January 29th
San Giorgio Monastery

The trip over to San Giorgio Monastery was never terribly unpleasant, even on the worst days. At the far end, among the stuffy monks and the judging eyes, Ilaria's brother endeavored to make the world a better place. Her heart swelled as the craft approached the dock. Going to a house of God was never her favorite activity, but having Agustin to look forward to was just... so... perfect. Dressed in the many ruffles of fashion, Ilaria had selected white for the day's dress. Reminiscent of a wedding, intentionally so. She also wanted to portray herself as being pure. Agustin wasn't aware of her... predilection, nor their parents' reaction to her... preference. Every time she visited or he was slated to visit her, Ilaria attempted to pull the purest-seeming dresses out for him.

Pearls in her earrings, an opal on a tight necklace around her neck--supposedly something they were starting to experiment with, fashion-wise, in England--and an utter lack of decolletage as her bodice very nearly attempted to strangle her. The engagement ring dominated one hand, while the other was completely unadorned (as if that would somehow offset the opulence of the rest of her clothes and jewelry?). High shoes, stockings, her hair flowing with flowers woven in here and there. Again, reminiscent of a wedding veil. Subtlety was good, but having an outfit that was appropriately coordinated was even more important.

Stepping off the boat and making her way up towards the monastery proper, Ilaria searched herself for the satchel of coins she'd brought with her as an honorary donation. The family Barbaro gave annually, of course, and especially to San Giorgio thanks to their son being part of the family. Still, it only made sense that she be prepared to show her false piety as soon as she could. Bowing her head to the brothers, priests, monks, whatevers were loitering around the path, Ilaria strode confidently through the somewhat familiar halls. Where her brother would end up being at any given time, Ilaria couldn't say for certain, but Agustin wouldn't be terribly difficult to locate. He had a certain air about him.

It was impossible to not think of Agustin as handsome. He was Ria's brother, and she wasn't even interested in men, but it was still simply impossible to say with any belief that Agustin wasn't a lady-killer. Had he not joined the cloth, he would've been just like her betrothed--if he didn't go from brothel to brothel, he would've bounced from honest woman to honest woman, stripping them of their titles. The thought made her smile, but she turned her face down and focused on keeping her hands overlapped and demure as she made her way through the monastery. Best not to invite critique or inquiry from any of the brothers.
word count: 488

It was one of the quiet days when San Giorgio Monastery was preparing for <a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candlemas' rel='nofollow noopener' target='_blank'>Candlemas</a>. For some lay people, Epiphany was the holiday ending the Christmas Season; indeed, it was the Twelfth Day of Christmas. But in the church, the tradition lasted, according to the Scriptures, until Candlemas. The whole 40 days period from Christ's birth to his presentation to temple, to be consecrated to God as a firstborn. It was also a traditional holiday when the children received the First Communion and, respectively, the teens were <a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation' rel='nofollow noopener' target='_blank'>confirmed</a>. And Fra'Agustin's work was exactly to repeat the Catechism with the children and teens, making sure they knew all the answers when the Bishop would ask them in the ceremony.

"Don't worry, I'll be right there, with you, taking care of my little flock," he reassured them.

He was interrupted by a young novice, telling him that his sister was asking to see him. Agustin thanked him and smiled widely. He was always looking forward to seeing Ilaria. The youngest was the favourite in most households. He made no exception in his fondness for his youngest sister. As six years separated them, and he had been away for a long time, he kept the fondness of childhood memories closer to his heart, so he hurried to meet her. But, of course, what he was seeing now was far from the ten years old tomboy whose memories he treasured. Every time he was seeing her again he had to make efforts to understand that she had grown into a lovely young lady, who would soon be ready to leave the parental nest, hopefully to a better fate, God willing.

"Good afternoon, dear sister. I am so glad to see you again! Your beauty is as resplendant as a white rose's," he greeted her. "What's new at home?"

She couldn't come, just with an old servant as chaperone, for a merely social visit. Something must have happened at home, he mused, unsure if to start worrying or not yet.
word count: 371

The little leap inside Ilaria's chest reminded her of the days of her youth, when she had fallen off one of the small walls (or, in her imagination, the great alps!) around the estate off in the country and skinned her knee. Agustin had helped her up and dusted her off, and he hadn't made her feel like a failure despite her fall. He'd been nice, he'd always been nice. Seeing him, seeing how genuine his faith was, feeling the love he felt for her... in a way, it made her feel guilty. If there was a loving God above, surely His love would feel like Agustin's. Why was it, then, that she couldn't have true Faith? Why was it that, even as she stepped forward to give her brother a hug, nuzzling her face into his neck and fighting back tears, why was it that she couldn't believe that God loved her?

