Chapter 21, and final chapter of the Dreaming.
The final chapter of Volume one, I never thought I would write past twenty chapters, I usually end the story at the said number.
It may, or may not be rushed, but it had to be done so I may start the revised and final edition of Affair with the Borgia, it stars Fiammetta Tucci, a young philosophical girl who was a maid to Lucrezia Borgia, and during that period, she meets Lucrezia's illustrious brother, Cesare Borgia.
Thank you to all those who followed this story till its end. I promise you, the next one shall have more adventures from Italy, all the way to Istanbul.
Grazie mille amici mio, ciao~!
"My dear Viola…" Serafina wrote down the words carefully upon the parchment, she paused to think over what has to be said and done, and dutifully did, without anymore regret.
"…I am deeply sorry to inform you that our father, Francesco de' Pazzi, has been involved in a plot against the Medici House. You know me for long, dear sister, if I would lie to you, then I should have never written anything at all. He was discovered within the catacombs of Maria Novella, along with our great uncle, Jacopo de' Pazzi, how I was able to receive such information is something of secrecy, and no, I did not do this on my own. I am fine, as of now, you need not to worry over my existence; I can take care of myself. Please, come home to Florence, by the end of April, and we shall visit our late brother, and our mother, together. There is much to be done, if ever father fails his conspiracy, and you and I must think about the inheritance, the properties, and the chaos he will leave behind. Fiorella can no longer attend to us, she has become a servant of the Lord, and refuses to communicate with anyone outside the convent. Vieri did not leave an heir either, so it is only the two of us. I am glad you are married, my sweet Viola, your children do not have to carry the burden of their grandfather, and neither will you."
She ended the letter incomplete, folded the parchment, and tucked it into a pale yellow envelope, sealing it with a simple stamp. Paola handed the letter over to a trusted messenger, and he left without a single noise. Serafina watched him vanish into the morning mist, praying that the letter could reach Viola soon. She returned to her bedroom upstairs, and found Ezio lying on her bed; his shirt was sprawled on the floor, along with his boots, and his belt. She sat along the edge, and began to stroke his hair tenderly, he was asleep, too tired to even move.
"Whatever you will do towards the following days, I cannot cease your actions. You were born with a free spirit, and all I can do, is to silently pray that in some way, there is good intention within such bloodshed." Serafina feared that Ezio may still be blinded by the need of revenge, he needed to understand, killing his father's murderers will not do any good to their souls in purgatory, and she hoped he would learn it on his own. She kissed his brow, whispering ever thoughtful words, and went out for a walk. There was no word of Cristina Vespucci, days after their meet, though many have said that her husband, a gambling addict, had suddenly became loyal to her, and refused to throw the dice any longer.
Serafina paused in the middle of the street, and saw a pail full of white roses. She blinked, and recalled where Ezio had brought his fallen family members. Luckily, she was able to bring her purse, it was always attached to her skirt, and bought a bouquet of the said roses. She went to the Ponte Vecchio, holding the beautiful flowers in her hands, before tossing them into the river itself, all except for three that she had saved. She clasped her hands together, uttering a prayer, before feeling someone's presence beside her.
"How common of you to pray for the innocents," said Francesco de' Pazzi. "Ersilia has taught you very well."
Serafina made the sign of the cross, before resuming her gaze into the flowing waters. "I remember a memory, here in the Arno, although it is blurry, I can remember a few things in that memory. You were there too," she glanced up at her foster father, and he was staring down at the river with her.
His shoulders slumped in a way, and he spoke softly: "You were the most curious child in all Florence, Ersilia could hardly keep an eye on you, you would disappear in an instant, and then we'd have guards sent out to find you, only to discover that you had gone to the Duomo to play with the pigeons. Here, on the Ponte Vecchio, your curiosity got the best of you, and you climbed over the ledge, Vieri called out to stop you, but you slipped, and fell into the water. The river was strong that day, and we had to get you out quickly." Serafina waited, and he spoke again: "You were screaming for help, because you did not know how to swim, and I dove into the cold river, without any care. I would be damned forever if I lost Alba again…" She smiled softly, placing a hand on Francesco's dark sleeve. His intentions, in the beginning, were good. He was worried that the Medici would overshadow their family, and House of Pazzi might fall into ruins. He did not want Serafina to return to the streets at a young age.
