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(Vatican City, 1693)

As the nightmare descended, Fiammetta stood in a crowd looking upward as Pilate condemned Christ to death, the Son of God saying nothing. Later, as she followed, they laid the cross upon him, his legs almost buckling under it’s weight. Agony in his face, he moved forward determinedly, soldiers speaking abuse. Still, Fia followed, carried along with the crowd, heart breaking with every unsteady step her savior took. Stumbling, Jesus fell to the stone street. A woman rushed forward, taking her savior’s face in her hands, weeping, trying to wipe him with her red cloak…

Suddenly, it was her looking into Christ’s eyes as she touched his face. He spoke something…she strained to hear – “. . .I give my life… that you may live.” Suddenly, the soldiers picked him up, forcing him onward. She knelt still, the crowd flowing around her roughly, leaving her staring at her hands, wet with his blood.


Outwardly resting, Fiammetta moved fitfully through her dream. Now, walking in an old part of Vatican City, decaying and decrepit, shadowy buildings rose around her like great, gaping coffins. In her red cloak, Fia hurried down unfamiliar streets. Behind her, something lurked in the shadows – making hair bristle on the nape of her neck. Looking backwards, she could almost make out – something.

Fear gripped her chest, squeezing her heart, making it hard to breathe. Running in slow motion, glancing again and again behind her, she saw the world begin to burn, everything turning into flame as red eyes looked at her through the fire. She felt the heat of the inferno on her back, hotter and hotter, then suddenly…

Maria, am I evil?

Maria, hearing her mistress’ scream piercing the night, hurriedly threw on her robe, running to her room. In bed, Fia sat bolt upright, beads of perspiration revealed by the candle Maria held, mouth trying to speak, but no sound coming out.

“Mistress, are you alright?” the older woman inquired.

After a moment, hand on her chest, Fia cried out, “I’m damned!”

Placing the candle on her bedside table, sitting down close to her on the bed, Maria gathered Fia in her arms. Still in the grips of the phantasm, the younger woman struggled, flailing about. Restraining her hands, shaking her, Maria shouted, “Fiammetta, wake up!”

Finally, Fia calmed somewhat as she heard the sound of Maria’s heart, the night terror beginning to release her mind and recede. Shaking and sobbing, turning her puffy eyes upwards, searching Maria’s face, she asked, “Am I evil? Is there any hope for me?”

Maria answered, “No, child, don’t think that, you’re not a bad one. You’ve a good and kind heart.”

Trembling, Fia said, “I saw him Maria, I saw Christ in my dream… on his way to be crucified! When he stumbled, I held his face in my hands. He looked at me. He said “That you may live.” When he left carrying his cross, I saw my hands.” Putting out her hands, palms up, she cried, “His blood was on my hands Maria! I saw it! His blood is on my hands!” Terrified, clutching at Maria’s arm and shoulder, Fia whimpered, “What is happening to me? How am I going to bear this guilt? I love Timothy, but I need answers!”

Maria, stroking Fia’s hair, said softly, “Yes, child, if you must, go to him, for your peace.”

In the morning, Tim’s lover bathed, dressed, steeling her resolve. She loved Tim with all her heart, that never waned, but the things they did to make their love possible….how could she live with the guilt?

A leaf on an evil wind

Cardinal Lambert, since escaping Beauty’s wrath, buried himself in carrying out her orders even more vigorously than before. The ivory-handled twin to his own letter opener lay where Lot left it on his desk, wrapped in the white cloth stained with blood. Tim loathed to touch it, lest it make it somehow more real. It mocked the only part of his life he’d imagined still pure, beyond the reach of his vile calling.

Feeling like a leaf tossed on an evil wind, he’d lost all ability at self governance. A unnatural force beyond his control shaped every waking moment of his wretched life. Working to exhaustion, using activity as a liqueur to numb his mind and heart, Cardinal Lambert strenuously refused to be alone with himself.

Over and over, in his mind’s eye, looking at his love’s trusting face, upturned and expectant, he turned away in shame, heart breaking into a thousand pieces. He’d done this; it was all his fault, no one to blame but himself.

I have to know

Down the great hall Fia went, driven by the need to know. Tim was a hard man who did what was necessary, but this business with Matteo felt too far, too much, threatening to choke the very life out of their relationship. In her heart of hearts, the thinnest sliver of hope remained that perhaps her lover was blameless, but all her reason relentlessly testified against it.

Standing in front of the doors, dressed completely in black, Fia felt a momentary panic. Would he be angry, send her away at her most vulnerable moment? Could she really face him, ask him the black question burning a hole in her heart? Feeling the blood pounding in her temples, she decided, No matter what, I have to know, and knocked softly.

After a moment, the Cardinal’s secretary opened the door, pausing as he looked at the woman in black before him, saying, “Yes, how may I help you?”

“I am here to see Cardinal Lambert,” she stated.

Trying to figure out the woman’s intention, he said, “I’m sorry, but the Cardinal is busy at the moment. Do you desire an appointment?”

