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."
Methos stood in front of the fire in Amanda's outer chamber; reluctant to join her just yet, there were many questions in her eyes that he had yet to answer. He had to leave Florence soon, and he dreaded telling her. Amanda already suspected it, of course; he could see it in her eyes, but she waited for him to say the words nevertheless.
Kronos had found him; a shudder passed through his body as the realisation struck home. He had not crossed paths with his brother in over three hundred years. The encounter had resulted in a bloody massacre on the streets of Paris, as Kronos decided to hunt down all whom he had met in that Northern city. He had lost many a good friend that year.
Luckily, Darius had been safely ensconced on holy ground and Kronos, old enough to remember Darius's old reputation, was wary off dragging him off it; for fear that underneath that habit, Darius still carried the heart of the warrior he once was. Methos smiled grimly, Kronos may be mad, but he was not stupid.
Wearily, his mind went over the events of that day. He had risen early, so as to avoid Amanda's questioning looks, and had hurried off in order to buy himself some new horseflesh as well as procure the correct documents for travel to Rome. Methos smiled sourly as he dwelled on how difficult it was to travel in this part of the world nowadays. A thousand years ago one could have travelled the length and breadth of the Roman Empire, armed with a solitary visa, on roads that were wide and well maintained. Now, things were different. The city of Rome had fallen and was now surrounded by an array of small and quarrelsome feudal states and cities, making travel difficult and more than a little dangerous.
It had to be done, nevertheless, and Methos fully intended to leave the city before the week ended. Which brought him back, full circle, to his original problem - Amanda. Throwing himself onto the high-backed chair beside the fire, he mulled over his choices. His original plan had been to merely tell Amanda that he'd grown tired of Florence and that he wished to move on. He would have helped her concoct a likely story for his absence so as to secure her position in Florence, but then he would have moved on. Amanda would have been puzzled, and perhaps a little hurt, but she would have been none the wiser about his true difficulties.
Now, of course, all this had changed. Kronos had made himself known to her and this meant that she was in danger. Methos cringed as he realised how near she had come to death that day. Amanda had been well trained by Rebecca and under most circumstances Methos would be confident in her abilities to defend herself. But Kronos was unlike anything she had ever faced before; she had no idea of the lengths he would go to in order to procure her head. What would have happened if Ramirez hadn't been passing through the city, curious about the new basilica that he'd been hearing about, and hadn't stopped to admire the Ghiberti's bronze doors? Methos' mind did not like to dwell too long upon the subject.
What he had to figure out now, was what to tell Amanda - the truth? Methos winced even at the thought, Amanda may not be the most righteous of people, but even she might balk at the news that she was bedding one of the four horsemen. To this day, the book of Revelation was spoken of in hushed, fearful, tones. She would not take the news too well. A lie, then? No, that would not do either.
Rubbing his eyes with his hand, Methos thought through his options, eventually he came to the conclusion that he would tell a part truth, just enough for her to see the danger she was in. It was the best that he could do. For a moment, he contemplated taking Amanda with him to Rome, but quickly decided against the idea. Kronos was now hot on his scent, and would almost assuredly guess correctly, what his next move was. He didn't want Amanda to fall victim to what may come.
He contemplated asking Ramirez for help, he was a chivalrous old soul and would most probably be eager to escort Amanda to safety - especially if she was accompanied by the lovely Gianetta. Methos smirked; he wondered if Ramirez was aware of the mysterious society who called themselves the watchers. If he was, he was going to get a rueful surprise if he spotted the tattoo that graced Gianetta's left wrist. The comely young watcher must have been in seventh heaven as she dined with them. Not many watchers could boast that they spent the evening conversing with three immortals at the dinner table!
For a moment, Methos toyed with the telling Amanda of their existence, but decided against it, after a moments thought. It was better that she made that discovery herself. Glancing at the closed doors that led to Amanda's bed chamber, Methos steeled himself as he rose to his feet. He could not put it off any longer; it was now time to tell her that he was leaving.
"Your name is Methos?" asked Amanda yet again as he slumped back onto her pillows. Not for the first time that evening, Methos nodded. "And you're nearly five thousand years old?" Methos nodded yet again. "I see…" she said, a thoughtful expression on her face.
She had taken the news surprisingly well, he'd thought. She had heard the rumours of course, his name was a byword in many an immortal tale. The question was, what would she ask next?
"So who was he?" she asked shrewdly.
"Who was who?" he countered, keeping his eyes closed as he spoke. He didn't want her to see the wariness that lurked within them.
"The man in the basilica, of course, Gu…Methos!" she told him, hitting him with her pillow for good measure.
