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Written in Red Chapter 4

4 Marchio del Tradimento (Marks of Betrayal)

Thundersday, Hare Moon 6

Yvette lowered the hood of her cloak, dew soaking into her clothing. Innumerable times she’d knelt under woody fingers gnarled with age, begging forgiveness or wallowing in self-pity. A lone tree standing on the edge of an abandoned deer run. An ugly place, by all accounts. A place Yvette went to remember, or forget. Gentle light fell on crocuses, blooming before the robins hatched. She tilted her face toward the early sun and struggled for words.

A chilly breeze brushed her cheek where a tear track dried. Her raspy voice split the still morning, an offensive sound against the serene backdrop. “I brought you a gift.”

She lifted the leather cord over her head and held the pewter baby, image of the first divine.

“It’s not much.” In fact, holding the offering in her hand, it didn’t look deserving of being called a gift. Nothing felt right. She gripped the pendant in a fist and curled up, head resting on the dewy grass beside the unmarked gravestone.

Tears wet her face and her shoulders shuddered with each agonized sob. “Forgive me.” Words she didn’t plan to voice tore free of her throat. “I may never receive mercy for the mistakes I’ve made, but I pray the gods allow us to be together again in the next life.”

It wasn’t a dignified way to visit a grave, even an empty one. “Wait for me just a little longer.” With her left hand, she dug at the base of the stone marker, depositing the pendant and covering it again with dirt.

*

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I disagree and put forth that in all truth it grows concerned. I long to see you again, my love. When next we meet…


Daniela stopped writing, a noise outside her open shutters breaking her concentration. She approached the window and looked out. “Who’s there,” she called, hoping to see only a cat. She almost jumped out of her stockings when a voice answered back, not altogether quietly.

“Me.”

“Lorenzo? What are you doing here?”

“I can’t climb up. Meet me down here.”

Daniela’s heart fluttered when she considered how he’d sensed her longing. She perched in the window, steadying herself. It was a long way down. She had told him she could climb out, but still it was twenty feet to the ground down a rose trellis. It wasn’t that easy a feat. Regretting boasting, she pushed her fears aside and began her decent.

Acquiring only a few minor scrapes for her effort, she swung down and landed hard on the ground. “Oww,” she muttered, rubbing her backside as she rose from the dirt and dusted herself.

Lorenzo pulled the front of his doublet straight. “I wrote a letter but you never responded.”

“What did it say?” Her heart begged him to speak words of love.

“We should find somewhere more private,” he said, lowering his voice as he brought his arms around her waist. He took her by the hand and soon they were in the stable, stealing kisses as they tore free of their clothing. While Lorenzo’s practiced hands swept over her naked form, Daniela welcomed his enthusiasm, a simple reassurance that the world was still as it should be.

It was only after the lightening sky became visible through the open hayloft window that Daniela finally untangled herself from Lorenzo’s arms, wishing for a longer night. “You should go,” she whispered into his bare chest, still sweaty from their passion. “It’s almost morning.”

“I ride to Claudio Molin this morning, but this evening I’ll return to talk to your father.”

Daniela couldn’t contain her smile. “I’m surprised you heard already.”

“Heard what?”

“About my engagement.”

“You’re engaged?”

“Isn’t that why you’re speaking to Father?”

“A theft occurred in the village and my men spotted a man riding like the wind toward Signor Molin’s border only a few afternoons ago. A townswoman turned up dead.”

“Murdered?”

His voice grew solemn. “Robbed and drowned. Her husband hired a band of mercenaries to track down the thief. I hope it can be a simple matter, but Signor Molin should be on guard and your father too. There’s no telling what a desperate rogue will do once cornered.”

She barely heard him, disappointed he wasn’t aware of her plight. “And my engagement?”

“What about it?” he asked, pulling his shirt on. “Do you want me to stop seeing you?”

She watched him dress in a hurry, as if his business with Signor Molin was the most important thing in the world. “I thought you might step in, so I don’t have to marry him.”

