Scion of Shadow – Part One

As the sun sank into the Adriatic and the mantle of night slowly settled over the castle walls, long tendrils of mist rose from the valley floor and entwined themselves around the four tall towers of Castello Momiano. The Istrian castle stood on a high stone bluff connected by a stone bridge and overlooking the valley and river below. Servants moved about the castle shuttering the windows and bolting the doors while the majordomo slid silently from room to room with a burning wick, lighting tallow candles in heavy, black cast-iron candelabras and the few glass-ensconced oil lamps scattered throughout the drafty halls. High in her tower bedchamber, Catarina closed her eyes in prayer as she knelt beside her bed on the hard stone floor. As every night, she quietly prayed that the angel would visit her once more. She concentrated on her prayer, rosary beads with golden crucifix wrapped tightly around her hands, and tried to keep the thoughts of angelic passion from her mind, afraid that God would be offended. Her white night shift clung to her body in the humid air while her mind fought, and sought, the temptation of yet another visitation. Catarina had not spoken a word to anyone about her experiences, fearful that the whisperings of the servants would somehow reach the ears of her father, Baron Vicardo Morpurgo.    

The Baron was a hard man who spent most of his time hunting in the wooded hills around the castle and raised Catarina, after her mother’s death during childbirth, with the help of of the castle servants. First there was Marta the wet nurse, her own squealing babe at breast, who fed and comforted her. As she grew, there came a succession of Slavic women brought up from the kitchens and food cellars who taught Catarina their language and told her their folktales by candlelight as the wind howled outside the castle walls. Once she reached the age of nine, her father was gone for many months as he traveled by ship across the sun-drenched Adriatic to the distant city of Venice. When he finally returned to the castle, he brought with him a priest and a young woman named Mirella who was the younger daughter of a prosperous Venetian merchant family. Shortly after arriving, Mirella began to tutor Caterina in proper Italian, the social niceties needed for life at court, and otherwise behave in a manner expected of a nobleman’s daughter. Her uninterrupted days of following the servants about and chasing feral cats around the castle were now replaced by etiquette, embroidery and lace-making. The idle hours of splashing about in the Argilla river that flowed along the valley below the castle transformed into dreary vocal repetitions of Italian grammar. The priest, an older, brooding man named Don Domizio, set to organizing the castle’s small chapel and holding Mass. The servants learned to shun him and scurried away whenever he entered a room, as he had a piercing gaze that unnerved them; as if he was somehow laying bare their sins for all to see. The years passed as Catarina grew and matured into a beautiful, fanciful young woman who liked nothing better than to sit in the shade on a warm Istrian day and daydream about all the fanciful tales she grew up hearing. One day during her fifteenth year, her father summoned her, Mirella and Don Domizio into the Great Hall and callously announced the betrothal of Catarina to Roderigo, son of the Count of Gorizia. The wedding would have to be postponed for two years until the boy had reached the age of eight. That night Catarina cried herself to sleep and dreamt of the shadowy mouth of a cave where a woman stood, dressed in a torn bed gown stained dark with blood from the waist down. She called out to Catarina by name and imperceptibly muttered vague warnings while imploring her to follow as she turned and disappeared into the darkness. These dreams began to haunt her again and again over the following months until ceasing as suddenly as they had begun.    

Catarina thought back to the night of her sixteenth birthday, a year past already. She had returned to her chambers after an evening Mass in celebration of her birthday, and saying her nightly prayers, she snuffed out the candles and lay down to sleep. The bright, argent light of the moon streamed through her unshuttered window and filled her bedchamber with a phantasmal light. Laying in her bed, Catarina could hear the muted sound of the river’s susurrations below in the valley layered with the gentle stirrings of a late Summer wind. Slowly her eyes closed, her mind drifting aimlessly, losing coherence as sleep enveloped her. It seemed but a moment later that she was awakened suddenly by a slight noise and movement in her chambers. Turning her head towards the sound, she could see a human figure, outlined in radiant moonlight and standing between the window and her bed. Heart beating like mad, she tensed, ready to scream out, but found that she could not move nor make a sound. It moved towards her in a silent, gliding way and the corona around it grew in intensity until she could clearly see a beatific pale face gazing down at her with luminous eyes, the blue-grey of twilit skies. Catarina’s heart still beat as fast a small bird’s, but her fear began to fade away and was being replaced by a stunned awe at this being’s beauty as she was slowly infused by an unfamiliar warm sensation that existed in that strange place somewhere between ardour and dread. The divine face smiled lucently at her as two shadowy wings unfurled behind its bare shoulders while it climbed indolently onto her bed and hovered directly over her prone body. Catarina quietly wept tears of joy as cold lips met hers and she was wholly consumed by the darkness.    

She remembered waking up to the sunlight streaming through the window and bathing her in it’s warmth. She sat sat up suddenly and looked all about her chamber for any sign of the angelic visitor from the night before, but all she had found was silence and a strange aching in her body as if she had danced all night. The days and nights immediately following the mysterious encounter found her suffering from a peculiar lethargy that kept her bound to her chambers. Her young warden Mirella worried and fretted about, sure that Catarina had fallen ill by way of some night vapors from the river below and insisted that her window stay firmly shuttered at night. Catarina would demurely acquiesce to her pleas, yet each night would rise from her bed well after dark and quietly open the shutters in the hope that her visitor would return. After a full cycle of the moon, she once again awoke to the resplendent sight of her shadowy paramour. This time, however, she found herself able to move on her own accord and freely gave herself, body and soul, to her dark angel.

Catarina shivered at the memories. She went once again to her windows and very quietly lifted the iron hook and pushed the thick wooden shutters open to the starless night. She padded gently back to her bed and then, for some reason unknown to her, gathered her string of rosary beads and crucifix and stuffed them into a linen sack and placed it in the wooden chest at the foot of her bed that contained her carefully folded clothing.