roosters of Curia crowed in a fittingly solemn way on the
morning of the Feast of Januarius. Adriana had been wide
awake before dawn. Wolf still slept, floating on an ocean
of peace, his knees up front like a child’s, his big
hands cradling the chunk of wood on which his head rested,
as if it were a bolster stuffed with down.
asleep, Adriana went to the pond. A light morning mist
curled up from the water; the air was quiet, waiting for
the sun to warm it. She dived into the placid water and
scrambled out whooping. She dabbed at herself with her
tunic, pulled it over her head, and climbed the shallow
ridge of rock that separated the pond from the valley.
Across the echoing distance, the mountainside above Curia
was touched with a soft rose-light.
day!" she shouted, and heard a tiny echo.
She went to
the house, knelt at Wolf’s side in the twilight of the
kitchen, and kissed him on the lips. He stretched,
examining her with one eye open.
are we today, madam?" he asked sleepily.
the mountains of the Sila, where no one ever goes."
you ready to hunt the Great Pig?" she said.
will spear him from tusk to rump," Wolf said,
bounding off the bed.
downhill in a cloud of herb-scent. The early sun spread
over the slopes ahead of them, coloring the mists and
shadowing the hayfields. White clouds hid the peaks of the
Sila. The air was deliciously not-quite-cool.
sunlight gilded the red roof of the village church. The
yard was littered with weapons and hunting-gear. The
newcomers were late to Mass. Peasants, simply dressed,
their eyes giving a guarded welcome, stood aside to admit
Wolf and Adriana into the twinkling darkness of the little
sanctuary. Mass at Curia was conducted with a kind of
subdued hilarity on the day of Januarius. The cantor sang
nervously off-key. Chickens ran through the nave. In his
excitement one of the acolytes dropped his candle twice.
was, appropriately, about the martyrdom of the Seven Holy
Brothers. Father Oppius delivered his message in his best
ecclesiastical tone, like a bell struck by a soft mallet,
and mixed his meditation with quotations from Virgil and
Scripture. At the words of dismissal, a little boy,
imitating the priest, turned to the crowd and raised his
baby hands in blessing.
church, Adriana smiled cordially at her neighbors. Father
Oppius’s congregation were pleasant-looking, tall and
lean and tough as leather, awkward in the way of country
people. They were often drunk on the fiery local wine, and
occasionally they cracked each other’s heads with their
hoes and nicked one another with dull knives. But
generally they were dignified and cheerful, if not
seemed to be holding their breath, licking their lips in
anticipation of the hunt. They warmed quickly to the
strangers. A woman smiled brightly at Adriana, as if to
say, "Don’t you recognize me?" Another replied
in rhyme to a question, and laughed on purpose to show her
did you come?" a white-haired old man asked
came," Adriana said, "because I was tired of
Rome, and of people who smile the most when they mean it
ah," the old man and his neighbors said, nodding
too late to see Probus the monk," a plump woman said.
"He was something to see, when he came to our town,
talking to himself. He had a strange accent. We think he
came from somewhere in Egypt. No, it must have been
don’t know where he came from," the original
speaker shrugged. "He was young and thin, and strange
to see. We figured he had the Evil Eye."
some kind of Power," someone else spoke up. "We
think he cursed Benedicta on the day he disappeared,
because the next day she miscarried triplets."
peasants were animated in their description of the holy
man: gaunt, lank-haired, yellow-toothed, louse-infested,
diffusing an odor that caused even polecats to flee at his
Oppius, who had vanished after the Mass, reappeared on the
church steps when various mules, donkeys, carts, and
hounds had been brought together for the hunt. The old
people bowed; the young grinned their devotion. The
children had been staring at Wolf, their fingers in their
mouths. A little girl had relaxed enough to climb on his
knees and touch his blond head.
careful of the giant," Father Oppius teased the
child, in such a way that she knew she was included in the
joke. "See, he has the big teeth of the Germans. I
saw him sharpening them with a file this morning, and who
knows what he may decide to eat?"
woman jabbed two fingers toward Wolf’s face and muttered
the word garlic. The onlookers giggled in
beast of a pagan people," the priest laughed,
"they think your blue eyes will make evil."
forefinger he traced the sign of the cross over each of
Wolf’s eyes. The old woman relaxed and twinkled.
you may ogle anyone you wish, my boy," the priest
said, "except Mad Maura, who is apt to take your
Oppius mounted his mule with a remarkably agile leap.
