"An Island that Is Always with You" - the 9th novelette of the fantasy novel-cycle "The Songs of Peter Sliadek"

By Henry Lion Oldie

Fantasy, Action & adventure, Historical fiction, Horror

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619
16 mins

CHAPTER NINE An Island that Is Always with Yo...

A bridge between the spirit and the world, a key to the lock of all knowledge, a bodily reflection of the soul in the tiniest salty, crimson corpuscles, an emanation of the mind—this is what flows in your veins, oh naive folk!
Try and taste it: different juices flow in the veins of those who are insane and those who are wise. And the more blood is lost in vain, the more does reason leave us.
Antonio della Scala of Tuscany, “The Grail Found”

Open your veins
Like a door.
We are inside—
What does it hide?
Tell me—
Who lived here before?
Neru Bobovay

Naples is a paradise on a powder keg, Peter thought with a sigh.
He had strong reasons for such conclusions. An entire army of volcanoes was situated around the city, headed by Vesuvius, which made every day of one’s life especially sunny and every night exceptionally passionate. At first, Sliadek could not get used to the carelessness of the Neapolitans, who laughed at light earthquakes as if these were the pranks of a beloved child. Eventually though, he got used to it. Laugh at your fear like a clown, but don't forget to hold your cup, because it may fall from the table at any moment.
Also, everyone here—from the Duchess Eleanor, the daughter of the Viceroy Pietro Metastasio, down to the petty smuggler Antonio, nicknamed Mastro Cherry—sang “Santa Lucia.” They sang it in chorus and solo, to string and wind instruments, a capella, day and night. The fishermen’s district of the same name, which had given the name to the famous barcarole, lured foolish lutenists with the odor of fried fish—and did not let them go alive, demanding again and again: “Venite all’agile barchetta mia… Santa Lucia! Sa-a-anta Luci-i-i-ia-a!” Oh, it was so hard to sing when his mouth was stuffed with sardines in oil!
Such a wonderful place: kind fishermen's wives, generous fishermen, dirty-faced children…
At the present moment, Peter Sliadek was stuck, hammered like a nail into the quay, admiring the gloomy mass of Castel dell’Ovo. He had already learned the story of the Egg Castle by heart. In recent battles, when Ferdinand the Catholic and Maximilian the Hell-Kite supported the winged lion of Venice and the Milanese men-eating snake and kicked the Frenchman Charles the Marauder out of Naples, the Egg Castle had suffered a lot, but it was rebuilt anew. However, the local population did not give a hoot about current politics, preferring the deeds of “auld lang syne.”
The Neapolitans were proud of their past even more than of the volcanoes, “Santa Lucia,” and their contempt to the word “tomorrow.” Every boatman considered himself an heir to the glory of the Roman Empire; every tradeswoman pointed her fat finger at the Egg Castle and chattered on unceasingly. In ancient days, on the site of Castel dell’Ovo stood the villa of Lucullus, the patrician and commander renowned more for his gluttony than for any military feats. There, on the beach, to the murmur of waves, the poet and wizard Vergilius was composing his “Aeneid” while preparing to descend into hell and wait there for Alighieri the Florentine to visit him.
In the time free from Aeneas’s heroic deeds, Vergilius used to reflect upon the connection between the fate of Naples and a magical egg. The local legend said: the egg was hidden in an amphora, the amphora was in a chest made of cold iron, the chest was immured into the base of the Egg Castle, and above the treasure, the castle was built, to serve as its faithful guardian. This meant that if some stupid hero did not demolish the castle and break the egg—Naples would stand forever.
Peter thought that he had already heard this story somewhere. But in that story was a needle inside an egg and an egg inside a hare. In addition, there was a green oak nearby with a gold chain on it. And a mouse was running by. Ah, it was some Russian fairy tale that he had chanced to hear once.
And all the while, the song flowed above the city:

Con questo ziffiro
Cost soave
Oh! Com’e bello
Star su la nave!
Su passaggieri
Venite via!
Santa Lucia!
Santa Lucia!

