a novel by E. Martelloni
translated in english by F. Nesticò

preface and previous chapters

Chapter IV

The signal for a truce was given just before sunset, permitting soldiers to pick up the wounded, estimate their losses and determine the as yet uncertain outcome of the war. The fighting ceased and all of a sudden the earth stopped shaking, the blows of the swords stopped falling, the arrows stopped raining down from the black and mournful clouds.  On the battlefield, only crushed bodies were seen, their bones shattered, the eyes starting out of their sockets, everything drenched, corpses and wounded, men and animals, blood and earth mixed together, the same earth they were about to rejoin, either because they had tried to defend it or because they had tried to conquer it. That’s why those who had died or were about to, giving their soul up unto the Almighty, had struggled with furious violence and valour.  In that moment, only the sound of a prayer or a sense of mercy gave consolation to those wretches and mitigated the horror of the sight they presented.   Behind the trees the sunset was fading away. Slowly the earth went back to inhaling its fetid breath.  A faint fog had risen and enveloped the corpses in the last light of day.  Night came finally.  Night that brings with it the reward of rest.  Rest for those who had fought, on whichever side.  On the field the shadows of stray men were seen as they wandered, looking for wounded.  “Hush, hold your breath…” ”Somebody is passing close to us…,” said the first shadow in a husky voice, the stockier of the two, hiding behind a wagon. “Play dead…” Then again, “Slip off the ring, I will empty his pockets, he doesn’t need that money anymore.”  “Do you know what they do to people who steal like we do?” answered his accomplice.  “Hush…there are people passing by…stay still…lie down. Down!”  And they lied down right there where they were, without looking at what was under their feet, until other men holding torches and trying to recognize the corpses had gone on by.  “He’s staring at me! He’s staring at me wide-eyed. I…I must be crazy to stay lying here…my lips touching his freezing cheek.  I want to run away. Away, away from this cemetery!” he yelled, suffocating his disgust.  “I would kiss a hundred of them if I could fill my pockets”, sneered the first shadow. “What are you afraid of? They're stone dead.  I would put the night in my bag, if their pockets were packed with florins and valuables, and just as the stars in the sky tomorrow morning I would flee, far away from here. Get on with your business, be quick”.

Disegno di E. Martelloni

Simone was looking for his cousin, Bartolo. In the fury of the battle they had lost each other, maybe at the bridge, maybe a bit further up.  From the top of the hill one could have seen little flames moving continuously about in the distance without an apparent reason, as fireflies do far off in a meadow, as wills-o-the-wisp lost in that land.   Bartolo hadn’t returned to the ranks of the company of San Pellegrino and Sant’Antonio and quite surely he had died. That was Simone’s idea. The fear of having lost him was mixed with the hope of seeing him alive again.  Uncertainty gave him new energy.  Maybe the boy was lying down nearby, maybe just wounded, sometimes it happens.  He thought:  a lighter blow could have knocked him out so that he had slipped down under that tangle of lifeless bodies.  It would have been better for him, he would have avoided the slaughter.  Their military company had held up well under the Ghibelline attack.  All of them had fought bravely, without risking more than they had to. They had resisted, defended that bridge and showed the bravery in battle of their generous people, to the admiration of all the Sienese army and its notables.  Simone had proved himself a hero and he wasn’t even aware of it nor would have he cared at all, at least not until he had had the certainty that his young cousin was still alive.  On his knees after having searched again amongst many soldiers, he fell asleep on top of them, exhausted.

Chapter V

In the morning the lark in the woods heralded the coming of day against the deep silence of the battlefield.  Simone woke up with a start, and rose painfully to his feet.  A crow had used its beak to open the wound on his arm from the day before.  He took a look around.  His gaze went beyond the field, reaching up to the top of the dark, far-away, spreading tops of trees, immersed in the misty dawn.  Not a gust of wind could be felt.  He looked around, befuddled. Then he started searching again.  A boy who looked like he was sleeping, face down, his head dirty with mud, was just a few meters away.  “Luca,” he thought, and ran over, kneeling down in front of him.  It is difficult to explain, my little sparrow, what Simone felt in that moment.  I swoon…I wish somebody were here and, after patiently listening to my words, would help me with what I still feel, after so many years, as I tell this final part of the story.  If some of you, kind sirs, could support me, and with all your heart, drawing from its most intimate and tender part.  Understand…Listen…That warmth preceding torture, that floods your veins and stops the breath in your throat so as to suffocate, the tears that won’t be able to warm the face of a brother and a much-loved man. He laid his head on a clod, a pillow of grass wet with dew.  Small and precious crystals of dew were trapped in his hair, reflecting the morning sun.  He didn’t seem even to have suffered.  He was serene, they told me.  A deep wound had downed him in battle.  It looked as if he had found a shelter on that clod, as children in their chilly bed hug tightly to their blankets with their heads bent over their chests.  The comfort of sleep, the mighty sleep of mysteries, nobody knows where it leads us nor through what dreams.  Simone picked up Luca’s body and held him tightly until they reached the camp, where the herald read out the list of the dead on both sides, as was the custom, starting from the noblemen and proceeding to the simple nameless soldiers.  Siena was safe! The army returned home.  Long before they had reached the last tract of the road to Siena though a voice called for Simone.  “Hullo, officer!” he answered when he realized who it was.  “We meet again.”  “Are you surprised?  I did my part, in the company of the Viper, I lost many friends.  The joy of victory struggles alongside the pain. I would snatch away from death those good boys war has taken. Though I have been a man for a while, my friend, I am not able to resign myself.”  “Neither am I.  I lost a brother, Bargello, Luca.”  “You have many reasons . . . ”  “I don’t know,” Simone went on in a deeper voice. “Many other people I knew die…I don’t know who I’m crying for anymore.”  “Look over there.  Not for them, for sure,” exclaimed the policeman indicating the hill where two dark figures were engaged in hanging people from the trees. “We found them.  They were deserters, they were the counterfeiters we were looking for.  We found them early this morning with their pockets full of rings and coins stolen from the dead.  I recognized them, they had joined the army and were fleeing under the cover of darkness.  They had many golden florins, like those left on the tavern’s counter. They were betrayed by their weight on the lever scales. One was called Ildebrandino, the other Guido, but they confessed.” “Go back to your people, Sir Simone.  We will see the walls of Siena again soon. Take care.” 

The wait for us at home is our burden, it is our enemy, the most tiring battle.  It nurtures hope, then deceives, it seems benevolent, then you fall down many times and many times you rise again, but it is tough…In a mere minute, from the hills and resembling thunder, the roll of drums signalling victory or black doom.  We anxiously await their homecoming and the stronger the rumble of the drums, the stronger the expectation.  Taddeo and Bartolo followed the corpse of the father of my daughter: she never got to know her father, the person who was to me, while alive, dearest than life itself. I just had to look at my boys entering the city gate to understand.  I closed my eyes for an endless moment and that was enough to close up my heart over the unfair, unjust theft that pierced me.  I wanted to see him and kiss him, but at that point I couldn't stop my tears from inundating his beautiful face.  Fiammetta wasn’t aware of those tears, she had fallen asleep just before.  Alice had recalled those memories many times and now that her face showed the passing of time, nevertheless felt the same emotion.  She gazed again at the distant field of wheat, at the sturdy oak tree. The past joy is part of the present pain and of the consolation that comes with it:  strong, fertile, not only for its own sake, but for Siena and the beloved Contrada of the Goose.

-  THE END -

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