La Storia di Francesca Castellani
Francescailld.jpg

I was born into a world of change. In the year of Our Lord 1372, Italia was taking its first steps into Enlightenment. The golden light that was later be known as Rinascimento – the Renaissance - was taking its first steps to drag the people from the Dark Ages. It was a good time to be alive – or so it seemed at the time.

It seemed my family, we were always a step ahead of the march of progress. Growing up, I believed this to be the affect of an important and influential father. Mama, she was not the mover of society, though she attracted such people as moths to a flame. As a young girl, I was one of those people. You have seen mi madre. You can understand this, I think. Even now, with our relationship strained as it is, I defy you to find a woman who can match mi bella madre.

While mi madre moved in the circles of society, Papa, he was a force to reckon with in the politics of the day; and when I say “politics”, I refer as well to the growing banking world of Renaissance Italy. Wealthy, powerful, commanding, Niccolò di Michele di Vanni Castellani was a man people either wanted to be friends with, or wished to never draw his attention. Generous with his allies, he was equally ruthless to his enemies. More then one duel ended with Papa the victor. He was never un soldato, but he was very good with a blade. Even at a young age, I was spellbound when he picked up his blade; a blade given to him by Florimel, and a blade I carry to this day. He was bellezza – beauty and grace.

If you cannot tell, my father, I loved him dearly. It was who taught me to ride, who first placed a blade in my hand, who sang to me and taught me to play piano and how to dance. Madre, she always tutted that he spoiled me, and perhaps he did. But I have held every man I have involved myself with to him, and they have all come up short.

Allies to the de Medici’s, I was afforded a unique childhood – even for the changing world I lived in. The Medici library was a treasure trove, the largest of its kind at that time in Europe’s history. Of course, I didn’t appreciate it at first; I was too young and too taken by the Medici’s stables. Medici parties hosted the best and brightest of the time. Even after Mama moved us to Venice, we continued to attend the functions of the House of Medici, wherever they were. At first, I could only watch and learn. It was during that time that my mother begin teaching me the art of observation, and to play up the assets I was born with while keeping the extent of my talents in reserve. But as I got older, I was able to participate in the salons. Poetry was created, great works of fiction were inspired, breathtaking art and soul stirring music saw their beginnings. Alliances were formed and destroyed. Eternal love declared and hearts shattered in the salons of Venice. It was glorious.

Borgia_huella_influyente_familia.jpg

That was where I met Lucio; sweet, beautiful Lucio. Like a Botticelli vision he was with his dark expressive eyes, elegant cheekbones and full lips. He was the very definition of timeless male beauty. He was moments of intimacy stolen in empty rooms, villa gardens, private gondolas, and shadowy hallways. I was sure I was in love; the type that lasts a lifetime, and my father had given his blessing immediately because it was what I wanted. Mother’s was slower in coming, and when it did, I could tell it was reluctantly given. That was the first nail in the coffin that held our relationship.

While society made great leaps in art and science, I am sad to say they still were not the most hygienic of people, and disease was common. Things that now can be cured by a walk to the drugstore, or avoided entirely by a simple vaccination, were often fatal to the people of Renaissance Europe. Invisible to the naked eye, these germs brought down even the strongest of men. My father, and my beautiful Lucio among them.

It happened when Madre was away, on one of her season long trips to Paris. I was never quite sure what she did there, and by the time my father fell ill, it no longer mattered. She was not there when we needed her, and I cursed her violently in her absence. When she returned a season later, it was to find I had abandoned Venice to return to Florence after Father’s death that had followed Lucio’s by only a week. Nails two and three. Since my father had been Duca, and he had no sons, I had agreed to stand as Regent to my young cousin, Vincenzo, reached an appropriate age to take over. To say my mother received a cool reception from me would be an understatement. I demanded she leave and never darken the door of my father’s house again.

I held the reins of power for a decade. There were moments I enjoyed, but most of it was tedious. Paperwork, it is the curse of every ruler through history, though in the early months, it kept my mind off my recent losses. I gladly handed it all over to Vincenzo the summer of his fifteenth year. Then I did something that surprised even myself; I packed my belongings, emptied my coffers, and left Italy.


pazvega1.jpg

Spain in the 16th Century was a land in seeming constant upheaval. I grew to loathe the Catholic Church as much as my father had revered it. Abandoning the Court of Charles V, I settled in the Seville province of Andalucía where the Moorish influence was still strong, despite the Church.

