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With This Zephyr So Sweet

August 28, 2014

Ludovico–Ludo to his friends–felt faint.

His mother had taken him to the great Cathedral in Pisa once when he was twelve for the Feast of Saint Valentine. They had made the trek through the farm hills of Siena in a neighbor’s ox cart. It had taken almost two weeks in the bitter cold. Ludo had hated the trip, but once he arrived and saw all the people–many dressed in bright colors and styles Ludo had never even dreamed of–and the impossibly large buildings, the dreariness fell off of him like a farmer’s daughter’s linen undergarment. He still recalled the smell of baked bread and roasting meat, the lovely maidens sitting together, respectful in the church, but giggly and conspiratorial when out of earshot of their matrons in the square.

Se sapevo solo quello che so ora.

Now, at 17, he had landed a job that surpassed the hopes of any simple farmboy. Now he served God. More specifically, one of God’s servants, and an odd one at that.

His Eminence, Giovanni Cardinal Lotterio, was blind. At first the old priest’s peculiarity put Ludo on edge. Later he found it comical. The priest covered his eyes with a cloth that had two large, feminine eyes sewn on it. He was told that they represented those of Saint Lucy, Matron of the Blind.

The initial shock of looking at two, large, blue unblinking eyes set into the head of a tall, gaunt, blind priest had left him with the feeling of being watched by a supernatural being. But as he relaxed into his new job and spent more time with the eyes, he saw it more like the exaggerated features of a marionette like a troubadour would use to tell a biblical story to children.

At times Cardinal Lotterio seemed and behaved as though he was completely blind. At others, he seemed to have a supernatural sense of what was happening around him.

Once, Ludo had knocked over an empty flower vase while cleaning near where the pontiff was sitting. It had happened so fast that he wasn’t sure of the Cardinal had caught it or swooped it up off the carpet, but he handed it to Ludo and merely grunted, motioned for him to put it back. Surely, God had guided his hand.

The Cardinal’s reputation had been one of difficulty, but Ludo had found him to be quite the opposite where he was concerned. Supposedly, he was very, very particular about who worked within his large Florencian manor home. In fact, when the local priest had questioned Ludo about the possibility of coming to work there, there had been many questions. Some of them quite personal.

Yet he had been chosen, Ludo supposed, because his predecessors had been stupid or clumsy or uncooperative. Ludo’s confessions didn’t seem to trouble the priest at all. Yes, he was a virgin, so long as fingers and tongue didn’t count.

Compared to the drudgery of farmwork, this was a blessing from the Virgin Herself. He lived in a great house, crosses all along the iron fence, and in every window. He also found them in every room he had entered. This was indeed the house of a servant of the Lord.

Though his room was small and sparse, Ludo was happy. Because the Cardinal was busy during the day with administrative tasks, reading and writing in his study, and meetings, Ludo had his days mostly open. His work was to tend to the Cardinal in the evenings and shopping in the market twice a week, more if there was a special event, which was frequent.

The food was good and abundant. There were several young maidens who worked in the home during the day and Ludo was working his way through the list.

He had merely kissed Bianca. He fingered Cecilia and nearly got caught by one of the maids. He had worked his magical tongue on Abretta, Angelicia, Maria–both of them, and another whose name he kept forgetting despite their many encounters in the recesses of the large home.

His head was spinning, the blood in his veins flowed warmly and swiftly. Surely, he had found Heaven on Earth.

 

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“You will see to it that this scourge is removed. In the Name of Christ.”

“Of course, Your Eminence.”

Ludo was now beside himself. He had been asked to remain during this late night meeting between the Cardinal and three men. Two of the men had rough scars. One had lost an eye. The other appeared to have once had his throat ripped open, and the white scars shined by the lamplight, layered over the untouched tan flesh.

Ludo had of course known about angels and demons. Everyone did. He had even recalled seeing a woman who lived on the edge of Siena once who was said to be a witch. He also knew that sometimes people were possessed by demons and became horrifying beasts that had to either be put down like dogs or have the demons cast out by a pair of priests in a special ceremony. These things he knew…everyone knew.

But that there were people who had made pacts with the Devil himself and drank the blood of others…ate their flesh? That was new to him.

The Cardinal knew a great deal about this enemy, informed the men how to find them, to hunt them, and to kill them. He even gave them a letter and directions to a smithy who would provide them with the tools necessary to the task. He explained that he had done this many times and that the men must be brave, quick, and merciless. Failure on any one point of his instructions could mean death. The two scarred men seemed unmoved by this but the younger, plumper one, had beads of sweat pouring off his brow and wiped it intermittently.

The next morning, Ludo spoke with Magdalena–that was her name, and she made him say it over and over again while she worked him with her hand so he wouldn’t forget it. She told him that the rumor was that the Cardinal would one day be an archbishop due to his work removing evil from the countryside. Some even said he might be Pope one day.

Not only did Ludo have a good life, but now he considered how his service was benefitting so many. He was truly blessed, and thanked the Virgin while he cleaned his stomach and dressed.

 

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This room was different. It had less decoration than the intricate woodwork found elsewhere. The entire room was a gray marble, and the only decoration was Roman with a Latin inscription.

There were three men, one of them likely Apollo, throwing something. Ludo, having bathed, stood with his wet linen around his waist. Water dripped off of him but he didn’t notice. He was trying to make out the inscription.

“It’s a discus.”

“I–I’m sorry, Your Eminence…?”

“What they are throwing.”

The old man had entered without Ludo even realizing it. Had he been so rapt in the singular stonework that he hadn’t noticed?

A chill ran down his back. But this soon disappeared. He had heard that some priests had desires such as it was clear to him now the Cardinal had. He knew it was all too good for there not to be a price. But then, how bad could it be? The man couldn’t even see. A little groping was well worth the life he had.

This must be why the Cardinal went through so many attendents. Ludo would not be like the others. He’d just think of Magdalena, if he had to.

Poor old blind man…

Ludo looked back at the relief. He heard something soft fall to the floor, but he didn’t turn around to see what it was.

“Can you read it?”

“No, Your Eminence.”

But neither can you. Why is there no crucifix in this room?

“It says, ‘This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.'”

Ludo glanced out of the corner of his eye and saw that it had been the blindfold that fell to the floor.

The thing calling itself Giovanni Lotterio placed a hand on Ludo’s shoulder.

Madre Maria! How could a hand be so cold and still be alive?

“To be a Virgin, Ludo…it is a blessed state.”

“Yes, Your Em–“

The Cardinal spun him around and Ludo saw his eyes. They weren’t sightless…but they weren’t normal eyes either. They were more like a cat’s.

The Cardinal grabbed him with what felt to Ludo like smith’s tongs, cold and inflexible like iron.

The Cardinal pulled Ludo close and kissed him hard on the mouth. Then he bit into Ludo’s lips and tore them from his face.

Ludo began to scream but could not form words. The pain made the room turn white. He stared at the old man in disbelief through watery eyes.

The Cardinal chewed, swallowed, and licked his lips. When he spoke, it was with a mouth still half full of flesh.

“They’re so delicious.”

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From → Short Story

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