"I will pray for you, father, but it is not intended for your conspiracy, but for your soul that it might reach Heaven instead of being punished in Hell, this is my way of saying thanks to the kindness you have given me, and for the chance of feeling familial love." She separated the rose from its stem, and tucked it inside Francesco's doublet. She knew tomorrow was Sunday, and she knew the conspiracy will take place at high mass. Today, this was her last embrace, and her last goodbye, to the man she had called her father.
"Papa, will you give this to Uncle Jacopo as well? Tell him it is from me," she said. Francesco gladly took the other white rose, and turned away to leave her, forever. Serafina looked down at the last rose she held in her hand, and went off to the Pazzi chapel. It was too quiet, the monks greeted her formally, and she returned their gestures. She requested for a small vase with a little water in it, and they brought what she had asked. Serafina placed the last rose upon the floor near the altar, and prayed quietly, for Vieri to rest in the afterlife.
"You have fought very well for this family Vieri, but it is time for you to let go of your earthly spirit, and return to the heaven from which your soul came from. Join your mother there, and someday, I shall join all of you too." She opened her eyes, and saw a man standing in front of her, holding the rose she had offered. "Fratello?" Serafina blinked, and saw none. Her heart skipped one beat, and she covered her face for a moment. It was just an illusion. But the rose Vieri had held, it was the same pink one she had pinned in her journal.
The following day, Serafina had entered the premises of the Pazzi palace, and gathered some of her belongings, Calvina was there to assist her, and Ezio had gone off to the Novella. Once the bells ring for the mass, blood will be shed, someone will die, and Florence will be devastated. Serafina had placed the last of her books into the casket, but found a leather-bound book hidden in the corner. It was her journal. She opened it to the page where the rose bud had been, and there it was; dry, withered and brown. She kept it close to her heart, and stepped out of the palace, leaving behind her memories there, for good.
Calvina began to speak about how Alba was such a quiet girl, and Serafina commented how quiet she was too, but she was straightforward. They laughed a bit, and heard the bells ringing. Everyone in the city had gone off to church, and Serafina wanted to attend mass as well, but this was different. There will be murder on the steps of a holy church. Calvina reassured her that everything will be fine in the end. The wind had somehow carried the voices of the people; Serafina glanced up at the wondrous blue sky, and could hear the people crying in the distance. The courtesan advised her not to go, a woman had no place in battle. When they came to the brothel, she stayed by the courtyard, waiting for Ezio's robes to appear, but there was naught. She did not even sleep later that evening, and was gazing out of her bedroom window. She waited, and waited, and waited.
Ezio held his breath when he watched Francesco leap from the building; only to land in a haystack below. He quickly pursued him, and dove into the haystack as well, but his target had always escaped, and was running through the streets of Florence. Nevertheless, Ezio was faster, his training had earned him so well, and he jumped on the Pazzi man, embedding his blade unto his nape. Francesco gasped aloud, feeling the blade through his skin and out, he held his neck, desperately trying to crawl away from the Assassin.
"It's over…" he says, "It's all over…" Ezio tries to figure out what he was trying to say, but then he spotted a rose not a few feet away from him. Francesco crawled, gradually towards it, and touched the delicate flower by its petals. His legs have stopped moving, his whole body has ceased to follow its natural commands, and his vision was beginning to blur, with the voices of his defeated men echoing in the air. He then sees Alba, making wreath of flowers in the courtyard of the bordello, she hums a song quietly, and places a hand on her growing belly. That had been the last time Francesco had seen of her.
"Meglio essere felici in questa vita che aspirare a esserlo nella prossima," said Ezio, as he began to give the man his final rites. Francesco laughed, much like his son, but he faced his foe with a different smile on his face, and a white rose clutched in his hand, as if he was pleased.
"No, you may be young to understand this, but I will be happy in the next life. Ersilia, Vieri…Alba…wait for me, I am coming home at last." Then with the utter of Requiescat in Pace, the Pazzi man finally closes his eyes, and he was dead.
