How many times, she wondered, had she woven together cloth that his sword had then torn apart along with the flesh underneath?
The year is 1136, the place Tropèa, a walled sea town in Southern Italy during the Norman domination.
Kallyna d’Àrgira, a master of the arts of the loom who can turn the world into silk thread, is pledged in marriage by her father to Raimo Trani, a man she hates. After a sudden tragedy leaves her at Raimo’s mercy, into her life comes Dàlibor d’Hancourt, the Norman knight sent by King Roger of Hauteville to be the new governor of Tropèa, a man who, like her, is burdened by a life he did not choose.
Their opposite stations — Kallyna the daughter of a fisherman, Dàlibor the son of a foreign lord — pit them at first against each other. When Kallyna’s talent attracts the unwelcome attention of the heir to Roger’s throne, who can destroy them both, the common threat will draw them together, with a bond that defies all distinctions, into the time of iron that saw the founding of the greatest kingdom in Italy.
Dianne Hales, author of La Bella Lingua
and Mona Lisa, a Life Discovered
author of Bohemian Heart and 1906
Daniel J. Langton, author of Querencia
and During Our Walks
✶ ✶ ✶“God willing, wife, this is the last day.” “God willing indeed. A supper table where only women sit is bad luck.” In the new light of dawn Vasili got up from bed, put on his shirt and his black vest, and reached for his cap. He was one of those men who don’t need to be tall to command respect. Everything in his spare frame had a quiet dignity about it. In his handsome face the eyes were of a strikingly clear blue, which stood out from his many wrinkles like the sea from beyond furrows of brown earth. His wife Neia only came up to his shoulders. She was a small, thin woman who even in her appearance knew how to keep her place, one step below her husband. “Here is your lunch, eat it in good health,” Neia said like every morning. That morning, however, she let a smile wander on her sunburned face. “Michele and Arni are down in the cellar grinding the spears,” she added. Vasili took from her hands the cloth bundle still warm with loaves of bread that had just come out of the oven. “Michele won’t kill a single fish today,” he grinned. “Not the day before his wedding.” He stepped out on the landing, opened the door of the room next to his and glanced in. The room was still almost in the dark; the thick shutters still held out against the first daylight. His gaze ran on the loom made of olive wood and tall enough to almost touch the ceiling, with the small icon of the Black Madonna nailed to the uppermost bar and the shuttle carved in the shape of a boat. The blanket Kallyna was weaving was almost finished. Bedsheets and linens were neatly piled on top of the walnut chest; Sila’s wedding gown lay across a chair. The embroideries seemed to gleam in the dimness, bursting into a rainbow of colors: baskets of fruit, ships and waves, birds, flowers and trees. Only Kallyna could turn the world into silk thread, Vasili thought with a pleased smile; and in what little space was left by the loom, the bed in which his daughters slept seemed to him only a little larger than their cradles of years before. Sila slept peacefully, wise even in her rest; Kallyna lay instead wrapped in her long black hair, her hands gripping the sheets and a frown on her face. Suddenly she stirred in her sleep, shaking her head. “No…no!” she whispered frantically. Vasili eyed her for a moment, until she went back to sleep. Then he drew a long sigh and closed the door. “Had you ever noticed that Kallyna talks in her sleep?” he asked Neia on his way downstairs. “Yes,” Neia nodded, “and it’s not a good sign at all. Perhaps if we spoke to Padre Costantino, if he could finally give her some peace….” Vasili went on down the creaking stairs. “She’s young. Give her time. Once she’ll have a little one crying for hunger at her breast she’ll be all sweet,” and his voice was sweet already at the thought. Neia shrugged doubtfully, then followed him into the kitchen that gleamed dimly with the large copper pans hung above the hearth. “Let’s hope so. Now that Sila is all settled down, Kallyna can marry Raimo Trani any day she wants.” Vasili turned around, looming over his wife’s fragile figure. “You know she won’t even hear Raimo’s name anymore. By now I myself am not so sure I did the right thing when I promised her to him. Why, I think she spurns him even in her sleep!” he blurted out, remembering Kallyna’s panicked whisper. Neia approached him cautiously. “But she’s been pledged to him for all these years,” she reminded him softly. “You can’t take back your promise now… or can you?” Vasili didn’t answer, annoyed. He slipped a slice of bread into his shirt, grabbed a chunk of cheese from a plate, and finally moved away from his wife’s outstretched hands. “Michele, Arni, it’s time to go!” Neia’s hands fell against her sides. The two brothers stepped out of the cellar’s door. Arni must have been teasing Michele, and was still smiling mischievously. “Father,” he said, “look how sharp the spear is this morning. Michele woke up to grind it earlier than he ever did in all his life.” Michele kept winding around his elbow the rope tied to the end of the double-pronged spear. Once more he pretended not to have heard anything. He pointed at the front door. “Go get the oars, huh?” Arni kissed Neia goodbye and went out. In the hour before dawn the square was quiet and empty. Resigned now to brooding alone over Kallyna’s troubles, Neia stood patiently on the threshold to watch the three men leave. But first Michele cast a look at the window of Sila’s room, and Vasili didn’t miss that look. He grinned to himself, then spoke his gruff farewell to his wife. “Come on, boys, come on. Like the proverb says, men do and women talk.” Then under his breath he added, “And if women didn’t talk, we’d all live like dumb beasts.” On the smooth cobblestones of Piazza Portercole their footsteps sounded so familiar, like drops of water from a fountain.