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A free-thinking boy at the dawn of the Renaissance!
A 14 year old boy at the dawn of the Renaissance … in a world of believers, he dared to say: "It would cost me my soul if I didn’t question."
"The Outcasts" is the story of a family destroyed by the "family values" of faith, obedience, and conformity … and a boy’s rebellious quest for truth.
It’s the story of Messer Agostino, a gruff patriarch who staggers back to his native Florence after being held a political prisoner for five years, his eyes burning with religious fervor—to find the city has sold his house for back taxes, his wife fears and hates him, and his son has turned away from the Church.
It tells of his young wife Monna Teresa, obsessed by the damnation of unbaptized infants—who fears her husband will discover the secret she hides behind locked doors, under billowing clothing—and, in mounting hysteria, keeps a bottle of holy water at her bedside.
And it’s the story of Marco, beaten since early childhood to teach him "you do as you’re told"—a lesson he refuses to learn. An outcast and alone in the world—till he sees a savage Tartar slave girl stepping off a boat, in chains ...
These are people who stake everything on their beliefs—and pay the consequences, however high. Powerfully conceived, dramatically plotted, "The Outcasts" is a counterpart of "The Brothers Karamazov," written from an opposite point of view: the unbeliever’s. There’s never been a novel to challenge Dostoyevsky’s oft-quoted dictum that religion and morality are inseparable—no story that celebrates the sheer gutsy rebelliousness of a thinker who dares to question and defy centuries of dogma. Until now.
"It will become a classic in the 21st century."
Edward Cline, author of the "Sparrowhawk" series
Chapter 1 — The Outcast
“Are you going to tell me why?”
The boy wasn’t angry. That was a difference they could never quite understand, but nonetheless feared. He wasn’t like them and didn’t feel as they did. So they hated him, because he was calm and no taunt could ever really touch him.
They surrounded him, all wearing the drab black suits of charity students. But there were distinctions even among the poor, and he was apart from them, the one who didn’t know whether his father was alive or dead.
The oldest boy stepped forward.
“We won’t explain, Marco. There’s a great dividing line, and you’re on the other side while we’re on this.” Ridolfo extracted a seed from between pearly teeth; he was two years older, almost seventeen, and the acknowledged leader. He considered squirting the seed at Marco’s face, the lean, pale, alert face with the sandy eyes that were forever serious—but thought better of it. He still had bruises from the last time.
“You always make fun of me,” Marco said. “There’s no sense to it.”
“Oh, you ask too many questions.”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
Piero laughed. “Look at him! No Tramontano was ever fined for breaking the sumptuary laws, against rich clothing.” Marco’s cloak was threadbare in places, true enough, but little more so than theirs.
“Why are you so interested in me?”
“We aren’t,” drawled Ridolfo. He stepped nearer and tried to tower over him, intimidatingly.
Marco looked up, not backing down. “If you want to fight, just say so.”
There was an uneasy silence.
“Wait a minute,” Guido held up a hand. “We don’t want to fight.”
“We were just having fun, that’s all.”
Marco stared at them and thought: it was part of their method to try to hurt, then back off, when challenged, with the claim they hadn’t meant it.
“Guido’s right. You take yourself too seriously.”
“You shouldn’t let it bother you.”
Piero sank down on a large rock, part of the border that sepa-rated the vegetable garden from the orchard, and pulled an apple from his cloak.
“Here. Take it.”
Marco shook his head. “You hinted I was a bastard.”
There was an uneasy silence.
Niccolò squinted with malevolent eyes, half hidden by untidy red hair. “Well?” he drawled. “Maybe we all are. Our fathers are dead, and can’t swear to it one way or the other.”
“Still, they begat us legally,” Ridolfo giggled, “and it’s registered at the Baptistery, where no one’s ever questioned it. His father disappeared, or so he says ... and that’s suspicious. Who knows whether there was cause for him to leave?”
“Oh, shut up,” Cola said, from the crook of the mulberry tree. “Leave him alone, will you? You’re like a pack of animals.”
Guido gave an impromptu imitation of a pig, snorting and dig-ging in the brush. The others laughed.
“Pretty good imitation.”
“Imitation be damned! That’s his real self.”
Piero said, “I suppose none of us would be here if we weren’t or-phans of one sort or another. Would we?”