Facing his people, he sat erect, beamed, and made the sign
of the cross.
he shouted, "glorify God in your hunting, and beware
the pig. We want no fresh souls dragged to Hades on the
tusks of Belial."
and tickled the mule’s sides with his heels. The animal
started toward the east gate of the village, shaking his
head and jingling his bells. Two yoked donkeys followed,
pulling a rude cart full of Father Oppius’s hunting
gear. The priest’s round features had a glow of
transcendent bliss. Clearly, he was never so much alive as
on his mule, straight-backed as a boy, leading his
peasants and villagers on a bone-shattering chase over
congregation, a river of dark-brown heads, flowed after
him in single file. Their energy was remarkable, after a
standing Mass and nothing to eat all morning except the
Eucharist and perhaps a radish or a sour apple. The
strongest of the men had armed themselves after worship
with two spears apiece and hunting knives at their waists.
Assigned to kill pigs that tangled themselves in the nets,
they carried themselves with special dignity. A pair of
peasant boys managed Father Oppius’s dog, on two
leashes. There were several large mongrels, killer-hounds
whose blood apparently preserved the instincts of some
have never hunted boar," Wolf admitted with a worried
look, kicking at the tall grass.
one special rule," Adriana said. "When a boar
comes straight at you like a rock out of a ballista, throw
yourself flat on the ground so he can’t get his tusks
into you. If he can, your guts will be strewn from here to
The sun was
high when Father Oppius led his flock onto a stony plateau
surrounded by scrub-forested heights. Now the dogs were
enthusiastic, straining at their leashes and nosing the
ground for scent. The young men swung their arms
impatiently, eager to begin the chase. Some of them
squinted at the ground for fresh tracks, with a mysterious
air that suggested they were skilled beyond ordinary
understanding. Like Wolf, they hunted nude except for
sandals, an occasional ragged cloak knotted around the
neck, and loin-wraps that seemed ready to fly away.
detachment of young peasants had been designated as
beaters. They disappeared into the bush fringing the
plateau, reappeared on high rocks, vanished again,
springing from place to place like cats. The mongrel
hounds rushed up a slope, into a stand of scrub. In a
moment they raised a loud clamor, announcing that the
scent was hot.
near a stagnant watercourse, Adriana and Wolf watched the
construction of an elaborate ambush. Nets and
feather-decorated ropes were stretched out on the stony
borders of the plateau. Peasants with spears and long
knives waited among the boulders.
of a tiny signal-fire rose suddenly in the east. Wolf
clutched Adriana’s shoulder and pointed to a dark
object, then another, clearly defined against the sky. Two
tuskers of the Sila, the largest and worst-tempered boars
west of Armenia, trotted along the edge of the heights. A
murmur of satisfaction passed among the peasants as two
more boars straggled along the ridge.
hounds gave tongue; the clamor of the beaters grew louder.
A long line of howling men swept downhill, their bright
cloaks fluttering against the yellow foliage of the
slopes. The peasants stationed along the watercourse
leaped up, a wall of shouting flesh, waving bright lengths
boar tore down the hillside, closely followed by a pair of
hounds. The pig dived into the stagnant pool, rushed out
of it dripping, and charged into the nets. The line of
attackers broke into a dozen parties, scrambling along the
slopes after three pigs. Two more of the desperate beasts
ran into the nets, driven by the baying of hounds and
peasants, the fluttering of feathered ropes, and a hail of
thrown stones. The most dangerous phase of the hunt had
been reached: a cornered boar might turn and front the
dogs or dash into the crowd, ripping their flesh.
water, the fourth boar, dark silver-gray, trotted out of a
clump of broom unnoticed by the main body of peasants.
There was foam on the jaw of the demon-face, with its
murderous little eyes in a frame of tusks, and the
bristles on the spine were poised like military spears.
took aim at Wolf and Adriana, and charged with a grunt
that rose to an acid whistle of rage. Wolf ripped off his
cloak, flung it in the creature’s path, and bounced a
well-aimed rock off the lowered snout. Adriana stood
paralyzed for an instant, ran, and regained her senses at
the summit of an egg-shaped boulder.
the boar charged again. With an explosion of limbs Wolf
threw himself into a neighboring scrub-oak, bending the
tree like a twig and losing his loin-wrap on one of the
lower branches. The triumphant pig whistled off into the
of the hunt were minor, the usual wrenched limbs and tusk-
and spear-wounds. There were three dead boars. Even in
death, the creatures seemed satanic. Peasant boys
clustered around them, open-mouthed. A youngster took a
hair from his own head and laid it against one of the
corpses’ tusks, to see whether the hair would burn.
