two falcons with gold rings

11. Though parted, you are always in my thoughts — Caterina

April, 1286

Cara Maria Grazia, I miss you, dear friend. You are always in my thoughts. Especially at first light when, although I need not arise for Prime, my body still rouses at the sacred hour and, lying in my warm bed, I envision you stirring in our shared cell. In my mind’s eye I see you rise to find your shoes, wrapping your shoulders against the chill with your woolen shawl as you look for your robe and don it. The morning air stings your face as you exit our chamber and shuffle down the stone passage, rubbing the sleep from your eyes. You join the suore in the chapel, each of you gazing down at your breviary, silent and holy. I am ashamed to say that although I wake at the appointed hour and I envision you all in your sacred service, I myself do not rise from my warm bed to bend the knee at that hour. Instead I roll over and return to glorious slumber within my down comforter! I am scandalous, I know! But there you have it. I do not lie, although I do lie abed! Ha! I have made a clever joke. Are you laughing? (Just a little?)


Enough of my bragging. I write not to taunt you with the pleasures of the world outside the Abbey, but to recount all that has transpired since my last letter. I arrived back home to Lucca more than a fortnight ago after a voyage that took twice as long as was promised by the carriage driver. I shan’t recount the horrors of the road in detail, but share with you only that I had to sleep with a fellow traveller for two nights in Boretto. Our carriage lost a wheel in a ditch, and a new one had to be fashioned. Oh, the horror of sleeping in a bed with a complete stranger! She was a nice enough woman, en route to Genoa to live with her sister, but she snored, was large and took all the bed! (It made me miss you all the more, as you do not snore, although you do take all the coverlets if I am not vigilant. But enough of my travails. It is done.


I am in Lucca with my family. My mother is quite close to her time. My new baby sister Diana is not yet a year, and Mother is already due to bear another! My Lady mother looks very old to me now, Maria Grazia. I do not know if she has always been thus, or if she has aged with these two pregnancies so closely met. Her eyes seem clouded and puffy. I am sure this is why my father sent for me. I believe he is concerned for her state, although he has not disclosed as much to me. The babe is due within a fortnight, but I know not when I will be made to return to the Abbey. In an odd way I miss our prison of God. (Although I really only miss you, and the Soura Aede.) I certainly don’t miss the food (or lack thereof) nor do I miss the constant prayers and silence. I absolutely don’t miss wearing a wimple! I revel in the feeling of my hair loose upon my shoulders. My sisters braid it for me daily in such frivolous fashions! I wish you could see the product of their cunning fingers!


My home is filled with children and it is loud! Oh, I love the noise! It is such a contrast to the imposed silence of the Abbey, but my dear mother is quite sensitive to the clamor now that her hour approaches. I take my sisters on walks along the walls of Lucca to tire them, in hopes that they will be more obedient at home. But we are disobedient children! I don’t know what ill humour we have received from our Lord father and Lady mother, but we are all strong-willed and loud.


My father seems very distracted at present. He is not as tender toward my mother as he was in the past. Something is not right. His actions have a bad smell about them, like cheese that has been in the cellar overlong. Like a determined mouse I’ll nose it out. (Although it makes me feel queer to think of it.)


One last morsel before I close! We are to be host to the young Prince della Scala! He is traveling to Lucca to take of the medicinal waters that flow underground in the area. He suffers from ill humours and our waters will aid him in regaining his fortitude, as they have done for so many in the past. Father is so proud to be host to one so well born, but Mother, who is about to begin her lying in, is beside herself. I can understand, as the timing is not good on her account.


My parents have advised me that I must play hostess to the Lord – taking him about our city to see the sights and assuring he makes his visits to receive the waters at the thermal springs Bagno a Corsena. My father’s man Silvestri will accompany us while we are together, of course. I don’t know what to imagine I will have to say to a Lord of Verona! Know you Bartolomeo della Scala? I worry that he is sickly and his eyes leak. Oh, what a bore! This is my penance for not awaking and performing my sacred duties during the offices of prayer!


I pray that this letter finds you well, my dearest friend. Keep warm, and write me.


Though parted, you are always in my thoughts,


Interminelli, Lucca


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