As Raul Di Savo thanked the mourners who had attended his mother’s funeral a figure standing in the distance caught his attention.
He wouldn’t dare to come here!
Not today of all days.
The tolling of the bell in the small Sicilian church had long since ceased, but it still seemed to ring in Raul’s ears.
Raul forced himself to focus on the elderly gentleman in front of him rather than the young man who stood on the periphery of the cemetery.
‘Grazie,’ Raul said, and thanked the old man for his attendance.
Given the circumstances of Maria’s death, and fearing Raul’s father’s wrath, most had stayed away.
Gino had not attended his wife’s funeral.
‘She was a whore when I married her and she goes into the ground the same.’
That was how he had broken the news of her death to his son.
Raul, having been told of a car accident involving his mother, had travelled from Rome back to Casta—a town on the Sicilian wild west coast—but he had arrived only to be told that she had already gone.
He had been too late.
Slowly, painfully, he had pieced together the timeline of shocking events that had led to Maria’s death. Now Raul performed his familial duties and stood graveside as the line of mourners slowly moved past him.
Condolences were offered, but small talk was strained. The events of the last few days and the savage condemnations that were now coursing through the valley made even the simplest sentence a mockery.
‘She was a good...’ A lifetime family friend faltered in his choice of words. ‘She was...’ Again there was hesitation over what should be said. ‘Maria will be missed.’
‘She will be,’ Raul duly replied.
The scent of freshly dug soil filled his nostrils and lined the back of his throat, and Raul knew there was no comfort to be had.
He had left it too late to save her.
And now she was gone.
Raul had studied hard at school and had done so well in his exams that he had received a scholarship and, as he had always intended, been able to get out of the Valley of Casta.
Or, as Raul and his friend Bastiano had called it, the Valley of Hell.
Raul had been determined to get his mother away from his father.
Maria Di Savo.
Unhinged, some had called her.
‘Fragile’ was perhaps a more appropriate word.
Deeply religious until she had met his father, Maria had hoped to join the local convent—an imposing stone residence that looked out on the Sicilian Strait. His mother had wept when it had closed down due to declining numbers, as if somehow her absence had contributed to its demise.
The building had long stood abandoned, but there was not a day Raul could remember when his mother hadn’t rued the day she had not followed her heart and become a novice nun.
If only she had.
Raul stood now, questioning his very existence, for her pregnancy had forced Maria into the unhappiest of marriages.
Raul had always loathed the valley, but never more so than now.
He would never return.
Raul knew his drunken father’s demise was already secured, for without Maria’s care his descent would be rapid.
But there was another person to be taken care of.
The man who had forced this tragic end.
Raul had made a vow as he’d thrown a final handful of soil into his mother’s open grave that he would do whatever it might take to bring him down.
‘I shall miss her.’
Raul looked up and saw Loretta, a long-time friend of his mother’s who worked in the family bar.
‘No trouble today, Raul.’
Raul found himself frowning at Loretta’s choice of words and then realised why she suddenly sounded concerned—he was looking beyond the mourners now, to the man who stood in the distance.
At seventeen, Bastiano was a full year younger than Raul.
Their families were rivals.
Bastiano’s uncle owned most of the properties and all of the vineyards on the west of the valley.
Raul’s father was king of the east.
The rivalry went back generations, and yet their black history had been ignored by the young boys and, growing up, the two of them had been friends. They had gone through school together and often spent time with each other during the long summer breaks. Before Raul had left the valley he and Bastiano had sat drinking wine from the opposing families’ vines.
Both wines were terrible, they had agreed.
Similar in looks, both were tall and dark and were opposed only in nature.
Bastiano, an orphan, had been raised by his extended family and got through life on charm.
Raul was serious and mistrusting and had been taught to be fickle.
He trusted no one but said what he had to to get by.
Though different in style, they were equally adored by women.
Raul simply returned the favour.
There had been no rivalry