To tell the truth I did not feel like going for a walk after what had happened, but I could not leave
Stella anyway, therefore in order to make us both feel at least half-way good, we agreed not to go far but simply relax our agitated brains
a little and give some rest to our pain tortured hearts, enjoying the silence and peace of the mental floor...
We slowly swam in the tender silver haze, totally relaxing our overstrained nervous system and submerging into magnificent peace
incomparable with anything else, as suddenly Stella enthusiastically shouted:
– Blimey! You just look at that! It’s so beautiful!
I looked around and understood at once what she was talking about.
Indeed it was extraordinarily beautiful! It looked like somebody created a genuine sky-blue "crystal" kingdom as if it were child’s
play! Surprised, we looked at the incredibly enormous tracery of icy flowers, sprinkled with light-blue snowflakes; and the shining icy
trees the height of our three-story building which interlaced enter se and sparkled with blue flashes of light at the least motion of the
"crystal" foliage. Surrounded by flashes of the "northern lights", the majestic icy palace proudly towered above this magnificent beauty,
shining with the play of unseen silver-blue shades.
What was that?! Who could like this cold colour so much?
For some reason nobody came out to meet us. It was a little strange, because usually the hosts of all these marvellous worlds were
very hospitable and benevolent, except for those who just came to the "floor" (in other words, just died) and were not ready to communicate
with others yet, or simply preferred to suffer something very personal and severe alone.
– Who do you think lives in this strange world? – Stella whispered for some reason.
– Do you want us to find out? – I offered unexpectedly for me.
I did not understand where all my tiredness went and why all of a sudden I absolutely forgot about a promise which I gave to myself
minutes ago not to interfere in any event, even the most extraordinary one, till morrow or at least until I had rested a little. Certainly,
it was my insatiable curiosity which again snapped into action and which I still failed to learn to pacify, even when real necessity appeared...
Therefore, I tried to "disconnect", as much as my exhausted heart allowed, and not think of our unfortunate, sad and hard day, and
readily plunged into the "new and unexplored", anticipating some unusual and breathtaking adventure.
We smoothly "slowed down" right at the entrance to the remarkable "ice" world, as suddenly a human being appeared from behind the
blue sparkling tree. It was a very unusual girl – tall and slender and very beautiful. She would seem very young, almost a child, if it were
not for her eyes. They shone with quiet and light sorrow and were deep like a well of the purest spring water. The wisdom that lurked in
them was so overwhelming that I felt Stella and I have a long way to go to comprehend it.
The stranger was not surprised at all at our appearing, warmly smiled and quietly asked:
– Are you looking for somebody, little ones?
– We were simply passing by, saw this striking beauty and wanted to look at it. Pardon us, if we intruded upon your privacy. – I mumbled,
being slightly embarrassed.
– Of course, you did not! Get inside. It certainly will be more interesting there. – She waved us in with her hand and smiled again.
In a trice we slipped by her into the "palace", unable to hold our curiosity, which irrepressibly broke through, and were anticipating
something very "interesting".
The interior was so stunning that Stella and I fell into a stupor with our mouths open, like hungry one-day nestlings, unable to utter a word.
The palace had no, let’s say, "Floor". Everything soared in the sparkling silver air, giving the impression of shining infinity. Some fantastic
"seats" which looked like groups of blazing dense clouds smoothly rocking in the air, now thickening, now almost disappearing, as if attracting
our attention and inviting us to sit on them. Everything around was decorated with silver "ice" flowers, glittering and shimmering. The variety
of their forms and patterns of the thinnest petals, worthy of the most skilled jeweller’s work greatly amazed us. Giant, stunningly beautiful
"icicles" hung somewhere very high in the "ceiling", blinding us with their sky-blue light and converting this fairy-tale "cave" into some
fantastic "ice world" which seemingly had no end…
– Let’s go, my dear guests, grand-dad will be unspeakably glad to meet you! – The young lady pronounced warmly, gently gliding by us.
Finally I understood why she seemed unusual to us. As the stranger moved, she left a sparkling "tail" of some special blue matter which
shone and whirled around her fragile body like little tornados, scattering silver pollen behind her.
Before we had time to be amazed by it we saw a very tall old man with silver hair proudly sitting on a strange, very beautiful arm-chair,
as if emphasizing his significance for those who did not understand. He watched our approach quite calmly, being not surprised at all and
expressing no emotions, except for the warm, friendly smile.
The old man’s white attire, shimmering with silver, flowed back and merged with his absolutely white long hair, making him look like a
kind spirit. And only his eyes, mysterious in the same way as our beautiful stranger’s, astounded us with their endless patience, wisdom and
depth, and the infinity that shone through them made us shrivel...
– Good day to you, dear guests! – The old man greeted us affectionately. – What brings you here?
– Good day to you too, Grandfather! – Stella greeted him merrily.
I was vey surprised to hear for the first time since we had become friends Stella using the formal way of addressing somebody. (In
Russian there is a polite or formal form of address which unlike English is written and pronounced differently from the informal one – E.L.)
Stella had a very amusing manner of addressing everybody informally, as if thus emphasizing that everybody she meets, be it an adult or
a child, is her old good friend and her heart is open to everybody, which instantly and totally won her the favour even of the most reserved and
lonely people, and only very hard-hearted souls failed to open the door to her heart.
– Why is it so "cold" here? – As usual, the questions began to rain down. – I mean why do you have such "icy" colour everywhere?
The young lady looked at Stella in surprise.
– I never thought of it. – She pronounced thoughtfully. – Probably, because we’ve had enough heat to last the rest of
our lives. You see, we were burnt on Earth.
– What do you mean you were burnt?! – Stella was dumbfounded. – Truly burnt?
– Well, yes. It happened that I was a Vedma (witch) there. I knew a great deal... As did all my family too. My grand-dad
was a Vedun, and my mother was very powerful Vidunia then. It means she saw that which others could not.
