Fiction

Lady of the rain

By: Kat Devitt

Rain fell in sheets as Patience watched and wanted the world. Droplets tapped against the window in taunt. Tap, tap, tap. Each droplet told of lands seen from their heights as they fell on her quiet home at Chainsley Hall.

She was a pawn trapped behind this glass as she listened to the stillness of her home. Only the crackling of the fireplace gave life within these walls, while without, it stormed and thundered.

Patience returned to her reading, away from the rain. She sat huddled in the library, her haven, pouring over the letters sent from her uncle. He wrote of his work on an excavation site in Italy. He described a temple, dedicated to a Roman goddess. He knew not her name, for no one in his field before had discovered the likes of this minor deity.

But she had a suspicion.

His letters included sketches of the temple walls and statuary. One of the images engraved into an outer wall depicted a woman holding cornucopia flowers. Those flowers gave birth to Patience’s theory. Those flowers gave the goddess a name.

But she was a woman. No man listened to a woman, especially if her head held a brain twice the size of his. And so, due to her gender, another female—a goddess—sat in the dark corners of history, nameless and forgotten.

Patience bowed her head and listened. Tap, tap, tap.

Another sound joined into the melody.

Clop, clop, clop.

It stopped.

Shouts erupted outside. She looked out the window to see a coach resting in the drive leading to Chainsley Hall. Horses stamped their impatient hooves, while their driver sat hunched over, drenched and miserable.

A tall fellow in a greatcoat stood with his arms crossed, his back towards her. He shouted commands at two footmen, dressed in the blue-gray livery of servants belonging to Chainsley Hall. She saw the fellow’s profile as he turned, and she knew only one man with a nose so large.

Her Uncle Richard.

Excitement fluttered. Patience scraped the chair legs against the floor as she sprung from her desk. She swung open the library door and entered into a world not her own, but her father’s.

She walked along white and black tiles, pieced together like a chessboard, as she headed towards the entrance hall. Walls loomed at twice her height, but tight together, creating a narrow corridor. She was always unsteady in these halls, and her father’s many paintings did nothing to soothe her.

Paintings hung on every available space. Father would place his paintings on the floors and ceilings if he could. Thankfully, his artistic interests hadn’t extended that far, yet.

Still, Chainsley Hall housed quite an extensive collection. He owned pieces from artists across the British Isles and Europe, from William Hogarth to Claude Monet. Father gathered their work, but not to take pride in art. His pride, rather, came in the attention he earned as a collector.

More shouts echoed through the corridor. “Steady, men! Steady!”

Patience came into the entrance hall as Father’s latest acquisition was hauled in from the rain. Two footmen carried in an object, covered with white drapes, tied down by twine. The footmen dripped puddles across the floor as her uncle hollered orders from behind, as he might the excavation teams he led across Italy.

“Take care not to slip.” Uncle Richard removed his top hat, revealing his salt and pepper hair, and shook it, sprinkling the floor with droplets. “We do not want to damage the painting.”

“Or crack our skulls,” one of the footmen muttered.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear you.” He moved like a panther in his ebony Norfolk jacket and trousers. He slicked back his hair as he swept down the steps, a king in a jungle not his.

Patience moved to withdraw from the shadows, but another emerged before she could take a step.

“Brother!” Father burst from his study. He charged at Uncle Richard with outstretched arms. Both clasped into a warm, gentlemanly hug.

“Egad, Charles.” Uncle Richard broke away. “You are as I remember, except for a few gray hairs.”

Father’s face creased on a chuckle. “How many years has it been?”

“Too many.”

“Is this the gift you promised me?” Father inspected the white drapes with greedy eyes.

“Indeed, it is the d’Aragona painting.”

“Ah.” Father turned to the footmen, damp and shaking. “We go to the gallery, my fine lads, but be gentle.”

The footmen grunted as they started up the stairs to the gallery. Patience thought herself safe from his attentions, safe enough for her to retreat to the library and continue her study of the sketches. She’d find Uncle Richard later, when she might have a word alone with him about her theory, but Father’s voice broke through her intentions. “Do not watch like a mouse in the corner, Patience. Follow.”

Uncle Richard whirled around, like a dancer, at the mention of her name. “Patience, my girl!”

