Chapter One"Grandmamma, where are we going?" Aradia asked, gaily skipping circles around the ageless figure leading her down the village path. "How come Sardiana can't come?"
Her grandmother could hardly keep up with the flood of questions. These were just two more in the torrent that had followed since they left home.
"We are going to see the widow Leana Figante because I am teaching you the craft and your sister doesn't have the gift," the old woman told her.
"What gift? Maybe I could give it to her."
"Yes, you would if you could child, but it doesn't work that way. Either you are born with it or not. Do not get me wrong child. Everyone has a bit of the gift. But most are afraid of things they do not understand, or cannot see. You know how you see the little people dancing around you? Have you ever seen them dancing around anyone else?"
"Yes, Grandmamma," Aradia said, squinting her eyes. "I have seen them around you. I see colors around other people, not fairies! Most of the time the colors are pretty and bright like a rainbow, but sometimes they are quite ugly. They look like the pea soup mamma makes me eat. Yuck! Or sometimes like dreary dark clouds."
"Yes, of course around me," explained Grandmother with slight impatience, yet smiling with pride at the gift her granddaughter possessed, "but what I am asking is when you go to the woods or the river and see the little folk, are they different from what you see dancing around you and me?"
"Yes ..." Aradia hesitated, realizing for the first time how different they were.
"The ones at the river are gnomes, elves, and fairies, and they work with the trees and flowers to make them grow," explained her grandmother. "Then there are the special ones that you see dancing around us. These are "elementals." They work with humans and do their bidding. When you work with them, learning as you have to use the proper words and intonations, you form a special bond between the two worlds."
"What do you mean? Do their bidding?"
Grandmother shifted her weight from side to side. "Remember how nasty old man Gramaldi used to behave?" the old woman asked her.
"Oh yes, he scared all of the children. He would hide behind his bushes and jump out with an ugly mask covering his face and nothing else on. I remember the time I ran over and pulled on his ... well, you know ..."
"Yes, child, all of the city knows, as well. Gramaldi told all of his old cronies he would hurt you because of that! Ha! I hope you pulled it hard enough to hurt the old bastido. I sent the elementals to sour his cows and poison his pigs," she added, touching Aradia's hair lovingly. "But best of all, his chickens flew the coup! Furthermore, I warned him that if he harmed one little hair on your head, he would not awake to see the new day. And if he jumped out at the bambinos again, his manhood would turn black and fall off. These, my child, are the things the elementals can help you with."
"How can they make his, you know ... turn black and fall off?"
Grandmother looked at her beloved granddaughter through blue-green eyes that seemed to hold the depths of the ocean. Her long dark silver streaked hair worn braided on top of her head had a mind of its own and she was forever tucking stray strands behind her ears. Her slightly hunched back and shoulders were the only evidence of her years. Smooth olive skin, unlined except for the crinkles at the corners of her eyes, radiated health and vigor, giving the impression of timeless youth.
"Ah, we are here. Not one moment too soon," she said as they entered a house which was like any of the other houses in Volsinii, long, narrow and dimly lit.
"Come, child, it is your time. Let us go in. You will do the spell. You will use the words I have taught you and you will call on the elementals. Be firm in your intentions when you call them to dance, and strong with your words when you send them to do your bidding."
The widow Figante, a short plump woman dressed in the customary black of the village widows, warmly welcomed them and chatted like a magpie as she led them to a small room in the back of the house. Her thin brown hair, streaked with gray, was pulled back in a bun revealing a roundish face. Her deep brown eyes darted expectantly to grandmother and then granddaughter. Tools for the garden hung on the wall, and the room smelled of animal dung.
"Leana, Leana," said grandmother, wrinkling her nose, "This is the first spell my granddaughter will make. Is it necessary that we use this unpleasant room?"
"But ... it is for privacy we come to this room," huffed Leana, irritated at the rebuke. "You told me privacy!"
"I did not tell you animal dung, huh?" spat Grandmother, while sniffing the foul air with disdain. "No matter. We have wasted enough time. Leana, tell the child what it is you need. I have taught her well!"
As the widow Figante woefully recited the tale of her un-betrothed daughter, Madeline, to Aradia, Grandmother noticed the deep look of understanding in her granddaughter's eyes and she nodded in approval.
Aradia decisively stepped toward her grandmother who was holding the brightly colored bag she always carried. Aradia's precocious manner slipped as childish glee lit her radiant face when she excitedly drew open the ribbon and removed a sprig of basil, a pinch of sea salt and a vial of sacred rose oil used for making love spells, all nestled amongst the many herbs and potions within the colorful sack.
