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A painter’s apprentice (chapter 1-6)
Sixteen year old Lucrezia lay huddled for warmth. She was half delirious, soaked from the rain and chilled down to her core. But she preferred this to what was waiting for her back home.
Suddenly she felt two hands wrap gently around her shoulders. She knew without a doubt that they weren’t the rough hands of a man, but the soft hands of a woman. Even in her exhaustion their touch seemed to stir up some mysterious desire in her flesh. They were warm and soothing on her bare skin. Maybe she had just imagined them, but they made her feel safe, and she could conjure no strength do anything but put all of her trust in them. Suddenly she heard a silky voice whispering in her ear and opened her eyes to see a woman’s face.
“Hello. It’s going to be all right. I’m Mesalina.” Lucrezia had been running all night and was so exhausted she could only nod her head feebly. “You nearly died of the cold. I found you huddled behind the barn.” She was now dry and wrapped in a blanket. “You have nowhere to go?” She shook her head listlessly. Mesalina’s hands were still soothing Lucrezia’s trembling skin. Even in this state, the attention that this woman was giving her made her briefly aware of a fluttering in her stomach, and a brief tingling between her thighs. It only lasted for a split second. She hoped it would pass. It was like when she saw a pretty girl at the market. She couldn’t explain it, and it troubled her. “I think I might be able to help you.” Lucrezia let her head drop weakly into Mesalina’s lap. She had no choice but to trust her. She needed help. She surrendered. She didn’t care what happened anymore. Anything was better than what was waiting for her back home.
Since Lucrezia was little her father worked her to the bone as a milkmaid, and he sold the milk, butter and cheese at the market.
She went to mass every Sunday. She loved the incense, the choir, the windows, and the arched vaulting in the ceiling. She seldom listened to the priest and didn’t like the way he shouted. The cathedral stood in the center of the village of Vitellino, with a steeple for all to see and bells for all to hear. All of the other buildings were sagging, and dismal, but the cathedral was the people’s pride. Lucrezia felt honored to be in its presence.
What she loved most of all was a painting in the center of the altar. It was of a bloodied man nailed to two beams of wood being carried down a crowded road. She hadn’t listed to the priest enough to know with certainty, who the man was, but for some reason she couldn’t take her eyes off of it. She felt immediately sorry for him and was transfixed by the paint strokes. They were as luminous as the stained glass. His bloody naked body was so vivid and life-like it was made beautiful. It seemed there was some innate feeling in her that was so stirred by the painting it made her insides ache. She couldn’t explain it. She would sit in her pew and dream of being an artist as great as whoever painted the altarpiece.
Her mother had died when she was a small child and her father, Jacopo Della Rizzi said it was because of the falling sickness; she perished of epileptic fits. There was no further need for explanation because she could still remember them; her mother collapsing and going rigid, her limbs trembling and her body writhing, and the incoherent mumbling afterwards.
Father Bellicci at first concluded that the fits were brought on by demons. After several unsuccessful attempts to cast them out, he moved onto other remedies.
“This,” said father Bellicci, giving Jocopo a ring “is made of iron and carries the blessing of St. valentine. It cures falling sickness.” Jacopo sought remedy after remedy until his wife finally went into a fit on the floor and writhed until her face turned blue and her body went cold and still for good.
From that day on they never went to mass again. Jacopo began to beat Lucrezia, and forced her to milk and tend the cows from sunup to sundown. He drank away their wages and left Lucrezia cold and hungry.
She thought of the painting at the altar. The man’s ribs were protruding and gnarled like dead branches and in them she saw her own hunger. His eyes were rolled back in pain and in the man’s eyes she saw her own suffering.
“Why don’t we go to mass again?” She asked Jacopo timidly. Jacopo’s eyes suddenly brimmed with hatred, but he kept his composure.
“You’re dumb aren’t you, little whelp? Do you even know what Father Bellicci preaches about every Sunday?” Lucrezia looked down, her face red, and shyly dug her toe into the dirt. She didn’t want to be called dumb and longed to prove her father wrong, but realized that she had no idea what father Bellicci preached about, since she never listened. “He preaches about giving to the poor! Why then, does he try to build the grandest cathedral in all of Tuscany while the peasants go hungry?” Lucrezia didn’t know. “He’s a god damn liar!”
“The choir boys, they have the voices of angels, no? Why do their voices never change? Their voices never get deeper as they age. Why?” Lucrezia didn’t know. “Because they’ve been castrated like steers.” He paused for a moment to relish the horror on Lucrezia’s face. “Father Bellicci preaches about chastity while he fucks the altar boys. What do you think he’d do to your cunt if he got the chance?” Lucrezia said nothing. She never asked about mass again.
Lucrezia was now sixteen and a half years old. She was thin from hunger, but her eyes were large and bright and her hair almost black. She still thought of the altarpiece and dreamed of the day she could meet the artist and praise him for his subtle brilliance.
She once traced the form of the dying man onto a scrap of wood using a piece of lead. She was concentrating on capturing the curves of his form and the expression on his face from memory when her father walked into the barn.
Jacopo was accompanied by his neighbor, Giovanni. Their lips were stained purple with wine.
“You never told me you were an artist, little whelp. Why, this could be a gift for the Medici! Fit for the popes ceiling!” he said with a smirk. With that, he snapped it in half over his knee then, threw the pieces into manure.
“You should send her to Florence to apprentice the great Michelangelo!” Giovanni slurred drunkenly.
Jacopo flung her into the stall of his tired old mare and threw a shovel at her knocking her backwards into the filth. “Make yourself of use! No more of this silly scribbling!”
Later that day as always, she met her father at the market to bring home the leftover milk that hadn’t been sold. The jug was just as heavy as always, and it took all the strength she could conjure just to keep her body upright. Her head slumped in effort, she glanced absent-mindedly at a pair of feet in polished leather boots that stopped in front of her.
“Hello Lucrezia.” She looked up and what she saw bewildered her. It was Marco santacelli; the richest man in vitellino, and he had addressed her by name. She dropped her head.
“H-hello.” She stammered meekly.
“Does your father have any cheese left to sell?”
“N-no. He sold it all” and he nodded
“Ah. That’s a shame. I’ll ask him tomorrow.” She didn’t respond. She stared dumbly as he walked away trying to make sense of the encounter. Why did he know her name? When she had recovered from the bewilderment her eyes happened to glimpse the waist length blonde hair of Mia Liberto. Her stomach fluttered. She barely knew Mia and these feelings perplexed and troubled her.
Still disoriented, her eyes fell upon Filippa Materazzi and her brother Sandro. She Froze. Hopefully they hadn’t seen her. Maybe if she walked away fast enough they wouldn’t notice. Their father Dante Materazzi was one of the richest men in the village and whenever they saw her, they taunted her mercilessly. Suddenly the milk jug was snatched from her shoulder and when Lucrezia reached for it she was knocked off of her feet onto her back, producing a startled yelp.
