Eros placed his wine glass on the waiter’s tray as the servant passed. He had sighted his next target. With a flick of the wrist he produced a cut rose in his hand and strode forth across the room. He cut a striking figure, his slender, toned body emitted youthfulness and pheromonal attraction. Eyes turned towards him as he passed and many a chest felt a flutter at the sight of him. Black curls adorned his head above a strong jaw line and porcelain smooth features.
The Palazzo della Freccia, host to Eros and numerous other invited guests, was a site of celebration that evening. Though few knew what was being celebrated there had been a huge turnout. The interests of the attendees of the masquerade ball centered more on the chance to spy upon their rivals and, through gossip and subterfuge, raise their own societal status.
The rooms of the Palazzo della Freccia had been festooned with festive ribbons and silken curtains. A parade of warm colours laced the tables at the sides of the palazzo’s rooms. The guests dressed in fine clothes with each carrying, on a short handle, a mask with which to cover their faces. Though the masks were to conceal the faces of their wearers, they were rarely used for more than flirtatious gestures. Eros had descended upon a group of young ladies and directly addressed one in a sweeping, beige dress.
“Madame, forgive me for intruding upon you in this most brusque manner,” Eros spoke quickly, “but the gentleman over there fair begged me to present you with this rose on his behalf.” So saying Eros presented the rose to the lady and gestured to a corner where a patron of the ball was speaking amongst a group of other guests.
“How bold, I do not know whether to be flattered by the gift or insulted by the proxy. Why does he not deliver his regards to me in person?” The lady responded, she raised the mask in her hand to her face and, peering from the glittered eyeholes of the vixen image, gazed upon the man in question.
“He informed me thusly,” said Eros giving himself time to formulate the words. It was an unnecessary gesture he knew, the scent of the rose the lady idly inhaled had already worked its magic upon her heart. “He said that to gaze directly on a beauty such as yours would render him a babbling fool, such as he would be distracted by your radiance and be unable to adequately apply affections to you.”
The lady giggled with her companions and they shared an excitable exchange. She composed herself and addressed Eros once more. “My how eloquent my love is,” she said. “If that be the case perhaps I shall speak for him, thank you kind sir,” and, brushing off Eros, she gracefully walked towards her intended. The man, unaware of the scheme that had been played around him, turned towards the lady and immediately felt his heartbeat quicken as the heady scent of the rose affected him. He lowered his red fox mask and the two exchanged flirtatious words as Eros moved on to his next pairing.
The god was tired of masquerades, they were little more than reserved orgies in his regard. A place where lovers met and fell in love on sight. His arrows and roses pierced their hearts and brought men and women together. Whenever he interfered all he did was give them that tightening sensation in their chests. Butterflies some called it.
He casually bumped into a gentleman, knocking the man into a lady’s arms. The man apologised profusely and a conversation between the two started. Neither were aware of the rose that had been slipped into the gentleman’s pocket.
Eros sighed. The Palazzo della Freccia was abuzz with excitable innocence. Flirtatious glances and flushed faces watched one another around the room. He had set the wheels in motion for most of them, but given time they would have found each other unaided. Eros leaned against a table by the wall lined with canapés and a few candles creating warm lighting.
It had been a long time since he had seen a truly developed love, love detached from the trappings of physical attraction. Love removed from the manacles of narcissism and mercantilism. A love born not from the beating heart but from understanding.
“Adamo!” Cried out a portly woman. She stampeded across the short distance to the table by Eros. “Why do you stand here all alone my boy?” She was addressing a young man who had been hovering by the food near Eros.
“Ah, Lady Oliveri. I was just surveying the guests actually. You’d be surprised what you can learn from just watching.” Adamo replied. Amidst the impossible standards of wealthy, healthy and young guests he could only have been described as plain. He had a soft, baby like rounding to his face. His arms were too long for his body and the suit he wore ill-fitted his frame.
“Watching, always watching you are my boy, you need to stop watching and start doing, look at all those lovely young things out there just waiting for you to talk to them.” Lady Oliveri spoke rapidly at a pace that did not invite interruption. It was only when she was forced to take a breath that Adamo managed to respond.
“An exaggeration. Whilst there are many fine ladies here. There are already just as many fine men to suit their needs.”
