garden, and without the skids, it would move for no other reason than to be carved into something other than the angel.

She held the gate, to pull it closed, and turned away from the stone at last; the donkeys were noisily following behind her father as he came from the dappled shadows into the moonlight.

You may light what candles you like, I’ll be inside in a moment after I tie these two sleepyheads into their stalls,” said Antonio as he passed.

Anoria reached out to feel the rump of the closest donkey moving by under her hand. It flicked her side with its tail as it moved out of her reach. Her father asked her to light candles in the hut, perhaps he would not be going off to bed, and they might have a chance to talk; Anoria instantly wondered if she were truly ready now at all.

 

With no lingering fire in the hearth or in the oven, the hut was much cooler inside than it was in the yard. Unless it had been a terribly hot day, the stone walls held no heat longer than the sun lasted between the hills. Candles were glowing brightly and Anoria was setting wine onto the table when her father came in from the barn. She did not immediately speak, knowing to leave the first words for him, if there were truly to be any words before they went to bed. Instead of waiting for him, she put a rod into the hearth and stirred the ashes about, though she knew there would not be any embers.

Antonio closed the door and pulled the latch, then quietly put his cloak on the peg under the high kitchen window. She heard the bench scrape aside as he sat down behind her; two mugs of wine were poured. She really felt she had drunk enough wine at the Benzetti’s, more would certainly make her sleepy, but her heart ached to have some explanation from her father. She concentrated only on the cold ashes, because it helped her keep her tongue. His first words heated the air between them.

I could laugh and endure your childish will and untruths, when you were a child, Anoria. You are grown, and I cannot abide what you have done with my trust,” Antonio began softly. He gazed into his mug, and perhaps at her, but she did not turn. She waited at the hearth and closed her eyes; she had not wanted angry words.

How long have you been disobeying me, visiting the shop at night?” he asked. She did not reply and he asked again.

Since I was perhaps seven,” she admitted. “I first laid eyes on the alter panel for the church, with Saint Matthew in the center. I watched him emerge and become the saint. I guessed it might be Christ that you carved…” she paused.

When did you know it was not the Christ?” Antonio’s voice hinted he did not expect to ask any such questions. She had surprised him.

His brow was smoothed. You always give Christ his crown of thorns. You always show his passion.”

Antonio hoped to merely learn when his daughter began to deceive him, when did she first disobey. He had forgotten that as a child she loved his work, or seemed to, for too many years now she was silent about it, silent, as he had been. Antonio realized that when she stopped trying to share her love, she must have started slipping in to see the works while he slept. His thoughts grew confused, he was angry she deceived him, but he realized she perceived more in his work than just figures of stone. Anoria recognized what they were to become, before the blocks would yield enough for anyone else to comprehend.

What did you see in the stone we pulled into the garden today?” he nearly whispered to her. Anoria turned to see his eyes, to read the confusion his voice gave away. He was looking directly into his wine, his fingers pressed tightly together around the mug.

An angel,” she replied with unwavering confidence. Antonio widened his eyes but did not look up. “His arm would have reached to Heaven, Papi, but for the crack,” she said.

Her father sat motionless on the bench.

Papi, why have I been forbidden to watch your work? Why am I locked out, more completely now, with shutters?”

Antonio took his hands from his mug and put them gently on the worn bench at his sides. Anoria thought he was about to rise, but he did not. He was searching for words to answer her, words he seemed hesitant to say. She rose from the hearth, the cold rod in her hand, and waited as he fought with his tongue. Where she had been dreading to see anger before, she saw in her father’s face something closer to guilt, perhaps regret.

You were too young to have it explained, for a while you were constant trouble about it, then you ceased. I hoped you would forget you loved the marble.”

You surely drove me away from it, but it only inflamed my heart. I gave up trying to understand and turned to deceit,” she said with more accusation than she intended. She could tell her words stung his heart, but she was a bit glad for it. “Could you turn from your love of the work you do? Could you stop touching those stones, because it was suddenly forbidden to you?”

Antonio finally looked up at his daughter, the anger she had feared completely absent from his face. Her countenance was likewise opposite of what he expected to see. Anoria was bathed in soft candlelight, but it was not causing the warmth seen in her skin; she was near to rage at him and he knew it. The rod in her hand was not hanging, but held firm. She looked about to strike, but he was not afraid. His shame deepened, he had wronged her. It needed explaining, but his strength to do it was failing him.

The wine from dinner was surely making him tired, he thought, trying not to think of the years of unwarranted torment he must have caused her. His daughter could break his commands, willingly, but he had forced her to do so. It had been easier to try breaking her spirit than to try to explain to her. For years, he thought he succeeded, until the blood was found in the dust. As a child, she finally stopped asking him questions about it; as a woman…she worked quietly against him. He realized his terrible mistake, which could have been corrected long ago. It was suddenly the flaw in their marble that lay unseen, until enough dust had been chipped away. He realized he had been reaching to Heaven, until this.

What wrong had I done, that you closed that door forever to me?” she sought from him. “I remember nothing even as a young child that caused you to forbid me, and yet you say I was too young to have word of it and understand.”

She took several steps to the table and was between Antonio and some candles; her shadow covered his face as he looked up to her and she could see the mist in his eyes in spite of the darkness veiling them. He was distressed as she had never seen, caught between his heart and his tongue, uncertain how to prevent the damage he was about to cause between them should he answer her question. He cowered on the bench before her. It was pitiful to see.

You did nothing wrong,” he admitted finally.

Nothing,” she repeated, not fully aware she replied. Antonio’s brow was bowing into his hands; his hair fell and covered them, his shoulders were hunched in shame, making him appear terribly small and frail in the shadowed light. Anoria felt the weight of his words; something trivial shut those doors to her, years ago, and they were held closed because it would have been harder to open them again.

You did nothing, but I forbade you. Anoria, I simply could not share it with you.” The truth had broken her father into pieces, because he could not say it; he could not tell her, she was kept out since childhood, because of something he himself had done.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO: Reaching for freedom

 

 

Donetto and Geppa were in awe of their beautiful company at a tree-covered bend on the narrow path as they came up from the village the next morning. The dark eyed siren, with dusty bare feet and apron filled with bread loaves, met them but a short distance from her father’s hut; but she was on her way down. Neither man could remember having ever seen her alone on the path, nor out of the hut anytime before their noon meal. Confused as they were to see Anoria alone on her way to the village, she added her own cheerful banter at them as she passed close, staring directly at them, truly surprising them beyond words.

Your lunch will be simple this week. I have loaves and cheese and some fruit. But that is all you or Papi will get,” she said with some pleasure as she confronted them.

Are you on a visit?” Donetto asked her with wide eyes.

The Benzetti’s have asked me to come teach their daughters how to be disobedient,” she replied playfully as she passed. Donetto gave her a good smile; Geppa could not think well enough to be so courteous, but she gave back no smile. There was another expression on her face, Donetto made no mistake guessing she was quite satisfied and defiant. Whatever plagued Antonio and his daughter, Anoria had gotten the better of it, at last. Donetto supposed his employer would be quiet and contrite when they made the doorway of the shop.

She paused no longer than it took to toss those words to them, and on she walked, her hair fairly bouncing about her shoulders. Geppa realized he had just been given his first prolonged, close look at her in several years. He would have tossed her his purse and followed stupidly after, had she but asked, but she was disturbingly beautiful to him. Donetto slapped his fellow on the shoulder and pulled Geppa’s face back toward the hut at the top of the path.

You have just been blinded my friend,” Donetto laughed and half-dragged him on his way again. “Close your eyes and rest them, I will guide you the last few steps, her father will see; she has ruined your eyesight.”

He has hidden a jewel!” Geppa commented at last. “What is the matter with Antonio?”

He knows there are wolves, and one named Geppa who would prowl at his doorway, you young fool.”

They reached the hut, deep in conversation about their surprise encounter and noticed Antonio was already at hard work. All the shutters were pulled down. Antonio was at the brook, wiping his brow and neck. His quick glance at the two men told him, they must have met her on the path. His perfect marble, Anoria, had been brought out into the sunlight; he was not ready at all, but then again, the choice had not been his.

Good morning, Antonio,” Geppa called. “Benzetti left word at the Inn; there will be two marble wagons early today. We could take the morning to sharpen our tools – save the smith’s ransom.”

Good news, Geppa. Thank you,” he replied. “Make new mallet handles for our largest as well while I look in the garden for a few good oven stones to cut. Ezio has need of them at the Inn.”

 

They set about awakening the shop to the sunlight. Antonio busied himself in the garden, but was keenly aware, Anoria was absent; it was an unpleasant feeling. Throughout the warm morning, he would look to her regular place, knowing her routine well, but still finding things empty and silent around the house. She offered only the barest of goodbyes after baking several loaves of bread, and was gone before the apprentices came up the path. The regularity of their lives and cheerfulness of conversations was gone and he felt it. The burden upon his heart was not merely her absence, but his guilt for having caused it.

We were surprised by your daughter on the path this morning,” Donetto declared with vigor to his master; he had been watching closely at his still dark mood. Antonio grunted an acknowledgement.

She is staying with Benzetti’s wife for a few days. We fend for ourselves at mealtime,” was all Antonio would say.

You seem no happier than yesterday, has there been more trouble between you?”

Donetto, you must love being stung, so much as you stir at hornets. I have nothing to say about this to you.”

Not much needs to be said; the shutters put up yesterday, only to be pulled today, and now your daughter gone and you staring after her into an empty house. What have you done?”

Donetto, perhaps you should leave this be,” Geppa whispered impatiently. “You help nothing with questions.”

Antonio suddenly fumed at them to cease the discussion about his trouble and to resume their work. Geppa cowered at the tone, but Donetto was combative enough to stand his ground.

Antonio, I suspect you have caused all the trouble in this house, and now are unable to admit it. My wife would poison my wine if I acted this way after offending her.”

Geppa blanched at the terrible insult, but Antonio only laughed, finally pushed further than he had strength, or will to resist.

I suspected she damaged the stone we dragged out yesterday,” he told them, his shoulders slumping with regret.

Anoria would do no such thing! Have you become a complete fool? She has never been free to come and go in here; you have been terrible about that. Why would she damage your work?”

She did not, Donetto. But, she has not been kept out, that much I learned as well. Yet, I made the greatest mistake with her yesterday. No apology can mend the hurt I have caused, it will take only time.”

How you could be so stubborn and make such an accusation at her, I do not understand. If you have not found words to apologize, you deserve her wrath. I should have my wife pay her a visit at Benzetti’s – to teach her to poison wine.”

Antonio laughed again, more naturally, “She will learn torture tricks at the hands of Pia Benzetti, no? No doubt I will be butchered and roasted by them both near the end of the day.”

You are a stubborn man to have spared such words and purchased instead her absence, you should be on your knees to her,” Donetto concluded.

You must know well, Donetto, how to bow at your woman’s feet. Can you demonstrate the proper pose?”

Both apprentices burst into laughter at this much-needed change in their moods.

Every woman is different; some will take mere groveling and be satisfied. Anoria might desire that you weep for her,” Donetto grinned.

Our wagon is here at last,” Geppa interrupted, sounding thankful to do it. The conversations ceased, and Antonio stepped out into the path to inspect the marble load. Geppa stepped to Donetto’s side and gave him a sudden, wicked smack on the shoulder.

Your mouth’s work is complete,” and he wagged a serious finger under Donetto’s nose.

That man,” Donetto pointed to their employer at the wagon, “is hard as the stones he pounds. Anoria might dull herself before she cracks him. That would be a great tragedy.”

He is her father, Donetto,” Geppa insisted. “You cannot push him about this.”

Do you think Pia Benzetti will go lightly with him for his stubbornness?”

Pia has a husband who will keep her in her place. She will not press Antonio.”

You have been unmarried too long, Geppa!” Donetto laughed and slung his arm around him. “An angry woman is trouble enough, but two angry women…no army can withstand. I am not trying to help Anoria; I am trying to help him! Antonio will not survive if he cannot lower himself when the time comes.”

 

Unsatisfied with those first two marble wagons, Antonio sent them back; he was not to be quibbled with, he paid drivers handsomely for the hard trip when they delivered the block he sought. Drivers loading blocks for Antonio Lisi in Resceto took care they were not loaded with poor marble. The two deliveries being turned back would not come again that day, they were nearly twenty miles from the quarries. There would be a stream of wagons tomorrow, drivers clogging his lane vying for his coins and the sale of a stone for something grand.

The second driver seemed amused, almost to expect to be turned away as he had. He left with the oven stones for the Inn, and a bonus payment for delivering those. He was happy either way. He met good fortune twice; the beautiful woman on the path as he rose from Resceto had given him a smile, and half a loaf of warm bread, and her father had given him coins for some nice wine when he returned to the Inn. Master Lisi seemed a wealthy man indeed. A second trip up his lane would be no hardship.

The oven stones were easy work and hardly dusted his hands; Antonio wanted other work to do. The ruined angel had been demanding his full time for a month; nothing else was waiting to be done, and Anoria was absent, so he could not be idle. He took his restlessness to the garden, to check his grapes, and perhaps look at a stone to bring out.

The collection was larger than he bothered to remember. Anoria would have known what he could pull out to carve, had he shared a bit of his work. But, he did not bother himself to speak to her of marbles and statues. Now, in the cool, spotted shade of the chestnuts, her anger felt hot on his skin again; he could have shared his work with her, he had been unjust to refuse her.

It was no mystery, which blocks she lovingly tended, and which the garden could hide more completely. However, the central stone, the woman with the basket, seemed precious from the care she gave it, the grass was clean and fresh. He knew she touched that stone, but never with dirty hands surely, it gleamed white as the last day chips had been taken from it. Antonio reached to feel the smooth places where finishing strokes were applied. He remembered the basket, a work to bring pride, it was fine, and delicate as any curls of hair or folds of robe he created.

