Visit my Website for all the blurbs, excerpts and news!!

Visit my Website for all the blurbs, excerpts and news!!
Visit my Website for all the blurbs, excerpts and news!!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The darkness of a poet's heart

A poet's heart - K.W. 2011

Once upon the time there lived inside a poet a bunch of little naughty poems.

They dwelled all together in a dark and secret place deep into the poet’s soul, where nobody could hurt them or make fun of them, but as they grew and grew they began to long to be out in the sunlight which they had only seen far up and away, through the pupils of the poet’s eyes.

And so it came to pass one day that the eldest, boldest poem, despite the poet’s warnings, escaped into the world and went to live alone in a far off place, where it thought it might meet its Muse one day.

It is not known if it ever met this Muse or not, but it had never much counted on it, because even a little poem knows that muses are touchy, aloof creatures. Still, the poem was happy to sit there in the wind and sun and meet people sometimes, and life in the open didn’t seem so dangerous after all.

And so one day another poem, the youngest and smallest poem, escaped too. It was a cheeky little verse with no shyness at all, and one day, lo and behold, the great Muse of All Poems picked it up, and patted it on the head and paid it a nice compliment.

Then there was great tumult in the poet’s soul, and all the poems rebelled and made a great mutiny, and some of them jumped off the poet’s walled heart and out into the wild world, because they thought that they had a better place to go.

But the Muse who had lured them out was not there to catch them when they fell, and they felt very silly and confused and a little bruised, and so, after a while, a bit shamefaced, one by one, they all quietly returned home.

And there they are to this day, huddling together in silence, safe and hidden, in the echoing darkness of the poet’s heart. And if ever they long to see the light of day, they only look at it from far, far away, through the skylit pupils of the poet’s eyes.

K.W. 2011

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine!

Valentine - K.W. 2012

"We picture love as heart-shaped because we do not know the shape of the soul. "
Robert Brault

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Valentine is my Birthday!

It is a well known fact that hobbits give presents away on their birthday.

A cursory examination of my person (ridiculously small, pixie ears, round nose, likes mushrooms, only furry feet missing) is proof of my Shire-ish origins. So here I am, looking forward to distribute presents on my birthday.

Leave a comment for a chance to get a free PDF copy of my book (the first chapter is there already).

And Happy Valentine!



To Frederick 
Who sets the mood
Lights fires
And shares fantasies

“Chi semina spine non vada descalzo”

(He who sows thorns should not walk barefoot)

Ancient Venetian Inscription.

Chapter One

The text had appeared on my pocket-pad with a little mute buzz on a Monday morning, while I was, of all places, in Paul's office, at what I was pleased to call my part-time job. I was yawning. A scatter of printed garden plans was spread all over the large table with pencils, notes and plant catalogues scattered on top. Paul was drawing squiggles on one of the prints, which I knew represented, in his intentions, a rose bed.

"Pink roses here. And here. And all the way to here," he said, squiggling diligently all over a vast stretch of what had been a harmless lawn until then.

"You gotta be kidding me..." I said, surreptitiously reading my p-pad.

"What's wrong with pink roses?" he asked with a little frown, without looking up.

"Everything," I said in a moment of distraction; then I immediately recollected myself, slipped the p-pad into my pocket and turned back to our plans.

"Pink roses, excellent," I said with brittle cheerfulness, and he finally looked up at me.

"Are we having a communication problem here?" he asked.

"No, not at all! Please go on, I 'm listening."

Even if I was occasionally allowed to do some actual garden planning for particular customers, by far the bigger part of my job in Paul's firm was simply to translate his besquiggled print-outs into artsy, hand-drawn garden plans. These invariably sold his rather insipid projects to his befuddled customers, people who obviously had contrived to earn enough money to pay a landscape designer but were for some inexplicable reason unable to choose twenty plants on their own. Paul's business was pretty old-fashioned, his approach to garden planning cautious at best, and his clientele unimaginative in the extreme. Pink roses featured heavily in my life at that time.