I adored Spain, but it was there I first noticed that I looked no older then I had when I left Venice. I was 54 years old and still looked 25. Not even the strict beauty regime I followed could account for it. I begin to lie about my age. It was also there that I finally saw Madre again later that same year. At first I was not sure it was her. But when I drew closer, I knew. That flawless beauty could not have been anyone else. She looked exactly as she had when I last saw her. She smiled as I approached, but I did not return it. I met her “Hola, Francesca”, with a sharp demand of “Te explicas!"

She would not do it there; she insisted I return to her residence. I was surprised to find she had been living in the city for six months. It was not, of course, a coincidence. I was just reaching the edge of my patience when she explained.

I called her a liar, but there was no real bite in it. How could there be? The proof of at least part of her story was staring me in the face as I looked at her, just as it did from my own eyes in the mirror every day.

I left without a word and returned to my villa to drink myself to unconsciousness. Any ideas I might have had about falling in love again, marrying and having a family of my own died that night. Losing Lucio and Papa had nearly broken me. I couldn’t bear the idea of putting myself through that again and again endlessly. Nail four banged into place.


I left Spain the next day without a word to Florimel. Using contacts of my father’s family, I re-located to England for time. What I learned there was that I really dislike the British way of life – and the food – and the climate. It was dismal. The men were not much better. The Court life did not intrigue me. I was bored. Bored enough to cut my hair and sign up for the Hundred Years War shortly before the Siege of Orléans on the side of the French. Because there were interesting rumors coming out of France at the time, and I could see the writing on the wall.

France was much better than England, and I could understand why mi madre enjoyed the country. It was not Italy or Spain, but it had its own charms – and its own wines. Dio, but it was all but impossible to find a decent wine in Britain. Frenchmen are also much more — adventurous then the Brits.

France kept my attention for over a century, but I longed for the land of my birth just recently out of another war of their own. I left a heartbroken Léonce with the deed to the winery and made my way home.


Italy had, if anything, become more glorious in my absence. Michelangelo Buonarroti was changing the face of Rome, and Italy followed where he led. I spent several years just traveling to take in the wonders that had sprung up in my absence in Rome, Venice, Siena and eventually Florence.

Villa_Castellani.jpg

The house of my father was largely unchanged, and I was accepted for who I claimed to be after presenting the current Head with the signet ring given to me over a century before. The Medici’s were in power still, and I presented myself to the Court of Ferdinando I de' Medici as the great-granddaughter of Niccolò di Michele di Vanni Castellani. I was welcomed as a long lost daughter of Florence.

It was while I was in Tuscany that I again saw my mother. She was attending a party in honor of the opening of the Medici Theater when I spied her. Before I could decide whether to speak to her or not, she made the decision for me.

“È tempo,” was all she said, but it was enough. After more then 200 years, there was no ‘Hello’, no ‘How are you?’, just ‘It is time’. I turned and left.


She gave me two days before showing up on my doorstep. It was, she said, imperative that I listen to what she had to say about the Pattern, and that I go with her to claim my birthright. While I could travel the globe for many years, hiding what I was from the common man, it would be wisest if I left periodically, that I needed to wield this new Power that was my birthright; learn it, explore and hone my skills before she made me known to the rest of her family. Our Family.

What charming people they sounded. But I was relieved that on top of everything else, I would not be expected to deal with these people she had yet to name. But she did offer a piece of advice that I admit has made its way into my very being and one I intend to follow. Even if it did come from a woman I no longer trusted, it was good advice:

"Encourage family to underestimate you, and you will ever be stronger than they realize. Always overestimate what you think you know of a family member. Each of my brothers and sisters has depth and mystery beyond the roots of Kolvir, and ambitions that rival its summit. Whatever you see is only the surface. Remember that, and you will have a starting point to keep you safe."

She gave me some time to absorb and contemplate what she had told me, and then I was whisked through worlds that I stopped counting after the first dozen while mi Madre educated me on what lay ahead at the end of this journey.


It was the dead of night when we arrived. We were met by a retinue of servants. The activity surrounding the arrival of Her Highness was, I realized, carefully orchestrated to hide my arrival in case there was any family or their spies in residence within the castle that rose high overhead to jut defiantly into the night sky.

paz_vega9.jpg

The sky, si? It was the first thing I really noticed as my eyes traveled up to the top of the castle’s battlements. A quarter moon shone like silver against a backdrop of blue-black velvet; the stars spilling across it like diamonds strewn by the hand of God. I stood in the center of Reality (if Mother was to be believed), had passed through the most primeval of forests, after traveling through uncounted alien worlds and the first thing that made me forget to breath was the sky. I had grown up surrounded by beauty and riches; the best the Shadow called Earth could offer at that point in its history. I thought I was immune to that level of awe. But this, more then anything else defined for me the difference between Reality and Shadow. To this day it is still the skies over Amber more then anything else that draws me and inspires me.

