"After the boy has been here a while, I will know the father," your grandfather said, with no uncertainty. He nodded at Beheim, who once again displayed his physician's knife.
On such an occasion, you are only wondering where the first cut will be. When Beheim sliced through the rope that bound my right arm to the chair, I presumed he intended to extend my limb in such a fashion that my song would begin with sharp, clear notes. Instead he cut the rope that held my left arm.
"It is in the box, Lorenzo," your grandfather said. "Give it to her."
I closed my eyes and felt Beheim's hand between my thighs, no doubt in anticipation of pulling up my skirts. Against my will I looked down.
He had placed in my lap a little pouch that could easily fit in the palm of my hand. Fashioned of soiled red wool, with a long red string, it was the sort of charm bag that half the whores and procuresses in Rome carry about, hoping to obtain good fortune or cast a love spell.
"Look inside," His Holiness said.
My hands trembling, I got in a finger and drew out a dirty paper card no longer than my thumb, also with a red yarn attached. This was a bollettino, which you do not see much in Rome--country people wear these little prayers around their necks. I could still distinguish the inscription, despite the untutored hand and cheap ink, which was not much darker than the stained paper: Sant Antoni mio benigno. Scrawled in some peasant dialect, it was a prayer to Saint Anthony, who guards against demons.
But when I turned over the little card I found another inscription, this in a practiced hand, in correct Italian and black Chinese ink: gli angoli dei venti. The corners of the winds.
I looked at the Pope and shook my head.
"Empty it," he said.
The rest of the contents tumbled into my lap. Two fava beans, a little lump of gray chalk, a quattrino della croce--a coin melted into the shape of a cross; these were the sort of charms that might compel a man to fall in love with their bearer. There was one last item, however, that froze my hands.
I looked down at the miniature bronze head of a bull, no larger than a small bell, with big eyes, short horns, and a ring that seemed to grow from the top of the tiny skull, so that it could be worn as an amulet. It was an Etruscan antiquity, fashioned by the ancient race that preceded the Romans and lent its name to Tuscany. I turned it over, requiring only a moment's scrutiny to find the tiny Latin inscription engraved on the back: Alexander filius. Son of Alexander. On the day Rodrigo Borgia had been crowned Pope Alexander VI, taking the name of a pagan conqueror instead of a saint, he had presented this token of love--and worldly ambition--to his cherished son.
"Juan " The Pope swallowed as if the wine on his breath had returned to his throat. "He was wearing it that night."
"He was never without it." In a strange fashion, I hoped this would comfort Juan's father.
"It was found at Imola," he said, referring to an inconsiderable city in the Romagna--the Romagna being the northernmost of the Papal States, occupying a vast plain between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. Or I should say that Imola had been a city of little consequence, until Duke Valentino located his court there early this year. One heard that all the ambassadors, not only from our many Italian states and the rest of Europe, but the Turks as well, had gone there in supplication. Somehow Juan's amulet had journeyed for five years, hundreds of miles across the length and breadth of Italy, to return to his father's hands. In such fashion Fortune displays her love of cruel ironies.
I looked up. "If you have been watching my every breath these last years, then you know I cannot have transported it to Imola, even if it had ever been in my possession. I last saw that amulet a week before Juan was murdered. The last time. . . ." I had to turn away the images that waited for me, floating on a copper-colored river I never again wanted to cross. "I did not see it in that boat, either. Although one of the fishermen might have taken it."
Excerpted from The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis. Copyright © 2012 by Michael Ennis. 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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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