About Me:Researching fairy lore of northern Italy for a historical fantasy novel. Also interested in the folklore of clowns and fools. I believe that characters, and particularly the entities known as Masks have an independent existence similar to that of other intangible life forms.
Music:Anything composed before 1850, but especially before 1600.
Anything with interesting lyrics.
Anything but "soft rock."
Favorite artists/bands include U2, Jethro Tull, Altan, Dan Fogelberg, Anne Hills, Benny Goodman, Bruce Cockburn, Santana, The Everyman Guild, Buckwheat Zydeco, Paul Simon, Loreena McKennitt
Movies:The Princess Bride
The Secret of Roan Inish
The Lord of the Rings (all 3)
A Room With a View
Beauty and the Beast
Metropolis (Restored version)
...to name a few
TV:I TiVo "Syfy" (hate the new name), the History Channel and a few things on USA.
The Daily Show
The Colbert Report
Law & Order
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Books:La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind
The Pillars of the Earth
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
A Wrinkle In Time
Howl's Moving Castle
A History of Venice by John Norwich
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Chronicles of Narnia
Donna Leon's mysteries
Dorothy L. Sayers
Lakes & Ponds
Tai Chi Chuan sword forms
Most network TV
walking in the woods
mime (and proud of it)
all sorts of crafts
playing the piano, recorder, assorted percussion
Vices:staying up too late
"I still think we should have gone back down the peninsula and around the lake. We know those roads." As the sun settled down toward the distant mountains behind them, a chill wind was picking up, and ser Antonio was obliged to shout this objection to his brother's shortcut. Worried that they might be late for their scheduled performance in Verona, ser Carlo had insisted the group take a boat from Sirmione to the eastern shore of Lake Garda.
"Nonsense," Carlo assured him. "Crossing to Bardolino saved us hours." The pale afternoon sun's disappearance below the treetops brought this claim into question, but for the moment the others were too polite to mention it.
"How many of those hours did we spend looking for a large enough boat?" Antonio teased. All the boatmen had thought they were joking when Carlo had told them they needed all the horses, the luggage and the large wagon to make the crossing with them. Then, more quietly, he asked, "Are you sure you know where we are?"
Carlo's less than positive answer was, "As soon as the river is in sight, all we have to do is follow it downstream."
"How do we even know if we're headed toward the river?" Pantalon complained, "These damned mountain roads keep changing direction," he looked around with a shiver at the thick cover of trees that diffused and scattered the remaining light. "And now we've lost the sun."
"We're going south at the moment," Piero announced from his seat on the driving box. As usual, he was guiding the horses while his brother Silvio, who disliked horses, played footman in the back.
"How do you know?" asked Pantalon.
"I just know, all right?"
After a moment, Antonio said, "Well, do we want to be going south?"
Piero shrugged. His attention was on the horses. Since they'd disembarked at Bardolino, the bay had been flicking her ears as if she were hearing something disquieting, and the old Flemish sorrel raised his head and blew every few minutes. Both animals were nervous, which probably meant the weather was going to turn ugly.
Inside the wagon, Oriela wrapped her traveling cloak more tightly around herself, for once grateful for the shelter of the wagon cover. Isabetta seemed no more affected by the cold than she had been by the heat a few days before but sat with her usual flawless poise under the drapery of her blue, woolen mantle, her horse trailing behind them on a lead. Neither of the ladies had felt much like riding since the wind had picked up, promising to send its chill right up the legs of their loose riding skirts. Oriela let her mind escape the growing gloom, thinking of the delight that had brightened the faces of those defeated-looking women in Brescia, and of her father and his friends sacrificing their dignity to give a few unhappy people something to smile about. She felt a warm flush of gratitude to the others for letting her be part of it.
Just then, Piero called, "Ho!" and the wagon jolted to a stop. Silvio hopped off the back and went out front to see what was up.
"Now what?" Oriela heard Antonio ask. Peering out between Piero's feet, She saw that they had come to a fork. The thickening clouds overhead were now a vivid purple.
"The Adige is that way," Piero declared, indicating the road that veered to their right.
"Impossible," argued Carlo. "That road leads back up into the mountains."
Silvio, who had thus far kept out of the debate, climbed up beside his brother, then stood on the box, gazing through the treetops. He gestured toward the distance on their left. "Is that Monte Baldo over there?"
