On that overcast day, Nicomede took a coach to the San Giorgio Monastery under the guise of bringing a trunk of the Raniero’s clothing to the poor, but in reality, he needed to escape the clamor of his family, the icy looks from his sister Sid and the competing noises which assaulted his ears.

When he could not take anymore of Sid’s gossip or his brother’s piano lessons, he muttered, “Silence is a woman’s best garment” to his sister as grabbed his coat, not waiting for their long-time servant La Stella to help him into the dark blue, velvet jacket. They’d called him by his surname for so many years, Nick could not recall what the employee’s first name even was.

After the garment trunk was hurried in from the coach, the dark-haired nobleman made polite conversation to the clergy and brothers and then strode promptly to the arboretum was, and then his breathing finally slowed, the rough edges in his brain smoothing over with the fresh smell of the grass and trees. Wandering around, his fingers touching every available leaf and branch within his reach, this was Nicomede most favorite state - to be alone, allowed to let his thoughts wander with impunity, to bounce from subject to subject with no one interrupting him, forcing him back to one topic.

Of course, his mind almost always turned back to that night in Madrid, and one would think that a more social environment with laughing, smiling friends or family would help him to push any wayward memories back into their locked box. But no, Nick preferred to work through the recollection like a puzzle and to land at the reasoning that he’d never actually done anything of that sort.

A hedge maze only sought to have you find the exit. Foliage did not pass judgement.

<a href='index.php?showuser=172' rel='nofollow' alt='profile link' class='user-tagged mgroup-3'>@Mercedes Socorro</a>
word count: 341

She had a name when she entered the city and since she had found a place to stay and some kind souls to show her about she had found where the family lived. She was not one hundred percent certain she had the right man, because she did not know of him personally at court in Proper Spain. So she needed to see him to know if it was the same individual. But stalking the Palazzo was difficult at times. She had no business being in the neighborhood; she did not work for any of the neighboring estates nor was she a merchant running supply to and from any of them.

But Venezia was the city of art and poets so she pulled her parchment and coal to draw the Palazzo and could feign being an artist. She did have a fair hand but she was not a true architectural artist or coinsurer. What she needed was to spy the little rat bastard and be on her way, one way or another. If it were him she knew where to find him, if it weren’t she knew to press on to other leads. Her efforts of persistence finally paid off as a man was leaving in crisp blue velvet. Mercedes sitting on a stoop with permission from a neighboring palazzo watched him from the shadows.

He was awaiting a coach and a man of his lugging a trunk. That hair! She hadn’t seen his face, only in profile but who could mistake that fop of mane and stance. Now what are you up to you Pedazo de mierda(piece of shit)? Burying another body?

When he was loaded and setting to move she worked her hand over the paper. Not looking at him as he passed her. Then she quickly followed and was nearly shocked to see him having that trunk deposited at the San Giorgio Monastery. No encontrarás paz ahí bastardo! (You will not find peace there, bastard!).

She had put all her pretenses away and was donned in a proper dress that was tailored just for her in New Spain by the queens own tailors. A gift for her coming nuptials that she had quickly fled from. And she bundled the throw she had used to disguise herself as she sat at the stoop. She had her hair in a loose braid down her back but it was not uncommon for young ladies to have their hair down when entertaining marriage proposals.

And she followed at a distance her quarry. Nicomede Ranerio through the monastery and left him to the arboretum alone. She was no noble known here and wanted him to feel safe and secure in this house of God. She looked at the jointed gallery and questioned if the arboretum was open to anyone. Being told no, it was a privilege for those invited and some Spanish gold traded hands so that she could be so privileged as well.

And she entered the small manicured gardens without stealth or secrecy, but, as a polite and observant patron of the quiet place. She paid Nicomede no mind, as she bent to touch this leaf and that flower. And smiled to herself at the quiet and colorful plant life. And when she neared him she offered a slight smile and quickly looked away, shy like. But before she let him go too far away she asked him.

