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Cortigiana-onesta

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We danced our youth in a dreamed of city,
Venice, paradise, proud and pretty,
We lived for love and lust and beauty,
Pleasure then our only duty.
Floating them twixt heaven and Earth
And drank on plenties blessed mirth
We thought ourselves eternal then,
Our glory sealed by God’s own pen.

Veronica Franco

 

 

“Are you really a wicked woman?”

Daniela looks away from the mirror and smiles at the girl peeping around the door. Big green eyes, a tumble of dark curls and a dress more appropriate to a beggar girl then the niece of Carlo di Enrico

“I am afraid so.” She tells the child. “You will likely be punished if your nurse catches you talking to me.”

“She thinks I’m asleep.” The girl comes all the way into the room and stares at Daniela with wide eyes.

How old is she Daniela wonders, thirteen at least, too old to be risking her reputation. Daniela is not ashamed of her occupation, but she does not intend to ruin a young woman’s chance at a respectable marriage.

“The housekeeper says you’re a whore and it’s a scandal that Zio Carlo lets your patron bring you to his parties.” The girl announces, sounding more curious than condemning.

“Some people would call me a whore, yes.” Daniela is more amused than insulted. Having Ben as her patron allowed her to make a name for herself in Venetian society with her beauty and clever wit without having to share her bed with anyone but her Trollish protector. “My actual title is a cortigiana-onesta, an honest courtesan, but please, call me Daniela.”

“Oh,” the child remembers just enough of her manners to drop an awkward curtsy. “I’m Gianna. Is that man you came with really a demon?”

“I came with my patron, yes.” Daniela frowns slightly. “And Signore Carseni is a very kind and generous man. Why would you call him a demon?”

“Because he’s really blue and he has horns.”

Daniela stares at the girl. How could she know about Beniamino? Is it possible this girl is like them, a bambino scambiato, a changeling?

“What do you mean?” She asks. She would have to send a message to Duca Leone. Gianna would need careful teaching if she is truly one of the fata.

“I don’t know exactly.” Gianna admits. “Sometimes when I look at some people, they just look different. Signore Carseni looks like a big blue demone with horns. You look even more beautiful, like an angel, glowing in heavenly light. Even me, sometimes when I see my reflection, I think I have cat ears.”

Chapter Text

Daniela eyes the palazzo doubtfully. She has always thought Signore Carseni’s house was impressive but this place is larger and even grander. She feels terribly shabby in her neat brown dress and simple linen shift.

“Come on,” Ben urges her. “Don’t you want to see the library?”

“Si,” But, still she hesitates. Beniamino has always treated her as if there is no difference in their status, but she has never been allowed to forget she is only the daughter of his father’s secretary even if mama was also Ben’s wet nurse. “Does Signore Michiel know you’re bringing me?”

“He won’t mind,” Ben waves away her concern like a buzzing insect and wraps his arm around her shoulders.

“You mustn’t do that.” She tells her milk-brother squirming out of his embrace. When had he gotten so tall? She is positively dainty next to him.

“Why not?” Ben demands, sounding hurt. “I’m going to marry you aren’t I.”

“Your mother will never permit that.” Daniela doubts Signore Carseni will either, though he has always doted on her, but la signora does not approve of her son’s continuing friendship with her. It was one thing for them to play together while her mama was his nurse but another thing altogether now that they are nearly of age.

Daniela knows she has no rank and only a tiny dowry, hardly the sort of bride worthy of il figlio della casa di Carseni. Her mama reminded her only this morning that she is old enough to get a bad reputation if she’s not careful.

Being seen on the street in Ben’s arms could cost her any chance of a respectable marriage. Not that she wants to get married, not yet, maybe not ever. Not when marriage means the end of the little bit of freedom she’s currently allowed. The thought makes her shudder but what alternative is there? Becoming a nun would be worse than becoming a wife. The only other option is to be a maid servant to some grand lady. Only, what woman would want a young pretty servant to tempt her husband or son into sin?

Ben sighs. Daniela is well aware that his mother has begun to speak of arranging his marriage with some girl from an appropriate family and so far he’s managed resisted her urgings. “I will deal with my mother, now come on. You will be amazed at all the books.”

Daniela suspects she ought to know better than to intrude on Signore Michiel without an invitation, but books...she cannot resist the thought of una biblioteca. She’s read every book that her father owns and as many of Signore Carseni’s that Ben can sneak to her. A room full of books is more tempting than a room full of gold and jewels.

“All right,” She smiles up at her friend, “Amaze me, if you can.”

Ben grins and leads her to the front door and bravely knocks for admittance. When a manservant answers Ben smiles fearlessly. “Buon pomeriggio, Beniamino Carseni and Daniela di Scriba to see Duca Leone’s library.”

