reached the High Sila, the primitive heights of the toe of
Italy. The landscape seemed like a world of fantasy:
startling cliffs, wastes of rock sprinkled with broom,
forest where the wind hissed irritably in tree-tops too
high to be seen clearly. Far down to the west, the brown
ribbon of the Via Popilia appeared once through a sudden
gap in the mountains and then vanished for good.
felt weightless, a little giddy, walking a mule-track
through the cool green wasteland. She turned often to look
at Wolf, the one warm certainty in her life.
think we’re safe," she said, "though it
can’t be for long. God and the devil come to closer
quarters in the South than elsewhere. I have to admit I
not miss him," Wolf said with settled conviction.
through an alpine valley that looked almost untouched,
Adriana imagined that she had entered an unfamiliar room
in the house of her life, ushered through the open door by
a fragrant breeze. She was eager to go in, to see the
world fresh and clean again, like a tablet of wax from
which the troubled messages of the past days and months
had been smoothed away. She breathed gratefully the cool
air of the mountains, content to be safe from Faustinus
and the world at large, if only for the time being.
Stephanus’s gift-sack she prepared a midday meal in the
shade of a chestnut, with a frigid brook flowing by.
Raising her hands, she said a brief benediction. She
sniffed the brigands’ cooked mutton, conscious of the
need to eat it before it began to turn, and tasted the
chief’s wine critically.
the South," she said, raising the skin and winking at
Wolf, "whose wines steal every head, whose women
steal every heart, and whose men steal everything."
beverage was black and resinous, tasting of the leather.
At the bottom of the sack, wrapped in leaves, were onions
boiled in goat’s milk. She passed one to Wolf and ate
one herself, and parceled out a slab of dark bread with
wheat gleaming in it like gold.
over and touched the gash in Wolf’s left leg; his other
wounds were healing as quickly as if he had passed through
the shadow of a saint.
your injuries bother you?"
he said ruefully, examining his big hands as if they had
personalities of their own, "the cuts are nothing,
they are already better. But I hurt here." He struck
his chest. "I am no better than an evil dog who bites
for pleasure. Yesterday I killed because it is in my
nature to kill. I am a true son of my father."
Adriana said, gently mimicking him. "Does the hunter
weep over the fox? Does the fox weep over the
hunter kills so he may eat. So does the fox. Even the
Vicar’s men fought innocently, because they did not know
their cause was corrupt. But I struck them down because
the love of striking is in my blood, and I am
if a man joins himself to an evil cause, whose fault is it
that the cause drags him down?" Adriana said,
struggling with her own misgivings.
of the battle came to her, like hallucinations: the cries
of dismembered men against the crackling of the inn in
flames; a bright pass of the axe Scatter-brain, sending a
corner of a German mercenary’s head into flight with the
blond hair attached; Wolf singing a battle song at the top
of his clear baritone, a strange and terrible sound, like
the hum of a monstrous bee. But the sounds and sights
belonged to another world.
we burned the inn," she said, "I threw myself
into the fight because I expected to die, and a part of me
was ready to do that, because I was tired of running from
Faustinus and losing my life gradually. I thought you’d
be killed too, and that made me ready to die all the
now I’m glad to live," she said.
around, marveling at the clarity of the mountain air and
the greenness of the rocky landscape, high enough to
attract rain even under the Dog Star. The spring-fed
runlet at her feet glistened like antique glass in its
frame of scrub-willow. The meal had scarcely filled her.
she said, stroking Wolf’s forehead. "All men must
take a nap after lunch."
him doze. When he slept, she kissed him on the lips and
stroked his hair. Then she herself dozed, with her head on
his bare chest, lulled by the rhythm of his breathing.