“Squeals like a rat!” remarked Sandro.
Filippa was older than Lucrezia. She looked about eighteen and was easily twice her size.
“Hello, little Lucrezia!” she beamed mockingly. “Coming from the market? Did you make enough money to eat today? I noticed you talking to Marco Santachelli. Do you really think He’d want a poor milkmaid?” Lectretia stared, not quite comprehending her question. “We have a dim little peasant girl here, haven’t we? rumor has it, little Lucrezia, that he’s looking for a wife. Don’t waste your breath, little peasant. He’ll take a rich girl.” She got timidly to her feet and raised the milk jug back to her shoulder.
“H-he wanted to buy cheese.” Filippa smirked, and Lucrezia prayed they would let her leave in peace but Filippa continued to follow her.
“Haven’t seen you at mass in a while, little Lucrezia. Why’s that?” When she didn’t answer she was deliberately tripped and her face landed in the mud and the milk sloshed all over her. They howled with mirth. “Just trying to keep you virtuous, little milkmaid!”
Lucrezia dreaded returning home with the empty milk jug, but what she saw froze her where she stood. Marco Santacelli was seated facing Jacopo, and from what she could tell they’d been discussing a serious matter. When their eyes fell on her she scurried out of the room.
“How old is she?” Marco asked
“Has she bled yet?”
She listened in a cold panic. Suddenly Filippa’s words ran through her head; “He’ll take a rich girl,” and they gave her some comfort.
“Was her mother healthy? Was she fertile?”
“She was at first very fertile. She became pregnant within two weeks of marriage. She was very healthy too. She developed fits from the falling sickness, but that was all my doing. I swear she didn’t pass on any bad blood to Lucrezia. You see, I had hoped so much for a son. I had waited all those months. When I was handed a daughter it so angered me. I pushed her mother down the stairs. I hadn’t meant to knock her down a whole flight, but I didn’t know my own strength. She hit her temple and was out cold for the rest of the day. That’s when the fits started. It was caused by the fall. Before that she had been healthy.”
Lucrezia had never been told this and it turned her stomach. To her further horror, Marco gave a snort of amusement. “I always say women are to be used like chamber pots! Hidden away once a man has pissed in them!” They both erupted into roaring laughter.
“Whenever her mother she had a fit, she had a miscarriage. I took her to the priest because that lying old jackass said he could cure her falling sickness. I took her to mass every Sunday! Really all I wanted was a son.”
“Very well! Where is she?” They found her huddled on the floor where she’d sat listening.
“Lucrezia,” said Jacopo bending over. “Marco santacelli has asked for your hand in marriage.” She stared numbly.
“I don’t need a rich girl,” said Marco. “I’ve been watching you for a while at the market, and you’ve caught my eye. I’ve married and buried several well-connected girls. Two died in childbirth, and one died of a fever. I’ve made enough alliances for the time being. I have plenty of money and a rich man should have a pretty wife. I don’t need a large dowry. “
“From now on,” brayed Jacopo, “It will be nothing but silver, gold and pearls for you, little milkmaid! Feather beds! Crystal glasses! Ambergris! And a house fit to entertain the Medici!”
“Now Jacopo, if you don’t mind I’d like to get a look at her.” At those words, Jacopo left them alone together. Marco studied her appraisingly. She looked at him furtively. He was twice her age. His teeth were yellowed with a blackened crust in the gaps. An enormous hairy gut spilled over the top of his trousers, which he never bothered to cover with his shirt. She couldn’t help but feel repulsed. At last he spoke.
“You’re very pretty, Lucrezia.” He began to tug at her clothes, loosening her dress. She tried to pull away, but he held her still. He ignored her whimpers and continued to undress her.
“Your father says you’ve bled?” She nodded.
“I-I don’t know!” She whimpered.
“As soon as we’re wedded we’ll find out, I have no sons either.” Finally she stood trembling and naked, squirming under his gaze. Then he started to run his hands over her body.
“First, lets make sure you’re a virgin!” One hand clutched her young breast and the other went between her thighs and prodded where she was most tender. She felt a panic welling up.
He grabbed her shoulders and forced her to her knees. He held her by the hair. He unbuttoned his trousers. He pressed her face closer to him.
“Don’t worry. This doesn’t spoil your virginity, my little peasant. You’ll still have some worth.”
He smelled rotten. Her mind was reeling. Her limbs flailed outwards in shock. She had launched herself away from him and she bolted clumsily out of the room and down the hall. Jacopo simply gaped in astonishment but he was standing between her and the door. She seized a wine bottle and hurled it through the window, and launched herself through the shattering glass.
She looked down in a frenzy to discover she was still naked. She savagely tore a curtain from the window and ran. She ran past the market. Faces gaped in amazement, but she ran past them.
“What have we here? Little Lucrezia!” a familiar voice gloated.
“Stop her!” roared Jacopo.
She was suddenly thrown to the ground. She squirmed frantically and finally freed herself from the grasp of Filippa Materazzi. She wrestled the curtain from Filippa’s hands as she bellowed with pitiless amusement.
She ran past the cathedral and straight out of vitellino. Her legs began to ache, then they went numb. Every time she thought of stopping she heard shouting and saw a dim glimmer of torches. The clatter of hooves. Cold rain stung her body. She did not know how long she had been running but she couldn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. She ran as fast as she could past sundown and all through the night, refusing to let her body collapse, while the icy rain chilled her blood and numbed her to the core.
She looked up to see a dark shape looming in front of her. She was stiff and weak. Her vision was clouding over. Her mind was foggy. Her hand met splintered wood. There was a triangular roof. A door. If she knocked might someone come for her? Might someone help her? If she just knocked…
There was hay. There came a soft neigh from inside. A horse? It was a barn… It shielded her from the razor-sharp wind, and the rain. She would rest here for a little while. Just for a little while…
It was Mesalina Pompeo who found Lucrezia. Who brought her inside the barn and wrapped her in a blanket to rest.
Suddenly the blanket was pulled off of her and the cold prickled her skin.
“You found her behind the barn, Mesalina? Why doesn’t she have any clothes?”
“I don’t know. That’s how I found her.”
“I don’t want her. She’s skin and bones. She looks like she could barely lift a candlestick. Send her back outside.”
Lucrezia listened lethargically to the two speakers not quite comprehending that they were talking about her. She vaguely remembered Mesalina, and her soothing hands, and dimly recalled that Mesalina had promised to help her somehow… She hoped she would…
“It won’t be hard to fatten her up. What’s your name?” She was gently nudged, and realized that she’d been asked a question.
“Lucrezia.” She murmured softly.
