City of stars, p.26
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       City of Stars, p.26

           Mary Hoffman
 

  But at least the Ram now had a rider. The jockeys didn’t have to give their names in to the marshals till the morning of the race itself. After that, no change was possible. If Cesare had been kidnapped then, the Ram would have had to drop out of the Stellata. But Enrico didn’t want the Ram to drop out; he just didn’t want them to win.

  Though Georgia had been quite terrified while it was going on, once the heat was over she felt elated. It hadn’t been as bad as she thought it would be. It was a lot less violent than the Palio she had seen on television. Still, it was only a heat. The real thing might be very different.

  Arianna was watching the heat from her balcony with Rodolfo.

  ‘What is going on?’ she asked him. ‘That’s the Stravagante on the Ram’s horse, not the proper rider.’

  ‘Cesare is missing,’ said Rodolfo. ‘We think kidnapped. Paolo decided that Georgia must take his place.’

  ‘Well, she doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job of it,’ said Arianna. ‘That’s just the result to make Duke Niccolò happy – Bellezza’s Twelfth coming in last.’

  ‘He wouldn’t be content with that unless the Lady or the Twins won; remember this race is supposed to show the di Chimici dominance over Talia,’ said Rodolfo.

  Arianna sighed. ‘Why didn’t you tell me the Reman Stravagante was a girl?’ she asked.

  ‘I don’t think I told you anything – except that the new Stravagante had arrived. Does it matter?’

  ‘Did you know she was a friend of Luciano’s?’

  ‘Doctor Dethridge told me that she came from the same school as Luciano. Dethridge thinks that school is built on the place where his old laboratory used to be.’

  ‘What do you think of her?’ asked Arianna.

  ‘At the moment I am very angry with her and with Luciano, because of what they did with Falco,’ said Rodolfo. ‘But she is brave and loyal and willing to do what is asked of her.’

  ‘Do you think she is pretty?’ asked Arianna.

  Rodolfo didn’t answer straightaway. He looked closely into her face but it was hard to tell what she was thinking in her elaborate mask.

  ‘This will all be over in a few days,’ he said. ‘Then you and I and Luciano will all be back together in Bellezza. This last month will soon be forgotten.’

  ‘Then you do think she is pretty,’ said Arianna dolefully.

  ‘Not in the way that you are,’ said Rodolfo. ‘Young women in the future in the other world don’t seem to be beautiful in that way, if Georgia is typical. But she is not unpleasant to look at.’

  ‘I don’t like looking at her,’ said Arianna under her breath.

  And if Rodolfo heard her, he chose not to answer.

  *

  Cesare was planning his escape. He was not hopeful of success but he had to think of a way to get out or go mad. The last few times that food had been brought to him, there had been only one man, but that one had been armed. Desperate though Cesare was to escape, he knew it would just be a waste of energy to hurl himself at someone bigger, stronger and carrying a dagger.

  But the plan he had was hard to carry out. He had decided not to eat or drink anything they brought him. Hunger gnawed at his stomach, his throat was dry and the sheer boredom of his captivity made it virtually impossible to stop thinking about food but Cesare wanted to be in the Campo delle Stelle even more, so he gritted his teeth and kicked the dishes over on to the dusty floor, lest he be tempted.

  *

  Georgia was living on her nerves. Paolo took her back to the Ram and talked her through everything that would happen in the next day and a half. There would be another heat that evening, followed by long dinners held in the streets of all the Twelfths, and most Remorans would stay awake all night drinking and talking about the race. Soon after dawn all the jockeys would attend Mass in the cathedral and then, after the last heat, their names would be formally given to the marshals as those who would ride in the evening race.

  Even if Cesare miraculously should return, once Georgia’s name had been entered in the lists, she would have to be the one who rode Arcangelo in the Stellata. There could be no change of jockey after that. And then there would be the last heat, run in the morning. She could rest a little around lunchtime, but the build-up to the great contest would start at about two in the afternoon, when all those taking part in the parade, including the jockeys, would be dressed in the colours of their Twelfth, and the standard-bearers and drummers would set out towards the cathedral.