It was hardly a very rewarding job for a twice-graduated art student with a secret longing for darkness and greatness, but art did not seem to pay bills for unconnected painters right then, and I needed to take whatever job I could get to make ends meet. I had spent the last three years after leaving the Academy drawing gardens for Paul and illustrations for gardening magazines.

I actually liked plants; they made good models which stayed put and did not complain of back-ache after posing for twenty minutes, but I was beginning to feel a certain obscure restlessness at the bottom of my soul. Paul wanted plain pastel drawings, claiming that his customers were intimidated by anything as artsy-fartsy as watercolors; the flower paintings had to be precise, unimaginative and rigorously, geometrically arranged on white backgrounds. It was hardly an artist’s life. The truth is that I was a true romantic at heart. What I wanted was a wilderness of free-flowing inspiration, untainted beauty, sublime, all-consuming passion. The whole Sturm und Drang program. Well, according to the text in my p-pad, all of that might be on the way for me.

"Friend of friend needs artsy pics 4 book on Black Carnival. Interested?"

Was I interested? Was I interested? As a matter of fact, I was so interested that in the haste to get down to business I stumbled on the doorstep and practically fell nose down in the cafe where Ray had invited me to meet his friend and his friend. Typically, my tightly packed portfolio broke open in the fall, scattering drawings all over the floor. Some of these were my best flower paintings, which I had brought to show off my technical prowess. Not the stiff illustrations I did for the magazine, but complex, multi-layered, softly lit paintings which I did for myself. Other drawings were of a different nature. When a helpful barman ran towards me to assist me in retrieving my scattered art-work, I blushed crimson and hastily stammered that no, I was perfectly all right, no need to bother, it would take me less than a minute to put everything back together. It was useless. In an untimely fit of chivalrous solicitude the barman, a young fellow with endearing puppy eyes, kneeled on the floor and began collecting sheets of paper from under tables and chairs. Then, excruciatingly, he slowed down, hesitated, stared and gasped. When finally he stood up to pass me the sheaf of papers that he had amassed, he was speechless and had a rather glassy expression in his eyes.

"Thank you, sir," I said with all the coolness I was capable of, and hastily stuffing my drawings back into the treacherous folder, I made towards my friend's table, at the back of the cafe.

"Spectacular entrance, Ivory! I am so proud of you!" Ray giggled idiotically and then proceeded to introduce me to his companions, named respectively Pierre and Angela. It was Angela that interested me.

She was a rather tall, elegant woman, probably in her fifties, with nice, almost formal manners, very short blond hair and a curiously hesitating way of speaking, as if she was always a bit uncertain of where her sentences would end up. Everything about her, in truth, had this quality of slight indecision. She wore tall heels, but her dress was rather demure, some truly nice jewelry but no perfume. It was difficult to imagine her writing books about anything, let alone the Black Carnival.

"So, my dear,” she said when I was settled, “I saw some of your work. Ray showed me. I like what I saw, or I would not be here, obviously. Did he tell you about my book, dear?" she asked, after Ray had strategically ordered me a stiff cocktail, at four in the afternoon.

"Only very generally. But I brought these."

I passed her my ruffled portfolio;   Angela flipped over the flower pictures with barely a glance and concentrated on the other drawings.

"Oh dear!" she said, going from sheet to sheet. "How delightful... elegant, and sensitive, yes... you do have a talent. Your eye for the lines of the human body is quite exquisite, yes, yes... these are very, uh, classical, of course. You will need to, how shall I put it? Have you ever been to NeuVenedig, dear?"

I shook my head. How could anyone on a student budget travel to Cydonia, one of the farthest outposts of the Pan-Galactic Colonial Union? As a matter of fact, I had hardly ever travelled off-world at all. But I had seen pictures of course, both of the town and the Carnival, and I told her so.

"Well, you cannot illustrate my work unless you see the Carnival first hand. This is a bit of a pet project of mine. You need to capture the atmosphere of the place, the spirit... Money is not an issue. I have contacts and friends. There is some interest behind this, you know, collectors. Can you travel, dear, like, basically... now?"

