In this section the English-language readers will read excerpts from novels by Claudio Chillemi, and some of his short stories.
This end of the year brings a beautiful new.
I had the honor and pleasure to write a story for "four hands" with the great Paul Di Filippo. A story partly
set in Sicily, which tells of a great man of Catania, the physicist Ettore
Majorana. I am grateful to Paul for having accepted my cooperation and that he "married" my idea. How grateful I am to Fantasy and Science Fiction that in its January issue
published our story. The first review of the history,
you will find here says: "One of those stories that's good fun to
read and was probably even more fun to
write." it is absolutely true, the story was very
fun to write, because they have written it two friends. The F&SF
link is here. Others reviews here and here.
Where are the wings of Jennifer?
Where the dreams of Michael?
Where to watch the eyes of Paul
And hear what the ears of Mary?
Nothing more experience
Buried between the powders
An iron giant sleeping
Forever, through the streets of the world ...
What did you see the mind of Marcos ...
And ... what your hands have touched
Ali? ... And Hassan's feet as they
Be able to walk in the air?
Who cries in a vacuum, does not hear his voice ...
Who flies airless, air stops ...
Where are the wings of Jennifer?
Which pass through clouds?
What they discover horizons?
And Paul, Mary, Marcos and Ali,
And the brown Hassan, the blond Sthephen,
Yoko the sweet. Where to sleep today?
Who tucks them covered with bricks and mortar?
About the cushion accommodates the rafters?
Where are the wings of Birzo? Where dreams of Kuffur?
Where to watch the eyes of Mem?
What do you sew the uncertain fingers of Indira?
Children sleeping uncertain
without years away from dreaming ...
Children killed by hatred of man
That has forgotten them, forgotten forever ...
By denying their precious drugs ... order not to die
By denying their precious food ... order not to die
By denying their valuable houses ... order not to die
By denying them valuable ways ... order not to die
By denying their precious dreams ... order not to die
By denying them valuable laws ... order not to die
By denying their pitiful death ... order not to suffer ...
Where are the wings of Jennifer and Birzo?
Where dreams of Mem and Mary?
Where? Where? Hassan, Ali, Yoko and Indira ...
In their graves who seeks will find,
The Hand that killed them
And the hand that will kill them ... The Hand
What has armed them and hand them will arm ...
One hand and not so many ...
I shivered when I realized that the night was over. I'm not talking about the dark vault of heaven filled with stars; I'm not talking about that vast uniform space that extends to infinity, but I'm talking about another darkness, another blackness. I don't remember well when I entered into it, because, like all things that come from within and from the depths of our heart, it has no beginning and it seems to have no end. I walked in the street looking around me without seeing anything; the job I had allowed me to justify my sleepiness and my discomfort until late afternoon. I worked as a DJ in a disco along the coast that was made to be like the old clubs of a century ago. I did not really like my job. At twenty years old it is fun putting on some music and picking up women at the break of dawn; but at thirty years old it's time to take stock, survey and make resolutions for the future. The opposite sex has always been a constant presence in my life; I considered it a part of me. But lately, this had tired me. Not because I considered women beyond their merits; not because they had disappointed me in some way, because in some measure the opposite was true; but because I was tired of lives arranged as beautiful empty boxes.
The only answer I was able to find to my quest was chemistry. Ironically, I had failed this most mysterious and equally important subject twice, when I attended the Secondary Level High School in Venice Submarine. Yet now it came to my aid.
It was about tiny pink pills that had the depth and consistency of the dreams they had the power of providing: little, ephemeral and inconclusive. I knew that they were only illusions but I needed them to live. They say that when you are dying of hunger, you are willing to eat human flesh too. Following the same principle I was eating myself by ingesting drugs and alcohol. I was consuming myself as only a desperate person does.
The Pink Drug, or simply Pink, discovered by Arthur J. Bean, came from the far and barren lands of Io, the satellite of a giant gasseous planet of which I do not even remember its name; it was brought to Earth by a research group of KRONOS. It is used for treatment of a few types of psychoses and it is the main element for who knows how many pharmaceuticals; in its pure state it causes a stasis of the brain, almost a hybernation and, in that everlasting moment, you could empty your mind, to die without dying. Then, with the same intensity, you began to think, you thought about what you desired. In the end, during the last moments of its effect, you gave in to the most unusual impulses, letting your sexual instincts go free or, as in some cases with hotheads, your own distructive instincts, establishing a bond beyond all limits and imagination with your partner who might have also taken the substance; a true bond like the one the two molecules of hydrogen have with the oxygen molecule forming water (the only chemical formula I remember, common but true).
