Pilgrimage to Norcia
Pilgrimage to Norcia
It was a cold, gray spring afternoon in the town of Ortona. A light rain was sprinkling over the people assembled at the cemetery behind the church, presenting their last respects to the widow Maria Pinetti. Not many people had come; The priest, who was here on duty, the coffin carriers, who would have much preferred to stay at home around the cozy fire, a few neighbors, mostly women, and a boy, Maria’s only son.
As the coffin was lowered into the grave, and the priest said a prayer requesting the Lord to take this good soul into His eternal reigns, the boy lost the last control he had so fiercely exerted over his emotions. A tear rolled over his cheek, while he struggled to keep his eyes on his mother’s last dwelling. He shivered, and more tears followed. He stepped to the very border of the grave, and let a single red flower sink over the wooden box. He had plucked it before the funeral, and carried it close to his heart. And then, there was no way to keep playing the stoic man. He started weeping, helplessly.
One of the women slowly stepped forward, pulled her handkerchief, took the boy by his hand, wiped the water out of his face – but more followed. She gently pulled him back, turned him away from the grave, as the men shoveled dirt into the hole. Tommaso could not see it, but he heard the noise made by the damp dirt clumps as they fell on his mother’s coffin. He wept more, as the neighbor lady pressed his head into her bosom, attempting to comfort him.
The priest watched the scene. The ways of the Lord are so mysterious. Why had this fair lady been chosen to die? Truly she had had no easy life. Her husband had died just three years after she married. He had been a good man too, but affected by weak health ever since he got a serious illness when he was still a boy. The old priest had known him since birth, yes, he had actually baptized him. After his death, Maria was left alone to provide for herself and her two little c***dren. He had baptized the two babies too, Cosima and Tommaso. Maria worked as much as anyone, but in these difficult times, with poor harvests, few fish and scarce money, the little family had been in severe hardship. Then, the Lord saw fit to take Cosima into His reigns. She died just six years old. Mysterious ways, indeed. Some years later, Maria had become sick too. She could not work as much as before, she tired very easily, and finally was bedbound. No doctor could help her. She slowly faded away, surrounded by the love of her son, the helping hands of the good neighbors, but at the same time she was forced to sell off all her belongings, and finally take a loan on the house, in order to get something to eat for her son and herself. And now she was dead, and Tommaso was yet another orphan in this world. One more among so many.
The priest looked over to Tommaso, and the lady comforting him. He knew the boy well. He was among the best students at school, even if he missed often because of his rather frail health. He went to confession from time to time, but what he had to confess was never worth a real penitence. He sang in the church choir, and the organist was very fond of Tommaso’s musical abilities. Would this boy die early too? He didn’t think so. This boy had a powerful mind, and God values that. But then, the Lord’s ways are mysterious…
His sacred duty done, the priest was now thinking about more earthly problems. He walked over to the two. “Tommaso”, he said, “as far as I know, you mother, God be kind to her soul, was forced to take loans on the house. Do you know anything about this?” The boy cleared his throat, and answered “Yes, father, I know. The house is no longer ours. The loansman already told me that I have to leave today.” “TODAY???” the priest asked in shock. “Don’t they have mercy with a poor orphan?”
That word struck Tommaso. The tears again flooded his eyes, and he felt the lady caress his shoulder. “Where will you stay? Do you have any idea what will be of you now?” the priest inquired. “Father…” Tommaso cleared his throat again. “Do you think anyone may give me work? In any case, I think it’s over with the school for me… and…”, he sobbed, “…with the choir… and… everything!” Now he wept aloud.
The priest, obviously moved, now addressed all the women, who had gathered around them. “Daughters, can anyone of you provide for this boy till he is old enough to make his own life?” Silence. The priest looked into each face. He saw pity, compassion, but still no one offered help. The woman holding the boy then said, barely audible: “Father, I would so much like to help this boy, but I have four c***dren myself, and we can barely make it.” The priest tried to persuade her: “Guiseppina, where there are six mouths, a seventh one is not noticeable.” He tried a mild joke. “Much less one belonging to a boy as thin as this one. I don’t think you eat very much, Tommaso, do you?” The boy looked into the priest’s eyes, and said “Father, I have never gotten very much to eat.”
That was clear. “Did you eat anything at all today?” “No, sir.” “When did you eat for the last time?” “Two days ago. Before my mother …” He could not say the word, but started to weep again.
The priest thought for a moment, then raised his voice. “Tommaso, for now you come with me. I’m not rich, but at least you will get some food. And tomorrow we will see what we can do with you, yes?” This was the first hope Tommaso had seen in days. His face lit up. “Thanks, father! God will surely take note of this!” The priest smiled. Little rascal! Lend him a finger, and he takes the entire hand!
They didn’t have to walk far. The priest’s house was right next to the church. While Tommaso looked around the room, the priest went into the kitchen and told Lucia, his housekeeper, to prepare food for three instead of two. A while later, he had the pleasure to watch how much happiness a good, abundant meal can give a hungry boy. Tommaso seemed to be forgetting his woes over the roasted chicken, pasta and salad. It was Lucia who brought the issue up again: “Tommaso, may I ask you an impolite question?” The boy smiled. “Sure”, he said. Disregarding the priest’s warning looks, the woman asked: “Tell us, did you know that your mother was terminally ill?”
A chilling sensation flooded the room. The priest just said: “Lucia, please!” The boy choked, coughed, then put down the fork and said, in low voice: “Yes. I knew it for a long time. But I kept hoping for a miracle.” “She is in heaven now, and does not suffer anymore, Tommaso. That is good, isn’t it? At least it is better than feeling as she did the last weeks”, the priest said. Tommaso swallowed, fighting his tears. Then he took up the fork again and went on finishing his dinner. Lucia may have a gift for hurting people, but surely she did cook well. It had been a very long time since he last ate anything as good. No wonder the priest was almost round! What if the priest could sense what he was thinking, in his very own house? The thought of it cheered him up, and he enjoyed the rest of the chicken. For the first time in months, he was no longer feeling hungry. It was strange; he had grown so accustomed to that nagging sensation in his belly, that now he almost missed it!
Tommaso slept on the couch in the priest’s study room. He slept through the night, dreamlessly. The next morning he went to school, where he could notice very clearly how his schoolmates shyly kept distance from him. So much so, that during the recess he approached his best friend: “Luca, my mother’s illness was not contagious. Why does nobody talk to me?” The other boy grabbed Tommaso’s hand. “No one knows how to talk to you now. Neither do I, really.” He pressed his friend’s hand. “Is it right if I treat you like always?” Tommaso almost had to laugh. “Of course, Luca, I am the same as ever. A little more lonely, that’s all.” He returned the handshake. “Now I need you more than ever. Friends forever?” “Friends forever!”, Luca answered. Then he turned around. “Hey guys, come! He does not bite!” Tommaso laughed. That was just what he liked so much about Luca.
After a well-tasting and abundant lunch at the priest’s home, Tommaso went one last time to his home. The neighbors had taken back everything his mother had borrowed from them, which was quite a lot. The watchman was overlooking the place and checking that no one took the chance to steal. When he saw Tommaso coming, he took him aside. “Boy, I guess you know that this house is no longer yours. I’m sorry.” Tommaso knew it very well. “I’m just coming to pick up my clothes, sir. I know that nothing else belongs to me now.” The watchman let him in, and Tommaso quickly made a bundle of his few clothes. Then he walked through the house, one last time. There was a small painting of his mother. He took it, opened his bundle, put the miniature inside, and tied the bundle again. This was his. His toys were still there. He did not take them. He was twelve years old, what in the world could he do now with the toys he got at age four? And after that time, there never had been any money for toys. But then he returned to his room. He had a small stack of music, the things he sang in the church choir. He made a roll of those brownish papers, and packed it into his bundle. He knew that music inside and out, but the sheets would remember him never to forget his time as a choirboy. From now on, he would probably get no time to go on singing. He would have to work for a living, and wages were very low, specially for k**s. He would have to spend all his time working, just for survival.
Tommaso left the house that had been home for all of his life. The watchman had a short look at his bundle, and the boy shivered. If the man checked the bundle, and found the painting and the music? Probably they weren’t rightfully his anymore! But the guard only said: “That’s all you have? It’s not much!” “We were poor people, sir.” The guard patted Tommaso’s back. “You may be poor, k**, but you are clever. And cleverness makes it all in this world. I’m sure you will grow up to be someone well regarded, and rich!” The boy smiled. “Thanks, sir!” But he had no idea how he would accomplish that.
As he returned to the priest’s home, he saw the man in the garden, weeding. “May I help you?” he asked. “Ah, there you are!” said the priest. “I was waiting for you.” Tommaso reviewed all his actions of the day. Whenever his mother had been ‘waiting for him’, it had been something bad. “What did I wrong?” he asked timidly. The priest laughed. “Nothing, k**, it’s just that we have a meeting with Mr. Roletto. It’s about your future.” The boy’s face lit up. Mr. Roletto was the church musician. He played the organ, taught the singing boys, and also he had a few students of the organ and the violin. If he was involved in his future, then it smelled of music. “Great!” he called out. Then, more dimly, he added: “Father, can…” He felt a clump forming in his throat. He swallowed, and went on: “Can I stay at your home? Live with you?” There it was. It had come out. But the priest laughed. “What do you like more about my home, Tommaso, the closeness of God or the good food?” Tommaso had always been honest, so he had no choice but to answer: “Lucia cooks very well.” Now the priest almost rolled over in laughter. Tommaso already considered this a won battle, when the cold shower came: “You can’t stay here, k**. This town is full of old ladies who love to gossip. What do you think would they say when they learn that their old priest is now living with a young boy?”
Tommaso could not see the logic. What was wrong about it? “Father, they would know that you are a good man, who helps orphans. What’s bad about living with me? You, Lucia, and me, we would almost be something like a family!”
“Come into the house”, said the priest. He went in, and the k** followed. Once inside, and behind closed doors, the old man explained, in simple words that a c***d could understand, why it was not acceptable that a lone man sheltered a young boy, in a small town whose dwellers loved to invent stories. Tommaso had never heard about such things. He made big, round eyes. When the priest was ready, Tommaso only said “I would never have thought that people can be so mean.” “They can,” said the priest, “and they are. No one will start gossiping because you stay here for one or two days after loosing your home. But if I keep you here, even the Holy Father in Rome will get to hear horror stories about me.” And after a pause he added: “Even more so considering that you are a very handsome boy. Did anyone ever tell you that?” Tommaso blushed deeply. “No, never. Well, except for my mother, but all mothers say that to their sons.” The priest smiled. “Good. But keep this in mind: If ever a man tells you that you are handsome, be careful. Such a man could do you great damage. And now let’s go over to the church. Mr. Roletto must be waiting for us.”
As they entered the sacred building, warm organ music welcomed them. Roletto was improvising, and this usually sounded better than when he was playing an existing piece. He had a great talent for getting great music out of the limited capabilities of the small organ in Ortona. The organist finished his music with one of those chords that went through marrow and bones, then came down from the organ loft and met the two. They went into the adjoining meeting room, and the priest quickly came to the point: “Tonio, this boy is now an orphan, and homeless since yesterday. He spent the night at my place, but I can’t keep him. You told me you had an idea what to do with him. Let it loose.”
The musician smiled. “Yes, I do have an idea. But I don’t know if you will approve it.” “Just tell us”, said the priest, while the boy listened how they decided his future. But Mr. Roletto turned to him. “Tommaso, I think I have never told you, but at this time you are the best singer in our choir.” The boy nodded. “I know that. I love to sing, that’s all. Most of the other boys don’t really like it.” “How do you know that you sing well?” the priest asked. “Simply because I get all solos. That’s a way of telling me that you like my singing, Mr. Roletto!” The musician laughed, and the priest smiled too. But then Roletto continued: “But you cannot know one other thing. I have teached several choirs in my life, and I have done so for twenty years. And you are the best boy singer I have heard so far.”
Tommaso took a while to swallow that. Was this man k**ding him? So he only replied “Are you sure?” The musician vehemently said: “Of course I’m sure! Tommaso, you have gold in your throat! Yes, I know that you love singing, and that’s very important. People who don’t love it can never become good singers. But the love for music is only one part. The other is the voice. And you are gifted with a very, very good voice!” He paused a while, then he went on: “Tommaso, you should really take up singing as a profession. If I understand you well, then you will enjoy it more than any other job, and with that voice of yours you will earn loads of money.”
While Tommaso let it sink in, the priest became practical: “And what route would the boy have to follow? A music school in Rome, or what? And who would pay for that?”
Roletto explained. There were boarding schools in Rome which specially teached music and singing, but also gave their pupils a very good base in languages and theology. These schools accepted a certain number of orphans completely free of charge, while the other students had to pay. Even better, admission to some of them was based mainly on a voice test, which Tommaso would pass with flying colours! The boy felt his heart thumping loudly. He knew of those schools. And he also knew what Roletto, with a more somber face, said now: “There is just one quirk to all this beauty. Tommaso, your voice is soprano. If it changes, you have to start working anew on a tenor voice, and it will probably not be nearly as good as your soprano. So you would have to go to a surgeon who can make your soprano voice stay intact for many years.”
Tommaso’s throat felt dry. He knew all this. He had daydreamed about being a victim of such a surgeon, and then becoming a famous singer. He had felt cold shivers running back his spine when imagining himself in that situation. But he always thought that his voice was good only by local church choir standards. And now, so suddenly, this all could become real. In raspy voice he said: “I know all this too. That surgeon would cut off my balls, and I could never have c***dren of my own.” “Exactly!”, said the organist. “My God, oh my God!” was the only words the priest managed to bring out.
After a while of deep silence, Tommaso asked: “Mr. Roletto, when you said that my voice was the best you have heard, did you really mean that it is good enough to do this?” The organist quietly answered: “Tommaso, just hearing you talk confirms it! In every word! Have you never noticed that when you sing Palestrina or Victoria, no one talks or moves, and even the birds listen? Have you never seen that I can’t hold back my tears when you sing? Do you think that all this would happen with just any voice? Boy, I mean it! You are the best I have heard, and those are not few. If anyone deserves to get a scholarship in Rome, it’s you. And if ever a sacrifice for the sake of music is well justified, then it’s your accepting that procedure that will preserve your voice!”
The priest shook his gray head. “Tommaso, you don’t need to go along that path. There are dozens of other professions you could do as well.” The boy countered: “Can I live with you then, Father?” The priest swallowed. “No, I’m afraid, but there must be other ways.” Tommaso asked again, this time addressing the organist: “Mr. Roletto, do I have any chance of getting a scholarship without being castrated?” The musician was clear in his answer: “No. Those scholarships are specifically available for orphaned castrati. Tommaso, you don’t need to decide now. Think it over, make up your mind, and then decide. Consider that this is the most important decision in your life, and only you can decide.”
The boy couldn’t believe his luck. The more he thought about this, the more he understood that this was what he wanted most. Before he had only dreamed about it, never expecting it to become real. But now, his dream had come in, was here, ready to be grasped! Here he had the chance to live a special life, devoted entirely to the music he loved! And the fact of being unable to found a family did not look so bad to him. He had seen all of his former family dying away, one after the other. He didn’t want to run the risk of seeing such happening again. “I don’t need to think it over”, he said. The two men looked at him. Softly he said “I accept.” And then, he jumped up and screamed “I accept! I ACCEPT!” The organist stood up, embraced the boy, and congratulated warmly. The priest stayed sitting in his chair, muttering: “The Lord has mysterious ways. The Lord truly has mysterious ways.”
That night Tommaso could not sleep. He drifted from feelings of ecstasies about this turn in his life, to profound fears about the unknown. The hopes of fame and glamour clashed with the nasty expectation of the pain from the surgery. It would hurt a lot, so much he knew for sure. But he could stand pain, and he would have to. And then, he had to leave his friends behind, specially Luca, who was now the only person in the world he could fully trust! He hoped to find new friends in that school in Rome, but would any of them replace Luca? Never. If just Luca would come with him, share his destiny, then everything else would be fine! But alas, Luca did not sing, and maybe that’s why he was his best friend. They excelled in different fields.
It was only logical that the next day Tommaso went to his best friend’s house, asking for him. “He’s back by the barn, chopping wood”, Luca’s mother said. Tommaso went there, approaching his friend from behind. He watched him swing the ax. Clothed only in shorts, Luca’s tanned body radiated health and strength. Tommaso made a mental comparison with his own, thin and screwy body. And the priest had called him handsome! He laughed inwardly. If anyone was handsome here, it was Luca. Not as much as some girls, of course, but then, Luca was a boy, he didn’t need to be any better than that!
Tommaso got close, and grabbed the ax as Luca lifted it over his head. “Shit!” Luca turned around in shock, then he laughed. “I thought I had hit something!” He put the ax down, and Tommaso laughed too about his successful trick. Then he got serious. “Luca, I’m leaving tomorrow.” The other boy’s face darkened. “For how long?” “For a long time… maybe forever.” That was a real shock for Luca. Loosing his friend, so suddenly… He drowned Tommaso under questions, where, how, why, and so on. “Calm down, calm down!” Tommaso said. “Do you remember, years ago, when I joined the church choir and you wouldn’t?” “Yes, sure I remember. I’m glad I stayed out. Did you see the light now, and are you running away?” “Don’t joke, Luca. This is serious. Do you remember how you teased me back then, what would happen to me if I sang too well?” Luca took a moment, then he remembered. “I said they would cut your balls off to keep you singing, like they have done with others before.” Tommaso slowly nodded. After a further silence, Luca finally put two and two together. A shade paler, he said “Nooo, shit! They want to cut you? Really? And you will run away?”
Tommaso smiled as his friend went forth cursing every possible culprit. Here was his chance to learn some new words… Luca’s language was very florid indeed. When he ran out of air, and of power words, he saw that Tommaso was laughing. Now he really didn’t understand. “Luca, the crazy thing is that I like the idea. I know, I must be mad, but I have dreamed about becoming a castrato all the time since starting in the choir. And now it’s getting real. Luca, I will be a singer, for life!”
He then updated his friend on the developments of the last 24 hours. The meeting with Mr. Roletto, and the briefing in the morning, when Roletto had explained to him what course to follow. He would have to walk to Norcia, a town six days northwest. The best surgeons lived there, and according to Roletto, being castrated in Norcia was a guarantee that his voice would stay as high and bright as it was now. After recovering from the surgery, he would go to Rome and seek acceptance in one of the three boarding music schools that accepted orphan castrati on a full scholarship basis. After several years in the school he would be a professional singer – and then he would surely come back and visit Luca and all others!
