Chapter 3: La Bella Pellegrina
la bella pellegrina: the beautiful pilgrim
Birds chirped noisily outside as they greeted the day.
Robin slowly awoke, her eyes still heavy and weighted from lack of sleep. She could tell it was late in the morning, perhaps ten or eleven. She hadn't slept well at all the previous night; she had tossed and turned, unable to sink into oblivion. When she had finally fallen asleep, she had awoken to a startling discovery underneath her bedroom window.
Jana, her grandmother, was casting a Witch's circle and praying to the moon.
She wasn't familiar with the prayer her grandmother had offered---having grown up in a monastery with Father Juliano, her exposure to prayer was strictly of the Catholic faith. Only prayers to God or His Son were allowed. Worshipping a deity other than the Lord was a foreign concept for her, despite her training in the magical aspects of the Craft.
But she had recognized the Casting of the Circle, a magical ritual that lent protection and power to the one performing it. It was one of the many rites of Witches that she'd been trained to recognize as a Witch Hunter.
And her grandmother was a Witch.
Robin was of Witches' blood, although she was Toudou's genetic creation; her mother had also been a Witch. It wasn't entirely implausible, when she thought about it at length, that Jana should also be one....but it didn't make sense. Hadn't Toudou, in his research, mentioned that Witches had lost the ability to pass their genes, the traits that determined their abilities---and subsequently, their powers---to their offspring, over 3000 years ago?
She listened to the sounds outside of her window for a while, sitting up on her elbows in bed, still covered by the sheet. As her senses became fully awakened, she could detect sounds from within the house...most likely Jana bustling around in the kitchen. The aroma of spiced coffee and a heavenly breakfast being made wafted to her nostrils, and she was motivated enough to get out of bed and get dressed.
In her high-necked black smock and bibbed dress, her reddish-blonde hair still down around her face, Robin opened the door to the hallway---just in time to almost run head-first into Amon.
"Oh---ohayo, Amon," she stammered, caught off guard.
He brushed past her, offering a slight inclination of his head in response to her greeting, his eyes just briefly meeting hers before they skipped over her hair. His angular jaw seemed to her to be set in stone.
He walked on down the hallway.
Robin hesitated. It seemed as though his remoteness towards her, having begun to dissipate days ago, had returned. She looked on after him, her expression wondering, before she went into the bathroom to freshen up.
For some strange reason, she felt slightly empty.
As she entered the kitchen, she could hear Jana animatedly talking to Amon.
"...most of mi famiglia lived here in Toscano since Renaissance period, around 1400s," she was telling him, as she cooked breakfast over the stove fire. Amon was seated at the kitchen table, listening intently, his arms folded across his chest.
Robin entered the room, immediately catching both pairs of eyes. Jana crowed happily at the sight of her. " Buon giorno ," she gushed. "Sit down, I make you something to eat." She gestured at the seat next to Amon.
Robin inclined her head gracefully, a habit she'd picked up in Japan. " Buon giorno , Nonna," she said softly, taking her seat.
Jana's eyes followed her movements. "Ah, bambina , you look just like Maria with your hair down," the older woman sighed wistfully, smiling. "You should wear it like that more often."
Robin made a sound of affirmation, pleased by Jana's comment, and began playing with one of her locks of reddish-gold hair. "It has a tendency to get in my face sometimes..." she began, the rest of her sentence trailing off as she looked at Amon, whose gaze was fixated on the space in front of him.
Jana placed a steaming casserole in front of them on the table. " Attento , very hot, don't touch the dish," she warned, setting it down on hot pads. "Italian breakfast special....sausage, onion, peppers, egg and mozzarella cheese." She added a serving spoon and bid them to eat, taking her own seat across from the two of them.
She watched as they thanked her, then served food for themselves and began to eat, neither of them looking as though they had particularly ravenous appetites.
"Today, you should go into village," Jana prompted, her hands beneath her chin as she smiled at both of them. "Look around, see what is here. Is not much, but is a very lovely place to live." Her eyes shone with pride.
Robin found she liked the idea. "Would you like us to do some shopping for you, Nonna?" she asked politely.
"Only if you wish to," Jana replied, grinning at her granddaughter. "I have no need for something right now, but if you find something you like, you bring it home."
"Where is the nearest town that has electricity?" Amon asked bluntly.