She saw the future the same way we see the present. She also could see the past. She could do a lot of things and knew so much
that nobody else knew. Most likely, ordinary people hated it. They did not like the "knowing" ones. Although, when they needed help, they
came exactly to us. And we helped. And then those who we had helped betrayed us...
(Vedma is a knowing mother; vedat is to know; videt is to see. – E.L.)
The girl-witch’s eyes grew dark and looked at something very far away. For an instant she saw and heard nothing around, going to some
distant world which only she knew. Then she shivered and moved her shoulders, as if recalling something very frightful and quietly continued:
– So many centuries have passed, and I still feel how the flame devours me. That is probably why it is "cold" here as you say, dear. –
Addressing Stella, the girl finished.
– But you can’t in any way be a Witch! – Stella stated confidently. – Witches are old and ugly and very bad. So it is written in our
fairy-tales which my Gran read to me. And you are good! And so beautiful!
– Well, there are fairy-tales and fairy-tales. – The girl-witch sadly smiled. – In fact it is people who write them. And probably somebody
finds it much more comfortable that we are depicted as old and ugly. Thus it is easier to explain the inexplicable and cause hostility. A young
and beautiful woman, when burnt, will gain your sympathy much easier than an old and ugly one, right?
– Well, I am sympathetic about old women too… if they are not wicked, certainly. – Stella said, casting down her eyes. – Any person is
worthy of sympathy when confronting such a frightful end. – And, on moving her shoulders as if imitating the girl-witch, she continued: –
Were you really-really burnt?! Being absolutely alive? It must be so painful! But what is your name?
As usual words poured down out of the little girl like from a machine-gun. I could not stop her and was afraid that the hospitable hosts
would be offended in the end and we would turn from pleasant guests into a burden of which they would wish to be rid as quickly as possible.
But for some reason nobody was offended. Both the old man and his beautiful granddaughter answered any questions with friendly smiles,
and it seemed that they sincerely enjoyed our presence for some reason.
– My name is Anna, dear. And yes, I was "truly-truly" burnt once... But it was a very long time ago. Almost five hundred earthly years have
I looked at this amazing girl in absolute shock, unable to take my eyes off her and tried to imagine through what nightmare this surprisingly
beautiful and tender soul had to go!
They were burned at the stake for their Gift!!! Only because they could see and do more than others! But how could
human beings do such things?! Although long ago I understood that no beast was able to do what man sometimes did. It was so
wild that for a very brief instant I wished I were not called a human being.
This was the first time in my life when I really heard about the real Veduns and Vedmas, in the existence of which I
always believed. And when I saw at last the most real Vedma in person, naturally, I longed to ask heaps of questions. My
indefatigable curiosity "fidgeted" inside me, squealing with impatience, and begged to start asking immediately and of course, "about
In this moment, probably without noticing that I was deeply submerged in the strange world, so unexpectedly opened to me, I could not
correctly and in time react to the picture which suddenly mentally opened to me... and terribly real fire flared up around my body!
The tongues of the roaring fire "licked" my defenseless flesh, exploding inside my body and bereaving me of my mind... The wild, extremely
cruel pain overwhelmed me penetrating into every cell of my body! It rose to an extreme height and from there pounced upon me in a squall
of unknown suffering which could be neither calmed down, nor stopped. The fire dazzled me and twisted my spirit that howled with
superhuman horror into a lump of pain so that I could not breathe! I tried to cry but could not hear my voice. The world collapsed, breaking
into sharp splinters, and it seemed it could never be brought together. My body blazed like a terrible festive torch, reducing it to ashes; my
wounded soul was incinerating too. I uttered a dreadful cry… and suddenly I found myself in my "earthly" room, my teeth still chattering
with the unbearable pain which had seized me so unexpectedly. Still stunned, I stood in my room perplexedly looking around, unable to
understand who could do something like this to me and why.
Despite the wild terror I somehow succeeded in pulling myself together and calmed down a little. On thinking briefly, I understood at
last that most likely it had been just too real a vision, the perception of which fully repeated the nightmare that the girl-witch had once
Despite fear and the recent too vivid feelings, I tried to go back to the fairy-tale "ice palace" to my abandoned friend who, I was sure,
was beginning to be seriously worried. But I failed. I felt like a squeezed lemon and had no strength left even to think of this "journey",
let alone to accomplish it. I got angry at my "spinelessness" and tried to give it a go again, as some alien force pulled me into the already
familiar "ice" hall where my loyal Stella rushed about in alarm.
– Oh, boy?! I was so scared! What happened? Thank goodness, she helped; otherwise you would have flown who knows where! –
Choking with "just indignation", my little friend fired at once.
I did not understand yet myself how this kind of thing could happen to me, as I heard the tender voice of the unusual hostess of
the ice palace:
– My dear, but you are in fact a Darinia! How did you get here? And you are living!!! Do you still
feel pain? – I nodded with surprise. – You should not have looked at such a thing as this!
Anna affectionately took my head which still "boiled" with sizzling pain in her cool hands, and I soon felt the terrible pain slowly
retreating and then completely vanishing.
– What was that? – I asked almost dumbstruck.
– You simply looked at what happened to me. But you are unable to protect yourself yet and felt everything. You
are very curious. It’s your strength, but also your weakness, dear... What is your name?
– Svetlana. – I wheezed, gradually coming to my senses. – And she is Stella. Why do you call me a Darinia? It’s
the second time I have been called this and I would like to know very much what it means, if I may, of course.
– Don’t you know it?! – The girl-witch asked in surprise. I shook my head. – Darinia means "giving light and guarding the world"
and sometimes even rescuing it.
– Well, I must learn to save at least myself, let alone the world! – I sincerely laughed. – And what can I give, if I don’t know anything
yet, but only make mistakes... I don’t know how to do anything! – And, on thinking a little, I added in an aggrieved voice. – In fact nobody
teaches me! Only my grandmother does it sometimes and Stella. And I want to learn so much!
– The teacher comes when the student is READY to learn, dear. – The old man said quietly, smiling. – And you have
not understood yourself yet, even what you have already opened a long time ago.
