After stopping at the inn for a heel of bread and a boiled egg, I wandered along a back street and came to the start of a well-maintained road winding into the hills. I took it, thinking it would lead to the fortress I spied from the Trieste skiff.
Two shirtless, sun-darkened boys found me interesting enough to follow, and a harbor dog, eyeing my food, ambled along with me as the road climbed past walled hillside pastures and stands of olive trees. The boys entertained themselves by throwing rocks at the dog, but they soon turned back to town with good reason; the steepening road called for more effort than they were willing to put into it, especially as the morning went from pleasant to hot. Even my canine companion abandoned me in favor of a shady spot under a cart. Two soldiers on horseback cast puzzled glances at me as they rode downhill past me.
I pressed on, at last spotting the Lion of St. Mark flag flying above the battlements of the fortress. I crossed the stone courtyard to its gates breathless and thirsty, my shirt soaked in sweat, my knees complaining loudly. Panting, I hailed two guards stationed on the wall above the gate.
“Good morning. May I enter and rest a while?”
“Do you have business in the fortezza, Signore?”
“No, but . . .”
“Then I am afraid we cannot admit you.”
“I see . . . but the walk up the hill was more than I bargained for. I did not think of bringing water.”
The guards exchanged smiles and shook their heads. “With respect, Signore,” said one, “that was ill-advised. And you would do well to wear a hat with a brim!” The second guard beckoned me to wait. “I will bring you a jug of water. If you collapse up here, we’d have to write a stinking report!” They both laughed loudly.
The guard reappeared at the gate with the jug and handed it through.
“This is clean spring water. Drink it all, but slowly.”
He produced a small sack from inside his tunic.
“Take this, too. These are currants that grow on the island. Rest on that bench over there under the olive tree and enjoy the view.”
The guard above the gate called out to me.
“Signore, if I may, from where do you hail?”
“The Netherlands! No wonder.” He pointed to the sky. “You see that shiny ball up there? It is the sun. Do you ever see it where you live?” The two guards once again burst out laughing.
“I was wondering what that was,” I said, and laughed with them.
“Are you a pilgrim, Signore?” asked the guard at the gate.
“You might say, soldier.”
I sank onto the bench not three paces from the edge of the hill, which fell steeply away to the town below. The leaves of the olive trees covering the hill sparkled in the breeze. Beyond the rooftops along the harbor the great expanse of sea deepened in color from turquoise to a dark, rich blue as it met the pale blue sky at the serene, unblemished horizon.
The fortress was built there not just for the view; enemy vessels could be spotted at great distances, and withering artillery fire would rain down on them if they dared come within range. Venice had clearly decided that Zante was worth defending.
In the shade of the olive tree, with a scented breeze ambling by, my breath quieted and my limbs became pleasantly heavy. As I drank from the jug and dipped into the sack of currants, I followed a boat leaving the harbor, its sail luffing and then snapping taut as it found the wind. I wondered if the people of Zante knew that they lived in as fair a place as could be found on Earth.
From my vantage point I found the squat tower of Santa Maria della Grazie, and could even glimpse the graveyard through the trees.
How remarkable that your student Tritonius was stationed here, and now serves as your gardener. I put him quite on edge this morning, and by his words, you doubted I would come here. Of course you were not far wrong; I wavered before starting out, I nearly turned back in Venice, and if I knew in advance what the sea voyage would be like, I very well may have. But in the end I’m grateful to have made it here; your resting place is no longer a mystery to me. I will never return, Andreas, except in my memory—much more often, I think, than if you were buried in Brussels a carriage ride away.
I will have dinner with Tritonius tonight. Tell me, why is his name familiar?
I sat for a while in a state of calm, held in the present moment by the soft breeze and the sunlight shimmering on the surface of the sea. Such rare moments of enveloping peace and wonder are all the more sublime because they often arrive without notice. One might find God’s hand in moments like these—or the deepest expression of human awe before Nature.
I stood to go, and waved to the guards as I placed the jug and sack by the gate.
“God be with you, Netherlander,” yelled one of them. “Keep to the shade on the way down!”
The King’s Anatomist: The Journey of Andreas Vesalius
by Ron Blumenfeld
Publication Date: October 12, 2021
History Through Fiction LLC
Genre: Historical Fiction
A revolutionary anatomist, a memory-laden journey, and a shocking discovery.
In 1565 Brussels, the reclusive mathematician Jan van den Bossche receives shattering news that his lifelong friend, the renowned and controversial anatomist Andreas Vesalius, has died on the Greek island of Zante returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Jan decides to journey to his friend’s grave to offer his last goodbye.