Jana looked thoughtful for a moment. "Best you go to Siena...large city, has large buildings, many people live there. Is not far from here."
"How far?" Amon pressed.
Jana shrugged. "Taxi ride....half hour?"
Robin looked at her partner imploringly. "Amon...can we go to Siena tomorrow? I would like to look around Sovana today."
He took another bite of the casserole. "We shall see," he said when he'd finished chewing, not looking at her. His jaw tightened again as he belatedly realized the words that had escaped his lips.
Why did he always bend his will to her?
He had almost let a part of himself slip the previous day....he had entertained thoughts that had not existed or even occurred to him before. He was determined that he would not let his mind wander like that again...and so he sought to silence that part of him that responded instantly to her whims or requests. As he did, he began to realize something that had been burgeoning in his mind since their escape from Factory, their flight from Japan, and since they had been spending entire days together.
As much as he trusted her now, and had vowed to protect her...her presence was distracting.
As they finished breakfast, Robin cleared the dishes and brought them to Jana's sink in the kitchen. Amon had stepped away momentarily from the kitchen, and Jana was pouring her a cup of coffee from a stovetop brewer.
Robin turned on the faucet to disguise her words from her partner's exceptional hearing, and whispered to Jana. "Nonna."
" Si? " her grandmother replied nonchalantly, pouring another cup.
"I saw you...last night. Casting a Circle."
Jana went still, and Robin bit her lip.
"Are you a Witch?" she asked, turning away from the sink.
Her grandmother turned to face her, and as she did, Robin saw she wore a smile. "What do you think, bambina ?" she replied, her green eyes gleaming.
Robin's voice lowered even further. "Is that why Juliano divorced you? Because you have Witches' blood?" Now she realized why she had never before met her grandmother. Juliano had purposely kept her secret.
The smile faded somewhat, and Jana looked down briefly as she nodded. " Si. Juli was devout to the Church, and he wanted to become a Hunter." She looked up again at Robin. "But he could never turn me in to SOLOMON, no more than he could Maria." She smiled again, but this time it reflected a hint of sorrow. "Juliano's weaknesses are the ones he loves."
Robin's curiosity had piqued. She forgot her attempts to keep her voice hushed, as she asked, "What is your power?"
"Ahh, bambina , I am not as powerful as you," she teased, chucking Robin underneath the chin as if she were a young child. "I have limited power. But I can see things...things that have been...and sometimes, only sometimes, I see things that will be."
"The power of sight," Robin affirmed. "Tell me," she asked, "what do you see for myself and Amon?"
Jana's smile possessed secret knowledge. "You and your consorte ?" she asked, her eyes shining.
Robin translated the word as 'partner'. " Si ." She looked at Jana meaningfully. "What do you see happening to us in the near future?"
Jana narrowed her eyes, as though she were concentrating her thoughts, and took her granddaughter's hand as she lowered her eyes to the floor. Robin waited apprehensively for a long moment.
Finally Jana looked up. "I cannot see it now. Better if I cast the Circle." She looked at Robin, who was visibly disappointed, and smiled again. "Don't worry, bambina , I will tell you eventually."
Robin fidgeted with her hands as she struggled to untie the knots that her thoughts were bound in. "Nonna, I have so many questions," she said softly, her emerald eyes luminous.
To Jana, she looked pale and fragile, so much like Maria....but with a hidden strength and pure light that she did not recall her daughter possessing.
" Con calma ," Jana whispered gently. "You have plenty of time here."
Amon appeared in the kitchen, having approached them almost soundlessly. Robin was momentarily startled, but relieved that he had entered as the conversation had already been winding down.
He looked at Robin, his features stern. "Are you ready to go?" he asked.
Jana touched her arm again affectionately, and set about finishing the cleanup in the kitchen. Robin nodded to him. "Ah."
As they walked out, closing the door behind them after Robin had fixed her hair into her usual upsweep, Jana looked down at the floor.
Taking a bowl of sugar, she began to sprinkle it in a pattern on the ground.
Robin had fixed her hair in her typical fashion, twisting ribbons around the reddish-gold lengths on either side; pigtails with wisps that hung free and framed her face. Amon had opted to take along his dark coat, for reasons unknown to her; it was a lovely sunny day outside.
They headed away from the house on foot, starting down the cobblestone path. Amon walked at a quick pace, his strides long, steadily looking straight ahead of him. Robin half-jogged to keep pace with him, but even then she fell behind.