"Could be any mountain," Pantalon put in irritably, "Who can tell through all these accursed trees?" He coughed and wrapped his cloak more tightly.
"It is!" Silvio insisted, "Verona should be straight ahead."
Piero looked up at him and sighed. "The road doesn't go straight ahead, Silvio, it goes left or right."
All the men started talking at once, each proclaiming a different direction to be the best one. What sky could be seen through the trees was changing rapidly from pale lavender-gray to a livid royal blue, and the road was more in shadow now than in light.
"All right, Piero—left it is." Carlo decided, out-shouting his companions, and they were under way again.
After the fork, the road grew narrower and more wild as the mountains swallowed the sun's last rays. Windblown tree branches scraped along the sides of the wagon, which lurched violently over grassy humps and washed-out gullies. They halted long enough for Silvio to light a pair of lanterns. One was hung on the front of the wagon's roof, above and behind Piero's head. Silvio took the other one and went to walk ahead of the horses. The sorrel snorted, his hot breath ruffling Silvio's hair. They proceeded in this plodding manner through the thickening darkness for a further half hour before another argument broke out.
"That tree looks familiar," Antonio observed.
"It's a tree. They all look familiar." Pantalon's weary voice was growing hoarser, Oriela noticed, even worse than when he'd been constantly sneezing at Sirmione. The "miasma" from the leaves must be thicker here, although why it only affected her father was a mystery.
"No, I'm serious. I remember that funny canker. It looks like a cat, see?"
Carlo said, "Antonio and the tree are old friends!" He and Piero laughed, but no one else seemed amused.
"Wait!" Silvio stopped, the horses stopped, everyone stopped. "Ser Antonio's right. We've been this way already."
"That's impossible," Carlo argued, "How can you keep going ahead on a road and end up somewhere you've already been?"
Suddenly, of course, everyone realized exactly how one could do this. Silvio lowered the lantern to examine the ground and concluded, "I'm walking in our own horses' hoof prints. The road just loops around the hill." The news was met with exasperated sighs.
"Did anyone see a fork? We should have passed it again." Antonio's question only increased their dismay. All eyes had been focused on the two small circles of lamplight moving ahead of them. Oriela was bemused to hear a chorus of curses in at least three different languages; along with the Bergamasc and Venetian, Carlo had for some reason chosen to express his frustration in Latin.
"Turn us around, Piero," Carlo ordered.
"I can't. The road is too narrow."
Once again, the men were all shouting at once, each convinced he had the solution to their predicament. Isabetta shared a sad smile with her fellow passenger and shook her head. "Five mouths, three tongues, and not a single ear between them."
Oriela chuckled quietly. A moment later she sat up at attention, her face changed to a listening scowl.
"What?" asked Isabetta.
"Did you hear something?"
"Besides the wind? I heard five grown men bickering like schoolboys."
"No—something else. An animal, I think." Oriela was whispering, as if this would somehow reduce the volume of the others' voices.
"It wouldn't surprise me," said Isabetta, "Carlo never does anything by half measures. If he's going to get us lost, it must be in a dark forest full of wolves."
Oriela was too alarmed to laugh at this. "I'm serious!" she hissed, and she moved to the back of the wagon to look out, cupping one ear. All at once she flung herself back through to the front, calling, "Piero! Listen!"
The men were too busy arguing to hear, so she pulled herself up beside the box and slapped Piero on the leg.
"Ahi!" he cried, startled. In the momentary hush that followed his exclamation, Oriela shouted, "Quiet!" They were so surprised to hear a female voice added to the debate that they all stopped to stare at her, Silvio frozen in his circle of lamplight between Pantalon's horse and the front wheel.
"What NOW?" groaned Pantalon.
Then they all heard it, an animal howl mixed in with the rattling and scraping of the blowing trees. Not wolves; more of a baying, mixed with low-pitched barks. Dogs, then—large ones, if a bark is any gauge of size—still far off, but getting closer.
Carlo mused, "Bit late in the day for hunting, isn't it?"
For some reason, this remark drew looks of horror from both Silvio and Piero, who immediately sprang into motion.
"Sióri! Quick, into the wagon!" Piero ordered.
"What the devil for?" Pantalon objected.
"Tie up the horses and get inside. Now!" Piero sounded so certain and so frightened that Carlo and Antonio didn't question him; they dismounted and fumbled in the dark with the lead lines. Pantalon, ignoring Piero's advice, remained on his horse and drew his sword while Silvio handed his brother the second lantern and dashed off into the trees.