In order not to show how his words strongly disappointed me, I tried to change the subject and asked the girl-witch the ticklish question
which annoyingly spun in my brain.
– Forgive my indiscretion, Anna, but how were you able to forget such horrible pain? Is it possible to forget something like this at all?
– I did not forget, dear. I simply understood and accepted it... otherwise it would be impossible to exist further. –
The girl sadly shook her head.
– How is it possible to understand such a thing?! And what one should understand in pain? – I did not give up. –
Must it teach you something special?! I am sorry, but I never believed in this kind of "study"! In my opinion only helpless
"teachers" use pain!
I boiled with indignation, unable to stop my scattering thoughts! And no matter how hard I tried, I could not calm down.
I sincerely felt pity about the girl-witch, but at the same time I was itching to know everything about her and that meant asking her a lot
of questions which might hurt her. It reminded me of the crocodile which, on devouring the unlucky victim, wept bitter tears... However
ashamed I was, I could not do anything with me. It was the first time in my short life, when I paid almost no attention to the fact that I can
hurt somebody with my questions. I felt a burning shame for that, but I also understood that for some reason it was extremely important
for me to speak about all that. So, I continued to ask "shutting my eyes to everything"... But to my great surprise and delight, the girl-witch
was not offended at all and calmly continued to answer my naive child's questions, showing no displeasure whatsoever.
– I understood the reason for what had happened, and also that it probably was my test, on passing which, I discovered the
surprising world where my grand-dad and I live now, and a lot of other things...
– Was it really necessary to go through such atrocity to get here?! – Stella was horrified.
– I think, yes, although I can not say it for certain. Everybody has their own way... – Anna pronounced sadly. – But
what is most important here is that I succeded in passing it and did not break. My soul remained pure and kind. I am not angry with the
world and people who executed me. I understood why they destroyed us – those who were "different", who they called Veduns
and Vedmas, and sometimes the "demon’s children". They were simply afraid of us. They were afraid of our
being stronger than them and incomprehensible. They hated us for what we could do, for our Gift. And also they envied us
too much. In fact very few knew that many of our killers secretly tried to learn everything we could do, but failed. Probably, because
their souls were too dark…
– How is that – learn?! Did not they curse you? Did not they burn you because they thought you were
creations of Devil? – I was totally taken aback.
– That’s right. – Anna nodded. – But at first our executioners tortured us brutally, trying to know the forbidden, which only we knew.
And then they burned us, cutting out the tongues of many in order that we would not accidentally give away what they had done to us. You
can ask my mother. She went through a lot of things, probably more than anybody else. That is why she could choose to go away so far
after death, which none of us could.
– Where is your mother now? – Stella asked.
– Oh, she dwells somewhere in the "stranger" worlds. I will never be able to go there! – Anna whispered with a strange pride in her voice. –
But we call her sometimes, and she comes. She loves and remembers us. – And suddenly sunnily smiling, added: – And she tells about such
miracles!!! I wish I could see them!
– Can’t she help you go there? – Stella was surprised.
– I think, no. – Anna became sad. – She was much stronger than all of us on Earth, and her "test" was much more terrible than mine.
Probably that is why she deserved greater things. And she was much more talented, of course.
– But why did you need such a frightful test? – I asked carefully. – Why was your Fate so Wicked? In fact you were
not bad; you helped others who did not have a Gift. Why did they do this to you?
– In order that our soul got strong, I think, that it could endure a lot and not break. There were a lot of those who broke. They cursed
their Gift and renounced it before death.
– How is it possible?! Is it really possible to renounce yourself?! – Stella jumped up with indignation.
– It is, dear. You’d better believe it! – The amazing old man, who before was watching us without interfering in our conversation, pronounced
– See, grand-dad confirmed it to you. – The girl smiled. – Not all of us are ready for this kind of test. And not all can endure such pain.
But the matter is not even in pain, but in the strength of our human spirit. In fact after pain there was fear of what we
went through which tenaciously sat in our memory even after death and gnawed the remaining crumbs of our courage like a worm. It
was exactly this fear that mostly broke people who went through this horror. One had only to intimidate them a little already
in this (posthumous) world and they surrendered at once, becoming obedient "dolls" in stranger hands. And, naturally,
these hands were not "white" at all... that was why and how "black" magicians, "black" sorcerers and similar to them appeared on Earth later,
when their spirits came back there. We called them magicians "on the string". So, I think we did not undergo those severe trials in vain.
Grand-dad did all of it. But he is very strong, much stronger than me. He managed to "go away" without waiting for an end. My mother could
too. Only I could not.
– What do you meant to "go away"?! He had died before he was burnt?! Is that really possible? – I was shocked.
The girl nodded.
– But not everybody can do it, of course. It needs a lot of courage to dare to cut off one’s own life. I did not have enough of it, but my
grand-dad did! – Anna smiled proudly.
I saw how strongly she loved her kind and wise grandfather. My heart became empty and sad for a short instant, as if the deep and incurable
anguish came back into it again.
– I had a very unusual grand-dad too. – I whispered.
The familiar bitterness squeezed my throat and I could not continue.
– Did you love him very much? – The girl asked sympathetically.
I only nodded in reply, indignant with myself for such "inexcusable" weakness.
– Who was your grandfather, girl? – The old man asked affectionately. – I don’t see him.
– I don’t know who he was... and never knew. I think you don’t see him because he came to live in me after death. Probably, that is why
I can do what I do... although very little...
– No, dear. He only helped you to "open". It’s you and your spirit that do everything. You have a big Gift, dear.
– What is this Gift worth, if I don’t know almost anything about it?! – I exclaimed bitterly. – If I was unable even to save my friends today.
Upset, I plumped into a fluffy seat without noticing its "sparkling" beauty, being greatly annoyed with myself for my helplessness and
suddenly felt that my eyes treacherously began to be wet... By no means, did I wish to cry in the presence of these surprising and brave
people! Therefore, in order to concentrate somehow I mentally began to "mill" the grains of information that I had unexpectedly got, in
order to keep it carefully in my memory, without losing a single important word or missing any clever thought...
