Scarafaggio’s throat was raw from screaming, his voice swallowed up by Luciano’s palm. With one hand, she had sliced away his thumb, a quick, effortless flick of the blade, a plume of inky black blood, and it was over, save for the echoing of pain.
As if in triumph, Luciano grasped him by the wrist, holding his mangled hand before his eyes.
“Look at it, look!” She grinned with sadistic pleasure, taunting him with her grotesque artistry.
He closed his eyes against the sight.
“Open your eyes boy, unless you want to lose your eyelids too.” She growled in the deep, throaty voice she normally reserved for when she held masculine form.
Under the threat of more torment, he reluctantly opened his eyes to look upon his poor, wounded hand. How pathetic the thing looked with the digit sliced away, a broken toy, trampled and ready to take its place among the scrap heap. Tears of the tarry wine that coursed through his veins spilt down his wrist, blackening the sleeve of his shirt.
Then, something strange caught his eye. At first he thought he’d imagined it, but from the wound where his thumb had once sat, tendrils of snowy flesh began to extend, braiding themselves into a curious latticework. He watched as a ragged spire of bone jut forth, climbing as if in race against the winding brambles of tissue to see which could surpass the other.
The skin knit together. That was the only word he could find to describe it properly, for it truly was like the careful stitches he’s watched old woman twine together at needles end. Those women he’d watched had eventually conjured caps and Afghans into existence, but he watched as his own thumb reformed before his eyes.
“Concentrate, remember what this feels like.” Luciano urged.
“How?” Scarafaggio gasped as he watched the half moon of his fingernail rise up from the empty nail bed and grow into place. “How is this happening?”
He flexed his hand before his eyes, Luciano’s grip relenting a bit as he did so. He was whole again. He couldn’t explain the how or why of it, only that this new discovery awakened a sort of giddy exhilaration within him.
“Remember this feeling.” Luciano said, standing and freeing him from the oppression of her weight.
“I feel…wonderful,” He laughed. “Strange, dizzy…like all the world is melting into me and I’m just a clump of wax bubbling into a pool within it.”
“Ahh, that’ll be a combination of the food you’re working through your system and the blood loss.” Luciano crooned, offering her hand to help him up. “That’s to be expected. What I’m interested in is the shift.”
“Shift?” Scarafaggio muttered feebly.
“Yes, what you just did. Growing your damned thumb back from a stump? That’s a rudimentary shift, the basis for The Ritratto.”
Scarafaggio remained mute, staring at his hand in fascination.
“Well we can always do it again if it failed to leave an impression on you,” She shrugged with a mischievous grin. “You’ve got plenty more fingers.”
“NO!” He shouted, clutching his healed hand protectively and darting backwards from the woman, who still brandished her blade.
“Relax, I’m only teasing.” She assured him.
He could only respond with a frightened stare.
Luciano nodded to herself, running her fingers as she often did through her short crop of hair. “Of course. Sorry. I guess you’ll start to understand that better after the separation.”
She moved set the knife down on the kitchen table, holding her hands palms up in the air to show she had no intention of inflicting further injury on the boy.
“You see this knife.” She said, motioning with her head.
Scarafaggio gave it a cursory glance, keeping his distance.
“Well go on and get a good look at it, the thing doesn’t fly around stabbing people unescorted.” She chaffed.
Scarafaggio inched cautiously towards the thing, an action which drew a long, exasperated sigh from Luciano’s chest. He looked down on the blade. It was sharp on the cutting edge, but the metal was rough, and dark. It was almost, to his eye, as if the thing truly was alive, and covered in a swarthy hide of some kind.
“It’s forged from iron. You, me, Fatine in general, we’re deathly susceptible to the stuff. I can only touch it because of the handle.
Scarafaggio gripped the knife by said handle, examining the curious thing. It appeared to be wrapped in more of the Fatine leather his hosts were so fond of. He turned the thing back and forth, admiring how whispers of color were awakened within the black pelt as he did.