“This is Severina Sacci,” she said indicating an older woman next to her. “She’s looking for a maid. escort izmit Are you willing to work? She has an extra bed in the servant’s quarters.” She nodded. She would do anything to get out of this cold…
“I told you she’s too thin. I don’t want her,” said Severina. “Help me get her back outside. You can’t stay here, girl. I don’t give to charity. I won’t take in just any peasant child off the street.” Lucrezia’s mind was reeling as Severina began to drag her and was rapidly beginning to comprehend what was happening. She didn’t want to go back outside. She managed to muster the last of her strength and resist Severina with new-found urgency. She would do anything…
“I’ll work for free!” she heard herself cry. Severina released her limp body and she fell like deadweight to the ground. “I’ll do anything you ask.”
“Anything? Well…” said Severina begrudgingly. “Lets get her inside and let Lorenzo look her over and decide.”
“No harm in that.”
They wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and each took an arm, when she was brought inside she fell onto a polished wooded floor. Severina wrenched the blanket out of her grasp, and she looked her over. Lucrezia looked down, unable to meet their gaze.
“She’s skin and bones. She looks like a corpse.”
“She’ll be easy to fatten up. She looks like she knows a hard days work.”
“Well Mesalina, you’d better wash her before showing her to Lorenzo. She’s filthy.” She stared numbly. Mesalina was going to wash her? She realized fretfully that she was in fact too weak to wash herself. She appreciated Mesalina’s efforts to defend her, but at the same time she was on the verge of tears. She felt almost as vulnerable as Marco had made her feel. It had something to do with the way Severina was talking about her like she wasn’t there. Like everyone else that day, they made her feel like her body wasn’t hers. She didn’t ask for any of this; to be grabbed, prodded, appraised, and handled. Now her body was stripped bare and was going to be washed by a stranger’s hands? She didn’t ask for this.
She uneasily allowed herself to be led to the tub. To her rapid astonishment the water wasn’t cold like every other bath she’d taken. Mesalina had heated the water for her… Why? She tried to wrap her head around the kindness in that gesture, but it was too much. Why did Mesalina think she deserved this?
“How old are you, Lucrezia?”
“Sixteen,” she mumbled softly.
“Can you tell me where you’re from?” She shook her head.
Mesalina was older than her and looked to be about twenty, but she couldn’t help but notice how pretty Mesalina was. Her blue eyes were bright and youthful, and her jet-black hair reached fully down her back. She was helped into the tub and remembered with sudden apprehension that Mesalina was touching her bare skin. She hoped her body wouldn’t react to her touch like before. She hoped she could hide it. Mesalina ran a soapy hand across her back. Electric waves of sensation shot through her. She heard herself gasp. Was Severina going to watch? Why did her body betray her like this? What was it about Mesalina’s touch?
“I’ll come later to check. If she’s going to stay in my house she’d better be spotless, Mesalina.” Seeing Severina leave relaxed her slightly. Mesalina rubbed the soap against Lucrezia’s scalp and began to wash her hair.
“This is the house of Lorenzo and Severina Sacci. That was their barn you were in. I’m their cook…” She was only dimly aware of Mesalina speaking. All she could think about was Mesalina’s hands running along her body. They were tender. Never had anyone paid her such special attention. She had never been worth the time to anyone. Never had anyone touched her like this. Lucrezia realized with sudden embarrassment that she had been doing very little to hide her reactions. Her body trembled and was moving with the strokes of Mesalina’s hands. Mesalina moved a soapy cloth over Lucrezia’s body while the other hand scrubbed. As Mesalina’s hands moved across her belly she felt it flutter. She felt Mesalina’s touch with every nerve in her body. To her further embarrassment, her touching seemed to excite the flesh between her thighs. She fought against the pulsating tingling. She felt ashamed. What would Mesalina think if she knew? With a great effort she willed her body to stay still. Mesalina washed her back, her arms, her belly, her feet, and her legs, while Lucrezia resisted squirming.
“You’re almost clean. Just one more thing.” She was nudged and encouraged to stand. The soapy cloth traveled along her body. It moved below her naval and circled up and down. Very gently. Slowly the cloth traveled downwards. The place between her thighs, tingled and throbbed. She was overwhelmed. She wanted to sit back down but Mesalina gently held her in place. Finally the cloth touched her between the legs. Mesalina applied a gentle pressure and moved the cloth slowly back and forth. Lucrezia heard herself gasp and yelp. Mesalina rinsed and re-soaped the cloth and continued to wash her. She washed on either side of her lips. She washed the insides of her thighs, but she kept returning pressure to the place between her thighs where she felt a warm tingling. Lucrezia suddenly came to realize that her hips seemed to be responding to the cloth. They returned the pressure and moved against the gentle friction. She couldn’t seem to will them to stop.
“All clean.” Mesalina wrapped her back in her blanket, while Lucrezia struggled to recover. She felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. When Lucrezia had collected herself she was mortified. She prayed that Mesalina hadn’t noticed. All Mesalina had done was wash her because she couldn’t wash herself. It seemed innocent enough. She just wanted to help. Yet it made her want to be touched in all the wrong places. She avoided Mesalina’s eyes. What would she think? She’d be disgusted with her if she knew. How disastrous that would be… If she disgusted Mesalina. As she thought of Mesalina’s bright brilliant eyes, and her kindness, she realized with great perplexity how much she wanted Mesalina to like her… To approve of her… She just wanted to please her. Lucrezia looked up shyly and saw no judgment in her eyes. Her hands and her face were reassuring. But to her slight apprehension something in her smile seemed knowing.
“Well at least you scrubbed the manure off.” Said Severina approvingly as she approached. “What did you say was your given name, little servant?” She asked with smug distain.
“Lucrezia.” Severina wrinkled her nose snidely.
“Just Lucrezia?” She nodded meekly. “Rootless little loafer, this one.”
Like most peasants, Lucrezia’s lineage didn’t have the honor of being traced by a distinguished family name. On rare occasions her father called himself Jacopo Della Rizzi, indicating his home village of Rizzi, but only when he felt it necessary. Lucrezia had never needed to distinguish herself as anything but simply Lucrezia.
“The Sacci were nobles as far as they can be traced. My name is Severina Adami Sacci. Adami is one of the oldest names in my home city of molti stalloni. This little gutter-bitch doesn’t even have surname!”
She caught herself wondering what she would choose as a surname if the need arose, when a haughty Severina brayed, “It’s up to my husband if you can stay. I’ve told him you were here and he wants to see you now.”
They supported her as she walked and led her to a man sprawled out in an embroidered armchair. There were several empty wine bottles scattered around the floor. He smelled like liquor and sweat. His face glistened with snot. His swollen eyes were closed, and he breathed in a rumbling snore. His shirt was open around his barrel shaped chest. She suppressed an appalled gasp to discover that his trousers were unbuttoned and he lay carelessly exposed. She couldn’t quite hold back her disgust. To her he seemed entirely comatose. Suddenly he opened his mouth and a curt voice startled her.
“Bring her closer,” he barked. She stepped anxiously nearer.
“Lucrezia, this is Lorenzo Sacci,” said Mesalina. “He’s a painter.”
“One of the greatest painters in Tuscany!” said Severina straightening herself with dignified pride.
