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1636 The Flight of the Nightingale: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2019 01:04 EDT



    Sabatini awoke at a nudge.

    “Marco,” he heard Francesca say as he was opening his eyes. “Time to go.”

    He shook his head to clear the cobwebs from his thinking, and rolled to his feet in a limber motion.

    “Oh, to be young again,” Renata murmured. She pointed toward a door. “Chamber pot’s in there.”

    Sabatini took advantage of it, making sure the door closed firmly and that he threw the latch. He was glad to see the latch, actually, but he figured that actors being both lively and often bawdy, everyone would insist on the latch for self-preservation. There was no candle or lamp in the cubby, but enough light leaked in under the door and from a gap in the outer wall just above the ceiling to let him see what was what. It didn’t take long before his business was done and he was back in the back stage area, checking his clothes to make sure that they were straight.

    Francesca was waiting, toe tapping. She had her new coat on and was holding the bag with clothes. The other bag, the one with the papers, must be under the coat, much as she had carried it under the cloak. Sabatini understood that. Those papers were more important to her than almost anything.

    “Ready?” she said. Sabatini nodded as he scooped up his own bag. “Let’s go.” She looked at Renata, and gave a nod that was almost a bow. “Thank you for your help, and thank Barbara again for me when you see her next.”

    “It was our pleasure, dear,” Renata said in what Sabatini thought of still as a reedy voice. “Santa Cecilia bless you, and go with God.”

    A moment later, they were outside the theatre in the pre-dawn light.

    “Which way?” Sabatini asked. He knew about where the Piazza di San Sabatini was, but he wasn’t sure what the best way was to get there from the spot where they were standing.

    “This way,” Francesca said, turning and leading the way farther down the alley in the faint pre-dawn light. It ended abruptly in a cul-de-sac, which took Sabatini aback, but Francesca walked over to a door set in the left-hand wall. It opened at her touch, and Sabatini followed her into a rather dark hallway. He kept his hand on the wall as he followed almost blindly.

    Sabatini stumbled as they crossed a threshold into what seemed to be another building based on the brickwork. There were a couple of candles in the room, which seemed to be a small taverna. An older woman who was wiping down tables looked up and nodded as they walked by. Francesca nodded back, but said nothing as she walked to another door. That door also opened at her touch, and let them out onto a street.

    Three corners and several short blocks and they turned onto the large piazza before the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Flore. They crossed the piazza and entered Via di Martelli, which immediately fed into the Larga.

    Francesca was walking briskly in the slowly growing light. She said nothing, and gazed straight ahead, but Sabatini was certain she knew what was going on around her. There were servants and tradesmen on the streets, either hurrying to work or carrying loads for deliveries. In their common clothing, carrying their bundles, the two of them just seemed to blend into the crowds.

    Two long blocks and they entered Piazza di San Sabatini. Now at last Francesca stopped for a moment — or rather, hesitated to look around. Just as her eyes seemed to locate what she was looking for, a loud voice called out, “Aunt Maria!”

    A large and burly individual hopped down off of a cart and bounded toward them, arms spread wide. “Aunt Maria! Here you are! It is so good to see you.” He wrapped his arms around her, even though she stiffened for a moment in surprise. Sabatini stepped back a couple of paces, to create a little distance. Based on what they were supposed to be doing, he needed to not be a part of this scene. He turned to his left a bit, and walked over to gaze at the basilica, but keeping Francesca in the periphery of his vision.

    Giulio — that must surely be him — gave Francesca a resounding kiss on the cheek and released his embrace. “Oh, Aunt Maria, I am so glad Cousin Giovanni was able to convince you to come. Uncle Umberto needs tending badly, and he won’t accept anyone but you.” He took Francesca by the arm, and gently urged her toward the cart. “But please, he is hurting so badly, we must be on the way. The sooner you get there, the sooner he will listen to sense.”

    Francesca climbed up into the cart, boosted by Giulio, looking over her shoulder at Sabatini as she did so and giving a bare hint of a nod and smile. Sabatini relaxed a little. If this was indeed Giulio, then things were going according to what he knew of the plan, anyway.

    There was a sleepy little donkey standing before the cart, who looked around reproachfully when Giulio climbed up into the cart as well, took the reins in hand, and shook them.

    “Get along, Rosario, you lazy thing,” Giulio called out, shaking the reins again. The donkey faced forward, seemed to sigh, and leaned into his collar. The cart started moving with a hint of a squeak from the wheels. Sabatini’s mouth quirked at that — that kind of noise would drive Francesca mad.

    Giulio kept up a running thread of conversation, mostly on his own. Sabatini could see Francesca nodding as the cart pulled away. He waited for it to travel a distance, before following in its track.

    Giulio took Via degli Arrazzieri out of the piazza, the Street of the Tapestry Makers, but the street was only a block long and its T was crossed by the larger Via San Gallo, where Giulio turned the cart to the right, to the north, and headed for the city gate. Sabatini followed, and he caught a glimpse of Francesca looking over her shoulder to for a moment to make sure he was still in sight…

    It was a fair distance to the gate, and a grumble from his stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten anything yet today. He kept an eye out, and sure enough, before long he saw a baker’s boy carrying a towel covered tray the same direction he was going.