“A steel blade likely wouldn’t have even pierced your skin.” Luciano explained. “We heal too fast you see, but iron can take the wind out of a Fatine’s sails. We’re tough, but by no means invulnerable.”
“Have you ever killed one of your own kind?” Scarafaggio asked, letting a morbid curiosity take hold of him.
“More than once.” She said dryly, taking back her blade. “And I’m sure I’ll live to do it again. The day will come where you’ll have to do the same.”
He watched as she gingerly set the piece back where it had hung before, on the kitchen wall.
“It’s how we survive.” She said, with more than a hint of weariness in her tone.
Then, in the very next instant, her liveliness restored to her from some reserve held deep within, the soldier clapped her hands together and turned to the boy.
“Now, let’s talk about The Ritratto!”
She delighted in the word. This trick was clearly among her favorites she’d learned since leaving the tribù.
“The Ritratto is simply a series of shifts you initiate all over your body.” She said, letting her overcoat fall from her shoulders and shedding her jacket.
“If you can regrow a thumb from nothing, then you can manipulate that same ability to alter your existing form.”
He watched through the thin fall of her muslin shirt, which hung languid about her lean frame, as she assumed her masculine form. Her shoulders broadened, filling in the cloth to near bursting, her bosoms were swallowed into her chest as it pushed forth, into the robust dove breasted musculature of a battle hardened warrior. Her neck too thickened, chin squaring off, the feathery wisps of white hair that danced about her temples curling and darkening like paper caught in flame.
“I don’t expect you to take on a full Ritratto this time.” The newly formed man who stood before him spoke, a moustache sprouting upon his lip as he did.
“Maybe something simple.” He suggested. “You cold make your eyes blue for example.”
“I can’t see my eyes.” Scarafaggio complained. “I’d never know if I’d done it or not.”
“Fair enough.” The soldier chuckled. “Just give it a try, maybe give yourself webbed fingers…”
“I can do that?” Scarfaggio marvelled.
“Son, I don’t know what you can do, I’m asking you to show me!” The soldier groaned, though his annoyance was more theatrical than anything.
Scarafaggio looked at the backs of his hands, concentrating. The skin upon them began to bubble and froth, as if he was boiling away. He stopped, frightened.
“Don’t be afraid, you’re not going to hurt yourself!” Luciano chortled at the youngster’s hesitation.
Scarafaggio closed his eyes, concentrating. He’d never given much thought to his form; he’d only just become aware of himself as an individual, rather than a stitch in the great tapestry that was the tribù. If he were to take a form, what would he want it to be? He could hear Luciano’s impatient muttering behind the shade of his eyelids, but he ignored this chiding banter.
He though back to his mother. He’d seen his own face before in still waters, and reflections in glass, and he’d seen it in her as well. He thought back on her, tawny skin and those rich brown eyes, wet and glistening with tears. He’d asked Mammina once if she was beautiful. To his eyes, in that moment, sorting her flowers, she had been the very embodiment of beauty.
He thought about the vision he’d gleaned from her. She had held a memory, all these years of the son, stolen from very womb. She must have wondered what the child looked like; or rather what it would have looked like had it been human. He imagined himself this way, taking on the blush of her skin, the dark bloom of her irises. He hadn’t seen her hair, only the black veil she’d worn. He tried to envision that veil as a cascade of obsidian tresses, spilling down over her back and shoulders. As he did, he felt the braid that held his hair unwinding.
He imagined himself walking hand in hand with Guendalina, without need of his glamour, but as a fellow human being. The sights she could show him, now unafraid to reveal her friend to the waiting world.
He opened his eyes to witness a look of genuine surprise upon Luciano’s face. He would later discover that such an expression rarely took hold of the soldier. He stepped forward to touch the boy’s cheek, and run his hands over his now swarthy hair.
