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Eden-Chapter 2

by Abigail 3 months ago in Short Story
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Our story continues with the tale of young Giovanni as he makes a grave mistake on his path to revolution. Eden is a story of an exile who shipwrecks on an island of paradise. Here, he meets a princess named Kei and learns of a world outside of his warring kingdom. Will he bring perpetuate the war and violence of his own occupied homeland in this new land or will right his wrongs and learn there is a better path than vengeance?

Eden-Chapter 2
Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

A booming tenor voice snapped me out of my reverie as I was lost in thoughts of God and the devil, saints and sinners. “Giovanni!” called out a pudgy, balding man, drink in hand and dressed in a forest-green velveteen outfit: Sir Esposito. I must have looked like a lunatic, lost in my own thoughts as I stared, starry-eyed, at the frescoes. I slowly approached Sir Esposito and the crowd of about five or so men and women in their finest dress that surrounded him. He introduced all of them to me in a voice that praised them like the songs of trumpets as though they were gods. Each had a fancy title of nobility after their name, but after introducing Belmonte, Duke of some far away land about which I could not care less, I lost interest and instead turned my focus to Gabriella as she danced a waltz in the torchlight and talked with a man who appeared to be in his late thirties, obviously of a noble background. I could not hear them over the musicians who played their finest symphonies for the crowd. Even though the royal life was something I had dreamed of since childhood, I felt uncomfortable and out of place among these lords and ladies born into nobility. I turned my attention back to Sir Esposito as it was my turn for an introduction. “And, this is Giovanni Romano, my young protégé. I am training him to serve as a future diplomat to the crown of Tiranía'' and he proceeded to tell my story.

One day, four years ago, he had come by my father’s vineyard to buy some of Azzurro’s finest red wine. I remember this encounter as clearly as one possibly could. I had been out in the vineyard, helping my father to pick the ripe grapes. A man on horseback approached my father. He stood up straight and dusted off his hands. I hid behind the bushes, thinking the crown had finally come for Angelo and me. Judgment day had come faster than I expected. Father called out for me to come greet this stranger, who wanted to meet me. I wiped the beads of sweat from my forehead and approached with caution: Would they take me peacefully, or would they seize me with force in front of my father, who still did not know what the dark secrets Angelo and I held? How ashamed I would be to see the look on my father’s face when he found out that his beloved son had committed sedition, a crime, and worse: a shame, punishable by death. Would he be so offended by my disgrace that he would turn and look away as they bound my hands? I was scared. I did not want to face this at all, especially not alone. I looked around for Angelo, who was nowhere to be seen. Of course, this was the case, as I had caught him flirting with the most beautiful maiden in the city just moments before our visitor had arrived. They were probably kissing somewhere in the bushes, as Angelo usually did with pretty women. As I reached the two men, my father said to the other man “Sir Esposito, this is my youngest son, Giovanni.”, and then he introduced the man to me. “Giovanni, this is Sir Alphonse Esposito, count and second in command and the governor of the crown.” The man held out his hand and I gingerly shook it, never taking my eyes off of his golden ring embellished with a sparkling faceted blood ruby and the emblem of the crown. I greeted him in proper formal language. He and I talked for awhile, and my father returned to harvesting the grapes. He told me that he had been riding through town for a number of weeks, each day passing our vineyard on his way to the castle. He had seen me in the fields and admired my work ethic. Every morning at sunrise, I went out in the vineyard and worked for hours a day and did not retire until after sundown, sometimes working by candlelight. Only then, after dark, would I return to the house. He knew that my family was prominent in Azzurro, also. My father had explained to him that I was literate and well educated. This made me an ideal candidate for a local diplomat. Esposito was aging, and he needed someone to take his place, as he wanted to soon retire. He had asked my father if I might be his apprentice, but he had also asked for my consent. I agreed of course, and signed a typical apprentice’s contract. I could not think of a better way to serve the revolution than to get as close as possible to the crown. So that day had not been my judgment day after all. I released my breath in a sense of relief and dried my clammy hands on my mud- stained tunic as I headed back to my house. I looked back as I walked to see Sir Esposito, my new teacher and master, ride off on his new horse. I let a sinister half smile cross my lips. It appeared today had been a great day for both of us, just not in the way he expected.