Serafina awoke from her sleep, she had felt a hand against her cheek, and a kiss on her brow. She looked around her bedroom, and saw nothing else. Outside her window, she saw the flash of white upon the roofs, and she went downstairs, forgetting to put on her robe. He was tired, she was sure of it, yet the air around him felt devastating, and she inquired him what has transpired. Ezio looks into her eyes, kisses her, and then takes out a crushed rose from his tunic, its petals wrinkled, and with little blood staining its color. Serafina gently takes the pitiful flower from his hand, telling herself that she had expected this, and still, she shed tears for him.
"I wish to come with you," insisted Serafina. She had worn a wine red gown, which complemented her auburn hair, which had been covered with a black veil made of lace. Ezio reminded her again, it was an important meeting with Lorenzo de' Medici. "At least let me see my father's body before you leave it to crumble in a place unworthy of his rest!" she said, angrily. Ezio stared down at her, till he sighed, and gave up. Paola came up to the two, and reminded him that Serafina was not a Pazzi by blood, and thus she was free from the punishment laid upon the house, she only needed to tell the truth to Il Magnifico. Ezio nodded once, and told Serafina to stay close to him at all times. She agreed with the simple term, smiling at the girls and Paola, before leaving the premises. They walked to the Ponte Vechhio wordlessly, but someone had identified Serafina, and began to mock her very existence.
"Well if it isn't the traitor's daughter!" said the older man. "How does it feel to have a real Judas in your house?" he mocked her. He was soon supported by the growing number of people, urging him to continue.
"Traitor!" one woman shouted, "Destroyer of concord! The Medici trusted your family!"
"You are disgrace!"
"You do not belong here anymore!"
"You will all burn in Hell! Your family will be cursed!"
Ezio passed an arm around the young girl, protecting her from the multitude of protestors. But she placed a hand on his chest, and allowed herself to speak for her rights. The crowd quieted down, and abruptly, Serafina fell to her knees, bowing her head deeply in front of them.
"I kneel before you now, as a daughter, not as a conspirator. Please, on my family's behalf, forgive me. What my father did was only to protect his children, because I know, a father would never allow himself to see his children suffer." A man had stepped forward, one that was not expected at all, and everyone grew taut. Serafina glanced up, and saw Lorenzo de' Medici. He held a hand out to her, and she took it courteously.
Several began to complain quietly behind their backs, but Lorenzo had hushed them. Instead, he smiled at Serafina, and told her that she was not at fault. He understood Francesco's intentions, the Medici bank was slowly overshadowing his legacy, and if he had continued, the Pazzi would have never succeeded, which is why Lorenzo had an offer to annex their banks, in order to save their industry. However, someone had hindered his plans, and thus came to this. It was that person who suggested Francesco to kill his enemies, rather than to negotiate with them. Lorenzo knew Francesco to be calm, even if his reputation was bad, and he also knew how protective he was of his children.
"Killing was never the answer, Francesco had been desperate, and I had been the cause of that. I should be the one who should ask for your forgiveness, I have driven a mad man to the point of murder, and my brother's life was the prize. Forgive me, young Pazzi maiden." He bowed his head, sadly, and Serafina merely held his hand firmly. She smiled, dolefully, and tears streamed down her rosy cheeks.
"What matters most, Signore, is that we know of his true intentions. He did everything that he could, because he loved his family. He tried to save us. That is all." Lorenzo nodded, and accepted what has transpired. The crowd dispersed, and eventually, only three people were left. Serafina stepped back, allowing Ezio to speak to him this time, and remembered that her great uncle was in the conspiracy as well. She listened intently, now knowing that there was more than just her father who wanted to get rid of Lorenzo. One of them might be able to lead Ezio to the real murderer of his family.
"…Must we always talk of vengeance like this?" Serafina had uttered too loudly for Ezio to hear. "Of course Serafina! It is natural for one to avenge their fallen kin!" he exclaimed.
"But do you see me killing you for my fallen father and brother?" she said, annoyingly, and he replied, with hostility: "You are not a Pazzi, you do not need to stain those hands with blood." Serafina crossed her arms at him, scowling deeply for what he had said.
"And what if I tell you that I wish to smash your face against the pavement, have you dragged around the city by horses, naked, and finally through your body into the Arno? Do you think that will bring a smile on my father's face? Do you think your quest for vengeance will put a smile on your father's face?" Lorenzo merely stared at the two bickering, till he let out a soft laugh. It had disrupted the mood, and the two stared at him, bewilderingly.
