P r o l o g u e
Monastery of San Domenico Maggiore, Naples
The outer door was thrown open with a crash that resounded along the passage,
and the floorboards shook with the purposeful marching of several
pairs of feet. Inside the small cubicle where I perched on the edge of a
wooden bench, taking care not to sit too close to the hole that opened over
the cesspit beneath, my little candle flickered in the sudden draught of their
entrance, sending wavering shadows growing and shrinking along the stone
walls. Allora, I thought, looking up. They have come for me at last.
The footsteps halted outside the cubicle door, to be replaced by the furious hammering of a fist and the abbots throaty voice, strained beyond its usual placid tones of diplomacy.
Fra Giordano! I order you to come out this instant, with whatever you hold in your hands in plain sight!
I caught a snigger from one of the monks who accompanied him, swiftly followed by a stern tutting from the abbot, Fra Domenico Vita, and could not help smiling to myself, in spite of the moment. Fra Vita was a man who, in the ordinary course of events, gave the impression that all bodily functions offended him mightily; it would be causing him unprecedented distress to have to apprehend one of his monks in so ignominious a place as this.
One moment, Padre, if I may, I called, untying my habit to make it look as if I had been using the privy for its proper purpose. I looked at the book in my hand. For a moment I entertained the idea of hiding it somewhere under my habit, but that would be fruitlessI would be searched straightaway.
Not one moment more, Brother, Fra Vita said through the door, a quiet menace creeping into his voice. You have spent more than two hours in the privy tonight, I think that is long enough.
Something I ate, Padre, I said, and with deep regret, I threw the book into the hole, producing a noisy coughing fit to cover the splash it made as it fell into the pool of waste below. It had been such a fine edition, too. I unlatched the door and opened it to see my abbot standing there, his heavy features almost vibrating with pent- up rage, all the more vivid in the gusting light of the torches carried by the four monks who stood behind him, staring at me, appalled and fascinated.
Do not move, Fra Giordano, Vita said tightly, jabbing a warning finger in my face. It is too late for hiding.
He strode into the cubicle, his nose wrinkled against the stench, holding up his lamp to check each of the corners in turn. Finding nothing, he turned to the men behind him.
Search him, he barked.
My brothers looked at one another in consternation, then that wily Tuscan friar, Fra Agostino da Montalcino, stepped forward, an unpleasant smile on his face. He had never liked me, but his dislike had turned to open animosity after I publicly bested him in an argument about the Arian heresy some months earlier, after which he had gone about whispering that I denied the divinity of Christ. Without a doubt, it was he who had put Fra Vita on my trail.
Excuse me, Fra Giordano, he mouthed with a sneer, before he began patting me up and down, his hands roaming first around my waist and down each of my thighs.
Try not to enjoy yourself too much, I muttered.
Just obeying my superior, he replied. When he had finished groping, he rose to face Fra Vita, clearly disappointed. He has nothing concealed in his habit, Father.
Fra Vita stepped closer and glared at me for some moments without speaking, his face so near to mine that I could count the bristles on his nose and smell the rank onions on his breath.
Excerpted from Heresy by S J Parris. Copyright © 2010 by S J Parris. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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