“Why don’t you just tell your father you don’t want to marry him? Better yet, tell him. You’re within your rights to refuse if you want to. It’s a bit different for titled men and women, but you can… Wait. Who are you supposed to marry?”

“Rafe Venieri, have you heard of him?”

Lorenzo chuckled. “Yeah, I’ve heard of him. He’s chancellor of Kanassa. His mother’s a foreigner, isn’t she? From the principalities before the war.”

Daniela pulled her on her nightdress and crossed her arms. “I wouldn’t know.”

Lorenzo shrugged. “They seem good people.”

“Rafe appears to be their black sheep.”

Lorenzo laughed. “You’re being a bit hard on him, aren’t you Dani?”

She narrowed her eyes, wondering what exactly he meant by that. “It sounds like you’d be just fine if I married the wretch.”

Lorenzo shrugged, buttoning his trousers. “His name is good and his family has money. You’d live better than you do here and Angelo can’t want to support you forever.” She couldn’t stop her mouth falling open. Lorenzo didn’t seem to notice as he continued. “He may not have land or title, but it would be a step up for you. You probably won’t receive a better offer.”

“You’re landed and have a title! Can’t you just tell Father you want to marry me?”

Lorenzo smiled and brought his hand to her cheek. “I can’t and you know it.” He gestured at Daniela, still lying in the hay, a nightgown barely concealing her. “This is a bit of fun, nothing more. I can’t marry you, Dani, no matter how loyal your father is to the doge. He isn’t your first cousin; he’s your third cousin. Besides, Angelo won’t offer a dowry big enough to interest my father and our families have no strong ties save a border. I’m afraid that isn’t enough.”

He spoke so matter-of-factly, it made Daniela sick. Didn’t he understand how hurtful his words were? “Isn’t enough? What about love? Doesn’t that factor in at all?”

“Not really.” He stroked her hair in sympathy, which only fueled her growing anger.

“Is that it then?” she asked softly. “You won’t step in?”

“To what end? I already said I couldn’t marry you. What do you want me to do? Disobey my father and run away with you? I will inherit a sizeable estate and have a duty to my people.”

“I see. So you plan to see me like this until I ask you to stop, whether I’m married or not?”

“I haven’t thought about it.” He shook his head. “Is there really anything more to say?”

“I suppose not.”

“I need to leave and meet Signor Molin. I’ll see you this evening.”

After he left, Daniela remained in the stable. Deep within a hole of self-pity, she cried, wondering why the gods had seen fit to make her a woman. Her brothers had the world at their fingertips, ripe for the picking, while Daniela shared the fate of young women everywhere—a life of service or marriage. The lot of the weaker gender.

She succeeded in making her eyes puffy and scaring the horses, but little else before being interrupted by the door opening and a light shining in—Luca, holding up a lamp and carrying a sack of grain. “Pardon me,” he said, seeing her sitting in her nightgown on a wooden bench. He turned to leave, but halted, facing her. “Wait, what are you doing here in the dark?”

“Can’t I sit by myself for a minute without answering questions? Mind your own business.”

He hefted the bag over his shoulder and poured grain into the trough nearest the door, for their rented draft animal, a giant bay gelding named Tebaldus. Daniela wiped her eyes and pulled straws from her hair, sure she looked as awful as she felt. She slept little during the night, welcoming Lorenzo’s affections. Oh, how the sun’s first rays portended a day of exhaustion.

Luca took out a saddle and began readying Philippa for riding.

“Why are you saddling her?” Daniela asked, patting the mare’s gray muzzle.

“Tomaso told me to.”

Daniela froze in place.

“Father!” her eldest brother, Francesco, called from right outside in the yard. “Don’t forget your coat. It’s still cool this morning.” His voice drew closer.

Daniela ducked into a stall. “Why didn’t you say as much?”

“I’m minding my own business,” Luca said, adjusting the stirrups.

Daniela crawled around in the hay. “I can’t leave dressed like this, they’ll never believe I was feeding the hens. There’s nowhere to hide in here.” The door swung open and she crouched lower into the stall. Luca threw a blanket over her as she knelt in the smelly old hay.

