A gorgeous Tuscan villa harboring a terrible secret houses this beautifully harrowing adventure of ancient mystery and modern intrigue.
Archaeologist Richard Keyes and his resourceful young bride, Barbara, are expecting a blissful honeymoon in a welcoming new country. But from the moment they arrive in their secluded new home, circumstances conspire against them.
The key to an ages-old mystery lies in the catacombs under the villa, in a familial conflict reawakened after generations of sacrifice, betrayal, and madness. This first publication of a newly discovered jewel from a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award winner is sure to please readers of all genres.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Evangeline Walton was a writer whose works include Mabinogion tetralogy, as well as The Cross and the Sword , The Sword Is Forged , and Witch House . She won a Mythopoeic award, a Fritz Leiber award, two Locus awards, and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement award.
Read an Excerpt
She Walks in Darkness
By Evangeline Walton
Tachyon PublicationsCopyright © 2013 Debra L. Hammond as literary heir to Evangeline Walton
All rights reserved.
Old Mattia Rossi's body is gone. It no longer lies at the foot of the cellar stairs. This morning, when I finally braced myself to go down and look for those keys I need so badly, it was not there.
And that can mean only one thing.
He is not in hiding. He did not rouse and crawl away into the dark, as a crushed worm might crawl. He does not lie suffering somewhere in those black, net-like passages. To search for him there would drive me mad, I think, though I suppose decency would drive me to it. But he cannot be suffering; he is dead.
Yet he is gone.
I know what other people would say, if they were here to say it. "He never was there. You had a nightmare. You never would have dared to go down into those cellars by yourself."
But I did go down, and he was there. If you could call that flat, bloody thing himself.... That queer flatness, a kind of emptiness, was what told me he was dead. It was worse, somehow, than the crushed part of his head, than the stains.... It is gone now, that thing that used to be a person. A person I never met, but whom people I know knew and liked. Someone must have taken it away. Who? Who—except the murderer?
That means that he did not go away after he killed old Mattia. Or that if he did, he came back.
Is he here now? Lurking somewhere in this huge place? Watching for me, perhaps, with those eyes I never saw and must not try to imagine. Listening....
I must get help! Yet how can I go away and leave Richard alone here, hurt? My husband is unconscious; no sane man would hurt him. But if the murderer thought him only asleep—
It would take me hours to walk back to Volterra, even if I did not get lost. And there were a great many turns in that long, lonely road, that very lonely road.... The village would be nearer, but even if I could find it, I can speak only five or six words of Italian. How long would it take to make someone understand me, help me?
Perhaps the murderer does not know that we are here. He need not know. There are so many rooms in this old Tuscan villa. All the rooms above ground—two stories of them. All those dark chambers and corridors beneath the real cellar, God knows how many of them, leading God knows how far down into the bowels of the Earth! Those old Etruscan tombs that Richard was going to study. Not Christian catacombs, such as underlie old houses in the Campagna, but a veritable city of the tombs of men who died before Christ was born, before Rome became an empire. So many dead—and only one live person can be anywhere near us! But it is the living who are terrible....
Perhaps he will stay down there, the murderer, in that everlasting darkness where he belongs. Maybe he is looking for treasure, of which those old Etruscans had so much, and will find it and go away. But last night he did come upstairs. Or someone did....
I can't leave you, Richard! I can't!
This time yesterday we were on our way here. Side by side in the car, sometimes laughing and talking, sometimes just sitting there with the sun in our faces, and the mountains jutting into the blue sky above us.
"They used to be volcanoes," Richard said once.
I said, "I hope they're extinct!"
"As craters on the moon," he answered comfortably. "There's still fire underground. Enough to keep up those giant pillars of steam at Larderello, and to make the earth smoke in some places. But no more fireworks."
"Well, I hope we can depend on that. This country makes you know what 'scorched earth' really means. It looks burnt—burnt from inside."
It did. We had left the pleasant Florentine countryside behind us, with its villas and vineyards, its gracious ordered beauty. Sometimes we still passed olive groves, their trees like fountains of silvery-green spray. But those bright spots were growing scarcer: There were more and more long stretches of pale, barren clay. The mountains looked stark and harsh and forbidding, lifeless as mountains on the moon. The earth itself had a queer, whitish look like seared flesh.
It wasn't exactly my idea of honeymoon country, but I didn't mean to let Richard see that. He was so proud because Professor Harris, a man famous in the field in which Richard still considers himself a beginner (I think several well-qualified people already consider him more than that), had asked him to take over his work at the Villa Carenni that summer, work begun five years ago, just after World War II ended. Professor and Mrs. Harris are on their way home to America now, on a long-postponed vacation.
"You'll find the villa pretty isolated. Not a neighbor within miles." Mrs. Harris had warned me about that. In that Florentine hotel to which I had come to marry Richard, she had given me a good deal of advice. "It's a beautiful old place, though. The kitchen is antiquated—I did all our cooking on two electric hot plates in a kind of gorgeous medieval powder room. But you needn't worry about having to carry your garbage downstairs; old Mattia will always do that. He came with the place; I think he was born on it."
But Mattia Rossi never will carry anything anywhere for me....