"Amon, slow down," she pleaded softly, her head bowed so that she would not trip over her ankle boots on the cobbled stones. Why was he walking so quickly?
Amon stopped dead in his tracks, and Robin overshot her mark by a few feet in her efforts to keep up with him. She turned back around to face him.
"Amon?" she inquired, looking into his eyes, which to her surprise were stormy, like an angry dark sea.
He glared at her, and she felt herself visibly shrink. "When were you planning on telling me?" he asked, his tone icy.
"N-nani?" Robin asked, confusion making her switch to his native tongue.
"That Jana is a Witch."
Robin's eyes widened. So he had heard them.
He was unfaltering in his stern gaze. "Were you going to keep it secret from me the entire time we stay here?"
"But...Amon," she started to say, but he had turned from her and continued down the path, alone.
"Amon!" she called a bit louder, following him, attempting to catch up to his strides again.
Inexplicably, he stopped again, allowing her to make it back to his side.
"Amon...I have just found out this morning," Robin asserted as she faced him again, breathing a bit more heavily from her anxiety and her exertion from having to chase him. "Last night I overheard her chanting outside by the light of the full moon. I did not want to tell you until I had had a chance to confront her in private."
"You feel as though I do not have a right to know when you do?" he asked, his words cutting deeply, and her heart sank in her chest as she realized he was right.
Nevertheless, she stood her ground. "She is my grandmother, my family...my only family that I can be with, Amon," she told him, her green eyes pleading for his understanding. "I was afraid that you would be angry...like you are now." She bowed her head, folding her hands; and over her ginger hair, Amon's eyes underwent a subtle change.
"Gomenasai," she whispered. "I was wrong to keep it from you." She had proclaimed him her warden, after all...the least she could do was show him the respect he deserved for such a title.
He found he could not respond to this, so he continued to walk, at a slower pace than before. Robin fell in step beside him again, understanding that he had forgiven her...at least partially.
They walked in silence for a few moments, until she could no longer contain her question any longer. "Are you still afraid of Witches like me, Amon?" she asked, staring ahead of her on the path.
There. She had said it.
A moment passed. "Iiya. I am not afraid of other Witches." His voice was steely, rigid.
It was only later, much later, when she realized he had not answered the rest of her question.
After about a mile of walking, one-third of it uphill, they came upon the road that wound itself into the main part of the village, the via de Mezzo . Jana's home had been built on lower ground, facing an expanse of open land; but the rest of Sovana was tucked into a stony hillside. The architecture was all stone, the street was cobblestone, and at the entrance of the via de Mezzo , they were greeted by a large stone archway, serving as a doorway to the inhabitants of the local village.
They passed through the archway, and felt as though they had entered into another world.
Vendors had set up stands along the little cobblestone street, selling fruits and nuts, produce that was probably picked on the land surrounding the outskirts of the village. There were olives, dates, apples, and pears of all sorts, as well as figs and citrus fruits; there also were stands with fresh vegetables and roots, hand-picked from the earth. A farmer was selling fresh meat, presumably from livestock, and chicken and pork hung from skewers, being slow-roasted in the open air over a pit.
Villagers bustled about their businesses, going in and out of shops, and although the town was very small and there were not many people, it felt as though it were a thriving homestead.
Robin was amazed. "How do all of these people get along so well with so little?" she asked softly, watching one of the vendors, and subsequently tripped on a cobblestone as a result of her negligence. She stumbled and nearly fell, only to feel an iron grip on her forearm, pulling her upright and balancing her.
She looked up, surprised, at Amon.
He let go of her arm. "Perhaps we should get you some better walking shoes, if we are going to be doing some shopping," he said, finally taking note of her slim and delicate ankle boots. His eyes did not display any warmth; nevertheless, his actions had told her differently.
She smiled gently up into his eyes. " Grazie. "
People looked at them curiously as they walked along the main road, browsing at the vendors' stands and gazing into shops. The attire of most of the villagers was meager, and Robin supposed Amon's clothing looked foreign; but she felt she did not stand out in her black high-necked smock and bibbed dress, for many of the women seemed to dress conservatively, with long sleeves and dresses. Even so, she felt as though she were being stared at right along with her companion.
She spied a vendor with fresh figs, picked from a local orchard, and she went over to his cart. She had loved figs as a child, and rarely had been able to find them in Japan.
