Isabella. I live with my mother in the woods. That’s all I know. I’ve always
lived in the woods. My mother said that, when she was a girl, she lived in the
A big city named Florence. She began working at the age of eleven for a
family named Alighieri. She said that there was a boy named Dante, and she
remembered that he was always kind of dreamy eyed and talked about some girl
named Beatrice. She doesn’t remember ever seeing Beatrice. Well, when my mother
was about my age or maybe a year or two older, a man who fixes the carriages
for the Alighieri family became drunk. Drunkenness wasn’t so uncommon, and my
mother was used to running from the drunks. But this time, that man grabbed my
mother and did unspeakable things to her. She fell pregnant and, when it became
obvious, the family let her go.
no one would speak to my mother or give her work. She became destitute, and she
had to beg for scraps of food. Her appearance had become frightening. Her
clothing had deteriorated, becoming grayed rags, and her teeth had turned brown.
She was run out of town, clutching me in her arms. The people claimed that she
was the spawn of the devil and that she and I were to be killed. She found a
home in the woods after a hermit took her in. He taught her everything that she
needed to know about how to survive in the forest. And that’s where I spent my
childhood. I listened to the birds and to the animals. The hermit, who was a
Franciscan brother, told me that I had the heart and the spirit of a
happened one day that I saw a man walking through the woods. He appeared to be
lost. I followed him, intending to help him find his way back. He said that he
was lost, that I was lost, and that we were all lost. What did he mean by that?
We came upon a
river, one that I had never before seen. The man, who identified himself only
as Dante, said that it was the River Styx. A ferryman came. Dante said that the
ferryman’s name was Charon. I didn’t know much about this Charon guy. Dante
gave Charon some coins, and he took us to the other side. We kept walking.
Before long, we were at some sort of gate. I wasn’t sure of what it was because
I had never gone to the Other Side. What did he mean by the Other Side? We
found a note that had been abandoned by a tall, impenetrable wall. I picked it
up but I didn’t know what the symbols meant. I learned the language of the
forest and the songs of the birds and the mating calls of the animals but I
never learned the humans’ written language. Dante read, “THROUGH me you pass
into the city of woe:
pass into eternal pain:
the people lost for aye.
founder of my fabric moved:
task of Power divine,
and primeval Love.
create were none, save things
eternal I endure.
ye who enter here.”
burst open and we saw it. Dead bodies. Humans and angels and demons. We
wondered what had happened. Was it the war that my mother warned me about? The
war between the angels and the demons? As we walked past the evidence of a
great battle and, as I realized that we had entered the dreaded Underworld, I
could see horses approach. I felt something cold strike at my heart. The horses
came closer and the feeling became stronger. Dante identified the four horses
for me as I shivered with the coldness that had gone into my soul. A white
horse. The conquerer. A red horse, who would take the peace of the earth away
with him and who would cause humans to kill one another. A black horse, who
would give the world scarcity. And the most fearsome was the pale horse that
brought death. Death by sword, death by hunger, death by pestilence.
fear, as I heard trumpets calling. I was in a place that was not peaceful. It
was hell. It was where Lucifer had been cast when he was thrown out of Heaven.
Lucifer had declared war on heaven. It was to be a fight to the finish.
their misery. But they themselves- in their depravity- design grief greater
than the griefs that fate assigns,” Homer said.
been walking for a long time. It seemed as if it were almost forever. He barely
spoke and, when he did, I didn’t understand him. He spoke in verse, which
confused me. He was obviously a learned man, who had read many books and who
understood the great wisdom of the universe. I am just a girl of the forest,
who understands animals and birds. I can recognize all of the medicinal plants
and have learned to heal people with herbs and potions. But books are a
complete mystery to me.
there were no medicinal plants. There were no herbs, no potions. The sign on
the entryway was right. Abandon all hope, ye who enter by me. I could feel it
in the air. It smelled like death and rejected love. I remember that smell from the time of
plague, when my mother was called upon to nurse the sufferers. I had to go with
her to help. It was then that I learned all of my skills as a healer.
place where there is no hope for healing.
we were pushed by a wind. A relentless wind that nearly caused me to fly away.
I felt fear. I rarely feel fear. I survived life alone in the forest when my
mother went away to dangerous places to collect herbs. I did fear when my mother and I visited the doomed homes of plague victims. Although we had not been permitted in the city because of my mother’s sin, we were the only ones who had the knowledge of the healing plants.
We were sent for to take care of the plague victims. I turned off all fear of death. I did not catch the
plague when I touched the plague victims to put cooling rags on their hot
buboes. I did not fear when they died, despite all of the potions, pastes, and
herbs used for them. Everyone else ran screaming when we brought the coffins in
the wagon to the potter’s field. But we did not cry and we did not fear. I ran
from wild animals but I did not fear. But this time, in the place where time stopped
and where hope was extinct, I felt fear.
flying on the wind, chasing after something. I’m not sure what they were
chasing. They flew by me but they were insubstantial because they were just
shades, not people anymore. I wondered if my father was one of them. I had
heard that he had died. I am not a perfect girl. I knew that it was because of
him that my mother suffered. I wanted him to suffer, as she did. I wanted him
to be here, chasing the wind like the other sinners who died with lust in their
hearts. Then I saw angels and devils fighting, rolling as they fought a wind.
Some of the angels pinned down a demon. A little demon who barely fought at
all. I averted my eyes. I couldn’t look. Dante pulled me away.
language. “A child should not view that.”
innocent child. I wished that I were that girl that he believed me to be.
I saw that the little demon lay motionless on the ground. The wind had stopped.
I gasped in horror. Dante pulled even harder and we left the second circle of