The mystery of Claudia's beautiful new house on the shores of the Mediterranean deepens.
Hast thou heard the butterflies
What they say betwixt their wings?
Or in stillest evenings
With what voice the violet woos
To his heart the silver dews?
- Tennyson, Adeline.
Claudia awoke and saw that the sun was already well above the horizon. The view from her bedroom window was of a cloudless azure sky and a sea more tranquil than any she had yet seen. It was a calm day and the cool of the night still lingered in the airy room. Her Sicilian summer wore on and with each passing day she fell more and more in love with the beauty of her new home. Indeed, Tintamare was more than a mere house; more than a valuable piece of real estate. It was an object dear to her heart, a precious legacy and a place of mystery like none she had ever encountered.
She felt a slight movement on her tee-shirt and looked down. There, between two folds of white cotton was a large, iridescent green scarab beetle. She smiled as it paused to regard her coolly through glistening black eyes. Deciding that she posed no immediate threat, it continued climbing towards her with delicate antennae waving. She caught it easily and felt it tickle her palm as it struggled feebly against her. She strode out onto the balcony and tossed the little insect high into the air. The beetle tumbled a few times; its beautiful metallic tints catching the morning sun, then it unfolded its wings and flew off on the breeze. Claudia watched it as it wheeled against the sky then turned and flew towards the garden.
“Claudia the Merciful,” whispered a voice deep in her mind; a voice so subtle that she could scarcely distinguish it from her own thoughts.
“Indeed I am,” she answered almost unconsciously.
She looked down and saw Carlo walking towards the stone stair dressed only in a towel. As this was his last day with her, she guessed that he wanted to go for an early swim then prepare for his flight to Palermo. Then she noticed that he carried a small basket and a long pair of tongs. Intrigued, she waited until he had begun his descent to the beach before slipping on a skirt and following him. She glanced at the harpsichord on the way out and made a mental note to dust it today as she had not done so in weeks. She ran down the stairs to the back door and out into the garden. Almost immediately, the fresh aroma of pine greeted her. There was a grove of very old pines to the west of the house in a part of the garden that she was yet to investigate. Again she made a mental note to do so once Carlo had gone and she was alone.
She walked along the path passing a profusion of wild flowers; blooms of every form, aroma and hue. Furry black and yellow bumble bees were busily at work upon the flowers; making the flower heads bow to her as they landed upon them. She paused and imagined herself an elf-queen with the forest creatures paying her homage and seeking her protection.
She reached the stone wall at the cliff’s edge and peered down. There, for an instant, she saw Carlo’s tanned legs and pale buttocks framed by the turquoise water before he disappeared under the surface. She noticed that he had left the basket next to his towel on the beach and she now waited for him to surface. After several seconds he did so with something brown and bristly on the end of the tongs. He swam strongly to shore; muscles working in perfect rhythm; propelling his body smoothly through the water. Watching from high above, she found this a beautiful picture and a good way to remember him once he had gone. He repeated his task several times; often returning with two of the brown bristly things. Soon the little basket was full. He dried himself, wound the towel around his loins then picked up the basket and proceeded up the stairs. At the top she greeted him with a quizzical look. He smiled broadly and presented the basket to her as though she were an empress and he - one of her lowliest vassals.
“See – oorchins!”
She took the basket from him and stared at the hapless sea creatures. The urchins’ spines; moved slowly and with perplexity as they found themselves unaccountably out of water. They had seemed brown from a distance but were in fact a variety of colours; ranging from purple to a muted green. Instinctively Carlo took the basket back and said reassuringly,
“Many, many out there. For you, I cook beautiful dish for lunch, buonissimo, called the fettuccini con ricci di mare. My mamma teach me this - huh.”
She smiled, “Grazi mio bello.”
They had a long breakfast at which little was said. Claudia looked into Carlo’s eyes as though she were about to lose a friend that she had known for years and, as he looked up at her, it was plain to see that he was doing his best to hide his own regret behind his easy smile. They swapped phone numbers and e-mail addresses and he told her that he needed to spend the evening in Agrigento with his mother. Claudia understood of course, she nodded and glanced at the wall clock. Lunch was still a good four hours away.
She waited until he had taken the last sip of his espresso then took the cup from his hand. She sat on his lap facing him and took hold of his head with both hands. One look from her bewitching eyes was all it took and he was her slave once more. With a deep sigh she kissed him as Carlo grasped her firmly by the hips. Claudia wasted no time in dipping her tongue into his mouth and sucking upon his lips; lips made doubly delicious by the aftertaste of the strong, bitter coffee they had just shared. She immediately noticed the aroma of the sea clinging to Carlo’s skin. Its effect on her was magical and brought to mind all the things in which she delighted and all the things that aroused her. Now she gripped the back of his head and moaned as she drank in all his manliness. He still only wore his beach towel so Claudia struggled to rid herself of her tee and of her skirt. Once the former lay discarded, Carlo swiftly unzipped the skirt and Claudia wriggled out of it. Around her neck she wore a long, finely beaded necklace that had belonged to Eleanora; it was an Egyptian influenced piece from the 1920s and she loved the way its cool smoothness now tickled her breasts as it swung between them.