So here I was, four years later, standing next to Sir Esposito, who had become like a father to me. Speaking in honesty, I was sad to see how disappointed he would be when he found out what I had really been up to all these years. I could not let these thoughts cross my mind now. Time was running out; I had to act soon. I excused myself politely from the group and proceeded down a dark corridor. Somehow, everyone had been so distracted with the festivities that they had not noticed my slip into the hallway. Everything was going right for me today, as the normal guard was slightly tipsy from the strong alcohol he drank from a metal flask. He wavered as he bent down to fix his heavy armor, allowing me just enough time to sneak by like a smoky phantom. I took out a hand made match set from my pocket and lit a torch that I took from the wall as I traveled farther down into the cavernous darkness. Something ran across my hand: just a simple spider, I thought with relief. The corridor was surprisingly well kept for such an old castle, with tapestries depicting magical scenes of hunters and unicorns along with silken coats of arms. An expensive oriental rug muffled my footsteps. My torchlight shone orange upon a crumpled map I slid out from inside my sleeve. It was a map drawn by the revolutionaries, and if it was right, I was heading straight for the governor’s private suite. It was interesting how this hallway was disguised as just another musty unused passage that led to a dead end. It was a trick the crown used to throw off rebels like myself: a sort of decoy. As I walked along, the walls opened up and the space in between them enlarged like the belly of a beast. More and more torches were lit previous to my arrival until I could see the stone masonry and tapestries in complete clarity: The rich greens in sharp contrast to the cold gray stones. I heard the sound of approaching voices, speaking quietly to themselves in Cortesian. I extinguished the torches around me so that I could hide in the thick black shadows. I held my breath as they passed, but now their voices were jolly. I was grateful for the small amount of Cortesian Sir Esposito had taught me. In broken understanding, I could make out the words “governor” and “chambers”. Once they had passed, I re-lit my torch and continued down the corridors. Ahead of me loomed another wooden door, not unlike the one through which I had entered the castle. The whole place was silent: not a soul in sight. “Perfect. All the better for me,” I thought as I gently pushed open the door. I assumed that they had not bothered with security, as the passage was hidden in such perfect secrecy. No sound came from within the room when the door made a quiet screech on its hinges. Believing there was no one on the other side of the door; I entered quietly through the tiny crack I had made. When I stepped inside, the eyes of a jolly governor greeted me. Startled, I made a quick excuse along with a quick but deep bow: “Pardon me, your excellence!” I hastily apologized, acting startled and ashamed. When he just smiled at me, I slowly closed the door behind me. “I did not expect to find you here. I have been looking for a small child who ran off this way. Have you happened to see him?”. He scratched his bald head in concentration, “Why no, young man, no child has come by at all tonight. Have you searched the entire ballroom?” He said genially, as though he was not uncomfortable in the least bit about being alone in this room with a perfect stranger. The room itself was large, filled with books and pens and paper yellowing with age. The whole place smelt like the ancient and musty monastery library. I could not restrain the small sneeze that escaped me. Laughing, the governor handed me a handkerchief. He asked me what my name was, to which I lied “Angelo Verrazano, sir.” The governor was not at all the evil monster I expected the representative of the crown of Tiranía to be. He was an older man, in his early fifties. He was rotund with a graying beard. I would have forgotten how corrupt I believed him to be if it wasn’t for the purely silken red outfit that adorned him. It must have cost so much that the price would have clothed the backs of ten homeless children. I touched the studded hilt of the dagger in my pocket. The temperature of the metal unnerved me slightly. It should have been warm where it touched my skin, but instead it was stone cold. If I went through with this plan, would I still be worthy of being human, or would I be like a cold-blooded serpent? As my hand wrapped in a fist around the hilt of the dagger, I began to hesitate. This man was a kind person, not an animal: how could I bear to slaughter him like one? He probably had a wife who loved him, who would be left a widow, children who would be left fatherless. I pulled the dagger slightly from the sheath, feeling sick. I did not think I could go through with this. I had imagined a feeling of sinister power when I prepared to assassinate the governor in just vengeance. Instead, all I felt was queasiness. Nothing was as I thought it would be, and what if nothing ever was? All I knew to be right now seemed to be wrong. Everything I had believed was true was falling apart before my eyes. I began to pull the dagger and took a step towards the governor. I regretted having to kill this friendly man, but I was doing this for a reason. Somehow, though, going through with this made me question who I really was. Was I really the good person I thought I was, or was the governor the man of God? Was everything I knew a lie? Was there an exception to the fifth commandment, or would my soul burn in hell? There was no longer a clear good and evil; everything was in a clouded gray area. And yet, I believed this to be right, a sinister means to a necessary end. It was justified, was it not? I had to be right, didn’t I? I yanked the dagger from its sheath with a ringing, metallic, scrape. It echoed in the air and mingled with the laugh that now escaped the governor’s thin lips. I did not understand what was happening. Why was he laughing? Should he not be afraid that he was about to face the reapers, cloaked in black with looming, glimmering scythes?

