David Bishop: Excerpt from Safer To Be Feared

This is a creative piece of work inspired by David's stay in Grez as part of the Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship. Fancy following in his footprints? Find out more about the Fellowship.


Working title: Safer To Be Feared

Captain Cesare Aldo eased back on the reins as his horse crested the hill, persuading the borrowed mount to pause. Spread across the valley below was Florence: a jumble of humble hovels and grand palazzos, bustling marketplaces and quiet piazzas, churches and workshops, all elbowing one another for room. Over them loomed Il Duomo, its curve of orange bricks divided into vertical segments by columns of pale stone. The dome stood proud above the city, despite the plumes of smoke billowing from thousands of chimneys.

A high wall guarded Florence from attack. But such a defence was less effective at stopping duplicity from within. To the east, the Arno shimmered beneath the low winter sun before disappearing into the city. The river emerged again to the west, bound for Pisa and the Ligurian Sea. Farms and orchards producing food for the sixty thousand souls inside the city lined the road from the hilltop down to the northern gate.

‘Why are you grinning?’ Levi asked as his horse stopped beside Aldo. The horse kept shifting from hoof to hoof, as uneasy beneath its rider as Levi was sitting atop it.

‘Good to be home.’

‘We’re not there yet.’

Aldo leaned back, smacking Levi’s horse on the rump. It cantered down the road with the moneylender bouncing in the saddle, protesting all the way. Aldo urged his own horse after them, catching up with Levi as they neared the north gate.

‘There’s still time.’

‘For what?’

‘One last chance to tell the truth,’ Aldo said, lowering his voice so travellers on foot nearby would not overhear. ‘Tell me who wants you dead, and why?’

The moneylender stayed silent, staring straight ahead.

‘A debtor who finds it cheaper to have you slain than pay what they owe?’ No reply. ‘Or a rival usurer, eager to cut back the competition?’ Still nothing. Aldo snatched the reins from Levi’s grasp, pulling both horses to a halt. ‘My protection ends as soon as you pass through that gate. Tell me who or what it is you fear, and maybe I can help you – or your daughter.’

Levi hesitated before giving Aldo a thin smile. ‘Thank you for your service, captain. But I have few doubts about my safety inside the city wall.’ He tugged the reins free and his horse trotted toward the men guarding the Porta San Gallo.

Five days and nights in Levi’s company, yet Aldo was no closer to knowing why he’d been hired for the trip to Bologna. But there were others who might offer answers – for a price.


Image credit, David Bishop.