Reunion in Florence: 1455

Diana and her entourage — no more than thieves and what would later be called highwaymen — had left Constantinople two years before it fell to Sultan Mehmed II, before the brunt of his relentless siege was truly felt. She'd once considered helping the Turks and the Saracens before them, having come to hate the Roman Bishops since early on.

As her fellow thieves followed her north, she was glad she'd not fallen in with Mehmed. He was as bloodthirsty and reckless as the Christians who had held the City. But she didn't like the way he treated animals or his slaves. Diana could never abide the mistreatment of children or animals and the Turks knew no limits to such mistreatment.

It took them two and a half years to reach the borders of the first Italian states. Her destination was to be Naples, but with Milan and Florence at war with Naples and parts of France, she was happy to stay in Vicenza and then Venice.

Finally, when the Medici's had secured Florence and Rene of Anjou had gone home, Florence's wealth once again beckoned Diana, now calling herself Francesca della Calabria. It was there, after some months of acclimating herself, was she invited, as a guest of a cousin to Cosimo de' Medici, to a party to celebrate the elder Medici's birthday. For Diana, now Francesca, it was an ideal opportunity to size up where the money was to be had.

On the arm of Prince Fillipo, Francesca arrives at the party…

Drawn to Florence when the Platonic Academy had opened a decade earlier, Aurora had come to learn, only to find that Italy was not so enlightened as to educate their young females. Not even the extremely wealthy ones. So, she had come to the court of Cosimo Medici, a learned man with a library Aurora would have done nearly anything to be able to spend a day in. She learned soon enough that to have the freedom she wanted, that was exactly what she was going to have to do.

Cosimo's son Piero was just 23 when she had met him. Young, intelligent, and handsome. She had no problem at all becoming his courtesan, she hadn't the heart for taking another husband and her heart was no longer hers to give. Since it was expected of him to have a woman on the side, his wife had nothing to say about it, but Aurora was nevertheless polite and friendly to the woman and it could be said they were on good terms. Good enough that it was Aurora that he was escorting to his father's birthday celebration and not his wife, who was pregnant again and elected to stay home and drink the tea Aurora made for her that kept her from getting queasy.

Aurora stops reminiscing and fiddles with the emeralds and pearls that held her riot of curls on top of her head as she frowns into the mirror. She finally steps back and sighs, her ringed hands smoothing the royal purple velvet of her gown. She looks down at the design of green and gold embroidered on the bodice, her fingers tracing over a delicate leaf. It had been a long, lonely journey. But tonight she had a reason to be happy. She knew who else was coming.

Her maid opens her door to leave just as Piero walks in through it and she gives him a dazzling smile as she turns to take his hand and share a kiss before they walk down to the party. As he stops their journey on the stairs to drape his latest gift around her neck. The life of a courtesan suits her in many ways. Beautiful things, beautiful people, and the world's intellectual elite all under one roof. She whispers a promise to thank him later and they descend into the throngs.

Never comfortable in crowds, except when she's working, Francesca lets Fillipo make the introductions. And introduce her he does; Fillipo not being a particularly handsome man, with drooping eyelids and a slight limp was overjoyed to have such a dark beauty on his arm. Wearing the finery of queens, quite literally, Francesca would make a dead man look good.

As the plain prince introduces her to Florence's rich and influential, Francesca's attention is caught by the face of a handsome man standing near their aging host, Cosimo. Compared to Fillipo, this man was indeed a prince. But something was missing. She'd had men equally as handsome… Still….

Patting Fillipo's arm, she asks to be introduced to him.

Being fairly short, Aurora couldn't see over the heads of some of the guests, but she was having a delightful conversation with a visiting philosopher from Madrid, of all places, who was standing to her left, Piero on her right near the seat of his father. Suddenly, her attention is diverted for a split second and she smiles to herself, but doesn't leave her conversation.

Cosimo smiles as Fillipo brings Francesca into view. Though Fillipo enjoys the approving looks of his peers, Francesca is looking elsewhere. From the handsome man to the woman next to him, back to the man, she feels a little off balance. Something's not quite right, and she can't identify what that might be. Her assassin instincts cause her to start looking for exits.

Francesca hardly hears when Fillipo says, "Prince Piero, I'd like to introduce Francesca della Calabria. My lady, Prince Piero, son of our most gracious and generous host, Cosimo de'Medici."

