My Brave Girl

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My Brave Girl

by C. J. Thrush

Salerno, Italy

June 8th, 1701

                Thurio DiCesare, the world-famous fencing maestro, felt his heart beat a staccato rhythm as he hurried toward his mother’s house. Chaos filled the narrow, cobbled streets packed with horse-drawn carts. Men and women ran in and out of houses piling wagons with belongings. Children wailed. Men driving carriages cursed as they tried to squeeze between other vehicles and became wedged, bringing traffic to a standstill. Voices rose, fist fights broke out.

                Fools, thought Thurio. Their avarice will doom them. If they left their belongings and fled they might have a chance.

                He turned a corner and entered the blue door of a gray stone house. He called out as he rushed up a staircase two steps at a time. “Mary! Mother! Where are you?”

                Two women appeared at the top of the stairs, their faces pale.

Mother wore a navy-blue dress that, along with her gray hair, was so tidy as to be severe. She leaned on a carved-wood cane. “What has gotten into them?” she asked. “The entire town is in the streets!”

Thurio reached his wife Mary and took her in his arms, relieved that she and their unborn child were safe for the moment. He buried his dark face in her red hair and breathed in her earthy scent. She pressed away and looked up at him with spring green eyes.

“What is it this time, my love,” she said. “Is the world ending yet again?” There was bravado in her light tone, but the narrowing of her eyes meant she was frightened and her heart pounded. The Scottish accent to her Italian words reassured him as nothing else could.

“Barbary corsairs,” said Thurio, moving past them into the bedroom. “They’ve raided Amalfi and are headed this way.”

“Slavers,” hissed Mary, putting protective hands around her swollen belly.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death,” mumbled Mother.

The corsairs were pirates out of Algiers. They raided in fleets of ships, ravaging the coasts of the Mediterranean, attacking villages and rounding up townsfolk to sell into slavery. Few victims ever returned.

Thurio knew without looking that Mother was making hurried signs of the cross. He glanced up from the drawer he was ransacking for valuables. Mary leaned against the door frame, a hand supporting her eight-month pregnant belly.

“What’s to be done?” she asked. “Should we head into the hills?”

Salerno was nestled between steep hills and the harbor. Few roads led out of town, and Thurio knew from experience that the fleeing citizens would clog and block the roads in their panic. The three of them might have climbed into the hills and hidden, but Mother’s fall four months ago had broken her hip. She was healing, but slowly.

The Maestro ripped open another drawer, stuffing jewelry into his pockets.

“I’ve arranged passage aboard ship.” He hated sea travel, but had no choice. “I pray God we’re in time. Captain Sabatini promised to wait for us.” He has his own family to worry about, he added to himself. He may still leave without us.

“I’ll pack my things,” said Mary.

“No,” said Thurio. “There’s no time. Take Mother’s jewelry, I’ll get my sword and pistols. Then we must go.”

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