In that evening when the night ended I was madly in love with Melania. She was thirteen years younger than me and was fresh, lively and loose. Yet in sixty seconds I became captivated by her because she provided me with a number of illusions dear to me at low cost. She was the sister of a well-known drug dealer of the riviera and she brought me some diversion every hour. A really important satisfaction for my poor ego always in search of new distractions from reality. In addition she was good in bed which didn't hurt. However, sure enough, at 2 o'clock of a very dark night I could not stop myself making advances at one of the many babes that stopped by my console at work. I saw Melania looking at me just when I was feeling the breast of that stranger; the strobe lights stopped briefly and showed the crammed bodies on the dance floor as if they were dummies. The green eyes of my little girl were condemning me like only the masterful innocence could.
I abbandoned everything. I ran after her asking forgiveness (she had a good dose of pills with her I couldn't lose her!). She didn't listen to me and disappeared in the crowd. Misfortune would have it that her brother was there and witnessed that ridiculous Martian Time Opera scene. He came towards me waving around a tiny clear plastic bag containing the usual pills nonchalantly. He rebuked me by saying: “You can forget these for tonight”.
It was a fatal blow to my poor ego that writhed in a ferocious torment for almost a minute to only blame himself without mercy later. So my exhausting search for Melania began. I wandered among the halls packed with people for almost an hour and I disovered that sexual instincts sharpen one's wits enabling the young couples in fervor to find refuge in unthinkable hiding places. I watched them and smiled but then I became sad because I wasn't there with them feeding my own self. While I was so intent on searching about I came across the owner of the club, who came down on me hard for my wandering and ordered me back to work with a hand gesture. Reluctantly I had to comply, though not before having gulped down a couple of shots of Brean (a disgusting liquor that came from who knows what distant planet), just to perk me up a little.
I was inattentive, apathetic and lethargic. The people on the floor were requesting loudly for a performance at the mixer by me but I had no energy to go and entertain others. Laugh, clown, laugh! I thought bitterly while going back with my mind to a few hours earlier when I was happy having Melania by the hand and sucking one of those pink pills in my mouth. Luckily around four in the morning I found someone who'd take my place and I went searching for my girl again.
I asked, inquired and described and like a puzzle the pieces of that night started fitting together. I found out that she had been crying on Roberto's shoulders, her ex-boyfriend of the week before. Then she had chitchatted with Alex for an hour, a young pan-American soldier; more than one person had seen them embracing each other near the restrooms at the south entrance of the place. It was an eventful night, no doubt! I needed not get jealous, our relationship went beyond love. It was dreams and chemistry. So I headed to the spot where she was last seen and the little black figure with a skirt that marked the ladies room appeared before me. I saw Mary walk out, one of my many lovers, and I asked her about Melania. She told me to fuck off.
So then I plucked up my courage and entered.
It wasn't the first time that I saw the inside of the ladies toilet; I spent unforgettable hours there and now I'd spend equally unforgettable minutes. “Melania...Melania!” I called aloud receiving no reply. So I began openning the doors one by one; the tension was high so instinctively I searched inside my pockets hoping to find that stuff which I went around looking for all night. However I didn't find any. Instead I came upon a locked door. “Who's in there?” I asked. “Darling, is it you? Love, forgive me for having hurt you!” I bent down to look under the slit of the door and I saw a glimpse of a woman's bare ankle that had a multicolored bracelet. It was my first and only gift to Melania. “I know it's you! Open up and let's talk about it...” while saying those words I saw my pink pills appearing from under the door; they rolled out slowly and stopped at my feet. I took them and, not caring about the place where I had found them, I popped them into my mouth ravenously. “Thank you, my love”, I said taking in a deep breath of air sturdily. I felt wonderful and so I called my girl once more. “Melania, come out and we'll go and celebrate your forgiveness,” chuckling uncontrollably; but, after having knocked again with no acknowledgement in return, I headed for the exit. If she wants to stay in there it's fine with me, I got the thing that was important to me! I thought selfishly.