I was taken aback. I had supposed that I would be asked to illustrate the book from photographs. Turning indifferent shots into nicely composed and rendered paintings was one of my favorite tricks. I could work with models, thanks to the years at the Academy, but it had not occurred to me that I would be requested to do so, or that I would be asked to travel to NeuVenedig in person.

"Er... I could, theoretically," I said. Then I began calculating travel time in my head, and I blushed again. "You really mean travel to NeuVenedig during the carnival?"

It was an idiotic question, but I suppose that my brain was momentarily whirring blankly in my head, lost in visions of... I swallowed and looked at Ray, pleading for help, wondering if this was a complicated joke of his.

"Well, when else, dear?" asked Angela. "I am really sorry about the short notice... I will tell you honestly that I had agreements with a different illustrator, but there has been a, uh, accident. I can hardly wait for four years till the next Carnival… I really, really need an artist now, sweetie."

"Listen," she said after a few seconds, "I need these illustrations to be something unique. I could have used photos, but anyone can do that nowadays. These..." she said, finally looking at some of the flower paintings. "I like the light of these the detail, the subtlety. I would love something like this, but, well, different subject of course..."

She shot me a significant look.

I was caught half way between incredulous happiness and unease. The unease was partly due to a sudden appalling attack of shyness, which I hastily proceeded to drown in my cocktail, and partly to practical considerations. There was my ridiculous but reliable job with Paul to begin with. And also something else.

"Um... I heard in the news that there is some unrest among those Sand Riders of theirs," I said.

"Oh, they won't bother you, my dear. The unrest, as you call it, is merely diplomatic talks, meetings and negotiations. The city is perfectly safe. I should know. I have friends there. Friends who would welcome you and show you around. You will like it, you'll see. You are not, uh, how shall I put it...?"

A moment of embarrassed silence followed until Ray smiled a dirty little smile and chortled.

            "She'll manage just fine, Angela,” he said. “Just fine. You’ll see."


I landed on Cydonia exactly in the middle of the carnival festivities.

I left the D-Terminal under a pitch black sky full of unknown stars and travelled by speed-train to the station of NeuVenedig. The train crossed the lagoon in a blaze of white light, and the air shouldered aside by its lightning-like passage carved sharp ripples on the dark waters, as if my arrival had stirred the very sea with a whisper of great things to come. I smiled, despite the fatigue and dull headache from the D-Passage.

The station was packed with people travelling in from the Perimeter and clueless off-world tourists like me, all of us already masked but milling around, uncertain, like sumptuously decorated sheep.

Here I had the first impression of the Carnival, which was first of all a mass of bodies packed so tight that even moving a step in any direction was a serious undertaking. I crawled away from the platform, first with a feeble exhibition of good manners and then with a more and more determined application of elbows, slowly making my way towards the open, trying not to lose my little luggage in the press. Finally, after being nearly squeezed, punched and trampled to death half a dozen times, I got out or, to be exact, I was ejected from the crowd inside the doors into the slightly less packed crowd outside.

Under the unvarying dark sky, the old city was ablaze with light from millions of fire-bulbs, which tinged the ancient buildings with a flickering golden glow.

Between the station and the Canal, a packed crowd of masked revelers was moving slowly towards the Ponte degli Scalzi; the canal-side was a dazzling, swirling maelstrom of beauty. I smiled enraptured at every mask, every feathery, lacy wig and diadem that passed under my lofty look out at the top of the steps of the station.

I had hardly set foot into the city, and I was already drugged with the sensual beauty of the Carnival.

All but the drunkest wore furs and velvets to keep out the cold wind and the pale sand blowing in from the desert. Under the heavy cloaks, the finest laces, beads and pearls twinkled, shone and glittered at every step. Every cut of dress, every shape of mask and hairstyle, every manner of costume was represented in this magnificent free-flowing parade of sartorial skill, but all the costumes had one thing in common: they all were black, their somberness relieved by silver, gold, glittering gems and glimpses of silky bodies, white powdered hair, sparkling eyes, laughing mouths. Long slashes in the rich skirts and sleeves showed skin and shapes, veiling, unveiling, revealing, suggesting. The real carnival fineries would be uncovered more boldly in the sheltered porches, arcades and patios and in the echoing grand halls of the palaces of the old city.