  ‘It sounds as if I’ll need to be here continuously,’ said Georgia, alarmed.

  ‘It’s not quite as bad as that,’ said Paolo. ‘But you certainly would need to be here after dark for most of the time. Can you do that?’

  ‘Is it safe?’ she asked, suddenly worried about finding herself stranded in Talia for ever like Luciano.

  ‘I think so,’ said Paolo. ‘I will talk to Doctor Dethridge and to Rodolfo. But I think this is a risk we have to take. I think this may be why you found your way to us.’

  A risk I have to take, thought Georgia. Out loud she said, ‘Do I have time to stravagate back home now? I need to make some arrangements.’

  She climbed into what she now thought of as her hayloft and took out the talisman. But sleep seemed impossible. Her mind was too busy. If Paolo was right and this was what she had been brought to Remora to do – to ride in the Stellata and make sure that Bellezza’s Twelfth was not publicly disgraced – then it hadn’t been her task to help Falco at all. Perhaps Rodolfo was right and she should bring him back? But was that still an option? Gaetano had told them how thin and frail his brother had become, kept hanging on to life by having warm milk and honey dribbled into his mouth from a spoon. There were no drips and feeding tubes in sixteenth-century Talia.

  *

  Rodolfo came to see Luciano in the Ram. Never before had they been at odds and it was uncomfortable for both of them.

  ‘Luciano,’ said Rodolfo. ‘We must speak again of Falco. I know that Georgia has been distracted by this business with the race – and goodness knows that is important – but she needs to bring Falco back to his body while it is still possible. I don’t think he can hang on here much longer.’

  ‘You don’t understand,’ said Luciano. ‘It’s all got more complicated than that. Falco is living with my parents.’

  Rodolfo looked at him, astounded. ‘Complicated is not a big enough word,’ he said. ‘Whose idea was that?’

  ‘It was Georgia’s,’ said Luciano. ‘She organised everything in the other world. In fact, she was sure it was what she had been brought here to do.’

  Rodolfo was thoughtful. ‘She is a Stravagante,’ he said. ‘It would be surprising if she got something like that wrong. But she hasn’t had any training like you. And something like this can destabilise the gateway. Remember how time in the other world leapt forward three weeks when you were translated? We’ve worked so hard to keep the dates stable. We even succeeded in bringing our worlds back into alignment, so that our dates now match again those in the other world, even though they are still more than four hundred years in the future. Who knows what will happen if Falco dies here? What if he should die today? The other world could race even further ahead of us and Georgia could be an old woman before she gets here again. And we need her here tomorrow, fit to ride in the race.’

  ‘It’s such a mess,’ said Luciano, running his hand through his hair. ‘I don’t know how it all got so difficult. It all began when we made friends with the di Chimici.’

  ‘And how did that happen?’ asked Rodolfo.

  Luciano thought for a bit. ‘It was the Manoush,’ he said. ‘We all heard their music and that’s when it began.’

  ‘The Zinti?’ said Rodolfo. ‘Then I cannot believe it was wrong.’

  He sighed deeply. ‘I must talk to Georgia again and this is not a good time to do it. But perhaps there is more going on here than I know.’

  And he put his arm round Luciano’s shoulder.

  Georgia foun
d herself back in her room in the middle of the night. Again she was planning – how to free up time to be in Remora, the plan she had for getting out of her house and how she was going to get Falco to agree to it. The next day was going to be Friday and, with everyone at work, she could spend the whole day away without causing any suspicion. But she had to have a plan for the evening and the next day. Her family would expect to see her then.

  Quietly, she got up and switched on her desk lamp. She took a piece of paper and wrote a note to Maura. Then she crept down the stairs and left it on the kitchen table, where her mother would find it at breakfast. The next bit was going to be much harder. She would have to go to the Mulhollands’ house and get Falco to let her in, in the middle of the night. And her courage quailed at the thought of walking the London streets in pitch darkness.

