It wasn't easy to listen to what her brother was saying, but Ilaria nodded along. "Thank you for the advice," she finally said, sniffling and smiling up at him. "But I have unburdened myself, and I have heard my brother's wisdom. Perhaps we should walk for a moment? I should very much enjoy to keep your company and your counsel for a few more minutes, if the Lord can spare you from your duties. But if you must return to the books, I will most assuredly understand." The thought of having to leave so soon made her sad, but Ilaria had arrived unannounced, and her brother was truly dedicated to the process of becoming a priest. Despite her secret reservations about faith, Ilaria couldn't deny that Agustin was the model Christian.

"You must be there on the nineteenth, Agustin. Do you understand? If you aren't there, I won't be married and Papa will have me thrown into the sea. You don't want that on your conscience, do you?" She half-considered talking to him about the masquerade someone was supposedly throwing, but he was a man of the cloth--what were the chances he'd sail in from San Giorgio to attend a glorified, debauched party?
word count: 212

Ilaria's desire to take a walk was well received.

"Of course. There are enough places on the territory of this monastery which I can show you, even if the garden doesn’t have yet the flowers I would like to show you. I am glad for the little moments I can spend in your company too. And there is enough time for me to return to the books when I won't have my dearest sister by my side," he smiled.

And it wasn't as if her presence was too often, or too long-lasting… He had to enjoy it while he could. And she made sure that he knew she wanted him in her wedding.

"I will surely be there for you, soreleta. You wouldn't become a mermaid, be it on my conscience or not. I will have a part in your wedding ceremony, and in beautifully writing your marriage certificate. I promise it to you."

Of course he wouldn't have attended any party, but he would have liked hearing anything about her life. They got out and passed unhurriedly by the Cloister of the Cypresses. For a few moments, Agustin felt as proud to have her by his side as if he was not her brother, but her father when leading her to the altar at the wedding. No matter what, he promised himself, he would be here for his sister whenever she'd need him.

"So tell me what else is new or interesting in your life," he said. "I am sorry that what I am reading now wouldn't be of your interest."

Suddenly, an idea crossed his mind. If she was afraid or worried about her marriage, there was something meant to put her mind at ease and highlight that marriage could have moments to look forward to as well:

"For a young woman who is already engaged, I might have a rather daring suggestion of reading. There is a part of the Holy Bible that young people never study, it's called The Song of Songs, and it was written by King Solomon for his bride. I think it would do you good to read it in the weeks before your wedding, but I hope our parents won't catch you reading it. It might be too daring and non-conventional for their taste."

If they did and she told them that he had recommended her this lecture, he might not see the end of their father's wrath, he thought.
word count: 421

"I will have to read that before the wedding," Ilaria confirmed, walking about a half-step behind her brother. "As for what is interesting in my life...?" How could she tell him about Lucilla? "I'm making friends," she offered, thinking about the various women. Faustina, Lucilla, Persefone... "And I think I'm making progress in advancing the family. I'm looking into a pair of opportunities--I'm sponsoring, or patronizing, or... anyways, I'm supporting a very talented soprano. Her talent will improve the family's standing, I believe. And I'm also looking into supporting a school for the underprivileged. I thought you'd like that, actually. You were not far from my mind when I went to investigate the opportunity."

Looking about, Ilaria wracked her mind for anything else worth mentioning. "There's a Masquerade soon, that I'll be attending. With my intended, I hope. You know me, Agustin, I never pass on a chance to wear a mask!" Ria interlaced her fingers and held them against her stomach, watching where she went with great interest. The floor was extremely well maintained, of course, but she would never live down tripping and falling next to her brother! "My maid created a pear pastry the other day, for my new friend Persefone. It was really good! I may have to have some created for the wedding."

Their lives had separated in very distinct ways, and Ilaria didn't know how to bridge the gap organically. She couldn't discuss religion very well, both because of her ignorance and her secret disdain. She couldn't discuss the people in her life... "Mama and Papa send their love," she lied, smiling up at him. "I didn't tell them I wanted you and Giuseppe to perform the wedding. I hope they won't mind. How could I think of having anyone else, though?"
word count: 315

He listened to his sister's talk, trying to piece together, in his imagination, what a lady's life could be. She mentioned honourable things like supporting art, supporting a school, going to parties, taking interest in baking… All nice pastimes, indeed, showing that she was an accomplished woman.

"I am glad you are making friends. I like the idea of you being a bit more outgoing and social. You need friends. Especially that you are getting married, and this would mean, most likely, a wider social freedom," he said.

He never had too many friends either. At home, the strict familial education had taught him to spend more time with his siblings and less with people outside, except cousins whom he had met at family gatherings. Afterwards, in the seminary and later, his best friend was Giuseppe. He had a few others, but some of them were already consecrated priests elsewhere. He didn't envy Ilaria, though; he was sincerely glad for her.

"The idea of patronizing a talented singer is good, but supporting a school for the poor and orphans is even better. There are many children who need help and guidance in order to reach their true potential. I am glad that you have thought I'd encourage and approve you wholeheartedly, because I really do."

Agustin wasn't as sheltered as not to understand how important a masquerade party in the high society was at Carnival time. He was Venetian, ultimately! In his teen years, he had taken part at the daytime celebrations of the latest three days of the Carnival, and he had witnessed the burying of the Carnival as well. Yes, at that time he was too young for attending private parties, but what he had seen was enough. Many priests were preaching against the debauchery of Carnival, but he didn't think so. Not all the participants were depraved and infringing the ten commandments.