She obeyed, but not without a scowl.

Uncle Richard clapped his hands and grinned. Patience couldn’t help but answer his joy with a smile of her own. He rushed her into his embrace at the foot of the stairs. She opened her mouth to allow her greeting to trickle from her mouth, but Father’s impatience radiated.

“Do not let her distract you, Brother,” he shouted. “Come along!”

Father charged up the stairs after the footmen. Patience glowered after his coattails. A darker part of her hoped he might trip, or one of the footmen might slip and destroy his precious painting. But she sighed as this thought collapsed. She might dislike her father, but she couldn’t wish him ill will.

Uncle Richard must’ve seen her thoughts, for he placed a hand on her shoulder. His brow furrowed in puzzlement. “Arguing with your father again?”

Patience sighed. “He wishes for me to marry.”

She rolled her eyes and scampered up the steps, with Uncle Richard not far behind. They caught up to the party at a remarkable pace.

Father continued to give orders, as was his nature. His warnings of “gentle, gentle” filled the house, but his voice faded into nothingness as Patience studied the concealed painting with a curiosity.

Patience heard the rains again as it’s white sheets rippled with each step. Those oils held a life. She could sense it. She could feel it. It yearned to break from it’s trap in the frame, it’s stillness, and find freedom in movement. It sought to touch, to breathe, to live.

They entered into the gallery. Artwork hung on one side, opposite lofty windows. Shadows hung about their frames, like shrouds, watching through gauze, as the footmen set their new neighbor onto an easel. The d’Aragona painting faced the room, a new pearl on a dais, as the others hid in the shadows. But were they jealous, these other paintings? Envious, or simply indifferent?

“At last.” Father stroked the drapes with an affection rarely shown.

Patience caught her uncle’s eyes. He shook his head on a sigh, but his smile remained. It was as if that upward curve, that delicate U, lived on his lips. Smiles were a rare sight at Chainsley Hall.

Tap, tap, tap.

Patience returned her attention to the d’Aragona painting, covered from prying eyes, but she sensed it looking around, as if inspecting its new home and those living within. Its gaze pierced through the ghostly white sheets; observing, sensing, seeking to understand. She imagined she heard a sigh come from the oils, a sigh in chorus with the rains.

Father turned to the footmen. He waved a hand. “You may go.”

Those shaking wretches fled the gallery. Their blue-gray livery clung to their bodies, as if a second skin, and their hair pasted to their foreheads. In their wake, they left behind a trail of puddles.

Something shivered. Patience looked to the painting, hidden beneath those wet drapes. She thought perhaps the oils shook and shuddered, but one glance showed who stood chilled. “You’ll catch an illness, Uncle, if you do not warm yourself.”

Uncle Richard rubbed his hands together. “After your father takes a look at the painting.”

“Not until tomorrow’s party.” Father paced circles around the easel, like a greyhound sniffing out a fox. “I mean to be as surprised as my guests when I unveil this painting.”

Uncle Richard shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

“Come.” Father tore himself from the painting long enough to see after Uncle Richard. “I’ll take you to the housekeeper. She’ll show you to your rooms, and after, we shall catch up on the three years you’ve been gone from us.”

“There’s not much to tell.”

“What?” Father let out a bellowing laugh. “You’re the family’s great adventurer. There must be a few stories in your trove.”

“Come, do not pretend, Brother. My expertise in sifting through dirt won’t interest you in the slightest.” Uncle glanced in Patience’s direction. “However, I believe Patience shall be interested in hearing of all my tales.”

Only her uncle could give her cause to grin. However, Father grimaced, less than pleased.

“After I speak with her,” he growled. “Patience, go wait in my study. I’ll join you shortly.”

Patience huffed at his brushoff. He raised her on such treatment. As a child, he swiped her aside if she wanted his knee or a few minutes to play with him. Once, he told her that he never wanted to be a father, especially after her mother died. This drove Patience to fill her head with books, which only furthered his resentment.

“As you wish, Father.” Patience spat out the word “Father” as if she’d mistakenly taken arsenic. She turned from him before he could say more, but his rage stretched out its hands, groping at her skirts, as his temper began to heat for later.