The vendor smiled at the young girl---so young, and yet with her ensemble, she must have been one of the cloth, perhaps a Sister of God in training. " Buon giorno ," he greeted her jovially. " Signorina , you like to try figs? I give you special, since you new customer; two for price of one." He seemed proud of his offer, for the figs really were of very good quality; and she was such a young, innocent-looking girl that he felt obliged to be generous. He looked over her head curiously as a tall, raven-haired man approached, coming up to stand behind her, his hair wild and his eyes dark and unforgiving.
The vendor's mouth popped open. Such a chaste-looking girl...with such an older, experienced-looking gentleman?...
" Quanto costa, per favore ?" Robin was asking, holding nine figs in her hands, her green eyes alight with pleasure. The vendor was still startled, distracted by Amon's presence behind her, and he hesitatingly named a figure.
" V-venti centesimos ," he said, his eyes still on her companion's.
" Venti ," Robin repeated, preparing to get coins from her pocket.
Amon narrowed his eyes.
" Dieci! Dieci centesimos ," the vendor was quick to correct himself, and he gave a short laugh. Amon's features relaxed slightly, and the vendor breathed a sigh of relief.
Robin paid him, thanking him with " molto grazie ", for his generosity, and he gave her a soft pouch to carry them in while they continued to shop. Amon nodded to the man as they moved on.
The vendor looked on after them with amazed curiosity. " Interessante ," he mumbled to himself.
Over the course of a few hours, they had moved along the street, buying mostly fruits and vegetables, their paces slowing as they had gradually begun to relax in the afternoon sun. It wasn't like himself to relax in a public location, Amon acknowledged; but he figured it was acceptable because of the safety of the village. Their risk of being discovered here seemed almost minimal.
Robin held out a fig from her bag to him. She had already eaten two figs herself. "Amon, try one."
Hesitantly he took it from her, examining the tear-shaped, golden fruit, before biting into it. It was sweet, and the pink-tinged juice unexpectedly ran down his chin.
Robin watched as he wiped the juice from his lips, having gotten over the initial surprise of the fruit's delicacy, and finished it off, rather ravenously.
"Are you hungry?" she offered softly. "We could stop and get a loaf of bread---"
"Iiya," he responded, finishing the fig and tossing the seed away. "Unless you are---"
" No ," she said. He was aware that she was gently correcting his Japanese again, translating it to Italian.
" No ," he repeated, and she inclined her head gracefully.
They walked along in silence for a few more moments.
"Have you lived in Japan all of your life?"
He was pensive as he paused to answer her. "I do not know where I was born," he responded. "I was too young when...when my family was separated. But I do know that I had lived in Japan since I could remember." He looked over at her. "Why?"
"You do not look very Japanese," Robin said, simply. "That is why I asked."
He knew it was true; his features had always been a bit different from most Japanese people. His face was more angular; his eyes less round, more cat-like. He supposed there was a blending of his ancestry somewhere...but he knew so little of his own background that it was impossible to verify.
"Your family was separated?" she asked, bringing him back to the conversation, and he visibly stiffened.
Robin instantly understood. " Vedo ," she said softly, shaking her head. "You don't need to tell me."
He looked at her again, mildly surprised, but grateful for her discretion. " Grazie , Robin," he said quietly. He tried to ignore the look of pleasure on her face at his unprovoked usage of Italian, but still he saw her out of the corner of his eye.
They came upon a man in front of a small cafe, who was busily trying to light a fire underneath the grill outside. The breeze was blowing out each feeble match he tried to light. It sounded as though he had already gone through several.
" Per favore, per amor di Dea ," he begged, as Robin listened from the street in passing. " Diana, dare mi luce! " She watched, her eyes widened, as he struggled with another match.
" Maledizione! " he cried in frustration, as the match again blew out. He turned to go into the cafe, yelling, presumably for his wife to help him, or to find a stronger lighter.
Robin and Amon passed by the cafe on their path on the street, and she inclined her head ever so slightly.
The grill sprang alight with flame.
The shop owner, seeing the lit fire, ran back outside and laughed maniacally, shaking his fist to the sky. " Grazie, Diana! Grazie! "
Amon's eyes widened then, and he stopped in his tracks, looking at Robin accusingly. " Robin! "
She turned her head towards him, surprised and a bit fearful.
