Disclaimer: Highlander belongs to Panzer/Davis. I'm just playing in their sandbox!
My thanks to Whisper for reeling in my use of commas, and R. Sacchi for eradicating all the 'that's!
A Wing's Shadow
The golden sunlight of late morning streamed through the widow panes as the chambermaid pulled the curtains open with a loud, disapproving swish. Amanda yawned, stretching her arms out dramatically as she sat up in her bed. With a wry smile, she noticed empty sheets beside her; Guy had risen early this morning, always a bad omen.
"His Lordship has already left, My Lady," the chambermaid informed her as she held out Amanda's morning gown. "He said he had been called away to the palazzo de la Stufa."
Amanda smiled sweetly at the chambermaid; she knew the servants disliked her intensely; she didn't want to give them any more food for thought. "Thank you Isabella, I presume that my meal is waiting for me in the solar?" she asked as she took the robe from her hands, watching with inner amusement the maid's mouth narrowed into a thin line.
"But of course, my ladyship," Isabella told her. "Shall I lay out your clothes, while you break your fast?"
Amanda nodded absently "My blue silk, Isabella, the one with the beautifully embroidered detailing along the hem."
"Very well, my lady,"
With a lazy smile, Amanda left the disapproving gaze of her servant and drifted into the other room. Pouring herself a goblet of undiluted wine, she flopped onto a divan as she broke off a piece of the crusty bread and spread it liberally with honey.
Hearing a loud clatter in the other room, she sighed. Her servants considered her lazy and impious, and took every available occasion to let her know this. They looked upon her late mornings as an insult to God and her willingness to break her fast before mass as a sign of the devil himself. On top of that, her tendency to travel through the city un-chaperoned was watched with disbelief and her every gesture and comment was under minute scrutiny. She found it wearisome.
"Where is Guy?" She thought to herself, he was no fonder of an early awakening than she was, not that the servants took any insult to that. He had them eating out of his hand, she thought sourly.
The truth was, she was not comfortable in the trappings of patrician life, they chaffed at her. She had heard Florentine society was supposed to be more liberal than most, and in many ways they were right; but there were still unspoken rules, unspoken restrictions. She may have to leave this city soon.
She had lived in Florence for almost a year now, and for the last three months she'd shared her house with Guy - or should she say Niccolo, he was in the habit of changing his name often. Guy had been a godsend when he arrived in Florence; she had set herself up in the city as a married woman whose husband had gone off on a mercantile expedition to the East. She'd thought that such a story was the easiest to live by. Women of independent wealth who were unmarried were looked upon suspiciously, widows were hunted avariciously, it was better to be married to an absent husband - or so she'd thought.
She had been in Florence for about six months when the questions started. "So, when is your husband due back, my lady," asked an elderly aristocrat on one occasion, when she had accepted an invitation to the palazzo de la Urbino.
"I'm not exactly certain, good sir," Amanda answered smoothly. "I had hoped he would make his journey along the Silk Road before winter fell but, alas, it was not meant to be."
"You have heard from him, then," asked the overly curious patrician, his eyes lingering a little too long on the quality of her necklace."
"I was fortunate enough to receive a letter from my good husband not two weeks past, my lord," she replied, casting her eyes down in what she hoped was a demure fashion. Oh, how she missed Rebecca and her carefree ways but then, Amanda reminded herself, Rebecca had planned carefully over the centuries, incurring debts among her aristocratic neighbours and instilling loyalty among her servants. Rebecca could act how she pleased on her own lands and within her castle because she took great pains to make herself popular among her serfs and respected among her peers.
Amanda knew she had no patience for that kind of long term planning, and she had the distinct feeling she may be about to pay for it.
For the next two months, she went to great pains in order to present herself as a respectable wife awaiting her husband's return; she attended mass every morning at the basilica before breaking her fast. She wore her marriage veil; a light gossamer affair that all wedded women wore in Italy at all times. She gave generously to the local popular charities - and the not so popular ones too, the local foundling’s home had become unexpectedly wealthy - and attended all the proper gatherings. She hired a lady's companion, a woman from a poor but reputable family, to attend her while walking in public.