Ridolfo raised his head to the boy in the tree. “Do you take Marco’s side, Cola? Want to be like him?”
Cola shrugged. “There are worse things.”
“He’s lower than any of us.”
“How would you know?”
Ridolfo paused. “I just do, that’s all.”
“He knows his lessons better than you.”
“Oh,” he smirked. This touched a sore spot, and whenever he felt insecure, he smirked. Envy was an important part of what he felt for Marco.
A bell tolled in the tower.
“Not time yet,” Ridolfo shook his head. “We still have a while to breathe before the monks get hold of us ... Listen, you dullards, here’s a pretty thought. Did you know that Christ Himself might pass through the bowels of a pig? ... Don’t laugh, I know what I’m saying.”
He raised a finger. “Consider. If a consecrated Host gets thrown out by accident, and eaten by a pig, why, that’s Christ Himself, isn’t it? Our Lord? ... And so He has a merry trip.”
“What if the monks heard you say that?”
“They didn’t,” he laughed.
None of the monks was within earshot. They bent over their vegetables among newly-turned furrows of black earth, displaying bald pates that shone with sweat and made them an obvious target for mockery. The boys had a half hour free between lessons, and they always used it for verbal fencing, commentary on the shortcomings of elders, and ridicule. Their walks were aimless, never going beyond the small market toward San Lorenzo that smelled of fresh melons and strawberries, or the farmlands of the Cascine outside the city wall to the west, where the Mugnone flowed lazily into the Arno.
“What do you say to that, Marco?”
“Yes, what do you say? You’re the doubter. The one who hates God.”
“Or doesn’t believe in Him.”
Marco turned away. “I have better things to think about.”
“He leaves you alone,” Cola pointed out. “Why can’t you leave him alone?”
Ridolfo looked up. “Because he thinks too much of himself,” he countered, frowning. He kicked at a clump of sod turned up in yesterday’s spading. “Besides, who wants to talk about a ... fool like him? ... Let’s see what the others are up to.”
They retreated, with a few backward glances and laughs.
“So long, Doubting Thomas!”
Marco wondered about them; but there were cleaner things to think about. He had met them in fist fights back there among the trees, several times when they had gone too far and laid hands on him. But words couldn’t hurt. At least, not in the way they intended; for instead of rejection, he felt nothing but bewilderment.
The park of Sant’ Antonio was mostly pines and cypresses, with a few willows here and there, spaced well apart, so every corner got the sun at least part of the day. The grounds were huge and sprawling, overflowing the city wall at the Porta Faenza, but centered around the chapter house inside the gate with its gardens where the monks grew nearly everything they needed, and enough for the poor and sick too. They were hospitaller monks of the order of Sant’ Antonio of Vienne, who took in lodgers in return for alms. The refectory with its old whitewash and red tiled roof faced the city gate; but the room where the boys got their lessons was the center of their existence, in the short wing between the monks’ quarters and the chapel. There they studied, the most promising of the poor boys on this side of the Arno, and at the end of the day the orphans among them roomed with the novices, while a few returned to their own homes ... charity students, living on the bounty of the Church. Marco had a home, of sorts, though not as fine as the one he had spent his first years in.
He looked up, where Cola still sat in the tree.
“Here.” Cola offered him a handful of mulberries.
Whenever he was alone with someone, it was usually Cola. He was a half-friend, at least. The need to share was real. He could hardly talk with Benvenuto; even before his stepbrother became a monk he had been too busy reforming other people’s lives, or brooding over his sins. But it was better to be only half understood than not under-stood at all.
“Thanks for standing up for me.”
The boy looked away. “That’s all right.”
The leaves were a pattern of darkness against the sky, their un-dersides more gray than green, like spear heads with ragged edges. A drop of water trembled on one tip, then fell sparkling through the air.
“I mean, it was good of you. I don’t know why they keep after me like that.”
“Why worry about it?”
“I don’t worry ... But I want to understand.” He looked up, to consider the boy on the branch above him.
There was an uneasy silence.
“I don’t like seeing them gang up on you,” Cola explained.
“But why should they hate me?”
“They don’t hate you ...”
“They do. It’s plain enough to see.”
Cola screwed up his face. “Let’s forget about it,” he said. “You think too much, after all.”
They were quiet for a minute while the birds sang in the woods, and Marco wondered what was wrong, why he was apart from the others, and who was the one who was twisted inside. ...