This ruined stone had been left in the garden uncounted years ago. Other stones were nearby, which had come after, he counted the time backward to the season the altar stone was set in the shade... more than seven years. Donetto had worked on it; he could certainly see the apprentice’s learning strokes on the base of the figure.

Antonio’s eyes sought the other chisel marks, seeing his own and Donetto’s mixed about on the foot of the smaller figure, then only his own higher up to the woman’s right arm. Antonio lightly fingered the marks in the stone, now vividly remembering the day he worked those surfaces away, and the crying daughter he dealt harshly with the afternoon he stopped this work.

He found the stone cracked when he returned from his noon meal and accused her of playing there, but he knew she never entered, but always seemed either afraid of the figures, or the harsh way the men worked.

Standing at the maid, fingering the marks that were unsmoothed by any weathering, he remembered Anoria’s pleading eyes and her tears.

You are to stay out, do you hear?” he fumed at her, but let years pass without any thought to smooth those heavy marks he made on her heart. And, she had not seemed to disobey his horrible command. She found a way to hide her disobedience and obey her heart instead. The stones never ceased to call to her; she had not stayed out.

Antonio could not bear the shame.

Donetto found his master weeping at the large block in the garden center. He had not the heart to bother him, but backed slowly out to gather Geppa and begin their journey homeward for the day.

 

For Anoria, the morning had been long; she rose hours before her father and baked bread for the entire week, and some special loaves for Pia’s daughters, using all her sweet butter in their making. Four such loaves she carried now in front of her in the apron, playing her feet in the dust as she walked, wishing she had taken the time to prepare a basket. But for the forgotten basket, she would have been running the entire time. Troubles or no, her heart was glad to be on the path so early in the day.

She had nearly come within sight of the walls of the village when the first lumbering marble wagon met her on the tracks. Four large horses were straining the harness, but not slowly, though the marble on the bed was huge and surely heavy to pull. The driver was concerned for his load and the turns and twists in his way, he said not a word to Anoria as she stood in the weeds, patiently out of the way, covering her loaves from the dust the horses raised.

The weighty load passed a bit more slowly and with tremendous creaks and moans of the springs and wooden wheels. Anoria watched it move higher and into the great chestnut trees up the path until the quiet returned and it seemed the wagon had never been there at her side. She resumed her happy walk and did come to see the walls of Resceto when the second wagon met her on her path.

This wagon had a different purpose than the first, and a different driver who did not care if the horses wandered a bit. The two lead horses made straight for Anoria, who laughed and danced out of their lumbering advance; they wanted her loaves. The driver did rein them before they followed her into the brook, but she was not cross at all. The man smiled and invited to give her a ride, anywhere up the trail, for the mere price of a kiss, and then he called her by name.

Sweetest Anoria, but your feet are now wet! Have you put your shoes in the cold brook?”

She looked at him with amazement and held the loaves close. The brook was indeed terribly cold, but she did not notice it. She did not know the man. How he could know her name, she could never guess.

I’m not so strange as I seem, you were but a mere kitten when last we spoke. I am your father’s old apprentice, Paolo!”

She seemed to remember him, his voice, but still questioned him with her eyes and he laughed to see it.

Yes, I still cut stone! Antonio taught me well, though never all he seemed to know. I could not improve upon his skill in a full lifetime. I am merely driving today because they said this block was for him. I offered to make the trip and visit for a while. Why are you here and not up the hill in the kitchen?”

Anoria certainly remembered he was talkative and imagined both he and Donetto chatting at once in the shop, driving Antonio to tears.

The Benzetti’s have not thoroughly spoilt their offspring, and I am a renowned tutor in mischief,” she smiled. “They want to employ me for a week to ruin their girls. If you miss a cook up the hill, have part of this to amend your loss,” the fragrance of warm apples and cinnamon brightened his smile as she broke a loaf and handed him half. He took the bread and whistled in thanks.

I am sorry your walk brings you down, your company would be such a pleasure on the drive. But thank you for the loaf, perhaps when I return I can come to Benzetti’s for another hello?”

You would be welcome, Paolo, more so if you bring good gossip with you for Benzetti’s wife, Pia. She would likely feed you for such a visit.”

Then expect me in one or two hours, if this block does not suit your father. Though I grant it should, the color is perfect.”

He will send you back down unpaid, Paolo,” said Anoria quickly back to him. “This stone will be tall enough, but it will not fit the figure he wishes to create. It should be three hands deeper on this side.” Before Paolo could exclaim his amazement - she had barely glanced at the stone, she bid him goodbye and continued into the village. His sat still and admired as long as she was in sight on the street.

 

Five houses into the village she walked, and turned down the first cobbled street she came upon. Across the small bridge, the broad houses were set back from the lane by garden walls and hedges, or here and there, a brace of grape vines. But, every one had a path leading through flowers or herbs or small, beautiful gardens.

The Benzetti home was on this lovely street, the last house before the lane turned to lead away back across the stream to the market area. Along the path to their door, were set marble blocks of every size and hue, many were polished with age. The path to Tito’s doorway served as his sometimes market stall. He made many sales right at his doorstep. Anoria could tell the Benzetti girls played on his sample stones as they pleased; several were decorated, as only a young girl would do.

Sadly, an empty house greeted her at the end of their lane, no one rushed to greet her, and she remembered she was not expected; Benzetti would be at the quarry, which was proper, Pia and the girls should then be spending all his money in the shops.

Anoria felt comfortable waiting on the patio for them to return. The honey lamb they shared was still fragrant in the kitchen, the neighbors around just as busy. Still, her wait was lonely, and she grew impatient to be overrun by the girls. She found a comfortable chair in the pleasant sunlight and made herself cozy with her feet pulled up to one side, her shoes abandoned and under the bench again. Once seated and still, it was mere moments until Anoria closed her eyes, her heavy heart and lack of good rest for two nights caught her unawares and she slept deeply, but for an hour.

Mama, Anoria is here! Anoria is here on the patio!” the girls cried, pulling at her in their excitement.

Pia came rushing out from the kitchen, taking her up from the chair, and embraced her.

You are a most welcome surprise, darling!” she whispered to Anoria. Suddenly the talk was of dresses and sweets, and then of some lunch, the girls complained they had eaten too little that morning.

They have eaten all morning, nearly at every bakery we passed!” she rolled her eyes and swatted at them together, hushing them away from Anoria so she could come into the kitchen. “What beautiful loaves, did you bring them this morning?” Pia exclaimed, then in quieter tones to Anoria’s ear, “Has your father not apologized for the offense you have endured?”

You make a good guess, though I do not understand how.”

I’m a mother – I understand these things. At dinner you would not speak to each other,” Pia smiled. “What is the matter, dear, that you should be unhappy at home and rush here as if chased?”

Pia, make me your best promise only you and I will speak of this.”

Pia made the promise, humorously, but begged a short wait while the girls were appeased with one of the loaves and some fresh milk. She took Anoria to the garden and found shade near the herbs. Anoria told only enough of her tale so Pia would know Antonio had forbidden her to enter the workshop. It nearly brought tears, but did ease her heart to have some of it out at last.

He is always alone in town, but never at a loss for your praise. Darling, your father loves you and shares word of you at every visit; it breaks my heart to hear he has wronged you. Has he refused to beg your forgiveness?”

He cannot explain why this all began, what wrong I had done. Nothing about marble is ever shared between us. When he quits a stone, he forgets it completely. I must be a damaged stone to him…” Anoria hesitated, she had spoken too closely to the subject of the ruined block, an unlucky thing to do, and that event surely caused most of her father’s quiet towards her. “I have decided to leave him alone, until he has time to sort out the wrongs I have done, and name them at last. I will not be punished this way for something I might have done as a child.”

Pia told her gently, “You are welcome here as long as you are happy to stay, but too much time will make the trouble harder to mend.”

May I stay the week at least?” Anoria seemed to plead. “I will fill the butter and cheese so he need not come down. I won’t let him starve, but he needs to feel my absence, and perhaps some regret will bring him down to talk.”

A week would be fine, but I urge it be no longer. I do not know a man with any kind of heart who could last more than a few days without you making his home warm and happy. I would lessen my own respect for your father if he cannot find his own way here, to bend his knees,” Pia said, laying her hand on Anoria’s cheek. “We will not waste time waiting on him to knock on the door either. We are going to shop, and parade you around town! We are going to have great fun with you!”

Anoria blushed a bit, but smiled at the thought of being busy the whole time, being dragged about by the Benzetti girls.

Can we make a few new dresses this week?” she asked Pia, shyly. “I never ask for new cloth, and Papi never thinks to bring any to surprise me.”

Oh, darling Anoria! We shall do that and more. You never seem to have any shoes either; we shall get those as well!” They laughed, knowing well Anoria could hardly stand to wear shoes at all, but loved having them all the same. “But, we did not know you would be here, we are expected later today at the church, and then we need to return to the market again. Are you ready to be led about like our best prize lamb?”

I would love it, Pia. I hoped you could keep me very busy.”

A whistle at the garden wall drew their attention; Anoria jumped happily up and ran over to greet him.

Pia, this is Paolo, years away from his apprenticeship with Papi. Do you not recognize him?”

Signora Benzetti, good morning to you. When I visited last, you had a beautiful daughter on your knee; she must be quite grown now. Anna? That was her name?” Paolo bowed and smiled over the wall.

You remembered well, and I remember you now, but there are three more daughters in this house. But Anna is indeed nearly fourteen. You have been more than ten years away.”

Eleven since Antonio last taught me the trade. You seem too young still for four daughters, you are hardly any older than I remember you,” he said to Pia with a wink. “But this beauty I barely recognized as we met on the path this morning. Anoria is lovelier than any maid between Resceto and the sea, I wager!”

You have a son, Demetri you call him? Isn’t he nearly as old as Anna? Is he handsome?” Pia squinted her eyes.

Paolo grinned, catching the meaning; he was too old to be flirting with Anoria. “Yes, he is nearing sixteen now.” He winked again at Pia. “I was ordering my own blocks yesterday. I heard the name Lisi called out to the quarry master too often and pried where I could to get information. I left my son there and came to see Antonio. We had a pleasant, if short visit this morning; I have a curious offer of a commission. I wanted to seek his advice.” Paolo turned to Anoria and gestured back to the block on the wagon, still in the street. “How you knew his desires and needs so well – this block too small! I am still amazed!” he pointed.

And, you say he never talks of marbles with you!” Pia laughed. Anoria stared at them both, trying to calm her face. The two busiest tongues in the village were across the wall from each other, about to shatter the silence she had been so careful to preserve.

Why your father needs a larger block, when the perfect stone sits in your garden this morning…” Paolo began, but trailed off because of Anoria’s dismayed reaction - she withered. He realized too late, too well, Antonio would have only one possible reason to overlook a block resting in his garden. Marble cutters would hammer their own fingers before uttering unlucky words about damaged works. Pia also perceived Anoria’s reaction, and surmised a different, equally painful truth; Anoria did not talk of marbles with Antonio, but she understood the work, and more perfectly than he realized. The sudden silence was horrible for Anoria; she knew they understood the anguish she felt, but, unequal parts of it. She needed them apart to prevent them gossiping out the rest of the tale.

Pia, I invited Paolo to share a bite with us, but I should have asked you first. I know you love good gossip, and Paolo is nearly the best with news from other villages…” Anoria blurted nervously at them. Paolo was quick to understand, and mentioned he should be on his happy way.

I should hurry back to the quarry to be the man who fills Antonio’s order. Neither of you expected me to turn up, so you shouldn’t be burdened. Perhaps tomorrow?” Anoria was visibly relieved. “May we share some wine? I will be happy to bring it,” Paolo smiled, bowing generously to Pia.

But bring your son with you if he is at hand? My girls have frightened every youth within an hour’s walk. The change of faces might improve their methods!” she sought sweetly. Paolo winked and laughed.

Signora, my son wanted to be finally rid of the maids who will not stay out of my garden. I will surely bring him, to torture him with more girls!” he rolled his eyes. He kissed Anoria’s hands sweetly over the wall, telling her with his eyes he would forget the ruined block in her garden. She was pleased to have seen him again, but so relieved he was going. Pia…not so glad.

Pia’s daughters dragged Anoria and their mother, rushing and laughing, to the church; they were not late for kneeling in prayer, Pia was not that strict with the girls. They were late for sharing the noonday alms with the village poor. Acutely aware of their status as one of the wealthiest families in Resceto, Tito would not anger God by refusing to be generous. They taught their daughters the privilege of their wealth demanded they see to the needs of the poor around them; they went to alms twice a week.

Anoria never came to see the needy gather; she knew well they did. However, because she was rarely seen in the village at all, she was stared at, and some whispers came to her ear. No one approached her as she stood to the side of the Benzetti girls while they passed out small loaves of bread and paper wrapped cheeses, but there was a commotion.

At the market that morning to purchase all those items they were giving to the poor, the girls took them to the rectory and returned home to find Anoria on their patio. Now they stood on the church steps in a sweet line and helped share what had been brought throughout the morning. Smiles thanked them, and sweet words of praise, their parents should be so proud, but not a word was spoken to Anoria.

She wanted to smile at people she saw, but she was made painfully uncomfortable by their questioning eyes; she was now quite a few steps back from where she once stood, her apprehension unnoticed. Close to darting away, she might have slipped inside the doors of the church if a small boy had not stepped around his mother to tiptoe in Anoria’s direction.

The group of people on the steps hushed the shuffling of their feet, movements paused as the gathered faces turned to the top of the church steps and the woman who seemed to back away from the little boy. His mother called his name in a faint whisper, but he did not turn. Close enough to touch her skirt, he held out a small hand towards hers, and she stood still as stone, fearful of the crowd, and not understanding why.

Are you real, my Lady?” he asked clearly, reaching to touch her, “Are you an angel?”

