13 O’Clock Episode 299 LIVE: Bob Ross

American painter and art instructor Bob Ross has become an unquestionable cultural icon, with his trademark afro, his chill attitude, and his catchphrases such as “happy little trees” being instantly recognizable by millions of people across the globe. Born in Jenny’s hometown of Daytona Beach, Florida, Bob had a long military career before deciding to take up painting in order to relax. Learning the alla prima, or wet on wet, technique popularized by German artist Bill Alexander, Bob Ross went on to have his own wildly successful TV show that aired on public stations across the United States. Most people know this much, but Bob Ross’s life is actually pretty fascinating, from his secretive and somewhat tumultuous private life to his conflicts with his business partners, the Kowalskis, who made tons of money off Bob’s image after his death. Join Tom and Jenny on a serene, artistic journey on which there are no mistakes, only happy accidents.

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We Painters Use the Same License as Poets and Madmen: Paolo Veronese Faces the Inquisition

If you liked my graphic novel The Tenebrist, which told the fictionalized tale of batshit Renaissance painter Caravaggio, then you might like this article I wrote on Paolo Veronese and his run-in with the Inquisition in Venice. Give it a read, why don’t you? Oh, and also, don’t forget that I have a Patreon campaign up to raise some filthy lucre for my horrific writing endeavors, so please help out if you can! Thanks, and on with the show!


Born in Verona in 1528, Paolo Caliari, Il Veronese was one of the unquestioned leaders of the Italian Renaissance; along with the work of fellow Venetian School artists Titian and Tintoretto, Veronese’s paintings and drawings would serve as an influence on later artists as diverse as Rubens, Velázquez, Délacroix and Cézanne. He was lauded for his opulent use of color and the realism of his drawing; after settling in Venice in 1553 his work was much in demand by both secular and ecclesiastical patrons. But despite his fame and success, his well-known credo of complete artistic license would eventually land him in a spot of hot water.

Veronese’s Last Supper

In 1573, Veronese set to work on a commission for the convent of San Giovanni e Paolo. It was to be a Last Supper, a massive work on canvas, measuring about thirty-nine feet wide and seventeen feet high. The work is a sumptuous feast of reds and golds, with stately columned arches framing the action, which features not only Christ and the twelve disciples, but also a host of other figures. These include servants, dwarfs, jesters, soldiers, and other “extras” not usually found in artistic depictions of the scene.

Veronese was clearly taking liberties with the well-worn subject, but apparently the authorities did not appreciate the painter’s creativity. No sooner was the work delivered to the convent than Veronese was summoned before the Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition to answer to a charge of heresy.

The Inquisition in Venice

Though at that point in the 16th century the Inquisition still held full, terrible sway over most of central and western Europe, in Venice its power was decidedly limited by the Senate. Nonetheless, the Inquisition certainly had the power to harass and threaten (if not necessarily torture) subjects it deemed guilty of impiety, and in July of 1573 Veronese fell into the crosshairs.

At issue were the many extraneous figures appearing in the painter’s Last Supper. Veronese had painted the same subject several times before and drawn little comment, but in this particular picture he admitted the great size of the canvas had compelled him to embellish the scene with nearly three dozen unnecessary people. At the tribunal, the inquisitors asked Veronese if he felt it was “suitable” that the Last Supper contain “buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs and other such absurdities,” and went on to state that heretical German artists often added such figures into religious paintings in order to ridicule the Catholic church. The inquisitors also seemed highly offended by the figure of a servant with a bloody nose, the notable absence of the Magdalene, and the very obvious presence of a dog sitting directly in the foreground of the picture, looking out at the viewer.

Veronese’s Meager Defense

For his part, it was highly fortunate that the Inquisition didn’t have quite the teeth it had in other parts of Europe, for as Veronese listened to the litany of charges against his work, he could offer only feeble justifications. He claimed he had only added the figures as “ornament” to fill up the space, and that the offending dwarfs, servants and buffoons were supposed to be understood as occupying a separate room from Christ and the disciples. He further argued that the house of Simon, where the Last Supper took place, might realistically have contained such people.

