It was a radiant Sunday-morning one week after the incident. Alessandro had recovered so far that he was able to go out without having pain, just a green-yellowish ring around his eye and the plaster around his hand reminded of the assault. Anastasia had gone back to Fiesole to care for Alessandro's mother. The police still had not got any further in their investigation of the assault.

Luca took Alessandro's good hand and walked with him to the viewpoint that overlooked their hometown.

"Are you happy now?" he asked. "Now, that you're free of the stupid will?"

"Uncle Arrigo has set up a family meeting. Without mother. I pretty well know what he's got in mind. Get her delivered to the hospital and gain the palazzi for himself."

"And the rest of your family? Can't you stop this?"

"Well, it means I would have to marry and have a son to get the money, so what is the use for me?" Alessandro protected his eyes with sunglasses.

The sun burnt down on the bare buttocks of the fallen, torch-holding God. The green-golden lizard rushed from its favourite place as soon as it heard footsteps coming closer and rushed into a crack of stone.

Luca knelt down and Alessandro watched with amusement. "I told you once to stroke the real thing instead of the cold stone, but that first time you turned me down."

Luca grinned up at him. "As an upcoming tourist guide you can surely explain what this is all about, can't you?"

"Sure I can." Alessandro sat carefully down on the sandy way and folded his legs. "Well, at least I can tell you my personal version of it. You know that the Gods aren't dead just because they have vanished from the believers mind", he said light-heartedly; more joking than serious. Luca knew that Sandro was a non-believer, thus he wouldn't be serious about the true appearance of God or the Gods that had populated the earth before the Christian God had been accepted by a good part of the world. To him they were fairy tales, and should have a place in the book of fairy tales of humankind. Nothing more. "Well, at the time of the Roman Empire the soldiers brought home the idea of a new God called Mithras, the sun-god. He was a sort of Sol, the Roman God of the sun, who was just an adaptation of the Greek God Helios, and as we know that the Romans were mighty, but completely without fantasy, they liked to take over the ideas and legends of all the folks and tribes they had conquered. As they did with the Persian sun god Mithras who became very popular among the soldiers. The Persians told Mithras' story that he was born in a cave or a stable on the 24th of December and of his ascent to heaven in his thirty-third year of life."

"But..." Luca started.

"Right. That's the same as we are told about Jesus Christ. Bear in mind though that the Mithras legend is much, much older. Well," Alessandro looked down and absentmindedly wiped sand from the rain washed holes in the God's bum, "there's also the idea of the trinity: Mithras, Cautes and Cautopates, like God the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. Then there's a third coincidence ", Alessandro bent his forefinger, "the sacrifice of his own blood during the initiation of a new follower. The formula was exactly the same, "and you made us immortal by this shed blood". There's the sign of the cross, burnt into the forehead and the idea of the baptism. During the initiation they have cold water poured on them. Then there's the mutual supper with Apollo and the elements of death and ascension."

Luca stared pretty disbelieving. "Well, so then all of the bible is just a fake? I mean, it's just a gathering and mixture of the ideas of foreign cults?"

"Sort of, yes. And why not. Different cultures meet and stimulate each other. Take the best of it, shake a bit and ergo, you'll have a new creation." He grinned. "You just shouldn't take it too seriously."

Luca pondered about the consequences. "So, it means in the end that Jesus didn't live? That it is just a tale?"

"Sure Jesus lived", Alessandro hastened to answer. "But everything else is just legend. Why do you think we don't have a fixed date for his death and ascension? Because nobody had noted the date? No, because the catholic church built their beliefs on the beliefs of ancient times to make them forget. We still follow the moon in Spring as the people did when they welcomed Spring and celebrated the end of the long, hard winter, that's all."

"Yeah", Luca said hesitating. "And... so what is this now? Mithras in a catholic church yard?"

"Perhaps. No. Of course not. It's one of his followers. Cautopates, the man with the bent torch, symbolising sundown, or death. Mithras followers were the signs of sunrise and sundown. It's simple."

Alessandro unfolded his legs, moaned a bit and tried to get to his feet. Luca helped him. "You know, it's an interesting myth, but Masolino had no idea of it when he and Masaccio were painting at San Clemente in Rome", he said mysteriously. "That's where his diary ends. He painted the chapel, until water broke in and they found a mithraeum deep down under the earth. At least that's what I suppose."

"A what?"

