Fanfic Friday – “Paolo”

11 May

Welcome to Fanfic Friday! For the uninitiated, fanfic is shorthand for fan fiction, which describes a type of creative writing so unabashedly nerdy, you can actually see the pimples. Basically, very lonely people who are more than a bit too excited about their favourite books, movies, manga, and video games invent stories in which Malcolm Reynolds and Wash have a saucy encounter, or in which Harry does filthy, shameful, erotic things to Edward. And so on, ad pukeum.

Fan fiction, however, need not reek of Cheetos, Alexisonfire, and unwashed neckbeard. I firmly believe that to appreciate a fictional universe enough that it flints your own creative fire, and then to invest that universe with your own ideas and imagination, is a truly noble effort for anyone to undertake. You’re provided a framework upon which to hang a story; one with which you’re likely already very familiar, so half the legwork is done for you before you even begin. At the very least, it’s a fun way to write, and is not necessarily a creatively bankrupt exercise.

For our first foray into the fictional fray on this feracious Friday, we voyage backward in time to the sixteenth century, across the vast Atlantic, to a hot, rocky island in the Mediterranean…where a sense of pallid unease is hanging under the starry sky.

**

Paolo watches as his little brother dashes along the road ahead of him. He can hear tiny feet crunching through the rocky dust, and a fading giggle as the boy plunges further away into the night. Paolo can’t keep up; the rickety cart he is struggling to pull is heavy with unsold milk – which, he notices with an unhappy sneer, has begun to turn – and the horse is keeping a painfully slow pace beside him on its sprained foot.

His brother is now gone, playing an imaginary game which has taken him far ahead. Out of sight. “Vincenzo!” Paolo calls, through a parched and weary throat. The moon is high in the sky, and he has neither the energy nor the patience for this. “Vincenzo!

The night does not answer.

Perfetto, he thinks. He does not relish the idea of chasing after his brother through the dark. He thinks of his father, who is sure to be furious about their lateness. And the horse. And the milk.

As he grits his teeth and hauls the cart across a rut in the road, the sweat beading on his forehead, Paolo curses. There is nothing for it – the night is growing darker by the minute, and the banditi are everywhere.

Paolo has heard the stories, by the light of a guttering candle: people minding their own business, foolish enough to wander alone at night, are robbed, beaten, and killed by roaming murderers. Men who laugh as they kill. Men who do not hesitate, even if you are as small and defenseless as a child. Paolo shudders, and imagines his mother’s hand flying to her mouth when she asks where Vincenzo is, and he says nothing.

Vincenzo!”

Paolo stops. He knows it is unwise to do so, but he is beginning to feel cold, even though the air is muggy and warm. Cazzo, where is that boy?

He sighs, and slips the coarse rope off his shoulder. Crickets chirp in the dark, and it somehow makes the night even more quiet. Patting the horse’s neck – as much for his own comfort as for hers – he ties her to the cart, and steps slowly off along the road.

He walks until the cart is almost out of sight, occasionally calling softly to his maladetto brother. “Vincenzo?”

He can hear nothing. “Vincen-“

Paolo is cut off as his brother bursts from the side of the road in a flurry of gasping breath. Vincenzo flies to Paolo’s side and clings tightly to him, arms around his waist. Paolo’s eyes widen, and all his frustration melts away when he feels the tremble of his brother’s touch. “Vincenzo! Cosa c’è, bambino?

A moment later a man, also out of breath, rushes from the darkness out into the road. Paolo’s muscles tighten. The man’s head darts about, until he spots the two boys standing in an embrace in the middle of the road, and lopes swiftly toward them. Vincenzo lets out a cry, and before Paolo can move the man draws up and strikes him in the face with the back of his hand. He falls to the dust, and Vincenzo is shouting freely now, inarticulate curses pouring from his little throat. Through tightly closed eyes, Paolo can hear the sounds of a scuffle – grunting, kicking, and crying – and he notices a warm wetness spreading over his face. He can hear the jangle of jewellery, and his nose is filled with a sickly-sweet perfume.

Paolo wipes his eyes and struggles to his feet, his head pulsing painfully. The man, dressed in elaborate fabric and dripping with golden baubles, is glaring at him with fiery eyes, holding a cruel little blade to Vincenzo’s throat.

Paolo’s body turns to water as he sees the fear in his brother’s eyes. “No, per favore,” he says, his voice breaking. “Don’t – don’t hurt him!”

In some faraway, absurd corner of his brain, Paolo wonders why a bandito would dress like this. Paolo’s family is very poor – he’s never seen such finery. Then he notices the man is no longer looking at him. The knife is still pressed against the softness of Vincenzo’s neck, but the man is ignoring Paolo, scanning the darkness around them with his eyes. Paolo realizes he has no idea what is going on, and becomes even more afraid.

A voice behind him, deep and even, says, “Liberarlo, Benedetto. Let the bambino go.”

Paolo whips around with a gasp to see a tall figure, hooded in white, step slowly over to him and place a heavy and gentle hand on his shoulder. He looks into the man’s face, which is scarred, but lean, and handsome. Paolo cannot see his eyes in the gloom.

He turns back to see the other, fancier man growl and clutch at Vincenzo, whose silent tears are lining his chubby cheeks. The man’s voice is rough as he shouts, “I will kill him, assassino! Do not doubt it! But step away now, leave this place, and he may yet see his next birthday!”

That word, assassino, rings in Paolo’s ears. It is unfamiliar to him. Who is this strange white man? He looks around, and is shocked to see a smile peeking out under the stranger’s pointed hood.

“Are you afraid, Benedetto?” he is saying. “Let the boy go, and face me like a man.”

The fancy man’s eye twitches, and after a long, motionless silence, he throws Vincenzo roughly away from him, drops his dagger, and draws his rapier from its scabbard with a shimmering ring.

Paolo rushes over to his little brother, who reaches up and plunges his face into Paolo’s shoulder. With a rushed and silent prayer of thanks that he is unhurt, Paolo turns in time to see the hooded man sprint forward. The fancy man raises his sword with a roar, and in the next moment the assassino has leapt high into the air, silhouetted against the shining moon. Time seems to slow. Paolo stares in shock, and sees a glint of steel at the hooded man’s wrist – and then the man lands bodily on top of Benedetto, crushing him onto his back in the dusty road.

Silence.

Then, slowly, the crickets resume their song. The night has found its breath, and washes away the heat in soft whooshing gusts of wind. Through this, Paolo can hear the fancy man’s breath coming in funny gurgling gasps. The hooded man, the assassino, is kneeling over him, speaking softly. Reverently.

It sounds like the way the priests in the abbey speak. It takes Paolo a moment to realize the man is speaking in Latin.

Paolo, moving silently, gathers his brother to his feet, clutches his hand tightly, and begins to move away back down the road, towards the horse and the milk cart.

They get about halfway there before Paolo hears footsteps crunching behind him, and spins around to see the hooded man standing over him. He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. The man makes a sudden motion with his hand and Paolo jumps – but the man is reaching up to pull his hood away from his face.

Paolo sees a young man, with dark hair, black eyes, and smooth skin. He looks at Paolo with a strange expression. Paolo finds himself relaxing, and gathers the courage to speak. “Grazie,” he says. “For my brother.”

The man smiles. Then he offers a hand, which Paolo slowly grasps. “What’s your name, my little friend?”

“Paolo.”

Prego, Paolo.” Then the man turns, and as he strides away into the darkness beyond the road, he laughs, “Be more careful next time. Don’t you know it’s foolish to wander alone at night?”

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