Luigi Amato (1898 – 1961, Italian)
“Odin?” Anna shouted. Shouted, for she was lost in a throng of people.
“Isn’t this exciting?” he called to her over the din.
“Where are we?” Anna yelled back. They had been separated and she was being shoved away from him by the crowd. She noticed her dress had changed to one of a much fancier silk with bright colors and intricate stitching. And she had an amulet of amber on a gold chain around her neck.
“Florence of Lorenzo de' Medici,” Odin answered. “We’re in the middle of a flower festival. I think it’s around 1490.”
“Are you here to change history again?”
“No, I just thought you’d enjoy this. Watch out, they’re about the crown you queen of the festival. You’ll get paraded around!”
“What?” Anna yelled above the noise. As she was jostled further away from Odin, she backed into the side of a wagon.
“Signora,” said a jovial, balding man who took her by the arm. “You are the one I have been looking for.” He placed a wreath of flowers around her neck and rested another on her head. “Be our flower queen for the day, it is the highest honor.”
Anna was too stunned to answer as two young men lifted her onto the cart and placed her on a tall chair. And before she knew what was happening, her handlers started pulling the cart around the plaza.
The crowd parted for her. The people cheered and threw flowers. Anna didn’t know what she was supposed to do; she guessed she should smile and wave at them, so she did. Halfway around, she spotted Odin standing in the crowd. He was hard to miss with his patched eye. He was no longer the grey-bearded wizard in the tattered blue robe, but now a proper and clean-shaven 15th century Italian merchant. He had a smirk on his face that told her he was much amused to see Anna in the spotlight.
The cart circled the square twice, then stopped at the far end. The same two men lifted her to the ground and bowed gallantly in front of her. She found herself beside two granite posts rising from the cobblestones. From the irons hanging three quarters of the way up, Anna knew these were whipping posts. She gasped.
“As the flower queen, you shall have the honor of taking part in the first flogging of the season,” the balding man said. He was there, next to her again. He must have been one of the men pulling her cart.
“No,” Anna backed away only to bump into one of the young assistants.
The old man smiled when he saw her discomfort. “Ah, you are not from our city. Let me explain. It is a high honor for the flower queen to stand in front of the first criminal to be flogged. When that rogue looks a lady in the eyes and takes hold of her hand, the flogging goes a lot easier. It is a great mercy.”
“Oh,” Anna smiled cautiously.
“Rest assured, no harm will come to you. Come now, they are about to bring out that first prisoner.” He led Anna to behind the posts from where they watched the wooden doors open in the wall behind them and the prisoner emerge, flanked by two guards.
“Aida!” Anna gasped as her sister slave, or someone who looked very much like her, was led to the posts. Anna looked for Odin, trying to pick him out in the crowd. “No past-life trickery, indeed!” she hissed under her breath.
The girl, grimy and in a tattered peasant’s dress, looked a lot like Aida. Anna didn't understanding who she really was. The girl’s handlers untied her dress and let it fall around her ankles. They then cuffed her to the manacles hanging from either post. But appearances can sometimes be deceiving — this girl wasn’t Aida. Anna could see that clearly as they stood face to face. There was defiance in her eyes and anger in her smirk. No, Aida could never be this tough. Yet this girl could have been an Aida who Uri didn't rescue. Anna wondered if this is what Aida might have become if she would have had to live on the street alone.
“Who are you?” Anna asked.
“No one you’d consort with, m’ lady,” the girl said with bravado.
... to be continued ...
- even more stories,
- links to my published works,
- newbie help with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.