Nothing worked; once the rumours had started, they could not be stopped. The rumours that spoke of a scandal, she could judiciously ignore. The one's that said she'd killed her husband for his money, she could not.
Ironically, this time, she had come by her wealth honestly. Her last husband had bequeathed her a small fortune in coin before he died. He had been too canny to give her land; he knew his heirs would stop at nothing to retrieve it once he'd passed away.
She smiled gently as she remembered Henry's kind and generously lined face; his adult sons believed she was just another young gold digger wanting to part him from his wealth. Only Henry and she knew the truth, that they had been lovers long before his sons had been born. Henry had to marry another however, in order to secure the family inheritance. Amanda's murky past had not made her suitable marriage material. Upon his wife's death though, Henry was free to marry whom he liked, and he chose Amanda.
Henry had been one of the few mortals she had trusted with her secret and he bore that trust well, their last few years together were some of the happiest she had lived. He had died five years ago, she realised. It didn't seem that long.
Her thoughts moved once again to Guy's absence, the kitchen was probably awash already with the news that he'd left her bed early. No doubt they were gleefully predicting that Guy was going to throw her aside, they had no children after all - if only they knew!
Three months had passed since that night since she had decided that she needed a break from the stifling protocol that went with her new identity. Retiring early, she had dressed herself in a man's attire, as Rebecca had taught her and slipped out unnoticed into the night. She was in dire need of a night of devilry, to relieve the boredom of her new life.
The merchants quarter had seemed the ideal location for a bit of sport, perhaps she would even try her hand at a bit of gambling; one heard many tasty titbits while rolling a pair of dice. She was nearing a likely looking tavern when she felt the presence of another immortal, looking around, her eyes widened in relief as she recognised the man approaching her - Guy de Courtenay.
"Amanda, is that you under that doublet?" he asked, amusement colouring his voice.
"Hello Guy, she replied dryly. "What brings you to Florence?"
"I am on my way to Rome," he informed her. "I felt the sudden need for a change of scenery. The atmosphere is rather chilly in England at the moment."
Amanda nodded in understanding; the political climate in England was unstable at best. It was one of the reasons that Amanda had decided to travel further afield; unsettled times created suspicious neighbours. "Have you been here long?"
"I just arrived this afternoon, actually. I'm staying at the tavern over yonder," he told her, pointing at the inn that she had been heading for.
A glimmer of an idea grew in Amanda's mind. "Guy, how would you like to stay in more luxurious surroundings, I have plenty of room?"
Guy raised an eyebrow. "Surely your servants would talk?" he asked mildly.
"Not if you were my husband, returned from your long trip east!" she informed him with a grin.
Guy turned and gave her a searching look. "What kind of difficulty have you managed to immerse yourself in now, Amanda," he asked eventually.
Briefly, Amanda explained her predicament. To her delight, Guy was amenable to her plan. He moved into the house that evening and, by the end of the week, he had moved into her bed. Everything had gone splendidly until last week, when Amanda noticed that Guy had become preoccupied and distant. He wasn't as attentive as he originally was, she admitted to herself with a sigh. He hadn't said it yet, but Amanda knew that he was soon going to say his goodbyes. It was a good thing she wasn't in love with him, she concluded wryly, or a lot more than her vanity would've be hurt.
"Your dress is ready, my lady. Shall I send for lady Gianetta?" Isabella's words woke Amanda up from her brown study.
"Hmmm…. oh, yes Isabella, do that." Waving her hand in dismissal, Amanda rose from her seat. It was time to greet the day.
Amanda was already dressed and wearing her cloak by the time that Gianetta joined her. It was one of her many peculiarities that her servants disapproved of but she had no choice, she wasn't eager to explain why she kept a sword and dagger secreted upon her person.
Thankfully, Gianetta had long become used to this peculiarity of hers and was surprisingly accepting of the fact. "I take it we're going out for the afternoon?" she asked as she stood in the doorway.
"I feel the need for some fresh air, Gianetta," she informed her airily. Her need for 'fresh air' was considered another of her peculiarities.
"Very well, my lady," Gianetta muttered, a small smile curving the edges of her mouth. "I shall fetch my cloak."
