Author's Note: The series' title comes from "Dante's Prayer" by Lorenna McKinnett. Not all of the occurences within the story will follow history's timeline, so please forgive me.
The Sorrows of Stone
When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priest of pride say there is no other way
I tilled the sorrows of stone
He replaced the dusty 17th century tome back on the shelf, then reached up to check one of the topmost shelves. Realizing he couldn't reach it, he pulled a chair over and tested it before putting his full weight upon it. Standing on tiptoes, he grasped the book he wanted, but with it came a shower of dust and cobwebs as well as another heavier text which had been stacked haphazardly upon the shelf. Between the dust motes causing him to give a hearty sneeze and the unexpected weight of the extra book falling upon him, he stepped backwards slightly only to catch the heel of his heavy leather shoe on the hem of his woolen robes.
Crash...went the chair over on its side. Thump...went the full force of his body as gravity exerted its effects. Plop...went the books he had been balancing right into his lap. Ooof...went the breath out of his lungs as the shock from hitting the hard wooden floor registered throughout his being. He sneezed again for good measure, then shook his head as if to clear it from the cobwebs plaguing the upper shelves of the library. He glanced down at the book that had invited itself along for the ride and his blue eyes turned stormy gray at the memory it evoked.
His long, tapered fingers caressed the soft leather cover, the gilt trim and lettering almost worn away with time. Like those faded letters time had worn away his memories until now. He could still make out the title, the indentation from the bookbinder's tools still present even if the decoration was not. He traced the letters one by one, lingering over each like a lover's touch. How he ached inside....that pain had not withered with the passing of the ages. He opened the tome, paging through it delicately until he found the words, words he had tried to erase in mind if not in the book.
Do not ask of me something
Which I can not change
My love for you is eternal
He slowly bowed his head for a moment. Most who knew him would hazard a guess that he was deep in prayer, but no holy thoughts or requests filled his troubled mind. How simpler it would have been to turn away, never look back. Such was the price to be paid for immortality.
"Brother Darius, I have news from Milano. One of the cardinals there requests that you travel on to Fiorenza on church business. You will reside with the Alighieri family when you arrive." The short, tonsured brother ran up the garden walk, puffing under the great weight of his overindulgence and his woolen robes. Darius turned away from his conversation with another of the Franciscans and regarded Brother Giancomo with some humor. His tall, muscular stature was comical compared to the much shorter messenger who barely cleared five feet in his sandals.
The other Franciscan was not quite so humorous. "Brother Giancomo, I hope that you have not breached the privacy of Brother Darius by reading the missive. And do not puff around as you have been doing. You look a fright."
"Yes, Father Maccelio," panted Brother Giancomo, reddened not only by his exertion but also from embarrassment. "Father, I did not read the letter, I only talked to the messenger."
"And what is the punishment for gossip and idle talk, Brother?"
Darius jumped in before Maccelio's zealousness went a little too far. Brother Giancomo's position in the monastery was renowned on his ability to garner gossip and pass it along the hedgerows and grapevines of the orchards and winery of the monastery. "It is all right, Father. I have no objections to Brother Giancomo's exuberance in getting this message to me." Darius gently took the letter from the short monk's surprised hand and gestured for him to go back to whatever he had been doing prior to his mission.
"Darius, you are much too generous. These monks must understand that there are consequences for their actions, no matter how insignificant they may seem."
"These monks, as are we, are men, they will sin. We should be like God in his most forgiving nature. The emphasis on sound discipline must be on what's wrong, rather than who's to blame." Darius smiled a slight smile in Maccelio's direction, putting the overly stern house master to shame for his dictatorial demeanor.
"So what does this letter contain?"
"Should I accuse you of the same infraction of which you were so willing to accuse Giancomo?"
"Touché, Brother Darius. I now understand why you are such a good chess player, your mind is ever alert."
"My blushes, Maccelio. But the letter is of little consequence I am afraid to say. The cardinal of Milano has some small business to clear up with a couple of monks who have gotten themselves in some political altercation in Fiorenza. He is unable to attend this matter, but has an acquaintance in the political circles there who has welcomed me to come in the cardinal's place. I am familiar with the current politics as well as there laws, so the cardinal hopes that I can attend the matter and settle it with little trouble."
"Who is the man in Fiorenza?"
"Alighieri, an influential lawyer and supporter of the White Guelphs. Apparently his wife died several years ago and now he's gotten more involved with the political scene of Fiorenza. He has offered his services and his home to the Franciscans at no cost. I am to go there immediately as representative of the order to help him with the litigation against our brothers."
"Be careful, Darius. I need not remind you that we, despite some of the aspirations of our leadership, Franciscans should not become involved in political squabbles. Don't jump in over your head before you know the whole case." Maccelio really had a soft spot for the younger monk. Darius was one of the most intelligent and holy men Maccelio had encountered in his long lifetime. He would hate for Darius to come to any harm.
"Your caution is duly noted, Father. Now if you will excuse me, I will begin preparations to leave tomorrow for Fiorenza." Darius smiled as he turned away from the master. He couldn't help but be amused at the way Maccelio fussed like a mother hen over him and the rest of the brothers. As if he couldn't take care of himself. Why, he had spent more than 10 of Maccelio's lifetimes on this orb, had fought battles Maccelio had only read about, and had given up everything for his beliefs in the sanctity of life.