He narrowed his eyes at her. "What do you think you're doing?"
She looked hurt. "I wanted to help him," she explained, but she saw he was having none of it.
"How can you use your Craft out in the open like this?" he asked, his voice harsh but with stern control. "Do you want us to be discovered?"
She shook her head, repentant. "No, of course not..." She was having trouble explaining herself. "I simply wanted to assist him, he was having such a difficult time---"
"That is no excuse for betraying our confidence," he seethed, " my confidence."
Robin was visibly upset. It seemed to her that all of the good moments she'd spent in his company during the afternoon were unraveling before her very eyes.
But something had occurred to her when he had said 'betray'.
"Amon...are you ashamed of me?" she asked hesitantly, her green eyes glazed with pain. "Of what I am?"
He looked at her for a long moment, then turned away.
"No, I'm not....ashamed," he bit out unwillingly. "But you should not use your powers so carelessly...as though you are showing them off." The instant the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them.
Robin had steeled herself for his response, and as a result her words were delivered with a stern yet gentle audacity, like velvet-covered iron.
"I don't use my power to show off, anymore than you had brought your gun today to intimidate anyone," she said, looking directly into his eyes, and watched as his features displayed uncharacteristic shock.
"How did you---"
"I remembered your gun is strapped into that jacket," she answered softly. "That is why you always had the jacket with you when you Hunted."
He felt the anger seeping out of his skin, as she went on.
"I have lived my entire life until now, doing things that I thought were right," she said, bowing her head as she spoke, "but they weren't...I believed people whom I trusted, and they had lied to me." She looked up at him again.
"I want to do things now the way I wish to do them, Amon."
He could not argue with her passionate plea; all of his adult life, while working for Zaizen, he had done the man's dirty work, had been faithful in service to him...and Zaizen had repayed him not only by lying to him, but by trying to kill him.
Amon knew what it was to regret.
And another thought, an errant one, occurred to him...through Robin, perhaps he would know what it was to feel something else.
Aside the shop, in an alley corner, an old woman was watching the exchange with knowing eyes. She had seen the fire, and the resulting argument between the young girl and her companion.
She smiled to herself in wonderment, whispering. "It is you.... La Bella Pellegrina. "
They had finished shopping an hour later, having continued on from the earlier argument in silence. Robin could detect that he was still slightly angry with her; but at the same time, it seemed as though he were looking at her in a new light.
She stopped at the edge of the downtown area as they were about to leave, gazing at a vending jeweler's precious stones. She pointed to a particularly beautiful one, with azure and emerald colors intermixed. " Come questa chiami? " she asked the vendor, who looked over to where she pointed.
"Ammonite," he responded. " Gemma di la serpe ."
She gazed at it longingly, before Amon finally urged her to head back with him; it was already late in the afternoon, and it was best to get back to Jana so she would not worry. Despite his earlier apprehension about her grandmother, Amon knew that even if she was a Witch, that he would protect her, as Robin had attempted to. She was important enough to Robin that he felt he could overlook the fact that she was an unknown Witch, with unknown powers.
After they had made it back to the house, Robin went about assisting her grandmother with cooking, as Amon went to work on his laptop, scanning news articles and vidfeeds from Japan.
Dinner was a quiet affair, with pasta and fresh salad made with the vegetables they had acquired while shopping. Jana noted the tense silences between her two guests, but made no mention of it.
Later that night, Robin lay awake again in bed, staring at the moon. It was still full, as it would be for two more days; suspended and swollen in the sky, a bright beacon of mysterious energy.
She felt the moonlight caressing her through the window, gentle rays of wisdom, calming her.
" Diana ," she whispered.
She fell into a sound, dreamless sleep.
Discovery of a familiar....Connection....A prayer. The children of darkness learn the path. Chapter 4.
Okay, now I have Italian AND Japanese translations! ^^;
Buon giorno: Good morning/ good day
consorte: 1. The husband or wife of a reigning monarch ^^; 2. a partner or companion
Con calma: slowly
Gomenasai: I'm very sorry
Quanto costa, per favore: How much, please?
venti centesimos: twenty cents
Dieci centesimos: ten cents
Vedo: I see
Per favore, per amor di Dea: Please, for the love of the Goddess
Diana, dare mi luce!: Diana, give me light!
Come questa chiami?: What is this called?
Gemma di la serpe: serpent's gemstone