Nicolai Levashov
About Spirit, Mind and many other things...
Svetlana de Rohan Levashov
Part 1. Childhood. Vol. 1. Awakening

38. Isidora-4. The Loss

A little while later Caraffa almost dragged me along the corridor with a contented smile on his face until we stopped in front of a heavy door generously decorated with patterned gilt. He turned a handle and... Oh, ye Gods!!!. I found myself in my favourite Venetian room, in our dear familial palazzo...

I looked around dumbstruck. The "surprise" came like a bolt from the blue! I did my very best to calm my heart, which was about to jump out of my chest; breath escaped me. Thousands of recollections spun around me, pitilessly plunging me the wonderful years which were lived through a long time ago and now almost forgotten, which had not yet been ruined by the malice of the cruel man who for some reason recreated them here (!) my happy world which had been lost long since... The miraculously "resuscitated" room was full of every personal thing and sweet trifle dear to my heart! I was afraid to stir in order not to frighten off the marvellous apparition from my past, unable to take my eyes off the agreeable surroundings I had been accustomed to a long time ago.

– Do you like my surprise, Madonna? – Caraffa asked, being enormously content with the produced effect.

The most unbelievable thing was that this strange man sincerely did not understand how deeply he wounded me with his "surprise"! On seeing HERE (!!!) that, which once was the real "hearth" of my family happiness and peace, I wanted to do just one thing – to throw myself at this terrible "holy" Pope and strangle him in a mortal embrace until his horrific black soul left his body for good... But instead of that I tried to pull myself together to prevent Caraffa noticing how my voice trembled and replied as calmly as possible:

– Forgive me, Your Holiness. May I be alone for a while?

– Of course, Isidora! The appartments are yours now! I hope you like them.

Did he really not realise what he did?! Or, maybe, he perfectly realised everything and it was just his restless brutality that was "having fun" and, being incapable of moderation, inventing new tortures for me?! Suddenly the burning thought flashed through my mind. What had happened to the rest? What became of our wonderful house which we all loved so dearly? What became of the servants and all others who had lived there?

– May I ask Your Holiness what happened to our family palace in Venice? – I asked in a hoarse whisper. – What happened to those who lived there? You did not throw people out on the street, did you? I hope not, they don’t have any other place to live, Holiness!

Caraffa made a wry face.

– For Goodness’ sake, Isidora! They are the last thing you should worry about now. Your house, as you certainly understand, has now become the property of our holy church, and everything that may relate to it is no concern of yours!

– My house, as well as everything it contains, Your Holiness, after the death of my dearly beloved husband Girolamo, belongs to my daughter Anna as long as she lives! – I exclaimed with indignation. – Or has the "holy" church struck her off the list of the living?!

I boiled with indignation, although I perfectly understood that my anger complicated the situation which was already quite hopeless without that. But Caraffa’s insolence would not leave any normal person indifferent; I am sure, even when the matter concerned just the profaned recollections so dear to his heart!

– While Anna is alive, she will stay here, Madonna, and serve our beloved holiest Church! And if, unfortunately for her, she changes her mind, she will not need your wonderful house anyway! – Caraffa furiously hissed. – Don’t be overdiligent in your zeal to find justice, Isidora! It can only do you harm. My patience has limits too... And I sincerely don’t advise you to cross them!

He sharply turned and disappeared behind the door, without saying goodbye or informing me as to how long I could remain alone in my so unexpectedly resuscitated past... Time stopped, pitilessly tossing me into my lucky and cloudless days on Caraffa’s sick whim, not bothering at all that such unexpected "reality" could easily stop my heart... I sadly sat on a chair beside the familiar mirror which once reflected the dear faces of my family... And now I sat in front of it absolutely alone, surrounded by darling ghosts... Sweet recollections... The force of their beauty suffocated me and the bitter grief over our lost happiness deeply wounded.

Once (It now seemed a very long time ago!) this enormous mirror witnessed how I brushed my little Anna’s lovely silky hair every morning, playfully giving her the first lessons of "witch school" in her childhood... This mirror reflected Girolamo’s eyes burning with love when he tenderly hugged my shoulders... This mirror reflected thousands of marvellous moments which I stored deep in my heart with great care and which now agitated my wounded and exhausted soul.

I saw my wonderful malachite casket there, right on the little night table. It had contained my beautiful jewelry, which my kind husband had so generously given me and which were a source of wild envy for rich and capricious Venetian ladies... Only now it was empty... Somebody's dirty and avid hands had "cleaned out" all the "shining knick-knacks", valueing only their material worth... but for me they were my memories of the days of my pure happiness: the evening of my wedding... Anna’s birth... my victories, already forgotten long ago, or events of our family life, each marked by a new piece of art, the right to which only I alone had... They were not just very expensive "stones". They were my Girolamo’s caring, his wish to make me smile and his way to admire my beauty of which he was sincerely and deeply proud and which he loved so dearly... And now these pure recollections were touched by somebody's lustful and avid fingers, on which our desecrated love shrivelled up, bitterly crying... My favourite books were all over this strange "resuscitated" room and my old pianoforte sadly waited for me beside the window all alone. Anna’s first doll which was now the same age as her unfortunate persecuted hostess smiled merrily, lying on the silk bedspread covering the wide bed. But unlike Anna, the doll could not feel sorrow and the wicked man was unable to wound it...

I growled from the unbearable pain like a dying beast ready to make the last mortal jump. Recollections burned out my soul, being so incredibly real and alive that it seemed that right now the door would open and smiling Girolamo would appear on the threshold and enthusiastically begin to tell the latest news of the day... Or merry Anna would rush in like a whirlwind, pouring an armful of roses onto my knees, exhaling the smell of delightful warm Italian summer. It was OUR happy world which should not be in Caraffa’s castle! There should not be a place for it in this den of lies, violence and death.

But no matter how indignant I felt, I needed to regain my self-control, calm my thumping heart and banish the anguish about the past from it, because recollections, even the most wonderful ones, could easily shatter my life, now fragile enough, preventing me from doing away with Caraffa. Therefore I turned and left the room, trying to "protect" myself from very dear but at the same time deeply soul-wounding memories... There was nobody in the corridor. Apparently Caraffa was so sure of his victory that he had not left guards at the door of "my" appartments, or on the contrary – he understood too well that there was no sense in doing so, because I could leave him any moment I wished, despite any efforts and prohibitions on his part. One way or another, there was no stranger presence or any guard at "my" door.

Anguish throttled me, and I was eager to run wherever my feet would carry me to be as far as possible from that wonderful ghostly world where each recollection took a bit of my soul, every time making it emptier, colder and lonlier...

I was gradually coming to myself after the shock caused by the unexpected "surprise", as I realized that it was the first time that I had walked alone along the fabulously decorated corridor, disregarding the unbelievable luxury and riches of Caraffa’s palace. Earlier I had been given the opportunity only to go down to the basement or accompany Caraffa to some of his meetings, and now I observed with surprise the amazing paintings which covered the endless gilded walls and ceiling. It was neither Vatican, nor official Papal residence. It was Caraffa’s private palace in which beauty and luxury did not yield, even to the very Vatican.

Once, at a time when Caraffa was not the "holiest" Pope yet but a fervent fighter with the "spreading heresy", his house looked like an enormous fortress of an ascetic, which truly gave his life for the "right cause", no matter how absurd or terrible it may seem to others. Now it was the richest man who "partook", with the pleasure of a gourmet, in his limitless power... too quickly changing the way of life of a true "monk" for the easy gold of the Vatican. He still piously believed in the rightness of the Inquisition and human fires, only now they were diluted by the thirst for the pleasures of life and his wild desire to attain immortality ... which no gold in the world could buy for him (luckily for all!).

Caraffa suffered... His temporally lasting splendid "youth" which was given to him by a strange "guest" of Meteora suddenly began to fade swiftly and his body was getting older much quicker than it would be if he had not tried the deceitful "gift".

The recently smart, slender and young-looking cardinal turned into a stooping and wilted old man. His personal "bunch" of doctors panicked! They honestly racked their clever brains, trying to figure out what was that "dreadful" disease that devoured their dearest "Holiness". But they could not find an answer and Caraffa rapidly got older before their very eyes. It enraged him, making him do the most foolish acts in the hope of stopping the escaping time which pitilessly flowed away with every new day like transparent grains through his senescent but still very beautiful thin fingers.

This man had everything. His power spread over all Christian kingdoms. Rulers and kings submitted to him. Princes kissed his hand. For all that his only earthly life was coming to an end. The thought that he was unable to change anything drove him to despair!

ÄGiovanni Pietro Caraffa
Giovanni Pietro

Caraffa was an extremely strong and resolute man, but his will could not give him his young years back. He was perfectly educated and clever, but his mind could not help him to prolong his so much desired life which was gradually slipping away... While wishing for and not getting what he desired, Caraffa perfectly understood that I knew HOW to give him that for which he was ready to pay the highest price in the world. I knew HOW to prolong his life. But the "holy" Pope also knew perfectly well that he would never get what he desired from me, which drove him crazy. The wild desire to live forever overpowered his human feelings, if he ever had any. Now he fell "ill" of this single idea and removed any obstacles in the way of his great, but hardly feasible aim. Caraffa became an obsessed man, who was ready to do anything to fulfill his greatest wish – to live very long, no matter what the cost.

