Flash Fiction Challenge #23: Plucked From The Pages of History

art, Flash Fiction, leonardo da vinci, writing

Our flash fiction challenge this past Friday at Terrible Minds was to write a story about a historical person, doesn’t matter who, doesn’t matter the genre, but change it up a bit. I was tossing around a few ideas, but given my love of Leonardo da Vinci, I decided to write about the period of his life that no one knows about; the one that historians have no record of. Could NOT do it in 1000 words, though, sorry. This is 1200. I could have made it much longer, but that’s life. Enjoy.

Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci, La Gioconda, Oil Painting

The Missing Years


“You were acquitted, Signore. Worry not about the courts.”

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci glanced at his friend and grunted. “Spoken by a man not held on a charge of sodomy. Speak nothing more of it. I plan to spend the evening celebrating.”

Celebrate he did. He stopped at the nearest public house to his home and drank until he could no longer see straight. But when a man in dark clothes passed the threshold, the boisterous noise in the building dissipated as eyes watched.

Leonardo, twenty-four, cared nothing for the dark man, but rather for the nearly empty glass of wine before him. When a gloved hand rested on his shoulder, he turned to look.

The dark man was familiar, but Leonardo could not think of why. He offered a nod and turned back to his glass.

“I know who you are,” the dark man said. He coaxed Leonardo to turn with his gloved hand. “I’ve seen your paintings. I am a friend of Verrocchio, your tutor.”

And that was how Leonardo was hired for his actual first independent commission.

*****

He arrived at the dark man’s home early in the morning. The man’s name was Antonio da Parma. He was a rich man, judging by his home, and a servant welcomed him inside.

Antonio, as he asked to be called, was a friendly man, despite his guise, and at once offered a drink. Leonardo declined. He was still recovering from the evening before.

“Never mind,” Antonio said. “I’ll take you right to her.”

“It is your wife that you want me to paint?”

Antonio nodded. “Ah, yes, though it will be a portrait of the both of us. I know that you will go on to be a legend. The quality of your work is magnificent. I know that my wife and I shall be encapsulated for centuries, maybe millennia.”

This was not a relatively exciting commission, despite being his first. But one required money to live, and he could think of worse things to have to paint.

Antonio led Leonardo into the darkest depths of his home, where the air was chill and spiders hung their webs from the ceilings.

“Your wife stays down here?” Leonardo asked. “I daresay I might require more light.”

“Not to worry,” said Antonio. “The room is equipped with mirrors that reflect the daylight. That plus the candle light, you’ll have no need to leave until the painting is completed.”

“You misjudge my need for sleep,” Leonardo said with a smirk, praying that Antonio was, indeed, joking. To complete the work in one day, or even two, would be nearly impossible while retaining the quality he desired.

Antonio pushed open a heavy wooden door and allowed his guest to enter the black room first. The dark man stepped in afterwards and locked the door behind him.

“But I thought you said—”

“A mere turn of the mirror.”

A squeak echoed throughout the dark room. Suddenly, a rotating piece of glass on a stand to Leonardo’s right reflected the beam of the rising sun, shining in through a small window near the ceiling. The light reflected further onto various mirrors placed throughout the room.

The last thing to be illuminated was a woman sitting in a chair.

“My wife, Maria.”

Her back was to the men, and they approached quickly. Leonardo set his supplies down just behind the woman and then circled around front.

“Signora, I am pleased to—”

Had she been able to speak, he gathered her voice would be quite heavenly. She was beautiful but for one glaring mar. A dagger protruded from her heart. Blood had, at some point in the last few minutes of her life, trickled from her mouth and down her chin. Her bloodshot eyes were wide with surprise.

Leonardo at once turned to run but Antonio had an iron clasp of his arm.

“You are going nowhere.” He pulled a sword from behind him and then rested the tip at Leonardo’s own heart. “You will paint this portrait, with my wife as she is. Do not try to ignore the blood or her expression of sheer fear and misery that I so loved to see as I took her life. I told you; I will live on into the future through these deeds and your skill.”

*****

It turned out that Antonio had not been joking when he said they would not be leaving until the painting had been completed. A servant left food at the door by orders, and if Leonardo had to use the washroom, he was told to go in the corner of the room. Antonio escorted him with the sword.

And no odour could mask that of Maria’s decaying body. The dark man seemed not to mind, for he sat beside his wife and held her around the shoulders, as though she still lived and were his dearest love.

Leonardo’s hand shook the entire time, but he managed to make something of a masterpiece of the most gruesome scene he would ever live to see.

Four days into the commission, he was drunk off delirium, but he truly believed he was done.

“Magnificent,” Antonio whispered. “I believe I owe you some money. Let us leave here.”

“Why do you expect I won’t cry murder the moment we part?”

Antonio smiled. “Because I know where you live, I know who you are, and the gendarmerie will never find me. But I will find you should I hear word of my crime spoken on the streets. Understand?”

The dark man had set down the sword as he reached into a pouch for coins. Though it leaned against the dead woman, who had been rotting for days, Leonardo reached out and grabbed it, then sliced Antonio across the right side of his abdomen. While his captor was temporarily disabled, Leonardo grabbed the painting and ran. He lifted the piece of wood locking the door and bolted into the hallway with both sword and painting.

The cries from behind him, desperate cries, were for the painting, not of pain or sorrow or fear.

*****

When Leonardo had his first chance, he burned the painting. The oils had not yet dried, so as he ran with the piece against him, the painting became so that one would never discern who the subjects had been. But Leonardo knew what the red smears were, even if others did not. It burned well.

He took to hiding, fearing that the law would not believe his accusations, and would reopen his charge of sodomy. He sent an anonymous letter to the gendarmerie, but it was burned after a meagre attempt to investigate, as Antonio da Parma was a well-respected man and bribed without appearing to do so.

It was not until da Parma was murdered himself did Leonardo return to Florence and attempt to put the horrifying situation behind him, and move on with his career.

Leonardo remained a quiet man, harbouring this dark secret. He told no one of his whereabouts between 1476-1478. He told no one of his first independent commissioned artwork.

And later, even centuries later, it would seem as though, during that time in history, the great Leonardo da Vinci had fallen off the face of the earth.

© Lindsay Mawson 2011

8 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge #23: Plucked From The Pages of History

  1. Mysterious, intriguing and exciting! I was most intrigued by the dark man and his identity, but I suspect that will forever be left to mystery. I particularly enjoyed the description of Maria. My only criticism would be the opening. I felt you didn't have to set it in the jail-house, and could have just referenced back to it. The transition was…to my ears anyway, slightly jarring. Other than that though, excellent work.

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