The dark woman bows appropriately, refocusing on the present, but still looks over at the woman with Piero.

The woman with the fiery locks turns from her conversation with the Spaniard with a smile that slowly grows a little brighter as she takes in the darkheaded woman with Fillipo. Like the others, this one's image was seared into her mind. She wants to do more, but she restrains herself. "It has been a very long time."

Piero blinks in surprise at the lady at his side. "You know each other?"

"Si," she smiles. "But I am not certain she remembers little Aurora. I was very young when last we saw one another."

Diana waves over the stewardess for another bourbon. Sighing, she looks out the small window on her left. Everything was so small now. And she'd forgotten Aurora's name then, just as she'd forgotten Nicolo's recently. She had a way of blocking out those memories that didn't contribute to her immediate survival; she'd come to understand a little, however, that these same memories were important for her long term survival.

Francesca stands silently, looking at Aurora. She knew that name, not common in any of the Roman Empire states. She knew it yet… Then her head lowers slightly as her gray eyes try to pierce the centuries between them.

"Aurora? I once… knew a girl named Aurora," is all Francesca can say.

The redhead smiles, perhaps a little sadly for a moment. The she remembers where she is and turns a brighter smile on her escort. "It is as I said. It has been a long time and I was just a lass who spent too much time in the library."

Piero smirks. "You do that now, bella."

"This is so," she chuckles and then drops a curtsy on the party. "If you all will excuse me, I believe I need some air." Aurora's palm is kissed by her Prince as she turns to leave. She disappears through the crowd as she heads for the terrace with thing on her mind.

How could Diana have forgotten? Aurora hadn't. Aurora hadn't forgotten any of them. She smiles absently as she is greeted by people she only vaguely knows. That was Diana, wasn't it? Yes, of course. No one else would have triggered the vision except one of the siblings. She had experienced enough of them by now to know them for what they were.

She finally breaks out into the night air and leans against a marble column to look up at the stars and decide how to handle it. Maybe Diana just didn't want to have anything to do with the rest of them.

Inside, Francesca watches as the redhead makes her way through the partygoers. Her attention is only pulled away by Fillipo's insistence upon introducing her to some nobleman he wished to impress. Still, she can't get the name out of her mind.

Library. Aurora in the library. Francesca smiles politely, only vaguely noting the jewels sewn into the nobleman's collar, before she quietly excuses herself for a moment.

"Try to remember me while I'm gone," she says, trying to be moderately alluring, coy even, as she pulls her arm from his grasp.

The Library in the House. Taking a rather circuitous route, Francesca finds the high arched door the redhead had taken, and sees the woman leaning against a smooth and cool marble column framing this balcony. Had it been so long, had she traveled so many roads that she'd forget her own sister? It wasn't that, precisely. It was that she'd thought she was alone in this world. That whatever had happened to her brothers and sisters, she had been abandoned in this world alone.

Forcing herself, Francesca silently moves closer to the woman. In a quiet voice, perhaps too quietly to even be heard, she says, "I knew an Aurora once. Who spent far too many hours in the library."

The other woman lowers her eyes from the stars to the gardens that spread out over the grounds. Her right hand falls from where it had been resting on her stomach as she had tried to quell the butterflies that had rioted there, and to the pearl and jewel girdle at her waist that hangs almost the length of her skirt. Soft fingers absently twists the pearls around.

"Sometimes I would go sit on the edge of a beautiful fountain and drag my fingers through the clear water. I would stare at the ripples as they spread and eventually disappeared." Aurora looks down at her hands and chuckles short and soft. "Used to drive my father quite mad because I wanted to know where the ripples went when I could see them no longer."

Looking back out at the gardens and the fountains there that could never compare to the ones in her memories, she takes a deep breath and decides to give her the chance to turn away if she wanted to. "This little girl named Aurora that you knew. Did she have older siblings, perchance? One named Diana springs to mind."

Francesca doesn't move. A feeling of unreality washes over her as easily as does the cool silver light of the moon above and she is frozen in place. Later, she wouldn't be sure she spoke the words, but in her heart she said, "I thought I was alone…." Still, she cannot move, for should she make any motion, she is sure she would fall. Fall and fall and fall.

Aurora turns to face her slowly. While it surprised her for a moment, she remembered long ago when she was convinced of the same thing and the terrible crushing feeling that came with it. "No. No. We are all here. In this one room."

