1636 The Flight Of The Nightingale – Snippet 05

Chapter 3

Francesca looked up at Barbara. “And what was that in aid of?”

“One of the best ways to appear to be someone different is to change the way you walk. Take the shoes off, please.” After Francesca kicked them off, Barbara picked them up and held them out before her. “But even trained actors have trouble remembering which leg to limp with over a long performance, so the best way to do it and make sure you don’t draw unwanted attention is to do something to the shoes. Some actors put a small pebble or stone chip or a small stick in their shoes. That works, but you can’t do it for long without rubbing sores on your feet. So the smart ones do this.”

The actress flipped the shoes over so they were bottoms up, and Sabatini could see that the heel of one of the shoes was built up a little more than the other. “See, the difference in heel height doesn’t have to be very much at all to make the illusion of a very convincing limp. The bigger the difference, the more you’ll limp. A finger’s breadth will make you lurch like a cripple.”

“How do you know all this?” Sabatini asked. He was absorbing all that was being said, but his head was beginning to spin.

“Part of it is stagecraft,” Barbara said with a chuckle, “and part of it is experience. Actors are probably second only to gypsies for needing to know how to get out of town without attracting attention, official or otherwise.” That got a cackle from Renata from where she stood behind them.

“Put your shoes back on and stand up, dear,” Barbara said as she turned and placed the limping shoes in a worn bag that was sitting on floor by the table. Francesca looked around for her shoes, and Sabatini picked them up and handed them to her. While she was fitting them to her feet, Barbara said, “Those are good common sensible shoes. They won’t give anything away, and no one looks at a poor woman’s shoes, anyway, so you shouldn’t have to worry about that. Clothes, we’ve got covered. Renata,” she looked at the other actress, who handed her a length of cloth. Barbara took it, shook it out, and it was revealed to be an apron. To be specific, a very dirty apron, with a very unfortunate stain right in the middle of it.

“And for a quick change if you ever need it,” Barbara said as she wrapped the apron around the now standing Francesca, “you take off your coat and throw it to the boy, take the scarf off your head, pull a bit of your hair out of the bun or braid to fly around your face, take both cheek pads and put them in one cheek, and put this on. A little creative swearing as you march down the alley or street, and no one would believe it was you.”

Sabatini goggled a bit at the thought of Francesca creatively swearing, but there was no doubt that the apron really changed her appearance.

Francesca looked at Sabatini. “Really?”

He nodded with a grin. “Everything she says changes the way you look and the way you move. I think she’s right.”

Francesca quirked her mouth. “All right.” She smoothed her hands down the apron, and paused halfway through the motion to peer at the fabric. “Paint?” She looked up with a quizzical expression on her face.

Barbara nodded with a smile. “Only the best artistic work in our costumes,” she said. “Heavens, if we’d used real meat juices and kitchen dirt, the mice would have consumed that years ago.”

“Are you going to get in trouble for giving me these things?” Francesca asked about a half a beat before Sabatini started to ask the same question.

“No,” Barbara said over another cackle from Renata. “The shoes are mine, so no problem there. As for the apron, Renata is our costumer. She’ll just conveniently ‘lose’ it.” She shrugged. “Merda happens, and it wouldn’t be the first time. By the time we might need it again, we can replace it.”

“And besides,” Renata contributed in a reedy voice, “that cloak you’re leaving behind is worth more than everything you’re taking. The velvet, the color of it…” She kissed her fingertips.

“Truth,” Barbara confirmed with a nod.

Francesca got a worried look. “That might be recognized…”

“Pfaugh,” Barbara said with a wave of her hand. “Go teach your grandmother to suck eggs. Renata will have that reworked into a costume or a gown in a couple of days. Nobody will ever see the cloak in it.”

Sabatini watched as Francesca relaxed and removed the apron. Barbara took it and rolled it up with a practiced motion, then stuffed it in the bag on the floor.

“Now,” the actress said, “coat or cloak?”

Sabatini saw Francesca hesitate. “Coat,” he interjected. After a moment, Francesca nodded in agreement.

“Going north, eh?” Barbara remarked. Sabatini saw Francesca start, and Barbara laughed. “Dear, if you’re going to run, it’s either go south or go north, and if you want a coat, you’re probably going north. And for what it’s worth, I agree. If you need to get out of the reach of the court, go north.”

Renata offered a coat to Francesca. She stood and pulled it on. Barbara reached out to tweak the collar and opening, buttoning the top button, then stepped back to examine the effect. “A bit old-fashioned, a bit frumpy, definitely out of style…perfect. Nobody will look at you twice in that.”

Renata came forward and folded one of the front panels of the coat back. “This is fully lined with a different material, so it can be turned inside out and worn that way to change your look as well.”

While Francesca was examining her coat, Renata handed one to Sabatini. “Here, try this on.”

Sabatini slipped it on. It was a bit large on him…he could feel the extra room in the shoulders, and the sleeves hung almost down to his knuckles. He held his hands out before him with a grin.

