Despite the late night, it was hard to break a lifetime habit of waking before the sun. I allowed myself the luxury of laying in the comfortable bed a while longer, considering my position and the part I was to play. I still thought of it as a role. Don Gentillini was a mask on a lifetime of Pietro who spent his life learning to be Don Gentillini… I ran my hands over my face and behind my ears, down my throat to wake my blood before I sat up.

As I did, I saw my satchel and the blood drained from my face when I realized my mistake. I slid out of bed and emptied my satchel onto the quilt, eyeing the contents carefully. Nothing was missing, but I had no doubt that someone, probably Madam Sword, had looked through my documents. Ah well, no fixing it now.

I opened my travel bag and laid out new clothes on the windowsill. Hopefully the sun would have time to bake out the wrinkles from travel as it rose. I found my razor and used the water basin near the bed to scrape the stubble from my face and wash a little of the road from my skin. This early, the sun provided little heat and even though the ocean was miles from here, the window was still allowing a fresh breeze to chill my skin.

I considered crawling back under the covers, but I didn’t know when Madam Sword would come to take me to the Contessa and I didn’t want to be unprepared. I didn’t know what they expected of me, especially now that I could expect them to know more than I’d intended initially. I wanted to make a good impression and wished the night before had gone better. Madam Crossbow’s face come to mind and I smiled. I wanted to see her again; she intrigued me.

The sun hadn’t had much success on my clothes, but I put them on anyway and spent some of my time reading the titles of the books provided on the shelf. They seemed mostly for show, but a piece about the native fauna caught my eye, so I settled on the stool at the drawing table for the light.

Only a couple of pages into the book, I was surprised at the knock before the door opened. Madam Sword started to bustle toward the bed, but I caught her eye with a small wave. She looked startled, glanced at the bed and then back to me.

“Do you always rise so early?”

I considered the question. “Usually. Often earlier.”

“What’s that you have?”

I held up the book. “I hope it’s all right; it caught my attention. If you’d prefer I left them untouched, I will obey.”

“Knowledge is meant to be known. Would you prefer to dine before you see the Contessa?”

“I am at the pleasure of my hostess.” Father told me it was an old statement, possibly out of date by now, but I could expect the servants to understand.

Madam Sword acknowledged my statement with an indication of her head. “She has already eaten and will receive you in the garden.”

“Then I will be glad to join her.” I rose and set the book aside, straightened my sleeves and followed Madam Sword’s lead. On the ground floor, she stopped at a set of doors with glass windows set into them. White curtains covered the glass to hide the view but allow light through.

She reached to open the door for me and I interrupted, “It would please me to know your name.”

Madam sword smirked. “I will tell you, should the Contessa continue to entertain.”

I bowed and walked out into the dawning light. More green, green everywhere. I looked up to catch a glimpse of the blue I missed so much and let out a slow breath. A carefully cultivated path of gravel meandered, lined with more varieties of bushes and trees and flowers than I’d ever seen. I wondered how many of them were edible. Where did the head chef keep her herbs?

Benches were periodically placed, usually in shaded spots and I could see cultivated areas of flattened grass off the path. I found the Contessa waiting for me at the third bench. At the proper distance, I bowed and rose without waiting for her to raise me.

Still, I indicated the second spot on the bench and asked, “Would you mind if I joined you, Contessa?”

“Not at all, Don,” she said. “I wish for you to be comfortable.”

“I fear I may not succeed,” I admitted ruefully. “Truthfully the world I’ve come to is somewhat dissimilar to what I’d expected.”

“In what ways do you find that to be so?” She sounded genuinely curious.

“I could study a thousand maps and never stop searching for the sound of the sea. And I yearn for the colors and scents of my citrus fruits.”

The Contessa nodded. “I have always loved the sea, but I would dearly miss my forests.”

“May I ask a question?”

“You may.”

“How is it you came to be so proficient with the crossbow?”

“Why would you think I was so proficient?” Madam Crossbow asked. Her blue eyes twinkled at me. “Could be I was aiming at your throat and it was only good fortune and a bad breeze that kept you from bleeding into the next life.”

I blinked.

“What brings you to my home, Don Gentillini?”

April 15, 2021

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