Ezio looked at him. “I don’t think Florence is your problem,” he remarked, pained at what the young man had said.
“I beg your pardon?”
Ezio was about to reply, but the pain seized him again, and he winced, and started to gasp. The young man turned to him. “Steady, old man.”
He grabbed Ezio’s wrist as Ezio caught his breath. Looking down at the hand that held him, Ezio thought the grip was uncommonly strong, and there was something strange, almost familiar, about the man’s expression. But he was probably imagining it all. He shook his head to clear it.
The young man looked at Ezio closely, and smiled. Ezio returned the look.
“Get some rest, eh?” the young man said.
He rose to his feet and walked away. Ezio nodded in belated agreement, watching him go. Then he leaned back, seeking Sofia in the thinning crowd. And saw her at a stall, buying vegetables. And there beside her were Flavia and Marcello, baiting each other, playing together.
He closed his eyes and took some deep breaths. His breathing calmed. The young man was right. He should get some rest . . .
Sofia was packing the vegetables she’d bought into a basket when something cold crept into her heart. She looked up, then around, back to where Ezio sat. There was something about the way he was sitting.
Confused, not wanting to admit what she feared to herself, she put a hand to her mouth and hurried across to him, leaving the children playing where they were.
As she got closer, she slowed her pace, looking at him. She sat down by his side, taking his hand. And then she leaned forward, pressing her forehead against his hair.
One or two people looked in their direction, then one or two more, with concern; but otherwise, life in the street went on.
Much later that day, back home, and having sent Machiavelli away, Sofia took herself into the den. The children were in bed. She didn’t think what had happened had sunk in for them, yet.
In the den, the fire had gone out. She lit a candle. She walked to the desk and picked up the neatly stacked sheaf of papers, tied with a ribbon, that lay on it. And she began to read:
When I was a young man, I had liberty, but I did not see it; I had time, but I did not know it; and I had love, but I did not feel it. Many decades would pass before I understood the meaning of all three. And now, in the twilight of my life, this understanding has passed into contentment. Love, liberty, and time . . . once so much at my disposal, are the fuels that drive me forward; and love, most especially, my dearest, for you, our children, our brothers and sisters . . . and for the vast and wonderful world that gave us life and keeps us guessing. With endless affection, my Sofia, I am forever yours.