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In thirteenth-century Florence, Italy, the pro-Papacy Guelphs have re-established supremacy and expelled the pro-imperial Ghibellines following the death of the Ghibelline Manfred, King of Sicily. The triumphant Guelphs await their champion, the French Charles d'Anjou, while their opponents await the arrival of young Corradino from Germany with troops sufficient to restore their power. During the victory festival that follows the Ghibelline return, Monna Gegia de' Becari, a Guelph partisan, and her husband Cincolo, a Ghibelline, receive a visit from an androgynous Ghibelline named Ricciardo de' Rossini, who declares his intention to leave Florence at dusk on a secret mission ... (courtesy of mary-shelley-wikia.com)
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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
After the death of Manfred, King of Naples, the Ghibellines lost their ascendency throughout Italy. The exiled Guelphs returned to their native cities; and, not contented with resuming the reins of government, they prosecuted their triumph until the Ghibellines in their turn were obliged to fly, and to mourn in banishment over the violent party spirit which had before occasioned their bloody victories, and now their irretrievable defeat. After an obstinate contest, the Florentine Ghibellines were forced to quit their native town; their estates were confiscated; their attempts to reinstate themselves frustrated; and receding from castle to castle, they at length took refuge in Lucca, and awaited with impatience the arrival of Corradino from Germany, through whose influence they hoped again to establish the Imperial supremacy.
The first of May was ever a day of rejoicing and festivity at Florence. The youth of both sexes, and of all ranks, paraded the streets, crowned with flowers, and singing the canzonets of the day. In the evening they assembled in the Piazza del Duomo, and spent the hours in dancing. The Carroccio was led through the principal streets, the ringing of its bell drowned in the peals that rang from every belfry in the city--, and in the music of fifes and drums which made a part of the procession that followed it. The triumph of the reigning party in Florence caused them to celebrate the anniversary of the first of May, 1268, with peculiar splendor. They had indeed hoped that Charles d'Anjou, King of Naples, the head of the Guelphs in Italy, and then Vicare (President) of their republic, would have been there to adorn the festival by his presence. But the expectation of Corradino had caused the greater part of his newly-conquered and oppressed kingdom to revolt, and he had hastily quitted Tuscany to secure by his presence those conquests of which his avarice and cruelty endangered the loss. But although Charles somewhat feared the approaching contest with Corradino, the Florentine Guelphs, newly reinstated in their city and possessions, did not permit a fear to cloud their triumph. The principal families vied with each other in the display of their magnificence during the festival. The knights followed the Garroccio on horseback, and the windows were filled with ladies who leant upon gold inwoven carpets, while their own dresses, at once simple and elegant, their only ornaments, flowers, contrasted with the glittering tapestry and the brilliant colors of the flags of the various communities. The whole population of Florence poured into the principal streets, and none were left at home, except the decrepit and sick, unless it were some discontented Guideline, whose fear, poverty, or avarice had caused him to conceal his party when it had been banished from the city.
It was not the feeling of discontent which prevented Monna Gegia de' Becari from being among the first of the revelers; and she looked angrily on what she called her "Ghibelline leg," which fixed her to her chair on such a day of triumph. The sun shone in all its glory in an unclouded sky, and caused the fair Florentines to draw their fazioles (veils) over their dark eyes, and to bereave the youth of those beams more vivifying than the sun's rays. The same sun poured its full light into the lonely apartment of Monna Gegia, and almost extinguished the fire which was lighted in the middle of the room, over which hung the pot of minedra, the dinner of the dame and her husband. But she had deserted the fire, and was seated by her window, holding her beads in her hand, while every now and then she peeped from her lattice (five stories high) into the narrow lane below; but no creature passed. She looked at the opposite window; a cat slept there beside a pot of heliotrope, but no human being was heard or seen, — they had all gone to the Piazza del Duomo.
Monna Gegia was an old woman, and her dress of green calrasio (stuff) showed that she belonged to one of the Arli Minori (working classes). Her head was covered by a red kerchief, which, folded triangularly, hung loosely over it; her grey hairs were combed back from her high and wrinkled brow. The quickness of her eye spoke the activity of her mind, and the slight irritability that lingered about the corners of her lips might be occasioned by the continual war maintained between her bodily and mental faculties. " Now, by St. John! " she said, " I would give my gold cross to make one of them; though by giving that I should appear on a festa, without that which no festa yet ever found me wanting." And as she spoke she looked with great complacency on a large but thin gold cross which was tied round her withered neck by a ribbon, once black, now of a rusty brown. " Methinks this leg of mine is bewitched; and it may well be that my Ghibelline husband has used the black art to hinder me from following the Carroccio with the best of them." — A slight sound, as of footsteps in the street far below, interrupted the good woman's soliloquy. — "Perhaps it is Monna Lisabetta, or Messer Giani dei Agli, the weaver, who mounted the breach first when the castle of Pagibonzi was taken." — She looked down, but could see no one, and was about to relapse into her old train of thoughts, when her attention was again attracted by the sound of steps ascending the stairs: they were slow and heavy, but she did not doubt who her visitant was when a key was applied to the hole of the door; the latch was lifted up, and a moment after, with an unassured mien and downcast eyes, her husband entered.
He was a short, stunted man, more than sixty years of age; his shoulders were broad and high; his lank hair was still coal-black; his brows were overhanging and bushy; his eyes black and quick; his lips as it were contradicted the sternness of the upper part of his face, for their gentle curve betokened even delicacy of sentiment, and his smile was inexpressibly sweet. He had on a low-crowned, red cloth cap, which he drew over his eyes, and, seating himself on a low bench by the fire, he heaved a deep sigh. He appeared disinclined to enter into any conversation, but Monna Gegia was resolved that he should not enjoy his melancholy mood uninterrupted.
" Have you been to mass, Cincolo? " she asked, beginning by a question sufficiently removed from the point she longed to approach. — He shrugged his shoulders uneasily, but did not reply. — " You are too early for your dinner," continued Gegia; " do you not go out again? "
Cincolo answered " No! " in an accent that denoted his disinclination to further questioning. But this very impatience only served to feed the spirit of contention that was fermenting in the bosom of Gegia.
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