Soon they were on their way; Amanda had declared that she had no use for a carriage that day, she would much rather walk. The head steward had muttered under his breath but reluctantly acquiesced. "Perhaps you would agree to being accompanied by one of the household, my lady. Perhaps young Lorenzo?"
"My dear man, this is Florence, not some backwater. I don't need a protector; especially where I'm going…"
"Ah, you have a destination in mind my lady, perhaps you could tell me, in case his lordship asks?" The spite in his question was obvious and Amanda sighed inwardly. The rumours had indeed already started.
There is no need, Giuliano," she told him sweetly. "My good husband already knows of my intentions.
"Very well, my lady," he said, disbelief plain on his face as he bowed. "Shall I have the siesta meal served at the usual time?
"But of course," she told him irritably; this game of words was beginning to get on her nerves. Sweeping past the still bowing steward, she stepped outside, Gianetta close on her heels. "That man is quite insufferable," she muttered to herself as she thundered down the street with Gianetta trying gamely to keep up.
"Maybe so," piped up a breathless Gianetta. "But he does keep an orderly household."
Amanda slowed as she realised that Gianetta was having difficulties keeping up with her. "My apologies, Gianetta," she said contritely. "I had not realised that I was walking so quickly, I shall slow my step."
Gianetta smiled gratefully as Amanda settled into a more measured pace and settled herself sedately by her side. "I know you find the ways of Florence somewhat tedious at times, my lady," she ventured. "But they mean no harm."
"Indeed," Amanda muttered dryly. Gianetta hadn't had any personal experience of the machinations of higher society, she had been well bred but poor, which was why she was Amanda's companion rather than wed - her family had no means to raise a dowry.
"If I may ask, my lady, where are we headed?"
Amanda paused, the truth was that she had no clear plan of where she was going, her first instinct was to try the market district. No matter what the chambermaid said, Amanda sincerely doubted that Guy had called on the Stufi family. She strongly suspected that it was his idea of a jest.
No, thought Amanda, Guy was making plans to leave the city, of that she was certain. And to do that, she decided, he would have most likely paid a visit to the market district. "I have a hankering for a new dress, m' dear," she told Gianetta pleasantly. "And I've heard that they are some magnificent new silks to be seen at the markets this week. Come, let us go." It was a thin excuse, she knew. It was most irregular for a lady to peruse the new silks at the market stalls; a proper lady would have them delivered to her home in order to pick and choose from at her own leisure. Thankfully Gianetta didn't comment on this, the young Florentine was indeed a treasure.
The market district was loud and crowded, siesta was fast approaching and many were eager to be finished their transactions before the noon sun blazed in the sky. Nevertheless, Amanda took great pains to appear as if she was merely taking a leisurely stroll through the district as she stopped and perused even the unlikeliest of merchandise. Amanda saw Gianetta's eyebrow rise as she paused in front of a baker's stall.
"Are you in need of some fresh bread, my lady," she asked, this time she couldn't keep the amusement out of her voice.
Amanda merely smiled distractedly, she couldn't tell her the true reason for her erratic behaviour, the fact that she felt the presence of another immortal impinging on the edge of her senses. "Umm…perhaps not, m' dear," she said as she felt the presence drift away once more. "Shall we continue?"
They had only gone a few steps when Amanda felt the presence again, this time it was stronger. Amanda didn't know whether to be frightened or angry. If it was Guy, then he really should know better than to play these sorts of games, if it was not Guy….
Amanda looked worriedly around; perhaps she should have brought a carriage after all. Putting on a bright smile, she turned to Gianetta. "Do you know what, m' dear? I think I may have made a mistake coming here at this time of the day. It is much too noisy and crowded. Let us depart this confounded place."
This earned her an arched eyebrow from Gianetta, It was the nearest the good-natured girl had ever come to giving a reprimand. "Very well," she said softly. "May I ask if we are to return home?"
Amanda hesitated. The street she lived on was situated in a quiet and sedate Florentine neighbourhood just inside the fifth enclosure; she thought it might be better to stick to the hustle and bustle of the main thoroughfares. Just then, an idea occurred to her - holy ground. "No…I think not, my dear Gianetta," she said hurriedly. "It has just occurred to me that I have not yet attended mass today. Come, the great Basilica is but a few minutes this way.
