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This Rough Magic: Chapter Seventeen

       Last updated: Friday, July 11, 2003 22:41 EDT



    It was easier, Kat had learned, to say yes than to plan a wedding.

    The momentous day when Marco's marriage was annulled and she had been able to actually say "yes" had been a wonderful one. The trouble then began immediately, although she had not realized it until the next day.

    But the next day...

    She awakened, remembered with a rush everything that had happened, but most importantly, that she was going to marry Marco! Accordingly, she had plotted her way through a wonderful bath, perfumed and luxurious, that Madelena set up for her before the fire, as soon as she had finished breaking her fast.

    A small wedding, she had planned. Just the grandfathers, Benito, Maria-perhaps a few guests. At Saint Hypatia di Hagia Sophia.... Dare I ask Francesca?

    She would certainly ask Father Lopez to officiate.

    As the day progressed Kat had gotten the sinking realization—sinking like a stone anchor at sea—that the "small private wedding" she'd been planning was going to be a matter of public—very public—celebration. And she would have very little to say in the matter.



    There was no question of where—the Basilica. The Basilica di San Marco. With the banquet to follow at the Doge's Palace, of course. Nor any question of who would be invited—everyone. Those not important enough for a place inside would be crowding the Piazzo di San Marco. She had stopped worrying about who would pay for all of this once she got to that point. This was no longer a wedding, it was a state occasion, and the state would absorb it. The state would also absorb the feast for the common folk, which she insisted on.

    "My friends will be out there!" she had said stubbornly. "So unless you wish to have the ambassadors sharing their tables with Arsenalotti..."

    Petro Dorma had gotten her point immediately. There would be a feast with enough to stuff every man, woman, and child in Venice until they were sick.

    On one other thing she put her foot down. "My attendants will be Maria Garavelli, and Francesca de Chevreuse," she said to Dorma, flatly, when he presented her with a list of suitable bridal attendants. "Just Maria and Francesca. No one else."

    She fixed him with her best glare, the one that usually cowed her most dangerous customers back in the days she'd been smuggling in order to keep Casa Montescue financially afloat. A canal-girl and a whore. But also the woman who got you the Arsenalotti and the woman who kept the Knots on your side.

    Dorma, caught in that glare, folded. "Maria Garavelli... Verrier," he agreed, swallowing. "That will please the Arsenalotti a great deal, certainly. And Francesca de Chevreuse has the good will of the Emperor Charles."

    He did not ask her if she could render up the canal-girl in an acceptable guise; he had wisely left her alone to deal with the piles and piles of paper this behemoth of a celebration had already begun to generate.

    Benito, of course, would be one of Marco's attendants. She didn't know who the others would be, but it wouldn't surprise her to discover one would be his friend Rafael. Two more...interesting choices.

    But at least this way, none of the Casa Vecchi can be offended, because we won't have chosen any of them. Or if they are offended, they can all be offended equally.



    There had never been any question of what dress she would wear. "Your grandmother's," her grandfather had said with pride and a tear in his eye. There was no choice, really. The dress would reflect Casa Montescue, and that dress was, perhaps, the only piece of clothing in the entire house that reflected the fortune that had been in possession of the old House of Montescue.

    She had gone to the storeroom with no doubt in her mind that one thing, at least, would be as it had been in those happier times. After all, hadn't she rummaged out her mother's old gowns to remake for Francesca, and hadn't they been as sound as a bell? The gown she'd found to remake into Maria's attendant's dress had been a glory of scarlet brocade, still, despite all these years.

    So the ruin that met her eyes when she opened the chest that contained her grandmother's wedding gown came as a total shock.

    Silk had discolored, rotted in some places; the brocade was tarnished, the bullion dulled and blackened, the pearls—

    She burst into tears, there on her knees beside the chest in the storehouse, and that was how Francesca had found her.

    Francesca had taken one look at the contents of the chest and gathered her into her arms to let her sob, rocking her a little, and making hushing sounds while she stroked Kat's hair.

    The last person to hold me like this was mother...

