Chapter I.

A Baptism.

“Where is that cardinal?” said an auburn-haired woman, full figured with sharp green eyes.

She stood impatiently, eyeing the baptismal font before her filled with crystal-clear water. Despite summer heat, they kept cool, shielded by ancient stone and tinted stained glass. Another, younger woman, more hesitantly, stepped forth. She had curly, brown hair and more peaceful, brown eyes. She waited, disregarding bustling city noises outside the cathedral and fading sunlight. Cradled in her hands, wrapped in gauzy, white lace, a small child wriggled and squeaked.

Finally, a figure appeared, clad in scarlet finery, followed by a small boy in white robes. He folded his hands solemnly, prayerfully and proceeded forth.

“Well, if it isn’t Cardinal Fratelli being late,” the auburn-haired woman huffed.

The young cardinal’s air of formality broke. He stuffed a few locks of his curly, dark, brown hair beneath his red skullcap and answered, “My apologies Francine, Gianni couldn’t fit into his regular robes, he’s been eating too much.”

The boy beside him frowned then awkwardly handed Cardinal Fratelli a thick book of prayers, marked of course, to the proper place. Fratelli traced a cross of blessing into the air and began praying when the child wrestled in its mother’s arms and yelled out. The cardinal briefly winced from this piercing sound then continued.

Finally, taking the baby into his hands, he stared at her bright, brown eyes. This was his niece, the daughter of his brother, Ernesto and childhood friend, Michele. One and only; precious. The baby squirmed in his hold and for a moment, he thought she would climb onto his shoulder! Fortunately, she settled back down. Smiling, Fratelli poured clean water over her head while saying quietly:

“Angelica, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

It was done! Fratelli’s niece was now a member of God’s family. Rejoicing and laughing, his family exited the cathedral. He and Gianni stood alone.

“I am not getting fat…” the boy protested.

His voice echoed flat. Fratelli walked elegantly down the church aisle, reached a side door and answered, “If we don’t work on your eating habits, you will be.”

Gianni grumbled something under his breath.

“What was that?” Fratelli asked.

“Nothing… Your Eminence.”

Returning to the cool interior of his villa, the cardinal handed Gianni over to Dina, the housemaid. Two years ago, she had taken the boy in and adopted him. She hugged Gianni, patted his head and whisked him off to help in the kitchen. As for Fratelli, he rushed upstairs to prepare for dinner at Francine’s house. As his aunt and matriarch of the family, she invited him over and despite his many preoccupations, he couldn’t refuse.

Fumbling around the top of his cluttered dresser, Fratelli found his hairbrush and combed his hair. He figured all was well and retreated back downstairs into his private chapel to pray. The space was cool, dimly-lit and silent. Staring pensively towards the altar and golden tabernacle which contained the bread of Christ’s presence, Fratelli spoke:
You, O Lord, are the giver of all joy. I thank you for the graces you have outpoured upon my niece, little Angelica. May she be raised up in the family of God and grow to be a true daughter of the Church. I am so happy today…please don’t let my happiness fade now as I go visit my Aunt, Lord, for you know how difficult she can be sometimes…”

Fratelli left the chapel, walked through the hallway and opened the door to leave.

“Wait,” Dina said, suddenly approaching, “You can’t go alone, it’s after dark.”

The cardinal groaned, “Francine lives only a short distance, I’ll be fine.”

“Alright, Your Eminence, just this once- but please have your brother walk you back. He is after all, the city’s constable and will protect you well.”

With a nod, Fratelli opened the door and left.

Birds flitted and chirped overhead against the moonlight sky. Fratelli increased his pace, watching them fly from rooftop to rooftop, his mind filled with joyful thoughts. He rounded a corner and passed a small square lined with closed-up markets then headed down the road towards Francine’s house. The figure of a grown man immediately stood in his way. Fratelli felt fear lumping in his throat. He should have listened to Dina.

“Your Eminence. It’s me Alfred.”

“Oh dear, you frightened me so much!” Fratelli replied, clutching the golden cross that dangled from his chest, “Don’t do that again.”

“Sorry, sorry!” Alfred stuttered, “I just need to talk to you.”

“Go ahead,” Fratelli said.

Though he wanted to arrive at Francine’s house soon, he hid his impatience and listened while Alfred began,

“Please help me, I am very angry at my son, I don’t know how to express my anger besides yelling at him…”

Fratelli stayed a moment, gave Alfred some advice, blessed him and then said he must be on his way. Finally, Alfred let Fratelli go and he reached Francine’s house a half hour late.

The house was bright, warming and welcome as Fratelli stepped inside. A servant took his cloak and hat and he walked into the dining room where many voices conversed. He could hear Philomena, his youngest cousin, Ernesto, Michele and squeaking Angelica. Seeing him, they silenced- little Angelica too, as if sensing his presence. Francine stood from their midst and exclaimed:

“You’re late again Angelo!”

“I apologize; I had to counsel a parishioner…” Fratelli said, trying to smile.

Francine almost smiled but she bent her lips back into a frown.

“Well, we are your family.”

“Yes I know, I know.”

He remained there awkwardly, folding his hands and toying with the big, golden ring on his right hand.

“Are you going to sit down?” Francine asked.

Nodding, Fratelli answered, “Yes, yes…”