Luca soaked it all in. It sounded like a great adventure, and he would have loved to go with his friend, except for… well, he had no special voice, and wanted to keep what he had down there. “How will you do all that? I mean, you need money for food, for the surgeon, and for some place to stay while you heal up.” Here he hit the weak spot. “I know it will be hard”, Tommaso said. “I will have to work here and there, and maybe I even will have to beg.” Awful. “Just don’t steal. That’s no good”, Luca recommended. “Do I look like a thief?” Tommaso shouted. “Sorry, I take it back!” Luca put his arm around his friend’s shoulder. He was still overly sensitive from his mother’s death, that’s for sure. But Tommaso cheered up soon. “One good thing: Mr. Roletto knows a surgeon in Norcia. He gave me a letter for him. Maybe he cuts me for free, or at least cheaper than the normal price.” Luca shook his head. It was so awfully weird to hear his friend talk in radiant happiness about getting his balls chopped off and saving some money in the process! But Tommaso continued: “He also gave me introduction letters for the schools in Rome.” Then the two boys sat silently, each lost in his thoughts. One was happy about what would happen to him, the other was equally happy that it was NOT going to happen to HIM. And the two quietly agreed in their sorrow about loosing each other. That’s what makes real friends – something to share, and some differences. Equal, but still different.
Tommaso stopped by all the people he knew in the town, and that was almost everyone. A handshake here, a hug there, many good wishes, but – what he had hoped for, a few coins to make his start easier, did not come. The times were hard, he knew that well, and people simply couldn’t spare anything. So, after a last night in the priest’s house, very early the next day he set foot on the seaside trail to Pescara. He had been told to travel along the coastal route right to the Tronto river, then follow the river up into the mountains, and cross them towards Norcia. According to Roletto, that wasn’t the shortest route, but surely it was the easiest one to walk.
He was carrying nothing more than his little bundle of clothes, inside of which he had a bread and three oranges, courtesy of Lucia, and a waterproof leather pouch containing the letters, his music, and his mother’s picture. That one was hanging from a strap around his neck, touching his chest, as close as possible to his heart. The bundle was hanging from a stick, which he had put over his right shoulder. It was the best way to carry that stuff, even if it swayed forth and back.
After a while, Tommaso fell into a long-paced, rhythmic walk that allowed him to make good progress. He tried to sing, but it didn’t sound too good, as his voice bumped at each pace. So, he gave up and walked silently, thinking about how much his life had changed, so quickly. Just three days ago he had been a small boy, going to school and tending his sick mother, hoping for a miracle that would save her life. And now, he was an orphan, alone in the world, having left behind even his home town, travelling to a foreign place, hoping to find a kind man who would – ouch – well, do what had to be done, and then he would go even farther, to Rome, the city where the Pope lived, trying to get one of the best music schools in the country to house him, feed him, and teach him singing like the great castrati! Wasn’t that asking a little bit too much? But Roletto had assured him that it would work!
He felt so crazy for doing all this. Suddenly he had an idea. He could turn back, and ask Luca to hide him. Everyone would think he went on to Norcia, but he would stay somewhere in the woods, Luca would get him some food, and he would see no one else than his best friend. And he would not have to undergo any surgery. But – what then? He couldn’t stretch that situation forever. When he was finally discovered, and that would surely happen, he would have to work, maybe as a peasant. Singing would be out of the question, even more so when he had lost his soprano voice! No. Resolutely he dismissed the idea. He had given his word, and he would keep it. He had accepted, and he would stick to that, through whatever would come his way.
There were few people on the road. Now and then someone came by who Tommaso knew. They always asked where he was going. When he said where he was bound to, invariable people asked what he would be doing in Norcia. So, after the third time he had to invent an excuse, he made up his story: He was going to visit his aunt in Norcia. He told that to everyone who asked, and they left him in peace.
By noontime Tommaso found a nice tree besides a creek. He decided to rest for a while. It was hot at this time. He unpacked his food, and ate a portion of the bread, drank some water, and then he ate one of the oranges. At this rate, the food would last until tomorrow morning… and he had several days to go! He was still hungry, but he packed his remaining food away and endured the hunger. He was accustomed.
The tree was full of birds. They were not overly active at this time of the day, but sometimes one of the birds sang his song. Tommaso whistled back. The bird answered. He answered. He would not be so lonely, after all!
He walked the entire afternoon, getting to Pescara well before sunset. The town was much larger than Ortona, which is not much to say, Ortona being just a few houses and a church. Tommaso decided to walk straight through the town, and use the remaining daylight to get a few more miles done. He was quite tired, for sure, and his feet ached, but he still could walk some more. Moreover, it was freshening up now, so it was easier to walk. So, he went forth until the sun was setting behind the hills, then he looked for a good place for the night. Besides a small trickle of water, he found a group of low trees that gave good shelter against any wind. There he settled. It quickly got cold now. He opened his bundle, put on all the clothes he had, and then ate some more of the bread, and one of the remaining oranges. The creek gave him some water. He drank until he could no longer feel any hunger. Then he lay down, pulled his knees up to his chin, and drifted into sleep, while the crickets in the grass around performed their nightly concert.
Tommaso woke up in the very early morning. It was barely starting to become day. It was bitterly cold, and he felt the icy soil through his wet clothes. He shivered, his teeth clattered, and he had to pee badly. Despite his drowsiness, he sat up, stretched his limbs. That hurt a little. Every morning, when stretching after waking up, he had that feeling, like if his muscles were slightly too short. But it was a refreshing ache, he liked it! So, he stretched once more, legs and arms, then he stood up and worked loose his trousers. Then he laughed as he saw his poor dick, so small and wrinkled from the cold. That little guy clearly didn’t like sleeping in the open! The boy relieved himself, then, still standing, he ate a small piece of the bread, and left the place. In this chilly morning, the best thing he could do to warm up was walking.
He had already done several miles, when the sun finally rose out of the sea. He had seen this many times, but still he enjoyed it, how the landscape, gray and heavy until that moment, was suddenly flooded in vivid colours. He stood, watched, and listened to the birds, which at this time held a frenzy concert. Then he went on, wondering as he wandered. How much beauty sunlight can bring.
A peasant driving a cart pulled by two oxen came by. Tommaso greeted, the peasant greeted back. The boy gazed into the cart. Lettuce, tomatoes, fruit… He shook loose, and went on walking. A while later he started feeling warm, then hot. This was going to be a hot day. He stopped, pulled off his excess clothes, and made his bundle just like the day before. But it was smaller now, with so little food remaining. He kept going.
In the intense midday heath he came to the shore of a river. It could not yet be the Tronto, of course, but he was making progress! He stopped at the shore. There was no bridge, so he would have to wade across. He took off his shoes, hoping that the shorts were short enough to stay dry. The cool water felt marvelous around his tired feet. He put his bundle over his shoulder, took the shoes in his hand, and waded into the water. The river was shallow, the water level stayed mostly below his knees. Tommaso laughed. He had expected some more. He sat down on a rock, put on his shoes, and then he saw that downstream the river formed a sort of pond! He had made good progress, he had time, it was hot… and off he went towards that pond! He found a place that was hidden from the road, and undressed. He put the leather pouch with his treasures under a rock, so no wind gust could steal it, and splashed into the water. He enjoyed it royally. In the middle of the pond he could not stand. He swam across it a few times, then turned on his back, most of his head in the water, and floated motionless. The sun shone onto his face. He could have stayed there forever. Now and then a few strokes of his feet restored his floating position, otherwise he just drifted with closed eyes.
After a while, he swam back to the shore, climbed out, and dried in the sun. He looked down his body. It was seldom enough that he could stand naked in the full sun. In Ortona people would have been shocked! He enjoyed the idea of someone from Ortona coming by, and seeing him. He was free now, and did not have to follow their mandates!
But no one came, of course, and Tommaso ate the rest of his food while still naked, then he put on his clothes again. He felt fresh and clean now, a sensation he hadn’t had for more than a week. The last time he had taken a bath had been when his mother was still alive… He swallowed a tear, and forced himself to get over it. He hung the pouch around his neck, grabbed the bundle, which now was even smaller, and resumed his voyage.
The evening found him reaching a small town, tired and hungry as a lion. There were a few houses, an inn, and a small chapel. Now what? He needed something to eat, or he would starve. So he took all his braveness together and entered the inn. Three men were sitting around a table, playing cards and drinking. Another one was having dinner. Tommaso’s belly hurt even more. The place’s owner sat behind the counter, looking lazily around. The boy approached him. “Sir, could you please give me some food, in exchange for work? I have no money.” The man scrutinized Tommaso from head to feet, then laughed. “What kind of work could such a thin sparrow like you possibly do?” “I can wash the plates, sir, clean the barn, tend the horses…” Tommaso wondered if he should try his last resort, then decided to go for it: “And I could sing for your clients, too.” Now the innkeeper laughed even louder, and gave back: “Boy, I can wash the plates myself, the barn is clean enough, the horses can care for themselves, and I don’t think that anyone would want to hear a k** singing here!” And then he raised his voice: “Now, OUT OF HERE!!!”
Tommaso stepped back in fear of that man, said “Sorry, sir”, and went to the door. But then the man who was eating shouted: “What’s happening over there?” “A tramp is begging food, that’s all, Mr. Campolieto. He is leaving already.” And addressing Tommaso: “What are you waiting, boy? OUT, I said!!!”
The bartender was stepping towards Tommaso, who panicked and fled as fast as his legs could carry him through the room. But Campolieto raised his voice: “Stop that! Boy, come here! Yes, come! This man won’t touch you!”
Tommaso stopped, looked, and indeed the man did seem to obey his client’s order. So he went to his savior’s table. “Sit down, boy”, the man said. “What’s your name?” “Tommaso Pinetti, sir”, he replied shyly. “I’m Gaetano Campolieto. Were you really begging for food?” “No, sir, I was asking for food in exchange for work. I offered to wash the plates, clean the barn, tend the horses, and sing.” “You are a singer?” “Well, not a real one, you know… But I sang in my town’s church choir, so I thought that maybe I could make good use of that.” The man laughed. “You seem to be quite a bright lad, Tommaso. But people are poor here, even the owner of this place. So you must understand that he can’t give you anything.” Tommaso nodded. It was clear enough now.
“Are you hungry?” What a question. “Very hungry, sir.” The man paused. Then he proposed: “Tommaso, if you agree to be my servant for this evening, I’ll get you food, and you can spend the night in my room. It’s a deal?” Tommaso’s eyes brightened up. “Yes, Mr. Campolieto, and many thanks! You saved me!” Campolieto presented his hand, and the boy took it. A firm handshake closed the deal.
“Barman, this boy is with me!” Campolieto shouted. “Fix him a dinner like mine!” Tommaso couldn’t believe it. That was a huge beefsteak with sauce and salad! “Very well, sir”, said the keeper. “With red wine, just like yours?” Campolieto turned to Tommaso. “Do you drink wine?” “Not often, sir”, the boy replied. In fact, it had been only a very few times when he had gotten to taste wine. Campolieto ordered: “Yes, bring him some wine, but with lots of water!” “Very well, sir!” Tommaso smiled. How the innkeeper had changed his attitude!
After a very good dinner, Tommaso felt happy and eager to serve his new friend. “Let’s go upstairs”, said Campolieto. “I have rented a room here for the night.” “Are you travelling too, sir?” “Just call me Gaetano. Yes, I’m travelling back home. I have at least another three days to ride. And I have spent the last ten days on horseback. My ass is swollen from it.” Tommaso giggled. “So you come from far away!” he said. “Yes, I was in Venice. Do you know where that is?” Tommaso had a faint idea. “I think it’s up the coast, quite far from here. That’s the city that’s built in the water, isn’t it?” “Very good, Tommaso, yes. It’s that one. It’s very beautiful. And the world’s best artists are to be found there. If you want to see the best paintings, go there. And if you want to hear really great music, music no one here knows, go there and attend a concert with works of Mr. Monteverdi or Mr. Gabrieli! They were true masters of their art!” Tommaso made a mental note.
“Can I ask you, Mr. … Mr. Gaetano, if you maybe are a musician too?” Campolieto laughed. “No, boy, unfortunately not. I’m a farmer, nothing else. But I live down there in Campolieto, yes, like my name. Campolieto is just my farm and three houses. There is not even a church choir there. And I love the arts, be it music, painting, sculpture, you name it. So, once a year I take leave and ride to Venice, where I stay for a month, visiting painters, attending concerts, and so on.” What a way to live, thought Tommaso. “That must cost a lot of money, sir!” he said. “It does. Oh yes, it does! But it is worth it. See, Tommaso, I have no family, so I have few expenses. And my farm is rather big, so I employ five men who do most of the work. I earn enough money to live quite well, and unless the harvests are particularly poor, I keep doing my yearly trip to Venice.”
They had arrived in Campolieto’s room while chatting. Tommaso looked around. It was plain, but clean, just like a rental room has to be. Of course it had just one bed, after all Mr. Campolieto was travelling alone. He would sleep on the floor, which was still better than the wet soil of last night!
The man unbuttoned his shirt, and sat down in the room’s only chair. “Can I help you in some way, sir? Maybe you have some dirty clothes which I could wash for you?” Tommaso was feeling mighty useless, standing there in the middle of the room. But Campolieto laughed. “Stop that nonsense, k**, strip down now and get into the bed!” Tommaso didn’t understand. “But the bed is yours, sir, and you said that I would have to be your servant for this evening!” Campolieto laughed even louder now. “You are great, Tommaso! You should become an actor! But now, stop the show and get out of your clothes!” Tommaso was growing desperate now. Was this man mad, or what? Or was he a surgeon, and had sensed what Tommaso was searching on this trip, and just wanted to make it happen more quickly? No, nonsense! That was too far fetched! But he really had no idea what Campolieto wanted. He forced himself to stay calm, and asked: “Mr. Campolieto-” “Call me Gaetano, it’s easier”, the man interrupted. “Well – Gaetano, I really don’t understand what you want! You told me to be your servant for the evening, and now you want me to get into the bed, without having served you in any way?”
Campolieto got serious. “Tommaso, this seems to be a misunderstanding. Do you really not know what it means for a boy to be a man’s servant for an evening?” Tommaso thought. “I suppose it means to do all those little jobs, like washing clothes, lighting candles, emptying chamber pots, fetching water, and so on!” Now Campolieto almost bursted in laughter. Tommaso felt so silly. Something was awfully wrong here. When the man had stopped laughing, he explained: “Tommaso, being a man’s evening servant is much different from that. I thought you were used to that kind of service, but now I see that isn’t the case. It involves personal service. Things like caressing, stroking, and some more. And that’s done in the bed. Would you like to do that to me?” The thought of it horrified Tommaso. Being in bed with a naked man, being naked too, and doing those things? “No, please!” was the only words he brought out.
Campolieto watched the scared boy. He made up his mind. “Relax, Tommaso. I won’t force you to it. It seems that I lost.” Tommaso breathed a little easier. “But maybe you would agree to give me another service?” What choice did he have? He had given this man his hand! “Whatever you say, sir, as long as it isn’t personal service!” Campolieto smiled. “Well, the fact is, I have been taking a few lessons from painters in Venice. Would you be able to stand still for an hour or so, while I draw you?” That was easy! “Of course, that’s no problem, sir!” Campolieto laughed. “Call me Gaetano, even if you won’t go to bed with me!” Then he added: “But I want you to pose in the nude.”
Tommaso weighed the situation. It was not proper for a boy to show off naked in front of a man who had a strange behavior. But then, he would never again see this man, so what damage could it do? He agreed.
He took off his clothes, shyly hiding behind the chair, while Campolieto unpacked his drawing utensils. A stand was assembled, a large paper was pulled from a roll and installed on the stand, several brushes of different sizes and shapes appeared, a piece of drawing coal, and some containers with watercolours. Tommaso gazed in awe. “How do you carry all that?” The man laughed lightly. “I have a pack horse, boy! I still have to learn to travel light!” He finished to set up everything, then ordered Tommaso to get out from behind that chair. Tommaso blushed, and walked to the place he was told, trying to appear as modest as possible. Campolieto came close, grabbed his left arm, and gently brought it into the position he wanted. He lifted up the boy’s chin, then with both hands pulled his shoulders straight. Tommaso understood immediately, and behaved like a wax figurine, holding the shape the man was putting him into. In that pose he could not look down. He looked at the wall, and the window, which was totally dark. Three candles shone their yellow light from the holder at the wall. “Move your right foot forward”, he was told. He did so. “Pull your belly in – no, not necessary, you have no belly to speak of!” Tommaso laughed. He knew that he was thin. Then he felt a tug at his balls. “Ouch!” he said. “Now they look right too”, Campolieto said, satisfied. “Just one thing missing.” With his hand he went through Tommaso’s hair, until it was smooth and shiny. He stepped back. “Boy, you are really beautiful!” he said.
That sentence shot through Tommaso. Suddenly he understood what the priest meant, when he had warned him against men who told him that he was handsome! Father Giuseppe knew about things like private evening services to lonely men! Now he also could understand why the priest couldn’t keep him in his house without raising suspicion. Such a crooked world! Tommaso hated it.
While Campolieto drew the boy, he suddenly asked: “Now let me know who you are, and what you are doing here, young man. You are a musician, right? You said that you sang in your town’s church choir?” While keeping his rather uncomfortable pose, Tommaso told him the entire story, the death of his family, the poverty they were in, and that now he was on his way to Norcia, to visit an aunt. Campolieto listened up. “Tommaso, would you sing something for me?” “It would be a pleasure, Gaetano. Right now?” “Yes!” “But I have to give up this pose if I have to sing!” Campolieto laughed. “Do it, but then we finish the painting!” Relieved, Tommaso assumed his normal posture, and asked what he should sing. “Anything that shows off your voice. Something that takes it high up, and way down too. Show me what you can do!” Now that was an invitation Tommaso loved. He sang a scale, to find his proper starting note, and then he sung a solo taken from a Spanish Magnificat, which was just what showed off his voice best. The rather small room did not help, but still it was a pleasure to sing this piece. He adorned the music as he fancied. He didn’t mind a bit now to be stark naked in front of an unknown man. This man understood music, he could see that. The solo wasn’t long, three minutes perhaps, but when Tommaso finished, Campolieto sat quiet for a long time. Than he said softly: “Tommaso, that was better than anything you could have done to me in bed. This alone would pay for your meal, and for much more.” That made Tommaso feel even better. He smiled, and got back into modeling pose, even pushing his balls forward, so the man would not tug on them again. Campolieto resumed painting. But not in silence.
