July 20, 1928 - Florence
Madelyn Mary York clasped her hands as she stood before the headstone of her uncle, Sir Jonathon Thomas York. The cemetery was lush and quiet, surrounded by ancient trees and twittering birds. A cool breeze blew across her delicate features, catching the pink ribbons of her bonnet.
Standing respectfully off to one side was a young man with bookish features, large glasses resting on a large nose. He shuffled his feet with embarrassment. He was not used to playing host.
Dipping her head in silent prayer, Madelyn finished, crossed herself, and turned. She smiled primly. “Thank you, Carlos. You were most gracious to volunteer your time to allow me to see my uncle.”
The young man blushed. “No inconvenience, ma’am. My pleasure.”
She walked up to him and held out her arm. “I would like to see his apartment now, if you please.”
He took the crooked arm awkwardly, not used to the social graces of the upper class. After a moment he admitted her touch was refreshing. “This way, ma’am, just a short walk along the Arno.”
Sir Jonathon’s apartment was large and congested, books and magazines scattered with maps and research papers. Still, it held a quaintness that Madelyn found comfortable. And the view from the balcony was spectacular.
“Tea, Miss York?” Carlos asked from the kitchen.
“Thank you, yes.” Madelyn replied as she investigated the study. There was the huge fireplace, a log partially spent, the high backed plush chair, well worn, and the end table with glass stains ingrained on its surface. Uncle sure enjoyed his scotch.
Coming to the kitchen, she stopped to gather a collection of mail. “Oh dear. I thought the lawyers had dealt with his outstanding bills.” She leafed through the stack, noted they were primarily magazines and solicitations. Finally she came to a package. It was postmarked from the University of Florence. She held it up. “Carlos, what would you know of this?”
The young man entered with a tray of tea, almost dropped it when he saw what she held. “Er, that was from me, ma’am. Your uncle was interested in history, and I was supplying him with certain documents I’d come across from time to time. I found them while rooting through the basement archives. He has a collection in the library. I never paid much attention, but he was always ecstatic when I chanced upon a new one.”
She eyed the package and ripped it open. “Ecstatic, was he?”
Carlos quickly set down the tray. “Careful ma’am, the contents are quite delicate.”
Nodding quietly, she took care extracting a book. It was wrapped in oilskin and bound with lace. “What have we here? It looks... old.”
“It is, ma’am. I’ll admit that was a lucky find. The previous Books I supplied your uncle covered a period of history dating from early to the mid 1400s. He grew quite despondent when I couldn’t find more. That is, until I came across the one you hold.”
Madelyn barely heard him as she studied the tome. Setting it on a table, she gently removed the covering. The book itself was remarkably preserved. She smiled. “It’s beautiful. What’s it about?”
Carlos shrugged. “I’m not entirely sure, ma’am. I think it had something to do with a company of mercenaries. The Books are their private chronicles. Like diaries, I guess.”
Madelyn opened it and turned the first page. Being somewhat of a scholar herself, she recognized the old English it was penned in. Carefully she sat down, and after a moment asked, “And what year was the last one written?”
Carlos set a cup of tea beside the woman. “I believe it was around 1442, ma’am.”
“I see.” After a moment, she read in a clear voice, “Being the Annals of the Free Company: The Book of Stiles. It was the year 1565 when the Free Company was contracted to fight against the Turk, who laid siege to the Knights of St. John on the island of Malta...”