The Alice Series #1
Alice of the Rocks
by E. Graziani
Born in 1495 and raised in 2012, Alice Ferro’s life has been anything but normal. The only problem is, she doesn’t know it. As a 17-year-old in 2029, she has an ideal life, complete with loving parents and a summer vacation in Italy. But, upon arriving in Florence, sensations of surreal memories begin to surface, leaving her puzzled and confused.
Knowing that reconnecting with his lost love could be dangerous for both of them, but willing to take the risk, Claudio Moro seeks out Alice in her new world. Having been accused of both treason and murder, he needs Alice to help clear his name and redeem his family’s honor. The question is, will Alice remember their love and care enough to leave her perfect future to redirect his doomed past?
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Distance was all that mattered. For the moment, she feared not what was ahead, only what was behind.
Frenzied and breathless, she paused to catch her breath and looked back at the looming hills behind her. Darkness had befriended her for a time, but her instincts told her that the unforgiving full moon would soon rise, making the likelihood of tracking her down much easier for the Medici guards.
There, amongst a thicket of tender olive trees, she put a hand over her mouth to choke back a cry and glanced skyward to the summer heavens—coal black and heavy with stars.
Inclining her head, she listened, her senses wildly aware. The midnight air was still. So still, it easily gave up the cry of baying dogs in the distance halfway between Fiesole and Florence. The wretched sound was barely audible, but she recognized it all too well.
Relentlessly, they had followed her scent down the steep slopes of the Fiesole valley from which the town took its name.
The young woman bolted from the grove, her ribs heaving with no benefit as she struggled down the hill to outrun the hounds and soldiers. Suddenly, she came to an abrupt stop. Her blood ran cold, as she doubled back to a clump of overgrown bramble bushes. A shadow moved ahead.
“Blast!” she snapped a hissing whisper at the wild dog and wiped the sweat from her brow on her sleeve. “Away with you!”
In the madness, her drenched muddy skirts caught in the tangled wood and she was faintly aware of stinging on her face as some of the branches scratched her delicate cheeks. There she sat stone still and listened, her heart beating in her ears like thunder.
Dashing out of the shrubs, she continued down the incline, running low to the ground, the dogs yelping far in the distance. At long last, the outline of the city ramparts appeared—the Porta Rossa, the main gate to the city of Florence. Hope was renewed, and she held back a sob.
As the young woman came upon the city walls, she stopped to catch her breath. She looked down at her skirts and brushed off the brambles, then hastily tucked her tangled mane of hair into her bonnet.
As she approached the gates, the cold sound of metal against metal made her start.
“You there, girlie,” called down one of the sentinels, in a greasy tone. “What do you mean by being out and about at this hour?”
“If you please, sir, I have been assisting the midwife at one of the outlying homesteads.” She disguised her fear with impatience and moved closer to the small door in the massive wrought iron rampart. “I will thank you for letting me enter, sir, lest I should be here all night and be missed by the physician in the morrow.”
A pause. “Let her in,” mumbled the guard. The gate opened, and she entered Florence proper.
The young woman walked past the ogling sentinels at the ramparts, resisting the urge to look back. Slow your pace. You have triumphed this far, do not forsake caution now.
She strolled at first, not wanting to attract attention by running into the dark and deserted streets, but when she was out of their sight, she bolted for the Ponte Vecchio.
Beyond depleted, she crossed the Old Bridge over the murky Arno River and continued her quest, her skirts swishing in the silence. She searched street by street, door by door, determined to find the portico. Her worn and dirty shoes padded softly on the cobblestones on the narrow roads.
Growing discouraged, she looked up in silent panic at the windows above her. They were quiet and dim, haphazardly dotting the frescoed walls of the row houses. She imagined the people inside, sleeping and dreaming—the sleep of the innocent—and ached to be in their place and for Claudio to be safe.
She longed for this because, until just a fortnight ago, the young woman had been a scullery maid—unremarkable, small, and unnoticed—her life filled with uncomplicated daily drudgery in the enormous household of the Duke of Florence, Giuliano de Medici.
She was a kitchen servant, the lowest of the low in the pecking order of the palace: washer of pots and dishes, of kitchen floors. Occasionally, she helped the cooks in cleaning and peeling vegetables, fetching water, plucking fowl, and scaling fish. It was hard work for a young woman of seventeen, but it was the station into which she had been born.
Yet now she found herself running for her life and feeling the most alone she had ever felt in her short existence. “Do not be afraid,” she murmured, reassuring herself. “The Master will surely assist us.”
As she rounded the corner onto the Via dello Sprone, she peered more intently at the houses, their distinctiveness imperceptible but for the presence of doors every few arms’ length out of the corner of her eye, she spotted two tall, marble columns flanking a portico. There it is! This must be the Master’s residence.
Craning her head from side to side, the girl scrutinized the windows to ensure no one was watching. She approached. It was Master Leonardo’s portico, exactly how Claudio had described it. She knocked resolutely as she contained her agitation, imagining herself, at any moment captured and dragged off to the Medici dungeons.
Then, far off in the distance, she heard them anew—the dogs. Fear knotted inside her. She knocked again, louder this time. “Please, I beg of you, please answer,” she murmured.
Yelps of dogs and voices of men loomed as her fist pounded the wood. Answer, answer, she begged silently.
Finally, heavy footsteps came from inside.
“What the devil! Who is there?” demanded a distant voice from the other side.
Again, she brought her fist to the door. “Open, open…please open,” she whispered.
“What in the bloody hell is the meaning of this?” The voice cursed as the steps hastened. “Why am I to be awakened at this uncivilized hour? What in the name of heaven could be so important?”
“Please, sir,” she implored. “I beg your forgiveness. My name is Elisa Beatrice de Povri…you must help me, Master Leonardo. I fear the Medici have ordered my arrest, and their guards are close at hand.” She paused to gulp a breath. “I have come from Fiesole at great risk this night to plead for your assistance. I beg of you, in the name of Count Claudio Moro, please hear me.” Elisa spoke with her hands clasped palm to palm as if the old man on the other side of the door could see her pleading.
And so she waited, her eyes closed in prayer. Would he show mercy or turn her away? She could envision him deliberating. “Mercy, please, sir,” she whispered.
There was another pause, then the door creaked open just a sliver. A portly old man in a well-worn calico nightshirt, with long white hair and a beard to match, held a single flickering candle. He blinked at her from the small opening he had allowed between himself and the wild-eyed young girl standing at his doorstep. Master Leonardo da Vinci—this man was Elisa’s only hope.