– How did your friends die? – The girl-witch asked.
Stella showed the picture.
– They might be alive. – The old man sadly shook his head. – There was no need for their death.
– What do you mean, there was no need?! – The dishevelled Stella jumped up with indignation. – In fact they rescued other good
people! They had no choice!
– Forgive me, little one, but THERE IS ALWAYS A CHOICE. It is important to be able to choose correctly.
Here, look. – And the old man showed the picture which Stella showed him a minute ago.
– Your friend-warrior tried to fight the evil here the same way he fought it on Earth. But it is different life here, and
its laws are completely different. Likewise the weapon is different too... Only you two did it correctly,
and your friends made a mistake. They could live for a long time... Of course, everybody has the right to free choice, and everybody has the
right to decide how he must use his life, but only when he knows how he would act and knows all possible
ways. And your friends did not know. Therefore they made a mistake and paid the highest price, but they had wonderful
and pure souls, so be proud of them. Only nobody ever could bring them back...
Stella and I were absolutely dispirited, and in order cheer up us somehow, Anna offered:
– What do you think if I try to call my mother in order that you could talk to her? I think it might be interesting.
I was absolutely enthusiastic with the new chance to know the desired! Most likely Anna had the measure of me, because it was truly
the only way to make me forget everything for some time. Like the girl-witch said, my curiosity was my strength, but also my greatest
– Do you think she will come? – I asked hoping for the impossible.
– We never know if we don’t try, right? In fact nobody will punish us for that. – Anna answered smiling at the produced effect.
She closed her eyes, and a blue filament, pulsating gold, stretched out somewhere into the uncertainty from her thin shining figure. We
waited motionless, holding our breath, in order not to frighten off anything accidentally... Several seconds passed. Nothing happened. I already
was ready to open my mouth and say that probably nothing would come in today, as suddenly I saw a tall transparent spirit, slowly approaching
us along the blue channel. As she approached, the channel "rolled up" behind her back, and the spirit gradually became as dense as we were.
At last everything was completely rolled up around her, and now a woman of unbelievable beauty appeared in front of us! She obviously was
once an earthly creature, but at the same time there was something in her that made her not one of us... a different one, a distant
one... It was not because I knew that she "went" to other worlds after death. She simply was different.
– Hello, my dearest! – The beautiful lady tenderly greeted us, touching her heart with her right hand.
Anna shone. And her grand-dad approached us and fixed his getting wet eyes on the face of the stranger, as if trying to "imprint" her amazing
image in his memory, not skipping a single smallest detail, as if being afraid of seeing her for the last time. He looked and looked, not taking his
eyes off her, and it seemed that he did not even breathe. The beautiful lady could not endure it anymore and threw herself in his warm embrace,
and froze there like a little child, absorbing his wonderful peace and good, pouring from his soul, loving and worn out with suffering...
– Come on, dear... There, there... – The old man whispered, lulling the stranger in his large warm arms.
The woman stood, hiding her face on his chest, looking for protection and peace, like a child, forgetting about everybody else and enjoying
the instant which belonged only to those two.
– Is that is your mother? – Stella whispered, stunned. – And why does she look like this?
– Do you mean, why she is so beautiful? – Anna asked proudly.
– She is certainly beautiful, but I mean another thing... She is different.
The spirit truly was different. She looked like a being woven of the glimmering fog, which now nebulized, making her transparent, now
became more compact and then her perfect body became almost physically dense.
Her brilliant ebony hair fell in soft waves almost to her feet and just like the body, now became dense or nebulized into a sparkling haze.
Her yellow and enormous eyes like those of a lynx which shone with a sharp light and shimmered with thousands of unknown golden shades
were as deep and impenetrable as eternity. A pulsating power star, yellow like her unusual eyes, shone on her pure and high forehead. The air
around the woman trembled with gold sparks, and it seemed that her light body would fly up to infinity like a wonderful golden bird. She was
really very beautiful with some unseen, enchanting and unearthly beauty.
– Hello, little ones. – The stranger turned around and greeted us calmly and added, addressing Anna: – What made you call me, dear? Has
Anna smiled, tenderly hugged her mother’s shoulders and pointing at us whispered:
– I thought they should meet you. You could help them in what I cannot. It seems to me they are worthy of it. But forgive me, please, if
I am mistaken. – Then she merrily addressed us: – Here, dearest. This is my mother! Her name is Isidora. She was the strongest Vidunia
in the frightful time about which we have just spoken.
(She had an amazing name – Is-i-do-Ra, which means "The one who came out of light and knowledge,
eternity and beauty, and always aspiring to attain greater". But I only understand that now; then, I was amazed at the way it sounded. It was
free, merry and proud, gold and fiery like a bright rising Sun.)
Thoughtfully smiling, Isidora very attentively scrutinized our excited faces, and for some reason I very much wanted her to like me. There
were no special reasons for that, except that I was wildly interested in the story of this marvellous woman. But I did not know their customs,
or for how long they have not seen each other, therefore I decided to be silent for the moment. But Isidora began the conversation, apparently
not wishing to tantalize me more.
– What did you want to know, little ones?
– I would like to ask you about your Earthly life, of course, if it’s all right with you and if it will not be too hard for you to remember. – I
asked feeling a little shy.
Her golden eyes became instantly filled with such deep and unbearable anguish that at once I wanted to take my words back. But Anna
softly hugged me, as if understanding everything and telling me that it was all right.
Her beautiful mother looked like her deeply wounded soul soared somewhere very far away, in her still unforgotten and apparently very
painful past. I stood motionless, being afraid to stir, expecting that she would say no and go away wishing to share nothing with us. Finally,
Isidora roused herself, as if waking up from a frightful sleep that only she knew and with a friendly smile at us asked:
– What exactly do you want to know, dear?