This time, both of Gianetta's eyebrows flew upwards and Amanda groaned inwardly. She well knew that she was not known to be the most pious of mistresses. None of Gianetta's scepticism showed in her voice, however, when she eventually spoke, "Of course, my lady, though may I suggest that we not travel there through the market district but use the main thoroughfare instead, so that we may move more freely.
The presence grew closer and Amanda's eyes scanned the crowd, only half listening to Gianetta’s suggestion. "I think not, Gianetta," she said nervously as the presence welled around her. "This way will have to do."
Throwing propriety out the window, Amanda grabbed Gianetta by the arm and pulled her through the crowd, her pace so brisk, she was almost running. Surprisingly, Gianetta did not protest but instead tried to keep up with her.
Weaving her way through the columned palisades of the district, she didn't bother to look behind her; she already knew she was being chased. The stranger's quickening was strong and near. Eventually they made it clear of the market stalls buildings but Amanda still didn't let up. Spying the dome of the basilica, she broke out into a run. "Nearly there," she told the gasping Gianetta as she pulled them both across the square and through the bronze doors of the Basilica's north entrance.
The air was heavy with the scents of incense and the sound of prayer. Amanda paused to readjust her veil, they had already had got some disapproving glances from the pews. Amanda's heart sank as she realised she recognised one of them. A sour old dowager from a wealthy patrician family, no doubt she would be the talk of Florentine society by the end of the evening. Her hasty entrance would feed many a spiteful rumour.
Giving Gianetta a moment to recollect herself, Amanda discreetly spied out her surroundings. The pieta was well attended by the usual mix of old crones, young girls and expectant mothers. It was also situated at a discreet distant from the main doors, it would do perfectly. Giving Gianetta a gentle nudge, she gestured towards the statue with her hand as she genuflected towards the altar. They made their way carefully to the far pews. With a sigh of relief, she knelt down and bowed her head.
The other immortals presence was not long in making itself known. Amanda willed herself not to look up as the quickening assaulted her senses, her shoulders tensing as she heard soft footsteps prowl up the aisle behind her. Gianetta must have sensed her fear for she bowed her head lower, mumbling the Ave Maria fervently as the footsteps drew near.
A soft creak from the pew directly behind her made her flinch and a soft, mocking voice spoke. "That was a pretty dance you led me on," he said, almost conversationally. "But you can't stay in here forever, you know, and I'm a patient man, I can wait for hours.
Now that the jig was up, she saw no point in continuing the pretence. She sat up in her seat and looked behind her, a haughty look on her face. For an instant, her mask nearly crumbled when she saw who sat there. It was the man who filled many of her childhood nightmares - the man she had secretly dubbed 'Scarface.' The hairs on the back of her neck rose and, in an instant, she realised that he was the reason for Guy's newfound reluctance to stay in Florence.
Scarface's eyes narrowed at her reaction. "Have we met before?" he asked. "I had not thought it, but you seem to recognise me."
Amanda gave a start, of course he didn't recognise her, no more than Guy did from that long ago time. She had been a scrawny child of barely eight summers when last she clapped eyes on him - a far cry from the image she presented to the world today. "No, I think not, I feel sure I would remember a face such as yours."
Her jibe worked. Scarface scowled angrily as he fingered the scabbard of his sword. "You will pay for that comment, Bitch!"
Gianetta gasped beside her but Amanda refused to acknowledge her, it was better to keep this between her and Scarface, she didn't want Gianetta to get more involved than she already was. "I think you may find it harder to draw payment than you think," she hissed angrily at him. "My head comes at a high price." Amanda rested her hand on the backrest of her pew, her knuckles whitening as she leaned forward and spitted out the last few words, her greatest mistake now would be to show fear.
He smirked, not impressed by venom in her words. "Nevertheless, I shall have it," he told her smugly. "My name is William de la Korona, I won't ask you yours as I am already familiar with it, I'm an old acquaintance of your husband."
"I already know that, fool," she bluffed. "My husband had already informed of your presence in the city."
