1453. All signs point to it being the end of the world. Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome 17-year-old Luca Vero is recruited by a mysterious stranger to record the end of times across Europe. Commanded by sealed orders, Luca is sent to map the fears of Christendom, and travel to the very frontier of good and evil.
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Philippa Gregory was an established historian and writer when she discovered her interest in the Tudor period and wrote the internationally bestselling novel The Other Boleyn Girl. Her Cousin's War novels, reaching their dramatic conclusion with The King's Curse, were the basis for the highly successful BBC series, The White Queen. Philippa's other great interest is the charity that she founded over twenty years ago: Gardens for the Gambia. She has raised funds and paid for over 200 wells in the primary schools of this poor African country. Philippa is a former student of Sussex University and a PhD and Alumna of the Year 2009 of Edinburgh University. In 2016, she was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Historical Fiction Award by the Historical Writers' Association. Her love for history and commitment to historical accuracy are the hallmarks of her writing. Philippa lives with her family on a small farm in Yorkshire and welcomes visitors to her site www.PhilippaGregory.comExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
CASTLE SANT’ ANGELO,
ROME, JUNE 1453
The hammering on the door shot him into wakefulness like a handgun going off in his face. The young man scrambled for the dagger under his pillow, stumbling to his bare feet on the icy floor of the stone cell. He had been dreaming of his parents, of his old home, and he gritted his teeth against the usual wrench of longing for everything he had lost: the farmhouse, his mother, the old life.
The thunderous banging sounded again, and he held the dagger behind his back as he unbolted the door and cautiously opened it a crack. A dark-hooded figure stood outside, flanked by two heavyset men, each carrying a burning torch. One of them raised his torch so the light fell on the slight dark-haired youth, naked to the waist, wearing only breeches, his hazel eyes blinking under a fringe of dark hair. He was about seventeen, with a face as sweet as a boy, but with the body of a young man forged by hard work.
“You are to come with me.”
They saw him hesitate. “Don’t be a fool. There are three of us and only one of you, and the dagger you’re hiding behind your back won’t stop us.”
“It’s an order,” the other man said roughly. “Not a request. And you are sworn to obedience.”
Luca had sworn obedience to his monastery, not to these strangers, but he had been expelled from there, and now it seemed he must obey anyone who shouted a command. He turned to the bed, sat to pull on his boots, slipping the dagger into a scabbard hidden inside the soft leather, pulled on a linen shirt and then threw his ragged woolen cape around his shoulders.
“Who are you?” he asked, coming unwillingly to the door.
The man made no answer, but simply turned and led the way as the two guards waited in the corridor for Luca to come out of his cell and follow.
“Where are you taking me?”
The two guards fell in behind him without answering. Luca wanted to ask if he was under arrest, if he was being marched to a summary execution, but he did not dare. He was fearful of the very question; he acknowledged to himself that he was terrified of the answer. He could feel himself sweating with fear under his woolen cape, though the air was icy and the stone walls were cold and damp.
He knew that he was in the most serious trouble of his young life. Only yesterday four dark-hooded men had taken him from his monastery and brought him here, to this prison, without a word of explanation. He did not know where he was or who was holding him. He did not know what charge he might face. He did not know what the punishment might be. He did not know if he was going to be beaten, tortured or killed.
“I insist on seeing a priest, I wish to confess . . .” he said.
They paid no attention to him at all, but pressed him on, down the narrow stone-flagged gallery. It was silent, with the closed doors of cells on either side. He could not tell if it was a prison or a monastery, it was so cold and quiet. It was just after midnight, and the place was in darkness and utterly still. Luca’s guides made no noise as they walked along the gallery, down the stone steps, through a great hall and then down a little spiral staircase into a darkness that grew more and more black as the air grew more and more cold.
“I demand to know where you are taking me,” Luca insisted, but his voice shook with fear.
No one answered him, but the guard behind him closed up a little.
At the bottom of the steps, Luca could just see a small arched doorway and a heavy wooden door. The leading man opened it with a key from his pocket and gestured that Luca should go through. When he hesitated, the guard behind him simply moved closer until the menacing bulk of his body pressed Luca onward.
“I insist . . .” Luca breathed.
A hard shove thrust him through the doorway, and he gasped as he found himself flung to the very edge of a high, narrow quay, a boat rocking in the river a long way below, the far bank a dark blur in the distance. Luca flinched back from the brink. He had a sudden dizzying sense that they would be as willing to throw him over, onto the rocks below, as to take him down the steep stairs to the boat.
The first man went light-footed down the wet steps, stepped into the boat and said one word to the boatman who stood in the stern, holding the vessel against the current with the deft movements of a single oar. Then he looked back up to the handsome white-faced young man.
“Come,” he ordered.
