The force of the blow carried me forward, even as it bore him backward; and so, with his sword-blade in my shoulder, and my dagger where I had planted it, we hurtled over together and lay a second amidst what seemed a forest of equine legs. Then something smote me across the head, and I was knocked senseless.
Conceive me, if you can, a sorrier, or more useless thing. A senseless Fool!
My return to consciousness seemed to afford me such sensations as a diver may experience as he rises up and up through the depth of water he has plumbed—or as a disembodied soul may know in its gentle ascent towards Heaven. Indeed the latter parallel may be more apt. For through the mist that suffused my senses there penetrated from overhead a voice that seemed to invoke every saint in the calendar on the behalf of some poor mortal. A very litany of intercession was it, not quite, it would appear, devoid of self-seeking.
“Sainted Virgin, restore him! Good St. Paul, who wert done to death with a sword, let him not perish, else am I lost indeed!” came the voice.
I took a deep breath, and opened my eyes, whereat the voice cried out gladly that its intercessions had been heard, and I knew that it was on my behalf that the saints of Heaven had been disturbed in their beatific peace. My head was pillowed in a woman’s lap, and it took me a moment or two to realise that that lap was Madonna Paula’s, as was hers the voice that had reached my awakening senses, the voice that now welcomed me back to life in terms that were very different from the last that I could remember her having used towards me.
“Thank God, Messer Boccadoro!” she exclaimed, as she bent over me.
Her face was black with shadow, but in her voice I caught a hint of tears, and I wondered whether they were shed on my behalf or on her own.
“I do” I answered fervently. “Have you any notion of what hour it is?”
“None,” she sighed. “You have been so long unconscious that I was losing hope of ever hearing your voice again.”
I became aware of a dull ache on the right side of my head. I put up my hand, and withdrew it moist. She saw the action.
“One of the horses must have struck you with its hoof after you fell,” she explained. “But I was more concerned for your other wound. I withdrew the sword with my own hands.”
That other wound she spoke of was now making itself felt as well. It was a gnawing, stinging pain in the region of my left shoulder, which seemed to turn me numb to the waist on that side of my body, and render powerless my arm. I questioned her touching my three adversaries, and she silently pointed to three black masses that lay some little distance from us in the snow.