Frogs croaked in a downstream marsh; crickets sang
contentedly in the weeds. Rolling over, she lay with her
back against Wolf, her head on the broad tableland of his
shoulder. She listened to the mountain wind complaining in
tall grass, and traced with her eye the black
mountain-crests to the south, quivering in the sun as if
they were beginning to grow.
and stretched like a lion.
you think we should spend our lives here?" she
drowsed. "Maybe the shepherds will bring us our
we must keep moving," he said, getting up and hauling
her to her feet. The authority of his manner pleased her.
at the spring, washed each other with handfuls of cold
water, and struck out half-clothed on the mule-track again
without waiting for the sun to dry them. They were
entirely at peace, body and mind. Adriana gloried in the
details of the immaculate day. Nothing in her lowland life
had prepared her for the perfection of the air and the
clarity of the sunlight. Enchanted, she was indifferent to
where she would spend the coming night, what she would
eat, how she would make a fire.
In a high
valley in the late afternoon, she was surprised to find
people, and a delicious and familiar aroma. A troop of
singing peasants near the road were making mountain hay,
full of clover, cistus, and thyme. From a distant mountain
came the plaintive notes of a shepherd’s pipe, a
haunting melody, older than Theocritus.
lay at the center of the small green valley-world, a
cluster of red roofs circled by an ancient wall that had
crumbled with the passing of the Greeks. Adriana stopped a
boy leading an ox down the road.
the shortest way to the church?" she asked,
scratching the ox around the horns.
pointed back toward the end of the village's main street,
a little rustic sanctuary that Adriana had overlooked,
sleeping in a circle of chestnut trees.
ahead, right behind those trees, Your Piety."
bowed; Adriana bowed back.
like this place," she said to Wolf as they walked
toward the village. "When was the last time you
witnessed courtesy for its own sake?"
On the main
street, women wove straw baskets as they went about their
business, and little nude children played in the
thoroughfare, where the only wheeled traffic was an
occasional creaking oxcart. Dark-eyed children shouted Ave!
at the strangers from the dirt in front of their doorways.
An old man, drinking black wine on his doorstep, nodded
graciously to Adriana as she passed. There was no
pervasive smell of despair, no rumble of gathering storms.
The people seemed made of muscle and virtue.
country is this?" Adriana asked, shaking her head.
"I have the feeling that something good will happen
to us here. Is that a sign of approaching disaster?"
sat on a knoll at the southmost curve of the village wall.
It had a brownstone façade and a red-tile roof crusted
with lichens. Bees hummed among the roses framing the
entrance. A little girl sat on the church steps, stringing
berries and singing softly to herself.
took Wolf’s hand, crossed the quadrangle, and stepped
into the sanctuary, lifting the door-curtain that shifted
in the breeze. She knelt on the dusty church-floor in the
cool silence; Wolf knelt beside her. A little round priest
in a white tunic was on his knees at the altar. A huge dog
sat at his elbow, gazing on his master’s face with an
attitude of perfect reverence. The altar lamp seemed to
beckon to Adriana, swinging slowly to and fro. She
advanced toward it, went to her knees again, and bowed her
head down to the stones. Covering her face with her hands,
she prayed with all the force of her spirit, giving thanks
for her safe arrival in the high forest.
himself energetically, the holy man got up from his knees
and approached his visitors with crisp little steps. He
beamed at them, a little near-sighted, and spoke
graciously. The voice had a slight rasp; in a less holy
man it might have suggested devotion to the wineskin.
do you wish, children? Do you need to make
we do, Father," Adriana answered, rising to kiss the
little man’s ring, "but my reason for interrupting
Your Piety’s devotions is to ask whether my husband and
I may impose on your hospitality for a night. This signet
of Bishop Leo’s is my authorization to ask. I have a
letter of introduction as well."
produced the jasper ring.
course," the priest nodded, raising his white
eyebrows at the massive stone.
man is my husband in the eyes of God," Adriana said,
gesturing at Wolf, anticipating the question.
Father Oppius. I have two rooms for guests," the
priest said. "They’re yours to use as you please.
