The first book in the Medici series
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‘’The most powerful of Victoria’s novels, where past and present fuse effortlessly and the supernatural romance works totally and beautifully. ’’
(John Richard Parker)
Astrology and magic were an integral part of the everyday life of the inhabitants of the 16th century, in all corners of Europe. The Medici court was no exception. This novel is rife with intrigue, murder and dark murmurs at the court of Isabella de Medici who was known in her own lifetime as .the brightest star of the Medici firmament. Visions of Isabella haunt her namesake Isabel visiting present day Florence after her sudden break up with her fiance. How are these two women linked together through the corridors of five hundred years of history? Is Isabel’s new love interest Lorenzo somehow linked to the dead Princess? Can she solve the lost riddle of Isabella’s death, to finally lay her ghost to rest?
‘’Vinculum quippe vinculorum amor est
(Love is the greatest bond)
He watches her swift economic stride across the paving stones of the loggia her small feet firmly encased in pretty velvet slippers peeping from beneath her sombre black gown. From a distance she looks like the Duchess that she is, beautiful elegant and slightly remote as if she doesn’t quite touch the ground that she is walking on. He has always thought this about her from the first time that he met her when his cousin Paolo married her, that there is something quite magic about Isabella. She is known as the brightest star in the Medici house, everyone calls her that and again he gets this strange feeling in the pit of his stomach as he watches her for it seems
—That she floats an inch above the ground defying the laws of nature—
The day when he had first seen her, that day with the small family gathering at the Villa and the mass to celebrate the marriage vows, yes that day she must have been frightened to be tied by law to the hulking figure of the man that stood beside her. Paolo his cousin standing there immobile and untouched by the ceremony taking place because of him, with a vague smirk on his face and no interest at all in the beautiful girl by his side. But she showed no signs of the discomfort and fear she must have been feeling. She carried herself with her usual grace and charisma as if the very air around her was made lighter and sweeter by her presence. Then at the banquet afterwards he had watched her come alight as she charmed the company with her lute playing and her own improvised verses on the occasion. This young girl had captivated everyone, and shown herself to be a poet and artist in her own right. Suddenly she had been elevated in his eyes from flesh and blood woman to some kind of an earthly angel, one whose lips he longed to touch. He couldn’t stomach the thought that his cousin was to be the one to lay hands on her and take her to the marriage bed that night, but Troilo is no fool he is growing daily into the sleight of hand ambassador with a sweet silver lined tongue that he wishes to become. He knew that he had to bide his time, and that moment hasn’t come yet but slowly and surely day by day he has grown to care for her and now with the empty space left in her heart by the loss of Giovanni he is going to fill the void in her. They will be a glorious couple in the true sense of the word.
It soon became clear to all of Florence that Paulo would have little say over the daily routine of his young wife who prefers to hold her own court and her own counsel in Florence while Paulo meanwhile had returned to his whores and his drinking companions in Rome. He had left Troilo installed in the Palazzo Antinori, Paolo’s city residence to keep an eye on his bride and report back and this task he has turned to his own advantage. He is by trade a soldier and yet in times of peace it suits him to become part of the extended court of Cosimo de Medici in hope of being useful to him in an Ambassadorial context and so thinking what better and more charming pastime than to become close to the beautiful Princess.
Since the death of his two sons, Cosimo has turned to work to assuage his grief and has had Troilo running hither and thither to oversee his building projects which range from liaising with his landscape architect at the Villa Caffagiolo, to trying to manage Gorgio Vasari who is extending the courtyard at the Palazzo Pitti. When he isn’t overseeing building work and sorting out problems at the Medici estates he has undertaken journeys’ to the court at Sienna and Ferrarra to deliver letters and news of the Cardinals hat that has been given to Cosimo’s thirteen year old son Ferdinando. Troilo steers very clear of the dark brooding heir to the Duchy, Isabella’s elder brother Francesco, if he is honest he doesn’t really like or trust him.