While standing over the doorstep of the entrance I heard a strange puking sound and a thump. I whirled around and walked back. I don't remember well what all my actions were. Maybe I yelled; then, supported once again by chemistry and desperation, I forced the door. The moment the seperating door opened, I saw a pale helpless body wet with sweat as if caught unexpectedly by early dewdrops. It was her; she was sitting on the toilette seat in an unnatural way with those pills tightly grasped in her fist which were destined for me and which had taken her away from me definitively. It was at that moment that the Pink Drug inside me did its dirty work. I immediately felt sick, I began shaking and vomiting, sweating and cursing. I had taken those pills of hers and, like having sex, you could create a perfect relationship with your partner, and even when dying the bond was also strong and realistic. To put it short, almost without a peep out of me I saw her die inside me feeling death come over me a little too. I fell face front between her opened legs not for a last act of unrestrained lust, but to find comfort there in my birth place.
An Emergency Cloning Unit was taking her away when I came to. The effect of the Pink had slowly vanished from inside me. The chemical bond with Death had also ceased. I raised myself from the stasis unit where they had put me and a paramedic checked me over with a portable scanner; he made a gesture that meant all was okay and that I could get the hell out of there. I lost no time and vanished. I wanted to see the sun. The moon. The stars. The sea. Life. A woman. Not necessarily in this order.
It was a gloomy and lonely night in the county's Emergency Medical Service office where I was working. I had adapted an old rickety stretcher into a makeshift bed to rest my weary bones. It had seemed a good idea to me to spend a few months in the rural area of the south to treat and to care for farmers and good people; but after just one week, boredom had flooded into my life. In town nobody fell sick, nobody gave birth and nobody needed a pill for a headache. “You'll see that you are not going to have much to do,” I was told by the colleague I had replaced. “Nothing medically interesting happens to anyone here,” he had said in conclusion. I had thought many times that perhaps they picked some herbs from their vegetable gardens and made decoctions and medical compresses, overcoming illnesses this way without my help; or that it was a perfect town, blessed by God and Mother Nature, where physical deterioration did not exist. The fact of the matter is that the will to keep an “Emergency Room” open in an environment such as that one was completely inexplicable to me. However, since I was being paid, I adapted to the situation with pleasure.
I turned on the TV to keep me company, it was still in black and white with a bad reception causing the images to appear with a constant fog; even with all my efforts in adjusting the portable antenna the images didn't want to clear up. I swore at the inventor of that device and at the day that I had put foot into that dreary workplace. I then tried to sleep: If someone came, I could be awaken by the service bell or by telephone, assuming that human beings had ever wanted to use my professional skills. I spent a good hour in a vain attempt to fall asleep and not succeeding, I got up, lit a cigarette and went outside to look at the sky.
The night had an odd fascination for me. It seemed like a big blanket of gold quilted fireflies that enveloped the earth to keep it warm. My heart lost itself in the night, wandering among the memories of other nights all similar and all different, as they were filled of dreams, some fulfilled and others forgotten. I was deep into these thoughts and filling my lungs with smoke thoroughly, when in the distance I saw a pickup truck approaching. I thought I did not recognize him, and yet my potential customers were not many and I had met them all at least once. In fact it was a stranger, a salesman who having lost his way in the dark was just looking for directions to reach the place where he was expected on the next day.
"What do you sell?" I asked.
"Drugs", he replied wittily.
He had a pleasant face with big blue eyes and two plump cheeks covered with fuzzy, slightly grizzled hair. Smiling at me, he mentioned a town in the vicinity that I had never heard of, so I shrugged. Having a recollection of a tattered road map that I kept in my car I rushed to look for it. I started from the hood of the car and I ended up finding it among the prescription pads on the last shelf where I looked. Meanwhile, my guest used the bathroom, had a drink from the vending machine and I found him sitting half asleep in his vehicle.
"Here, it must be here ..." I said triumphantly, pointing to a small black dot.
"Yeah, yeah ...", he said, reclining his head complacently, forcing his sleepy eyes not to shut.
Having got his valuable information he shook my hand with unexpected vigor and started the truck. I watched him disappear into the night waving good-bye with his hand out of the window.