Mesalina snorted sardonically and remarked under her breath, “He’s no Botticelli, but he’s good enough for vitellino’s cathedral.”
Lorenzo seemed not to notice either of them but Mesalina’s remark had hit her like lead. She felt like the breath had been knocked out of her. She struggled to wrap her head around this new revelation:
This was the man who painted the altarpiece. Lorenzo Sacci. Was her childhood hero.
She now looked avidly into his bloodshot half closed eyes. His mouth opened. He was about to speak. She listened earnestly. She thought excitedly of the altarpiece and keenly searched his snot-covered face for a trace of its genius. Instead purple vomit bubbled down his chin and he began to snore again.
“I don’t want her.” He said at last. “This one’s too scrawny. “She looks like a prostitute’s whelp. And obviously the litter’s runt. She’s not good enough to be my servant.”
Not good enough? Had she heard him right? Lorenzo’s words fell on her like a hammer and felt like a lead weight on her insides. Of course she’d been called worse things. But coming from the man she’d worshipped for so long… This unknown artist had felt like her only friend for her entire childhood. She felt her lip tremble and her eyes beginning to burn with tears.
“What?” remarked Lorenzo, “It weeps! Fancy that!”
“She says she’ll work for free.” Said Mesalina. “Do you think it’s wise to look a gift horse in the mouth, Lorenzo? Let’s just give her a chance. You can send her on her way if she doesn’t please you.”
“Alright,” he slurred carelessly. “I’ll see how I like her after a few days.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Little gutter-whore’s bastard,” he murmured groggily to himself, and continued to snore.
“Come on, little one. I’ll take you to the servants quarters.” Mesalina wrapped an arm around her shoulder and gently led her. She obediently followed, oblivious to her surroundings, her breath quickening, her lip quivering, and her eye’s watering.
Once the door had been shut behind her she abandoned all attempts to suppress her grief. A howl of anguish escaped her. She collapsed and Mesalina caught her in her arms. Rather than lead her to her own bed, Mesalina squeezed Lucrezia in her embrace and laid her down beside her. Lucrezia surrendered her trust. She didn’t care. She pressed her body into Mesalina’s as tightly as she could, finding reassurance in its warmth. She wanted to be sheltered by it. She wanted to be comforted by it. She wanted to disappear into Mesalina for the night, and not have to worry about Lucrezia. She nestled into the warmth. She pressed her face into Mesalina and sobbed into her chest while she held her and comfortingly stroked hair. Spasms of Sorrow possessed her body.
She wept for the end of her childhood, the loss of her hero, the loss of her cathedral… The loss of her mother… The loss of everything she had known.
“I think this should fit you. It’s one of Severina’s old dresses from when she was young,” said Mesalina, slipping it over her body. “I convinced Severina to let you rest today, but you’ll need to help with dinner.” Said Mesalina pulling Lucrezia to her feet. Her whole body ached. She walked as carefully as she could to the kitchen.
“At least she looks some what presentable now.” Said Severina still wrinkling her nose in self-righteous disgust. “I will not have anyone looking like a runaway dog in my house.”
“Who’s this?” Asked Lorenzo, squinting at her.
“Don’t you remember? This is Lucrezia, the servant girl we took in last night. Says she’ll work for free.” He acknowledged her with an apathetic snort.
Severina turned to her. “I want you to sweep and scrub the floors. Then I want you to set out the silverware and porcelain. Do you understand?”
She scurried meekly into the kitchen and then paused to marvel at the feast Mesalina had prepared. Sirloin braised in oranges. Vermicelli with tomato sauce. Mozzarella with fruit. Her mouth watered. When was the last time she ate? She couldn’t remember. The smell had an indescribable richness to it. It even looked beautiful.
“Don’t even think about it, little peasant.” Said Lorenzo who had sat watching her hunger with evident amusement.
She lowered her head and finished her task. “Almost ready.” Remarked Mesalina. It was a relief to hear her voice. “It’s time to set out the porcelain.”
She watched Mesalina’s hands artfully rearrange the fruit. They were so elegant. They couldn’t have been more perfect if Lorenzo had painted them. She found her eyes wandering up Mesalina’s arms, and wondered why the graceful fullness of her breasts made her heart pound so fervently…
“Like what you see, Lucrezia?” She was snapped back to reality and realized she’d been moving her eyes up and down Mesalina’s body, drinking in every detail. For how long, she didn’t know. Her mouth was still gaping. She looked guiltily at her feet, her cheeks smoldering with embarrassment. What must Mesalina think of her now? She was so ashamed of herself.
She fled from the kitchen and awkwardly awaited instruction from Severina. “Go get the fruit and the pasta. Then you will sit next to Mesalina. Listen, and be ready to retrieve the next course when I ask for it.”
She obeyed and after she returned with the two platters she seated herself timidly next to Mesalina continued to stare at her feet.
Suddenly Meslina’s hand touched her thigh under the table sending a paralyzing tremor up her spine. Very slowly the hand slid into her lap and began to gently knead between her thighs. Why was Mesalina doing this? Why at the table? Why now? She squirmed and shifted, and to her temporary relief the hand withdrew. Then it slid down and lifted the hem of her skirt. Mesalina was slowly stroking upwards on her bare legs. Her fingertips fluttered delicately over her skin. Up. Down. Back and forth. In circles. They slowly made their way to her inner thigh. She squeezed her legs together, but the hand always managed to lodge itself between them and continue it’s stroking. She bit her lip. She clenched her body. She suppressed a gasp as the hand found its intended destination. Mesalina messaged her in circular strokes. Her hand gradually increased its pressure and tempo. She stifled moans and gasps. Why was Mesalina doing this to her?
Finally a soft agonized cry escaped her. All eyes turned to her in mild astonishment. She realized that she’d been frantically shifting her body, and her breathing was shallow and rapid.
Mesalina was so calm, so composed. She sat pleasantly and listened politely to the Sacci dinner conversation. She laughed good-naturedly at their banter, occasionally offering cordial chatter of agreement, all while secretly torturing Lucrezia.
Severina turned to her. “Will you sit still?” demanded Severina. “A good servant makes herself unseen.”
Mesalina’s pressure became increasingly firm against her vulnerable flesh.
She couldn’t leave. Severina had instructed her to stay. She couldn’t let herself react to the Mesalina’s hand in front of the Saccis. What would happen if they knew? She had no choice but to silently submit to Mesalina, and endure her torment. Mesalina’s hand seemed to be stirring something unknown. One finger was rapidly circling her outer region while another finger navigated its way around her maidenhood, taking care not to rupture it and managed to fit inside of her. It began to gently thrust in and out. izmit escort Something was building. Something needed release. She didn’t know what was happening. She was right on the edge. Every time she felt herself nearing release the hand would slow down or stop. She kept repeating this. She was being toyed with. Did she have to tease her?