“Perfect!” Renata exclaimed. “You look like you’re wearing your older brother’s hand-me-down. And no one will take you seriously when you look like that.”

Even Francesca had a smile on her face at that. Sabatini pushed the sleeves up his arm, and put his hands on his hips.

Barbara hoisted the worn bag off the floor and set it on the table. “There are two more blouses, a reversible vest, and another skirt in here, plus the limping shoes and three or four scarves. You need to look at those, so you’ll know what you have. And when you arrive at a new town, look at the poor women in the streets to see what kind of scarves they’re wearing on their heads and how they’re wearing them and with what kind of knots they’re tying the ends down, and switch yours to as close a match as you can make. It’s a little thing that will help you blend in and not be as obviously an outsider.” She went to close the bag, and stopped to pick a small clay pot off the table and add it to the bag. “And your goose grease with ash mixed in is in here as well.”

Renata brought a smaller bag over and set it on the table as well. She looked at Sabatini. “A change of clothing for you, plus a scarf and some gloves. You go far enough north, it will start getting cold.”

It alarmed Sabatini that the women knew that much of their plans. He looked at Francesca, and he knew his eyes were wide, but he couldn’t help himself. She held a hand out and patted the air.

“They know nothing, Sabatini, and what they might guess they will never tell.”

Barbara nodded firmly, and Renata pulled a shiny cross on a thin necklace out from under her blouse and kissed it. Sabatini still wasn’t comfortable with it, but he nodded anyway. He stripped off the coat and rolled it up. It just barely fit in his bag on top of the clothes already there, but that was good. It was too warm to be wearing it now, and he wanted the freedom of movement as long as possible. He touched the hilt of his belt knife just for a moment.

Francesca went to pick up her bag, and Barbara held up her hand. “Your earrings, dear.”

Francesca’s hands went to her ears, and Sabatini saw the disgusted expression she got. “Stupid me, I forgot about them.” She very carefully took them out of the holes in her ears and laid them on the table. Then she pulled a small thin wooden case out of her pocket. After she worked it with her fingers for a moment, a piece of it slid up, exposing a small flat compartment. The earrings were carefully picked up and laid in the compartment, which was then closed up. “My daughter will want these.”

She turned it over, and slid a piece on the other side up. That exposed two sewing needles stuck through a wisp of cloth. “My mother’s etui,” Francesca said with a sad smile. “I’m not sure where she got it, but she used to hide little things in it from time to time.” She closed the case again and handed it to Sabatini. “Here, you hide this.”

Sabatini took it and tucked it in an inner pocket of his jerkin.

“Now,” Barbara said, drawing their eyes back to herself. “At dawn, you need to be in the Piazza di San Sabatini, where you will meet with Giulio and his cart. He will take you, dear, out of the city and to the nearest village. You, lad,” she looked at Sabatini, “will have to walk by yourself until she gets out of the cart. But there’s usually enough traffic that you can keep close to the cart without seeming odd.”

“Dawn. Piazza di San Sabatini. Giulio,” Francesca repeated.

“Sounds like you have it,” Barbara said. She looked around. “You’re probably safe enough here. No one is supposed to be here until almost noon today.”

“You can rest here,” Renata. “I’ll make sure you awaken in time. I’m always up with the roosters.”

“She is that,” Barbara said. “Disgusting.”

She turned and picked up a cloak from a chair that stood behind her, to swirl it around and settle it on her shoulders. “I’m off, dear. Be very careful, and when you get where you’re going, please send us word.”

Francesca reached under her vest, and fumbled with something for a moment, then pulled out a gold florin and held it out. “Here. You deserve this.”

“I can’t take that, dear,” Barbara said, aghast. “How in the world would I be able to explain having one of those? And besides, we didn’t do that much.”

Francesca laid it on the table. “Take it for the help you’ve provided, and to provide help to the next person who comes to you.”

Barbara looked at her solemnly. After a moment, she picked up the coin and made it disappear into her own layers. “All right, dear. On those terms, I’ll take it.”

“Go to old Mosè the moneychanger,” Francesca said. “He’ll change it for you and keep it quiet.”

“Aye, he would,” Barbara said. She reached out and laid a hand on Francesca’s shoulder. “Go with God, and be careful.”

“We will.”

A moment later, Barbara had slipped out the door they had entered by. Sabatini looked around.

“Sorry, no beds here,” Renata said. “But you can stretch out on the floor. We swept it earlier, so it’s pretty clean.”

Sabatini looked at the floor with a frown, but a yawn suddenly split his face, and he realized he was tired…more tired that he’d realized. He looked at Francesca, who had sat back down on her stool. She waved a hand. “Sleep if you can. The morning will bring another long day.”

Sabatini hefted his pack, then dropped it on the floor and stretched out himself, rolling onto his left side and propping his head on the pack. Another yawn cracked his jaw. He closed his eyes, and the last thing he recalled was the thought that Francesca looked worried.