Eros sensed the opportunity. He would not need the shot to the heart approach that many wished for. He flicked his wrist and produced another rose, holding the red petals over the flame of a candle. The rose burned unnaturally and discretely, disintegrating as the flame curled along its petals. It left no trace but a lingering, sweet scent on the air.
“Now, now,” the Lady said, raising her mask to her face in order to spread discreet gossip. The mask was coloured with the black and white patches of a bovine, a motherly and unmovable animal that was a perfect fit for her. “I’ve been speaking to Lilliana Adorante, and your name might have popped up a few times,” she giggled. “She seemed quite interested in meeting you, come along I’ll introduce you.” Lady Oliveri hooked her robust arm around Adamo and led him through the crowd of the palazzo. Eros smiled to himself as the two left.
* * *
Lady Oliveri led Adamo up one side of the curved staircase that dominated the central hall. On the balcony above they entered one of the anterooms usually reserved for intimate dinners with privileged guests. In here was a young lady being entertained by a host of three bold males.
Lady Oliveri approached the young girl and laid a hand on her arm to grab her attention. “Lilliana Adorante, allow me to introduce you to Adamo Brigo, his father owns the olive gardens of the Gente del Nord.” Lilliana responded with a suitably exaggerated expression of impress. “Adamo, Lilliana is the daughter the of Vicario Cirillo. They’ve both just returned from the Albion region. Your father was on a pilgrimage wasn’t he my dear.” It was a statement not a question, but nonetheless Lilliana answered.
“Indeed he was. The countryside of Albion was particularly agreeable, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a lush and verdant wilderness in my life.” Lilliana spoke with a sweetness, each word that issued forth from her mouth was melodic and her lips curled with each syllable seductively.
“I simply adore the countryside,” said Lady Oliveri unable to contain herself for longer. “Don’t you Adamo?” She said handing him the opportunity to speak.
“Er, well yes. I hear the Albion region is renowned for its great beauty.” Adamo stumbled the words somewhat but felt he had provided intelligent discourse. There was an unfilled pause. The three men who Lilliana had previously been talking to whispered amongst themselves as Lilliana and Adamo stood under the awkward umbrella of Lady Olivieri’s matchmaking.
“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” the Lady said making her excuses, “I do believe I see your father Lilliana I must speak with him.” The robust woman shuffled off rapidly. The silence continued however as Adamo desperately tried to think of a new conversation starter. His brain grew stressed as Lilliana’s hazel eyes watched him. Fortunately, or not, one of the three other men seized the opportunity and engaged Lilliana once more.
They moved closer and Adamo found himself drawn into a small circle, joining the other three men in their advances on the girl. They were all taller than him, Adamo noticed and he felt insignificant beside their stature. Strong bone structures and angular facial structures marked these men as a cut above the rest. Their suits accentuated their athletic bodies well and they smiled with a broad set of pearly teeth perfect for setting a girl at ease. Adamo remained a silent partner in the endeavour.
The conversation developed over Lilliana’s trip, with each of the men chiming in to illustrate the exotic locales they had been to, and often, with a promise to take a not too distant beauty there one day too. They worked like a pack of wolves, each competing with one another for the prey, but united in the attempt to bring her in. The parallel suited them though, thought Adamo as he noticed each man held a mask of a hound, different species but all similarly masculine animals. As for himself, Adamo had no stories to contribute. He had been abroad, though only once and the trip had been entirely uneventful.
Lilliana had an ivory mask with white feathers rising from behind the eyes to give the impression of a swan. She raised it to her face whenever she laughed for the men. She was undoubtedly attractive with long, black hair curled up as was the fashion. Smooth and delicate features that accentuated her every gesture. Still, Adamo found himself uninterested, or perhaps he believed he was unworthy and thus did not seek her affections. Whether it was the cause or the effect he remained in the group with not a flicker of a gaze cast to him.
His thoughts drifted to Eva, no doubt she was somewhere at the party, she was a good companion. He had struck a friendship with Eva long ago as her family visited his father’s vineyards to select vintages and sometimes reserve grape harvests. They hadn’t gotten along instantly, Adamo, finding himself too shy to speak, had limited their early encounters. It had been a similar anxiety as he felt now with Lilliana. Nothing thoughtful or worthwhile would come to mind to say in those situations. But even without conversation she had bothered to smile at him with each visit. Eventually, they had struck up a friendship based upon the visits and Adamo had found someone he could remain with comfortably in social contexts.
