Table of Contents
OTHER NOVELS BY
DONNA JO NAPOLI
Stones in Water
Fire in the Hills
The Prince of the Pond
Jimmie, the Pickpocket of the Palace
Gracie, the Pixie of the Puddle
The Magic Circle
The Bravest Thing
When the Water Closes Over My Head
DUTTON CHILDREN'S BOOKS
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living
or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 2008 by Donna Jo Napoli
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Published in the United States by Dutton Children's Books,
a member of Penguin Young Readers Group
345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014www.penguin.com/youngreaders
eISBN : 978-0-525-47999-4
Thanks to Barry, Eva, and Robert Furrow, to Libby Crissey,
Aimee Friedman, Annette and Jack Hoeksema, Samara Leist,
Anders Lindgren, Luciano Pezzolo, Andrea Pinkney, Mimi Svenning,
Richard Tchen, and my superb and exacting editor, Lucia Monfried.
But most of all, my gratitude is to Nick Furrow, whose initial and
constant suggestions sustained me.
For Hayden Headley,
my newest joy
where are you going?”
Oh, and I was so close to the door. Ah, well. I descend from tiptoe and walk from the corridor into the kitchen. On the cutting counter in front of her lie a skinned hare, raisins, pine nuts. “The garden is lovely this morning, Mamma.” I lean around her shoulder from behind and kiss her cheek. “But if you want help, of course I'll stay.”
“Ha! My sweet delight, do you think you fool me?” Mamma gives me just the briefest twinkle of her eye and returns her attention to mincing. “I know how you feel about cooking.” She makes three little
of the tongue.
Many women of the noble class don't cook, but Mamma takes pride in it. Under her quick blade, the bright green pile of parsley and rucola turns to a deep forest green mash. I move to stand beside her. The aroma bathes us. I can almost taste it.
“This is your father's favorite dish; I must be the one to prepare it. Alone. A good wife takes pride in her husband's hums of pleasure at the dining table. You should mend your ways and learn the culinary skills. It will bring you joy.” She smiles contentedly, though she doesn't look up. “False offers of aidâwho taught you that?”
I pick up a loose leaf and chew it. The bitterness makes me suck in my breath. “A good wife does so many things. You're always adding to the list. I wager a good wife needs to know how to make false offers, too.”
“Watch that tongue.” But she laughs. She wipes her hands on her apron, then turns to me. Her palms cup my cheeks lovingly. “You're clever, Elisabetta, but you'll be thirteen in just two months. In many ways you seem older than your yearsâyet in some ways, you're far too young. Think about what needs your attention rather than running off to the woods.”
“I said the garden.”
“You meant the woods.” Mamma tilts her head. “Are you becoming deceptive?”
“If I am, I might as well give it up. I'm clearly no good at it.” I peek under the cloth covering the basket on the table. The rolls are still warm. Old Sandra has been busy. She does her work before dawn, then goes home to care for her ailing husband. “You can't understand anything these days, Mamma. When I woke, I threw the shutters wide and the scent of jasmine snaked into the room.” I snatch a roll and twirl around the table. “It twined up my arms, up my neck. It pulled me almost flying out the window.”
“Oh, my.” Mamma makes a pretend show of alarm. “Beware that sharp nose. We mustn't have flights of fancy turn you into an angel. By all means, use the stairs to descend, like the rest of us mere mortals.” She protrudes her lips in thought. “It's best you put charcoal to paper today and think about the dress we need to have made.”
I swallow the last of the roll and bounce on the balls of my feet in triumph. “I've already thought about it.”
“Do you have to bounce in that undignified fashion?”
“Sassy girl.” But then she takes a deep breath. “Desist in the presence of others, at least. That's better. Now tell me these thoughts of yours.”
“I can show you. I drew it last night.”
“Well, then.” Mamma appears so surprised, she's at a loss for what to say next.
“We'll look at it later,” I say, taking control before Mamma recovers. “After PapÃ has eaten and hummed up a storm. In the meantime . . .” I let my eyes plead.
“There are so many things that need to be planned.” Mamma speaks very slowly. Her eyes hold mine. “But I suppose there's time for the woods, too.”
“Hurrah.” I grab a few pine nuts and make for the door.
“But if you want to be the belle of your own ball, Elisabetta, cover those arms with something other than the serpentine odor of jasmine vines. A man of noble birth notices a girl of noble birth. And a girl of noble birth does not allow the sun to color her arms like those of a peasant.”
“Country nobles know the sun isn't picky about who it shines on, Mamma.”
“Who's fishing for a country noble? You'll get betrothed to a city man. From one of Florence's best families, I'll wager. The Rucellai, perhaps, or the Pazzi, or the Acciaiuoli, or the Martelli, or the Ginori, or . . .” She pauses for effect, her index finger poised in the center of her cheek. “. . . the Medici.”
I press my lips together hard. Mamma's counting on this party, on me. I'm an only child; who else can she put her hopes on? But it's still unfair. I speak as gently as I can manage. “Your dreams are too lofty.”
“Don't be silly! This party is exactly what the males of those families need to remind them of you.”
“They never noticed me in the first place, so how can one remind them?”
“Of course they noticed you. You're PapÃ 's beauty.”
“PapÃ 's. Exactly. No one else thinks I'm a beauty, not even you.”
Mamma's face looks stricken. “Don't be difficult, Elisabetta. You've played with their sisters and daughters every time we've visited Florence your whole life.”
“Daughters?” My cheeks go slack. “I don't want to marry an old man.”
“Widowers make attentive husbands.”
I'm pressing my knees together so hard, they ache. “I can't,” I say through clenched teeth. “I can't marry one of them. And you can't make me.”
Mamma's eyes go liquid. “I didn't make the rules. This is the way the world is.”
“I won't. I simply won't.”
She reaches out and her fingertips lightly brush my throat. The look on her face is of such tenderness, I want to cry. “Then you'll have to be at your best, Elisabetta,” she says softly. “Cover those arms well. Don a hat, too.”
I nod, unable to speak.
“Now . . .” She flicks the back of her hand at me. “Off to the woods with you.” And she returns to her meal preparations as though the moment has passed and we can both immediately put it out of our minds. Another good-wife trick.
I remain immobile, weighted by her wordsâbut only momentarily. She's released me for now and, oh, the woods are calling. I race up the stairs, popping pine nuts in my mouth. I pull a light waistcoat from my closet. Then I close the heavy doors.
This is a very fine closet. It stands on four carved eagle claws that curl over gilded balls. The doors hold large mirrors. I can't stop myself from looking.
My dark brown hair hangs just below my shoulders. It's never been cut, not once in my whole life. For some reason, it doesn't grow to the same length as other girls' hair. Still, it's long enough to make elaborate hairdos, which is what Mamma will do for my party. And it's thick and wavy, forming a fine frame for my face.
My eyes match my hair. There isn't much else to say about them.
My nose is straight. My cheeks are high and round. My chin comes to what Mamma calls a sweetheart point.
And since my monthly bleeding started, my body has become womanly.
That's the sum of it, I guess.
I look down at my arms. I haven't been outside without long sleeves yet this spring. It's only early April. My skin is still the color of the underside of olive leaves. I slip on the waistcoat. How strange to think my skin must stay light until after the partyâin June. Mamma says my birthday month is as good a time as any for such a party. That means two whole months denying my skin the sun, when I so much like turning brown. PapÃ calls me his little nut, his almond.