“Now tell me the truth, Tommaso. That aunt in Norcia doesn’t exist, right?” The boy felt discovered. He didn’t know what to say now. But Campolieto continued. “Norcia is famous for two things: Its pork, and its surgeons.” He stood up, and grabbed Tommaso’s forearm. He looked into the boy’s face, and said: “And now I don’t think you will try to tell me that you are going there for the pork.”
After a long pause Tommaso gave in. “How did you do that, Gaetano, reading my mind? I thought that my aunt in Norcia sounded real enough!” Campolieto laughed, then patted Tommaso on his shoulders. “Congratulations, boy! You will make a great career as a castrato, believe me! It’s the best thing you can do, with that voice of yours! Everything else doesn’t matter! But regarding your question: A boy with a fabulous voice, travelling to Norcia, tells it all! And the closer you come to Norcia, the more people will read your mind about this! If you want to keep your secret, then you must find another story. Tell them you are going to Serravalle. That’s close to Norcia, the road is the same, but Serravalle does not have Norcia’s fame!” He laughed. “Thanks”, said Tommaso. His aunt lived in Serravalle now. Serravalle. Don’t forget. Serravalle.
Campolieto drew several pictures of the nude boy. He even coloured one of them that evening. “I can do the others later”, he said. Tommaso looked at the watercolour painting. Campolieto had drawn a landscape around him, from memory, with a waterfall, trees, some clouds… It looked nice, except for his own figure. He almost went forth to ask “Gaetano, why am I so ugly?” But then, he decided to better keep his mouth shut. That question could again bring unpleasant things up. And, perhaps, after all he wasn’t as ugly as he perceived himself? As if it mattered! So he just congratulated him on the good paintings. Shortly later the two went to sleep. Campolieto in the bed, and Tommaso, fully clothed, on the floor.
When the boy woke up, he heard the scratching of the coal on the paper. He kept quiet, and very slowly opened one eye, only a narrow slit. He saw Campolieto, busily drawing, looking at him, drawing, looking, drawing… After the man had taken the next look, Tommaso pushed his tongue out of his mouth, stretching it as long as he could, and grinned at the same time. Campolieto looked, drew, looked, drew, looked, and suddenly noticed the change. He exploded in laughter. “Stay that way, it looks great!” The coal scratched faster across the paper. After a while, Campolieto was happy with his work. “Ready!”, he said. Tommaso now fully opened his eyes, let them adjust to the daylight that was falling through the window… How late was it? Much too late, in any case! He stood up, stretched his limbs, felt the refreshing ache. His bones must have grown another tiny amount this night. He looked at Campolieto’s papers. The man had been very productive! There were full-body coal drawings of him sleeping, seen from several different angles, some face-only drawings, a coloured painting of the entire scene in the room, including the painting tools. That one was great. “How long have you been painting this morning, Gaetano?” he asked. The man laughed. “I couldn’t sleep very long. I’m up for at least three hours now.” Tommaso kept looking through the drawings. Here were those from yesterday, showing him naked. He liked those of him sleeping on the floor much better. “What do you like so much about me, Gaetano?” he asked. And immediately he regretted it. But Campolieto did not react badly. “I told you yesterday, Tommaso. You are beautiful. Your face, the shape of your body, the way your hair flies when you move your head…” Tommaso felt like running. But he kept in control. “Gaetano, aren’t men supposed to like women? Isn’t it strange that you like looking at me, drawing me twenty-two times, and asking me to get in bed with you??” The man didn’t answer at first. Then, very softly, he said: “Tommaso, you are right. Men are indeed supposed to like women. But some just don’t do, and they can’t help it!”
After a further while of tense silence, during which Tommaso tried to understand but couldn’t, and decided to just take note and move on, Campolieto became more practical. “Tommaso, in ten more years, when you are a famous castrato singing in the best theaters of Rome, Naples, Venice and Milan, you will suddenly ask yourself ‘How did I look as a small boy, before going to Norcia?’ So I made this for you. Keep it as a present from this crazy old man.” And he handed him a small painting. Tommaso took it, and looked. It was a fully coloured painting of him, naked, standing aside a river, his sight aimed at a bird flying through the sky. It was obviously the pose he had been displaying in the evening, but the landscape with the birds was new, and looked great. The painting was carefully crafted, every smallest detail could be seen, from the birds’ feathers to the boy’s hair and the trees’ leaves. Tommaso liked it a lot. “How did you do this?” he asked in awe. The painter laughed. “It’s quite easy. I copied your body from one of the larger drawings from yesterday, then added the landscape from memory. Drawing trees and birds is easy! Only for drawing people I need a model.”
Tommaso kept looking at the picture. He was starting to like the view of himself. And even being naked was not disturbing at all in that landscape! Gaetano was right, this would be a good reminder of how he looked now. Both of his balls could clearly be seen, hanging lower than normal… The effect of the tugging before the man had started to draw! He would call it the ‘ouch effect’. He giggled.
Very carefully Tommaso folded the painting along the middle line. Otherwise it would not fit his leather pouch. He stored the little treasure. Soon later they went down for breakfast, and then came the time to continue his trip. He was provided with food for a day, a big hug from which he seeked escape, all good wishes, and – a ducat! A coin made from real gold! Campolieto said that it would bring him good luck. But in Tommaso’s eyes, it was a fortune not to be wasted! He would consider it the start of his coming wealth!
While walking along the road, the boy slowly digested his adventure. He felt happy now, out of danger. Strange man! Hard to tell if he was crazy, bad, good, special, or what. But in the end it all had worked out well, and he had gotten a painting of himself and a ducat – for nothing!
In the afternoon he started asking people on the road how far it was to the Tronto river. He got differing answers, and soon he found out that people who walked tended to say one thing, while those who rode found the way much shorter! He then averaged what pedestrians told him. Maybe he could make it today! In the late afternoon he finally reached a river that looked like it could be the Tronto. He waited. Should he go up this river? After a while a woman came his way. He greeted, and asked if this was the Tronto. “No, boy, this is the Tordino! You have a day or so to go for the Tronto! But what in heaven are you going there for?” Swallowing his dismay, Tommaso told his story about the aunt in… Serravalle! He had almost forgotten it! But the story worked: The lady wished him a good voyage, and told him: “Stay in Giulia this night. There are good people there, and there is no further town for several hours.” That was good advise! Then the lady walked away. No suspicions!
An hour or so later he reached the town. It was the usual assembly of a few houses, a church, and not much more. But somehow it breathed peace. Tommaso liked it. It really looked like good people could dwell here. When he passed by the church, suddenly he thought that he owed God some thanks for the success of his trip so far. He entered, knelt down, and prayed silently. Then he stood up, and looked around. It was a plain church. No organ in sight. And nobody there except for him. But several candles were burning. Obviously people did come here.
Tommaso felt the urge to sing. And he knew positively that he had to! If he didn’t sing for too long, his voice would get rusty, and what then??? So, he made sure again that no one was around, and then started his own private recital. His voice worked as it should, and he enjoyed it! He had his doubts about the truth of certain statements about his supposed beauty, but inwardly he knew very well that regarding his voice no such fears were warranted. He sang through a good part of his repertoire, and noticed how the church resonated with his voice! This gave him more confidence, and finally he let loose everything he had in his throat! He closed his eyes, listening for the several separate echoes coming from different areas of the building. He felt in peace with the world, which was so full of beauty! He kept his eyes shut, and continued singing, one work after the other. He was about to run out of music, but he had kept that Magnificat solo for the end. He paused a while, concentrated, and then let it come out! If he had to sing something of his choice in an admission exam, he would sing this! It was so powerful!
After he finished, he enjoyed the quietness a few moments, then opened his eyes again, ready to turn to mundane things such as looking for food and shelter. And as he did so, a surprise shocked him: The church was no longer empty! About twenty people were there, sitting or standing, including a priest, looking at him! And he was standing next to the altar, misusing the sacred house for singing practice! What a way to mess up! He blushed deeply, picked up his bundle and fled down the aisle, but the priest stepped in his way and stopped him. “Boy, that was heavenly! Please stay with us for a while! Welcome in Giulia!” Tommaso stayed.
It was the time of the evening mass, and Tommaso had made it start late. But no one complained… After the mass, which lasted till it was dark, most of the people gathered around him. He had to tell them his name, where he came from and where he was bound too, and where he learned singing. They were surprised to learn that his only school had been a small-town church choir. They tried to convince him to stay a longer time in town. But Tommaso, as much as he would have liked it, did not accept. “But you surely will stay here at least for this night!” someone said. The next thing was that he got invitations from three different people to stay at their homes! He didn’t know what to do in such a situation, but the priest noticed and, smiling, decided everything. Tommaso was housed by a family with five c***dren, in a clean, ample house. He got a warm bed for the night, good food… If only life could be like this all the time! He really considered giving up all his plans and staying in Giulia, but… it could not be. It was clear enough that his voice had gained him this treatment. And he was twelve years old. His voice required urgent attention, or it would fade. And what would he be without his voice? A useless, thin, sickly k**. No one would want him. He had to press on, to Norcia.
It took some effort to leave Giulia. He had to promise everyone to return soon, and stay longer. But off he went, towards the Tronto river. His feet had developed blisters. So, at some places he left the road, and walked along the beach, barefoot. It felt good, but in the sand he didn’t make much progress. Finally, he put on his shoes again, blisters and all, clenched together his teeth and walked on, as quickly as he could. And indeed, he finally reached the Tronto before the day was over! Finally! This was about the middle point of his trip. Four days. He would probably take another four to Norcia. Would they be as full of adventure as the first four? And what then, once he arrived in Norcia? Norcia. That name was starting to have such a special ring in his ears!
He didn’t find any town to spend the night. He had to camp out again. That was fine. He could use another night under the stars! But God chose to punish him for his excessive trust in his luck. That night, as he was lying under some trees by the riverbank, some drops came down. And then more. And after a while, it was raining like in mid winter! Tommaso was soon soaked to his skin, and shivered in the cold. He would have tried to find a drier place, but it was pitch black dark! Fat droplets fell out of the tree, but at this point the boy could not get any wetter. He should have stayed with the good people in Giulia until the bad weather was over! But now it was too late. He made sure that his pouch was well closed, so at least his treasures inside would stay dry, and then he concentrated on dominating that feeling of coldness. He actively tried not to shiver. A thick droplet fell into his left ear. Bang! That was loud! He shook it out, covered his ear with his hand, and tried to sleep. It was a crappy night.
The boy got up in the first morning light. It was still raining intermittently. For breakfast he had fruit and bread, which the Giulians had given him. But the bread was soaked with rain and tasted terrible. At least it was soft… He grinned, despite being half frozen. Then he started walking, upriver! This was the way to Norcia!
The wet clothes were heavy, and his limbs ached. He had an headache too, but after a while that cleared up. At least he was warming up a little. The worst part where his feet. The blisters were turning into wounds.
The trail along the river went slightly uphill. A lot of birds were living along the Tronto. Few people, but very friendly. So friendly in fact, that at noontime he was invited by a large party of travelers to share their lunch. He enjoyed it, and thanked with a song in the open. After he finished, an old man made a gesture up the hills, and asked just one word: “Norcia?” It was becoming clear to Tommaso that around here everyone knew about that town’s reputation! But he played it down, answering: “No, Serravalle”. The man gave back: “Good for you. But to get to Serravalle, you need to pass through Norcia. Be careful there. Norcia is dangerous for boys like you.” That good soul! Tommaso kept the truth to himself.
Having set off so early, he walked a long stretch this day. By the evening he came to a larger town. It seemed appropriate for trying his luck as a street singer, for the first time! He found a corner which gave some echo, and, tired as he was, started to practice his songs. Soon people started gathering around him! The more people came, the louder he sang. Then he stopped, lacking a hat he took one of his shoes in his hand, and passed it around the people… Some laughed, many quickly walked away, but a few gave a coin or two! He repeated it several times, until no new people came. He could not go on milking the same ones, so he called it a day. Most of the remaining people left, except for a few who were more interested, and asked him the usual questions. But in this larger town people were not as friendly as in Giulia. Well, no place so far had matched Giulia for friendliness…
Tommaso counted his money. It added up to almost two ducats! He had almost tripled his savings! Enough to spend some of it for food. He bought himself a warm meal in an inn, and when he asked how much it would be to sleep in the inn’s barn, to his surprise he was allowed to sleep there for free! He enjoyed a warm, even if smelly, night amid the horses.
The next morning he almost couldn’t stand his headache. He felt really sick. But he had no choice, his trip had to continue! He stayed in the hay just one more minute, and another, and so on… until several men came to fetch their horses. Tommaso jumped up and wiped the sleep out of his eyes, then greeted the gentlemen. The usual questions followed. When they learned that the boy was bound to Serravalle, one of them told him: “The road gets steep that way. It’s much better to ride than to walk. Do you want to come with us? We are travelling to Rome.” Rome! Tommaso was confused. “But I need to go to Serravalle first! Only later I will go to Rome…”
The men laughed. “Dummy, I know! But it’s the same road! You can come with us right to the pass. It will spare you two days of walking, if not more!” That offer was not to be turned down. Tommaso went with them. They had several spare horses, so the boy got one, and enjoyed the ride royally. He even forgot his headache, but he couldn’t thank in his accustomed way: He was so hoarse that there was no way to sing. He could barely talk. At least this had the advantage that no one suspected that his real destination was Norcia, and much less, why he was going there…
In the mid afternoon they reached the place where the mountain trail to Norcia separated from the main road. Tommaso was so thankful! This had cut two days of walking uphill to some hours of joyful riding! And his feet were thankful too. But he rubbed his ass. The saddle had definitely not been the most comfortable… He grinned, thinking about Mr. Campolieto riding for two weeks at a stretch in such a thing!
The boy walked and walked. The trail switched forth and back. No road is ever straight, but this one was especially crooked. He considered taking shortcuts, but in the thick forest, steeply uphill, he soon realized that the best thing he could do was following the beaten trail. Poor wandering one, he thought…
Not only was the trail crooked and steep, but it also was lonely. By the time it was becoming dark, he had seen no one. Of course, no house, no town. And he had no food. He had trusted to get, or maybe buy, some food, but now he realized that this was a real mountain range, where simply nobody lived! And it was getting so cold up here, that he was shivering even while walking. He was in trouble, and he knew it.
Tommaso walked until the day definitely went away. Hungry as he was, he filled himself up with water from a creek, the only thing he could do… He had seen no edible berries or anything in that line for all the trip, so it was useless to try searching now. Then he prepared for sleep. He broke some branches from trees and shrubs, and made a sort of bed from them. There he lay down. Despite being infinitely tired, he couldn’t sleep. He had that nasty headache again, and he simply couldn’t stop shivering. He was in doubt if it was really that cold, or if he was feeling colder than he should.
Suddenly he realized that he hadn’t talked to anyone since leaving the men and their horses. He tried his voice. To his dismay, he could not bring a sound out! This wasn’t from singing in the street… He was sick, so much he knew now. What would happen if he died here? Would anyone find his body? He wept silently. Then better thoughts crossed his mind. From here it should be no more than one day to Norcia! There, all his worries ended! And his little cold would not kill him! But what if it wasn’t just a cold? Or if he didn’t find the surgeon? And anyway, how would it feel to be castrated? Would it be done right tomorrow, or when? Worried, and cold, he took a long time to fall asleep. It was more like loosing consciousness.
Tommaso woke up in the middle of the night. He was feeling hot. He enjoyed it! But his nose was almost swollen shut. He tried to free it up, to no avail. And a while later he was freezing again. He stood up in the dark, walked a few paces, took a leak, sat down, then got into his leaf bed again and tried to sleep. He then did not wake up again until the morning sun warmed him.
He stretched. He rubbed his forehead. It felt like if someone was compressing it between two logs. He was breathing through his mouth, since his nose was sealed shut. He could barely speak and decided to stop trying. His stomach felt like he would throw up. He felt as sick as a boy could feel, but at least it was the same bug he got every year, at least once. He knew that bug. It lasted for a few days, and didn’t kill. But it made one feel awfully weak and bad…
Tommaso drank a little water. He didn’t regret having no food, as he didn’t feel like eating anyway. He grabbed his belongings and walked off. He felt weak, and seemed to wander in seesaw lines. But Norcia was within reach now, and being sick, he needed it more than ever! He walked. His ears closed up. It was like wading through a thick swamp, looking through mist, listening through wadding… and breathing through the mouth. Only his mind was clear, despite the headache. It was racing, in fact! Flying from one thought to the next, barely touching one before switching to the next. What was Luca doing now? Would he find another best friend? What was the surgeon going to be like? Could he castrate without pain? Or at least without too much pain? Would any of the schools in Rome grant him that much needed scholarship? How many strange men like Mr. Campolieto were there in this world, who planted wheat, visited painters in Venice and loved boys? Why were people in some towns orderly and kind, and in others messy and vile?
The trance-like condition shortened Tommaso’s trail. And it was going downhill now. So, he was quite surprised when a town came into view. This could only be Norcia! His heart started to race. Norcia! He touched his leather pouch, with the letters and other treasures. It was there. He walked. He was feeling better now.
A while later he walked into the town. It was larger than he had expected. Stores, inns, lots of houses, a large, beautiful church. He quickly went into the church. It had an organ! After a quick, silent thanksgiving prayer, he left again. Nobody was in the street. So, the boy finally entered a butcher’s store. Nobody was there either! But there was a bell, obviously for calling the owner. Timidly, Tommaso made it raise its voice. After a while, he repeated the exercise, a little less timidly. Then he heard paces. A tall man came, greeted, and asked how he could help. “Sorry for disturbing you, sir. I’m looking for Mr. Scorrone. Do you happen to know where he lives?” Tommaso was happy that he had been able to bring out something like a voice…
The man mustered the boy. “Yes, I know. But what do you want of him?” Tommaso looked to the floor. Should he be direct, honest, or witty? He decided to say: “Definitely I want no pork, sir.” The butcher almost bursted from laughter. “That old bandit of Scorrone is a barber, by the way. He has no pork to sell. But if you are coming for that other thing he does, I can do it as well. We all charge the same here in Norcia.”
Tommaso listened up. He had a choice here! And somehow this tall butcher seemed to inspire confidence. He felt a chill run down his spine, imagining this man, a big butcher knife in hand, reaching for his balls…
“I have some money”, he said. “How much does it cost?” The reply came quickly: “Twenty-five ducats for the treatment, including housing and food during the recovery. Ten more if you want it with opium.” Tommaso’s yaws almost dropped open. Twenty-five! And he had slightly over two! He had not yet recovered from the shock, when the butcher went on: “If it pleases you, we can do it tomorrow evening. You would have to fast until then.”