With a quick wave of her hand Aradia motioned the two women to step back. Casting a protective circle of salt on the crude, dusty floor, she stepped into the center, preparing to open the veil between the worlds. Her small voice became deep, confident, and full of arcane mystery as she proceeded to call upon the lofty ones. Using the secret and sacred names of the mysterious leaders of the elementals, her special friends arrived as always colorfully dancing in the light as she chanted her spell.
"Gob of the mighty earth, protect us and hear our plight. Paralda of the mighty air do not make Madeline wait. Dejin who dances in fire of might, place Madeline in her lover's sight Necksa bind together these lovers and for all time hold them tight."
Turning slowly and then more rapidly, her gaily tinted robe became a swath of color as she danced in the middle of the circle. Casting basil into the air, she conjured the protective genies of the four directions. Holding fast to the rose oil, Aradia passionately sang out the ancient Etruscan words that her grandmother had taught her. Kneeling down in reverence, as if taking a sacred vow, she placed drops of rose oil ever so lightly onto the palms of her hands. The warmth of the oil permeated the whole of her body, traveling ever so slowly up her arms, reaching and going through the top of her head. Closing her eyes, she continued rocking back and forth, forming words that became a chant.
"Dejin, who dances in fire of might, place Madeline in her lover's sight. Dejin, who dances in fire of might, place Madeline in her lover's sight."
After a few moments had passed, she opened her eyes and looked directly at the widow Figante. "Place mallow in a colored pot outside your door. Shortly a man of honor will come to court your daughter." She lowered her eyes. "It is done. So be it."
Chapter Two"Aradia, you frightened me! What are you doing up in a tree?" exclaimed Sardiana in shock, as she peered out of the library window.
"I am watching a spider weave her web, and reminiscing about Grandmamma. Although it has been many years since she passed, I still miss her so. It was she that taught me that the spider web is to remind us that life is eternal. Then again, I believe it also teaches us not to weave yarns, or we might get caught up in them." Aradia's eyes misted over with rich memories. For a brief moment she gave herself over to the past.
"Well ... no matter; back to your problem. By the way, where has he gone?"
Sardiana turned her head with an air of insouciance that didn't quite suit her. "Whom do you speak of?"
"The statesman of course! You know perfectly well to whom I refer. Trying that look of indifference is not getting you out of this conversation!"
"He's looking for Father. He caught me ... unaware," stammered Sardiana, her face blushing with embarrassment. "I did not know that there was anyone in here. I – I know that he was being condescending, but I ..."
"Mother has taught us well," interrupted Aradia. "You carry the royal blood and as such, never act subservient to anyone! So he is a councilman with haughty airs. I do not care."
Then, realizing she was sitting in a tree speaking to her sister about etiquette, she fixed an errant curl and brushed her dirty robe. Searching to regain some dignity, Aradia looked adoringly at her younger sister.
Deep rich mahogany hair and dark twinkling eyes framed her lovely expressive face that exploded into dimples when she smiled. Yes, she thought. Sardiana will make a good wife for a rich and loving landowner who wants many children.
"I am going to the river to study my letters. Tis up to me to carry forth such matters, as you have no interest in them," she teased her sister, as she climbed down close enough to pull on her sister's long, shiny braid.
"You hide my lack of studies because I am the only one that knows of your comings and goings," Sardiana replied quietly. "If Mother knew you secretly went to the river, she would be frantic! It is a long way and very dangerous. Whenever you decide to go traipsing around the countryside on a whim, I pray to Vulcan to protect you and to Minerva to give you the sense not to do it."
Now it was Sardiana's turn to place her hands on her slender hips.
They glared at each other for a moment, and then together burst into uproarious laughter. Aradia reached in through the open window to hug her sister, both of them laughing so hard that tears came to their eyes, tears that brimmed with memories and the great love they shared for one another.
"I do not use the river road," Aradia said briskly. To hide her emotions she paused to tuck her flute and the scroll she had been reading more securely in her tunic's belt. "I have a special way. It is much shorter."
"What other way could there be?" questioned her sister suspiciously.
"Come. Must I teach you everything?" Aradia teased.
Together the two girls went out through the sitting room where they encountered one of their three brothers.
"Kouros, mea bambino, what are you doing here? The others have left to view the metal works," said Aradia chidingly to her youngest brother as they sauntered gaily through the room.
"Do not speak to me like that or I shall call Mother and she will set you right," Kouros said bravely, sticking his tongue out and squeezing his eyes so tight that his outrageously long lashes feathered his cheek
"Mea bambino," Aradia taunted, as she and Sardiana headed for the front door in gales of laughter. "When father sees that you are given a long robe like the rest of us, to cover those ugly chicken legs, then I will stop calling you my baby boy."
"It is good that he knows that you tease the older boys as well, or he would take it to heart and cry his eyes out. He loves you so much," she said with an unusual show of boldness. "We all do, but you test our reserved nature. We often wonder if you were dropped on our doorstep when you were a child."