Lifting her veil, Fiammetta looked full into the astonished man’s eyes, saying, “You know who I am, announce me at once.”

In panic, the secretary scampered ahead as Fiammetta walked through the front door and into the waiting area.


The reception room stood tall and ornate, magnificent as befitting the Cardinal’s office. She’d never seen it before, because Tim strenuously insisted their public lives be kept separate for the sake of appearances. Fia sensed, though, that she’d never fully understood her husband’s true position and power. The Holy See’s own reception area could scarcely have been more impressive.

Knocking at the inner doors to the Cardinal’s office, the secretary opened one of the doors cautiously, saying something in low tones. Fia could see him flinch at the reply, eyes lowering. After a moment, opening the door fully, he bowed, hands gesturing in a small sweeping motion for her to enter.

Walking slowly, deliberately, Fia stood upright, her dress flowing on the red marble floor as she walked. Tim stood behind his desk directly below a large mosaic of Christ, Latin inscription to one side reading, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

As she approached, the door shutting behind her, Fiammetta sensed Tim wasn’t pleased. Her hope for kinds words faded as she approached. Suddenly, feeling like she’d made a terrible mistake, at a loss for words, her heart panicked.

I shouldn’t have come

Tim, looking at the shapely woman, understanding her attire’s import, felt cornered. He’d been avoiding her, trying to hide in his work. However, she’d unexpectedly come to him, trapping him. After a long pause Tim sighed, came over, and taking her in his arms, held her close. Fia trembled, quietly sobbing, her cheek pressed hard against his chest.

“What’s the matter, my love? What troubles you?” Tim asked, reassuringly.

Pulling away, hands grasping his, Fia said, “I feel so badly, I shouldn’t have come. If I’d only said something earlier, I could have stopped it before….”

Tim, heart breaking, reassured, “It’s not your fault, Fia, I pushed you into this, I’m the only one to blame for his death.”

Looking up at him, “I only spoke in anger to Maria about killing him, Tim, I never thought it would go this far! That day he came to me, when you were there, he was trying to make amends. I should have told you what he said earlier, I shouldn’t have waited!”

Holding her tightly, his heart pounding, Tim confessed, “I failed to protect you, my love, I’m so sorry. If I could change things I would.”

He didn’t deserve this

“I know you have a hard job, Tim, I know you must do things, but Prince Imperiali didn’t deserve this!” Looking up into his face, Fiammetta said, “I can’t go on like this! I feel I’m losing my very soul!”

Tim said, “I know, I said I wanted to kill him, too, and for that I’m sorry. I know you only did it out of love for me.”

Fia, feeling like they were talking at cross purposes, urged, “Timothy, I just want to know the truth, that’s all, whatever that is. I need to know.”

Tim, looking at her with compassion said, “I feel the same towards you, my love, you can unburden your soul to me, I will always love you, too.” Then looking perplexed, Tim asked, “What…..truth?”

Fia, not knowing how to put it, struggled for words, saying, “You know. . .what happened to Prince Imperiali.”

Tim walked back around his desk and took the cloth that held the blade, bringing it to Fia, unwrapping it before her.

Upon seeing it, Fia’s heart sank, recognizing it as Tim’s missing letter opener from his study at her home. She had assumed it had been stolen by one of the servants, but…

So it’s true

Barely able to speak, she said, “So, it’s true. This is the murder weapon?”

“Yes. It was found driven through Matteo’s heart. I am so sorry I drove you to do this.”

Staring at the knife, then up at Tim, Fia said, “Drove me to do – what?”

“This whole ruse with Matteo was a bad idea from the beginning. If I wouldn’t have pushed you into the sham marriage – “

Stepping back slightly, Fia exclaimed, “I didn’t kill him!”

“But. . . this knife was found in him, Fia.”

“It’s your knife!”

Tim said, “I didn’t murder him, Fia, this was found by the person I sent … to…”

Looking deep into his eyes, she felt his sincerity. He didn’t have a clue what she was implying. Then anger rose hot in her face as she blurted out, “You’re accusing me of murdering him?!”

Through the key hole

Suddenly, from outside in the reception room, the secretary heard a single loud slap. Hurrying to the door, he knocked, softly, then more loudly saying, “Cardinal, is all well?” Heated voices rose then suddenly quieted. Then all at once, the secretary heard objects breaking on the floor in a cacophony of clinking, shattering, and thuds.

Kneeling down, he looked through the keyhole, froze for a moment, then wheeled about, face turning red as a beet. After awhile, he got up, walked to the front doors and locked them, sitting carefully in his desk.

Fia’s rapturous face shone up at Tim’s saying, “I love you.” Tim, amazed at how quickly Fia had gotten out of her mourner’s dress, felt the rush of love pounding through him as he took her. As if two opposing dams burst at the same time, they rushed together with pent up fury of nature, mingling their waters.

Above, serene as ever, Christ looked down upon His children. Below, Fia’s hair fell back behind the desk, as she arched, screaming, “Oh God, Yes!”