Chapter 1
A Lazy Afternoon.

Afternoon sun flooded through stained-glass, soaking the cathedral floor with blue, yellow and magenta hues. Faint incense smoke still hung in the air. Birds chirped outside heralding springtime.

Knelt there before the white, marble, side-altar of St. Joseph, a young, brown-haired cardinal in draping, red finery prays a silent prayer. No sound disrupted him. Ignoring the sun’s glare which danced off the golden cross around his neck, he intently concludes aloud:

“Holy Patron of the Universal Church, also pray the Lord blesses the work of my hands. Be a guide and guardian to me. Steady my soul and protect my heart… May the Angels of God watch over me…In Father, Son and Holy Ghost~ Amen.”

After delicately tracing a cross, he stood up with hands solemnly folded and began walking down the wide aisle as if in procession. No sooner than he stepped outside, did he trek over a puddle left by morning rain and slip onto the ground. Rubbing his hurt side, dismayed at stained robes, the cardinal muttered, “thanks…”

Still softly grumbling, the cardinal walked beneath shaded trees and crossed a finely-kept courtyard. Calm set over him. Roses spread their petals towards the sun, vines crept upwards and a small, white bird bathed in the stone fountain at its center. Hearing human footfalls, it fled leaving a sprinkle of water behind.

The cardinal wiped sweat from his forehead and entered into the welcoming shade of his small villa. Reminded of his irritation, he removed his shoes, shaking rainwater off them and took off his wet socks before stepping onto the carpet. Suddenly, he heard a sound.

“Father Rodrigo?”

No answer. Quietly, the cardinal tiptoed down the hallway and peered into the parlor where a man’s shadow stood then moved about. He froze worriedly wondering if someone had trespassed into his house.

His hands frantically searched for something and grabbed a walking-stick from the tall vase nearby. Then he advanced. The man now turned around. He wore a priest’s black cassock. Sheepishly, the cardinal lowered the walking-stick and his lips curled in a slight smile as if pretending he had no intent on hitting the fellow over the head. He asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Father Rodrigo, before leaving for vacation, sent me here to replace him as your secretary…”

The cardinal replied, “It would have been nice if someone told me that…”

“I am Father Arnold,” said the priest, “and you are His Eminence, Cardinal Fratelli?”

“Of course.”

Arnold bent to kiss the cardinal’s gold ring then took notice of his mud-stained robes. He paused, taken aback, and said, “Well my first order of business should be to bring those dirty robes to the maid…then I’ll make tea.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Fratelli changed into clean garb, this time being very cautious about where he stepped. He paced down the hall careful not to don the wet shoes he’d just removed and instead, wore house slippers. They were old, well used; a dull-red and barely fit, yet were preferable to soggy feet.

He and Arnold sat for some time sipping hot tea, enjoying the lazy afternoon and talking about various subjects including this wonderful weather. Then they switched to the topic of the cathedral and its parishioners.

“They are very nice,” Fratelli explained, “The old ladies sometimes bake me bread but I don’t need more food, so I give it to the poor when they aren’t looking… I always take a little taste though so when they ask me if I liked it, I’m not lying when I say I do. Very gracious the people of Tuscany are. I am actually in the middle of writing a letter to the faithful now.”

“Oh yes, I read it,” Father Arnold replied and quoted: “”Dear brothers and sisters in Christ…””

There was a long pause nothing else being said. Fratelli straitened in his chair responding “Well, there’s going to be more!”

Silently, the two put their teacups down then dutifully headed for the office downstairs to sort through piles of paper and letters. Papers and such tended to pile up at the week’s beginning, sitting even longer since they had been gone all morning for prayers and Holy Mass.

Arnold recovered Fratelli’s “Letter to the Faithful” beneath one of the piles handing it to the cardinal. He took it and sat down resuming his letter. After writing two more lines, he raised his head at a bird’s song. Beyond the arched window, a blue-feathered bird hops from branch to branch and keeps singing.

Fratelli longed to be out there strolling amongst little creatures and taking in their beauty. The roses must be in full-bloom and wonderfully fragrant by now… However, he shook the lovely musings from his head and continued working. A few more lines were written.

He stopped again asking Arnold, “Maybe I can describe the beauty of God’s creation in the letter. Tell about how His Sacred Face is revealed in the world…?”

“They’re your faithful,” Arnold replied.
“No Father, they are just on loan to me.”

The cardinal’s amber-colored eyes flashed with inspiration. Happy, he kicked up one leg like a young boy. Arnold murmured something about immaturity. Almost hearing, unsure, Fratelli asked him what he just said.

“Nothing, Your Good Eminence, just keep writing.”

An hour passed, significant work was done and Cardinal Fratelli nearly finished his letter. He looked up hearing horse-hooves upon pavement, seeing a shadow fall beneath the door.

“Come in,” he said boldly.

In stepped the Monsignor Barolo, a smile between his high-set cheeks and a flush to his pale skin. He lifted his majestic, draping garb off the floor as if the floor were dirty and sat beside Fratelli. The chair creaked beneath this obese man causing Fratelli to glance apprehensively. The older man, white-haired, grey eyed, almost forgot to show him due reverence before he spoke,

“I’ve traveled long to see you Fratelli… I thought you would’ve invited me.”

“Sorry,” Fratelli said meekly, “I was so busy.”

“You can never be too busy for old, dear friends!”

“Oh yes you can.”

They talked for some time outright ignoring Father Arnold who sat arms crossed, softly huffing. Finally, he said,
“Your Eminence, why don’t you go fetch the letter you wrote for Monsignor?”

Fratelli began to stand then halted. He turned replying, “That is your kind of work-not mine.”

Arnold nodded.

“Oh, yes…yes” he agreed standing. Instantly, Fratelli waved a hand at him.

“Nevermind, sit down, I’ll get it…”

Once Fratelli left the room, Monsignor Barolo peered at Arnold inquisitive.

“I wonder about that one,” he states.