As Sardiana walked beside her sister, she thought once more of the heavenly scent of colorful wildflowers she would gather from the garden to decorate the table for the evening. They always sat for their heavy meal at the end of the day. Flowers and a brightly colored cloth, made the evening a memorable occasion. Dinner conversation was truly engaging, touching, as it did on many subjects. Mother did not care for debating issues nor did Sardinia, but Aradia loved to air what were sometimes outrageous views that enlivened the meal, baiting her brothers and inevitably besting them at their own game, something Sardinia always enjoyed watching. She also enjoyed watching her father nod in approval as Aradia spoke, and smile with support when she was done. Aradia would be stoned to death in some cultures for her ideas, thought Sardiana. It's good that our people have such a high regard for our women.
Sardiana shuddered at the thought of Aradia getting married and having to live in another land. She had heard of other cultures in which it was commonplace for women to be beaten, and goddesses to be berated, something she found difficult to understand, for her people worshipped both gods and goddesses alike. They were always equal one to the other.
Aradia slowed her natural step and cocked her head to one side. Seeing her sister's grave concern she asked, "What are you thinking about, bella sorella?"
"I am thinking lobatz, it's crazy to go with you!" said Sardiana, tapping her head as she spoke. Yet hesitantly she followed Aradia and they meandered unhurriedly out of the main gate of the city and began making their way down the sloped road that led to the river.
Looking back over her shoulder to see if anyone was watching them, Sardiana was awed, as always, by the sight. Volsinii, the small village in which they lived, was built on a citadel of rock that reached high into the clouds. Flowers gently swaying in the breeze and brightly colored flowers sprouted from the pots that decorated every balcony. Sardiana realized she was holding her breath at the ennobled sight.
The beloved faces of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva were sculpted upon the gate with terra cotta, and they were awash with lively colors that pleased the eye, each color depicted the dynamic energy of the god or goddess it represented. The sculptures told the tales of their wonderful, but sometimes errant, gods and goddesses. These deities had taken the place of the olden gods of Etruria when Rome had begun encroaching upon their territories. To keep peace Volsinii had succumbed to the changes. After all, the gods and goddesses hadn't changed, just the names they were openly called.
Bright red was for the power and passion of Jupiter; guardian of the law and protector of justice who dealt out harsh punishment in order to serve truth though it was rumored that he tended to stretch the truth in matters of philandering against his wife Juno, who presided over marriage and childbearing. Tinted the same lush green of the trees and grass was Juno, the earth mother whose expressive face bejeweled the wall. Seldom was it mentioned that she had a jealous nature, only that she railed at her husband on occasion for his indiscretions. The Daughter of Jupiter, Minerva, emblazoned the triad with radiant gold, reminiscent of the early morning sun. Minerva's strength, evident in the chiseled contours of her face made it easy to believe the rumors that she sprang from the head of Jupiter, fully armored and ready for battle.
When they came upon a tall, thin fieldstone wall, Aradia moved behind it quickly, not wanting others to see the trail she had found.
"Here it is," she whispered, pulling her sister after her.
"Oh, no, on the head of Juno I shall disown you!" Sardiana cried. "Are you mad? I will never go down that path!"
So seldom did her sister raise her voice, that it gave Aradia pause to look down the narrow path that seemed to plunge straight down to the winding river. For a moment, she doubted her own sanity, but then she yielded to her spontaneous nature, and laughing, she turned toward the path.
"Life is a journey," she said." If you are not willing to take the first step, then the journey ends before it begins."
"I intend to live my life, not end it foolishly!" Sardiana exclaimed nervously, looking at Aradia in dismay, only to see her sister suddenly clasp her head in both hands.
"What is wrong?" she demanded. "Was it a vision? What did you see?"
Aradia had many visions but they usually did not cause pain. As the vision intensified she steadied herself and sat down on the ground.
"Are you all right?" asked Sardiana as she bent over her sister.
"Yes, you are right," her sister told her, removing her sandals. "Never follow me on this path. It is very dangerous!"
"Then why do you go?" pleaded Sardiana, sitting down beside her.
"Sar, I want to tell you how much I love you," Aradia said earnestly. "The gods blessed me when you were born. You are all that is good. You put me to shame at times with the things I do, but I have this lust for life. It goes so deep, that I cannot believe it began in this body. I know that you do not believe we live many lives. Father is patient, not pushing his ideas on all of you. He allows you to search your hearts for what feels right. But I have seen the sacred writings of the priests and I know in my heart that life is eternal. Our bodies are just specks of dust in the wind. Some lives we gather much to us, and other lives we blow hither and to, with nothing to anchor us. I want you to know, Sardiana, that you have been my anchor."