Tommaso decided to play the rich man. “What is the opium good for? Is it worth the extra ten ducats?” “It’s against the pain. With opium, you won’t feel much. Without, it hurts.” “Does it hurt… too much?”, Tommaso asked with thumping heart. The butcher made a serious face. “Yes, it hurts a lot without opium. Some boys have ripped off the ropes from the pain! It’s better to spend the extra ten.” It was his business, after all! “What ropes…?” “Those I use to tie them down.”
Tommaso let it go through his mind. He imagined himself, tied to some structure, this man grabbing his balls, cutting, and he feeling such a pain that he ripped of the ropes in desperation. Awful! But then, his money was not even a tenth of what the basic surgery costs…
“I think it will be with opium then”, he said. “But could you tell me anyway where I can find Mr. Scorrone?” The butcher saw his business flying out of the window… “Perhaps someone told you that Scorrone does it for free sometimes? That’s true, but only if a boy is exceptionally good.” He laughed. “And you really don’t sound like a singer! A little, hoarse voice! Boy, let me tell you something: Keep your things down there, become a man, and take up some honest work. You don’t have the voice for becoming a decent castrato!”
Tommaso almost jumped to say that he was just hoarse from illness, but then thought, why in heaven should he tell this man such a thing, that anyway sounds like a lame excuse? So he only insisted in getting directions to Scorrone’s house. And he got them. A lot richer in knowledge, he went to that place. It was a plain simple house with a small sign in the front, telling that Scorrone was a barber. The business hours were printed there too. He hesitated. Then, his heart almost exploding, and his stomach pushing upwards, he knocked at the door.
Tommaso heard heavy steps coming towards the door. He breathed heavily. Then the door was opened, and a heavy, bearded man appeared in the frame. The boy asked: “Good afternoon. Are you Mr. Scorrone?” The man smiled. “Yes, I’m Aldo Scorrone, at your orders. What’s up?” Tommaso smiled too. This man seemed to be nice. “I just arrived from Ortona. I have a letter for you.” “A letter? You don’t look like a mailman!” Tommaso smiled, as he fingered around until getting the leather pouch out from beneath his clothes, opened it, picked the proper letter, and handed it to the man. “It’s from Mr. Antonio Roletto. He was my teacher in Ortona.” The man’s face brightened up. “Tonio!” he exclaimed. “It’s ages that I didn’t hear anything of him! I didn’t even know where he lives now! Come in, boy, you must be mighty tired! Did you walk all the way?” The ice was broken. Tommaso followed Scorrone into the house. He was guided into the barber’s shop, which doubled as a sort of living room and office. There the two chatted for a while, exchanging what they knew about Roletto. Scorrone was still holding the unopened letter in his hand, and even while Tommaso was already feeling more at ease, his heart still was thumping stronger than normal. “Why don’t you open the letter?” he suggested. “Good idea!” laughed the barber, then he did so and started to read.
When he was through the letter, he let it sink into his lap, looked at Tommaso, and asked: “Is all this true?” Tommaso answered sheepishly: “I don’t know.” “What??? You don’t know? But this is about you! You MUST know!” Tommaso grinned. “I don’t know what he wrote, so how could I know if it is true?” They both laughed now. “Read it, and then tell me”, said Scorrone and handed him the letter. “You can read, I hope?” he added with a questioning look at the tired, dirty boy. “Of course!” answered Tommaso, and he started to read.
The first half of the letter was greetings, memories of old times the two men had lived together, and good wishes. The second half was interesting. There Roletto had written about Tommaso’s life, stressing that he was very poor. His great musical abilities and his voice were described, in Roletto’s words ‘the most promising voice I have heard in my life’, and that Tommaso had accepted to be castrated for the sake of following a singing career, and that he hoped to get a scholarship in Rome. It was true. The letter concluded by praising Scorrone’s surgical abilities, and asking him to help the boy as much as possible. After reading the relevant part twice, Tommaso mimicked the way Scorrone had dropped the letter, and said: “Yes, this is true! At least, he told me too that he liked my voice very much.” The barber scratched his head. “Tommaso, I’m old at this. Please don’t lie to me. Do you really WANT to be a castrato, or did they talk you into it?”
That was a hard question. After a while, the boy said: “It’s hard to tell. Both things are true.” The barber gave him a questioning look, but didn’t say nything. He just waited. So, Tommaso saw himself in need to explain. He told the man that he had secretly dreamed about a castrato singer career, but although he knew that he was the best boy singer in the town, he always thought that his voice was not good enough for that. And how then, so suddenly, they had told him that he did have the voice, that castration was very possible to obtain, and how he had accepted on the spot!
The barber wiped his eyes. “There are not many cases like yours, Tommaso. Most boys come here with mixed feelings. Sure, they all have accepted castration, otherwise I refuse to cut them. But often I doubt if it is honestly their own wish, or if they were talked into it.” Tommaso jumped up: “For me at least, it IS honest! I assure you!” “Calm down!” the barber smiled, “I believe you! But it’s not very common to see a case like yours.”
There was a pause in their talk. Tommaso was worried mostly about one issue. So, timidly he asked: “Mr. Scorrone, how much do you charge?” The barber explained: “We have a fixed price here in Norcia. Everyone charges 25 ducats for a normal castration, including housing and food during recovery, regardless of how long the recovery takes.” Tommaso saw an insurmountable obstacle rising in his path. But Scorrone continued: “That’s the price for normal clients, who can pay. But if a poor boy knocks at my door, bringing me a letter from an old friend, who tells me that he has the best voice in world or something like that, then I’ll do it for free.” He smiled at the boy. Tommaso couldn’t believe his ears at first, but then he jumped up, flew across the room and embraced the man, laughing and weeping at the same time. He really couldn’t talk now. The barber patted his back, held him, helpless in front of that outbreak of emotion. He wiped the tears from Tommaso’s cheeks. And he noticed how hot the boy felt. He felt Tommaso’s forehead with his hand. “Do you feel well, Tommaso? I think you are feverish.” The boy, still overwhelmed, played it down: “It’s nothing, Mr. Scorrone! Just a small headache, and I’m a little hoarse, that’s all. I guess it comes from sleeping in the open. Last night was really cold.” The barber looked in horror. “Did you sleep in the open, up there in the mountains?” The boy nodded. “That could have killed you!” “But I was feeling sick before that, so that last night was not the cause”, Tommaso said with a grin.
Scorrone lifted the boy, effortlessly, and sat him in a chair. “Wait here”, he said. Then he left the room, shouting “Mariaaaa!” That name jolted through Tommaso’s bones! His mother’s name! He heard the voice of a woman answering, and a moment later the barber returned, accompanied by a gentle-looking lady, obviously his wife. “Maria, my dear, tell me what you think of this boy’s health. You have a feeling for k**s.” The lady looked at him, and gave her first impression: “He is totally exhausted, almost starved, and dirty as hell!” Then she felt his forehead too. “Open your mouth, k**!” Tommaso obeyed. She put one finger in his mouth, pressing down his tongue. “Say aaaaaah!” The boy did so. He knew the course. His mother also used to do this when he had been smaller. He also knew what the outcome of the procedure usually was: Being sentenced to bed! So, it came as no surprise to him when the lady declared: “And he is sick. He needs some days in bed.”
The barber told his wife about Tommaso’s solo trip from Ortona, and that he had nowhere to stay. So they would house him for some time. “I think he could use our guest room, so the lazaret stays free”, Scorrone said. “But first he must get a bath!” his wife ordered. Tommaso sat quiet while all this happened. He was not very pleased by the prospect of staying in bed for several days. That always was boring. But then, he really felt awful, and having a place to stay, with good people, was more than he had hoped for.
Someone knocked at the door. The barber went to open, and Tommaso heard him greet someone who must be well known to him. They talked a minute, then Scorrone came back. “Maria, could you please care for Tommaso? That old bandit of Battiglione wants a haircut.” Tommaso grinned. In this town, apparently it was commonplace to refer to friends as bandits! Mrs. Scorrone agreed – what else could she do – but added: “And tell that robber that he still owes you the last three haircuts! Old thief that!”
Then she turned to Tommaso. “Come with me, boy! A warm bath will get that dirt off you, and it may help with your fever.” Tommaso followed her into a room behind the kitchen, which contained a large wooden bathtub, with faucets and all. “You have running hot water?” he asked in disbelief. “Sure, k**! The old Romans had it many centuries ago, so why shouldn’t we have it?” Tommaso didn’t know of anyone having such a luxury in Ortona. At home, when mother was still alive, they usually warmed the water in the kettle, in winter. And in summer they took cold baths. Of course not when he was sick; then he didn’t bathe at all!
The lady opened both faucets, and adjusted them to get the right mix. The boy held his hand into each of the streams, the cold and the warm, no, hot one! “How does this work?” he asked. “Come, I will show you!” He was lead into the kitchen, where Mrs. Scorrone explained the magic. There was an iron water tank, connected to a spiral tube inside the kitchen stove. The water circulated there, warmed up, and was stored in the tank. Tommaso decided that when he was an adult, rich and famous, and had his own house, he would surely purchase such a device too!
They returned to the bathroom. The tub was nearly half full. “Now, undress and get in! It will do you good. I will fix your bed meanwhile.” The lady left the room, and Tommaso undressed, put his clothing in a heap on the floor, and cautiously climbed over the bathtub’s rim. The water was warm to hot, just a little bit hotter than comfortable. But after his feet got used to it, it felt just great. He slowly lowered his body into the water. His ass touched it first, and again it was almost too hot, but soon it felt good. He slowly got in fully, until just his head was above the water. He closed the faucets, and enjoyed the feeling.
After a while, he started scrubbing the dirt off his body. His legs were crusty. His feet ached, with all those blisters. They were becoming soft in the water. He felt around his balls, so loose now in the hot water! They were enjoying it, not suspecting what was in store for them! Tommaso grinned, but the grin was not true. He was quite afraid of his impending castration, he had to admit. He went on, washing his soiled body, and seeing the water turn muddy while his skin got shiny. Then he took a deep breath, and dived. He washed his face, went through his hair – it was knotted and sticky. He poked his head out of the water, took new breath, and dived again. It was not easy to clean his hair. When he came up again, Mrs. Scorrone was there, holding a piece of soap. “Use this, it will be much better!” Tommaso blushed deeply, while he sat up in the bathtub, hiding his private parts. He had not noticed the lady returning. He had exposed himself in the most indecent manner! But she laughed lightly. “You don’t need to be ashamed, Tommaso! I have three k**s myself, two of them boys, and I have bathed them many times! I will help you with that mane of yours.” And she knelt down next to the tub, and started washing Tommaso’s hair. The boy said nothing. Too strong was the mix of shame and pleasure. Maria was a stranger, after all. He should not expose himself. But then, her hands felt just like his mother’s had. After a while, the boy relaxed fully and quietly enjoyed it.
After finishing with his hair, Maria washed his entire body. When she came to his genitals, Tommaso blushed again, but she bridged the moment of shame saying: “You are very meager, Tommaso. You really need to eat a lot more. How old are you?” “Twelve.” “Oh. My youngest son is only ten years old, but even he has a lot more flesh on his bones than you do. Tell me, what do you like to eat?” Tommaso thought. In fact, he ate whatever he could get. He had never had a chance to be picky. But he had certain special preferences, and after fighting down his timidness, he listed them. “Well, I will see what I can do”, smiled Maria. Tommaso smiled happily. Then she came to his feet. “I think you will need new shoes too. Yours must be much too small! Your feet are all blistered and pressed. Do they hurt?” Tommaso nodded. “Well, they should heal up during the next days, while you are in bed.”
After that, Tommaso had to climb out of the bathtub. He was not allowed to use any of his own garments. “I will wash all that stuff! It’s awfully dirty!” Maria said. He got a night gown, and then they went up to the second floor. His feet really hurt now, softened by the warm water. He could feel each blister in its own right. He was led to a room with a nice bed, a table with a chair, and a large closet in a corner. There was a jug with water on the table, and a glass. “Hop in!”, Maria ordered, and lifted the sheets. Tommaso lay down, Maria covered him up snugly – and pressed a kiss onto his forehead. The boy smiled, while the lady sat down on the bed.
“Are you hungry?” What a question! Tommaso nodded. “We will have dinner later, but I will get you something, so you don’t starve until then.” She stood up and disappeared. Tommaso felt very well now! The headache was gone, probably an effect of the bath. His feet ached less than before, and the hunger, that drilling feel in his stomach, was about to be fixed too! After a few minutes, Maria came back. She brought a tablet with fruit, bread, cheese, some smoked pork, and other delicacies! She put it on the table, then helped Tommaso into a sitting position in the bed, and brought him the food, together with a glass of water. He looked in awe. “That’s more than I can possibly eat!” Maria smiled. “Just do what you can!” Tommaso did so. And he could do a lot. A half hour later, only empty dishes remained!
After he finished, and Maria had left with the empty tablet, the barber came up to visit him. He was wearing a white dr****g, and carrying a black wooden case. “Oh, my boy, you look much better already!” he commented. “At least, a lot cleaner!” joked Tommaso. “But I feel better too, indeed. And I’m not hungry anymore!” The barber smiled. It was so nice to see how little it took to make a c***d happy. Tommaso looked angelically, in that white bed. A very thin angel, that is. The man moved the table over to the bed, and fetched the chair too. He put the case on the table, and opened it. Tommaso rose up a little, so he could look inside. “Hey, these are my secrets!” the barber said, laughing. But the boy had seen enough: Several knifes of different sizes and shapes, tweezers, pins, bottles with liquids, pieces of white cloth, leather straps, and some other utensils whose purpose was not clear to him. But what was clear enough was that these were Scorrone’s surgery tools! And Tommaso knew what that meant. His heart almost ripped open his breast. So, it was time! No more delay! Rome, here I come! The castrato Tommaso Pinetti was about to start his existence!
While the surgeon prepared his tools, spreading out several items on the table, Tommaso felt a revolution in his bowels. He shouldn’t have eaten so much! What if he vomited? And how long would he take to be able to stand up again? He should really go to the outhouse before this was done! But should he tell the surgeon that he had not pooped at all today, so it would come soon? So many questions! Tommaso really didn’t know what to do now! But then he calmed down. This man was no novice. He would tell him what to do, no doubt. Nothing could go wrong. Shivering, the boy asked, barely able to bring out his voice: “Mr. Scorrone, …” “Yes?” “…how much will this hurt?”
“It shouldn’t hurt at all, Tommaso. I’m just going to cut away the dead skin, and clean it all up.” The boy could not make sense of this. Dead skin? Then the surgeon pulled the chair close to the bed, sat down, lifted the bedsheet a little, and fished for one of Tommaso’s legs. He pulled it to the side. The boy bit on his lips, his heart pounding. The other leg would follow now, and then –
“Maria told me that your feet are all blistered. But I will fix this quickly.” The man said this as he placed Tommaso’s right foot on his lap. Only then did Tommaso understand! He cracked up in laughter! Such a dummy he was! Scorrone made a puzzled face. “Could you tell me what’s so funny?” Between laughter, Tommaso explained: “I thought that you would castrate me right now, and you are just going to fix my feet!” He rolled around in laughter, and Scorrone joined him.
“Sorry for giving you such a scare! But you took it very well! Some other boys would have run away!” Tommaso thought about it, while he watched the surgeon work at his foot. The surgeon was cutting open a large blister, then he cut away the white skin, and applied a piece of fabric soaked in liquid from one of the bottles. It didn’t hurt at all. Then he took his courage together and asked: “How much does the castration hurt?” The surgeon stopped his work for a moment. He looked into Tommaso’s eyes and said, slowly: “It does hurt. But a lot depends on how you take it. Those boys who really love to sing usually take it much easier than the others.”
“Do you use opium?” The surgeon looked in amazement. “I see that you are very well informed! But no, I don’t use it. It’s too dangerous. Some boys never wake up after taking opium.” Now that was a good reason. The boy was about to ask why other surgeons used it, when Scorrone continued: “I do it in another way. I try to operate in such a way as to cause the least pain possible. That’s better, and safer.” “How do you do that?” asked Tommaso. The surgeon laughed. “Those are my trade secrets, boy! Don’t ask! You will find out when it’s your turn!” “And when will that be?” Tommaso had asked that all-important question before thinking twice. “Not very soon. You are much to weak right now. You will have to stay here some time, get healthy and strong, and then we can proceed.”
That opened an entire new scene to Tommaso. He would stay here for a long time! Weeks, maybe months! But for now he displaced those thoughts. As the surgeon continued to work on his foot, Tommaso felt that nice sensation creep up in his forehead. That feeling that only appeared when someone was doing something for him. When getting a haircut he felt this, sometimes, but now it was stronger than ever! He relaxed and enjoyed it, unwilling to let it go.
Scorrone finished with his right foot. Gently he placed it back under the bedsheet, and pulled out the boy’s left one, crossing it over the right leg. He moved the chair a bit closer to the bed, so he could work comfortably. As soon as he cut the dry skin off the next blister, the feeling in Tommaso’s head, which had been wearing off, returned. It felt so good!
After a while working silently, the surgeon asked: “Tommaso, here you have a choice. This blister has not yet dried up. It will heal faster if I cut it, but that would hurt a little. If we leave it alone, it will heal anyway, but will take longer. What do you prefer?” Here was his chance to test himself. “I prefer that you cut it, so I get over that.” “Bravo, boy! You are brave!” said the surgeon. He took a sharp knife, and with a very light hand he cut through the red area. The boy quivered for a moment. “Did it hurt too much?” “Just a little”, said Tommaso. The surgeon lifted the loose skin, and cut it cleanly off. The boy endured the pain without further quivering. Then the surgeon applied the liquid. Tommaso felt a burning pain, but he held still. “Good!” said the surgeon, “the castration will not hurt much more than this!” “Really?”, Tommaso asked in disbelief. This he could stand easily! “Yes, indeed! It’s only slightly stronger, and – two times!” “How do you know?” “My, I have done a lot of castrations! And most boys tell me what they feel! Quite loudly, sometimes!”
Scorrone had finished the job. He tickled the boy’s footsole, promptly making Tommaso quiver and laugh crazily. Then he placed the partially d****d foot back into the bed, pulled the sheets over the boy, and packed up his tools. “Now the best thing you can do is sleeping!” He closed the curtains, and left. As he was nearing the door, Tommaso said: “Mr. Scorrone!” “Yes, Tommaso?” The boy swallowed. “Thanks a lot for all this you are doing for me!” “Never mind!” said the man and left the room. But he was more affected by this k**’s charm than he would ever admit.
