In 1450, the famous horse race of Remora was still run on the straight. Every other year on 15th August, companies from each of the city?s Twelfths massed at the Gate of the Moon in the south of the city and raced their horses north along the Strada delle Stelle to the middle of the Campo. On the alternate years they began the race at the Gate of the Sun and ran south to the same place.
That?s how, about a hundred years before, the race had got its name the Stellata (short for Corsa Stellata, the Race of the Stars) from its being run along the Strada delle Stelle. Of course, the whole city revolved around the concept of the stars, ever since Pope Benedict, following a decree of his predecessor, had built the broad Road of Stars that ran from the north to the south of the city, and the circular piazza at its heart, known as the Campo delle Stelle, the field of stars.
But in the middle of the fifteenth century, the Remorans were still happy to run their race in a straight line, although it meant that the onlookers saw only a short section of it and the Campo was the most popular place for spectators, because there you could see the finish line.
Fabrizio di Chimici was not yet the first Duke of Giglia and Remora was the unchallenged leading city of Talia. Ferrando, the first di Chimici Prince of Remora, who would one day dance with the Duchessa of Bellezza on the night she wore the glass mask, was not yet born.
So, although the Stellata was run according to pacts and plots hatched between different Twelfths, as it still was 128 years later for the race in which a twenty-first century girl from our world got involved, there was then no particular prejudice in favour of the Lady or the Twins.
In 1450 there was to be a Stellata Straordinaria, an extra race, run in September to commemorate an outstanding event. Maestro Giovanni Ortolano, the great sculptor and architect, had completed his starry pavement in the black and white striped cathedral and it was to be unveiled on the evening of the race. He had also designed a special Stellata banner to show his circular black and white masterpiece as well as the obligatory signs of all the Twelfths.
What fortune that would be to win the star-sprinkled banner in the race of the stars! Every Twelfth was even more determined than usual to be the one that grasped the banner from the finish line and carry it in triumph to the Duomo.
And in no Twelfth did that desire burn more strongly than the Scorpion. It was the Nonna, the grandmother the name given to the Twelfth which hadn?t won for the longest time. Poor Scorpion hadn?t won a Stellata that century.
?But this year will break our run of bad luck, I?m sure of it,? said Antonio, Horsemaster of the Scorpion. ?And what a way to break it, to win Maestro Ortolano?s banner! Why, no one would be able to hold a candle to us after that.?
He was at a meeting with the Twelfths of the other Water signs the Crab and the Fishes (for the Scorpion is the third Water sign of the Zodiac, not the water-bearer Aquarius, as you might think). Much liquid was consumed at these meetings, and that not of a watery nature. This one was taking place in a tavern in the Twelfth of the Crab, up in the north of the city.
The Horsemasters of Crab and Fishes, Giusto and Orlando, exchanged indulgent glances. They could afford not to contradict Antonio; the Crab had won six Stellate in fifty years and Fishes had won only last year. They knew in their hearts how Antonio suffered and how it was only his hope that kept him going. A dozen Horsemasters had come and gone in the Scorpion since it last had a win and every one of them had spent their few years as Capitano striving their utmost for victory and retired frustrated. Why should Antonio be any different? But no one was going to say that to him.
?What are you thinking of running?? asked Orlando.