The Grand Canal was a glittering river of reflected flames, a stream of liquid fire snaking across the town, carrying on its shimmering surface a harlequin flotilla of quiet power boats, gaudy lantern-dressed galleys, tiny sandolos, colorful racing caorlinas, fast, rakish viperas, heavy, slow barges full of luggage and merchandise, automated waterbuses packed with passengers. And, of course, shiny, black gondolas, with tall curvy prows and sterns, and nimble gondoliers who stood at their single oars waiting for passengers, or darted their long boats around with marvelous ability, turning in and out of narrow side-canals, cheerfully unconcerned by the throng of craft that crowded the water. The sharp steel figureheads of the gondolas often passed within an inch of the next boat, brushing but always avoiding by just a hairbreadth some disastrous collision.

The din was deafening.

I watched in wonder at the miracle in front of my eyes.

Old Earth was an abandoned wasteland, yet under this alien sky, between the desert and the polar seas, the glorious Republic of Saint Mark, the Serenissima, the Floating City of Masks, Queen of the Adriatic, Old Lady of the Lagoon, was alive again.

I made my way to the water front, crossing with enormous difficulty the almost solid current of human flesh and, with a good deal of screeching and waving, I finally managed to hail a boat, a small sandolo, not as glamorous as a gondola but sufficient for me and my meager belongings. I gave the boatman the cryptic address of Angela’s NeuVenedian friend, Mr. Lukan Løvensgård, and sat on my cushioned seat while the beauty of the old town unfolded in front of my eyes.

I was deposited on a small elegant landing, on a lesser canal, and directed to a narrow alley, or as the locals called it, calle. There was a painted wooden portal set deep into a tall wall. An ornate doorknocker activated a buzzer somewhere inside. I had hardly banged the knocker once when the portal silently opened, letting me into one of those unexpected hidden courtyards so common in NeuVenedig.

It was a roughly square, cloister-like, quiet space surrounded by window-pierced walls on three sides, with a porch on the fourth and over that a balustrade, and the main door to the house, accessible through the magnificent staircase that climbed up at a corner of the garden. The space in the middle was covered in perfectly swept pale flagstones. Spreading shadow-trees stood in beds dug at three corners, their leathery, purplish, palmate leaves curled tight under the long winter night. Tall desert laurels in carved planters lined the edge of the porch, their sharp, crystal-studded, carmine leaves glittering darkly in the light of the fire-bulbs. A gorgeous sculpted well-head stood in the middle. And nothing else. No pink roses, thank god. Indeed, the unusual light cycle of the NeuVenedian continent made gardening in the town a bit of a special challenge. The sparse local flora had been massively improved and genetically modified in the effort to create suitable garden plants and agricultural crops, and the results were, to say the least, bizarre. I walked across the courtyard and stepped up the staircase, on top of which the ornate door was already open.

A tall, straight, white-masked figure waited patiently just inside it. For a moment I thought it must be my host, but then something in his stance and dress told me he was more probably a butler of some kind, a sort of semi-mythical creature that I hadn’t met very often in my life.

"Hello," I said, approaching with some hesitation. "My name is Ivory Blake. I believe, er, I think Mr. Løvensgård is, er, he knows of my arrival?"

“Of course you are expected, Miss Blake," said the butler, with punctilious emphasis, as if somewhat disgusted by my imprecise command of basic everyday conversation. “Please come in. The maid will show you to the parlor. You may leave your luggage in the hallway.”