Yet then, safe in that Florentine hotel, with people all around us, how could I have dreamed of anything like this? And if I had had any inkling of danger, I should have expected Richard to be here with me, quiet and strong. One can't imagine anything melodramatic happening anywhere around Richard. But now he lies in the next room, sleeping that strange, death-like sleep from which I cannot wake him, and the car lies outside, a mass of charred upholstery and seared metal. The car too....
We are trapped. And we rode into that trap so happily, expecting to find a place where we could laugh and love!
By noon yesterday we had stopped laughing. The heat of this arid land had baked all humor out of us. We were glad when the car finally came within sight of Volterra, D'Annunzio's famous "City of Silence," that old Etruscan city whose power and splendor the Roman butcher Sulla wrecked. Its tremendous walls still stand, the walls that even Sulla could not storm; he had to starve out the city. We drove into it through the Porta all' Arco, that true Etruscan gateway deep as a small house—it is over twenty-five feet thick. Three giant stone heads crown the cyclopean archway, midnight-black against its yellowish-white stone. Time has eaten up their faces, but they still seemed to stare down at us, full of a quiet, terrible power.
"Who are they?" I asked. Somehow it seemed natural to say "are," not "were."
Richard shrugged. "Gods, probably. Nobody really knows."
"Just what does anybody really know about your precious Etruscans, Rick?"
"Not too much. They called themselves Rasenna. The Romans believed they came from Asia, and a few modern crackpots make their starting point Atlantis. Certainly by the beginning of our era they were being called 'a very ancient people, like no other in their language and customs.' I'd say their tastes were rather birdlike. They ate insects dissolved in honey, and did everything to music—from kneading the dough for their bread to flogging their slaves."
I winced. "I wonder if the slaves appreciated their masters' aesthetic tastes."
He made a face. "I doubt it. But Prince Mino Carenni might have approved. He was very proud of his Etruscan descent, and anything but democratic."
"The late owner of the villa? He doesn't sound like a very pleasant person."
"Prince Mino lived in the past, and feudal power wasn't too far behind him. Sometime in the 1860s, his grandfather is supposed to have had a disobedient servant executed."
"You don't mean it!"
"I do. And Prince Mino believed in the good old days. He got into trouble when the war ended; he was lucky to get off with being put in a sanitarium. He may still be there."
"He'd been one of Mussolini's men, then?"
"Lord, no!" Richard chuckled. "Imperial Rome herself was an upstart in his eyes, let alone a butcher's son. Though he might have deigned to advise Mussolini if properly asked. Rome had had Etruscan teaching and some Etruscan blood, so a revival of her glories would have been better than a world dominated by crude Teutonic barbarians like us. Nazis, English, Americans, we were all just one step above animals."
"When the Germans entered Italy, he certainly must have been annoyed."
"He was so incensed that he never again set foot outside the villa. Until the war was over."
"Then how did he get into trouble?"
Richard was silent a moment, then said reluctantly, "There was some story about an escaped prisoner of war. He was traced to the neighborhood of the villa. The Germans searched it, but couldn't find him. Later a servant of the prince's went to the Allied Occupation authorities and accused his master of murder. The Allies seem to have thought there was something in it."
"But why on Earth would he do such a thing?"
"According to the informer, the two men quarreled. The escaped prisoner was an archaeologist too. A young Englishman named Roger Carstairs."
"So the prince might have taken him in?"
"For awhile they may even have worked together. The prince apparently was concealing what he considered important discoveries from everybody, especially the Germans. Most people still believe the informer's story—that the two men fell out over buried treasure. There's been plenty of that found in the tombs; Etruscan goldsmiths had their secrets—they did work that nobody could match again until this last century, with its scientific discoveries. But from what I've heard, neither man would have cared for gold."
"Then what was the trouble about?"
"God knows. Prince Mino was a great scholar, but a little mad. The Carenni family was just a little too old, I think.... Here's the Palazzo Verocchio now. We'll see if Dr. Pulcinelli's at home."
We drew up before what looked like a small fort: a massive old house of the grayish native stone. Dr. Pulcinelli, who lives there, is another lover of the old Etruscans; Richard had promised to look him up.
He was at home, and welcomed us warmly: a distinguished-looking, gray-haired man who still would have been remarkably handsome if he had weighed thirty pounds less. His English was excellent, in a bookish way: generally very formal and rather flowery.
He greeted Richard enthusiastically. "So you have come, my young friend. And with a bride as beautiful as her for whom the villa was built!"
I said in surprise, "I didn't know the villa was built for a bride. Why didn't you tell me, Richard?"
Richard looked uncomfortable. I saw Dr. Pulcinelli shoot him a quick glance, but his shrug was casual. Artistically so.
"Your pardon, signora. I should have said remodeled. Nobody knows when the villa was first built. But in the sixteenth century, it was greatly altered and made beautiful for a young lady who herself must have been very beautiful indeed. For though she was but a poor shopkeeper's daughter, Prince Carenni married her."
"Are you sure it wasn't the prince who was poor? And the shopkeeper who was rich?"