He stepped closer and Anoria closed her eyes as he took her hand. She heard a sigh of whispers in the gathering on the steps, Pia laughed softly. The little boy turned her hand over and traced the lines of her palm with his fingers. Her unopened eyes burned with tears, and fear made her ashamed to be so exposed to so many villagers; they must think her mad. She wanted to hide from them, but Pia’s stronger, gentle hands led her closer to where the crowd pressed together behind the girls, gazing up to see her.

She has our Lady’s hands, but they are warm and soft,” the boy whispered to his mother, still gazing upward as they descended the steps. “She did not say she was not an angel.”

This is Anoria, daughter to Master Antonio, the Lady’s sculptor,” Pia told the gathered people. The eyes gazing at her were suddenly warmer, and there were sweeter smiles as she watched the last of the villagers move to each of Pia’s daughters in turn. When the steps quieted once more, Pia took Anoria’s shivering shoulders in a much-needed embrace.

Pia said softly, “You have lived here all your life and are still a stranger to many, but these people see you every day, Anoria.” She took Anoria’s chin softly to wipe the tears that hung on her cheeks. “They look on you every day at noon, and you have forgotten they could do so?”

I don’t understand,” Anoria tearfully pleaded.

Your father’s gift, dearest.”

Pia turned Anoria, bringing her gaze to the balustrade along the steps. At the terrace edge stood the pedestal, which supported the gift her father had given to the church, when she was but a child. A statue of the finest white marble stood there; the softest form he would carve in many years, the Lady of the Church - the Virgin Mary. Anoria peered at herself in the down-turned eyes, the gently up-turned hands.

Your father carved this gift, with all the love he gives to you. This is you and I cannot believe you have never known.” Pia whispered.

Anoria lovingly reached to touch the familiar fingers of the Lady’s hand. She was one of the first figures Anoria watched her father create, from the first stroke to the last, in a year of nightly visits. This statue had been special, even then, and she treasured the way her father lifted the Lady’s hands, the kindest of gestures, inviting anyone to lovingly grasp them. She never recognized what her father was creating, too young then to be aware; he had carved the woman Anoria would someday become.

She had not touched this marble figure in years but recognized now the Lady’s hands were her own hands. She understood the whispers from the villagers; they emerged from their noon prayers to receive their gift of alms, to gaze at the Lady, and her model, standing just beside her. Their Lady stood smiling at them, amazing them, with Anoria’s timid, hazel eyes!

 

The Benzetti daughters put a great effort into capturing her attentions all afternoon, she enjoyed the walk in the market stalls and the commotion Pia’s girls were causing, but the encounter with the little boy troubled her mind. She felt shame at reacting involuntarily; she was truly frightened as he approached, she had never thought herself shy, but could not deny she was - painfully so.

Strangely, more distracting to her now was the image of the Lady on the steps, beautiful, but somehow as frightening as the gaze of the little boy. He asked if Anoria were real, and after seeing herself so clearly in her father’s marble, she wondered the same question about herself. Antonio had recreated her in his stone. Where else had he carved her form from the blocks he touched?

She knew all his works, nearly as well as he, and she began to recall them in turn. The waiting maid with the basket, in their garden…another woman for a fountain, before the ruined angel was begun, both were Anoria remade in marble.

She felt the sensation of trying to awake from a dream as she remembered the others. Years of warm white figures surrounded her; she could almost feel them. Less satisfying than she desired, only memories, she wanted to see them again, to know certainly how many times her father carved her likeness. It was a hopeless desire - an impossible thing to do, to travel, and find them all.

Antonio reshaped her and guided her form, as he desired, for years, but he never shared it was she and not some other image in his heart and in his mind. It shook her that he caressed a perfected daughter under the sun-filled skylights so many days that he worked in his shop. Suddenly, something was damaged between them, and like his other blocks, he seemed willing to put her, and the flaw within her, stubbornly aside with hardly a thought. The horrible trouble between her and her father those few days before made her wonder if she were somehow a ruined marble. Now she truly felt shattered in pieces, scattered about into the cities of Italy like shards of stone from her father’s chisel.

Would Antonio of Resceto ever carve her into his marble again? Anoria wondered if she would let him.

 

Darling, eat something!” Pia gestured to the platter in front of Anoria. With six questioning faces turned her direction she was self-conscious for being sullen and quiet, but brought laughter back to the table by sticking her tongue out at Pia. The uproar of giggles it caused was perfectly timed.

You’re a brat! We - must begin some new dresses for you!” Pia gushed.

I can pay! I pinched a few coins from Papi’s purse before I escaped,” Anoria admitted, to renewed laughter.

Tito hoped to interrupt. “I met Paolo today; he will bring his son early, with a new stone,” then, turning to Anoria, who was making faces at the girls, “He says no other wagon need come. Is he sure? Antonio will be furious if the wrong block appears.” He was uncertain of such an arrangement.

I told him what to bring, and Papi said as much; what he drove this morning was otherwise perfect,” she replied. However, she did not explain this to Tito any more than she explained it to Paolo. Surprising them both so well brought her immense pleasure. She hoped to use that new skill often.

Tito sipped his wine with mirth in his eyes, watching some sudden quarrel amongst the girls, playing them against one another. Anoria suddenly missed a sibling she could have adored and teased. It would have been wonderful to share moments such as this with Antonio causing more trouble, being both sympathetic and devious. She delighted in the battle between the Benzetti daughters, and it was too hard to converse while the children quarreled. She suddenly caught very interesting words between Tito and Pia.

Stop at the smith shop tomorrow also-” Tito mumbled in passing. “-Paolo needs an apprentice’s kit. I offered to save him the time tomorrow, have them here. He might want to apprentice Demetri with your father, Anoria,” gesturing about himself with his wine cup, winking at his daughters. “Has he mentioned it?”

I would not know,” she tersely replied. “Papi does not concern himself with explaining his needs to me.” She tried to sound less bold then, but if Tito had sudden questions, he did not trouble her.

Well, Demetri is a bit young to apprentice here. He should have several years elsewhere before he burdens a Master.”

Paolo mentioned he might have a new commission?” she asked.

Tito winced. “I am glad to sell the blocks, but I would not pray for that figure work.”

She wondered what he meant, but did not press him.

Pia interrupted to discuss other purchases with her husband, the girls continued insults and teasing, but Anoria played in her thoughts about tools. She was suddenly eager to get to the market, and not for the softest dress cloths, but for the hardest items of metal she could purchase from the smith, or at least to look at and about which to pester him with questions.

How many unused stones are in your garden?” Tito lightly touched her hand, bringing her back to his gaze.

Of what size, what use?”

A proper headstone, narrow, but tall. The church needs one for a family who cannot pay for the cutting, and I have none about.”

There is one - it was purchased for that use. Papi outlined a cross upon it, but the family changed their design. It has never been struck but very lightly,” Anoria answered. “I will ask Paolo to leave it here when he returns to fetch what might be left of Demetri.”

Anna thinks she is old enough to kiss Demetri,” came the challenge from Gissela.

I do not!”

We will let Demetri decide for himself!” came her mother’s shocking permission. Anna and her sisters bolted squealing into the house, delighted. Laughter came from the neighbor’s patio; the girls likely entertained every family on that delightful street.

Please ask Paolo to do that, if Antonio is willing,” Tito said of the marble block, amid the continued squeals from the upstairs bedrooms.

 

A voice on the street called out, “Master Benzetti! Master Benzetti!” stilling all the noises on the patio and neighboring gardens as well. Pia rolled her eyes, unamused.

Have we not one night’s peace! Who have they crushed today?” she blurted at the breathless man outside their garden wall. Tito smacked her behind, hushing her and gathered his cup and the remaining wine to find out the urgent news.

Lord, I’m glad we are twenty miles from that pit, or they would be here every time a mule farted,” Pia muttered under her breath. Anoria stifled a fit of giggles, watching the serious conversation barely within the glow of the torches. Tito either feigned some concern, or else the news was serious indeed, the man was breathless. Even Pia stopped her clearing of the table to watch the two men. Tito wandered slowly back to the patio and she tossed him a harsh question.

Must you leave now, or can you at least pester me for a little while in bed before you go?” There was delighted laughter from the neighbor’s garden.

I don’t need to tell you anything, Wife,” he sourly tossed back, “But I need to talk to Anoria.” Their concerned faces made him think of a quick assurance. “No one is hurt, but Paolo is an ass for not remembering his wife is with child! He was called back home before he settled down to rest at the quarry this evening. Tessa is in labor and may have delivered by now.”

Why does that concern Anoria?” Pia demanded.

The full meaning of Tito’s reply came to Anoria’s ears with the force of splintering wood. Doors that were locked to prevent Anoria from passing through were torn asunder as Tito spoke.

Paolo did not have time to select Antonio’s order. To get a block to him tomorrow, someone needs to be there in the morning to choose it.”

I will go,” she replied, having no idea if Tito would even pay attention to such a suggestion, the words thoughtlessly burst from her lips.

She cannot drive a marble cart, you old fool!” Pia interrupted, but Anoria must have scowled.

Demetri could do that, he was left there,” Tito explained. “Anoria, can you leave with me before dawn and go? It will mean you have to trust my women to pick your dress cloths.” Then he turned his face to the upstairs window, where the girls had gone suspiciously quiet. “It would mean Demetri could not stay for a visit. He will be needed back home before dark.”

There were moans from the window in response to his news.

I can be ready quickly,” Anoria offered excitedly.

Then, let’s clear this all away, it’s late and won’t seem much fun when you rise two hours before the sun. That is a long, cold road so early.” Pia gathered up the bowls nearest her and made for the kitchen. “Tito, the drinks are yours to clear. Anoria dear, will you get the cheese?”

A forlorn Anna wandered down the stairs to dutifully help with the last of the meal.

Do I get to sleep with you?” Anoria asked her. “If you promise to giggle quietly, you can keep me awake for a while talking of boys. My bedtimes are much later than this all the time.” Anna brightened instantly.

Then off to bed you girls, I will finish here,” Pia hurried them with a quick hug and a sweet kiss for Anoria. “You are the most pleasant company! Tomorrow it will be our turn to stay up and giggle; only it won’t be talk of boys, it will be lots of wine!”

Anoria followed Anna up the stairs, meeting her sisters. They were soon all excited to arrange the beds and share her for the night. She instantly recognized Pia’s furnishings, now being put to better use by the messy girls, who seemed to need those most. Anna bossed them about the mess, but they paid her no mind. Even with the talk of boys, they were quickly finding their way into bed. Anoria continued to look about the room.

The floors were smooth and felt soft to her bare feet. There were several wide, half shuttered windows and the sleepy sounds of the neighbors and the smoky perfume of dying fires drifted on the cool breeze into the room. Down the long hallway, Tito and Pia were entering their room, talking in far away voices. Anoria heard the sweet sound of the lute again, but it also seemed far away.

Within a moment, she spied the crucifix she expected to see - her father’s gift to the Benzetti family. The most delicate and subtle work of marble she had seen her father make. It was lovely to see again.

Anoria crept to where it hung on the wall and looked carefully at the hands, not surprised to find a woman’s hands on the wounded figure of the Christ. They were pierced, as the Gospels described, but there was no denying their graceful beauty seemed to hide the wounds from view. It was a twin to their crucifix at home, but as with every other work her father finally brought into the sunlight for her to meet, she had never understood until now, she was part of these images. Here she was again, in part, upon the body of the Christ. She looked to His upturned face, as if to seek forgiveness for what her father had done.

Savina crept beside Anoria and put an arm tenderly around her waist to bring her to the beds, they blew out the candles. Anoria was not surprised at all that soon only Anna was still awake beside her, the younger girls asleep within a few moments. The neighbor was still playing his lute in some garden along the quieting street. She and Anna chatted about small things for a while, but it was not long at all before even Anna, curious and excited to have Anoria’s attentions, was asleep, lulled by the cooling breeze and the soft music. Anoria lay in the midst of the Benzetti girls, and guessed she lay awake for several more hours, but she soon followed them into pleasant slumber.

A candle brightened in the hallway, the insistent glow creeping nearer the sleeping children. Anoria tried to untangle herself from the group of girls, already awakened by the soft voices from down the hallway, before Pia tiptoed into their room.

Were you crushed or kicked all night?” Pia whispered, placing the candle on the windowsill and stepping to the bed to help smooth the girls out of their tangles. Anoria noticed how beautifully Pia’s dark hair was pulled up and tied out of her way, and she wore only a light robe, barely pulled closed at all, and nothing else. There was no hint of any modesty in the way Pia moved about, adjusting her daughters. She was a lovely, fair woman, whose body gave no clue she had mothered four children.

Anoria remembered her father’s unclothed figures as she gazed wonderingly at Pia’s body; his figures were not lewd or sinful. They seemed so naturally posed, clothing was not needed. Her father’s nudes were beautiful and correct, never shameful. There was nothing shameful at all in the way Pia moved unclothed; if she was conscious of Anoria’s distracted, yet intimate attention, nothing at all was mentioned. Then, how did a sculptor learn the grace of a human form? Had they always a nude model nearby? Anoria wondered, and continued to gaze.

No, they were quiet. I slept peacefully,” she smiled, helping to smooth a coverlet over the girls; the morning air was cool. She realized then she had not brought a shawl, but forgot it instantly, remembering with excitement she was going to the quarry with Tito.

Come down to eat, Tito is almost ready but will have a bite.” Pia gestured. There were busy sounds from the barn.

They went down to the kitchen, warming it with more candles, chatting about the last visit Anoria made to the quarry. She could not really remember when she had last been. Pia suddenly surprised her with an unforeseen question.

Will your father be cross, when you drive the new block home today?”

Anoria had not thought to avoid a question like that one, and she did not care to have it asked. Pia was too keen about how completely Antonio separated his daughter from his work; Anoria did not want more questions about it. She did not answer with much more than a shrug. Pia was too gifted at finding out things children did not want to tell. Anoria had no one to use such skill against her refusals to be more open; she was unaware how easily she could be pried. It only took one more question to pull a bit of the anger out that Anoria was trying to hide.