"Oh him…he's an old adversary," he answered carefully; he well knew that Amanda was adept at smelling a lie.
"And how long has he been hunting you?" she demanded.
Methos opened his eyes and gave her a searching look. "A very long time," he admitted.
"I see…" For a moment, Amanda seemed lost in her thoughts and Methos waited nervously for her next question. At last, Amanda looked up to meet his eyes once more. "How good is he?"
"Extremely good," he admitted. "You wouldn't have had a chance."
Amanda's lips twisted into a wry smile. "I think I may have figured that out all by myself," she told him as she slumped back onto the bed beside. "There was something about his eyes…" Amanda didn't finish her thoughts, however; it was best not to think of it.
Methos searched Amanda's face as he tried to figure out what she was thinking; sometimes her face was so hard to read. "You have to leave Florence," he eventually told her when it became obvious she hadn't anything to add. "Now that he knows your face, he won't stop hunting you - in his eyes, you would be the perfect way to get to me."
"You seem to know an awful lot about the way he thinks," she observed keenly. "Is there something you're not telling me?"
"Yes," he said, in a rare moment of honesty. "But believe me; you don't want to know."
Amanda chewed at her lower lip, her mind deep in thought. "I'll have to take Gianetta with me," she said aloud. "He saw her face, too."
"Yes, that might be a good idea," mumbled Methos, struggling to keep a straight face, if only she knew.
"Will he come after us, do you think," she asked.
"No, I don't think so, once he's discovered that we've parted ways he'll follow my trail, not yours."
"Hmm…" uttered Amanda. "I suppose that is sound reasoning. I shall start making arrangements in the morning." She shuddered, "I hate this, you know. Changing lives has become so difficult of late; there is so much suspicion and intrigue in Europe at the moment that even the most innocent looking of strangers is looked upon askance."
Methos shrugged his shoulders; there was nothing to say, she was right. "Perhaps Ramirez might agree to travel with you for a spell," he ventured. "He's an honourable man - and an old friend of Rebecca's."
"Is that so?" Amanda said, gracing him with a piercing look. After a moment, however, she relented, a small laugh escaping her lips. "Gianetta would like that."
"You noticed that too, eh," Methos said with a laugh.
Amanda threw him a sly smile. "Well, at least she has stopped peering at you from under her eyelashes in that bashful way of hers," she teased.
Methos growled mockingly. "I'll show you bashful, you vixen," he told her playfully as he pulled her into his arms…
The household was in uproar when he awoke, screams coming from the hall. Rolling out of bed he reached for his sword, only then pausing for something to wear. Looking back at the bed, he noticed that Amanda's side was empty. That in itself was not worrying, she had told him only the night before that she meant to rise early in order to get ready for her journey.
An immortal's presence grew thick in the air and Methos heard the Ramirez's voice bellowing from the other side of the thick doors. "That bastard from yesterday is downstairs …quot; and he has brought friends!" he roared as he pushed open the doors. "Hurry, man, we have to stop him; he and his cohorts have left a bloodied swathe through your servant staff. I've dealt with the few who've ventured upstairs but there are too many downstairs for me to handle alone."
"Where's Amanda," he asked hurriedly as he pulled on his doublet over his hose.
"She and Gianetta have barricaded themselves in the Dining hall. I doubt that the doors will last too long more, however. They're already trying to break it down."
For a moment, Methos was puzzled. Why was Kronos so eager to get his hands on Amanda when he himself was in the house? Then, it came to him; Kronos had thought he had already left. He was after Amanda for information about his whereabouts. "Damn it!" Methos muttered, as he leapt onto the stairs and bounded down them, Ramirez hot on his heels. He remembered only too well what Kronos's favoured forms of interrogation were.
Methos felt the crawling presence of Kronos's quickening as reached the lower floor, the harsh sound of splitting wood met his ears as he sprinted towards the dining hall, sword in hand. Kronos's cronies had found themselves a bench with which to break the door down and the solid oak was beginning to give. He had no doubt that Amanda was armed and ready at the other side of the door, but she would be hard pressed to defend both her and Gianetta against such a large body of men.
A weight barrelled into him from the side and Methos was sent flying as Kronos pushed him against the wall. "Well met, brother," he sneered into his face, his eyes glittering with triumph as he drew back his knife to strike. Reacting on instinct, Methos did the first thing that sprang to mind - he kneed him in the balls.
It worked like a charm and Kronos fell to a heap on the floor, he raised his sword. One, clean, cut and his troubles would be over, his brother and his past would no longer be able to haunt him. A scream diverted his thoughts and looking up, he realised that he had no time to take a quickening. The henchmen had broken through and Ramirez was trying gamely to prevent them from entering.