For a moment Oriela thought Silvio was fleeing. But the looks of surprise on the others' faces weren't mixed with scorn, only with amazement. Silvio had run toward the barking. The baying was louder now and was joined by thundering hooves and shouting voices. A horn sounded.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Silvio had heard the hounds a moment before Oriela had hushed the others. He had no particular plan other than to meet his mother's uncle before those dogs brought him any closer. What he would say or do once he found the ancient aivàn he had no idea. All he could think of was keeping the Wild Hunt away from his friends, to which end he was now hurling himself headlong through a tangled and thorny blackness, dodging the tree trunks that kept appearing inches from his face, rushing toward the wild clamor—and toward the very last person he wanted to see.
A pair of enormous, brindled paws struck him on the chest and knocked him to the ground. "Off!" he choked out breathlessly. The dog had come out of the dark so fast that Silvio hadn't had time to fall properly and had landed hard on his back in the dry leaves.
He managed to suck in enough air to order, "Off, Brugliera! It's me!"
"She knows it's you. That's why she pounced," explained a laconic voice from the back of the dark, dappled horse towering over them. "She likes you, Little Christian."
Herlakin's favorite nickname for his grand-nephew was as irritating as ever. The first time they'd met, the Hunter had recognized Viola's sons and described them as her "little Christians." While he now called Piero by name, he persisted in this form of address for Silvio, knowing it annoyed him. Silvio wasn't sure how he felt about being liked by Brugliera, the hound who could track the scent of suffering.
"Buna sira, uncle," Silvio tried to sound as nonchalant as his mother's kinsman, which was difficult to do lying flat on his back with a dog the size of a pony licking his face and neck. "Couldn't help hearing the dogs. I just wondered what you and your friends were chasing tonight."
Herlakin leapt lightly off his horse with a grin that might have been friendly, except that its calming effect was somewhat diluted by the antlers sprouting from his brow. He hadn't bothered to conceal them with the malöcc, the customary visual disguise assumed by aivani when they encountered humans. "Oh, you know, whatever we find. At the moment it would appear to be you." The leaves that comprised his plate mail-like garments made a whispering sound as he moved. Cracking twigs and blowing horses hinted at unnumbered companions hidden in the wind-tossed shadows.
Silvio finally succeeded in pushing Brugliera away long enough to get to his feet. Two more hounds had arrived, momentarily distracted from their noisy questing: Boralisa, tracker of love, and Beladona, who could smell, among other things, the difference between hope and despair. They were wagging their tails at Silvio, who observed warily, "You never hunt without some quarry in mind."
"On Samonios Eve we do."
Silvio knew that asking him about this curious name for the Feast of All Saints' would lead the conversation in a direction he didn't want it to go, so he changed the subject. "Do you happen to know how to get off this road?"
"Mislaid your way, have you?" Herlakin gave a deep, throaty laugh which seemed to be echoed by a low rumble of thunder overhead. "So la dama Brugliera was right; we were hunting for you. Where are you trying to go?"
"Ah, Verona!" he smiled grandly, then put on a shocked expression. "Did you say Verona? No, surely not Verona!" He went on in a dramatically confidential tone, "You don't want to go there. Beladona tells me we may have prey in Verona tonight."
"If you're going to Verona, what are you doing on this road?" Silvio asked with a derisive chuckle. "Don't tell me you're lost, too."
His great uncle managed to look both smug and wounded. "I know a shortcut."
Silvio scoffed, "A friend of mine said that earlier today; it hasn't worked out very well."
"That's good! Your friends should stay away from Verona tonight."
"We can't. The governor has invited all sorts of important people for All Saints' and wants us to perform the Plautus at the old Arena tomorrow. Ser Carlo promised months ago—"
Herlakin cut in, "I don't know anything about months ago. I follow the hounds, and they only know about tonight. Tonight, Verona is trouble." Then his tone brightened. "Want to come along?"
"You just said it was trouble."
"Not the humans," he pronounced this with deep scorn, as if Silvio had proposed inviting a flock of sheep to the Doge's palace. "You and Piero. Well, you, mainly." Herlakin laid one large hand on Silvio's shoulder, leaning so close to his ear that one of his antlers nudged his grand-nephew's head. "I hear it's likely to be messy, so there should be a lot of despair. I could use the help."
