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20. Mercury’s winged feet carry these words in haste! — Agneta

12, July 1286

My Dearest Sister Caterina,

I forgo any prelude and deliver this account as plainly as I might. I do not wish to be cruel, but there is naught I can do to prepare your heart for what I am about to share. Yesterday evening our Lord Father called us children and our Nurse into his library to advise us, with absolutely no ceremony, that he is planning to wed!

There you have it; there is no way to soften the blow!

Beatrisia and I were greatly shocked by the news, for the formal period of mourning our, Lady Mother has not nearly passed (nor even approached its Midheaven). Our faces must have betrayed our thoughts for Father was quick to explain (and you know father never explains his motives to anyone!). He stated that he understood his actions might appear as unseemly but that because he has no female relatives nearby to assist him in managing his children nor the household, he is desperate and has sought guidance from the Bishop of Lucca. He went on further to say that the Bishop Fortunato himself offered our Father dispensation from the traditional mourning period and is permitting him to marry before the conclusion of the bereavement year. I cannot imagine how many gold Florins the Bishop was awarded to hasten the conclusion — you my dear sister have always had a head for money, I’m sure you’ve made the calculation already!

As if that were not sufficient, Father went on to explain (at this point, he began to sweat, wiping the moisture from his brow with a kerchief, thus making his discomfort obvious to us all) that our new “Mama” (his term, I swear to you, my dear sister, not mine) is a clerk in his shop by the name of Laura! Can you fathom this? She is employed in his fabric shop! He is raising a shop clerk to the status of Lady Interminelli of Lucca! I know not which senses have left our Father, but without a doubt some have, and those that remain (the beastly kind, concerned only with desire and contentment) are ruling him in this regard!

Upon hearing this news, Beatrisia began to cry, and the Nurse removed her and Diana, leaving me with Father alone. He was most firm with me about his expectation with regard to my behavior towards his new wife. He even made to threaten my future happiness, telling me that if his new wife is not well pleased with my behavior that he will not fail to send me to the Abbey to take the veil and spend the bulk of my dowry on gifts for Laura to ensure her happiness! In effect explaining that I would make her happy one way or another –either through my actions or through my dowry! Caterina, you know that, like you, I have no desire to take the veil, and so with that thought in mind, I assured our Lord Father that I will attend to my new “Mama” with great love and patience. Providing her with the guidance she requires to be comfortable in her role as Lady of the Manor, wearing the keys to his household.

Dearest sister, I know that this news comes as a cold and unexpected shower. I am sorry to be the bearer of it, but know it all you must. The wedding is to take place after the harvest in September. Father has advised that he will not call you back from the Abbey to attend his nuptials, explaining that the journey from Brescia to Lucca is treacherous and expensive. I am not convinced that is why. I fear it is that you have always been his favorite, taking so closely after Mother in looks as well as in manner. I believe that he fears your presence will weaken his resolve in this new marriage–or that he could not bear your antipathy.

There you have it—bitter news indeed. But like a spoon of honey comforts the tongue after the sharp taste of medicine, I will leave you with a bit of good news. Father has just established an alliance with a new business partner. The man is originally from Rome and has spent much time in the East (during a crusade, I think?). Apparently, he has strong trading relationships with artisans there. This man (for I do not describe him as a Gentleman, from his speech and actions his lack of station is apparent but he is certainly ambitious) trades in threads, silk and other fabrics from the Levante, as well as in spices and goods. Father and he shared the cost and the risk in purchasing a boat full of fabrics and cargo from the Levante. The boat arrived in Venice last week, and the bounty is even greater than was expected! Father’s new partner was able to sell the bulk of it for a good profit in one day, saving the best threads and fabrics for Father’s shop. Father is most pleased with this alliance, and it has filled his coffers well! Father plans on opening a second shop in Pisa, which will be stocked with goods from this partnership and will make him even richer. Father’s pleasure in this alliance was so great that he invited his partner to attend a hunt and feast in famiglia afterward.

His name is Romeo Abbandonato (with a name like that he must be a foundling? No?). He is not as old as Father, but not young –whatever his age he is still fit and agile. He and Father made out into the forest early in the morning, just before the dawn. Beatrisia and I awoke to see them off; it has been so long since Father hunted boar! In the chilly darkness Silvestri, holding a torch, marshaled the dogs. They strained and yelped in the courtyard while the men arranged themselves on their mounts, so eager to set out and find their prey! Father and Signore Abbandonato rode out ahead of the dogs neat and groomed. They returned at nightfall exhausted and bloodied with a large boar shot through the throat carried on pole. Father told us that Signore Abbandonato was responsible for the kill, his spear being the first to find its mark. Signore Abbandonato was positively radiant with pride for his quarry.

We dined on the boar the next night, (it was the first time Father ate with all of us children since Mother’s death.) Cook made us proud; the wild boar was seasoned with fine herbs and garlic and roasted until the skin was crisp. It was brought into the great hall with ceremony –a pomegranate in its mouth and presented to the hunter to carve the first slice of crispy skin and luscious fat. This slice was shared with all around the table on good bread as the antipasto while the beast returned to the kitchen for disassembling. Father opened a new wine cask, and he and Signore Abbandonato drank mightily. (My wine was watered down, of course). Signore Abbandonato is an interesting man. He regaled Beatrisia and me with his stories of foreign lands and Venetian deals! He makes it all seem so exciting–quite unlike Father when he discusses his business dealings.

Before I close, I must tell you that you are often in my thoughts, I especially worry for your state of mind. You were so queer before you left. I know Mother’s passing left you, as it did all of us, feel as a lost boat in a wild sea — lacking direction or safe harbor. After the initial shock, you rose gracefully to the challenge of maintaining the household and the keys to the manor for Father. But you were not yourself, Caterina. I venture to say the change of disposition had as much to do with the departure of a certain Lord of Verona as it did our Mother’s passing? I reckon that there was more to your relationship with della Scala than just walks to the Bagno del Corso (even with Silvestri shadowing your every move!). You were unaccountably tight-lipped about it all, and I certainly did not press you — it was not the time. Do recount the tale to your sister, if there is something to share!

My darling sister, thus I come to the end of the parchment and so must conclude this letter. Please write to me and tell me how you are. I worry about the effect this letter will have upon you.

That Mercury’s winged feet might carry these words in haste!
Villa Interminelli, Lucca


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