Deepest Blue: A Novel

Deepest Blue: A Novel

by Mindy Tarquini


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For fans of Paulo Coelho and Neil Gaiman comes a magical story by critically acclaimed author Mindy Tarquini.

In Panduri, an enchanted city seen only at twilight, everyone’s path is mapped, everyone’s destiny decided, their lives charted at birth and steered by an unwavering star. Everyone has his place, and Matteo, second son of Panduri’s duca, is eager to take up his as Legendary Protector—at the border and out from under his father’s domineering thumb. Then Matteo’s older brother pulls rank and heads to the border in his stead, leaving Panduri’s orbit in a spiral and Matteo’s course on a skid. Forced to follow an unexpected path, resentful and raw, Matteo is determined to rise, to pursue the one future Panduri’s star can never chart: a life of his own.

Brigadoon meets Pippin in this quirky tale of grief steeped deep in Italian folklore and shimmering with hope—to remember what helps, forget what hurts, and give what remains permission to soar.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943006694
Publisher: SparkPress
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Pages: 324
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Mindy Tarquini grew up convinced that there are other worlds just one giant step to the left of where she’s standing. Author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Hindsight (SparkPress 2016) and The Infinite Now (SparkPress 2017), Tarquini’s writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, BookPage, Hypable, and other venues. An associate editor on the Lascaux Review and a member of the Perley Station Writers Colony, Tarquini is a second-generation Italian American who believes words have power. She plies hers to the best of her ability from an enchanted tower a giant step left in the great Southwest.

Read an Excerpt


In dreams of light, I search for thee....

Outside, empires rise. They fall. The moon waxes. It wanes. Days break, nights pass, clocks tick. Calendar pages turn. A cascade marking every event, large or small, notable or not, with dependable and tyrannical regularity.

Inside, our hearts keep what time we must, allowing what is necessary for ideas to be born, dreams to blossom, and hope to flower. We note deeds, not dates, joys, not sorrows, strengths, not shortfalls, our milestones marked at Midsummer's Eve, when we each plot our progress, our points in our constellation, and dance.

The Midsummer's Eve I ran away, my brother Antonio brought me back.

He made the long climb to join me at the cliff edge, fiddle in hand. "Matteo! Where do you think you're going?"

I pointed over the valley to the silhouette of a new horizon — light-filled towers and pinnacles soaring to the heavens — visible only at twilight on those rare evenings when the fog lifted and most strongly on Midsummer's Eve. "I'm going Outside. To be with Dante and Ilario."

The bit of iron hanging at my neck whispered words of sadness, of despair, of yearning for my little brothers. The words tugged on the iron's chain, fighting our world's magical pull. "I won't go for long, I won't go for always."

"You won't go at all. Insiders don't go Outside. Outsiders don't come Inside. Not anymore." Antonio took hold of my iron, wrapped his fingers tight. "Say it, you have to say it."

Because words have power. "I won't. Dante and Ilario left a trail.

The maestro told us — we always leave a trail."

The maestro told us everything. How the bird decides where to place its nest, why the butterflies return every spring, and the exact count of honeybees.

I thought Antonio would fight me. Thought he'd argue and flail, the way he had when Dante and Ilario left. I pointed to his scar, jagged across his cheek, then to Antonio's iron, trilling a tune of longing, of remorse. "You're sorry. I know you're sorry. Come with me."

Antonio let go of my amulet and shoved his under his collar, but the iron fluttered beneath the deep blue fabric, whistling like a caged rigogolo. He smacked the flutter to his chest, then swiped at a swath of hair the color of new-tilled earth, shoving it up and off his forehead. "We can't go back. Not once, not ever. The maestro told you that, too. Outside is not like Inside."

Music swelled in the distance, floating in from the festival fields. My urgency drained away, replaced with a different need, pulsing, primal, one I didn't have the years to understand, but which already had hold of Antonio. His mood grew dreamy and he raised his fiddle. "Let's go. Mamma expects me to play."

"But —" Dante. Ilario.

"But nothing. The maestro told us — remember what helps, forget what hurts, give what stars remain permission to rise. We'll work together. I promise."

* * *

Permission to rise. In Antonio's lexicon, rise meant grow, and that meant a garden. A place to which Dante and Ilario could return. A place we could always find them.