Won’t it be nice to have him so surprised when you bring the perfect block up the lane, though?”

Papi always knew how much I desired to be part of his work, that I have always loved the marbles! I stopped trying to share my feeling with him, because he will not listen. I do not care if he is pleased. He treats me as though I would ruin every work I could touch. He refused to admit he must be so angry with me now because the angel’s block is ruined and he thinks I would do such a thing…” Anoria shuddered herself into silence, and for a moment just stood, uncertain. She turned to flee but Pia caught her arm and slowed her rush to get away. The desire to run melted and Anoria stood still in her bare feet and tried instead to calm her breath.

You are not dressed to be out in the morning air, though you might melt snow with your anger,” Pia wore a satisfied expression and it made Anoria feel suddenly guilty for the unlucky things she had just said. “You will prove Antonio wrong, but never with anger like that,” Pia admonished her in gentle, motherly tones. “Your father will know how to confront your anger, still getting his way, but he won’t understand constant surprises. You have to keep surprising him, as you will when you bring him a new marble today. Work on him slowly as he does his figures.”

We have been stone to one another too long,” Anoria cried. “We have no real life if any small crack means we are ruined! I’m tired of being treated like his marbles!” and she hid her face in her hands.

Child, why can’t you understand yet? To Antonio, you could never fail. He pounds his marbles with all his strength, to find your perfection in them, to make them into you.”

That cannot be true of him; else he would never lock me out as he has for years.”

That is the flaw Antonio does not want you to see, the flaw you must work away as you shape him.” Pia pulled her lovingly back towards the house. “Come now, Tito will be ready quickly. Let’s get him to sit and eat with us, and I will find your shoes and a wrap from the morning air.”

Anoria hesitated slightly, pulling Pia into her arms with a timid embrace. “Pia,” she said, “When I return tonight, can we leave the talk of my quarrels with Papi?” Her eyes were bright in the light from the doorway and Pia understood their pleading. “I do not know yet what to do about this, and I’m sorry, but you confuse me. I need more time to understand what I am feeling.” Pia smiled at her and nodded agreement.

This will be a fine week for us darling,” she said. “Now I know what you are thinking when you are quiet; I don’t have to mother you and find a way to have it out!”

Are you mothering me, Pia?”

Do you like it, darling?”

Yes,” Anoria sniffed.

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE: Sharing perfection

 

 

Master Benzetti’s great wagon seemed to thunder recklessly on the cobblestones as they began their long drive, but the sounds softened as they found the gravel and dusty lane leading down to the lower roads; the marble roads from the quarries.

My poor neighbors, bless them, they only complain when I do not leave early, only then they awake, because the noise is missed,” Tito laughed.

Anoria sat bundled next to him, her legs up beside her under the quilts so she could remove her shoes again. She enjoyed a few seconds rubbing her toes on the rough wagon boards before pulling her legs up; she might have kept them there if it were warmer.

The gates were quickly passed; it was soon a quiet drive and hardly bumpy at all – she was nearly lulled to sleep. There was still no hint of the sun, only faint, high misty clouds veiling the stars, but they were beautifully bright where she could see. The hills of Resceto slipped away behind them, more sky opened around them than Anoria could have at home; the mountains loomed darkly beautiful, but diminished slowly behind them. She wished the clouds would wither away so she could have all the stars at once.

Not feeling much warmer, even as the sun began to pale the sky over the mountains, subduing the stars, she noticed the mules were no longer blowing billows of moist breath; dawn was warming the air, she would soon be able to put her feet down to the wonderfully dusty boards.

Tito was quiet, thoughtful, but when other wagons were met, and fellows were seen walking the sides of the road, he made greetings to each and exchanged news, or gossip with some others. “Look here! This is Anoria Lisi of Resceto,” he would tell them, and they would smile.

I have never met Paolo’s son, Master Benzetti. Does he look much like his father?” she decided to engage him a little.

No, thankfully. He talks like his father.”

I would rather he were shy, Paolo certainly isn’t. But it would be rude to flirt with him before Anna could,” she offered.

Tito laughed.

I have not been to the quarries in many years. Which one are you cutting in now?

We are higher on the mountain now.”

I don’t even remember how far it is,” she admitted.

We will have an hour of sun before we arrive.”

Does Demetri know to expect us?”

Not likely. His father never says anything important or helpful.”

Anoria laughed again. “Do you see Paolo often, does he work large blocks like Papi?”

Only twice I remember. He could put four of his on this wagon – it is barely large enough for one of Antonio’s.”

Have you seen Paolo’s work?”

Yes. You will see two at the gates of Al Santo, on the near gates; they are but small angels, child size.”

The sun followed them from Resceto, straining above the limbs of the mountains behind them as they passed through those gates a short while later. She instantly recognized Antonio’s influence, but she could also see, even passing, Paolo had great skill, yet seemed to lack emotion her father could bring from the marble.

A good student, was he not?” Tito asked her. She watched the little angels fall behind them.

Yes, but I may have grandchildren before he is a master,” she teased with a knowing grin.

Are you perhaps spoiled, prideful of your father’s work?”

I could recognize Papi’s work with only my fingertips. I know his every stroke as well as he. I can see what he taught Paolo, but I also see what Paolo never learned.”

Paolo told me you had a skillful eye; some understanding that took him years to acquire.”

It has taken years, Master Benzetti. Longer years than I can count.”

Well, it would be perfectly natural, Antonio’s daughter. It would be expected had you been his son you would have taken his place.”

May a daughter not be so blessed?” Anoria asked, wondering if he would laugh, or answer truthfully.

He replied thoughtfully, “I have never heard of a woman with a master’s skill, or even apprenticed as a helper. The world is large; I may simply be ignorant, but it is not done that I know.”

Anoria wondered what Benzetti might be thinking of her, the quiet returned. He seemed to have a question, for an instant, but the quarries loomed, and many wagons had joined them on the road. He grew busy instead with the traffic and greeting other drivers. Only once did they pass someone Tito did not address, but he kept his eyes on the man and said nothing. The encounter seemed to puzzle him greatly him; he continued to look after the fellow.

The road wound less, the forests thinned away, wearing different colors; there were small farms with a bit of earth tilled to grow crops resting among the hills.

I’ve never seen such cattle,” she said in wonder, “And the stream is a river besides!”

Two more small villages lay after Al Santo, and more wagons followed, going to the main roads further below. She could see the quarry now above them while they were still a few miles distant, gleaming with permanent snow, but the mountains were crowned with lush evergreens.

Demetri paced just at the quarry gate as they expected, looking for some familiar face, his brow furrowed with worry, his brown hair tousled from sleep; at least he had the sense to bed somewhere to wait for his father. Nearly spooking the mules, he ran to Tito’s wagon, chattering so quickly it made Benzetti shout at him to explain all the news. Anoria sat smiling on the wagon seat, her toes playing in the dust on the boards.

The sight of her stilled him.

This is Master Antonio’s daughter Anoria. You will drive his order to him this morning in your father’s place,” Tito told the young fellow. “Demetri! Attention boy! She will show you the way, and take you to my house for your noonday meal before you return here.”

I am to come back here?”

For your father’s blocks. We still need to load them so you can take them home, where is your wagon?”

Here, I guess father has taken yours home with him.” Demetri was confused; Anoria continued to distract him by smiling directly at him.

Curse him! My wagon? It will take a week sorting out these teams!” Tito blustered. But, it was right he would thunder about his quarry at entering his gates, it hardly distressed Demetri, not really an angry display. “But, we can sort all that out after we get all the blocks delivered,” then to Anoria as he reached for her hand, “come dear, we need to climb to the new blocks. We will leave my wagon here and drive a larger one up.”

Tito yelled at Demetri to follow them and they walked passed the gathered teams of drivers and customers who were scattered about on the wide plaza at the quarry foot. Already busy since first light, it would not cease to be busy in the plaza until the sun had entirely passed below the westerly mountains. To Anoria, the ground all about her looked like snow, and she hurriedly slipped off her shoes to enjoy its feel as they sought a proper team.

Have you been given any breakfast, Demetri?” she finally spoke to him.

No, Signorina. I have no money; we did not know I would be staying here alone.”

Well, I have had my breakfast, and if Master Benzetti does not mind, you can have this loaf as we make our way up to the blocks.”

Give the lad all of it, Anoria,” Tito said to her as they reached a large team of mules. “It is best he is fed for this trip. He likely got no dinner last night either.”

Thank you, Master Benzetti!” Demetri spluttered. It was sadly obvious; he did spend a lonely, hungry night. There was not a single crumb of the loaf or the cheese left when they made the higher lanes. Anoria felt terribly amused by all his troubles; once fed, he seemed less the lost puppy that greeted them at the gates.

A group of men waited at the quarry top; several new blocks of marble lined the edge of the new lane, which was still slightly brown with much less marble dust strewn about. The closer stones had been cut into several pieces, the longer stones were a few paces higher on the hill. Anoria could tell without asking, they would all be cut to much smaller size, and carted down the hill to the plaza on the great wagons, for further cutting into building stones.

Larger blocks, such as those sought by her father, would never be dragged down to the plaza; they would be loaded on the delivery wagons with the strongest teams on the hilltop. The ways down were ragged, narrow, and never wider than was necessary for the straining teams to go carefully down.

Looking down the gleaming hillside, there was not a single large block anywhere to be seen except there on the lane where the men waited. However, the plaza was strewn with thousands of marbles of every smaller size she could imagine, organized in lines and piles, some separated into color grades.

The Benzetti quarry sold much of its mountain away as building stone, for nearly three hundred years; some of the darker bays were deeply mined. Higher, the stones were more pure of color, even white; masters, who would only carve the stone into figures of beauty, prized Tito’s quarry. There were many levels, many lanes, and it seemed each was crowded with teams and wagons as loads made their way down to the whiter grounds below.

Here and there, a few trees were left, for shade, or for pulling posts. Anoria could not count the number of men she could see; there were some hundred already hard at work, and it was only an hour passed sunrise. The ‘click-clink-clap’ of chisels and hammers echoed musically above her on the smoothed walls of new quarry bays.

Please look at these last four, Anoria,” Tito gestured to the row of waiting blocks. “They are each larger than the block Paolo would have brought back yesterday, he said Antonio needed a larger stone than that.”

Yes, he does.”

Six more are on the next higher lane, cut early yesterday, and they will likely be larger still. Just find me when you have selected.” Then without a word he turned her in the direction of the men standing back near the smaller blocks; they seemed to be quizzing Demetri.

This is Anoria, daughter of Antonio Lisi of Resceto,” he boomed out with a smile. She noticed it grew quiet all around where men heard him shout. “Should she ever come asking for blocks, she is to be given only the finest! She will accept nothing less, and I will hear about it!” Then he released her hand and walked away to leave her alone with the white stones at her side. Her heart was racing within her breast.

As she busied herself with her selection, she did not notice, the entire hillside was growing quiet below her, hands stopping their work as word passed from man to man that Lisi’s daughter was in the quarry. Faces, already dusted with an hour’s hard work, looked about and some men pointed to the higher lanes, where the dark haired beauty stood among the grandest stones on the mountainside; her brilliant blue skirt and yellow shawl visible even from the crowded plaza. Demetri noticed the hush. He would be driving home with her that very morning, pulling her stone behind him on a borrowed wagon, with a full team under his hand. He felt suddenly important.

I have found my stone,” she whispered to Tito, suddenly at his elbow.

Men were queuing up behind him with samples to show and he stopped to attend to her; none of the waiting men seemed the least annoyed. She selected her stone in less time than he could have drunk a glass of wine. He was eager to see it. In fact, a small crowd followed them back to her stone, right on the lane where Tito had left her.

I have seen every stone on the higher lanes,” she said.

There was a murmur going through the group of men around Demetri, who stayed at her wagon to watch her choice, and the murmur was spreading throughout the men around. She only glanced at each stone a few moments, and had not asked any to be measured. Tito was not so sure she picked the proper size; he did ask for the stone to be measured, he knew the dimensions of the previous block Paolo had taken home to his birthing wife the night before.

To his amazement, causing him a tremendous and uncharacteristic smile for the men observing, Anoria was exactly right at the claim she made. The block was precisely three hands deeper than the stone refused in Antonio’s yard the day before. He praised her selection; it was a block of undeniable quality, perfectly even coloring, very dense without any holes. The saw marks were true and clean, the block’s density was uniform throughout.

With a gesture, Tito set the men to the strenuous work. They were not what they seemed, a gathering of idle men, only standing about because the place was interesting to them; they waited to be put against the monstrous blocks of mountain, knowing exactly how to move them. It only took an hour, and Anoria waited patiently, watching every movement and every inch the block was lifted. They seemed to her to dance, hardly speaking; they said all they needed with their eyes and hands. As she watched, her father’s next angel was gently placed upon the wagon bed and straps were set in place lest it shift.

There was the tangled hair of Demetri in the midst of the working men - it surprised her, he was as busy as they, as though it were perfectly normal work for him. Her surprise became unexpected jealousy; Demetri was well schooled in this work, long before now in fact. His father brought him here many times; she knew it. Demetri was a man, working at his expected job in the quarry. Anoria was merely a woman in a pretty skirt, standing barefoot in the whitening dust of a mountain that had produced such blocks for determined men for over three hundred years.

Demetri was in his place; she could not be more out of hers.

You have done a fine job, Anoria of Resceto,” Tito boomed again. “And quicker than I could have guessed. Your father will be pleased; you will be home by his noonday meal.”

She blushed a bit, hearing her name and birthplace called out in the manner other men expected to be named.

You and your driver are free to ride; we will take the wagon down for you. But, will you wait just a bit at the gate? I will follow behind; we should share a glass of wine before you begin the drive home.”