Are you hungry?"
it seems," Adriana said ruefully, and Wolf nodded.
your faces are pinched, my dears," Father Oppius
said, squinting at them with sympathy. The dog sniffed at
each of them in turn, wagged his huge tail, and gave a
booming bark of satisfaction.
see," the priest said, "Spino has both a mind
and a nose, by which he can tell the children of God from
the children of the devil. He’s eloquent also; he can
deliver whole sermons with his tail. Come to my
steps Father Oppius led his visitors to a stone house
tucked up against the church. The entrance was off the
garden, past a fountain, some broken sculpture, and a
sundial. Chickens scratched in the company of a stately,
gruff-voiced, very respectable pig, rooting under a walnut
in Curia, as you see," the priest said, with a full
sweep of his right arm, "we’re at peace with God
and the earth." His gesture took in a rustic version
of a heaven where manure and flies might not be out of
you know why we’re happy and safe here? It’s because
we have nothing worth stealing. In the old days, when our
great-grandfathers were rich, the brigands and the emperor
took gold by force, and the bishop took gold with the
Book. But now we don’t even have gold plates in our
church, so the world has lost interest in us. If you’re
going to end with nothing, it’s best to live with
nothing, eh? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and the daily
grace of God in between."
As if to
give point to his words, Father Oppius slapped a puff of
rural dust out of the front of his tunic, and sneezed. It
was a mellow sneeze from a nose at peace with itself,
contented as the coo of a pigeon.
In a corner
of the garden stood a long marble bench under a trellis.
At Father Oppius’s invitation Adriana and Wolf sat on
either side of him. The priest closed his eyes and smiled
peacefully into the declining sun.
It’s very hot today. You’ve come to our valley to
learn how to simmer?"
have lowland blood, Father," Adriana said. "The
day has seemed cool to us." She gave as detailed an
account of her circumstances as she thought the priest’s
patience would allow.
grateful to have come to a Christian place," she
Curia’s a bad village," Father Oppius said
affectionately. "I preach and preach, and the rascals
don’t care a rotten fig for what I say. I paint them a
candid picture of Hades, with all its comforts. I
encourage them to think beyond the Black Doors that open
only one way. Pfff! They’re incorrigible. A whip
of scorpions wouldn’t drive them to repentance."
affectionately, thinking of his flock. His face was as
wrinkled as a roasted apple, but his eyes were happy as a
child’s, and he had the quality of eternal youth that
attached itself to the best saints.
enormous dog had been watching with his bloodshot eyes.
His upper lip was hitched on one of his lower fangs,
giving the effect of a crocodilian smile.
animal, do you wish these people well?" the priest
asked, rubbing the monster’s head. "If you’re
good, you may go hunting with me on the day of Januarius."
tail thumped the floor like a padded log.
truly a Christian," Father Oppius mused. "He has
a soul of honey. Woe, however, to the man who trifles with
him. He killed a grown wolf when he was hardly more than a
boy. Do you think a wise man would put his sweet nature to
the test, my dears?"
were the wise man, I’d make confession first,"
Oppius raised his white eyebrows, made a droll expression,
and chuckled with explosive little rushes of air between
clenched teeth. His florid face, unusual in the South,
bobbed up and down, side to side, as his conversation
galloped forward at the speed of thought. In time his
housekeeper, a pleasant lump of a woman, appeared with an
honest smile on her flat face, and bowed.
invited to supper," the priest said, rising and
motioning to his guests to follow him.
had stone walls and pine ceilings blackened by smoke.
Roasting-spits leaned against the hearth; rows of
wine-jars stood on a ledge near the low door. Cheeses were
arrayed on a wooden shelf by the table. Father Oppius
apparently owned no slaves; he himself conducted his
guests to their simple couches. The smiling housekeeper
produced bread, figs, and cheese. They disappeared at
once. Like starved children, Adriana and Wolf devoured a
plate of steaming pork and string-beans, and washed
everything down with red wine. For a while there was no
conversation, only the sound of jaws at work.
must drink, too, my dears," the priest said, filling
their goblets often. "Wine’s good for you. I
don’t mix much water with it. It’s already Christian.
Why should it be baptized?"
it out carefully, a deep red drink with a spicy bouquet.
Adriana lifted her goblet and examined the liquid
appreciatively in the lamplight, and sniffed it to show
what a treat it was.
we’re an evangelized valley," the priest said,
smacking his lips and patting his fringe of white hair,
"but in truth much of what we enjoy here is what our
sinful ancestors enjoyed, right down to the boar in front
of you. These hills are full of wild pigs, even in a bad
season like the present one. In two days, if you’re
willing, you can test the truth of that for yourselves.