She reached down and pulled the towel loose from around Carlo’s loins and repositioned herself upon his lap. In no time at all she could feel his cock beginning to stir as her ass, thighs and the lips of her pussy pressed against it in turn. Carlo ran his palms up and down her sides and across her breasts as she continued to kiss him. Her passion as always, was unrelenting but now it was made even more intense by the thought that they would soon be apart,
“I’ll give you something to remember me by,” she thought as her lips ground harder against his and her head swayed from side to side with growing abandon.
Carlo too keenly felt an urgency which made him caress as much of her body as he could. This was the incomparable goddess of his dreams, the seductive sorceress of his wildest imaginings, the woman to make all his fantasies blossom into reality. To have found her and not fully partaken of her would be a greater sin than any he could think of.
She kissed his neck and gently bit his throat; producing deep sighs and groans from him. Her hand reached down and took hold of his cock. As always, her grasp was firm and purposeful; she expected results and got them. Now she peeled back his foreskin; causing him to moan with delight. She looked deep into his eyes; savouring the growing lust on his face. She bit her bottom lip teasingly and massaged his shaft right from the tip down to its base; rubbing it harder and harder until his balls tightened and his shaft arched towards his chest. Once she was satisfied with her work Claudia pushed back her hair so that Carlo could see exactly what she was going to do to him. Then she slowly lowered her lips onto his cock. She could taste the salt of the sea upon him and the sensation of his pump, pink head rubbing against her cheeks, on her tongue and against the roof of her mouth, soon made her loose all sense of time and place. She entered a transcendental, meditative state where the only realities were Carlo’s body and her need to give it pleasure.
Carlo gripped the edge of the table as he felt Claudia’s saliva moisten his balls. His cock grew harder and harder as her mouth stimulated every last inch of it. In the pure morning light, he looked at her hair as it shook and shimmered with every bob of her head, he marveled at her long black lashes; like butterfly’s wings and he stared in awe at her face. She was by far the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and the strange house she lived in somehow suited her. The one was as ethereal and mysterious as the other.
With one last, long thrust of her mouth Claudia looked up, she smiled and stood. She then pushed Carlo gently back against the table and put her foot up on the edge of the chair. His lips were now inches away from her already slick and dripping pussy. Wasting no time, Carlo put his hands on her hips and brought his lips up to her pussy. His tongue flicked over her labia; tasting her rich, heady aroma and the salty sweetness that he loved. He parted her lips with his tongue and licked her with long, lazy strokes, then in zigzags; increasing the pressure each time. Claudia, as always, was swift to respond; gripping his hair and pressing his tongue between the folds of her pussy as though she were pressing a violet between the pages of a book. This too was to her a precious keepsake; a memento to remember him by – the luxurious sensation of his mouth on her pussy.
Carlo now parted her lips with both his hands and found the object of his deepest desires. Claudia’s clit was the epicenter of his world at that very moment and he devoted his full attention to it. Up, down, in tight circles and slow meanders, he tickled and savoured its smooth silkiness for what seemed like a blissful eternity. The effect on Claudia was intense; she moaned and sighed then called his name so loudly that the birds upon the trees outside took note. All the time she ground her pussy against his lips and tongue; wetting his cheeks and chin with her salty dew. Carlo now spread her pussy wide open; letting his tongue darted in as far as it could venture. Her aroma and the superb, smoothness of her skin made his mouth tingle and he licked her with relish. Soon Claudia arched her back and swept her hair aside. Her long nails dug into the flesh of Carlo’s shoulder and her palms pressed his muscles. She came in wave after wave of the most exquisite pleasure; mouth open and watering, eyes rolled back and her entire body bathed in euphoric bliss.
She melted into his arms; sitting on his lap with his cock nested snugly between her thighs. His eyes followed the long sensuous lines of her legs; from her delicately round hips to long, tanned thighs and muscular calves and finally, to her delicate feet. In his mind he heard music again but this time it was a rondo of the sumptuous symphony that was Claudia Incarnata.
Still breathing deeply, she turned and kissed him delicately; rubbing his shoulders and pressing her breasts against his chest. With her head on his shoulder, she kissed his ear and ran her tongue down his neck. After a moment he held her and stood up. She smiled and lay down upon the table. Carlo quickly removed the remains of their breakfast as Claudia lay down on the wood. She liked lying on a hard surface; there was something primal about it and she loved the idea of fucking whenever and wherever the mood suited.