So I was alone, again . Once again I headed for the TV set, hoping that in the meantime the fog had thinned out. Having found poor visibility once more, I gave up trying to “ride” the airwaves of this media. So I entered the tiny kitchen that I used only to make myself a good cup of coffee. Having put the mocha on the fire, I waited for it to puff out the sweet tasty fragrance of the drink. I heard the moka pot gurgling as if it were speaking to me. As a child I always listened to the black liquid coming out anxiously, as if a bomb was about to explode; it was an inherent ancestral phobia which was connected to an old family memory that consisted of my grandmother being wounded by one of these primitive devices at the very beginning of the twentieth century. Now sophisticated filters and extremely precise valves prevented similar incidents, but the fear was the same and when those bubbles of brown water burst out, I held my breath and turned off the stove; only then my fear vanished.
Just as I was pouring my coffee, the phone began ringing. It wasn't the time of day either for my wife's calls or my mother's and, statistically speaking, I hardly received requests for help. I admit my concern at hearing that ringing. I replied cautiously, almost hesitantly, but I was quickly reassured when I heard the voice on the other end. "I'm Joan Migliore, when are you going to pay me the rent?". Mrs. Migliore was my eighty plus year old landlady who did not hesitate to call, since, according to her, "I had to keep watch round the clock." I reassured her that the payment would be made soon; after that I sat down outside the front door looking up at the stars and drinking coffee. For a moment I even thought that I could sleep if I could just make the TV work, but it didn't want to know about it, and so it forced me to continue my vigil.
I was so deep in my thoughts about time passing that I did not notice the coming of a skinny sickly dog that was probably attracted by the light and driven by hunger. I looked at him and smiled at the thought that now I couldn't even say: "Not even a dog came to be treated!": Then I welcomed him inside with all the honors of the "first patient". I fed him leftovers from my dinner and, to keep in practice, I gave him injections of antibiotics and a proper disinfection; it was nice to feel useful.
Once I had finished, exhausted, I laid myself down on the bed and closed my eyes to a troubled sleep that lasted no more than an hour. In fact, what woke me was not so much the noise, that however was persistent and annoying, but the light, a thin penetrating beam of light that shot straight to my brain while it was carrying out its most noble and beautiful function : dreaming. Therefore I woke up and saw between the grates of the window the bright source of the strange light. It appeared for an instant and vanished. I jumped out of bed and rushed out of the building, there was no trace of the light, but something had happened. I found a lifeless body in front of the first three steps leading to my infirmary. He was a man of about forty years old, with his beard and hair completely unnaturally white. He was alive and murmured something unusual in a language I did not know, probably the local dialect. I took him over my shoulders and comfortably set him down on the stretcher in the office; after nearly an hour of targeted treatment he was fully awake and seemed to be doing well, although he was very agitated.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"I am Emanuele De Sotti, I live at the top of the town in that big red house that you see coming by car from Villanuova ...".
"But what happened to you?".
"Oh, nothing at all ... It's the benefactors, they've noticed that I was dying and came to my rescue ...".
"The benefactors?" I asked, bewildered. "Only the madman was missing ...", I thought to myself.
"Yeah, that's them ... But now I must go ...", and with astonishing agility he got up. It was then that I noticed that his hair was slowly returning to normal, to a very dark brown. My dubious gaze rested also upon the skin of the face, which seemed relaxed, almost rejuvenated.
"But you can't go, I'm a doctor, let me check you ...". "And wait the necessary time for me to summon a psychiatrist ...", I said to myself.
"A doctor? But what good is a doctor around here? " he said walking quickly and cheerfully leaving the room first and then the building.
It was dawn and my shift was coming to an end. The night went quietly and took with it a few memories. The dog was gone, probably he had resumed his way. Mrs. Migliore was attending the first Mass of the morning and when I'd approach her I'd be bombarded with questions by her. And that solitary travelling salesman perhaps had already reached his destination by now. And Emanuele De Sotti? Perhaps he had never existed, perhaps the entire town did not exist, maybe, as soon as I found myself on the road for home, that entire area would disappear in a cloud of dust. "You will not have many customers here ...", my colleague had told me and in fact these were my patients that night, all people who had no need of any emergency relief, but only love, understanding and patience, not to mention a good psychologist. The only missing thing to the list of desperate cases of the night was my “comrade” TV, so I crossed my fingers and turned it on again. It was a real dream to see the images appear crisp, even if a disturbance made them colorless. A newscast babbling out the usual news, and I thought what would be the life of a reporter without facts to report or what would the life of a truck driver be like with no goods to transport. And finally, what would be the life of a doctor with no patients to treat.
