I was ten years old when I discovered I might be a witch.
I sat sewing with my aunt Clarice, as sunlight spread across the gallery floor. Outside the window I could hear the splashing of the courtyard fountain, the cries of the vendors in the Via Larga and staccato of horse hooves on the cobblestone streets, and I thought for the hundredth time that I couldnt stay inside another minute.
Caterina Romelo de Medici, can it be youve finished already?
I looked up. My late fathers sister Clarice de Medici y Strozzi regarded me from her chair. I wiped my brow with my sleeve. Its so hot in here, I said. Cant I go outside?
She arched her eyebrow. Even before she said anything, I could have recited her words, so often had she drummed them into my head: You are the Duchess of Urbino, daughter of Lorenzo de Medici and his wife, Madeleine de la Tour, who was of noble French blood. How many times must I tell you, you must restrain your impulses in order to prepare for your future?
I didnt care about the future. I cared that it was summer and here I was cooped up in the family palazzo forced to study and sew all day, as if I might melt in the sun.
I clapped my embroidery hoop aside. Im bored. I want to go home.
Florence is your home; it is your birth city, she replied. I took you from Rome because you were sick with fever. Youre fortunate you can sit here and argue with me at all.
Im not sick anymore, I retorted. I hated it when she used my poor health as an excuse. At least in Rome, Papa Clement let me have my own servants and a pony to ride.
She regarded me without a hint of the ire that the mention of my papal uncle always roused in her. That may be but you are here now, in my care, and you will abide by my rules. Its midafternoon. Ill not hear of you going outside in this heat.
Ill wear a cap and stay in the shade. Please, Zia Clarice. You can come with me.
I saw her trying to repress her unwilling smile as she stood. If your work is satisfactory, we can take a stroll on the loggia before supper. She came to me, a thin woman in a simple gray gown, her oval face distinguished by her large liquid-black eyesthe Medici eyes, which I had inherited, along with our familys curly auburn hair and long-fingered hands.
She swiped up my embroidery. Her lips pursed when she heard me giggle. I suppose you think its funny to make the Holy Mothers face green? Honestly, Caterina; such sacrilege. She thrust the hoop at me. Fix it at once. Embroidery is an art, one you must master as well as your other studies. Ill not have it said that Caterina de Medici sews like a peasant.
I thought it best not to laugh and began picking out the offensive color, while my aunt returned to her seat. She stared off into the distance. I wondered what new trials she planned for me. I did love her but she was forever dwelling on how our family prestige had fallen since the death of my great-grandfather, Lorenzo Il Magnifico; of how Florence had been a center of learning renowned for our Medici patronage, and now we were but illustrious guests in the city we had helped build. It was my responsibility, she said, to restore our familys glory, as I was the last legitimate descendant of Il Magnificos bloodline.
I wondered how she expected me to accomplish such an important task. Id been orphaned shortly after my birth; I had no sisters or brothers and depended on my papal uncles goodwill. When I once mentioned this, my aunt snapped: Clement VII was born a bastard. He bribed his way to the Holy See, to our great shame. Hes not a true Medici. He has no honor.
Excerpted from The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C. W. Gortner Copyright © 2010 by C. W. Gortner. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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