He could see his reflection in the soldier’s eyes. It was a human face, which looked back at him, the face he might have known had he not been tainted with Fatine blood. There, reflected upon the soldier’s startled eyes was a human boy, olive skinned, with a tumbling of long black hair and eyes that danced between cocoa and mahogany. It was the face he had imagined, concocted from the memory of his mother.
“Dolce!” Luciano called out. “Dolce, you have to come and see this!” He bellowed in a voice that thundered down the hall.
His cries woke Doppio, who protested his exit from the world of dreams with a shrill cry.
“Oh, now I’ve done it.” Luciano moaned. “Uè-uè,” He mimicked the baby’s wailings. “That’s his favorite sound lately, did you know that Fatine babies don’t cry?”
Scarafaggio shook his head. He hadn’t known that, though it made a strange kind of sense. One had to have some knowledge of self to cry out for their needs in protest.
The soldier’s eyes darted across the floor to the inky puddle and the severed thumb that remained in its centre. Quickly, he snatched the digit up and tossed it to Scarafaggio, grabbing a rag to sop up the spilt blood.
“Get rid of that thumb!” He urged. “It’ll only upset her.”
Scarafaggio hastily tucked the thing into his pants pocket, reminding himself to burn it later.
There was a shuffling in the corridor, the coo of a mother consoling her babe, and then the slap of feet upon tiled floor approaching. Arabella emerged with a cross look upon her face. She opened her mouth to chastise the soldier, but he quickly deflected her attention to Scarafaggio with the jut of a pointed finger.
Arabella too was taken aback by the transformation. She approached, disbelieving that this was the same youth they had taken in.
“Scarafaggio?” She tried.
Doppio, somehow aware of the change, reached a curious hand forth and clutched to a bundle of the boy’s hair.
“Yes, it’s me.” He laughed, gently prying the babe’s chubby fingers free.
“Well Doppio seems to approve.” Arabella laughed. “I think you look quite handsome.” She whispered close to his ear, so close he could feel her breath warm upon his skin.
The words thrilled Scarafaggio, whose mind was suddenly assaulted by lecherous imagery of himself and Arabella. He shivered against the visions, as though his spine were crippled by the weight of them on his mind. He desperately tried to force these caprices from his head. It was to no avail of course, as both his hosts were instantly aware of his fancies. He was thankful that they only met them with a spattering of embarrassed laughter.
“Well, it’s not a terribly creative Ritratto, but I’ve never seen someone accomplish a full body shift on the first try. Well done my boy.” The soldier praised him. He could tell that the accolades were tempered, so as not to allow him the luxury of pride. They still had too far to go for that.
“This speeds things along exponentially!” Luciano chirped. “We can go visit Mingmei tomorrow…”
“Oh that awful woman!” Arabella’s voice smouldered with scorn. “Don’t you dare expose him to her!”
“He needs to have some leathers of his own made eventually” Luciano reasoned, placing a hand upon his Dolce’s shoulder. “He can’t keep borrowing yours, it leaves you unprotected, and that’s not a risk we can take if we’re going to be abetting a renegade.”
“Please, I haven’t left the house in months.” Arabella protested.
“No, but you will. I won’t have a shut in for a wife!” Luciano chuckled.
It was the first time he had heard the soldier use this term for the woman with whom he lived. Wife, was that how he regarded her? He understood the term as a definition, had heard humans toss it about before, but to hear another Fatine regard someone in this way was strange to him. Such unions did not exist for his people, and yet these women were clearly wives to one another.
He suddenly felt very alone. He’d abandoned the tribù, lost his brothers and his Mammina; he wanted desperately to belong to someone, with someone. He was emboldened by the thought of Guendalina. Though clearly she was not a wife she was someone who waited for his arrival, and wanted for him when he was gone. It was more than he could ever expect from the tribù. He wanted to separate from them, needed to. It was a desire so deep, so desperate, that just entertaining the though caused him physical pain. It was as though his body were but straw, and this need was a hand, twisting at the husk of his form, tearing him asunder. If a visit to this wretched woman Mingmei could make separation possible, he welcomed it.