“Excusa Senor, ¿Sabes lo que es esto?”(Excuse, do you know what this is?) And she was pointing at a stunningly vivid shrub that would never grow outside on its own. Most of the plants had little tags with their common name and their Latin name, but Mercedes had ripped this one’s tag and tossed it away. She cast slight glances at him, and offered soft shy smiles.
word count: 641

Nicomede had a heavy heart that day but he could not figure out why, and even the arboretum did not seem to sooth the nagging ache he felt which tugged at the edges of his consciousness. Perhaps he would write another letter to Paulina, yet she hadn’t answered the first eight (or twenty) he’d written, but like St. Paul of Tarsus he would not be silenced. He would begin another soon as he returned home if only to help with his own catharsis.

Would Paulina still grieve for her lost lover? It had been two years since…
Footsteps paused his internal monologue.

His discerning noble eye did not pin her for an aristocrat, but it was clear, the lady was beautiful and right away reminded him of Paulina, which wasn’t too hard as a marble statue could remind him of her. Or the sway of a woman walking. Or the wind.

She threw him a shy smile, and he continued to ponder where he stood, until he could feel her coming closer to which he did not turn but merely looked with the corner of his eyes. She was a petite thing, and as she began to speak, he turned to face her with his hands clasped behind his back.

“I do not know,” he answered. Crinkling his face, leaning over and searching for the tag, he returned to spine-straight position and said, “We could ask the grounds keeper if your curiosity will not be sated by a guess. I was presently standing here admiring the trees and thinking about marble statues… why there aren’t more goddesses placed in the square? Truly women are the ones who give birth, no? That to me seems to be more of a heroic deed than a man in armor on horse.”

Mercy, up close she resembled his Spanish rose. And his heart grew lighter with this thought.

<a href='index.php?showuser=172' rel='nofollow' alt='profile link' class='user-tagged mgroup-3'>@Mercedes Socorro</a>
word count: 338

“I do not know.”

Offering him a genteel smile and feigning interest in his attentions. She was actually very interested in Nicomede but not in any way womanly. And she was very pleased he had acknowledged her inquiry with an answer and his attention. Some aristocrats did not take to speaking with unknowns easily at all. And he had looked surprised and then offering her help. Asking for help often got many men to extend some interest unless they were the type to immediately think lesser of the individual for asking.
“We could ask the grounds keeper if your curiosity will not be sated by a guess.”
She watched him lean looking for the description tag and his brow crinkle a bit. Mercedes offering only lamb-ish and sheep like innocent turns of her lip. No she definitely did not look like nobility or Venetian aristocracy but her Spanish blood did bleed blue and her name was worth vested interest in the court even if her place of birth and her temperament turned away many interested eyes.

“Please guess and let I will ask on my way out to see if you are so insightful.” Sticking to her proper Spanish tongue since he so readily answered her in kind.
” I was presently standing here admiring the trees and thinking about marble statues… why there aren’t more goddesses placed in the square? Truly women are the ones who give birth, no? That to me seems to be more of a heroic deed than a man in armor on horse.”
Her dark eyes piqued with true interest when he stated thus. What was his game? He was a cold hearted murdering bastard, not some poet, nor sophisticated theologian. No! He was not a mere man who had rational interests or an expanded thinking mind. For what man of true knowledge would kill another. And He denounces the knight? Mi dios el diablo es solo un hombre.( My God the devil is just a man.) NO! Non.

Her facial continuance showed not one iota of her true feelings. Her fingers did not clench nor her back stiffen. She looked like a dark doe with soft warm eyes looking at the man as he spoke of women’s virtues and let interest in him peak through her eyes.

“Because the only female of any worth to the God is and will ever be the virgin Madonna.”

She hadn’t meant to speak thusly but he had thrown her a bit with such a deep thought. It wasn’t what she had expected form someone capable of cold blooded murder. One who ran as fast as the tide would take him back to the comfort of his blood. Mercedes all man are capable of killing.

word count: 461

As a teenager, Nicomede&#8217;s mother constantly reminded him of how eligible he was and would be to a wide array of noblewomen. Good looks, tall and long limbs, and access to a fair portion of the family fortune upon marrying, he had &#8220;nothing to worry about&#8221; and that ladies would be &#8220;tripping over each other to get to him at any masked ball.&#8221; But inside his skin he&#8217;d never felt that confident around the fairer sex.