Finally, he pulled out the “everyone else does it” defense, pointing out that the exalted Michelangelo had painted Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Peter and other religious figures in the nude in the Pope’s Chapel in Rome. “We painters use the same license as poets and madmen,” Veronese explained to the inquisitors, pleading his case for leniency. “I had not thought that I was doing wrong.”

The Aftermath of the Trial

After his grilling before the tribunal, Veronese was ordered to “correct” the painting within three months. Specifically, the Magdalene was to be painted in place of the dog, and the offending “drunken Germans” were to be blotted out entirely. On this condition, Veronese was set free, much to his great relief.

As meek and frightened as the painter had been while facing the inquisitors, once he was released he took a rather cavalier attitude toward their judgment. The news of his trial made his work more popular and sought-after than ever, and Veronese took up his brush with zeal in order to keep up with the new commissions. But he never took his brush to the notorious Last Supper, leaving dog, dwarfs, and drunken Germans just as he had originally painted them. His only sop to the Inquisition was changing the work’s title from The Last Supper to The Feast in the House of Levi. It is under this title that the famed heretical canvas can still be seen today, at the Galleria della Academia in Venice.

Veronese, the passive-aggressive badass.

Veronese, passive-aggressive badass.

Janson, H.W. (2001). History of Art. Abrams Books. ISBN: 0130197327.
MacFall, Haldane (1911). A History of Painting. D. D. Nickerson and Company. ASIN: B000YFTXCW.

A Trailer for My Fabulous Graphic Novel “The Tenebrist”


I’ve used some of my admittedly lackluster video-fu to make this short trailer for my illustrated/graphic designed/collage-type book The Tenebrist. It’s a somewhat fictionalized account of the tragic (and murderous) career of the mad genius painter Caravaggio, and it’s illustrated with a bunch of his gorgeously luminous paintings. Watch the trailer, if you please, and then buy your brand-spanking new copy right here. Thanks ever so much.

The Goddess Picks Her Top Five Books and Stories That Desperately Need Film Adaptations

As we all know, the book is almost always a thousand times better than the movie, but sometimes that doesn’t stop me from seeing a movie in my head as I read and desperately wishing I had unlimited funds and some measure of directing talent so I could bring my vision of these stories to the masses. My choices may be a bit idiosyncratic, but if any Hollywood execs are reading this, you’d have at least one ticket sale right here, so think about it, won’t you? For the Goddess. Oh, and by the way, if any of you aforementioned execs want to option any of MY wonderful books or stories for film, give me a shout. We’ll have a cappuccino and a chat and then maybe you can fork me over a largish check. The movie can even suck, I don’t care, so no pressure on you from my end. Thank you, and on with the list:


5. And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Nick Cave is like the mad genius of all media. He’s a singer/songwriter, film score composer, screenwriter, novelist, actor, and lecturer, and miraculously, he is ridiculously brilliant at all these endeavors. It’s really not fair to the rest of us, as infinitely less awesome mortals, but I content myself with believing that Nick is actually Satan himself and has chosen to capture human souls through the sheer dark force of the splendid entertainment he produces. Nick’s first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, is a whacked-out, Faulkneresque brew of Old Testament fury and Southern Gothic excess, and any adaptation would of course have to be scripted and scored by the man himself. I’m seeing it done in sepia tones, perhaps with a hand-cranked camera to give it that otherworldly feel; bonus points if it’s also done as a silent film (since main character Euchrid Euchrow is a mute). In theaters, it should be preceded by a short film: a sinister, stop-motion animation adaptation of Nick’s 1986 song, “The Carny.”