"A mithraeum. That's the subterranean temple for the cult of Mithras, very popular in the emperor's time until the Christian emperors erased them all. Well, some of them they had forgotten, like the one under San Clemente."

Luca looked as if it was all Greek to him and Alessandro laughed. "I have great plans", he said then more seriously.

"I've been to Rome too", Luca said excitedly. "For the Holy Year, you know."

"Did you see the pope then?"

"Yes, waving from his window. It meant a lot to father."

"And to you?" Alessandro took Luca's hand again and started to go. Luca noticed it was in the direction of Sandro's family tomb.

"It was impressive." Luca quickened his pace, turned a corner and entered the dark, gloomy and abandoned tomb where they had met together for the first time. Without a word he pressed his mouth upon Alessandro's and opened his lips with his tongue. Sandro's balls had healed though they were still very sensitive, so he avoided any pressure on them, but he found the way to his rising penis and chuckled. "Had feared that wouldn't work anymore, eh?" he heard Sandro's voice near his ear; felt him tugging at his shirt and jeans, before he fell with him onto the earth upon a heap of dry grass. Half undressed both had found release when they heard footsteps on the sandy way outside. They held their breath until they had passed.

Alessandro sighed and Luca seemed to feel him tremble slightly. Surprised he peered into his face, and Alessandro understood the silent question. He shook his head. "I seem to become paranoid when I hear footsteps behind me", he said half-laughing, but his blue eyes remained serious. "Shit", he hissed. "I don't want this." He struggled to his feet, careful with his hand. Luca wiped the white stains from their jeans.

"Useless coppers still can't find out who it was", Alessandro spat.

Luca was beside him, then rushed to the entrance and peered out. "You know, I thought", he said when the coast was clear, "that you did think it was your buddies, right? Have you seen them again?"

"No." Alessandro said muffled. Luca thought that they must be fine friends when they knew Sandro ill but had never made a visit and he knew that Sandro was thinking the same.

"I don't care."

Luca looked at him. "Don't stare at me", Alessandro snapped. "I don't need them. And anyway, if you think it was them..."

"Perhaps it wasn't. I mean, my brother was furious enough..."

Alessandro stopped in his tracks. "Your brother? The bulky one.... Dante?" He shook his head. "He wouldn't attack you, would he?"

Luca was silent. The attack was meant for Sandro, not him, despite the violence he had experienced too.

"And what about the other two then?"

Luca shrugged his shoulders. He pulled Sandro along, away from the cemetery until they stood in front of the church of San Miniato, absorbing the burning sunbeams and the silent surroundings, interrupted only by the twittering of birds. No tourists were here at the mid-morning hour, just a monk with a black and white habit who passed behind them with long, regular steps.

"I'll be back for the Gioco", Alessandro said out of the blue. "Since we both missed the Spring-celebration at Cascine..."

Luca turned surprised. Yes, they had both missed the cricket festivity in the park, the annual big party of the town, but the Gioco took place on the day of the town patron, in late June. Alessandro would be in Pisa then. "What do you mean, return?"

"Well, even Michelangelo returned home that day. Every time", Alessandro said, suddenly grinning.

"But surely not to attend the Gioco."

"'The football match is a public match between two non-mounted teams of young people without weapons, who try, purely for pleasure, to push an air-filled medium sized ball behind the opposing finish line, to gain honour'", Alessandro quoted with raised eye brows. "I've heard your brother will be playing?" Alessandro said with studied unconcern.

"Dante and Marcello, yes. They played last year too." He still pierced Sandro's eyes. "Does this mean you want to play this year? I mean, come on, you're not in the condition..."

"What condition?" Alessandro snapped. "I don't look like a rugby-player but I'm good enough for football."

Luca turned completely to him and took his shoulders. "You're not gonna play, you hear me? They'll make pulp of you."

Alessandro laughed unkindly. "We'll see."

Luca shook his head disbelievingly. "Calcio in Costume" was a game that was played throughout the centuries, three times a year, on the large piazza of Santa Croce and accompanied by a middle-ages style street-party, which was fine, except that the game was brutal and was mostly played by the boxers and wrestlers of all of the four quarters of the town. Luca was worried. If Alessandro wanted to attend he was in danger. "You must be mad!" he insisted. "You can't do this." He shook him, but Alessandro stepped back, his face unreadable. "Is this one of your noble attitudes? Not to lose face? Hey," Luca shook him again. "This is not the middle-ages anymore. You don't have to protect the name of your family."

