Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Vacation for Cardinal Fratelli, chapters 1-2

Chapter 1.
            A Baptism.

“Where is that cardinal?” said an auburn-haired woman, full figured with sharp green eyes.
 She stood impatiently, eyeing the baptismal font before her filled with crystal-clear water. Despite summer heat, they kept cool, shielded by ancient stone and tinted stained glass. Another, younger woman, more hesitantly, stepped forth. She had curly, brown hair and more peaceful, green eyes. She waited, disregarding bustling city noises outside the cathedral and fading sunlight. Cradled in her hands, wrapped in gauzy, white lace, a small child wriggled and squeaked.
Finally, a figure appeared, clad in scarlet finery. He was young for a cardinal, only 34 years of age, and followed by a boy in white robes. He folded his hands solemnly, prayerfully and proceeded forth.
“Well, if it isn’t Cardinal Fratelli being late,” the auburn-haired woman huffed.
The young cardinal’s air of formality broke. He stuffed a few locks of his curly, dark, brown hair beneath his red skullcap and answered, “My apologies Francine, Gianni couldn’t fit into his regular robes, he’s been eating too much.”
The boy beside him frowned then awkwardly handed Cardinal Fratelli a thick book of prayers, marked of course, to the proper place. Fratelli traced a cross of blessing into the air and began praying when the child wrestled in its mother’s arms and yelled out. The cardinal briefly winced from this piercing sound then continued. The prayers were long, imploring God for protection and purification. Everyone wondered if the little one could stay still the entire time.
Finally, taking the baby into his hands, he stared at her bright, brown eyes. This was his niece, the daughter of his brother, Ernesto and of his childhood friend, Michele. One, only and precious. The baby wiggled in his hold and for a moment, he thought she would climb onto his shoulder! Fortunately, she settled back down. Smiling, Fratelli poured clean water over her head while saying quietly:
“Angelica Di Cosi, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
It was done! Fratelli’s niece was now a member of God’s family. Rejoicing and laughing, his family exited the cathedral. He and Gianni stood alone.
“I am not getting fat…” the boy protested.
His voice echoed flat. Fratelli walked elegantly down the church aisle, reached a side door and answered, “If we don’t work on your eating habits, you will be.”
Gianni grumbled something under his breath.
“What was that?” Fratelli asked.
“Nothing… Your Eminence.”

Returning to the cool interior of his villa, the cardinal handed Gianni over to Dina, the housekeeper. Two years ago, she had taken the boy in and adopted him. She hugged Gianni, patted his head and whisked him off to help in the kitchen. As for Fratelli, he rushed upstairs to prepare for dinner at Francine’s house. As his aunt and matriarch of the family, she invited him over and despite his many preoccupations, he couldn’t refuse.
Fumbling around the top of his cluttered dresser, Fratelli found his comb and straitened his hair. He figured all was well and retreated back downstairs into his private chapel to pray. The space was cool, dimly-lit and silent. Staring pensively towards the altar and golden tabernacle which contained the bread of Christ’s presence, Fratelli spoke:
            “You, O Lord, are the giver of all joy. I thank you for the graces you have outpoured upon my niece, little Angelica. May she be raised up in the family of God and grow to be a true daughter of the Church. I am so happy today…please don’t let my happiness fade now as I go visit my Aunt, Lord, for you know how difficult she can be sometimes…”
Fratelli left the chapel, walked through the hallway and opened the door to leave.
“Wait,” Dina said, suddenly approaching, “You can’t go alone, it’s after dark.”
The cardinal groaned, “Francine lives only a short distance, I’ll be fine.”
“Alright, Your Eminence, just this once- but please have your brother walk you back. He is after all, the city’s constable and will protect you well.”
With a nod, Fratelli opened the door and left.
Birds flitted and chirped overhead against the moonlight sky. Fratelli increased his pace, watching them fly from rooftop to rooftop, his mind filled with joyful thoughts. He rounded a corner and passed a small square lined with closed-up markets then headed down the road towards Francine’s house. The figure of a grown man immediately stood in his way. Fratelli felt fear lumping in his throat. He should have listened to Dina.
“Your Eminence. It’s me Alfred.”
“Oh dear, you frightened me so much!” Fratelli replied, clutching the golden cross that dangled from his chest, “Don’t do that again.”
“Sorry, sorry!” Alfred stuttered, “I just need to talk to you.”
“Go ahead,” Fratelli said.
Though he wanted to arrive at Francine’s house soon, he hid his impatience and listened while Alfred began,
“Please help me, I am very angry at my son, I don’t know how to express my anger besides yelling at him…”
Fratelli stayed a moment, gave Alfred some advice, blessed him and then said he must be on his way. Finally, Alfred let Fratelli go and he reached Francine’s house a half hour late.
The house was bright, warming and welcome as Fratelli stepped inside. A servant took his cloak and hat and he walked into the dining room where many voices conversed. He could hear Philomena, his youngest cousin, Ernesto, Michele and squeaking Angelica. Seeing him, they silenced- little Angelica too, as if sensing his presence. Francine stood from their midst and exclaimed:
“You’re late again Angelo!”
 “I apologize; I had to counsel a parishioner…” Fratelli said, trying to smile.
Francine almost smiled but she bent her lips back into a frown.
“Well, we are your family.”
“Yes I know, I know.”
He remained there awkwardly, folding his hands and toying with the big, golden ring on his right hand.
“Are you going to sit down?” Francine asked.
Nodding, Fratelli answered, “Yes, yes…”

            Chapter 2.
A Civic Ceremony.