It’s the feast day of Blessed Januarius. We celebrate it
in our own way, with a hunt and a feast, rather than by
putting on long faces and pounding our chests and going to
bed hungry like foolish monks."
been making huge wolfish leaps in the air to catch pieces
of bread that Father Oppius threw. When he was full, he
began snuffling under the furniture.
child," the priest murmured, "he’s looking for
my housekeeper’s yellow cat. The cat has been dead for
place brings back the past," Adriana mused. "I
had a dog like yours once. We used to chase quail through
the grass together at our farm, and we made friends with
all the wine-carters on the road. Once we rode a cart
right up to the gates of Rome, Maccus and I, sitting side
by side on the seat while the driver slept. My mother was
mothers, it’s their calling to be frantic," the
priest beamed. "Are you full? Perhaps you’d care to
walk in the garden?"
wandered outdoors. The sun had dipped behind the pines on
the hillcrests. Warm orange light poured through the
foliage of Father Oppius’s walnut tree.
always a sweet scent in this place," the priest said,
inhaling it. "Clematis, dog-roses, new-mown hay,
crushed grapes, according to the season. And dear Basilia
keeps everything clean and treats me as if I were a child
or a fool, which pleases me."
A ribbon of
bird-song went up somewhere in the dog-rose hedge.
still the nightingale," the priest said. "But
not the same song as in the spring. He’s teaching his
youngsters how to sing next year. God grant that we’ll
be alive next year to hear the song. Your eyes are tired,
my dears. I think I’ve kept you up. But first, a bedtime
kitchen again, Adriana and Wolf heard a clicking of
amphorae and a rustling of straw in the priest’s
winecellar. Soon the holy man reappeared, red-faced,
carrying a dusty jar with great care.
God, I’ve fallen heir to a magnificent cellar," he
beamed, pouring out a mellow old wine in fresh goblets.
"Now you’ll sleep soundly, children, and have only
He made the
sign of the cross on their foreheads after they had drunk
the bedtime potion. "Basilia will show you to your
door, Adriana kissed him good-night and followed Basilia a
few doors further. Her own guest-room was immaculate, the
bedding pleasantly touched with lavender. The housekeeper
had put a fragrant pot of balsam in the window and kindled
a pine-knot fire in the brazier. Basilia brought a
battered mirror, a pitcher of water, toilet implements,
and a dish.
examined her reflection with a deploring eye. Her hair
fell in dark chaos over her neck and shoulders. She raked
it with her fingers, then with a comb, and coiled it into
a loose knot at the back of her head. Her tunic was frayed
at the seams, spattered with green mud. She threw it off
and washed herself thoroughly, and lay down naked in the
clean bed. Sweet mountain air drifted through the open
window, caressing her skin. She put out her lamp and lay
awake for a moment, questioning whether she should go to
Wolf on tiptoe, but she slept before the answer came.
to Father Oppius, the hills southeast of the village of
Curia contained the perfect retreat, a deserted
hunting-villa where two young fugitives might hide
indefinitely from all manner of injustice. The house had
been inhabited only once during the last fifty years, by
the oddest man the people of Curia had ever seen.
breakfast of boiled eggs, Father Oppius chatted happily
about the history of the place: how the owners, weary of
the mountains and in reduced circumstances, had gathered
up their belongings and lumbered down to Vibo in seven
wagons; how an emaciated Egyptian monk had taken up
residence in the deserted villa many years later, and had
performed healings among the peasants, preached deep
sermons to the squirrels and jays, and exorcised a
demon-possessed swine in the ruined banquet-hall.
would take Lucifer himself to trace you there,"
Father Oppius said, with a conspiratorial twinkle.
He was in
high spirits, ready to lead his guests into the hills.