Alessandro raised his eyebrows again and looked coolly at Luca. "It is not? I'm pretty sure it is. Your brothers will protect your name and your reputation. I will protect mine."

Luca rolled his eyes to the cloudless sky. But then.... probably Sandro wouldn't get holidays from his university. Perhaps he would be so busy with his study that he would forget. Forget Florence, the Gioco and ... Luca. Suddenly weak, his arms fell and he turned his back on Alessandro. He stood so for a while before he felt arms wrapping around his upper body and a soft voice whispering into his ear "I won't forget the hours we've had, gioia. Pisa isn't the end of the world."

Luca didn't move.

* * * * *

Luca cursed and fished for the alarm clock to stop it. What a nasty sound that early Monday morning. He yawned but jumped out of his bed; suddenly electrified. This was the first day of his apprenticeship. He rushed across the hall and hammered on the closed bathroom door. "Hurry up whoever is in there!"

Marcello abruptly opened the door and Luca ducked away before it hit his head. "It's you", his brother said sleepily. "What on earth..." then it dawned on him. "Ah," he said grinning broadly. "First day. Welcome to the daily grind." Marcello trotted along to his room. Involuntarily Luca's eyes followed Marcello's large body; he examined his broad, naked shoulders and the play of muscles and wondered what they could do to Alessandro's lithe body. Then he vanished into the bathroom.

The breakfast table was laid and a scent of baked waffles filled the kitchen. Clarissa stroked his combed blond hair lovingly and treated him like a boy on his first day at school. Luca felt awkward. He had brought the old tools of his grandfather that he had been given for his birthday, but his father had growled to him to keep them at home. "You can work with them when you've learnt the technique", he had said, slurping his chicory-coffee. "And leave your stone at home, son. No need for others to see it."

Luca was disappointed. But then he thought that first he had to learn a lot before he could work Sandro's Lapis Lazuli. He knew what he wanted to do with it. A lizard. And a lion's head perhaps.

There was silence at the table, until the brothers and Niccolò took their provisions and their tools and Luca felt his father's heavy hand on his shoulder. He followed them, saw Dante and Marcello taking their bicycles but he remained at Niccolò’s side and started to march through the town, passing the back of Palazzo Vecchio, the cathedral and the Accademia until they turned into Via Alfani, an old Renaissance palazzo with the inconspicuous plate 'Opificio delle Pietre Dure - museo e scuola'.

"Ciao, Niccolò!" greeted several workers, some of them already dressed in grey overalls with briefcases, portfolios and bags under their arms, streaming through the entrance, while Luca still hesitated. Somehow the importance of this work made him shy. What if he wasn't good enough to learn? That was his biggest fear. What if his father, the leader of the stone cutters, was disappointed with him?

Niccolò though seemed to sense his son's apprehension. He patted his shoulder and forced him into the entrance hall. "Don't be afraid, son. Nothing's going to harm you. Nothing to be worried about." Niccolò’s composed statement seemed to be contrived, though it soothed Luca. Straight on were the show rooms for visitors and the museum with the displayed work, examples of used stones and materials, with copies of works of art that the museum had restored. This institute was alongside the Roman institute for restoration; the biggest and most important workshop in Italy. It received objects from all over the world for treatment and its employees were the busiest in the whole of Italy.

Luca felt himself shoved up a staircase into a wide room under the roof with many desks and chairs, that led into another room full of work benches and showcases hanging on the walls. He felt his heartbeat going faster. Several young men and women waited like him, eyeing each other for familiar faces. He saw here and there one that he had seen before, but didn't know their names.

"Have to leave you, son", Niccolò’s voice sounded next to him. "I'll come looking for you after, I promise. Break is at one, so we shall meet then." He gave him an encouraging smile and Luca was left to a short man with a silver half-spectacles, a blue smock over his short legs, a rim of silver hair around his round skull. He rocked on his toes, back and forth and had folded his arms behind his back. "Come closer ragazzi", he shouted, while everybody was pushing through the door, "and have a seat."

Luca sat down on the next best chair and laid his bag at his feet. While he was listening to Dr Coppo Travisero's treatise about the foundation of the institute, its importance and its glorious successes in restoration and creation Luca's eyes wandered through the room. He counted nineteen freshmen, most of them were lads of his age who looked as awkwardly around as he did himself. He listened to the explanation of the several departments - restorations of clothes, of wooden material, of paintings - when Coppo finally started to explain the work of stone inlays, this was department Luca had chosen to learn if he was good enough. It was the most masterful of all of the departments, he knew that very well.

