Copyright © 2015 by A.R. Conti Fulwell. All Rights Reserved.

Chapter  One  

Sunsets  in  Florence  are  always  spectacular;  so  much  so,   many  say  they  can  strike  awe  into  the  hardest  of  souls.  To  watch   the  sky  fade  like  an  orchard  in  bloom,  from  cobalt  to  rose,  and  then   orange,  and  then  finally,  a  succulent  lemon  arises,  using  its  tartness   to  spread  light  on  the  day.

If  only  such  a  sight  could  be  captured  on  canvas.  

 Lina  d’Odini  stood  facing  the  eastern  wind,  watching  the   sunrise  in  hopes  of  savoring  it  in  her  mind  just  long  enough  to  copy   it  in  brush  strokes.  She  knew  she  could  not  stay  much  longer,  but   just  to  see  something  so  beautiful  would  give  her  something  to  be   thankful  for,  no  matter  what  the  day  might  bring.  Not  knowing   how  long  she  had  been  staring,  she  heard  the  rooster  crow.  Time  to   face  the  day,  she  thought.  Gradually,  she  made  her  way  from  the  old   manor  house  to  the  new.  The  old  manor  was  small  with  only  three   rooms,  and  completely  hidden  under  a  hillside.  After  five  long   years,  the  new  manor  house  stood  finally  completed,  just  before   Lina’s  father  had  left.  She  gazed  up  at  it  in  the  distance,  admiring   its   regal  elegance,  the  brightest  token  of  her  father’s   accomplishments.  Taking  a  breath  of  the  cool  morning  air,  Lina   crested  the  hill,  wishing  her  father  walked  beside  her.  

Why  did  we  need  this  manor?  What  was  the  point  in  building  it?   She  shook  her  head.  Money.  Money  was  always  the  answer.  Long   gone  were  the  days  of  chasing  the  Catone  children  around  the  yard,   carefree  day  after  carefree  day,  leaving  her  with  all  sorts  of   questions.  If  Lady  Catone  was  not  her  mother,  as  she  had  so  plainly   stated  a  thousand  times  or  more,  then  who  was?  Where  was  her   father  then?  Why  was  she  here?  Sometimes  when  the  wind  blew,   she  could  almost  hear  their  voices,  telling  her  that  one  day  all  of   this  would  make  sense.  Lina  walked  a  bit  further,  down  the  stone   pathway  to  the  kitchen  door.  It  was  a  heavy  door,  but  she  managed   with  little  effort  to  force  it  open. 

“Well,  if  it  isn’t  lovely  Lina,”  Monica  joked.  “How  are  you   this  morning?”   

“Fine  as  ever,  and  yourself?”  Lina  replied.  

 “Marvelous.  Would  you  help  me  with  these  eggs?”  

 Lina  helped  Monica  boil  a  dozen  eggs  for  the  family’s   breakfast.  “I’ll  never  understand  why  three  people  eat  four  eggs   apiece,”  she  said.  

 “You  don’t  understand,”  Monica  began.  “The  mistress  likes   a  choice  between  half-­‐‑baked  and  hard-­‐‑boiled.”  

 Lina  blinked.  “Four  of  each?”   

“Four  of  each.”  

 Monica  spooned  four  eggs  out  of  the  boiling  water  and   placed  them  in  a  small  bowl,  and  then,  after  a  few  minutes,  did  the   same  with  the  rest.   “Go  ahead  and  send  these  out,”   she  said.   "ʺRemember,  Lady  Catone  is  not  a  morning  person.”   

Lina  nodded  and  entered  the  breakfast  room.   It  was   completely  silent.  Lady  Catone  sat  at  one  end  of  the  table  while  her   son,  Pierro,  sat  at  the  other.  Lady  Catone’s  stepdaughter,  Sofia,  sat   solemnly  between  the  two.   

“Well,  are  you  going  to  hold  them,  or  are  you  going  to  serve   them?”  Lady  Catone  demanded.   

“Forgive  me,  Madam.  I  was  taking  in  the  harsh  morning   air.”  Lina  and  Sofia  exchanged  sarcastic  glances.  

“Well,  I  hope  in  doing  so,  you  have  not  forgotten  the  meal,”   Lady  Catone  said.   