He smiled at me. "You think, like all Anglo-Saxon young ladies, of your Signor Browning's masterpiece. Of Count Guido and that most poor little Pompilia. But no, signora, this prince had both great wealth and great pride, and his little principessa brought him no fortune but her face. He spent a king's ransom on this love nest, as you would say it"—clearly he was proud of knowing this Americanism—"to make all things lovely for her, that young bride of his old age. Hers is the house you will see."
The villa's bridal beginnings didn't sound so romantic to me, after all. To think of a young girl shut up in a lonely country house with an old man made me shiver. But I thought it politer not to say so.
We had a very English-style tea, then I left the two men alone to talk antiquities while I went out to buy groceries. I had no idea what to expect at the Villa Carenni, and this might save a trip later. The doctor kindly sent his housekeeper with me as guide.
"Giovanna knows all the best shops, signora. You will need her help."
Giovanna also knew no English, and I wondered just how we would manage, but somehow we did. She was a stout friendly woman, with soft black eyes and a voice as soft, and she did know where to find the best fruits and vegetables, and also several more fattening things. I have no doubt that her cooking was responsible for both her figure and the doctor's.
Yet it was while I was with her, in those narrow old streets, that the first hint of trouble came. Although it may have had nothing to do with what happened here, I do not know that it did.
Once Volterra was a mighty fortress, the western-most outpost of that culture that may have been brought by hard-eyed, black-bearded princes from the East. The land was fertile then, before pagan Rome crushed her great rivals and teachers, the proud Rasenna, whose own empire once had stretched from sea to sea. The Romans, later such great builders themselves, let the wonderful Etruscan irrigation system fail and the rich farmlands become deserts and ague-ridden marshes.
"Maybe, so long as Tuscan lands were rich, even Rome was afraid," Dr. Pulcinelli had said at tea.
Certainly the disasters never have bean repaired. The city's prosperity never has come back; its broken walls hold only a third as many people as they housed in the days of their strength. Over them loom two buildings modern by comparison, one the famous Mastio, in whose terrible circular cells many a state prisoner of the Middle Ages died. It holds common criminals now, and in the huge bare lunatic asylum of today it has a gloomy twin. Sight of that grim pair made me shudder; I always have hated the sight of prisons; I would much prefer dying to being shut up and knowing that I never could get out again.
"Fuggito! fuggito!" It seemed only natural when I heard a woman cry that, saw her running across the gray stones. She stopped and talked with Giovanna; their eyes flashed, and their hands and tongues flew. I gathered that a prisoner had escaped, and told myself that I must not be glad. It might be someone dangerous.
But when the other woman had gone and Giovanna led me down a steep alley filled with whitish dust, I suddenly knew that I was not glad. The massive stone walls presented an unbroken front with no corners for an escaped convict or lunatic to dart around, but I found myself watching the heavy shut doors uneasily. What if one of them were to burst open?
What if he were to jump out at us?
Shrewd criminals do not risk unnecessary bloodshed, but madmen kill without reason....
Then before one door I saw something that made me stop, startled. There, beneath the burning summer sun, was what looked like a snowdrift: a gleaming, piled-up whiteness.
Giovanna stopped too, knocked. An old woman opened the door, her wrinkled face tense, her black eyes gleaming with fear. "She's heard of the escaped prisoner too," I thought, with a pang of pity. But at sight of us she relaxed, greeted Giovanna volubly, and stepped back to let us in.
The place was the shop of an alabaster carver. Alabaster abounds around Volterra, and the old man who came forward to meet us had carved it into dozens of exquisite shapes. The white gypsum dust piled outside must have been his leavings. I do not know much about art, but I know that he is an artist.
There was a flood of Italian—I caught the words "Villa Carenni" and figured that our address was being given—but fortunately or unfortunately, the old man knew some English. Richard and I are not rich, we are saving for things our house will really need when we get it, but I finally let him sell me an exquisite lantern (a copy of an old Etruscan lamp, he said) at a price that seemed absurdly low.
His eyes beamed then; he thanked me in voluble Italian. As the money changed hands, I heard a faint rustling somewhere in the gloomy depths of the shop behind us, and the shopkeeper started and glanced over his shoulder.
"Is somebody there?" My eyes followed his, but the shadows were too deep; I could see nothing.
Excerpted from She Walks in Darkness by Evangeline Walton. Copyright © 2013 Debra L. Hammond as literary heir to Evangeline Walton. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Gothic horror is one of my favorite genres, so of course I wanted to give She Walks in Darkness a shot. It seems like people who read the author’s other works, which is mostly fantasy, seem a bit dissapointed with this book. It’s my first time reading anything by Evangelina Walton however, and I must say I enjoyed it, and I will definitely check out her other work. Archaeologist Richard Keyes and his young bride, Barbara, go on honeymoon in Tuscany to an old villa riddled with mysteries and secrets. They plan to study some nearby Etruscan ruins and catacombs. However, not all is as quiet and peaceful as it seems. The book is told from Barbara’s POV, and we witness her increasing descent into paranoisa as more and more strange things start to happen, and an ancient diety awakens. The writing is fluent and atmospheric, and the reader gets a few nice surprises along the way. A solid read for anyone who likes gothic horror.