I’m going to go ahead and rate this PG-13. Like, “Marriage of Figaro”-style-somewhat-naughty. Enjoy:
“Zane, I heard that last year on this same night, your master died,” the drunken man said as he wavered over the edge of the canal. Zane pulled him back to safety, barely. “Plague, wasn’t it?”
“Soon after he was arrested for defacing that girl’s coffin?” the prostitute added, stepping into the circle of their little bonfire as she primped her red hair. “He sought a locket. Something about his rightful property? Awful affair.”
“Lunatic,” the drunk agreed.
“Ah, did I not tell the tale?” Zane asked, grinning mischievously.
“No,” his companions said in unison, leaning closer in their eagerness for the story.
“Oh, then listen well, because it is a strange one,” Zane began…
The fate of his entire business depended on taking the lady to bed.
Nay – the fate of the very world itself depended on it!
It seemed ridiculous, hoping for the acquiring of just one lady. After all, this was Venice: the very land of debauchery and sin! But Bauta had never failed.
He stood in the corner of the ballroom, watching the dancers from behind his raven-black mask, fingers itching to grab onto something tangible.
“You!” He said, stopping a servant suddenly by placing his hand before the boy’s chest, “give that here!” he finished, taking the wineglass from the tray. Bauta lifted his mask at the bottom and drained the glass before he placed it on a nearby table, steeling himself.
“You should drink more slowly, sir,” a sly voice said just near him. “You might lose your head.”
He turned to see his hired servant, Zane, in a jester’s costume, smiling behind his long-nosed mask.
“You know what is at stake,” Bauta hissed back to him, and held out his hand for the prop that would begin his passion play. “Now go and play with some young maiden. Leave me be.”
“You won’t get near her family, babau,” Zane giggled as he handed over the purse. “They’re as fresh and pure as a ripe fig, and you’re black as sin.”
“Figs are black by nature, Zane,” he replied, tucking the little white purse into his belt. “They only need be reminded of it.”
A glimmer of gold chain on white skin. Ah, there she was.
She strode into the hall like a queen, but Columbia was merely the daughter of a wealthy merchant. No one but he seemed to notice her enter, because there were so many other fine women about. But none like her: beautiful, young and perfect in every way.
Around her neck, tucked into her virginal cleavage so carelessly (or perhaps purposely?) was the golden locket.
As soon as he had acquired it, he would have his leverage. He would go to her father with the stolen necklace, proving that he had deflowered Columbia, and that leverage would give him everything.
His failure in the silk business would vanish. Her father would have to pay him to keep him from singing like a bird about his conquest. If he were lucky, he would even be asked to marry the girl, and he couldn’t say he hadn’t thought about it. She had an excellent hand in embroidery – she would earn her keep and more.
“Wish me luck, Zane,” he said, the alcohol buzzing in his head.
“Luck with what?”Zane said with a laugh, “Luck with what?”
He passed through the crowd easily and was by her side in moments.
“My lady,” he said, bowing before her. “I fear you dropped this,” he said, handing her the purse snatched so cleverly by Zane a mere hour before.
“Ah!” She said, taking it to her chest. “Thank you! I was afraid I had lost it and my mistress would be most displeased.”
“How could anyone ever be displeased with such a sweet face?” He asked, smiling.
She touched her now rosy cheek with a delicate gloved hand. “I often make mistakes.”
“Who is your mistress?” Bauta said, looking around the room. “I must beg her not to punish you.”
“You speak too kindly, sir,” she said with a small curtsey. “Whoever you might be.”
“My name is Bauta,” he said.
“Oh! Bauta…” she said. “I know you. Yes… I’ve seen you often.”
Her face went even redder and he smiled as he said, “might I be honored with a dance?”
An hour later, only an hour, he had convinced her with his pledge of eternal love to follow him to the bedrooms of the cardinal’s estate.
“In here,” he said, leading her towards the bed lit only by candles in their elaborate iron stands.
“I’m so frightened,” she said, touching those delicious lips he longed to ravage.
“Do not be afraid, my love,” he said. “I promise I will be as gentle as a lamb.”
She turned her sweet blue eyes to him. “Kiss me,” she pleaded, and he did.
She tasted as sweet as the finest wine!
“Oh,” she moaned,
“Let me lock the door,” he said, “so no one will see us.” He strode to the door, a gleeful grin across his face as he plotted.
As soon as he had her corset off, he would lovingly suggest she remove the locket. Then he would ravish her until she fell into a deep sleep, and once the necklace was in hand-
He turned, and frowned.