We will be waiting,” she smiled at him. Then to cause him great embarrassment and pride, she jumped to his side and kissed him sweetly on the cheek.

A dozen eager men offered suddenly to help her onto the wagon bed, but Tito lifted her with a tremendous laugh as though she weighed hardly more than his Teresa.

Do you bring your girls here with you, Master Benzetti?” she suddenly asked, as he set her gently on the boards. His blank expression amused her; she had expected it.

No. I never have. Do you think I should?” he asked, so honestly she believed she could be more bold with him.

Yes. I think you should. You have no sons, Master Tito. Pia may still give you several,” she said with a wink, “but perhaps you have a daughter who could take your place here on this mountain.” She watched his eyes to see if she angered him, or suggested something he found ridiculous. She only saw a thoughtful father, considering her words as though he heard music in them.

Let me discuss this with Pia, and with my girls. You may be right, and I would bless you for it,” he kissed her hands. He stood watching her as the wagon, and her father’s block, slowly crawled down the lane to the plaza, and as every man she passed greeted Anoria of Resceto.

 

The wagon was well balanced; the load caused no trouble for the team of four mules, but Demetri’s skill was apparent, as was his shyness. Anoria nearly was flirtatious with him, but decided Anna should receive her chance first. They arrived at the foot of Anoria’s lane an hour before she realized they could be so near.

Less than a mile left to pull, the mules noticed the steepness of the hill and the work suddenly became much harder for Demetri. He may have shown considerable strain on his face, even fear at times, but Anoria noticed his hands were perfectly calm and precise with his team. They did not falter, and the steep mile was quickly made. Anoria peered through the last bend of trees and saw her father in his shop doorway, staring down the lane, having heard the stomp of the straining mules and the creaking of the wagon.

Biani had come up to visit, but Antonio’s eyes were on her the instant she was fully into view. His eyes never left her face as Demetri brought the team to a halt in front of the shop. Sounds of the work stilled after Demetri set the brakes on the wheels. Anoria said nothing as she stepped down from the seat. She was on the further side, no one was there to offer her a hand, but as she walked to the hut, she noticed Donetto, Geppa, and Biani were gaping at her from the shop doorway. Not mistaken at all for a mere passenger, they could see in her eyes, she had been to the quarry to obtain the marble.

She walked into the kitchen to check if her father needed anything from the village, and to check that he had fed himself. From where she stood inside, she could hear Demetri introduce himself to his father’s master. She could hear her father welcome the lad, and then heard him pace the wagon.

There were other things said, but less clear, and she waited quietly; she understood the new sounds from inside the shop. They were readying the harnesses to lift the block. She heard someone go to the barn for the donkeys; they would pull the wagon away as the team of four lifted the stone off and lowered it gently into the cradles. The block was perfect; she had not doubted her choice.

Demetri tells me you chose the stone this morning. It seems there is also a new child in his home?”

Yes, Master Benzetti drove me to the quarry at dawn. Paolo is a bit forgetful.”

Her father entered the kitchen behind her without a sound. She was startled, but smiled in spite of herself, turning quickly to keep him from seeing it.

This block is white as milk. How high are the lanes?” he asked.

Two very high. I saw five stones such as this one,” she offered. “Tito would do you a great favor to save three for you alone. It would seem a waste to divide them into building stones. They are worthy of something truly beautiful.”

How long do you want to stay in the village?” his tone was even softer, quieter.

The week. I want to spoil their girls until they beg me to leave,” she ended her words, silently within her own heart, ‘or until you beg me to come home.’ Antonio merely walked out of their kitchen and back to the work being done to lift the stone.

She continued to note what she needed from the market; she already planned to walk up with the girls the next day, the three youngest had never been in her garden at all. Her father would see her nearly every day that week, to help him decide how to beg her to return. That plan greatly pleased her.

She had other surprises for them; she came out to help handle the donkeys, pulling the wagon at the proper signal, and then going to hold the mules in Geppa’s hand. He went into the shop passed Biani, to assist and show Demetri his first great unloading onto the cradles.

Donetto smiled as she came beside him and his mules, and they waited until her father whistled once more, calling them backward until the straining mules lost the weight against their necks. One of the mules promptly sat in his traces.

The great stone was safe in the shop; the lines were untied. Donetto pulled the bridles from the team, but left them in the harnesses. He led them to the garden to pull some tasty weeds as their reward.

Anoria stood her place, and did not approach the door of the shop. She received a kiss from Biani as be began his way down.

Antonio stepped from the darkness in the door and slowly paced the few steps to where she stood.

This was a wonderful gift, bringing the stone. Thank you, Anoria.”

You are welcome, Papi. I must take one from the garden for Master Benzetti when we leave.”

The outlined cross? Biani has told me. I will ask them to bring it out for you.”

It felt strange, speaking to her father about marble as though it were normal for them; there was nothing normal about it at all. That they did not understand exactly how to do it, made talking even more uncomfortable for them both. They were both looking at her feet, she was out of her shoes, and her father chuckled softly. They did not have comfortable words until nearly an hour passed and it was time to take Demetri to meet Anna. Antonio called Anoria into the hut and seemed slightly amused.

Has there been talk of Demetri being apprenticed here?” he asked her.

Tito seems to think he might, but Pia might be planning their daughter’s wedding as well,” she laughed. “But he thinks the boy too young. Has Demetri asked you himself?”

He has invited us to visit them in a few weeks, to stay a night or two. He only says it was his father’s wish to make this invitation, but Paolo could not return-”

He must have been met on the road and turned away from that path, poor Demetri spent a cold, hungry night alone at the quarry,” she giggled. “He waited at the gates for sign of Master Tito like a lost pup.”

The quarry is never empty, likely he was never alone, and there would be fire and food enough for him to find. His father is well known, and he would have been cared for, but…” he hesitated, “Demetri might hope to never be questioned about whether he found company or a bed for the night. It might have been an experience he would rather keep in secret for a long time.”

Anoria was awkwardly silent for a moment.

Well,” her father coughed, “he claims not to know why we are being invited, but it was a grand plan of his parents’, he intends to please them by making us feel welcome. Would you like to go?”

Yes. It would be wonderful to hold an infant and meet Paolo’s wife. I don’t believe I have ever seen her.”

You have, but you were so young. You sat in Tessa’s lap for an entire afternoon.”

It took me a few moments to bring him to mind when he met me on the path yesterday. I remembered he never seems to take a breath between words.”

Demetri is just like him!” they said together laughing.

Then tell him we will come. We will send word a few days before. They have the teams ready to go, and your stone is on the wagon.”

Anoria leaned towards him and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Thank you, Papi,” she whispered. ‘You might not have asked me to come home, but you will.’ she thought to herself.

Master Antonio?” Donetto was watching her go down.

Do you not have enough work, Donetto?”

Yes, but when did your daughter learn to drive a team?”

I don’t know, Donetto.”

Demetri told me she selected this without making any measurements. She did not measure a single stone at all. Did she guess?”

Antonio turned from the doorway to look at his apprentice.

The astonishment on his face gave Donetto his answer.

 

What did your father say? What did he say…what?” Pia whispered in a delighted fury when she reached Anoria’s side at the garden gate. The Benzetti daughters were lined up looking, wide-eyed, over the garden wall at the dusty young man who was tending to the mules at the wagon harness. Demetri was aware many eyes were watching him. Anoria did not answer, but pointed with a fierce grin at the girls, they were gazing at him with obvious greed. Pia clicked her tongue loudly and the girls disappeared below the rim of the wall. The giggling from the youngest two was being shushed, without success, by the oldest and it seemed for a moment there would be some blows and squeals. Instead, it grew suspiciously calm behind the wall.

Demetri, I am Pia Benzetti. I must warn you, when you pass beyond my wall to have your lunch you are likely to be eaten by wild animals.”

There were groans of embarrassment from the garden, and a sudden, frightened look from the young man.

Only the younger ones will try to bite. The older ones are looking to be kissed!” Pia raised her voice and there was an explosion of squeals and flying hair as the girls rushed to hide themselves in the house.

Anoria will show you to the basin where you can wash, I will take the team to the barn. Can I remove their harnesses for a while? They are surely tired of them now.”

Thank you Signora, you are kind to have me, but I will help with the team. My father would be cross if you did my work for me.”

Your father would flirt with the girls if he had the chance. Go, run off, before I come in to make everyone behave,” Pia hushed him. Anoria noticed a wicked grin and a wink from Pia as she spoke to the boy. Demetri seemed almost too frightened to move. He was surrounded by more danger than he had ever dealt with before, and Pia relished causing it. Anoria could hardly stifle the laughter. She took the poor fellow by the hand and led him towards the house, and the lambs that would devour him completely.

However, for all the warnings about them from their wicked mother, they proved to be opposite of what Demetri feared. For the next few hours, the Benzetti girls were perfect angels; precious as the little ladies who handed out alms on the church steps the day before. Pia seemed to think there was some wicked plan in the making as well.

She watched the girls intently, and also watched the affect they were beginning to have on poor Demetri. They were competing with each other, and he had not noticed yet. They were trying desperately to get him to chose one of them over the others, and he had not been dazzled enough to be stricken with a single one. They were growing frustrated, and the honey sweetness was getting a bit sticky all around.

Anoria had never dreamed of behaving in such a way, she never actually had the opportunity, but she recognized it instinctively, and it gave her the giggles.

The Benzetti girls were so serious about it, that it was becoming dangerous. There were daggers toward each other mingled within the loving glances they gave to their guest. Whatever choice the doomed lad might make, there would be a war caused by it. Demetri would be utterly destroyed in the fray.

Anna, would you like to show the garden to our guest?” Pia asked her, but looked directly at the other three girls. Pia was the voice of God in her own house.

Did you see what they were doing to the boy?” she whispered to Anoria. “We can’t get a young man within a hundred feet of them. The poor postman’s son doesn’t even speak to the girls he is so frightened!” She settled next to Anoria on the kitchen bench and poured a small cup of sweet wine. “When does Demetri have to return to the quarry?”

Very quickly I’m afraid,” Anoria replied. “He must also drive his father’s blocks home before evening; Paolo has caused quite a mix-up of wagons and loads with his lack of attention. Demetri is going to be quite weary when he finally gets them all sorted out.”

Then I will give them only a few more minutes alone in the garden, and then he must be off.”

But, I have a block on the wagon for Master Tito,” Anoria suddenly recalled. “We need to unload it before he leaves, and I am afraid it is too much for us to handle alone. What should we do?”

Stop worrying. Tito is well prepared in the shed to pull blocks with ease. He never brings large ones home, we can hoist this stone easily, and we just need the wagon brought to the back. Do you know how to harness mules?”

I guess, perhaps with help,” Anoria smiled. Demetri was so taken with Anna he was quite unaware the mules were brought out and hitched and the wagon had disappeared from the street. He only became aware when Pia pulled the team back to the garden wall, the block resting safely in the shed, and when she whistled a shrill note to catch his attention. Anoria rode beside her, quite satisfied she had done more work with marbles that morning, than she had been allowed in her entire life with Antonio. It was so thrilling to her that she was disappointed in sending Demetri on his way back to the quarry alone. She could not hide her desire to return with him.

No, no dear. You are mine this afternoon. We have done nothing but prepare for Anna’s future husband to arrive. We are spending the day in the market, and we still must find the smith to order a set of apprentice tools.”

Pia, those are for Paolo! He requested the tools, do you remember?” Anoria started. They looked at each other wide-eyed for a few moments, and then Pia rushed to get her girls together from the house.

Demetri, you need to be on your way,” Anoria called sweetly to him. Anna looked forlorn and gazed at him, as though she would never see him again. “Anna, bring him in a hurry and join him here on the seat. Demetri she will tell you where the smith shop can be found. We will bid you farewell from there.”

Suddenly there were smiles and laughter again in the garden. Pia and the other girls rushed out and climbed with Anoria into the back of the wagon. Anna received thunderous looks from her sisters, she sat proudly next to Demetri, and he puffed himself up a great deal for her.

She sat upright beside him, looking every bit the queen of a parade. Anoria was certain every young maid in the market took careful notice of the handsome young man driving the Benzetti’s with the impressive team of mules. She would have been sad to miss such attentions herself, she had no suitors of any sort whatever, but she still remembered the smiles and stares of scores of handsome men in the quarry. Anna was enjoying the attentions of a handsome young lad; Anoria stopped the work of a hundred strong men, and left them gazing after her. She was perfectly satisfied with her day so far.

The smith shop was entirely the wrong place for Anoria to be suddenly; she instantly forgot Demetri, or Pia and the girls. She was drawn to the heat of the forge, and the clutter of the metalwork all around her. The searing smell of the coke in the forge fire, and the menacing hiss of the bellows filled her senses. She quite ignored the need to get Demetri on his way and stood in the middle of the shop taking in the wonderful and strange sensations. She wanted to ask about everything around her, but the smith was busy with a demanding Pia Benzetti. Anoria reluctantly withdrew to their side and waited while the smith sought out all the correct things an apprentice stonecutter, beginning his work, would require.

She was so excited to be left alone with the stinging ash and burning rods waiting on the hearth for the smith to return with his hammer, she wanted to remain there as long as possible. Her heart burst to fulfill a dream it suddenly realized it had; she wanted tools of her own. She was trembling to sit with the smith and describe what she wanted to do with marble, and have him show her the tools she would need. Anoria was the daughter of a master sculptor, but she never held a chisel. That she might do so, right then, without causing trouble in doing it, she could hardly bear to keep her hands still at her sides, so strong was the urge to pick one up in her hands.

She heard her name mentioned somehow in the conversations she otherwise ignored. Pia introduced her to the smith and she had barely noticed. He immediately turned and caught her hand.

