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

The Author's Preface

The idea of writing a story based on an historical and glorious episode involving the Contrada of the Goose came to me a few years ago while I was reading about it. I had found particularly captivating the
military events during which the city quarter had distinguished itself. Though the title of Noble Contrada of the Goose derives indeed from the valour and patriotism displayed on the battlefield, I could not have described the historical events without the risk of being imprecise and boring. I would have omitted something important that true historians and careful readers could have faulted me for. I had in mind a tale that left space to the imagination, a tale that without offering too many historical details aimed to re-
evoke the fascination of a long-gone time. The opportunity was offered me by an event that had not been described in depth by the chronicles or historians: the Battle of Montemaggio in 1145.
I draw inspiration from it, using the little information I had and the big blanks it displayed to set my story.  I tried to fill this narration with my feelings and imagination. Inventiveness was to be the only fuel.   An event that has been almost unheard-of by most people allows greater freedom of invention and also precludes much criticism.  But as I was writing I realized the story was taking an unpredictable path, remaining suspended in an ambiguous period in history.  Federico, for instance, was not the Emperor in 1145, nor was Corrado III Hohenstaufen (1093-1152), who had continued to use the title of “King of the Romans” until his death, and Siena was not Guelph.  While the Battle of Montemaggio was not the precise historical event I had started from, it could have been one of the many occurring during the early Middle Ages. I cannot judge whether the tale I offer to you is good or bad, my intention was to make it a playful and loving homage to my beloved contrada of election. Therefore I apologize for its and my inadequacy.

Mario Ceroli, La Battaglia (1978)

Chapter I

“The rain of May”, Alice thought, had cooled down the air and cleaned the wheat fields lit up by the sun.  The gray, bluish clouds, now far away and clustered, loomed over the dark and wet soil, contrasting with the yellow, almost ripe wheat. Many times I had watched it grow, surround the oak tree at the top of the hill, then get reaped and stored in the barns of the Republic. In the distance the echo of thunder leading the storm away reminded her of past days as distant as the drums of an exhausted army:  it was the time of the war against the Emperor Federico, it was the time of rose petals, of the fragrant scent the gentle wind of love carried over the nights of young newly-married couples.  During feast days garlands crowned her brown hair and fair complexion, her mouth a deep red.  She had dark and profound eyes. She dismissed the memory from her mind, as she tore away her gaze from the horizon.  She felt satisfied, shaking out her dress to remove the wrinkles, then called out for her granddaughter.“Fiammetta!  Come along, it’s time to go to Mass.”

“Granny!” chirped the little girl, who ran in and jumped up onto her grandmother’s lap as she hugged her, arms looped around the ample skirt.  From the highest window of Fontebranda, Siena gleamed in the clear light of day.  They went down, the key securing the heavy wooden door behind them as they advanced into an interior courtyard away from the street.  Careful not to get showered by the water falling off the roofs, they quickly found shelter in the church by passing through the streets in a fairly short journey. The church was dark, cold, dimly lit by the sun's rays that barely penetrated through the Romanesque openings along the walls and in the apse.  Gathered in little groups here and there, churchgoers waited for the mass to begin.  On the left some pious women were praying.  “Granny…” Alice said in a tiny voice, slightly bored as she waited for the function to start, “But…that time Grandad … tell me about Grandad and the war!”  “Hush…,”somebody complained, “Silence, Fra Simone is about to come in…”

Simone was a friar with large shoulders, a grey-speckled beard, powerful arms and a big unselfish heart engaged in pursuing good.  He rarely went back to Siena.  When he did it was to pay a visit to his mother and sister.  He would officiate at the mass in a small church in the neighborhood of the Goose, greet his old friends and the kids in the streets who knew him by reputation and joyously gathered around when he passed by.  Only a few of those who had fought on “the bridge" were still alive, time had taken away many. Those who were still living didn’t like to talk openly about that episode of the war.  It had left a deep mark upon their souls, but was something they would not want to brag about.   If someone mentioned it, only a vivid and proud expression appeared briefly on their faces before they went on to another subject. 

Simone, before leaving for his pilgrimage, never failed to go by the hospital to bring solace and prayer to those suffering and to the dying.  That morning for some reason, mass, ending with Amen, was longer than usual and when Alice and Fiammetta came out of the church, there was no trace of rain except for a faint smell in the air.  Once home, the little girl returned to her request and insisted her granny tell her about the battle on “the bridge” involving her big uncle, Simone, together with Grandad and Cousin Bartolo.  Sitting on a velvet cushion on the bench next to the window sill, Fiammetta waited excitedly for her granny’s story to begin, dangling her little feet in silence, with an intense gaze fixed on her face.  Alice didn’t have her wait for long, but took her embroidery in her hands, adjusted her position and with the same self-confidence and agility she displayed while working, started to recount the story.