“Why’s she so restless? Will you make her sit still, Mesalina? It’s getting to be quite a nuisance… Anyway, He’s commissioning a painting for his wife-…”
“I don’t know what’s gotten into her,” replied Mesalina.
“…Into her…” her mind echoed. She was profoundly uncomfortable with the way that Mesalina emphasized those words.
Something was building again. She was about to burst. She prayed for relief. She barely stifled another moan, but couldn’t keep from squirming and shifting, earning her another stern stare from Severina. It was getting harder and harder to sit still. It was agony. Just when the moment was coming Mesalina’s hand withdrew. She wanted to scream with frustration. Why didn’t Mesalina just let it finish? …What ever it was… It wasn’t fair.
“It’s time for the second course, Lucrezia,” commanded Severina. She rose on shaking legs, and returned with orange braised sirloin.
Lucrezia had scrubbed every inch of the floor. She’d washed all of the porcelain and polished all of the silver, she was fed mozzarella, pasta, and oranges, and now she lay languidly in her bed. Mesalina seemed to have vanished after dinner, and Lucrezia couldn’t find her anywhere.
She couldn’t explain her emotions. She felt betrayed. Why had Mesalina put her through that? And in front of Lorenzo and Severina? Why had she toyed with her feelings like that? What was she to Mesalina? A pet she’d acquired just to amuse herself?
At last she heard the door open and Mesalina quietly stepped in.
“Lucrezia?” She didn’t respond, and even when Mesalina wrapped her arms around Lucrezia she didn’t acknowledge her. “Lucrezia, please don’t be angry with me.” She rubbed Lucrezia’s back gently, who lay unreceptive to her touch. “Lucrezia, I’m sorry. When I saw the way you looked at me… I just… I just- couldn’t keep my hands away from you-… I- I couldn’t control myself. I couldn’t help it… ” Suddenly there came an impatient knock on the door.
“Where’s my servant?” Severina demanded brusquely.
“You’re… You’re wanted in Severina’s bedchamber.”
“Where did you go after dinner?” Lucrezia asked.
“I had to help Lorenzo with…something,” Mesalina replied suddenly lowering her voice. “I’ll be right here when you get back.”
She arrived in the bedchamber and marveled at its lavish opulence. The bed was draped in silk. There were superbly carved mahogany chests. Exquisite tapestries and Velvet curtains draped the walls. Severina sat surrounded by immaculate shimmering bottles of perfume in endless sizes and shapes.
“Come here and help me get undressed.” She approached obediently and first removed the veil from Severina’s hair. Then she unlaced her Camacia shirt. Underneath it was a perplexing garment she’d never seen before. She didn’t know what to make of it.
“It’s called a corset. It’s all the rage in England. The very height of fashion.” It seemed to be squeezing the breath out of her. Did Severina enjoy wearing this? She couldn’t have… Suddenly something caught Lucrezia’s eye. Severina raised a hand mirror and admired herself. Lucrezia was transfixed. She’d never seen one in person. She’d seen her reflection in the well water, but never in a mirror. She leaned to Severina’s left side and caught a glimpse of herself, with brief fascination.
Suddenly she heard something shatter. She looked down in terror to see that that she’d accidentally knocked a perfume bottle to the floor. The glass lay scattered in jagged shards. The smell of rose petals was nauseating. Before she could react a stunning slap struck her across the face. Then another.
“THAT WAS AMBERGRIS!” She launched another blow at Lucrezia’s face for good measure. “You-you foul little girl! You rotten little urchin! YOU STINKING LITTLE BEAST!” She tried to run from Severina’s bedchamber to escape more blows, but Severina caught her by the collar of her dress, strangling her and flinging her backwards. “LORENZO!”
A bewildered Lorenzo arrived in the doorway, sleep and liquor still lingering in his eyes. Severina stood tremulous with hysterical rage and seemed unable to express herself. At last she sputtered, “This… little… SWINE has SPILLED THE PERFUME YOU GAVE ME! GET HER OUT OF MY SIGHT! SEE TO IT THAT SHE NEVER COMES BACK HERE!” Lucrezia shrank back into the wall, and cowered at Lorenzo’s approach expecting more blows.
Instead Lorenzo shrugged indifferently. He took her by the upper arm led her out with authority. “Come with me, little servant. You’ve angered my wife. No way I’m sticking my neck out for you. You’re not worth her wrath to me.” He was unbolting the front door. His hand was on her back urging her out.
“Make sure Severina never sees you here again.”
Where would she go? How would she eat? Surely she would starve. Would she return to Jacopo and Marco? What would they do to her? She shuddered at the thought.
“Wait,” she pleaded “please…” She searched her wits desperately for something to do. Something to say… He pushed her harder.
“Please!” she blurted. “If such a glorious altarpiece came out of your heart, surely you can find pity in it!” His hand withdrew.
“You- you know my work?”
“Y-yes! I’m from Vitellino! I looked at your altarpiece throughout every mass when I was a child and dreamed of being an artist as great as you! I-it was the one of the dying man nailed to a beam of wood!”
“…You mean Christ…?” he asked, slightly taken aback.
“Yes! Christ!” the name sounded familiar. “It’s so… pretty. The colors are so…” She was still racking her brain in a frenzy for the right words. She’d never had to describe her love of the painting before, and now she wasn’t sure she could. Oddly she suddenly remembered something her father had said to her. “I-it could be a gift for the Medici! Fit for the pope’s ceiling!”
She stood trembling and prayed Lorenzo wouldn’t press her for details, and realize she had no idea what was on the pope’s ceiling. As much as she loved it, she didn’t know enough about painting to provide much elaboration on the subject. To her immediate relief her words seemed to pacify him.
Something in his face seemed almost wistful and distant.
“You know, when I began my apprenticeship I saw myself in Rome… Florence… Naples… I even had ambitions of working for the pope alongside the great masters… But it’s like Mesalina said… I’m no Botticelli but I’m good enough for Vitellino’s cathedral.”
Still in a panic that Lorenzo would force her out the door she blurted out, “Mesalina doesn’t understand your greatness! She wouldn’t know great art if it offered her wine!” She cringed, half expecting her outburst to earn her another slap.
Lorenzo abruptly re-bolted the door. He seemed to have come back to himself, and appeared self-conscious that he had been so honest with her.
“Tell Severina-“ he stammered, suddenly awkward and reserved. “Tell Severina I said you could stay.” He said quickly, walling himself off.
When she returned to the servant’s quarters she simply collapsed. Her body was so tense from the sheer stress that it had altogether exhausted her. She let Mesalina climb into her bed and warily put an arm around her.
“Lucrezia, I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have-“ she tightened her embrace. “Please don’t be angry.” She remembered her anger at Mesalina, but now she couldn’t even conjure the will to care. She was physically and emotionally drained. Now she was merely grateful to be held and reassured. She nestled into Mesalina’s arms. “I heard shouting. What happened?” She didn’t answer. She didn’t want to think about it, and was too tired to explain it. All she wanted was to lie there.