– I accidentally looked at Anna and for a short instant felt what she had gone through. It was awful and I don’t
understand why humans did such a thing?! And whether they were humans at all after that? – I felt that
indignation started boiling again in me and did my very best to calm down, in order not to seem a "silly little child" to her. – I have a Gift too,
although I don’t know how valuable and strong it is. I know almost nothing about it, but I would like to know very much, because now I
see that gifted people even died for it. It means that the gift is valuable, but I don’t know even how to use it for the benefit of others. In fact
it is given to me not just for being proud of it, right? So, I would like to understand what I should do with it and what you did with it, how
you lived. Forgive me, if it does not seem to you important enough. I will not be offended at all, if you decide to leave now.
I hardly understood what I was saying and worried like I never did. Something inside me prompted me that I needed this meeting very
much and I should get Isidora talking, no matter how hard it would be for both of us.
But she, as well as her daughter, had nothing against my child's request, and on submerging into her distant past, she began the story.
– Once upon a time there was a beautiful city – Venice. It was the most wonderful city on Earth! Anyway, so it seemed to me then...
– I think you’ll be glad to know that it still exists! – I exclaimed. – And it is truly very beautiful!
Isidora sadly nodded and easily waved with her hand, as if raising the heavy "curtain of time". Incredible scenery appeared before our eyes.
The light-blue pure blue sky was reflected in the deep blue water right out of which the amazing city rose. It seemed that the pink domes
and snow-white towers had miraculously grown straight from the bosom of the sea and now proudly stood shining in the rays of the rising sun,
flaunting before each other the grandeur of numberless marble columns and merry flashes of multicoloured stained-glass windows. The light
breeze merrily drove white little "caps" of curly waves to the wharf, which broke in thousands of shining sparks and playfully washed marble
steps which went straight to the water. Channels glittered like long mirror-like snakes and played on the neighbouring houses with a merry
spots of reflected light. Everything breathed with light and joy and looked magically fairy-tale-like.
This was Venice... The city of eternal Love and wonderful Arts, the capital of Books, great Minds and magnificent Poets...
I knew Venice, naturally, only through photos and pictures, but now this splendid city seemed a little different – more real and colourful
and truly alive.
– I was born there and considered it an honour. – Isidora’s voice began to purl like a quiet brook. – We lived in an enormous palazzo
(this is what we called the most expensive houses), in the heart of the city, because my family was very rich.
The windows of my room faced east and the channel. I loved to wake up at dawn, watching the first sunrays which graually lit the golden
flashes on the water covered by the morning fog...
The sleepy gondoliers idly began their everyday route, expecting early clients. Usually the city still slept, and only the curious and the
hard-working merchants, which were always the first to open their shops, were about. I loved to come there before the streets and the main
square was filled with people. I especially adored book shops, which I called on most often. The booksellers knew me very well and always
reserved something "special" for me. I was only ten at that time, just as you are now... Right?
I only nodded, being charmed by the beauty of her voice, unwilling to interrupt the story which seemed a quiet and dreamy melody...
– By the age of ten I could do a lot of things. I could fly, walk on air, treat people for the gravest illnesses and see forthcoming
events. My mother taught me everything she knew.
– What do you mean – "fly"?! Being in a physical body?! Like a bird? – The dumbfounded Stella could not restrain herself.
I was very sorry that she interrupted the magical course of the narration! But it was evident that the kind and emotional Stella was unable
to perceive such stunning news calmly.
Isidora smiled at her lightly and we saw another, even more impressive, picture.
A fragile dark-haired girl twirled in the extraordinary beautiful marble hall. She danced some intricate dance, which only she knew, with
the lightness of a fairy-tale fairy. Sometimes she slightly jumped up and... kept hanging in the air. And then she performed a sophisticated
pirouette, smoothly flying several steps backward and all began again from the very beginning. It was so shockingly beautiful that took our
Isidora warmly smiled and calmly continued the story.
– My mother was a hereditory Vedunia. She was born in Florence – a proud and free city, which only had as much of its famous
"freedom" as the incredibly rich but unfortunately not so omnipotent Medici, hated by the Church, could protect. And my poor mother, just
as her predecessors, had to hide her Gift, because she descended from a very rich and influential family in which it was more than undesirable
to expose this kind of knowledge. Therefore she, just as her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, had to keep secret their extraordinary
"talents" from stranger’s eyes and ears (and even from friends!), otherwise, if the fathers of her future possible grooms knew about it, she could
have never married, which is considered the greatest disgrace in her family.
My mother was a very strong and truly gifted healer. Whilst being very young she secretly treated almost the whole city, including
the great Medici who preferred her to their famous Greek doctors. However, very soon the "glory" of mother’s success reached the ears of her
father, my grand-dad who, certainly, did not favour this "underground" activity too. So, my poor mother had to be married off as quickly as
possible, thus to wash off the "forthcoming disgrace" of her frightened family.
Whether it was by chance or with somebody’s help, my mother was very lucky. She married a wonderful person – a Venetian magnate who
was a very strong Vedun himself... and who you see now with us.
Isidora looked at her extraordinary father and her shining eyes got wet. It was absolutely obvious how strongly and selflessly she loved him.
She was a proud daughter who carried her pure and light feeling with dignity and she was not ashamed of it even in the far away new
worlds. And here I understood how much I wanted to be like her! I admired her force of love, her force of a Vedunia and everything this
extraordinary light woman represented.
And she calmly continued her wonderful story, as if noticing neither our "overflowing" emotions, nor the "puppy" delight of our hearts.
– It was then when my mother heard about Venice... My father could tell her about the freedom and beauty of this city, its palaces
and channels, secret gardens and enormous libraries, bridges and gondolas and a lot of other things for hours. And my impressionable mother
fell in love with it, without even seeing this miraculous city. She could not wait to see the city with her own eyes! Very soon her dream came
true. My father took her to a magnificent palace, full of loyal and taciturn servants from who one did not have to hide anything. From that day
my mother could be engaged in her favourite business for hours, not being afraid of being misunderstood or insulted. Her life became pleasant
and protected. They were a truly happy married couple which had a girl in exactly a year. They called her Isidora. It was me.