Luca could do nothing else. He followed the man down the greasy steps, clambered into the boat and seated himself in the prow. The boatman did not wait for the guards but turned his craft into the middle of the river and let the current sweep them around the city wall. Luca glanced down into the dark water. If he were to fling himself over the side of the boat, he would be swept downstream—he might be able to swim with the current and make it to the other side and get away. But the water was flowing so fast he thought he was more likely to drown, if they did not come after him in the boat and knock him senseless with the oar.
“My lord,” he said, trying for dignity. “May I ask you now where we are going?”
“You’ll know soon enough,” came the terse reply. The river ran like a wide moat around the tall walls of the city of Rome. The boatman kept the little craft close to the lee of the walls, hidden from the sentries above; then Luca saw ahead of them the looming shape of a stone bridge and, just before it, a grille set in an arched stone doorway of the wall. As the boat nosed inward, the grille slipped noiselessly up and, with one practiced push of the oar, they shot inside, into a torch-lit cellar.
With a deep lurch of fear, Luca wished that he had taken his chance with the river. There were half a dozen grim-faced men waiting for him, and as the boatman held a well-worn ring on the wall to steady the craft, they reached down and hauled Luca out of the boat, to push him down a narrow corridor. Luca felt, rather than saw, thick stone walls on either side, smooth wooden floorboards underfoot; heard his own breathing, ragged with fear; then they paused before a heavy wooden door, struck it with a single knock and waited.
A voice from inside the room said, “Come!” and the guard swung the door open and thrust Luca inside. Luca stood, heart pounding, blinking at the sudden brightness of dozens of wax candles, and heard the door close silently behind him.
A solitary man was sitting at a table, papers before him. He wore a robe of rich velvet in so dark a blue that it appeared almost black, the hood completely concealing his face from Luca, who stood before the table and swallowed down his fear. Whatever happened, he decided, he was not going to beg for his life. Somehow, he would find the courage to face whatever was coming. He would not shame himself, nor his tough stoic father, by whimpering like a girl.
“You will be wondering why you are here, where you are, and who I am,” the man said. “I will tell you these things. But, first, you must answer me everything that I ask. Do you understand?”
“You must not lie to me. Your life hangs in the balance here, and you cannot guess what answers I would prefer. Be sure to tell the truth: you would be a fool to die for a lie.”
Luca tried to nod but found he was shaking.
“You are Luca Vero, a novice priest at the monastery of St. Xavier, having joined the monastery when you were a boy of eleven? You have been an orphan for the last three years, since your parents died when you were fourteen?”
“My parents disappeared,” Luca said. He cleared his tight throat. “They may not be dead. They were captured by an Ottoman raid, but nobody saw them killed. Nobody knows where they are now, but they may very well be alive.”
The Inquisitor made a minute note on a piece of paper before him. Luca watched the tip of the black feather as the quill moved across the page. “You hope,” the man said briefly. “You hope that they are alive and will come back to you.” He spoke as if hope was the greatest folly.
“Raised by the brothers, sworn to join their holy order, yet you went to your confessor, and then to the abbot, and told them that the relic that they keep at the monastery, a nail from the true cross, was a fake.”
The monotone voice was accusation enough. Luca knew this was a citation of his heresy. He knew also that the only punishment for heresy was death.
“I didn’t mean . . .”
“Why did you say the relic was a fake?”
Luca looked down at his boots, at the dark wooden floor, at the heavy table, at the lime-washed walls—anywhere but at the shadowy face of the softly spoken questioner. “I will beg the abbot’s pardon and do penance,” he said. “I didn’t mean heresy. Before God, I am no heretic. I meant no wrong.”
“I shall be the judge if you are a heretic, and I have seen younger men than you, who have done and said less than you, crying on the rack for mercy as their joints pop from their sockets. I have heard better men than you begging for the stake, longing for death as their only release from pain.”
Luca shook his head at the thought of the Inquisition, which could order this fate for him and see it done, and think it to the glory of God. He dared to say nothing more.
“Why did you say the relic was a fake?”
“I did not mean . . .”
“It is a piece of a nail about three inches long, and a quarter of an inch wide,” Luca said unwillingly. “You can see it, though it is now mounted in gold and covered with jewels. But you can still see the size of it.”
The Inquisitor nodded. “So?”
“The abbey of St. Peter has a nail from the true cross. So does the abbey of St. Joseph. I looked in the monastery library to see if there were any others, and there are about four hundred nails in Italy alone, more in France, more in Spain, more in England.”
The man waited in unsympathetic silence.
“I calculated the likely size of the nails,” Luca said miserably. “I calculated the number of pieces that they might have been broken into. It didn’t add up. There are far too many relics for them all to come from one crucifixion. The Bible says a nail in each palm and one through the feet. That’s only three nails.” Luca glanced at the dark face of his interrogator. “It’s not blasphemy to say this, I don’t think. The Bible itself says it clearly. Then, in addition, if you count the nails used in building the cross, there would be four at the central joint to hold the cross bar. That makes seven original nails. Only seven. Say each nail is about five inches long. That’s about thirty-five inches of nails used in the true cross. But there are thousands of relics. That’s not to say whether any nail or any fragment is genuine or not. It’s not for me to judge. But I can’t help but see that there are just too many nails for them all to come from one cross.”