Father Oppius said with satisfaction, inspecting the
ruined pigs. "The back of a horse is the hunter’s
throne, the air of the mountains is the breath of
liberty—but the voice of the empty stomach is like the
trumpeting of an elephant. Children, let us go home and
in a splendid, mystic mood. The simple beauty of the
chosen picnic-field stirred her deeply: the clear creek
seemed like a god transformed into a stream; the meadow
was an effigy of Peace; sorrow and evil had been carried
away by the running water, absorbed into the feathery
woods, drawn off over the golden horizon, never to return.
peasants and villagers assembled in the open space: men
congratulating themselves on the hunt; matrons all
shouting at once about their poultry, their pigs, their
husbands and children, their spinning and weaving;
grandmothers carrying rugs and skins of wine; a little
girl with a basket that could have held her; the
priest’s dog carrying a stick; a blind man with a
double-flute; the priest carrying a roll of Scripture and
a pillow; boys and girls of various sizes and shapes.
listened to the gossip around her, very much like the
gossip at Nomentum. The priest’s dog had been washed and
clipped, and had nearly destroyed the three men it took to
do the job. Lucius Livius had had his purse snatched when
he went to Consentia to sell chickens. A tramp had crawled
into Junia’s stable and slept the night there.
Polemia’s chickens were sick with fever. Titus
Ninnius’s cart had lost a wheel on the way to market,
and had thrown his crockery into the ditch. Postumus’s
little donkey had fallen and cut its knees. Vibiana’s
ducklings were in good health, after being frightened half
to death by a wildcat. Decimus’s wife had a cough.
the mind of the peasants of Curia was not brilliant. It
understood wine, oil, and flour. It knew that Rome was
somewhere over the hills, and that Carthage, where the
blond pirates lived, was somewhere over the sea. It
believed in Father Oppius’s blessing on the fields, in
the poisonous nature of bats, and in a witch’s ability
to see the future in a dish of broth. But Curia also
understood honesty and loyalty and restraint; and because
of these qualities, Adriana thought, it was on a higher
plane of existence than Rome.
were dismembered and roasted under the direction of
Basilia, the village’s high priestess of cookery. Fires
were heaped up; sharpened poles were passed through the
pig-parts, and a chunk of pig soon rotated on the pair of
forks enclosing each blaze. The peasants took turns making
the spits go round.
pigs cooked, Father Oppius organized games. He produced a
mattock out of his donkey-cart and had several peasant
boys dig a hole. A greased pole was planted in it,
slippery as an icicle, with a squealing piglet at the top
in a sling. Black-bearded boys gathered at the bottom,
shouting and elbowing each other in the ribs. Baia,
Crispus, Ennius, and Dexter all tried to climb the pole at
once. The onlookers pounded each other and cheered. As
Crispus reached the top, the pole fell over, dropping him
on his head. The piglet escaped into the woods, shrieking.
At a wide
spot in the creek, Father Oppius waved a coin in the air.
children! Here’s a splendid silver nummus, the price of
many drinks in Consentia for every hero who jumps over the
creek without wetting his heels."
There was a
clatter of young men to the spot. They looked at the
stream, and looked at each other, measured the distance
with their eyes, rose on tiptoe to look into the water,
shook their heads, and said to each other, "You jump
A path was
cleared for a burly youngster who backed off twenty paces,
ran to the brink, and stopped.
Shame!" rose from the crowd.
will jump! I will jump!" Baia shouted, and cleared a
path for himself with pushes and blows. He took aim, ran
with a flurry of fists and heels, and soared over the
water, landing on the opposite bank, his arms thrust out
to preserve his balance. The crowd cheered; Father Oppius
flung the silver prize across the water, and Baia snatched
it out of the air with one hand.
young men were encouraged. A tall boy leaped the distance
easily. Dexter cleared the stream and fell on his face. A
little round peasant took off with a flurry of limbs and
fell like a shot bird into the water. The crowd roared and
hissed, but when the boy climbed out, his soused hair
draggling over his ears and face, his tunic clinging to
his legs, the onlookers took pity and called for a drink
of wine—Wine for Primus!—and a half-dozen skins
signaled that the pigs were cooked.
we ready for boar?" Father Oppius queried in a grand
Boar!" the congregation responded, wagging their
earthen goblets in the air.
own goblet, Father Oppius blessed the congregation and the
meal with a great rolling of churchly phrases ending in a
cordial Benedicite. The children crossed themselves
with their tiny fingers, imitating their parents. Basilia
handed the priest a chunk of boar’s meat; he cast it
into the fire as a tribute to the Blessed Januarius. Then
the steaming carcasses were pulled to pieces and
distributed on broad leaves to the outstretched hands of
the people, with sheep’s cream and salt, and
Music!" voices shouted. The blind flutist sounded a
note on his instrument; Spino raised a muted howl, like
the wind blowing in a bottle.
the good boy, he has the gift of song," Father Oppius
melody twined itself about the peasants as they ate, a
mournful air, older than Rome and Greece, old as the green
mountains themselves. Food passed from hand to hand,
carved up with the jagged knives that every peasant
carried next to the body. Adriana swallowed chunks of meat
and washed them down with the hearty wine of the country.