"Both of you act like mature adults, yet your appearances fool you. Serafina, Ezio has told me to spare you from the relentless punishments I may or may have not decided on. You were born from the houses of Saint-Jeanne, and of Vescovi, two noble houses, one still standing, and the other…merely holding on to the earth by a single thread, much like the house of Auditore at this moment. You are both declining houses, and you must learn how to cooperate with each other, in order to flourish while you are still in your youth." Serafina understood, and quietly apologized to Ezio. They bid goodbye to Il Magnifico, and wandered the streets of their beloved city. They stopped by at Piazza della Signoria, and sat on a bench facing its corresponding palace.
"You might as well know, but I am leaving the city to find the rest of the conspirators, and it will take a long time, considering that they hide very well." Serafina sighed, they will part ways once again, but she came to understand, whatever his occupation is now, she has to understand, and be patient. She placed her hand on his knee, and he looked at her from under his hood.
"Then go, it is your duty, I have no place in that," she said. "You may not have a place in what I do, but you have a place here, and wherever I go, I know, you are always here for me." He pointed to his chest, and she could not help but smile at his gesture. They leaned toward each other, exchanging a soft kiss, and moved away slightly to gaze at the other longingly.
"Are you ready to say it yet?" she asked him, inquisitively. "Oh…Oh, I do not know, this is the first time I ever mention it with feeling." Serafina kissed him again, smiling against his lips, and she closed her eyes, whispering the three simple words that can bring anyone to their knees. Ezio smiled in return, pressing his forehead against hers, and stared into her gray eyes that turned bright silver in the sunlight. I love you too, Serafina.
She had watched him leave for Monteriggioni, in the succeeding day, and she bid him goodbye with a smile on her face. Ezio had offered her a place to stay at the villa, but she insisted on staying in Florence, there was much to be done, and the palace needed someone to take care of it, before Viola arrives to claim it for her own. She had called back all of the servants, including Ursula, to help clean the once magnificent building. She sighed, the courtyard might need new bushes, and as she ordered a few men to uproot the old ones, she heard a carriage being pulled to a stop outside the palace. Viola quickly stepped down, frantically, forgetting her children and husband. Serafina embraced her warmly, and relayed the events to her.
She was obviously shocked, but when she listened to Serafina's reason, she let out her tears. "It is just horrible, whoever that man was he is evil, and he will pay for driving father mad! And Vieri, Dio, do you know who killed him?" Serafina shook her head, saying that she was not there when Vieri perished, however, she knew who it was. They talked a bit more about the palace, and who will be its caretaker, now that their father and brother has passed on, and their sister refuses the outside world.
"But what about you Serafina? Will you not care for it with me?" said Viola. Her older sister sighed, gesturing her to sit on a bench. She held her sister's hands firmly, and started the entire story with a smile. Viola could not believe it at first, but came to accept it nonetheless.
"That is why I cannot stay, I belong with my mother's friends, those girls have been her sisters, and they have been there when she passed away. In a way, I wish to help them." Boisterous giggles echoed through the stairwell, and to Serafina's surprise, she saw three children running towards them. The older boy behind Serafino appeared strangely familiar, as if she was staring into the past.
"Viola, this boy…" she muttered. Viola called out his name, Oliviero, and he ran up to them. She was not mistaken, he looked exactly like their brother, but his eyes, they were softer, and kinder.
"Now it is my turn to tell you a story, do you remember Ophelia, Ursula's cousin? The one who came with me to Rome three years ago?" Serafina nodded once, and allowed her to continue, "Apparently, she and Vieri had an affair, which resulted into something intimate; father had discovered her pregnancy before our brother, and so he forced her to come with me. She was so frightened at first, thinking that she will never see Vieri again, and to my dismay, when I told her about his demise, she killed herself, leaving this poor boy. She is a fool, and a coward, do not stare at me like that! It is true!" Oliviero looked up at Serafina, and asked if she was his other aunt. She nodded once, and asked him to sit with her.
"But why did I not see him when I came to Rome?" she inquired.
"Oliviero was sick with smallpox at that time; Ophelia had to take him somewhere far so he would not harm my children!" She strokes his hair gently, and they stayed silent for a while.