****

Patience waited until dusk for her father to come. She held onto time as she sat on the window seat in his study, listening to the rainfall. On a crack, lightening streaked through the gray skies, like a whip through the heavens. Thunder clapped, shaking the earth, as if the ground might split into two. Silence followed, all except for the rain.

How she wanted to run from her seat and into the rain’s company. She wanted to frolic barefoot in the slick grass, as wild as the Roman pagans, with her arms outstretched, her face slanted towards the skies as rain spattered onto her cheeks. She wanted to live, far from here, with the rain flowing through her veins.

Tap, tap, tap.

Each tap came in a slow rhythm. Not from the raindrops against the glass, but from the door behind her.

Patience turned away from the storm outside, and into her own. “Father, is that you?”

She waited on his answer, always and forever waiting.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Father?”

The knock sounded unlike his, soft and gentle. Father beat against the wood with harsh and demanding fists. That is, when he chose to knock.

“Who’s there?” Patience called.

Her gaze fell to the crack beneath the door. Light sieved into the study, stretching across the floor to meet the ring of firelight dancing in the hearth. A shadow slashed through this light, belonging to whoever stood on the other side of that door.

She rose from her seat and started for the door, but the boards creaked beneath her feet. As if in answer, the shadow slipped away. Footsteps, however, did not follow its retreat.

Patience rushed to the door and threw it open. “Hello?”

Candles flickered in holders fixed to the walls, scattering the darkness. She tossed her glance to the left, searching through the shapes and silhouettes, and spotted a man rounding the corner. His black coattails swirled behind him as he vanished, his face unseen.

Patience stood in the dark shapes cast by the dancing lights, waiting for an answer to sprout from the silence. She waited for another glimpse of the man in ebony, but none came. She shivered, even as warmth from the hearth seeped into the hall.

She sensed the man watching from some hidden place, around the corner and through the walls. Watching, and daring her to make a choice—wait, or follow.

“At last.” A hand came down on her shoulder. “I have found you.”

Patience lurched to the side, coming within inches of knocking a watercolor from its mount. “Uncle, you startled me.” She sagged against the wall, her hand at the base of her throat.

“You look lost.” He grasped her chin, forcing her to look at him and not down the hall. “And within your own home.”

“I thought I saw someone.”

“Maybe you saw your shadow.” He teased, of course. He loved to rile her up, but it’d been three years since he’d last done so. She was unaccustomed to his lightness, and in the aftermath of seeing something unnatural, something unknown.

“I saw a shadow, but not mine.”

“Were you napping?” He hooked arms with her and started down the hall, to where she’d last seen the man in ebony. Her heart beat a fine tune as she waited to turn the corner.

“No.”

He shrugged dismissively. “Then it was a daydream.”

“Perhaps.” Patience stared into the darkness, distracted.

“You mentioned something of interest in your lost letter, before I left for England.”

They approached the corner.

From her chest came a thump, thump, thump. Above, on the roof, came a tap, tap, tap. “My letter?”

“You wrote to me, excited about a discovery found amongst your books.”

“Oh, yes.” They made the curve, but they encountered no one. Patience looked down the hall, and she found no one. The man was gone. “My theory.”

Patience calmed. She’d muddled her senses when she stared out into the rain and allowed fantasies to enter into her head. She wasn’t mad, but her thoughts weren’t pieced altogether. Uncle Richard was right; it’d been a daydream.

Uncle Richard tapped her hand. “Will you tell me more?”

“Not now.” Patience took her mind from the shadows and to her uncle’s grin. “I am feeling unwell. I will explain to you tomorrow, if you do not mind.”

“Of course not.”

“What I need is a distraction.” She noticed the gallery ahead. “Will you show me the painting?”

“I promised your father I’d show it to no one until tomorrow.”

“Could you at least tell me about it?”

Uncle Richard considered. “Our secret?” He winked and pressed a finger to his lips.

“Not a soul shall know from me.”

“Where do I begin?” He tapped the end of his great beak of a nose. “The painting was a gift from my benefactor, an Italian count. He gifted it to me for my work on the expedition of the temple on his estate. The temple to the unknown deity.”

They entered into the gallery. Her haze began to lift as they strolled along the long hall. Outside, the storm raged on, but within, a serenity fell over the paintings. There was a sort of peace to it, even with the shadows hanging about the room. It was a peace you might find in a mausoleum.