Draping a napkin over his bald head as a sunshield, he
whistled up Spino, who knocked over a stool in his
eagerness to go. The day was brilliantly clear, with
endless blue-and-gold distances. The air had almost a
cutting freshness, as if it had blown over lingering
patches of snow on the mountains rising to the east. For
the first time since leaving Nomentum, Adriana heard a
peasant boy singing in the fields as he took his cattle to
pasture, a simple melody that she remembered from her days
on the farm. Spontaneously she joined in the boy’s song
as she toiled uphill. Soon Wolf was singing too, in his
honest baritone, as much of the tune as he could gather.
village and the hillside fields, the path wound through
chestnut thickets and dissolved into an evergreen upland.
rocky to be farmed, my dears," the priest said,
whacking a boulder with his staff. "These mountains
are left to the bears and the strawberries, and all the
little rivers boil with trout. Up here it’s so quiet at
night you can hear the cattle lowing in the valley, and
the snow touching the ground in winter."
He led his
guests up a shallow ridge of granite with a superb view of
the valley. An enchanted corner of the world presented
itself. Tumbling down the mountain, a south-flowing creek
widened into a pond, dammed by an earthquake that had
dropped fragments of an overhanging cliff into the
creek-bed. The deserted villa stood next to the pond in
undisturbed long grass, shadowed by old pines. It was
ruined, like a bird’s nest shaken down in a storm, and
Adriana loved it immediately.
shutters were off their hinges. A pointless balcony
overhanging the entrance suggested a woman whose headdress
had come down over her nose. The front door lay flat in
Oppius made an inclusive gesture with his arm. "As
you see, it’s long deserted—a blessing, because the
flea has gone elsewhere for his daily bread."
interior was littered with dead leaves and plaster. There
were eroded frescoes on the walls, and gleams of marble
from corners where the weather had not penetrated. The
invaders went from room to room in polite silence,
inspecting water-streaked frescoes, shattered
window-casings, cobwebbed ceilings with sparrows’ nests
tucked into the corners. A rusty brazier stood in the
dining room, next to a marble table-top broken neatly in
half. In the kitchen, strings of mummified onions hung
from the rafters.
tenant had left a message in charcoal on a wall next to
the hearth, in a precise monkish hand:
servant of God, to persons in and out of the Faith:
Treat this place tenderly. Do not profane it with
chicken bones and other trash. Do not dig up the floor
or abuse the walls in search of the devil’s gold.
lend you a pot and a pair of spoons," the priest said
consolingly, "and Basilia will let you borrow a
broom. Oh, it’s sad now—no fire in the braziers, no
wine in the cellar, birds spotting the mosaics, rabbits
breeding in the hearth. It’s sad, isn’t it, Spino?"
to the dog, who yawned cavernously and pounded the floor
with his tail.
it’s a fortress," Adriana said, tapping the kitchen
door, solid oak.
She led the
party into the garden. It was a wilderness of weeds. A
pretentious two-story portico surrounded and rather
overwhelmed the open space. Poppies waved above the uncut
grass, where marble Cupids and Fauns lay without their
arrows and pipes. Water-weeds had taken over the
rested on a marble bench, by a fountain that spouted
spring water from a Triton’s horn.
as midwinter," he beamed, "and excellent as to
taste. Of course, there are those of us who prefer a
little mouthful of the grape."
he drew a wineskin out of the folds of his tunic. The
three sat side by side on the bench and sipped black wine,
and scattered their conversation on the cool breeze that
drifted down from the mountaintops.
were haunted, Father Oppius explained; no sober citizen
could doubt it. Moans could be heard nightly, with curses
in the old Bruttian tongue. Still, if not entirely free of
supernatural pests, the place was remarkably free of
natural ones. Rodents were few. Mosquitoes thought more
highly of the valley. Bats favored the caves downriver.
considered, by the way, an ill-tempered stream,"
Father Oppius cautioned. "Our local people won’t go
near it at night for fear of water-sprites."
it had the advantage of leading up to the rich hunting
grounds of the remote Sila, where huge platters of game
could be shot in any season of the year. Even in winter,
when the primitive roads were buried and the barren cliffs
white-faced, there was worthwhile game on the heights.