Mesalina held Lucrezia until she was sure she felt safe. She looked down at the girl’s face and noticed an angry beet-red welt in the shape of a handprint where Severina had slapped her. “Who did that, Lucrezia? Was it Severina?” She didn’t answer. “I’m sorry, sweet Lucrezia. We don’t have to talk about it.” She kissed the welt as lovingly as she could, soothing the irritated skin. She whispered to her and stroked her hair. She heard Lucrezia heave a quiet sigh. Her muscles went soft, and her eyelids began to droop.
Lucrezia had been asleep for several hours and awoke to Mesalina wrapping her arms around her. Mesalina lay still for a while with Lucrezia in her arms, wanting to make her feel secure. Mesalina began to tenderly stroke her body. Her hands were comforting. Lucrezia accepted it.
Her stroking began to grow more passionate “You think I didn’t notice how you squirmed when I washed you? You think I didn’t notice the way you looked at me? You thought you could hide it from me? It nearly drove me to insanity. I couldn’t help it.”
As she had done while washing Lucrezia, Mesalina stroked the front of her torso, moving downward gradually. To her satisfaction Lucrezia was responding to her caress. Moving with her hand. When her hands made contact with her young breasts or stroked below her naval she gave a sharp intake of breath but the girls eyes remained dreamily closed. Very gently she grazed Lucrezia’s lips with hers. Lucrezia gave a startled reflexive tremor but Lucrezia’s lips welcomed hers.
With no further pretense Mesalina’s hand firmly cupped Lucrezia and held her between the thighs. She tried to pull away in shock, but discovered that Mesalina had positioned her body against her back so that she was pinned between Mesalina and her hand.
“It’s ok, little one. Just relax. Just let it happen,” she whispered soothingly, her breath warm against her ear. Her hand remained pressed against her, steady and firm, while the other hand began to loosen her dress. “Let it happen. I promise I won’t hurt you, sweet Lucrezia. Just let it happen.” In sudden confusion, Lucrezia began to struggle. Mesalina pressed harder in order to pin Lucrezia more securely, and held her down with the other arm. She held her and stroked her lovingly until she went still. “Let it happen.” She understood that Mesalina wasn’t going harm her but she also wasn’t going to yield. She had to give in. When Mesalina released her she allowed her to peel the dress from her body, remaining submissively motionless. She obediently allowed Mesalina’s hand to return between her legs.
Mesalina lay down and resumed pressing her body against Lucrezia. When she continued her pressure with her hand she heard a whimper. She could tell Lucrezia was frightened. Lucrezia wasn’t asking for any of this, she was only meekly submitting to Mesalina. As guilty as it made her feel she couldn’t help but take a moment to enjoy the feeling of having Lucrezia vulnerable and under her control. She ceased stimulating her exposed slit with her flattened palm and massaged her more directly with her fingertips in firm unyielding circles. She allowed herself a moment to delight in how the naked defenseless little body felt as it pressed ever harder against her in its search for an escape route.
Mesalina ended her brief indulgence then resumed her efforts to make Lucrezia feel secure. “Good girl.” she whispered. She withdrew her hand and held the tense little body snugly and stroked Lucrezia. “You’re doing perfect, sweet little Lucrezia. Just relax for me.” As Mesalina stroked her hair and her back she gradually sunk into her embrace and eventually she lay quiet and still. “Good girl. I’ll go slowly for you now. You’re doing perfectly. Now I want you to lay still and let it happen. Just keep relaxing. I won’t go too fast. I promise I’ll make you feel good. That’s all I want for you.” And Lucrezia didn’t stir. She remained obediently motionless and calm, and Mesalina could feel that it wasn’t a gesture of submission but one of trust. “Good girl.”
She held her comfortingly for a little while longer, then began to caress her, slowly working her way downward until she found the flesh between her thighs. She stroked very softly remaining alert and receptive to Lucrezia’s responses. She kneaded and massaged her outer region. Her fingers began to probe and explore her, trying to find her where she was most responsive. Her fingers came to a delicate bulge at the front of her slit, and to Mesalina’s delight it was swollen with arousal. Mesalina began to message her where she was most sensitive, and her body jolted to life.
Lucrezia was confused. What happened? She was caught off guard by the sudden rush of sensation. Mesalina paused to rub her back and eased Lucrezia back down on the bed beside her. Mesalina resumed stroking and kneading her swelling bulge, which to her satisfaction was growing wet.
A warm tingling, and a series of throbs emanated from it. Her voice began to let out brief moans and sudden cries in rhythm with each throb. After several minutes of attentive rubbing and kneading her hips were rocking tumultuously.
“Does that feel good, Lucrezia?” She could only answer in repeated yelps in cadence with each pulsation that shook her.
“Do you like that? Good girl… Good girl… Such a good girl,” she whispered
Mesalina delighted in every second of Lucrezia’s elations… All she could do was continue her strokes and gaze at innocent little Lucrezia panting, and moaning, and frantically grinding against her hand. Lucrezia probably still didn’t know what was happening, thought Mesalina. She was just possessed by these sensations and lost herself in them.
Mesalina stimulated Lucrezia’s delicate bud with fervor, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted to venture inside of her but in her passion she would surely break her barrier. Once she inserted one finger she knew she wouldn’t be able to stop herself. Did she have the heart to rob her of her purity? But there was something so intoxicating about this timid lost little youth who surrendered this much trust into her hands. Since she’d arrived she’d remained unquestioningly under her protection. Her trust was entirely innocent. She wanted to take her for herself. If Mesalina did this she would bond Lucrezia to her forever, whether she knew it or not. She could make this helpless runaway hers.
She felt her way to Lucrezia’s partly sealed opening and began to press. Her fingers were met with resistance and she stopped. To her frustration, Mesalina found she didn’t have the heart to proceed. She returned to Lucrezia’s fragile bud, and stimulated it with vigor. Lucrezia’s hips began to buck furiously against Mesalina’s hand. Her moans quickened and she was grinding harder and faster. Lucrezia was right on the verge. Her moans were hoarse and rapid, and she was gasping for air. Before Lucrezia could reach her peak. Mesalina withdrew her hand, and was rewarded by the sight of sweet Lucrezia’s hips lewdly grinding against the air. She continued this routine several more times. She’d work Lucrezia into a squirming frenzy, and then let her down.
Mesalina felt guilty. After dinner she’d promised herself that she wouldn’t tease Lucrezia, but it gave her so much satisfaction she couldn’t resist. She wanted to draw it out as long as possible.
“Mesalina!” Lucrezia finally cried out breathlessly “P-Please!”
At first Lucrezia fought against her hand but now Mesalina had her begging for it. She relished seeing Lucrezia in such feverish desperation to be touched.
“Please!” izmit kendi evi olan escort The poor girl was so overwhelmed with the sudden turbulence of unknown sensations and desires Mesalina was unsure how much more she could take.