Alas, the Neapolitans rejected the needle and the chained oak with indignation, yet they willingly agreed to the clinking of chains and the plaints of prisoners who had perished in the castle. The favorite of local children, especially boys, was the Headless Saracen—the poor fellow had been beheaded and his head had been thrown into the sea, so now the Saracen was hanging about the corridors, searching for his loss. Girls preferred Lady Toffana, who had sold her soul to Beelzebub in the Castel dell’Ovo in exchange for the secret of poisons. There were many passionate beauties that successfully managed to become widows with the help of the kindhearted lady. Local girls heard all those stories with delight and dreamed of marrying as soon as possible. Whereas, old men used to recall Romulus Augustus, the last Roman emperor, the youth who had been assassinated at the same villa of the unforgettable Lucullus. According to their mumbling and smirking, each of them had been a witness to the assassination, if not a participant. Each had personally swung his dagger and stuck it into Romulus’s heart.
They also drank a lot of Chianti here…

“How do you do, Signora Francesca?”
The lady nodded without stopping. Sliadek followed her with his eyes for a long time. Usually timid with women, he was ready to grovel at the feet of Francesca Caccini, whom her admirers tenderly called La Cecchina. She was a rarity, more than a magical egg and a headless Saracen: a woman composer! The author of “Il Ballo delle Zigane,” “Mascherata della Bufola,” and the opera “The Lathe of Heaven.”
Of course, the vagrant was not fortunate enough to be on the list of guests for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, in order to admire the premiere of “Il Ballo delle Zigane” in the Palazzo Pitti, to dance Pavana, and eat sweets from silvered willow baskets. Yet he was lucky to hear La Checchina’s melodies (in the intervals between the endless “Santa Lucia”) from local musicians, who even remembered Giuseppe the Magnificent, Francesca’s father and the master of the “dramma per musica” genre.
In short, if love at first sound did exist in the world, that was it!
“You look wonderful… today,” Peter muttered.
No, she passed by. As clear as day, God had not endowed the magnificent Francesca with beauty and talent for her to listen to the compliments of vagrants. Overwhelmed with obscure melancholy, Peter sat down on the cobbles, leaned with his back against the parapet, uncovered The Capricious Mistress, and started playing “Stockyard Madrigal.” It was a parody, complicated due to sharp transitions from high harmony to mewing, dog howling, and chicken cackling.
He had learned it from Antonio the Tuscan—not a Duke like his namesake, but a veritable madman. Having been a master of viola in his youth, after his mother’s tragic death, Antonio became mad with the idea that human blood was a substance related more to the mind than to the vivifying emanations of the body. In his last years, the Tuscan wandered along Italian roads, mostly expounding his theories to idlers and seldom playing his viola. Peter became acquainted with him in Florence, in a tavern named Good Intentions. He fled from the talkative Antonio two days later, in spite of his respect to the latter’s talent; after the conversations with the Tuscan, he saw in his dreams crowds of identical ruddy men whose veins grew together.
After he had finished the “Madrigal,” the vagrant impassively collected the coins that had been thrown to him and left the quay. He did not see how La Cecchina lingered beside a flowering stone pine, secretly following the poor lutenist with her eyes. Then again, it was good that he did not see her.
Hope is a poison worse than Acqua Toffana. One does not even need to pour it into the wine because fools hurry to take a gulp from a goblet of Hope on their own.

Behind Peter’s back sounded alluringly:

The reeds are rustling
Under the light wind,
Over the dark sea,
The moon is shining.
Oh, you that cured my soul—
Blessed I am here!
Santa Lucia!
Santa Lucia!

It must be noted that, in Naples, Peter lived in the Decameron Inn, near the Faded Roses’ Street. Some local “Raphael da Vinci” depicted on its shield a key to a locked heart that resembled the gate of a fortress, and below it the innkeeper, the estimable Giovanni Boccaccio Junior, wrote in a bold hand the benevolent maxim: “Abandon doubt, all ye who enter here!” That was exactly what the Neapolitans usually told visitors when asked where to stay. “In the Decameron, no doubt!” advised the Neapolitans.
Peter had gotten there by chance: a troupe of Commedia dell’Arte, which performed at the square near the Palazzo Gravina during daytime and entertained the guests of the inn in the evenings, needed a musician.
Brighella the Simpleton, in his real life a cunning capocomico—the leader of the troupe—nearly groveled at Sliadek’s feet: “Help, Il Virtuoso! Or else, tre millioni diablo, we’ll presto finita la comedia!” He was supported by Scaramuccia and Pulcinella. The pretty Colombina pressed to the victim with her passionate thigh, and the deed was done.
If one were not used to compliments and the charms of women, then one would be lost. A person would be bought and sold. That was why wise men became used to compliments in advance. Well, at the very least, they would have asked Signor Capocomico why their previous musician had run away.
Instead of salary, Brighella paid for food and lodging for Il Virtuoso, generously adding to these five or six lire per week—“for flowers for signorinas.” Peter sincerely thought that he was purely squandering for the troupe and was very shy to take the money. The sly capocomico, however, saw that local spectators, who had avoided visiting the Decameron before, became regular visitors of the inn. He only smirked, while encouraging Sliadek’s useful misconception. Despite his mask of a simpleton, Brighella could perfectly distinguish the small lire of the coinage of the Doge Nicolo Tron from silver soldi and golden scudi, not to mention Venetian sequins.
“Bambino idioto!” Brighella would say to his friend Scaramuccia, a bald, lanky fellow with a bass so deep that wineglasses were breaking during his monologues. Of course, in moments of such sincere conversations, Sliadek was not found nearby. “By Santa Maria Novella, I’ll channel his passion for wandering into the course I need! Milan, Genoa, Livorno! Florence! Rome! Mamma mia, I can already see the crowds applauding us!”
“I’ve always appreciated your talent for leadership!” Scaramuccia wiped his tears. In this aspect, the lanky fellow did not lie a bit, because he would not give tuppence for Brighella’s talent for acting.
“And how handsome he is!” Colombina sighed.
“And how he sings ‘Santa Lucia’!” added the aging Servetta, indispensable in minor roles and as a procuress. “I always sob when he sings a cantilena! It’s bad for me to sob, by the way; my makeup may be flaking!”
All of the aforesaid was sheer truth.