Oppius had arrived at his favorite subject, hunting.
Curia," he said, "we often celebrate the
Lord’s Day with a hunt. First we say Mass. Then we go to
the chase, for love of God and the saints. My dears, it
would be irreligious of you to forget that tomorrow is the
feast day of Blessed Januarius, one of the Seven Holy
Brothers, martyred sons of Felicitas. Our little church
preserves a pellet from the leaded whip by which Januarius
died. On his day, wild pigs never fail to wait for us in
the hills east of here. Everyone who is anyone will be
there, as they say at Rome, eh? The women often knit and
pleasingly at Adriana.
in my life have I knitted at a hunt," Adriana said.
"I’ll hunt with the rest of you, and you won’t be
ashamed of me."
ah," the priest said, and rose to go.
with an afterthought. "One thing more. Don’t miss
the sunsets from Old Baldy above the rapids, where Blessed
Probus used to sit and await the Coming of the Lord.
You’ll come down with the glow of Sinai on your faces,
and you’ll say, ‘Christ be thanked for the residue of
Eden’s glory that’s been left to us, a reminder of how
far we’ve fallen, and how high we’ll rise
farewell and smiled approvingly at the couple.
"You’re well suited to one another. The notary who
recorded your union must’ve had a twinkle in his
Father," Adriana said, with an uneasy stirring next
to her heart, "the union hasn’t been notarized.
It’s a privately contracted marriage. Nor has it been
The priest beamed roundly. "You’re One Flesh
according to the will of God?"
notarization is the State’s business," Father
Oppius said. "The blessing is mine, I think. I favor
brevity in these matters. May the Lord who unites you in
one flesh keep you true to each other, make you fruitful
in offspring, let your old age be the joy you hope for,
and bring you at last into his heavenly kingdom."
He traced a
large cross in the air, kissed the fingers of his right
hand, and waved them at Adriana. Wolf said a fervent Amen.
Spino wagged his tail.
is at two hours past sunrise. Bring such weapons as you
have, and a clear head."
to let the morning go, Adriana and Wolf followed Father
Oppius to the edge of the forest, and watched the two old
figures, priest and dog, disappear into the valley.
inspected the house again. The kitchen was the obvious
place to stay. It was dry and decently preserved, and its
roof seemed tight.
must have been a Last Day," Adriana mused.
In her mind
she reconstructed the death of the little hunting-villa
fifty years earlier: the front door closing for the last
time; the impoverished lord and lady, he with his chin
set, she in tears, not looking back; the key delivered to
the village priest; the long last journey back to the
family palace in Vibo, down the mountainside in creaking
oxcarts followed by a few old servants on foot.
could do worse," Adriana said. "We could be
serfs at Cousin Gallia’s, living in a windowless hole
coated with pig-dung, and never eating meat unless one of
the pigs got sick and died. Let’s get this place in
I would like to be domestic later. I feel the need to be
in the sun," Wolf said, looking out over the kitchen
garden to the pond, dark under a fringe of willows. The
morning breeze had gone; the clear water mirrored
perfectly the silver-feathery leaves, illuminated in
flashes where the sun struck through high foliage.
to the water’s edge. Wolf skipped a flat stone across
the surface, shattering the mirror. They knelt side by
side and looked at themselves in the water. Next to
Wolf’s blond good looks, Adriana saw nothing of beauty
in herself, only sun-browned skin, dark hair roughened by
the weather, and cheek-bones that seemed to have been
sharpened by the elements.
hideous?" she asked, feeling like a piece of wood
with human features.
the hair at her temples with his fingers. "Yes,
madam, you are very disgusting."
glad. You deserve a disgusting woman," she said,
lightly slapping his cheek.
On the far
side of the water, near the mouth of the creek, a tiny
beach burned brightly in the late sun.
of the barbarous North, I’ll beat you to that
spot," Adriana said, pointing to the beach and
discarding her tunic.