Morning began nicely. Fratelli rose, dressed, said morning- prayer, celebrated Mass and ate a hearty breakfast.  Right after finishing his eggs, cheese and pastry smeared with pepper jelly, he met with a priest from a neighboring parish, Father Adreo and they discussed opening on orphanage in Lucca.
“A wonderful idea,” Fratelli said, leaning back, sipping a hot cup of tea.
Dina quickly poured Adreo a cup but the young priest politely refused.
“This is something very close to my heart,” he then said.
Fratelli answered, “I have not a single problem with it long as we can raise funds and can find a proper location within the city…maybe I’ll look into something.”
“Oh thank you, Your Eminence,” Father Adreo said standing up.
He took Fratelli’s hand, kissed his ring and hurriedly departed. Both of them had quite a bit of work to do before noon. Glad to have a moment of free time, Fratelli sat enjoying another cup of tea, watching bright, yellow afternoon sun spread through windows.  Soon, Dina approached.
“A fine gentleman is here to see you, about a blessing in the town square?”
“Oh yes, I forgot!” Fratelli said, “They want me to bless Lucca’s newest water-fountain.”
It was custom for the bishop of Lucca to bless new fountains, statues and fixtures, and it would be a glamorous ceremony indeed. Gianni soon scampered in. The boy certainly hadn’t forgotten about it.
            “Let’s go, let’s go!” he said, running in a circle.
“Please be calm Gianni,” Fratelli scolded, “I need you, after all, to the carry the train of my cappa- and to do so with dignity and grace.”
Hearing the word “cappa” made Gianni’s eyes light up even more. The long, bright scarlet cape was his favorite garment and he couldn’t wait for Fratelli to wear it. Fratelli however, could wait.
After meeting with the gentleman who then left, anxious to arrive at the ceremony, Fratelli slowly prepared and dressed for the occasion. Father Rodrigo approached with a younger deacon who worked in the parish. Lastly, Gianni came forth, sucking his stomach in to appear slimmer in his white server’s robes.  Much to Gianni’s anticipation, the two clerical assistants ahead of him wrapped the great, volumous cappa around Fratelli’s shoulders. Smiling proudly, Gianni held its train off the ground. Carefully, with help from Father Rodrigo, Gianni folded up the draping garment, making sure none of the fine cloth could snag or catch, as they neared an elaborate carriage. Together, they climbed aboard and headed to the town square. Now, the piazza was only a few blocks away, quite close to the cathedral, but they wouldn’t let the cardinal walk and risk dirtying his garb. It was important to make an entrance. Feeling a slight knot in his stomach, Fratelli could care less for entrances as he heard music playing in the distance.
People milled about the piazza, children ran to and fro, being reined in by their mothers, and several, dignified individuals waited in a line. These greeted Cardinal Fratelli as he stepped out of his carriage.  Crowds and music clamored as they exchanged salutations. In an elaborate but small procession, Fratelli walked around the piazza, mouthing silent prayers. Draping behind him, the cappa stretched like a thick ribbon of red taffy. Once nervous but now confident and regal, Fratelli smiled. He waved even more dramatically, inciting claps and cheers. The wind began picking up and his own excitement grew.
 Suddenly a strong gust blew and sent the great cape billowing, Gianni almost lost grip on the cloth but he grabbed it. Something then tugged back. The boy tugged again- and again, there was resistance. Annoyed by all the tugging, Fratelli looked over his shoulder to find an edge of the cappa snagged on a nearby shrub!
His cheeks blushed from sheer embarrassment, seeing the many onlookers. Some of them, mostly children, giggled while a few women gaped in horror. He wished sorely to hide his face yet saw Gianni trying to free the cape, hands digging into the cloth. He was going to tear it.
“Careful, careful!” Fratelli said, rushing towards the snag and gently loosing it.
 Finally, trying to forget the mishap, Fratelli walked onwards. He reached the water fountain; its newly-hewn, stone angels and decorative fish gleaming grey beneath bright sunlight. The assistant deacon handed Fratelli a silver container of holy water and the cardinal sprinkled it before him. Many eyes fell on him, eyes of every color as he began the blessing:
Lord Christ, thou art the fount of eternal life. You give us the water that lasts forever. Bless here, this fountain, I pray, assembled by human hands, for the good of this city and may it refresh our thirst and remind us of your gentle Providence, In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
Gianni would have readily mimicked Fratelli’s blessing gesture if his hands weren’t full of scarlet cloth. A band loudly played as people cheered. A few adolescent boys set off fire-crackers that sent smoke into the warm air. As Fratelli turned, one of the dignitaries stopped him, asking:
            “Your Eminence, won’t you stay for the music?”
“I apologize Signor, I have too much to do,” Fratelli answered.
The dignitary kissed Fratelli’s ring and bade farewell. Almost sadly, the cardinal took his leave. The whole way home, no one spoke. Even Gianni kept quiet. However, once they arrived back at the cardinal’s villa, his energy crept out. Grabbing the end of Fratelli’s cappa, Gianni tossed it around his shoulders, waved his arm in the air and said, “Bless you.”
“Stop it!” Fratelli hissed, snatching the cape back.
After a while, Fratelli changed from his elaborate dress into a regular, red cassock. Then, feeling exasperated, he sat in the parlor, sighed and began reading a document. Dina brought hot tea and he nodded thankfully. Rodrigo came into the room, saw Fratelli’s forlorn face and flushing cheeks, and he stopped, thinking a moment.
“What is it?” Fratelli asked, glancing up tiredly.
“Well,” the priest began, twiddling his stocky fingers, “Your Eminence, I think you may be in need of a vacation.”
Setting the document down, Fratelli spoke:
            “In all my 5 years of being a cardinal, I have never asked for nor was granted a vacation.”
“So, don’t you think that makes you even more in need of one?”
“I suppose you are right. I have been terribly overworked and tired lately…but where would I go?”
They both stared at eachother, pondering. At last, Fratelli stood, excitement flashing in his warm, amber eyes.
“I heard that Pisa is quite lovely this time of year. Glimmering seas, fine food, sunshine, palms swaying- altogether splendid.”
“Well then…you have your answer” Rodrigo answered.
Filled with youthful vigor, Fratelli dashed boyishly out of the room.
“A vacation!” he cried joyously, his voice echoing down the hall, “Just what I need. Indeed!”

