In the middle of the sea was Isola di Fiori Mortali. A small island fourteen miles off the south coast of Sicily. Henry had never been. Briefly his gaze turned to the letter in his hand, and in that moment, he released it to the wind.
From Henry’s vantage point, the island seemed quite ugly. A lumpy grey rock jutting out of the sea. A tall precipitous hill. It was most likely a volcano, judging by the jagged striations running down its side. And sparse vegetation barely clung to the sharp needle-like rock formations above the cliff.
Although he acquiesced, the landform may have some natural beauty too it; under the sun, and all alone in the near-fluorescent swirls of the Mediterranean.
But then another natural beauty caught his eye. A comely signorina with green eyes, and a curled coiffure. She stood as transfixed as Henry. Only she rested her arms on the railing of the lower deck, staring out with a much greater admiration for marine landscape than Henry ever could have.
She soon felt his eyes on her and looked his way. He smirked, and she couldn’t help but smile back before returning to her original gaze. The man took this as a sort of invitation, and meandered to join the young Sicilian woman. The young and roguish Henry Locke too leaned, but had his back pressed against the rail, as he faced the stern of the yacht.
In his deepest voice, Henry greeted her, “Ciao.”
“Ciao,” she said swiftly, waiting for Henry to fail in his seductions.
“Una bella ragazza… una bella giornata.”
The signorina shook her head at the remark but kept smiling. “Is that all the Italian you know?” Her English was good, but her accent remained.
“Just about. And I don’t know any Sicilian.”
The young woman stiffened her back and raised her brow, looking impressed. Flattered even, that Henry would immediately leap to Sicilian rather than Italian.
“How did you know I wasn’t Italian?”
Henry chuckled, “Hmm. Obviously you speak Italian, but I couldn’t be sure you weren’t. I saw you in Pozzallo earlier today. Walking and talking with the captain and the rest of the crew before you came aboard, and I guessed you were a local girl. Are you disappointed?”
Francisca sighed, “Ah, no… Still flattered.”
“Are you going ashore at all, or are you simply dropping us off?” asked Henry, as he motioned with his head to the island behind him.
“Well, not on that island. Nothing to see there but birds.”
Henry squinted in confusion; turning about to see what Francisca meant.
Looking back to the island, he listened as she named the landmasses before them.
“That island is called Isola della Pietra.” said Francisca pointing to the ugly isle teeming with terns. “And the island behind it is Isola di Fiori Mortali.”
As the boat encroached on the island, it banked left, and Henry began to see more and more shoreline of the other just a mile away. The larger more fruitful isle, covered by shrub and tree, and blanketed with delicate pink and saffron rosebuds. As well as thousands of black-petalled flowers Henry would never be able to identify.
Fiori Mortali was steep and rocky. There was a noticeable volcanic peak rising steadily up to the south end, and a dangerous escarment surrounding it. However, there was a welcoming bay on the eastern side. After thousands of years the bay had formed a divine little beach full of silky sand, which soaked up the last of the afternoon rays before falling into the island’s shadow.
There was also a professional-looking jetty ready for landing. And a little further inland on one of the slopes, was the villa Henry had been invited to stay at for the week-end.
Before Henry could think about his impending visit to the island, and the mixed feelings he had about staying there, Francisca drew him back to the real world.
“I take it you’ve never been here before?” she asked, but already knew the answer.
“No. I haven’t.” Then Henry added, “Stunning landscape isn’t it?”
“Sì. And all alone in the Mediterranean. Too far to swim back to Sicily, and too far to continue south to Malta. A lovers’ paradise.”
“And you’re certain you don’t want to come ashore with me?” asked Henry, only half joking.
Francisca locked eyes with Henry for a moment as if she were temporarily stunned, before continuing to brief him on the island. If only to distract herself. “Those black flowers are called Eyes of Twilight. They’re poisonous. Supposedly they can kill a man instantly. Even stopping to smell them for too long is deadly, despite their sweet aroma. And they only grow here, on this island.”
“Isola di Fiori Mortali: the Isle of Deadly Flowers,” said Henry translating aloud.
The signorina grinned nervously when she saw the man staring at her rather than the flowers on the island, and his hand was now stroking hers. Henry’s charm was more than she could bear. So to prevent herself from doing something she would regret, she said, “Well… I… think I’ll be needed soon.” And before leaving, she stated with conviction, “You’d better get your bags. We’ll be returning to Sicily right away.”
“Perhaps I’ll see you again on Monday?” Henry called out.
For but a moment, Francisca stopped and faced Henry. “…Perhaps. Bona notti, Henry.”
The journey was over, and the yacht was about to make landfall. Henry and more than a dozen others on the upper deck collected their suitcases, in preparation for an intriguing holiday.