1636 The Flight Of The Nightingale – Snippet 01
The Flight Of The Nightingale
By David Carrico
Francesca stuffed the last folder of paper into her bag and forced it closed, fastening the closure and making sure the hasp stayed put. The last thing she wanted or needed right now was that bag flopping open and all the pages inside spilling out. She looped the strap over her left shoulder, and tucked the bag under her left armpit.
She looked around the room. So many memories here, good and bad. So many things that were being left behind. Pinching the bridge of her nose to forestall welling tears, Francesca took a deep breath, then dropped her hand to smooth the front of her skirt. It was very common, much less ornate than her usual wear, made of rougher linen and dyed with cheaper dyes. Picking up the dark cloak that was much richer than her dress, she swirled it over her shoulders. She looked to the slight figure that stood by the door.
“Who are you again?” Her voice was curt.
Her new attendant’s voice was smooth, sexless, and of a moderately low pitch. It sang well to her ear, but more importantly, it wasn’t a voice that was very familiar to anyone in the palace tonight. That was important — critical, even — to their success.
“Yes, you are. Remember that. And what is the plan?”
“You go out the door. I set the bar in its brackets, then go out the window and close the shutters behind me, making sure the latch falls into place.”
“And where do we meet?”
“At the north end of the garden loggia just before the small gate.”
Francesca gave a nod. “Good. And you have the wine?”
Sabatini nodded at a small wineskin leaning against the back wall of the room by the open window.
“Good,” Francesca repeated. She took a deep breath, then said, “Let’s do it.”
Sabatini turned and pulled the door open enough to stick his head out into the corridor and look both ways. Then he straightened and gave an urgent wave of his hand. Francesca pulled the hood of the cloak up over her head and stepped past Sabatini into the hallway, which was empty for the moment.
Of course, it was supposed to be empty. They had planned on it being empty, because at that hour of the night it usually was. But there was always a possibility that some drunken member of the court, slacker of a servant, or lost visitor could wander into sight around one of the corners. Francesca hurried down to the next cross-corridor. Behind her the light dimmed as the door closed, leaving her just the faint illumination from the lantern hanging at the far end of the corridor. A moment later she heard the bar drop into place on the door. So, that part of the plan was working.
Francesca turned into the cross-corridor and released the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Now she was in the back halls of the palace, the ways usually only traveled by servants, and at this hour of the night this stretch was usually empty. In a few more hours it would be bustling, but for now it was as quiet as the catacombs in Romaâ€¦and almost as dark.
She walked as quietly as she could, but she was wearing sensible solid shoes tonight, not her usual palace slippers, and they made enough noise that Francesca was constantly looking around to see if anyone had heard her go by. But it didn’t take long before she reached the outside door where servants could exit to pass into the gardens or take a more direct route to another part of the palace than through the various hallways.
Here Francesca had no choice. She had to unbar the door to get out, and once she was out she would have no way to put the bar back up. She would just have to hope that no one would come by and discover the situation until she was well on her way away from the palace.
She gently slid the bar out of its brackets, and equally gently set one end on the floor and leaned the other into the nearby corner, out of the way, where it wouldn’t go sliding down the wall or fall over.
The click as Francesca tripped the latch seemed to resound in the empty hall, and she froze for a moment, shoulders hunched. But there was no sound, no query, no outcry behind her triggered by the noise, so she opened the heavy door with care. She had surreptitiously spread a little olive oil on the hinges a few days before, and it seemed to have paid off, as the door opened with little noise. She slipped through the doorway as soon as the opening was large enough, then pulled the door closed behind her, striving to minimize the noise. The noise as the latch engaged was less noticeable out here in the open air, and she hoped that no one had come by to hear it inside.
She gathered the cloak around her. It looked like she had beat Sabatini here, so she stepped into the shadow of the loggia to wait for him.
Sabatini closed the door and slipped the bar back into place. He stepped to the doorway of the bedchamber to make sure the bundle under the blankets still was in place. He knew it wouldn’t fool anyone who closed on the bed, but it might distract anyone who just gave a quick glance into the room.
He crossed to the table where the small candle stand was placed. Before he blew the candle out, he looked around the room one more time. Francesca Caccini — La Cecchina — The Nightingale, as she was known in the Medici court in Firenze — had lived and worked in these rooms off and on for a long time, except for the years of her second marriage to Tommaso Raffaelli, a very minor nobleman, where she had mostly resided in his homes in Lucca. But even then, she had returned for visits to the court from time to time, at which times she would reoccupy the rooms for as long as she needed them. It was one of the advantages of being a favorite of Grand Duchess Christina. So in this Year of Our Lord 1636 few in the court could remember a time when she hadn’t been in those rooms there, especially after she had returned to the court full-time in 1633 after Tommaso’s death and the ravages of plague in the country. It was hard for her to leave, but it was her decision to go. After the death of her son, there was nothing left to hold her here, and Sabatini couldn’t blame her.
Everything that was left behind was in its place: pens, rules, parchment, cheap paper for drafting; all lay in boxes on the table. Fancy court clothes were in the chests in the bedchamber. Her lute hung from a peg on the wall. That had almost broken Francesca’s heart to leave behind, Sabatini knew, but it would have hampered her flight, and made it much easier for someone — or someones, he thought — to track her. In the end, he had been able to convince her to leave it. He crossed to it and ran his finger across the top of it. For luck, he told himself.