Chapter 5.

An Invitation

Wednesday. Even in early morning, the villa buzzed with people. Fratelli entered the parlor to find Lucca’s main florist arranging lilies in a vase. Francine watched from a distance, frowning whenever he put one flower in the wrong place. Finally, she interfered and took it upon herself to arrange them herself. Sighing, the grey-haired florist walked away and grabbed a bouquet of small, pink blossoms. He saw Fratelli and greeted him:

“Your Eminence, I wanted to show you my idea for Easter…”

He leaned over and fetched a huge, pure white lily, dripping with dew, bright green leaves arrayed like outstretched arms.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” asked the florist.

“Very much so,” Fratelli answered taking the lily and sniffing its delicate fragrance.

He closed his eyes feeling a moment of peace.

“I grew these myself, gave them the best water and nourishment,” the florist began, “I call these “Candida Magnifica”.”

Fratelli nodded. He then approached the vase which Francine was tirelessly working on and inserted the large white lily at its center.

“Angelo, you can’t just put that anywhere…” his aunt remarked.

“Leave it alone Francine.”

When all seemed to die down, Fratelli snuck into his private chapel. He methodically lit the six candles sitting upon the altar, bowed before the golden tabernacle, a container where the holy body of Christ was kept, and knelt down. Breathing cool air, he savored silence, hearing no clamor or bustling beyond the door. Slowly opening his lips, he spoke:

Lord God, you are almighty over the heavens and the earth. You watch us at our daily lays, our work and worries. I have many worries, this you know… My thoughts, you can count them and yes, they are like a bunch of coins that have fallen on the floor. Please still my heart. St Joseph patron of workers and protector of the Church, pray for me. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost…”

He traced a delicate cross over himself. Reluctantly, he stood and walked to the office where the day’s paperwork, documents and mail awaited. Father Rodrigo sat at the desk and when Fratelli took his seat, he handed a broad envelope to him.

“What is this?” the cardinal asked.

“Read it…just read it!” Rodrigo exclaimed.

The envelope was made of fine parchment. It bore an ornate monogram and a red wax seal: the Seal of Tuscany. Apprehensively, Fratelli opened this letter. Taken aback, he arched his brows, held the paper high and read:

To His Eminence, the Most Reverend, Angelo Cardinal Fratelli…”

In a dramatic huff, Fratelli caught his breath from having stuffed all those words in one sentence. Then he continued:

My sincere condolences upon hearing the death of your Great Uncle.

Know that my prayers go out to you. I have also heard that your young cousin, the lady, Philomena Leona Fratelli, is staying at your residence. I desire to meet her and with your blessing, possibly seek her courtship. Therefore, for the Holy Easter feast, I invite you and your kin to my father’s palace for celebrations. Please come, minding my most-earnest intent, for I am deeply expecting you.

            Signed, Lamberto D’Constanza II.”

Anxiously, Fratelli’s hands crinkled the letter’s edges. Rodrigo snatched it from him and re-read it diligently. Setting it down, he stared at the nerve-racked cardinal, saying:

“What is wrong, Your Eminence, a letter from the duke’s son, this sounds like a very good thing.”

“I don’t like this,” Fratelli blurted out, “I never cared much for Lamberto II. He is dissolute and boorish, much into drinking and revelry. I do not want him courting my dear cousin.”

“But will you reject the invitation?”

Putting a hand on his chin, pondering, Fratelli replied, “I suppose I may not be able to. I’ve always had uneasy relations with the duke and his family…ever since excommunicating Lamberto, his own son. Thank God he repented and came back into the Lord’s fold.

No, I don’t need to make matters worse. They already perceive me as a pompous buffoon of sorts- which I am not! We shall go to his celebration but perhaps, perhaps there is an easy way to get his eyes off of Philomena.”

His voice sounded both hopeful and unsure. Clasping his fingers, he played with his golden ring. Rodrigo stopped him.

“Quit being so tense. Everything will be fine.”

“Who are you to tell me if I should be tense or not? I’ll be tense as I please,” Fratelli retorted.

He stepped from the office and found Dina carrying a glass of water.

“Your Eminence, I brought this for you…” she said.

He took the glass and thirstily drank, quenching his parched mouth.

“Thank you, you are so kind,” he responded between sips.

Then, he paused, asking:

“Where is Philomena?”

“Getting some sun in the garden.”

Fratelli darted outside. He needed to speak with her.

Philomena rested on a bench, holding a parasol over her head as sun streamed down. Birds merrily sang of spring. Paolo, the gardener, wearing dirty slacks and a thin shirt, stood next to her, He had just handed Philomena a fresh-cut rose when Fratelli emerged. Seeing the cardinal and his serious expression, Paolo withdrew then left.

“Merciful goodness! Is every man in Lucca under your spell?” he pointedly asked.

She laughed at him.

“I don’t see any humor in this,” Fratelli asserted.

“That’s why it’s humorous,” she answered, stifling more giggles.

He blushed somewhat, glanced away then returned his amber eyes to her onyx-colored stare. Their gazes locked briefly, engaged in some sort of contest of wills. Philomena won out. Her forthrightness was too strong. Carefully, she explained:

“Now, you realize that I have a mind of my own and that I intend to use it.”