Loud knocks on the door mimicked my pounding heartbeat. They had caught me. The long feared hour of my death had finally come. I had tempted fate for too long. The door shook from the thundering fists of the castle’s guards. I was cornered with no way out. My heart raced and my vision threatened to go black. I was terrified; not ready to be a martyred hero. Although the saints had faced death so bravely, I realized now that I was no saint, but a sinner among sinners: A murderer. When I was to be put to death, I would not deserve paradise. I took a look at the governor who was now grinning a terrible grin, lips pulled back so his teeth looked like fangs. He had an evil gleam in his eyes. The jolly man I first met had vanished into an apparition and in his place stood the monster I’d imagined him to be. The man I’d felt bad for was nothing more than a façade, a mask to hide his true colors. He stood up and pushed his chair back from his desk and slowly approached me. With each step he took, I took a step back, closer and closer to the stone wall behind me. “Did you think I did not know who you are, Giovanni Romano ? You are quite famous in this area, an apprentice to my minister.” So he had known all along. I had been duped. How could I have been so stupid? Angelo’s mistake paled in comparison to mine. “But what I know about you doesn’t stop there,” he said, “You see, Giovanni, I know that you are a leader of La Libertà di Dio. I know that you were sent here to kill me. I even know that you are a coward, as you could not bring yourself to kill me while I maintained an appearance of innocence. Your brother was Angelo Romano, An idiotic revolutionary I personally had executed”. “Don’t you dare talk about my brother like that, you filthy leviathan,” I spat at his feet, then looked at him straight in the eyes, as though daring him to say more. I was through being polite. I was headed to the gallows anyways. He just sneered, “Do you want to know how I learned all this about you?” As if I would fall for this bait. He continued anyways, “I had an Informant intercept your mission papers. She told me everything I need to know about you.” I just looked at my feet. In that moment I was about to do more than spit on him, I could feel the bile rising from the pit of my stomach. That would really ruin his fancy silk outfit. How did this happen? I was so careful with the papers, there was no way anyone had gotten to them… unless… no I didn’t want to think about the possibilities. I hastily checked my pockets. My papers! They were gone! How could this be happening? I thought the plan was foolproof, but apparently, I was a fool.