He pronounced the last sentence as if the idea of having my plebeian suitcase anywhere else in the house was an offensive prospect. I wondered if I was supposed to shack up in the courtyard, under the porch, or in the entrance. I was somewhat daunted by all this formality and by his mask, a menacing white bauta, the most unfriendly and least attractive of the traditional Carnival masks. However, Lukan Løvensgård was, according to Angela, one of the richest men in NeuVenedig and could hardly be expected to bestir himself to open doors and fetch suitcases for lowly guests of my sort.

The aforementioned maid emerged from the shadows in the corner of the entrance behind the butler, as if she had just walked out of the wall, and she beckoned to me mutely with her hand. She wore a plain black velvet mask without a mouth, a moretta, a mask, as I would afterward discover, held in place with a button held between the wearer’s teeth. I shuddered; the black, lipless face was creepy in the gloom.

I followed through a rather dark corridor with spot-lit artwork exposed in little niches in the walls; the maid walked too quickly for me to take in much detail. Finally I was silently shown into a beautiful hall.

Parlor was not in fact the word I would have chosen to describe the room, given its proportions. It was large enough to serve as a moderate ball room, with smooth pale wooden floors and dark slate-grey walls. The high ceiling, lit by soft hidden lights, seemed to float weightlessly over an extraordinary frieze of spotless white stucco. The architectural beauty of the room was such as to require no other décor, and the few pieces of furniture, a low but chunky crystal table, plain buff leather seats and sofas, a few lamps, were all as sober and unobtrusive as they could be.

Yet I immediately perceived that the room itself was nothing but a frame, a huge decorative frame to set off the largest art screen that I had ever seen in any private house. The sofa I was shown to was placed in front of it, at a perfect distance to appreciate the display. The room was dimly lit, just enough for ambiance and comfort, but it was awash with turquoise light from the screen, which was glowing faintly and seemed to draw the watcher into its watery depth by the sheer intensity of contrast between its vivid colors and its shadowy surroundings.

It was showing a magnificent painting the title of which, “The birth of Venus”, floated holografically in the foreground. A very classical choice of subject, I thought, but the artist had given the old mythical scene quite a new drift.

Instead of standing demurely on an improbable giant shell, covering her juicy bits modestly with her long hair, this Venus was being escorted or, to be precise,  carried, through transparent foamy waves by a bevy of handsome mermaids and mermen, whose sinewy scaly tails shone and glittered in shades of teal and green, realistically distorted by the intervening water. Venus´ long auburn hair floated freely just under the surface of the waves, mingling with the sea foam. One mermaid held the apparently sleeping or unconscious Venus in her arms, looking down into her lovely face with the affectionate wonder of a nurse holding a newborn infant. The goddess was, in fact, not that young but still quite a bit younger than Venus was usually depicted, a girl on the very edge of womanhood: her small budding breasts pointed at the dark, stormy sky with tiny, tight, rosy nipples. Her lithe body was contoured by the lapping water, and exquisitely detailed water drops studded her unblemished skin. Another mermaid held up Venus´ left leg, the knee draped over her arm, providentially tipping the supine body of the goddess ever so slightly towards the onlooker. The right leg rested on the shoulder of a merman whose face rose out of the water just inches from the pale, fresh, perfectly bare sex of the sleeping girl. Its lips were impeccable in their lovely symmetry, lapped by sea water and foam; they had the tight fresh perfection of a dewy rose bud just unfolding to the first morning light, still night-cool and spangled with dew drops. The merman seemed to watch entranced; his dark hands lay wide open on the cusp of her lean thighs, stroking their soft skin and framing, as it were, the tender folds of her flesh with his palms and fingers. Only a moment of closer observation revealed that, just over the surface of the water, both his thumbs, side by side, were sunk deep into the girl’s narrow virginal slit. The face of the goddess looked supremely serene, almost blank; a sleeping child, but with the faintest shadow of a smile playing on her coral lips, dimpling ever so lightly her flawless peachy cheeks.