“I knew your father had been questing after this painting for years.” He approached the easel with the reverence one might a church altar. “And it gave me a reason to visit Chainsley Hall.”

Patience smiled. “I am glad you are here, Uncle.”

Uncle Richard beamed as he circled the easel in a quiet dance. Dreams misted his silver gaze. Dreams of discoveries, dreams of travels, dreams of life. Windows rattled from the storm. Rain tapped harder against the glass. “A legend is attached to this painting. A story I think you might enjoy.”

“Oh?”

“Here, we have a portrait of an adventurer. A man who lived a century ago. He travelled to the farthest corners of exotic lands. He wrote of his discoveries, of the people he met, of the women he loved.” He reached out a hand and groped at the air, as if he held a rope. “Of life.”

Patience stayed quiet, enthralled.

“He died in Italy. His horse unseated him, and his skull was dashed against a stone. This painting of him was completed days before his accident.” A pause. A glance around the gallery, either for effect, or for true fear of the ghosts hidden within the walls. “Legend says his spirit follows this painting, but only those with a heart for adventure shall glimpse him.”

Again, Patience smiled at her uncle. She hadn’t smiled this much in months. “How silly. ‘Only those with a heart for adventure.’ Really, Uncle, what a charming tale.”

“Did you find it amusing?”

“Of course.” She beamed. “Because it came from you.”

A door creaked open on the opposite end of the gallery. A light widened across the marble floors, engulfing her and Uncle Richard. Their shadows illuminated along the wall, and between them, the shape of the d’Aragona painting, still entwined, still masked.

The first thought to leap into Patience’s head was that the man in ebony had come. She turned towards the door, expecting him, but she only saw a footman. He wore crisp, dry clothing, but darkness ringed circles beneath his eyes. He dragged himself across the gallery as if he was one of those shackled ghosts from a Gothic novel, come to warn them of an imminent danger.

He bowed, but not too low. Only enough to signify a modicum of respect. “Your father waits for you in his study.”

Patience nodded. “I will be with him shortly.”

“He demands you come immediately.” The footman leaned in, lowering his voice, “He complains he’s been waiting a quarter of an hour for you, Miss.”

Patience shook her head. She had waited a full hour for him, but heaven forbid, he be kept waiting a few minutes. He valued his time over hers, as if she was a marionette doll for him to tug at when it suited him.

But she dared not say this to anyone. Not now, before Uncle Richard or the footmen, and not previously, a lesson learned from Father’s harsh discipline.

Uncle Richard nudged at her shoulder. “You ought to go to your father.”

“Must I?” Patience sighed. “If I’d the choice, he’d wait until the morning.”

But she obeyed. She started from the gallery, with the footman following at a few deferential paces. She glanced over her shoulder to see her uncle touch the painting’s white drapes in the same mesmeric trance as Father.

She shook her head.

It was only a painting.

Patience continued on to Father’s study. She bade the footman leave her to handle him on her own, and she received little fight, as the fellow branched off to the servants’ quarters.

She entered without a knock on the door. She found him sitting behind his great, mahogany desk. He leaned back in his overstuffed wingback, his fingers steepled beneath his chin.

“Sit down, my girl.” He waved to a smaller chair. A stool with little padding.

“What did you wish to discuss?”

“Your marriage.”

She grumbled. “Not this again.”

“Listen to me, Patience.” Patience was something she possessed little of, despite being her namesake. He pressed on. “You understand it is your duty to continue my legacy. All I have built will crumble to ash beneath our feet if you do not make a match…”

And so, the dramatics began.

Patience looked to the window behind her father. Nighttime pressed up against the glass, but she heard the tales of the rain all the same. Tap, tap, tap. She escaped into their tales as her father’s lecture rolled on.

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap, tap, tap.

The man in ebony. He invaded her head, like a dream or a tale. She wondered at him, at his identity. She sensed him near, even now, as if their two beings were connected into one. He watched from somewhere, hidden, waiting to find her again.

“Patience?”

She turned away from tales, away from dreams.

Father glowered from behind his desk. “Were you listening to me?”

“You wish for me to exchange my freedom for wedding bans.”