Eventually, as the wine glasses were refilled by a passing servant Adamo slipped away. He left the anteroom and was on the upper floor that overlooked the central hall. He leaned on the stone railing and briefly admired its carved cherubs and seraphim before letting his sight drift over the gossiping crowd below.
“Adamo, what are you doing here friend, I thought you avoided these events?” The voice belonged to Remo. Adamo turned to watch the boy trapped in a man’s body as he swaggered over. He clasped in his hand a bunch of grapes which he greedily gobbled by holding the bundle over his head and biting the lower baubles.
“Having fun I see,” Adamo said, illiciting a grin from Remo.
“Don’t you know it!” He stated with exhilaration. “Already I’ve gotten myself invited to the next three big parties and word is, a certain someone is to be invited to dine with the lovely Gabriella.” He winked and raised the wine glass in his hand to drink the ruby liquid.
“You’ll be thrown out before the main course arrives,” Adamo mocked.
“You wound me sir,” said Remo dropping the decimated grapes to the floor and holding a hand over his heart. He leant over the railing to better hold Adamo’s attention. “I am the perfect specimen of a gentleman, the lady will have no choice but to fall for my charms.” He emphasised the sentence by bringing his mask of a chimpanzee to his face and cocking his head to one side. The mask itself was lined with brown fur and was crafted to capture the comic grin of the ape it represented.
“Along with all the other girls who have ‘fallen’ for your charms? It was not Gabriella I was thinking of but her guardian, who will no doubt have a Lothario such as you removed from his innocent daughter the minute he catches a sniff of your true nature.”
“Huh, some best friend you are.” Remo was ‘best’ friends with everybody, though Adamo had known him a great many years now it did little to diminish that the man considered anyone who spent more than a minute in his company his ‘best’ friend. Indeed half of the Palazzo della Freccia’s guests that night he would have considered his best friend if not all of them. Remo soon livened back up, “So whatare you doing here? Do I smell the scent of romance in the air?”
“You do not. I’m only here as a favour to my father.”
“Ah, the ole political representative eh? You father isn’t one much for the social niceties I admit, but you’re not much of a replacement.”
Adamo shot the man a glare, “And what brings you here dearest Remo. Is it the attention of one or twenty girls?” Remo laughed.
“You’re right on the money there. You see I’ve got my eye on a certain Lilliana, no doubt you’ve heard of her. Radiant beauty, blissful upon the eyes with a voice that could melt your soul.”
“I think you’ll have some competition there.”
“A trophy such as her would need to be earned. Something so precious cannot be gained for free.”
“Certainly, but you’ll find your competitors already have a head start,” said Adamo recalling the three men who were presumably still fawning over Lilliana.
“Hmmm?” Remo was no longer listening his gaze having wandered. “I do believe I spy the lovely Gabriella over there, do excuse me friend.” He made to walk away, stopping a passing servant to exchange his now empty glass for a full one.
Before he was out of earshot Adamo asked, “Do you actually love any of these girls Remo?”
“Love? You no doubt prescribe to the foolish notion that one must love one. I, love many, and I am loved by many,” Remo spoke the words almost as if in song, his own personal hymn. “That is why I am rich in love Adamo and until you learn to love as I do, you, shall remain poor.”
Remo left at a jaunty gait, traversing the curved stairway and soon descended upon Gabriella below. Adamo watched idly as Remo worked his magic, casting attentions upon the smitten girl.
The party dragged on and the revelry increased as wine flowed and the guests felt their levels of merriness increase. Adamo wandered through the party like a dandelion seed, letting the flow of guests dictate where he landed before being blown away again as one group of socialites disbanded and another formed. Everywhere he went he had little to say. He struck up safe conversations with landowner’s who knew his father and passed on messages of good health He shared the occasional greeting with old acquaintances from his childhood years, but he found little in the way of engaging discourse. Remo certainly offered no shelter from the social pressure, engaged as he was with feeding his ego upon the smiles of the women.