Despite all the drawing and painting of nude bodies I had done in the years at the Academy and since, I felt a blush rising to my face. The picture was so boldly conceived, elegantly composed and perfectly executed that I felt humbled by its mastery. The life size of the figures, the accuracy of the detail, the vividness of the colors, all made me feel as if I was intruding on some real life scene, and heaven knows the subject was provoking enough. Of course I knew that the picture was intended to provoke me, and I was determined not to take the bait, but the truth was that I felt a slick heaviness in my crotch just by staring at it.

That may be why, when a door opened at the far end of the room and steps resounded on the wooden floor, I jumped up with a guilty start, blushing violently. I turned round, feeling absolutely scarlet, while my host crossed the expanse of parquet in long quick strides and came to stand in front of me with a wide smile.

I was dumbfounded. His fame as an art collector, at least as reported by Angela, was such that I had imagined an ancient, venerable, patriarchal figure. The man in front of me, while not an extremely young man, could hardly have been older than forty or forty-five GSyears.

He was quite tall, slender as a whip, with nice long legs and a mass of very blond hair accurately brushed and tied back with a velvet bow. He wore a half mask of silk-embroidered black velvet edged with tiny jet beads, dark pants, shiny black half boots, and a flamboyant waistcoat, black silk embroidered in silver. His white shirt had puffy sleeves and a high collar, which seemed even higher because of the cravat wound around it, so arranged that not a glimpse of his throat could be seen. His light blue eyes looked almost colorless, framed by the dark mask. His skin was very pale, and he looked every bit as if he had just walked out of an old vampire book, except that his bright smile did not contain any pointy fangs. He wore thin leather gloves, dove grey with pearl white seams.

"Uh..." I said, undecided, "Mr Løvensgård?"

I extended my hand towards him, and he took it, turned it, brought it to his lips and gave it the shortest peck of a kiss. I just stood there blinking, dumbfounded by this completely unexpected way of greeting and by the exquisite softness of his gloves.

"Lukan, please," he said, gesturing to the sofa, were I sat abruptly, operated more by force of gravity than actual intention. His voice was a melodious purr that turned every word into a song.

"Well," he said, "I will have to complain to Angela. She just told me she was sending an artist. She did not say you were so young and so delightful. I have arranged lodgings for you which will grant you some privacy and independence. I regret that now."

He smiled again, and my silly heart fluttered. There, he had talked to me for less than thirty seconds, made me some insipid compliments, and I was already sold. Admittedly, I hadn't had a lover in a while. I had been too busy painting flowers and butterflies.

"I was not supposed to be here, actually," I said, trying to establish a professional tone in our exchange and failing. "There was another illustrator, but there was an accident, she told me, so she sent me instead."

"Well, what a blessed accident," he said, smiling. "Listen, my dear, if you are not very tired I will offer you lunch, walk you to your lodgings and show you the sights on the way. NeuVenedig is not large, but it’s amazingly easy to get lost. There are signs everywhere, but strangers just find them confusing. I am sorry about that. We are not assholes; it's just that this town is a mess. A delightful mess, of course."

He smiled at me again, and I nodded; to what exactly, I did not know. Just to his voice, probably. When he stood up and gestured me to follow him, I did so as meekly as a hypnotized lamb.

"Don't worry about your luggage," he said while walking out in the courtyard, after having picked up a coat and a walking cane, which he absolutely didn’t need. "You will find it waiting for you, unless you prefer to go by boat yourself of course. D-Passages can be exhausting, I realize that."

 I hurried up behind him, squealing something to the general effect that I was perfectly rested and ready to go and do anything. He grinned, a cold, cynical and yet weirdly irresistible grin that left me melting behind my black half mask. Who is this guy? I thought. And how did Angela ever get involved with him?

In the next two hours, in a small, curiously old fashioned restaurant obviously not on the map of the reveling masses, I was fed like a princess on fried soft shelled crabs and steamed mussels, with dry, chilled white wine, smoked lamb and baby artichokes, with a robust red, and a delicious lemon sherbet steeped in vodka that, after the trip, the walk and the wine, left me half stunned but strangely happy. I was feeling dangerously light-headed when we left the restaurant, and it took me the entire walk to San Marco before the fumes of alcohol evaporated enough for me to look around.

