Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Chapter Seven

Alonso listened carefully at the cellar door before opening it and climbing the short flight of stairs that emerged at the back of the main building. Judging by the sounds he could hear there was still a considerable degree of confusion inside the monastery, although it sounded as if the fire was being brought under control.

The night sky was dark - the new moon hidden behind a swath of cloud - and the pair made their way to the road that led down the hill away from the monastery. Alonso estimated that they had several miles to cover to reach the nearest village and set a fair pace. He kept a close watch on his companion who seemed as eager to put as much distance between himself and the place of his torture and imprisonment as Alonso was.

As they walked he threw back his hood and breathed in the cool night air. He felt a sense of freedom that he had not experienced for a long time, away from the rigid routine of his cloistered life. He reflected on the unexpected turn of events that had initiated this change in his life, musing on whether such things were pre-ordained as some philosophers and priests had speculated or whether he was truly an agent of his own destiny. Did he have free will, or just the illusion of free will, and what difference would it make in either case?

His thoughts were interrupted when he realised that the old man and stumbled and was now limping quite badly.

"I'm sorry ... my feet are hurting"

Alonso cursed himself for not having realised that while he was accustomed to being barefoot at all times and his feet were hardened and calloused, the old man could not possibly have been used to travelling in such a way. He looked around and saw some farm out buildings a short distance from the road.

"Follow me - I think we will be able to lay low for a while and rest in that barn over there"

The barn was a robust structure, with stone walls on three sides and a wooden roof, used for storing hay. By the side wall a drain pipe from the roof led down into a water trough which was full from the autumn rains. Alonso found some sacking inside the barn and wet some of it, and once they were safely under cover used it to wash the old man's blistered and bleeding feet.

As he worked at his ministrations, the old man began to speak, falteringly at first, as if he had almost forgotten the nicieties of everyday speech, but gradually his confidence returned.

"I owe you a debt of thanks, it seems. Please let me introduce my self - my name is Antonio de Rossini. I am a humble merchant trader from Venice. I feared that I was losing my mind in that place, and every time I was drugged into sleep I felt more of it slipping away. It was all I could do to hold on to the memories of my children's faces and try to survive for their sake."

Alonso reached inside his robe and pulled out the locket.

"I believe that this must be yours?"

He passed the locket to Antonio, who received it gratefully.

"Yes - that's my daughter, Donatella - she is wild one, although she hides it well from most people. She is very different from her brother, but they compliment each other well. Yin and yang as the oriental philosophers would describe it. Light and shade."

Alonso looked out across the fields from the open side of the barn, and as if on cue the first rays of the rising sun appeared above the horizon. The low clouds rapidly changed colour from a deep scarlet to a rich gold in the space of a few minutes. He tried to recall the old rhyme about a red sky in the morning presaging rain later in the day. The prevailing winds were blowing in from the sea, so if they brought more cloud with them that would certainly hold true.

He turned back to the barn, and then stopped in his tracks. He could hear an approaching noise.

Someone was coming.

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