Then Antonio handed me a seed and assigned me to grow the tree.

"Use your words," he urged. "It's only bark and branches."

Easy enough for Antonio. One scherzo from his fiddle and poppies leapt from the soil, cosmos orbited the boxwood, laurels leafed the crown flowers, and silverbells tinkled a carillon — a compendium of miracles for which my magic had no definitions.

I asked the maestro for guidance. "Tell me about trees. Not of their grace, nor their nobility, not how their souls creak in the wind, tell me ... how do trees become?"

He explained about cambium and heartwood, xylem and pith and, most wondrous of all, food made from light, a process he called photosynthesis. I planted and pruned, watered and shaped, every leaf, every limb. I spoke the roots deep into the ground, bid the canopy reach to the sky. I declared its leaves ever green, no matter the season, and ordained them widespread enough to provide shelter from any storm.

I described the fruit last. Delectable. Intriguing. Small and succulent and bursting with possibilities. The work of years, grown on a promise. Antonio's promise.

Then that son of a hog root cut it down. The whole damned tree. He chopped the limbs into firewood, left the stump, and made a run for our illusory horizon. Who knows what he did with the fruit. My first job as Protector of Panduri, our ducato, was to retrieve him.

"The Heir must return before nightfall," was all my father, Panduri's Duca, would say. The craggy ridges which passed for his eyebrows twitched in temper.

My iron again whispered on its chain — hard-tipped defiance, spiteful and brazen and blatantly unrestrained. "Antonio knows his duty," I added.

Father drew himself up, his spine stiffening until his height exceeded my hubris, his hair blowing wild, an oak in a squall.

Hedgerows rattled. Thickets shuddered. Roses climbing past the windows fell.

I planted my feet, became the rock upon which Father's displeasure broke. "No."

Father sent Salvatore and a contingent in my place.

They returned twenty minutes into twilight, shaking and sweating, a disgruntled Antonio in tow. Salvatore shoved him forward, bestowed the deepest of bows on my father, the barest of nods on my brother, and departed.

Antonio charged out of the room.

I charged after. "That's it? No explanations?"

"You told Father I left. You let Salvatore go to find me."

Because I didn't want to let you leave, didn't want to make you return, didn't want to fix your messes, didn't want you to fix mine.

And I didn't want to obey our father.

Antonio nabbed my amulet — the piece of iron which connected me to my source, connected Antonio and me to each other, the bit of metal without which my life in Panduri could not persist. He yanked the iron from its chain. "Why?"

The world went wavy. So did my knees. The floor fell away and I lost my footing. "You cut down the tree."

Antonio threw the amulet back at me. "Put it on. Then cease to call me brother."

And so I did, for the rest of Midsummer's long, enchanted interval, referring to Antonio only when the duca required and then only as The Heir, as in, "The Heir will be late, his hangover requires his full attention." Or, "The Heir will be along as soon as he finds his pants." And also, "The Heir will be happy to join you the moment he sobers up."

Until Antonio stumbled into the kitchen, stupid and stinking and full of apologies, a brace of quivers crisscrossing his chest, our bows clutched in his fists. "Let's practice targets."

I tilted my head toward the window, where dawn had not yet appeared. "The field will be pitch. You'll skewer yourself."

"If I do, you have to be Heir." He headed for the door and into the night.

I followed, moving in a quick-step to match Antonio's stride. "Did you run because Father locked away Dante's and Ilario's star charts?" All those lost hours, tracing the possibilities. Father said we needed to look forward.

A melody rippled from Antonio's iron, whimsical and winsome.

Then the music grew harsh. "I ran because of Uncle Giacomo."

He'd just left us, in his spectacular and legendary fashion, making mountains from molehills and howling at the moon. Antonio was first on the scene.

I got a few steps ahead, turned and walked backward, forced Antonio to look me in the eye, "And the tree?" "It was ugly."

Whatever his argument, whatever his complaint, Antonio didn't give a damn about our uncle or how much work I'd put into that tree. Antonio cared about Antonio. And left everything else to me.

I again fell into step. "You missed the Promise."

"Whose Promise?"