Why do you tarry,
My pretty maiden?
The waves are lazy,
The boat is waiting.
Take the key to my heart,
Stay with me here!
Santa Lucia!
Santa Lucia!

This evening, “Lord against His Will, or Fool’s Paradise” was performed in the Decameron Inn.
Tartaglia the Villain, smirking demonically, was convincing Brighella the Simpleton—a sergeant of the city guard—that poor fellow Brighella had miraculously gotten into the magical land of Fruttinbrass-Fairy, and that from that day on, Brighella was a great wizard, a warrior, a lord, and an idol for passionate Fruttinbrass women. Scaramuccia and Pulcinella assisted the villain in deceiving the credulous sergeant. One of them was teaching the victim to “spawn fire” with the help of the Heat Artifact taken on an empty stomach, while the other was fencing with Brighella on brooms and candlesticks—being crushed outright each and every time. The goal of this prank was the traditional desire of the curly-headed Leander to marry Colombina, the sergeant’s daughter. But the cunning Tartaglia was delaying the marriage by demonstrating the madman’s tricks to the good Neapolitans for five soldi apiece.
In short, there was everything that the respectable public needed.
Light wicker armchairs stood in a semicircle in the yard of the inn. Some of the spectators—chiefly the guests of the inn and the ladies they had invited—occupied the balconies of the second and third floors. Others sat right on the fountain border, enjoying the coolness. Peter Sliadek nestled at the side of the improvised stage, trying not to get under the feet of the temperamental actors. He played various galliards, chaconnes, and villanelles to adorn the performance, and sometimes, during pauses, even performed his own songs that had been approved beforehand by the leader of the troupe. In the entr’acte, he moved to more serious pieces—for instance, suites by Vincenzo Galilei from the Florentine Camerata.
Unfortunately, life was not kind to the genius composer. His beloved son, instead of taking up music, had betrayed the family art and became fond of astronomy and other things of the kind. This was yawn inducing. The vagrant was never able to understand the criminal thoughtlessness of this young man. How could he abandon his father’s “Dialogo della Musica Antica et della Moderna” for stupid phases of Venus and satellites of Jupiter? While wondering at human recklessness, Peter sometimes dreamt: “Ah, how I wish to have been begotten by the inspired Vincenzo Galilei! I would never! By no means! A lute, a lute, and once again, a lute!”
Alas, dreams remained dreams. None of the coryphaei of music was hurrying to find the vagrant, crying in ecstasy, “Oh my son, my prodigal son, do embrace thy father!” Only a lady in a half mask threw him a rose from a balcony.
Thanks for that, at least.
Darkness was stealthily swallowing Naples, and the little patio of the Decameron was no exception. The stage lit by hanging lamps and three jugs with tar at the sides looked mysterious in the dusk. The comical mishaps of Brighella, whom the entire troupe was gibing at, inventing new pranks to the amusement of the spectators, no longer seemed a farce but rather a tragedy of a little man who believed in illusionary, free grandeur. The sergeant was sincerely slaying dragons, liberating princesses, and disenchanting castles. He did not hear the guffaw behind his back, did not notice the mockery, and impassively endured the blows and pinches of Servetta, who got carried away with play. The contents of a night pot that was spilled on his head from the coulisses aroused sympathy from spectators instead of the intended gaiety. Brighella was worthless as an actor, but this time, it worked for the benefit of the show: his simple, unpretentious sincerity added a bit of pepper to the familiar food.
Soon, however, Sliadek became tired of watching the changes that the director Evening introduced into the play. In the second act, the lutenist was less occupied, and he got the opportunity to recover his breath. Idling, he was observing the public. Estimable and wealthy gentlemen watched “Lord Against His Will.” The members of the city junta visited the performance with their families. A group of peevish and skeptical advocates from Bologna came to entertain a small flock of courtesans, who were pleased with the performance greatly. Tax collectors from Livorno, and two representatives from the medical society—a gloomy surgeon and a pharmacist, both dressed in clothes of red color—were there, too. A merry widow dressed in a coquettish-looking black gown and veil came with a group of admirers—merchants from Padua and Brescia, according to their clothing.
Peter could not clearly see the lady in the half mask. Only her diadem, embodied with pearls, and the chain of her flea-fur, made from beautifully dressed polecat pelt, glittered in the shadow of the balcony.