A Vacation for Cardinal Fratelli

More misadventures for you to enjoy!

A Vacation for Cardinal Fratelli~

The fifth book of “The Misadventures of Cardinal Fratelli series.” A cardinal’s life is full of duties, documents, appointments and ceremonies, this young Fratelli knows well, and after a series of comical mishaps gets him to realize he’s being overworked, he decides upon a lovely vacation in Pisa to the south. He heads along the coast of Italy, reluctantly taking Gianni and several servants with him, including Jan, intent on soaking up the sunshine and lovely scenery.  
However, Fratelli soon finds that even vacations can be thorny as the friendly Archbishop of Pisa wants help with many things, Gianni soon lands himself in trouble and the pestered cardinal just can’t seem to get any time alone! Will Fratelli get the vacation he’s always wanted- or disaster?

Tea with Cardinal Fratelli # 15

From: Rebecca and Karen
“Dear, Cardinal Fratelli,
For our school project, we’re supposed to choose a role-model and write about them. My friend and I both decided to write our paper about you so tell us about yourself- and remember our grade is riding on this!”

Dear, Rebecca and Karen.
I am flattered that you see me as a role-model. God is the true source of goodness and only he can make me look good despite my clumsiness and vanity…
What should I tell about myself? Hardly anyone asks me about myself… Well, I am 34 years old, I grew up here in Lucca, which is in Tuscany, in Italy. My favorite things are tranquility and olives but I detest rudeness, disobedience and the color red. Yes, I know I must wear it every day… God likes displaying his wisdom with irony…especially if I’m involved.
In adolescence, I decided to give my life to God and become a priest. I treasure quiet, prayerful moments with the Lord when no one is around. Because I am the youngest cardinal of the Church, old age seems to ripen them for the job, I have difficult time getting respect, though it may seem odd to you. My secretary makes all these changes without telling me, my aunt behaves as if my decision not to marry is just criminal and when I meet people, they like to pretend my ring is invisible!
I’m sorry if most of this letter consists of my own vain prattling- but now, at least, you know something about me.
In Christ,
Angelo Cardinal Fratelli

Tea with Cardinal Fratelli # 14

From: Bill
“Cardinal Fratelli, let me be strait, I’m not Catholic but I’m not altogether opposed to Catholicism. My question is: why should we give so much respect to the Pope?”

Dear Bill,
Have you ever worked at a restaurant? We have many in Tuscany. When all the cooks work according to their skill and obey the master chef, everything comes out beautifully, the food tastes good and the service is polite. You may even get a free after-dinner mint.
However, when each cook is doing his own thing and ignores the head-chef, chaos ensues. The food tastes horrible, it’s burnt and the waiters are insufferably cranky… instead of dessert, you might get a pie in your face.
In every place, there is order and manager-ship. Without it, society crumbles. Common sense tells us that Christ’s Holy Church needs this too.
In Christ,
Angelo Cardinal Fratelli

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tea with Cardinal Fratelli # 13

From: Anna Thompson
“I wrote to you because you’re very wise. Some friends at my church youth-group keep telling me that Harry Potter is bad and satanic. They say it encourages witchcraft. But, I really like the series! Is it really bad?”

Dear Anna Thompson,
I’m glad you think me wise… but I’d better forget before this gets to my head.
Harry Potter…Harry Potter… I had to look it up online and read all the books before knowing what this actually was. While there is some dark imagery and what I suppose you could call “witchcraft” in these books, I believe that one must use discretion. Does Harry Potter make you want to go out and draw a magic-circle in the forest? If so, stop reading at once and repent!
If you consider it fiction and fantasy, like the fairy-tales about witches my Mama read to me, then do not worry. Your friends say it is bad because they care for you, in that perfect, intrusive, Christian manner, briefly consider it might be bad for them because they take it too seriously.
In Christ,
Angelo Cardinal Fratelli

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tea with Cardinal Fratelli, # 12

From: Silvia Garcia Perez
 “Your Eminence, I know you’re busy but can you please help me? My eldest daughter will not go to Mass and is setting a bad example for my other children.”