The benefactors, I thought. Angels? Aliens? Or more simply visions? Yet I had seen a light as well, but who does not see a light once in a while? An entire town with no disease, no suffering, no pain and no despair ... Could it be real? Or was it hoping for it to be real?
The sun was already high in the sky, I headed home with my useless skills hoping to find it in the usual place.
1.Assault on the Castle
The gulls were flying high in the sky and their cries dispersed in the air. The sun, yellow and intense as a lemon, warmed a crisp December morning and
playfully illuminated the tall and sturdy walls of a castle, which stood on a promontory, beaten by waves.
The birds crept among the rocks of the manor, probably to feed their little ones there, where they found good shelter, but between the slits other living things and
other voices mingled with those of the birds. The winding spiral staircase that twisted up toward the towers, resounded with heavy armor, frenetic commands, whispers and stillness and with fear.
A small band of armigers was barring the huge front door with a heavy wooden bolt;
and others were
positioning themselves between the battlements, looking in the distance as if waiting for someone. Finally, some officers, distinguishable by the thick colored cloaks they were
wearing unsheathed long black iron swords and, once found a position, they awaited their fate courageously.
Despite the great bustling, though, the gulls still flew over head. Maybe a school of sardines where swimming alongside the castle, making the ascent of those cawing birds hectic; or their nature led them to a restless search for food, The fact is that the fluttering and the squawking never ceased, even if something important was about to happen among the inhabitants of the manor. But, on the other hand, when did the wars of men affect animals?
"If we could fly away with no hestitation we would flee from this prison. " "Fly? But what is Your Majesty saying? If man was intended to fly, dear God would have given him wings. "
"My dear friend, but God gave man brains, intelligence and speech: does it not seem sufficient to you to contrive a way to fly? "
The room was dimly lit by a ray of sunshine that filtered through by dint of the long narrow crevices. There was a youth and an adult speaking. The man, tall and sturdy as an oak, bore heavy armor with the ease of Hercules. On his left, there was a long strong sword hanging ready to be used; on his right a small stiletto which glittered when touched by the faint light. His large knotty hands clasped the weapons convulsively, and his eyes, audacious and black like the wings of a crow, planning who knows what heroic actions.
"Come! Enough of these ramblings, your enemies are advancing and you are not yet ready to encounter them!” said the man addressing the child.
"Do you think they will kill me, my dear Roger?" the boy asked.
"You know all too well, Your Majesty, that it is impossible to kill a Messenger of God "
"You think, then, that I was born by God's will?"
"But my Lord, no man is born if not by God's will! I think that you were born to do the will of God more than anything else.. and then, enough of these discourses I swore to your holy mother, before she died, that I would take care of you and this is all that matters. "
"My dear friend, yes friend, if I ever needed some help this is the time. "
"Well, let us show these dirty honorless mercenaries how an heir of the Hohenstaufen's, son of the house of Hauteville, the legitimate ruler of Sicily behaves. "
"And a boy of just seven years old ..." interjected an enigmatic voice.
"William," said Roger bothered by that remark.
From behind a curtain a man in his fifties had appeared, he was thin and emaciated as a corpse, with a strange completely black robe from which you could barely see his gnarled hands. His face, also it sad and gloomy, seemed as if having come out of one of those frescoes on the Triumph of Death, which decorated the churches so extensively in that period.
"Master William," the young king addressed him. " Is it possible you have not yet developed a modicum of confidence in my regal destiny? "
"But no, Your Majesty, it is not as you think, I have not yet developed a modicum of confidence in the man, that is different. "
"What do you mean, William?" Roger asked in a nervous tone.
"I mean that no one knew the refuge of His Majesty, yet, someone has discovered it...either Markwald the traitor is gifted with great fortune, or someone has betrayed our Lord Frederick, " he said bowing his head.
"Infamous, they'll all die by my swords," cried the warrior brandishing a sword.
"Do not be so bold my good Norman, because there is always time for revenge and death. "
"Come on, stop with this talk and help me dress,"commanded the young king.
Frederick of Hohenstaufen was a boy of just seven years old and indeed he showed the years, all seven of them. Little more than a three feet tall, he looked more imposing
because he never bowed his head, always held high and erect; then his eyes, of an intense gray-blue color, were deadly like a two-edged blade of a knife
who could hold his gaze would have made a hasty retreat after a few moments. He had thick fluffy golden color hair, an ideal cushion for the many crowns
which were rested atop of his head.