Lina  put  a  bowl  down  in  front  of  Sofia,  Lady  Catone,  and   Pierro.  Pierro  had  been  eyeing  Lina  from  the  moment  she  walked   in  the  room.  Lina  rolled  her  eyes  in  disgust.  He  was  by  no  means   unattractive,  but  his   stare,  his  eyes  black  as  night,  led  most  to   believe  that  his  mind  was  always  miles  away.  She  treasured  her   memories  of  Pierro  as  a  boy,  telling  her  about  every  piece  of  art  he   saw.  Being  six  years  her  senior,  he  would  take  her  by  the  hand,  and   together  they  would  walk  to  the  home  of  Pierro’s  uncle,  Filippo   Lippi.  Filippo  was  a  kind  man,  even  on  some  occasions  letting   Pierro  and  Lina  help  him  mix  paint,  no  matter  how  much  of  a  mess  

they  made.  Amazed  by  Filippo’s  ability  to  use  his  cumbersome   hands  to  bring  the  past  to  life,  Pierro  and  Lina  would  sit  and  watch   intently  as  Filippo  worked  tirelessly  at  his  canvas.  His  depictions  of   the  saints  were  food  to  Lina’s  hungry  soul.  The  day  Filippo  left   Florence  to  paint  the  frescos  for  the  Spoleto  Cathedral,  Lina  and   Pierro  worried  they  might  never  see  him  again.  When  word  of  his   death  reached  the  Catone  Manor,  Pierro  took  refuge  in  the  darkest   corner  of  his  mind.  So  many  times  Lina  sought  to  bring  him  out  of   his  gloom  to  no  avail.  Now  his  hollow  eyes  watched  her  every   move  when  they  were  in  the  same  room.  Today  was  no  different.   Shaking  the  memories  from  her  mind,  Lina  kindly  excused  herself   and  went  back  into  the  kitchen.   

“You  survived!”  Monica  joked.   

“Barely.”  Lina  laughed.   

Liliana,  another  loyal  servant,  entered  from  the  oven  room   with  a  small  cake.   

“Lili!   I  see  you  have  brought  our  means  of  celebration,”   Monica  said.   

“Indeed  I  have.”  Lili  beamed.   

“Means  of  celebration  for  what?”  Lina  inquired.   

“Well,  there  is  this  lovely  little  story.  Would  you  like  to  hear   it?”  Monica  tried  not  to  giggle.   

“Certainly,”   Lina  said  catching  the  satirical  intrigue  in   Monica’s  voice.   

“There  is  a  special  girl  who  is  turning  seventeen  today,  and  I   thought  that  proper  celebration  was  in  order.”   

Lina  laughed.  “Who  is  it?”   

“Well,  it’s  you  silly!  Forget  your  own  birthday?  You’ve  been   around  here  too  long!”  Monica  laughed  deeply.   

Lina  laughed  too.  “Well  thank  you.  This  is  nice  of  the  both  of   you.”   

“Oh,  not  a  problem,  Lina!”  Monica  beamed.  “Lili!  Cut  the   cake!”   

Lili  cut  the  cake  into  three  pieces,  and  all  three  women  took   good-­‐‑sized  bites.    

Suddenly,  there  was  yelling  in  the  next  room.  Sofia  burst   into  the  kitchen.  “She  says,  and  I  quote,  ‘who  on  earth  would  make   such  foul  eggs?’  Alas,  they  had  a  fowl  beginning.  Therefore,  they   were  bound  to  have  a  fowl  ending.”   

“Well  put,   Sofia.”   Lina  laughed.   “I  think  Lady  Catone   inhabited  your  body  for  a  short  period  of  time.  Are  you  sure  she   has  left  you?”   

Sofia  giggled.  “I’m  quite  certain  she  has  left.  By  the  way,   happy  birthday  Lina!”   

“Thank  you.  Want  some  cake?”  Lina  asked  breaking  off  a   piece  from  her  own.   

“Certainly.”  Sofia  flopped  down  on  the  wooden  bench  next   to  Lina.     

Lina  glanced  around  the  room,  knowing  that  this  was  the   only  family  she  had  ever  known.  She  had  heard  Lady  Catone  speak   in  hushed  tones  about  the  man  who  brought  her  to  the  Catone   Manor,  and  then  disappeared,  but  the  lack  of  detail  left  Lina  feeling   hollow.  Lina  could  still  remember  the  day  one  of  the  servants  ran   away,  the  day  Lady  Catone  explained  the  inferiority  of  Lina’s  birth   without  once  batting  an  eye.  Lady  Catone  ordered  Lina  to  take  the   place  of  the  missing  servant;  so  instead,  she  adopted  Monica,  Lili,   and  Sofia  as  her  family.  Family,  Lina  thought,  taking  another  bite  of   the  cake.  I  could  not  have  imagined  a  finer  one.     

“Monica,  did  you  tell  her  about  the  ball?”  Sofia  asked.   

“What  ball?”  Lina  asked.   

“The  one  you’ll  be  attending  tonight.”   Sofia  practically   squealed.   

Lina  scoffed.  “A  servant  at  a  ball,  for  what?  To  clean  up   spilled  wine  and  soggy  plumes?”  

“Of  course  not,  Lina,”  Monica  began.  “Besides,  you  and  I   both  know  that  the  dirt  under  your  nails  is  just  for  show.”  Monica   winked.   

Lina  laughed.   “You’re  correct.   I  have  never  been  sold,   traded,  or  trained.”  Lina  went  back  to  the  oven  to  take  out  the   bread  before  it  burned.  