"No, thank you," Silvio answered, feeling queasy. He'd been hoping to convince Herlakin to take the Hunt somewhere else and now realized how deluded he'd been to think this creature would ever consider changing his plans to suit someone else's.
The aivàn frowned. "You're sure?" One could almost say he pouted. "Such a waste of a talent."
"Mader di Dio," Silvio muttered in disgust.
"Oh, well." Herlakin's mood switched again. "In that case, you might want to tell your friends to let the horses go."
"Let them go?"
"All horses within earshot of the ladies' baying will be compelled to follow my Hunt. But since my companions and I know the way to Verona from here, I'll only need one of the dogs until we get to the city. I'll send Brugliera and Boralisa off with you, and they'll lead your friends' horses out of danger. They can catch up with the Hunt once you reach the river."
Silvio glanced dubiously toward the sky, where the huge, rising yellow moon was obscured by a fast-moving screen of thick clouds. "It sounds like your plan will end by getting us even more lost."
With an uncharacteristically direct gaze, Herlakin said, "I swear by Pan's beloved flute: when the dogs leave them, your friends will know where they are."
Silvio found himself believing this. The plan was even making a mad kind of sense. "We won't get to Verona on time, will we?"
Herlakin put a leaf-clad arm around his young kinsman's shoulders in an almost convincing imitation of some normal person's wise, old uncle. "If you want to keep your human friends out of trouble, make sure they're late to Verona. A whole day late, if you can manage it." Silvio nodded and was rewarded with a parting slap on the back. "Anyway, if I don't send the dogs with you, you'll all be riding into town in the middle of the Hunt."
This was, of course, precisely what Silvio had run out here to prevent. "All right, how do I explain this to ser Carlo?"
"Explain?" the aivàn laughed. "He won't want it explained." Herlakin vaulted onto his horse's back. "Humans always have their own explanations; let him think of one." He whistled a signal to the hounds. "They'll keep out of sight until you whistle for them. Use the same signal." Then he motioned to the invisible company and heeled the horse into position at the head of the column.
"What should I tell everyone?" Silvio called up to him.
"Tell them to ride." Brugliera and Boralisa were bouncing up onto their hind paws, eager to be off.
"Wait--what about the wagon?" Silvio had to shout now as a cold gust rattled the dry leaves and Herlakin's horse started off. He jumped out of the way as something like a hundred war horses horses and assorted other beasts started thundering past.
"No, no wagons! Just ride!"
The Wild Hunt veered off through the trackless darkness. The hoofbeats and Beladona's baying faded into the tumult of an approaching storm as Silvio hurried back to the wagon with the other two hounds close behind. Leaves ripped from the branches slapped him in the face as he ran. When he saw a pinprick of lamplight, he turned and whispered, "Stay." To his surprise, the dogs obeyed, though they kept on barking and yelping.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Piero had just succeeded in getting a violently coughing Pantalon off his horse and in securing all the animals. He was about to join the others in the shelter of the wagon when his brother burst out of the thrashing underbrush and into the lamplight. He had leaves stuck to his coat and tangled in his hair, making his appearance even more startling.
"Everybody out of the wagon," Silvio panted. "Get on the horses!"
"Are you joking?" Piero grumbled. Large drops of icy rain were now slapping at the wagon's cover.
Silvio grabbed his brother's sleeve, pulled him away from the wagon and whispered, "The hounds are coming, and the horses are going to run. The wagon will be destroyed."
"You couldn't get rid of him?"
A sardonic quirk of Silvio's eyebrows put an end to that notion.
"What about those two?" Piero asked, indicating the cart horses.
"I guess you'd better unhitch them. They're liable to hurt themselves if they're pulling something when the dogs get here."
Shaking his head in resignation, Piero returned and leaned his head in to tell the passengers. "Change of plan. Everyone has to ride." Complaints and murmurs of disbelief came from inside the wagon. "Silvio went to have a look," he said vaguely, "We have to save the horses."
With various groans and mutterings, the company bundled themselves into their various wrappings, piled back out of the wagon and began untying their perplexed and unhappy mounts. Piero dug a pair of gloves out of the prop box, to protect his half-aivàn hands from the iron fittings, and got to work unhitching the cart horses. Silvio, posted by the horses' heads to keep them still, whistled almost inaudibly into the wind. He hadn't been sure whether the hounds would hear the signal, but their baying began to come nearer again.