“Vehement girl.” He yanked open a drawer and revealed a letter. “You’ve a miracle laid at your feet. You’ve attracted a suitor, who seems enamored by your eccentricities.”

“Studying Roman antiquities is far from eccentric.”

“It is for a woman, but Sir George Wycliff finds it charming.”

Oh, Patience recognized the name of Sir George Wycliff. It belonged to the reputation of a scoundrel. He was a fortune hunter, and she was an heiress made by her father’s efforts to marry her off.

Patience leaned forward, slowly, as the stool creaked beneath her. “You mean to force a rogue upon me?”

Her stark honesty caused the vein at Father’s temple to tick. “Vehement girl.” Tick, tick, tick, while the rain tap, tap, tapped.

“Is that your new pet name for me?”

“Why couldn’t you have been born a son?” He shook his head. “You would’ve made the perfect heir. Alas, I am trapped with a sharp-tongued daughter.”

She clenched her jaw at this deep-rooted insult. “A calamity.”

“You will meet with Sir George Wycliff during tomorrow’s party. You will accept his courtship, and in time, his proposal. You will do your duty by me and by your family.”

Patience folded her arms across her chest. “I will not. I owe you nothing.”

He snarled as he slammed his palms against his desk. “You will watch how you speak to me while your uncle sojourns here.”

His temper burned blazes within the study. Patience nearly thought his anger might set his books and papers aflame, but she sat serenely, sweetly, and returned her mind to the tapping of the rain on the roof.

“I would be wasted on a husband.”

Father lingered in his rage a moment longer. “I’ll not have a spinster living under my roof. Either you accept Sir Wycliff’s courtship, or I will throw you from my house. And with my own hands.”

Patience felt the flutter of an inward panic. She refused to reveal her weakness to her father. He was often cruel, loving in rare circumstances, but he’d never threatened to cast her out.

Until tonight.

She hadn’t a place to live outside the walls of Chainsley Hall. She could seek honest work, if given the time, but she hadn’t a storehouse of seconds at her disposal. Marriage or the streets. He offered her this choice, and no other, as all hinged on his desires.

Patience stared at him, long and hard. “I’m your daughter.”

“And I’m your father, but you never treat me with the respect I deserve.”

“Because you’ve never respected my thoughts or intellect.”

“Enough.” He sliced a hand through the air. “You will become a dutiful daughter. You will marry, or you will leave my home.”

“I accept none of this.”

“Use that large brain of yours, Patience, to think this over.” He dropped Sir Wycliff’s letter onto his desk. “Now leave my sight.”

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap, tap, tap.

Patience rose from her seat, but not to dance in the rains as the pagans before. She rose subjugated, as if forced into a yoke. She was chattel to her father, not a person, but she wouldn’t accept the fate he set before her.

She would find freedom, and by her own design.

****

But she was desperate for time. She hadn’t a plan in place for securing her liberation from Chainsley Hall. She’d as much hope as an alchemist possessed gold.

Above her head, the rain tapped in time with her footsteps. She became more distraught with each step towards her bedchamber.

Tap, tap, tap.

What was she to do?

Thump, thump, thump.

A chorus of uncertainty, of reckoning, and the crescendo came when a voice snaked into her thoughts. Patience, my girl.

She came to attention. Choose to come to me. Choose! Or continue to wait, if you wish your fate to be settled by others. She thought she detected an Italian flare to the voice.

Patience gave her head a shake. Indeed, she must’ve been insane. Yet she sensed another nearby, as if their souls touched.

She whirled around to see the shape of a man. A man dressed in ebony. He fled down the hallway and turned a corner. He seemed to like this game of cat-and-mouse, whatever his face, whatever his name.

She followed.

But not because she was told, but rather by choice. Her choice. It was madness, following an unknown man, but she was within the walls of her father’s house. What harm could befall me? Other than a forced marriage.

Patience wandered down the hall, seeing her house anew, as if for the first time.

Candles flickered in their mounts, revealing silhouettes as their rings faded into the darkness. Golden frames, homes for the many paintings, glistened in their glow. Over the floorboards, a crimson runner flowed like a vein, beating out the pulses of the house, of the shades and shadows, with herself as the current.