Lightening fast, Scarface's hand shot forward and caught her by the wrist, crushing it within his grasp as he spoke. "You will find that it is not I who is the fool here," he said through gritted teeth, smiling as he saw the pain in Amanda's face as he heard the bones in her wrist break.
The presence of another immortal washed over them as they sat there immersed in their battle of wills. Hearing the soft but confident step that approached them, they reluctantly looked up to see who was walking down the aisle. With a muffled curse, Scarface left go of her hand as the other immortal came abreast with their pews. Amanda's first reaction was disappointment - it wasn't Guy, but relief came quickly after, as she realised that any distraction in her present predicament was a good one.
"Excuse me, my lady, for interrupting you, but I couldn't help but notice that this ruffian was disturbing you in your time of devotion. Could I, perhaps, assist you?" Amanda looked up and saw the unspoken question in the strange immortal's dark, kohled eyes.
"I thank the good Lord that he has seen fit to send me a one such as you to defend me from this foul miscreant," she declared loudly. "This ruffian chased me through the streets of Florence and into the very halls of the holy church itself, for what foul deed I do not care to dwell on."
"Indeed," the stranger replied, a twinkle of amusement showing in his dark eyes. "Perhaps we should ask the ruffian what he had intended…oh, it seems that he has left." Sure enough, Scarface had slipped out of his pew unnoticed and had left the basilica. At least he had left unnoticed by her, she wasn't too sure about the new immortal.
She eyed the newcomer doubtfully; he was richly dressed, flamboyantly so - even by Florentine standards. His hair was longer than the present fashions in Italy allowed but it was neatly tied back and showed off the jewels that hung from his ears. His cloak was trimmed with peacock feathers and his doublet was of the finest velvet. If one didn't spot his military bearing, one could nearly mistake him for a harmless fop.
Amanda knew differently however, this man was dangerous. The real question was whether he was dangerous to her? Some instinct told her he wasn't. She couldn't explain it, but there was something about this tall peacock of an immortal that strangely reminded her of Rebecca.
The said immortal cleared his throat and Amanda started guiltily. Looking up, she saw in his amused face that he had already guessed what she had been thinking. "The streets are obviously more dangerous in Florence than I had been lead to believe," he told her, the solemn tone of his voice belying the humour that danced in his eyes. "Could I perhaps suggest that I escort you and your lady friend to your house - just in case that ruffian is still lurking about on the streets outside?"
Amanda made a split second decision. "We would be most gratified, my lord," she told him. "May I ask, to whom do I have the honour of speaking to?"
The stranger grinned and gave her a sweeping bow, an action that drew much attention in the hallowed halls of the basilica. "The name is Ramirez," he declared. "Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez!"
The walk home was pleasant. Ramirez proved to be an amusing and entertaining character that deftly kept Gianetta from dwelling too long on the events that had occurred in the Basilica. By the time they arrived at her street, Amanda could swear Gianetta was more than half in love with him already.
The presence of another immortal made itself known as they reached her street and Amanda glanced warily at her new companion, she had hoped to get Ramirez alone for a moment before the two had met, so she could explain that she lived with another immortal.
"Would your husband be at home, my lady," Ramirez asked, his eyes never leaving hers as he waited for her answer.
"I have a funny feeling that he might be, my lord," she answered, careful to keep her voice neutral. "But if you are wary of being introduced to him, do not be. My husband, Niccolo, is not one to play games." Ignoring Gianetta's startled expression at her strange choice of words; Amanda anxiously searched Ramirez's face for his reaction.
"I see," he eventually said, drawing out the words as he spoke. "Well…lead on then. I anxiously await to meet the man who captured and married such a beautiful jewel!"
Gianetta laughed brightly at his choice of words, blushing deeply as he bowed to her once more. Amanda watched the display with wry amusement, poor Gianetta was not used to such attentions. The men of Florence were bankers to the core; their eyes were caught by a pretty jewel, not a pretty face.
The steward opened the door as they approached the entrance, his distaste at their loud arrival written on his face. "His lordship is at home, my lady," he informed her as she handed him her cloak. "He is dining alone in the hall," he added pointedly, staring at Ramirez openly.
