Home > Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(7)

Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(7)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

 

 

THREE


I quickly broke down fish carcasses for stock, ignoring the muffled crunch of bones. We were already deep into prepping for dinner service when I realized I’d forgotten my basket at the monastery. Since it was a holy day and crowds were already out en masse, I had to wait until Sea & Vine closed to retrieve my things.

Maybe it was a blessing from the goddess. Since the brotherhood would be out celebrating La Santuzza—the Little Saint—I wouldn’t have to worry about seeing Antonio. I really didn’t want to run into him after Vittoria’s mortifying charades last night. She could get away with being bold and brazen, and people adored her for it. Unfortunately, it was a skill I hadn’t mastered.

I looked over at my sister who’d been unusually quiet all morning. Something was troubling her. After I told her about my dream last night, she seemed on the verge of confiding in me.

Instead of talking, she’d set her diary aside, turned over on her mattress, and went to sleep. I wondered if she’d gotten into a fight with her secret boyfriend. Maybe she was supposed to meet him in the monastery and he didn’t show.

“I know we’re going to be busy tonight,” Vittoria said suddenly, breaking into my thoughts, “but I need to leave a little early.”

Nonna scooted past my mother—who was making espresso to serve with the dessert—and hoisted a wicker basket full of tiny snails up onto the island, and nodded to my twin. “Here. Boil these for the babbaluci.” She swatted at my twin’s hand. “Not for too long. We don’t want them turning to rubber.”

I raised my brows, waiting for Nonna to forbid my twin from leaving. She said nothing. While Vittoria quickly boiled a few handfuls of snails at a time, Nonna minced garlic and set a pan of olive oil on the fire. Soon we were all in a rhythm, and I pushed whatever was bothering my sister aside in favor of mastering my fish stock. I’d make her tell me everything later.

Vittoria scooped snails out, Nonna added them to the oil and garlic, lightly fried them and finished them off with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley. She whispered a blessing over the plates, thanking the food for its nourishment and the snails for their sacrifice. It was a small thing, and not necessarily magical, but I swore it made the food taste better.

“Nicoletta?” Nonna called. My mother set her last tray of dessert aside and tossed a cloth over her shoulder. “Bring your brother this bowl of babbaluci, and tell him to go outside and give a bite to anyone who looks hungry. It will help with the line.”

And it would draw more people into our trattoria. Nonna might not use magic directly on customers, but she was skilled in the art of luring humans in by using their own senses. One whiff of the fried garlic would have plenty of hungry patrons gracing our tables.

Once my mother was gone, Nonna pointed her carved wooden spoon at us. “Did you see the sky this morning? It was as red as the devil’s blood. Tonight is not a night to be out. Stay in and work on your grimoires—sew dried yarrow inside your skirts. There’s plenty to do at home. Are you wearing your amulets?” I pulled mine from under my bodice. Vittoria sighed and did the same. “Good. You haven’t taken them off, have you?”

“No, Nonna.” I ignored the heaviness of my sister’s gaze as it landed on me. I wasn’t technically lying. She’d taken her amulet off when we were eight—I’d kept mine on. As far as I knew, neither one of us had ever removed them again.

Nonna took a deep breath, seeming pacified. “Thank the goddess for that. You know what would happen otherwise.”

“Our world will turn to nightmares and ash.” Vittoria held her arms straight out like she was a slow-moving demon and staggered forward. “The devil will roam free. We will be bathed in the blood of innocents, our souls cursed to Hell for eternity.”

“You shouldn’t irk the goddesses who’ve sent signs, Vittoria. Those amulets could set the demon princes free. Unless you’d like to be responsible for the Malvagi entering this realm after La Prima locked them away, I’d heed the warnings.”

Any bits of lingering humor left my sister’s face. She turned back to the next batch of snails, and gripped her cornicello tightly. I swallowed hard, recalling the hellhound we’d heard that night so long ago. Nonna had to be wrong—her warning was more superstition. The devil and his entire demon realm was imprisoned. Plus, Nonna always said our amulets couldn’t be brought together. I hadn’t let them touch—I’d just held my sister’s while still wearing mine. The princes of Hell were where they belonged. No demons were roaming Earth. All was well.

Still, when our grandmother’s back was turned, Vittoria and I shared a long, silent look.

 

 

FOUR


I stared at the dark monastery, unable to shake the feeling that it was staring back, its fangs bared in a vicious sneer. Which was a sign Nonna’s superstitions had managed to unnerve me after all. Unless a powerful witch had cast an unheard-of spell to animate limestone and glass, it was only an empty building.

“Grazie, Nonna,” I said under my breath, not really feeling thankful at all.

I headed for a wooden door set deep within shadows. Thick iron hinges groaned in protest as I slipped inside. Somewhere in the rafters above, a bird took flight—its wings beating in time with my heart.

The Capuchin Monastery was less than a mile from our restaurant and was one of the most beloved buildings in Palermo. Not due to its architecture, but because of the catacombs located within its holy walls. I liked it well enough during daylight, but couldn’t shake the chill clinging to me in the dark. Now that it was completely empty, an eerie premonition crawled over my senses. Even the air felt strained—like it was holding its breath from some wicked discovery.

Nonna’s cries of demons continued to haunt me as I crept deeper inside the silent monastery, and steeled myself against a growing sense of dread. I really didn’t want to think about red-eyed, soul-stealing monsters invading our city, especially while I was alone.

I hugged my arms to my chest and walked briskly down a darkened corridor lined with mummies. They’d been posed in standing positions, dressed in garments of their choosing, their clothing dating back hundreds of years.

I tried not to notice their empty, lifeless stares as I hurried along. It was the quickest way to the room where I’d left my basket, and I cursed the brotherhood for the creepy layout.

Though it never bothered my sister. When we were younger, Vittoria wanted to wash and prepare the bodies of the deceased. Nonna didn’t approve of her fascination with the dead, and thought it might lead to an obsession with le arti oscure. I was torn on the subject, but it didn’t matter in the end; the brotherhood chose our friend Claudia for that task.

On rare afternoons when we all weren’t working and could walk along the beach, picking shells for Moon Blessings, Claudia shared stories of how the mummies came to be. I’d squirm my toes in the warm sand, trying to banish goose bumps, but Vittoria would lean forward, a hungry gleam in her eyes, ravenous for every morsel of information Claudia served us.

I did my best to forget those morbid stories now.

A window was cracked open high above, allowing a gusty breeze to barrel through the corridor. It smelled of turned earth and salt—like a storm was blowing in. Fantastico. The last thing I needed was to get stuck running home in the rain.

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