When Maria Scorrone came up two hours later with Tommaso’s dinner, she found him sleeping. She placed the tablet on the table, and caressed the boy’s forehead. It felt a lot better than some hours ago. But he was sleeping deeply enough not to notice anything. Sighing, Maria picked up the tablet and returned downstairs. The boy needed sleep more dearly now than food. At the dinner table the barber explained to his family, specially to the k**s who had returned home in the early evening, what it was all about with Tommaso. He made sure that nobody would harass the young sick singer, even if all three c***dren seemed to have a great respect for Tommaso and his big decision.
In the middle of the night Maria woke up. There were noises in the house. She listened. Someone was trashing around in his bed. Then, a cry. She got out of the bed, lit a candle, and went to Tommaso’s room. As she entered, she found the boy breathing heavily, eyes wide open, and the bedsheets in a state of total disarray. “What’s happening, Tommaso? Are you in pain?” She sat down on the bed, as Tommaso cleared his throat and said: “It’s nothing. I had a nightmare, that’s all. Sorry for waking you up!”
The lady caressed the boy, and stopped on his forehead. It was hot. “It was just a dream, Tommaso. Try to forget it.” He sighed. Indeed, it was a relief to wake up. It had been a crazy dream. Tommaso could not make sense out of it. As he lay still, Maria still gently touching him, he remembered more and more situations that had all mixed. There was a big knife, its purpose obvious. He had been running, but failing to make headway, like if sticking to the floor. He had tried to scream for help, but his voice had failed. Was that the voice break? Nonsense! He knew that the voice changed slowly, rather than disappearing. Or was it his hoarseness? Maybe. But then the man with the large knife had reached him. The man had the face of Mr. Campolieto! He had started cutting him up into pieces, starting from his feet – aha, that was Mr. Scorrone treating his blisters! Tommaso grinned. And then, the bad guy with the big knife had cut off his testicles, in one stroke, together with both legs, and only then he had screamed – and then he had awoken, bathed in sweat, finding out to his surprise that he was in one piece…
Maria got up, poured him a glass of water, and helped him into a sitting position. Tommaso drank. He was really thirsty. “You must drink a lot of water when you are sick like this, boy”, she said. Then she helped him back down, and brought order into the bedsheets. “Wait a moment, I will be back”, and she left the room. She returned shortly later, with a small, wet towel, which she pressed against the boy’s forehead. The cold towel felt great. Maria caressed his cheeks, his head… from time to time, when the towel had become warm, she removed it, swung it so it would cool down, then applied it again. Tommaso felt his headache fading away, and peace overcame him. Slowly he drifted back into sleep.
He slept well into the morning. He woke up in steps. First, the noises in the house mixed into his dreams, fair dreams this time. Then, he saw light. The dreams dissolved, hard to remember. He opened one eye. The sun was shining into the room, and bathing an angel with its golden light. He opened the other eye, tried to see more clearly. No, it was no angel, the wings were missing… but the beauty was there! A girl was standing next to the window, watching outside. She was most beautiful! Fair skin, long brown hair flowing over her shoulders. Her face looked like artfully chiseled out of spotless wood. Her body was slight, but not bony. Tommaso lay and stared. He was awake enough now to be sure that she was no dream! She had to be Scorrone’s daughter.
After a while, the boy wondered what to do. Say hello? But what was her name? He had no idea. Make some noise, so she would notice that he was awake? But the problem solved itself. Suddenly the girl looked away from the window, towards the bed, and noticed that the boy was awake. “Good morning, Tommaso!”, she said. “Finally you awoke too! You seem to be a long haul sleeper!” The boy smiled, but he had no idea what to say. He was reduced to helpless silence by the sheer radiance of this girl! But she saw no trouble. “I’ll tell mom that you are awake now!” And with a quick turn she flew out of the room, her skirt floating around her.
Tommaso was still speechless. Was that love? No, he tried to convince himself. It was just the beauty of her, which was so unexpected. Because beautiful she was, that could be scientifically proven! But that feeling, that helplessness when confronted to her! Definitely, next time she appeared, he had to talk!
Right now he had more pressing problems. Specifically, lots of pressure in his bladder. He was almost bursting. So, when a while later Maria came, with a tablet loaded full with gorgeous food and steaming milk, as much as he wanted to devour it he saw himself forced to ask, stuttering a little: “Where can I take a leak?” “Oh, there’s a pot under your bed. Use that! I will be back in two minutes.” She tactfully left the room, and Tommaso climbed out of the bed. He felt unstable, wobbly… But he found the chamber pot, placed it on the chair, and watching the door, he relieved himself. He almost filled the pot. Then he placed it back on the floor, and got back into the bed. Now he was feeling really hungry!
Soon Maria came back, and helped him into eating configuration. While he feasted on oven-warm bread, cheese, ham, fruits, and warm milk with honey, she took the pot away and emptied it, soon returning. Tommaso then asked for the girl’s name. She was Olivia, he learned. And she was twelve years old. Just like him. He also learned that her elder brother was Carlo, aged fifteen, and that the youngest of the three was Nicolo, just ten years old. “You will meet them all today, they are eager to get to know you!” Maria told him.
And so it was. Soon after his breakfast, he noticed a slight noise near the door. He paid more attention, and saw a few strains of coaly black hair hanging around the door’s border. Then, very slowly, the hair moved forward, and a small part of a face appeared. Much before the eye came round the corner, Tommaso was laughing. Nicolo took that as a cue to give up his hiding game, and came into the room, laughing too. Tommaso told him to be more careful about making noises, and the younger boy laughed again. “How long can you stay totally silent? I was there for quite a while before you noticed!”
Nicolo and Tommaso chatted for hours. The small guy was a good source of information! Tommaso learned a lot about the town, Nicolo’s friends and doings, all the latest gossip, but when he tried to get Nicolo to talk about his father’s work, there wasn’t much interesting about it. The k** gave no details. “He gives haircuts, shaves men, and sometimes he fixes broken bones, cuts off a smashed finger or two…” Tommaso then asked directly how often Mr. Scorrone got to castrate a boy. Nicolo was somewhat uneasy about that issue. “Now and then, not very often.” Tommaso burned from desire to know if Scorrone had cut his own sons. But he didn’t dare ask Nicolo directly. So he went around corners: “Nico, do you like to sing?” But the boy was brighter than Tommaso had judged him: “Firstly, Tommy, my name is Nicolo, not Nico. I hate that shortform! And secondly, no, I don’t sing. Or do you think I would like to get under my father’s knife?”
That was answer enough! Tommaso laughed. “Sorry, Nicolo. Never again. But if you want to call me Tommy, I have no problem.” Nicolo replied: “If your name is Tommaso, that’s how I will call you. Tommy is as silly as Nico!” But his thoughts were elsewhere: “Tommaso… Dad told us that you came here to get cut…” He swallowed. “Is that true?” Tommaso slowly nodded. “WHY…?”, asked Nicolo. That single word asked so much! So it was now Tommaso’s turn to talk about his life, his dreams and his hopes. The young boy listened attentively. After Tommaso finished the story with his arrival at the surgeon’s house, Nicolo shook his head. “You are crazy!” was the only thing he said. Tommaso laughed. But Nicolo was serious. Standing up from his chair and stepping forward, he threw a pitiful look onto this visitor. Then he came close, and whispered into Tommaso’s ear: “Do you even imagine how much that hurts?”
Tommaso felt a shiver running down his spine. But he knew that he had to be strong. “I will survive that, Nicolo. See, I love singing. If I go through this, I will be able to devote my life to singing! Do you understand what that means to me? And I will make a lot of money by the way! If I don’t get castrated, my voice will be gone next year, or maybe in two years, and then I will be a poor orphan with nowhere to go and nothing to do with my life…” He fought the tears that came, brought up by his very own dramatism. He knew it was silly, but he couldn’t help it. However, his wet eyes didn’t fail to produce an effect in Nicolo. “I wish you all the best, Tommaso. But if you had ever heard how the boys scream when my father cuts them, you would think twice about this.”
Tommaso felt a strange feeling in his guts. In low voice, he asked: “Do they ALL scream?” “Oh yes! So much that the ears ring!” Tommaso had to laugh again over Nicolo’s exaggeration. “Don’t laugh, Tommaso! It’s true!” Looking into this young boy’s open and honest face, Tommaso started believing it. Then he fought down his fear. “I won’t scream, Nicolo. I bet!” “Really? I bet against you! You WILL scream!” The small boy was grinning. “I won’t!” “You will!!” “No!!!” “YES!!!”
Olivia came running into the room. “What’s up, Nico! What are you doing here, shouting at Tommaso? He is ill and needs rest! Let him in peace!” Then she asked Tommaso: “Was he unruly? What is this all about?”
What could he say? How could he possibly tell this angelic girl that he just had closed a bet against her little brother, regarding the issue of screaming or not screaming when her father would castrate him?! Nicolo gave his sister an angry look. “Why can’t you learn to call me by my real name!?” And he left the room. Olivia laughed. “He hates it when we call him Nico.” Tommaso saw his chance here to skip the previous question, and told Olivia how he had called him Nico, before knowing that this was a way to make him angry. Olivia laughed heartily.
Tommaso spent at least an hour with the girl. She was so nice. Never before had he felt such a sense of admiration for a girl. He just wanted to be with her, quietly, listening to her voice, looking at her face. Was this love? Hardly… But what else? He didn’t know. He just knew that he liked her. Now that his headache was returning, it felt so comforting to have her close by.
After a while Olivia suddenly asked. “Are you in pain? Your eyes look glassy!” Tommaso confessed his headache. Olivia left the room, and soon came back with a wet towel. “Mom has gone to the market, but I can do this just as well.” And she started to cool off Tommaso’s head. It felt twice as good when Olivia did it…
After a long while in silence, Tommaso talked again. “Olivia, now I know you, your little brother and you parents. But your mother told me you also had a big brother.” “Yes, Carlo. He left for work early in the morning, but will be back soon. I will ask him to come up and meet you. But don’t expect him to talk much,” she laughed, “he is so shy that it’s a wonder if he says two sentences in a row!” Tommaso smiled. He could understand that. Often those people who spoke the least were the best. Not always, of course! Olivia spoke a lot and was heavenly… hey, is this what they call love or isn’t it? He was confused… maybe the headache was the culprit. “Where does he work?” Tommaso asked. “Oh, he’s an apprentice with a cobbler.” So, no surgeon, no barber… and very probably no castrato either!
Shortly before lunch Tommaso finally met Carlo. He was a tall, bony lad with a pimpled face. He came to the bed and said “Hi, Tommaso. I’m Carlo. Welcome here.” His voice was a scratchy baritone, so clearly he had escaped his father’s knifes too! Carlo extended his right hand. Tommaso pulled his out from under the bedsheet, and took the lad’s hand. Ouch! Carlo pressed so hard that Tommaso felt his bones crunching. “Friends?” asked Carlo. Tommaso massaged his right hand with his left. “Friends!” he said and extended his hand again. Carlo took it, but Tommaso quickly grasped just Carlo’s fingers and compressed them as hard as he could. He heard a cracking noise, and smiled at Carlo. The lad slowly retrieved his mistreated hand, breathed onto his hurting fingers, but he grinned. “You know what to do with nasty guys like me!” Tommaso laughed. “It’s just a matter of being even more nasty!” They would be friends, no doubt.
After lunch Tommaso paid a visit to the outhouse. He really needed it, after all that good food. He felt so well, but then, standing up and walking, he was weak. His blistered and not yet healed feet didn’t improve things, so he was mighty glad that he had that bed, and people who cared for him. It was just a cold what he had, but boy, how helpless he felt!
In the mid afternoon, while he was chatting with Nicolo, suddenly there was a lot of clatter. Horses, people shouting, the doors in the house opening and closing… Nicolo darted off to see what was happening, and Tommaso could only listen. He heard noises of people dragging something heavy, shouting, and Mr. Scorrone’s bass voice giving short commands. Tommaso noticed that they were going into the room below his bedroom. There he could hear more details, but not enough to understand what they spoke. He heard someone breathing heavily. It was almost silent for a while, then he heard a man screaming loudly, and others calming him down. Tommaso just wondered what in heaven was going on down there.
Soon he found out. Nicolo returned, his eyes wide. “It’s the miller! He put his fingers between the grinding stones!” Now that must hurt! Before Tommaso could ask, Nicolo volunteered more details: “Seems that one finger was too damaged, and dad had to cut it off. But he is sewing together what’s left of the others!” Tommaso listened. He could hear occasional heavier breathing below the floor, but no more screams. “How often does this happen?” Nicolo looked puzzled. “I guess, it’s the first time they bring the miller in.” Tommaso laughed. “No, dummy, I mean, how often does your dad have to fix up people who had accidents?” Nicolo was a bit pissed off. But he swallowed his anger. “Hard to say. Sometimes once a week, sometimes much less.” Then he added: “Anyway, dad gets most of this work here in town. He cuts off a finger only if it’s necessary. Some other surgeons don’t like to sew pieces together, so they just cut away everything and close the wound. So people prefer coming here after they hit their feet with an axe, saw into a leg, or get kicked by a cow.”
Tommaso was thinking again. “How much does such a wound bleed?” That gave Nicolo a kick. His eyes went bright again. “Oh, a lot! You should see it! He left a bloody track from the mill right into the lazaret! He must have lost at least a bottlefull of blood!” Then, seeing Tommaso looking at the ceiling, Nicolo moderated his statement: “But he is no longer bleeding. Dad has a potion that stops the bleeding very quickly. He brews it himself, from several grasses and plants.” That was interesting. Tommaso imagined Scorrone applying that potion to a large wound in his crotch…
“Is that potion good for all kinds of wounds?” “No, only for rather small ones, or shallow ones. For bigger wounds dad uses the cauterizer.” So, here we have it, Tommaso thought. But… “What’s a cauterizer, Nicolo?” The small boy laughed. “Tommaso, you ask questions like a small c***d!” Tommaso smiled. “A cauterizer is a tool that is heated in a flame, and then used to burn a wound, so it stops bleeding.” Tommaso suddenly saw himself loosing his bet. “Did the miller scream when your father cut his finger off, or when?” Nicolo came close. He grasped both of Tommaso’s hands, looked into his face, and said: “He didn’t feel the cut. The scream was when dad cauterized the wound after cutting the finger off. NOBODY can avoid screaming when he is cauterized! You hear me? NOBODY!” He darted off, but from the door he added: “And the smell of burned flesh is something else!” And off he was, leaving Tommaso quite shocked…
Three days later Tommaso started feeling well again. He wanted to get out of bed. Being in bed while feeling well is sheer torture! But Maria didn’t let him up. He had to complete six days in bed, that was her order, and nothing in the world would change it! At least all family members visited him often. Mr. Scorrone checked up his feet, which were healing well. But Maria was the one who cared most for him, Nicolo provided most entertainment, and Olivia… well, Olivia… Tommaso always felt silly and dumb when close to her! She was just so beautiful!
On the last day of that term, Nicolo came in the morning, bursting with news: “Tommaso, this afternoon dad will castrate a boy!” He then told how in the evening a gentlemen had brought in his nephew, who had a good voice, sang in a church choir in some middle-sized town, and wanted to pursue a singing career. The man had taken the boy with him to a hotel, after getting Scorrone’s instructions, which were basically to withdraw any food from the boy. “And would you believe that the boy actually said that he wanted to be castrated? Dad asks them, and doesn’t cut anyone who doesn’t want it!”
Tommaso imagined how that went. He was here freely – but without Roletto’s idea and the priest’s blessings he would definitely NOT be here! If he hadn’t liked the idea, he could imagine that Roletto would have ended up convincing him anyway. “How old is that boy?” Nicolo hesitated. “Hard to say, but I guess he’s roughly my age.” Ten years, thought Tommaso. At ten, he could have been convinced by anyone, and of anything.
That afternoon Tommaso held his breath, when he heard the boy being brought in. It was quiet in the house, since Carlo was still at work and the younger k**s had been sent out for some hours. Obviously Scorrone tried to avoid exposing his c***dren to brutal scenes. Before leaving, Nicolo had paid a short visit to Tommaso, and hissed: “Listen to the screams! So you know what you have to expect!” That was enough to make the soon-to-be eunuch shiver… and Nicolo obviously enjoyed that!
Tommaso heard the voices of Scorrone, another man, and a high voice that had to be the boy. From what little he could hear through the floor, the boy’s voice actually was very nice and clean. But of course, the truth would be exposed only when the boy sang, and today very probably he would not!
Now the noises moved away. What a disenchantment! Did Scorrone do his castrations in some other room? But then Tommaso understood: They were taking the boy to the bathroom! Sure enough, a moment later he heard the noise of the water running into the tub, then some splashing, while the talking continued.
Then they returned to the room below Tommaso. From the voices, it seemed that Scorrone was alone with the boy now. Tommaso heard subdued voices, and little else for quite a long time. Then he heard the boy moan, while Scorrone talked quietly to him. Tommaso’s heart was pounding hard. The moaning quieted down, then there was some sobbing, while Scorrone still talked. Was it over? Tommaso hoped so. Poor boy, just ten years old and exposed to such abuse! But he? Just twelve years old, and soon exposed to the same, without even an uncle near! Tommaso mentally placed himself into the boy’s situation. He could almost feel Scorrone grab his testicles, cut, sew, the pain… He could imagine himself moaning when something hurt too bad.
Then, very suddenly, a ferocious scream shot through the house! It made Tommaso jump in his bed! Instantly he recalled what Nicolo had told him: It would ring in his ears! Well, it didn’t ring, but he was a floor away…!
Down there the screaming continued, but less intensely. Clearly the boy had lost all control. His breathing was chaotic, judging from the ragged screams, and that’s a lot to say of a singer who had to know how to breathe to get the best out of his voice! Scorrone apparently had stopped talking. After a while, the screams morphed into weeping. But then, again, a terrible scream cut through the house. Tommaso’s guts ached. So, Scorrone did the two balls one after another, not the whole thing at once! Interesting to know…
The rest of the process saw the boy returning to a more calm condition. Scorrone was talking again, soothing words apparently, but Tommaso still couldn’t understand. After a long while, an hour maybe, he heard Scorrone leave the room, while the weeping and sobbing of the boy continued. But it sounded more like the crying of a normal c***d now, not the eerie, desperate screaming of a while ago.
