‘E chi non dubita che più non sia alle umane menti aggradevoli una fontana che naturalmente esca dalle vive pietre?’ - Jacopo Sannazaro, Arcadia.
She was bashing a head against a heap of stones. The owner of the head had long been dead, but the bashing continued until it was all nicely squeezed out. It was a pitiful spectacle, especially whenever the sleeve of her dress got stuck between two particularly pointy peaks and she had to stop and tug it free. Once there was nothing else to get from the head, she stood up. Instinctively, she went to clean her nose with her sleeve but stopped herself when she saw not one spot of it was free of blood. She turned around and then and closed her eyes. From a moment of perfect silence, following the breaking of bones and the gelatinous sound of hidden flesh, came a concert of previously unheard-of noises. First, came water, running down the slope. Then came a growing whistle, wind against trees. She opened her eyes. From the stones, a source was born, from the head. But where was the head from?
Once upon a time, there was a cart pulled by a tired creature of a horse. It was driven by a woman in men’s clothes. She was Costanza in the shoes of Costanzo. Another occupant rode on the back of the cart. Another woman, dressed in rags. Her face seemed permanently contorted by a grin, as if everything she saw amused her – which is quite absurd since she had always been blind. Costanzo stared at the road ahead but could still feel upon them the curious gazes of those who inhabited the streets. The men on the high road had grim, pale faces – so did the women, and so did their children. The men down the high road also had pale, grim faces – so did the women, and so did their children. Costanzo tried to ignore them. The old tale came to mind, of the first woman who coupled with the night and gave birth to a hundred children, all looking the same; and once she coupled with her children, their children all looked the same. Until the first betrayal, and the second woman, the first child, coupled with the earth, and gave birth to other children – different-looking children.
Stop! someone yelled.
Costanzo immediately acquiesced and met pale, grim eyes. They belonged to a soldier. The border of the king’s land were well-guarded, no one could enter without his permission. Even the sun was scared of trespassing. Immediately Costanzo handed him a piece of paper. The soldier looked unconvinced but grunted his assent to his fellow grim soldiers and let the cart pass.
From there to the palace it was a short trip. They first encountered a church. It was as grey as the sky, the stones old and dry, dirty as the earth beneath. A funeral was taking place. The congregation looked sombre, and many were crying over a small, small coffin. A woman was standing next to a man but never looked at him, her gaze riveted instead on the man in black that stood taller than anyone else. Once the cart passed right in front of it, the old woman started laughing. No one heard her.
Then, the cart crossed the market place where a public hanging was taking place. Another man dressed all in black was reading the accusations, purging this body from the community, redeeming their future. The old woman laughed some more, and once more she was not heard.
They reached the palace in the end that the laughter had not yet died on the woman’s lips.
Costanzo and the woman were allowed entrance. They were received in a room that seemed to go on forever. A hundred mirrors were bouncing reflections back at each other, their gilded frames shining. Only three candles were burning but, because of the mirrors reflecting the light, the room seemed more intensely illuminated. They walked its length, until they reached a golden chair onto which a fat man was reclining. The old woman laughed when she turned to him and the king turned red – he looked like a flame with his blonde hair in disarray. However, he said nothing. He had invited the old woman because she was known as the Seer and he needed his future.
I shall speak to you alone, King.
The king agreed to the Seer’s command and with her left the room. He needed his future.
Once alone, Costanzo noticed a shadow besides the throne. The young prince moved forward languidly and revealed a face not unlike that of his father.
You must not be from around here, the prince said.
I am not, replied Costanzo
Where you are from, is it like my kingdom?
The sun dances often, where I am from. And water runs free.
I have heard such stories before and believed them to be no more than words.
My land was not dissimilar to yours once, and then my mother married my father and from her union all the wealth was born. The same fate awaits me when I will find the right man.
You are a maiden?
And your union will also be blessed by such gift.
I will make a union fruitful, I shall bring the greatest treasures on this earth.
The prince started at Costanza and plotted.
Before any more was said, the king barged back in, his sword in his right hand. He was even more like a flame, bursting forward. His target, his own son. The young prince tried deflecting the king’s blows. The soldiers looked at one another but stayed immobile. The king abandoned his sword in frustration and lunged forward. He misstepped, fell, and hit his head against a gilded frame. The blood from his head was no more than a puddle but looked like a lake in the bouncing reflections of the mirrors.
The new King was saved. His first action was to bring Costanza to him and announce his nuptials. On their wedding day, they travelled in splendour on a golden carriage, across the same road Costanzo had crossed. The same grim, pale faces surrounded her. There was the woman from the funeral, next to the man, but secretly holding the priest’s hand, still grieving their child. The man from the hanging was also there, the gold that was stolen weighing in his pocket.
The Seer’s laughter could be heard despite the noise.
King, do you see those stones, east of the high road?Asked Costanza. There our wealth shall begin.
They stopped the carriage and on foot proceeded to the spikey stones.
Their meeting became indeed fruitful, and in blood Arcadia was born.
This story is inspired by the Italian folk tale of Costanzo/Costanza along with the Renaissance story of Arcadia.