It all began with Villari, over a year ago.
Thus the future foe of the Medici, and the destroyer of their power, was summoned back to St. Mark’s at the instance of their chief. Pico was as yet slightly acquainted with the man of whom he was afterwards to become so fervent a disciple; and Lorenzo, with all his keen sagacity, neither foresaw the evils he was bringing on his house, nor the flame his own hands were kindling in the convent that his grandfather had built.
Savonarola obediently responded to the summons, but throughout the journey felt a presentiment of change. At Brescia strange prophecies had been vouchsafed to him of what should befall him in Florence, and he was therefore convinced that he was bidden to go thither by the Lord’s command. Passing by Bologna, he crossed the Apennines on foot. It was the same road he had traversed before; he was returning to the city that had received him so coldly; he felt himself drawn by an irresistible force towards some new and mysterious fate. It was a hot season, and he became exhausted by the fatigues of the journey and treat mental excitement. At Pianoro, about eight miles from Bologna, his strength suddenly failed, and he was unable to continue his road, or to take any sustenance. All at once a mysterious stranger appeared before him, restored his courage and strength, led him to a hospice, forced him to take food, and then bore him company to Florence. On reaching the San Gallo Gate the stranger said to him: “Remember to do that for which God hath sent thee,” and then disappeared.
—Life and Times of Girolamo Savonarola, Pasquale Villari, pp. 87–89
I had skimmed the book after reading Jo Walton’s Lent; I was already developing a fascination with the period, having heard Ada Palmer speak and then watching The Borgias a couple years ago. Somehow this little moment stuck in my head. And thus alternate history, fantastical history, is created: at these little forks in the road, these moments where there is space between fact and belief, between individual experience and historical data. All of a sudden I had the fallen monk and Magnus winning his bet; it was a matter, then, of simply finding out why this monk, this bet, and what happened next.