“We’ll get him some leathers, and a few other odds and ends, and then we can began his training!” Luciano said with climbing excitement. The soldier flew to a bookcase, and began tearing tomes off its shelves.
“Yes, he’ll have to learn to read and write first. Start keeping a journal of daily events, for after the separation. It’ll take some time to learn all the dialects…we’ve pushed for one unified Italian language, but I doubt we’ll ever. ”
“How many are there?” Scarafaggio ventured. “How many dialects?”
“Oh, more than twenty,” Luciano tossed back. “And then if you count the Romani and of course Albanians and Greeks you meet a fair amount of them roaming around…”
“And I’m supposed to learn all of this so I can just forget it when I break from the tribù?” Scarafaggio balked.
“Oh on the contrary.” Luciano spoke with a dogged insistence. “The more experiences you offer your mind, the more it has to try and grapple on to when you’re climbing your way back from amnesia!” He pantomimed the words for him, clawing his way out of some invisible pit.
“Separation from the tribù isn’t a speedy process by any means. It can take years to do it properly.” Luciano tacked on.
“Guendalina needs me now!” Scarafaggio protested, perhaps a bit more forcefully than was warranted, but with the conviction of his entire being.
Luciano fell silent, and for a moment, Scarafaggio was afraid he’d offended him.
“Not to be ungrateful…” He muttered apologetically.
“No.” Luciano pushed back quickly, his eyes fixated on the book he held in his hands.
He shoved the thing towards Arabella. “I thought I threw this away.” He said, the bother in his tone rattling his voice. “Threw it out with the rest of the rubbish!”
“You did, but I dug it back out.” She said stridently. “And I’ll do it again. There’s some beautiful stories in there…”
“And one that isn’t!” Luciano said, swallowing back the anger that was rising within him.
“You should appreciate them, they were written by a soldier.” Arabella refuted.
“Apparently a soldier and a rapist.” Luciano’s voice had grown hallow, and dull. He tossed the book gently at Arabella’s feet, shaking his head in bewilderment.
“What is it?” Scarafaggio asked, picking up the subject of their dispute.
“Nothing that should interest you.” Luciano retorted. “And unless you can read Neapolitan, nothing you’ll understand.”
He stood there for a moment, forcing his hands through his hair, as was his habit.
“We’ll have to leave early tomorrow morning, that is if you still want some time to spend with your girl.” He spoke vapidly, staring into the middle distance. “I’m going to bed now, and I suggest you do the same.” He graced Scarafaggio with a fleeting glance so he’d understand the words were meant for him. Then, without any further discourse, he turned on his heel and disappeared down the hallway, leaving his jacket and overcoat in a pile on the floor.
Overcome with curiosity, Scarafaggio flipped open the pages, wondering at what could be contained within them to affect the man so. Here was a war battered lieutenant, who had both faced death and doled it out, yet something within these leaves of paper was so disturbing to his mind as to drive him from the room.
There within the leather bindings, Scarafaggio found instead great works of beauty. The words were all scribbling to his eye, but he understood the illustrations. Here were visions, plucked from the mind of an artist and reborn upon the page in splatterings of colour and confident swoops of ink. He’d seen artists work this kind of magic at their easels along the streets. They asked for nothing more than the tinkling of coins in their overturned hats. For this meagre fee, they would traverse the very boundaries of reality, creating the world as it should be yet never was.
Upon the page revealed before him was a picture of a beautiful woman, her body adorned in fine silks and jewels. She sat in careless repose, eyes closed against the world. There she rest, forever locked in that moment upon a golden throne, beneath the billowing sweep of a brocade canopy.
“I’ve always loved those pictures.” Arabella smiled, tracing her fingers over the page. “It’s only etching and aquatint, but it almost looks like you could crawl in there, doesn’t it?”
Doppio punctuated his mother’s words with a fervent “Gah!”
