No one took any notice.
None of the merchants, moneylenders or friars strolling by in the twilight around San Francesco il Grande noticed the slovenly, ill-dressed man who hurried into the Franciscan church. It was the eve of a holiday, a market day, and the inhabitants of Milan were busy gathering provisions for the coming days of official mourning. Under such circumstances, it was only natural that the presence of yet another beggar left them unconcerned.
But the fools were once again mistaken. The beggar who entered San Francesco was not an ordinary man.
Without giving himself a moment's respite, the ragged man left behind him the double line of benches that lined the nave and hurried on towards the main altar. There was not a soul to be seen inside the church. At last he had been permitted to see a painting, the Virgin of the Rocks, that few in Milan knew by its real name: the Maestà.
He approached the altar cautiously. His heart beat faster. There, utterly alone in the church, the pilgrim warily stretched out his hand, as if he might be forever united to the sacred scene. As he cast his eyes on the celebrated painting, suddenly a detail caught his attention. How strange! The pilgrim was overcome by a vertiginous feeling of horror. Someone had meddled with the Maestà.
The pilgrim did not dare move a muscle but remained frozen to the spot at the sound of the dry, deep voice behind him. He hadn't heard the door of the church creak open, so the intruder must have been watching him for a fair while now.
"I can tell you're like all the others. For some dark reason you heretics come in droves to this House of God. Its light attracts you, but you are incapable of recognizing that."
The pilgrim's pulse was racing. His hour had come. He felt dazed and angry, cheated in having risked his life to kneel before a fraud. The painting he was looking at was not the Opus Magnum.
"It can't be--" he whispered. The intruder laughed out loud.
"It is easy enough to understand. I'll grant you the mercy of knowledge before sending you to burn in hell. Don't you realize that Leonardo has betrayed you?"
Was it possible that Leonardo had actually betrayed his brethren?
The pilgrim realized that something was terribly wrong. He heard behind him a metallic scraping, like that of a sword being unsheathed.
"Am I to die as well?"
"The Soothsayer will do away with all of the wicked."
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