Patience took small steps, slow steps, towards the gallery. Only those angels above knew why she chose to look for him there, rather than any of the other dozen rooms in the labyrinth of Chainsley Hall. Her veins, his veins—their veins beat in rhythm. Drawn into the shadows, light dwindling into the embers. And she knew, she simply knew, he’d be waiting for her there, in the gallery.

Moonlight thickened as storm clouds began to disperse, it’s rays filtering through the windows and streaking across the marble floors. Paintings of past and old seemed to come alive in the nighttime splendor, animated, moving. Sheep grazed across landscapes, while farmers swung scythes. Wars played out, and ships sunk in blazes. Great lords and ladies blinked across the centuries, watching the present from their seats.

Moving, moving, like Patience, towards the painting mounted on the easel. It could not see covered in those white drapes. It could not move or breathe, as the others.

Patience brushed her fingertips against the sheet, as one might a lover’s flesh. She wanted it to see the world. She wanted it to know what came after the storms, after the rains and clouds. No stories, no tales. No life, not even for those trapped within.

“Restlessness lives within you.”

She pulled her hand back at the deep timbre, as if she had touched hot iron. She jolted away from the painting and found a man standing in the shadows. A man—dressed in ebony.

“Why are you in my house?” Patience demanded.

He smirked. “I came for you.”

Dangerous. Dangerous to be alone with this man she never met before, but she dismissed her fear. Another thought took shape. He was familiar to her in some hidden way.

Her heart pounded in her chest as he stepped into the moonlight. His ivory skin countered the black of his clothing. His eyes reflected the light, as the moon in the sky reflects the sun. Shadows molded against the contours and chisels of his sharp face. His mouth twisted in cynicism, as if he’d seen enough of this world, this life, but in him something thrived, something like hope.

And on his forehead, was a gash, a scar, as if he’d suffered an accident.

Patience thought maybe he was a houseguest. Maybe he came for tomorrow’s party. Maybe he hailed from some far city in England or Scotland, but his accent placed him elsewhere on the globe. Somewhere far afield, in the embrace of continental Europe.

“Your gaze is direct, seeking.” He clasped his hands behind his back as he leaned forward. A caramel curl fell over his forehead, over his scar. “You wish to fill it with wonderment.”

A steady breath. A beat between them. She was aware of a distant thunderclap and raindrops striking the roof, but in him, in this man, all these sounds faded as he absorbed her hidden desires. He reflected who she was, who she longed to be.

On her silence, he dipped into a bow. “Excuse me, Miss.” He glanced upwards. “My name is Giovanni d’Aragona.”

Patience quirked a brow. “Giovanni?” His name was foreign on her tongue.

“Will you not introduce yourself?” He smiled. “Patience.” Her name rumbled from him, shocking, startling. An intimacy stolen, leaving a tingling pleasure.

“How do you know my name?”

“I’ve heard it spoken several times.” Giovanni searched her gaze, stripped her soul bare. She looked away, but when their eyes met again, he pieced it back together, whole. She believed he understood her better than anyone else alive, including herself.

“Who are you?”

He swept into another bow, and with added flourish, repeated, “Giovanni d’ Aragona.”

“Yes, yes.” A laugh escaped her, much to her surprise. “I know this, but why are you here?”

“For you.”

Patience hesitated at his conviction. This man stood as a stranger in her father’s house. He could’ve escaped from the madhouse, for all she knew. “I never asked you to come. I don’t even know you.”

“Your soul asked.”

“You’re not my pastor. How do you know what my soul wants?” She continued to question her sanity. By now, anyone with half a wit would’ve sounded an alarm, rather than banter with an intruder. But his allure, his mystery, held her captive.

“When I first entered this house, I heard it in your heart.” He placed a hand there. “Then, your mind.” His hand followed to his temple.

“You’re mad.”

“And you’re trapped.” He paused, as long as a sigh. “You must speak with your uncle if you wish to gain your freedom. Open your mind and tell him of your theory.”

“H-How do you know all this about me?”

Giovanni circled the easel, his gaze heating her flesh from every angle. “You see, little dove, I am a guardian angel.” He smirked. “Of sorts.”

“Goodness.” His confidence tugged at her, even as every part of her mind fell into disquiet. And yet, her soul wished for him to stay. “I ask you again. Who are you, Giovanni?”