To Daniela’s amazement, the man warmly ushers them inside. “Of course, giovane signore, la mia signora. You know the way, young sir?”

“Si, grazie, Piero.” Ben answers and leads Daniela down the hall. Ben opens the third door on the right and shepherds her inside.

There is a tall man waiting in the small parlor. Like Ben, he has blond hair and the rich blue of his velvet doublet gives an odd bluish cast to his skin.

“Franco,” Ben greets the man warmly. Perhaps it’s not the man’s doublet, Ben’s skin now has the same pale blue tint. The precious glass panes in the window look clear but they must have a tiny bit of cobalt in them, tinting the light.

“Beniamino,” The man greets the young man before turning to her. “And, this must be la bella Daniela.” He takes her hand and bows over it. Well, Ben has at least told someone about her. Perhaps visiting the library is not so naughty as she feared. Signore Franco looks important enough that his approval will suffice to keep them out of trouble.

“Signore,” Daniela curtseys, wishing she were wearing something nicer. Mama had only just finished altering one of her old dresses into something fitting for Daniela to wear to church. If she knew what Ben had planned, she could have wheedled mama into letting her wear it.

“I have an errand I must complete for il mio duca, but I hope you enjoy the library.”

“Thank you,” Daniela is puzzled by the older man’s words. Ben had said something about Duca Leone earlier but that cannot be right. She has been helping her father with Signore Carseni’s correspondence and there is no Duca Leone among the noble families of Venice.

“Come on,” Ben tugs her through another door and down the hall. The palazzo is larger and grander than it seemed from the outside. Dozens of door line the hall, and she can see gardens through the windows. She would have liked to pause and admire the tapestries, the paintings and even the bronze and marble statues set in nooks along the corridor.

“Oh,” Daniela stands in awe when Ben flings open a door and leads her inside. Shelves of books cover the walls from floor to ceiling. There must be hundreds of volumes, thousands even. Monasteri e università don’t have this many books. She has never cared much about gold, always content with her modest home and loving family but for one moment she is jealous of Signore Michael’s riches. To own so many books, it would take her whole life to read them all.

The room even feels as if it is welcoming her. She runs a reverent hand over the leather bound volumes on the nearest shelf. She could swear the books purr softly like kittens being stroked. They want her to read them. They cannot wait to share their secrets with her. They are so happy she is here.

“Ha, so are you amazed?” Ben asks gleefully.

Daniela cannot help herself. With a joyful laugh she flings her arms around her friend, hugging him close. The kiss she intended to press to his cheek finds his lips and she is going to be in so much trouble and she does not care.

Is this what kissing is supposed to be? The firm warmth of Ben’s body pressed close to her own, his hands on her back and in her hair, his mouth moving against hers. She cannot suppress her moan when his tongue slips into her mouth. It is so good, so strange and so familiar all at once. She does not want to end this though she knows she ought. How can anything so wonderful be a sin?

“Ahem.”

They both jump apart, red-faced and guilty to stare at the man standing in the doorway. Daniela blinks, surely a man cannot be that beautiful? The young man seems to glow with an almost heavenly light.

“Sorry to interrupt,” The man seems more amused than apologetic. “But, I thought I might introduce myself to Daniela.”

“My lord,” Ben’s low bow reminds Daniela to stop gaping at the man like a fool and curtsey. This must be Duca Leone or Signore Michiel. Someone very important anyhow. What he must think of her. Bad enough to be caught kissing Ben like a strumpet but to ignore common courtesy and stare at him like a buffoon. Her parents would be ashamed of her gaucherie.

“No need for that,” The man smiles again. He’s so young, maybe even younger than themselves but his clothes are even more magnificent than Ben’s and his ears are...pointed?

Daniela stares. There are stories, she remembers reading them; unearthly, inhuman and unbearably beautiful beings with magical powers. There may be no Duca Leone in Venetian nobility but it seems there is one in la Corte della Fata.

A glance at Ben shows her old playfellow too has been transformed. In place of the blond boy she’s known since infancy is a tall creature with pale blue skin and horns growing from his forehead. She can still see Ben’s features in his visage but she too shocked to know if that reassures or frightens her.

“It’s all right, mia signora,” The beautiful stranger tells her. “He is still Beniamino just as you are still Daniela.”

“What?” She asks confused by his words. What does he mean? Has she changed too?

“Look at yourself in the mirror,” Ben urges, pointing toward the polished glass hanging over the fireplace. She cannot help but stare at reflection. She too is transformed into some unearthly beauty. Like the duke her ears are pointed and she seems to glow with a white light. Even her old brown dress is changed to a rich tawny velvet with a sky blue silk underdress. He hair is dressed with ropes of amber beads and sapphires.

“Sidhe,” She remembers now. “We are Sidhe.” She tells announces as she turns to look at the duke. “And Ben, Ben is a Troll.”

