The Roses of Labro
rating: +19+x

Isabella had a plan and an accomplice. She also had the cheapest bottle of wine she could find in her hand, and the seeds of her venture in her pocket. Three literal rose seeds, each slightly larger than a bean. The night was dark but warm with the day's summer heat. Looking up, the moon was more fat than thin, a storm was brewing on the horizon, and there was an eagle circling in the night sky.

Labro was all but a ghost town, since there were no tourists this year. The pandemic had forced the hotels to close, so everything connected with them and the tourists they brought, which was all of Labro, had no better choice than to close down for the time being and pray. The town was like a turtle hiding in its shell, waiting for the bad times to pass. One of the few people still working was her uncle Emilio, the housekeeper of the Nobili-Vitelleschi castle at the top of the hill, Labro's main attraction in a way. It was him she was heading to now, though he knew nothing of her scheme. The seeds in her pocket were for the plan, the bottle of wine for her uncle.

The road was steep and winding, and the town in which she had been raised passed by with much effort. The old stones had held their mysteries then too, but she hadn't loved them like she did now, though she had loved the people living around them a good deal more. One AM is an hour for feeling sad and drinking cheap wine, it carries a mood Isabella was usually receptive of , all the more so while she was slowly struggling to climb that hill of her childhood. She missed how easy this used to feel. How she could once bounce around playfully in these streets, running up and down without a care, while spiting rest and holding no love for sleep.

When she finally arrived where she had been heading, she was out of breath and even more melancholic than she had been on the drive to Labro. She rested against the ramparts by the front of the castle. There was her town, sleeping the sleep of the weary; a sleep, she thought, that would only end in a year or two. Long ago, this had been a relatively important castle, looking out towards and against Spoleto for the lords of Rieti. But then, the Middle Ages went the way of all the other ages before it, the age of pike and shot did not hold out too long after, and so, when modernity fully came into its own, Labro started bleeding away its population and dying, like so many small Italian villages and towns. But Labro was one of the lucky ones. One of those towns picturesque enough for tourism. So now that was what Labro was, tourism. The locals didn't like it; most of them had some amount of seething hatred against tourism, and consequently against themselves. When she left the town for university, more than twenty years ago now, the town had seemed to her like an octogenarian wracked by crimes against their pride, stuck in an old folks home. It somehow felt worse now.

The eagle had landed on the roof above the door, cawing at her impatiently. She stepped away from the view and used the knocker. She had to use it a few more times until her grumpy and tired uncle got the door. Words of the most severe of damnations quickly turned to recognition and pleasant surprise, before wandering backwards into being endearing and welcoming wishes of the severest damnation. Once they were inside, the bottle was swiftly opened and praised as the most sensibly priced wine in all of Rieti. The conversation started spinning up and dredging through the contents of the last two decades. Isabella had visited two times since then, both earlier in 2021, and both times only so briefly, and in such a hurried way, that she had not had the time to catch up with anyone. The first visit in late January had started with a shouting match; religion mostly, with a twinge of politics. It had continued with some idle wandering and drinking, and then more idle wandering and drinking after Emilio had let her in to get her out of the cold. The housekeeper's lodgings were part of the castle, and the door in between was not usually locked when the museum was closed, so said wandering and drinking had somehow found its way in there. The exhibits had all luckily gone undisturbed, but Isabelle had managed to somehow fall asleep on the tower; and in the morning she had left quite early, with a severe cold. The second visit in early May had been less eventful and, somehow, less sensible. She had visited her uncle first that time, before quickly disappearing for the day, until she finally emerged from the castle's cellar in the evening; after which she proceeded to visit her parents to have another shouting match, prompting her to leave that very night.

It follows, that Emilio had a lot to ask, which, considering that he had very little to say, resulted in a very one-sided conversation covering, in rough outlines, everything that had happened to her over the last twenty years. No, she had to admit, studying philosophy had not resulted in a stable job, but it had been a very insightful thing to do either way. No, she insisted, her repeated jaunts into socialism and communism had never turned violent, though they hadn't ever really lead to anything resembling success either. Yes, the whole journalism thing had been a very exhausting failure, but she survived. Indeed, the side jobs that had supported her throughout her long career of following dreams unsuccessfully had, surprisingly, turned into relatively sturdy full-time employment. No, that sudden drift into the far right, which Labro had heard about through a few very confused letters, had luckily not lasted long. He could see that, right? No, really, she assured him, carbon monoxide poisoning could do that, a twinge of depression had its fingers in there as well. Yes, the relapse to socialism had been a lot more real, and surprisingly refreshing at that. No, well, yes, the thing she had been doing in the basement last time had been witchcraft; how could he possibly have guessed.