4. Strapless by Deborah Davis

Perhaps an unusual choice, as it’s non-fiction, but I have long been enchanted with the story of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, the haughty society woman who posed for John Singer Sargent’s most famous painting, Madame X. (I even wrote an article about her on this very blog.) It could be a fascinating study of vanity and how pride goeth before a fall, and the set design and costumes would be FANTASTIC. In fact, I wanted to see this on film so badly that I actually wrote a (not very good) screenplay a couple of years ago that interwove Virginie’s biography with a modern tale of an unstable woman participating in an art heist, but screenwriting isn’t really my strong suit, so if anyone out there would care to take the reins, I swear I won’t be mad.


3. Drood by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons’s gigantic novel, a Victorian medley of supernatural horror, drug abuse, and fictionalized biography, sees Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins on the trail of the mysterious man-creature known as Edwin Drood (who was, in real life, the main character of Dickens’s final unfinished novel). This would be a fabulously spooky cobblestone-streets-and-top-hats film in the line of From Hell or The Prestige. Missed opportunity alert: back in 2009, Universal Pictures hinted at a Drood adaptation that would possibly be directed by Guillermo del Toro (TAKE ALL MY MONEY. ALL OF IT), but sadly, that project seems to have gone nowhere.


2. “The Triumph of Death” by H. Russell Wakefield

Early 20th century author Herbert Russell Wakefield is considered one of Britain’s finest writers of supernatural horror. His 1949 short story “The Triumph of Death” is one of my favorite stories of all time, and although it was adapted once for British television in 1968 as part of an anthology series called “Late Night Horror,” I really feel that its themes of cruelty, madness and revenge could be expanded to a feature-length movie. The story isn’t really set in a specific time or place, but I’d like to see the action unfold maybe around the 1920s, in either an English village or a small colonial-style enclave in Massachusetts or somewhere like that. It should be understated, but the flashes of Gilles de Rais-style torture shouldn’t be overlooked. The vile Miss Pendleham should be played like the high-collared stepmother from Disney’s Cinderella, but in human form, perhaps by Judi Dench or Maggie Smith. This is another story that I’ve actually been itching to write a screenplay for, and I even went so far as to try to contact various people about obtaining the adaptation rights, but I seem to have hit a dead end in that regard. More’s the pity.


1. The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

With the unbelievable explosion in popularity of films based on YA literature that occurred in the wake of Harry Potter, I must say that I am absolutely flabbergasted that no one has thought to adapt this as a film. This and The Westing Game were absolutely my favorite books growing up, and I read them again and again. They both hold up amazingly well even when read as an adult. There should probably also be a good, big-budget adaptation of The Westing Game, now that I think of it, but The House With a Clock in its Walls is such a wonderfully creepy and fun story, and it could be done super dark or a tad more lighthearted, either as live action or perhaps as Tim Burton-esque stop-motion. It would actually be great if a filmmaker could capture the eerie look of Edward Gorey’s delightful illustrations, which for me added so much to the magic of the book. I feel that it should be set in a sort of mythical 1950s, and that the main character of Lewis should be a straight-laced but likable boy whose chubby awkwardness makes him at once pitiable and relatable. Uncle Jonathan should be his affably wizardly self, and witch neighbor Florence should be like a cool grandmother type. I’m seeing the resurrection scene, when Lewis accidentally raises evil wizards Isaac and Selenna Izard from the dead, as super, super scary, like maybe with a Sleepy Hollow kind of vibe. Also, the house itself should be a rambling, creepy, Victorian pile (perhaps they could even shoot the film in the real-life house the story was based on, Cronin House in Michigan), and the interiors should be suitably gothic. The sound design would of course have to include the constant ticking of that terrible doomsday clock. It would make a terrific film for kids and adults, and it’s even the first book in a series (cha-ching, Hollywood execs), though the rest of the books didn’t grab me the way this one did. Amazingly, the only filmed adaptation of this book that I know of was as one lame, cheesy third of a Vincent Price-hosted 1979 TV anthology, “Once Upon a Midnight Scary.” YOU GUYS, THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN. Gather up all of your money and diamonds and cookies and gold bars and Red Lobster gift cards and send them to whoever can greenlight this. DO IT NOW. Thank you, and Goddess out.