Running Kronos's body through with his blade, he sprinted to the Persians side and joined the full pitched battle that had now broken out in dining hall. Throwing a glance towards the other side of the room, he glimpsed Amanda dancing among the henchmen, her sword flickering as she darted in and out of their grasp. Gianetta was also determined to join the battle it seemed. She had her hands wrapped around one of the heavy candlesticks that had graced the dining table and was now busy bashing the heads in of those who had fell under Amanda's quick blade. None of them would be waking up soon, if at all. They made a very dangerous pair.
Ramirez was splendid as always, running the mercenaries through as if they were butter, whilst cursing them in ancient Aramaic. It was a pity that their foe didn't understand a word he was saying, if they did, they might have keeled over from the profanity of his remarks.
The numbers dwindled and Methos paused after he dispatched yet another mercenary, to take in the scene around him. The hired men obviously had come to the realisation that the people they fought were like no others they had crossed swords with, their survival instincts had eventually kicked in and, to a man, they fled.
Realising that he had unfinished business in the outer chamber, he fled back to where he had left Kronos's body. His brother's body was gone.
"Well…that was interesting." The rich, lilting voice of his Egyptian friend broke through his frantic thoughts and Methos spun around on his feet to face him. "I take it that the scoundrel has fled once again," Ramirez observed as he noted the expression on Methos's face.
Methos pulled a hand through his hair, the exasperation showing clearly on his face as his eyes took in the carnage around him. "That would be one way of putting it, yes," he muttered, his eyes falling onto the corpse that leaned against the open door leading outside. It was the house steward, his neck resting at an awkward on the floor as his eyes gazed up blankly at the ceiling. His mind searched for the poor fellows name - ah yes, it was Giuliani, a common name in Florence.
A muffled cry came from behind him and Methos turned to see Gianetta standing just inside the door, the horror evident on her face as she noticed the dead servant's body. A moment later, Amanda was at her side, her sword already discreetly hidden among her skirts. "Come away, child," she told the girl quietly as she led her towards the stairs. "It is best not to look." Methos couldn't help but agree with her.
The mood in the house was grim; eight of the servants were dead. Isabella, the chambermaid, was one of them; another was the thirteen year old kitchen maid that Amanda had hired the month before, a little slip of a thing that she had taken a fancy to when last she'd visited the foundling home.
It was a bloody mess.
The remaining servants were quiet and sullen, their manner becoming even more withdrawn when he insisted that they did not inform the local militia of what had happened. He knew that it was only a matter of time before one of them slipped off and did just that, however.
Methos poured himself another goblet of wine as he watched Amanda flit around the room, collecting into her satchel that which she didn't wish to leave behind. She was now dressed in doublet and hose, all pretence of a ladylike demeanour swiftly disposed of. Her sword lay openly at her side. Amanda was very angry.
"There going to confiscate everything, you know," she informed him heatedly, for the twelfth time. "The house, the grounds, my banking accounts in the merchant's quarter …quot; I'm ruined!"
Methos let that one slide; he knew that Amanda was way too canny to put all her eggs in one basket. He had no doubt that she had other funds that she could draw from. "Where is Gianetta?"
"She is in her rooms, preparing to depart. The silly girl wanted to visit her family before we left but I convinced her that it was a bad idea," Amanda informed him as she tied her satchel closed. "She should be along any moment."
Methos nodded absently. "Good, I had thought that the events of the day might have convinced her to part ways with us."
"No," Amanda sighed. "Apparently she is made of sterner stuff than that, though, in a way, I wish she wasn't. I can't help but believe that she would be better off without my company."
"Believe me, she wouldn't, once De la Corona has learned we have left the city, he will try to take his frustrations out on those in the city that we were acquainted with. It is better that she comes with us."
Amanda threw herself onto the bed beside him. "What about you?"
"I'm going onto Rome."
Methos gave her a sideways glance. "He is going to travel with you."
"Afraid I'll get into trouble by myself?" she asked him, a small grin on her face.
"Always!" he told her, pinching her nose.
Hitting him on the arm, Amanda pulled herself off the bed. She picked up her satchel and throw it over her shoulder; giving the room last, rueful look. "Well, I'd better go and see if Gianetta's ready to go," she sighed.
Methos nodded silently and watched Amanda leave before he leaned back on the bed. "I hope you're happy, Kronos," he muttered to himself. Eventually, he pulled himself together and got off the bed. It was time to move.
The sound of running footsteps caught his attention. With a bang, Amanda threw the doors open once more and ran into the room. "Gianetta is gone," she panted, her eyes wide with worry. "The little fool has left the house."