That is how it had all started, he had need of money and the Medici court has plenty of the stuff, but then little by little he had begun to fall for the vivacious Princess with her quick wit and her resolute mind. They shared many things in common, not just their love of music and art but also hunting and gaming and a wicked sense of humour that can take a cruel twist at times and she is almost as proficient on horseback as he is himself. Troilo knows his own inherent qualities, he is charming and cultured and handsome and he is used to women desiring him and yet he has to be very careful with this one. They are of course cousins by marriage and as such she is deemed to be untouchable, to have an affair with his brother’s wife might be the most scandalous of things to embark on but he has noticed that somehow the normal ‘’rules’ of life don’t seem to apply to Isabella.
She is surrounded by pretty boy courtiers and elegant politicians all aching to be touched by her, to get beneath her sheets but she is polite and oblivious to all of them. She is a Princess after all and her mother has brought her up to recognise her own status and remain ‘’pure’’ in the classical sense of the word, especially now that she is a bride, her behavior must be beyond reproach. Her musical talents alone leave many men sighing for her after her dinner parties, but up till now she has always had Giovanni there in the background to take care of her, even when he was in Rome fulfilling his Cardinal duties the pair wrote to each other pretty much every day, but now there is a void in her life to be filled and he Troilo is ready to play that game.
All these thoughts have flashed across his mind as he has caught brief glimpses of her in the weeks following the funeral of her brother, the funeral which she had been unable to sit through and had run out of the church in her grief. This in itself had the idle tongues gossiping, saying that Isabella had been in some kind of an incestuous relationship with her brother the Cardinal Giovanni. Troilo knows this to be simply idle talk, in the way that they are now talking about her position as the First Lady of Florence holding the utmost sway and power in Cosimo’s court as if she was bedding her father. Idle tongues annoy him when there are so many more fascinating things to do in this life other than sit around wishing woe and scandal on a beautiful girl who has been set adrift in her sorrow. He is going to reel her in like a beautiful silver fish and look after her and love her, but for now it takes him all his time to hold an intelligent conversation with her as the beating of his heart threatens to drown the sounds of the words that stick in his mouth every time he sees her. He is like a dumb struck teenager and it’s time that he began to assuage his need.
— He just wants to be the one to make her smile again. —
They live in a magical but frightening world where everything is ruled by the influence of the planets and the spirits on the celestial plane. ‘’As above, so below’’ is Hermes the winged Mercury’s motto, and he intends to make it so. He has read much on the subject and as Cornelius Agrippa has said in his ‘’Three books of Occult Astrology’’, ’’Magicians affirm that images seals and rings being opportunely framed under a certain constellation; some wonderful things may be received’’
The church of course has many things to say about Astrological Magic but in a court where Francesco stays closeted in his Alchemists chamber studying his experiments late into the night and stinking the palazzo out with his odorous concoctions, in this kind of a world there is one person Troilo had come to trust. Ignazio Danti the small unassuming Dominican friar who is designing the cartography maps on the walls of Cosimo’s garderobe. Ignazio had promised to help him. Ignazio is far more than just a cartographer, he comes from a talented family of artists and mathematicians and already with the patronage of Cosimo his workshop is beginning to produce extraordinary instruments of exquisite workmanship. His star is definitely on the ascendant, only yesterday he had watch him instruct Isabella on the use of the Astrolabe he had created for measuring the Altitude of the stars and where to look for them in the night sky. One of Cosimo’s projects is to create a stela Observatory at the Villa Castello. Ignazio had cast the natal chart of Isabella for him and his own and sanctioned the making of Talismans to bind the pair together.
Sitting in the lining of his breast pocket in a small velvet box are two silver Talismans that he has had cast. They are lovers Talismans, of the Thirteenth Mansion of the Moon, made especially for him by an apprentice to the great Nostradamus who even now is busy scrying his prophecies in France at the court of Catherine de Medici. As luck would have it he encountered the girl on his last visit to Paris on court business and a pretty girl she is, not immune to his considerable charms, but he isn’t interested in any woman but Isabella. The girl had warned him that although she had taken every care to cast the Talismans on a waxing moon in the sign of Virgo, as the Moon moved across the backdrop of the fixed stars into her Thirteenth Mansion yes she had taken the utmost care, but nothing is certain with magic. For after all she has invited a celestial being to take charge of the love affair, and who knows exactly what twists and turns this love might take.