“Is she saddled yet?” Francesco asked.

“I’ll bring her right out, signor.” Luca left with Philippa, casting a quick backward glance.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Daniela waited until she heard hoofs fade away.

“Your father’s gone,” Luca said, snatching the blanket off Daniela. “You can come out.”

Daniela combed her hair down with her fingers. “What about Francesco?”

“He went back in the house.”

Daniela rose while Luca took a bucket down from a peg. “Thank you,” she said. “I know you do not want to deceive for me, but I appreciate that you did. Francesco is more on Father’s side these days than mine.”

“I didn’t do anything but saddle a horse,” Luca said. “I know better than to lie to my master.”

“For what it’s worth, you have my gratitude. I doubt Father’s in a forgiving mood before dawn. His wrath would be unbearable after the night I’ve had. Before Lorenzo left, he said…”

“Don Lorenzo came here?”

She sighed, recalling kisses that kept her warm through the night. “He wrote me a letter.”

Luca’s face wasn’t as angry as his voice sounded. “I’m guessing you didn’t mention you’re engaged.” He sniffed, shaking his head.

Daniela was in no mood to defend her actions. “Since when have my moral decisions become between me and the gods and Luca? Not that I need your approval but yes, I did mention it.”

His eyes narrowed. “He stayed anyways?”

“I told you, we’re in love.”

Daniela started when Luca threw down the bucket in his hand and wheeled on her. “I thought you were just avoiding seeing your father off. I know how you hate to do it. If I knew you were in here with Lorenzo all night, I would’ve left you to face Francesco on your own!”

“You filthy snake,” she snapped.

His face went serious, eyes glaring and dark. He picked up the bucket and pointed at her as his anger vented. “I meant what I said. I’m not protecting you again. If you keep seeing him, you’ll get caught and I’m not saving your skin.”

“I don’t care.”

“That’s what it boils down to, doesn’t it? The only thing you care about is yourself.”

He walked past her and out of the barn. Who was Luca to reprimand her? She ran after him. “What do you care what I do and with whom? You’re just jealous you don’t have my affection!”

“Is that what you think?” He stood a half-foot taller than she was. It was hard not to notice that within the last year, Luca had begun looking much less a boy and much more a man. He was seventeen, six years her junior, but they had always felt close in age.

“You think I want you for myself?” His amused laugh echoed. “Rest easy, I’m not jealous of your unholy relationship with Lorenzo. I just won’t endanger my job for it. If you want to tell lies to carry on with him, it’s your business. Don’t involve me.” He turned his back and walked with purpose to the well.

“I don’t know why you can’t simply be happy for me,” she shouted after him. “If Lorenzo marries me, it will mean more for us all.” He didn’t acknowledge her words and Daniela, not wanting to watch him bathe in the yard, fled back into the house. Once in her room, she tore up her half-written letter and began anew.

Don Lorenzo,

I wish it were upon gladder tidings that I am writing, but I must divulge what worries me. Though I took measures to prevent it, a child resulted from our union and my father will ensure you do the honorable and noble thing. It seems our love might have been enough to bind us in marriage after all…


The elderly housekeeper passed and Daniela called, “Stella, come here please.” Daniela didn’t bother to hide her letter from the illiterate servant.

I suggest be wed before my belly swells, to avoid embarrassment with our peers.

Stella stood, tapping a foot. Daniela, focused on her plea, didn’t look up from her writing. “Don Lorenzo is visiting this evening. Please help Marietta prepare a special supper.”

“I got my own duties,” she said. “You want something special fixed, you help Marietta and tell her why her fare ain’t good enough for rich neighbors.”

“Excuse me?” Daniela paused with her pen.

“Those men probably don’t remember what eatin’ well is, with Signora Navaro gone so long. I’m sure your cookin’ll be just fine.”

The words pierced deep. While Stella had always been a grouchy hen, insubordination wasn’t like her. “What’s gotten into you? You know better than to speak to me like that.”