And I dreaded every day, expecting that he would bring down his indefatigable malice on my poor father, or still worse – on my little Anna, instead of me. My father still was in the basement. Caraffa held him there neither letting him go nor torturing, as if he waited for something. It all was much more terrible than the most terrible reality, because the "holy" Pope’s sick imagination (in my sad experience!) had no limits, and it was quite impossible to guess what future awaited us tomorrow...

Anna was relatively safe in peace and silence surrounded by knowledge and guarded by pure kind people. And she could be there until the unforeseeable "holy" Pope claimed her. Going deeply into my sad thoughts, I stopped at the open window.

The weather was uncommonly pleasant – soft, sunny and warm. It smelled of the waking earth and jasmine. Spring was gradually coming into its own. The succulent young grass was spread all over the courtyard of the castle like a fluffy carpet with shy blue-eyed forget-me-nots here and there livening up the grayness of its sullen high walls. The sparrows rushed about on roofs, "drunk" on the spring air. The world woke up, widely opening its warm and tender arms toward happiness. And only here, in the torture chambers of a frightful and cruel man death soared. I did not want to believe that people were being tormented in the horrific Papal basements and dying on this sunny and merry day! Life was too valuable and wonderful for somebody's "holy" hand to take it so easily.

– What are you doing here, Madonna Isidora? Don’t you like your appartments? – Caraffa’s noiseless appearance interrupted my sad thoughts. – I asked you not to leave your rooms. I think they are spacious enough for one person, aren’t they?

The Pope was highly displeased. He perfectly understood that nothing impeded me from "leaving" right away, if I wanted, and my "conditional" incarceration enraged him, preventing his complete control over me.

– So what are you looking for, Isidora? – Caraffa’s tone became much softer.

– Nothing, Your Holiness. It’s just here I can breathe easier. Recollections, you know, don’t always appear pleasant... even the dearest ones...

– Would you do me the honour of having supper with me, Madonna? Lately I lack pleasant society very much... – He pronounced it in a man of the world’s voice, unexpectedly changing the subject of the conversation.

I was absolutely taken aback, not knowing what to say. Of course, any spare moment spent with Caraffa could bring me that long-awaited chance which would help me to rid the world of his terrible presence. Therefore I agreed.

– I apologise for my dress, Your Holiness, but I don’t have many changes with me here. – I answered in a high society tone too.

Caraffa smiled.

– You know perfectly well Isidora that it’s absolutely irrelevant regarding you! You would outshine any beautifully attired queen whilst being dressed like a shepherdess!

He offered me his hand. I linked my arm through his and we went along shockingly beautiful halls and corridors until we found ourselvs in a golden room richly decorated with wonderful frescos with a very long table crammed with heavy golden tableware in the middle.

– Oh, I did not suppose that you awaited guests, Your Holiness! – I exclaimed in surprise. – My dress is truly inappropriate for a dinner party. It can produce unnecessary rumours. Would not it be better for me to withdraw?

– Oh, stop the formalities Isidora! I wait for nobody. It’s my ordinary evening meal, my dear. I adore having sufficient choice always and in everything, you see.

– How many dishes are here? – I could not help asking looking at this in surprise.

– It’s never less than twenty five! – The Pope contentedly answered.

Oh, Gods! The greatest gourmet in the world would not need such an amount! This man knew no limits even in food!

– Be seated, Madonna! I do hope that one of these dishes will satisfy your refined taste.

I felt so terrible that unexpectedly for me I wanted to burst out laughing. Could I ever imagine that one fine day I would share the table with a man who I desperately wished to wipe off the face of Earth?! I felt a strange awkwardness and said:

– What made you invite me today, Your Holiness? – I asked carefully.

– Your pleasant company. – Caraffa broke into laughter, and on thinking a little, added: – I wanted to have a word with you about something important for me, Madonna, and I would rather do it in an atmosphere more pleasing to you.

A servant entered and, on making a low bow, began to try the first dishes. I felt really sorry that I did not have the famous Florentine herbal poison with me! It was painless and tasteless and could not be detected. This poison worked in a week. It killed princes and kings and, of course, it would calm down the mad Pope forever!!!

I would never have believed that I could reflect on a murder so easily. My heart slowly turned to stone, leaving just a tiny place place for justice. I lived to destroy him, and it did not matter how. Anything would do. The main thing was to kill Caraffa in order that innocent people stopped suffering and this blood-thirsty and wicked man never again set foot on land. Therefore I sat now beside him, accepted his treating with a smile and chatted on different subjects... at the same time intently looking for any weak point that would give me an opportunity to get rid of his "holy" presence at last...

It was the very middle of dinner and we were still pleasantly "discussing" some rare books, music and art, as if he did not have a very serious aim, because of which he invited me to his rooms in such an improperly late hour.

It seemed that Caraffa sincerely enjoyed our conversation, as if he absolutely forgot about his "especially-important" aim. One has to do him justice. He was, indisputably, the most interesting interlocutor... if one could forget what he was in reality... In order to stifle an increasing alarm that grew in my heart I joked as much as possible. Caraffa merrily laughed at my jokes and told his in reply. He was courteous and pleasant, but despite his society gallantry I felt that he also tried to pretend... Although Caraffa’s self-control was truly blameless, the feverish brilliance of his black eyes made me understand that everything was coming to a head at last... The air around us "crackled" with increasing expectation. The conversation gradually became petty, coming to the exchange of simple polite remarks. At last Caraffa began.

– I found your grandfather’s books, Madonna. But they did not have the knowledge I am interested in. Do I need to ask the same question, Isidora? You do know what I am looking for, don’t you?

That was exactly I had expected...

– I cannot give you immortality, Your Holiness; just as I could not teach you how to achieve it. I don’t have this right... I am not free in my desires...

Of course, it was a barefaced lie. But was there really any other way?! Caraffa perfectly knew that and, certainly, he was going to break me again... He needed the ancient secret that my mother left me before she died more than anything in the world. And he was not going to retreat a single step. It was again somebody's turn to pay dearly for my silence.

– Think, Isidora! I don’t want to do you harm! – Caraffa whispered with insinuating voice. – Why don’t you wish to help me?! I don’t ask you to betray your mother or Meteora. I only ask you to teach me what you know! We could rule the world together! I would make you the queen of queens! Think, Isidora...

I understood that right now something very bad would happen, but I simply did not have strength left to lie...

– I will not help you simply because, if you live longer than it is fated, you will exterminate the best half of humanity... the most gifted and cleverest. You do too much harm, Holiness... and have no right to live long. I am sorry... – and added very quietly. – In fact our life is not always measured by the number of years we have lived, Your Holiness, and you perfectly know that...

– Well, Madonna, as you wish... When you finish, you will be taken to your rooms.

To my greatest surprise he calmly rose and went away without saying a word leaving the truly royal dinner unfinished... His self-control shocked, involuntarily commanding one’s respect and at the same time hatred of him for everything he had done...

The day passed in complete silence, the night was approaching. My nerves were strung to the limit. I expected something truly awful. Feeling it coming with the whole of my self, I tried to stay as calm as I could, but my hands trembled with wild overexcitation, and panic crawled into my heart freezing it to death. What was prepared for me behind the heavy iron door? What new atrocity did Caraffa invent this time? Unfortunately, I did not wait too long to know it. A small, dry and elderly priest came for me right at midnight and took me to the already familiar terrible basement...

And there... my beloved father hung high on iron chains with a thorn ring on his neck... Caraffa was sitting in his favourite enormous wooden arm-chair and sullenly looked at the scene. He turned, giving me an empty and indifferent glance, and calmly pronounced:

– Well, choose, Isidora – either you give me what I ask, or your father will be burnt in the morning... There is no sense in torturing him. Therefore – you decide. Everything depends only on you.

The world turned upside down! I had to gather all my remaining forces in order not to fall down right in front of Caraffa. It all appeared very simple – he decided that my father would not live... and this was not subject to an appeal... There was nobody to stand up for us or to ask for protection. There was nobody to help us... This man’s word was law, to which nobody dared object. Well, those who could dare simply did not wish to...

Never in my life had I felt so helpless and useless! I could not save my father. Otherwise I would betray what we lived for... and he would never forgive me for that. That is why I had to do the most frightful thing. I just had to watch how the "holy" monster called the Pope cold-bloodedly sent my kind father right to the fire...

My father was silent... I looked right into his kind and warm eyes and asked about forgiveness... because I could not do what I promised to do... because he suffered... because I could not save him... and because I was still alive...

– I will destroy him, father! I promise you! Otherwise, we all die in vain. I will destroy him, no matter what it costs me. I believe in it, even if nobody else does... – I mentally swore to him with my life that I would destroy the monster.

My father was unspeakably sad but still firm and proud. Only deep and unspoken anguish nested in his tender grey eyes... Tied by heavy chains, he could not even give me one last hug. And there was no sense in asking Caraffa. He would never allow it. The feelings of cognation, love or mercy were unknown to him... He denied their existence.

– Leave, dearest daughter! Leave... you will not able to kill this monster. You will just die in vain. Leave, my dear heart... I shall wait for you there, in another life. Sever will take care of you. Leave, dear!

– I love you, father! I love you so much!

I was drowning in my own suffocating tears, but my heart was silent. I had to stand firm, and I did it. It seemed that the whole world had turned into millstones of pain, but for some reason it did not apply to me, as if I were already dead...

– Forgive me, father, but I’ll stay. I’ll try to eliminate him while I live and even if I am dead I won’t leave him in peace until I take him with me... forgive me, please.

Caraffa got up. He could not hear our conversation, but he perfectly understood that something was happening between my father and me. He could not control this connection and the fact that he remained excluded enraged the Pope terribly...