Chapter II

In the city everybody spoke about the upcoming war against King Federico.  In taverns and dives, in the palaces of the rich, in squares, in markets, in the houses.  Barbarossa had descended into Italy supported by a powerful army and determined to re-establish his prestige. The Comuni of north and central Italy concerned him.  They were starting to gain autonomy from the Holy Roman Empire and become true independent States.  Our power was demonstrated by the flourishing trades and the bankers’ money-lending that made them rich and influential both in the economic and political spheres.   The hard-working people of Siena, its arts and corporations, the rich and the craftsmen, everyone pious and devout, had thanked and celebrated Christ our Saviour and the Virgin Mary by building imposing cathedrals and palaces, asking great artists to create precious works of art and fresco paintings to glorify, as they still do, the greatness of Siena.  In addition to our devotion everybody could see in the bigger and impregnable circle of city walls our strength. The same could be said about many cities we were allied to or opposed to by interests and politics, all of which wished to gain greater freedom from the Emperor.  Now, in the time of the flowering of the olive tree, when they were about to be tied up, this is what took place.  As had happened many times before, Simone was at the Rose Tavern.  He was the pillar of his family, but what he said when he was in his cups was only half true. 

Everybody knew that when he started drinking, unchecked words began to pour from his mouth.  Drunk and happy, he started to harangue his friends, “Listen carefully Taddeo, my friend, I can’t stand all this emphasis and excitement over the war…Those who want it can drop dead!”  “You’re right”… they answered as they all laughed. ”I want the dice, good wine and occasionally…you know…dear friend!”  Simone winked.  “Yes, Taddeo…in this place nothing matters to me: honour…and courage…I’ll show them, but tomorrow.  When I’m here, I let go and I look for a way to steal my father’s money, that penny-pincher! And keep at it till I feel satisfied.  Here I find solace, my dear friend… come, one last toss of the dice.” 

“Be careful, Simone…if there are men of…,” his brother, Luca, interrupted.  “Indeed, if!  But there are none here.  At the Bargello they’re looking after other matters and I don’t see any spies here: I only see friends! And here goes my toss.” 
Somebody on the other side of the tavern yelled, “Again, Poet! Give us some other joyful verses, keep up our morale until tomorrow morning, do something, by God!  Men like hearing your sonnets on morons, cripples and brothels.  Keep us warm, in good spirits and endless laughter, wine will do its part in our stomachs.  We found shelter in this tavern from the horrible weather outside, never so bad this time of year."  “This storm could be an omen…,” said the landlady, while preparing the table for a new client just dropped by and drenched to the bone.  Luca made a face. He smiled silently, playing with the bread crumbs. “It seems” – he added – “that the storm, with its unusual violence,  messes up and upsets everything it encounters, as if it were protesting against something, I wonder
for what reason.” The tavern was at that point lively, filled with people.  Everybody was commenting on the latest happenings.  Simone, Taddeo and Luca spent the night together, the last before leaving with the army for the war.

Bartolo, Simone’s and Luca’s cousin, was with them, too, and he was the youngest of the group.  With his slight beard he didn’t look much older than sixteen.  His family loved him for he was handsome, good-natured and had a rare virtue: he was able to win over anybody he met.  He would help people gladly and generously and he was brave – a virtue shared by all those who have fought and are now fighting under our banner.  A white goose in a green field, the Goose of the capital calling to arms!  It was the first or the second time Bartolo had been to the tavern, where men often stayed up till late at night.  A dim light in the background illuminated the faces and bodies of the customers sitting at the tables of the Rose. The fire of torches flickered in the big eating room, giving a grotesque expression to faces that even a distracted observer couldn’t fail to note. The cheeks, the deep and filthy wrinkles of these boasters, were making an effort to hide in a corner of their heart the thought of the next battle with the enemy.  It was very late that night.  The host and his wife, the owners of the place, very careful not to go beyond the legal limits, keeping an eye on their purses and those of the clients, had finally decided to close up. “Now, good people, go party at your own place, if they allow you to,” articulated the owner in a clear, firm voice, as he started closing the doors and shutters.  “I said get out, Sir Simone, take your butt and that of your friends far away from here.  It’s very late and I don’t want to get a fine, though I doubt anybody will levy them tonight.”  It was so dark that not one of the four of them knew where their feet were going.  In the square they parted in a confused and comic manner.  Simone went along with Bartolo, Taddeo headed home without knowing how and before dawn was still walking around the city.  Luca…well, Luca tried to get back home.  “Is this the time to get in, you moron!”  I screamed from the door.”  “Come on,” he said jumping back scared,
 “I was with friends…My love, have I ever cheated on you?”  “Luca, don’t make me ill…,” I angrily screamed.  “Did I misbehave? Do I stink of wine?” he answered shamelessly.  “Do you want me dead?”  “I wish!"  ”Then I will die!”  What else could I have blamed him for…?  “Come here, you wretch, I will take you together with all your troubles”.  The little bit of night left was enough to sweep away the stars, as the hands do with bread crumbs from the table.  An hour went by, but to me it felt like a century, the joy and consolation of my life and its culmination.