And if they ask you
Where you were walking,
Say, “For the way home
I have been looking.
It took me the whole night
To find the way here.”
Santa Lucia!
Santa Lucia!

A signor, who was sitting in the first row on a folding stool, attracted Sliadek’s attention. Tall, unnaturally straight, he could have resembled a Corsican or even an Algerian due to his rapacious face, if his face had not been so pale. The straight line of his nose almost merged with his forehead, and his eyes shone piercingly and vividly. Snow-white teeth glistened under his tar-black mustache. Nearby, closer to the fencing, a feebleminded youth about fourteen years old was playing with sand. He sat right on the ground, scooped a handful of sand from the bucket brought by a prompt servant, and absentmindedly looked with delight at the grains of sand, as they ran through his fingers back into the bucket. The youth was insane but quiet and harmless.
Peter would have been surprised why the madman was allowed into the Decameron—if the lutenist had not met the youth and the pale signor in the inn lobby that morning.
The innkeeper, Giovanni, who favored Sliadek, told him afterwards that the pale signor was the renowned healer, Andrea Sforza, and the boy was his patient. Signor Sforza was the only doctor who dared attempt healing the ailments of the mind, even if the patient had lived such a life from birth. He was famous, in addition to frequent cases of recovery, for his methods—or rather, for the oddities and secrets involved.
Specifically, he preferred to work with far-gone cases of insanity.
“Oh, the inquisitors would have lain their hands on him long ago!” Giovanni’s eyes widened, and he wiped his permanently greasy hands with his apron. “Only the Saint Tribunal was never popular in Naples! You know, the constant discords between our sovereigns and the Roman curia. So Signor Healer makes profit off it!”
From the subsequent narration, it turned out that after agreeing with the madman’s family on the payment for the treatment, and after receiving the advance, Andrea Sforza traveled with his patient: Genoa, Livorno, Milan, Tuscany… Usually, it took a year or a bit more. The most violent lunatics turned as meek as lambs in Sforza’s company. However, they still remained sick. All of the innkeepers knew this and did not impede when Signor Sforza and his patient stopped in their inns. The more so because the wise healer was not stingy with payment.
Many physicians attempted to fish out the secret of what the cunning Andrea did with such patients. But all their attempts were fruitless. It looked like Signor Sforza did absolutely nothing except traveling with his patients from one city to another, leading the most common way of living.
At the expiration of a period known to him alone, he returned the patient to his family. From that day, his former patient absorbed knowledge as a sponge absorbs water and turned into a normal man in just two or three years, catching up with those of his age in development and sometimes even surpassing them.
Andrea began negotiations with new clients, quickly reaching an agreement.
“He doesn’t accept apprentices!” Giovanni sputtered. “Some people would sell their souls only to become Sforza’s apprentice! But he says that his secret will die with him!”
Peter had little interest in the medical craft. He had quickly forgotten the story about the healer and his patient and recalled it only now, at the end of the performance.
The pale signor seemed to feel someone’s attention. He glanced at first at the lutenist, yet quickly averted his eyes to the patient. A hanging lamp shaped as an Ottoman turban lit the signor’s face quite well.
“Romeo!” Andrea Sforza whispered with his lips alone. “Calm down, my friend!” And at once, the boy began pouring the sand more thoroughly, though a minute earlier he had missed the bucket thrice.
“Are you asleep? Play on!” Brighella’s nervous whisper brought the lutenist back to reality. Sliadek joined in with the frivolous “Passamezzo,” waited till the troupe danced the final dance that symbolized the complete and utter disgrace of the stupid sergeant, as well as the happy marriage of Leander and Colombina, and then he quietly retired to his room. He asked to bring his supper upstairs: some cheese, olives, flat bread, and a jug of sour wine. Brighella’s generosity was always something he admired. If someone called the charming capocomico a skinflint and a miser, the vagrant would never believe it.
Blessed were the unpretentious!
And above the city, above the prankish fly that had fallen into the heady ink of the evening, it was heard:

