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afternoon tea

Parting pastries

(Realm of Elysia)

Each of the five, laden with boxes and bags, walked out with their parting pastries, thanking Fabulous profusely. Bren couldn’t express her gratitude to her new friend enough, truly feeling that Seraphina’s creations made her look more beautiful than she’d ever felt in her life. Five stunning riding habits for her tour of Elysia, seven dresses for the coming festival, and a magnificent gown for the Last Great Day.

Just before she left, Seraphina led Bren down a long hallway to a very ornate door, saying, “I’ve got a secret. I’m not done with it yet, mind you, and it’s been extraordinarily difficult to create – but – I simply can’t resist!”

Seeing violet

Opening the door, Seraphina ushered Brenzel into a large room with one and only one dress, an exquisite creation beyond anything Bren had ever thought possible. The dress, long and flowing, radiated a soft violet light, almost like an aura, as it sparkled and shimmered. Long sleeves, of the finest embroidery imaginable, draped to either side of an exquisite neck line. Smiling broadly, Fabulous said, “Well my dear, what do you think?

Bren said, “It’s…it’s perfect! I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s fit for a queen!”

“Precisely, dear. It’s fabulous, isn’t it!”

“You’ve outdone yourself Seraphina! It takes my breath away! I’ve never seen it’s match, ever!”

Walking around it, admiring it’s form and workmanship from every angle, Bren asked, “Can I touch it?”

Thoughtful for a moment, Seraphina said, “Yes, just a little..”

As her finger touched the wondrous fabric, it shimmered and sparkled, with a soft violet hue.

“It’s feels almost alive, it responds to my touch!”

Leaning close, the dressmaker asked, “Do it again.”

As Bren caressed the fabric, it shimmered with a violet hue again.

“I didn’t know it would do that, most curious.”

Putting her index finger to her perfect lips, Seraphina cautioned, “Brenzel, this is our little secret.”

“Okay, I promise, but who is it for?” Bren said still gazing at the dress, enthralled with it’s perfection.

“Come, come dear, everyone’s waiting for you!” the dressmaker said, walking back towards the fitting room.

Cardinal incognito

(Vatican City, 1689)

I was autumn in Vatican City as sheets of rain fell in the market, sending everyone scampering for any scrap of cover they could find, most to no avail. Tim, his monks robe laden with water, felt it cling, cold and uncomfortable. Though a Cardinal, he never wore his official robes here, it would attract too much attention. Wearing common friar clothes allowed him to be just another monk while looking for the woman in red.

For weeks since he’d first seen her, night after night, the cold biting his body as it did today, Tim tried in vain to rid himself of her image. Sometimes whipping himself until his back bled, nothing he forced himself endure erased the burning passion for the lady in the market. Prayer, fasting, thousands of Rosaries and Our Fathers, all failed to quench his desire.

As he thought back to those weeks of anguish, Tim remembered wrestling with the thought of breaking his vow of celibacy to be with her. How could he betray his holy faith for carnal love? Finally, resigning himself to hell, the newly hatted cardinal sent Maria, his old, trusted house maid, to find the lady in red.

Waiting, unable to concentrate on anything else, Tim watched impatiently out the door of the servants entrance. Dusk came, night approached, still his emissary delayed. Tim’s apprehension grew. “Why was she lingering? What possible reason could there be? Surely a lady such as her cannot be that difficult find. I should have sent one of my men with her for protection. ” the Cardinal worried in the gathering darkness.

When she finally arrived through the servants’ entrance, he ordered the rest of his staff away, and sat, heart beating, while she gave her report.

Maria, what did you find out?

“Tell me what you learned, Maria,” Tim said.

The mousy maid said, “She was difficult to find, Father Lambert. No one seemed to know her or be willing to talk about her if they did. Finally, your coin loosened some tongues and they told me she is Fiammetta Alcina Piccolomini.”

“A Piccolomini? Surely it can’t be,” Tim said as the bottom began to fall out of his heart.

“Yes, Cardinal, more than one person confirmed this.”

The woman continued say, “Fiammetta is the estranged daughter of the recently deceased Celio Piccolomini. She has fallen out of favor with her family. Her husband passed away a year ago. Some accuse her of being headstrong, for they say that her uncle wants her to marry, but she refuses his choice. Her family cut off her allowance as punishment and now she lives by herself near the market with her two young sons.”

Waving his hand, Tim said, “Leave me.”

That night, tears stained his linen shirt, some falling to the stone, as Tim rocked back and forth on his aching knees. “You fool!” he cried bitterly, “Of all the women in Vatican City, you had to fall for her!”

An ancient and powerful house

The house of Piccolomini was one of the most powerful families in all of Italy. Hailing from Siena, Fiammetta descended from a centuries old, family of wealthy merchants with vast political and ecclesiastical power, two former popes arising from that ancient and powerful house.

