[excerpt from The Diaries of Other Pendragon © 2017 by TrilloCom LLC]
After my wanderings across the ruins of Europe, all I wanted to do in Florence was bask in the sun and forget looking over my shoulder for assassins. The Medicis had prettied the place up a lot, and I liked nothing better than to buy a dish of zuppa inglese for a trifling sum and sit eating it at a table on the Ponte Vecchio, watching passersby and the boats on the Arno.
I was doing just that, and reading a book on Arabic calligraphy loaned me by Mr. Collins, when the waiter approached with another dish, saying, “Compliments of the lady, Sir Knight”. He nodded toward the bar, then said, “Huh, she was there a moment ago. Tall woman.”
“Perhaps she is shy,” I said. It seemed churlish to refuse her generosity so I ate, feigning good appetite. I had barely finished, though, when a great weariness overcame me, and I laid my head on my arms for a moment’s nap. Almost at once, though, I felt the harpstring vibration that signalled the presence of Immortals, and heard pained wails enough to cause women to miscarry, animals to perish and plants to become barren. I looked up to see my old enemy Red Dog, twanging his bizarre battle lute in the street, being ignored by the locals, who passed by quickly, carefully avoiding his empty hat on the pavement. He was aiming kicks at the small white dog I had seen in Beijing, which was yapping ferociously and trying to bite his ankles. “Ha!” I cried, recalling the recent unpleasantness in England, “white dog and Red Dog, the houses of Yorkie and Stratocaster.” This struck me as wonderfully funny and I laughed loud and long.
[biographer’s note: This passage has caused some controversy among scholars, with some suggesting the dog was a West Highland terrier, and others arguing that it was more likely an albino Yorkshire terrier. Sir Other is misremembering this encounter, or possibly he never knew that Yorkies are not white. The obvious anachronism re the musical instrument is surely excusable in a person of his age.]
My amusement came to an abrupt end when I glanced at the river to see a fearsome serpent-like head and neck above the water, swimming upstream. It turned to look at me with a stare of such terrifying malignance as to burn the scales off a basilisk, and I was suddenly taken back to Agincourt, where, I recalled, I had carelessly Scotched the snake, but not killed it. Dizzy as I was, I leapt up to flee, but felt a tug at my sleeve, and looked down to see a street urchin who said, “Vieni, vieni, Signore, you like pictures? Molto bunga bunga. Vieni.” The cobblestones were undulating like waves on the sea, and I knew not where else to go, so I followed as he led me down ever-smaller lanes and alleys, stopping at a plain wooden door, which he opened.
I was abruptly in a grand room, rich as a palace, facing a curious painting on the wall. It depicted a maiden sans clothes, modestly covering herself with her hands, and I felt again the vibration, or something like it.
My eyes seemed fixed on her form as by some charm, but as I was trying to discern whether she was a natural redhead, a tiny far-off voice sounded in my head:
Her flashing eyes are not down there!
Weave a circle round them thrice,
Spy not her tits, thou knave ill-bred
For that have countless mortals bled;
They’ll have your head off in a trice.
Wait! They? I blinked and dragged my gaze upwards to her face, to find the portrait had changed to an image of three maidens, dressed in diaphanous gowns.
Each had the face and ancient eyes of the lady I had seen in the tavern in Avignon so long ago, but more, it was the face of Sylvia (not her real name) the woman I had loved and lost (wait, how many times?) in the past. Could it be?
A hand on my shoulder woke me, and I lifted my head from the table as the waiter said, “Curfew has sounded, sir. Time to go home.” The streets were empty as I stumbled to the inn.
My head is full of questions. Whence came this vision, and what does it mean? Whose was the tiny warning voice? Who is Sylvia? What is she?
Now I am afraid to sleep.