Dear, Silvia Garcia Perez,
 Don’t worry about imposing, I’m never too busy to stop and help someone in need, plus it gives me time away from my cluttered office.
Alot of children get a certain age when they dye their hair strange colors, listen to objectionable music and yes, don’t want to go to church. The best remedy for this is to allow your daughter to express her feelings while asserting yourself. Long as you are the parent, she shall go to Mass- even if it means dragging her out of bed, shoving a pop-tart in her mouth and slapping a chapel-veil on her head during the car ride there.
Trust me: after much yelling and whining, when she is an adult, she will thank you for this.
In Christ,
Angelo Cardinal Fratelli

Tea with Cardinal Fratelli, # 11

From: Charlotte
“I feel so ashamed to tell you this, Good Cardinal, but I think I’m pregnant. I’m not married either and don’t want my parents to find out. What should I do!”

Dear Charlotte,
How frightened you must be!! If you do indeed discover you are with child, immediately tell your partner about this… if you can stand to look at him. Do scold him harshly and if he refuses to marry you, kindly remind him that your father owns a rifle. Also, please tell your parents. They may be very upset at first and yell unsavory things but their love for you, their precious daughter, will overcome this.
Lastly, you should absolutely go to confession.
Being pregnant doesn’t have to be an occasion for sadness. Children are a blessing in their innocence, tenacity and eating as many sweets as they can and then running wild around the house. Moreso, I gently assert that children can be taught not to repeat the same mistakes as their parents.
God be with you, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who indeed also knows what it feels like to find unexpected surprises in her womb.
In Christ,
Angelo Cardinal Fratelli.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Cardinal's Family Matters, ch 13-14

Chapter 13.
      The Stand-off.

      As stars twinkled above, Lamberto led Philomena out onto a stone balcony. The festivity indoors quieted down long ago and silence was all around. He sighed gladly and spoke;
      “You know, it’s great being around you. Your perfume is so lovely!”
      “Thank you,” Philomena giggled.
      “What is a pretty young woman like you doing living with her family? You should have a husband,” Lamberto said.
      “I’m not married yet,” she laughed.
      “Well then, maybe we can work to change that…”
      His intense brown eyes seemed to pierce Philomena’s soul, he leaned and kissed her. Finally, she blushed, looking away. Gazing from her high vista, she saw the distant lights of Florence below. Happily, she clasped her hands together. It was just as she’d imagined! Nothing could be more perfect…
      Suddenly a loud bang startled them. They watched Cardinal Fratelli come barging through the door with heroic swiftness. He slipped a little on the fine carpeting then regained his balance. With one finger, he pointed at Lamberto’s shape and cried out, “You!”
      Philomena glanced back, feeling very confused while Lamberto approached the fuming cardinal. With disappointment in his expression, the duke’s son said:
      “Now, now, Your Eminence, why are you so upset? You are disturbing your dear cousin.”
      “You know why I’m upset,” Fratelli growled, “You had Cardinal Montillo distract me while you took my cousin up to your room.”
      He also wagged his finger and pouted, “Not only that- he made me drink too much wine and now my mouth is fuzzy… and my eyes are fuzzy…”
      Lamberto smiled. His face glowed with pride. However, the glow dimmed as Philomena stepped forward and calmly asked him:
      “Is this true?”
      Lamberto stuttered, “Well no- not like that… His Eminence is obviously lying. He doesn’t want you to enjoy yourself.”
      Philomena pondered briefly, looked at Fratelli who stood there huffing, his forehead glistening with angry sweat then turned back to Lamberto. Slowly, she replied:
      “I know Angelo can be very irritating with his flaunty manners and high morals, and knack for sticking his nose in everyone’s business… He’s always lazing around, eating olives and playing with that stupid ring…but he’s not a liar.”
      “Why, thank you,” Fratelli said half-heartedly.
      “Philomena, I think you should stay away from him,” Lamberto asserted.
      “She should stay away from you!” Fratelli retorted.
      Quickly, Lamberto swatted at Fratelli and Fratelli swatted back. They looked like two angry children.
      “Stop it, stop it!!” Philomena finally shouted, getting in between them.
      “I am sick of you, cardinal,” Lamberto grumbled to Fratelli, “Get out of my sight!”
      Philomena crossed her arms, declaring:
      “I am sick of everyone telling me what I should do. I should make my own decisions. Goodness, if Angelo had his way, I’d be a virgin till I was 50!”
      Fratelli interrupted her, “And if Lamberto II had his way, you would be a virgin until tonight!”
      Philomena scoffed at them. She scoffed first at the cardinal and then at Lamberto when he snickered. Lifting the hem of her glittering, yellow dress, she stomped out of the room. Soon, she stopped in the hallway as if forgetting something, then returned for Fratelli. Resolutely, she grabbed his arm and yanked him after her.

      When they darted downstairs and entered another long corridor, Fratelli stopped, leaned against the wall and caught his breath.
      “Oh, my head hurts,” he moaned.
      Philomena, though angry at Lamberto for his trick, didn’t feel much sympathy for Fratelli either. She rolled her eyes at him and kept walking. Jan emerged, relieved to see them both unscathed from the confrontation. He approached Fratelli asking, “Your Eminence, is there anything I can do for you?”
      “Go after her and make sure she isn’t too upset,” he answered.
      After Jan took off, following Philomena, Fratelli muttered, “Now, I need to find my bed…”

Chapter 14.
      A New Family-Member.