– Your father will be burnt at dawn, Isidora. It’s you who kills him. So – decide!

My heart went pit-a-pat and stopped... The world collapsed... and I could do nothing with it. I could not change anything. But I had to answer and I answered...

– I have nothing to say to you, Holiness, except that you are the most terrible criminal that ever lived on Earth.

The Pope looked at me for a minute unable to hide his surprise, and then nodded to an old priest who waited there and withdrew without uttering a word. As soon as he disappeared behind the door, I threw myself at the old man and, on grasping his dry senile hands, began to implore:

– Please, I beg you, Holy Father. Let me hug him for the last time! I will never again be able to do it... You heard what the Pope said. My father will die tomorow at dawn... Have mercy, I beg you! Nobody will ever know about it, I swear! I beg you, help me! God won’t leave you!

The old priest attentively looked into my eyes and, saying nothing, pulled a lever... The chains went down with a grinding sound and stopped low enough so that we could say our last farewell...

I came closer and hid my face on my father’s broad chest, at last giving free reign to the gushing bitter tears... Even now, covered in blood and with his hands and legs shackled with rusty iron fetters, my father emitted wonderful warmth and peace and I felt comfort and protection! He was my once happy world which would be lost to me forever at dawn... Thoughts rushed through my head, each one sadder than the last, bringing bright dear pictures of our "past" life which slipped away from us with every passing minute, and I could neither save it nor stop it...

– Hold out, my dear. You must be strong. You must protect Anna from him. And you must protect yourself. I leave for your sake. Probably it’ll give you some time... to destroy Caraffa, – my father whispered.

I grasped his hands in despair refusing to let go. Again, as it had been a long time ago, I felt like a little girl who looked for comfort on his broad chest...

– Forgive me, Madonna, but I must take you to your rooms, otherwise they can execute me for disobedience. I am truly sorry... – The old priest pronounced in a hoarse voice.

I firmly hugged my father once again, absorbing his wonderful warmth for the last time... and left the torture room without turning back and seeing nothing around, being almost blind from the constantly streaming tears. The walls of the basement "wobbled" and I had to stop, grasping at the stone ledges in order not to fall. Blind with unbearable pain, I plodded on without understanding where I was and where I was going...

Stella quietly cried, being absolutely unashamed of the large bitter tears that rolled down her cheeks. I looked at Anna. She tenderly hugged Isidora and it seemed that she went away very far from us, probably re-living those last frightful earthly days together with her mother... Suddenly I felt very lonely and cold, as if a sullen, black and heavy cloud covered everything around... My soul ached and became painfully empty, like a well, which once was filled with pure living water, but now ran dry... I turned to look at the old Man. He shone! A shining, warm, gold wave streamed from him, generously enveloping Isidora... Tears twinkled in his sad grey eyes. Isidora was very far away and continued her sad story, paying no attention to anybody.

Finally I found myself in my room and dropped on my bed. There were no more tears – just a terrible and naked emptiness and a soul-blinding despair...

I could not, did not want to believe in what was going on! Although I waited for it day after day, now I could neither realize nor accept this frightfully inhuman reality. I did not wish the morning to come... It will bring horror and I did not have my usual firm confidence in that I can bear all that without breaking or betraying my father and myself... The feeling of guilt for his suddenly and too prematurely broken life leaned heavily on me like a mountain... Finally pain stunned me, tearing my tormented heart into tiniest pieces...

To my enormous surprise (and most awful distress) I jumped out of bed because of the noise behind the door and understood that... I had slept! How could it be possible?! How could I fall asleep at all??? Probably our imperfect human body does not always submit to our desires and in some of the severest vital moments defends itself to survive. So I too, being unable to suffer more, just "went" away into rest to save my dying soul. And now it was late – they came to take me to my father’s execution...

The morning was light and clear. Fleecy white clouds swam high in the pure blue sky; the sun rose victoriously, merrily and brightly. The day promised to be wonderful and sunny like the approaching spring! Among this fresh ready to wake up life, my exhausted soul writhed and moaned, submerging into deep, cold and gloomy darkness...

An enormous "ready to use" fire towered in the middle of the small sun-lit square, where I was brought in a covered carriage... I looked at it inwardly shuddering, unable to take my eyes from it. Courage left me. Fear came instead. I did not wish to see what would happen. It promised to be terrible...

Sullen and sleepy people gradually filled the square. They just woke up and were compelled to look at the death of a stranger which did not please them too much... Rome stopped enjoying the fires of the Inquisition a long time ago. At the beginning there were people interested in the sufferings of others, but now, several years later, people were afraid that any one of them could be in this fire tomorrow. And native Romans abandoned their home town, trying to avoid troubles... They abandoned Rome. The city had just half the number of inhabitants that it had at the beginning of Caraffa’s rule. Any more or less normal person refused to stay in it, if it was possible, which was easily understood – Caraffa ignored everybody. Be it an ordinary person or a prince of royal blood (and sometimes even a cardinal of his "holiest" church!). Nobody could stop the Pope. He never appreciated people as they were. They just could please or displease his "holy" eyes. Well, and the rest was very simple – if a person displeased him, he went straight to the fire and his wealth enriched the treasure of his "holiest" church.

Suddenly I felt a soft touch. It was my father! He was saying goodbye to me, being already tied to the nightmarish post...

– I leave, daughter... Be strong. It just is a transition. I won’t feel pain. He simply wants to break you. Don’t allow him, my joy! We shall meet soon, you know that. There will be no pain. There will be only light...

An executioner came to the fire, bringing the fatal flame with such an air of commonness that it broke my heart. He did it so easily and simply, as if he lit a fire in the fireplace of his house...

My heart began to palpitate feverishly and then stood still... knowing that exactly now my father would leave... I could not stand anymore and mentally cried:

– Father, please, think! It’s not too late! You can "waft"! He will never be able to find you! I beg you, father!!!

But he sadly shook his head...

– If I go away, he will haunt Anna. And she will not be able to "waft". Farewell, daughter... Farewell, dear... Remember, I will always be with you. It’s time. Farewell, my joy...

A bright shining "column" which shone with a pure bluish light began to sparkle around my father. This wonderful light seized his physical body, as if saying goodbye to him. A golden-bright translucent spirit appeared and affectionately smiled at me... I understood that it was an end. My father left me forever... His spirit began slowly to go up... and a shining channel, blazing up with bluish sparks, closed up. Everything was over... My wonderful kind father, my best friend was no longer with us...

His "empty" physical body flagged, hanging on ropes like a rag-doll... An Honourable and Honest Earthly Life was taken on the senseless order of a mad man...

I felt somebody's familiar presence and I turned around. Sever stood next to me.

– Have courage, Isidora. I came to help you. I know it’s a hard time for you. I promised your father that I would help you...

– Help – in what? – I asked bitterly. – Will you help me to destroy Caraffa?

Sever shook his head in negation.

– I don’t need any other help. Leave, Sever.

I turned from him and continued to look at the burning remains of what was my tender wise father just a minute ago... I knew that he had gone and did not felt this inhuman pain... that now he was very far away from us, speeding into the unknown wonderful world where everything was quiet and well. But for me it was still his body that was burning. It was his dear hands that hugged me when I was a child, calming me down and protecting me from sorrows and troubles that were burning... It was his eyes in which I loved to look very much, seeking his approval, which were burning... It was still my dear kind father who I knew so well and loved so strongly... It was exactly his body that the wicked and raging flames now devoured with hungry avidity...

People began to break up. This time they did not comprehend the execution, because nobody told them who the condemned man was and what the guilt he died for was. And the man behaved pretty strangely. Usually people screamed terribly, until their heart stopped from pain. This one was silent even when the flame devoured him... Well, as is generally known, any crowd does not like the incomprehensible. Therefore many preferred to leave the square, but the Papal guardsmen returned them, forcing them to watch the execution to the end. The crowd began to grumble with dissatisfaction... Carraffa’s people took me and by force shoved me into another carriage with "His Holiness" the Pope inside... He was very angry.

– I knew that he would "go away"! Let’s go! There is nothing to do here.

– For goodness' sake! I have the right to see it to the end! – I was indignant.

– Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Isidora! – The Pope waved with irritation. – You perfectly know that he is not there! It’s just a piece of dead meat that is burning. Let’s be off!

The heavy carriage left the square, preventing me from watching how the earthly body of the guiltless executed wonderful man – my father – was burning all alone... He was just a "piece of dead meat" for Caraffa, as the "holiest father" had just said... My hair stood on end when I heard such a comparison. Even Caraffa should have an atrocity limit! But apparently, this monster has no limit in anything...

The frightful day came to an end. I sat at the open window, feeling and hearing nothing. The world was frozen and joyless. It seemed that it existed separately, not penetrating into my tired brain or somehow touching me... As usual the indefatigable "Roman" sparrows played and chirped on the window-sill. Human voices and the ordinary daily noise of a bustling city sounded below. But all this came to me through a very dense "wall" which almost did not let sounds in... My usual inner world had become empty and deaf. It became absolutely alien and dark. My darling tender father did not exist. He went away right after Girolamo.

But I still had Anna. And I knew that I must live to save at least her from the refined killer which called himself the "deputy of God" and the saintliest Pope... It was hard to imagine that, if Caraffa was just His "deputy", then what a beast his beloved God had to be?! I tried to come out of the "frozen" state, but apparently it was not so simple a task. My body did not obey, refusing to revive and my tired Soul longed for peace... On seeing that nothing was turning out right, I decided to leave me alone, letting everything run itself.

