April 25th, 1422
On the edge of Milan, Italy, in a stone dungeon, a large, silent shape made its way down a stairway by moonlight. The eleventh hour had just struck. The shape shivered in a sudden wind, an almost imperceptible shudder, then continued on its way.
Two stories below him, an old, withered man slept, curled up against the cold walls of his cell. A wrinkled hand clutched a small, dry piece of bread. A ridge of tooth-marks dug into his frostbitten fingers. His figure was slight, his strength sapped from long captivity. He slept undisturbed among the rubble.
The steps continued, tapping the stonework with leather thongs. The man awoke.
Alert to the shuffling noise above, he sat up.
A lamp flickered, casting a deep shadow of a man onto the crumbling walls of the cell. Suddenly, it sputtered and the light disappeared.
“Old man, get up!” A gruff, demanding voice shattered the peaceful night. The wizened man, back bent with fatigue and hunger, struggled to his feet to obey.
“Come with me.”
Up the flight of steps, and up another—then into the black of night, where stars gleamed in a harsh sky. With no light but the moon’s silver shadow to see by, the prisoner stumbled. Grunting, the old man, unaided, regained his footing and, gasping for breath, pursued the vanishing profile of his guard.
Around the streets of Milan they wove, in and out of the blanket of night. Then they halted.
The guard opened a wooden door in a side street, shoved his prisoner into the light beyond, and departed.
“Ah, so you’ve come,” said a silken voice from the fireplace. In a simple oaken chair, a darkly handsome man with ebony hair, dressed in the garb of a priest, was reclining. A contented look rested on his face.
“Sergio!” the old man spat, the very name tasting acidic on his lips. “Do you run the whole city from this hole? Or do I now underestimate you?”
A dangerous gleam shot into the Sergio’s eyes. He smiled.
“You underestimate me, my friend.” His words dripped with mockery, a sardonic curl of the lip adding to the remark.
“You are a disgrace, Sergio! A disgrace to Italy, a disgrace to mankind! Your poor mother would roll over in her grave, I’m sure, if—”
“STOP!” Terror and rage distorted the young man's sleek features. “Never speak of her, you imbecile!” he snarled. “I have brought you here to ask you a question, not to hear your remonstrances! Now listen!” The fire in his eyes died down to a smolder, and he forced his breathing to calm. “Listen. If you pledge to me your life,” he stopped. “And your service, I will let you…live.”
Profound silence reigned.
The old man breathed laboriously.
At last, he spoke. “Would I be free?”
“You would be alive!” shouted Sergio, struggling to hide his impatience. Gaining control over himself again, he added, “You are valuable – would be valuable to me. But you are much too valuable to be left alive if you choose to reject my terms.”
The stifled breathing continued. Suddenly, Sergio laid a tender hand of the man’s shoulder.
“Father,” he said, and his voice was soft. “Father, join me – and I will not need to kill you.”
The old man looked up.
“Sergio, how can you do this?” he whispered. “To yourself, to me, to your mother?”
Sergio swung his hand and knocked back his chair, rising to his feet. Anger seethed in his eyes. “What is your choice?” he demanded. “Well?”
The old man rose to his feet, leaning on the wall for support. A solitary tear ran its course along the wrinkles of his withered cheek.
“Sergio, my son.” He stretched out a hand, but Sergio ignored it.
“I…cannot, my son.” Sergio’s jaw tightened. For a moment, neither spoke, each staring into the other’s eyes.
“You know you will die.” It was Sergio who said this. He meant it to be stern, but it came out as a weak plea.
“I would rather die than live the life you offer,” his father said. There was no hatred in his words, only immense sorrow. “There are doubtless other who would take my place, Sergio, to serve you. Look elsewhere. But as for me,” he raised his chin for the last time, a proud gleam flashing in his eyes, “give me liberty, or give me death!”
Written for school, we had to incorporate a famous quote in a story or a different context than originally meant. Is it too obvious? How can I do better? Feedback would be awesome.