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.

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