      Early morning rays stretched over the hilly horizon. Mist still clouded the palace grounds. Cardinal Fratelli walked hastily, tightening his fine cloak. Gianni trailed slowly behind, huffing so he could see his breath in the air and trying to catch it. Seeing Philomena at his side, clad in her coral-pink, silk dress, Fratelli sighed. Everything was peaceful now.
Suddenly, Jan blocked his path. He bowed low and begged:
“Please, Your Eminence, take me with you!”
      Nervously, Fratelli touched his face, unsure of what to say.
      Jan continued, “The duke’s son got angry with me and cast me out…that pig! I can’t stand him. I don’t want to work for him anymore. He’s overbearing, obnoxious and abusive towards me and all the other servants. Now I helped you, please will you help me?”
      Fratelli hesitated for a moment. He really wanted to get on with their journey home. However, he felt indebted to Jan’s ready helpfulness.
      “Alright then, you can come with us,” the cardinal reluctantly said, “I’m not sure if we’ll have plenty room for you.”
      “It’s fine, it’s fine,” Jan replied quickly, “I’ll sit on top with the driver and promise to make no sound nor bother anyone.”
      Jan hopped aboard the elegant stagecoach, next to the driver who moved over and wiped his tired eyes. Gianni jumped inside first followed by Philomena, then Fratelli and Rodrigo. Rodrigo closed the door, making sure this time there wasn’t any piece of Fratelli’s long cape in the way, and then rested in his seat. All of them eventually rested and went back to sleep.

      ~ ~ ~
      Night spread shadows over the land. Back at the cardinal’s villa in Lucca, Dina lit several lamps and placed them around the parlor. She checked the soup which slowly boiled in the kitchen, poured a glass of wine and sat down in Fratelli’s favorite chair. Grabbing a pillow nearby, one he usually rested his feet on, she reclined her feet upon it. So, this is how His Eminence relaxes, she mused. Laughing, she delicately sipped the wine.
      At once, a pounding came upon the door. Dina jumped, thankful no wine splashed onto the chair, and darted to answer the door. Ernesto stood there heaving and sweating. Behind, his horse’s shadow lingered beneath a far tree.
      “Michele…is having her baby!”
      “Oh!” Dina cried, “…but His Eminence isn’t back yet.”
      “I’ll wait- but only for a little while,” he answered.
      Dina let Ernesto in and fetched him some water.
      Soon the stagecoach came to the villa and stopped. Just as Fratelli stepped out, relieved at last to be home, Ernesto met him.
      “Your Eminence, you have to come home with me- Michele is having her baby!”
      “Oh dear!” Fratelli replied.
      He started to climb back onto the coach but then stopped.
      “Can’t I at least change into more comfortable garments? This choir dress gets so warm…” he asked.
      Fratelli let Philomena come back into the coach and sit beside him. Before closing the door he yelled:
      “Rodrigo I’ll be back, Gianni, you behave yourself!”

      The coach moved over city roads and into smooth, dark countryside. Fratelli didn’t wait until it halted and jumped out when he saw Ernesto’s house. Philomena followed after. They both lifted up their draping clothes and scurried over the dewy grass.
      Francine met them.
      “Now Angelo, I want you to wait downstairs, Philomena come with me.”
      “Why must I wait downstairs?” Fratelli moaned.
      “Because you get faint around the sight of blood,” his aunt said matter-of-factly.
      “Oh” he answered, wincing.
Francine quickly summoned him back and made a request that sounded more like an order:
      “Angelo, you can do us a favor and quickly bring some warm water         upstairs...”
      Ernesto pointed Fratelli to the kitchen then darted upstairs after Francine and Philomena.
      Fumbling in the kitchen, Fratelli finally drew some water and heated it slightly. He trod carefully upstairs and handed it to Francine. Stopping he peered through the door. Michele was there lying on a bed looking very belabored and upset. Suddenly Francine appeared then shooed him away,
      “Go wait downstairs; or else you’re going to make everything worse!”
      She closed the door in his face. Fratelli grabbed the lamp sitting nearby, paced a while and slumped down in a comfortable chair by the window. He removed his gloves and small red cap and rubbed his weary eyes. He felt so uncomfortable and tired yet imagined Michele was in greater discomfort. Silently, he prayed for her health and successful delivery of the child. He wondered if it would be a boy or girl. Would it look more like her- or Ernesto? His thoughts began to circle again, round and round, lulling him to sleep.