The Greatest Unsolved Art Thefts

While most of the thousands of art thefts around the world are solved rather quickly, a few cases have proved frustrating for authorities. The original article I wrote can be found here.


According to the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA), art theft is the third most lucrative criminal enterprise after drug trafficking and arms dealing. Though the public may think of the thieves as isolated and obsessed art lovers, the reality is that the vast majority of stolen art is taken by agents of organized crime syndicates for the purposes of ransom, negotiation, or funding of other criminal activities, such as terrorism.

Italy is the nation with the most art thefts by far — roughly 25,000 per year, leaving second-place Russia in the dust, with a “mere” 2,000 artworks stolen per year. In many cases, the thieves are apprehended and the artwork is recovered in relatively short order. In a few infamous cases, however, priceless artworks remain missing, and criminals remain at large.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Very early on the morning of March 18, 1990, two white males in police uniforms showed up at the side entrance of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. They claimed they had received a disturbance call; museum guards let them in. The phony police officers, who appeared to be unarmed, overpowered the guards, tied them up, and locked them in the basement. Then, for the next hour and a half, the thieves proceeded to filch several valuable and irreplaceable works of art, simply cutting the paintings neatly from their frames.

Among the stolen artworks were Vermeer’s The Concert, Manet’s Chez Tortoni, and three works by Rembrandt, including his only marine-themed painting, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. The two men also made off with five Degas drawings, a painting by Govaert Flinck, and a bronze beaker from the Chinese Shang Dynasty. Altogether, the works have an estimated value of $300 million. The FBI worked diligently to find the perpetrators, following several leads, a few of which hinted at the involvement of the IRA. Despite their efforts, and the $5 million reward offered for return of the artwork, the empty frames of the stolen masterpieces still hang on the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, nearly two decades later.

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Sometime during the New Year’s revelry surrounding the transition from 1999 to 2000, thieves crept through some continuing construction work and broke the glass ceiling of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. They lowered themselves to the floor on rope ladders and snatched the museum’s only Cézanne, a painting called Auvers-sur-Oise, valued at nearly $5 million. The Ashmolean was founded in 1683, making it the oldest public museum in the world, and through the years it has seen its fair share of thefts, both attempted and successful. The security had been beefed up in 1992, but this measure did not prevent the loss of the prized Cézanne, which is still missing.

The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh — View of the Sea at Scheveningen and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen — were swiped in December 2002 by two men who broke in through the roof of the building. The men were caught and convicted only a year later, but of the two paintings, valued at about $30 million, there has been no sign.

A Catch-All of More Top Art Thefts

  • In February 2006, four armed men stormed into the Museu Chacara do Ceu in Rio de Janeiro and made off with four modern masterpieces by Dali, Matisse, Picasso and Monet.
  • A Cavalier, a self-portrait by Dutch master Frans Van Mieris valued at $1 million, was stolen in June 2007 from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, while the gallery was open to the public.
  • Two oil paintings by Maxfield Parrish were cut from their frames and taken from a gallery in West Hollywood, California in July 2002. The paintings, part of a series commissioned by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, are valued at $4 million.
  • In February 2008, four paintings were stolen from the E.G. Bührle Collection in Zurich, Switzerland. Two were recovered, but Count Lepic and His Daughters by Degas and Boy in the Red Vest by Cézanne are still missing.
  • Caravaggio’s Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco, worth $20 million, was taken from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Italy in October 1969. Its whereabouts are still unknown forty years later.

The FBI maintains files on all these crimes and more.

John Singer Sargent’s Madame X

Though Madame X is today regarded as one of the great American paintings, Sargent’s masterwork shattered the reputation of its subject, Amelie Gautreau. The original article I wrote can be found here.


The woman known as Madame X was born Virginie Amélie Avegno in New Orleans in January 1859. Her parents were wealthy plantation owners, but after a series of tragedies — her father’s fall in the Battle of Shiloh, the death of her sister Valentine from fever — the eight-year-old Amélie moved to Paris with her mother.