She looked up at Carlo and licked her lips; raising her legs as he approached her and resting them on his shoulders. He was still more than hard enough, and now he gripped his cock and rubbed its head teasingly up and down Claudia’s slit. Her wetness and the silkiness of her labia were certainly enticing and immediately made him harder but he took his time entering her, making the most of the feast for the eyes that was her body. He massaged her shoulders, her waist and her breasts, straightening the finely beaded necklace so that it lay aesthetically between them. She appreciated all this and looked up at him with a face full of warmth and affection.
“Aeterna Cleopatra, Regina Nili, dea incomparabile…!”
“Such beautiful compliments Carlo.”
“Now fuck me for as long as you like lover, you’ve earned the right.”
Carlo grit his teeth and plunged his cock deep into the realm of pure delight that was Claudia’s pussy. He tensed his legs and clenched his buttocks to increase the vigor of his thrusts as he settled down to enjoy this most sublime of all his lovers. She looked into his eyes with a wild, bewitching lustfulness that both profoundly aroused him and deeply unsettled him. She was indeed an enchantress, an arch - sorceress like Alcina in Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso or Angelica for the love of whom the hero Orlando had lost his mind. Part of him was secretly glad that he was leaving that evening for to stay with this woman was surely to be lost to the rest of the world – outside the circuit of her enchanted house nothing else existed. She was like an addictive drug that raised you to the heights and slowly subverted your will and your reason, eventually and inexorably depriving you of freedom itself. But oh, one minute, one second, one instant more with her…!
He felt her hands rubbing his sides and opened his eyes. She was heaving and moaning as his cock bit deeper and deeper into her core; igniting the fires of passion that always smoldered within. Claudia’s black hair framed her face like storm clouds against the evening sky, her mouth hung open like a coral flower and her sighs and moans broke the stillness of the house as no other sound could.
Carlo fucked her harder and felt a tingling as last in his innermost heart. It spread as he thrust faster and faster; working hard at the deliriously beautiful task of pleasing this woman; this aptly named incarnation of divinity. Suddenly he stopped and gripped her sides, gritting his teeth and arching his back to let loose a tide of warm, sweet milk deep into the hidden depths. Four, five, six timed Carlo unleashed his seed, allowing the tempest of sensation to subside fully before reluctantly pulling his rigid, glistening cock from her.
She smiled slyly and sat up; grasping his shoulders and kissing him upon the lips.
“Ah, mio caro.”
After a long shower and much bi-lingual small talk aimed at avoiding the topic of their impending goodbyes, they found themselves back in the kitchen. While Claudia straightened the table and set it for lunch, Carlo went to the refrigerator from which he retrieved the basket of sea urchins. He quickly boiled some fettuccini and expertly cracked open the sea urchins, scooping out their delicious roe. Claudia watched him with some interest, as this was a dish she had never heard of let alone sampled. He reached the bottom of the basket and pulled out what to Claudia seemed to be a lumpy, grey pebble about the size of a large walnut. He froze and looked at it with great uncertainty for a few seconds then he sniffed it and let out a low growl of satisfaction. He showed it to her with a look of utter disbelief on his face.
“What is it?”
“Hmmm, a white tru-ffle... I think you call it.” Now he held it up to the light from the window as though it were a choice gem, “Molto delizioso e raro.”
“A truffle? Carlo, aren’t truffles - tartufi, found in the forest, underground”?
“Well, where did you find this one?”
“I did not…found it. It appear now…by magic.”
For an instant Claudia thought that he was having her on; a good-natured, parting joke before they said goodbye, fitting too, considering some of the experiences that they had recently had. But the longer she waited for him to laugh and tell her that he was kidding the more she realized that he was not. He placed the truffle on the table and stared at it shaking his head. Finally, all doubt was cast out of her mind when he closed his eyes and solemnly crossed himself, repeating three times a grave and sincere appeal for divine protection.
“O dulcis Virgo Maria, ora pro nobis…”
Later that afternoon Claudia had dropped Carlo off outside his house on Agrigento’s Via Garibaldi. She had paused long enough, after kissing him goodbye, to see the heavy antique door open and a robust, rather imperious mamma emerge to pull him back into the orbit of familial responsibility. She smiled,
“Good boy Carlo.”
She hoped that his redemption in the eyes of his mother would not be long in coming. Her mind then flashed back to lunch when, after repeatedly sniffing, weighing and examining the truffle for the good part of half an hour, Carlo had finally decided that there was nothing wrong with it. He made his pasta sauce with the sea urchins’ roe and, as a final touch, grated half the truffle over the platter of pasta. What was expected by them both to be a delicious meal turned into a culinary triumph. He praised the dish highly and impressed upon Claudia at the completion of the meal, that they had just eaten the better part of one hundred euros. He added that they had probably dined better than they would have in any of the best hotels in Italy. Claudia loved the dish too and was already looking forward to the remainder for dinner.