      Fratelli jolted awake and saw Francine hovering over him.
      “I can’t believe you fell asleep.” Francine chided.
      “I apologize…”
      “Enough, come upstairs and see your new niece.”
      Excitedly, Fratelli scrambled out of his chair. His legs, not fully awake, stumbled over the carpeting. Ernesto caught him before he fell.
      “Easy there…”
      Coming into to upstairs room after Francine, Fratelli saw Michele sitting upright, nestled in clean, white sheets, her expression fatigued yet content. In her hands was a small bundle wrapped in small linens. Her ruddy face peeked out from the folds, tiny, brown eyes shining with life.
      “She is beautiful!” Fratelli gasped, taking the baby into his hands.
      He half expected the baby girl to cry or spit up or do something unsavory- but she did not. Smiling, the cardinal passed her to Ernesto. Philomena gave up her chair and stood as the proud father sat, laughed and caressed the baby’s cheek.
      “Now that I am done here, shall I go?” Francine asked.
      “Can I go with you?” Philomena yawned.
      “Yes, you come and you too Angelo.”
      Peering up, Fratelli protested, “But I’m an uncle now, can’t I spend some more time…”
      “No,” Francine interrupted, “Michele needs her rest.”
“Well then go out and wait for me. I will just be a while.”
      Though Francine huffed, she and Philomena exited the room. Fratelli crept near to Ernesto, beheld his baby niece and grinned, his pale, tired face beaming with happiness.
      “What are you naming her?” he whispered.
      Ernesto briefly pondered, his expression stoic then said,
      “Oh how nice!”
      Fratelli rested in a chair, gazing out the dark window at glimmering, moonlit trees. Michele dozed off to sleep and Ernesto gently set baby Angela in the crease of her arms. Glancing out the window again, Fratelli saw that the stagecoach was leaving without him. He gasped anxiously, about to rush from the room, but realized he could just stay with Ernesto tonight. Although he didn’t look forward to sleeping on a creaky couch instead of his soft bed, Fratelli hid this apprehension and grinned happily.
      He turned to Michele who stirred awake, blinking her eyes open. Fratelli lingered near her and Angela. He spoke a blessing over them. Then he traced a delicate cross on the baby’s forehead.
      “Thank you,” Michele said.
      “Thank the Lord,” Fratelli answered, “We are here and all is well with our family.”

~ The End.

The Cardinal's Family Matters, ch 11-12

Chapter 11.
      A Clash of Wills.

      He spoke too soon. Morning began nice enough. Fratelli woke up late, attended morning Mass, stayed behind to say prayers with his fellow-priests and ate a hefty breakfast. Walking through the hallway, a pastry still in-hand, Fratelli met Rodrigo. His expression fretful, Rodrigo blurted out:
      “I can’t find Philomena anywhere!”
      Under ordinary circumstances, this was nothing to worry about; however, he knew well of Lamberto II’s crafty intentions.
      “Maybe she is enjoying tea with the ladies…” Fratelli replied, staying calm, “I’ll look for her.”
      In a spacious parlor, many women convened. Paintings and mirrors adorned the walls. Soft, morning sun poured inside, causing their dresses, which were every imaginable color, to glow. They talked loudly, laughed and sipped tea from fine china. Then they turned to see Fratelli’s reluctant entrance. Timidly, he asked:
      “Have any of you seen Philomena?”
      A chorus of responses followed:
      “No, she’s sleeping late.”
      “Thought she was with you…”
      “Oh, Your Eminence, would you join us for some tea?”

      Noting they failed to take him seriously, the cardinal voiced his sarcastic thanksgiving. Feeling upset, he exited swiftly- and suddenly crashed into the servant from last night. The plate that he carried slipped from his hands. It clattered loudly and sent a shower of rolls to the floor. Blushing horribly and bowing, he stammered, “I am so sorry, Your Eminence!”
      Fratelli replied, “It’s rather fine…Maybe you can help me?”
      “Yes, of course, anything!”
      “My cousin arrived here with me. She has long, black hair, brown eyes and was wearing a blue dress, have you seen her?”
      “Oh yes,” he said, “Philomena correct? She is very beautiful, pardon me for saying this, and I remember, she got upset when I offered to refill her wineglass. I don’t think she likes me.”
      “Did you see her this morning,” Fratelli pressed, growing impatient.
      Sensing this impatience, the servant trembled somewhat. Then, he began gushing, “I’m so sorry this has happened to you, Your Eminence. I don’t usually have good days either. I’ll look for her, check in her room…I’ll be right back.”
      He darted off before Fratelli could thank him. After five minutes, the servant returned. A forlorn look spread on his young face. He muttered:
      “I deeply apologize. She isn’t in her room. But don’t worry…I’ll make it my primary task to find her.”
      Fratelli then asked, “Tell me what your name is.”
      “Oh, why? Am I in trouble? Have I offended you?”
      “Be calm…I just wish to know,” Fratelli assured, lightly touching his shoulder
      “I am Jan,” he finally answered.