“Why does Luciano hate it so much?” Scarafaggio puzzled.
She thought for a moment, searching for the right words to explain her wife’s revulsion. Then, Doppio bestriding her hip and tucked firmly into the crook of her arm, she pulled out a chair at the kitchen table.
“Have a seat, and I’ll read you some.” She invited. It was an invitation he gladly accepted.
She sat beside him, Doppio in her lap, the book straddling the breadth of their sight.
“It’s called The Tale of Tales.” She began. “It was written by a man named Giambattista Basile.”
“A soldier.” Scarafaggio recalled.
“Yes.” Arabella nodded. “He went around, listening to all the folk stories of the people he encountered on his travels. He memorized them, collected them, and now here they are, in this very book.”
“Read it to me?” Scarafaggio begged.
“I’ll read you some,” Arabella laughed. “There isn’t time enough for the whole thing. I know Luciano, and you can trust that she’ll be drumming you out of bed before the sun rises.”
Scarafaggio impatiently pushed the book towards her. The gesture summoned a smile from her lips.
“The Sun, The Moon and Talia.” She began.
The yarn she began to unravel told of a powerful lord. Upon the birth of his beautiful daughter, who he named Talia, he gathered forth the wisest men of the land. These men were soothsayers, who could decipher the future from the stars and deliver it to the ears of waiting men. When they cast their mystic nets into the heavens for Talia, they drew back a grave future, declaring the babe would meet her doom by a splinter of flax.
Scarafaggio’s eyes drank long of the image, showing the beautiful babe offered up to these readers of stars.
“Can humans really read the stars?” Scarafaggio questioned, his head cocked like a dog awaiting some scrap from his master’s table.
“Well, some people think so, and sailors use them to navigate. The moon controls the tides so they say…”
“It does?!” Scarafaggio marvelled.
“Yes, but that’s more a question you should bother Luciano with.” She admonished, tapping the page as if asking his permission to continue.
He nodded, putting a hand over his lips, promising his silence and Arabella read on.
“Her father therefore forbade that any flax, hemp, or any other material of that sort be brought into his house, so that she should escape the predestined danger.”
Arabella read on. She scryed from the jumbling of letters on the page how in time, Talia shed the clothes of girlhood, and as the years passed, she grew into a beautiful young lady. Her father remained ever vigilante. One day, as she sat gazing out the window…
“As women in fairy-tales often do it seems,” Arabella remarked.
It was on that day that Talia’s her eyes fell upon an old woman spinning flax. She had never before laid eyes upon a spinning wheel, and the contraption fascinated her. She innocently invited the woman inside, hoping to gain a closer look at the device.
She begged the old woman to let her stretch the flax. The spinning woman, seeing no harm in her doing so, granted the girl this favour. No sooner had she begun than a splinter of flax lodged beneath her fingernail, and she collapsed upon the ground.
“Flax seeds are poisonous to your kind?” Scarafaggio inquired. It seemed a terrible burden but then his people were just as easily slain by salt.
“No, Talia must have some kind of allergy.” Arabella assuaged him. Doppio cooed in agreement.
Certainly, Talia’s case was unusual. To all who looked upon her, she appeared to be dead. Yet she was still so beautiful that her father couldn’t bear to hide her away in some worm laden cavity dug into the ground. Instead, he had her dressed in her finest clothes, and seated her forever upon a throne in one of his country estates. He abandoned this house, for it was now his beloved daughter’s tomb. The home, now forgotten, was subject to the wills of time and antiquity and yet Talia remained untouched.
Sometime later, a young king was out hunting. One of his falcons got away from him, and flew into the window of the forsaken house. The king sent one of his hunting party to knock at the door, and ask the owners of the home if they might come in to retrieve the rebellious fowl. When there came no answer, the king requested a vintner’s ladder, so he might climb into the home himself and retrieve his headstrong bird.
“Was he mean to the bird?” Scarafaggio riddled. “Maybe it wanted to get away.”