Her attention is briefly caught by laughter from inside and she moves to Diana's side and takes her arm, steering her shocked sister away from the doors and the people to a bench near one of the rose gardens. She says nothing while they walk, letting her sister get her bearings again.

"Peri is here," she says quietly. "In Florence and I believe Firuz will be here soon. The rest are scattered, but mostly in this part of the world. You are not alone."

Francesca lets Aurora sit her down, but before she knows it — and would likely expend a great deal of energy to suppress it — she is crying. Sobbing, really. And for the life of her, she couldn't explain why.

"You've seen them all?" Francesca manages to ask.

"No," she replies softly, offering Diana the handkerchief from her sleeve that smells ever so faintly of tea roses. She frowns a little. How to explain it? "I have not seen them all. But I have sensed them. All of them. We all ended up in the same room somehow. Just as I sensed you and knew you were close. Until this morning, when I had vision of you and I knew you were coming to the party, I did not realize how close you were."

Aurora gives Diana time to calm and just sits there with her arm around her shoulder for several minutes, fighting back her own tears with only limited success.

After a few moments, her cheeks wet with tears, Francesca forces a small laugh. "If Father saw us now…" Then she falls silent a moment or two longer.

Finally, taking a deep breath, she takes Aurora's hands, squeezing them in hers. "It's good to see you. You're well? You've grown up nicely." It's small talk, she knows, but it's a beginning.

She breathes deep of the scent of the night blooming flowers that were still pale imitations in her mind of the ones she played in as a child. Aurora squeezes her sister's hands and smiles. "Si. It is not so bad here and it is much better than where I started so long ago. But you, you are just as beautiful as I remember."

"You're kind," Francesca… Diana… replies. "I think, though, you fare better than I. You have joined the most powerful family in Florence, and probably all of the Roman states. I have come simply to rob them, I fear. Tell me though," she continues, "tell me of the others. How is it you know of us all and I had no idea?"

Aurora looks casually around them to be certain they're alone. She had seen too many run ins with the Church to take any chances. "I am not sure why, but I see things. I know things," she says lowly. "I have flashes of visions that show me people and places and things. I knew you were coming because I had a flash of you here in Florence, standing outside the Palace on the steps waiting for someone to get out of a carriage."

"Remarkable. Does your husband know of this?" Diana asks, lowering her voice even more. "These barbarians, these Christians, they're very superstitious…"

"Wait," she pauses, as if something important had come to mind. "These visions… can you see Home? Have you been back?" There's an urgency in her voice that hadn't been present earlier.

"I am not currently married," Aurora replies with a slight smile, answering the easy one first. "I am the only type of woman allowed an education and an intelligence in this age. I am a courtesan."

She turns away from her sister and looks out over the gardens again, remembering home again as being out here with the scents of the flowers and the sounds of the fountains always made her do. Aurora reaches down and plucks a fallen rose petal from the ground and turns it over in her palm. "The only images I have seen of Home are the ones in my dreams." She sniffles and delicately wipes the moisture from her eyes with her forefinger. "Of the others I have been in contact with, none of us have been able to find our way back or have heard anything at all."

Diana sighs, and runs her fingers through her long dark hair. She was used to disappointment. It wasn't any easier, but she'd learned to mask most her feelings. Mask them, in fact, to the point where she no longer felt most of them.

"So, a courtesan. You know, you could come with me and my men. You'd be free. As free as one can be, I suppose. You'd live well…"

She smiles wanly as she lets the petal fall to the ground. "Thank you, but no. Cosimo's library is unrivaled in the world and is the biggest reason I made the choice that I did. Enjoy Florence for awhile, Diana. After Cosimo, I have seen Piero on the Throne and it will be a good, if short, reign. Lorenzo will inherit next, but both he and his brother will be tyrants and it will become dangerous for you and your men. The arts will flourish, but it will have a cost. I will be gone by then myself."

"My men are expecting me in Padua within the fortnight. Then, when our business in Florence is concluded," she says euphemistically, "I was thinking of returning to Milano. I grew up there. Certainly beats Constantinople. But for the week, perhaps I will try to enjoy what the city has to offer. Perhaps you know of another prince to rival yours. I fear my escort is something of an old horse. We could, perhaps, spend some time…"

"I grew up in Calais. It was …adequate." She kicks the petal away that has landed on the hem of her skirt, and turns to Diana. Aurora's smile brightens. "I would like it if we could spend some time together and there are several quite handsome and wealthy men at court. Some are even unmarried."

