G I V E A W A Y E N D E D
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Gianetta is born in a farmhouse in Fiesole. Her mother dies in childbirth. The unnamed father is distraught but leaves her in the care of her grandmother and returns home.
The Story (1478):
Gianetta grows up and moves to Florence, where she is in service to a wealthy family of textile merchants – the Rosini. They are friends to and supporters of the powerful Medici clan. In the small, tight-knit group of staff, we meet Eleonora (cook), Luigi (Signor Francesco Rosini’s private assistant), Antonio and Lucia and our hero, Matteo. Gianetta and Matteo are in love and have a happy, peaceful life with the kind and generous Rosini family. They enjoy entertaining at Palazzo Rosini, where the Medici and Botticelli are frequent visitors.
Following the suspected poisoning of Lorenzo de’ Medici and near death of Giuliano de’ Medici, both within the Rosini family home, there is suspicion that there is a traitor in the house and speculation as to who it might be.
In Botticelli’s workshop (where Matteo worked previously), there is discussion about unrest in Florence with rumours in the city that Medici days in power are numbered, and there may be trouble at Easter.
Setting the scene: Matteo is a manservant in Palazzo Rosini, and Cesare Conti is a guest at the family banquet that night, but clearly, they have come across each other before…
Matteo remained behind to make sure that all the guests’ cloaks were hanging neatly and away from the fire, so that they didn’t smell of smoke by the end of the evening. He hadn’t noticed a figure standing quietly behind him until he heard a slight cough. Turning round, he almost bumped straight into Cesare Conti. He had been half expecting this but had hoped to avoid a direct conversation with him.
“Signor Conti,” he said, with a small bow. “Can I help you?”
“Oh, I think you have already helped me enough, don’t you?” The young man’s piercing green eyes looked directly at Matteo. Then, as if the sun had come out, Cesare broke into a beaming smile and put his arm around Matteo.
“I just wanted to thank you…for last week. What a coincidence that you should be passing, just as I was leaving that place.”
“I have to pass it occasionally when I am running errands for Eleonora. What goes on there is no concern of mine, ser.” Matteo was uncomfortable and hoped that was the end of the conversation. He made to move towards the stairs, but Cesare’s grip tightened.
“We are grown men…er…”
“We are grown men, Matteo. Women serve a purpose from time to time. Indeed, some are very beautiful, but some of us also have other needs, which must be satisfied. Sadly, the city looks on some of those needs as vices, the “Florentine vice”, I believe some call it.” He shook his head, sadly. “Whatever the rights or wrongs of the situation, I could have been arrested that day. You could have turned me in to the guard, and the life I have now would have been over. But you didn’t, and I wondered why.”
“It’s none of my business, ser. As I said, I pass that place often, and who I see going in or coming out is no concern of mine.”
Cesare raised an eyebrow. “I suspect you hold many secrets, Matteo.” He paused, as if deciding his next words carefully. Then he shone his beaming smile at Matteo. “Thank you, Matteo. Your discretion is noted and appreciated. I…” He paused, “…won’t forget it.” With a last glance, Cesare turned on his heel and bounded up the stairs to the dining room.
Setting the scene: After the bloody conspiracy in the Duomo, the culprits have been rounded up and hanged. We know that there was a traitor in Palazzo Rosini, but we don’t know who it is…yet…
As she approached the building, Gianetta began to feel some unease. Crowds had gathered around the building to gawp at the corpses of those who had taken part in the atrocities of just a few days before. They still swung from the high windows, beginning to rot now in the sunshine. Their bloated faces and swollen tongues had taken on a greenish hue. Some had already lost their eyes to passing birds. Their clothing was stained, either with blood from their fighting, or from the moment they realised their fate and soiled themselves. Unlike many of the people of Florence, Gianetta had no wish to linger in the area and quickened her step. She manoeuvred around a group of women, who had paused their daily tasks to gossip and pass judgement on the culprits.
“Vai all’inferno!” shouted one, as if the dead were not already in Hell.
“Not so brave now, are you, bastardo?” called another.
“Figlio di puttana!”
As the profanities fell from their lips, they crossed themselves piously. A group of small boys entertained themselves by throwing stones at the corpses, cheering riotously when one hit its mark, making it swing. Gianetta kept her gaze firmly to the ground, until she almost tripped over a young man. She recognised him as an acquaintance of Signor Sandro’s, an artist from the small town of Vinci in the hills of Tuscany. She had served him during a Rosini family banquet and remembered thinking that he had intelligent eyes.
“Signor Leonardo! Buongiorno!” She gave a small curtsey, as the well-dressed young man rose from his seat on the road.
“Buongiorno,” he replied, with a bow of his head. “Surely this is no place for a member of the Rosini household?”
“No, ser,” replied Gianetta. “I had to pass here to reach the macelleria. I do not intend to stay any longer than is necessary.” She started to move past him, but then her eye caught sight of a paper in his hand.
He saw her looking at his work and lifted it to show her more clearly. He had been making an ink drawing of one of the hanged men.
Gianetta looked horrified. “I don’t understand, Signor Leonardo. This is not the art that you create. Yours is beautiful. This is…ugly. Death is ugly.”
“Certo!” he agreed. “Death is ugly, but our life is made by the death of others. It is only by understanding this that we can learn and grow.”
Gianetta looked uncertain, but Leonardo said, “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding. I am here to simply understand. That is all.”
Gianetta looked at his drawing, then back at the man with intelligent eyes. Her own eyes then slowly turned towards the walls of the Bargello and upwards, to the hanged men. What she saw hit her in the pit of her stomach, so much so that she gasped out loud and staggered backward.
The Rose of Florence is my first novel, borne of a love for the history, art and city of Florence, grown over many years. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.
My background is in healthcare, and I have been a University lecturer since 2010. My writing experience was limited to a Masters dissertation, purely academic, but the research skills I learned during that process were soon put to use in researching my favourite topic, the Italian Renaissance. It didn’t take long before the seeds of a story began to germinate, and The Rose of Florence blossomed.
I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) and the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) in 2020 and found the encouragement and resources available taught me so much about the process and skills needed to write fiction. I have been lucky enough to have the support of the same NWS reviewer since joining, and her advice and guidance has proven invaluable, and I am now a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2023 for debut authors.
I am also a member of the Society of Authors.