The ancient majestic Piazza on the edge of the lagoon was a sea of revelers. Here were the most imposing costumes I had seen in the town. Human figures made huge by vast winged cloaks, tall head-dresses and fabulous feathery crowns seemed to sail over the packed crowds like black swans. But in truth nobody was sailing anywhere, because the throng was too packed even to walk. Crawling sideways through the press was all anyone could do. The quayside was alight with lanterns and shining fairy lights, and the moored galleys were all alive with parties on the decks. Here everyone wore masks, though not everyone wore clothes, but mostly they still had the good sense to keep their cloaks on against the chilly wind. I suspected that this might change later, at night.

We pushed our way over the worst of the crowd which was more or less stationed in the older part of the harbor and finally made it over the Ponte della Paglia, where the press seemed to be a bit thinner. On top of the bridge Lukan, who had been silent in the Piazza, where the din was simply too great for talking, gestured back towards San Marco.

“You must come in the morning if you want to see the palace and the cathedral. Hopeless after twelve.”

I nodded. He was fastidiously pulling back some locks of hair that had gone astray during the passage of the square and adjusting the embroidered wrists of his coat. He gave a vague wave towards the Bridge of Sighs, the Columns of San Marco and San Teodoro and the Campanile, clearly assuming that I knew already what was what and that there wasn’t any need to explain anything. He was only half right. I had hardly had time to really study maps and guides of NeuVenedig, and for the time being I was just lost in the general beauty of the place, unable to tell one magnificent building from the next.

As for him, he looked down a bit disgusted on the crowd in the Piazzetta. Later on I would learn he was mostly disgusted by having been squeezed, handled and fondled by half the revelers we had crossed on the way. Even in a mask and cloak his blond hair, elegant figure and pale eyes attracted quite a bit of attention, and he was a conspicuous target for many a roving hand in the crowd. I didn’t know at the time that it was quite a rare occurrence for him to cross San Marco during the height of the Carnival. The long walk along the Riva degli Schiavoni was easier; the crowd dwindled almost to nothing by the time we passed by the Arsenal, and the paved waterfront was empty when we reached the yacht quay. The solar yachts were a far more somber apparition than the galleys. Squatting silently under their solar shields, useless in this season, they waited for summer and the endless sunny day of NeuVenedig. Lukan walked up to a particular boat, which was moored far out towards the public gardens, almost at the eastern limit of the city. She was not very large, but not one of the smaller craft either. She looked like a true ship, at a time when yachts were often built to resemble something else: primitive rafts, sea animals, coral islands. This boat had a long, slender hull, black, with a long white stripe running its whole length, and golden scrollwork at the two ends. She had a luxurious yet rakish, fast look about her, like an old-fashioned clipper ship.

Lukan gave a crisp vocal command. “Alhambra, plank!” A gangplank shot out of the side towards the pier. He gestured me to follow him, and I stepped in awe on board the beautiful boat.

“This is mine. I don’t use it in winter obviously, but it should be comfortable enough for you, if you don’t mind the walk. You can always take a gondola to get home, if it’s too far. At least it’s quiet here. Sometimes I feel like moving in myself at this time of the year.”

He showed me around until I was speechless with wonder that I could spend six weeks in such spectacular accommodations. It was better than any luxury hotel, and indeed more private than the most private guest room.

“You must make yourself at home, Ivory, empty the galley, use the bar, the sauna, anything you need.” He waved his hand around absent-mindedly. “This is the Carnival. Feel free to bring guests.” He winked at me.

 “Oh, and one last thing!” he said, on the way out. “I have a young friend, a girl about your age, whom you should meet. She will be delighted to show you around. She’s better company than I am. I will see that you two get together tomorrow or the day after, as soon as you are settled in. Have a good night’s sleep now. You’ll need to be rested before tasting the Carnival.”

He gave me a mischievous grin, kissed my hand, and with a last bow and flourish of his silver-headed walking cane, he walked out into the night.