A while later Mr. Scorrone came into Tommaso’s room. The boy tried to smile. “You just made a colleague of mine, right?” But Scorrone saw the shock in the boy’s eyes. “Sorry, Tommaso,” he said as he sat down on the bed and put his hand on the boy’s head, “I totally forgot that you were up here. I should have had you stand up and get outside. You shouldn’t have heard this.” Tommaso still smiled, despite his fear. “At least now I know what to expect.” He felt a knot in his throat. The surgeon rubbed his head. Oddly, Tommaso was starting to feel that sensation of being cared for in his forehead. “You got a wrong impression, Tommaso. This boy down there cried a lot more than most do. And you are brave, I know that. You didn’t flinch when I worked on your blisters. So you will be better off, believe me.” Tommaso wanted to believe it, but it was so hard…
“Mr. Scorrone…” “Yes?” “Did that boy really want it, or was he forced into it?”
The surgeon sighed. “He said that he wanted it. But one can never know. He’s just nine years old, and c***dren that age often change their mind quickly.” Tommaso grinned. “I’m sure he changed his mind even before he started screaming!” Scorrone smiled too. “Probably. But he is well now, the worst part is over, and he will be a good castrato. He has a golden voice.” After a moment, Scorrone added: “By the way, Tommaso, I still haven’t heard you sing! I know you were hoarse when you arrived here, but now you could show me!”
Tommaso instantly forgot his fears. He lifted the bedsheet, climbed out, and stood up in all of his gown-d****d tallness. He tried to find his voice, but then he saw the world turn circles around him, and sat down on the floor just in time, or he would have fallen down in a heap. The surgeon laughed. “Tommaso, after six days in bed, with a lot of fever, you have to take it easy!” He lifted the slight boy from the floor, and helped him back onto the bed. Tommaso quickly recovered his wits, but decided to avoid more risk. He wasn’t sure at all now that he could actually sing after these six days! “Can you wait a few more days?” he asked sheepishly. Scorrone smiled. “I can! Tell me when you are ready! I really want to hear you sing, even if you talk beautifully too. But first impressions are important, so don’t waste the occasion!” He smiled, and left the room. Tommaso decided to make sure he would give Scorrone a good first impression of his voice!
The next weeks were the best summer vacation Tommaso had ever had. He spent lots of time with the k**s, specially with Olivia. They went swimming, they went walking, Olivia even learnt the rudiments of singing from Tommaso. She wasn’t in danger, after all! Often the four went swimming together, or on weekdays, when Carlo had to work, at least Olivia and Nicolo went with him. Carlo never talked much, but he showed Tommaso his appreciation in other ways: When Tommaso dressed for the first time after his sickness, he couldn’t find his shoes. When he asked, Maria told him that she had given them away, since they had become much too small for him. Then she smiled, and handed him a pair of brand new, carefully made shoes, that fit him very much better. Carlo had made them for him while Tommaso was sick, after learning from his father that Tommaso was in urgent need of new shoes!
Tommaso had found his voice back, sure enough. Sometimes he sang a piece or two, but he couldn’t help noticing a certain uneasiness on the part of Nicolo, so he limited his performances to times when the small boy was absent. When Alessandro, the young eunuch, had healed up enough to sit and stand, he joined Tommaso, and the two worked on some duos that ended up sounding really good! But Tommaso’s desire to talk to Alessandro about his surgery fell totally flat. Whenever he hinted at that issue, Alessandro left, switched themes, or simply stopped talking. It must definitely not have been a nice experience for him, Tommaso thought.
One day Tommaso asked Mr. Scorrone when he could expect to finally be castrated. The surgeon told him: “Be patient, Tommaso. The school semester in Rome doesn’t start until September. It’s June now. There is no need to hurry. I prefer letting you get a little stronger, so you will heal up much faster!” Then he smiled confidently, and added: “You seem to be having a good time here, so enjoy it, and don’t worry! I will care for everything.”
It was two weeks after his bedtime, when Tommaso one day strolled past the church, and heard organ music coming out! He had learned that Norcia had no organist at this time, so he was quite surprised to find the organ in use! He entered the church, and enjoyed that long missed sound. After a while he climbed up the organ loft, finding the door in the staircase open, and stood behind the thin man who was playing. He looked over the music sheets, and took a while to make out where the organist was. The guy was playing a lot more notes than what was noted on the sheet! Tommaso watched and listened… The player was reaching the end of the sheet. Holding a tone a little longer on the pedal, he flipped pages, and continued seamlessly. He had skills, no doubt!
The end of the next page came, and Tommaso saw his chance to help, even if just a little bit. He put his hand at the booklet, and flipped pages just as the organist was reaching the end. The man looked up at the standing boy, smiled, said “Thanks!” and continued.
Tommaso stayed there, turning pages and enjoying the feeling to be even slightly useful to someone. The music was fabulous. Rich, full chords, uprising melodies, obviously crafted by a genius! He didn’t know that piece. He had never heard it. So, when the organist finished it, and put his hands in his lap for a rest, Tommaso closed the book to look at the front page. Heinricum Sagittarium was the composer. Tommaso had never heard of him. “Who is this?” he asked. “This music is really good!” The organist smiled. “Master Sagittarium is the world’s best musician, boy! Didn’t you know that?”
Tommaso felt small. “I thought that was Palestrina!”, he offered. “What a nonsense!” The organist jumped up. “Palestrina was a Roman who did nothing but say ‘yes, Pope’, ‘sure, Pope’, ‘as you wish, Pope’! But Sagittarium is a free musician! And he knows how to make big music using just a small organ, like this one!” Tommaso had to agree, the music was great, specially considering the limited organ in this town.
Tommaso wanted to learn more of Sagittarium. “Is this man still alive?” The organist smiled. “Oh yes, the old Heinrich seems to have forgotten to die. Last time I saw him he was over eighty years old! That was two years ago. But he is sick and weak now, he won’t do it much longer. What a pity.” Tommaso felt sad too. Why must everyone die???
“Where does he live?” “In Dresden. Do you know where that is?” Tommaso shook his head. “That’s in Saxonia.” Now Tommaso remembered. Dresden was a large city in Saxonia, far, very far north. “But they speak German there! How come that this guy’s name is Sagittarium?” The organist laughed. “That guy! Oh, boy! Be more respectful towards this man! His real name is Schütz, but Germans often feel the need to translate their names into Latin. It sounds better! And ‘Schütz’ means nothing else than ‘Sagittarium’!”
Thinking of cities in the north, Tommaso brought up another question: “Someone told me that the best music is to be found in Venice. Is that true?” The organist smiled again. “Not only the best music, boy. The best paintings too, and the city itself is more beautiful than any other! By the way, Sagittarium learned his trade in Venice too! He was a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli!” That joined things in Tommaso’s mind! He had once sung Gabrieli’s “In Ecclesiis”, and it had been great!
“Do you play too?” the organist asked. “No. But I sing.” “You sing?! Why didn’t you tell me earlier!” Sheepishly Tommaso answered: “You didn’t ask me earlier, sir!” The man stood up and fetched a large suitcase. He opened it. Tommaso’s eyes almost popped out when he saw that the case was filled with sheet music! “I think I have something here you may like!” He produced a book and handed it to Tommaso. The boy read the title: ‘Second Booke of Little Sacred Concertos, translated into musicke by Heinricum Sagittarium’. “I have the first book with me too, but that’s all in German. The second book has concertos both in German and Latin. You may be more confident with the latter language, I guess!” Tommaso agreed. Then he glanced through the pieces. Many were for several singers, but there were those for solo soprano too!
“How about trying one?”, the organist asked. Tommaso was lost in all that music. Gently the man took the book from the boy, and found a piece pretty close to the beginning. “Can you sing this at sight?” Tommaso blushed. “Not really. I mean, I can read music, of course, but not fast enough to get it right while I sing!” The organist looked at the boy. “How old are you?” “Twelve”. “Well, you should know to sing at sight by now. But anyway, let’s go through this. I will help you. Listen and look.”
The man played the soprano voice on the organ, and Tommaso made his best effort to memorize at least some of it. He could sing from the score then, he knew that. When they were through, the organist asked, a bit skeptically: “Do you think you can sing it now?” “Yes, sir. And it’s beautiful too!” The musician smiled. “Let’s try, then. I will help you.” He set in, playing the soprano in a flute register, while Tommaso sang it. After a few bars the organist noticed that the boy was quite sure, and let him do his voice alone, while playing a simple basso continuo. When they were ready, the organist eagerly ordered: “Now again, but for real this time!” Tommaso smiled, and sang. The piece was so beautiful that he already knew most of it. He only glanced at the score, but sang most just by feeling. The organist was playing a fully harmonized basso continuo now. Tommaso sang into the organ chest, knowing the good effect of making some of the pipes ring!
After they were through it, the organist stood up, grabbed Tommaso’s hand, and shook it. “You may not know to sing at first sight, but your voice is silver, my dear! How about giving a concert, treble and organ, in a few days?”
That was a bit fast! But Tommaso’s eyes were bright, and he agreed on the spot! Then he couldn’t resist his curiosity anymore: “Sorry, sir, but… who are you?”
The organist laughed. “So, we have spent half an afternoon making music together, before introducing ourselves! I’m Johann Fichtelberger from Leipzig, in Saxonia. And you?” “So you are German? But you have no accent!!” “Italian is the language of music, boy, so I better know! But what I still don’t know is YOUR name!” Tommaso blushed again. “Tommaso Pinetti, sir, from Ortona.” And grinning, he added: “That’s a little closer than Leipzig!” Fichtelberger pulled up his eyebrows. “What are you doing here in Norcia, Tommaso? They don’t even have a stable organist here! Your talent is lost at this place!”
Should he tell him? Why not. “Mr. Fichlebur… how was that, sorry?” Fichtelberger laughed loudly. “Forget it, Tommaso, and call me Johann! It’s a lot easier! And we are colleagues, after all!” Tommaso liked that! Few adults had invited him to use their first names! He just hoped that this Johann didn’t have the same strange preferences of Gaetano Campolieto, who had also invited him to use his first name!
“Well, what are you doing in Norcia?” Tommaso couldn’t escape the question. “You know, Johann, Norcia is famous for two things.” Fichtelberger looked into Tommaso’s eyes. “I know of only one.” “Which one? There are two.” “Oh God.” After a meaningful pause, Fichtelberger continued hinting: “The one I know of has to do with knifes.” Tommaso laughed loud. “BOTH have to do with knifes, Johann! So, which one do you know?” Fichtelberger kept very serious. “It has to do with knifes, and singing boys.” Tommaso was equally serious now. “Yes. That’s why I’m here.”
Fichtelberger swallowed. “Has it been done, or not yet?” “Not yet. The surgeon found me too weak. They are feeding me triple ration, and soon… soon I will be cut.”
The German shook his head. “That’s awful, Tommaso. I always hoped to find out that it’s just gossip, but you destroyed that hope.” “Sorry”, said Tommaso. “Oh boy, I’m sorry for you! Who in hell has pressed you into this situation?”
Tommaso took a deep breath, and started telling his entire story. He stressed the point that he had come to Norcia voluntarily. Then he asked: “Johann, you hoped that this matter of castration was gossip?” “Yes, that’s what I said.” “But you must have been aware of the many castrati singing in opera?” “Sure, but I wanted to believe the stories of all these cases being just accidents.” Tommaso exploded in laughter. How naive could a German possibly be? But that German just sat there and shook his head.
“And what’s the other thing people know about Norcia?” the German asked. “Pork!” answered Tommaso. Fichtelberger laughed. “Of all things in the world, why pork?” he wondered. Tommaso shrugged. “I have no idea why, but it just happens to be good! I have tasted it.” The organist decided to order some for dinner. He had to find out if it was true.
“And what are YOU doing here in Norcia?” Tommaso asked. “Well, I’m on a trip that took me to Vienna, Milan, Venice, and now I’m travelling to Rome.” “But Norcia isn’t really in your path then?” “Well, not really, but not too far off my path either.” “But why did you come exactly here?” The organist laughed. “Tommaso, you are mighty inquisitive. So, I will tell you. I wanted to learn on location if the stories about deliberate castration of boys are true.” Tommaso giggled. “Wait a few weeks, maybe just days, and I can show you!” he offered. But Fichtelberger was absently looking into the vault of the church.
The concert was a huge success. There hadn’t been any in Norcia since last winter. People were delighted by both Fichtelberger’s organ playing and Tommaso’s singing. They had performed several pieces by Sagittarius, unknown in Norcia, and some others from Tommaso’s existing repertoire. The boy grinned while he imagined what the Norcians were probably talking about after listening to his voice…
It was only a few days after the concert, when one morning Tommaso noticed Olivia in the garden. The girl amidst all those flowers was a marvelous sight! Instead of calling, Tommaso chose to lean out of the bedroom window and just watch her. She moved up and down the garden, so graciously. Suddenly Tommaso had an odd feeling. Something was tickling him at a very private place. He had been leaning out of the window so much that he had been pressing his crotch against the frame. He moved back, and the feeling ceased. He then leaned slightly against the frame again, and the tickling promptly returned! He enjoyed it, even if it was so weird! And he also enjoyed the sight of Olivia, until she returned into the kitchen.
Tommaso sat down in the chair. He brought his hand to his crotch. He poked here and there. Suddenly a jolt of tickling burst through his body! There was something wrong with him! He never had felt this before! He pulled down his pants, and was surprised to see his penis slightly swollen, so stiff that it wouldn’t hang down, as it always did! He felt at it. Most seemed to feel normally, but as he came near the tip, where that line went down the underside of it, again he felt this tickling! He touched the sweet spot, very gently, and was able to control the tickling. He enjoyed it, but after a while it wore away, and he could not bring it back.
The boy dressed, and lay down on the bed, thinking about this happening. It had felt great! Something he had to try again! But suddenly he remembered stories some of his older friends in Ortona had told him. Stories of tickling in the penises, stories of quite unattractive doings – and these stories had been told in breaking voices! He remembered vividly his friend Vincenzo, telling about this tickling as experienced by himself! His voice had folded over many times while he told the story! A chill invaded Tommaso. His voice was in danger!!! He decided to tell Scorrone at the first opportunity.
That didn’t take long to come up. The surgeon happened to walk past the door. Tommaso jumped up, and ran after him. “Mr. Scorrone, Mr. Scorrone!”, he yelled. “What happens, boy? What are you doing here inside, instead of playing in the sun?” Tommaso swallowed, and told him what had just happened, in every detail, except that he didn’t mention who he had been watching when it all started. Scorrone listened in amazement.
“Tommaso, I can hardly believe that. If your were f******n, then yes… but at twelve?” “I swear, it’s true, sir! Tell me, is it still possible to save my voice?” Scorrone smiled. “Don’t worry, it’s still time. But let’s see what’s happening there. Maybe you have just some irritation down there. Get off your pants and lay down there on the bed.”
Tommaso did that. Here he was, his most intimate parts visible to the surgeon, and what was worse, to anyone who might just step through the wide open door… Scorrone sat down on the bed. “Where exactly did you feel that tickling?” “Here”, said Tommaso, and touched the underside of his penis tip. It didn’t tickle at all now, and his penis was as small and soft as ever. “Let’s see”, said Scorrone. With four fingers he gently pulled Tommaso’s foreskin back. It didn’t go all the way, but far enough to reveal a glans almost covered in white, flaky stuff. Mostly dead skin cells, the surgeon knew. The foreskin was just coming loose, and this boy was on his way towards manhood, despite his short age. The rather large testicles, which pretty much filled out the bag, confirmed this.
Tommaso clenched his teeth together during the procedure. It hurt a lot, but he wouldn’t tell. Then he felt relieve as Scorrone released his foreskin. “You must wash under the skin frequently, Tommaso. Now get your pants back on.” Tommaso did so. “Will that fix the tickling?” he asked. The surgeon laughed. “No, not for long at least. But it will stop the smell.” Tommaso blushed. He knew that lately he had sometimes been smelling like rotten fish, but however much he washed himself, the smell didn’t go away. Now he had to learn in this way just WHERE he missed washing! Good to know, anyway. It would hurt, but he would do it, for the sake of not being taken for a fish…
As if the surgeon had read his mind, he said: “Just pull the skin back a little, and rinse under it. That’s enough, and it won’t hurt at all. Later on it will become looser, than you can wash there more easily.” Then he looked into the boy’s face. “Tommaso, you are becoming a man. Few boys start it at such an early age, but you are. So, it’s now or never. If you still want to be a castrato, we must do it very soon, or you may start loosing your voice.”
Tommaso felt icy cold. So, at last, it was time. And if Scorrone had decided not to wait any longer for him to get stronger, it meant that it was HIGH time now.
“Tommaso, you still can change your mind. Nobody will hold anything against you if you decide to trash the singing career, or try it as a tenor. And I have seen that you are looking after Olivia.” Scorrone smiled while Tommaso blushed crimson red. “I could understand it if you no longer want to get castrated!” He watched the blushed boy. Oh, the joys of youth! He put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Tommaso. sleep over it. Tell me tomorrow what you have decided. Remember, it’s your decision. I will help you in either way.”
The man stood up, about to leave the room. But Tommaso, like awaking from a trance, stood up too. “Mr. Scorrone, I don’t need to sleep over it. I made up my mind long ago. I want to be a castrato singer.” Scorrone looked at the boy. He loved such firm minds. “Fine. Then, tomorrow evening is your turn. It’s Sunday, a very good day for such an operation. We can go to church in the morning, and then you can rest until the evening. Today you should eat sparingly for dinner, and tomorrow you have to fast. You can drink water, and you should do so. No other preparation is needed. Just relax. It will be easier than you think.” He stretched out his hand. Tommaso shook it.
The boy didn’t get much sleep that night. Just relax, Scorrone had said. How easy it was to say that, and how hard to do it! Tommaso imagined time and again how the castration would go. And how much it would hurt. Alessandro’s screams were imprinted deeply in his memory. Why should he fare any better? He would try as hard as he could to resists screaming. Even if only to win his bet against Nicolo! He smiled. But his heart thumped too loudly to let him sleep.
The Sunday morning found a very unslept Tommaso. He had spent the entire night rolling around in the bed, imagining things, trying to forget them. So much would he like to press Alessandro to reveal some of his impressions, but Alessandro was no longer there. He had been picked up on Friday, considered fit for travel. So, the only thing Tommaso had learned from Alessandro’s case was that two weeks after the surgery one could travel in a cart, even if not yet ride a horse.
Tommaso dressed early in the morning, and went downstairs. Only Maria was up that early. They talked about many things, but not about what interested Tommaso most. He just couldn’t find a way to talk to the lady about his impending castration! So he was glad when Olivia, Nicolo and their father came down for breakfast. He sat at the table with them, but had only a glass of water in front of him. The k**s immediately noticed what was up. They knew what it meant to have a singing boy in the house, drinking just water and making a worried face… But they didn’t touch the issue either.