The Avegno matriarch immediately began grooming her daughter for a good marriage. The goal was realized when Amélie was nineteen; the suitor was forty-year-old Pierre-Louis Gautreau, a banker and shipping magnate. As unglamorous as the match appeared, Amélie understood that once she was a married woman, there would no longer be the need to play the virginal maiden. As soon as the ink dried on the marriage certificate, Amélie set about plotting to conquer Paris.

A Free Woman

With money no object, Amélie was free to commission dresses from top designers; to attract maximum attention, she favored chic, simple gowns that accentuated her figure, rather than the fussy frocks popular at the time. She painted her lips scarlet, drew in her eyebrows in mahogany, and reddened the tips of her ears; it was speculated that she ate small amounts of arsenic to maintain her otherworldly pallor.

Her efforts were massively successful; from the moment she made her society debut in 1877, Parisian tongues were wagging about the singular American beauty. Slender and supernaturally pale, with waves of copper-colored hair swept back from her dramatic, sculptured features, Amélie Gautreau was clearly something new, a striking vision of the modern Parisian woman. Her ascent was rapid, the adoration of her public nearly absolute; but it was her association with respected painter John Singer Sargent that would precipitate her downfall.

The Artist and the Painting

Sargent had already won several prizes at the Paris Salons before he met his most famous subject in 1881. Two years later, after much pleading, Amélie agreed to pose for him, and Sargent rented a studio near the Gautreau home. A black dress was decided upon almost immediately, but Sargent went through many pencil and watercolor sketches trying to settle on the best pose. Because Amélie was flighty and hated to sit still, Sargent eventually ended up staying with the Gautreaus at their summer home in Brittany, so his subject would always be close at hand. Finally, after a long period of artist’s block, Sargent set to work.

Though the process of painting what would eventually become Madame X was trying for both artist and sitter — the pose Amélie had to hold was uncomfortable, and Sargent had a hard time matching her lavender skin tone, among many other problems — by March of 1884 it was ready to be sent to the annual Salon. Amélie herself, though she had not yet seen the finished product, thought the work to be a masterpiece, and apparently all of Paris was abuzz with news of the portrait before the public had actually seen it.

The Public Reaction and the Downfall

When the moment of truth came, however, both Amélie and Sargent were unprepared for the venom of the attacks. The portrait, critics cried, was ugly, obscene, scandalous; the fallen strap of the dress and its body-hugging quality screamed vulgarity, while Amélie’s famously pale flesh looked corpse-like. Overnight, Amélie went from the darling of Paris society to a laughingstock, and cruel caricatures of her appeared in newspapers and magazines. Sargent, for his part, received a severe blow to his reputation as well; besides that, after the fiasco surrounding the painting, the Gautreaus refused to buy it.

Later on, Sargent repainted the offending shoulder strap in its proper place. Despite all the setbacks, his career eventually recovered and flourished, and for the rest of his life he claimed Madame X was the best work he had ever done. He sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1916.

Amélie Gautreau continued to appear in society for three years after the scandal, but the press were far less effusive in their praise. As her thirtieth birthday approached, Amélie made a play for renewed attention by getting her portrait painted by other artists, but critics were quick to point out that Amélie was past her prime. After many slights about her faded glory, she became a recluse, rarely leaving her house, even as the once-disparaged Madame X was slowly building a following. She died in July of 1915, perhaps in the end a victim of her own vanity.


Davis, Deborah (2004). Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X. Tarcher. ISBN 158542336X.

Caravaggio’s Criminal History

Caravaggio is considered one of the greatest and most influential artists in history, but his genius had an extremely dark side. The original article I wrote can be found here, and be sure to check out my graphic novel, The Tenebrist, a fictionalized account of Caravaggio’s tragic life and death.


