From Sand and Ash(2)

By: Amy Harmon

Now, more than a dozen years later, he stood peering up at a statue that wasn’t Donatello’s famed sculpture, yet he beseeched him anyway. “Help me, San Giorgio,” he said aloud, hoping the heavens were listening. “Help me to face what is to come.”

Angelo turned and staggered away from the fountain, back to the road that was as ancient as Rome itself, feeling the eyes of the unknown sculpture on his weary back. Angelo’s thoughts returned to his champion, to the long-ago afternoon when things had been made so clear, when immortality seemed like a prize and not terrible torture. He hurt too much to be tempted by immortality now. Death sounded so much more inviting.

That long-ago afternoon, he had eventually been joined in his contemplation of Saint George, but was unaware of it until the man spoke up, telling him the story behind the art.

“George was a Roman soldier, a captain of sorts. He would not renounce his faith in Christ. He was promised gold and power and riches if he would simply worship the gods of the empire. See, the emperor did not want to kill him. He valued young George very much. But George refused.”

Angelo had pulled his eyes from Donatello’s sculpture. The man beside him was a priest like Father Sebastiano, older than Angelo’s father, but younger than his grandfather, Santino. The priest’s eyes were bright and his hair neatly groomed. His face was kind and curious, but his hands were clasped behind his back, his very posture bearing solemn witness to his self-denial.

“Did he die?” Angelo had asked.

“Yes, he did,” the priest answered gravely.

Angelo had supposed as much, but the truth still wounded him. He had wanted the young hero to be victorious.

“He died, but he defeated the dragon,” the priest added gently.

That hadn’t made any sense to Angelo, and he wrinkled his nose in confusion as his eyes returned to the sculpture and the huge shield in George’s hand. He thought this was a true story, and there was no such thing as a dragon.

“The dragon?” he asked. “He fought a dragon?”

“Evil. Temptation. Fear. The dragon is a symbol of the battle he must have waged within himself to stay true to his God.”

Angelo nodded, understanding perfectly. They fell into silence once more, staring at the sculpture of the soldier brought to life by a master’s hand.

“What’s your name, young man?” the priest had asked him.

“Angelo,” he answered. “Angelo Bianco.”

“Angelo, Saint George lived more than fifteen hundred years ago. Yet we are still talking about him. I think that makes him immortal . . . don’t you?”

The thought had moved Angelo to tears that he tried to blink away. “Yes, Father,” he whispered. “I do.”

“He risked everything, and he is now immortal.”

He risked everything, and he is now immortal.

Angelo groaned, the memory making his stomach twist. Oh, the irony. Oh, the incredible, terrible irony. He too had risked everything, and he may have lost the only thing he would trade his immortality for.

As dawn started to creep into the eastern sky, pale light falling over spires and campaniles onto the Eternal City, Angelo finally reached the gates of Santa Cecilia. The bells of Lauds began to ring, as if to welcome him back, but Angelo could only cling to the iron spires and pray that, by some miracle, Eva waited for him inside.

Mother Francesca discovered him a few minutes later, sitting with his back against the gate as if he’d been propped there by Satan’s henchmen. She must have thought he was dead, because she cried out in horror, crossing herself as she ran for assistance. Angelo was too tired to reassure her.

He watched through swollen lids as Mario Sonnino appeared above him, checking his pulse and crying out instructions to several others to carry him inside.

“It’s not safe.” Angelo struggled to speak. Mario was not safe outside the gate. Mario was not safe inside the gate.

“Someone could see you,” Angelo tried to warn him, but the words were sloppy on his lips.

“Take him up the stairs to Eva’s room!” Mario commanded.

“Where’s Eva?” Angelo asked, forcing the words out, needing to know.

No one answered him. They took the stairs quickly, and Angelo cried out as his ribs protested the motion. He was laid carefully on the bed, and Eva’s scent rose up around him.

“Eva?” he asked again, louder this time. He peered through the eye that wasn’t completely swollen shut, trying to see, but the shapes were blurred and the people were ominously silent.

“We haven’t seen her for three days, Angelo,” Mario finally answered. “The Germans took her.”