“Where’s Carlo?” asked Tommaso. Maria replied: “He got up very early today. He went out to climb the Vettore”. The boy wondered. “That’s the large mountain over there, right?” He pointed east. “Yes, that’s it. He loves the mountains, and goes there quite often.” Tommaso would have loved to go with the quiet, nice youth. But today, of course, he couldn’t have gone… Much less without eating! He was hungry, the water being less than enough to fill his belly… He really didn’t enjoy the idea to get no lunch either! He hoped to get dinner, at least… after it was all over. His heart thumped again.
After breakfast the five of them went to church. Tommaso listened to the sermon with unusual attention. When the service was over, and everyone was leaving, he asked Scorrone to let him stay a while longer. He wanted to pray, alone. The surgeon knew quite well how a c***d felt in such a situation, and told Tommaso to take all the time he needed. So the boy stayed in the church, waiting until the last of all the people were gone. Then he went close to the altar, knelt down, and prayed, in his silent but fervent style. He prayed for himself today. He asked for God’s help in making him strong enough to get through it. He promised God to use his preserved voice for singing unto His glory. Then he kept kneeling. He felt so odd! Filled with happiness about his high call, but equally filled with fear. Was it right what he was doing? Was it nonsense?
After a long time kneeling there, he saw the priest walking in. He took his heart, stood up, and asked him if he could hear his confession. “Right now, boy?” “Yes, father. It cannot wait.” “Is it such a big sin you need to confess?” the father wondered. “No, not really, but… it MUST be now! Or today, at least!” Tommaso didn’t want to admit it, but he had been thinking of the possibility of dying in the surgery. He didn’t want to appear before God without having gone to confession.
The priest agreed, but when Tommaso heard the reassuring “I’m listening, son”, he didn’t know what to say. Finally he gave an account of all his doings of the last weeks, including his admiration for Olivia, and directly asked the priest if any of that was actually a sin. “No, son, there is no sin in anything of what you told me. It’s definitely no sin to have good feelings for another person. You just shouldn’t spy on her, but rather seek her friendship openly.” Tommaso was relieved. “But I’m worried by something else, son.” “And what’s that, father?” “It’s that you must have a reason to have asked for confession. I know you have one. I’m here to help you, son. Tell me. You know that whatever you tell me here will remain a secret between God, you and me. None else will ever know. Open up your heart, son.”
Tommaso could no longer resist. Quivering, despite the warm weather, he told the priest everything. It was by no means the first time such a thing had happened to the churchman, but he was at a loss to tell the boy what to do. The church had never taken a firm position on that issue. Some popes had forbidden it, others had again legalized it, but all popes enjoyed the singing of the castrati in the Sistine Chapel… So finally he said: “Son, listen to your heart. If you love music with all your force, and you feel that you need to take this step to keep raising your voice for the glory of God, then He will not see any wrong in it. He will bless you and help you. Go in the peace of God and trust Him. He will watch over you and turn everything for the best.”
The boy felt calmer after his confession. After lunch, which was just another glass of water for him, he asked Scorrone if he could talk to him. He had so many questions! “Sure, come over!” They went into the barber’s shop. “How do you feel now? You look better then in the morning!” Tommaso laughed. “The night was awful, I didn’t sleep. But now I feel better, indeed. I talked to the priest. He helped me a lot.” “Glad to hear that, Tommaso. So, no second thoughts?” “No.”
Then Tommaso started his questioning session. “How will you… I mean… will you cut it all off at once, or will you cut just my balls and leave the rest?” The surgeon knew better than to laugh at this. “The surgery consists of slitting the bag, taking the testicles out, and sewing the slits closed. You will just have two small scars there afterwards.” Tommaso liked the idea a lot better than a single large cut. But… “Why two scars?” “I need to make one slit for each testicle. There is a division in your bag, so one slit does not allow access to both testicles.” Tommaso had never noticed that, but he accepted.
“How much does it bleed? Do you let it bleed, or do you have a way of stopping it?” “Oh boy, do you want to learn surgery?” Scorrone joked. But then he explained: “The amount of bleeding depends on many things. Some boys tend to bleed more than others. But don’t worry! I have several ways of stopping it. I usually let a wound bleed a short while, so the blood washes any dirt out, and then I stop it. You won’t have any problem.”
“Do you think I will bleed more or less than other boys?” The surgeon hesitated. Then he decided to be honest. “More. The more developed a boy is, the more he bleeds. And you are pretty much at the end of your c***dhood, if you know what I mean.” It was a good decision top say the truth. Tommaso now knew for sure that Scorrone was not lying.
“What will happen to me after the surgery?” “You will spend some days in bed, while the wounds heal up. That’s all.” “No, I know that! I mean, in the long run! Will I become weak, sick, fat, or anything?” Now Scorrone got it. “No, Tommaso, nothing of that! Should I tell you something? A lot LESS will happen to you after you get castrated, then if you didn’t! You will stay pretty much like you are now, except that you will grow a lot! You will become much taller than you would otherwise!” Now that was something the boy liked! He had always dreamed about being able to look over other people’s heads… he smiled.
“I know I will not be able to have c***dren. But… can I marry as a castrato?” Now Scorrone laughed. “You skirthunter you! You are thinking about my Olivia, right?” The boy laughed too, but anyway he blushed. “Tommaso, marrying is a matter of love, nothing else. If as an adult castrato you feel love for a woman, and she loves you too, of course you can marry! Right, you cannot have c***dren of your own, but you can adopt orphans. You would by no means be the first castrato to do that!” Tommaso saw a sun rising! That was really the best of both worlds! Maybe he would marry Olivia in some years!
But he had a lot more questions in store. “Mr. Scorrone, can you explain to me exactly what my balls have to do with my voice? I have never found anyone able to explain it.” That question catched the surgeon cold. “See, Tommaso, nobody really knows that. The fact is that at some point in life, usually around 14 years of age, a lot of changes happen to a boy, and somehow these changes come from the testicles. One of those changes is the breaking of the voice. But nobody really knows how the testicles cause this process! We only know that if there are no testicles, these changes simply do not happen!” “How did someone find this out?” “Good question. By chance, I guess. It was a long time ago, anyway. Thousands of years, Tommaso.”
Tommaso had the last, and biggest question. “Mr. Scorrone, how will you castrate me? I know, I get a bath, then you cut me. But how? Do I stand, lie, sit? Do you wash the wounds, press them closed, or what?” He was burning with these questions. But Scorrone got close to him, put his arm around the boy’s shoulders, pulled him close and said: “Tommaso, those are things you don’t need to know yet. You will find out this evening. I will show you everything in due time.” It was so frustrating! But Scorrone didn’t look like he would change his mind…
“Now I have a question for you, Tommaso.” “Yes?” “Did you go to the outhouse today?” “No… why?” “You should. You must be as empty as possible this evening.” Tommaso felt empty enough! He was almost starved! “But Mr. Scorrone, how in heaven could I shit if I don’t eat?” he blasted out. It was so comical that the surgeon had to laugh. “True, boy, but give it a try anyway. You probably still have some of yesterday’s food inside you.” Tommaso made a long face. “If that is so, I don’t feel it. I feel weak from hunger!” But he promised to try.
Finally the evening came. The k**s had been send away for two hours. Carlo had returned from his mountain trip. He was dirty and tired, but had to wait before he could use the bathroom, for Tommaso was lying in the bathtub, carefully tended by the surgeon. The boy had never dreamed of all the places the surgeon would care for! His foreskin was pulled back in full, which hurt even under the warm water. He almost died from embarrassment when Scorrone pushed a soapy finger up into his asshole, but the surgeon told him this was a necessary part of the cleansing. His fingernails were cut very short and washed, his hair, his ears, everything… Tommaso gave up any struggle and just let Scorrone do with him whatever the surgeon deemed necessary. After the washing, he had to stand up in the tub, and Scorrone rinsed him off three times with warm water, giving special attention to his crotch. Then he was dried off with a freshly washed and boiled towel, and got a white gown and fabric sandals. Dressed in that garment, he had to walk over into the lazaret.
Tommaso had never seen this room before. It was the one under his bedroom, and it had been locked at all times, to keep out any intruders who could bring dirt in. The room was sparsely furnished, and painted bright white. There were a few cabinets, a chair, a small table, and in the middle was a bed-like thing, but a very strange one indeed. It had several cutouts of different shapes, and lots of leather hooks on its surface and around. A bucket was standing aside the bed, a wooden box, and the table was close by too.
“Can you climb up?” Scorrone asked, after he closed the door and locked it. “Sure!” said Tommaso and hopped onto that structure. “Good! Now lie back here.” The surgeon helped the boy to a specific part of the operating table, where the boy’s crotch was close to a cutout. “Now spread your legs a little,” – Tommaso complied – “That’s enough. Just relax.” Actually Tommaso felt quite relaxed now! He was in the process, and at least he didn’t need to worry anymore about the decision. It was a reassuring feeling!
Scorrone got a leather strap from a cabinet. He gently massaged the boy’s testicles away from his body, and tied the strap around the scrotum. Tommaso instinctively pulled back, but then controlled himself. The surgeon tied the strap very loosely, it didn’t hurt at all. “What’s that for?” Tommaso asked. “It’s just to keep your testicles from retracting as they cool down. Look here!” Scorrone opened the wooden box next to the bed, while Tommaso bent over to look into it. Some white stuff was inside, and he could sense cold in his face! The surgeon took a large handful of it, molded it quickly around the boy’s tied scrotum, then warmed his hand with the other. Tommaso pulled back at first, then relaxed. “Holy God, that’s cold! Feels like snow!” The surgeon smiled. “It IS snow!” “What’s that good for?” “Tommaso, I told you that there are better methods than opium for reducing the pain. The snow will help a lot!” That was true. After the first shock of the coldness, the boy was now loosing all feeling in his crotch. Even the cold could not be felt so clearly now!
The surgeon compacted the snow against Tommaso’s body, then produced several more leather straps. Quietly he pulled one of the boy’s knees to the side, and strapped it down to some hooks. Tommaso didn’t like that at all. “Must you tie me down? I won’t run away, I swear!” But the surgeon continued with the other knee, exposing Tommaso’s genitals for easy access. “Sorry, Tommaso, but it is absolutely necessary. If you loose control, it could be very dangerous if you are not tied.” Tommaso grinned. “For me or for you?” Scorrone smiled too. “For both of us. You would bleed longer than necessary, and I would loose some teeth!” Tommaso giggled.
Then Scorrone again compacted the snow. Tommaso felt only pressure in his body, but no cold anymore. The surgeon tied down the boy’s feet, closely together, not far from his crotch, at each side of the table’s cutout. He placed a wide strap over the boy’s hips, and pulled it taut. So, there we are, through Tommaso. He could no longer back away. Then Scorrone walked around the table, and took one of the boy’s hands. He gently pulled it over Tommaso’s head, and tied it down. “Oh no! My hands too? Why?” “For the same reason, Tommy. Safety.” Tommy. First time Scorrone had called him that way. His other hand was tied. Then Tommaso got a white cloth bundle over his body. He could no longer see towards his crotch. “You want to keep your secrets?” Tommaso k**ded. “Of course! You don’t need to watch what I do! It’s very private business!” Tommaso giggled again. He would have loved to watch, but maybe Scorrone was right, and it was better not to see his own blood fountaining up…
Suddenly he had an idea. Maybe he could get help to win his bet. “Mr. Scorrone, maybe you could gag me, so I won’t scream!” The surgeon was puzzled. First this boy didn’t want to be restrained, and then he wanted a gag…? But he would not get one. “Tommaso, that’s not a good idea. Maybe your body convulses, and you may throw up. With a gag you can choke on that. Without a gag, it’s over quickly, with no risk.” Tommaso was twice worried now. He didn’t like the idea of throwing up from pain, and he was totally on his own now regarding the bet!
The surgeon opened his toolcase. He lit the little alcohol burner, and put the small cauterizer in the flame, ready for use. He put on clean gloves, and a mask over his face. Then he cleaned away the remaining snow. Taking small tweezers, he told the boy: “If you feel anything, let me know.” He pinched the scrotum at various places. “It feels like pulling”, said Tommaso. “No pain?” The surgeon pinched hard, producing a small red spot on the otherwise white skin. “No, no pain.” The boy was ready. Scorrone decided to go for it now. The skin was devoid of feeling, and, alas, the testicles couldn’t be numbed by coldness without damaging the scrotum! He took a small rag, dipped it in alcohol, and cleaned the spot he would cut into. The boy didn’t react. Good that the snow had been available! Usually the boys felt the heat from the alcohol and some freaked out.
He released the loop around the scrotum, took a small scalpel, and cut into the skin. He knew where to cut. Only a little blood oozed out. “I feel some tugging”, the boy said. “That’s right, Tommaso.” The surgeon pushed the boy’s left testicle through the cut. The size was right, the ball just fit through the hole without tearing it too much. “Now that feels odd! Like pressure in my guts!” “That’s right too, boy. I’m pulling a little. Just relax.” Just relax! How often had he heard that! Tommaso tried to relax, but the feeling was really strange!
The surgeon held the cord with the tweezers, took the sharp scalpel, and in one quick stroke sliced through the cord. The testicle dropped down, and lay against the boy’s leg. The boy flinched, arched his back a little, but then returned to quietness. “Did you cut into the bag?” Tommaso felt some pain, but more in his belly than where it should rightfully be! “Yes, I just made a cut. Did it hurt too much?” “Not very much. I think the snow helps.” Tommaso breathed more heavily. But he was taking it well. Most boys were screaming by this time…
blood came in copious amounts. Secretly Scorrone had hoped to save Tommaso from the cauterizer, but now he saw that there was no way. He sighed. “Tommaso, now hold your breath. This will hurt, but not for long.” The boy nodded, took a deep breath, and waited for the inevitable. He had a bet to win. Even if Nicolo was not here, Tommaso was not the boy to take advantage of that fact. He had to hold still and avoid screaming!
Scorrone took the cauterizer from the flame, and quickly pressed it onto the stump of the severed cord. It sizzled, and a tiny cloud of smoke rose. Tommaso felt a brutal pain shooting up his left side. He jerked against his restrains so violently that his ankles and hands hurt, even through the immense pain in his belly! But he did not scream. He clenched his teeth together, and endured the pain, until it started to wear down and settle into a strange ache.
Scorrone looked at the cauterized cord. blood only trickled now, nothing that would imply any risk. He let the cord go, and it slipped inside the scrotum. “Congratulations, Tommaso. You are very brave! Does it feel better now?” Tommaso breathed more easily. “Yes, it hurts less now. But it was awful! If this was just the skin, I wonder how much it will hurt when you cut the balls off!” Scorrone smiled. “Tommaso, that WAS the ball! It’s gone! I’m almost ready on this side, I just must do the stitches!” Tommaso took a while to understand. “So, the pulling I felt was when you cut the skin?” “That’s right, boy!”
Tommaso wondered. “Mr. Scorrone… that snow is great stuff! Where did you get it from, now in mid summer?” The surgeon smiled. “Carlo brought it from his mountain trip. He went all the way up to the eternal snow fields.” “Wow!” said Tommaso. Then, suddenly, he understood. “Tell me, did Carlo climb the Vettore just for the purpose of getting snow for me?” Scorrone smiled, while he made the stitches. “Yes, that’s right. When he heard that you would be castrated today, he told me he would do this for you. He has done it several times, but only for boys he really considers to deserve it.” Tommaso felt a clump in his throat. “Carlo is a great guy”, he managed to bring out. “Yes”, said the proud father. “He doesn’t talk a lot, but he knows how to help other people. He has been that way since he was a small k**.”
Tommaso stayed quiet then. The pain in his guts was strong, and he longed for a way to press down at his lower belly. It felt like that could help. But his hands were tied up… He felt the surgeon pinching and pulling, but there was no real pain from this. His skin was much too frozen.
Scorrone applied some of his herbal potion to the closed wound. He wiped the remaining blood away with the same rag, then moved to the other side. “Chapter two – and last”, he said. He took the tweezers, and pinched the boy’s scrotum at several places, moving closer to the root. “Ouch!” said Tommaso. Scorrone put the tweezers away, pulled off his now blood-stained gloves. He tied the leather strap around Tommaso’s remaining testicle, which had withdrawn quite deeply into the boy’s body. Slowly the skin gave way, unwrinkling. The surgeon was careful not to apply any stress to the fresh wound. The cord stump must already have withdrawn deeply upwards. He then grabbed a handful of snow from the box, and applied it. Tommaso felt the chill, and welcomed it. This was his ticket to pain relief.
While the snow did its work, Scorrone started massaging the left side of the boy’s belly. He gently pressed, stroked lightly downwards. “Does this help?” Tommaso nodded. The massage almost erased the pain! “What you feel there is the blood stalling in the artery, as it can no longer flow into the testicle”, he explained. “But why is the pain all over my belly, not where you cut?” “Because the testicle connects to the rest of you way up, about here”, explained Scorrone, and touched the place. Tommaso wondered. How strange the human body is!
The surgeon went to work again. He removed the ice, pinched Tommaso, who couldn’t feel it now. He got into a fresh pair of gloves, cleaned the right side of the scrotum with alcohol, released the strap, cut, pulled the testicle out. This time Tommaso got it right: “Now you are pulling at my ball, right?” “Yes. Does it hurt?” “Not really, but I fell the pull, up here”, Tommaso giggled, “almost in my neck!” Scorrone laughed. It was great to watch this boy making jokes even while he had his testicle outside the scrotum! He picked up the tweezers, held the cord, and cut through it. Plop. The boy quivered a little, but then said matter of factly: “That was the cut. It hurt some.” “Yes, Tommaso. But cheer up! Your voice is safe now!” The boy smiled. He felt happy and cared for, despite the pain.
The right stump bled much less than the left one had. The surgeon considered sparing Tommaso the pain of the cauterizer, but then made up his mind. Too dangerous. Only much younger boys could be done without cauterizing. And this boy took pain very well. He grabbed the hot tool. “Here it comes, Tommaso! Show me how brave you are!” And he burned the bloody flesh. It had been a little sudden, and catched the boy off guard. He produced a dampened noise, not really a scream, but not far from it. The muscles all over his body knotted up, and he breathed heavily. After half a minute or so he relaxed again, and pressed out: “That was the last time, I hope…” “Unless you have three testicles, yes!” The surgeon gave back. Tommaso had to laugh, despite his intense pain. But it hurt more when laughing, so he quickly stopped.