Here, the conversation halted. "What in the world could you have possibly been doing in there?"

"Witchcraft, as you said. Good old, honest witchcraft."

"I'm serious. I checked the stock after, I know you didn't steal anything. What were you doing down there for a whole day?"

"Who says I even was in the cellar. I could have been exploring a secret tunnel network below the town, or using it as a place of power to astral project to Venus."

The joke did not land well, and a moment of silence passed to make that clear.

"Were you taking drugs in my basement?"


"Are you sure?"

"What the fuck are you talking about!"

"Tell me what you were doing in the basement stuffed full of historical artefacts, for god’s sake!"

"I was just looking at some stuff. Looking through ledgers, I mean. Historical information for something I wanted to write at the time."

"You could have asked for help with that, you know." His tone was more grumpy than combative now, but she could tell the lie did not convince.

"Why are you here this late anyway", he said, "you didn't announce yourself".

"I couldn't make it earlier, and I didn't want to wait 'till later."


"Will you at least tell me what you're here for then, or do I have to lock the cellar?"

"I'll tell you tomorrow. Lock the cellar all you like."

Incidentally, the wine was empty and it was 02:30, so that was the spirit in which they parted ways. The housekeepers lodgings consisted of a good part of what had used to be quarters for multiple servants, so Emilio had the space for a guest bedroom.

Isabella was tired. Indeed, she felt tired enough for a night and a day of dreamless sleep, but she had no intentions of sleeping where she was. Half an hour of staring out of the window, twiddling thumbs, and walking in circles later, she left the guest bedroom and walked, as silently as she could, to the door to the castle proper. She felt silly, traipsing around like a child, hoping her uncle wouldn't hear her, but she had little choice. The floorboards were cooperative, they didn't make a sound. On she went, through the luxurious home of Labro's former nobles, lying there, preserved as a museum. The door to the cellar was locked; not because Emilio had locked it, but because it was always locked; nevertheless it opened smoothly, the bolt gliding out of the frame unnaturally, like a particularly flexible noodle. Down she went, and the door fell closed behind her.

Just past the three steps behind that door, she knelt down the first time. She started grasping at the ground, digging, and the tiles complied, deforming, like clay or turf. In the hole she placed one of the three seeds, in a real place, before pushing the displaced tile back, leaving it as it had been. Then she went further down, to the sub-cellar's lowest spot; where she opened a trapdoor that was not there, leading further down. The second seed, she planted there, on the threshold. And then she went on, further down through a winding, narrow staircase, almost a parody of the term 'serpentine stairs'. She went down until, with one smooth step, she stood on the upper landing of Labro's tower, with no stairs behind her, only in front. There was an eagle, quite a tattered one, seen from up close, sitting on the railing, waiting, looking into a sunset. She gave it the last seed, and it gulped it down.

Looking out across the familiar landscape of central Italy, Isabella felt a belonging she had not often known. She felt the knowledge of each swaying tree, each rabbit and sparrow, like hair in the wind, and toes gliding through sand. And she felt the other, all around, near the horizon, where her eyes could see, but the feeling stopped, and she felt there was no control, like there was here. The town below her wasn't empty. Faximilies walked through these streets, essences, convalescences, ideas; the shadows of those passing, and the memory of those past. A thousand housekeepers. The shadow of tradesmen, monks, knights and their retinue. Only one tourist, invasive and shrill, like a walking wound. She felt the place's soul, ancient and weary, but strong enough that it would always rise tomorrow. And she felt the sun sinking, the night approaching, but also, the thunderous dawn, and the coming storm blowing across history; and she remembered what had been said to her before: "I can count the decades now".

She also started feeling how tired and tipsy she still was when she almost fell over the railing in reverie.

She laughed. "How high", she said,"can eagles count?"

"Go to bed," the eagle said, "It is what you are here for."

She nodded and stumbled to the stairs, but turned around to say: "I feel I'll have pleasant dreams."

And so she went down, not to the housekeepers guest bedroom but the castle's master bedroom, knowing full well nobody would come to wake her for a long time.

The story of what has risen and fallen, lived and died since then is a long one; over a hundred years of history; but I will say that Labro stands today as a mountain of roses, more inaccessible the further up you go, and that legend has it, there is someone sleeping there still.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License