1636 The Flight Of The Nightingale – Snippet 04

“Barbara,” Francesca said.

It took a moment for Sabatini to recognize the other woman as a popular actress in the Mediceo theatre company who was usually proclaimed as “Isabella.” Of course, probably every fourth actress in northern Italy used the stage name “Isabella”, as a link to the famous actress of the previous generation, Isabella Ardeini, who had trod the boards before every noble family of Italy and France in her time. Her name still carried a certain weight in theatre circles.

The large woman reached out a hand to her. “This way, Maestra…”

“No names,” Francesca interjected hurriedly.

“As you wish,” Barbara said as she drew Francesca to a nearby stool beside a rickety table. “Here, sit, let us transform you. Renata, take the cloak.”

Francesca threw back the hood and undid the throat fastening so that the smaller woman could whisk the cloak away before Francesca sat on the stool. Renata returned in a moment, and unbound Francesca’s hair so that it hung loose, then took a comb and began to attend to the hair to smooth it out.

Meanwhile, Barbara looked at Francesca, then took her hand and grasped Francesca’s chin to move her head slightly into different angles in the light. “Hmm,” she muttered. She turned away and picked up a few things from the table. Turning back, she said, “Open your mouth.” When Francesca did so, she inserted something on each side, then stepped back. “Close your mouth.”

Sabatini moved far enough back that he could see all of Francesca’s face. It looked different, somehow. Barbara looked at Francesca, then gave a definite nod.

“Here’s the deal, dear. You’ve seen us do stage makeup, and we could teach you to do that, but it wouldn’t serve your purpose. Stage makeup is designed to make an impression from twenty, thirty, fifty feet away, with bold colors and lines. Up close, in a room or on the street, it would look horrible and would attract attention, which is the last thing you want. So what we’re going to do is just change you a little bit, so that you look normal, but don’t look like you did. To begin with, those pads I put in your mouth change your cheek lines. Someone might look at your eyes and forehead and think it’s you, but when they get to the cheeks they’d decide it can’t be you. That’s one change.”

Barbara picked up a small round jar. “This is a bit of goose grease mixed with a bit of gray ash. A smidge of that rubbed in just below the eyes will create a shadow that makes them look older and very tired.” She proceeded to apply it lightly. When she stepped back, Sabatini could see the shadows that had been created under Francesca’s eyes, which did indeed create an effect of weariness. He nodded. That, combined with the cheek pads, really made her look different.

Meanwhile, Renata has finished combing out Francesca’s hair and had plaited it into a single braid which she coiled around the back of her head and thrust a long hair pin through it to hold the mass in place. Barbara looked at that, and quirked her mouth.

“If you were going to stay in Firenze, or in any of the nearby large town where you could find supplies, you could always put henna on your hair, or one of those herbal rinses that change the color a bit. But if you’re going to be on the move, you can’t count on finding the supplies quickly to make that change. So I suggest that you leave your hair its normal color, and just wear it in the simplest styles, like any woman of the country would do. Don’t present it in a courtly style, in other words, and it shouldn’t call anyone’s attention to it. But if for some reason you desperately need to change the color a bit, then rub some of this…” she held up the ash and goose grease jar “…into your hair. The grease will darken the color, and the ash will dull it a bit. Just don’t get your hair near a torch or candle until after you get it washed out, or you will become a living candle.”

Sabatini shivered at that thought…goose grease-laden hair would indeed light up like a torch if even lightly touched with a flame for a moment. He swallowed.

“Stand up,” Barbara said. Francesca did so. Sabatini noted that she hadn’t said anything since right after they’d entered the theatre. That wasn’t like her. Francesca normally had plenty to say, and was well known for wanting to have the final word in any conversation. He kept an eye on her, just to make sure she wasn’t getting sick or something.

Barbara walked around Francesca, slowly, looking her up and down from every angle as she did so. “The blouse, the vest, the skirt…they are right for what you are trying to do. And the other clothes in the bag we packed will work with them…you can swap pieces in and out to change appearance easily. But you need something else…Renata, bring me the miller’s wife’s apron.”

The other woman spun on her toes and scurried off into the gloom. Barbara turned back to Francesca and waved at the stool. “Sit, sit. And take off your shoes.”

Francesca did so, handing them off to Sabatini, then received another pair of shoes from the actress. “Try those to see if they fit.”

Francesca slipped them on, and nodded. “Well enough. A bit loose, maybe, but if I’m on my feet all day, it won’t take long for my feet to swell up and they’ll be snug enough then.”

“Right,” Barbara said with a chuckle. “Tell me about swollen feet. A three-act show that has a double performance on Sabato or Domenica, and they almost have to cut my shoes off my feet by the end of the day.” She held out her hands. “Take my hands and stand up. Take my hands,” she said sharply as Francesca started to move without doing so.

Francesca frowned, but did so and rose, only to lean and almost fall to one side. Sabatini moved to take that elbow to support her. “What…”

Barbara held her hands strongly, and said, “That’s why I wanted you to take my hands. The shoes are not the same height, and the first time people wear something like that they get off-balance very easily. Steady now?”

Francesca nodded, still frowning. “I think so, but why am I wearing mismatched shoes?”

Barbara dropped her hold and backed away a few steps. “Walk toward me. Carefully!” That last was uttered in a snap as Francesca lurched and tilted again as she tried to move. Sabatini stayed at her side. They made their way with care across the space, until Francesca was again standing right before the actress.

“You, Sabatini,” Barbara said, “bring the stool over here.”

Sabatini did so once he was certain that Francesca wasn’t going to fall over when he let go of her elbow. She sank onto the stool with obvious relief.