      With Jan’s company, Fratelli paced the hallways searching for Philomena. The cardinal tried to thank Jan for recovering his ring while Lamberto did nothing but he shook this off. Strolling onto a wide porch, they found some people gathered there. Jan began asking about Philomena. No one clearly noticed her- except Lamberto.
      “I’m going to see Lamberto,” Fratelli concluded.
      Shock flashed in Jan’s grey-colored eyes.
      “But why!” he cried.
      Fratelli answered flatly, “Because I can.”
      Jan trailed along like a loyal puppy as Fratelli crossed a main courtyard, descended great, stone steps and stopped before an armed guard. The guard saluted Fratelli and hailed him. Growing tired of evasive formalities, Fratelli demanded to see Lamberto. Surprisingly, the guard nodded. Perhaps, he understood the cardinal’s sentiment.
      Finally, within the confines of a narrow chamber, facing Lamberto, Fratelli abruptly inquired:
      “Where is Philomena?”
      Paying half-attention, Lamberto answered, “You tell me. I accompanied her to breakfast and took her back to her room- but now I’ve no idea where she is…”
      He then added, “Isn’t she allowed to go where she wants?”
      Fratelli gazed indignantly. He retorted, “Usually there isn’t someone looking to harm her.”
      Lamberto laughed.
      “I think you’re mistaken about me, Good Eminence,” he said, “I seek to harm no one. I’m really not a bad person...”
   “I recall it was you who sent a letter calling me: “dim-witted with nothing better to do.”.” Fratelli growled.
      His pinkish lips twisting in a smirk, Lamberto stepped away and sat in the ornate chair nearby.
      “Oh, that’s over with…” he replied slowly, “Those little sins were forgiven when you allowed me back into the Church. Aren’t you supposed to forget about that?”
      “I’m supposed to learn from it.”
      Lamberto’s grin flattened. He didn’t much like this clergyman looking down at him. However, Fratelli honestly couldn’t help it from where he stood. He glanced aside, eyed a shelf loaded with old, dusty books. Silently, he prayed for peace of mind. Lamberto then remembered something and spoke:
      “I must tell you that though I’ve found a fine home in Lucca, I decided to return to the country of my father in Florence. Therefore, you can no longer bother yourself with me.”
      Fratelli instantly knew what he meant. In the eyes of the Church, changing one’s residence amounted to changing one’s bishop. Not responding, he silently recalled that in fact, Cardinal Montillo was the bishop over Florence. What more could he say? Feeling spited and knowing there was nothing he could do about it, Fratelli spoke a faint farewell and departed.
      He was so upset that he walked right past Jan and never allowed him to catch up.
      The duke’s private chapel was empty, dark and quiet. Dust hung in the air and few candles flickered weakly in hazy light. Fratelli didn’t mind. Let them dwindle away and die, he mused. At once, raising eyes to the looming altar, he spoke:
      “I am sorry Lord. I have not the proper attitude today. Aid my thoughts and actions to charity and love. Only you know where Philomena is…Apparently, she has decided to do what she likes…and please, if possible, guide her back to me.”
       Unable to tolerate the chapel’s unkempt state, Fratelli lingered and began cleaning. However, once kicked up, dirt and dust only spread further. At last, an hour later, when Fratelli emerged into the bright hallway, he encountered none other but Cardinal Montillo. Glancing over his nose, observing Fratelli’s dust-flaked cassock, Montillo remarked:
      “You may wish to do something about your appearance.”
      Fratelli grumbled, lowered his gaze and stormed off.

 Chapter 12.

      Noon sluggishly yielded to evening. Overwhelmed by boredom and anxiety, Fratelli obsessed over his appearance. When Rodrigo inquired why he combed his hair three separate times, Fratelli simply snapped:
      “Woe if I do not meet their high expectations!”
      Melodramatically, he stood, tread in a circle and began wiping his ring with a white cloth. Hearing someone at the door, Rodrigo opened it and Philomena stepped in. Seeing her reflection from the mirror, Fratelli turned, came forth, grabbed her hand then exclaimed:
      “I am so glad to see you- where have you been?”
      Smiling bashfully, Philomena tied back her flowing, golden-yellow dress and said, “I spent morning and afternoon exploring this wonderful palace, aren’t I allowed to do that?”

