Laying down, holding a cold rag to his head, Cardinal Fratelli closed his eyes and tried to rest. Hearing footsteps, he sluggishly opened one eye then the other. Rodrigo stood over him.
“I just wanted to tell you they are stripping the cathedral, covering the statues and making the altar bare,” he told him.
“I already know that,” Fratelli remarked, “Please leave me alone.”
“Well I brought you something to eat…”
“Oh thank you.”
Mumbling something, Rodrigo set a plate of hard bread and figs on a nearby table and walked away. Fratelli himself sunk into a restful sleep.
Waking up, he noticed the pain in his head was absent. At a leisurely pace, he began packing his things. Early next morning, he would be leaving with Rodrigo, Philomena and Gianni for the duke’s palace. It was an entire day’s journey. There, they’d celebrate the Mass of Easter Vigil. Though Fratelli felt unsure about not presiding over the worship, regretting that the eloquent homily he wrote would go unheard; he said nothing as he folded a red cassock.
After a few items and garments were packed, Fratelli went downstairs and into the parlor. Philomena sat there, musing over the letter received from Lamberto II. A while ago, she’d taken it with Fratelli’s permission and kept reading it over. Imaging her and the duke’s son dancing on a beautiful, moonlit porch before a great palace, she shuddered with anticipation.
Then, she saw Fratelli’s obvious frown. He took the letter saying, “You have looked at that enough. Stop obsessing.”
Irritated she replied, “What do you care?”
Fratelli walked to a chair and sat across from her. Summoning patience, he said, “Philomena, I know the duke’s son better than you. He is a reveler and pleasure-seeker, not a good man to court.”
Philomena seemed to listen for a moment then she snorted, feeling again encroached upon, and stood.
“Let me make my own decisions,” she stated flatly.
As she left, the cardinal rested his chin on his hands and pondered. How was he ever going to convince her? Maybe she was right: she had to make her own decision…and learn from it.
~ ~ ~
“Where is my ring?” Cardinal Fratelli asked no one in particular as he felt around his night-stand in near darkness.
A small lamp aided his sight. Outside the skies were still black as dawn waited hours away.
“I can’t find it, I can’t find it!” he cried.
Dina heard his lamenting and came into the room, holding her bright lamp against the dark.
“What’s wrong, Your Eminence?”
“I cannot find my ring… We have to leave very shortly, the coach is already here and it’s nowhere to be seen!” he moaned.
Dina crossed her arms restfully then suggested, “Alright, alright, I’m sure if you calm down, you’ll find the ring.”
Fratelli stuttered, “I already tried being calm and didn’t find it.”
“Your Eminence, have you looked on the floor?”
“The floor? I’m not getting on the floor.”
“Well then…” Dina muttered as she left.
Grumbling, Fratelli got on his hands and knees and began peering underneath the furniture. He searched vigorously until in the corner of his eye, he saw something shiny beneath the bed. The ring! Scooping it into his hands, he smiled and climbed afoot. He then saw Gianni standing impatiently by the door. Wearing a fine, black suit with pearly buttons, he fidgeted and eventually said, “They’re waiting for you.”
Fratelli beckoned and told Gianni to fetch his gloves, carry them downstairs and wait. Feeling tired yet excited, the boy obeyed and disappeared. Before blowing out the lamp beside him, Fratelli grabbed a draping, scarlet cloak trimmed with white ermine fur and gently slung it over his shoulder.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Fratelli blundered into Father Rodrigo and slipped. Both cardinal and cloak tumbled downwards. Instead of catching the cardinal, Rodrigo caught the precious cloth. Glancing up angrily, Fratelli said nothing. He only stood, nonchalantly dusted himself off and followed Rodrigo outside.
Cold air enveloped them. Rodrigo hugged his own black cloak tighter and Fratelli shivered. Gianni silently waited for them, sitting across from Philomena who nodded back to sleep. Growing antsy, the boy watched as Rodrigo helped Fratelli don his cloak. Finally, Fratelli lifted the long cape off the ground and boarded the coach with Rodrigo right behind. In quite a hurry, they closed the door. Quickly under dark skies, the coach took off and a small piece of red cloth hung out of its side, flapping in the wind.
Despite bumps and jolts in the road, everyone fell asleep. It was early morning when Fratelli awoke. Bright sun shone over them, causing the jeweled collar of Philomena’s dress to glitter. Blinking tiredly, Fratelli removed his gloves, lowered the curtains, turned over and went back to sleep. However, by now, Gianni stirred awake. For several minutes he sat still then quickly grew bored. He twiddled his thumbs then toyed with the curtains and at last spoke:
“How long is it till we’re there?”
Fratelli kept his eyes shut and ignored him, hoping he would cease speaking and just leave him alone. He felt a persistent finger poking his arm.
“What do you want” the cardinal asked irately.
“How long is it till we’re there?” Gianni repeated.
Fratelli answered, “Not until nightfall now please be quiet.”
Gianni frowned, huffed and scrunched tightly in his seat. He couldn’t sleep and began softly humming.
“Gianni!” Fratelli hissed.
“Sorry, Your Eminence.”
Later, they ate a small meal of bread with cured salami. Fratelli gladly noticed that Dina also packed some olives in their lunch-basket. Rodrigo uncorked a bottle of wine and they drank peacefully. Amidst the silence, Philomena started feeling nervous. She couldn’t imagine the luxury and excitement that would greet her at the duke’s palace. Looking forward to meeting Lamberto II, she folded her hands together and glanced out the window. Scrubby fields and green vineyards blurred past. Tall hills shrank in the distance. She then met eyes with Fratelli, who stopped munching on his bread and stared back. The struggle of wills indeed reemerged.
This time, Philomena looked away first. She fixed her attention on the rolling scenery outside. Fratelli quietly ruminated, allowing no one else to perceive his apprehensive, circling thoughts. What did await them?