A soft sound from beside me broke my reverie. I was bustled into the sleeping castle, through a maze of corridors and steep winding stairs that led down, down, down into the depths of the earth. I tried not to think about the tons of stone and dirt that were only staying in their place by engineering and structures that was several centuries old.

I stood back, hidden within the concealing folds of the dark cloak that had been given to me in the carriage while Florimal spoke with the guard inside the room. I do know what was said, nor did I really care; I was focused on the task that lay ahead.

Then before I knew it, it was just she and I. For a moment, I balked at my first sight of the Pattern. Shimmering blue white in the massive black room, the artifact was much larger then I had imagined. My imagination had also not grasped how beautiful it was. I was struck by a great desire to see it from above, to be able to fully grasp this design’s physical intricacies and wonder. I was pulled from my imaginings by the woman beside me’s whispered urgings. With my heart pounding in my chest and my father’s rosary clutched tightly in my fist for luck, I took my first step on the path of Destiny….


I woke up two days later in my villa in Tuscany, the destination I had wished for at the end of the walk that left me physically and emotionally drained. I took it easy for several days, spending the time alone to contemplate the new options opened to me. I half expected mother to show up, but she didn’t. I don’t know why it surprised me. What did surprise me was finding a Trump deck under my pillow. After a week of restlessness, I dismissed my household staff with the exception of the caretaker, and left him with strict instructions. I packed light, saddled my favorite dappled gray, and begin my explorations.


avatar2.jpg

I lost count of the years I spent in Shadow. Places with names out of the myths and legends of my childhood: Atlantis, Camelot, Troy. Lands of fairies and giants and enchanted forests wormed their way into my explorations. The sensuality of the Atlanteans allowed me to fully explore every aspect of my private desires without judgment. I cut swathes through shadow armies with my father’s sword. I was Ashura, I was Justice, and I was the Morrígan, Athena, Astarte and Sekhmet. I let my impulses rule me, my life limited only by my imagination. It was liberating.

I lost track of the years. Mother, she had explained the fickle nature of Time in Shadow, so I did not even try to keep up. I had a vague sense of the passage of centuries because I returned to Atlantis more then once to discover anyone who had known me had passed the course their long lives. But I was still taken aback when I returned to the land of my birth again to find so much changed. Palaces that had once echoed with shouting politicians or the laughter of parties were now museums. Villas were either historical landmarks, hotels or fallen into ruin. Art that had been new when I saw it last was being restored or was faded and broken with the passage of time and wars. The Medici’s were studied as history. The distant New World was no longer the peaceful land inhabited by the native redskins that Columbus had stumbled upon; it was an economic powerhouse – a Superpower – within this bewildering world. The Russians had actually launched something into outer space, and there was talk of sending men into the frigid void.

I moved through Europe, learning the history that I had missed. Modern music bewildered me, and I found very little that didn’t annoy my senses. However the discovery that I was no longer confined to corsets and skirts was a day for celebration.

sixties.jpg

I relocated to the New World after a few years of finding my feet. It was the place to be, I was told. San Francisco specifically. The Psychedelic Era was proclaiming itself loudly, and despite my initial misgivings, I found myself drawn to the music. Guitars, I decided, were wonderful inventions, and the men who played them well were the ones that drew me. Keyboardist couldn’t impress me, for I was one of them, and better then all of them. Drummers never ‘spoke’ to me. They were like the canvas that the guitarists used to create their art. I fell in with a band, and took up with the lead guitarist. In the years that I stayed with him, I discovered mind-altering drugs that the Atlanteans I recalled fondly would have loved. My life proceeded in a haze of music and pleasure. I was aware there was a war going on, but I was not interested in involving myself. The political scene was played out on a world wide stage for all to see. I knew there was more going on behind the scenes, but I wasn’t curious enough to go find out what it was. JFK was charming and eloquent; a far cry from the politicos I recalled from my early days in this place. He dreamed big, and set big goals for the nation. Dubious at first, I watched as the nation came together, creating from whole cloth everything they would need to meet his dream even after his death.

I stayed in San Francisco as the world around me grew increasingly violent. When even the “peace protestors” marching against the war on the other side of the globe became violent, I left for this place called Houston in 1967. I wanted to be there at Ground Zero when NASA achieved what Kennedy had challenged them to do: "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." They were words I would remember for a long time to come.


I returned to Shadow for a time. Humans had traveled into space. I would not be left behind. I wondered if I could travel to Amber via starship, but wasn’t familiar enough with the terrain to know if I would have anywhere to land even I could.