I feel the need to swim," Wolf said. Like a schoolboy
he shucked off his boots and tunic, and threw them in a
heap under a bush. His long body flashed like a sickle in
the sun, and disappeared with a towering splash.
advantage!" she shouted, diving after him. She saw a
blond head and long arms moving on the far side of the
pond. Then Wolf vanished beneath the black-crystal face of
she yelled, laughing, and prepared for an attack from
below. She swam eastward a dozen strokes and stood
shivering on the rocky bottom, waiting for Wolf to
spray and facing away from her, he came up where she had
stood a moment before. She caught her breath, slipped back
into the dark water, and swam below the surface as long as
she could hold her wind. Quietly she emerged on the east
end of the pond. Wolf was peering around for her on the
blind as a mole," she called.
fiercely, he turned and swam toward her with rapid
strokes. She screamed like a child being chased and dived
down again among the cold-mouthed monsters of the deep. A
churning hubbub swept past her a few feet away. She came
up and swam quietly after Wolf, in his noisy wake.
He stood up
knee-deep in water near the beach, cocking his head,
looking for her in the east. She slid up behind him like
an eel, and grabbed him by both ankles. With a startled
yell he snapped his muscular legs together.
down and lifted her high off her feet, kissed her on the
mouth, and wrapped his great arms around her shoulders.
Warmth crowded her chest. She slid her hands down the
long, smooth valley of his spine and kneaded the
apple-curve of his wet buttocks with her fingers.
close, under a rippling coverlet of water.
it be good here?" she whispered, half-serious.
will give birth to a swimmer," he breathed, sliding
her fingers in his wet hair, threw her head back, showed
white teeth to the sun, dug her heels into the sand.
Little waves lapped at her head and shoulders. With a long
shudder from his shoulders to his thighs he poured himself
into her and lay still, cradling her head in his hands,
caressing her forehead and temples with his mouth.
in the sun, and swam together again, in the shadow of a
rock-face draped with creepers. Wolf dived like a porpoise
and brought up beige sand from the bottom. Calm after
love, Adriana imagined that she floated above an
undiscovered world, a place of a thousand astonishments.
She thought she could hear rocks rolling over in their
sleep on the bottom. A sound of underwater cows cropping
lily-pads came from the western margin of the pond, where
the rapids were. She drew closer to Wolf until they
floated shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand.
no one else here," she marveled, and the sound of her
own words startled her. "Do you remember the last
time you were away from all human voices but one?"
amiably and floated a little longer, but in a few minutes
he was on shore, tossing pebbles into the water.
you restless?" she said.
creek. I wish to explore it."
possible for a German to stay in one place for a
finger’s width on the sundial?" she grumbled.
climbed the creekbed. The little torrent rattled down from
the highest heights, clean and fresh as a bowl of
strawberries. Frogs went silent at the intruders’
approach. Families of sunning turtles flopped off their
Adriana was seized with a spirit of exploration and took
the lead; Wolf followed complacently. They traced
forgotten roads that wound through the pine woods, and
paths used only by charcoal-burners and goats. Ignoring
their scratched legs, they pushed higher, where there were
fields of strawberries and caches of fallen nuts. They sat
in the shade of a great pine, and fed each other
strawberries. Two squirrels came to scold. Wolf spotted
pine-cones at them, grinning at the tiny beasts’ rage.
guided them home again, an hour before sunset.
us see the world from the monk’s pillar," Wolf
said, eager as a little boy.
crossed the creek below the pond, where the stream broke
into rapids and tumbled westward into an unseen valley.
Probus the monk had set flat stones at stepwise intervals
across the ford, and had stretched a rope between stout
pines on opposite sides of the creek, to steady himself.
off her sandals and walked Probus’s stones without the
rope. The path up Old Baldy was tortuous. The prattle of
the creek grew faint below her. Wolf reached the bald
crest and pulled Adriana up after him. There was room for
two people to move comfortably, and a little altar of
rock, at which Probus had prayed from sunrise to sunset,
mortifying the flesh, dreaming of the Millenium.
felt that she had passed beyond time and space, that she
watched the creation, like God, from the kindly
perspective of Omnipotence. From her high corner of the
cosmos she looked out over the small world of Curia,
rolling up against violet hills in the distance, where
rows of pine on lonely heights were fading into the dusk.