"Brother," she whispered, her voice almost cracking. "I have wonderful news." Stepping away from him, putting on her best smile, Ria put her hands on her heart and sighed. Staring up at the ceiling for a moment, blinking away the tears and ensuring her eyelashes didn't decide to hold on to any, Ilaria composed herself for a moment before carrying on. "Agustin, I was going to write but I simply couldn't resist the opportunity to tell you in person. I'm getting married!" She held out her hand and flattened her fingers together, to show off the engagement ring. "Papa finally found someone for me--and he hasn't died yet!" Fourth time was the charm, after all. "And you mustn't say such things about me. I am a good, proper woman now. You'll see! I shall grow ugly, like a shriveled grape."

Smiling, Ilaria used her free hand to run a fingernail underneath both eyes, carefully removing any tears that had betrayed her commandments. "How are you doing, though? You do not write nearly enough! I cannot say in good faith that I know what it is you've been up to in the months since my last visit! Do they not allow you parchment here, brother? Must I send you supplies, as though you were at war?"
word count: 383

Agustin breathed alleviated as Ilaria stated that she had wonderful news. He felt in her voice, though, that something was off. Part of the joy was fake. He knew her for enough years to hear this subtlety and recognize it for what it was. If he looked better at her, at a moment he thought he was seeing uncried tears forming around her eye but not yet as many as to fall in a weeping.

"I am glad for you that you are getting married," he said with a warm, but still measured tone, as the path he had chosen was above mundane joys like marriage. "It will be better for you to have your own household to manage," he added even more enthusiastically.

For a girl, this was the path in life. A good marriage, a few children to raise, a household to make prosper. Not to remain with the parents, who after a certain age could grow overbearing. But he also thought he understood her fears, as it seemed that she had been cursed with bad luck and all the arrangements up to now had failed. Death had asked its untimely toll.

"I have prayed for you to Saint Anthony and Saint Catherine, to find a good husband and to have a happy marriage," he told her. "You'll see, this time it will happen. Have you met him? Who is he? Do you like him?" he asked, trying to uncover the veil of sadness.

She was teasing him, that she would grow ugly.

"So will I. But at that time you will be a happy grandmother, watching over your granddaughters' first ball, and me, God willing, a bishop," he replied, trying to sound as serious as possible.

Only the lights in his eyes showed that he was actually joking and teasing her back. Not that he wouldn't like to become a bishop some day in his old age… And this bond between the two siblings had worked. Now she was asking about him and teasing that they were at war for not having received letters from him.

"I understand. I promise to write you more often. We have enough parchment, only that I have used it for writing theological papers, not letters. You know that, besides my duty for the monastery and for the community, I am studying too. And my kind of life doesn't have enough news which would interest a young lady who is getting engaged. Tell me, how advanced are the wedding preparations? Have you set the date and the place of the ceremony?"

This curiosity wasn't just casual. As a deacon, he could participate in the nuptial mass, just that not officiate it directly. He wanted to be there for his sister, to be the one who wrote the marriage certificate and embellish it with his calligraphy and illuminations.
word count: 479

"His name is Lothario Venturi. He comes from... good stock." Ilaria moved towards a small little... well, not quite an office, but somewhere they could speak without having to have random frocked men pass by and gaze disapprovingly at her. "He is a gentleman, although his father was executed." Ria didn't see the point in mentioning Lothario's reputation--with any luck, her brother hadn't heard about them. He was a precious little soul, and he needed to be protected from the lascivious acts her fianc&#233; had perpetrated in his years as a bachelor. "I worry, of course. But is it not my lot to worry? Papa believes the match will be beneficial, and so we shall be wed."

In a way, Ilaria felt Agustin would understand that concept. Their father was a curious man, with a very particular way of thinking. Trying to challenge his decisions was a poor choice, unless you were a brother. Uncle Severino could get away with it, but only just. Age and time had given the brothers a respect children couldn't hope to attain. "And you're angling to be bishop, are you? I shouldn't doubt it! You've got the piety of a saint, you know. I wonder if we'll still have money enough to build you your own cathedral, once they recognize your miracles..." Flirting with blasphemy, but she was his youngest sister and by God, she was going to make jokes if they flattered him.

"We've completed several steps. The guest lists have been drawn up. We will be married February 19th. The orchestra and the bakers and the chefs and the--well, the staff in general have been hired. Mama and Signora Elanora have been quite instrumental in overseeing the minutia, ensuring the contracts are signed and the details have been checked and checked again. I have learned much from tutors, but I tell you this, brother--nothing prepares you for a wedding." With a sad little sigh, she put a hand up over her forehead and leaned back dramatically. "But Agustin, who will stand before my betrothed and I, and speak to us about the wonders and splendors and glories of God? Who will witness our matrimony on behalf of the Lord? Oh! If only I knew anyone I trusted to be there! If only I knew someone whose schedule I could clear by fluttering my eyelashes!"

