Tuesday, January 22, 2013

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.

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