      Fratelli didn’t respond, instead distracted by her glittering garments. In fact, neither Fratelli nor Rodrigo remembered seeing the dress before. She smiled wider, gestured towards her glittering necklace- also new, and stated: “Lamberto gave me this outfit to wear tonight and keep. Isn’t he so nice?”
      “Well, I suppose,” Fratelli answered blandly.
       A shrill bell’s ringing interrupted them. It announced to all that the hour of supper had arrived. Trailing behind Philomena, Fratelli and Rodrigo walked downstairs, along a corridor and entered the huge dining room. If one hadn’t known it was the Easter Feast, they would surely know now. The long dining table sprawled before them, bedecked with fragrant, white lilies, hosting savory dishes of all sorts: lobster pastries, clams, chops of veal, balls of aged cheese, melons, grapes and of course, olives. Wine bottles stood next to tall, silver decanters.
      Fratelli sat in a place of honor besides Rodrigo and Philomena. Meekly, eyeing the others, he removed his scarlet biretta and set this on his lap. Of course, seeing the cardinal’s slight inconvenience, a servant came quickly to retrieve it. Gianni grumbled, having a place with the younger courtiers. Fratelli himself fixed his gaze on the duke’s imposing figure. He sat at the table’s head-seat, wearing fine, indigo-blue vesture. The metals on his chest glittered against bright lamp-light. Flanking him were his wife Lucia, and the scarlet-clad Cardinal Montillo.
      Suddenly, Lamberto II entered. Quietly, he approached his parents, respectfully bowed to them and then whispered something in Cardinal Montillo’s ear. The cardinal moved aside his powdered curls in response and whispered back. Fratelli swore he saw Lamberto pointing in his direction but got distracted by servants bringing forth the meal’s centerpiece: a whole, browned lamb. In elegant procession, they carried the simmering meat and set it down.
      No one moved. Their dull chattering died when the duke finally rose, held a glass in the air and spoke: “Most-honorable family and friends, on this day we celebrate the new spring, the ending of Lent- and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, let us dine marvelously and drink to his good name!”
      Fratelli quizzically arched his dark eyebrows then picked up his own glass and drank. Tasting the strong wine, he winced. Setting his glass down, Fratelli looked towards Gianni who eagerly ate the fine fare placed before him. He wondered if Dina and Rodrigo were having a smaller feast back in Lucca, with Francine, Ernesto and Michele.
      Throughout dinner, the cardinal avoided eating too much. He sampled this and that, savoring the olives and juicy grapes most of all. When time came for cake, he had plenty an appetite left and so he enjoyed a large, buttery piece. Gianni naturally stuffed himself but under Fratelli’s reproving gaze, he slowed down and grew mild-mannered. After dessert, Father Rodrigo whisked Gianni off for bed. The priest paused beside Fratelli, saying:
      “Good night, Your Eminence.”
      “Good night Rodrigo. God bless.”
      He overheard Gianni’s hushed protest and slightly smiled. His smile became a frown however, as he caught sight of Philomena speaking with Lamberto in the room’s far corner. He prepared to go after her but paused, hearing some music start nearby. One, nicely-dressed man had begun playing the piano, soon accompanied by two violinists and a chubby man strumming a mandolin.   
      The duke’s loud voice rang out:
      “Now, it’s time to dance. Let’s dance with the joy of the night!”
      Of course, taking his wife’s hand, he rose and approached the room’s center. Footsteps shuffled about. Genteel etiquette obliged everyone to follow suit- even those who seemed tired. They formed pairs and took up dancing. Fratelli edged towards the doorway, his eyes frantically searching for Philomena and Lamberto. He found them dancing several feet away, her smile bright and his eyes intent. Fratelli didn’t interrupt but stood there scowling and at last, moved from the room and outside into a moonlit garden.
      No one else was there. Quiet reigned: just him and the Easter moon. Cupping a perfect, white lily in his hands, Fratelli breathed sweet fragrance and grinned.  
      “O, Lord God,” he prayed aloud, “the newness of spring is your finest handiwork…besides man of course. Please tend and safeguard our souls so that they may be pure just like the lilies.”
      Absorbed in the beauty of his words, Fratelli walked further. He gathered another flower, smelled it and then absentmindedly strolled back indoors, his cheek now smudged with dusty, yellow nectar. Seeing the cardinal’s face, a house-servant ducked, not daring to say anything, and darted away. Festivities calmed as Fratelli re-emerged into the spacious dining-room, hands folded; his posture upright. This sense of dignity was soon squelched by a few noble-women who clustered by the door. Pushing her laughing friends aside, the youngest; her black hair tied in braids, approached.
      “Good evening, Your Eminence,” she said, lifting her long skirts in order to curtsy.
      Glancing past her, looking for Philomena, Fratelli mumbled:
      “Good evening.”
      The woman smiled in response. All of sudden, without warning, she reached up, touching Fratelli’s face. Startled by this gesture, he withdrew and bolted face-first into a door.
      “Oh no, Your Eminence!” she cried, “You’ve something on your face…I was just going to wipe it off!”
      Fratelli rubbed his hurt nose then tried to reach the smudge himself. His hand missed again and again.
      “Oh, let me get it,” the woman said, looking on with sympathy.
      “Fine, fine…” Fratelli grumbled.
      After the woman wiped Fratelli’s cheek clean, the cardinal slunk sheepishly to his chair. In a corner, he then saw Philomena speaking with Lamberto, who stood, laughing, haughtily crossing his arms. Fratelli was prepared to get up and separate them when a noise caught his attention.
      Cardinal Montillo had joined him. Smiling, cheeks rosy, he addressed Fratelli:
      “Why don’t we talk, one-on-one, just us princes of the Church…and drink?”
      Nervously, Fratelli replied, “We can talk yes, if you like, but I am finished drinking.”
       Montillo’s smile faded as he raised the pitcher he held to Fratelli’s glass.
      “Stop being a boy and be a man,” he chided while pouring.
      Fratelli huffed, “I am very much a man.”
      Fratelli sipped at the wine. Seeing his slow, careful manner, Montillo began laughing. The younger cardinal then stared hotly, his face angrily flushed.
      “See, that’s better,” Montillo declared, finishing his own glass, “Will put some hair on your chest!”
      Feeling belittled for the last time, Fratelli asked for another glass. They talked while Fratelli calmly drank, hiding his frustration. After several minutes and a fourth drink, Fratelli forgot exactly what he was speaking about. He also found himself giggling. Laying his head sleepily on the table, he said to Montillo:
      “Easter is always nice, isn’t it? What Jesus did for us was so lovely. Wasn’t supper lovely? I like the lamb and the olives.”
      “Did you try the lobster rolls?” Montillo asked.
      “No, I don’t prefer lobster much…” Fratelli answered, trailing off, “…too lobster-ish.”
      Soon, he fell asleep, right there in front of Montillo who snickered then walked away.
      From a distance, Jan observed as the older, white-haired cardinal departed, strolling past him with no regard. He now watched Lamberto leave the room- hand-in-hand with Philomena. Feeling rather apprehensive, he approached the soundly-sleeping Fratelli and touched his arm.
      “Your Eminence, wake up.”
      No response.
      “Come on, Your Eminence…”
      After poking Fratelli several more times, failing to rouse him, Jan took a pitcher of water from the table. He crossed himself then splashed its entire contents onto the sleeping cardinal. Fratelli, at once, jerked awake, blinking his eyes open and wiped water from his face.
      “Why am I all wet?” he asked disappointedly.
      He shook his dripping sleeves as Jan quickly explained that Philomena just left with Lamberto- and that they were alone.