Wolf ate enormously, by way of revenge on the pigs.
sipped the strong, sweet dark wine and the tart red wine,
and soon she felt a spark running through her veins, and
her face tingled as if she had been slapping her cheeks.
The women who clustered around her were eager to know
whether life at Rome had anything in common with life in
the hills. The village cobbler wonderingly inspected her
boots. A little girl shyly asked to see her arms, to
satisfy herself that there was blue blood in her veins.
to drink more wine. She became very talkative. She sat in
a circle of twenty people, and began simultaneous
conversations with them all. She made revelations: that
she had grown up on a farm, and had stroked all the farm
animals with her own hands, and had experienced occasional
impulses to do the same with the serf boys, though they
were dirty and smelly, so she had decided against it. She
went on to say that she had fallen in love with her first
husband one day when she was crawling on a roof adjacent
to the court in which he exercised naked; and that she had
almost fallen in love with the man standing next to him,
who was beautiful as a rose, and solid as a pine-tree, but
had a red spot behind one ear which looked very bad, so
she had decided in favor of her husband after all.
announced that Valentinian had been too simple to govern
Rome, and that Maximus had been too crooked; that
Faustinus was a maniac; that the poet Claudian was
preferable to Ausonius, though Ausonius was more nearly
Christian; that expecting an army of Germans to defend the
empire was insane; that she would like to live in the
woods awhile; that the wine of the country was excellent,
and she would not mind drinking a little more of it.
afternoon grew more musical. A ribbon of cool notes went
up from the blind man’s double-flute, a tune full of
mountain streams and the rustle of beech-leaves in crisp
air. A spindly old man produced a bagpipe and blew it in
competition with the flutist, beginning in wild, warlike
tones and ending with an ignominious splutter and hiss.
Magnus," the priest said sympathetically, "one
must be in good health to play the pipes."
clusters of young men under the beech trees, strange
howling choruses came forth, with a melancholy scream at
the end of each verse. Father Oppius droned a ballad of
his own, in which the cheeks of a dead girl were like the
flush of dawn, and her eyelids like the silken wings of
peasant jumped up and bellowed a song in which he imitated
all the animals of the barnyard, confusing the animals
somewhat, so that he crowed for the mule and whinnied for
the pig. Other peasants offered imitations of their own.
There were choruses of barking, mewing, chirping. A
peasant with a genius for mimickry delivered a sermon in
the style of Father Oppius. It was mercifully brief; the
preacher lost his balance and fell into the crowd. There
were cries, whistles, catcalls. A little man with splendid
white hair imitated a cur baying at the moon. The
performance would have deceived any dog in the village. A
muscular boy did handsprings, and hopped about on one
hand. The audience whooped, applauded, pounded the ground,
imitated roosters and crows in their delight. Adriana
laughed immoderately. Laughter made her thirsty, and
thirst made her drink.
sister!" sounded twenty times in her ear, and she
obeyed twenty times and more.
time to dance," Father Oppius said, with a grand,
unsteady gesture. "Memorius will favor us with the
head, the blind man adjusted his double-flute carefully,
with anguished grimaces over the sound. He moistened his
upper and lower lips, and began to play. The priest
snatched up a tambourine and thumped it mightily, and the
of the field disappeared under the feet of dancing
peasants, each following his own drunken conception of the
ancient movements, turning, turning again, touching face
to face, back to back, hip to hip, bobbing right and left,
treading on each other’s feet. A peasant and his girl
romped together, he twice as large as she, like a barnyard
bull and a little pink pig deeply in love.
boys grabbed handfuls of each other’s tunics and paraded
in a circle, whooping and waving their goblets. In the
middle of the circle, Spino sat up and begged. A woman
tumbled, laughing; her neighbors fell over her in a heap.
At the center of the turmoil Father Oppius danced
imperturbably, swaying his hips, snapping his fingers,
moving his head and shoulders in a grave, abstracted way.