On a saunter, he abandoned the easel for her, circling her. “You wait to hear what I say. You wait on my explanation, on my enlightenment. You do entirely too much waiting, little dove.”

“Please, do not give me pet names.” Patience twirled on her heels to keep him in her sight. “I am not a dove. I neither sing, nor do I have the gift of flight.”

“But you wish to.” Giovanni stopped and returned to the easel. His hand fell onto the painting’s white drape. He radiated passion, allure, and above all, adventure. “You are a dove behind these stone walls, but you yearn to fly free, and with abandon. Your wings may not yet be clipped, but soon you’ll feel the snips if you stay silent.”

“I’ll not sit by demurely, I assure you.”

“Then listen to me. I’m here to protect your fate.” His fingers dug into the drape. “Speak with your uncle.”

Something surged within her. “I mean to.”

Giovanni nodded his approval, a smirk engraved into his handsome face. “Do you still wish to know who I am?”

Patience stepped closer to him, as one might a lover. “Of course.”

“Do not fear me.” It sounded like wings flapping as he wrenched the drape away. “Fear falling into a life without adventure.”

Giovanni was hidden from her view as the drape was thrown into the air, until it pooled onto the floor by the easel’s iron legs. Patience stared at the painting with a mixture of shock and awe. In the oils, Giovanni smirked as he sat for an artist. His gaze reflected moonlight as he saw across a century. He held a knowledge in him, in his shadows.

All was bared, all was revealed.

Patience gasped. “Giovanni, is that you?”

She glanced to her side, but he was gone. One swoop of the gallery, and she knew to whom she had spoken to. He had fluttered away, into the darkness, the guardian angel of adventurers. He was the spirit from Uncle Richard’s legend, the man who appeared to those seeking more.

A ghost.

Unless she’d dreamt it all.

****

Patience fled the gallery, but not from fright. She was a dove sprung from its cage and into the night. She slipped from the bars of her mind and ran down the halls, towards her uncle’s rooms.

In her soul, she held hope.

She couldn’t wait any longer.

She was inspired. She was free.

Once Patience approached his door, she knocked, three times. She imagined herself as Ali Baba, from One Thousand and One Nights, uttering a magical phrase to make the mouth of a cave open. Open sesame. She came close to murmuring it, out of a fancy, but she stopped as grumbling came from within the room.

Patience stepped back as the door opened.

“Humph?” Uncle Richard rubbed at his eyes. “Patience, what’s the matter? Why do you wake me?”

“I couldn’t wait.” Jitters danced in her heart. “Your temple. Your excavation. I know the name of the deity.”

He came to attention. “Oh?”

Open sesame. She whispered it within her mind. Open sesame. She was about to utter the goddess’ name, as if it was the magical phrase. She was standing at a cave’s opening, about to discover the treasure within: freedom from marriage, freedom to choose her own future.

“Spes,” she whispered. “Her name is Spes, the goddess of hope.”

“And what makes you think that?”

“Her equivalent is the Greek goddess, Elpis. In Greek mythology, she’s depicted as carrying cornucopia flowers.”

“And the connection?”

“Follow me to the library.” Patience started down the hallway, close to skipping, as her uncle dragged his tired feet. “One of the sketches you sent me depicted the outer wall of the temple. One of the reliefs on the wall shows a woman holding cornucopia flowers.”

“Flowers. That is the connection?”

“There’s more evidence.” Patience whirred around. She came close to colliding into him. “I have it all in my notes. Come, let me show you.”

A slow smile came to Uncle Richard’s lips. “You’ve the mind of a scholar.”

“Surprised that a woman might have sense in her head?”

“Not in the least. I’m more surprised you woke me at such an early hour.” Uncle Richard waved a hand. “Show me your work.”

Patience guided him to the library. Open sesame.

Her future was kindling.

****

“You mean to do what?” Father’s bushy, gray brows peeked over the silver frames of his glasses. 

Patience repeated herself for the third time. “Travel to Italy.”

His bulging eyes swung to Uncle Richard. “And you support this?” 

“Indeed, I do.” Her uncle held up a packet of notes—her notes—and tapped on the pages’ scribblings. “She has a valid theory involving a temple under my excavation.” 

