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The Hangover

(Realm of Elysia)

Bren awoke with a splitting headache. Lying there, she didn’t know where she was, though her clothes were still on – at least that was something. Feeling pressed, she needed to find a toilet and fast. As she tried to sit up, the room spun as she heard a knock on the door. Irritated, she said, “Go away.” The door opened anyway, as that funny man in that awful hat entered softly.

Later, staggering back from the privy, hand sliding along the wall to steady herself, Bren allowed James to help her back into bed. Her pretty red dress was all crumpled and torn from the day before. She murmured, “I don’t feel so well,” as she lay down, curling up into a fetal position.

“Here, drink some of this, it’ll help.” James said as he handed her some sort of tea. Body aching, she nevertheless rolled back over and, taking the hot brew, drank a sip. After a short space she did feel better, so drank more.

“I must look a mess,” she said as she finished the cup, becoming more herself. James remained quiet, looking concerned.

What happened?

As reason returned and nausea left, Brenzel asked timidly, “What happened? Why am I in bed?” fearing the worst. Honestly she didn’t remember anything after the first bottle.

Well, from what Darren says, you had, “All kinds of need.”

Oh my God, Bren thought

“But…”, James paused…”Edenites don’t do well with local wine, so you passed out in his arms before he even got a chance to kiss you.”

Relief rushing into her, Bren looked down, saying, “You must think I’m awful.”

Surprised, James said, “Brenzel, I don’t think that at all, it was my fault, I shouldn’t have left you alone. You didn’t know.”

Taking a moment to sort through her feelings, she dared to look up at James with pleading eyes, asking, “Please, don’t tell Joshua.”

“Don’t worry, this will just be between you and me,” he assured, thinking to himself, Oh no, I’m not going to utter a word about this to him! “Try to sleep a bit, I’ll bring something to eat from the inn after a little while. I’ve set out some clothes from your pack there on the table when you want to change.”

“Thank you,” Bren said as she she relaxed, thinking, He’s not that bad.

James, pulling the blanket up and arranging it around her shoulders, thought, She’s just like a child, kind of sweet in her own way. Maybe he isn’t wrong about her after all.

Crisis passed, Bren drifted into a deep sleep as the bedroom door closed with barely a sound.

Ego Sum Via Veri Ta Et Vita

(Vatican City, 1690)

Tim sat underneath the mosaic of Christ, which said in Latin, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” finishing some paperwork. His servant came in, standing silently until the cardinal acknowledged him, saying “What is it?”

“The honorable Matteo Imperiali is here to see you, father.”

Considering for moment, he instructed, “Wait another half hour, then show him in.”

“Yes, Father” the young man said, turning, leaving quietly.

Tim leaned back in the large, ornate chair, his fingertips and thumbs together, considering how to proceed. He had broken the man physically, that much was clear from the morning. Yet, his kind was notoriously duplicitous once the imminent threat was over. Moreover, to have kept his secret so successfully for so long, argued a keen mind practiced in deception. Once back in his own domain, Tim mused, his courage might return. Sighing, Tim thought, I dislike weak men, they are the worst sorts to deal with – and the most dangerous. The threat of physical pain is not enough, I must also capture his mind.

The Red Door

Matteo ached all over, especially his lower back and joints. Now he stood uncomfortably a few feet from a scarlet double leaf door, knowing his adversary lay on the other side. He waited, wondering when the servant would call him. Imperiali’s hands still shook slightly, forcing him to will his fear under control.

I am alive, that’s all that matters, he thought to himself as he stood there. Hatred burned within his heart as he lingered before the red door. Inside lurked a very confident viper, an inhuman monster that could blithely eat breakfast while he suffered humiliation and pain. Someone very powerful, yet unknown to him and his circle. “Bastard,” Imperiali said under his breath, “I will survive this, no matter what the cost, and I’ll have my revenge.”

The door opened slowly, and the nobleman cautiously entered, eyes darting furtively around the room. The man of perhaps 28, born to wealth, accustomed to privilege, sported a full beard neatly trimmed, with a boyish look, wearing fine attire. Tim observed dryly, he cleans up well.