He followed Coppo into the next room, stood excitedly in front of the showcases and examined the stones of achat, porphyry, diorite, obsidian, onyx, alabaster and carneol and tried to absorb as much as he could.

"Principal current interventions are a basin of oriental alabaster, Roman workmanship from the Boboli gardens", Coppo explained, "for which we need the exact same alabaster to replace the cracks and missing pieces. We need the alabaster fiorito, from Asia Minore, not the one we usually use from the area around Volterra." Coppo pressed his lips and seemed to grin. "But later more about the special classification of the stones." He rocked again on his toes. "First we'll start with a tour around the museo." He indicated to the crowd to follow, down the staircase and into the museum that was still closed for visitors.

"Aren't you the boyfriend of Alessandro Gondi?" a boy next to him squeezed out between closed lips while he pretended to look at a bouquet of flowers made of colourful stone.

Luca jumped and stared at him. He didn't know what to say. "I'm his friend, yes", he finally said.

"Was beaten up lately, eh? It was all over the place."


"Raniero", the boy said. His eyes had an unhealthy yellow-brown colour which matched the colour of his hair. "Friend of mine said you follow him like a little lapdog", he smirked. Coppo hissed in their direction but continued with his explanations.

Luca stepped away and looked at a vase of rock crystal. "The department for restorations of mobile paintings started the Masolino-Masaccio project in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts of Philadelphia and the National Gallery of London", Coppo said over the heads of the pupils, pointing to a copy of a fresco of the Brancacci chapel, showing the Expulsion of Adam and Eve opposite to the Fall of Man. Luca could tell who painted what, because he recognised Masaccio's explicit search for a new, plastic energy through his figures which gave a strong sense of spatial depth.

"Masaccio concentrated the basis of his naturalistic revolution: space seen through the laws of perspective, light and shade to bring bodies into relief, and his deep emotive intensity." Coppo made an effective pause. "The great Michelangelo said that a good painting has to be like a good sculpture: fluid. Three-dimensional. This is what we try to gain with our stone-inlays. While we sort out the suitable stones from quality and above all colour, we give our mosaic-intarsia three-dimensionality so that the viewer comprehends it as something he can grab, turn and see from all three sides."

He looked over his half-moon spectacles into the face of each new pupil. When his look fell on Luca's face a spark of recognition appeared. "Break", he said and approached Luca. "We'll meet in the class room at 2 pm." The pupils scattered in all directions.

"Luca Montori?" Coppo asked and put his arm around Luca's shoulder. "Glad to welcome you to our institute. Your father is extraordinarily." Again an inquiring look from over the spectacles. "You'll have to learn well. Was it your choice to join us?"

"Yes.... Professore", Luca added shy.

"It's just Coppo", Coppo answered friendly. "I'm an old friend of your dad." He padded Luca's shoulder and set him free. "But this doesn't mean that you're getting preferential treatment, sonny. Want to join us at the cantina?"

When Luca exited the museum at five, he saw Alessandro on the other side of the street, leaning nonchalantly against his motorbike. Luca felt a push in his side "He IS your boyfriend", he heard Raniero, the boy with the yellow-brown, inflamed eyes whispering into his ear. He saw his salacious grin and blushed. At the same time he was angry at himself and pushed Raniero back. "Not your concern", he hissed and bravely crossed the street.


Luca turned and saw Dante and Marcello standing by their bicycles. "Going to go home?" He saw how Dante threw a nasty look at Sandro; that it was returned.

"No, go on. I have an appointment", he shouted.

"A date!" Raniero answered, likewise shouting for everybody to hear. Pleased Luca saw Raniero receive a blow to his head from a lad that was a half head larger and saw Raniero clenching his fists.

"Trouble?" Alessandro asked when Luca had arrived at him. He was still staring into Dante's face. "You could be right. His build could suit."

"What build?"

"Of the bastards that attacked us."

"Oh come on, leave it." Luca strapped his bag onto the trunk and sat behind Alessandro upon the motorbike. "Where are we going?"

"Wherever you like."

"They've started a Masolino-Masaccio project, did you know?" Luca said instead of answering.

"No, really? What is it?"

"Don't know. I'll ask father. Let's celebrate my first day." Luca wrapped his arms around Alessandro's belly and didn't care about the stares anymore.

Part 12