Signorina Anoria! You are most welcome. Welcome,” he said to her. Only after realizing he had smeared soot all over her hand did he release her, begging her forgiveness. She looked at the streaks of black dust he shared with her, and smiled back at him with honest joy. He was so overcome he bowed to her. Pia began to laugh, and chattered hurriedly that Demetri needed to rush away or he would have to drive alone all night.

They did get all their goodbyes said, the requested tools were packed into a good leather bag, Anoria promised Demetri she and her father would come to dinner as invited, and would send word a few days before they would arrive. He seemed instantly excited to share the news with his parents. She thanked him sweetly for helping her drive her marble home, and she gave him a kiss on the cheek in thanks.

For the longest moment, he was quite torn between her sudden display of affection, which he was dazed to receive, and the younger beauty at his side, the one who seemed about to weep because he was leaving. If he was confused for very much longer, no one noticed. Anna found herself receiving a kiss on the cheek as well… from the nearest mule.

Gales of laughter from her mother and sisters helped her a long way toward finding tears and she bawled, rubbing her cheek as if the nuzzling had been painful. Humiliated, she nearly ran away down the market street, but Demetri captured her, and before the laughter died away, he snuck her to the far side of the team. Seconds passed before he climbed smiling into the wagon seat, took the reins, and looked down to her direction, his face a bright crimson. As he drove away, she was revealed, wearing his blush, her tears forgotten as well. Anoria guessed Anna Benzetti had just won her first kiss.

I saw your excitement in the smith shop just now,” Pia hissed into Anoria’s ear as Demetri drove up the street. “You fawned over the smith and his grime the way Anna has fawned over this silly son of Paolo’s!”

Anoria could not mistake the motherly teasing she was getting from Pia. It must have caused her to blush as the youngsters had just done.

Oh, I can tell that you now have a plan. Your father has many more surprises to endure. And If I guess rightly, you are about to turn his safe world of marble upside down upon his head.”

Pia,” Anoria hissed back, with a smile, “I will eat your last three children if you ever mention a word to anyone what you guess I might want to do.”

I agree to keep silent, if you agree to leave here at once.”

Why?” Anoria demanded, suddenly feeling a flush of anger.

Because, my love, if you get what you want here, you will run back up the lane to your hut and I will never get to make you any dresses.” Pia stroked Anoria’s hair; “I want us to be quite drunk on the patio this evening, singing for all the neighbors when my oft-absent husband wanders home. I would love to create a scandal that will impress him.”

I’m sure if you sent an invitation to Paolo, he would come right back to see you…” Anoria teased back.

Oh, Paolo. He kisses as well as the mule!” she laughed uproariously. “Anna dear. Who kisses you more sweetly? Demetri, or the mule?” and the laughter began to spread up the street into the nearer shops. Anna was completely unaware; she had not moved, and was still gazing after the team and the wagon, and the tousled haired driver.

Let go of my hand, Pia. Please let me speak to the smith. I promise to be only a second or two,” Anoria begged. She was already pulling away and slipping back through the doorway. Pia agreed, but stood outside gathering her children and watching the smith as he nodded his head while Anoria chatted.

Trooping their adored guest through the busy market stalls was much easier than the day before. Anoria was no longer caught up in strange emotions and distant from their attentions. She was happier, and they spent the remainder of the afternoon buying cloth for dresses, and trinkets to sew in as decorations. They introduced her again and again, though many of the shopkeepers had been greeted the day before, and several rushed to say their hellos to her first.

Anoria was noticing that she was being noticed, Pia was relieved to see it...Anoria needed a suitor. However, finding a man who could win her heart would be a monumental undertaking. He would have to be more perfect than any marble form ever created or she might not turn from her father, as she should. Antonio and Anoria were exactly alike, only marble, and each other, held their hearts.

Pia wondered what would have to shatter and break to release Anoria into the life of a lover, wife, and a mother. Pia worried most that beautiful and desirable as she was, Anoria was not even attempting to break loose and free from her father’s small world of white dust and smooth stone. Anoria was attempting to fall deeper in, yearning to be hidden away in it, bringing her own figures to life.

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Peace without forgiveness

 

 

Antonio watched his daughter lead the girls into the hut, bundled with goods from the market. Twice now, they made an adventure of the climb up the wooded lane to visit the garden and the animals in the barn. He was not even cross when the apprentices stopped their work to greet the girls; it was pleasant having them there. Anoria seemed more ready to speak to Donetto and Geppa, mostly to Geppa, he noticed, but she did not seek any time alone with her father and she made no shadow in the shop doorway.

Whatever hurt he caused her, she would not express her anger, and was otherwise normal with him. He knew, somehow, they would find proper words and begin to make amends with each other. It made the week seem slow, not having her voice in the house when he closed the shop doors and came in for the night. Several evenings he would just drink a bit of wine with a few bites of bread, and sit quietly by the hearth and watch the fire burn away to dim embers. Once he even sat upon her bed for a while as the night cooled and the kitchen fire died away without him, experiencing what the stillness of his house would feel like if she moved away and never returned.

She had been gone four nights, never so long in her life.

He felt her absence was aging him; perhaps he would be frail and weak before she returned. Antonio longed for his daughter’s return; she was waiting for him to ask.

 

For the first two days the great milky block stood in its cradle, Antonio did nothing but look at it. Long hours, he observed the stone. He would walk around it, or have it turned while he stood and watched. It had dark marks on its surface, marks with a burnt stick; marks he made. Some had been wiped away; a few were smeared and redrawn, but it was not the least confusing to his apprentices. They had other work to attend to; it might be days even before the master touched his stone with a blow of the mallet, they had no reason he should hurry and start.

The ruined figure in the garden stone was about to be remade, but it would not be copied. Master Antonio knew what the figure would be, but the stone decided how it could appear. Antonio was listening to the stone, and he would begin when he could understand perfectly how the figure within it should be posed.

His next, sudden movement frightened his apprentices; he strode wordlessly to the bench and gathered up his heaviest iron mallet, swung it behind his ear and struck the great block in a savage, dangerous blow to the highest corner. Chips and dust exploded around his hand and he shielded his face with his other, the mallet recoiled backward with most of the force of the blow, he was turned round from the swing. The corner was broken deeply and a huge lump of ruined marble slipped downward along the crack, hanging for seconds before falling to the boards with a crash.

Donetto nearly cursed in fear.

Antonio reached with his free hand and felt the broken face of the corner with his fingertips, eyes closed; his face spattered with dust and chips. He smiled a bit, and still without a single word, he picked up the broken corner, walked out into the sunlit yard, and disappeared into his house.

Geppa dropped his tools.

Has he lost all reason?”

We may have witnessed madness,” Donetto whispered.

Both men shuddered at the event.

Antonio walked quietly into Anoria’s bedroom and laid the broken piece of marble on her bed. He placed it in the center, and then lifted her quilts to roll the dust and fragments, left in his bare hand, gently onto her bedclothes. Antonio found no proper words to say to her, he gave instead something she would understand more deeply than any apology; he surrendered himself.

 

Donetto, here is the form. Begin on this side,” he said to a relieved apprentice. He renewed a few of his marks on the stone with his burnt stick, and indicated an area to remove, then handed a chisel to his apprentice. He repeated his marks in some form on either side of the block. Donetto understood where the stone could be hammered and broken; he would also be wearing away the opposite corner, and even more under the break from Antonio’s savage first blow.

Geppa awaited his instructions, and Antonio stepped to the other side of the stone. There he made new marks, quite different in shape from the guides for Donetto, then repeated some marks again on the sides of the stone. Geppa understood, and the chisel he was handed began to sing as his mallet swung in sharp blows.

The air was soon filled with dust and the floor was littered with shards at Geppa’s feet. There were chunks of stone on the floor around Donetto. Several times the master stopped the men and they would move back from the block so he could see what they had done. He did not touch the stone again; he only looked and sometimes closed his eyes. They waited.

Neither man knew what part of the figure they worked, or what it was to be. They would surely guess and trade thoughts as they walked the path. Now they stood quietly at their master’s side while he contemplated their progress, and each man grew more excited as they waited. Apprentices were never given this work. This was not the way masters taught the men who sought to learn their skill.

 

Master Lisi’s shop knew ten years of renown before Anoria was born. There were two apprentices trained and blessed as they began their own workshops; she had never met them. For a time after, only Paolo was apprenticed there, then two others, and now Donetto and Geppa. It had not been said openly, but Paolo received more training than any other before him, and it would not be said for a few more years, Geppa alone matched the skill Paolo took years to demonstrate.

For two years, a new man would only carve building blocks, altar decorations. Fluted pedestal after fluted pedestal. When they could flatten a full meter square of stone and polish it perfectly, they were allowed to create portions of figures, crosses, window pieces, and those for two years more. All the while they worked the master would guide them with their stones, and he would work silently on his own pieces, but they would never touch them.

Fifth and sixth year apprentices carved animal forms, altarpiece panels with small figures of people, and gravestones. Gravestone carvers might go no further in their training. If by that time they could not form a quality figure of small size, they should cease to try. They might want to be talented, but if they could not bring it from the stones for graves, it would never come true for them.

In this span of time, the master might complete three special, perfect works of stunning beauty. His apprentices will have carved and sold hundreds of small, ornate works from his shop in that time.

A saying among the men in the quarry was that a master’s chips would hardly dust his floors; an apprentice’s chips would whiten the mountainsides. This was exactly true of Master Lisi of Resceto, and he was blessed with skill and speed of work that amazed all of Tuscany. There were other marble masters to be certain, and he was not the greatest among his fellows. However, his skill on certain pieces could instill wonder and joy in their owners and the fortunate multitude that viewed them.

His church pieces, particularly the Lady of the Church of Resceto, the Virgin Mary, were pieces that pilgrims earnestly sought. If you were apprenticed within a week’s travel of his village, you were sent to see his Lady, but do not ask to visit with him. Ezio was never surprised if a guest at the Inn asked the location of the Lady before they inquired about the price of their room.

Tito Benzetti delivered that stone to Antonio, then set it finished and perfect upon its foundation on the church steps in the span of a single spring and summer.

Antonio Lisi created eight master works before Anoria was born. He created seventeen more in the span of her twenty-two years on the earth, and those seventeen were called great beyond description. Donetto chiseled on only two of those while in Antonio’s shop. Geppa never touched a single master block.

They still stood quietly by his side as he viewed the surfaces they shaped. He took Donetto’s chisel, and stepped to his bench to fetch another. Then he called him back to the stone, renewed some of the marks with his stick, and did the same for Geppa. The trust he silently placed in them swelled their hearts and made them sweat in excitement.

Master Antonio needed to regain his figure, the figure he intended from the ruined stone; they were removing marble he would have removed himself, and they were doing work that would take him a month to complete, never to be heard to say they had touched it.

They worked in near silence, but for strong and sure blows of their mallets. Each ‘click-click-tap’ was followed by the snap of a bit of marble falling to the floor. Antonio stood aside and watched each blow of those mallets, his eyes darting from the tip of the chisel to the angle of the hand, then to the position of the mallet behind their ears. They worked, understanding he might stop them in an instant, and they filled the afternoon with the music of their work.

Twice, Antonio looked to his house to see if Anoria and the girls had come up that day, but was saddened, she had not. He waited patiently while chisels pounded against the marble, for the shadows to lengthen in the yard and the sun to quit the windows in the shop.

Geppa was quite sore of muscle when Antonio whistled they were finished for the day, but he was more deeply satisfied with that ache than the normal pains of several years. He was tempted to ask what Antonio planned to create, but he understood the lesson in the mystery. By wondering, and not knowing, he was being taught to understand what the stone could reveal of itself. There were many questions, which were proper to ask, and the question burning him the most, he chose at last to put to words.

What did you learn when you broke the corner of this block?”

How the stone reacted to the greatest force I could apply.”

Did it please you, the way it broke?”

Yes. This marble came from Master Benzetti’s higher lanes. Lower in the mountain, it is more dense, but darker and veined. Sometimes the veins of color cause weakness,” Antonio replied, fingering the surfaces broken out that day. “This is the whitest stone I have seen carved from that quarry. I had worried it might not be so dense, that it might strike poorly or want to crumble instead of breaking cleanly.”

Might you have damaged your figure inside by such a blow?”

Do you pound your hand when you swing your mallet, Geppa?”

No. I know where my hand is and how to avoid it, Master.”

I know where this figure lies inside this stone. You will not reach the figure this week, even with more blows like the ones that ache in your shoulders now.”

Is this the finest stone you have worked?” Donetto wanted to learn.

The Lady in the village has no equal I have seen. Her color is more cream than milk, but I could have polished that stone so water would refuse to cling to it, so smooth it wanted to become. That block was not this size, you have seen her, but it weighed nearly half again as much. They drove it here with six mules; it was slow, and dangerous. I have never had to strike another stone with blows as hard as hers demanded. It was painful work.”

Then he surprised them again, with a gesture they had never seen, but they understood was his deepest gratitude for their good help. Antonio sought from the debris on the floor, the two largest bits of broken marble and handed one to each man. Wherever this figure rested in years beyond their lifetimes, they owned a bit of it. They would always remember the strokes they made, to tempt the figure from the stone out into the sunlight. He could thank them in no other way more profound than this. He had no idea they suddenly realized where the broken corner had been placed. They knew his daughter would posses it when she returned. It was the most humbling gesture they would ever witness from him.

 

He did not light a fire in the kitchen hearth when they left for home; did not sit at his table to eat the bread she made - he washed at the brook and stepped into the shadows of his hut without any thought of rest from the day of hard work. He changed into cleaner clothes and set his feet out on the lane to follow his apprentices into town.

Geppa wondered if perhaps Antonio were behind them on the path, but they did wait for him, he had not asked to come with them.

Do you suppose he will ask her to return home, beg her to forgive him?” Geppa begged his partner as they shuffled down the trail.

He should, but he may wait to see if she accepts the marble.”

Why would that take the place of any words given in apology?”