Ritratto di donna - E.Martelloni

“Luca, don’t make me ill…,” I angrily screamed.  “Did I misbehave? Do I stink of wine?” he answered shamelessly.  “Do you want me dead?”  “I wish!"  ”Then I will die!”  What else could I have blamed him for…?  “Come here, you wretch, I will take you together with all your troubles”.  The little bit of night left was enough to sweep away the stars, as the hands do with bread crumbs from the table.  An hour went by, but to me it felt like a century, the joy and consolation of my life and its culmination.

Chapter III

The Bargello was waiting for Simone, who was quickly coming down along the Tintori together with his three friends, at the Fonti, before getting to the Square of Arms where the preparations for the military campaign were in full swing.  “Good morning, Simone, I see you are in a hurry, but I must ask you a few questions.”  “Sure, Bargello, go ahead.”  “They can move on if they want,” the policeman added.  “See you later, boys, we’ll meet at the slaughterhouse to help Lapo load the victuals!”  Moving away from the wall, the Bargello went on talking.  “The landlady of the tavern you went to last night with your friends called to us this morning.  She complained she got paid with fake coins. I know you and your friends are undisputedly honest and I don’t have any doubts about you, but you know very well what happens to morons when they put fake coins in circulation. The lady was confused and a little scared, she doesn’t have any idea as to who gave her those coins.  I’m not asking this only of you, but of all the people passing by the tavern last night and whose name the lady recalls.” ”Have you discovered anything yet?” ”Umm…not much.  I thought, Simone, you more than others could help me.  This war slows down my investigation - I’m coming, too, tomorrow.”  "I was not paying much attention, but they seemed the usual crowd, maybe I didn’t notice some new customer standing off to the side.” ”Well, if you hear anything, pay me a visit.  See you soon, Simone.” “If I discover anything, I’ll come and look for you.”

The Square of Arms was filled with the voices of soldiers involved in the preparations.  The blacksmiths were seeing to the weapons.  Horses, nags and oxen patiently let people groom them.  There were those who ran this way, those who checked things over there, those who took care of the horses.  Simone had met up with Luca, who was an expert and very good at the sling and the sword, so they could prepare their weapons and
palvesi together.

Bartolo and Taddeo, together with Lapo, were getting the military banners of the company ready. The entire day went by this way.  At night dinner took place on temporary rough tables and was shared with all the members of the company, from the rich to the serving boys.  They were finally ready to leave the next morning.  Nobody went back home. They slept near the animals, some in the hay, others in the company’s tents.  Dawn was approaching and the silence of the night was interrupted only by the gurgle of Fontebranda’s water. In the morning the great mass celebrated outside the walls of Siena by the archbishop blessing all the troops of the Sienese army, then the procession in front of the cheering crowd.  One can imagine how those remaining in the city wished to say goodbye to their dear ones.  Women threw flowers and petals, yelling and wishing them good luck, singing and crying.  The packed troops paraded under the various quarters’ roofs with all their banners and armour on display.

Luca, Taddeo, Simone and Bartolo marched in front of all of us as we waited at the windows or at the doors. They looked resplendent and handsome in their armour.  Simone, with his unkempt beard, covered up everybody else, huge as a proud bear and as only the members of the Contrada of the Goose know how to be.  Luca stood out in the troop of San Pellegrino for his height and a little for his boasting attitude in the face of serious matters; but he was splendid-looking. Taddeo was also wearing a helmet - he was strong and cunning in playing tricks on his enemies.  He had fought many other times and the wounds received in battle hadn’t taken away his desire to fight.  Bartolo looked like the most unprepared, encountering war for the first time.  He had just turned into an adult and at this point was ready to do battle.  He couldn’t wait for this challenge. He looked a little funny marching like a soldier.  All the troops of Siena met as one.  They exited the walls accompanied by the racket of drum rolls, and stronger than before, left together and disappeared as all became silent around us.