I didn’t bother to start slow; I found a world with space stations and interstellar drives and inserted myself. Not because it was easy, but because it was hard. It was still a year in that world’s time before I finally found myself aboard a ship bound for the next star system. Flying a scout ship, I played escort for the transport. There were a few skirmishes but nothing that took my attention for long from the grandeur of space. Ringed planets will always be one of my favorite views in all the worlds.

But I found myself itching for battle in this new scenario. I shifted myself into a world where the planet Earth was fighting for its existence and “plowed the road”. Aggression I didn’t realize I had been burying came out at full throttle. The adrenaline rush was staggering. Fortunately, my fellow pilots were a hearty lot and managed to survive my endorphin fueled escapades that followed a run.


I was taking a turn as a space pirate commanding the Righteous Bastard when we received the hail. I was honestly surprised to see my mother’s face on the screen when we accepted it. I enjoyed the grimace when she took in my pirate attire. I’m rather fond of those thigh high black boots, molte gracia, and I happened to know I cut quite the dashing figure in those black leggings. She sighed, I smirked, and she asked me to visit her next time I was home. Which I took to mean the place she made her home. Once again there was no ‘hello’ or ‘how’ve you been’. I stared at her for a long moment before I told her I would see her in a month. Whatever that meant.


normal_Paz3_3.jpg

Earth had changed again in my absence. The Cold War had ended, society was at turns prudish and permissive, the Berlin Wall had come down, the media were more shark-like then I had ever seen, and half the world was run by computers. Transportation was starting to lean towards the awesome, though there were still no jet packs. I got myself a sleek Italian sports car and drove everywhere. Some things hadn’t changed: NASA was still the only ones to put men on the moon - though not for lack of others trying, I still hated English food, Italian men were still among the sexist men alive, and my mother still looked like one of those fashion dolls we used to get from Paris.


I eschewed my sassy little black auto for a roaring Italian motorcycle for my trip to mother’s villa in France. I arrived clad head to toe in black leather with a Toraño lancero between my teeth. She gave me a look, which I ignored, and led me to her very elegant sitting room. I was pleased to see she had grappa on hand, and I helped myself to a glass before taking a seat and waiting for her to begin. I graciously did not put my feet on her coffee table.

Why she felt she had to see me in person for this, I will never know. All she wanted was to tell me to please park myself in one place for the time being. She felt the time was approaching when I could finally be brought to Amber and presented formally. She made the point of emphasizing my title as Lady Francesca while giving my leathers a disapproving sniff. Frankly I thought they displayed my womanly charms quite well, but I grudgingly conceded her point. I refused the offer of her hospitality though, and agreed to return to Rome. I had an apartment there and wouldn’t mind reconnecting to my paternal roots. It had been ages since I had a decent Penne all'Arrabbiata.

I really didn’t feel like being interrogated about what I had been up to the last 370 years since she graced me with her presence, so I declined her dinner invitation and went on my way. I had lived too long in a rough and tumble lifestyle. It was time I remembered how to move among society. Rome should have been excellent for that.


paz-vega-03.jpg

For a while it was. But for a person used to a gypsy lifestyle, I soon grew bored. It started innocently enough; an article here, a lecture there. Before I knew it, I had a book of history on the best seller list. I did a guest appearance on Italian television; a sort of guided tour through the history of the Medici Palace in Florence. As it turns out I am quite the storyteller. I wasn’t sure how I felt about doing this, I realized in the middle of my third one. I was intimately familiar with the halls and salons I walked through with the television crews; I retold stories of my life in the third person, spoke of the Medici’s, Machiavelli, Leonardo, Galileo, and Michelangelo with a familiarity no one else alive on this Shadow could have (except Mother, of course). No one else could tell the history of Lorenzo’s favorite tea set, Galileo’s science lessons, or Cosimo’s beloved horse as I could, because I knew. But it hurt something deep inside with the telling.

That was about the time I realized immortality, it sucked. Before it had just been a fear; something I could foresee but had no true grasp of the concept. Now it was a Truth.

I had to get out of Rome. Out of Italy. Not even the horse ranch in Spain gave me any solace, for I could remember the day I fell in love with it and the Master of the Horse who worked for me.


Never had I been so glad to see the woman who gave birth to me. Even the tale of an approaching Apocalypse cheered me. After she left, I packed up my apartment, penned a note for my agent, and left for the Shadow Mother wanted me to hole up in and prepare for her summons.