The little King allowed himself to be dressed with the solemnity which the moment required, without overlooking not even a detail that could compromise his image; from the large blue mantle, to the stiletto with its golden scabbard that he fitted on his left; from the red tunic, tightened at the waist by a heavy belt, to fine rings and bracelets.
"To my enemy I shall look like a king, because that is what I am. "
"Yes, my Lord," said Roger bowing his head.
"And if I have to face death, it is with the boldness and the speed of the falcon, "said the little king making some steps towards the imposing studded door
that separated him from the rest of the world.
And it was just from behind that door that you heard the first sounds of defeat. Dull and heavy blows of clubs, mixed with loud and crackling slashes of swords. Then the screams and cries for help, then the rushing on the steps of rock and a confused crying out: first to God, then to the Holy Virgin, demands for a fast and
merciful end that was difficult to achieve.
"They are killing them, dozens and dozens of my men massacred for me,"
said Frederick with
a single tear streaking down his face.
"Surely they will not regret having lost their lives if they died for you, Majesty” said Roger with a whisper.
"Or, they will regret it because they wanted to continue serving you, "said William.
"Look, here they come, let's stand ready," he ordered the young king.
From the door anxious phrases and a strange rattling noise were audible, then the door opened and four armigers entered the room fully armed, with the blades of their swords still dripping with blood just shed. At the sight of Frederick of Hohenstaufen so young and yet so proud, they were uncertain about what to do for a moment; then they saw Roger extract his sword and William draw his dagger and looking at them from head to foot in a threatening manner.
"Calm your exuberance my valiant maestros, calm down. Let us see what these heroic soldiers want from my willing heart," said the king making an eloquent sign with his hand.
"Boy, are you the one they call Frederick?" asked one of the soldiers.
"That is my name now, but I was born bearing the name Constantine, as to my mother's will. Who wishes to know? "
"My name is Franz Auffmeier, captain of the guards serving Markwald of Annweiler the legitimate lord of Sicily, and I am here to kill you. "
"I see. And you expect me to bow my royal head as the lamb does on the altar? As our Lord Jesus Christ did on the Cross? I am not worthy of such a glorious death, and I will not give you the possibility of inflicting it on me! "
"Look how well the child speaks," said one of soldiers coming forward. His mouth, with black rotten teeth, exhaled a pestilential breath and his armor, dirtied with blood and with remains of bodies, was the appropriate finishing touch to this description of him. "Who do you think you are, little wretch," finished the guardsman touching young Frederick's shoulder with a finger.
"I am what I am," said the young man casting a sidelong glance at the exact point where the enemy had dared touch him; then with a quick gesture he threw back his cloak and grabbed his blade.
It was the signal agreed upon, Roger unsheathed his long weapon and stiletto, as did William,
but what surprised the soldiers mostly was the ease with which the young Hohenstaufen grabbed his sword and stood in attack
position. The brave warrior, who the dying Constance had put as guard to her son, was certainly equal to his difficult task.
Descending from the Norman race, he grew up in that land of Apulia, and was a man unbowed and unafraid, able to resist strong sorrows and most terrible hardships;
but also able to knock down an enemy with a single blow and scare him even before the fight simply by looking into his eyes. Roger incited Captain Franz and soldiers with such vigor that in less than no time one of them was on the ground dying and the hand that had dared to touch his young sovereign flew, severed, at Frederick's feet. He, in turn, had finished off the violator of his noble person, with a quick blow to the belly, and immediately he chased a third guardsman who, greatly surprised like the others by that reaction, was backing out towards the stairs calling for help. But his request
for help was quickly snuffed out of his throat, because the skilled hand of William had ended his life. A fourth man remained to be contended with, but the man had immediately gone down on his knees to beg for mercy.
"Mercy? For what? For treason?" asked Roger threatening with his knife to the throat.
"How many are you?" asked the young Federick.
"Thirty knights; the rest are down below looting supplies and treasures ... we came up to kill you, we thought that four soldiers would have sufficed to kill a boy."
"Wretches," muttered William.
"We are not at fault, we only obeyed orders," said the traitor.
"Now you will get us out of here!"ordered the Hohenstaufen. "And this is
how. Roger, William, don the armor of these men, now that we still can, and you will follow us; all three of you will carry me as if I
were dead, take the blood that they have
so profusely shed, and stain my clothes, as a fake dead I will cross the walls of this castle ... if someone stops us, tell him that you're leading me to the Annweiler to receive the reward for my murder. I assume that some of the wretches' horses are available? "said Frederick.