A quick messenger to Gianetta's home confirmed that, if she had intended to go there, she had never made it. The three immortals looked at each other worriedly as they received the news. That only meant one thing, she had been captured - or killed. "We have to find her," Amanda declared.
"She is most probably dead, Amanda," Methos said as he watched her pace the room warily.
"I don't care," she sobbed. "Alive or dead, I'm not going to leave her in that bastard's hands."
"We'll split up," Ramirez declared. "This city is not so large that we can't find one immortal between the three of us."
Methos nodded reluctantly, his mind already going over the possibilities. "Ramirez, you take the mercantile district, Amanda, you can do the palazzo district. I'll check the guildhalls. Let's get this over and done with as soon as possible." Truth be told, Methos had already dismissed the idea that they were going to find Gianetta alive. But if he didn't at least try to find her, Amanda would never forgive him.
They split up in front of the house, each going their separate ways. It was already well into the afternoon and the crowds were filling the streets as the siesta came to a close. Methos muttered under his breath as he pushed through the packed streets of the guild area. Gianetta was nowhere to be seen. He was about to turn back when he noticed a commotion in the distance. With a sinking heart he looked up above the massing crowd and stared at the basilica's dome, it was if a cold breeze passed down his spine.
Slowly, he made his way through the milling people standing outside the bronzed doorways. A hand rested on his arm and Methos looked down at the kindly face attached to it. "You don't want to go in there, son," she said. "It's the work of the devil himself."
Methos gently shrugged her hand away and slipped through the doors. The basilica was empty, the pews barren for perhaps the first time since the church was built. Methos looked around - what was all the fuss about?
And then, he saw her, her body draped in front of the Madonna like a sacrifice, her blood staining the hem of its marble robes. Gianetta had met her maker at the hands of Kronos. "Could be worse," Methos thought dazedly. "Caspian could have done far worse."
It was little consolation. Unthinkingly he took a step forward, perhaps he could move the body, she deserved better than to be discovered like this. The sound of the militia arriving outside brought him to the senses, however. What the hell was he doing still standing there? Hurriedly, he fled outside, melting into the crowd before the militia gained the building. Taking a deep breath, he took one last, fleeting glance over his shoulder before he head back to the house.
They rode in silence; there was nothing to say. It was late evening and the sky had filled with the dark clouds of rain. A chill crept through the air; its cold tendrils announcing that winter, at last, had come to Florence. Methos drew his cloak closer to him.
Looking up, his eyes were drawn to Amanda, her back ramrod straight as she rode before him. She had not spoken a word since he'd told her of Gianetta's death. Their friendship had been dealt a severe blow this day, and he was not sure if it would ever fully recover.
The soft whinny drew his attention to his side and Methos gave Ramirez a wry smile as he drew up beside him.
"She'll come around eventually, you know," the Persian told him in a low voice, nodding in Amanda's direction.
"With our kind, eventually can be a very long time, Ramirez," Methos countered. "And a lot can happen between now and then."
"True enough, "Ramirez admitted. "But it's all the hope I can offer you."
Methos snorted at Ramirez's bluntness. "Thanks for the effort!"
Ramirez laughed softly as he noted the expression on Methos's face. "You have a lot more to worry about than my brusque words, my friend," he reminded him. "I don't know of the history between you and that immortal we left behind in Florence, but his face brings to mind many tales that I've heard. If he is who I think he is, his wings cast a long shadow."
Methos grew silent, what was there to say? Ramirez hadn't said anything that he didn't already know. The sky rumbled ominously and fat droplets of rain began to fall. "Oh fabulous, that's all I need," muttered Methos as he squinted up at the sky.
"A propitious start to a journey," Ramirez agreed sardonically. "Look on the bright side, at least there is no hail and brimstone - ah, we're here."
The road ahead forked in two directions, and the time to part ways had come. He risked a glance at Amanda as they came to halt. She busied herself calming her horse, her face held rigidly still as she studiously avoided his gaze.
"Well, 'til we meet again, my friend," Ramirez declared cheerfully, clasping Methos on the shoulder in Farewell.
"Until then," Methos wearily agreed, his eyes still on Amanda's passive face.
Slowly, Ramirez steered his horse onto the road leading north, Amanda trotting silently beside him - she did not look back. He watched them go with a heavy heart, seeing their slow moving figures grow smaller as they stretched the distance between them. The rain grew heavier, the promise of a storm in its passage as he watched them disappear over the far horizon. It was time to go, he reluctantly decided. Digging his heels into his mount, he turned his head due south; Rome awaited him.
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!