Amanda felt her face grow hot with rage; she knew exactly what the man was implying. Curling her hands into fist she stalked past him and on to the dining hall, leaving Gianetta and Ramirez in her wake.
Eventually she came to the wide double doors of the dining hall and threw them open. Guy stood within, already on his feet with his sword held warily in his hand. "You have brought company," he stated.
"Yes, she said simply. "But not the company that you fear."
Guy tilted his head, his eyes narrowing as he studied her angry face. “What happened?"
"I got chased into the Basilica by a mad man who said he knew you, that's what happened," she retorted angrily. "Thankfully, our new guest was at hand to rescue me!"
"And who, exactly, is this chivalrous lord?" Guy asked. "An old friend, perhaps?"
"You can say that again!" boomed Ramirez's voice as he stepped into the room. "I thought I recognised that voice. It has been a long time Me…Niccolo."
"Ramirez?" Guy swiftly sheathed his sword and bounded forward, grabbing Ramirez into a bear hug. "What are you doing in Florence, you old braggart?"
"I shall have fewer comments about my age," Ramirez joked as he pulled away. "Especially coming from you."
Guy smirked as he slapped Ramirez companionably on the arm. "You still haven't answered my question," he told him pointedly. "Come, join me at the table. You can tell me all about it."
The steward appeared as if out of thin air. Amanda wondered how much of the conversation he had heard. Probably too much, she thought worriedly, as she watched the servant lay the extra serving platters and goblets. She pushed that worry aside, however, when Gianetta entered the room, having already relieved herself of her cloak.
"Ah, my dear Gianetta," Ramirez declared, stalking over to her side. "You must join us for some refreshments". Amanda gave a sideways glance at Guy, who just shrugged and rolled his eyes in return, this was normal behaviour for Ramirez, Amanda supposed.
"Oh, I couldn't possibly, my lord," she protested, but eyes pleaded silently with Amanda to agree. With an inward sigh, Amanda relented. "But of course you must join us, Gianetta," she told her. "The steward will arrange for another place to be set." Grimly, she ignored the steward's affronted face as she made this statement, so what if the lady's companion attended the meal, he would just have to live with it.
Soon, they were partaking of the meal, the conversation was pleasant and the wine flowed freely. Guy and Ramirez exchanged news and gossiped about old friends, carefully couching their words so as to not arouse suspicion in Gianetta. Years were referred to as months, centuries as years, as Ramirez and Guy expounded one colourful story after another. Gianetta was spellbound; Amanda saw with some amusement.
As the meal drew to a close, the conversation eventually came around to the 'incident' at the Basilica and Gianetta became animated as she described the encounter. "He was most fearsome looking," she told the two men solemnly. "He had this scar that ran across his eye and down his cheek and he had a most foul tongue. I was terrified but my lady didn't show an ounce of fear, she even bested his threats with one of her own"
"I've no doubt that she did," mumbled Guy, smiling into his goblet as he took another sip.
Amanda threw him an annoyed look before turning her attention back to Gianetta, "I can assure you, dear, that I was just as frightened as you were. I just tried not to let it show," she told her gently.
"Then you are a consummate player, my lady, for I did not even see a glimmer of fear in your face, even when he grabbed your hand so tightly that I feared that he may have broken it."
"But he did not break it," Amanda lied glibly. "There is not even a mark on my hand - see." Amanda raised her hand for Gianetta to examine; the damage had long since mended itself.
"Truly astounding," Gianetta proclaimed. "I could have sworn that he had hurt you."
"Yes, it is miraculous, is it not," Guy said dryly, standing as he spoke. "Come, Ramirez, I wish to show you something that I picked up whilst on my travels to the east. If you will excuse us ladies." Without further ado, Guy drew Ramirez out of the dining hall and towards his private quarters. With a sigh, Amanda watched them go; as long as Gianetta was in her company, she could not join them.
Resigning herself to another tedious evening of needlework, Amanda rose from the table. "Come; let us retire to my chambers."
Note: The Stufi’s family wealth came from their Public baths. When Methos told the servant he was off to visit them, he was saying that he was going to be busy washing his hair!
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