Michelangelo Merisi was likely born in Milan in 1571, and later took the name Caravaggio after the small town where he grew up. During his short life he produced little more than forty paintings that survived, but what he lacked in quantity he more than made up for in spectacular skill, which brought him great fame and the admiration of many wealthy patrons. After his rather ignominious death, the groundbreaking techniques he applied in his work would inspire and influence artists for years to come. But Caravaggio’s great intelligence and limitless talent was undercut by a fiery temperament that often landed him on the wrong side of the law.

Caravaggio’s Early Life (and Crimes?)

The artist grew up in a middle-class family, and was apprenticed to Milanese painter Simone Peterzano in 1584, where he learned the craft of painting in oils, along with drawing and anatomy. At this point Caravaggio was a young teenager, but there is some hint that a taste for the low life was already starting to develop; though nothing appears in police records of the time, one of Caravaggio’s early biographers claims that some unknown crime was responsible for the artist fleeing Milan.

Caravaggio in Rome

Caravaggio finished his apprenticeship when he was seventeen, and spent some time back in his hometown over the next three years. When his mother died in 1592, he inherited a tidy sum, and used some of it to move to Rome later that year. He lived in poverty at first, but slowly his reputation grew, and by 1594 he was beginning to attract wealthy patrons. By the end of the 1590s, Caravaggio had become quite rich and famous, and was one of the most sought-after artists in Rome.

The ensuing years also saw the buildup of Caravaggio’s extensive rap sheet. Between 1600 and 1606, he appeared in police records fourteen times, and was jailed on at least six occasions. Most of these were minor offenses—insulting police, carrying a sword without permission, tossing a plate of artichokes at a waiter—but a few involved serious violence. While the Rome of the early 17th century was not the most law-abiding of cities, Caravaggio’s penchant for troublemaking was notable, especially in one so feted. His fame and powerful friends often came in handy, vouching for him and springing him from jail, but in 1606 he would drastically raise the stakes.

Caravaggio Commits Murder

It was May, and a friendly tennis game was about to turn ugly. Caravaggio lost money to his opponent, Ranuccio Tomassoni, and started an argument that soon escalated into a brawl, as both men began hitting each other with their tennis rackets. A challenge was issued, and later that evening Caravaggio and Tomassoni turned up armed for a duel. Caravaggio wounded Tomassoni on the thigh, and when Tomassoni fell to the ground, Caravaggio ran him through with the sword. Wounded himself, Caravaggio immediately went on the lam, spending several months in surrounding fiefdoms that fell outside the jurisdiction of Roman papal authority. He later turned up in Naples and continued painting commissions.

Caravaggio in Malta

In 1607, Caravaggio received news that the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, based on the island of Malta, had offered him a knighthood and some lucrative commissions. Caravaggio seized the opportunity, and was soon enjoying the patronage of the powerful Knights, and producing several major works over the next year. But even here, trouble found him; after causing some unspecified “insult” to one of the Knights, he was thrown into prison. With no wealthy patrons to bail him out, Caravaggio took matters into his own hands and escaped, fleeing to Sicily. The Knights subsequently stripped him of his knighthood, and there is evidence they set out in pursuit of their absconded jailbird.

Caravaggio’s Last Years

Weary and paranoid, Caravaggio still managed to complete three large altarpieces in Sicily before moving on to Messina in early 1609, where his temper caused more minor problems. Back in Naples later that year, he was nearly killed in a bar fight, but still managed to finish at least one painting in his nine months there.

Proving that he still had connections in high places, in 1610 Cardinal Gonzaga absolved Caravaggio of Tomassoni’s murder, thus allowing the artist to return to Rome without fear of prosecution. Taking a circuitous sea route back to Rome for reasons known only to him, Caravaggio landed in southern Tuscany and was immediately jailed, this time simply because he was mistaken for someone else.

Upon his release two days later, all his possessions had disappeared, and he seemed to have contracted an unknown illness, possibly malaria. He set off walking along the beach, and made it as far as Porto Ercole before collapsing, feverish and delusional. He was found and taken to a hospital, but only lived another two days, dying on July 18, 1610 at the age of 38. Fortunately for him, subsequent centuries have seen his artistic genius overshadow his troubled life.