Westward, other valleys appeared as lakes of sapphire
below the crimson sunset. Away to the east, ridge after
ridge of mountains receded into a smoky haze.
enchantment of the mountains invaded her soul, undermining
her purpose, inviting her to reduce her life to the
essentials she had dreamed of at Rome. She would be like a
hawk or a squirrel, living at a level of creation unknown
to ordinary people. She would eat porridge, and wear
nothing on her agile body but an unbleached tunic, and
climb trees, and swim naked, and run wild over the rough
pastures with the sheep and the goats, especially now that
there were no servants watching.
have time to enjoy children again, to gossip with the
market-women in the village, to play bladder-ball with
Wolf in the ruined garden, to fish in the pond all day
under a straw hat, to play dominoes in the shade, and
dance to the music of a shepherd’s double-flute, and eat
figs in the shade of a pine-grove. On ambitious days, she
would work alongside the peasants in the valley, hoeing a
little, mending hedges, staking young trees. . . .
lost track of time. Three stars twinkled above the scarlet
veil of the western sky. She lay back on her elbows and
watched Wolf against the glow: the whip-like body built
for war, and the beautiful, paradoxical, unspoiled head.
should go down before it’s dark," she said
reluctantly at last.
climbed down the cliffside with care and strolled home,
arm in arm, through pine groves that were still warm from
the day-long sun. In the last light Adriana laid a bed for
the two of them, of pine boughs and green fern, in the
kitchen, where there would be reliable warmth. She stirred
the hearth-fire and blew on it through a hollow reed to
warm the supper Basilia had prepared for her earlier:
steaming-hot chestnut cakes, delicately patterned by the
fresh chestnut-leaves in which they had been baked, with
light wine and honey.
On a flat
boulder by the pond, Adriana and Wolf ate elbow-to-elbow,
watching the summer night draw its shadows over the woods.
In the last daylight they went up the shallow granite
ridge that bordered the pond, and sat looking into the
valley, down the long slope they had climbed in the
morning. One by one the doors of little stone farmhouses
were closing for the night. A reddish glow of lamps
appeared at the windows.
the two silent watchers on the hill, an immense space
spread itself between earth and sky, filled with dusky
starlight and a fragrance of balsam and pine-smoke. Soon
the world was silent, all but the forest, breathing
peacefully like a giant asleep.
I’d like to have my childhood to look forward to
again," Adriana murmured, "instead of a life
gliding through the court like a jewel-box on legs,
smiling until the corners of my mouth are paralyzed.
Sometimes I wish I’d never grown up. Do you ever feel
that way? You’re an excellent adult, but so serious I
sometimes wonder if you were ever a child."
feel Wolf’s smile rather than see it.
are nights," he said softly, "when I would give
twelve months of the king’s wages to stand in my
mother’s kitchen and hear her say ‘Darling beggar!’
again. She would always hand me something with honey on
it, and shake her finger at me, and say, ‘A king’s son
may ask, but he does not beg.’"
caught, in sentiment or embarrassment.
us be children again, Adriana," he said after a
A full moon
rode over their heads, throwing soft shadows behind them
on the forest floor. Across the valley, mist crept like
smoke along the wooded slopes and gathered in the higher
glens. Small noises asserted themselves: the snap of a
twig, the hum of a beetle’s wings, the distant drumming
of falling water. The night air was crisp on the heights.
Wolf’s hand and walked back to the house. He barred the
kitchen doors to keep out large beasts, but left the
shutters wide. The supper fire had died to a red glow. In
the consoling warmth of the hearth, they crept between the
cloaks they had used to make their fragrant bed. She
pressed close to him, resting her head against the dry
warmth of his chest.
the villa garden, crickets chirped in the box-bushes and
the deep grass. All else was still but the murmur of the
creek. Wolf slept. Adriana lay watching the sky, where
Scorpio confronted Libra, and Hercules prepared to play
the Lyre. She went to sleep trying to name the white star
that kept watch over her, winking at her through the calm
radiance of the moon.