I was a very happy child. As far as I remember myself, the world always seemed wonderful to me. I grew surrounded by warmth and care,
among kind, attentive and very loving people. Soon my mother noticed that I had a powerful Gift, much stronger than hers. She began to teach
me everything she could do herself and what my grandmother had taught her. Later my father was engaged in my "witch" education.
I tell all this, dear, not because I wish to tell the story of my happy life. I want you to understand deeper what will follow later, otherwise
you will not feel the horror and pain which I and my family had to go through.
When I was seventeen, the rumours about me had spread far beyond the borders of my native city; and people who wished to know their
fate came to me like an endless stream. I got very tired. No matter how gifted I was, the everyday loads exhausted me, and by the evening I was
ready to drop. My father always objected to such "violence", but my mother (who once was unable to use her gift in full measure), thought
that I was absolutely all right and must honestly work off my gift.
Many years passed. I already led my own life and had my own wonderful and loving family. My husband was a scientific
man called Girolamo. I think we were destined for each other, because we never parted from the day we first met in our house. He came to fetch
a book which my father had recommended to him. That morning I sat in the library and as usual studied somebody's work. Girolamo entered
and on seeing me there was taken aback. His embarrassment was so sincere and sweet that I laughed. He was a tall and strong brown-eyed
brunet who blushed in that moment like a girl which met her groom for the first time. I instantly understood that he was my fate. Soon we
married and never parted. He was a wonderful husband – affectionate and very kind. When our little daughter was born, he became loving and
tender father. Ten very happy and cloudless years passed. Our darling daughter was a merry, lively and very clever child. The Gift was gradually
shown in her too.
Life was light and wonderful. It seemed that no misfortune could darken our peaceful existence. But I was afraid... It had been
already almost a year that I saw nightmares every night – terrible images of tortured people and burning fires. It repeated and repeated and
repeated, driving me mad. But most of all I was scared of a strange person’s image which constantly visited my dreams and devoured me with
the ardent glare of his deep black eyes without uttering a word. He was intimidating and very dangerous.
Finally it happened... The black clouds began to gather on the pure sky of my beloved Venice. Anxious rumors rambled throughout the
city. People conversed in whispers about the horrors of the Inquisition and soul-freezing living human fires. Spain was on fire a long time ago
burning out pure human souls with "fire and sword" in the name of Christ. After Spain the whole of Europe was seized with fire. I never was
a believer and never considered Christ a God. But he was an extraordinary Vedun, the strongest of all the living. He had a surprisingly
pure and highly-developed soul. And the killing "in the glory of Christ", which the church did then, was a terrible and inexcusable crime.
Isidora’s eyes became dark and deep like a golden night. Probably, everything pleasant that the earthly life had given her was over and
another life – terrible and dark, about which we would soon know, began. Suddenly I had a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach and it
seemed that I lacked air. Stella was incredibly quiet too. She did not ask her usual questions, but very attentively listened to what Isidora
– My beloved Venice rebelled. People indignantly grumbled on the streets and gathered on the squares. Nobody wished to submit.
The always free and proud city refused to take the priests under its wing. On seeing that Venice was not going to fall to its knees, Rome decided
to undertake a serious step. Rome sent to Venice one of its best inquisitors – a mad cardinal, who was the most fervent fanatic, the real "father
of the Iinquisition" and who was impossible to ignore in any way. He was the Pope’s right hand. His name was Giovanni Pietro Caraffa. I was
thirty six then…
(When I began to look over Isidora’s story, which seemed to me interesting enough to write about, in my way I was very happy
to find one detail. The name of Pietro Caraffa seemed familiar to me and I decided to look it up among "historically-important" persons. And
I found him there! Caraffa appeared to be an authentic historical figure. He was the real "father of the inquisition" who on becoming
Pope Paul IV, put to fire the best half of Europe. Regrettably I found just one line about Isidora’s life in Caraffa’s biography which mentions
the case of the "Venetian Witch" who was considered the most beautiful woman in Europe of that time. Unfortunately, it was all that could
correspond to the story).
Isidora fell silent for a long time... Her amazing golden eyes shone with such deep sorrow, that the black despair "howled" inside me.
This marvellous woman still kept inside her the terrible, superhuman pain which somebody very wicked had once made her experience.
Suddenly I began to fear that right now, in the most interesting place, she would stop and we never know what happened to her next! But
the amazing teller was not going to stop. Most likely there were some moments that still cost too much for her to go over them. Then her
tormented soul protected itself, shutting firmly, refusing to let anybody in or remember anything "aloud", being afraid to wake up the burning,
limitless pain which slept inside her. However, it was evident that Isidora was strong enough to overcome any sorrow, because she pulled
herself together and quietly continued:
– The first time I saw him was when I calmly strolled along the wharf, speaking about new books to the merchants I knew very well,
many of which had become my kind friends a long time ago. The day was very pleasant, light and sunny, and it seemed that no trouble could
cloud that wonderful day. So I thought, but my wicked fate had prepared something completely different...
Calmly talking to Francesco Valgrisi – the books which he published were adored by the whole of Europe – I suddenly felt the strongest
blow to my heart. I stopped breathing for an instant. It was absolutely unexpected, but considering my many years experience, I had no
right to miss such a thing! I turned around in surprise. Deep burning eyes looked right at me. I knew them at once! These eyes had been
tormenting me for so many nights, making me jump in my sleep, dripping with cold sweat! It was a guest from my nightmares – unforeseeable
The man was thin and tall, but looked very slender and strong. His thin ascetic face was framed by thick black hair strongly touched with
grey and a neat shortly cut beard. The scarlet cardinal’s soutane made him look alien and very dangerous. A strange golden-red cloud, which
only I saw, curled around his flexible body. If he were not a faithful vassal of the church, I would think that I saw a Sorcerer in front
His bearing and burning with hatred look expressed fury. For some reason I understood at once that he was the notorious Caraffa. Before
I could understand what could cause such a stormy reaction (in fact not a single word had yet been said!), I heard his strange hoarse voice:
– Are you interested in books, Madonna Isidora?
Madonna was a respectful form of address to a woman or young lady in Italy.