— The Thirteenth house of erotic love between men and women. —
The girl had warned him that there is no telling exactly how the Angel of the Thirteenth House Jazeriel, will perform the union, the love between the pair may have unexpected twists and turns that he cannot contain. By opening up the life of himself and Isabella to the magic of the Universe and inviting the spirit of the Mansion in to bind them together he has relinquished control to a higher power. Not that every day isn’t fraught with danger and hardship, but to court the love of his cousin’s wife is more than foolhardy and they will have to be extremely circumscript in the way they conduct the affair.
Not that Isabella even imagines any of this at the moment, he can tell by the flush on her cheek when she sees him that she is drawn to him, but he will enjoy versing her in the ways of erotic love, the sensuality of the body. That glorious hard fit girl’s body that is so firmly hidden under the skirts and petticoats and tightly tied bodice that he itches to draw his dagger down and rip from her frame. He has watched her fearlessly galloping the Tuscan woods and valleys jumping ditches on her horse that even he a cavalier would think twice in vaulting and his loins have ached for her.
He woke this morning from a dream where she was standing by his bed in only her see through silk chemise, her silk dress billowing around her feet as she stood in a sea of scattered jewels waiting for him to reach for her. His right hand had inadvertently dropped to between his legs and it had only taken him a few seconds of gentle squeezing to bring himself to a climax at the thought of the girl naked with her red hair flowing around her, her mouth slightly open. The Princess becoming in his fantasy the girl waiting for him by his bed, that had been more than enough to send his seed spinning from his body.
The box of small silver medallions again bumps against his leg and he frowns remembering the pictures that they depict. The front of the Talismans show a pair of lovers entwined in a comely embrace and on the back in Latin are inscribed the words,
—-‘’Love is the greatest bond’’. —-
The girl Marie had made the Talismans using the birth charts of both Troilo and Isabella and she had also cast a chart for the pouring of the silver itself. Marie had promised him that worn around the neck close to the heart the magic would bind the two into being lovers forever.
—For now he can’t think of the word ‘’forever’’ for it has a worrying tinge to it. —
As far as he is concerned he doesn’t want to think of any other world than this one that they inhabit now with the cold winter days beginning to be a past memory. Today he is full of life with the sound of birds mating and the scent of blossom so heavy in the air when he rode out this morning.
Yet he has to arrange meet her tonight at the hour of the Moon so that they can complete the mystery by consecrating the images with smoke incense and prayer, one to the other. Looking at her here in the cool morning light he knows that he will have to make the reason for the assignation a secret, and hope that love will take its true course. Now the images seem to have their own electric energy he can feel the warmth of them under his chemise and he longs to share his knowledge and this gift with her.
The door swings open and she is there in front of him, he breathes in the scent of her perfume, pomegranates and musk, no one inflames his senses as she does. Her smile lights up her face and her big eyes twinkle when they see him.
Bella Isabella de Medici
Sun & fresco
searching the impossible
Palazzo Medici rings empty
remembers your footfall
love floating from your steps…….
Are echoes translatable?
no reflection in the mirrors
your brothers fat from glory
hands slaked with your blood.
Listen for the tears of your children
weeping for your absence…….
Now tourists flood your palace
thunder in the afternoon
waiting for your ghost
memory in etched stone ………
Out there the hills roll into night
olive groves, vineyards that you grew.
I creep beneath your skin
gather the fallen pearls
peeling back the point
where light snuffed out
Immortality a meaningless word
I say you saw an Angel once
crossing the room; held in light
like swallow’s song
shattering the silence
& for a moment out of time
I saw you too.