Diana smiles. "Preferable, and clean if possible. Myself, I'd make a rather inadequate mistress. But," she winks, "I don't suppose the hours are any better than mine."

Just as she is about to say something, Fillipo steps out onto the balcony, having found his wayward arm candy. "Ah! There you are, Lady. I knew you must be around here somewhere. Evening to you both. I don't believe we were introduced," he says, bowing to Aurora as Diana once more returns to being Francesca della Calabria.

Aurora smiles up at him, back to the courtesan. "Aurora del la Giardino." She rises as Diana does. "A pleasure sir."

She turns her courtly smile to her sister. "Tomorrow for lunch, Francesca?"

"Very good," Francesca replies, letting Fillipo lead her back for more high stakes show and tell.

—-

Arriving at one o'clock sharp, Francesca, sans Fillipo, is escorted into one of the many de'Medici residences, this one housing Aurora presently. Over a sumptuous meal, the likes of which Francesca hadn't seen since the golden period in Constantinople, they exchange their abbreviated histories. She tells of her early life on the streets of Milano, thieving and hooking early on, then replaced by grifting and then extortion and other past times. All in all, a fairly rootless life, full of close calls and red hands. But she's amassed quite a fortune, but still, she says, she's compelled to find greater risks and richer rewards.

"Enough about me. I'm sure you've lead a respectable life. Look at all you have," Francesca says.

Aurora looks around the room and chuckles. "All this? I got this the old fashioned way. They are called breasts, Diana."

The dark haired woman smiles and looks at her sister. "I see why we're surrounded by gold."

She then tells her of being found lost in the forest of the local Baron of what is now Calais by his woodsman, who took her to his home to be raised by he and his wife, where she learned herbalism and married for the first time and her first children, glossing over the heartbreak of learning she would outlive them all. There was a hesitation, a distant look and a moment of raw grief, but Aurora shook out of it and picked up her story. From there southward, traveling under one name or another and usually as a widow, never staying anywhere more than a decade unless her visions told her different and always, always seeking the next level of Truth in the religions, philosophies and histories she came upon and seeking answers as to how they came to be where they were. She told of her travels to the lands of Egypt and the Middle East, but not the why, and back up to Greece before she finally came to Florence after hearing of the Platonic Academy.

"Imagine my annoyance when I discovered I was not allowed to attend," she scowls. "I had a better education then most of these men before I was nine. Which brings us to Piero and my current solution. Ironic, is it not, that I have to resort to being a whore in order to be taken seriously by the intellectual elite?"

"I myself have done some of my best work on my back," Diana coolly jests, but jest is all it is. In the telling of her history, it was fairly obvious she had no love of men who would simply use her body, and had, in fact, cultivated a deep distrust for not just men, but of humanity overall. "Seriously, sister. Never call yourself that again. Never. You… all of us… are far better than the world we have been doomed to inhabit. But I'm pleased you have negotiated a settlement to your advantage. Piero doesn't seem too crass. Would you have perhaps taken up with him had he not had what you desired?"

"He is a good man at heart," she replies as she toys with the rare Venetian glass goblet in her hand. "Though I admit much of his charm is in his education, and he would not have that were he not a wealthy Italian nobleman." Aurora chuckles. "Though no one outside his circle of friends believes that. Actually, Cosimo is brilliant for this place. I believe I am often in his company more than Piero's but the relationship is different, of course." She sets down the glass and smiles across the table. "You know you will crush Fillipo when you just disappear. Piero likened him to a puppy last night."

"Fillipo got what he paid for last night. And I got what I paid for. Men like Fillipo will always exist. Concerned about the exterior of things, he will never understand the real beauty of them. He is vain and shallow. He cannot be crushed, for that implies depth of even the vaguest kind," Diana states coldly. "So Piero is wrong, I believe. Fillipo is like a chalk drawing of a puppy."

"So, your visions. You can see the future? What is in store for me, oh mistress of the tea leaves," Diana asks, only half jokingly as she extends her hand to Aurora. "Can you read my palm? Shall I find happiness or sorrow?"

