Chapter 1.

A Gardener.

Noon sun blazed brightly over trees of varying, faded hues. On paved streets, a scant breeze kicked up swirls of dust. Sunlight beamed between tall buildings upon a finely-kept garden. Where rose bushes and evergreen hedges grew, strolled a slender man, brown-haired; wearing flowing, red robes which sharply contrasted the surrounding, white flowers. His right hand clutched old pruning shears. Wiping sweat from his brow, he removed the small, red cap from his head, setting it down on a nearby ledge. At once, he stooped and began pruning the roses.

Leaves fell onto the ground and the man simply kicked them aside. He shook some dirt from his polished shoe then kept working. After several minutes, the man grew tired. After washing hands in the stone, water fountain behind him, he yawned and thought to rest, soon falling asleep.

A middle-aged woman, wearing a blue, cotton dress came outside and finding him laid asleep there against the ledge, she spoke, her voice in a hiss:

“Your Eminence…you better not have been drinking!”

Cardinal Fratelli jerked awake, glanced around and timidly responded, “No Dina, the sun made me sleepy.”

Dina glanced about discovering pruning shears sitting next to an unused spade and leaves piled beneath the rose-bushes.

“You were working? You shouldn’t be doing this kind of work. Please go inside. I’ll clean this up and bring you some water.

Saying nothing, the cardinal climbed afoot, back turned to the radiant sunlight and dusting off his fine garb, retreated inside.

In his roomy parlor, he sat wondering when summer’s heat would finally cede to autumn’s milder season. It was already November. Dina approached handing him a cup of cool water and he thanked her. Slightly disappointed at finding Fratelli so tired in the garden after working, she huffed while putting away the shears and other tools. Coming back into the parlor, she found he had left.

“If he went into that garden again…” she grumbled irately walking down the hallway.

However, the cardinal sat in his office signing some documents. He thanked her a second time for bringing the water then asked for another glass. This was better, she thought.

Sipping his cold water, Fratelli mused about the garden, how lovely the roses were growing…and tomatoes too. He planned to go outside and fetch one for a snack- but later, after the heat subsided. His hand grabbed the quill pen beside him and he resumed writing.

Four hours passed and utterly exhausted, Cardinal Fratelli could hardly stay awake through dinner. His secretary, Father Rodrigo nudged him.

“Your Eminence.”

“Sorry that I’m not much company this evening.”

“Maybe you should retire early?”

“Yes I think so.”

Quietly they ate their supper of lamb and spinach soup. Some nights were quieter than others and the peaceful silence was appreciated. Fratelli and Rodrigo felt content, almost prayerful as balmy wind wafted through the windows and crickets sang to the darkening sky.

Though he found it very easy to sleep, Cardinal Fratelli woke up early before dawn the next morning. The sky still loomed inky black as he crept downstairs and began fixing himself some tea. Truth be told, he didn’t know a good ways around the kitchen as Dina usually made the morning tea and after five minutes, he eventually found the canister of dry, fragrant tea-leaves. He poured cold water into a brass kettle and searched around for the mesh, tea ball. At first, too much tea was scooped in and so he put some back, then too little.  Fratelli sighed and trying a third time, he poured the perfect amount of tea.

Everything seemed right as the water began boiling and Fratelli poured it over the tea sniffing its robust, floral scent. He closed the tea-pot and carried it to the wooden counter. Now, he needed a cup…where did Dina put the cups? His hand felt around in an above cabinet and suddenly sent a stack of small pans clattering to the floor. He leapt from the noise, froze then turned around to find Dina surely entering with a tired and frustrated expression on her face. She yawned, looked right at him then the fallen pans.

“I apologize… it was so early and I didn’t want to wake you…” Fratelli began.

“It is fine…I’m awake now, you can go,” she answered.

Fratelli stepped past her gingerly, like a schoolboy who had been caught making mischief, and darted out of the kitchen.

When finished with breakfast, he proceeded to morning-prayer alongside Father Rodrigo then walked to the cathedral which loomed next door. There, he celebrated Mass for the first week of Advent, the time when Catholics reflected on Christ’s coming in the flesh. Although, he felt excited donning rich, violet vestments and reciting the entrance chant loudly, Fratelli kept his sermon short. Distant rain clouds gathered faintly cooling the air as the cardinal trekked home with Rodrigo following close behind. They dallied and talked on their way, watching people and carriages pass by, but suddenly hearing rumbling thunder, they quickened pace.

However, no rain fell. The clouds threatened overhead but passed on by. Sitting in his office, reading a letter, Fratelli glanced at them and saw sunlight pierce through. Feeling warmth touch his face, he smiled. He instantly stood, hearing people in the hallway and walked out to see Dina speaking with a tall, thin man. His very tan skin contrasted bright eyes and he gestured towards the window.

“Who is this?” Fratelli asked.

“Oh, Your Eminence, I was just coming to fetch you. This is Paolo. I just hired him to care for the garden.”

After Paolo left, Fratelli took Dina’s sleeve, gently pulling her aside, saying, “Why did you hire a gardener?”

“Because you are too busy for that kind of work…”

The cardinal clasped his hands then replied painfully, “No, I cannot stand the thought of some other man touching my roses…and putting his hands on my tomatoes!”

He seethed with obvious jealousy.

“This bothers me.”

“Everything will be just fine, the garden will be fine. Your Eminence,” Dina assured.

He hoped so.