Even now when speaking to the lovely dark-haired woman in the arboretum, his palms sweat nervously so that he wiped his hands upon his jacket, pretending to fiddle with the buttons.

Nicomede&#8217;s Spanish was flawless and he responded, &#8220;I would never turn down the request from a lady. The tree&#8230;&#8221; He put his fingers up on his china and then touched a leaf from the shrub. Then the nobleman squinted his eyes and shrugged as though very unsure of his answer. &#8220;It is perhaps a Honey Bush?&#8221;

And at the woman&#8217;s reminder that the Madonna was the only female worthy of such heralded depiction in marble, Nick bowed his head in a guilty manner and said, &#8220;Oh Signora, you&#8217;re right. Please forgive me as I was not trying to be bold. I am enamored of the classics, but yes, having gone to seminary school and almost becoming a priest myself, I very much agree.&#8221;

He then plucked one of the leaves off of the exotic shrub and twirled it within his fingertips. &#8220;What is your name Signora? And do you hail from Spain?&#8221;

<a href='index.php?showuser=172' rel='nofollow' alt='profile link' class='user-tagged mgroup-3'>@Mercedes Socorro</a>
word count: 302

&#8220;What is your name Signora? And do you hail from Spain?&#8221;
She watched his fingers play with his buttons then the leaves he had picked from the forbidden tree that he called a Honey Bush. Of which she was not certain if he were being forward in such a statement or serious about the plant holding the moniker. Listening to his penance at suggesting that there be other models for the marble than the Madonna in house of god made her second guess him entirely. She of course agreed but she needed to appear humble and docile.

&#8220;From New Spain recently recalled to Proper, Yes. You?&#8221;

And she turned to face him properly and offered a light curtsy when she introduced herself to him. He&#8217;d not know her linage, not unless he had been long at the Spanish court and she did not hold her Father&#8217;s name. So unless his family was in contact with the Queen about marriage proposals he&#8217;d have no reason to know who she was. Or so she desperately hoped.

&#8220;Senorita Mercedes Socorro. Very pleased to make your acquaintance, Senor.&#8221;

She only directly looked at him when she said her name bent and looking up to him from under her eye lashes. Otherwise she offered short glances, looking down with shy smiles. Yes Mercedes when she wished to, she could be very sweet and docile. And it had always got her what she wanted with the big burly men of Adventure as she was growing up in their throngs. Now she wanted this Bastardo de rata (Rat Bastard) wrapped about her fingers as well.

&#8220;I can agree that there need to be more statues of women but not under the house of God. In his house only the Madonna is worthy. But if I had my own garden I would like to have Athena and perhaps Psyche tucked between the greenery.&#8221;

And she blushed a bit, hard won flushing forced over her cheeks more with ire than true humbling from speaking out so openly. She wanted to intrigue him but not overwhelm him. God she was not an actress! And she turned away and bit to cover her mouth and re train herself.

&#8220;Forgive my outspokenness. Thank you for Guessing for me Senor.&#8221;

She tipped her head meaning to take her leave and not joder (fuck) this up.
word count: 408

&#8220;New Spain! How bold,&#8221; he replied. &#8220;What called you back to the Motherland?&#8221; He titled his head to the side, sunlight gracing the long, natural curls upon his head. At times his fianc&#233; said he resembled Apollo, but today he had deep, dark circles under his eyes betraying either insomnia or a host of unsettling thoughts which plagued him.

&#8220;It&#8217;s a pleasure to meet you, Senorita Socorro. I am Senor Raniero, but I hail from Venice. However I am familiar with Spain. Madrid specifically.&#8221;
No, Nicomede did not recognize the name though he was indirectly connected to her own father. Although the surname did sound vaguely familiar, and the lady so pretty that perhaps she was on the short list of available brides?