There seemed to be springs in his reverend knees.
too fast, I am like a man dancing in witchgrass, I stumble
at every second step," Wolf complained.
Oppius led a chain dance, twirling a white handkerchief.
The peasants clumped after him in a straight line, a
semicircle, a serpentine figure, bawling the tune as they
danced, kicking and bobbing with enough force to bring
down Jericho. A peasant snatched up the priest’s fallen
tambourine and banged it with frenzied energy, whooping
with every other crash. Maura, the village madwoman,
danced more wildly than all the rest, chanting uncouth
rhymes. She pinched the boys on the buttocks and quickly
kissed them on the ears, then skipped away to their
embarrassed laughter, singing madly as she flew.
belched often and laughed at herself. Her spirits rose
ever higher. She recited verse as she danced, as if she
were on the stage. She danced through the circuit of
peasant women, offering wine and honeycakes. She saw
double, and began tacking from side to side. Wolf pulled
her to himself when she passed him, making her indignant.
had too much to drink," she said, trying to slap his
face, and nearly slapping the peasant next to him. Her
knees were weak. She sat down, more or less on top of
health, sir," she said, raising an empty goblet, and
suddenly she fell asleep.
woke, the dancing had stopped; the flutist had put away
his instrument. Raising his blind eyes to the sky, he
intoned the songs of Southern legend, about goat-girls and
Greek pirates and lustful demons of the forest, and young
Modesta, who died a virgin with a smile on her face, and
young Spurius, who rose from his grave to attend his
sister on her wedding day.
breeze came down from the heights at sunset. The crowd
threw beech trunks on the fire, and gathered closer around
the fragrant blaze. Old gaffers recited love-poetry, and
made the evening shadows creep with more tales about a
Greek-tongued demon of the hills. Roast chestnuts were
passed from hand to hand. The fire adjusted itself with a
crash, sending up a fountain of sparks. Children yawned;
old women nodded.
As the last
light evaporated from the mountains in the east, the
peasants rose to bid each other good-night and seek their
warm beds. The peasant boys were late to go, still singing
out of tune, the soberest of the party stumbling ahead
with a torch.
all, preceded and followed by torchbearers, Father Oppius
was carried off to bed, rolling on the bottom of his
donkey-cart, singing love songs to the stars.
In a corner
of the kitchen Adriana lit a lamp under a small image of
Christ that had been forgotten in the household chapel,
and on her cold knees she confided the care of the house
and grounds to the Triune God and the Virgin Mary. Over
the head of the bed she fixed a branch of olive, now dry
and rattling, that had been blessed on Palm Sunday, a gift
from Father Oppius.
well pleased with her decision to set up housekeeping in
the kitchen. It was cheerful; it had a weather-tight roof,
a direct view of the garden, and good access to the pond
and the forest. Wolf hauled a three-legged round table and
a rusted brazier from other corners of the house. The bed
fit snugly next to the hearth. Adriana fashioned herself a
broom with river-grass and a willow pole, and attacked the
massed cobwebs in the corners. She washed the walls until
the frescoes began to crumble. With a collection of sodden
pine-cones she scrubbed the floor, bringing the mosaic
pattern of fruit-laden baskets out from under a
weather-crust of decades.
In a corner
of the garden she found good salad-greens growing wild. An
olive-oil cache stood at the bottom of a shaft carved in
solid rock, not far from the kitchen door. The oil had
long been gone. Adriana scoured the crock and put away
fresh oil from the valley.
townsfolk and country-folk of Curia came up the hill
singly and by twos and threes to help the bride and
bridegroom, as they said. Father Oppius brought pots and
pans, clanging against the sides of his mule like a
pedlar’s assortment. Women came driving donkeys and
weaving straw; children climbed by their sides, full of
exuberant chatter. The women brought eggs and honey,
marveled at Adriana’s housekeeping accomplishments with
rude tools, and pulled so many weeds in the garden that it
looked like an incompetently barbered head of hair. They
stayed to gossip.
the priest’s housekeeper, came up the hill late in the
day and sniffed her way through the house, not unkindly,
smiling at the primitive condition of the kitchen, the
lumpy bed, the ragged laundry drying on the garden statues
like an ill-considered choice of evening wear. Father
Oppius himself inspected everything: the beds, the rugs,
the food-stores, the patch of woods where pine cones were
abundant, the standing deadwood intended for the hearth.