My heart froze. He knew my name; but why? Why was this terrible man interested in me? My head began to spin. It seemed that
somebody had gripped my brain in an iron vice. Suddenly I understood – Caraffa!!! It was he who was trying to break me mentally,
I looked into his eyes again. Thousands of fires blazed in them, he having taken innocent souls to the sky…
– So, what books are you interested in, Madonna Isidora? – His low voice sounded again.
– Oh, I am sure not those ones which you are looking for, Your Eminence. — I answered calmly.
My soul was scared and ached, fluttering like a caught bird, but I knew that I must not show it to him in any way. Whatever it cost I had
to behave as calmly as possible and try to get rid of him as soon as possible. The rumors said that the "mad cardinal" persistently tracked down
his victims, who later disappeared without a trace, and nobody knew, where and how they could be found, or whether they were alive at all.
– I heard so much about your exquisite taste, Madonna Isidora! Venice talks only of you!! Please, do me the honour of sharing your new
acquisition with me...
Caraffa smiled... his smile made my blood freeze and I felt an irresistable desire to run wherever my feet would carry me, if only I could
never again see this insidious, refined face! He was a real predator and now he was hunting. I felt it with every cell of my body, every fibre of
my frozen in horror soul. I never was a coward, but I had heard too much about this frightful man and knew that nothing would stop him, if
he decided to get me in his tenacious claws. He wiped out any barriers, when the matter concerned "heretics". Even kings were afraid of him...
I even respected him to a certain degree.
Isidora smiled on seeing our scared faces.
– Yes, I did. But it was a different respect than what you thought. I respected his persistence, his ineradicable faith in his "just
cause". He was mad about what he did, not like most of his followers which simply robbed, raped and enjoyed life. Caraffa
never took anyhing or raped anybody. Women as such did not exist for him at all. He was a "warrior of Christ" from the very beginning to his
last breath. However, he never understood that he was absolutely and totally wrong in everything he had done on Earth, that it was a
terrible and inexcusable crime. He died sincerely believing in his "just cause".
And now it was quite obvious that this fanatically mistaken man tried to get hold of my "sinful" soul.
While I feverishly tried to think of something, I had some unexpected help. My old acquaintance, almost a friend, Francesco who had just
sold me some books, suddenly addressed me in an irritated tone, as if my indecision made him loose patience:
– Madonna Isidora, have you decided at last what you shall take? My clients are waiting for me, and I can’t dedicate all my time only to
you, no matter how I would wish it.
I stared at him in surprise, but fortunately intercepted his risky idea. He suggested me to get rid of dangerous books which I had in my
hands in that moment! Books were Caraffa's favourite "hook". It was mostly because of them the cleverest people got into net which the mad
inquisitor spread for them...
I left the greater part of the books on the counter at which Francesco immediately expressed "utter displeasure". Caraffa observed. I felt
at once how this simple and naive game amused him. He perfectly understood everything, and if he wanted, he could calmly arrest me and
my poor risk-taking friend, but for some reason he did not want to. It seemed that he sincerely enjoyed my helplessness, like a satisfied cat
that clutched a mouse in the corner.
– May I leave you, Your Eminence? – I asked carefully, without hope of hearing an affirmative reply.
– To my great regret, Madonna Isidora! – The cardinal exclaimed with artificial disappointment. – Will you allow me to call on you
some day? They say you have a very gifted daughter. I would like very much to meet her and have a chat with her. I hope she is as beautiful
as her mother.
– My daughter, Anna is only ten, monsignore. – I answered as calmly as possible.
But my soul shouted with animal fear! He knew everything about me! Why, why did mad Caraffa need me? Why was he interested in my
Was it because I had the reputation of a famous Vidunia, and he considered me the bitterest enemy? In fact it did not matter
to him what I was called, the "great inquisitor" simply considered me a witch, and he burned witches...
I strongly and selflessly loved Life! And like any normal person I wanted very much that it would last as long as possible. In fact even
the most arrant scoundrel, which took the life of others, values every minute and every day of his precious life! Suddenly I
understood very clearly that it will be exactly he, Caraffa, who would take my short life which I valued so much and I was not destined to
live it right through.
– A great spirit is born in a small body, Madonna Isidora. Even Jesus once was a child. I shall be delighted to pay you a visit! – Caraffa
elegantly bowed and withdrew.
The world was collapsing. It fell into shallow pieces; each reflected the predatory, thin and clever face.
I tried to calm down somehow and not to panic, but failed for some reason. My usual confidence in myself and my strength let me
down this time, and it scared me even more. The day was the same as it was just several minutes ago – sunny and light, but darkness settled
in my soul. As it appeared, I had waited for him a long time ago, and all my nightmarish visions about fires were portents of the today's
meeting with him.
On coming home, I persuaded my husband to take little Anna somewhere far away where the wicked Caraffa’s tentacles would not
reach her. Meanwhile I began to prepare for the worst, because I knew that his visit would not make me wait too long. I was right.
In a few days, my favourite black maid, Keya, (then it was in the latest fashion to have black servants in rich houses) reported that
"His Eminence, the cardinal, expected me in the pink living room". I felt that something would happen right now.
I wore a light-yellow silk dress and knew that this colour became me. But if there was only one person in the world before whom I did
not want to look attractive, it was exactly Caraffa. Regrettably I had no time to change and had to go just like this.
He waited, calmly leaning against the back of the arm-chair, studying some old manuscript, of which we had a countless amount in
our house. I "put" on a pleasant smile and went down into the living room. On seeing me, Caraffa froze for some reason without saying a
word. The silence dragged on and it seemed to me that the cardinal would hear how my scared heart beat treacherously loud... At last his
hoarse voice sounded with enthusiasm:
– You look stunning, Madonna Isidora! Even this sunny morning fades next to you!
– I did not know that cardinals are allowed to compliment ladies! – I squeezed out a reply, exerting every effort to smile.
– Cardinals are people too, Madonna, and they are able to distinguish the beautiful from the simple... Where is your wonderful daughter?