"The maestro's daughter. She married one of our air spinners. A better match than I'd have expected for an Outside-born. Mamma arranged it. I conveyed your good wishes."

That information troweled like tar across Antonio's path. His tempo slowed to an adagio. "What good wish was that?" "Long life and happiness."

The tar must have gotten deeper because his adagio lengthened to a largo. "Long life and happiness is a powerful wish."

He was Heir. Of course his wishes would be powerful. "Should I have gone with something less onerous?"

"No. That's fine. Very generous. The daughter has every right to find her place. The maestro has been very ... well, he's been a great help to Panduri."

We traversed the garden. The remains of Antonio's bonfire still smoldered near the stump, hot enough to roast marshmallows.

Antonio bypassed it, his gaze overtly averted, then ducked under an arch and into our practice field, illuminated by the glow of a thousand tiny lights. Trumpet vines announced his entrance with a flourish. "Antonio, first son of Bartomeo. Panduri's Heir, most blessed, most beloved."

"Most in need of a bath." I ducked around him, making a show of holding my nose, then pointed to the little dancing glimmers and did some quick calculations. I tilted my chin toward Claudio, our younger brother, waiting by his targeting stake. "These shouldn't be here. The star count will be short tomorrow night."

"Beautiful, aren't they?" Claudio upturned his face, his song lilting. The glimmers danced along his grace notes. "They're Mamma's doing."

Antonio clapped Claudio on the back, then wrapped him in an inebriated bear hug snug enough to make a prostitute cringe. "Because we're celebrating."

Claudio's song went somber. He twisted clear and rubbed at his neck, where his collar, stiff and new as his divinity, was already leaving its mark. "We are not celebrating."

"Relax." Antonio patted him twice on the cheek. "You've only just taken the cloak. Your account's still clean."

He pulled the strap of my quiver over his head and settled it around mine. He handed off my bow. "Tell him, Matteo. One sin won't matter."

"And dozens are hardly worthy of mention. Not on Midsummer." I nocked an arrow, sighted on the dark cloth tacked to the middle of a hay-stuffed canvas sack at the opposite end of the field, and yet again read the poem Father had graciously ordered engraved along the weapon's belly:

Forsake not thy spirit; Nor honor lost condone; Maintain well thy merit; By these things, thou art known.

Antonio's bow was engraved with musical notes, Claudio's with songbirds. The bows were gifts from Father, commissioned to commemorate our elevations to our charted offices. Mine alone carried a permanent admonishment.

I adjusted my aim. "Which sin are we not celebrating?"

Antonio answered. "No sin. A very sad occurrence. Ursicio's wife has died."

My arrow went wild, embedding in the trunk of a poplar well behind the target. Death on Midsummer's Eve, even at its terminus, was a bad omen.

"The baby's fine." Claudio tapped one of Mamma's happy little pinpoints. "Bright-eyed and bawling. Blessed to have been born before Midsummer's end."

I lowered my bow. "Why are you both so giddy? Ursicio is our cousin."

"Our distant cousin." Antonio drew and sighted. "Our very distraught and distant and resourceful cousin. Overwhelmed with responsibility. Three children. All girls. No heir. And a dead wife."

He let fly. "Perfect for Luciana."

His arrow landed in the same tree to split mine down the middle. I paused to admire the shot. "You want our sister to marry Ursicio."

"Luciana has to marry eventually. Ursicio is a fine choice. He's loyal. He's resourceful."

He has a nose like a rutabaga and an imagination to match. "Luciana's already promised to Ruggiero."

"Ruggiero beats whores." Antonio waggled his bow at Claudio. "Your turn. Go for one of the closer targets. Success emboldens the reach."

Claudio drew and sighted, wavering worse than a young man presented the choice of two virgins. He let his arrow fly, then checked where it landed, shoulders tensed like he worried he'd accidentally spitted the cat. "Has anybody seen Topo?"

"In the kitchen," I assured him. "Lapping the last of the cream." And hissing every time I got near.

I chose another arrow from my quiver. "This will bring trouble. Ignazio will see Father's refusal to let Luciana marry his son as an insult."

The air pulsed, the tiny lights faltered. Antonio snatched the words from my mouth. "Ignazio is fine. Father's exchanging enough to cover any insult."