He made thoughtful suggestions with his finger on his
chin, inquired politely about rats and mice, put his foot
in a rabbit snare, and covered his tunic with dust in a
tour of the upper stories.
after the feast of Januarius, Adriana had settled into a
routine. In the kitchen of the old lodge, sweet herbs and
dried pork hung once again from the rafters, and a fire
burned all day in the hearth. The fragrance of pine-smoke
greeted her every morning when she got up before dawn to
bathe in the clear water of the pond.
imagined herself a peasant woman. The thought gave her
pleasure. She worked until midday, growing peasant-brown
and peasant-tough, looking for edible roots, bringing in
dry deadwood knocked down by the mountain winds, gathering
ferns to refresh her bed, searching out medicinal herbs
that she traded in the village for eggs and wine.
up pine-cones, hauled water in clay jars, and picked wild
berries. She made a hard but tasty bread from town flour
and wild oats that she gathered herself. Sometimes Father
Oppius sent goat’s ham up the hill, or a little gift of
eggs or honey. Wolf hunted and fished all day, and went
from lean to steel-gaunt with a rapidity that fascinated
Adriana. He proved clever with traps and caught a hare or
two every other day, the basis of a flavorsome if somewhat
priest’s housekeeper Adriana learned to bake
chestnut-flour cakes on flat round stones, and to make
highly seasoned messes of winter beans with garlic and
olive oil. She gathered fungi, growing around the roots of
the holm-oaks in the lower reaches of the forest, and she
cut watercress at the springs in the hills. She made
herb-soup, and poached the little pullet-eggs that the
peasant woman sold her in the valley.
learned to cook. His wide-ranging grace in the battlefield
became utter clumsiness in the kitchen. He burned his
fingers, fell over the hearth, dropped the food on the
floor. But his cooking improved with practice, and he
threw fewer messes out the door for the squirrels.
Some of the
rude arts of the forest and farm had stayed with Adriana
since childhood. She practiced what she remembered. Like
fingerings for the double flute after a long absence, the
old skills came back with surprising speed: the uses of
deadwood and tree bark, the knack of setting a rabbit
snare, where to look for strawberries. She cut broom and
heather. The work made her hands hard and horny. She
softened them for lovemaking with olive oil and herbs.
her clothes and Wolf’s in the pond, beating them on flat
rocks with grim purpose, her fine arms shining like marble
in the sun. At first Wolf squatted naked on a rock nearby,
God," he said at last, in a chastened voice, kneeling
down beside her, "if the empress beats her own linen,
the emperor will not sit and watch."
his boyish energy as he pounded the clothes alongside her.
He seemed able to make any activity boyish. She watched
him with pleasure as he carried the wet rags to the villa
garden in a lightly twisted mass on his shoulders.
the basic garments Adriana had stored for eventual travel,
the clothes were going to ruin. It was clear that soon
they would be gone altogether. The prospect was not
entirely unwelcome: she enjoyed the sight of Wolf more,
the less he was wearing. At last, for the sake of decorum,
she made simple clothes for herself and Wolf. Often she
walked to town with her distaff in her hand, spinning as
she went; and sometimes she came back with a small jar of
wine balanced on her head, in the fashion of the peasant
girls. Sometimes when she went to town she brought
mountain flowers to the old women of the village. Always
she petted all the dogs on the main street. She bought
carrots and cabbage-leaves in the village market for the
priest’s donkeys, and sometimes a couple of honeycakes
for Spino, who thanked her by jumping on her and licking
her face with a tongue like a mop.
mornings she was a peasant; in the languid noons and
afternoons she was a little girl again, dozing on the
steps of her mother’s marble summer-house with her chin
in her hands, listening to the prattle of fountains, the
song of nightingales, the rustle of the sculptured trees.
she relearned the art of the siesta, getting out of her
meager clothes and lying naked in the shade of a great
pine by the villa door. Often she lay with one eye open
and watched Wolf stretching his splendid legs in the
sunlight, stirring the pebbles in front of his face with a
huge forefinger, or lying on his back and watching the sky
with a smile.
be circulating in that odd brain? Bits of barbarism, she
thought; demented legends from the German forest;
splinters of old and new creeds; raw memories of furious
life and death; residues of runic lore and the fearful
wisdom of the northern gods.
certainly he was more boy than German. After the siesta
she watched him at his characteristic little-boy
recreations: standing in mud up to his knees to catch
frogs, which the peasants called singing fishes;
hypnotized by the jerky movement of water spiders on a
calm day; building a raft with logs and withes, and
pushing it out to the center of the pond with his head;
sitting nude on the boulders by the pond with an enormous
straw hat on his head, intently reading a roll of Virgil
borrowed from the priest.