Still the man said nothing.
“It’s numbers,” Luca said helplessly. “It’s how I think. I think about numbers—they interest me.”
“You took it upon yourself to study this? And you took it upon yourself to decide that there are too many nails in churches around the world for them all to be true, for them all to come from the sacred cross?”
Luca dropped to his knees, knowing himself to be guilty. “I meant no wrong,” he whispered upward at the shadowy figure. “I just started wondering, and then I made the calculations, and then the abbot found my paper where I had written the calculations and—” He broke off.
“The abbot, quite rightly, accused you of heresy and forbidden studies, misquoting the Bible for your own purposes, reading without guidance, showing independence of thought, studying without permission, at the wrong time, studying forbidden books . . .” the man continued, reading from the list. He looked at Luca. “Thinking for yourself. That’s the worst of it, isn’t it? You were sworn into an order with certain established beliefs, and then you started thinking for yourself.”
Luca nodded. “I am sorry.”
“The priesthood does not need men who think for themselves.”
“I know,” Luca said, very low.
“You made a vow of obedience—that is a vow not to think for yourself.”
Luca bowed his head, waiting to hear his sentence.
The flame of the candles bobbed as somewhere outside a door opened and a cold draft blew through the rooms.
“Always thought like this? With numbers?”
“Any friends in the monastery? Have you discussed this with anyone?”
He shook his head. “I didn’t discuss this.”
The man looked at his notes. “You have a companion called Freize?”
Luca smiled for the first time. “He’s just the kitchen boy at the monastery,” he said. “He took a liking to me as soon as I arrived, when I was just eleven. He was only twelve or thirteen himself. He made up his mind that I was too thin; he said I wouldn’t last the winter. He kept bringing me extra food. He’s just the spit lad, really.”
“You have no brother or sister?”
“I am alone in the world.”
“You miss your parents?”
“You are lonely?” The way he said it sounded like yet another accusation.
“I suppose so. I feel very alone, if that is the same thing.”
The man rested the black feather of the quill against his lips in thought. “Your parents . . .” He returned to the first question of the interrogation. “They were quite old when you were born?”
“Yes,” Luca said, surprised. “Yes.”
“People talked at the time, I understand. That such an old couple should suddenly give birth to a son, and such a handsome son, who grew to be such an exceptionally clever boy?”
“It’s a small village,” Luca said defensively. “People have nothing to do but gossip.”
“But clearly, you are handsome. Clearly, you are clever. And yet they did not brag about you or show you off. They kept you quietly at home.”
“We were close,” Luca replied. “We were a close, small family. We troubled nobody else, we lived quietly, the three of us.”
“Then why did they give you to the Church? Was it that they thought you would be safer inside the Church? That you were specially gifted? That you needed the Church’s protection?”
Luca, still on his knees, shuffled in discomfort. “I don’t know. I was a child: I was only eleven. I don’t know what they were thinking.”
The Inquisitor waited.
“They wanted me to have the education of a priest,” he said eventually. “My father—” He paused at the thought of his beloved father, of his gray hair and his hard grip, of his tenderness to his funny, quirky little son. “My father was very proud that I learned to read, that I taught myself about numbers. He couldn’t write or read himself; he thought it was a great talent. Then when some gypsies came through the village, I learned their language.”
The man made a note. “You can speak languages?”
“People remarked that I learned to speak Romany in a day. My father thought that I had a gift, a God-given gift. It’s not so uncommon,” he tried to explain. “Freize, the spit boy, is good with animals; he can do anything with horses, he can ride anything. My father thought that I had a gift like that, only for studying. He wanted me to be more than a farmer. He wanted me to do better.”
The Inquisitor sat back in his chair, as if he was weary of listening, as if he had heard more than enough. “You c...
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Descrizione libro 2013. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Paperback. The year is 1453, and all signs point to it being the end of the world. Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old, Luca Vero, is recruited by a mysteri.Shipping may be from multiple locations in the US or from the UK, depending on stock availability. 288 pages. 0.247. Codice libro della libreria 9780857077325
Descrizione libro Simon & Schuster, 2013. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. The first in an exciting and atmospheric new YA series from the Queen of Historical Fiction!(FIRM SALE). Paperback. Codice libro della libreria MM-44003505
Descrizione libro 2013. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Paperback. The year is 1453, and all signs point to it being the end of the world. Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old, Luca Vero, is recruited.Shipping may be from our Sydney, NSW warehouse or from our UK or US warehouse, depending on stock availability. 288 pages. 0.247. Codice libro della libreria 9780857077325