It was not long before Adamo found himself longing to find Eva again. Eva was the very definition of charming to Adamo. She was not well regarded for her beauty but had a comely personality making anyone she spoke to feel welcome and wanted. He denied, internally, that he longed for her, certain as he was that Eva could hold no romantic interest in him. He cared not, he had steeled himself against such thoughts and endured a friendship with her that fed his soul as much as it needed to get by. It was that friendship he enjoyed, that he wanted now to pass the awkwardness he felt surrounded by familiar yet strange people.
As if a divinity had heard his wish he saw her. There, Eva de Cesare. She was engaged in conversation by a drinks table with an elderly couple. It had seemed likely she would have attended the masquerade, in many ways she was Adamo’s opposite. She enjoyed the social banquets of society. She had once tried to explain it to Adamo as like being a fish in water. He had not been able to understand his own experiences of social occasions being strictly linked to metaphors of drowning.
Eva caught sight of him watching and smiled during a break in the conversation before returning her attention to the lady and gentleman. She wore her butterfly mask. It was painted with marbled blues and the sides extended outwards into the shape of the butterfly’s wings. Her russet irises formed the decorative eyes to be found on a real butterfly.
Adamo hovered in place, having caught sight of her he had to fight the urge to interrupt the conversation and steal her away all to himself. He always felt plagued with doubt about his gluttonous desires for her voice. He desired her presence, but could not tell if he mistook her natural kindness for reciprocated emotions. When together he found himself listening to her, comfortable in his own silence as she talked at length about her travels, her family and her life.
He smiled broadly though when his angst was cured by Eva disentangling herself from her conversation and joining him.
“Good evening Adamo, you look well,” she said. Her eyes wandered the room before settling back on him.
“You too, as always.”
“Actually I was hoping for some cool air, care to accompany me to the gardens?” Adamo nodded and led by Eva they made their way to the rear of the palazzo.
They were greeted with a refreshing breeze as they exited through the grand double doors. Outside, the air drifted through a navy sky, nighttime having descended several hours earlier. Short, trimmed hedgerows marked out the beginnings of the gardens. The horticulture of the Palazzo della Freccia stretched out for a greater length than its width and the variety of flowers that lined its beds had closed up for the night. The garden evidently still contained a serene allure to the guests as several had come outside for a midnight stroll or to take in the air, their chatter forming a backdrop to the otherwise quiescent night.
“Much better,” Eva exclaimed. “I do adore these parties but sometimes you just want to be alone.” Adamo suddenly felt very self-conscious. “Oh I don’t mean you Adamo, don’t look like that.”
“Sorry, I can leave if you like,” Adamo said.
“No, no. Stay.” She said. They sat on a white bench, overlooking the majority of the gardens. A silence fell upon them, it was comfortable, for the most part. Adamo felt himself wanting to speak to her but couldn’t bring himself to. In his mind he had imagined her speaking to him, a fearless action because his enjoyment of her presence must be obvious. But for him to profess to her was impossible, he couldn’t ruin what he had by scaring her away with a greedy grab for more.
“I’m sorry I don’t have much to say,” he said at length.
“I don’t mind,” Eva responded, “I quite enjoy it actually.” She turned her gaze to him. “You speak only when you have something worth saying, that makes it easy to listen to you. You’re not full of bluster and think before you enunciate. I say the most dreadful things sometimes because I don’t stop myself.”
“Like what?” Adamo wrinkled his forehead, Eva had a natural talent for speech.
“Only earlier, I likened Lady Oliveri to a clucking hen.”
“Did she hear you?”
“I should say so I was speaking to her at the time. Fortunately for me she didn’t seem to catch on and took it as praise. She thinks I regard her as a mother figure!”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
“Adamo?” Eva said suddenly turning somber.
“Yes..?” Adamo replied, concerned.
“I was just thinking how nice it is with you here.”
“Oh?” Was all Adamo could utter. He tried not to think if she meant what he hoped she did. He was left unanswered though and they slipped into silence once more.
Sometime later, as they watched the stars and the stray masqueraders wandered back inside, her hand slipped into his. It was delicate and warm to the touch. Her smooth skin brushed against his sweating palm, but she kept her hand in his.
* * *
Eros smirked. He stood behind the pair, having slipped invisible when following them outside. It was a pleasing sight. He took up his bow, retrieved from the divine realm, and looking back into the masquerade ball notched an arrow to the string. The arrow, translucent and shimmering like a ghost, was loosed into the crowd. Without a trace it struck a man’s heart as he turned to see the apple of his eye before him.