wide-brimmed straw hat, a gift from Father Oppius, became
an inseparable part of Wolf. It amused Adriana to watch
him dress for the day, a predictably ridiculous and
magnificent figure in boots, loin-wrap, the axe
Scatter-brain, a long knife, and the straw hat.
the afternoons he discarded everything but the hat and the
axe. "I am practicing the art of warfare," he
explained when she caught him crouching and gliding
through the woods like a two-legged serpent, naked under
the straw hat, stopping now and then to ply the axe
against an unlucky sapling, or to spar with his own shadow
in the late afternoon.
swimmer, he spent much of his life in the pond, diving and
sporting like an otter, vanishing under water for lengths
of time that agonized Adriana, cutting through the
wavelets on his side, somersaulting backward and forward,
floating motionless on his back. He was hardly a natural
fisherman, but he mastered the location of the trout at
certain hours of the day, and developed a fisherman’s
faith in the ultimate certainty that he would catch fish.
In time he
learned to land trout without a net. It amused Adriana to
watch him do it, balanced in a crotch of his beech tree,
fishing for hours in the morning and after a long nap in
the heat of the day. Sometimes he took wine into the tree
with him, and on those occasions he sang a little, sending
his honest baritone out over the pond.
days when Adriana craved the luxury of loneliness. On
those days she tied herself into a homespun tunic, took a
skin of wine and a sack of dried figs, and followed the
creek up into the high woods, wading and hopping from
stone to stone, sometimes sinking up to her knees in a
hole. It pleased her to think that the excursions were a
preparation for a future summer when she would wander on
the mountains as long as she liked, gathering berries,
composing verse, drinking from springs known only to
herself, lying on beds of moss to watch the clouds and
dream of impossible things.
At the end
of an afternoon of solitude, she was ready for Wolf’s
company again, ready to enjoy the small repertory of
rituals they had invented for closing the day. They
borrowed their neighbors’ pleasant habit of telling
stories and singing songs around the hearth-fire at dusk,
over the last of the supper wine. They made the discovery
that they could sing together. Wolf taught her the
barrack-room ditties of the German soldiery, and Adriana
sang along in her incompetent German, with great animation
and no embarrassment.
evenings they sat on a log by the pond, singing in the
light of a small fire, while the forest disappeared into
the gathering night. Sometimes Adriana built her cookfire
in the garden; when she and Wolf had eaten, they sang in
the afterglow, watching the smoke of damp pine-knots curl
up beyond the roof of the house and vanish across the face
of the moon.
mountain night was so bright that they could see to cross
the creek and climb the cliff-face to Probus’s place of
worship, where they sat and watched the stars. Adriana dug
deep in her memory for the stories of Pegasus, Capricorn,
Virgo. When she had exhausted her knowledge of the
constellations, and Wolf had told all he knew of the odd,
grim, bloody mythology of the North, they lay back in the
cleansing air and watched the sky in perfect silence until
they were ready to sleep.
times when the stillness of the forest nights troubled
her; the slightest woodland sounds—the snapping of a dry
twig, a splash in the pond—set her on edge. On such
nights she kept a small lamp lit by the bed, and her
stiletto next to the lamp. One night when a gust of wind
blew the lamp out, she woke in nameless terror, groping
for her knife. She sat in the dark, not waking Wolf, and
watched the red glow of the hearth, hugging herself until
her shivering stopped.
took strength from watching Wolf sleep, admiring him in
the lamplight as she had once admired Quintus, taking
comfort in the drift of strong sinew and muscle under his
skin; and sometimes she touched him lightly all over as he
slept, taking from him the reassurance she needed to
finish the night in peace.
spent the midday lying on her back in the sun, dreaming of
the perfect garden she would create if she escaped
Faustinus. Though the Dog Star still reigned in the
heavens, there had been anticipations of autumn all day:
touches of icy air from the mountaintops, the fall of a
yellow leaf from an otherwise green tree, a suggestion of
age in the plants in the kitchen-garden.
impending change of season made Adriana melancholy. Wolf,
lying beside her with his feet in the pond, sensed her
mood and tried to lift it.
you think there are sharks in there?" he asked very
seriously, making a splash and startling her.
she asked, sitting up.
there freshwater sharks?" she asked, still
daydreaming, watching an odd ripple on the pond-surface.
wise and holy man told me that there are. But they are too
small to do any damage."
you think we have enough energy to catch those
turtles?" she asked, pointing at a log on which three
large specimens sunned themselves. "If so, we’ll
dine in the lap of luxury. ‘Turtle-meat pacifies the
statesman and excites the poet.’"