“Mesalina!” She was in such a whirling chaos that Mesalina was compelled to give her release. Mesalina backed off of Lucrezia, producing a cry of exasperation. She instead bent down and put her mouth over her quivering slit.
Lucrezia gave a yelp of astonishment, which quickly became a gratified moan. Mesalina sucked Lucrezia’s bulge against her tongue and maintained the pressure that she begged for. She was dripping wet and swollen. When Mesalina began to move her tongue back in forth it didn’t take long.
Within seconds she gave a loud hoarse cry, and her whole body began to pulsate. When Mesalina licked her half sealed opening it gripped her tongue in rhythmic contractions that overtook Lucrezia’s body. She kept her tongue in place and savored the way the powerful throbs felt in her mouth. Her breath was heaving, and her yelps were frantic and raw. She sat up and watched Lucrezia writhe in cadence with each throb, which Mesalina now felt with her fingers. Slowly the contractions grew slower and gentler and Lucrezia was delivered from her ecstatic trance and into Mesalina’s arms. Her body was limp and her muscles useless. She was so overwhelmed that all she could do was lie there and focus on catching her breath.
“Sweet girl… You did perfectly, my Lucrezia.”
“…What- just… happened?” she panted. Her naiveté was charming.
“Sometimes…” said Mesalina, smiling and pondering on how to phrase her answer. “Sometimes that’s what our bodies do when we’re shown love.”
“I just know how to make girls feel good.”
She drew a blanket over Lucrezia. “Something I learned in Sunday mass.”
Lucrezia awoke to several abrupt prods to her back.
“…Mesalina?” she murmured in groggy confusion. She opened her eyes foggily and recoiled to find that Mesalina was nowhere in sight; she was being prodded awake by Severina.
“Get up!” She snapped out of her daze, sat bolt upright, and jumped to her feet. When Severina reached for her she shrank away, fearing a blow to the face but Severina seized her by the arm. “Come with me.” She followed and wondered apprehensively what was in store for her.
Severina seemed anxious too. Her eyes darted wildly and she rung her hands fretfully. Lucrezia yelped when Severina’s hand clenched tighter, her jeweled rings cutting into her skin. Severina didn’t respond. To her slight astonishment it seemed that Severina wasn’t just ignoring her, she genuinely wasn’t aware of her. She was somewhere else entirely. Lucrezia briefly forgot her own anxiety and watched with reserved curiosity.
“Why did Lorenzo let you stay!?” she blurted out abruptly, her voice quivering “Did you let him fuck you?”
“No! You needn’t to tell me!” she cut her off. “I know what you did, but it doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter… Painters are passionate men! Of course he needs his whores to fuck!”
“…But I didn’t… He never-“
“But you’re just another fuck to him! I’m his wife!” Severina nodded vigorously in agreement with herself, not seeming to hear Lucrezia at all. “Does he give you pearls, gold, silver, and ambergris? Why, I have enough jewels that if I wore them out I’d break every sumptuary law!” Lucrezia didn’t respond, realizing that she was witness to a conversation in which she wasn’t part of. Severina continued to nod in agreement with herself. Lucrezia merely listened with detached curiosity until they arrived in a dusty room where Lorenzo stood.
There were paintbrushes, panels of wood, jars of brightly colored powder, mysterious objects and foreign substances.
Was this where Lorenzo worked? Is this where the altarpiece was made? Lucrezia resisted the urge to tear herself from Severina’s grasp and worship every inch of the room. Lorenzo had hurt her with his aloofness but his art never could. His work could never do her wrong.
“Hold her head.” Commanded Lorenzo. Severina’s hands gripped either side of her face, but she continued to twist, hungrily exploring every sight she could lay her eyes on. She was scarcely aware of Severina’s rings digging into her cheeks, until she was startled by a metallic snip right behind her ear. She twisted around and what she saw puzzled her. Lorenzo was holding a pair of shears and a lock of her hair lay at his feet.
This sight stunned her back to the present. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected, but certainly not this… There was another long snip of the shears and more weight fell from her scalp. What was happening? She began to writhe against Severina in bafflement, which earned her more of Severina’s sharp rings cutting into her face. She heard the door open and close.
“It’s all right, Lucrezia,” purred a familiar silky voice behind her. Mesalina? Was she here? Lucrezia could hear her but she couldn’t see her.
“Hold still! Do you want to lose an ear?” barked Lorenzo. She held still, but she couldn’t help but whimper. Why would they do this to her? What would people think of a woman with no hair? Mesalina approached and stood in front of her, watching. Her gaze was reassuring, but betrayed no hints. Finally she was released and her hand darted to her scalp to find it nearly naked.
Her hair was on the floor. She couldn’t quite get used to the sensation. A part of her could still feel the hair on her head like a phantom limb, but her hands found nothing.
Her head felt shockingly light.
“Lucrezia, Listen to me!” snapped Lorenzo, commanding her attention. “I’ve been looking for a boy to sweep my floors and grind pigments. I can’t take on another apprentice. They’re too much trouble! You make for a pretty sorry house servant, and maybe you’re more suited to this! But alas, I can’t let my apprentices and my patrons see a female working in my studio! What would they think?” To her amazement he produced a button-down shirt and a pair of trousers. Surely they weren’t meant for her… “Your new name is Lucca Gavarazzi. Any questions, Lucca?” Of all the things that could have happened to her, she never expected to become a boy…”Good!”
“But Lorenzo…” stammered Severina gently. “She was probably on the run because she brought dishonor on her house and will bring dishonor to us… Same story with any of these stray girls, really… Probably came straight from the brothel or she’s a little streetwalker… She’s dirty… She doesn’t even have a proper name… I don’t know why I even let her in my house in the first place…” She rubbed his shoulder warily, but with devoted love. He abruptly wrenched his shoulder out of her hand without a second glance.
“It’s like I say about the church! I wouldn’t trust her virtue over that of a badger, but I can’t help it if the little whore has good taste!” Obviously since the previous night, Lorenzo had assumed his familiar bravado of vulgarity.
“There will be no shortage of people in my house who know good art when they see it!”
Severina turned away and Lucrezia saw real hurt in her eyes. She surprised herself to find a twinge of pity in her chest. It was short-lived when pain turned to smoldering hatred.
Lorenzo reached for Lucrezia and before she could react her dress fell to her ankles and she stood naked. Lorenzo circled and studied her critically. He reached for her breast and she automatically hugged herself in defense.
“Don’t squirm, little imp!” Lorenzo snapped, feeling her roughly. “She’s skinny enough.” He said thoughtfully. “These will have to be bound,” he said indicating her chest, and he handed several long strips of fabric to Severina. Severina was going to bind her chest? She recoiled at the thought. Why did it have to be Severina?