  Preparations were afoot in Remora for one of the biggest nights of celebration of the year. Only one Twelfth would be feasting and drinking toasts the following night, but on the eve of the Stellata every Twelfth could live in hope. The streets of each were filled with wooden trestle tables and benches and, in every kitchen, pots already bubbled with sauces while women mixed and cut the dough for pasta in a hundred different shapes. Carts brought lettuces and vegetables to the markets and they disappeared almost before they could be laid out on the stalls. Barrels of ale and casks of wine were rolled along the streets to the central squares of every Twelfth in readiness for the night’s carousing.

  The grandest meal would be held in the cathedral square, which was also the main meeting-place of the Twins, and would be presided over by the Pope. But every member of every Twelfth would turn out to his or her own Stellata dinner with equal enjoyment.

  In the Papal palace, the di Chimici were having a conference about what to do that evening. The original plan had been that Duke Niccolò and most of his children would eat at the Lady’s table and then pay a formal visit to the Twins, perhaps leaving Carlo and Beatrice to represent the family in the Twelfth which owed allegiance to Giglia. But now no one knew if Niccolò could be prised out of the hospital for long enough to attend either celebration.

  The visiting Duchessa and her father would of course eat with the Pope in the Twins and someone from the family must keep her company, Gaetano being the obvious candidate.

  Rinaldo would eat his dinner in the Goat, joined by his brother Alfonso, now Duke of Volana. Other di Chimici family members were already arriving to see the great race. Francesca’s brother Filippo was coming to represent Bellona and they would both attend the dinner in the Scales, while two young princesses, Lucia and Bianca, were coming from Fortezza to visit the Bull. Even the old Prince of Moresco, with his unmarried son and heir Ferrando, had made his way to Remora in time to join the feast in the Scorpion.

  ‘The city is swarming with di Chimici,’ said Rodolfo, as he entered Arianna’s chamber in the Papal palace.

  ‘Well, we knew it would be,’ said Arianna. ‘They are all supposed to witness a win for the leaders of their family and an ignominious loss for Bellezza. That’s what this visit is all about.’

  ‘Not just that, Arianna,’ Rodolfo reminded her. ‘The time is coming when you must give Gaetano your answer.’

  ‘He hasn’t asked me the question yet,’ she said.

  Georgia reached the Mulhollands’ front door with relief. It had been very scary walking to Falco’s in the dark. So many street-lights were out and all the houses were in darkness, except for the odd high rectangle of light in attic rooms where people studied or had rows or just couldn’t sleep.

  One of them was Falco and that was lucky for Georgia. She scooped some gravel from the planters outside the front door and threw it up at Falco’s window, smiling as she did so. It was such a cliché of the adventure stories she had read as a child and she had never done it in real life. After a few misses – it was harder than the stories suggested – she was rewarded by the sight of a dark head at the open window.

  ‘Falco!’ she hissed, as loudly as she dared. ‘Can you let me in?’

  There was a long wait while the crippled boy made his way down to the front door as quickly and quietly as he could. Georgia had never been so glad to see anyone and to slip indoors out of the menacing darkness. She put her finger to her lips and motioned him to lock up again.

  Silently they climbed the stairs and even when they were safely inside Falco’s bedroom, they had to talk in whispers so that Vicky and David wouldn’t hear them.

  Georgia looked round the room, illuminated by Falco’s bedside light. She had never been more acutely aware that this was Luciano’s old bedroom, from which he was exiled for ever. But tonight she must be strictly practical so she looked quickly at the back of the door.

  ‘Good,’ she whispered. ‘You’ve got a bolt. You must lock us in.’

  The Twelfth of the Ram was decked out in red and yellow banners, its tables covered in red and yellow cloths and the walls of all the streets decorated with elaborate painted wooden cressets, just waiting to be lit when darkness fell. Everywhere the sign of the Ram was painted and children wore miniature helmets with ram’s horns on them.

  In Paolo’s house the babies had gone to sleep and the little girls had allowed themselves to be put to bed only if they could take their flags with them. Georgia came down from the hayloft, still in her jockey’s silks, and was embraced by Paolo and Teresa.

  ‘Time for the heat,’ said Paolo.