I left all thoughts and decisions and "flew" away where my wounded Soul aimed to save itself in order to have a bit of rest and forget about everything, going far away from the wicked "earthly" world to one where only light reigned...

I knew that Caraffa would not leave me alone for long, despite what I had just been forced to go through. On the contrary, he would think that pain had weakened and disarmed me, and maybe exactly in this moment try to make me surrender, inflicting the next horrific blow...

Days passed, but to my greatest surprise, Caraffa did not show up... It was an enormous relief, but unfortunately, it did not allow me to relax. Because every instant I expected whatever new meanness his dark and wicked soul would invent for me...

The pain was slowly becoming duller with every passing day, mainly, due to a stunningly unexpected and joyful event that happened a couple of weeks before – I could hear my dead father!

I was unable to see him, but heard him very clearly and understood every word, as if he were right next to me. At first I did not believe it, thinking that I simply raved because of total emaciation. But he repeated the call... Indeed, it was my father!

I was beside myself with happiness and all the time I was afraid that suddenly, right now, he would disappear! But my father stayed. Gradually I calmed down and at last could answer him...

– Is it really you!? Where are you now? Why can I not see you?

– My sweet daughter... you don’t see me my dear because you’re exhausted. Anna sees me. I visited her. And you will see me, dear one. You just need time to calm down.

Pure familiar warmth spread all over my body, wrapping me with joy and light...

– How are you, father!? Tell me how is this other life? What does it look like?

– It’s wonderful, dear! A bit unusual and so unlike our former earthly one! People live here in their own worlds. And they are so beautiful, these "worlds"! To tell the truth I have still failed to create one. Probably it’s too early... – The voice fell silent for a second, as if hesitating whether to speak further.

– Your Girolamo met me, daughter... He is just as living and loving as he was on Earth... He misses you so much. He asked me to tell you that he loves you very dearly there too... and that he is waiting for you whenever you come... and your mother is with us too. We all love and wait for you, dear. We all miss you terribly... Take care of yourself, sweetheart. Don’t give Caraffa the joy of taunting you.

– Will you come to me again father? Will I hear you again? – I begged, being afraid that he might suddenly disappear.

– Be calm daughter, now it is my world and Caraffa’s power does not extend to it. I will never leave either you or Anna. I will come to you as soon as you call. Calm down, dear.

– What do you feel, father? Do you feel anything? – I asked, feeling slightly embarassed about the naive question.

– I feel everything the same way I felt on Earth only much stronger. Imagine a pencil picture suddenly filled with colour – all my feelings and thoughts are much stronger and more vivid. There is one more thing... The sense of freedom is absolutely shocking! I feel as if I am the same as I always was, but at the same time I am completely different... I don’t know how to explain it to you more precisely, dear... I feel as if I can embrace the whole world or easily fly far, far away, to the stars... Everything seems possible, as if I can do everything I wish! It’s very difficult to convey in words... But believe me, daughter, it’s wonderful! And there is more... I remember all my lives now! I remember everything that once happened to me... All this is truly amazing! This "other" life is not bad, I must say! Therefore, sweetheart, don’t be afraid if you have to come here, we will all be waiting for you.

– Tell me, father... Do such people as Caraffa deserve to live this kind of wonderful life there? It’s a terrible injustice, if this is the case! Will everything be like on Earth?! Will he never be requited?!!

– Oh, no my dear. It’s not a place for people like Caraffa. I have heard that they go to a terrible world, only I did not visit it yet. They say that those people get what they deserve! I want to look, but did not have time yet. Don’t worry, daughter, he will be punished accordingly when he gets here.

– Can you help me from there, father? – I asked with a hidden hope.

– I don’t know, dear... I have not understood this world yet. I am like a child taking his first steps... I have to to "learn to walk" before I can give you an answer... Now I must go. I am sorry, dear. First I must learn to live in both our worlds. And then I will come to you more often. Stand firm Isidora and do not give in to Caraffa. He will get what he deserves without fail, believe me.

My father’s voice gradually became fainter until it thinned and disappeared... My soul calmed down. It was truly HE! And he lived again, only now in his posthumous world which I did not know... But he thought and felt everything, even, as he just said, far brighter than it was when he lived on Earth. I could no longer be afraid that I would never hear from him... that he had left me forever...

But my female soul, nevertheless, mourned for him and for myself, being unable to hug him when I felt lonely and to hide my anguish and fear on his broad chest, longing for peace and protection... I grieved that his strong tender palm could not stroke my tired head, as if telling me that everything would all right... I painfully missed those small and seemingly insignificant, but so dear and purely "human" joys, and my soul starved for them, unable to find peace. Yes, I was a warrior... but I was a woman too. I was his only daughter who always knew that if something happened, even the most terrible, my father would always be with me... I painfully missed all this...

I managed to shake off the sorrow that had swept over me and forced myself to think about Caraffa, which always sobered me up and made me pull myself together, because I perfectly understood that this "calmness" was just a temporary respite...

But to my greatest surprise Caraffa did not show up...

Days passed. My anxiety grew. I tried to explain somehow his absence, but nothing serious came to my mind... I felt that he was preparing something, but could not guess what. My exhausted nerves were strained to the limit. Therefore, in order not to go mad from expectation, I began my everyday walks around the palace. I was not forbidden to go out, but at the same time it was disapproved of. Nevertheless, I decided to go out... despite somebody’s possible displeasure. The palace appeared to be enormous and extraordinarily rich. The beauty of its rooms struck my imagination, but personally I would never be able to live in this flashy luxury... The gilt walls and ceiling were somewhat depressing; they suppressed the masterpieces of amazing frescos and strangled them in the blinding glare of the gold. I admired the talent of the painters, who created this miracle, for hours, being sincerely delighted with their exquisite craftmanship. For the moment nobody disturbed or stopped me: although I constantly met people who, on seeing me, bowed and went farther, hurrying to attend their affairs. Nevertheless, this false "freedom" made me all the more alarmed. This "calmness" could not last forever and I was almost sure that it necessarily would "be delivered" of a terrible misfortune...

To avoid thinking of bad things, I forced myself to explore the shocking Papal palace every day as attentively as possible. I was interested in the limit of the permissible... There should be a "forbidden" place where the "strangers" were not allowed. Oddly enough, I failed to get any reaction from the guards... I could walk everywhere I wished within the borders of the palace, certainly.

So, freely walking about the Pope’s dwelling, I raked my mind as to what this inexplicable protracted "break" meant. I knew that Caraffa was in his rooms, which meant that he did not go on long trips, but he also left me alone for some reason, as if he sincerely forgot about my existence...

I met a lot of very different people who visited the "holiest" Pope while I "walked" around the Papal residence. These were cardinals and some officials of high standing (judging by their clothes and how proudly and independently they behaved with others). But after they abandoned the Pope’s rooms, none looked as confident and independent as they were before they had entered the Papal study, because, as I said before, nothing mattered to Caraffa, whoever stood in front of him, but HIS WILL. The rest had absolutely no importance. Therefore, quite often I saw very "battered" visitors who bustled to leave the Papal "biting" rooms...

One day, which differed in absolutely nothing from other "gloomy" days, I suddenly decided to fulfill that which had given me no rest for a long time. At last I dared to visit the ominous Papal basement... I knew that it certainly would be "fraught with serious consequences", but the expectation of danger is one hundred times worse that the danger itself.

So, I decided to go...

On getting down the narrow stone steps and opening a heavy, sadly-familiar door, I got into a long damp corridor which smelled of mould and death... There was no illumination, but I found no difficulty in moving, because I could always orientate pretty well in the darkness. A lot of small very heavy doors sadly followed one after another and were lost in the depth of the gloomy corridor... I remembered these grey walls, as well as I remembered the horror and pain which accompanied me every time I came back from there, but I ordered myself to be strong, not to think of the past and just keep going.

Finally the terrible corridor was over... I peered into the darkness and in the end I discerned the narrow iron door behind which my innocent husband, my poor Girolamo died so brutally. Terrible moans and screams were usually heard behind it... But that day, for some reason, there was not a sound to be heard. Moreover, a strange dead silence reigned behind all doors... I almost thought that Caraffa had finally come to his senses! But then I pulled myself up – the Pope was not one of those who calmed down or suddenly became kinder. The matter was that after he had brutally tortured his victims until he got what he wanted, he forgot about them, leaving them to the "mercy" of executioners (like unwanted leftovers!)...

I cautiously came to one of these doors and easily pressed the handle. The door did not give in. Then I began to grope, hoping to find a bolt. My hand found an enormous key. I turned it and the heavy door crept inside the torture room with a grinding sound... I slowly came into the room and found an extinguished torch. Regrettably, I could not find a fire steel.

– Look a bit more to your left ... – A weak exhausted voice suddenly sounded.

I gave a start. There was somebody in the room! I passed my hand over the left side of the wall and at last found what I had been looking for... The torch was lit and I saw large widely open cornflower blue eyes looking at me... An exhausted man tied with wide iron chains sat on the floor; leaning against the cold stone wall ... I could not see him well, brought the fire closer and jumped back with surprise. The person who sat on the dirty straw, covered with his own blood, was... a cardinal! Judging by his attire, he was of the highest rank, closest to the "holiest" Pope. What made the "holy father" treat his possible successor so cruelly?! Is it possible that Caraffa treated "his people" with the same cruelty he used on others?

– How do you feel, Your Grace? Is there anything I can do for you? – I asked, confusedly looking around.