He dropped his bow and grasped my shoulder, fingers tense. "Say it. Ignazio will be fine."

I couldn't, not without my iron betraying me. Ignazio could whip a gentle breeze into a tempest or calm a gale into the doldrums, go unnoticed as a rock, or command the attention of a kettledrum. Ignazio could be clever or dull, his words sparse, or flowing off his tongue like a marimba. Always charming, never forthright, Ignazio followed only those rules he found convenient. Because he was inimical, born under a contrary star and was rarely, barely, almost never ever fine.

And neither was Ruggiero.

I crossed my fingers behind my back, a trick that sometimes worked. "Ignazio will be fine."

The air settled. Mamma's glimmers resumed their gentle glow.

Antonio released me. "Ursicio will cast off his wife tomorrow. He's asked Claudio to perform the elegy, so you'll need to write one for him to sing. The Promise will be the following afternoon. Mamma says there's no use giving grief time to seed."

Or Ignazio time to smooth talk Father back to the original arrangement.

I nocked another arrow. None of this had anything to do with me. Marriage negotiations were Antonio's province. He could have them. I was to depart with the dawn, take up my position and chart my course in Panduri's constellation. Her Protector. Legendary, storied, larger than life.

Like Uncle Giacomo.

I sighted on Antonio's arrow, meaning to split it as he had mine. I again drew.

"Here's the rest," Antonio piped up. "With so much upheaval in the current casts, Father agrees. Best you stay to chart the happiest course for our sister's new life. I'm going to the border in your stead."

I swung around. My shot again went wild, arcing over Antonio's head. "But you're Heir. It's official. They gave you the ceremony, the parade."

Mamma had my uniform fitted, my buttons polished. Even my pen nibs were new. "The women threw flowers at you."

"They can throw them again next year."

Anger raced up my gullet. I nocked yet another arrow and drew, leveling it at Antonio's chest. "They won't have to."

Claudio's bow creaked. "If you think I'll let you shoot him because you're annoyed, you're wrong."

Antonio drew. "And if you think I'll let you shoot Claudio for not letting you shoot me, you're more wrong."

My face went hot. "Fine. Shoot me. Then we will all have something to celebrate. Especially Father."

Antonio lowered his bow. "Shut up, Matteo. Nobody's shooting anybody. I have to get out of here. One more day plotting star charts and I will shave my head and take Claudio's place at the monastery."

The next morning, Claudio sang the elegy I wrote for Ursicio's poor, dead wife. Both she and the elegy were forgotten by nightfall. Antonio composed a fanfare for Luciana's Promise so luminous, people still remember it in song.

Antonio found me in my study before he departed. He carried both our bows. "Words and music, Matteo. No use breaking up a set." "Get out of here, and take your damned bow with you. You've stolen my destiny. I'm never practicing targets with you again."

"I haven't stolen your destiny. I'm borrowing it for a while. I'll return it as soon as I can face mine. Then we'll find better ways to pass our time, happier times to remember." He hung his bow by the door. "Until then, keep this safe for me."

Antonio did return, but we never found better ways to pass our time, nor happier times to remember. And we never again practiced targets. One day, Antonio's destiny faced him. He followed it back to the horizon, and he crossed to Outside for good, leaving me no trail to follow, no trace to hold onto.

But I still have his bow, forever, for always, my hope ever strong Antonio will find a way to cross back.


The reminders of my brother are before me every day....

For what reasons did we war? A boundary here, a birthright there, the roles we were each expected to play. Excuses meant to explain the Great Upheaval, our vendetta against our cousins on the other side of the valley, the Ducato of Careri.

Fingers pointed. Egos bruised. Tempers flared. As only families can. Raising blame deeper than any magic. Strong enough to shake us from our foundations.

What did we expect? All those slings and arrows and young hot-bloods. What else did we expect?

Claudio tired of my questions. "Enough, Matteo. It was only a tree."

Dante and Ilario's tree. It had been shocked, been broken. Ill-used and misrepresented. I'd pressed my ear to the bark, listened for its heart. Of life, of love, of a yearning to heal. "All that tree needed was time."


Excerpted from "Deepest Blue"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Mindy Tarquini.
Excerpted by permission of BookSparks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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