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olive branches

16. With undying love — Maria Grazia

Friday, April 30, 1286

Carissima Caterina,

What a wretched beast is man! I know you as I know myself, Caterina. You are not my friend, dear one, you are my sister, now and forever. Indeed, never more so than at this moment. Your heart remains pure and good and strong. The blaggard has no such goodness within him. Like a thief in the night, he spied a window left open and crawled in to steal a treasure, only to skulk away when his pockets were full. Grief left your heart open to deception and treachery, gentle sister. Your thirst for life and desire to feel the warmth of love surround you led you into his web and the surge of lust sealed your fate. It is what the sisters warn us about, is it not? The devil wears many disguises to ensnare us.

Dearest Caterina, as if the loss of your beloved mother were not enough to wrack your heart and soul. Why did God create sparrows only to set them flying among hawks? I suppose there is a reason, but I fear I shall never know it. Perhaps it is so we might find the courage to forgive? But how? I can find no forgiveness within me. My heart is a stranger to me now. The sisters say God only gives us what we can bear. Oh, Caterina, why must you be so strong?

I pray with all my heart that God will lift the burden he has placed upon you. Hold not to the tiniest seed of guilt, Caterina, for you have none. Just as the sparrow does not bear the hawk’s guilt for snatching him out of the sky. I beseech you to seek counsel from our dear Fratello Lorenzo. Please, Caterina, do not delay in writing him all that you have shared with me. I fear my words hold only love, when it is wisdom you seek. Fratello Lorenzo’s counsel is the salve you need, my dearest. He will hold fast your confidence and grant you absolution, of this I am certain. He will see, as I do, that the guilt lies squarely with the cad Bartolomeo. Oh, how writing his name makes me wish my quill were a dagger. God forgive me, for the thought has gripped my mind. See how I fan the flames, while Fratello Lorenzo will quench the fire? Just as your soul will be absolved, so too will your body and mind find comfort. He knows the power of every flower, leaf and root as he knows the Lord. For this his reputation as the finest apothecary in the Veneto is well earned. His prescription and counsel will set you free so that you may return to being the Caterina who dances with the stars.

Dearest friend, I cannot close without sharing with you word of a new star that shines in Verona. My brother Reinaldo and his Vittoria have been delivered of a son! His name is Teoboldo and his proud papa says that he is strong and healthy, and his eyes sparkle like his mama. I long to meet little Teo but my father will not send for me. I cannot despair, though, for Reinaldo has bestowed upon me the greatest of honors: he has named me Teo’s godmother. While Vittoria’s maid stood in my stead at the baptism, it is I whom Teo will call Madrina. I am deeply honored, Caterina, and yet I am frightened that I do not deserve such a mantle. I can only promise that I will love Teo as if he were my own son and vow to protect him all the days of my life.

I have almost come to the end of my parchment, Caterina, such is my loneliness for you. Please, do not forget to write Fratello Lorenzo posthaste. I pray that you will return soon. So much so that I find myself glancing out our window, even as I write this letter, in hopes of seeing your carriage approach. Until we see each other again, take hold of this tiny pillow I made for you. It is filled with rose petals, lavender, peppermint and chamomile from the abbey’s garden. It will help you sleep and offer relief from troubling thoughts. Indeed, Suora Benadetta says the wee chamomile flower is mightier than the devil himself. The embroidery, I hope, will remind you of happy days and foretell happier ones yet to come.

You will know happiness again, my cherished friend. Believe me, for I speak the truth. You will wake one morning and the sun will be bright again.

I remain forever your sister.

With undying love,

Maria Grazia

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