“Ah,” Wiliarit said as a slave brought a tray with eggs, honey vinegar pine nut sauce, and a small pitcher of garum and laid it out on a table in the peristylum. “You see, we can meet here.” He took an egg from the bowl, dipped it in the sauce, and poured on a drop of garum. “Just what I needed.”
A second slave arrived with the paint box and a board.
“I can paint here in the light,” Wiliarit said, producing a vellum sheet and attaching it to the board. He settled in on the bench next to Argolicus as the slaves arranged his painting equipment.
Argolicus ignored the food as he listened to Nikolaos reporting on his delivery.
“You could hear Bartholomaeus arguing with Braga, the bishop. Not the words, just the argument. I went in by the slave entrance. A slave took your note to Maria.”
“Why was Braga there? It must be important for him to leave his palace and go to Bartholomaeus,” Argolicus said.
“I don’t know. Their voices were harsh. The father is very loud. As I said, I couldn’t hear the words, just the loud voices.”
The afternoon sunlight slanted on the water fountain.
“Borage,” Wiliarit said. “Just the right herb to add to the sauce. Delightful. Amalina knows how to keep a good kitchen. Try one.”
Argolicus took an egg, dipped it in the honeyed sauce, and poured out a drop of garum. He bit into the tasty concoction and turned his head as a slave entered the peristylum followed by Maria. She entered the sunlight and crossed the marble floor.
“I came as soon as I could,” Maria said. “Lucas taught me all the trails and even the ways here that have no trails.” She smiled.
“Maria,” Wiliarit said. “Sit down, sit down. Have an egg.”
Maria came over and sat down next to Argolicus, ignoring the eggs. She threw back the folds of her red cloak. “Ah, the sun. A warm March day. Who could believe all these troubles on such a lovely day? But, I am here about trouble.”
She turned to Argolicus who asked, “There’s more trouble? Lucas’ death isn’t enough?”
“I’m afraid. Father is angry. He seems to be angry at everyone and everything. He had a huge argument with Mattheus when he came back from seeing you. Father hit him. Marcus tried calming him down. He can usually get Father to calm down, but not today. I thought he would hit Marcus, too. But, he retreated just in time. Then Bishop Braga came. I don’t know why. Ordinarily, Father goes to the palace. Their shouts echo throughout the house. Father is terrifying when he goes into a rage.” She took in a deep breath. Her large eyes widened. “I’m afraid. I don’t know what to do.”
Argolicus remembered how Bartholomaeus had threatened Lucas and kept him in a room for days. How just when he needed a friend after his father’s death, his best friend had been locked away and threatened with beatings. The rage Bartholomaeus had poured out on Wiliarit who was with his sister in her grief. It had been a defining moment. He had questioned Christianity, and the questions had never left.
Maria interrupted his thoughts. “I want to be somewhere else until the wedding. It’s just weeks away. Father has suggested I put it off for a year of mourning. I can’t live there. I can’t stand it. Living in fear, afraid to say anything about Lucas while my heart is breaking at his death. When Father goes into a rage, it can last for days. I’m terrified he will try to delay the wedding. It’s like a dark cloud in our house.” She closed her eyes to stop tears, but they rolled down her cheeks.
Nikolaos slipped away into the house.
“And, and,” she continued, “thank you for your note. I shouldn’t have asked for your help. It complicated everything. The bishop is angry. My father is angry. Lucas was honest. I’m sorry I preyed on your old friendship. How could one honest man cause so much turmoil? Do you think my father could have done this? Or sent a slave to do it? Should I be afraid of my father? I mean really afraid?” The tears kept rolling down, and she started sobbing.
Wiliarit sat as if in contemplation, but Argolicus knew his uncle’s mind was churning with ideas.
Argolicus said, “Didn’t your mother have a sister? Don’t you have cousins? Can you stay with them until your father calms down?”
Nikolaos came back into the garden and handed Maria a linen cloth. She took the cloth, wiped her cheeks and sniffling nose and then shook her head.
“They moved north. That was soon after your father died. There is no one.” She subsided into tears again.
Argolicus felt trapped. He wanted to help her but already felt his alliance with this family had caused too much trouble.
They all sat quietly in the March sun each with their own thoughts.
“I came as soon as I could,” Amalina said rushing out from the kitchen area with a cup in her hand. “Nikolaos told me Maria was here.” She sat down on the bench next to Maria and put her arm around the young woman’s shoulder. “Here, drink some of this tea.”