"The Pazzi is not dead," Serafina muttered, "Here we have an heir to the name everyone will know in the future, but he will not be like his grandfather or his father. No, he will grow in loving hands, and someday, the Pazzi will flourish, and be appreciated by the people that once hated them." Serafina handed the palace, and all unaffected properties to Viola, who in turn, will give it to Oliviero when he is of age. Everything has been secured, everything is well, and now it was Serafina's turn for her own quest to begin.
Two years have gone by, and the brothel was at its best. They had enough funds to buy new clothing, miscellaneous items, as well as some musical instruments to keep the guests entertained. Serafina busied herself in the courtyard, sewing the gowns, and making sure every girl has their hair brushed up, and their perfume on. Since she had been so busy with work, she resorted into wearing a simple light gray kirtle with no sleeves, and the chemise sleeves themselves were rolled up to her elbows. She had finished fixing Marietta's gown, and was done for the day.
She picked up the book she had started reading, taking a comfortable seat on a bench with better lighting, and read. Paola let her be, and instructed the girls on what to do for this evening, it was until that moment, when everything had changed. A knock on the door had Paola confused, it was too early in the morning for a customer, and she had Calvina review the songs as she sauntered over to the door to tell their guest that they were still closed. Hitherto, she was surprised to see a man in fine clothing, and judging by the fur along the collars of his coat, he was high nobility. He stepped inside, smiling, and greeted Paola, as if they were old friends.
"What are you doing here you scum?" said Calvina, enraged to see his face after all these years. Arnaud removed his hat, placing it on a nearby table, and took off his coat as well. "It is nice to see you too Calvina, I have come back for a very important mission. I came here for Alba, and our child, and I'm sure, sixteen years is rather long, but I will assure you, I will explain my sudden arrival." Suddenly, Calvina pushed him back with one hand, threatening to kill him if he ever mentioned Alba's name, and some girls had to calm her down. Paola advised Arnaud to follow her into the office to discuss in privacy, and as they left for the workplace, Serafina had entered the entrance hall.
"What was the noise all about? Were you arguing again Calvina?" she inquired. "It is nothing," the courtesan replied, "Serafina, why don't you head to your room to read? We appreciate what you have done, and you deserve rest." It was unfair, she thought, but it was for her own good. Serafina did not need to face such a man, who had left them without a trace. She did not need a father who only thought of himself, and not of his loved ones here in Italy. The young girl smiled, and turned to see a coat and a hat.
"Do we have a customer in the early hours?" she said, picking up the heavy outerwear. It had such a rich color of blue, and upon the left breast, there was a brooch, an insignia. Was there a noble in the brothel? Not as though it was uncommon for one to be here.
Arnaud stared blankly at Paola's table, and the Madame stood behind him, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Alba is…dead? H-How…why?" he stuttered. Paola moved to stand in front of him, "She died of childbirth, Arnaud, it was unexpected, but it has been done. Alba waited for your return to Florence, and she had great patience, indeed." The Frenchman rubbed his eyes, and shook his head.
He stood up promptly, "What of the child?" he inquired.
"We were poor back then, we had to give her away, none of us was able to care for her," said Paola. "Her?" he repeated, "Alba had given birth to a girl? What is her name?" Paola clasped her hands together, and said: "Serafina, the name Alba had bestowed upon her even before her arrival to this world." Arnaud laughed, and shook his head once more. His beloved wife and his daughter, gone from his hands before he even had the chance to see them.
He hated being weak, he hated everything about himself at this moment, but he sighed. His travels had resulted into nothing. Serafina had sewn a few gold threads into the coat when she noticed some were missing, probably from the constant usage. She held it up, happy to see it well, and took a whiff of the perfume. It definitely smelled of nobility, but its scent was foreign, too strong, and very masculine. She heard the office door creak, indicating the departure of the mysterious guest.
"Now where is my coat? Please, keep your spite till next year; I have already been nearly torn to shreds by English folk before!" Arnaud exclaimed.
"Ah, Signore, is this your coat?" He turned around to see the source of the voice, his heart had stopped beating, and his eyes widened in exhilaration. A young girl, probably fifteen or sixteen, stepped up to him. Her dark auburn hair had been brushed up to simple knots, leaving some curls to cascade at the sides of her pale face. When she smiled, he recalled Alba, and when she looked at him, he was overwhelmed by its gray color. Serafina blinked, wondering why this man was staring at her, she looked around, and saw the same expression on everyone's faces, excluding Calvina and Paola.
