Romeo's Ex

Rosalind's Story

Lisa Fiedler

Henry Holt and Co.

ROMEO'S EX
PART ONE
 
 
PROLOGUE
VERONA, ITALY, 1595, SPRING
In a small cottage belonging to the Healer, Lady Rosaline did occupy herself with the business of tidying shelves and cupboards. With great care she arranged the multitude of jars and flagons containing herbal ointments and medicinal liquids.
The Healer was not presently about, having gone off near three hours past, with her satchel, to the home of an elderly man who had come screaming that his grandson's leg had been all but chewed off by a pair of wild dogs. Lady Rosaline did not doubt for a moment that her mentor would find some way to save, if not the child's limb, at least his life. No physician, nor surgeon-barber, nor dentist was more proficient in the art of healing.
Being alone in the Healer's cottage was not unusual for Rosaline. She had been visiting the place since her childhood and had learned much from the wise and gentle woman. There were those who feared the Healer, called her "charlatan," and "witch," but Rosaline understood that the people who shunned her friend were simply ignorant.
For years, the Healer had been her teacher. The old woman felt blessed to share her knowledge with a pupil so intelligent and insightful as Rosaline. More than anything on God's green earth did Lady Rosaline wish to learn the miraculous ways of the healing arts. Indeed, she prayed daily to the Almighty in heaven to grant her the intellect and the tenacity to see it through.
Now Rosaline opened a small jar and sniffed the greasy salve within it--the potent scent stung her blue eyes. "For burns," she said aloud, as though testing herself. "Also useful in treating resistant rashes"--she smiled to herself--"and protecting one's roses from aphids." She replaced the jar and was reaching for another when of a sudden there came an urgent banging upon the door.
"Ho, is anyone within? I beg thee, help us!"
Rosaline rushed to the door and flung it open wide. There on the doorstep stood a handsome young man; he was lit by the soft glow of a torch secured in an iron sconce on the cottage's outer wall. Rosaline knew at once who this gentleman was. He was about her own age, sixteen years. She had seen him before, from a safe distance,of course. Odd, this close he did not look to be the monster about whom she had so long been warned. In fact, he was quite beauteous, e'en as he struggled to support the weight of his wounded companion.
The injured man was some years older and in a sorry state. Unable to stand on his own legs, he leaned heavily against the handsome one. His nose bled, and his left eye was swollen shut.
"Beaten?" asked Rosaline, stepping out into the pool of light cast by the torch.
The unharmed one did not answer her at once. Now that she was visible in the glow of the torchlight, he could only stare at her, somewhat stupidly.
"What hath happened?" she demanded, more loudly. "Was this man beaten?"
"Beaten, aye."
"What is his name?"
"He is Petruchio. Or just Trooch, to his fellows."
Rosaline quickly wound her arm around Petruchio's waist. Together, she and the gentleman dragged him into the cottage. Petruchio's left arm hung limply at an odd and fearsome angle.
"Are you the Healer?" the handsome lord asked as they hauled Petruchio toward a low table near the window and lifted him onto the wooden surface. "Marry, you are so young ..."
Rosaline ignored him as she tore Petruchio's tunic to reveal his bare chest, already crimson and bruising topurple. The gentleman stepped backward to give her room as she began her careful examination, running her hands over Petruchio's torso, pressing ever so slightly here and there. He let out a low groan but remained motionless.
"Broken ribs--three, perhaps four," she pronounced, more to herself than the onlooker.
Now the arm. Rosaline moved fleetly to the other side of the table for a better look. The sight made her gasp! His shoulder had been dislodged from the socket.
"Hand me your dagger," she instructed Petruchio's friend.
The young man's eyebrows arched in horror. "Think you to cut it off, lady?"
Rosaline frowned at the idiocy of the question. "The dagger," she repeated, and her tone brooked no argument. He withdrew the knife and handed it to her.
Rosaline leaned over Petruchio. "My lord," she whispered, willing her voice to be sweet, calm. "My lord, I bid you open your mouth. Just a small bit."
Petruchio's eyes fluttered, his lips parted.
"Excellent, sir. Now, here is your friend's dagger. I would have you clamp your teeth round the handle--firmly, aye. Like that. Very good."
Rosaline closed her eyes and placed her hands gingerly upon the patient's shoulder. She applied only a whisper of pressure at first, prying as gently as she dared.
"Aaaagggghhh ..."
"Bite down, sir. Bite down!"
Rosaline executed her next movement so quickly that the onlooker was not even sure she had acted at all until he heard the noise that followed. 'Twas a roar of profound agony that ripped from Petruchio's lungs as the lady deftly slammed the damaged joint back into its place.
And in the next heartbeat the noise changed to a low hum, a murmur of gratitude and relief Petruchio opened his eyes and sought those of his savior; she gave him a serene smile. With his teeth still gripping the dagger, Petruchio smiled back.
Rosaline stood and collected several small bottles and a clean cloth. "Tell me," she said, addressing her patient's friend, "what villain is responsible for this man's condition? Should we summon the constable?"
The nobleman said, "I think not, lady. 'Twas the constable who did pummel Petruchio."
Rosaline froze, the cloth she would use to clean the abrasions poised above her patient's swollen cheek. "Be this man a criminal?"
"Nay. Poor Trooch here is merely an unfortunate rogue who was caught dallying with a comely wench. As it happens, the wench is the constable's wife."
Rosaline's mouth dropped open in disbelief "Never say thus!"
The young man nodded. "The constable saw fit to punish him for his trespass, not with the letter of the law but with his meaty fists."
For nearly half an hour, Rosaline carefully purified thewounds and applied the healing salves. Then she used long scraps of clean muslin to securely wrap his midsection.
"Tis the best I can do for his ribs," she explained. "They will heal in time."
The gentleman was gazing at her in a way Rosaline found most disconcerting. He said nothing, just stared. Rosaline turned her back to the man, whom she was beginning to suspect was a simpleton. "He should not be moved from here tonight." She began to clear away the bloody pieces of cloth. "Collect him on the morrow, after noon." She peered over her shoulder at Petruchio's friend. "Do you understand?"
"You are exquisitely beautiful."
Rosaline pursed her lips impatiently. "That, sir, is irrelevant."
"Not to me. To me it is most relevant."
Rosaline sighed. "Very well, then. I thank thee for the compliment. Now, you'd best depart so that Pooch ..."
"Trooch."
"So that Trooch may rest." Rosaline gathered the jars of ointment and headed for the cupboard.
"Your name, lady?"
For a moment, Rosaline considered telling him the truth of it--that she was a Capulet. What smooth reply might he have to that? she wondered, smiling. But all she supplied was "I am Rosaline."
The man's eyes seemed to light at the sound of her name. "Magnificent. You shall be hearing from me, Lady Rosaline. You may depend upon it." With that, he turned and took three long strides to the door, where he turned back before stepping out into the warm spring night.
"And if thou art wondering," he said in a silky tone, "the name of the man who hath fallen in love with thee this night ... it is Romeo. Romeo of the house of Montague."
But Rosaline already knew that.
Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Fiedler