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Historical Fiction

The fresco in the parlor told stories of mythological feats , with beasts and monsters struggling against men and demigods, with half-naked damsels running in the countryside fields. The window of the room projected the view towards the muddy Tiber, flowing below the bastions of Castel Sant’Angelo, the old Adrian’s stronghold in Rome, now the dwelling of Popes and cardinals.

-Where did we stop?- the Berber was tall and strong, with a light beard and eagle eyes. His skin was the same color of the sand of his province of origin, but his Latin was impeccable like any cives romanus.

-‘There are two forces, honorable emperor, reigning over this world’, your Sanctity- replied the scribe towards Gelasius I.

With a stern nod the Pope continued -Put a colon there and continue ‘The sacred authority of bishops, and the command of kings. Of those, the most burdensome is that of priests, as in fact they must account for every man in front of God, kings included.’- he was pacing up and down the room, looking at the busy bridge below, crossed by carts of farmers moving towards the market in campo de’ fiori -Anastasius will get this letter by tomorrow and will understand who oversees his soul, and his decisions. Take a break now, I have a meeting to attend, we’ll continue later- the scowl below his bushy brows clashing against the calm tone of his voice.

The meeting was held in a larger sitting room, the older, pagan, paintings had recently been renovated with more pious images of the Holy Gospel.

-Your Sanctity, I called for this meeting, because the time of the Lupercalia is coming. Those festivities, not only promote unruly behaviors, but thrive in obscenity and pagan cults. We need to forbid them, and punish whoever takes part in them- on his knees in front of the Pope was cardinal Anastasius, robed in red and his voice rough and trembling with passion and spite.

-Anastasius, rise. The common folk need their entertainment to remain meek. We don’t need to tighten the yoke, it won’t benefit us.- the Pope was wearing his official garments, with a white tunic and tall tiara, in stark contrast with his brown skin. He looked like a legionary general ready to march on a barbaric encampment, with his piercing eyes and hooked nose.

The cardinal stood up, fixating his eyes on the Pope -Last year a servant dared dress to look like you, the were females dressed as priests showing off their breasts, and all around you would see promiscuity! We can’t allow for this Godless behavior, it is an insult to our Lord- while talking his hands jolted around in grand movements, while his face turned the same red of the dress.

-My dear, God watches over the souls of our flock, we, instead, need to lead them in their life here on mother earth- a condescending smile from the Pope -if a singular day astray from the path of God will give us a better hold on the populace, I am willing to take it gladly. Or you’d rather see the people turn to Anastasius for guidance?-

Anastasius flinched, rushing to close his mouth after his jaw dropped -Your Sanctity! You are talking about secular power in the hands of priests?-

-I am talking about doing what’s needed to save those people’s soul. If the shepherd is a fool the sheep will fall in a ravine. The trust of the folk to their leader drives their faith, not the other way around. If we don’t grab a hold of them now, they will turn to any barbarian cult brought to them at sword point. If we have the people hearts, they will fight for God with their lives on the line.-

-You wouldn’t risk angering the herd, but you are risking the faith of your shepherds your Sanctity. If we continue with this laxity, it will be the priests that will loose trust in your guidance.-

With his bushy brows joined in the middle in a brooding frown, the bishop of Rome, the heir to Peter, considered the words of his second in command.

-Panem et circenses, bread and entertainment. We need to keep what skillful sovereigns learned before us. But we need to adapt the Lupercalia to our holy values. You want me to remove the mockery of holy figures, and remove the obscenity. But we need to keep the celebrations…- with a flash the eyes of the head of the catholic church opened wide, reflecting a mischievous smile -I have the solution. Call here all the bakers that you can find!-

The Pope had in front of himself the ten representatives of Rome’s biggest bakers. His servants had arranged a small dais in front of the gates of his castle, below the shining sword held by archangel Michael on the top of the stronghold.

-In ten days, Rome will celebrate a new, glorious feast. And I want you all to bake your sweetest cakes and candies, as to feed the whole city!- he boomed, with the voice of a captain in front of his battalion. Below, among the merchants, surprised looks started meandering, and low whispers asked -for free?-

-Yes for free!- The Pope cut the buzz with his voice -For free, and for the love of God. Whoever will NOT take part on this offering will be considered pagan and all Christians in Rome will avoid their shop. On the other hand, who will be so graceful as to support our festivities will be employed for the provision of food by the churches of Rome, with a preferential contract. Is that clear?-

The faces of the merchant turned in all the different shapes of dumbfounded and surprise.

-In ten days, by mid February, all the sweets you can do.-

Standing at a balcony of castel sant’angelo was the Pope, looking down a crowd of Romans waiting for his speech. On several daises spread around the city squares, various priests stood holding a paper, with the same words his Sanctity was speaking

-On the mid day of February, we will feast! One hundred years ago, in this very city, a man of the most holy intent was tortured and killed, for the sole fault of knowing the love of God. Some of you may think it is time to mourn, but I tell you it is time to rejoice, because on the one hundredth anniversary of his martyrdom I, Gelasius I, declare Valentinus from Terni a Holy Saint! And I tell you more, in this day, and forever the mid of February will be remembered for Saint Valentinus, and as the day of Love. The deep love that only our Lord can teach us as he taught him, the saint love of husband and wife, a love so sweet that all the bakers in Rome have chosen, in his honor, to gift all of you cakes and delicacies! Rejoice Rome, because Saint Valentinus is the Saint of Love!-

The cheering went on as the Pope entered back in his castle, there, looking to the cardinal he said with a cat’s grin -Panem et circenses my friend-.

February 17, 2022 14:14

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2 comments

Michelle Colpo
04:06 Feb 19, 2022

Gianluca, what an amazing story! Fantastic display of character descriptors, your story flowed easy as water. As a Catholic, the martyrdom of St. Valentine has always intrigued me. Your take on this was wonderful. In paragraph four, it looks like you left yourself the note, "put a colon there" and forgot to take it out! I'm looking forward to reading more from you!

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12:41 Feb 19, 2022

Thank you for your feedback, it's nice to hear that it flows smoothly as I'm always afraid my stories sound clunky. On paragraph 4 my idea was to have the Pope ask his scribe to add a colon, it was meant to be part of the narration, but I need to work in either cut it or making it clearer. Thank you

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