A rousing Renaissance tale of adventure and Machiavellian affairs of state: playwright Herman's first novel chronicles the creation of the original ensemble of commedia dell'arte players, building on his (1966) award-winning play A Company of Wayward Saints. When a vagabond wearing rags of many colors and speaking riddles in Latin and Greek encounters an aging whore in her wagon, she offers him food and transport to the south of Italy in exchange for dancing and reading lessons. Harlequin and Colombia begin a slow journey through a countryside full of rogues and French invaders, and cities full of priests of the Inquisition, spies of the Borgian pope, and cutpurses, gathering to them a company of outcasts and misfits--the father-and-son team of Scapino and Pantalone, juggler and thief; the Dottore, a renegade assistant of Da Vinci's, to whom is given the task of leading beautiful Isabella, the unsuspecting love child of anti-Borgia nobility, safely away from dreaded Cesare Borgia; the wild young prostitute Ruffina, eager to leave Parma before a former customer catches her; Capitano, an Italian soldier too proud to serve the French and too talented to be executed by them; and the handsome student Tristano, in search of excitement. As they travel together toward Rome, they coalesce into an acting troupe to disguise their identities and Harlequin's vital mission--but in performing before the downtrodden, weary masses, they quickly become a sensation, entering the Eternal City in triumph rather than in secret and significantly hastening the demise of the Borgias. Vibrant Italian history, first-rate storytelling: a masterful, thoroughly charming debut.