Cursing foully, Tim whipped himself again, a spasm of agony racing through his body. “Why! Why, Lord, do you show me someone that I can never have!” he yelled, looking at the silver cross in his hand. It was not unheard of for Cardinals to keep mistresses discreetly, even to visit brothels, but no woman of her station would ever consent to such a low and sordid prospect. “Damn me, damn me, damn me,” spilled bitterly from his lips, fist hitting again and again the cold, unyielding, stone floor.

Yet today, his thoughts returning to the present, heart driven by an unseen force as he searched for Fiammetta in the market, none of his self loathing mattered. If only he could find her, hear one word from her kind lips, imagine the warmth of her hand as she bought fresh bread, at least, for a moment, his heart would sing.

Searching for Fiammetta

“No sir, she has not be in the market for days,” the woman at the bread stall said. “Perhaps she is unwell, she looked pale the last time we met.” Heart beating fast, fearing the worst, he said,

“Do you know where she lives?”

“I…I..couldn’t say, sir,” the bread seller said as her eyes avoided his. Looking sternly at her, his eyes sharp, Tim put the equivalent of a week’s earnings in her hand. Eyes wide, she said, “Come, I think I know where she lives.”

Sloshing through the cobblestone streets and around corners into ever narrower alleys, finally the woman stopped at a nondescript door and knocked. Waiting, nervously, the market woman said, “I don’t think she is home.”

Tim, grabbing her arm tightly, said, “Knock again! Louder!”

“You’re hurting me Father Lambert!”

In the still of the night, a small voice

The door latch fidgeted and then unbolted. In the dim light, a young boy looked up at both of them. Tim said, “Young master, is Fiammetta home?”

In the still of the night, a small voice, a young lad said, “Yes sir, but she is ill.”

“May I enter?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Lead me to your mother, my son.”

Come nearer…

The small entryway, lit by only one flickering lamp, closed in on the Cardinal as his eyes adjusted. Though the home was large, there was only a table with three chairs, and a cupboard. None of the trappings of a family of Piccolomini’s wealth and importance were present.

Coughing, a voice called weakly from down the hallway, “Who’s there, Leonetto?”

The young lad took Lambert’s hand and led him to his mother’s bedside. Looking at the woman, wrapped deeply in blankets, Tim said, “Forgive me m’lady, I am Father Lambert from the market, I heard you might be ill, so I came to see if I might help in some small way.”

“Come nearer, please,” she said. Seeing his face clearly, Fiammeetta’s eyes welled up with tears. “You came,” she said weakly as she took his hand. “In my heart, I knew you would.”

Afternoon Tea

(Realm of Elysia)

afternoon tea

Feeling like a young girl’s doll, Bren sat as her young entourage finished making her look, as they put it, “Fabulous.” Hope deftly weaved Bren’s long, lustrous locks into a waterfall effect as she braided different parts of her hair ending with a fishtail plait at the middle of her back. Grace and Manu worked on her nails and toes, buffing and shining. Felicity chose her necklace and ear jewelry. The earpiece she selected held snugly from her lobe to about mid section, encrusted with diamonds nestled on a lattice of small, open gold loops. Robyn applied soft violet eye shade and made her lips rosy, as well as adding some other slight makeup.

Arriving with the excited five at at around mid afternoon, Bren felt as ravishing as she looked. The dress, one of Seraphina’s special creations for the festival, a beautiful floral print, ended just above her knees, with gossamer straps on bared shoulders. Shoes, of course, were not an issue, for no one wore them on the Holy Mountain anyway.

Six sisters

Entering the antechamber which led to the tea room, Bren felt nervous. The day before, Dove informed her that her “sisters” would be dropping by for formal tea, as well as Traveler and one called, “The Librarian.”

“Are they all Seraphs like you?” Bren had asked.

“Yes, Bren,” Dove answered, “and they’re all excited to meet you.”

Bren thought dryly to herself, as if one of you isn’t intimating enough.

“You needn’t be nervous, Guanyin said she already met you when you were with Wichapi. She was the old lady, remember?”

“Yes, I remember her!” Bren said, thinking back to the power she felt emanating from the ancient squaw.

“She was a Seraph? She looks like that?”

Chuckling, Dove said, “Heaven’s no, darling, she just appeared like that to fit in with her surroundings.”

“So, she can change her form?

“Yes, of course. We all can. Then there’s Thandeka, Alethea, Whaitiri, and Coatlicue, but we like to call her Cutie,” the Elder Seraph finished.

Who is the Librarian?

Bren, trying hard to imagine what meeting them would be like, asked, “Who is the Librarian?” trying to figure out what a musty book collection had to do with afternoon tea.

Looking genuinely excited, Dove said, “It is amazing that she’s coming at all! She’s the most ancient of our kind and hardly ever leaves her sanctuary. The Librarian keeps track of all God’s words, organizing and recording them. Once she heard about our little gathering tomorrow, she asked if she could attend. Can you believe our good fortune! Of course I said yes!”

Bren wondered to herself, What is going on, what is all this about?

Now standing next to Dove, waiting to be introduced, Bren felt totally out of her depth.

As twin leaves began to open, Bren took a deep breath while thinking, You can do this, girl.