    "Here, now," Francesca murmured. "This isn't as bad as you think."

    "But it's ruined!" Kat wailed.

    "Not... quite." Francesca took her chin in one hand and tilted her face to look up. "Firstly, I don't think this is as bad as it looks. And secondly—" Her eyes twinkled, and Kat gulped down her sobs and sniffled "I've been casting about for a gift that you won't already have three dozen of. Unless you really, truly, desire another incomparably, grandiosely hideous silver salt-cellar?"

    Kat shuddered. "A twenty-third? None of which I dare have melted down?"

    Francesca's silvery laugh startled a moth up out of the chest. "You clothed me—now allow me to clothe you. Madame Louise has, as you may have notice, a very accomplished suite of seamstresses working for her. She still is very obliged to me."

    "I had noticed," Kat said, a little embarrassed by the envy she felt for the wonderfully, flatteringly fashionable gown that Francesca wore—and for the air with which Francesca wore it. Next to the former courtesan, she felt as ungainly as a calf.

    "Just close up the chest and we'll have it taken down to the gondola. I just came to thank you for the invitation to be your attendant, and to explain that it would be better for a certain party if I declined it."

    Francesca's raised eyebrow and one finger tapping a ring with an elaborate crest gave Kat the hint.

    "Oh. Oh." She sighed. "Oh, bilgewater. I suppose it wouldn't be a good idea, would it? Your-friend-"

    "Shouldn't be too publicly associated with me," Francesca agreed cheerfully. "Now, if you still want to name someone who will provide everything I can without the shock value..."

    She shook her head.

    "Never mind, then. Let's get this down to my gondola, and we'll salvage every scrap that we can from it—and what can't be salvaged, we'll replace. We," she added, again with that significant tap on her ring, and Kat found herself having to stifle a slightly hysterical giggle at the idea that Manfred of Brittany was going to find himself paying for the dress of a lady he barely knew and had not the slightest chance of finagling into his bed.



    It was the both of them, she and Marco together, who approached the last possibly difficult bit of the wedding plans that deviated from Petro Dorma's orchestrations.

    Marco tapped on the door, at precisely the time of their carefully-made appointment. One no longer sought the quarters of Eneko Lopez unannounced, not now that he was openly the Grand Metropolitan's representative and quartered in the Palace of the Doge.

    "Come in," came the harsh voice. "I assume it is you, Marco Valdosta."

    Marco pushed open the door. Lopez sat at a desk where he had been writing. He pushed his work away, and raised an eyebrow when he saw that Kat was with him. "I had wondered if you felt the need of spiritual council," he said dryly.

    "Actually, we had a favor to ask of you," Kat said, hesitantly. "The Patriarch is conducting the Nuptial Mass, of course, but..."

    She couldn't get the words out; Marco squeezed her hand and supplied them. "We'd like you to be the officiating priest for the marriage."

    Kat saw the imperturbable Eneko Lopez at a complete loss for words, at least for a moment or two.

    "I... would be very pleased," he said at last. "In fact, quite honored. But why? Why me?"

    "For a great many reasons," Kat said. "But it just seemed to us that—as a priest, as the kind of priest you are, you have to do so many things that are so difficult, so dangerous—and no one ever asks you to do anything that is, well, pleasant." She hesitated; corrected herself. "Joyful."

    Then she added, very softly: "We don't think you have nearly enough joy in your life. And you can't do without it, you know. It reminds you why you have to face the bad parts."

    For a moment, she wondered if she'd insulted him. Then amazingly, the grim, stern, rather frightening Eneko Lopez reached up and wiped the merest glitter of a tear from his eye.

    "Thank you," he said simply. "I would be delighted."




    The Church of Saint Hypatia di Hagia Sophia was silent, that silence that speaks of emptiness. For a moment, Kat wondered if she'd come too early. Still, it was supposed to be the night before her wedding day. There would be much to do, if she did go ahead and marry Marco. Part of her, the part that was pragmatic, the part that most people saw, said that she was being ridiculous. At this point, the thing had a momentum of its own, and would carry her along whether or not she wanted it to. But as Patriarch Michael had said, humans were creatures of spirit as well as mundane flesh. And her spirit was troubled. It was always here that she came when she needed to sort that out.