Donetto halted his steps to grasp at a twig in the weeds and used it to draw lines in the dusty tracks before his feet as he walked.

I’m not sure, but between Anoria and her father, who could guess what might be treasured words, or a more treasured gesture,” he replied at last. “Have you ever known them to be even slightly cross with one another?”

No. But, she is only a passing breeze around us. She never spoke a dozen words until this week. I can tell they adore one another, but I understand nothing else about them. I have never so much guessed that he hid and protected her, as finally come to think she would have it no other way. She wants to be in the shadows, or out of the way,” Geppa admitted. “She seems easier to find this week, though.”

Why would that be? She is staying in the village every night, but we speak to her more now she is absent. And, her father shares his block with us, and we carry its bits in our handkerchiefs as we head home tonight. Their world is distorted; darkness and light have changed places, flesh and stone alike are broken.”

Geppa thought on it for a long while. The sound of the brook replaced their voices, but it was not so quiet they could hear if Antonio were on the path behind them or no.

Will this break bring them closer?” he asked after the silence.

For him, I hope it does. Too much of his life is gone without her at home.”

What do you mean by that?”

Antonio will not finish another block if she does not return,” Donetto nearly whispered. He did not lower his voice because he might be overheard; he lowered it because the words nearly broke his heart.

How could you say such an unlucky thing?” Geppa was shocked at what he heard. They had ceased to walk at all, but stood unknowing in the middle of the lane, stilled by the thought they shared.

Look at the Lady of the Church as you walk home tonight, Geppa,” Donetto said quietly. “Anoria stands in that marble, as clearly as she stands anywhere on this earth. Her father cannot carve without creating her in his works. If he keeps her, by the spell of making her likeness in stone, I would not guess. But, I suspect it may be opposite of what we think true. When the blocks speak to Antonio, he hears her voice. I think she stays to see the beauty she compels him to bring from the marble. It might be, dear friend, without his work, she might want to die.”

How could a man hope to love her then, if they cannot be separated?”

Are you hoping to love her, Geppa? Have your eyes and heart been opened to the beauty living above us on this trail?”

When she was a breeze, I never gave it thought. I’m afraid to hope to love her; I might shatter her with my touch.”

That is a sad thought, Anoria as fragile yet lovely as marble.”

But who has made her that way, Donetto? Who has made this path a road to only sadness because no other life can be lived there?”

If they are broken apart now, we will know, by which one survives,” Donetto shrugged.

He turned and continued his walk towards home.

Geppa hesitated, but walked on when Donetto was too far away to continue their talk. He wanted no more of such talk. It caused him a hurt he did not expect he could feel.

 

Antonio watched the sky between the thin clouds. The evening star caught his gaze. The moon would not rise for two hours and was no longer full; it would be darker tonight than when he and Anoria walked the path in silence that sad evening. He had forgotten his lantern, he would never get home again before nightfall, and three things were on his mind as he came down to the level of the village.

He would either go to the Inn to see about the oven repairs, or he would stand by his Lady at the church to say his evening prayers; but he might pause at the garden wall on the street where the Benzettis lived, and ask his daughter to return home, and forgive him. His footsteps down his wagon path had not made up his mind; he hoped they would, and he could follow where they went. But as the gates of the village approached and invited him further, he could still not say where he would turn.

 

Anoria, look,” Anna whispered, “There is someone at the garden wall to see you.”

As she turned, her heart swelled that her Papi had come to ask her home. She could not prevent the smile, but she still desired to seem stern. She walked to the patio edge from behind the wisteria arbor to see his face.

It was Geppa.

 

Antonio made his choice, and trod the gravel road to the fifth house he came to, the first cobbled lane away from the road. He knew he should go there; whether his feet decided at last, his heart had still not been able to form the words he might say. Uncertainty was not a familiar feeling to Antonio, and it slowed his steps. He did not want to stand before her with more silence, or worse, to hear words from her that would tear his heart. As he crossed the little bridge, he saw her. She was already at the wall, near the end of the lane, at the last house…and she was not alone there.

Antonio stopped.

So, Geppa. You have found your first work. And I have taught you nothing about this,” Antonio whispered as he watched them. He turned to go back to the road, to walk to the Inn.

Antonio was even more uncertain now than when he had chosen to speak to his daughter. His steps were heavier; his burden grew in the quickness of a glance, in the seconds of surprise. Antonio paused again to see them at the wall, his apprentice, and his life, and his moist eyes dimmed them.

Take care, Geppa. I wouldn’t know where to begin there.”

 

Many welcoming kitchens were passed, tempting him with delicious aromas, many other sweet, surprised hellos, and invitations were shared. He paused and greeted all those friends who beckoned him to sit and share their wine, but he thanked them and continued on to see the innkeeper, Ezio. He claimed it was on business that he was intent to go there, but his friends on the street wondered if he knew where he was going to end up at all.

Ezio jovially greeted him. The inn’s ovens were lit; he could smell the roasting meats before he turned the corner. His dinner cost him nothing; the ovens were lit because he provided the bricks for the repair. Seated at their good table he was poured their fairest wine, and the second question he was asked took him back to the sight of her dark hair at the garden wall, just a few steps back up the road.

Has your lovely daughter forgotten we can cook here? Will she ever come with you to visit?”

You may see her again soon; she is visiting with the Benzetti’s this week.”

For an hour, he was gracious, but the good food had no taste, the wine, flavorless. He talked and even managed to laugh at times, but his thoughts were never with the friends who sat with him at his table, or the marble cutters who paused meekly to greet the master who carved the Lady they had come to visit.

Antonio was known to be a hard and sometimes demanding man, and he was well loved in the Inn of Resceto, yet here dined a sad, lonesome Antonio. It spoke more clearly to his friends and the innkeeper he had known for nigh forty years than anything he could have expressed in words alone.

There had been whispers his daughter was seen in the village, seen at the church, seen in the market, once even said to be at the quarry picking his marbles and driving them back. Hardly anyone could be sure it was her; Anoria was so seldom in the village, and certainly never without her father.

If the talk was true, it was unexpectedly different of her; seemingly, something serious was changed. Many in the inn that evening noticed Antonio was a changed man as well. If there was news about something occurring in Antonio’s household, there was one reliable voice in the village who might know a secret or two. At least Pia would know more truth than they would ever have from Antonio or his elusive daughter.

 

You are a dusty fellow and I did not expect to see you,” Anoria said with suspicion, but kindly so that Geppa smiled for her. He seemed instantly to have relaxed from some nervousness he was glad to be rid of.

It was a busy day, very different for me. I might have forgotten my name there were so many strange things going on. I should have shaken the dust away a little better, but…” he ended with some shyness in his eyes. She guessed the nervousness might be returning.

Why have you stopped?”

Well, to say hello.”

I will call Signora Benzetti. Master Tito is not home from the quarries yet. It will likely be dark before he returns.”

No, I stopped to see you,” Geppa said plainly. Anoria felt an urge to tweak his shyness, but she let him continue. “You have been missed at home. Whatever things are changing in your house, your father looks often to see you.”

Anoria was not sure what to say or ask. Hearing that her father watched for her, was sweet news, bringing a deep satisfaction that urged her to see an end to her absence, and return home. But, for her Papi still not to come say it...there was a disappointment she did not wanted to feel. She struggled with being cross, at Geppa for forgetting his place, but she was so glad he had come.

Anoria, he is on the path tonight...coming down. He said nothing to us, but he followed. Not quickly either, but…” Geppa reached over to touch her hand lightly, “I hope he stops here. He should do that for you.”

She turned away to look to the main road - empty.

I wanted to tell you also,” Geppa said timidly, “I wanted to stop to see you again. It seems we should know each other, but we do not. I would like that to change as well, if it might.”

Thank you, Geppa. I’m very glad you came.” Anoria moved her hand slightly, a tiny gesture, but it was not to move away, and it brought them together to renew the light touch he had first given. They smiled for a moment. Her gaze returned up the lane to the bridge and he followed her eyes.

Antonio was turning from the lane, to walk away. He had seen them.

I may have altered his intent to come here,” Geppa whispered, distressed. He reached for Anoria’s hand and took it with both of his. “Let me fix this. Let me take you to him, at the Inn. I would not want to be the reason he could not bring himself to ask you to come home!”

Geppa, you are sweet. I won’t go there, nor will you take me,” she soothed him. “Papi may still yet come tonight. A little misunderstanding will not cause any harm here. You have done nothing wrong. If he goes home because he saw you here, it is just a small thing that happened. There are larger troubles you could never fix; only Papi and I can, those are not easy.”

When you return home, will you promise to be less…elusive?” he asked her hopefully.

I will have to give some attention to Donetto as well, he will demand it,” she smiled.

There was a hint of mischief in her eyes, something she may have learned well from Pia. He would never have understood it at all, but it caused the reaction she desired to see. Geppa seemed paused, missing some words he wanted to say. His expression was so blank it nearly made Anoria laugh with joy at her success. She had made him worrisome and nearly jealous in the same instant.

When he recovered his thoughts, he laughed, knowing he had been teased. To thank her for being so friendly she would flirt with him, he kissed her hands and bid her goodnight. She stood alone at the wall for a time after he left, looking back to the main road where her father had appeared, but only to turn away from them.

 

Was Geppa at the wall?” Pia sang out from the kitchen window when Anoria returned to the patio. There must have been some other question from her but it was drowned in the rush of excitement between the girls as they hurried from the house out to where Anoria stood in the herbs.

Geppa came to say hello. Papi followed him down, we saw him at the road, but he turned to go to Ezio’s.”

Did that stupid Geppa get in the way of your father coming to speak to you?” Pia demanded, close to anger.

You seem to insult the men you really like, Pia,” Anoria grinned at her, taking a cup of wine she offered. “Paolo is not silly, nor is he a mule, but you call him that. Geppa is not stupid, because he came here to hold my hand at the wall.” For seconds they stared at one another, tension from excitement growing between them, and then they erupted in a fit of girlish laughter that Pia’s daughters joined in without knowing exactly why. It was quite fine Antonio had gone on to a lonely dinner at the Inn, because his daughter had a suitor at the Benzetti garden wall. Many troubles could be ignored or forgotten because of that unexpected, happy event.

 

Darkness brought out every star in the heavens, and the village replied with lights in every window, every patio around. The few wagons on the street gave motion to the stars in the village, their lanterns swaying with the gentle trod of the mules. The moon threatened to rise over the hilltops and spoil the beauty with shadows in all the corners, but she was still a half hour away. Antonio needed a lantern to begin his climb to his dark hut. He begged to borrow one from the innkeeper, who was resting beside him, helping him nibble away the remains of the cheese.

No, Antonio, stay here tonight!” Ezio urged with a clap on Antonio’s back. “Sleep here comfortably as a king in our finest bed! It is a small generosity to so great a friend.”

You seem to have a full house, don’t trouble about me.”

There are still rooms to let; I can give you my best with my thanks. Your daughter is not home either; your hearth will be cold. I can feed you again in the morning and you can surprise those sad fellows that walk so slowly up your lane at each sunrise.”

Donetto and Geppa make a sad pair, unlike, but the same. One talks too much, and the other works too hard.”

Donetto has been with you, how long? Six years?” Ezio asked.

Eight. But his work is his own.”

What of Geppa? He is quite young. Wouldn’t he be near Anoria’s age?”

Yes, I can teach him for at least four more years. He is older than twenty.”

Does he show promise?”

It would be unlucky to say,” Antonio answered as expected, but the innkeeper did not really want any report about the apprentice; there was another question in Ezio’s eyes.

I heard a strange tale yesterday, of someone with promise, someone who caused every man at the quarry to stop his work. They say your daughter drove there with Master Benzetti a few days ago. The talk has hardly been so exciting for a long time.”

What did you hear, Ezi,” Antonio asked with interest.

The innkeeper put down his cup of wine, and leaned forward across the table upon his elbows, to speak less loudly; his eyes were dancing with excitement.

They say she selected the finest block in an instant! Without measuring a single edge!” he said incredulously. “They say no man save you could have done such a thing!”

Antonio looked back at him with the first amusement he had shown the entire evening.

I am told Master Benzetti has placed your mark on three such stones from that cutting, and threatens any man who chips them. They say she ordered them marked for your use,” Ezio proclaimed, pleased to be delivering unexpected news.

I admit that surprises me,” Antonio smiled. “It would have been a thing to see and remember.”

Did you not send her?” Ezio blurted and tried in the instant after to hush himself. He hurried to pour the remains of the wine into their mugs. He did not want Antonio to quit the table because his cup was dry. There were at last some hints in Antonio’s eyes that he wanted to talk, his countenance brightened, and if the wine helped cause that, so much the better.

I did not send her. She has escaped my hands for a time,” her father laughed a bit.

Your Anoria is not leaving us.”

She is only visiting the Benzetti’s for the week. It is a surprise, but seems quite normal she would go to the quarries with Tito.”

He explained the confusion Paolo created by forgetting his pregnant wife.

Anoria simply did what he would have done.” Antonio refused the offer of new wine, waving his hands over his cup when the bottle was brought. “I will stay here tonight, Ezi, and gladly, if you promise to call me if Anoria should happen here. She was with Geppa at the Benzetti’s garden before sunset. They may come here for some music.”

We will call you. It would be wonderful if she does. Let me show you to your bed.”

Antonio climbed behind his friend, but Ezio stopped in the quiet of the stair.

Has Tito said he is certain he spied Novia on the road to the quarries, the morning Anoria rode with him?”

No,” Antonio answered. “Biani thinks he has been prowling Massa. The Bishop could not say he had.”

What would he be doing about here? Tito said he saw no priest, but Novia sure as rain.”

Nothing good, my friend,” Antonio sighed. “He never does any good we can praise.”