“It doesn’t say whether he was or not.” Arabella said, biting her lip to stifle her laughter.
The bird however, was of little consequence to the rest of the story. Once the king was inside the home, he scoured the rooms for signs of life, finding none until he came upon Talia. He saw her, seated upon her throne, and called out his salutations. Talia of course, lost to eternal sleep, gave no reply. He approached her, and yet she remained perfectly still, bound by her enchanted sleep.
Her exquisite beauty awakened the most carnal of desires in him. He hoisted her from her throne and dragged her to one of the houses bedrooms,
“Whereon he gathered the first fruits of love.” Arabella read.
“Which fruit is that?” Scarafaggio asked, wide eyed. “Is it an apple? I like apples best I think.”
“It means he had sex with her.” Arabella exploded into laughter.
Scarafaggio’s face fell. It seemed a rather vile thing to do to this poor sleeping woman. He looked into Arabella’s eyes, trying to gauge her seriousness. Suddenly, he felt as though he were tumbling forward, through the amber waters of those eyes and into a strange abyss he had never before encountered.
In the haste of an instant, he found the kitchen had crumbled away, and in its place was a strange, dark room in shambles. He could hear voices screaming outside. These were terrible, feral cries, as if the people beyond these walls were slowly transforming into slathering, rabid creatures. Creatures who had gleefully forsaken their humanity in favor of the tinkling melodies produced by bricks through glass, and the treble of bludgeons on skulls.
Through the mangled slats of the shudders, he could make out the flicker of firelight. This was not the gentle glow he had enjoyed from torches in the vineyard, but rather an all consuming blaze, oppressively hot, and hungry. It was hungry for any matter of kindling it could snatch up in its flailing red arms, be it wood or be it man. Already, he smelled the sickly sweet stench of seared flesh. He was afraid.
He turned, seeing the dim outline of a bed through the dancing light and feathering darkness. As his eyes adjusted, he realized that there was a body, lying motionless atop the bedclothes. It was Arabella.
He bent to touch her brow, which was beaded with sweat. She drew great heaving breaths and yet her eyes remained drawn to the world.
From the choir of voices outside, he could make out Luciano, screaming out his lover’s name. His voice so shrill that at times, he seemingly abandoned his disguise, lost to this consumptive terror.
Was this one of the riots the Noblidonna had spoken of? Failed harvests and civil unrest had planted the seed of discontent. Now, here was the manifestation of the people’s unrest, bitter contempt that could no longer be contained, spilling forth and smothering the land.
Scarafaggio looked at the ground lining the walls of this bedchamber. In the dim flits of light, he could just make out the glittering of salt trails, which lined the room. Luciano could not enter.
There was a crash in the room beyond, and the mad clanging and pounding of looters, who had entered the home, scavenging all that they could. The salt could shield against Fatine attack, but locks and bolts had to be trusted against man’s intrusion. The locks had failed.
One of these looters rushed into the bedroom, a heavy sack under one arm. He slammed the door shut behind himself and lodged a chair beneath the knob, barring entrance to his rivals.
He searched around the room, throwing open drawers and cupboards, hunting for something worthy of a place in his overburdened sack. As he dug through one of the drawers in an old vanity, the mirror of which had been smashed long before his arrival, he became aware of the sound of breathing. He turned, startled to see that he was not alone in this chamber.
“You sick?” He hissed.
Arabella said nothing.
“Hey, hey what’s wrong with you?” He verbally prodded.
Only the draw of her breath came in reply.
He snorted to himself, reaching a hand beneath her skirt and grasping her bare ankle, watching her face for reaction. When she did not protest he slid his hand further, and further still.
Scarafaggio watched as the man hurriedly unbuttoned his pants, finally resolving to simply rip the fly open and climbed atop the slumbering damsel.
“I don’t want to see anymore.” Scarafaggio whispered to the walls, turning himself from the deed being done.
“Please, I don’t want to see this.”