Aurora laughs and takes her hand, her smooth fingers lightly tracing Diana's palm and fingers. "It is no surprise to see a very long lifeline," she smiles. "But I see you have less of a loveline than I, though with not nearly as many breaks. Oh, and you have calluses."

"Calluses! I take exception to that," Diana says, pulling back her hand. "These are like surgeon's hands. Like the most delicate of rose petals, my dear Aurora."

Diana stands, and walks around the long table at which they sit. She steps up behind Aurora, taps on her shoulder. When the redhead turns to watch, Diana smiles and continues her walk around the dining room, finally taking her seat again. "Calluses, to hell, Aurora," she says as she returns to Aurora the jeweled necklace Piero had recently presented to her. "I can lift the tattoo from a man's ass with these fingers."

She chuckles as she takes it back and lays it beside her plate. "I never said they were not nimble fingers, just that they show slight signs of weapon use. Mine did until about fifteen years ago, so I know." She looks down at her right hand and flexes it open and closed for a moment, examining it and remembering the feel of the staff and the axe and the dagger. "Now when I fence I wear gloves." She smiles wryly. "In my line of work, one must be soft all over."

"And in mine, one must be hard," Diana responds. "It's the fletching," she says, looking at her hands. "I've recently taken to the crossbow. So, short love line. What ever should I do? Surrounded by men most my day, and yet not a good one to be had." She looks away as she mentions her first two children. "Nicolo and Dienello. Nicolo's father was a crusader, come from Venice to fight the Arabs and Saracens. Handsome. Brave, but not as good with his sword as he'd have liked. Dienello's was a Moor. Handsome, Aurora, I testify to the truth of what they say of the Moors' constitutions. Slaughtered by the Spanish dogs of the Church. I think, with that kind of love line, it's best to keep it short."

Aurora frowns at the mention of the Church. She had experienced several run ins with them or their minions already and had witnessed too many instances of Faith gone bad or extreme or twisted and used for personal gain. They had taken the great love of her life from her. "There will be more trouble coming from them before all is said and done. Thankfully they are not as powerful here or in Venice." She looks across at her sister. "I am sorry for your loses, sister. But it saddens me to see you grow cold and hard, even if I do understand your reasons."

"I just don't have the heart you have, I fear," Diana answers. "Instead, I have become like the world around us. I'm not proud of some of things I've done, but likewise, I cannot afford to feel guilty either. You and I have both had to make hard compromises."

"You still need things from these people, and so you lay yourself down upon someone else's sheets, even if they are silk, they are not yours. For me, I take what I want, without the polite negotiation. I don't ever want to need anything from people again."

Changing the subject, Diana muses, "It would be interesting to know how the others have fared, see how they have managed."

Aurora picks up her glass again and gives an elegant shrug with one shoulder. "It is not so much a need as a want. I do not require the Medici library, but I desire to study it so I pay the price necessary to do so. Sometimes the price for knowledge can even be pleasant," she smiles, fingering the necklace beside her plate. "I like people. For the most part."

"Of the others I have talked to, they all are of the same mind as I in one thing. They seek Home."

Diana's cool and controlled expression changes momentarily and she reaches across the table, placing her hand on top of Aurora's. Looking her in the eyes, she says, "If you find it, don't leave me behind. Don't leave me here."

Aurora looks startled that Diana would even consider the possibility that she would leave anyone. "Of course I won't leave you here. You're my sister."

"Still." It's clear to anyone who might have heard her, and certainly to Aurora who must have felt it, that Diana's perception of the world was more than just laced with fear. It was the main staple in her life. "I'm just saying. Now that you've found me, and I've no way to find any of the rest of us, I have to rely on you and your weird gift. It's like you're the only one with sight."

"If I find the way Home, I swear not to leave without making sure all of you know it," Aurora says solemnly and with absolute sincerity. "And you I will come and get personally."

Diane gives her a genuine smile of relief. "I should be going. It's been very good to spend time with you. Truly, a burden has been lifted; even if I am stuck here, knowing we're all together give me some small measure of solace."

She stands and gives her sister a brief hug as she falls once again into being Francesca.

Aurora the courtesan stands and walks Francesca out to her waiting carriage, chattering on about a party she simply has to attend. She gives Diana's hand a brief squeeze before she steps back and watches the carriage leave down her tree lined drive before she goes back inside to prepare for Piero's visit in a few hours.


TOC1468 - 1700

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