I was looking at least for a mouthful of water to give it to the unfortunate soul, but there was no water anywhere.

– Look in the wall... There is a door... They keep their wine there... – The man whispered, as if eavesdropping on my thoughts.

I found the indicated closet. There was a large bottle smelling of mould and cheap sour wine. The man did not move. I carefully lifted his head by the chin, trying to make him drink. The stranger was still young enough – forty to forty-five years old – and very unusual. He resembled a sad angel tortured by beasts which, for some reason, call themselves "people"... His countenance was very thin, but very regular and pleasant. Bright cornflower blue eyes burned with mighty internal force in this strange face, like two stars... He seemed to me familiar for some reason, only I could not remember, where and when I could have met him.

The stranger quietly groaned.

– Who are you, Monsignor? How can I help you? – I asked again.

– My name is Giovanni... there is no use for you to know more, Madonna... – The man pronounced hoarsely. – And who are you? How did you get here?

– Oh, it’s a very long and sad story... – I smiled. – My name is Isidora, and there is no use for you too to know more, Monsignor...

– Do you know how you can get away from here, Isidora? – The cardinal smiled in reply. – You got here somehow, didn’t you?

– Unfortunately, nobody can leave this place so simply. – I answered sadly. – My husband could not... and my father could only go as far as the fire.

Giovanni looked at me very sadly and nodded, showing that he understood everything. I tried to make him drink the wine, but failed – he was unable to take even a tiny sip. I "looked" at him in my way and understood that the poor fellow’s chest was terribly damaged.

– Your chest is broken, Monsignor. I can help you... if, certainly, you are not afraid to accept my "witch’s" help... – I said, smiling as tenderly as possible.

He attentively scrutinized in my face in the dim light of the burning torch until his eyes, finally, lit up with understanding.

– I know who you are... I remember you! You are the famous Venetian Witch with who His Holiness refuses to part. – Giovanni pronounced quietly. – Legends are told about you, Madonna! Many in the Pope’s surroundings wish you were dead, but he listens to nobody. Why does he need you so much?

It was obvious that he spoke with difficulty. At every sigh the cardinal wheezed and coughed, being unable to breathe normally.

– It’s very painful for you. Please, let me help you! – I refused to give up, knowing that nobody would help him.

– It does not matter... I think it’s better for you to leave this place as quickly as possible, Madonna, until my new jailers come or, which is worse, the Pope himself. – I don’t think that he would be very pleased on seeing you here... – The cardinal whispered and then added. – Indeed you are extremely beautiful, Madonna... too beautiful... even for the Pope.

I stopped listening to him and put my hand on his chest. On feeling how the life-giving warmth flew into the broken bone, I disconnected myself from the surrounding world, fully concentrating only on the man in front of me. In a few minutes he breathed deeply but carefully and, on feeling no pain, smiled with surprise.

– If you had not called yourself a witch, you would have been a Christian saint, Isidora! It’s wonderful! Pity that you fulfilled this work in vain... They will come for me soon and I think after that I may need more serious treatment... In fact you are familiar with his methods, aren’t you?

– Will they really torture you like all others, Monsignor? You serve his beloved church! And your family, I am sure, is very influential! Is it able to help you?

– Oh, I think they are not going to kill me so quickly... – The cardinal bitterly smiled. – But one is forced to beg for death in Caraffa’s basements long before it happens... Right? Leave, Madonna! I shall try to survive and will always remember you with gratitude...

I looked over the stone cell sadly as I suddenly remembered my dead Girolamo hanging on the wall which made my flesh creep... How long will this horror last?! Is it possible that I will fail to find a way to destroy Caraffa and innocent lives will continue to be broken one by one, with impunity?

Steps were heard in the corridor. The door swung open and we saw Caraffa on the threshold.

His eyes sparkled like lightning. Obviously some assiduous servant reported that I had gone to the basements and now His "Holiness" was going to vent his anger on the unfortunate cardinal who helplessly sat next to me...

– Congratulations, Madonna! I see that you obviously like this place, if, even being alone, you come back here! Well, allow me to give you pleasure. Now we shall organize a nice show for you! – He complacently smiled and sat in his favourite large arm-chair, obviously going to enjoy the forthcoming "show".

My head began to spin with hatred... Why?! Why does this monster think that any human life belongs to him and he has a right to take it when he feels like it?

– Your Holiness, are there really heretics among the faithful servants of your beloved church? – I asked in a heavily jeering manner, hardly restraining my indignation.

– Oh, this time it’s just serious disobedience, Isidora. There is not a bit of heresy here. I just don’t like when my orders are not fulfilled. And every disobedience needs a short sharp lesson for the future, doesn’t it, my dear Morone? I think you do agree with me, don’t you?

Morone!!! Of course! That is why this man seemed familiar to me! I saw him just once at the Papal personal reception. The cardinal delighted me then with his truly natural grandeur and the freedom of his sharp mind. I remember that Caraffa seemed then very benevolent and satisfied with him. Of what could the cardinal be so guilty now that the rancorous Pope dared to throw him into this terrible stone sack?

– Well, my friend, are you ready to asknowledge your error and come back to the Emperor to remedy it, or will you rot here until I die?... This, as far as I know, will happen in the very distant future...

I froze... What did it mean?! What changed?! Caraffa was going to live long??? And he declared that very confidently! What could have happened to him when he was absent?

– Don’t waste your efforts, Caraffa... It’s not interesting anymore. You have no right to torture me and keep me in this basement. And you perfectly know that. – Morone answered very calmly.

He still had his permanent dignity that once delighted me so sincerely. And here our first and only meeting rose up very brightly in my memory...

It happened late at night during one of Caraffa’s strange "night" receptions. There were almost no expected visitors left, as suddenly a thin as a rake servant announced that his Grace Cardinal Morone had arrived and, besides, was "in a hurry". Caraffa was evidently pleased. Meanwhile a man entered the hall with a majestic step... Surely he was exactly the one who deserved the higher rank of the church! Tall, slender and smart, magnificent in his bright moire attire, he walked with an easy springy gait on the richest carpets, like on autumn leaves, proudly carrying his beautiful head, as if the world belonged only to him. Pure-bred from the root of his hair to the tips of his aristocratic fingers, he inspired involuntary respect, even in people who don’t know him.

– Are you ready, Morone? – Caraffa merrily exclaimed. – I hope you will please us with your efforts! I wish you a happy trip, cardinal. Salute the Emperor on our behalf! – He got up, obviously intending to withdrow.

I hated Caraffa’s manner of talking about himself as "we", but this was a privilege of Popes and kings and, naturally, nobody ever tried to dispute it. Such exaggerated accentuation on his importance and exceptionality sickened me. But, certainly, it perfectly suited those who had such privilege without causing any negative feelings in them whatsoever. Paying no attention to Caraffa’s words, the cardinal easily went down on bended knee and upon kissing the "ring of sinners", he rose; looking very intently at me with his bright cornflower blue eyes. They reflected unexpected delight and obvious interest... which Caraffa did not like it at all.

– You’ve come here to see me, not to break beautiful ladies’ hearts! – The Pope discontentedly croaked. – Have a pleasant trip, Morone!

– I would like to have a word with you before I undertake anything, Your Hîliness. – Not being at all confused, Morone pronounced with all the politeness in the world. – An error on my part can cost us very dearly. Therefore I ask you to give me a bit of your precious time before I leave you.

I was surprised at the trace of prickly irony in "your precious time"... It was very subtle; nevertheless, it surely was there! Therefore I decided to take a closer look at the unusual cardinal, being surprised at his boldness. In fact nobody dared to joke and, moreover, sneer at Caraffa, which showed in this case that Morone was not afraid of him. I decided to find out the reason for his confident behaviour, because I never missed the least opportunity to get to know any person who could be of any help to me in the elimination of "His Holiness"... Regrettably, I was not lucky then... Caraffa took the cardinal into his study, ordering me to wait and even giving me no chance to say goodby to the cardinal. For some reason I had a strange feeling of regret, as if had I missed an opportunity to get somebody’s support...

Usually the Pope did not let me be in his study when he received people there. But sometimes, for one or another reason, he suddenly "commanded" me to follow him. I obeyed, thus trying to avoid yet greater troubles, otherwise it would be unreasoning behaviour from my side and, besides, there was no serious grounds to do so. That is why I always went with him, knowing that as usual the Pope would observe my reaction to one or another invited person with some incomprehensible interest. It was absolutely all the same to me why he needed this kind of "entertainment", but those "meetings" allowed me to divert my attention a little from my situation and therefore his odd invitations were worthy of not objecting to.

I never met Cardinal Morone again and soon I forgot about him. And now he sat on the floor in front me, covered with blood, but proud as usual, and he again got my admiration with his ability to keep his dignity even in the most unpleasant circumstances.

– You are right, Morone. I don’t have a serious reason to torture you... – He smiled. – But do we really need it? Besides, not all tortures leave visible signs, do they?

I did not wish to stay! I did not wish to see how the monstrous "Holiness" would display his "talents" on an innocent person. But also I perfectly knew that Caraffa would not let me go until he enjoyed my torment too. Therefore, I pulled myself together, as far as my shattered nerves allowed me and prepared myself for watching...

A mighty executioner easily lifted the cardinal, tying a heavy stone to his feet. In the beginning I could not understand what kind of torture that was, but the answer did not keep me waiting... The executioner pulled a lever and the cardinal’s body began to rise... I heard a crunch. His joints and vertebrae were dislocated. My hair stood on end! But the cardinal kept silent.