Now, I do not usually admit I do not know something, and I would never admit it to my mother. But I have never quite figured out how it is that Mother, she summons me when we are separated by Shadows. It is not Trump; there is no Trump of me, and I would know if that was what it was. But she always manages. She managed that time too. She gave me a Trump of her place in New York and told me to use it after the battle; she wasn’t sure which way the winds, they would be blowing when the dust cleared. I did not argue for change. I understood what she was saying and tucked the card away inside my heavy silk gambeson.

I slipped into the cavalry and was in the main force being led by Random. Mother does not like that one. But events taking place had forced them all to put aside what amounted to petty differences. What matters cigar burns in expensive carpet when the Universe is on the edge of destruction?

If you are a literate person, you will likely have read more then one speculative account of the End Times, Ragnarok, Armageddon; the glorious and horrible end of everything. None of them do it justice. Even before the battle began, the churning sky, the gaping chasm into eternity, the needle tower jutting into the split sky, it was surreal; terrible and beautiful at the same time. The beings I saw, that fell to my sword as I danced a merry tango with Death as my partner, we will not even talk about. I saw several of Mother’s siblings from the distance. They too were glorious and terrible. There were one or two that I wouldn’t mind dancing an entirely different Tango with that did not include the purple leather scale and gold mail I was wearing at the time..

The company led a charge directly towards the heart of the enemy's strength; a feint to draw them out. When the Chaosians counterattacked, Random and our company retreated. Forces led by Julian and Bleys began flanking the enemy. I make a note in the midst of it all to pay the white armored man a visit. That horse was magnificent. The fact that Mother did not like that one either was just icing. We turned around and plowed right back into the enemy who now had no where to go. It was not long before the small bright figure of Fiona rode past, proclaiming she knew the location of her traitorous brother. Random followed, taking several with him and turning command to Lord Albrecht. I chose to stay. There were still enemy that required lessons in getting their cogliones handed to them. The Family, there were more then enough of them to handle one traitor.

From a distance I saw them gather at the edge of the endless Abyss. I watch two fall, and I could tell that one would be missed. But the battle was over. Won. And I did not wish to linger anymore. The last thing I saw was the shining glory of the Unicorn rising from the Nothing to stand amidst Her remaining children. If that had happened just a heartbeat earlier, I would not have left when I did. But I was already stepping through the rainbow gate when I took that last look, and I could not go back.


paz_vega44.jpg

I have a room at all of Flora’s houses, and I took the opportunity to reassure Carmella that mother was fine. I am sure she didn’t take my assurance well seeing as I was dripping alien blood on Mother’s white carpet, but finally I calmed her enough to throw several steaks on the grill. I cleaned up, bandaged myself, ate, rested, and drank until I thought I had gotten it out of my system. I called my agent, left mother a note, and found a motorcycle in the garage. Then I sought the road West.


I have never been one for camping. Roughing it for me means having to cook for myself. But I spent more then one night under the stars on mountaintops and desert floors. I needed the peace. I had been in battles great and terrible before, but none of them had a personal stake. None of them could have meant the end of everything. When the nightmares came, I needed people. I rode West some more until I could not ride any further, and then I turned North.

I’d never been to Las Vegas, and since I was again in the desert anyway…

I took the time to have Ramses and Dorado shipped over. Ramses was soon stabled nearby, and a little flirting with the manager of the hotel insured the Bengal was comfortable in my room. Of course, he first had to express his displeasure over being left at home for so long by destroying a silk pillow, but what are you going to do?

Mother found me while I was shopping. She has an uncanny knack for that. She told me what it was I had witnessed from the distance, how the Unicorn had chosen Random of all people to take the Throne of Reality. I was taken aback at first, but I had known kings in the past that were worse then anything I had ever heard of Random who turned out to be capable rulers. Besides, it was not like I was living under his thumb.

I talked her into putting off my presentation a little while longer. I was not ready to bend knee and swear fealty just yet. I had some things to get out of my system, and neither of us could say with any certainty that Random wouldn't put me to work on something if I showed up. Besides, it was summer in Amber and I loathe medieval castles without electricity and air conditioning.


Vegas was just what I needed. The lights, the parties, the people, the beautiful men to distract me. One in particular. I was staying at the Bellagio Towers, but the dance floor of Wasted Space was the place to be, and he was the one to be with. A weakness for beautiful men, I have always had, and he definitely was. If they can dance, it is a point in their favor. Dark hair and the kind of build that tells me he could throw me over his shoulder and not break a sweat.

We danced our nights away and loved away the mornings. The Barrique de Ponciano Porfidio flowed like water. That the days were blurring together, I was only vaguely aware of. We rode out into the desert and made love under the starry band of the Milky Way until the pale tendrils of the sunrise washed it away.

Now if I could only remember more then that. Like his name. And where this ring came from.

TOC

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License