Darius closed the leather book. How long ago it seemed and yet the memories were as fresh as if they had happened just moments before. The people he had known throughout his life, both famous and infamous, meaningful and inconsequential, would have astounded any historian. But he was bound by old promises and his honor he would never speak of what happened in 13th century Italy. He would have to revel and suffer in those memories alone without speaking of them to a soul.
He set the book on the corner of his cluttered desk. It was then he almost had to laugh out loud to himself at the mess he had created around him. There were all kinds of old leather bound tomes scattered across the dusty floor, he himself was quite a sight with dusty smears across his robe and dust streaking his face and his close-cropped dark brown hair. His desk had been quite the disorder for days. He remembered a soft feminine voice laughingly deriding him for the state of his quarters.
"Darius, you really should follow the maxim 'cleanliness is next to godliness' when it comes to the state of affairs your rooms."
Darius' heart ached, a piercing hurt that cut clear to his soul. He hadn't expected to remember that day. If it wasn't for that damned book...how he wanted to burn it, a physical display of the despair he felt at the memories locked inside. Her laughing eyes, her creamy complexion, the mind like a steel trap that was house in a ravishing husk of mortality. He wasn't sure if he missed her physical presence more or the workings of her mind, so much more than a match for him. If she had been a man, she would have been immortalized throughout history as a great genius. Now she was only a historical footnote to a much lesser man, much like many outstanding women through the ages. And even history could not get the whole of her being, her relationship with him accurately down upon its pages. The only memorial he had of her was that writing in the book, not even hers but His.
He went in his bathroom, took one look at his bedraggled self in the mirror, and started the shower. The steam from the hot water began to wisp around him as he threw his robes in the floor and pulled back the shower curtain. The water hit him with a searing blast but he seemed not to notice the heat or the water's powerful spray. Darius closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the warmth not from the shower but from a very beautiful form snuggled up beside him in a high feather bed. He shook his head to clear away both the water and memories that had pooled there. Darius began to soap himself up vigorously, cleaning away the dirt, grime and pain the accidental intrusion of the book left in its wake. He almost fell asleep in the heat and moist steam as it relaxed his tense muscles and mind around him.
"Darius, where are you?"
A small plaintive voice called out for him in the mists of his reverie. Darius' head snapped around, flinging water with it.
"Darius, are you in there?" The voice was closer now, more insistent. He could tell from its higher pitch it had to be female. Who would come looking for him at this hour?
"Darius, if you answer me, I'm coming in there."
And she would too. "I'm okay, Amanda. I'll be out in a moment. Make yourself at home."
Amanda looked around the room, its disarray was something quite out of the ordinary for Darius' meticulous ways. It had worried her when she saw all of those books scattered on the floor. She hadn't been certain if something had happened to Darius.
Darius came out of his bedroom, dressed not in his usual robes but in a simple aran fisherman's sweater and faded jeans. Amanda had only seen him a couple times dressed like this, and it always took her breath away. If it wasn't for his celibacy status, she would have gone after him a long time ago. His dark hair glistened with moisture, a couple of strands fell across his forehead. She gazed into his striking blue eyes only to worry at what she saw there. "Darius, what happened?"
He laughed, an almost hollow sound in his own ears. "I decided to bring down more books than I could carry." Amanda looked at him, confused at his jest. "I climbed the ladder to get a book and some of the other ones on the shelf came along for the ride."
"Well, here let me help you get some of this cleaned up," she offered as she reached towards a couple which had slid under the edge of the desk.
Darius climbed up on the ladder as Amanda collected the tomes from the floor. She handed them to him one by one and the work was quickly completed between the two of them. Darius went into the manse's kitchen to boil some water for tea as Amanda sat down in one of the deep leather chairs in front of the fire. Her gaze caught a glint of gilt lettering from the desk and she got up to retrieve the leather bound book from the corner. She almost climbed the ladder when she looked at the title on it's spine. She couldn't quite make it out because the gilt had faded over the years, so she opened the cover to the title page.
The book was ancient, even before the Guttenberg press. Amanda's mind quickly analyzed how much money this could bring at auction, but she didn't dare to steal from Darius. Duncan would have her head for that. The letters were quite intricate and in Italian text. However, she was able to make out the title and author:
La Vita Nuova
Oh my god, Amanda was astonished. Darius had a first edition of a Dante classic. She gently turned the well-thumbed pages. Then she came to the inscription:
Do not ask of me something
Which I can not change
My love for you is eternal
Whoever it was wasn't the author, the handwriting was decidedly feminine. Darius had a secret paramour. Discovering this book today must have been what had brought that haunted look into his eyes. Who was she? Amanda was determined to find out. She heard his footsteps in the hall and gentle set the book down in its place, then took her place back in the chair before the fire.
Darius entered with a tray of tea things and set them on the low table between them. Amanda took the proffered mug and curled up like a sedate tabby cat in the leather chair. Darius looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then inquired in his soft German tenor, "Amanda, what brings you here tonight?"
"Duncan and I were wondering if you would be willing to accompany us to appraise a painting which was sent to him by an anonymous donor." Darius looked with confusion at her.
"I'm not much of an appraiser, Amanda. Surely you could find someone else who has much more experience."
"Methos isn't availiable, and you are the only other one around who could probably tell us anything about it. And besides, the donor suggested you to begin with."
"Me, why me?"
"I'm not sure, but all signs indicate that the donor is an Immortal. Maybe you can give us some insight on who it is."
"But I don't usually leave Holy Ground."
"I know. This would be a great favor to us, Darius."
Darius thought about it for several long moments. Then reluctantly agreed. How could he let his closest friends down?
"Okay, I'll do it."