“No less than you deserve. I heard you yelling at Luca out in the yard a moment ago.”

“I wasn’t yelling at him,” Daniela said, not that her tone was any of Stella’s business.

“How could you be so cruel to him?” Stella asked, her tight gray bun only making her look sterner. “You’ve forgotten we’re people, Luca and the rest of us. We love our good masters and gladly serve, but to be shown no love back? That ain’t what we deserve.”

Daniela’s voice turned squawky as she held back. “Haven’t I always treated you with love?”

Stella stood up straight, hands on her wide hips. “That boy took his punishment without making a sound because he thought he was doing the right thing in protecting you.” Her eyes narrowed to angry slits. “It was me what mopped him up and held him as he cried. Where were you? Up in your warm bed while we huddled in the kitchen ‘cause he couldn’t lie on his cot!”

Daniela willed a lump down her throat, fighting against it so long it near won out and choked her. Mouth dry, she couldn’t find her words.

Stella had no such problem. “I told him it was a mistake and you were heartbroken, but you’ve made a liar of me. You’re a shameful dog for sure, and so’s your father, making Tomaso beat that poor boy he’s raised since he was weaned.”

Daniela’s eyes welled with angry tears. “Excuse me,” she whispered, pushing past Stella.

The first bright rays fell in long swaths, dawn finally breaking through the gray murkiness of morning. She ran. “Luca!” she called, desperation edging her voice. “Where are you?”

“I’m here,” he replied, emerging from an empty stable stall. “What are you shouting about?”

“Take your shirt off,” Daniela commanded. Her breath came in rapid puffs from the run.

He frowned and set down his pitchfork. “Leave me alone.”

She blocked his exit. “Please.”

Perhaps it was her softer tone, or maybe just the “please.” Luca sighed. “You don’t have to.”

“I want to see.” When he pulled his shirt over his head, tears blurred Daniela’s vision, witnessing the results of her selfishness. Red welts streaked across his back.

He turned back to her, face drawn. “I have chores to do.”

“I can’t believe he punished you.” She shook her head. “What a bastard thing to do.” She offered his shirt back to him. Once he’d slipped it over his head, she threw her arms around his slender frame. “I know it’s little consolation, but I didn’t know.”

She wiped her eyes on his shoulder. A dear friend, beaten for lying to his master on her behalf. For what? So she could dally with a man who refused her because of her lower station. Perhaps her father thought to protect her by not telling her what her future might be—a common wife to a common man.

Luca struggled in her embrace. “I need to get fresh hay into the stalls.”

“Come to the kitchen and let me get you some salve I use for burns. It disinfects and helps the skin heal. Can I do that at least to say how sorry I am?”

“You don’t have to say it,” Luca mumbled. “I know you never meant to hurt me.”

She sat on a hay bale, the hem of her robe dragging in the dirt. Tears flooded from her eyes.

“Hey now,” Luca said, kneeling beside her. “Don’t cry, Dani.”

“What should I do? I’ve made a mess of everything.”

“I’ll heal. It was a rod, not a whip. I’ll be no worse for wear, you’ll see.”

“I’m an utter disgrace,” Daniela said between sobs.

Luca set his hand on her back. A kind attempt at comfort. One she didn’t deserve. Tears fell faster and she buried her face in her hands. “He won’t marry me.”

“He will if you don’t tell him about your affair with Lorenzo.”

“I wasn’t talking about Signor Venieri. Lorenzo told me he can’t marry me.”

Luca fidgeted with his hands, an annoying habit when he searched for the right words. “I don’t mean it to hurt worse, but I already told you that. What about Signor Venieri?”

“Where shall I start? His surly demeanor, or his lack of interest in me?”

“Daniela!” Francesco’s voice came from the yard. “So help me, girl, if I have to find you.”

Daniela looked up at Luca. “Oh, that doesn’t sound good.”

“What did you do?” Luca shot back.

She shook her head to tell him she didn’t know. “Whatever it was, it sounds like Francesco was mighty offended by it.”

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