"I wish you to have a good time," he told her. "What kind of mask do you want this year?"

Gluttony was a sin, still he imagined with childish delight the cake she was talking about.

"Send my filial love to our parents too. I am looking forward to seeing them at your wedding."

He didn't put past his father's vanity, though, to have wanted a bishop, not a young priest, officiating his youngest daughter's wedding.
word count: 400

The walking was doing her some good, giving her something else to focus on instead of just her own emotions and the web of half-truths she was telling her dear, saintly brother. Agustin deserved a better sister, but unfortunately, his youngest sibling was the deceptive wretch walking beside him. At least she was pretty to look at?

"That is my hope. The married women throw their salons for all their friends, and while I have attended a few in my time as a maiden, I cannot imagine what sort of mischief those women got up to with only their closer friends! And I have made friends with so many people over this month alone, brother! You wouldn't necessarily approve of Signora Lucilla Trevisan, she was divorced, but it was no fault of her own--her husband was--" She stopped herself, biting her lower lip. "I shan't gossip. But she's sort of my role model. She's smart and collected, she's been married, her home is so beautiful... so beautiful. I cannot wait to have her help me decorate the inside of our new home."

That wasn't the only thing Ilaria was looking forward to with respect to Signora Trevisan, but everything else would probably make Agustin's head spin 'round. Best to keep to the mundane anticipations.

"I was considering making them name part of their school after you. A room, or when they expand, a building. The Agustin Barbaro Reading Room, perhaps? Would you mind if I honored you in this way?" It wasn't a guarantee that she could even compel Annabel to do so, but the amount of money she was prepared to funnel into the school... well, Annabel would have to do some arithmetic of her own to determine whether Ilaria's strinsg-attached deal was worth taking. The youngest Barbaro had a feeling Ms. Blackwood would arrive at the proper conclusion.

"What mask..." Ilaria tapped her lower lip and stared up into the sky. Wandering about the gardens was delightful, and her brother's company only made it better. "There are a few. Full ensembles, really. The one I think I'm going with is... you may have <a href='http://originalveniceshop.com/img/p/3/3/9/0/3390.jpg' rel='nofollow noopener' target='_blank'>seen it</a> a few years ago? Papa bought it for me when I turned sixteen, but I haven't worn it yet--I wouldn't blame you for not remembering. It's this beautiful alabaster-white mask with wings around the eyes, sort of like a Colombina atop the Volto. But then it has this beautiful red bow to one side, and this..." Ilaria struggled for a moment. "Ruffled ridges that spiral out like some sort of sea shell, with a combination of red and then patterned images besides, and there're these beautiful gold ruffles around the edges... and it pairs with this scandalous red dress, Agustin..."

She sighed dramatically and looked over at him. "I'll let Papa and Mama know. Thank you again for being so supportive. Not just now, but in general. You've helped me more than you can ever know, and everyone is--and I mean this truly, not as some silly thing a sister tells her beloved brother--everyone is made better by your presence. You are a source of true good in this world, a reflection of the love that the Son of Man displayed on the cross. I am lucky to be your sister."
word count: 591

They had walked through the gardens, now rather uninviting, as it was winter time, then they approached the gate, while Ilaria was telling stories from her world.

"I am glad you have been making friends. Take care, though, people would gossip seeing you associate with a divorced woman," he warned her.

Agustin blushed at hearing she wanted to name the school she was supporting after him.

"It sounds vain, but I like it," he admitted. "Thank you"

The discussion went to the masks, and he nodded, half imagining what she was saying, half not even.

"It seems a lovely attire." he said.

She was already engaged, and half of the Carnival would happen after she got married, so he saw nothing too scandalous in what she was describing.

As Ilaria was getting ready for parting from her favourite brother &#8211; and he was reluctantly letting her go &#8211; he hugged her:

"Thank you very much for being my beloved little sister, and my main connection to the family I love and I am praying for. I wish you good luck, and have fun at the upcoming parties."

He had no more words, as emotions were strangling him.
word count: 197

Ilaria leaned over and gave her brother a tight hug, kissing both sides of his cheeks. "I'll tell them tomorrow, when I head home. Thank you for your advice, and for your love. I love you very much, Agustin. Please, be safe!" Another round of kisses, and she finally let go. With a wistful sigh, she began down towards the docks again, her hands interlaced and held carefully before her stomach. How long before she wouldn't be physically able to do so? How long until her husband--once he became her husband--would fulfill his obligation and she could begin her nine laborious months attempting to do the same? How great Eve's curse, that so much befell women!

She would work to get the school at least partially named after Agustin. That would be her gift to him, her thank you for all the times he had provided for her. It would also, unbeknownst to her lovely saint of a brother, be an apology, not only for the lies she told him but for the sin she had in her heart. Tonight, she would be attending a brothel. Tonight, she would be learning how women performed for men. Tonight, she would finally understand how Lothario intended to take her, and in the process, she could very easily lose some part of her immortal soul.

It was her fervent hope Agustin would never learn of it. But if he didn't, even if he didn't... well, the school would be a partial apology, at any rate. Such was her hope, as she boarded the ship and began again towards the main city.
word count: 275
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