At Childhood’s End

Aquila, The Home of Marco di Talmerin-

I think I was fourteen, the first time Marco asked me the question that would define me, define my life and guide every action I took, from that moment on. He sat me down in his study one night having just finished the books. The room was bathed in fire light. For just a moment, I was back there, in that small town in Etruvia and everything was on fire. I don’t know how long I froze for, lost in the memory as I stared at the fire, but it was Marco’s voice that pulled me back from the flames.

“Corvo?” His voice seemed far away, muffled as if by distance and barriers, “Corvo!?” This time it was louder and I was brought back to the present with a startled jolt.

“Spiacente, zio.” I cast my eyes down feeling the heat as my cheeks flushed red. It had been three years since I’d come to live with my uncle in Aquila. I served as his apprentice, learning all he had to teach me.

“Va bene, Nipote. Come, sit and talk with me a moment?” He motioned to one of the chairs. It was finely crafted wood, the seat padded with woven wool and soft leather, wrapped and tacked. My uncle purchased it from Umberto Viotolli, a master carpenter. Only nobles and the wealthiest of merchants could afford his goods. I took my seat, across from him and gazed at him. His bronze skin, gleamed in the light of the fire. He was a round man, but muscular and so long as I’d known him he had kept his hair in a tonsure, because he had always said, one very stressful year had caused it to almost always fall out.

“Si, zio. What do you wish to talk about?” I asked. My uncle fixed me with a serious gaze. He heaved a sigh and I half expected that I was about to get scolded for something I’d done, or forgot to do. Anxiously, I traces the lines carved into the sides of the chair’s arms; flowers and vines, the kind that were often stitched into the fine brocade patterns found on my doublets.

“Nipote,” he said, holding his hands and placing them atop his closed ledger, “there comes a time in every young man’s life, when he must ask himself what kind of man he wants to be. Your Nonno asked your Papa and I this same question when we were about your age. He asked us, ‘What kind of men do you want to be? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you want this world to remember you?’” His gaze shifted, and his brow rose, ever so slightly as he asked, “So, Nipote, what kind of man do you want to be?”

The question had come, seemingly, out of nowhere. I was floored. Until Marco had asked it, I had never given any consideration to the fact that my life was, ultimately, in my hands. I could not forever remain an apprentice, but the gravity of that truth had never settled on me until that very moment when Marco put it into words.

“I… I think I would like to be remembered, zio, as a good man, as a man who helped others,” I finally answered. Somewhere, in the back of my mind I remembered my father. Though a merchant by trade, and one of the wealthiest men in our town, my father was never unwilling to help another. He lived and breathed by the words of the Testimonium and the idea of a divine brotherhood, and I cannot help but think that had he survived to raise me himself, I would be a very different man than the one I am today.

My uncle smiled softly, but it was a sad smile as he said, “That, I think, is your papa talking.”

Whatever my uncle might have been about to say was cut off as I added, “But I would also like to be remembered as a wealthy man. As a man who knew luxury, and whose family wanted for nothing.” My uncled nodded, with his hands still folded he leaned back slightly in his chair, resting them on his belly.

“Oh, Corvo,” his voice carried in it a note of sorrow, “I fear that you have chosen the hardest path. It is very easy to be a wealthy man, if you are willing to do whatever it takes. It is easy enough to be a good man, if you are mindful of what you do, and how you do it. But it is not so easy to be both of those things. Your papa was a better man than I am, and even he was not without sin. At times, both your papa and I would do a bad thing, in order to do many good things, and that sometimes earned us enemies, but if this is the path you truly wish to walk, if this is the man you wish to become, it is not enough to simply possess wealth and finery. Wealth is never the end goal, nipote. It has never been. Wealth is just a tool. All of the coin in the world, is just a tool. The trick is in knowing how to use the tool.”

“Will you teach me?” I asked, I felt hope in my chest, that I could do this thing. With all of my being I believed I could do great things. At that moment, Maria entered the study. She was a courtesan in the truest sense of the word, and while not married to my uncle, she was his consort, and loyal to him. She slid her arm around my uncles shoulder, even as he wrapped his own about her waist. For a moment, they shared a look, which to me was a mixture of pride, and hope, and fear.

“Si, Corvo,” Maria said, nodding gently as they both returned their gazes to me.

“We will teach you all we know,” added Marco, “We begin tomorrow.”


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