Introduction

No one ever assumes a jester, a joker, a harlequin—call it whatever you will—to know the important secrets hidden within the depths of mankind's heart. These secrets are of course no simple gossip one keeps from their fellow friend; no, indeed it is the darkness that spawns from a man's vital life source. Whosoever shall ask me of these secrets hushed by my silver-painted lips will receive the answers, the tales which I burrow deep within my comedies.

So, dearest audience, listener—whatever you wish to be to-day. There is only one reason why you linger here.

Miss Caterina

Ah, yes. Good darling Caterina, born into the century by her father Luccio and mother Teresa. She had the black glowing strands from her mother and the touch of brown leaves within her eyes from her father. Her skin, pale as the moon that drenched the cities upon nightfall, was easy to be painted in blushes of roses. A dazzling child to any passerby. Her family was a quiet one, among the works of the quaint little village beside the hills most know as the royals' garden. There's nothing royal about grass and flowers; they covered all the land, and hollows of trees even made a poor man's home. But the village was frightened to touch any of the greenery that came in thickets and groveled near the manors of the noblemen.

In this time, there wasn't a hierarchy eying the land of the village. The kings and princes of the country were stubborn men who faltered in their riches, unconcerned for places that had little value, little things to add to their fortune. There were, however, viscounts and barons who had slowly disappeared throughout the years while good darling Caterina grew. It was a thing no one noticed at first—only one or two had vanished within the first few years of her infancy. Where they went, no one necessarily knew: it was either to the chambers of Death (if I may so be blunt about it), or into the invisible air.

When Caterina had become the age to work besides her mother in the kitchen, and help around the house with her small hands, the grand manors plotted on the hills became blanched with vines and leaves, crusted with cracks and faded by the sun. There were rarely anymore golden coaches parading about the stone streets, save for the few carriages made of metals and silvers that held the lesser noblemen. There were also—to the dismay of a young childish Caterina—no more grand balls held by those viscounts and barons. And those balls were the only way any girl who flocked among the chickens in the early morning was able to rise in status; to win the heart of a man covered in velvet and silk threads was after all prize of the tradition. That was no longer a chance given, and Caterina's mother wailed when the next years lacked of grand merriment within those dainty manors hidden within the hills.

It was no wonder why poor darling Caterina had to work alongside her mother in rags and a dreadful dress of dirt brown. By then, she was already the age of a young woman—no more than sixteen, and quite ready for the proposition of marriage. She wasn't the prettiest nor handsomest among the village. But she wasn't so hideous to have the suitors running from her doorstep either; the flush upon her peach-skinned cheeks and the pink of her lips made enough of the young men turn their heads for another glance. And the black silks of her hair she took care of so meticulously embraced her neck and shoulders, like the fine, glittering shawls around a royal. And royals always choose the exquisite of the exquisite.

Now I hold no contempt against the young girl; but she was rather too far-fetched in her own handling. She did her chores like a maiden within a tower, locked from the world and thinking no more than the simplicities of life. She obeyed every word from her parents with a shimmering smile perched on her lips. Miss darling Caterina was in fact the very essence of innocence, and though that made her beauty glow like the sea touched by moonshine, she was more oblivious than a doe heading towards a hunter's field. Young men came across her father with kind words in hope that they should be considered as a suitor; and in turn, older men came round in hopes that their stability would catch the interest of the small family. Never once had it quite occurred to her that the gifts left at their window weren't because of how delectable the morning bread was.

She was the newborn bird perched upon its nest, never to take flight. Her delicate figure—such a rare one indeed, often found among our acrobats—reminded her admirers of the nymphs who secretly stowed away in the forests. Whosoever shall be her faun, that would be decided when she opened her pure eyes to what was before her. And sadly, that would happen far too soon.

Now there was nothing within Miss Caterina's world except her little wooden home. So when her mother came dashing into the doors one day, still holding an empty straw basket when she really was supposed to be gathering vegetables from the market, Caterina was confronted with the possibility to change the dull life she had squandered her beauty on.

"Caterina!" her mother bawled out, excited as any gray-haired chitter-chatter mouth would be. "A ball, a ball! My daughter, you can finally have your years' worth!"

And it was indeed a ball. Caterina peered at the parchment with inked colors—something only a royal could afford—and smiled ever so gently. May I remind you, she was a gentle one.

Caterina clapped her powdered hands, gathered from pounding the morning dough. "Yes! It will be a magical night. But only three days away? How will I manage to prepare myself, mother?"

Ah, but her mother was a sly one. From Luccio's pocket, she had saved and gathered enough silver to purchase the grand attire needed. Well, it is certain to say Luccio was not as delighted as those two had been.

Together, the two closed the service window of their home and stowed the unfinished dough back into the hampers and cabinets. Of course, this was all without Luccio's knowing—he was far too busy at the daily market, and this was so very much more important in Teresa's opinion. They scurried to the back of their shabby home where all of their preparations were to be made, and unbound the rusted locks and latches of their antique (hardly) dresser.

But truly, there was nothing to delight about. In a world where an unknown darkness lurks and lingers, Darling Caterina was better to have never went to the place where birds go to die.