“Yes,” Ben crows gleefully. “You remember?”

“I, we, you were my protector.” She recalls. Was there someone else? Green eyes and dark hair, the memories are fading like dreams do, but Ben is here and real.

“I am always your protector,” Ben moves to kneel in front of her. “I gave you my pledge to serve and protect you in our first life; I renewed that vow in every life since and again I do affirm my vow.”

“I, Daniela of the house of Liam, do accept your oath.” She answers. Liam, yes that is her house and even disgraced she will not forswear it. She turns toward the other Sidhe and kneels beside Ben. “My lord duke, I, Daniela of the house of Liam, do beg you for a place in your court for Beniamino and myself.”

“No need my lady,” Leone smiles at them both. “Beniamino has already asked for both of you and I have agreed. You are both welcome to come to my Freehold as you will and as you need.”

“Thank you,” They chorus. Daniela lets Ben help her to her feet.

“Come and sit and have a glass of wine while we talk.” Leone invites them. “We’re going to have to figure out how to deal with your family.” He tells Daniela. “We don’t want you married off to some fat merchant without an ounce of glamour in him.”

“No,” Daniela accepts the glass of wine and settles in a chair to think. Marrying a mortal is unthinkable now. But, a marriage between her and Ben is still unthinkable in the mortal world. Only, how can she pledge herself to anyone but Ben? Though she thinks they have had other lovers in the past, would they accept her devotion to another man? Besides, with the house of Liam in disgrace, would any of other fae wish to be allied with her? Would they be willing to share her with Ben? No, there is only one way for her to keep Ben by her side and she no longer has any doubts about her course.

“No,” She smiles at the men, “I’m not going to be married at all. I’m going to be a courtesan.”

Chapter Text

“She’s not home.”

Gianna gasps and nearly loses her grip. Signore Carseni’s manservant leans over the balcony railing and grins down at her.

“Don’t do that.” She complains clinging to the bougainvillea vines.

“Here,” Lazaro bends down and offers the girl his hand, helping her scramble up over the balcony rail.

“Where is Signora Daniela?” Gianna asks, once she is safely inside.

“Signore Buona-Vittoria is having some sort of scandalous party and he asked Daniela to come and charm his guests.” Lazaro tells her. “She’ll be sorry she missed you.”

“Perche,” Gianna sighs. This had been her first chance to sneak out all week and now her friend is away.

“I’d let you wait for her but Signore Carseni said they likely wouldn’t be back until late.” Lazaro tells her sympathetically. “Come on, I’ll help you sneak back into your uncle’s house.”

“I don’t want to go home yet.” Gianna complains. “No one will miss me until supper. Maybe I’ll go to the Piazza San Marco.”

Lazaro considers his options. Beniamino had ordered him to do his best to keep Gianna safe if he wasn’t around and Daniela would have his horns and tail if he let the little Pooka go to the Piazza by herself.

“All right,” He agrees. “Let’s go get some bruttiboni at il forno and see if we can find a marionette show.”

Thankfully, Gianna is still young enough to consider pastry and puppets a splendid treat, although she’s really starting to blossom. Lazaro remarks on it as they make their way to Signore di Enrico’s pallazo after a pleasant afternoon and entirely too many almond cookies.

“I know.” Gianna sighs and glances down. “Soon, no one will believe I’m a boy.”

“Do you want me to show you a trick that will help?” Lazaro offers.
Gianna’s eyes light up.

“Could you, really?” She entreats the satyr. “That would be wonderful.”

Lazaro explains the idea behind the spell as they walk.

“And that works?” Gianna sound doubtful so he decides to show her.

“Watch this.” They cut down a dark narrow alley and as soon as they are out of sight, he thinks about the image he wants to project and activates the spell.

Gianna is amazed to discover she is walking beside a vecchia strega as they emerge from the alley and head to the bridge.

“That’s amazing, Nonna.” She tells him.

“It takes a lot of glamour.” He warns. “The more you don’t have to change the better. So keep wearing boy’s clothes and tucking your hair up under your hat.”

“Bouna, I hate wearing skirts.”

“Practice when you’re alone.” He tells her. “I won’t tell Daniela, you can surprise her the next time you see her.”

“Grazie, Nonna.” Gianna presses a kiss to Lazaro’s cheek before scrambling over the wall and slipping through the herb garden and through a window to the linen storeroom. She had hidden her dress under a pile of sheets. She would change and slip back into the garden. When anyone came looking for her they would find her daydreaming on the old swing the gardener had hung for her on the ancient olive tree.

Lazaro watches her until she is inside and then turns and heads back toward the canal. The glamour fades and he is a seemingly normal young man when signals the gondolier to come at take him back to Signore Carseni’s.