will catch them, Adriana," Wolf said, and dived into
with her chin on her forearms, deliciously amused at the
sight of Wolf plunging through the shallows, growling like
an amphibious tiger. The turtles disappeared forever.
laughed, but almost at once she was melancholy again.
in the day, she sensed an early autumn in the long rays of
the sun and the crispness of the air. A highland smell of
dry grass and mould, smoke and hayricks, rode the breeze
that pressed against her face. The golden weather turned
her melancholy into nostalgia. She knew, without yet
knowing the reason, that soon she would be gone, leaving
the village ways behind her within the old circle of the
hills: work, holidays, weddings, burials, stretching back
a thousand years, and forward, God willing, a thousand
years to come. It seemed to her that the present was
already a memory.
go to Old Baldy," she said, and Wolf nodded, as if
the same thought had occurred to him.
she leaped every other flat rock, crossing the creek bed,
and scrambled up the cliff-face with the energy of a
child. Now she lingered over the familiar sensations of
cool stone and cool grass against her feet, as if they
were about to be taken away.
of parched grass and wood-smoke followed her to the
height. She sat still, surrounded by the sky, and listened
to the world. There was a tiny rattle of oxcart wheels
somewhere far away, and a tinkle of goat’s bells. She
saw autumn in the purpling mountain-tops against a sunset
of old gold. She would have given a year of life to sit on
high and watch the valley of Curia in the spring, a great
flowered lawn, mingling the fragrances of blossom and damp
earth with the tart aroma of the pines that vibrated
softly on the heights.
feel a poem coming on," she said, trying to make
light of her melancholy. "Look at the sunset. It’s
enough to make one give up sinning."
peasants say there will be rain soon," Wolf said,
turning his face to the sky. "It will fall through
the holes in heaven, which is like a sieve, they
silence settled on them.
are you thinking?" Wolf asked after a while.
thinking," she said, "that the sunset on the
valley is the same color as the silk stola my mother was
married in. She wore it every year to her anniversary
caught in her throat.
hate sentimentalism," she said. "Why do I do
is a time for it," Wolf said quietly. "Are we
made of marble?"
darkening valley a shepherd boy and girl were driving
their small flock homeward. The girl played the
double-flute as she walked, and the boy sang in a wisp of
a tenor. A puppy scampered at their feet. The sheep
converged like well-disciplined clouds into a gravel road
that wound between rustic walls, enclosing stubblefields
that would laugh with fertility in the spring.
them," Wolf said softly. "Do you think they are
worried about anything, as we are? When I was very young,
I used to think how good it would be to be like that—a
simpleton, with a simple girl to warm me, and that I would
live with her peacefully under the same roof that our
children would live under, grinding wheat with the same
water-wheel, and watching their children swim in the same
mill-race, forever and ever."
gladly be the simple girl in your dream," Adriana
nodded, a lump in her throat. "My grandmother had a
very old Greek vase—as old as the world, I thought when
I was little—and painted on it were youngsters with
double flutes, dancing down a country road. I used to
imagine that if we could go back to then, before
all the world’s mistakes had been made, we might make
things come out right. What a wonderful beginning, to be a
child in a fresh cosmos, and to know there’s a
by habit and appraised Wolf’s spare outline against the
colors in the west. His hair was growing long, his beard
dense. Soon only his blondness would distinguish him from
the charcoal-burners and ice-cutters who roamed the Sila
in winter. Life in the woods seemed to have hardened the
curves of his body, producing a structure as elemental as
close to him and touched his shoulder with her lips.
can’t stay in the mountains forever," she said.
sadly. "Perhaps my father would give us a ship, and
we could come back in the spring."
won’t come back," she said. "We’re bound to
the world by promises and ambitions, and appetites and
swallowed hard. Tiny clouds roamed the sunset, fleecy
little bodies enjoying perfect peace and perfect freedom.
She moved to kneel behind Wolf, circling his chest with
her arms, and laid her cheek against the back of his head.
dying," she murmured, "and you healed me. I’d
give up a thousand times what I had at Rome, for that. God
be thanked for sending you to me."
be thanked," he repeated in a whisper.
In the last
dusk they climbed down from the height and wandered
through the woods to the house. The chirping of woodland
birds died away with the light that sifted through the
leaves. A tree-toad sang out in notes of lamentation, like
a tiny prophet of woe.
fell, they sat on a ledge of rock overhanging the pond and
dangled their feet in the water. In silence they listened
to a family of frogs on the far shore, and to the tiny
rasp of crickets in the grass behind them; and in silence,
arm in arm, they watched the play of starlight on the dark
water, like fishermen’s lights glowing at the edge of