Again, he felt himself tumbling through the matter, which fashioned existence. He closed his eyes, feeling vaguely sick under command of this force that ferried him. When he again dared to open them, he found himself still seated next to Arabella; the book still splayed open before them.
He looked at her, unable to still the quaking of his own body. She had shown him her past, and yet it was not as the Fatine did. He had not seen it through Arabella’s eye, but rather he’d been drawn through time and made a spectator at the event.
“That’s why…” He breathed. “That’s why Luciano hates this story.”
“Yes.” Arabella nodded. With lithe, brown fingers, she turned the page to reveal another of the exquisitely articulated illustrations. Here, Talia remained in repose, unwittingly nursing two new-borns.
“That’s where Doppio came from, isn’t it?” Scarafaggio reasoned.
She offered a simple smile in confirmation. “Sometimes beauty is born from ugliness.”
The malice of the looter’s exploit was unforgivable, and Scarafaggio found himself for the first time equally as disgusted with man as he was his own breed. He thought back to the horrid memories Luciano had shared with him, of her twin daughters being slaughtered in the name of sparing the throne. He knew that the soldier, despite what torture her wife’s defilement might bring, would never have demanded that she purge the thorn left in her womb.
Doppio’s birth was a cruel reminder, which she suffered each day, and yet she offered the babe not resentment, but love. She had even bestowed her own name on the child. That gesture he could not even began to fathom. He recalled what Luciano had said to him about not understanding the responsibilities that came with the oath of love. He now realized he would never comprehend such things.
Arabella, gleaning the churning of his thoughts lay a hand upon his shoulder.
“Doppio cannot help who his father was, anymore than you can.” She spoke in a reverent voice. “We can only hope to raise him, so he might become something better.”
“But why?” Scarafaggio begged for an answer. “Why didn’t you just wake up!?”
“I wasn’t exactly…in my body at the moment.” Came Arabella’s peculiar retort.
“Of course you were, where else would you be?!” He demanded.
“That I will explain to you another night.” She promised, standing to leave, but not before planting a kiss upon the boy’s brow. He wanted so badly, after seeing what he had, to not feel the tingling of pleasure that accompanied it course through his veins.
“But if Talia was unconscious…” Scarafaggio posed. “Then how did the babies find their way to nurse?”
Arabella turned, a wry smile on her lips “They were attended to by two Fatine.”
“That’s not what it says.” Scarafaggio contested.
“It is.” The mother confirmed.
“Gah!” Doppio assured him.
“Then why aren’t there any pictures of them? They did all the work, why doesn’t anyone remember them?” Scarafaggio said flustered, hopefully flipping through the pages to see if perhaps, by some careless error, he had missed that etching.
Arabella stood, thoughtful for a moment, then a smile broke out across her face. With a single finger, she gestured for him to wait, and disappeared down the hallway. She returned after a long moment later, presumably having set Doppio down for bed, with pen, ink and a bound book of paper in her hands. She set the storybook aside on a chair, and in it’s place, sprawled open the book of paper before him.
“It’s blank!” He objected.
“Yes.” She said, setting the little bottle of ink down upon the table and dipping the pen’s nib into it. Scarafaggio watched, pensively, his bottom lip jutting forth like a pouting child.
She folded the pen into his right hand, and moved it over the paper. “You saw the pictures in that book?” She asked.
He nodded, lip protruding ever further.
“Draw me Armonia…I mean Guendalina, draw her here.” She insisted, drumming her fingers on the blank page.
“Just draw her? Just like that? I can’t.” He stammered. “I don’t know how!”
“Then learn!” Arabella said sternly. “Or we can do it Luciano’s way, and you can waste however many years together trying to learn all those ridiculous dialects!”
The words were enough to move his pen. His strokes were awkward at first, wobbly, he dug the nib through paper more than once and splatters of ink marred the page. Soon however, much sooner than he would have anticipated, he began to comprehend the way in which lines were born from this tool. Rather than discard his blemished page, he began to incorporate its many trembling strokes and splatters into the girl’s haphazard curls. The tears in the page seemingly disappeared as the child’s face took shape.