Scorrone let the stump withdraw, after making sure the bleeding had been stopped. He then went to work with needle and thread, closing the wound, and applied generous amounts of the potion to both sides. He cleaned away the remaining blood from the boy’s body, not caring about what had soaked into the table’s linen covering. The two severed testicles made it into the bucket, then the used rags went in, covering them up conveniently. Then he closed his toolcase, came around the table, and untied the boy’s hands. “That’s all?” Tommaso asked. “Yes! Or do you want more?” The look on the surgeon’s bearded face, now free of the mask, made the boy laugh. “No, it’s about enough!” Slowly Tommaso put his hands on his belly, and slowly applied deep pressure to both sides, slightly up from the root of his penis. “May I do that, or is it dangerous? It helps with the pain!” “Yes, you can massage your cords, but do it very slowly, so there won’t be a sudden surge of blood. And don’t touch the wounds!”
The surgeon untied the boy’s waist strap and let his legs free. “Don’t move them”, he warned, patting Tommaso’s thighs. Slowly he moved them into a more comfortable position. It felt a lot better for the boy. Then he produced a large piece of white linen, and tied it between the boy’s legs, and over his hips. “Now I feel like a baby”, Tommaso grinned. “With diapers and all.” The surgeon laughed. “But unlike a baby, you have no permission to pee or shit in your diapers! Tell me when you need to do that. Now wait a minute.”
Scorrone opened the door, went out and upstairs. Tommaso could hear him in his bedroom overhead, then he came back. “Babies need to be carried”, he smiled. Putting an arm under Tommaso’s knees, he ordered: “Cling to my neck, but keep your legs as relaxed as you can.” And he put his other arm under Tommaso’s back, engaging his hands under the boy’s buttocks. Tommaso protested: “I’m not to weak to walk!” But the surgeon knew better: “Don’t even dream about walking! Now hold on!” As Scorrone lifted him, the boy noticed the large red stain on the linen covering the operating table. He hadn’t noticed that he had bled so much! Tommaso clinged to the man’s neck, and was carried out of the lazaret, up the stairs and into his bedroom. While climbing the stairs, Scorrone commented: “You have become quite heavy, Tommaso!” But the boy gave back: “How strange! I thought that I had just became a little lighter!” The man laughed so much that he almost fell down the stairs. Tommaso kept his serious face, for he knew that the pain would become worse if he laughed. But inwardly he was proud of his quick joke! Scorrone betted him, covered him up, and reminded: “Slow massage only, and don’t put your hands under your baby diapers!” He smiled, and left.
Tommaso felt very relaxed now that it was all over. He slowly pressed on his belly, searching for the spots that produced the best pain relief. He also was starting to feel his wounds now. It pulled badly. Very gently he moved his legs, which helped some, but after a while the pain built up again. It was no terrible pain in any case, not nearly like that from the burning. And then, suddenly, he realized that he had won his bet against Nicolo! He felt mighty proud of it!
He paid attention to his pain. The pulling from the stitches, and the burning from the cuts. That was a honest pain, he could stand it. Then there was this odd ache in his belly. That was much worse. He kept massaging, slowly, as he had been told. And then, there was another sort of pain: A deep, intense feeling of hunger! So, when the surgeon came back after a while, lifted the sheets, and looked for signs of bleeding or swelling, Tommaso told him that he was really hungry. “Great!”, exclaimed Scorrone. “Why great?” “Because if a patient has appetite, everything is well with him!” Tommaso laughed, but the surgeon continued. “Really, Tommaso, most boys feel more like vomiting than like eating, when they have just been castrated. So it’s great news to hear that you want to eat! I will tell Maria to get you something worthy.” Tommaso delighted in the thought of it.
He ate slowly, in small bites. It tasted great! Not only had Maria put her best efforts into this dinner, but also his hunger made it taste even better. On the other hand, the pain was reaching the point of closing down his appetite. It seemed to grow by the minute. Anyway Tommaso ate the entire dinner, but several times he had to stop, and massage his guts, trying to get the ache back to bearable limits. So, when a long time later Maria came for the tablet, he asked her to tell her husband that he was in pain.
Scorrone came promptly, and found the boy quite pale-faced. He knew very well that the pain after such surgery often came in waves. He pulled the bedsheet back, and asked: “Where does it hurt exactly? The wounds, or inside?” “Inside, here”, and the boy pointed to the sides of his tummy, between his hip bones and downward. Scorrone sat down, and gently pressed his thumbs into the boy’s belly, massaging the cords. “There’s it, right!” said Tommaso. “I have spent quite a while pressing there, and it helps a little. But it hurts real bad.”
Scorrone made a worried face. “Tommaso, there isn’t much I can do to help you now. This will hurt for some time, until your body adjusts to the lack of blood flow through those arteries.” The boy had hoped for a more hopeful reply. “Can we try some snow?” The surgeon smiled. He knew very well that little could be obtained from cooling in this case. But if the boy believed in snow, it would help him get over the pain. “Sure, Tommaso, we can try!” He went, and returned a while later with the box, which was dripping meltwater by now.
He packed some snow into a soft leather bag, and gently placed it on Tommaso’s belly. The boy shivered from the sudden cold, but then lay quiet. Scorrone watched him. He got ever more respect for this boy. “Should I tell you something, Tommaso?” “Yes, what?” “You are one of the bravest boys I have castrated so far.” “Why do you say that?” “Because it’s true. You didn’t try to chicken out, like many do. You didn’t weep at any moment. And you didn’t scream when I cauterized you, and believe me, you are the first I see who can control himself even then! Even grown men scream when I have to burn them.” Tommaso suddenly understood why Nicolo had been so sure of winning their bet! He laughed. The surgeon made a questioning face. Tommaso explained: “Mr. Scorrone, now I must tell you something.” “And that is?” “I used a trick to keep from screaming.” “A trick? What kind of trick?” Putting on his most innocent face, Tommaso told him about the bet with Nicolo. But the surgeon went furious. “That rascal! And I told him not to talk about pain to patients who would undergo surgery! You should have told me earlier of this, Tommaso! Nico will taste the belt for this!” Tommaso was mighty afraid of Scorrone’s sudden outburst. “No, he didn’t scare me, really! I knew it would hurt, and our bet gave me the strength to keep from screaming! And anyway”, Tommaso grinned, “betting was my idea, not Nicolo’s!” The surgeon weighted the situation. Then he made up his mind. “It’s not the first time Nico scares other boys, telling them horror stories about pain. He’s ripe for the belt. I must have told him twenty times, at least, to stop frightening my patients. He will get it this time.”
Tommaso thought about it. Sure, he had been frightened quite a lot by Nicolo’s forecast of the pain. But then, Nicolo had been right! It DID hurt brutally, and had he not been prepared for it, he would have screamed! The pain from cauterization had come so suddenly, after the almost painless cutting. “Mr. Scorrone?” “Yes?” “Please don’t punish Nicolo. He isn’t a bad guy.” The surgeon scratched his head. “But if I tell him time and again not to do this, and he keeps doing it, what else can I do? Tommaso, there are cases when a few strokes with the belt are the best teacher.” But Tommaso knew something better: “Just tell him that he lost the bet! That will be more than enough punishment for him!” Scorrone laughed. These boys!!!
The cooling actually made Tommaso feel a little less of the ache. When Scorrone saw him calm, even sleepy, he took the cold bag away, and pulled the bedsheet over the boy. He closed the curtains, locking out the little daylight remaining. “Now try to sleep, Tommaso. You need it. If anything happens in the night, like more pain, any bleeding, or anything else, just shout. Maria has a light sleep, and she then wakes me up.” The boy hesitated a moment, then he asked, better now than later: “What do I do when I need to pee?” “Just call me, I will help you.” Tommaso grinned, and shouted: “Mr. Scorroooneeee!” The surgeon laughed. “So quick?” “Yes, I need to go.” So, Scorrone opened Tommaso’s bandaging, and lifted him into a position that allowed the boy to aim at the chamber pot. Tommaso took his first leak as an eunuch, and was relieved to find that all of his plumbing still seemed to work just fine.
The boy couldn’t fall asleep. He heard the k**s return, then he heard the family having dinner downstairs. He wondered if someone would visit him, but apparently Scorrone had told them to leave him in peace. He waited if Nicolo would get his beating, but to his relief nothing happened. The pain in Tommaso’s belly was so much, that he didn’t expect to be able to sleep at all. He knew already that there was nothing that could help him, so he endured it. Still, he was glad when later Scorrone quietly opened the door and came in, a candle in his hand. “Still awake?” he asked. “Yes. This hurts so much. I cannot sleep.” Tommaso was resigned to it.
Then Scorrone said: “We can try something. I don’t know if you will like it, but it may help.” He disappeared, leaving the door open. A few minutes later he came back, bringing a full glass. “Drink this, even if it burns.” He helped Tommaso into a sitting position, and the boy felt his wounds very nastily. But he didn’t complain, and took the glass. It smelled like some medicines do. He nipped. This was brandy! He knew that c***dren his age were not supposed to drink that. He looked at the large glass. “Really? Should I drink all of this?” Scorrone smiled. “Yes. But only this one time! Don’t became a drunkard!” Tommaso giggled. Then he drank all of the liquor, quickly, and felt the burning sensation run down his throat. Scorrone bedded him, and wished good night.
Tommaso massaged his lower belly. But then he started feeling funny. He clenched his hands to the sides of the bed, as everything seemed to go in circles around him. The bed seemed to go around, and tilt over. He felt like falling out of the bed! But at the same time, he had no longer any idea if he had pain, where it was, what pain was at all… and a while later he was sleeping like a log. A very drunk log, that is…
He woke up in the morning, when a bird scratched at the window, singing its song. Tommaso had developed the custom to open the window in such cases, with the result that the bird often came into the room for a while, bringing great joy to the boy. So, he automatically jumped out of the bed, towards the window, but – ouch! – was quickly reminded of last evening’s happenings. Breathing heavily from the sudden pain between his legs, he lay back in the bed. He could feel his heart pounding between his legs! And the pain was so strong that he feared he ripped a wound open! But there was a positive thing too: He no longer felt any discomfort in his belly.
The boy lay still. Suddenly he felt something wet at his left leg. Now he panicked. “Mr. Scorrone, Mr. Scorrone!!!” He listened, then called again. Then he heard noises, and a moment later Scorrone, dressed only in underpants, came into the room. “What’s the matter, Tommaso? Any problem? How did you sleep?” Tommaso told him about his silly action. Scorrone immediately removed the bandaging. He found the left-side wound bleeding slightly, with a torn stitch. All of the scrotum was quite swollen, and there were the colours that usually appeared after cutting. “Nothing too bad”, he said. “Wait a moment.” He went to get his toolcase, and then applied some of the herbal potion to the wound, wiping away the blood. “Does it hurt?” “Yes, it burns. And I feel my heartbeat there.” Scorrone took the leather bag, and filled it with snow. Tommaso looked over the bed, into the box. A lot of snow was left! “How long does it hold up?” “Up to three days!” That was reassuring. Tommaso felt the icy leather between his legs, and soon the pain started to fade, being replaced by chilliness.
“Do you still feel that sensation inside you?” Scorrone asked. “No, not at all!” he said happily. The surgeon smiled. “It will probably never come back. Tommaso, from now on things will improve. But be careful not to rip your wounds open again!”
After breakfast, which he ate in an almost horizontal position, he asked for the k**s. “Carlo is at work, but Olivia and Nicolo are downstairs. They all want to see you, but I told them to let you sleep”, was Maria’s answer. “Oh, I would so much like to talk to them! It’s boring to be alone…” So, he got Olivia’s visit soon. When the beautiful girl asked him how he felt, Tommaso was lacking words. Firstly, Olivia still caused a strange insecurity in him, and then, how do you tell a girl how you feel after getting your nuts chopped off…? So, the only answer he came up with was “happy”. And he completed it: “Happy to have you here, Olivia.” Then he blushed.
The two talked for much of the morning. That is, mostly Olivia talked and Tommaso listened. She told him many things he never would remember, but it was so nice just to hear her talk, to watch her, to be with her. Tommaso fought back the thoughts of what he would do in Rome, without Olivia. There was no use in thinking about that. For now he had her…
Later in the morning Nicolo visited him. Tommaso asked him, right as he came through the door: “Do you remember our bet?” and he grinned the widest grin he had. Nicolo made an angry face. “You cheated! I didn’t know you would get snow! Anyone can keep from screaming if he doesn’t feel anything!” There was a moment of silence. Tommaso tried to find a way to fix things. “So your father told you that I won.” “Yes, he did. He also told me that you talked him out of giving me a beating. Thanks for that, mate.” Nicolo came close to the bed and offered his hand. Tommaso shook it. “You’re welcome. By the way, when he exercises his belt on your backside, do YOU scream?” Nicolo made a painful face. Tommaso laughed. “I get no snow on my ass when he beats me”, was all the explanation he gave.
After lunch Tommaso got Carlo’s visit. In his quiet way, he asked how Tommaso felt. The boy had a clump in his throat, once again. “I’m very well now, Carlo, – and in large part thanks to you. I will never forget what you did for me.” Carlo played it down. “I love the mountains, Tommaso. They give us confidence, beauty, and much more. And you deserve to be helped by them. The mountains gave you that snow, Tommaso, not me. I only brought it here.” Tommaso swallowed. “Without that snow, I would probably have become mad from pain. Carlo, you made shoes for me, you went to all that trouble to get snow for me – I don’t know how I ever will be able to pay you back those favors.” The youth sat down on the bed, and took Tommaso’s hand between both of his. “Look, Tommaso. You don’t need to pay it back to me! If you ever come into a situation when you can easily help someone else, in such a way that the effort for you is so much smaller than the gain it means for the other, then don’t hesitate to help. That’s the best way to pay back favors. At some point, the circle closes, and the world gets to be a little better.” Tommaso’s eyes went wet. So suddenly he grasped the immense truth in what Carlo had said! He promised, not only to Carlo but more to himself, to practice this rule for as long as he would live.
Tommaso spent the next five days in bed. The wounds started to heal, and the swelling very slowly built back. He used the snow, sparingly, until it was all gone. The first time he actually bent over to look at his wounds, he was quite shocked. Not by the flatness of the scrotum, which was expected, nor by the wounds, which were actually a lot smaller than he thought. No, the reason was in the colours! Tommaso had never seen any part of him display such an array of yellow, green, violet, blue and black!
At times Tommaso opened his leather pouch, and looked over his treasures. He spent quite some time looking at Campolieto’s painting. The boy slowly came to feel that the testicles hanging in front of his legs on that painting really had no business there! He should have gotten rid of them much earlier!
One day Tommaso asked for paper, ink, a feather, and sealing lacquer. He wrote a long letter to Luca, telling him about all of his adventures. He missed his friend. Then he wrote another one to Mr. Roletto, which was less personal but also quite informative. And then he wrote a third letter to the priest, asking him to deliver the other two letters and to greet everyone in Tommaso’s name. He then sealed the first two letters, enclosed them in the third one, sealed that one too, and addressed it to the Ortona priest. Carlo later mailed that letter for him.
When Scorrone allowed him to get up, he did so, and soon resumed his life with the Scorrone family. He took some days to become accustomed to that new sensation of wind touching him at the warm place between his legs! And he discovered the new freedom of being able to clamp his knees together without trapping anything between his legs! It felt great, really… When Scorrone later on removed the stitches, which didn’t hurt at all despite the lack of snow, he finally felt that he was definitely over it.
He got the chance to sing in the church two more times, which made him well known in Norcia. People greeted him in the streets, told him how much they liked his singing. If it were for him, this life could have lasted forever and a day! But he knew that all good things had to come to an end, and so he accepted his fate when one day, after having been out at the creek, bathing with Olivia and Nicolo, on their return Scorrone broke the news: A friend of him was travelling to Rome, and had agreed to take Tommaso along. He was travelling by cart, so it would be a relatively smooth and fast way to travel. Anyway, the time was nearing when Tommaso had to seek admission in a music school, and so this was the chance to take.
As much as Tommaso felt pain in his heart for leaving this nice people, as much he was eager to embrace his future. So, after a very long evening with lots of talk, including some singing in last-of-all-days’ mood, and lots of looks exchanged between him and Olivia, he went to sleep for his last night in Norcia. Early next morning, Mr. Fragetti’s wagon pulled up in front of the house, and it was time to part. Scorrone told him to count on his friends in Norcia, if he ever needed help. Maria wept, and hugged Tommaso almost endlessly. Tommaso himself had big trouble fighting the tears. To Nicolo he just said “no more bets, or else…!”, and the young boy grinned. With Carlo he exchanged a firm handshake, which made the bones of both boy’s hands produce cracking noises. “Thanks again for all of it. I won’t forget how to pay you back.” And then the most difficult part came. He looked into Olivia’s face, saw the tears rolling over her cheeks… and then Tommaso forgot himself, and planted a large, honest, long overdue kiss on Olivia’s mouth. “I will come back for you, when I’m ready with school in Rome”, he whispered into her ear. Olivia wept. Tommaso held her, a long time, until Scorrone gently nudged him away and reminded him that Fragetti couldn’t wait forever. So, Tommaso climbed into the vehicle, and waved back as the horses pulled on. The Scorrone’s looked after him until the wagon faded in the dust. A large man, visibly shaken; a fair lady, weeping; a small boy, knowing that he just lost a good friend; a quiet youth, still filled with awe for the courage of this boy singer; and a 12 year old girl, firm in her decision to wait for Tommaso’s return, however long it would take.
– The church register in Ortona records Tommaso’s baptism on March 9th, 1658.
– The deaths of Tommaso’s father, and much later of his mother, are recorded too.
– The records of the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia, Rome, mention the acceptance of a certain ‘Tomasus Pinetus eunuchus’ on August 28th, 1670. His last place of residence was recorded as ‘Norcia’. He signed an eight-year contract as soprano student. During that time he would be housed, fed, clothed and instructed by the school, while he had to do all duties the school seemed fit.
– Later records of the Conservatorio mention many cases when Tommaso was “rented” for concerts and services. He must have been quite a moneymaker for his school.
– In 1678 Tommaso was discharged with honor from the school.
– Then all his tracks get lost. Researchers could not find even a single mention of his name in any later books. Maybe he died early, or maybe he disappeared into oblivion. But the most likely explanation is that he may have taken up a stage name, as was the custom for castrati in his time. So, all further records would mention only his stage name, unknown to us, and we will probably never be able to find out about his further life.
– The church records in Norcia do not register a marriage of Olivia Scorrone. Let us hope that the two married elsewhere.
– Norcia is still famous for its pork. It’s not by chance that today a common Italian word for ‘butcher’ is ‘norcino’.
– And if a certain singer I met weeks ago told me the truth, then Norcia is also still known for that other specialty. This singer, known only in connoisseur circles, is a 31 year old man, and he sings in a very clean, powerful soprano.
————– THE END —————