Moir, Alfred (1989). Caravaggio. Harry N. Abrams Inc. ISBN: 0810931508.

Robb, Peter (2001). M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio. Picador. ISBN: 0312274742.

Excerpt from “The Tenebrist”



The remainder of the afternoon was spent trying to convince Michel of his folly, but deep down I’m sure we all knew it was futile. Only Onorio seemed unconcerned. “Did you see the look on the boy’s face?” he said with a snide grin. “He isn’t even going to come. Don’t worry.”

But I was worrying, and I knew the Cesari brothers were too. They had just nursed Michel back from the brink of death, and I don’t imagine they were keen to see their recovered patient cut to ribbons over a ten scudi bet. Thinking I might be able to talk some sense into him, I took Michel aside and pleaded with him, using every appeal I could think of, but Michel was locked, single-minded; he looked at me as though I was nothing but a particularly annoying insect.

The light in the sky began to wane, and my anxiety grew to a towering edifice. Michel began making his way back to the courts, and though he did not make any indication that he wished us to accompany him, we all followed closely; if anything should go wrong, it would be better for all of us to be there to prevent or correct it. The thought of Michel slowly bleeding to death, alone in the middle of the ball courts, was too much for me to bear.

When we first arrived, I was relieved to see the courts empty of people; perhaps Onorio had been right, and Ranuccio was a coward after all. My relief, however, was short-lived, for after a few minutes Ranuccio and his friends—more of them than earlier—strode onto the court, full of false bluster, though I could see that Ranuccio was pale and had already begun to sweat.

It started with little fanfare as both men raised their swords. I backed away, wanting more than anything to cover my eyes, but unwilling to do so. If my love were to die before me, I would be dishonoring him by looking away.

The first clash of the metal blades was deafening, and there was a general murmur among the assembled bystanders. I suppose they were all wondering, as I was, how an innocent game had come to this, to the point where death hovered in the air.

Ranuccio was obviously frightened, but he fought well. Michel was strangely calm, wielding his sword in the cavalier way he handled his brush, confident to the point of callousness. He fought now as if he had no fear of dying at all.

Ranuccio made a lunge and Michel grunted; I gasped as I saw blood bloom on the sleeve of his white shirt. But it appeared a superficial wound, and only served to make Michel fight back more aggressively, pressing forward into Ranuccio’s range with his chin thrust out.

The sun had nearly sunk behind the horizon and the two men’s faces were nothing but shadowed blurs. Other than the clanging of their swords and the ragged huffs of their breathing, the courts were engulfed in a pocket of silence.

Ranuccio had almost got another blow in, at the chest this time, which likely would have been fatal, but Michel blocked it, only just. Both of them were getting tired, but only Michel seemed to retain that cold but somehow hellish glint in his eye.

A moment later, in the space of an eyeblink, Michel had fairly leaped forward and struck at Ranuccio.

The blow was low, a clean, deep slash on Ranuccio’s thigh, and the boy crumpled to the ground with a wail. The blood was immediate and copious, and I was horrified, but also exultant, for Michel had won, and with only minor wounds. I took a step forward, whether to congratulate Michel or help tend to Ranuccio I didn’t know. But then Michel’s head snapped up and his eyes met mine. I stopped in my tracks, terrified by what I saw there.

It seemed a very long time that he and I stared at each other over the fallen form of Ranuccio, though in reality it must have been only a few seconds. In Michel’s steady gaze I saw reflected all of the demons that haunted him, all of the troubled history between us. I saw melancholy and madness, and most frightening of all, I saw a sort of resignation, a recognition that the demons were too powerful, and that he wasn’t going to fight them anymore. There was a sense that this moment was one that could never be turned back from.

And then, very deliberately, Michel turned his gaze upon Ranuccio, bleeding and cowering at his feet. A long moment passed in which time seemed to have stopped altogether, and then he drew back his sword, and completely ran the boy through.