“She is to marry Sir George Wycliff. She is promised.” 

Of course, Father continued to address the only other man in the room, rather than his daughter, with whom the issue of marriage had been raised. Patience refused to have her voice remain unheard.

“I will never be a wife.”

Uncle Richard placed a hand on her shoulder, as if he meant to act as her champion while she stood by in silence. “Has there been a proposal?”

“No,” Patience said, shaking his hand away. “My father has deluded himself into believing I’d accept Sir Wycliff’s courtship.”

“There’s an understanding,” Father said.

Uncle Richard opened his mouth, but she spliced his reply before it sounded in the air. “I understand you wish for your legacy to continue through me, and I understand you’ve chosen your son-in-law. I understand you demand I marry, but what you must realize, Father, is I shall never follow any of these expectations.”

He leaned back in his wingback, his throne. He threw his gaze onto the correspondence covering his desk. One name, “Sir George Wycliff,” peeked through the clutter. A tantalization, a desire, now ashes in his face.

He closed his eyes. “Get out of my sight.”

“Gladly.” She made to leave. “I’ll pack my belongings tomorrow.”

But he spoke again. “No, you may leave my home now.”

Uncle Richard stepped between her and Father, serving as a barrier between their stubbornness. His salt and pepper hair bounced as he shook his head with vigor. “You two cannot part on such terms.”

“You may leave, too.” Father snarled at him. “You put these ideas into her head. I want you gone as well.”

“I’ll remove myself, but these ideas were already in her head.”

She tugged at Uncle Richard’s coat sleeve. “He won’t listen to reason. I’ve tried a thousand times and never prevailed.”

“Vehement girl.” Father banged a fist against his desk. “Away with you. Away! If you wish to travel, then travel, but you do so without my protection.”

“So be it.” I turned from him for the last time.

Uncle Richard followed, his boots clipping, but Father needed to have the last word. He needed to rain his wrath down upon their heads, like Jupiter from legends of old. “Take the d’Aragona painting with you. It is cursed. I never want to lay eyes on it again, for it will always remind me of this day.”

She’d never see him again. She sensed it with every stride she took closer to the door. Once she parted, she’d never return. She’d have only herself to rely on, but she accepted the challenge. As long as hope lived, she could thrive.

****

Patience sat by a window, listening.

Tap, tap, tap.

Rain fell in sheets, but she did not watch with longing in her breast. Droplets tapped against the window, but not in taunt. Each droplet told of lands seen from their heights as they fell on the roof of her new home, an Italian villa she shared with Uncle Richard.

And now she had her own stories to whisper to the rains.

Patience was alone in this life, banished from her father’s home. She was without his pride, without his care. She heard in her solitude his lasting words. Take the d’Aragona painting with you. It is cursed. I never want to lay eyes on it again, for it will always remind me of this day.

Giovanni d’Aragona’s likeness hung over her shoulder. Patience glanced at him and travelled back into the century he haunted. He wasn’t a curse, but a blessing.

She returned to the window and glimpsed the excavation site through the downpour. White-washed walls loomed through the mists, while toppled pillars and crumbling columns lay in its shadow.

Patience spotted another shadow. This one was human.

She recognized him without seeing his face. She sensed him through a shared soul, a soul longing for adventure. He was of her ilk. In a short truth, he was her savior.

Giovanni waved.

And she waved in return.

Once more, Patience glanced over her shoulder. She smiled at his painted eyes, his lips, his face. No matter where she looked, he existed. He was her shadow, as he breathed through the painting, taking form in a ghost.

A knock sounded at the door.

She snapped out of her reverie. “Come in.”

Uncle Richard’s large nose poked through the crack of the door. His face followed, a smile on his lips. “You have a guest, Patience.”

“Who?”

“Your new benefactor.” He shone with pride as he added, “He’s eager to meet you and hear about your theory regarding the temple.”

Patience grinned, the widest in her life. “I’m coming.”

She rose from her chair, but not to dance in the rain as the pagans of old. She could greet the rain another time. In this hour, this moment, she stood on her two feet, independent, with important matters at stake.

She rose to give a goddess a name.

She rose to prove her father’s doubts wrong.

She rose to be heard, to be listened to, as a woman in an age of men.

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Categories: Fiction

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