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(Realm of Elysia)

In the darkness lit by a single candle, Bren stood as Desere helped her undress, then lay her down on a feathery bed, spent and empty. Like a room with all the furniture gone, suddenly there was too much of her.

Brenzel, looking up at her friend, noticed that she undressed, too. Like someone gazing from afar, she felt removed from everything present. Desere’s form, silhouetted in the dim light, came towards her, slipping in beside her.

Looking at her, Bren asked, “Why?”

Desere, moving a few strands of hair from her eyes, replied, “Because you have need.”

Feeling the warmth of her body, Bren turned over, as Desere conformed to her, hugging her gently.

I’ve never told anyone this before

“I’ve never told anyone before, but I did something terrible, Desere, something I don’t think I can ever be forgiven for.”

Desere reached over and took her hand in hers saying, “Beloved, YHWH can forgive anything. All you have to do is ask.”

Far into the night Bren recounted how, in the midst of winter, with nothing to eat and hardly any heat, she sat in the dim light of evening, cradling and rocking her newborn.

“It’d taken hours for her to fall asleep; my milk wasn’t enough. She was hungry. My father, sick, lay coughing in the corner of our one room house. Looking at her and then at him, I made up my mind.

“I wrapped myself and my baby in the only blanket we shared and left for town. It was bitterly cold and my feet felt like ice when we finally reached the nunnery.

One last look

“I left her at the sisters’ door. I put a small scrap of paper in the blanket’s folds and a piece of jewelry my mother had given me. Taking one last look, as I laid the bundled blanket on the step, I stood and knocked on the nuns’ door with all my strength. As fast as I could, I ran to the corner building across the street as my baby began to wail.

“It was only minutes, but seemed like forever, as I hid in the shadows. When no one came, I almost went back to get her, but as I stepped out, I heard the creaking of the door, and two nuns appeared. They took her, Desere, they took my baby. I died inside as the door closed.

“I stumbled home, sobbing and so numb inside I didn’t even care about the cold anymore. By the time I entered the house I was half frozen. My father warmed water and rubbed my feet and hands as I screamed with pain.”

Desere stroked her hair, saying, “I am sorry Bren, I’m so sorry.”

“The terrible thing was, the thousand daggers I felt as my limbs came back to life was better than the pain I felt in my heart.”

I failed

Turning towards Desere, Brenzel said, “I failed her, I failed my daughter, what woman does that? If I’d held on a little longer maybe something would have changed and we’d still be together.

“I feel so guilty for being here where everything is perfect, wearing beautiful clothes, eating good meals, warm and well taken care of. I don’t know anything about her, I never saw her first step, heard her first word. I don’t even if she still lives.”

Feeling Bren’s loss, Desere asked, “What was her name?”

Bren thought back to the small piece of paper she had tucked between the folds of the blanket that bore her name. Of how she took one last look at her daughter’s cherub-like face as she did.

Bren said in a barely audible voice, “Iris.”

The Italian countryside is nice this time of year

(Vatican City, 1690)

Cardinal Lambert arrived at mid-day on a pleasant summer afternoon at his villa. One of the perks of being high up in the Order was getaways just like this. These estates, taken from those who ran afoul of Beauty’s cohorts, served as centers for clandestine activities, or the occasional family outing like today.

So far, thankfully, Fiammetta’s love affair with him had been kept quiet. Yet, Tim knew that constant vigilance was necessary so that her powerful family, the Piccaolmini’s, didn’t find out the full extent of their dalliance. To be sure, neither he nor Fiammetta or the boys were in any real danger from without, but The Order did not look kindly on familial attachments. Prostitutes, affairs with wayward wives were, of course, assumed of their members, but true love, that was something that, if known, called into question a man’s allegiance – and their Majesty suffered being second to no one.

A day early

Fiammetta ran to greet him at the gate, kissing him lusciously, delighted that he had come a day early. The boys, growing big, ran also to receive their hugs and inevitable presents. Gian, the oldest, was initially stand offish, but had grown fond of the big monk over the last year. Fiammetta’s youngest, Leonetto, slipped into the role of favored son quite easily, endearing himself to Tim with his sweet innocence and guileless heart.

Maria, now his Italian lover’s full-time servant, kept the house well in all respects. While Tim paid her handsomely for her service, he was sure that Maria served his family out of her heart and not just because of his purse.

After dinner, Tim read scriptures to the boys and told them folk tales of his youth. As the sun went down, Maria carted them off to bed, leaving Tim alone with the love of his life.

Pleasingly plump

“You’re particularly beautiful today, Fia,” Tim said as she leaned over into him on the divan. Her red hair, plaited in Greek style, fell luxuriously on her shoulders. She’d put on some pleasing weight, which Tim found very attractive. In all aspects, she was a classic Roman beauty.

“Thank you for coming early, I missed you so,” Fiammetta cooed. She went on to talk about the small things that had happen in his absence, how Gian had fallen from a tree, bumping his head. She related that Tim would be shortly accosted by the boys concerning a puppy, which they deemed vital in the countryside. In fact, it was all they had talked about for the last week.

Tim said, “Well, dear, I will brace myself for their campaign,” as he smiled and drew her closer.

In the still of the night

Later, in the still of the night, as she lay next to him, Fiammetta said, “My love, I am so thankful to God for you. I never knew love could feel this way or that I was worthy of it.”

“I think you are worthy of everything I could possibly give you, sweet one.”

“These last months have been heaven to me, Tim.”

Feeling his heart burst, Tim rolled over and kissed her deeply, passionately again. Her body shuddered as she sighed.

Then, realizing she’d been working up to something, Tim asked, “What is it, my love?”

Looking into his eyes in the dimly lit room she revealed, “I have news, dear, hopefully very good news for you.”

Perplexed, Tim said, “What is it?”

“My love, I’m with child.” Then she said with a smile, “You’re going to be a father, Father.”