Maria wiped her face again, looked up, and took the cup. She sipped the cup. And sipped again. “This is good. Thank you.”
“Why don’t you come inside with me,” Amalina said as she took the cup from Maria. “You can drink the tea and I’ll give you a snack. You’ll feel better.”
Maria nodded. Amalina guided her out of the peristylum into the back of the house.
“Well,” said Wiliarit, dabbing green onto an outlined leaf on his board. “What a quandary. She comes to the one place that will infuriate her father the most. The two of us being unacceptable heretics.” He reached out and patted Argolicus’ shoulder.
Argolicus shook his head. “I feel for her, but we can’t get involved at that personal level. I told her I would look into Lucas’ murder, but then today I told Mattheus that I would stay out of their family business. I’ve put myself in a box and don’t know how to get out.”
He took an egg and dipped it in the sauce. “I think I’m eating more since your arrival.” He patted his stomach.
“Food is a solace,” Wiliarit said, reaching for another egg. “Especially in worrisome times. Let’s see if we can solve the murder and rid you of your burden. What about the other brother, Marcus?” He plopped the rest of the egg in his mouth, wiped his fingers, and began dabbing tiny yellow dots in the center of a white flower.
“Unless he did it at his father’s bidding. It’s hard to tell,” Argolicus answered. “It’s hard to tell about any of them. Maybe the father, given to rage, hired thugs.”
“None of them look guilty,” Wiliarit said applying yellow dots to another white flower. Nikolaos moved behind him to watch him work.
“You’ve traveled to cultured places like Constantinople, Burgundia, and even Rome, but in the role of a bookmaker. From a monk’s perspective people reveal their shortcomings in the eyes of God. But, as a magistrate, I’ve found that people hide their feelings and especially their motivations. The innocent can appear guilty and the guilty act reverent and beyond reproach.”
Wiliarit nodded his head as he concentrated on the center of another flower on the vellum.
“And, how can we really know people?” Argolicus continued. “My feelings for Lucas are based on a boy I knew over fifteen years ago. Who knows how he matured, or even if he matured? Remember how he was a daredevil, hanging from tree branches, and riding horses at full gallop over fields riddled with rodent holes. He took risks without thinking.”
Wiliarit nodded again.
“We don’t know what he said or did to other people when he came back from the north. He could have angered one of his brothers about something other than going to live with the monk. He could have offended anyone. We don’t know who he saw or what he did.”
“Those look so lifelike,” Nikolaos said, peering over Wiliarit’s shoulder.
“Thanks to you showing me where to find those spring flowers. Do you have any thoughts about Lucas?”
Nikolaos was quiet for a moment. “I agree with Argolicus. We don’t know how he acted as an adult. We don’t know enough.”
Wiliarit went back to the leaves with a different green. “Yes, as a monk I devote my life to God. I have made my choice. I can understand how Lucas could make a similar decision. My interaction with Bartholomaeus years ago was painful and from what you say his temper and strict beliefs have not softened over the years. But, I am also wondering how he could have angered Braga.”
“I’m listening,” Argolicus said. Bartholomaeus’ clash with Wiliarit and the end of his friendship with Lucas was tied in his mind with his father’s death.
“Clerics have a different focus than, say, a monk. While I have a personal relationship with God, and a cleric may, too, the cleric has a responsibility to guard and carry on the traditions of the Church. It doesn’t matter what branch or belief it is, the cleric’s responsibilities are to the Church. Lucas may have said something against the Church.”
“Quite likely,” Argolicus said, “considering how fervent he was about his new calling.”
“Yes, but, murder as a response? Lucas was going away and from what we know he was not coming back. That’s one reason his father was angry …”
“It’s all settled,” Amalina said, coming into the peristylum with Maria by her side. Maria was smiling.
“What?” Argolicus asked, jarred out of his thinking.
“Maria will stay here until her wedding. We have plenty of room. It’s not a problem. All we have to do …”
“Mother, we can’t. No. I promised Mattheus we’d stay out of their family affairs.”
Maria’s smile disappeared. Tears glistened at the corners of her eyes.
“No one should live in fear from their own family. You of all people should know injustice takes many forms.”
Argolicus knew she was right. Maria needed protection. Why couldn’t she find it somewhere else? He felt the box shrink around him. Now, his mother had given her word. For The People a word given was immutable, the basis of trust. Now he had given his word and so had his mother. They were at cross purposes.
“I gave my word.”
“And so did I,” Amalina said.
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