O dolce Napoli,
О soul beato,
Ove sorridere
Volleil creato…

The moon was rolling down from the ridge of midnight as Sliadek sat on the balcony composing a new song. A piece of paper with the record of the first stanza, the refrain, and the brief tablature was clutched in his hand. While he was trying to find a recurrent rhyme that was stubbornly avoiding him, he unclenched his fingers. The piece of paper flew from his hand like a white butterfly. It was caught by the wind and soared over the interlaced ironwork of the railing. Peter rushed to catch the runaway but was too late. The piece of paper flew farther, as if mocking him, hung in midair for a moment, and stuck to the scrolls of railing on the next-door balcony.
How could Peter retrieve it? Was it better to write it again?
Alas, soon it became clear that he did not remember the full song. The vagrant was looking despondently at the damned piece of paper, pondering whether he should ask a servant to bring a stick and reach for it. The servant would ask questions, and then he would look for a stick for a long time. Moreover, if Peter did not hook the paper properly, it would get free and fly away again. Maybe he could turn to the innkeeper and ask him to open the room or look for the guest who lived there? None of the options were to Sliadek’s liking.
All the while, the record was teasing him, fluttering from the sighs of the night, threatening to take flight once again. It was hard to say whether the jug of wine was the cause, or maybe the general Neapolitan recklessness affected him, poisoning his soul with the potion of courage, but a minute later, the brave Peter Sliadek was already climbing over the railing of his balcony, intending to get to the next one by a narrow cornice.
Agitation found the usual response in his heart, becoming lyrics and music. Now it was not Peter but a lover that climbed on the balcony to his desired girl. The song was long lasting, becoming a serenade and an entreaty for passion. Its focus, as well as the world around it, its core and purpose was the devilish, heavenly, runaway piece of paper. To own it meant to attain heaven.
It was dark in the room; its tenant was surely drinking Chianti somewhere in the taverns on the shore. No one would notice the dexterous vagrant.
Peter stood on his neighbor’s balcony, clutching the runaway paper butterfly, trying not to shake the pollen of words off from its tender wings, and recovering his breath before going back the way he came. Suddenly, a key clicked in the lock. The door flew open.
Before this moment, the sacramental phrase, “Let there be light!” had never caused so many silent curses. Peter huddled in the corner, pressing himself to the railing that became suddenly hotter than an infernal pan; he saw nothing but a candle flame. It flowed into the room out of the corridor of the inn, lingering for a moment in the doorway. A pale haze swayed above the blazing tongue of flame and obtained features. In the candlelight, the face of Andrea Sforza looked like a carnival mask bauta: a white porcelain face; a white, unnaturally long nose; white teeth. Only the black line of his mustache broke the impression.
The healer's room absorbed the scant light and filled with shadows. Soundlessly chanting “Santa Lucia,” the shadows watched the tenant more intently than Sliadek watched him from the balcony. But the shadows were not praying to God for the possibility of escape.
Signor Sforza lingered next to a wall lamp but changed his mind and did not light the candles that were fixed there. Instead, he opened the lid of his travel chest and extracted a goblet shaped like a lily flower. The goblet was made of precious, patterned serpentine and mounted in silver. A horrible serpent wound itself around the goblet’s stem, bending its head over the cup, as if it were about to pour its poison into it. In addition to the goblet, Signor Sforza pulled out of the chest something elongated, wrapped in clean cloth. Then he proceeded to a table and sat down in an armchair.
“Romeo!” he called. “I am waiting, my boy!”
His young patient had been lingering in the corridor till that moment. Now he ran into the room. The healer stood up, shaking his head reproachfully; he thoroughly locked the door, and once again, returned to the table.
The shadows made Romeo’s face seem almost intelligent, yet this artificial intelligence was horrible and unable to fill the youth’s behavior with sense. People with clear minds could not prance this way, tremble with impatience, and utter pleading sounds; sane people did such things, yet differently, quite differently.
Andrea Sforza unfolded the cloth, took a lancet, and heated the blade over the flame of a candle.
The youth was standing motionless. He only moaned weakly, as if in ecstasy, when the lancet cut the vein on his wrist. A black stream flowed into the goblet, wetting the serpent’s head. The healer did not take much blood; almost instantly, he brought the boy’s hand to his mouth.