A strip was looped around her chest, and was jerked back so forcefully that the wind was knocked out of her. Severina tightened the strip into a knot and wrapped a second loop around her. The strip was tightened so swiftly that she felt a crack in her neck as Severina pulled it back. Couldn’t it have been anyone but Severina? No one else would be this rough. She felt Severina pause and could tell how much satisfaction this gave her. She was bound so tightly that she felt like her ribs were about to crack. Her chest was going to implode. This must be how her corset felt…
“Here, Severina. Let me finish.” Lucrezia watched Mesalina take hold of the linen and prayed in earnest that Severina would relinquish it. At last she obliged.
Mesalina’s hands nimbly navigated the tangle of knots left behind by Severina, and her lungs gratefully drew in one fulfilling breath of air. She felt as though a mound of stones had been removed from her chest.
Mesalina’s fingers began to tenderly wipe the sides of her face and when she withdrew them she realized that Severina’s rings had drawn blood. She continued to gently rub away the blood, taking care not to agitate the broken skin, and soothing the inflammation. She looped the linen over Lucrezia’s breasts and her eyes reassured her that she would wrap her with care. She didn’t want anyone but Mesalina touching her anyways. The binding hugged her skin, but without crushing her. Mesalina continued to loop the cloth strip until her chest lay flat. She allowed Mesalina to adjust the linen with a familiarity would make the clergymen squirm. Lorenzo didn’t care and Severina hated her anyways. Mesalina was the first person that’d touched and hadn’t made her feel like a heifer and auction.
Lorenzo strode smugly into the room. Evidently pleased with himself, he clapped his hands together and laughed.
“Well! Lucrezia does look the part doesn’t she? I’d say little Lucca makes a pretty convincing boy! Fit to inherit his father’s horses!”
He turned and addressed her directly. “Why, I’d wager you’re enough of a boy, you could persuade the bishop to fuck you, couldn’t you, little Lucca?”
To that, she couldn’t quite put together a response.
“Just you wait! Maybe he’d inherit his land too! Fancy that!”
Severina snorted. “I’ll sooner be eaten by earthworms than see the day when a man’s property can be claimed by a daughter. I doubt she even has a father, much less one that will even claim her as his.” She gazed at him with unyielding tenderness. “Do you really think this makes her better off, Lorenzo?” she asked gently. “She can’t disguise herself forever, and what’s she supposed to do then? Join the guild and paint for the Medici? Take on apprentices of her own? At least I had the mercy to show her where her place is, but it’s time we were rid of her.” Lorenzo silenced her with a dismissive wave of his hand and continued to admire his creation.
“Lucca Gavarazzi… Lucca was the name of my father’s dog when I was a boy. Gavarazzi is the surname of the man who killed Lucca with a hayfork for stealing his chickens. My father avenged Lucca by bashing his teeth in! Lucca Gavarazzi… Lucca Gavarazzi… It has a nice ring to it don’t you think, Lucca?” Some things uttered by Lorenzo were so baffling she thought it was best not to try wrapping her mind around them. She decided she wouldn’t question it.
“Yes,” she agreed. “Very nice.” She half hoped that it was the wine speaking. She wondered if even god knew the mechanisms of Lorenzo’s mind, much less how they clinked together to conceive a masterpiece.
A young man she’d never seen before had accompanied Lorenzo. He stood unassumingly at his side. There was a quiet stillness to his character that had caused her not to notice him at first. She now focused her attention to him and studied him furtively. His smile seemed approachable and honest.
When he and Mesalina looked at each other she could sense a distinct camaraderie. She concluded that she trusted him. His features were mild, and when she studied his eyes they betrayed and unusual melancholy.
“I’ll just tell my apprentices and my visitors that Lucca here is my bastard son!” declared Lorenzo. “What do you think of that?”
She couldn’t tell whom he had directed his question at. She let her eyes drift towards Severina and instantly regretted it. When she saw the loathing in her eyes she swore she could feel her blood chill. Lorenzo’s bastard? Why did Lorenzo say things like that? She couldn’t decide whether Lorenzo was being deliberately cruel of he was genuinely oblivious to his wife’s feelings. Neither would have surprised her.
“Lucrezia-” she Mesalina.
“You mean Lucca.” Lorenzo interjected.
“Lucca… This is Sergio. He’s Lorenzo’s most experienced apprentice. He’s in on our secret but he’s trustworthy.”
“Sergio is going to show you what your responsibilities are around here and make sure that you know what’s expected of you. He’s my most experienced and my most gifted! Spend enough time around Sergio and he just may make an artist of you, little bastard! Then you just might be good enough for Vitellino ’s cathedral!”
His last remark instantaneously snapped her mind to alertness. Was he referring to her confession that she’d worshipped him since childhood? Was he suggesting that she could be an artist like Lorenzo? She studied him with frightening intensity, searching for the smallest hint, but he betrayed none.
“A woman artist! Just imagine!” She continued her desperate attempt to read him for the slightest clue. Was he dismissing the idea as a joke? Or did he actually want her to imagine it?
“There’s a broom in the corner, little bastard. You know what it’s for, I’m sure!” She retrieved the broom and quickly lost herself in the task, still struggling to absorb all that had happened to her. In the back of her mind she realized that the studio had gone strangely quiet. Lorenzo hadn’t left, and she could sooner get honey from a milk cow than ask Lorenzo to be quiet.
She turned to look and felt her heart leap into her throat. She tried to breathe but merely sputtered.
There stood Mesalina completely naked, gazing directly into her eyes… She’d been watching her the whole time… Those eyes could have knocked her straight to the floor if they desired. She was faultless. What stood before her was a perfection that she couldn’t wrap her head around unless she felt it. If she could just lay her hand on a single inch of her she’d feel as rich as the Medici. Her breasts were beckoning her hands like two tomatoes ripened in the Tuscan sun. Somewhere she heard the broom clatter to the floor, but it didn’t break the trance.
“Lucca! Don’t forget to blink or you’ll go blind!” Lorenzo’s voice pounded the inside of her skull and jolted her to awareness. He shook his head in mock scorn. “Ruttish little dog, you! You’re becoming more of a boy by the minute! She is a sight though isn’t she?” She reached rapidly for the broom and felt wetness in her trousers. Her face hot with humiliation, she began an awkward pretense of sweeping the floor as though nothing had happened.
She risked another glance and saw that Lorenzo and Sergio had easels. Mesalina was naked because they were drawing her nude. This must be where Mesalina disappeared to after dinner every night. Presumptuous even for Lorenzo, she thought. Not even he could capture Mesalina. No one could dream of having her.
“No shame in looking, Lucca. A feast for the eyes, no? I got her from the brothel!”
The brothel? Had she heard him right?
“When I saw this one, I knew she was a triumph of nature! A true work of art! Don’t let Severina tell you she’s just the cook! This is why she’s here.” She began to feel uneasy with the idea of Mesalina bestowing something so intimate to a man as vulgar as Lorenzo.
Mesalina’s gaze never faltered. She continued to look into Lucrezia’s eyes, her smile as wide as the Tuscan horizon.
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