Jan’s sentimental and arduous journey to Greece with his assistant Marcus is marked by shared memories, recalled letters, and inner dialogues with Andreas, all devices to shed light on Andreas’ development as a scientist, physician, and anatomist. But the journey also gradually uncovers a dark side of Andreas even as Jan yearns for the widow of Vesalius, Anne.
When Jan and Marcus finally arrive on Zante, the story takes a major twist as a disturbing mystery unfolds. Jan and Marcus are forced to take a drastic and risky measure that leads to a shocking discovery. On his return home, Jan learns that Andreas was an unknowing pawn in a standoff between King Philip of Spain, his employer, and Venice. When he arrives home in Brussels, he must finally reckon with his feelings for Anne.
A debut novel by Ron Blumenfeld, The King’s Anatomist is a fascinating medical history blended eloquently with meaningful relationships and a riveting mystery. Set within a pivotal time in European history, the story carries readers through some of the most important medical discoveries while engaging them in a deeply personal story of growing older and confronting relationships. A fictional masterpiece with real and relevant historical sources, The King’s Anatomist is as enlightening as it is enjoyable.
“A historical novel with a twist. An old friend of the most famous of all anatomists, Andreas Vesalius, sets out to solve the mystery of his death on a Greek island. What he finds involves a tangle of acquaintances going back to their Brussels childhood and earlier dissections. This lively story combines fine historical detail with a sensitive feel for past personalities.” – VIVIAN NUTTON, HON FRCP, EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
“In his imaginatively woven historical mystery, Ron Blumenfeld explores the life of the pioneering anatomist Andreas Vesalius amidst the turbulence of 16th-century Europe. Readers will enjoy a finely-tuned story infused with doses of Renaissance anatomy and art that highlight the groundbreaking achievements of Andreas Vesalius in these two linked disciplines. Blumenfeld’s erudite adventure leaves the reader with tantalizing speculations.” – PHILIP ELIASOPH, PHD, PROFESSOR OF ART HISTORY & VISUAL CULTURE, FAIRFIELD UNIVERSITY, FAIRFIELD, CONNECTICUT
“With The King’s Anatomist, Ron Blumenfeld has successfully crafted a story from disparate elements. Descriptions of Renaissance sciences, emerging European cities, and the pre-industrial countryside are intertwined with love gained and lost and the mystery of the death of Andreas Vesalius, the father of modern anatomy. The result is a plot of rich tapestry that leaves the reader panting for the next page, the next vignette along a journey from Brussels to the Greek Island of Zante and along another journey; that from childhood friendship to the grave. As with much fine literature, I was sorry to reach the last page.” – MAYNARD PAUL MAIDMAN, PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF HISTORY, YORK UNIVERSITY, CANADA
‘Centered on the mysterious death of the great anatomist Andreas Vesalius, this enjoyable tale is anchored by scholarly literature. The device of a first-person account by an observant but hesitant “best friend” allows for vivid recreation of the many remarkable moments in the anatomist’s life. Relying solidly on social and political history, it convincingly evokes the atmosphere of sixteenth-century Europe. The surprising but plausible ending will surely encourage readers to learn more.” – JACALYN DUFFIN, MD, PHD, PROFESSOR EMERITA, HANNAH CHAIR OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE, QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY, CANADA
About the Author
Ron Blumenfeld is a retired pediatrician and health care executive. Ron grew up in the Bronx, New York in the shadow of Yankee Stadium and studied at City College of New York before receiving his MD degree from the SUNY Downstate Health Sciences Center. After completing his pediatrics residency at the University of Arizona, he and his family settled in Connecticut, but Tucson remains their second home. Upon retirement, he became a columnist for his town’s newspaper, a pleasure he surrendered to concentrate on his debut novel, The King’s Anatomist (October 12, 2021). Ron’s love of books springs from his childhood years spent in an antiquarian book store in Manhattan, where his mother was the only employee. He enjoys a variety of outdoor sports and hiking. He and his wife Selina currently reside in Connecticut and are fortunate to have their son Daniel and granddaughter Gracelynn nearby.
Blog Tour Schedule
Wednesday, October 13
Excerpt at What Is That Book About
Friday, October 15
Excerpt at Historical Fiction with Spirit
Tuesday, October 19
Review at Across the Sky in Stars
Wednesday, October 20
Review at Bibliostatic
Friday, October 22
Excerpt at I’m Into Books
Monday, October 25
Review at Up Past My Bedtime
Tuesday, October 26
Excerpt at Reading is My Remedy
Thursday, October 28
Guest Post at The Writing Desk
Sunday, October 31
Excerpt at The Cozy Book Blog
Wednesday, November 3
Interview at Jathan & Heather
Enter to win a paperback copy of The King’s Anatomist by Ron Blumenfeld.
The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on November 5th. You must be 18 or older to enter.