"I-Is it…Alba?" said the man with a heavy accent, she took a small step back, anxiety rushing over.
"How do you know my mother's name? Are you a friend of hers?" she asked. Arnaud pursed his lips, staring up at the ceiling, he thanked God for giving him fortitude and patience. Paola walked over to Serafina's side, and whispered to her in Italian. Head over to the courtyard, we will meet you there. She obeyed, but not before handing his coat back, he thanked her, and watched her leave quietly.
Arnaud glared at the Madame crossly, "You said she was given away, why is she here? Why were you hiding her from me?" he said.
"Arnaud, please calm yourself, and I will tell you everything. She was adopted, yes, but her foster family soon returned her after she turned fourteen, and since then she has been meaning to see you." Paola explained, Arnaud exhaled heavily, and then fixed himself properly, Calvina wanted to protest, he had no right to see Serafina after what he has done. But when Arnaud looked at her over his shoulder, he saw sheer determination in his eyes, he will meet with his daughter, no matter what the cause may be. He stepped out into the courtyard, and found Serafina sitting near a rose bush, she looked up, instantly, and stood up. Arnaud clenched his fists tightly, and swallowed the lump in his throat.
"Serafina…" he said, softly, slowly raising his hands to her. She merely stared at them, and then his face.
"It is I, Louis Arnaud, your father." Serafina felt her entire body grow stiff, was this truly the man that had abandoned her mother? Why was here now? Of all times. She allowed anger to control her first, harshly slapping his hands away, and shouting her entire feelings about him. She said she hated him, but it was not true, she longed for him to return. He was not dead; she had very little hope of seeing his face, and she had dreamed of him to be punitive and foolish. Yet, here he was now, different from what she had thought, and with tears forming in his eyes.
"I tried…" he said, "I really did try to come back, but when I returned to France, my father had already arranged for me to marry Maria Sophie, at once he told me! I was already married, and it would be foolish of me to marry another, I had to escape, however my father knew of Alba's existence, and he threatened to kill her and you in her womb. My father was overwhelming, and I had no choice but to agree, so I may save both of you, yet it seems that fate decided to let Alba rest after months of waiting. Please, Serafina, try to understand. I was weak, but now that father is gone, and I have complete rule over my house, I can finally do whatever I want, and what I want is for you to come with me to France, you are the heiress of a high noble family, and I want you to take over for me when I pass on to the next world, to join your mother."
"Stop saying such things! You are more morbid than how Calvina described you, I should really hate you, but my mother will disagree with my actions. She knew all along that you had to save our lives, because you loved us so much." Serafina cried, and looked up at her father, the man she had sworn to hate, the one she accused of killing her mother, and the one who was only a shadow in her memories.
"Do you forgive me then, my daughter?"
"Yes Papa, I forgive you."
It was sudden for them to have the young girl leave the brothel again, but Serafina assured them, she will return to visit them someday. She smiled, embracing, thanking, and kissing every girl on the cheek, before leaving with her father. He owned a villa and a vineyard in Fiesole, where they will stay for the evening before starting the journey back to France. What of Ezio then? She could not leave the man she loved, no, not ever. But she was inconsistent, she knew that, and she could never change that small flaw.
Hearing him say 'I love you' may be a small detail in her life, but those words will be carried on, everlasting. He might or might not understand, it was fine, he needed to learn on his own. His new life will bring him to various places, and she knew that it will hurt him to leave her constantly, so it was best that she leaves Italy, allowing Ezio to do whatever he wishes, until her return.
Arnaud smiled to himself as their caravan left Tuscany in the early hours of morning. Serafina fashioned a dark blue gown, similar to his attire, and her hair had been braided, and laden with fine pearls. They both rode on strong stallions, ready for the long journey ahead.
"Once we cross the borders, it might be impossible to go back, are you certain you left nothing behind?" His daughter smiled, ever so beautifully like her mother, and shook her head. "No Papa, I have everything with me, right here." She patted her chest, and he understood. The horses neighed as they ventured through the mountains, preparing themselves for the adventures awaiting them in the future.
Volume I ends here.