&#8220;Pious and familiar with Greek Mythology? An unusual combination in my circle. And if you have Psyche you certainly need her tortured lover Eros. Perhaps the scene where she is standing over him about to stab him as he sleeps because she thinks he is a monster. He was afraid to show her his face I recall.&#8221;

Nicomede smiled, his eyes fixing on a point somewhere behind her until he turned his gaze back to her face.

&#8220;Can you imagine, your lover standing over you, about to kill you over a misunderstanding? Or perhaps we should weep for Psyche, who was only trying to protect herself&#8230; from evil? From ruin?&#8221;

He blushed back at Mercedes now, cathing himself rambling a little. &#8220;Oh, please dont mind me. I tend to get whimsical around nature. And of course, Senorita. I was grateful to help you.&#8221; Nicomede could have flirted more with this beautiful creature, citing the Honey Bush with plenty of innuendo about &#8220;honey&#8221; and &#8220;bushes," but he always hated forcing himself upon women like that. First of all, the more intelligent ones were immune to that kind of flattery. Second, he enjoyed more just speaking with Mercedes the way he was now.

&#8220;Before you take your leave&#8230; where can I find you again? If I want to identify more exotic trees?&#8221; he asked.

<a href='index.php?showuser=172' rel='nofollow' alt='profile link' class='user-tagged mgroup-3'>@Mercedes Socorro</a>
word count: 386

She had not thought all the lies out before hand but sticking as close to the truth as possible seemed prudent. He father was to be chancellor of Castile but that changed when he was killed. But no one knew of his new appointment outside of the Kings counsel and the new appointment hadn’t been made as yet. It was a risk but she had no other viable story that could be verified by anyone, even paid lies at present.

“My Family received a new appointment from the King. We are now to be in Castile. My father is to be the newest Chancellor.”

And how could she explain being in Venice? Mon dios Mercedes you did not think these things out very well. She cursed herself. And he bowed lightly and introduced himself. She offered a more open smile at hearing his name. And he was looking at her with a slight cant of his head and she saw the dark circles of his eyes more prominent as the sun made a nimbus about his hair.
“Pious and familiar with Greek Mythology?”
And he continued on to a varied story about Psyche and Eros. One that was the darker of the versions she had been familiar with. It made her suck in a breath suddenly, he might assume out of hearing such violence and she a maid, but in reality she was panicking thinking he knew who she was.
“Can you imagine, your lover standing over you, about to kill you over a misunderstanding? Or perhaps we should weep for Psyche, who was only trying to protect herself… from evil? From ruin?”
She felt like he was descending down upon her and might grab her at any moment. She stood paling a tiny bit and put hand up to her mouth as if he had said the most atrocious of things. Blinking as he asked her if she could only imagine such. Yes, yes she could in fact. And as he stood he suddenly blushed looking at her now and making an apology. <span style='color:gray'>“Oh, please dont mind me"</span>. She regained some of her composure. She desperately hoped he’d take the shock as a sign of her good nature as a maid. Most men did think women were delicate and overly sensitive.

“I am unfamiliar with that very frightening version Senor Raniero. Forgive my shock. I am more familiar with the version of her holding a candle over Eros and losing his trust when the hot wax wakes him. He leaving his untrusting bride to make repair with her three trials sent to her by the jealous mother-in-law to prove her worthiness of her son.”

Mercedes let the statement define her reaction and hoped it covered her bases because what she was really feeling was anything but shock, more a fear that he could know who she was and leading her into some blind attack. Maybe he was. She’d have to be more careful and think about her situation thoughtfully.
“Before you take your leave… where can I find you again? If I want to identify more exotic trees?”
¡Mierda! (Sod it!) She was staying at an Inn and not an expensive one. What would he think? How could she explain such to a Noble? That he might over look the place. When in doubt tell the truth.

”I am only recently arrived and found a small Inn.”

Mercedes was blushing madly and looking about knowing they were alone but making it appear as if she were troubled.

“Oh Senor Raniero I ran away from court. You won’t tell anyone? Please?”

word count: 612

Nicomede wondered if he hadn’t been too audacious asking the lady’s whereabouts for a later time. Funny, it was like this with Paulina… already forgetting the manners which had been drilled into him at a young age. He gave her a conciliatory smile especially when she mentioned that her father was to be the Chancellor of Castile, a nice appointment indeed.