    Ah. Yes, there was a solitary Sibling in her white robes. Kat walked to the Counseling booth, sat down and waited. A few moments later a female voice said: "Peace be with you, my child. How may I counsel you?"

    Kat sighed. "By telling me I'm being stupid, probably. I am supposed to marry tomorrow."

    The dress is ready. It fits like a second skin, and where Francesca found all the bits on no notice at all, I will never know. I look like a queen in it, and Maria looks like a princess in hers. The feasting has already begun, the Basilica is full of candles and flowers and priests. Everything is in place for tomorrow. Only I—only I am suddenly afraid!

    "And? Do you love this man?"

    "More than anything on earth."

    "Is there any reason why you should not be married, daughter?

    "No." Kat twisted her hands. "The Patriarch himself has sanctioned the marriage."

    "I see. Does your husband-to-be abuse you?"

    "Marco? He's the gentlest soul in Venice! The kindest, softest, bravest..."

    "Then what is the problem, daughter? Is it sexual..." The woman hesitated, an element of doubt in her voice. The Siblings were all sworn to chastity and celibacy. Perhaps her counselor felt she might be out of her depth here.

    "No. It's... It's nothing like that. It's spiritual, if anything."

    "Ah. Marriage is a holy institution sanctified by our Lord himself. It is intended to be a union of bodies, minds and spirits."

    Kat took a deep breath. "The man I am going to... supposed to... marry, is possessed. Sort of. Um. Part of him is a pagan magical creature. I am a Christian."

    There was a silence. "I think, Katerina Montescue, that it would be easier if we went out into the church and I used those murals you sometimes sit and admire to advise you."

    "You know who I am?"

    There was a gentle snort of laughter from the other side of the scrim. "Katerina, all Venice knows who you are, now. But I have seen you come to this church for many years. I knew exactly who you were when I sat with Eneko Lopez and listened to you tell of your problems with the smuggling of supplies for the Strega. I listened with some amusement when you put him in his place with questions about Dottore Marina. Then, as now, I listened under the seal of counsel. I did not betray you, then. I will not betray you now, just because I step outside of the booth."

    Kat went out, to find the Sibling waiting for her. "Come. Let us go to the Chrysostom murals. They are not your favorites, but they make my point well."

    They walked down until they stood below the first mural. The golden preacher was portrayed as a gaunt man with the eyes of a hawk. His painted gaze was unrelenting. They seemed to stare through you.

    "He reminds me of Senor Lopez," said Kat, quietly.

    The Sibling nodded. "I think they were cut of the same cloth. He was, like Eneko, a very intense man. And very charismatic. Not always right, however, nor always wise. Narrow-minded and even outright bigoted at times. Yet, with him our Hypatia formed one of the most influential alliances in the history of the church. It was the meeting of those two great minds which set the course of the Christian Church from thenceforth, and put an end to—well, ameliorated, at least—what had become an increasingly entrenched tradition of schismatic dogmatism and heresy-hunting."

    She paused for a moment. "I will not attempt, here and now, to explain the theological complexities of the matter. In the millennium which has gone by since, their tradition has become known as 'Petrine', just as that of St. Augustine has been called 'Pauline.' But, as is so often true, the names obscure as much as they reveal. Both creeds within the church are more like umbrellas than fences. Do not forget that if Sachs was a Pauline, so was the courageous young prince who broke the back of Chernobog's monster—and his companion Erik belongs to the Gaelic creed, which has its own history and doctrines altogether."

    Her mouth grew a little tight. "Nor should you think for a moment that simply because a man calls himself a 'Petrine' that he is not capable of the vilest sins and crimes."

