Season of Storms

Free Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

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Authors: Susanna Kearsley
blame the Venetians for stealing the horses. I might have been tempted to take those myself.”
    He meant, I knew, the four sculpted horses that I’d seen featured so often in the Venice travel brochures. Rupert had already pointed them out to me from the piazza, in their place of prominence high up along the gallery of the basilica, from where they could look down and over the square.
    But when I mentioned to Den that I’d seen them, he shook his head. “No, those are replicas up there. The real ones are kept indoors now, in a special room—the weather was doing a number on them.” As we came out of the treasury into the cavernous dimness of the basilica, with the golden mosaic domes glittering high overhead, he went on, “They’ve been around the block, those horses. They originally came from a place in Greece—Chios—but one of the Byzantine emperors stole them and took them to Constantinople to put them on top of his box at the Hippodrome, to look down on the chariot-races. Then the Crusaders in 1204 stole them again, brought them here.”
    Rupert wasn’t sure he’d call it stealing. “They were stolen to begin with, don’t forget. The emperor had no legitimate claim to them, no more than Venice does now. They merely got passed from one thief to another.” And then, as we started up a well-travelled stairway to the level above, he trumped Den by pointing out that the horses had taken a few side trips as well, through the years. “Napoleon took them to Paris, part of his plunder after he’d forced the last of the doges to submit to him. They weren’t returned till after Waterloo. And during the First World War they spent some time in Rome, for safety.”
    “Like I said,” said Den, “they’ve been around. Typical horses; they like to be moving.”
    I couldn’t get over the size of the beasts, when I saw them. Cast in some sort of metal that might have been bronze, they were set in a row, as if recently freed from their chariot’s harness, one forefoot raised, prancing, necks arched, heads held proudly. A rubbing of verdigris green added depth to their gleaming gold coats and traced lines where their bridles had been, and their hooves, set on stone plinths, were nearly as large as my head. I tipped my head back, studying their faces and marvelling at the ancient sculptor’s skill in giving each horse an expression all its own. The first one, farthest to my left, looked vaguely worried; the second looked kind; the third looked perplexed; but the fourth—and my favourite—was laughing.
    “What do you think?” Rupert asked me.
    “They’re gorgeous.”
    Den remarked that they didn’t look bad for their age. “Considering they’ve been kicking around since the time of Alexander the Great. Want to see the imposters?”
    To get to the gallery outside we had to double back along a catwalk and a balcony set high above the shadowed aisle, high up amid the bright mosaics, close enough now to see and appreciate much of the detail. The walls curved over and around me, rich as an illuminated manuscript, with biblical figures and scenes large as life.
    But my eyes, in the midst of this splendid confusion, came to rest instead on human figures, standing by the doorway to the treasury, below me. I noticed the woman, I think, because she wore yellow—a bright golden yellow designed to draw the eye, to make an artful contrast with her long dark hair. I couldn’t see her features clearly from this height and angle, but I guessed that she’d be beautiful, a woman who wanted to be noticed. She had that look about her, indefinable. The man with her looked much more ordinary. They were arguing, which struck me, in these surroundings, as being almost a sacrilege.
    “Come on.” Den, reaching back, took my hand in a friendly grasp. “Come see the best view in Venice.”
    Rupert kept close; he always kept close when he thought that I needed protecting, and this long crowded open-air gallery so high above the

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