And while the nobleman could have asked her why she was in Venice he preferred to just think that it was fate which had brought them together, and her landing upon Italian soil did not matter. He missed his Paulina so. She would not return his letters.

He wasn’t fool enough to return to her in Madrid, but at times he longed to don a thick cloak and steal out in the middle of the night to secure passage to Spain. But God in Heaven how his mind ran through that scenario so many times in the middle of a feverish night. Just to be free of all of these patrician trappings.

After the story, he noticed a slight change in Mercedes and worried he upset her delicate sensibilities with the violent turn of the narrative. “Forgive me for speaking of such upsetting things.” He listened patiently for her explanation, relieved in fact that he’d identified the source of it. Nicomede’s hazel eyes widened when Signora Socorro admitted that she ran away from court.

And then he laughed a gentle chuckle, not at all the conniving sound of a murderer, but more of a trusting brother. “You are spirited, Signora. But the daughter of the Castilian Chancellor cannot stay at an inn. There are extra rooms in the Raniero home, even a guest house. I would be honored if you would stay with us during your trip.”

While father might not even notice the strange woman in the house, so busy with his Cardinal duties as he was, mother would be furious. But “It will keep my mind off of Paulina” he would say to her “to entertain such a lively guest.” Surely, she would be grateful that he was not “incessantly talking” about his former flame as mother accused.

<a href='index.php?showuser=172' rel='nofollow' alt='profile link' class='user-tagged mgroup-3'>@Mercedes Socorro</a>
word count: 385

Nicomede&#8217;s eyes widened when he heard her confession. It was the truth, albeit that her father was no longer living. And with a carefully penned note it could be verified without much suspect. She was still available, as far as she knew, for marriage and being solicited thusly by the Court. It was not a lie. But what next came out of the man&#8217;s mouth did have her shocked. And he could clearly see it.

She flushed at his words, her anger at his commonality and charity, at such odds with her expectations. And his compliment about her spirits. Just wait you carbon! He&#8217;d see exactly how spirited she could be. At the end of sharp stick. With her dark eyes wide she protested as any good woman should.

&#8220;You are too kind Signor Raniero, but you don&#8217;t know me at all&#8230; and I don&#8217;t know you or your Familia. I on my own am the fault of my disgrace for fleeing the Court, but if I move in with you&#8230; what would they think of either of us when they do find me? I have no Chaperone here, no servant to swear to my propriety. How do we assure the Court, or my Papa of such when they send someone to collect me? For surely I will need to send for funds soon, and they will send a man to return me to Spain.&#8221;

It was the only convincing denial she could form. And it also was not a fabrication for surely she was going to need funds and have to reach out for it. And they would undoubtedly send a charge to return her to the Court and her new groom. So her distress was not entirely feigned. And he had not mentioned telling the court of her whereabouts. Was he going to keep her secret?

&#8220;Unless you are offering to keep my secret until I can convince my Papa to change his mind?&#8221;

Mercedes was truly undecided on what to do. She had needed a male sponsor to conduct certain things for her, banking being one of them. And she wanted to get close to Nicomede, but inside his household? Although, he was offering her a guest house as to be more proper and offer some potential privacy. Her current means would solidify that she had fled in haste, which was exactly what she had done. And any inquiries would be verifiable. But how to do so that his familia did not learn her real name?

&#8220;If you keep a proper accounting for my Papa when he finally has had enough of my free will I will accept your gratuity Signor Raniero.&#8221;

Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer. Yes. This had to work and surely someone on high was watching out for her, because how could spying on him turn into living with him, if it was not meant to be? And she would let Quentin know about her plans and whereabouts so if anything happened at least someone else would know. And God help her, because she was so far in over her head she was starting to forget which way was up.

<a href='index.php?showuser=174' rel='nofollow' alt='profile link' class='user-tagged mgroup-3'>@Nicomede Raniero</a>
word count: 566
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