    The Sibling pointed to the next panel, which showed the two, back-to-back. "There you see Hypatia writing, developing the philosophy, and Chrysostom, brilliant orator that he was, expounding it. He provided most of the driving force, she-when necessary, which it often was-provided the diplomacy. Because of that alliance, Hypatia and Chrysostom were able to formalize a doctrine of compassion and acceptance that emphasized wisdom and learning. But-"

    She chuckled. "Not without a multitude of clashes, and even more in the way of compromises. And both of them left their own traditions, which are somewhat distinct. I represent one, Father Eneko Lopez another. The Church needs both, you know."

    The Sibling turned away from her contemplation of murals. "All of this is the basis of the core tenet of the Hypatian order within the Petrine wing of the church. Which, since you choose to come to this church, I assume you are in sympathy with. St Hypatia gave to us that all men and women of good will, ultimately worship the same God, no matter what form they attempt to place on the unknowable. Whether they are Christian, Jew, Parsee or Hindu, Strega, Muslim, or even outright pagans."

    "And what has this to do with my marrying Marco?"

    "You would hardly say he was not a man of good will?"

    "Of course not."

    "And the Lion of St Mark? The Guardian of Venice? We of the Hypatian order know it well. Would you agree that it is a creature of good will, of love?

    Sudden tears filled Kat's eyes. "It loves this place, these marshes and its people... I see. Yes. Thank you. Thank you."

    "It is a pleasure." The Sibling patted her gently. "I foresee yet another union, a meeting of minds and spirits."

    Kat laughed, a slightly watery sound. "Marco can do the diplomacy."



    In the end, the thing did have its own momentum, and Kat and Marco were carried, not along with it, but riding atop it.

    It began with a pair of processions of gondolas that carried her and Maria from Casa Montescue, and Marco and Benito from Casa Dorma, to meet at the Piazza San Marco and disgorge their contents in front of the waiting crowds.

    Kat, veiled from head to toe with the finest of silk gauze, saw everything through a sort of fog. The veil was white, but the overgown of her dress was as blue as the Med on a sunny day, and so stiff with bullion and pearls it could easily have stood by itself. The flower-crown that surmounted it surrounded her in a second mist of the perfume of roses and lily-of-the-valley.

    Kat had a sudden image of herself, from the year before, leaping into the canal to avoid a Schiopettieri sweep—wearing this outfit. She'd have gone down like an anchor! Not even quick-thinking Benito could have saved her.

    The image almost caused her to burst into open laughter. As it was, she couldn't help but continue the procession with her face wearing a grin which, she suspected, was quite unsuitable for the solemnity of the occasion.

    Fortunately, there were plenty of things to distract her. They were met by two sets of minstrels, who serenaded them with love-songs as they made their way in twin processions to the Basilica. And the mobs of Venice, who could be so unruly when they chose, parted like the Red Sea for them without a murmur—and kept their chatter and cheering down to where she could hear the minstrels telling her of the delights of awaiting her.

    Marco's procession arrived at the Basilica first, of course. He was supposed to await her at the altar, so she took her time, trying to move like Francesca, with a willowy, gliding walk that would make her seem to slide along without having any feet. She was very conscious of the Lion on his pedestal as she passed him; was this something more than a statue? She thought she felt his golden gaze on her, warm and benevolent, as she passed by.

    She had thought it would take forever to cross the Piazza. It seemed to take no time at all. She had thought she would feel pressed in by all the people; instead, she felt as if she floated on their goodwill.

    The minstrels left them at the porch of the Basilica, and from within came the sweet voices of children, singing. She held up her head, and saw the path to Marco lying straight ahead of her, and if she did not fly up it, it was through no fault of hers.

    She went through the Nuptial Mass as in a dream, hands that wanted to reach for his clasped demurely in front of her. But finally, finally, came the moment when Eneko Lopez stepped forward with his sober black robes enlivened by a blue stole, and she and Marco rose from their places, and he raised the veil with shaking hands and put it tenderly over her head and they knelt together, hands joined at last beneath Eneko Lopez's, for the blessing.

    And it was at that moment, when she thought that her heart could not hold another drop of happiness, that a faintly glowing paw of golden mist placed itself atop the hand of the priest.

    You will be happy, little sister. It was not a wish, it was a prophecy. And her heart rose, singing.

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