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 travelled 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.