The girl was gone.
He looked all around the room, behind the curtains, but there was no trace of her except the small purse on the bed.
He held it to his chest, mimicking her selfsame movements an hour before.
He went back to the ballroom, searching for a glimpse of her, but there was none.
He stopped a servant masked as a cat and asked him, “Gatto, have you seen a beautiful girl with pale white skin and startling blue eyes come this way? She wears a golden locket.”
The servant looked at him and laughed in his face.
“I assure you, this is no laughing matter!” Bauta said, angered at the servant’s gall.
“No, no, sir, it’s only,” the servant wiped the brow beneath his mask, “everyone knows the maiden you describe. She is Columbia.”
“Yes, yes, that is she,” Bauta said eagerly. “She was just with me. Where is she?”
“No, sir,” the servant said, looking suddenly frightened. “That cannot be.”
“Why?” Bauta asked.
The servant, eyes wide, scurried away from him without an answer, vanishing in the throng.
He glanced around and caught sight of Zane, frolicking among nobles and servants alike.
“Zane!” he cried, going to him and grabbing him by the shoulders. “Explain yourself! How did you get this?” He waved the small purse in Zane’s face.
Zane shushed him, whispering, “I stole it like you asked, sir. Columbia was staying here at the cardinal’s estate, fasting,” the servant said, “and she grew sick a few days ago.”
“Then… you took it while she was sleeping?” Bauta said, the hairs on the back of his neck beginning to stand up.
“No, sir,” Zane said, “I took it from her coffin.”
He released the laughing Zane, who disappeared amongst the dancers, and looked in horror at the purse in his hands.
Bauta prised the small clasp apart, searching for something, anything, some sort of answer to explain the apparition…
…Inside was a handkerchief embroidered with his name.
The logs on the fire cracked, making his listeners jump.
“Bah,” the drunk said with a laugh, “Zane, you tell the wildest tales.”
“You couldn’t possibly have known all that,” the prostitute supplemented.
“Say what you will,” Zane said. “My master confided in my before his death. I only tell the truth.”
“I see now why he went mad,” the prostitute said. “Poor dear, and yet you didn’t think to tell him that Columbia died of plague? Naughty,” she scolded, slapping him on the shoulder.
He chuckled darkly. “No… I suppose it… slipped my mind.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t get it!” the drunk said, then burped.
“Say… this story doesn’t have anything to do with your sudden success in the silk market?” the prostitute said, leaning on Zane so her bosom was almost totally visible to him.
“Why would it?” he asked, flicking dust off of his black silk cape.
“Well… you took over your master’s business. And the locket,” the prostitute said. “Whatever happened to the locket?”
“Who knows,” Zane said, moving out of her grasp and replacing the top hat on his head. He bowed to them both, his smile growing wide as he replaced the Casanova-style mask onto his face. He turned and prepared to reenter the masquerade.
“Who knows?” he repeated softly to himself, fingering the golden chain just visible above his neckline.
The fate of the world depended on…
I gave Kurt at http://muzzlediaries.blogspot.com this prompt: In 450 words or less, describe how a situation in a public place that seems completely ordinary suddenly becomes terrifying for your character. In honor of Halloween!
Okay so I have to admit Poe was a huge inspiration for the styling on this. That and my boyfriend’s recent Halloween acquisition (thank you, awesome Venetian mask…)
I also based the characters on a few traditional Commedia dell’arte characters: a sort of combined Bauta+Scaramouche, Columbia and Zanni.
Traditionally, Bauta/Casanova masks are the masks of disguise, used to hide one’s identity entirely for business or illicit affairs. I thought: why not both? Babau means “black beast” which is another loose term for Bauta, used in the traditional sense: behave, kids, or the black beast will get you! http://files.abovetopsecret.com/files/img/bi4eb5fe1c.jpg
Zanni, or Zane, style is a sly and meddling servant, (in city Commedia,) and I’d be lying if I wasn’t thinking a little of Puck as well when writing him. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_X8kkU30yuvU/TIKwOfLDC8I/AAAAAAAABF0/-EO9q17hxUY/s1600/zanni+left+side.jpg
Columbia style represents a servant girl, and even in the days before women’s liberation, probably the smartest character onstage: http://static.fancydress.com/resources/ecommerce/images/products/191/316/img316191/product-enlarged.jpg
I looooove anything involving masks and Carnevale di Venezia. I hope you enjoyed it and, though it is the wrong time of year for Carnevale, it’s the right time anytime for masks in old Venice, and I wish you a very happy Halloween!
Now, go be wicked.