Friday, February 18, 2011
Episode IV

Horatius reclined on the fur of a slain bear in his troubled brooding. He had hoped to be rid of Ráichéal, but instead had attached himself to her again and now had to divide his time ‘twixt herself, Katrina, and more vigorous, sporting interests. He had never much liking for sleep, but his growing interests in the sophistry of diplomacy were like to deprive him of all hours of retreat.

A wave of his valiant hand, and he left off contriving his new rota, and took up the papers of his concerning his woodland properties. Thereupon the manservant entered breathless.

‘Master, thy presence is wanted at court.’
‘The castle’s or the province’s court?’
‘The province’s.’
‘Ready my carriage.’

The valet startled and clutched at his heart, ‘The carriage sir? Thou wilt not go on horseback?’

‘Nay, shall I arrive dishevelled before my fellow statesmen? I must finish perusing these papers anyhow. There will be no time on the morrow. See to the carriage then.’

‘Very good, Master.’
* * *
Following the jostling of the darkened carriage, Horatius alighted with the gayest freedom from his seldom employed hansom, leaving his property’s papers bound handsomely in twine, all business of self concluded. He was greeted with raised right hands by all his colleagues—so firmly possessed as they were of his infallibility and thus indispensable presence.

‘An irksome matter faces us tonight, Horatius,’ said one of the Ministers, ‘A lady of rank wishes to settle on a small vacant estate toward the southern boundary on the sea. She demands our decision forthwith.’

‘And why should it not be aye?’ Horatius asked, a line as thin as gossamer creasing in his great brow, ‘Have not the poor of that region suffered long enough from that land lying fallow?’

The Ministers’ eyes darted to one another like marbles whirling on a child’s table in their distress, before they settled on Horatius again. ‘She is an infidel, Horatius. A devotee of Mahound!’ said the Minister of Defence, waving a handkerchief under his nose as if to dispel the sting of sulphur. But Horatius smiled broadly and inhaled through leonine nostrils, as though to rile the man.

‘And this troubles thee? Well, well, let us gauge the predicament. Can she pay taxes?’

‘Aye,’ said the Minister of the Treasury, ‘she comes with a small retinue and a great fortune.’

‘Then you may to thy bed,’ Horatio said, As your concern is clearly resolved, Minister.’ That august gentleman looked about the table with a wringing of his long, white hands, ‘We have not tallied our— ’

'All here stand to witness thy being in favour of the lady’s residing. Why keep thy wife awake? Away to thy sleep!’ an imperious sign of Horatio’s hand, and the minister sat like a chastened child, collecting his papers.

‘And now, Copius,’ he turned to the Minister of Agriculture, ‘dost thou not require that the estate be brought to full fruit? It has long been vacant at our expense.’

‘And the lady? Has she made good her case that she would use well this land?’
‘Then thou shouldst depart for home as well, for thy vote is taken in favour of agriculture.’
‘But the principle of piety—’
‘Is not thy ministry. Thou hast been charged with the care of foodstuffs for bodies, not souls. Tally in her favour and go.

‘And our venerable Minister of Defence,” Horatius spake, turning, ‘For sooth, a spy would not choose so remote a residence, and if danger is thy concern, we could but incur hostility in refusing her grant.’

‘Horatius,’ the lord evened his gaze with the taller man’s, ‘All acknowledge the worldly gain of her stay, but we hesitate to admit an infidel into our bosom.’

‘It meseems that the Archbishop should advise us on the best course for our souls. Is he present?’ An uncomfortable silence thickened with swallows and the clearing of throats followed this shaft of Horatius’s tongue.

‘Ah,’ he said triumphantly, ‘His Excellency has no objection to her stay? Then Heaven and Earth are as one, and you have waited on this troublesome instrument, myself, to utter that mere phrase. Away to your beds and homes, good men, and be sure to have your wives prepare some dainty reception for the lady, when her calling time chances on your own abodes.’ With a bow punctuating the argument, Horatius withdrew, his step light with the satisfaction of a conflict dispelled like mist before the summer sun.
* * *
The next morning found Horatius just finishing his cravat, when the grey dawn transmuted into an aurora of colour, much in the same fashion that Ráichéal converted base metals into gold. Their last eventide had been full of many such prodigies with dark wanderings through the tall groves in search of fae rings and nightly herbs. And Katrina had been so lovely the luncheon of the previous day, a feast she had executed herself and which ended with a hardy ride over the bald, green mounds in the north, one of the lady’s cherished haunts.

Horatius had slapped a spray of dust from his boot and pulled it over his doeskin breeches, when the valet slipped through his boudoir’s open door.

‘Master, a lady is here for thee.’

‘At this hour?’ Horatius exclaimed in perplexity. Katrina would be chanting the Morning Office, and Ráichéal, clipping her dewy plants.

‘Yes, she has stopped from the road toward her newly acquired state and hearing of thine hours, has begged admittance to thank thee for some favour.’

‘Ah, the Mussulwoman!’ Horatius laughed broadly, ‘Well, she must break her fast with me. I will receive her grandly; show her to the great room while I don my long jerkin.’ The valet cringed, either from the guest’s creed or his master’s eccentricity and beat a hasty retreat unto the asylum of solitary duty.


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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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