The Battle

Night.  Not just any night, but the last one before battle. Taddeo was awake and thoughtful. “It’s been a while since I could sleep…I can just see the fog enveloping everything as if it were a curtain separating the audience from an unknown show.  I can just predict the genre…nothing more.  It is likely that a crab moving amongst a hundred men wouldn’t be crushed.  Then when it finally reaches a safe spot on the back of this animal…Tac!  Somebody without even noticing smashes it.  What difference is there between dying without glory and ignored, and dying in battle?  Does death gain more meaning?  Or maybe you just die anyway? In any case the insect and I, smashed.  Everything seems uncertain and indefinite to me.  I feel confused, as soon as I start thinking…a shiver and I give in…My life is hanging on every breath of mine.  I wish I could die not by mere chance, because of some triviality.  The sword striking me will give value to my death, if that happens…Are you listening to me…Simone, Mone…are you listening? You are still asleep, you coarse billy-goat!”  "Would you stop muttering, Taddeo.  Sleep, there’s still some time before the rooster starts crowing.  You better get some rest, son, tomorrow you will need all your strength.”  “How can I sleep? I wish I was in the middle of  battle already, even though now I’m scared.  But I will be brave when the time comes.”  “Just sleep and leave the rest for tomorrow.”

disegno di E. MartelloniAnd here comes the sun, clearing away the clouds from the East and dissolving the stars.  The air was cool and very humid. The voices of the soldiers were not very different from those of working men, waking up the city.  Siena was far away.

 “Close the ranks! Close the ranks! Quick!” the captain yelled. “Get the crossbows and arrows ready.  Keep the selected cavalry protected.  It will be a head-on collision and later I want a group of men taking the bridge.  No enemy must pass by there!” 

The silence was now anguishing.  After an hour and more of preparation, with the two armies facing each other, the attackers were waiting to breach the enemies’ ranks.  The woods, dark and tall as a Gothic cathedral, framed the battle- field immersed as it was in thin fog.  On the left of the mercenary troops of the emperor a swampy area extended, but the ground chosen for the battle was hard and seemed to create no problems for the cavalry.  Still silence.  Luca and the others searched for the enemy, still invisible in the dark. All of a sudden a blinding light flashed, reflected on the armour of the opposing cavalry and on the helmets of the foot soldiers in front of them. Then all in a rush, it seemed like even the eyes and teeth of the enemy were upon them. The earth started trembling to the point that one almost couldn’t keep standing and a tremendous clash occurred between the two armies, all down the line. The crossbows' arrows filled the sky, then fell back down on the soldiers, killing them in one wave after another.  Simone and his men entered the battle.  “For Siena and the Goose!”  His sword drove into a German soldier.  Screams rose to the sky.  All of a sudden one of the flanks collapsed and the Germans withdrew, but only in order to let the heavy cavalry in: with swinging clubs they crushed the infantrymen's heads. Bartolo and Luca waited for the right moment and hid under the bellies of the horses, held back by the corpses of the dead soldiers in their way, armed with the sharp knives used in leather-working.  One of the war horses neighed loudly, lowered its head to protect its stomach, then fell down on top of its own bowels, smashing the soldier, who met a similar fate.  Passing through the joints in the armour, the knives of the assailants ripped the enemies’ tendons to immobilize them, then finished them off by cutting their throats.

 A whirlwind of stones thrown by slingshots came in answer to the cavalry's slaughter of the foot soldiers, easy targets who were terrified by the repeated onslaughts.  Chaos seemed to hold out over the strategic positions of the two armies.  With the banners of Sant’Antonio and San Pellegrino unfurled, Simone, Taddeo, Luca and Bartolo ran to defend the bridge, overcoming many of the enemy as they went. They were supported by all those soldiers of the company who were able to leave the main battlefield because the imperial troops as expected had been able to find a breach through the troops.  A sword, driven in to the hilt, pierced the lung of one of ours, his own blood suffocating him a moment later, as it spurted from his gaping mouth.  The next blow struck the cheekbone as if the teeth of a rabid dog had seized its prey, until the body  fell off the parapet into the freezing water.  A new charge:  warded off.  Still again. The third even more vehement, but Simone almost on his own warded off blows of iron club and sword.  The whole battle took place in a spacious valley, as the flags on the hills sent signals from one side of the struggle to the other.  The screams of the wounded pierced the air or went silent in view of the impending end.  Some scared riders showed themselves cowards, fleeing into the countryside and disappearing.  Other young soldiers stood their ground and proved their valour.  Then after hours of fighting the attacks and counterattacks ended.  The enemies of Siena were routed.  But there was no energy left to go after them. The battle by evening had ceased altogether.  

later chapters

tutto sul Palio