Oriela was about to climb up behind Isabetta on the mare, but Pantalon barked, "No!" His voice was so sharp that it startled the big sorrel, causing it to take a step toward Silvio. Piero swore as the traces tightened. Everyone else looked at Pantalon.
"She rides with me," he croaked. His face was pale and tense. Without argument, Oriela turned and let him help her onto his gelding.
Before Silvio had time to speculate about Pantalon's anxiety, Piero said, "You take this one." He had coiled up one of the bay's reins and hung it on the collar horns, keeping the other in his hand.
"Take this what?" Silvio assumed he meant one of the innumerable lengths of leather involved in attaching horses to wagons.
"This horse!" He used his shoulder to point at the bay. "You need to stay with us, and we can't just let her run loose." Piero secured the coiled traces to the breaching on the sorrel's harness. Boralisa and Brugliera couldn't be more than a hundred paces behind the wagon now, but they seemed to be taking their time, awaiting the right moment for their entrance.
"With me on her back, she might as well be running loose," Silvio protested.
"I'll have a rein." Piero assured him. "All you have to do is hang on."
Silvio looked dubiously at the collar with its iron horns. "Was there another pair of gloves in that box?"
As if they'd heard a cue, the hounds burst onto the road and Piero leapt onto the high back of the sorrel. "No time! Here!" Piero pulled off one of his gloves and tossed it to Silvio.
Silvio caught the glove and stuck it between his teeth to free his hands, then pulled himself up by the harness, no doubt to the bay's annoyance. He was reaching for the glove when the horse took off, and he just had time to grasp one of the collar horns. When his hand touched the iron, it instantly started aching, but he was too frightened to let go. In a heartbeat, the wagon with its comforting lamplight was left behind, and Isabetta's pretty scream punctuating their departure in a cavalcade of crashing branches, hoofbeats, howls and wet, driving darkness.
"What is it about Italy that makes lady novelists reach such heights of absurdity?" --Cecil Vyse, "A Room With a View"
I've been to the most improbable city on the planet, where the streets are no wider than my front walk and there's a boat for every imaginable purpose. I got my feet wet in a flood, I got lost one night until 2 a.m., and I miss it horribly. For the first few days back all I could do was brood and wonder when I could go back. My baggage and most of my brain got left behind in Bergamo, of which I grieve to say I saw only the airport.
Then I started writing nonstop. If I have to come up for air long enough to take the trash to the dump or buy groceries, I do so with dialogue running through my head. My characters are doing all sorts of unexpected things. I love it when they do that. It's like getting lost in Venice, then finding a song, a glowing palace or a new friend around the next corner.
It being All Hallow's Eve, I put on my new leather Arlecchino mask to greet the great quantity of THREE trick-or-treaters who managed to show up on Trowbridge. Our street has been declining as a Hallowe'en destination for the past several years as the young children who lived here have grown up. Kids from other streets don't come; the houses are too far apart and the streetlights too far between.
The only real costume was the first girl, in one of those French maid outfits. I told her if she were in my troupe she'd be called la servetta and her name would be either Franceschina or Colombina. She liked that. However, she was slightly disappointed that my son wasn't here to scare her this year. (He's off watching horror movies with friends.) I really miss Venice.
Spent the morning as a Medieval Spaniard for Vacation Bible School. The kids are going on "pilgrimages" to various historical sites, and I was the storyteller (Spanish innkeeper) for their visit to Sant'Iago de Compostela. I cobbled together a costume of fabric remnants, my own clothes and my research. I doubt the Society for Creative Anachronism would be impressed, but the kids liked it.
All the Spanish I know I picked up from the Spanish teacher at Keystone Montessori: lots of preschool vocabulary, not much grammar, and her authentic Madrid accent. I added some Babelfish and some Inigo Montoya to the mix, and they bought it. They also liked the song I made up setting the day's Bible verse to a 15th century Spanish carnival song.
I'm mostly here for research tips. My book takes place in northern Italy in the 1500s and includes, with its human characters, a family of fairies whose home habitat would be the mountains around Lakes Como and Iseo.
When I Google the subject, I keep getting Pinnocchio's Blue Fairy, more a literary device than a figure from folklore. Reading Italo Calvino's Italian Folk Tales hasn't shed much more light on the subject, either.