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The Palace

The Palace: Page 56

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Gasparo was about to make a stumbling explanation as to why this wasn't necessary when the door opened once more and Demetrice came back into the room. She carried a tray with slices of light-colored cheese and a bowl of fragrant chunks of preserved fruit. There was also a jug of wine on the tray, and a piece of meat pie.

"Amadeo thought this might be to your satisfaction, Signore Tucchio," she said as she held the tray out to him. "There is a little table in the alcove there, and if you set the books on it aside, you'll find it a pleasant place to eat. I've had many meals there." As she spoke she moved across the room to the alcove and nodded toward the leather-bound books that covered it. "Just stack them in the corner."

"Certainly. In the corner." Gasparo hurried to Demetrice's assistance, pulling the huge volumes into his arms.

Laughing, Demetrice set the tray on the table. "There. You can look out that lozenge window there. You can see San Lorenzo and Santa Maria Novella if you lean forward a little." She stood beside the table until Gasparo was settled. "We'll be working, but don't be disturbed. Nothing very terrible is going on just now."

Gasparo nodded his thanks and pulled out his knife to eat.

When Demetrice came back to the two beehive-shaped athanors, Ragoczy said to her very softly, "Elegantly done, amica mia. You're a marvel."

She grinned frankly at his praise. "All Fiorenza knows that foreign noblemen have no manners." Her light, bantering tone left her a moment as she added, "You deserve some courtesy, if only from me. You've been kind to me when no one else was willing to be. And whether it is for Laurenzo or for me, I thank you."

Ragoczy's dark eyes met her amber ones, and there was an enigmatic expression in them that she couldn't read. "At first, amica mia, it was for Laurenzo. But no longer." Then, before she could ask him any questions, he picked up one of the flasks. "This needs more of the oil from Madras added. You'll find it in the chest there by the hearth."

Demetrice almost fled to the chest, and by the time she had found the oil, she had regained her tranquillity.

It was somewhat after dark when Gasparo Tucchio at last left Palazzo San Germane He had been well-fed, and the wine was the best he had tasted in many days. Ruggiero had engaged him in a game of chess, and Gasparo had played lavishly and lost with joy.

A low mist had come up from the Arno and it gave the whole city a pale, unreal splendor, like a kingdom seen in dreams. It also lent an insidious chill to the air, as Gasparo discovered when he was a little way from Palazzo San Germane He wrapped his arms over his chest for warmth and listened to the chanting from Santissima Annunziata. It was not much past the ninth hour, and if he walked quickly, he would be home before the mist penetrated his clothes.

As he neared the river the mist grew denser, rendering the buildings around him almost invisible. Gasparo listened intently, but there was little to hear except the soft murmur of the Arno.

He turned onto a street he was reasonably sure was la Via Tornabuoni. It would take him to il Ponte Santa Trinita, and from there over the river to his little house behind Santo Spirito, where the Agostiniano Brothers marked out the night with prayers and psalms.

As he neared the bridge he heard uncertain footsteps and laughter accompanying slurred words. There were two women, Gasparo decided, and three men. If they were discovered together, particularly if they were as drunk as they sounded, then they would be publicly denounced by Savonarola the next time he preached. Gasparo felt a twinge of anger at the prior of San Marco, and a touch of pity for the men and their companions. For a few minutes Gasparo stood in the fog, an innocent eavesdropper, as the men and women sported together and in their disordered way debated where they should go to enjoy one another. At last the party drew away in the fog, and Gasparo realized with a start that he was bitterly cold.

Now he moved quickly and his old bones ached. He saw the bridge ahead, a strange, dark shape in the white mists. It was a welcome, though insubstantial presence, and Gasparo stepped onto it with a certain ill-defined relief.

The few buildings that clung to the bridge loomed over him in the dark, and the sound of the river was louder, almost like thousands of footsteps, following him as he crossed the bridge.

When he had almost reached the south side of the Arno, Gasparo stopped, cocking his head. In spite of the cold he willed himself to remain silent, to keep from shivering while he listened. For a moment it seemed to him that there was indeed someone following him, creeping stealthily nearer along the bridge. But as he forced himself to hear every sound, Gasparo could distinguish nothing but the noise of the river.

He had just started walking once more when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Frightened and angry, he turned to give his assailant a blow from his clenched fists. But before his arm was raised high enough to strike, there was a thrust below his ribs, and a sharp, hot pain spread swiftly, crazily through him. Bewildered, he took the knife by the handle and tried to pull it out of his chest. And then he dropped his hands.
It was too much work. As Lodovico approached him, Gasparo opened his mouth to tell him something. But blood ran out and he could no longer speak. He felt a strange lassitude come over him as Lodovico lifted him, and slowly, so slowly, raised him over the edge of the bridge and let him fall lightly, drifting through the fog.

Long before his body splashed into the river, Gasparo Tucchio was dead.

Text of the confession of Donna Estasia Catarina di Arrigo della Cittadella da Parma, made to Savonarola and published in Fiorenza on the Feast of the Guardian Angels, October 2, 1494:

In the name of God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. This is the confession of the heinous sins and crimes committed by Donna Estasia della Cittadella, widow of a merchant of Parma, given of her own free will and in her own words, without additions, commentary or embellishments.

Gentle Savior, Holy Son of God, grant that my confession is whole, without any interest beyond the expiation of sin and the redemption of my soul.

For many months I have been visited by devils, and they have led me to great wrongs. It is the fault of my flesh, which is too easily roused, and which I have vowed to master with fasting and scourges. I have made my body the house of sin and men have wallowed there. In my vanity, I have been happy to be beautiful, desirable, a woman to be looked at with lust in the heart. I have reveled in the wanton pleasures of lascivious congress, joining my flesh with the men who have pleased me. What temptation there is in the flesh, the loathsome, sensuous flesh that lures us all to desecration, to the delirium that drowns the songs of the angels.

All but one of my lovers have confessed and have repented their debauchery, and for that reason they should not be shamed by me, though I desire to be free of the stench of my filthy liaisons. The five men who have made peace with God are forgiven in heaven and will sin no more. And theirs were sins common to all of you, the bestial ruttings of animals, sating themselves in their passions on my body.

In deep humility and utter self-abasement, I beg those good men to forgive me for the transgression we shared. I urge them to forget the tangle of our limbs, the frenzy of coupling, the sweat, the sounds, the cries we made in the act. Their thoughts should never again dwell on the languorous sighs and the trembling flanks pushed together in heat, the taut sinews, the perfumed nights in silken sheets.

The devils that torment me do not visit them, and it is just, for it is my sin that brought them to their error, and their repentance shows me the way to the Mercy Seat.

Whether the other lover was a devil or a man, I cannot say. He was a foreigner, a rich stranger who chose, for some unnamed reason, to live among us. He was a man of great wealth, and for that worldly consideration, such is the venality of Fiorenza that all accepted the stranger and did him honor.

He came to me first three years ago. He had seen me once, at a distance. We had exchanged no word. But I knew that he desired me and that he would not be satisfied until he had possessed me. He importuned me later and I denied myself to him. He swore a great oath then, declaring that he would ravish me if he had to kill my cousins to do it.

I dreaded the man. And I feared that he would bring my other lovers to some hurt, and so I refused to see them again. I hid in my cousin's house and feared to go abroad because I dreaded finding that foreigner waiting, stalking me as a cruel lion stalks the baby antelope. Whenever I saw his splendid black clothing, or heard his soft, accented words, I was ready to swoon with terror.

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