– Scream, Morone! Do me a favour! Maybe then I will let you go earlier. What happened to you? I order you. Scream!!!

The Pope went mad... He hated when people refused to break. He hated when people were not afraid of him... Therefore, the "disobedient" were tortured more persistently and wickedly.

Morone became white as death. Big drops of sweat rolled down his thin face. His self-control was awesome, but I understood that it could not last too long – every living body has its limit... I wanted to help him, to try to anaesthetize him somehow. At once an amusing thought came into my mind which I immediately tried to put into practice – the stone which hung on the cardinal’s feet became weightless! Fortunately, Caraffa did not notice it. And Morone lifted his eyes in surprise and immediately closed them not to give it away, but I could see – he understood everything. And I continued to "practise witchcraft” to relieve his pain as much as possible.

– Leave, Madonna! – The Pope exclaimed somewhat chafed. – You hinder me from enjoying the show. I longed to see whether our dear friend managed to be as proud as he was before my executioner’s work. You thwart it, Isidora!

It means that he, nevertheless, understood.

Caraffa was not a seer, but he somehow caught a lot of things with his incredibly sharp flair. So it happened now. On feeling that something was happening and not wishing to lose control over the situation, he ordered me to leave.

But now it was me who did not wish to leave. The unfortunate cardinal needed my help and I sincerely wanted to grant it. I knew that, should I leave Morone alone with Caraffa, there would be no knowing whether he would see the following day. Obviously Caraffa did not care a straw about what I wanted... Without giving me a chance to protest, the second executioner almost carried me out the door and urged me toward the corridor, came back into the room where a very brave, but quite helpless good man had to face Caraffa alone.

I stood in the corridor and tried to think of how I could help him. Regrettaby, there was no way out of his sad situation. At least I could not find it so quickly... Frankly speaking, my situation was probably worse... Yes, Caraffa did not torture me yet, but the physical pain I would experience was less terrible than the tortures and death of the people I loved... I did not know what happened to Anna and, being afraid to interfere, helplessly waited... I understood from my sad experience too well that should I anger the Pope with some thoughtless action, the terrible result would not keep me waiting – Anna certainly would have to suffer.

Days passed and I did not know whether my girl was still in Meteora; whether the Pope came after her; whether everything was all right with her?

My life was empty and strange, if not to say desperate. I could not leave Caraffa, because I knew that if I disappeared, he would vent his malicious anger on my poor Anna. Also I was unable to destroy him yet, because I could not find the key to his protection which once he received from the "alien" man. Time pitilessly flowed away and I sharply felt my helplessness which together with the impossibility of acting began to slowly drive me crazy...

A month passed after my first visit to the Papal basement. There was nobody with whom I could exchange a couple of words. Loneliness deeply oppressed me, and every passing day settled more emptiness seasoned with despair in my heart.

I hoped very much that Morone managed to survive despite the Pope’s "talents", but I was wary of going back to the basement, because I was not sure whether the unfortunate cardinal was still there. My repeated visit could drive Caraffa really mad and Morone would have to pay for it truly dearly.

I remained shut off any communication and spent days in the total "silence of loneliness" until I finally could not stand it at all and dared to go to the basement...

The room where I found Morone a month ago was empty. I hoped very much that the brave cardinal was still alive and I sincerely wished him luck which Caraffa’s prisoners lacked very much.

As I was in the basement anyway, I decided to explore it farther, and carefully opened the door...

An absolutely naked bloodstained young girl lay over a terrible torture "instrument". Her body was a mixture of living singed meat, cuts and blood, which covered her from head to foot... Luckily for me, there was neither executioner nor Caraffa in the torture room.

I quietly came to the poor thing and carefully stroked her swollen tender cheek. The girl began to moan. Then I carefully took her fragile fingers and slowly began to "heal" her... Soon pure grey eyes looked at me in surprise...

– Hush, dear... Be quiet. I’ll try to help you, as much as possible. But I don’t know whether I’ll have enough time for it... You were severely tortured and I am not sure whether I can "patch" it all quickly. Relax, sweetheart, and try to think of something kind... if you can.

The girl (she appeared quite a child) began to moan, trying to say something, but for some reason words failed to come forth. She mooed, unable to pronounce clearly even the shortest word. The terrible understanding flashed through my mind – the poor child did not have a tongue!!! They pulled it out... in order that she could not say "too much", that she did not shout the truth when they burnt her, that she could not reveal what they had done to her...

Oh, my God! Were those who did all this really HUMANS???

I managed to calm my heart and tried to talk to her mentally. The girl could hear me, which meant that she was a gifted one! She was one of those who the Pope hated so furiously and brutally burned alive...

– What have they done to you, sweetheart?! Why have they taken your speech?!

I whispered punch-drunk, while my trembling hands tried to cover her body with rough rags.

– Don’t be afraid, my dear. Just think what you would like to say and I’ll try to hear you. What is your name, girl?

– Damiana... – The answer rustled.

– Hold on, Damiana. – I smiled as tenderly as possible. – Hold on, don’t slip away, I’ll try to help you!

But the girl just slowly shook her head, and a pure lonely teardrop rolled down her unmercifully beaten cheek...

– Thank you... for your kindness. But I am not long for this world... – her quiet "mental" voice rustled in reply. – Help me... Help me to "leave". Please... I cannot bear it anymore... They will come back soon... I beg you! They dishonoured me... Please, help me to "go away "... you know how. Help... I’ll be grateful to you "there" too, and I always shall remember you...

Her thin fingers, disfigured by tortures grasped my wrist with an iron grip, as if she knew that I could really help her... that I could give her the peace she longed for...

Sharp pain twisted my tired heart... This sweet, brutally tortured girl, almost a child, asked me for death like a favour!!! The executioners had not just severely wounded her fragile body; they defiled her pure soul, raping it too! And now Damiana was ready to "go away." She asked for death as for relief, without thinking of rescue even for a moment. She was tortured and defiled, and did not wish to live... Anna appeared before my eyes... My goodness, was the same frightful end predetermined for her too?!! Will I be able to save her from this nightmare?!

Damiana’s pure grey eyes pleadingly looked at me. They reflected a superhumanly deep and wild pain... She could not fight anymore. She had no strength for this. And in order not to betray herself, she chose to leave...

What kind of "human being" could inflict such cruelty?! What kind of monsters trample down our pure Earth, desecrating her with their meanness and their black hearts? I quietly cried, stroking the sweet face of a brave unhappy girl who failed to live even a small part of her sad life... Hatred began to burn in my heart! I hated the monster which called himself the Roman Pope... the deputy of God... and the holiest Father... who enjoyed his rotten power and riches; while a wonderfuly pure soul left life in his terrible basement. She left it of her own free will... because she could not endure the inhuman terrible pain which the "holy" Pope ordered his executioners to cause her...

Oh, how I hated him!!! I hated him with my whole heart and soul! And I knew that I would take revenge on him, no matter what it would cost me... for all who died so brutally by his order... for my father... for Girolamo... for this kind pure girl... and for the rest from who he easily took the possibility to live their dear and only in this body life...

– I’ll help you, girl... I’ll help you, dear... – I whispered, tenderly lulling her. – Calm down, darling, there will be no more pain. My father went there... I spoke to him. There will be only light and peace... Relax, sweetheart... I’ll fulfill your wish. You will be leaving now. Don’t be afraid. You’ll feel nothing... I’ll help you, Damiana. I’ll be with you...

A surprisingly beautiful spirit came out of her disfigured physical body. She looked the way Damiana had been before she found herself in this damned place.

– Thank you... – Her soft voice rustled. – Thank you for your goodness... and for freedom. I shall always remember you.

She began to rise easily along the luminous channel.

– Farewell Damiana... Let your new life be happy and light! You’ll find happiness, girl... and good people. Farewell...

Her heart gently stopped... And her soul, worn out with suffering, freely flew away where nobody could cause her pain. The sweet kind girl went away without knowing how wonderful and joyful her broken unlived life could be... how many good people she could make happy with her Gift... how high and light her love, which she did not have chance to know, could be... and how happily the voices of her unborn in this life children could sound...

Damiana’s face became peaceful and smoothed out after death. She seemed asleep, so pure and beautiful she was now... Bitterly sobbing, I sat onto a rough seat next to her empty body... My heart froze, filled with bitterness and resentment for her innocent broken life... A fierce hatred rose somewhere very deep in it, threatening to break forth outside and wipe this criminal terrible world from the face of earth.

Finally I managed to pull myself together, glanced once again at the brave girl-child, mentally wishing her peace and happiness in her new world, and quietly left the terrible room...

The horror I’d seen paralysed my mind, discouraging me from further investigation of the Papal basement... threatening to bring down on me somebody else’s suffering which could be even more frightful. I was going to go upstairs, as suddenly I felt a weak, but very persistent call. Surprised, I strained my ears to hear it and finally understood that the call proceeded from here, from the very basement. On forgetting all my former fears, I decided to check.

The call repeated until I came right to the door behind which it sounded...

The cell was empty, damp and dark. A man sat on the straw in the corner. I came closer and cried out. It was my old acquaintance, cardinal Morone... This time his proud face was red with scratches and it was obvious that he suffered terribly.

– Oh, I am very glad that you are alive! Hello, Monsignor! Did you call me?

He raised himself a little, wincing in pain, and very seriously pronounced:

– Yes, Madonna. I’ve been calling you for a long time, but for some reason you did not hear, although you were very near.