This was the tongue of the drones. The beautiful, silent language of imagery, instantly clear to all gifted with sight. It required no translation, it simply was. Perhaps all his palavers with Mammina had delivered to him some level of fluency in this language of visual prose.
“It’s not as good at the ones in the book.” He said dismally, looking critically upon his attempt.
“But it’s only your first try!” Arabella laughed, throwing her arms around him. “This is a language you don’t need to learn! Do you think you could keep a journal like this of your days events?”
Scarafaggio nodded emphatically, delighting in the opportunity to reciprocate her embrace.
“Dolce?” Luciano’s voice drifted through the room.
Arabella stood to address her wife. “I’m sorry if we woke you, we were just celebrating.”
“Well stop it.” The soldier griped.
Scarafaggio turned to receive his aggravated host. There, standing naked but for a bed sheet draped over her shoulders was Luciano. She had resumed her female form in sleep, and Scarafaggio marvelled at the poignantly sculpted musculature of her stomach and the grace of her powerful legs. She seemed almost more imposing stripped of her uniform than she did when buried within, and yet she was unquestionably beautiful.
She responded to his fascinations with a revolted sneer, muttering something about teenaged boys before making her way to the table. There, she bent to examine the drawing, chuckling to herself.
“That’s your Goddaughter there Arabella.” She said, spryness replacing the fog of lingering sleep that had held her.
“It is!” She beamed brightly. “It’s her!”
There was no need for Arabella to speak her intentions. The two women knew one another’s minds so well, had walked the labyrinth within each other that their understanding was immediate. Scarafaggio yearned for such a union.
“You’re damned lucky I married a woman so desperate to outsmart me.” Luciano grumbled playfully before retreating to the ingratiating comforts of her bedroom.
“What was it Napoleon said?” Arabella asked of her lover.
The soldier turned for a moment, an amused smirk on her face. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” She replied easily.
Then, turning her gaze to Scarafaggio, she pointed a scolding finger and admonished. “Get to bed Scarafaggio. I don’t want you dragging behind me all day.”
He nodded, even tossing in a salute for effect.
The gesture pleased her well enough, and with that she returned to her bed.
Arabella smiled, opening up the chest against the wall where her wife stowed her hoard of moth eaten uniforms. She set down a bundle of clothes to serve as the boys bedding. She beckoned with the curt nod of her head for him to lie down. He obeyed.
“She loves the strategy of war, the challenge of it.” Arabella explained, as she plucked up Luciano’s overcoat from the floor and draped it over Scarafaggio as a blanket.
“And she’s done without one for some time now.” She appended, tucking the coat beneath the boy’s chin. “It’s all riots and mayhem these days, there’s no order to them, no artistry.”
“Artistry?” Scarafaggio repeated the word to himself. He’d never considered war as an art form before.
“Because of that, she tends to turn simple things into elaborate plans.” Arabella sighed, smoothing Scarafaggio’s hair back from his face. “She has the unfortunate handicap of sometimes being too clever to be practical, if you understand my meaning.”
Scarafaggio grinned. “I doubt that will ever be an issue for me.”
“You might be surprised. She was a little older than you when she separated, but in some ways you remind me so much of her it terrifies me.” Arabella mused.
“Why? We’re Fatine.” Scarafaggio said with a shrug. “We’re all one mind, so we’re all the same I suppose.”
“No, it’s more than that.” Arabella declared. “Most Fatine are very uncurious creatures.” She confided in the boy. “They couldn’t care less about the goings on of the human world, let alone one measly human from the whole. They certainly don’t feel love.”
“Maybe we’re just what Pariahs are like.” He yawned, rolling over on his side. A strand of black hair fell across his eyes and he watched as the color slowly drained from it, consciousness fleeing his body.
“No.” He heard her whisper softly as he drifted into sleep.