“Fettuccini con ricci di mare e tartufo bianco misterioso,” she intoned; savouring the flavour of the words.
After making a mental note to write down the recipe, she drove around the block, past the Aroma Café where the three brothers thought that she was supermodel Megan Gale, and past the vast Baroque door of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. Soon she was back on the quiet road to the coast and to Tintamare.
A while later, she drove up the driveway and turned to look at the twisted orange tree. She had promised herself not to think about it but the merest glimpse of the spot where it grew was enough to arouse her curiosity. She parked the car and got out. She had determined that the tree and its wall lay at the very center of the garden; half way between the stone gate and the house. She now slowly approached the tree. It had clearly been watered recently but the water had soaked well into the ground. Upon the stones of the wall she immediately noticed three objects. She froze, then slowly gathered her logic and analytical skills. The position and proximity of the objects to each other made it obvious that they had been placed there for her to find. She frowned in frustration as she looked down at a passion flower, the broken handle of a terracotta amphora and an iridescent green beetle.
The beetle was almost identical to the one she had encountered that morning but it was larger and dead. She picked it up to make sure of the fact; cradling it in her palm as though it were a tiny injured kitten.
“Claudia the Merciful,” a voice deep in her mind whispered.
She next picked up the amphora handle. It was clearly very old; Roman perhaps, and had been discarded long ago. There was a mark stamped into it at one point; four letters that she could not decipher.
“Claudia the Intoxicating,” whispered the voice.
Finally she took up the passion flower and marveled at its beauty. It was fresh and seemed to have been cut cleanly but with what she could not tell. She could not recall seeing any passion fruit vines growing on the grounds, so the flower’s origin was yet another mystery. She shook her head as she turned towards the car.
“Claudia the Passionate.” The words passed by her almost imperceptibly; as though carried on the breeze.
She lay the objects on the passenger seat and looked at them with perplexity. Was someone trying to communicate with her? If so, why and why do it in such an obscure way? Where the objects intended to frighten her or simply to make her think? Whoever was doing this clearly knew the house well and was a master at staying hidden. But why? She tapped the steering wheel and clenched her fists in frustration before starting the car and heading towards the house.
She found the house securely locked as usual but this was no longer enough to reassure her that she was totally safe inside. But then her rational side took over and she told herself that there was a deeper mystery here that could be explained by simple criminal motives.
Once inside she put the passion flower in water and checked her e-mail. She found one mail from Professor Barricelli reminding her of the concert the following evening. Two of her friends in Melbourne had updated their status’ on Facebook, she had been outbid for a Bittossi vase on Ebay and there was an e-mail from Josh. She had not seen him in months. He had been teaching English part time in Thailand and Indonesia and had been away from Australia for most of the last two years. Josh was a surfer, first and foremost, and traveled the world, working wherever his travels took him and doing whatever he could to keep surfing.
They had had a relationship for nearly a year before his restless spirit and the call of the waves drew him to Bali. Claudia had been tempted to join him there but her work commitments had not allowed her to do so. So began a slow but inevitable drifting apart where old passions were slowly replaced by new. Indeed they had never really broken up, just moved on. Still they remained firm friends although Claudia did not approve of some Josh’s decisions and choices. She reminded herself that it was his life and that he could travel wherever he wanted and fuck whoever he wanted even if some of his partners were clearly beneath him.
“You bitch,” she chided herself. “Mind your own fucking business.”
She still thought about him often, inevitably comparing him to all the other men she met and became involved with.
She opened the e-mail.
Hey Claudia, how’s it going? I heard you’ve become a millionaire and moved to Italy. You better stay away from Berlusconi or you might end up on the front pages of all the Italian tabloids. But seriously, I had to get back to Oz because of family business. I caught up with Tina and Natasha and they told me you had moved to Sicily and were now driving a Ferrari. I hope you haven’t found some Calabrian Mafioso boyfriend too.
“Asshole,” she laughed.
“No seriously, I’m very, very happy for you. I’ve been teaching Indonesian kids and catching waves in too many places to mention. I guess I’ll have to settle down some day and get a real job. Till then I’ll always be your surfer dude…
She quickly replied to Barricell; assuring him that she would attend the concert on Sunday night. She ignored her Facebook friends for the moment and wondered what reply; if any, she might give Josh. “Best to ignore him” – said her better nature, “Best to make the gorgeous bastard green with envy, - said her dark side. “Be civil and polite Claudia – said her kindly spirit, speaking primly and properly. She bit her bottom lip thoughtfully and opened Google.
She did a search for beetles of the Mediterranean and got far too much information. This was followed by a search on ancient stamped pottery, but again, too many results only made her impatient. Finally she typed in: Passion fruit vine and froze for the second time in one hour. There, mentioned prominently in multiple results was the species name Passiflora incarnata.