– I helped a good girl to say goodbye to our cruel world... – I answered sadly. – Why do you need me, Your Grace? Can I help you in something?

– It’s not about me Madonna. Tell me, your daughter's name is Anna, isn’t it?

The walls of the room began to swing... Anna!!! My God, not Anna! I grabbed a projecting corner in order not to fall down.

– Tell me, Monsignor... You are right; my daughter’s name is Anna.

My world began to collapse, even without knowing what was happening... It was enough that Caraffa mentioned my poor girl. There was no reason to expect anything good of it.

– When the Pope was "busy" with me last night, a man reported to him that your daughter left the monastery... And for some reason Caraffa was very pleased. Therefore I decided to find a way to tell you about this. As far as I understand his joy brings misfortune to others. Am I mistaken, Madonna?

– No... You are right, Your Grace. Did he say anything else, even the smallest thing that would help me?

I asked in the hope of getting more, even the most insignificant "addition", but Morone shook his head...

– I am sorry, Madonna. He only said that you had been absolutely wrong, and that love never brought good to anybody ... if it means something to you, Isidora.

I could just nod, trying to put my scattering panic-struck thoughts together and not to show Morone how deeply his news wounded me. Nevertheless, I pronounced as calmly as possible:

– Let me heal you, Monsignor. I think that my "witch" help will be quite useful for you right now. And I thank you for the news... even though bad. It’s always good to know the enemy’s plans beforehand, even the worst ones, isn’t it?

Morone attentively looked into my eyes; trying to find in them an answer to some important for him question. But my soul closed itself from the world in order not to sicken... to stand the forthcoming ordeal to the end... And the cardinal met now the generally accepted "high society look" which prevented him from getting into my horror-frozen soul...

– Are you really afraid of him, Madonna? – Ìîrone gently asked. – You are in fact a thousand times stronger than he! Why are you afraid of him?

– He has something which I am still unable to fight... And therefore I cannot kill him yet. Oh, believe me, Your Grace, I wish I could find the key to this poisonous viper! – Calming down a little, I again offered: – Allow me to help you. I shall relieve your pain.

But the cardinal gently refused.

– Tomorrow I will be in another, quieter place. And I hope that Caraffa will forget about me for a while. But what about you, Madonna; what will become of you? I cannot help you from a prison, but my friends are quite influential. Can they be of any use to you?

– Thank you, Monsignor, for your concern, but I don’t cherish vain hopes, hoping to leave this place... He will never let me go... or my poor daughter. I live to destroy him. There must not be a place for him among the living.

– I am sorry that I did not know you before, Isidora. Most likely we would have become friends. And now I bid you farewell. You cannot stay here. The Pope surely will come to wish me "good luck". He should not see you here. Take care of your daughter, Madonna... and do not give in to Caraffa. May God be with you!

– What God are you talking about, Monsignor? – I asked sadly.

– Certainly not the one to which Caraffa prays! – Morone smiled.

I stayed a second more, trying to save the image of this wonderful person in my soul, waved a farewell and left the room.

The skies fell on me with the squall of anxiety, panic and fear! Where was my brave lonely girl now? What made her leave Meteora? For some reason Anna left my persistent calls without answer, although I knew that she heard me. It made me worry even more and I did my very best not to yield to the panic which was slowly burning my heart, because I knew that Caraffa would immediately take advantage of my weakness, and that meant that I would lose, even having not begun to resist...

I secluded myself in "my" rooms and "licked" old wounds. I did not hope to heal them but simply tried to be as strong and calm as possible in case the open war with Caraffa began... There was no sense in hoping for a miracle, because I perfectly knew that we were not a case for miracles... Everything that is to happen I will have to do by myself.

The impossibility of action was killing me, making me feel forgotten by everybody, helpless and unnecessary... Although I perfectly knew that I was wrong, the worm of "black doubt" gnawed my fevered brain, leaving there a notable print of uncertainty and regret...

I did not regret that Caraffa had me, but I was panic-stricken for Anna. Also I could not forgive myself the death of my father and Girolamo, my dearest and best people in the world... Will I be able to avenge them some day? May be all are right, telling me that I could not beat Caraffa and that I will not destroy him, but foolishly die myself? Was Sever right, insisting on my coming to Meteora? Has the hope of destroying the Pope lived only in me all this time?

Also I felt very tired... unhumanly and terribly tired... Sometimes it even seemed to me that it was better to go to Meteora. In fact there were people that went there and for some reason they did not worry about people dying around them. They cared for KNOWING and getting the secret KNOWLEDGE, because they considered themselves exceptionally gifted... But if they truly were so "exceptional", why then did they forget the simplest, but in my opinion very important, precept of ours – don’t retire, if others need your help... How could they close themselves so easily, even without looking around and trying to help others? How did they calm their souls?

Of course, my "indignant" thoughts did not concern the children of Meteora... It was not their war; it was only the adults’ responsibility... The children will have to go a long way in cognition to be able to protect their home, family and all good people who live on our strange and incomprehensible Earth.

No, I thought exactly about the adults... I thought about those who considered themselves too "special" to risk their "precious" life, about those who preferred to hide in Meteora behind its thick walls while Earth incessantly bled and lots of gifted people, like they were, went to their deaths...

I always esteemed freedom and respected the right of free choice for anybody, but there were circumstances in life when our personal freedom was not worth millions of lives of other good people... In any case, this was my strong conviction and I was not going to change anything. Yes, there were moments of weakness when the sacrifice I was going to make seemed senseless and vain and would change nothing in this cruel world... But then the desire to fight came back... And everything fell into place and I was ready to return to the "battle-field", dedicating the whole of my self to the war and perfectly realizing how unequal the forces in it were.

The chain of long and hard days continued to creep. I was still kept in suspense and nobody disturbed me. Nothing changed. Nothing happened. Anna kept silent, ignoring my calls. And I had no idea where she was or where I should look for her...

So, one day, being mortally tired of empty and endless waiting, I at last decided to carry out my old sad dream – to visit my beloved Venice for the last time. I decided to "waft" there to say goodbye, knowing that I never could do it otherwise...

It was May and Venice was decked out, adorned like a young bride, to celebrate its most beautiful holiday – the day of Love.

Love soared everywhere. It saturated the very air of the city! Bridges and channels breathed it. It penetrated into every corner of the elegantly decorated city and into every fibre of every lonely soul which lived there... For one day Venice turned into a magic flower of love – burning, heady and beautiful! The streets of the city were swathed in scarlet roses which hung over the water like magnificent "tails", gently caressing it with their fragile scarlet petals... The whole of Venice exhaled fragrance, emitting the odour of happiness and summer. On this day even the most sullen inhabitants of the city left their houses and smiled broadly, hoping that this wonderful day whimsical Love would smile even at them, the sad and lonely...

The holiday began in the early morning when the first sunrays began to gild the city channels, heaping on them their hot kisses and making the channels shyly shimmer with red bashful flashes... The first love romances gently sounded under the windows of the still sleeping city beauties... And the magnificently dressed gondoliers had decorated their polished gondolas with festive scarlet the day before and patiently waited at a pier, hoping to get the most beautiful woman of this wonderful magic day.

There were no prohibitions in this holiday for anybody. Young and old poured out into the streets to partake of the forthcoming joy and tried to take the the best places on bridges beforehand to see as closely as possible the gondolas which carried beautiful as Spring, famous Venetian courtesans – those unique women, whose mind and beauty was a matter of admiration for famous poets and painters which immortalized them in their splendid poems and on their magnificent canvasses.

Titian. Venus of Urbino. As a model – a famous courtesan and poet Veronica Franco
Titian. Venus of Urbino.
As a model – a famous courtesan
and poet Veronica Franco

I always considered that love should be pure, and never understood or agreed with infidelity. But the courtesans of Venice were not just women who sold love. Apart from always being splendidly beautiful, they also were all excellently educated, far better than any bride from a rich and noble Venetian family. Unlike very well-educated noble Florentine women, the Venetian women of my time were prohibited from entering the public libraries and being "well-read", because the wives of noble Venetians were considered just a beautiful thing, which a loving husband kept enclosed in the house for the "sake" of his family... The higher the status of a lady, the less she was allowed to know. To the contrary, the courtesans usually spoke several languages, played musical instruments, read (and sometimes wrote!) verses, perfectly knew philosophers, understood politics, splendidly sang and danced... In short, they knew everything that, in my opinion, any noble woman must know. I always honestly thought that should the wives of the nobility know even a bit of what the courtesans knew, then loyalty and love would reign forever in our wonderful city...

I disapproved of infidelity, but also could not respect women who did not know (and did not wish to know!) further than what was inside the Venetian walls. Probably that was the voice of my Florentine blood that spoke, but I hated ignorance! And I disliked people who had unlimited resources to KNOW, but did not want to use it for that sake.

But let us come back into my beloved Venice, which, as I knew, should be preparing for the usual annual festival this evening...

Effortlessly I appeared on the main square of the city.

It seemed that everything was as it had been before. As usual Venice was splendidly decorated, but this time it was almost empty. I walked along lonely channels unable to believe my eyes! It was not late yet, and usually it was the time when the city buzzed like a beehive, anticipating the favourite holiday, but that evening beautiful Venice was empty... I could not understand where all happy faces were! What had happened to my wonderful city in those several short years???

I slowly went onto the deserted wharf and inhaled the so familiar, warm and soft salt air, unable to hold back happy and at the same time sad tears... This was my home, my truly beloved town! Venice remained MY city forever! I loved its rich beauty and high culture... Its bridges and gondolas... And its singularity, making it a unique city built only once on Earth.