"Yes, of course. They are tied to the west side wall of the castle, near the secondary entrance," said the prisoner.
"Hear that?" said the young king to his followers who were already wearing the enemy's armor.
"Very clear, Your Majesty," said Roger.
"The plan is simple, but I think it will be an effective one," said William, who dirtied his hands with the blood and began smearing the clothes of his legitimate sovereign without delay.
"Quick. Before the other knights finishing the looting, come up here demanding an explanation and a reason for my being alive. "
"If I were you, Majesty, I would not worry; the greed of man is without end. "
"Quick! Let's go," said Roger.
The small group marched down the narrow spiral staircase leading to the lower
levels. The prisoner walked ahead of the men, with William's dagger resting against his back; Roger followed with Frederick on his shoulders playing dead as a consummate actor. When the stairs ended, they found themselves before a small door leading to the big open space inside the manor. Convulsive voices and shouting were heard coming from the cellars, from the servants' quarters and from the stables.
envoys of Markwald of Annweiler were plundering the possessions of the young Hohenstaufen, although this matter was of no consequence, compared to the immense
family wealth of the young king of Sicily. The din, increasingly stronger and exultant, was a symptom of safe escape: no one doubted that thirty armed knights
would win out over about twenty guards, a boy and his two tutors. And in fact, it was so, even if something, however, had gone wrong.
Once a few meters from the horses, the fugitives were panting, not so much for the effort, but for the tension. In the clearing there wasn't a living soul, and the quadrupeds were there, a few meters away, ready to be used for a fast and quick escape. William pushed the prisoner giving firm and precise strokes with the stiletto on his back. Meanwhile, Roger, with one hand held firmly the young master who he carried on his shoulders, and with the other kept brushing the hilt of his sword. Everything was going for the better when, from behind a wagon load of hay, the tall and sinister figure of one of the Annweiler's soldiers appeared. A long scar that started at the right temple reaching to the chin disfigured the face, blinding one of his eyes, and damaging the nose and mouth. He was certainly a veteran of many battles, fought up and down the Italian peninsula in search of fortune and money.
"Where are you going, you ugly bandit of a Krüger!" croaked the unexpected guest.
"We killed the boy and now we are taking him to Markwald for the reward," said the hostage immediately rebuked by William with a deft stroke of the stiletto.
"Let me see ... several years ago I fought for his father, Henry, I want to see if he looks like him or, if as they say, he is not his child," said the scarred man.
"But, really ..." Krüger murmmered.
"Yes, immediately," said Roger laying down young Federick on the wagon.
So, before the knight's only eye appeared, the helpless body of a boy, with torn clothes and covered with blood. The young Hohenstaufen skillfully withheld his breath and he managed to stay in a slouching position adequately and fool anyone, at least who had no intention to check more thoroughly.
"Hmm ..." murmured the scarred man. "There is a certain similarity, but his face is bastardized by Hauteville, a race too barbaric to be genuine! "
"Come, then," William said, motioning to Roger to put Federick's body back onto his shoulders. In less than no time the three men leaped onto the horses and
pulling the bridle tight they headed straight on, slowly, towards the exit gate so as not to arouse suspiscion. They had covered a few meters, when the grating voice of the scarred man called them again.
"Stop, one more thing," he said, approaching Roger and the blanket wrapped bundle that was hiding the young king, that the Apulian was carrying carefully on his thighs.
"I'd like to have a souvenir of the last king of Hohenstaufen ... »
He took a small dagger, he uncovered Frederick's head and was about to rip a lock of blonde hair from it when a gush of blood burst out from his throat blocking a cry of anger, pain and surprise. The man raised his hands to the wound and collapsed
on his knees. His only eyeball rolled back and his face fell forward in the mud.
"My Lord," whispered William.
"Today my person has suffered far too much profanity, and then I can not stand that doubt is cast upon my royal paternal origin," said the boy returning to position under the blanket that hid him from prying eyes.
The gulls were flying high in the sky and their cries were dispersed constantly in the
air. The sea was calm and quiet, lightly heated by sunlight; in the wake of
that bright morning in late autumn, the horses which carried the young king of Sicily and his most faithful friends were heading north on the road leading to Palermo.