20 November 1286
My most loving sister, Caterina,
Forgive me for dispensing with the usual courtesies, dear sister.
Father has remarried.
Our lives are so changed here in Lucca since your departure. I do not believe you will recognize it when you return (and I pray each day that you are permitted to return!)
How I miss you!
Ever since Father’s announcement our lives in Villa Interminelli have been engaged in naught but the nuptial preparations. Not a day has risen and set that there has been anything but readying for the event! Gowns sewn, guest lists prepared, menus created, musicians hired, new seating purchased, candles ordered! It goes on and on, dear sister.
The marriage between our Father and the Strega who bedeviled him took place on the Feast of Santa Verena. She wore a gown made of the finest silk embellished with pearls and silver embroidery. The extravagance of her gown was vulgar and made clear that she will not be a typical second wife, resigned to hand- me downs and a quiet spot in the corner.
The Strega’s father accompanied her on her procession to the Basilica of San Frediano. A clerk, he too found himself in a role so beyond his station, that his chest appeared inflated as they walked — like a pigeon preening for a mate. Father demanded that I walk behind them both, carrying the Strega’s train. My cheeks felt hot with shame as I followed her through the streets holding her gown like a servant ensuring that it remain white and clean for the ceremony. (As to the immaculacy of the bride herself? I shan’t venture to guess. )
As we entered the church, I could see Father at the altar awaiting his bride. He cut an elegant figure in fine new hose, one leg azure, and the other gold with a fitted doublet of azure velvet and thread of gold embroidery in the manner of tree branches and leaves (all my handiwork). He looked so happy that, for a moment, I forgot that I hated him. But quickly my sense returned to me, and I desired that God himself should strike down the Basilica rather than allow this travesty to unfold!
Instead, the Basilica seemed to stand taller. The columns alongside the nave reaching toward heaven, each enwrapped with garlands of flowers and herbs. The fragrance of the garlands suffused the air as the merchants and lords of Lucca gathered, waiting for the bride and escort.
The finery of all those present, standing shoulder to shoulder, is a testament to father’s status in Lucca and in the Trades Guild. For, although there were many whispers of it being unseemly to have such an ostentatious wedding during the formal mourning period, all came to witness and then celebrate. It left a bitter taste in my mouth to see so many, who professed to have loved our departed Mama, so easily turned to accept this imposter.
Signore Abbandonato observed the nuptials from a place of honor in the front row quite near the altar. He wore the ceremonial regalia of battle and was a striking site in the apse. Over his doublet, he wore a mantle of white emblazoned with the red cross of the Templars and by his side a long sword in the style of a “Condottiere.” I heard some sniggering amongst Father’s Guild cronies that it was inappropriate for him to bedeck himself thus, others whispered that his sword was made of flimsy tin, and only for show (although it looks real enough to me!)
Beatrisia preceded the bride, strewing flower petals upon the ground so that the bride’s slippers would not touch the ground. Our little sister was a vision — made to look like a flower herself with beautiful pink rosettes made of fabric sewn to her skirt. In her blond braided hair, the same rosettes were woven. The appearance was that of a wood nymph in a woodland splendor. She was caught up in the beauty of the ceremony and of course in the splendor of her dress.
The mass was thankfully brief. The bride and groomed exchanged a kiss to mark its conclusion. They then turned to the crowd (the bride gave a wink to her Father, I swear it!) and almost ran down the nave to the church doors!
Then Father and the Strega made their way through the city streets to our home, followed by the wedding party. They passed people who shouted wishes of good luck and fortune as well as bawdy instructions to the bride regarding the wedding night!
At our villa I have never seen the great hall so aglow with such finery. There were flowers, herbs, and branches everywhere, garlands affixed to the walls and doorways. A profusion of torches and candles kept the room lit well into the night. The feast was sumptuous, with platters of pollo limonia, various fritelle, and torte some stuffed with meat and others stuffed with fruit and spices. The food and the service were a tribute the well-run household our Mama established. No one but I seemed to notice.
Musicians played throughout the day and night. There was dancing once the feasting finished!
Our Lord Father took a turn dancing with his new bride. They danced “the Moresco” – can you believe as much? The Strega, her cheeks flushed with wine and dancing looked so young; she really is of an age with you, Caterina. It is jarring to see her with Father, leaning to him to whisper in his ear. He touching her face tenderly as I have seen him touch our Mother many times. How can the heart be moved from loving one to loving another so easily Caterina? Are we all so readily replaced?
As the night progressed the men in the room, mischevious from drink, began to taunt to wedding couple with lewd jeers and calls to action. They approached the high table singing a song about the wedding night, the lyrics which were so coarse I felt my cheeks grow warm with discomfort. But the bride? She laughed heartily and was affronted not at all! She looked at her new lord with a come-hither glance and raised eyebrow. Rather than be carried by the boisterous crowd, she galloped into the wedding chamber on her own! I spied through the open door that the floor and the bed, like the church aisle were strewn with flower petals (this was Beatrisia’s cunning, the traitor!) Father held steady at the entrance to the nuptial camera, not allowing the ribald guests entry. The drunken men clamored to strip the bride as is customary. Father instead closed the door, the lock sounding in its chamber securely.
Some of the men remained at the transept singing lascivious songs. Signore Abbandonato, who had stayed clear of all the dancing and jeering, was quick to depart. He had been ignored by nearly everyone, save myself and a few other guests. I believe he noticed that, too, for he made a point of thanking me for my kindness as he left. I ask you, Caterina, what is a gentleman? A drunkard who wears the proper suit as he brays at a chamber door? Or a man, ill-suited to his station, who pays a gentle tribute to his hostess?
In our home, a new order is now in place. Laura is the Lady of the house; she wears the keys and Beatrisia is her pet. The Strega dresses Beatrisia extravagantly, and B loves it! It pains me to see our younger sister so easily turned from our blessed Mama to this witch. Little Diana, who is still with her milk nurse, will have no memory of Mama. How is it that a woman who is the center of a home can be so easily substituted? Like a broken wheel on a cart?
The Strega keeps me at a distance, and that is well with me. I spend my time in church and reading in my chamber. I am grateful for the quiet it affords me.
There is more, dear sister. I believe that the Strega is with child. I have recently heard her retching into her chamber pot upon waking. She also appears to be very sensitive to smells, carrying with her a cloth containing lemon peel, rosemary, and clove.
I shall keep a well-trained eye upon her belly, and if my theory proves correct, I will report to you. I shan’t think about what will follow if I am right.
Thus I must end this correspondence—for I am desirous for you to know all that I have to share!
My love accompanies this parchment to you!