    “Got bread under that?” Sabatini asked.

    “No, I’m carrying rocks,” the other boy retorted. “Of course I have bread.”

    “Marco,” introducing himself.


    “Sell me one?”

    Guido looked around. “I don’t know…these are supposed to be going to…”

    “Tell them a dog jostled you and a loaf dropped off. I’m starving, and I’ve got a long way to go today.”

    Guido looked around again, and shrugged. “Show me the coin.” Sabatini reached into an inner pocket of his jerking and pulled out a soldi. Guido looked horrified. “I can’t change that. I don’t have anything on me.”

    “Fine,” Sabatini said. “Give me two loaves, then. I’ll want something to eat this evening, too.” He was overpaying, but he didn’t care. He was hungry.

    Guido stepped close beside Sabatini as they walked. “Fine. Pick up the towel, put the coin on the tray, and take the two loaves on the edge.”

    Sabatini did exactly that, tucking one of the loaves inside his jerkin, and tearing a bite out of the other with sharp teeth.

    “Mmm,” he mumbled past the wad of dough he was chewing. “Good.”

    “Should be,” Guido said. “My master is one of the best in Firenze. Good travels to you.”

    “Thank you,” Sabatini replied after he cleared his throat. “San Giovanni watch over you.”

    With that, Guido split away from Sabatini and headed toward an upcoming cross-street. Sabatini continued on. He was lagging farther behind Giulio’s cart than he wanted to be because he and Guido had slowed down a bit while they exchanged words, coin, and bread, so he stepped up his pace.

    The bread was fresh, and even still had a trace of warmth inside it from the baking. The crust was dense, but the inside was light and a bit moist, which was good, as Sabatini didn’t have a water bottle. But he strode along with a will, enjoying the fresh bread, and watching as they drew closer to the Porta di San Gallo, the northernmost gate out of the city.

    Sabatini was close enough to the cart now to hear that Giulio was still talking. He must have been doing it on purpose. Sabatini had to admit it attracted attention to him, and as long as Francesca limited her responses to nods and the occasional quiet word, she was just background to Giulio’s performance. And performance it was.

    The gate was open today, and those guards in view stood to one side or the other, simply watching as people entered and left, but focusing mostly on the former. Sabatini saw that he had caught the eye of one of the guards, so he flashed him a big grin after he popped the last of his bread in his mouth. The guard returned the grin with a thumb’s up sign.

    Sabatini took a careful sigh after he moved out from the shadow of the gate to stand on the road outside the city walls. First milestone of their very long journey reached — they were out of Firenze. A lot of miles to go, but that was a matter of putting one foot in front of another for a lot of days. Or at least, he hoped it was.



    The cart crested a low hill. They were in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains, and Francesca was now glad of the cart. The thought of her legs having to go up and down hills wasn’t comforting. She kept checking on Sabatini, but he was still keeping pace with them.

    “And there is Fiesole,” Giulio remarked. Even his volubility had run down after the first couple of miles on the road, and after the traffic had thinned out some. These were the first words he had said in some time.

    “Finally,” Francesca said with some relief.

    Giulio looked at her and chuckled. “Surely my repartee was not that bad.”

    “My feelings have nothing to do with you and everything to do with hardness of the seat in this lurching excuse for a conveyance.” She put her hand out to the side as one of the unsprung cart’s wheels rolled over a small rock in the roadway. The track to Fiesole, although not bad as most roads went, was certainly not as good as one of the old Roman Empire via roads. Francesca was ready to get off and walk on her own feet.

    “Well, I suppose we could have borrowed…”

    “Stolen,” Francesca interjected.

    Giulio waved a hand. “What’s in a word? As I was saying, we could have borrowed the dowager princess’ carriage, but I’m afraid that would have defeated your purpose.”

    “Indeed.” Francesca’s tone was dry enough to serve as a desiccant. Giulio chuckled again.

    Francesca turned to look at her companion. The angle was far enough around that she could get a glimpse of Sabatini still trudging along some distance behind them. She faced back to front, content to know that he was still with them.

    After another furlong, Giulio said quietly, “You will be missed, you know.”

    Francesca looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “Right,” she said. “A fifty year-old woman singer who has lived in the shadow of the court all her life will undoubtedly be missed.”

    “Maestra,” the actor responded, “you are valued by many in Firenze — perhaps more than you know — and you will be missed. Even Salvator Rosa has said he will miss you, because no one can talk him into a corner like you can.” That drew a snort from Francesca, which engendered a grin on Giulio’s face. Rosa, an artist and writer, was a recent transplant from Roma, but was originally from Napoli. Like most artists Francesca had met, he was a walking stick of ego and arrogance. However, she had to admit in his defense that he was almost as good as he thought he was. And he had upon occasion made her laugh.

    “I’m sure he said that,” she said in her dry tone again.

    “He did,” Giulio protested. “I heard him say it with my own two ears.” Francesca shook her head. “It’s true!” he asserted.

    “Fine,” Francesca said. “He said it. Whether he meant it or not…”

    “He is an artist and a writer,” Giulio said with a grin. “Of course he meant it…for the moment.”

    That evoked a laugh from Francesca.

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