A Better Friend
Leonardo had thought how strange it was for there to be rain so late in the summer.
Florence usually had such nice weather at that time, with the sun boring down on the glorious Florentine architecture, casting shadows in which merchants set up their market stalls and tried to sell their strange, sometimes exotic wares.
As the artist peeked outside the window to the torrential downpour outside, he could imagine no merchants were milling in the unsheltered streets. The Lords and Ladies would have scampered back to their homes, the homeless to their wells and the pickpockets and urchins to wherever they deemed well-hidden. The guards only seemed to tolerate a certain kind of people, it seemed.
At twenty-one years of age, Leonardo counted himself to be one of the lucky few. He had his own workshop and a future ahead of him, despite his close friendship with the wanted assassin Ezio Auditore. His childhood seemed to be nothing but a minor setback he had already surpassed; his illegitimate status was all but forgotten in this new era, wherein he had a feeling he would make his mark in history.
Rain splattered against his window and left behind miniature puddles, sliding down to make a little river at the bottom of the pane, and he found himself mesmerised by it for a moment.
It was as he was immobilised that he heard a knock at his door.
"Coming!" he announced, certain it would be a bothersome guard searching for some fugitive.
Glancing at the clutter in his workspace as he shuffled to the door, the artist wondered for a moment if he should bother cleaning it. He liked company, and when people visited it seemed they always had something to say about the way he lived – something of an organised mess, they would call it – yet he had found no solid reason to tidy things up, no point in stacking his books or categorising his art supplies if he was only going to get them out again, and he had pushed the thought aside by the time he reached his front door.
Odd, he thought when he turned the knob; No more knocking. Perhaps they've already left?
Never one to go by assumption alone, Leonardo opened the door to check. He was met by a gust of wet wind that promptly soaked his face and outfit, sticking the tips of his hair to his forehead, but after blinking it from his eyes the outside world came slowly into focus.
No one. There was no one standing there; not a guard or a neighbour; not an urchin or a homeless person seeking charity. He felt cheated for a moment, disturbed from a rare moment of peace that saw him leaving this world and joining his own, but that all changed when he glanced down at his doorstep.
There, on the slightly raised platform that sat in front of his door, was a small basket – no bigger than a child's flower basket. The only difference he could see was the fact there was a small hood to this one, made from the same material but much newer, much more careful, as though created for one purpose. The hood was up, shielding whatever was laid inside, and the artist couldn't see anything else except a blue blanket with a small note set down in the middle.
He crouched down to closer inspect the basket. As he did so he caught a flash of pink skin, heard a whimper that quickly fell silent. His eyes widened when he realised that this was not just some random gift left by an admirer, or even a new attempt at burglary.
"Un bambino!" his gasp was quiet compared to the tempest outside. Two watery brown eyes looked at him, larger than any he had seen before, and with a glance behind him Leonardo found himself standing and searching for the child's mother.
"Hello?" he called into the deserted street; "Hello? Is anyone there?"
Only the wind seemed to answer his cries, shrieking through the streets like a demented old woman at her grown children. With nothing else to do and realising the air was only growing colder, Leonardo picked the basket up by the little handle, his door's clunk as it closed barely audible above the storm.
The child seemed to sense the change in environment, but it didn't wail. Instead, it looked up at him with vacant eyes, small hands balled into fists which sat at either side of its face and occasionally waved in the air.
Leonardo picked up the note, hoping it would give him some answers; perhaps a clue to where the mother had gone to, or why she would leave her baby at a stranger's door.
He read the barely legible writing by the glow of his candle;
Per favore, non farmi uccidere.
It was written as though the child were speaking directly to him, with nothing to say about the mother other than she was scared for her baby's wellbeing. Leonardo could only imagine what events had led to this move. As he closed the note he imagined her situation – perhaps she was one of the courtesans he saw wandering the streets, and the baby was a result of miscalculation. Or perhaps the baby was an illegitimate child of some powerful politician? The possibilities could go on and on, yet the artist had a strange feeling he would never know what drove her to this move.
"Now," Leonardo sighed, placing the note down and pulling the basket towards him, careful when he drew back the hood in case it wasn't as strong as it seemed; "What am I to do with you?"
The child looked up at him without fear, without concern, but also without understanding. Too young to know the severity of its situation.
He, Leonardo chastised himself, though he didn't quite know how he knew.
In the flickering candlelight, the artist became aware of the baby's features. A small button nose and a slightly smaller than average gap between the eyes – unnoticeable to someone who wasn't a painter – complete with a set of thin, pink lips, and dark hair, almost black, in wisps on top of a round-shaped head. He couldn't have been more than a few days old at most.
Leonardo smiled; far from the ugliest baby he had seen, perhaps in his top ten, granted he tended to stay away from infants and their usually proud mothers.
"If I leave you out in this weather, you'll catch your death of cold," he mused just as wind battered against his window; "We shall have to wait until this clears up, yes? Perhaps then we can ask if anyone saw your mother."
He took a seat on the stall beside him, sweeping his art supplies to one side as he retrieved a clean sheet of paper from a somewhat tidy stack to his left.
"Well, until then I can use you to practice some of my drawing. No point in letting a good opportunity go to waste – you've very prominent features, perfect for sketches."
It was then that Leonardo realised that he'd no idea what this baby's name was. Perhaps he didn't have one? It would stand to reason that, if she planned to abandon him on some doorstep, his mother wouldn't have bothered giving him a title.
Perhaps against his better judgement, the artist grinned and said; "Do you like the name Fiorentino? I will call you that until the guards find your mother. An unusual name for an unusual situation."
The newly named Fiorentino just stared at him, his big brown eyes focused as his hands clenched over and over again.