The evening was very pleasant and quiet. Tender waves gently whispered something and idly swished against stone portals... They fluidly rocked decorated gondolas and escaped back into the sea, carrying away the petals of roses which, on sailing away, looked like scarlet drops of blood which somebody generously sprinkled over the mirror of the water.

Suddenly a very familiar voice pulled me out of my sad-happy dreams:

– I cannot believe my eyes!!!.. Isidora?! Is it really you?!

It was our kind old friend, Francesco Rinaldi who stood dumbfounded looking at me, as if he saw a familiar ghost... He did not dare to believe that it was truly me.

– My God, where have you come from?! We thought that you had died a long time ago! How did you manage to save yourself? Did they really let you go?!

– No, they did not, my dear Francesco. – I sadly shook my head. – Unfortunately, I did not manage to save myself... I came to say goodbye...

– But, how can that be? You are here! And free! And where is my friend?! Where is Girolamo? I have not seen him for ages and missed him so much!

– Girolamo is not with us anymore, dear Francesco... just as my father...

Whether it was that Francesco was a friend from our happy "past" life, or simply I wildly got tired of endless loneliness, but, on telling exactly him about the harm that the Pope had done to us, I suddenly felt the unbearably superhuman pain... And at last I gave free reign to my feelings. The waterfall of bitter tears gushed from my eyes wiping off shame and pride, leaving just the thirst for protection and pain of loss... I hid my face on his warm chest and sobbed like a lost child looking for friendly support...

– Calm down, my dear friend... There, there... Please, calm down...

Francesco stroked my tired head, like my father had done it a long time ago. Pain burned, pitilessly throwing me into the past which could not be returned and, which no longer existed, because people who had created this wonderful past did not exist on Earth anymore...

– My home was always your home, Isidora. We have to hide you somewhere! Come to our place! We will do everything we can. Please, come to us! You’ll be safe with us!

They were wonderful people, his family... And I knew that if I agreed, they would do everything to hide me, even if their life was fraught with danger because of it. For a short instant I wanted to stay with them so desperately! But I perfectly knew that it would not happen and I would go right away... In order not to cherish vain hopes I sadly said:

– Anna is in the "holy" Pope’s claws... I think you understand what it means. And she is the only one who I have now... I am sorry, Francesco.

And then I asked about another thing:

– Tell me, my friend, what happened to the city? What happened to the holiday? Has our Venice changed like everything else?

– It’s the Inquisition, Isidora... Damn it! It’s all the Inquisition...

– ?!.

– Yes, dear friend, it sneaked even here... And the most frightful thing is that many people fell for it. Probably the wicked and insignificant ones needed something equally "spiteful and insignificant"to happen to open everything that they hid for many years. The Inquisition became the frightful instrument of human revenge, envy, lies, avidity and spite! You cannot even imagine, my friend, how low seemingly ordinary people can fall! Brothers slander brothers... children smear their old parents, wishing to get rid of them as quickly as possible... envious neighbours squeal on neighbours... It’s awful! Today nobody is safe from the "holy fathers" visits... It’s so terrible, Isidora! One only has to say that somebody is a heretic, and you will never see this person again. It’s a true madness... which uncovers in people the lowest and worst... How can one live with it, Isidora?

Francesco stood stooping down, as if the heaviest load pressed on him like a mountain, preventing him from standing straight. I’ve known him for a long time and I knew how difficult it was to break this honest, brave, man. But that life hunched him, converting him into a confused senescent Francesco who could not understand this overall human meanness and baseness... And now, looking at my kind old friend, I understood that I was right when I decided to forget my personal life, giving it in exchange for the death of the "holy" monster which trampled down the lives of good and pure people. But also it grieved me bitterly that there were low and mean "people" that rejoiced (!!!) at the arrival of the Inquisition, and that the pain of others did not touch their stale hearts. Rather on the contrary – they remorselessly used the claws of the Inquisition to destroy innocent kind people! How far our Earth still was from that happy day when Man will be pure and proud! When his heart will not yield to meanness and evil...; and Light, Sincerity and Love will live on it. Yes, Sever was right – Earth was still too wicked, foolish and imperfect, but I believed with all my heart that some day it would become wise and very kind... only many, many years will have to pass. Meanwhile those who love it have to fight for it, forgetting themselves and their families, not sparing their earthly Life, their only one and very dear for each of them. Being absorbed with my thoughts, I did not notice that Francesco was watching me very attentively, as if wishing to understand whether he had succeeded in persuading me to stay. But the deep sadness in his soft grey eyes told me – he understood... And firmly hugging him for the last time, I began to bid farewell.

– We’ll always remember you, dear. And we’ll always miss you... and Giralomo... and your kind father. They were wonderful and pure people. I hope they find another life more safe and kind. Take care of yourself, Isidora... no matter how strange it sounds. Please, try to get away from him, if you can... together with Anna...

I nodded and quickly went along the wharf, not to show how deeply this farewell wounded, and how brutally painful my heart-ache...

I sat at a parapet and submerged into sad thoughts... The surrounding world was completely different. The joyful and open happiness which lit up our former life had disappeared without a trace. Could people really not understand that they were destroying our wonderful planet with their own hands, filling it with the poison of envy, hatred and malice; that, on betraying others, they immersed their immortal souls into the "black", thus closing the way for salvation? The Volkhvs were right, saying that Earth was not ready... But it does not mean that one has to give up fighting for it! That one has to sit around twiddling one's thumbs and wait until it "grows up" some day! We don’t leave a child alone to look for the way of maturity on his own, do we? How then can we leave our Earth without indicating the way and hoping that somehow it will be lucky enough to survive on its own?!

I did not notice how quickly the time flew and was very surprised that the night was falling. It was time to come back. Now my old dream to see Venice and family home did not seem such a good idea... It did not bring me joy, on the contrary – on seeing my native town so different, I felt bitterness and disappointment, nothing more. I glanced at the so familiar and once beloved scenery once again, closed my eyes and "wafted", perfectly understanding that I would never see it again...

Caraffa sat at the window in "my" room, being fully submerged in some sad thoughts, hearing and noticing nothing around... I appeared in front his "holy" eyes so unexpectedly, that the Pope gave a start, but immediately pulled himself together and surprisingly calmly asked:

– Well, well. So where did you walk, Madonna?

His voice and eyes expressed strange indifference, as if it was absolutely the same to the Pope what I did and where I went. It put me on my guard. I knew Caraffa quite well (I think nobody knew him fully) and this kind of strange calmness portended nothing good.

– I went to Venice, Your Holiness, to say goodbye... – I answered calmly.

– Where you pleased?

– No, Your Holiness, I was not. It’s not the same city as I remember it.

– See, Isidora, even cities have changed in such short time, not only people... and the states, probably, too, if we look closer. Can’t I change?

He was in a strange mood, very unlike him, therefore I tried to answer very carefully, not to touch by chance some "prickly" corner and get caught in the thunderstorm of his "holy" anger which can destroy a far stronger person than me.

– Was it not you, Holiness that I remember saying you would live very long? Has anything changed since then? – I asked quietly.

– Oh, it was just a hope, my dear Isidora! It was just a foolish and vain hope which was blown away like smoke...

I waited patiently for him to continue, but Caraffa was quiet, being again submerged in his sad thoughts.

– I am sorry, Your Holiness, do you happen to know what has become of Anna? Why did she leave the monastery? – I asked, almost without a hope for an answer.

Caraffa nodded.

– She is coming here.

– But why?! – My heart froze, having a bad presentiment.

– She is coming to save you. – Caraffa pronounced calmly.

– ?!!

– I need her here, Isidora. But in order that they let her go from Meteora, her desire was needed. So I helped her to "decide".

– Why do you need Anna, Your Holiness?! You wanted her to study there, didn’t you? Why was it necessary to send her to Meteora then?

– Life is slipping away, Madonna... Nothing stands still, especially Life... Anna will not help me in what I need so eagerly... even if she studied there for a hundred years. I need you, Madonna. Precisely your help is what I need... And I know that I cannot persuade you so easily.

So, it came at last... the most frightful one. I did not have time to kill Caraffa! And my poor daughter had become the next on his terrible list... My brave sweet Anna... For a fraction of a second our fate suddenly opened to me... it was dreadful...

Download the Book

1. The beginning
2. A friend
3. The first "swallows"
4. The loss
5. Reality
6. The first contact
7. A test
8. The farewell
9. The awakening
10. Everyday life
11. The neighbours
12. Cookies
13. The fire that did not warm up
14. Loneliness
15. Giving eating up
16. The second contact
17. The result
18. Anesthesia
19. The neighbour
20. Unusual salvation
21. Unexpected guests
22. The poltergeist
23. A car accident
24. An angel
25. Stella
26. Stella-2. Harold
27. Stella-3. Axel
28. Stella-4. The astral world
29. Stella-5. Svetilo. The hell. Izolda
30. Stella-6. The mental world
31. Vaya. Other worlds
32. My parents
33. The surprise
34. Sorrow
35. Isidora
36. Isidora-2. Rome
37. Isidora-3. Meteora
38. Isidora-4. The Loss
39. Isidora-5. The Darkness
40. Isidora-6. Svetodar
41. Isidora-7. The Cathars
42. Isidora-8. The Key of Gods
43. Isidora-9. The loss of Anna. The woman Warrior
44. Isidora-10. Vidomir. The sleeping Kings