  ‘Good luck,’ said Luciano, and gave her a hug. At that moment, Georgia decided it was time she did more than just stay on the horse. The hopes of the Ram were all resting on her and, even more important, Luciano was willing her on.

  Everyone said that the result of a heat didn’t matter, but there was an atmosphere about this one that made it feel different. It was Georgia’s first evening of staying in Remora intentionally and she could only hope that the arrangements she had made back in London would work. She put all that out of her mind and concentrated on the race.

  This time she wasn’t last. She came in tenth, ahead of the Goat and the Crab. All the Rams applauded her and she would have felt it was quite an achievement, if the Fishes hadn’t won, with their jockey, Il Re, on Noè. Several Fishes booed at Georgia as she left the track and called out what she assumed were rude names in Talian.

  But she was accompanied back to the Ram by a troop of enthusiastic Twelvers chanting ‘Zonzo! Zonzo!’ and ‘Montone! Montone!’ – ‘The Ram! The Ram!’

  Arcangelo was taken to cool down in his little grass paddock and Georgia found herself embraced by lots of strangers, who patted her on the back and told her she had done well. She had saved the Ram’s honour and they loved her for it.

  It was an unusual feeling for Georgia, who had never been popular, and it intoxicated her more than the red wine which was being liberally poured for her. She was led to the top table outside the Ram’s huge church, the Santa Trinità, and was delighted to find that Luciano and Dethridge were to sit with her. She had feared that they might be whisked off to the Twins with the young Duchessa. Another guest at the top table was Silvia Bellini – where else would she eat that celebration meal if not in the Twelfth dear to Bellezza?

  Twelvers were streaming up the main street of the Ram, the Via di Montone. Gradually all the places at the long tables were filled up, the cressets were lighted and the feasting began.

  The first thing that happened was that Paolo stood up and called out loudly for silence.

  ‘Montonaioli!’ he said. ‘I present to you our jockey for tomorrow – Giorgio Gredi!’

  The applause was a roar.

  ‘He has stepped in at short notice to replace my son Cesare and we are for ever in his debt.’ More cheers. Then the priest of Santa Trinità stood on the steps leading up to the church and Georgia had to go and receive a special helmet from him. It was in the colours of the Ram but made of metal, unlike the soft jockey cap she had worn in the heats. Georgia gulped as she realised that the reason she was being given it was that in th
e real race tomorrow evening the jockeys would all have leather whips and they would use them on each other.

  Paolo then stood up again and, in his role as Capitano, made a speech about the honour of the Twelfth and the importance of the Stellata in all their lives. To her horror, Georgia discovered that she was expected to reply. She had never given a speech in public in her life before. But an extraordinary thing happened. Paolo was sitting on her left and Luciano on her right and William Dethridge on the other side of him. As she stood to make her speech, already feeling a little light-headed from the wine, she saw Dethridge and Luciano clasp hands. Luciano took a piece of the edge of her silk tunic in his free hand and Paolo did the same on the other side of her.

  As she opened her mouth to speak, she felt a great rush of energy running through her. Her voice seemed strangely deep to her and she found that the words came easily; she felt that she was eloquent, though she could never afterwards remember a word of what she had said. It was all about her love for Remora and for the Ram in particular and how she would do her best tomorrow to be worthy of the trust they were placing in her, but the details were a blur.

  Still, the Rams seemed to like it and she sat down to thunderous applause. The Stravaganti released their hands to join in and Georgia felt a sudden diminution of her power. Silvia leaned over from her seat next to Dethridge and said in a low voice, ‘You know, they could probably arrange for a small beard for you by tomorrow.’ And Georgia laughed. She was among friends.

  She never forgot that night. It was thrilling just to be in Remora after dark and see the streets lit by torchlight. But to be part of the singing and chanting and celebrating on the greatest night of the Reman year and even to be treated as the guest of honour, with Luciano smiling at her on her right, was sheer bliss. The idea began to grow in her mind that if this was how Remorans celebrated the very fact of running in the race, what on earth would it be like if they won? But she quietly squashed it. Arcangelo was a great horse and they were getting used to each other, but she was not Cesare. She decided to be content with what she had.

 
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