“Oh,  come  on  now,  Lina!  You  must  go!”  Sofia  protested.   “You  honestly  don’t  believe  mother’s  story,  do  you?”   

Lina  rolled  her  eyes.   

“How  many  times  have  I  told  you?  She  did  not  mean  any  of   it.  The  man  who  brought  you  was  no  peasant.  You  know  she  still   carries  his  handkerchief.  The  gold  embroidery  does  not  lie.  You   deserve  to  be  there  as  much  as  I  do.”     

“What  am  I  to  do  at  a  ball?”  Lina  asked  placing  the  bread  on   a  serving  plate.   

“Dance,  flirt,  have  fun   –   Lina,   you’ll  love  it!”  Sofia  said   dramatically.   

“I’m  not  so  sure.”   

“You  do  not  have  to  dance,  Lina.  You  can  refuse.  Though  I   think  you  might  give  in.  I’m  sure  there  will  be  a  line  of  gentlemen   waiting  for  a  turn.”  Sofia  beamed.   

“And  what  am  I  to  say  to  these  gentlemen  when  they  ask  me   my  name?”   

“Oh  Lina!  What’s  in  a  name?”  Sofia  protested.  “Just  play   coy!”   

Lina  sighed,  knowing  there  was  no  putting  her  off.  “Fine   then,  what  am  I  to  wear?”  Lina  asked,  certain  that  this  issue  would   certainly  detain  her.   

Sofia  beamed.  “That  is  where  I  come  in.”  She  put  her  arm   around  Lina.  “You  see,  I  don’t  know  what  I  should  wear  either,  so   you  will  be  modeling  my  gowns  for  me.”   

“I’m  afraid  I  don’t  follow,”  Lina  said.   

Sofia  chuckled.  “You  can  borrow  a  dress  of  mine.”   

“If  I’m  helping  you  get  dressed,  then  who  is  going  to  help   me?”  Lina  asked  picturing  herself  lacing  up  her  own  corset.   

“I  will,  silly!  See  you  after  breakfast!”  Sofia  said  running   back  into  the  breakfast  room.  Lina  followed  with  the  bread  plate.   

“Good  Lord!  Did  you  start  from  scratch?  What  took  you  so   long?”  Lady  Catone  demanded.  

“I  was  just  explaining  to  Lina  the  difference  between   four-­‐‑minute  eggs,  and  four  one-­‐‑minute  eggs,”  Sofia  said  glancing  at   Lina.   

Lina  tried  not  to  laugh.   

“Do  you  think  this  is  comical,   Angelina?”   Lady  Catone   demanded.   

“No,  not  at  all.  It  is  indeed  a  serious  matter,”  Lina  replied.   

By  that  afternoon,  Lina  had  convinced  herself  that  going  to   the  ball  was  a  good  idea.  Though  it  was  probably  best  if  she  did  not   dance  with  anyone,  she  decided  maybe  she  could  pass  the  time  by   sketching  the  palace  courtyard.   After  all,  she  had  heard  of  its   exquisite  landscaping  and  could  not  resist  bringing  a  sketchbook.  It   had  been  far  too  long  since  she  saw  something  worthy  of  a  canvas.   

“Lina,  what  should  I  wear?”  Sofia  asked  from  inside  her   armoire.   

“Whatever  you  please.  I  do  not  know  why  you  long  for  my   opinion.   It  is  of  no  importance  compared  to  some,”   Lina  said,   working  on  some  embroidery.   

“I  just  can’t  choose  between  these  two,”  Sofia  said.     

“It  depends  on  what  sort  of  message  you  want  to  send,”   Lina  said.   

“What  do  you  mean?”  Sofia  asked.   

“Well,   pink  definitely  accents  your  golden  hair.”  Lina   combed  her  fingers  through  Sofia’s  hair.  Sofia  giggled.  “But  maybe   you  want  something  to  accent  your  bright  eyes,  like  this  green?”   Lina  said  looking  at  the  green  dress  hanging  on  the  door  of  Sofia’s   armoire.   

Sofia  giggled.   “Well,  what  about  you?   What  are  you   wearing?”   

“I  don’t  know.  What  do  you  think?”   

“You  need  blue,”  she  said  pulling  out  a  blue  gown.   

Lina  gasped.  “But  Sofia,  that’s  brand  new!  You  have  never   worn  it!  I  couldn’t,  I  just  couldn’t.”   

“You  can  and  you  will.  Who  knows,  you  might  actually  have   to  dance  with  someone  tonight.”  Sofia  giggled.

“Highly  unlikely.”   

“Why?”   

“Because  I  am  going  to  be  sketching  the  courtyard.”  Lina  sat   up  straighter  on  Sofia’s  bed.  

Sofia  scowled.   “You’re  going  to  a  ball,  to  sketch  a   courtyard?”   

“Yes.  It  will  keep  me  from  being  noticed.”   

Sofia  laughed.  “I  doubt  that.”