 

The topmost room was already cheerful with a small fire. The night was not yet cold, but the fire was not large enough to make the room hot, just pleasant, and welcoming. His own hearth would have seemed dark and sad, the empty hut miserable, and Antonio was relieved to have shaken some of his own misery.

Ezio told Antonio his daughter had taken a very fine stone from the quarry for him, and insisted others be put aside with his mark. If Anoria wanted free of him, her sudden appearance at the quarry spoke more plainly of a devotion he never allowed her to express.

She allowed him to stifle her curiosity and kept it silent for many years, as he callously required, but she kept the marble in her own heart and she seemed freshly determined to demonstrate how cherished she kept it. She obeyed him as much as she could do, and he was beginning to realize the thing that was broken between them, was his unjust denial she could touch his work.

Where he had been cheerless during dinner that evening, he sat more gladly in thought before the small fire, in a comfortable chair, musing at the possibility Anoria might be earnest for freedom from another self-imposed bond. She made herself nearly invisible to any person but him, and it was a sad thing to see. He longed for her to start a life of her own, but she never made any steps to seek it. Perhaps Geppa could change that.

Antonio believed Geppa had skill to be worthy of praise. Geppa could put movement in his figures, and that gave them life. He might be able to give Anoria some warmer life of her own, and it would be wonderful to share that. So comfortable after his dinner and wine with Ezio, and so settled into the fine chair in front of the fire, Antonio was drifting to sleep, his shoes still upon his feet. His last wakeful thought was of his daughter, standing at the top of the quarry, and what a moment that surely had been for those who saw her.

 

Pia eyed Anoria over the rim of her wine cup; she held it near her lips, not drinking, but inhaling the aroma and savoring the warmth in her nose. They waited dinner for Benzetti to come home from the quarry, but the girls had to be fed sometime before bed, and Tito looked now to be very late. It was not unusual; he would come home eventually, be forgiven when he kissed all their cheeks as they came to him, or he found them already asleep. There were many things that would keep Master Benzetti beyond his normal time, but few would keep him away all night.

It was not yet that late, and the girls were not quite convinced they should ready for bed. Pia was looking on with some scheming in her eyes, but unspoken; feeling her wine, and she liked it. It always brought out mischief, but in Pia, mischief was eternally near the surface, and wine alone was never the cause of it. It was to Anoria’s bare feet Pia found herself gazing.

Put your shoes on darling, let’s walk to the inn,” she said into her mug. “Your father may still be there,” she prodded with her foot as she winked.

No. Pia, I know that look,” Anoria said, narrowing her eyes, as if in challenge. “If Papi is still there, he may still come by on his way home.”

We would meet him then. We will certainly meet Tito on the way as well. It would do him good to find me at the Inn, rather than home like some patient lump of cheese.”

You would get us both into trouble, just to amuse yourself?” Anoria protested again.

No, only for myself. You could finally put your father into his place, in front of his cronies,” Pia giggled. “It would serve him right.”

I would not hurt him like that, even if he deserved it.” The shock on Anoria’s face was not feigned, she was unhappy Pia would suggest she do such a thing.

You take me wrong, but let me state it more pleasantly for you. You can perhaps let him know you saw him, and saw him walk away. It might prompt words he did not have courage for a few hours ago.”

I doubt he lacks the courage.”

Then what was lacking when he did not come here instead?” Pia wanted to know.

Use your skill at parenting, Pia. What turned him away from his obvious steps?” Anoria asked. “He must have decided to come here first, but something more important changed his mind.”

His apology is no longer important to you.”

I felt it from him even when he turned to leave. Why can’t you see what caused him to turn away?” Pia was either bored or had already enjoyed too much wine; she no longer seemed willing to carry on the conversation, as she plainly was not getting any agreement from Anoria to make a visit to the Inn.

Pia, he did not expect to see me with Geppa. He did not interrupt even that simple conversation, because he thought it more important to me than an apology. We surprised him, he likely thought he walked away unseen.”

Then, go and see if he is still drinking with Ezio. You can make him happy and tell him Geppa has shown some interest. For all he could tell from the road, Geppa was talking to me!”

It could not have been you; Geppa would have been flat on his back in the road and you sitting on him!” Anoria smirked. She would not have dared say anything so rude, and glanced quickly to see if Anna noticed, but Anna was distracted by the sudden appearance of several grinning faces on the street side of the garden wall. They were barely lit by the torchlight, but the giggles would have given them away. Anna eyed them with suspicion, but went to the wall to investigate.

The conversation was short; she nodded once or twice, leaned closer over the wall with a surreptitious glance back to her mother and Anoria. She began to whisper and held their rapt attention for several more moments and with the suddenness of a discovered covey of quail, the gathering burst into laughter, some turning to run away through the darkness down the street. Pia instantly thundered at her own.

Benzettis, come home!” calling her two back.

There was louder laughter down the street, in the direction of a few patios that still had torches burning, and a few other children were called home in a similar manner. In the darkness, they were singing with anguished cries it was not late enough to end the fun they were having.

Anoria wondered for a few moments what the great secret must have been, but decided it was likely about a kiss on the market street; a kiss Anna must have believed to be completely invisible to her mother.

Anoria, please come with me. Even for a single dance, and to see if your father is there….”

Very well, but you may not have another sip of wine! I will not carry you home, nor explain to your husband why you had to be put to bed there,” Anoria conceded.

With a satisfied grin, Pia gave familiar instructions to her daughters, and the torches were put out. After a few kisses, Pia and Anoria crossed through the garden gate and turned down the lane to the main road. The moon was beginning her rise above the mountains and would soon bring them enough light they could walk to the inn and cast lovely shadows before themselves on the cobbles. Pia held Anoria’s hand, and Anoria carried her shoes in the other. Halfway down the lane, Pia skipped a few paces, then was suddenly carrying her own shoes, and seeming pleased to be imitating Anoria.

There were a few goodnights called from neighbors on their darkened patios as the two lithe women walked to the road. The entire neighborhood, lively and boisterous until the gathering of girls erupted in their last giggles at Pia’s garden, was quieting, and settling to sleep. By the time they made the dusty main road, only their bare feet made any sound on the street at all.

Anna must have been bragging about the kiss from Demetri,” Pia confessed. She was swinging Anoria’s hand in a playful arc, turning nearly to face her companion with each energetic throw. She smiled gaily each time she turned and tried to engage the younger beauty in the playful game. Not used to being barefoot often, she quickly found the gravel road less comfortable than her own lane’s rounded cobbles. The swinging stroll could not continue; Pia was too concerned with more careful steps than the near dance she performed the whole way from her house.

How do you walk this, I swear your feet cannot be tough enough for this torture!”

I am only more used to it, and less drunk my dear Pia,” Anoria laughed. She was barely lifting her feet at all, much more delighted by the feel of the dust on her toes than with her partner’s girlish playfulness. Pia was tottering beside her, rather than strolling.

You are plodding like a mule. If you walk as though you are really dancing, it is not so difficult.”

Have you ever been kissed?” Pia suddenly asked with a wicked glance. Whether asking because she was unashamedly nosey for such information, or a bit too careless of Anoria’s feelings because of the quantity of wine she had consumed, Anoria could not discern the reason for Pia’ impulsive air of petulance.

Anoria stopped. “That is not a fair question,” she said without humor. “I did not come to be teased or insulted.”

Are you insulted you have never been kissed? Either you have never been kissed, and are insulted,” Pia said darkly. “Or, dear, you have been kissed poorly, and are insulted.” Then she laughed heartily and began to swing Anoria’s arm once again. “If you have been kissed, and properly done, you would only blush at the question.”

Anoria stopped their playful walk and insisted with some vigor, “I will not be teased tonight, Pia. Stop this now,” and she pointed at Pia’s nose.

The conversation was suddenly so serious, it seemed a great deal of time had passed, not merely a breath or two as Pia tried to stifle her mirth. She gave a shuddering sigh and dropped Anoria’s hand altogether. Another, less familiar new mood crossed Pia’s brow, not to be mistaken as the prompting of wine at all.

You are never lonely, are you dear,” she stated with certainty. There was no question in her voice, only a resigned sort of admiration, and a hint of longing. “You have your father’s attention, and that is all you seek.”

Anoria did not know how to reply. She could not understand why the wicked teasing about kisses turned to this question of loneliness; something she never had considered.

Teresa noticed a few days ago, when we were in the market, men follow you with their eyes, they linger on you, and you never notice,” Pia said in a smaller voice. She was gazing down at her hands as if she did not know what to do with them if she were not touching Anoria. Anoria just stood in silence. This was more uncomfortable than the teasing could have ever been. “You have known Geppa for…”she paused, “…three, maybe four years? Your visit at my wall was the longest time you have ever spoken to each other?”

Pia stepped around her in a broad circle, reaching as if to touch one of her hands, but hesitating. Anoria did not turn.

You don’t understand, having warmth beside you at night, the comfort of his touch, the safety it makes you feel. And when the oaf is merely two hours late coming home to kiss you, the longing begins to make you watch the darkened street, makes you listen between the other sounds, to hear his feet come through the gate.”

Pausing after a few complete turns, she stood hidden behind Anoria, and slipped one hand up to the nape of Anoria’s neck, lightly caressing down to her exposed shoulder. With her other hand slipped tenderly around Anoria’s waist, she pulled them together - not trying to turn at all, but close indeed, her breasts pressed lightly against Anoria’s back.

Near to Anoria’s cheek, she only whispered now. Anoria ceased to breathe, “You do not feel a longing for this?”

Why are you doing this to me?” Anoria asked in a barely audible sigh. If Pia intended to be merely teasing her companion, it was having poor success, Anoria was terrified; she hadn’t the strength to run, and it was becoming a desperate urge to do so. Pia did not release the embrace, but held it nearly too long. Only after Anoria realized the touch was not the same, did she calm herself. Pia was quietly crying against her shoulder, and her hands were seeking comfort, not causing mischief.

Can you be so complete nothing stirs you to any yearning for something more, for more conversation, for more warmth, for another’s touch? Is there nothing you desire beyond your hut, and your father’s voice?”

Anoria felt chilled, or guessed it must have been a chill. She wanted to move, unprepared for the embrace or the sadness in Pia’s voice, but could not because the sensation stirred something sweet, utterly caressing away her initial fear. She could not damage this; if she pulled away, it would destroy something precious, if she resisted Pia’s gentle presence against her back.

They stood for longer moments than Anoria might have realized, her hands had come up to Pia’s arm, bringing her own insistence to the embrace, but when Pia lifted her cheek it seemed too brief a time to share that touch.

You will be going home,” Pia whispered, moving from behind Anoria without lifting her hands, they still touched but were soon cheek-to-cheek in the middle of the dusty road. “When you go home, you will only have your father. My children surround me; I have my husband to love me, but I cannot find rest from loneliness. I don’t understand you, Anoria, I envy that life you have, and I don’t know that peace.”

Would you like me to visit every few days?” Anoria asked slowly, wondering why the suggestion would cause Pia to shiver. “I could. I didn’t know I could need you.”

Pia could not reply.

 

Both women were smiling when they stepped into the low ceilinged dining hall at the Inn. Ezio spied them instantly and left the table he was serving to rush in a grand gesture and gather them both into his arms. Pia received a kiss on both her cheeks; Anoria received none whatever, but Ezio turned her suddenly to the other faces in the room and introduced her with a great hug around the shoulders.

As with all other gatherings finding her suddenly in their midst that week - the entire hall quieted at the mention of her name, and the faces expressed surprise. Pia witnessed the reaction in the marketplace before and was only amused; Anoria became painfully shy, as she did on the church steps, seemingly almost half a lifetime before.

Anoria, my dear! Your Papi is in my best room upstairs. He asked me to call him down, should you come here tonight, though I admit we rather expected you to be in the company of a handsome gentleman, and not the village mischief maker.”

There was some amusement at this comment, and several nods in agreement with its intended affect. Pia smiled, happy to have been the champion to bring Antonio’s daughter finally to the Inn, and did not notice the tease at all.

How long has he been in his room?” Anoria asked. “If he has but a moment in a kindly chair, and a doddering bit of fire after his dinner, he will be quite asleep. I would not bother that rest, he loves it so.”

Half an hour at most, the moon was just shy and he was ready to go home with my lantern when he was at last convinced to remain here. He seemed so solemn when he joined us, but we had a good gossip, and he was smiling and happier when we opened his room.”

Then let’s leave him be, but we will come for breakfast with him in the morning,” then she turned to Pia, “We can be home before the girls rise and find they must be fed. We will hardly be missed.” There was some pleading in Anoria’s eyes, and a glance that might mean she had agreed with Pia’s wishes for the evening, it would be fair after all.

Should my Tito come home at last you won’t coax me out of bed so early. You might have to come alone.”

Master Benzetti late again? Is that the reason you are here tonight?” Ezio spun around, grabbing Pia around the middle, causing her to laugh. “Or did you leave him asleep by his fire, to seek a dance with me?” He shouted over his shoulder to a few lazy looking fellows near the hearth and they shook themselves together with their instruments, and the music began, quick and light. Anoria was left standing alone, just inside the doorway of the hall, but only for a moment. She and Pia danced, and laughed, and without any care, lost their count of time.

 

Ezio gave his cheeriest greeting to Antonio the next morning, declining to mention Anoria would join him; perhaps it would be a pleasant surprise. He was just placing him at the table when her dark hair appeared in the doorway. She had the entire gathering of Benzetti’s daughters behind her. Both men eyed the sleepy looking children, but spied the determined look upon Anoria’s face, and guessed she brought them against their wills. Their guess was corrected when Pia pushed the last child through the door, and began to force them in the direction of a different, larger table; Pia brought them against their wills.

As the girls moved, Anoria moved opposite them, coming alone to Antonio’s table. She wore no smile. Ezio quickly darted to Pia’s brood to settle them, but he wanted to be nearer to Antonio; his table would provide better gossip than anything Pia might say.

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Breathing into Stone