Will I be able to enjoy double beauty today?
– She is not in Venice, Your Eminence. She and her father left for Florence to visit her sick cousin.
– As far as I know, nobody is ill in your family at the moment. Who fell ill so suddenly, Madonna Isidora? – His voice breathed with
Caraffa began to play openly.There was nothing left for me to do but meet the danger face to face...
– What do you want from me Your Eminence? Would be it simpler to say it directly, sparing both of us from this unnecessary, cheap
game? We are clever enough people who could respect each other even having different views.
I became weak in the knees with horror, but Caraffa did not notice for some reason. He fixed his blazing eyes on my face without
answering and noticed nothing around. I could not understand what was happening and this dangerous comedy frightened me more and
more. But something unforeseen happened, something totally beyond usual concepts. Caraffa came very close to me, still fixing his eyes on
my face, and whispered, almost breathless:
– You cannot be from God. You are too beautiful! You are a witch!!! Woman has no right to be so beautiful! You are from the Devil!
He turned and dashed from the house, as if Satan pursued him. I stood in absolute shock, still expecting to hear his steps, but nothing
happened. Gradually I came to myself and managed to relax my stiffened body. I breathed deeply and lost consciousness. I awoke in bed.
My dear maid Keya was giving me some hot wine. At once I remembered what had happened, jumped from the bed and began to rush about
the room, having absolutely no idea what to do... Time went, and it was necessary to do something, to think of something, somehow to defend
myself and the family from this two-legged monster. I knew that the game was over now and the war had begun. Regrettably, our forces were
very unequal. Naturally, I could beat him in my own way. I could simply stop his blood-thirsty heart, and all these horrors would end at once.
But the point is that, even at thirty six I still remained too pure and kind to kill somebody. I never took life; on the contrary I often returned it.
I could not yet execute even such a frightful man as Caraffa.
The next morning I heard a deafening knock at the door. My heart stopped. I knew it was the Inquisition. They took me, accusing me of
"verbiage and practising black magic, dulling honest citizens’ minds by false predictions and heresy". It was the beginning of the end.
The room where I was taken was very damp and dark, but for some reason it seemed to me, that I would not stay too long in it. Caraffa
came at midday.
– Oh, I beg your pardon, Madonna Isidora. You were given a room destined for another person. It’s not for you, of course.
– Why all this game, monsignore? – I asked proudly (as it seemed to me) jerking up my head. – I would prefer the truth and would like to
know what I am truly accused of. My family, as you know, is very respected and loved in Venice, and it would be better for you, if
your accusations had true grounds.
Caraffa never knew how much strength I needed to look proud! I perfectly understood that it was highly unlikely that somebody or
something could help me. But I could not allow him to see my fear. Therefore I continued, trying to drive him out of the calmly-ironical
state which apparently was his peculiar defence and which I could not stand.
– Will you be so kind as to inform me of what I am guilty, or you will leave this pleasure to your faithful "vassals"?!
– I would not advise you to boil, Madonna Isidora. – Caraffa pronounced calmly. – As far as I know your beloved Venice knows that you
are a Witch, besides, the strongest one that ever lived. But in fact you never concealed it, did you?
Suddenly I became absolutely calm. Yes, it was true. I never hid my abilities. I was proud of them, like my mother was. So, will I betray
my soul and give up who I am in front of this mad fanatic?!
– You are right, Your Eminence. I am a Witch. But I am neither from Devil, nor from God. I am free in my soul, I KNOW... And you
will never be able to take it from me. The only thing you can do is to kill me, but even then I shall be what I am. Only in that case, you will
never see me again.
I inflicted a weak blow at random. I was not sure that it would work. But Caraffa suddenly went pale, and I understood that I was right.
No matter how strong this unpredictable man hated women, a strange and dangerous feeling toward me, which I could not define yet,
glimmered inside of him. But the main thing was that it existed! And only that was important now. Later I shall know what it was,
if now I succeed in "catching" Caraffa on this simple woman bait. But I did not know then, how strong the will of this unusual person was. His
confusion disappeared as quickly as it came. The cold and calm cardinal stood in front of me again.
– It would be an enormous loss for all who appreciates beauty, Madonna. But too much beauty is dangerous, because it destroys
pure souls. And your beauty, I am sure, will leave nobody indifferent; therefore it will be better, if it simply ceases to exist...
Caraffa left. My hair stood on end. So huge a fear he spiked into my tired lonely soul, was. I was alone. All people I loved were somewhere
on the other side of these stone walls, and I was not sure at all that I would ever see them again. My beloved dear child Anna huddled in
Florence at the Medici’s and I hoped very much that Caraffa did not know where she was. My husband, who adored me, was with her on my
request and did not know that I was caught. I did not have the faintest hope. I was truly alone.
From that ill-fated day the endless trials of the famous "Venetian Witch", in other words – me, began. But Venice was a truly free
city and did not allow the destroying of its children so easily. The Inquisition was hated by all, and Caraffa had to take that into
consideration. Therefore I was judged by the "supreme tribunal of the Inquisition" which accused me of all possible vices, most of which I had
never even heard of. The only light thing which happened in this nightmarish time was unexpected and very strong support of our friends, that
forced Caraffa to be more careful in his accusations, but it did not help me to break free from his dangerous claws.
Time went by and I knew that the dangerous moment, when Caraffa would attack, came close. For the moment it was just an "ugly
performance" which was played for more than a year almost every day. According to them, it had to calm me down somehow or even give
some false tiny hope that everything would be finally over in the end and that maybe I could "happily go home". They tried to "lull" me,
apparently wishing to strike even stronger. But Caraffa was wrong. I knew that he just waited for something. I did not know yet –
And this day came at last. In the morning I was informed that due to the extreme importance of my "case" and the inability of the local
inquisition to pass judgment on it, I was sent to Rome, to rely on the Pope’s enlightened will, in order that he would pronounce "just sentence"
It was the end. Nobody in the world could help me, if I got into the hands of the Roman Inquisition. Caraffa rejoiced! He celebrated victory.
I was almost dead.