A small chair positioned in front of the cardinal’s desk, commanded him to sit.

Walking slowly, with as much dignity as he could muster, he sat, trying not to grimace from his aching muscles, not daring to look up.

To your health!

Cardinal Lambert called for wine, then sat staring at the humbled man as they waited.

Finally, the servant poured the red liquid into two pewter goblets shaped like a woman’s head looking down disdainfully. Tim took his goblet as the servant carefully placed another in the sweating, shaking hands of Matteo.

Finally, Tim broke the silence by raising his cup high and saying, “To your health!”

Liquid sloshing slightly, Imperiali put the wine to his lips and drank, then let his hand and goblet come to rest on his lap.

“Come now,” Tim said in a jovial voice, “you’re not dead and relatively intact, drink up and let us talk about your future.”

Finishing his wine, the nobleman thought to himself grimly, now we come to it.

Tim, talking like they were old acquaintances, inquired how his mother and father’s health fared. Then, he asked how his brother, currently visiting a cousin in the north country was. In fact, the Cardinal rattled through every immediate member of his family, knowing precisely who they were with and what they were doing.

Matteo thought, you don’t know everything.

Then in one final blow, the man sitting under Christ’s gazed asked pointedly, “How fares your man servant, Pietro?”

What do you want?

That cut deep. The snare was complete. With that, Matteo raised his head and, looking the Cardinal directly in the eyes, stated, “What do you want.”

Aw, there he is, Tim thought to himself. Matteo’s carefully crafted mask of a effeminate dandy, fell from his face like a curtain drawn away in the morning’s light.

After a moment, as Impreiali looked at him steadily, Tim said, “I have a proposal, one which I believe you will find acceptable.”

Here it comes. . .As he listened, surprise increased by the moment. If he’d not been tortured the night before, he’d have believed that the man before him was joking, or out of his mind. Yet, after the Cardinal finished by saying, “That is all you have to do,” the man’s logic made an odd kind of sense, opening up a way forward that appealed to his “situation.”

“Truthfully, that’s the sum of it. You get to live your life as you wish, your family gets what they desire, and you play the happily married man ever after. Of course, as I said, after the marriage, social engagements will be limited to once or twice a year as decorum requires, but she will live here in Rome while you reside in your country estate.”

And that’s it?

“And that is it?”

“That is it.”

Sitting in silence for a moment, considering his lack of options, Matteo Imperiali thought to himself, so this is his mistress and he cares for her a great dealthat’s his Achilles. Then the man on the small chair smiled faintly as he said, “I agree.”

Face losing all semblance of conviviality, the big monk across the table stated, “I believe it would bore us both to state the obvious. Suffice it to say, that if you fail in any point of our agreement, even in a minor detail, judgment will be swift and brutal.”

Swallowing hard, the subdued man replied, “I understand completely.”

Taking one last long look, Cardinal Lambert said, “I’m glad we have an understanding.”

Putting everyone to bed

That evening, Fiammetta and Maria served a wonderful dinner of rabbit stew. Later, after Tim kissed both boys goodnight, Maria bundled them off to bed. Tim, in the silence that followed, turned to his lover, kissing her deeply. After a few moments, feminine curiosity getting the better of her as Tim undid her bodice, Fia asked, “What did he say?”

Tim, continuing to work his way to her bosom, said, “We discussed the matter over breakfast.”

Moving slightly away and sitting up, the Italian beauty asked, “And what was his answer?”

Tim, putting his arms over his head, replied, “Well, we talked at length and he realized that my proposal, in fact, solved a lot of his own “concerns”. In the end, I believed he realized it was a win for everyone. We came to an understanding.”

“And that’s it?” Fiammetta said.

“That’s it. His lawyer will work out the details and give his family the good news in a few days.”

Feeling much better than she thought she would about the whole situation, Fiammetta knew Tim was hiding what really went on. Her Timothy was a man of strength though, protecting his woman and family in the only way he knew how, and that was all the really mattered. She slipped down her dress saying, “Take me.”