Scientia militaris
Yailín Pérez Zamora
(Translation: Daniel W. Koon)
Axxón 158, January 2006

        Kicking up dust along the sun-drenched path which leads to Verona, the troops of Nino dalle Bande Nere were riding toward another of their lively jousts with the Duke of Milan when the image of a young maid appeared, seated beneath the sun on a rock and basking like a green linen lizard. Stretching from her knees to the road was the blue shawl which she had just begun to embroider.
        "A gift from heaven," thought the first of the mounted men, the condottiero's right hand man, as he watched her, and he retreated to inform his commander of the news.
        Nino summoned up his gallantry, his right hand commanding the horn of his saddle and reins, his left at his hip as he addressed her as he would any lady:
        "If Thou art going to Verona and if I might accompany Thee, it would be a most happy and serene day."
        And the lady nodded, carefully folding the cloth -- in which tiny clouds had already begun to appear -- to climb onto the seat.
        They made good time as they entered the plain of Verona, and when the scouts found a secure hill, they camped against the evening's chill.
        The lady took her place in the tent of the condottiero without pausing from embroidering her cloth, which had seemed to have grown in the time that Nino was seeing to his men before he retired for the night.
        He lay down on his cot and from this vantage point watched the flash of the needle rising and falling, and now a meadow took on its colors, you could almost smell it, and, oh, those fine lands of Lombardy, ripe for adventure, he day-dreamed, with the smell of all those grasses. He did not speak to her, for he regarded women as chatterboxes, unfit for engaging in intelligent conversation, not that he was looking for any; he settled into the embroiderer's silence which gave him room to think. There would be news, some news, in these parts. But this woman knew next to nothing of what went on beyond these plains, as if she were one of the tiny figures in her tapestry, or those silhouettes that suddenly emerge from the shadows, nor was any news of his brilliant military exploits likely to have reached her.
        Giovanni dalle Bande Nere placed himself by the lady's feet, above the fabric, and the thread blades of grass were soft on his forehead in the fold of the cloth; and he fell asleep some time before the candle went out, his strong white hands stroking the sheep like a contented cat.
        Dawn came wrapped in fog as one of the men appeared, alarmed because on the other side of the hills he had sensed something like a thundering or a stampede of beasts, and he had watched as the ferocious river had spilled over and flooded the lands, approaching them on their flanks like an enemy army, and much further in the distance he had seen troops of Il Milano, perhaps waiting for them to give themselves up, and then they had discovered this.
        He handed a bird cage to Giovanni containing a golden-eyed fox circling inside the cage. The lady lifted her gaze from the fabric to stare at the fox, with the burning gaze of its eyes and the hairs on its ears, and then returned to her task.
        The condottiero adjusted the sheath of his sword.
        "Listen," he said to the messenger, "none of my men has ever lost his life in a brawl, and not because we are invincible, but because dead men collect no money, and the cities still have much to give us. This is what you are to tell the Duke: this fox will find a way to escape."
        And he went outside, where all the men stood at attention and ready The lady followed him, carrying her basket of threads in her hands and the blue, green and reddish blanket with all the colors of the day gathered at her shoulder so that it would not tangle in her feet as she walked.
        They still tell the story of the long day's journey during which the condottiero's band crossed the river -- men, horses, weapons and all -- rolled up beneath the arm of their general, as he swam to the opposite shore to plant his banners.
        Impulsively, Nino dalle Bande Nere kissed the lady and left her smooth out the loose strands of her hair. And then he helped her to unroll flat on the grass the great blue tapestry on whose shores a fox shook itself, escaping happily from an open cage upon the hill, and all the rest of them escaped as the threads of the fabric were shaken, fastening like hairs to their lances and suits of armor.
        The night was peaceful for all. Only the Duke of Milan in his tent was troubled by nightmares that robbed his sleep. At dawn, groggy and dry-eyed, he watched the grass shining on the empty hill, green and yellow threads fluttering to the sun beneath a sky of linen fabric.

Yailín Pérez Zamora is Cuban, born in Havana in 1975. She graduated in Graphic arts from the San Alejandro school of plastic arts. Writer, painter and illustrator, she has been published in the anthology of fantasy Rein Eterno, the same one which introduced us to Michel Encinosa Fú, Juan Pablo Noroña, Ariel Cruz and Vladimir Hernández.

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