While the smiling Mona Lisa strolls the cobblestone paths of this art-created world, dark forces wait.
“I’m perfectly fine. Now stop being so silly.” Placing a painted hand on The Thinker’s bronze arm, Mona Lisa patted it.
“But child. The attempts.”
“Failed. And now you and Father have me tucked away in this fortress. Worry not.” Without giving him a chance to argue more, Mona Lisa turned and glided down the stone steps of the castle.
Artania’s leader leaned over the parapet of the castle gazing at the renaissance city below. Florence. Red tile roofs topped sunflower yellow or misty white walls. Crushed granite alleyways and cobblestone side streets zig-zagged from one end of the town to the other. The Arno River snaked through this muted palette as gently as dear Mona Lisa’s smile.
Mona Lisa. Ever since the attempted kidnapping, she had stayed within these castle walls. Making the sweet child restless. Today was the first time he’d agreed to let her stroll along the river. Accompanied by soldiers in striped bloomers and metal helmets of course.
“Nicolo, you must be ever vigilant. You know what will happen if the Shadow Swine capture the Smiling One,” he had ordered the guardsman earlier.
“Yes, as do all citizens, whether they be painting, sculpture or sketch,” Nicolo said.
“Keep her close. Keep her safe.”
“I do swear,” the guardsman said, bowing with one hand across his chest.
Nicolo’s presence should have calmed The Thinker’s fears, but for some reason he still felt uneasy. All around, soldiers patrolled the parapet wall or stood guard behind the notched battlements in the rectangular towers.
The iron grating of the portcullis was down leaving only doors vulnerable. And after the last kidnapper had made his way inside, The Thinker had ordered them locked at all times. Even so he knew that in these terrible times anything could happen.
His bronze gaze rested on the river and the short docks built beside the walkway. The Smiling One emerged from the doorway below and gave him a short wave before turning toward the cobblestone path skirting the river. All was as it should be.
He had just relaxed his shoulders when a flash caught his eye. He shouldn’t be there!
A man dressed in rags leapt out of one of the rowboats tied to the dock and began running toward Mona Lisa. But with her back to him, she didn’t notice
“Lisa!” The Thinker cried.
When she turned, the snarling man grabbed her by the arm and began pulling her toward his boat.
“Let me go!” Mona Lisa screamed.
Soldiers appeared and rushed down the embankment, Guardsman Nicolo in the lead.
Mona Lisa strained against the beggar’s grip. But it was no good. He was half a head taller and probably outweighed her by fifty pounds. He dragged her ever closer to the rowboat. A few more feet and they’d be on the river.
“No!” Mona Lisa cried, clutching her veil in a milk white grasp.
“Halt,” Nicolo cried, booted feet flying toward the dock. “Halt, I say!” He sprung over the cobblestone path and drew his sword.
The ragged man dragged her closer to the water. The Smiling One’s feet skidded over wood.
“Hurry,” The Thinker whispered.
As soon as they reached the dock’s edge, the beggar shoved Mona Lisa behind him. And turned.
With a snaggle-toothed grin, he bent forward and unleashed a tremendous kick. Crying out, the painted girl hurled upwards. She shot over pilings arcing toward the river below.
The Thinker’s bronze heart froze. He gripped the coping stone tighter.
Mona Lisa splashed and disappeared beneath the murmuring waters.
All eyes turned toward the river. Every Artanian from castle keep to the guard tower and down the stony walls held a breath. Waiting in silence.
But the waters remained calm.
“Find her!” the bronze man cried.
With a desperate leap, Nicolo dove into the River Arno. The Thinker scanned east and west for a veiled head but only the guardsman surfaced.
Nicolo submerged again, his booted feet kicking deeper. Only to break the surface for quick gulp of air before diving down. Twice. Three times. Seven.
When the exhausted soldier floated up after the twenty-fifth descent, he turned to the gathered crowd with a sad shake of his head. “She is gone.”
The Thinker fell back against the wall and sunk to the ground. “All is lost.”