This poem came out of the January 22, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by marina_bonomi, siliconshaman, and DW user Cadenzamuse. It also fills the "seduction" square in my Dark Fantasy Bingo Card. It has been selected in an audience poll. This poem belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman.
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Fiorenza and Giacinto were chatting together
in the Fermo market when a cobbler came up
to them and said, "Have you any madder left?
I've bought out the suppliers in the city."
"I have some," Fiorenza said, and brought it out.
"Why do you need so much of it?" asked Giacinto.
"I work for a Prince with twelve daughters,"
said the cobbler, "who all want red dancing slippers.
I make excellent slippers, but they last no time at all!
Within a night or two, they are worn to ribbons.
Even with my apprentices helping, I cannot keep up,
and I am running the entire Marche out of madder."
"My purse thanks you," Fiorenza said,
"but I imagine the Prince's does not."
"He is ready to do murder," the cobbler said grimly,
"if someone cannot find out what is going on.
Several people have tried to solve this mystery,
but somehow they always seem to fall asleep."
"Let us come with you to the palace," Giacinto suggested.
"Yes, do," said Fiorenza. "Perhaps between us,
we can discover what is happening to the slippers."
So they both sent messages back to their villages,
and went off together to investigate the mystery.
"By all means, befriend my daughters if you can,"
the Prince said to Fiorenza. "If you and your sister
can solve this mystery, I will reward you handsomely."
Giacinto smiled behind his hand but said nothing.
It was not the first time he had been mistaken for a woman
in the skirts he wore to reassure the villagers of Faggiola
that a striòs could do the job of a wisewoman.
Fiorenza and Giacinto sat with the princesses
in their lovely garden full of statues and fountains.
They strolled through a hedge maze
and admired the knotworked herbs.
"How did you come here?" asked Adelina
the youngest of the princesses.
"We sold madder to the cobbler," said Fiorenza.
"Oh, madder," sighed the princesses, "lovely madder!"
It was Giacinto who discovered the coffee pot
from which the maids served the Prince and his court.
Each time he visited the Prince to report
that they had not solved the mystery yet --
but were getting closer! -- he drank a cup
and took another to Fiorenza.
By the end of the day they were quite alert.
When the princesses called for a pot of tea at bedtime,
Fiorenza mused over the taste of chamomile and valerian.
Giacinto smirked over the rim of his cup.
The two of them pretended to fall asleep,
but after all that coffee, it was all they could do
not to twitch as they sprawled on the couches.
Soon the princesses slipped away,
lifting a tapestry to reveal an enchanted door.
Fiorenza and Giacinto followed them
through a magical forest of precious trees.
Fiorenza broke off a twig of silver
and Giacinto pocketed a leaf of gold.
The princesses came to a fairy court
where they danced with tall princes of the fate.
The lovely young ladies complained
that the princes of neighboring lands were all louts
and so their father kept them locked up
to avoid undesirable marriages.
"I can't say that I blame either Prince or princesses
for being unhappy with that situation," said Fiorenza.
"True," said Giacinto. "No girl wants to wed a lout."
The court was so crowded that no one noticed
Fiorenza and Giacinto dancing amongst
the human princesses and the various fate --
at least until one fey prince bumped into Giacinto
and discovered that he was definitely not a woman
under the flowing skirts he wore.
The consternation only increased
when Fiorenza stepped to his side.
Of course the fate did not want their secret revealed,
and they did not want the trouble of waylaying
not one but two of the Wise,
so they were quite at a loss what to do.
"We could find you a bride," they finally offered.
"I have no need of one just now," said Giacinto.
"We could find you a groom," they said to Fiorenza.
"I am in no hurry to wed," she replied.
"If you tell our father, he will lock us away
from the tapestry," wailed Adelina.
"Then we will have no prospects at all!"
"Oh, I think we can arrange something,"
said Fiorenza, "but everyone will have to help."
So they went back with the princesses,
and Adelina's suitor Celso,
and Basilio who was courting
the eldest princess Velia.
"We have solved the mystery,"
Giacinto said to the Prince.
"Your daughters have been making overtures
to a wealthy nation, and entertaining
their ambassadors and princes by night.
But these are shy people who would remain secret,
so you must not give them away if you wish to meet them."
"How am I to know they are not beggars in disguise?"
the Prince demanded. "I am surrounded by louts.
My peers and their sons are forever at my gates
and I must remain vigilant against them."
Then Fiorenza brought out the silver twig
and Giacinto brought out the golden leaf.
"These are mere tokens," said Fiorenza.
"Your daughters have found their heart's treasure."
"Worthy tokens," the Prince admitted.
Fiorenza and Giacinto waved to the princesses,
who brought out Basilio and Celso.
"I propose that the world of mortals offer twelve brides,
and the world of magic offer twelve grooms,"
Giacinto said, "to decide between them
who shall live where, saving the eldest
who must remain in this court as the heirs."
"The Prince shall keep the secret of his daughters' suitors,"
Fiorenza added, "and in exchange the fey court
shall send a team of gardeners to raise madder
and a team of cobblers to make slippers."
"It is good to find people who can go between,
and keep peace between the worlds,"
Giacinto said. "There are not so many of those
from either world that we can spare them from diplomacy."
"Very well," said the Prince. "I will agree
to your terms if these men of the fate likewise agree."
Basilio and Celso bowed to him. "We agree," they said.
"We will cherish your daughters, and look to you
as our father in law and in the eyes of magic."
"We've kept quite good diplomatic notes,"
Velia said then, drawing from her purse a tiny box.
When she set it on the floor it turned into a trunk.
The Prince groaned at the sight of it.
"That will take me a month just to read!" he said.
"How am I to spare the time for that
when I am surrounded by louts?"
He turned pleadingly to Giacinto and Fiorenza.
"Unless you can help with that too?"
"Alas, we are not courtiers," said Giacinto.
"And there is no cure for louts," said Fiorenza.
"You will just have to put up with them,
and be glad that your daughters found better suitors."
As Fiorenza and Giacinto headed home
with a bag of coins from the grateful Prince,
they held hands, and Fiorenza thought fondly
of the shining court and its dancing.
"I might not mind a husband," she said, "someday."
"I might find myself in the market for a wife,"
he replied, "eventually."
"Wherever would you shop for such a thing?"
Fiorenza teased, laughing at him with her dark eyes.
"I find that the market in Fermo has all that I desire,"
Giacinto said gravely, but his eyes, too,
were shining with merriment.
* * *
1) striòs -- Italian for "witch-son," the male offspring of the wisewoman who provides magical and medicinal services. As the two words imply, people in this culture prefer a woman in that position, and it'schallenging for a man to manage even if the wisewoman has no daughters.
2) fate (singular: fata) -- Italian for "fairy."