Peter Sliadek sat on the balcony, petrified, trying to merge with the decorations on the railing. He was dying from fear. It was a veritable strega in front of him. In Athens, such vampires were called “striga”; the Walachians called them “strigoi”; yet everywhere, their foul genealogy traced its roots back to the ancient Roman strix, who would turn into an owl at night in order to suck the blood of innocent children. Vampires of this kind knew neither borders nor bounds, they were found everywhere and under different names; yet only the Italians, with their refined souls, managed to come up with strega—bloodsuckers who did their vile deeds with elegancy and not without a certain grace. Add a dose of attractiveness to a nightmare, and you would get yourself an army of followers. A certain Pico della Mirandola from Bologna even wrote a scientific work called “Strix,” in which he described a dozen of the recent trials that had taken place in Brescia and Sondrio. Unfortunately, those accused had been executed without confessing to their sins, so Mirandola complained about the sorcerers’ mendacity and refusal to confess.
A breeze swayed the candle’s flame.
The boy’s arm and the sorcerer’s face above it suddenly became incredibly distinct, and Peter could not restrain a scream. Somehow, what he saw seemed to him much more frightful than the supposed fangs sinking into the flesh, especially since there were no fangs at all. Andrea Sforza was not drinking any blood from the open vein—he was licking the wound.
The healer moved as quickly as a devil. He appeared on the balcony in a moment, stood up over Peter, and was looking at his uninvited guest for a long time in silent pensiveness. In his silence was concealed a verdict. Signor Sforza was twiddling the lancet in his fingers with quite an unpleasant dexterity.
“You play the lute well,” the healer said. He did not possess a single voice, like regular people do. There was the impression that two men were talking: the melodious, musical speech was being interrupted suddenly with a coarse, barking tone. “Yet you are worthless as a spy.”
Peter thrust out his fist with the sheet of paper clutched in it, as a response. “I’m… here… so to say…”
It was a ridiculous, foolish excuse: Dearest Signor Strega, I did not want to spy on how you open the veins of Romeo the lunatic! It happened by chance; I’m already leaving, I’m already leaving.
The healer took the paper from the vagrant’s hand and read the note. It seemed the night was not an obstacle for him.
“You are a bad spy, while I understand nothing in poetry. Let’s go into the room.”
Bidding farewell in advance to all the blood that flowed in his puny body, Peter followed the sorcerer. But Signor Sforza did not hurry. He drew open the curtains over a bed and ordered his “guest” to sit down on its edge. Then he took the goblet from the table and drank its contents slowly, in three gulps.
Peter nodded for some reason and grew embarrassed.
“Watch it,” Andrea said over his shoulder. “You have spied, haven’t you? Now watch it through to the end.”
The word “end” on his lips sounded unambiguously.
“The physicians of Genoa and Milan would sell their souls to Satan for this secret. And I must note they would do so in vain: they would not succeed in any case. The jealous physicians don’t have the island that is always with you.”
While listening to this abracadabra, the vagrant was watching how Signor Sforza was opening the vein on his own left arm, decanting the blood into the goblet, and licking the wound, which made the blood coagulate fast and stop flowing. The insane Romeo was moaning nearby and gasping with craving. Soon Andrea passed the goblet to his ward. The madman was not as tidy as the healer: he swallowed the fresh blood in one gulp and even tried to lick the goblet from the inside. At once, Romeo lost all interest in his surroundings, sank onto a small bench next to the door, and fell asleep like the dead.
“Do you know what I’ll do now?” Andrea Sforza asked the vagrant.
“I do,” Peter nodded hopelessly. “Now you’ll tell me a story.”
Then it was the healer’s turn to be surprised. According to the expression on his face, he had expected any answer but this. A spy would never answer so ridiculously. Andrea stood next to the balcony door, lost in thoughts, and not a bit afraid that Peter would rush out from the room. Apparently, he knew that fear formed the best shackles in the world. Or he was certain he would catch Peter.
There was one more man in the room who was certain about it.
“You are either a brave man or a fool,” Signor Sforza said finally. “Anyway…”
Peter took a deep breath and prepared to listen to the last story in his cranky life.

****


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