A loud kick seemed to splinter the wooden door. It was about to give way. Another striking blow came to my only defense and Jericho fell. The only question: who was Joshua’s spy? I dropped my dagger in disbelief. It clattered to the ground with an awful clanging of defeat. A huge cloud of dust rose from where the door fell. I coughed as it entered my lungs. The guards’ figures grew darker and darker through the smoke until I could see their burly features right in front of me. My slight frame could not stand up to their strength. The fight I put up was in vain, like a Lamb led to slaughter. They had no difficulty binding my wrists and ankles in thick metal shackles. “We have found you finally, you slippery devil. Do you know what you have done?” they said to me. This was a rhetorical question. Of course I knew. “I am guilty of Sedition against the Crown of Tiranía,” I proclaimed in a spirit of boldness that had suddenly overcome me. Nothing worse could happen to me at this point than was already happening. They led me out of the doors into the corridor, this time ablaze with light from their torches. We entered the ballroom. They were going to subject me to public ridicule. All eyes were upon us, and everyone’s jaws were agape. Even the musicians had stopped paying in order to see what all the commotion was about. I kept my head down with eyes fixed on the ground. My cheeks were ablaze. I could not bear to see the looks of shock and disbelief on the people’s faces, especially not Sir Esposito’s… or even worse, Gabriella’s. What would they be thinking when they saw me now, a once great and promising star that had fallen to earth in a cloud of dirt: a liar and a traitor. The guards hummed and chanted eerily as they pulled me along “The gallows await for you, ye snake, ye snake. We rejoice in his dark fate, and must not be made to wait.” I mustered the courage to look one last time at Sir Esposito, as if to say my final goodbye. He met my eyes with a look of sadness and disbelief, but also with a look that by far stung the most: betrayal. “Giovanni, is this all true? Are you a traitor?” he asked as though desperately pleading with me to admit that this was all a big charade, knowing the truth but wanting to be wrong. I was tired of lying to everyone. There was no shame in telling the truth now. “It is. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. I have lied to you and others who have loved me and I have committed an unforgivable crime.” They yanked a rope they had tied around my neck, reminding me of my now inevitable fate. “I have been lying to you for years, and all I can ask for now is your forgiveness, please, Sir Esposito. I loved you like a father, and this has always and will always be the truth.” The guards pulled me even harder, forcing me to stumble forward. “Please, just let me say goodbye to him. Just for a minute. Have you no compassion?” I asked. They turned to Sir Esposito. “Shall we let him do so, Sir?” they asked him. Esposito shed a single tear from this left eye. In the light it caught and reflected, I could see his answer as though looking through a crystal ball. “Take him away,” he said quietly, in almost a mumbling whisper. “Did you not hear me?” he said, this time louder, “Get this foul, lying traitor out of my sight at once!” Now he was practically screaming. His eyes hardened and grew cold as he turned his back away from me, disowning me. This man who had once been like a father to me, I had hurt him so badly that I was beyond the reaches of forgiveness. He no longer loved me, and he was giving his permission for them to kill me. It broke my heart into tiny, sharp chips that stabbed through my hollow chest to see how badly I had hurt him. Revolution was not worth the pain it had caused those around me. I had made a huge mistake, a miscalculation that was beyond repair. But such is the plight of human nature: we are a flawed race trying to achieve perfection. This is a goal we will never reach, and we will bash our heads into walls, harming ourselves, trying to reach it even though we never will. When we feel like we are getting close, we realize that we have never been farther away. I saw this as I watched the life I had worked so hard to build for myself fall to shattered pieces before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The guards pulled me farther and farther down the ballroom. The crowds cleared a path for me, as though I had the plague; As though if they came too close to me, they would catch the deadly seditionist disease. The guards laughed at me and teased me, continuing their sinister chant. Although I was in a room full of people, I had never felt a sense of isolation as powerful and desolate as the one I felt now. I could swear even the stones were a darker black than they had been when I entered the castle. I faced the threat of almost certain death alone, with no one to hold my hand as I took my last breath. My fear was so great. I was still just a child. Seventeen years was a golden string cut too short, as though the three fates had lost their one eye completely and were now blindly cutting the threads of people’s lives with their dull scissors.

We had finally reached the looming oak doors where I had first entered the castle. I never imagined I would be leaving chained by metal shackles and shame. A cold wind rushed through the doors like a formidable arctic blast. Or maybe I was just imagining that the world was now a colder place. Was this the curse of the damnation? to see my last moments as formidable and painful? I turned my shamed face back into the blinding lights of the ballroom for just one more fleeting second. I wanted to find Gabriella, to brand her image into my brain as one last thought of happiness and light to keep me warm before I braved the cold outside world. I scanned for her red taffeta dress among the frozen crowd. There she was, perched atop a marble spiral staircase, smiling at me as I left. But something was wrong with her smile. Even at a distance I could see that this was not a kind smile, but one as evil as the governors. She, too, smirked at me as though taunting me; calling me foolish. But again, that girl I had first seen was gone, replaced by a flesh-eating monster: a beautiful yet cruel and deadly siren. Somehow, her grin was not the worst thing I now saw about her. My eyes followed her right arm, held high. What I assumed should have ended in clawed fingers actually ended in something much, much more terrible: My lost papers. I surrendered myself to the guards as they pulled me out the door and down the cobblestone street. Gabriella’s sneer would haunt my thoughts forever, a shadow making the pitch black darkness that already surrounded me impossibly darker.

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