Striding to the rear of the arched whitewashed hallway, she opened the door, another old, dark, heavy, iron-bound piece of wood. Hinges creaked and her belly rumbled. She entered the room as she had been given instruction.
Eva cast her eyes upon the presence she had felt. A man sat in a white wicker chair in a far corner of the room. The room was spacious and brightly painted. The man was not as she had expected.
The few bishops she had encountered were invariably dressed in white vestments and miter. They bore always a scepter of gold and an air of indifferent superiority. Whether their character gave merit to such authority seemed of little consequence.
Yet this cleric was relaxed, showing no shred of haughtiness. He did not purse his lips or attempt a look of piety. He was dressed in the plain, brownish tunic and sandals of a pilgrim. Much like she had imagined Jhesu, blessed be his name, would have been clothed. Eva found it curious that though she had been able to sense his presence in the villa, no shadows smudged the spirit air around him, quite unlike other bishops she had encountered.
At the sight of her, this bishop seemed enlivened and spoke first. His words were fluent Latin, unsurprisingly, but infused with an accent that gnawed at the rear of her mind. One she could not quite place. “Pax vobiscum, my lady. For many seasons I have prayed incessantly this moment would show itself before death claimed one of us. Each day I have lifted my prayers.”
Eva smiled, further disarmed in spite of herself, and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She replied in her best Latin, hoped she was not muddling the words with her Occitan dialect. “You honor me, your grace, calling me lady. Yet this robe of wool reveals your servant to be far from a noblewoman.”
The bishop waved his arm dismissively. “I have seen your work in the transept of Arles’ Cathedral of Saint Trophime. The table of the Eucharist is beautiful, a pure delight. A finer setting for dispensing the blood and body of our Lord I cannot fathom. I would venture to say you accomplished more with the carving of that table alone than a dozen selfish, idle noblewomen contribute to this world in the entire sum of their lifetimes. Truly it is an extraordinary gift you possess.”
Eva demurred, felt the skin of her face grow warm. Likely it embraced a tinge of red. “My Painter said he never reveals the name of his carver. But apparently you know much of me already. I am at your mercy.” The manner of this man put her at ease. “You seem to have been waiting a very long time to make my acquaintance,” Eva continued. “I was left in suspense only as I strode the hallway.” She smiled, yet her mind still held confusion about his presence here.
“Beg pardon, your grace, but what concern has a lord of the Church, one come from another land, with a Beguine of Orange? My Painter said you journeyed an entire fortnight to convene with me.”
“The sum of my journeys to convene with you far exceeds a fortnight.” The bishop bore a relaxed smile, but his deep green eyes looked intently upon her face. “You are the beginning and end of a mission for me.” He sprang to his feet and crossed the distance between them in two strides. Grasped her shoulders and kissed her cheek. “Eva, it is indeed you my heart. You have the look of your father.” Tears welled and escaped the bishop’s eyes, but his expression was of purest joy. “Truly I have waited long for this moment. I have sought you Eva in the cities of Lombardy, planning official visits so that I might seek you out, in Flanders where I thought you might reside with the mulieres sanctae, in the lands of the Languedoc from Montpellier to Beziers to Carcassonne to Toulouse. Even Iberia, where I saw Santiago de Compostela for a second time, but you I saw not. Now Deu has at length led me to you in Provence. I knew not there was a city of women in Orange or any place along the Rhône.”
She embraced the man and looked him in the eye, a deep gaze. The eyes of her fatherlooked back at her. She blinked. Eva had no memory of her father. How did she see his eyes in this man? This bishop had gone to the hallowed shrine of Santiago de Compostela, the church of St. James, the brother of blessed Jhesu, twice in search of her.
“Iberia? Why scour all of Christendom for me?” She realized she had the urge to call him father. “I am no saint. Surely, my lord, you have had matters more pressing in your bishopric to occupy your days.”
The bishop leaned forward and his response was crisp. “None more vital than seeking you.” He looked toward the window once more. “Even now I fear that day fades and night draws nigh.”
Eva smiled even as a pang rippled through her gut. “You speak as a troubadour. Were you once a jongleur as was the bishop of Toulouse? Pray tell the meaning of your words poetic. Are they part of a song?”
The bishop shook his head. “I am no troubadour. It has been not a lively or celebratory quest seeking you Eva, nor a safe one.” He grasped her hand. “Call me Pietro, my heart. We may dispense with formality. Let us also dispense with ignorance, for there is much you do not know. You have lived with a potent danger concealed these many years.”
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