With a gasp, Ilaria snapped her fingers and dropped her hand from her forehead. "The Lord has dropped the scales from my eyes, as he did with Saul of Tarsus before he became Paul! Oh! It dawns upon me! Brother--could--could it be--oh!" Dramatics were a joy of her life, she was going to indulge. "Could you... if it isn't too much trouble... could you ask Guiseppe Alessandri if he has an opening in February?"
word count: 483

"Maybe it is too early for you to worry. You'd better pray for a happy marriage, and let the worrying for afterwards, if the case might be. Hopefully not at all," he advised her.

Her fiance's name rang a bell in his memory.

"Venturi, are you saying? Yes, probably the son of Raniero Venturi, who had been involved in the movement for modernising our Serenissima Reppubblica. The previous doge said it was a conspiration against him, but it wasn't. It had happened about eleven years ago, I was in my teens, but I remember everyone talking about it. Including in the Seminary, as some priests were among the promotors of the social reforms," he whispered. "Anyway, it's a good family you are entering into. I think the match would be beneficial too. And perhaps the son of a man striving for the progress of the country would be open-minded in the way he sees a marriage working too," he tried to encourage her.

She took his words too seriously. He couldn't abstain chuckling:

"Come on, Ilaria, I haven't been ordained as priest yet! And if anyone heard you…"

Of course, they were Barbaros. So anything was possible in the future. But for now, his sister's wedding was what mattered. And the date was so close!

"I am sure you will manage, soreleta," he comforted her. "And I would love to be by your side, to witness the vows you exchange with your bridegroom. Have you thought to make the wedding here in San Giorgio Maggiore?"

Of course she had, and she was thinking about his best friend, Giuseppe. The same one he would have asked for.

"Be sure I'll arrange it with him to officiate and I'll be there, helping him and having the opportunity to be close to you on your greatest day," he smiled happily.
word count: 317

Ilaria scoffed. "I was joking, you swineherd. I want you up there. That was the joke! Don't be so silly!" She playfully punched his arm. "I want you up there. You're allowed, aren't you? You're allowed to, aren't you? Of course I want you up there. Don't tell me you've gotten to the point in your religious training that you've had to swear off a sense of humor, as well as wives!" The distress in her voice was theatrical, even if Ria's voice was low. She knew Agustin would understand she was kidding--at least, she hoped he would!--but allowing others to hear her could cause him trouble, and that was the furthest thing from her desires.

"As for the venue, do you think they'd allow it?" While she had an inflated sense of ego, Ilaria didn't wish to presume she could book a venue literally two(ish) weeks without warning. Still, the thought was quite appealing, and getting the necessary ships to ferry the significant number of guests to San Giorgio wouldn't really be all that difficult... "I would be honored and delighted, especially if they allow you to perform the wedding." Of course, if they didn't, she'd redirect the family's money (as best she could) to other, better churches. And then find someone to burn this one to the ground.

That Agustin spoke so highly of the family Venturi made Ilaria quite happy. "I'm glad you approve of my fiancé so completely, brother. I do not wish to ever concern you, or disappoint you. You..." Her voice threatened to crack, and so Ilaria blinked back the second wave of almost-tears. "You're very important to me, Agustin. You know that, but I like saying it, so you must suffer to hear it again. I am very fond and extraordinarily proud of you, and your love and your happiness and your kindness fill me with... with..." Damnations! Tears streaked down her face, and Ilaria turned about-face to compose herself again. "I just... very much appreciate you, and I miss you terribly. This monastery is lucky to have you beneath its ceiling."
word count: 371

Agustin knew well that she was joking, and he didn't duck from her punch. It was nothing more than their usual childish selves of ten years ago.

"Of course I am allowed to joke, as long as my jokes aren't blasphemous. And yes, I'd wish it to happen some day, and you to be in the cathedral, among the attendance, sharing with me the moment. Hopefully it isn't a sin to wish for a promotion, in time… Until then, you'll be here in the church at my consecration, whenever it would happen. Probably at Easter time," he tried to bring her back to a behaviour more suitable in church.

As for not getting married, he didn't feel it as a loss. It was his choice, to have the Church as ethernal bride. And speaking of weddings, his sister's was important now to organize.

"I think Giusseppe and I might manage to arrange for a nuptial mass here. Ultimately, our family had been a constant donor," he replied. "We'll talk both of us with the Abbott. As for the wedding ceremony per se, Giuseppe will be the one performing it. I'll be just helping him and doing some readings," he clarified. "I'll be the one to perform the baptism of your children, though," he smiled kindly to her.

Ilaria was really emotional, showing that she cared for him beyond the jokes. As if he didn't. As if he hadn't missed her too, in all these years he had been away from the family. He caught her hand in his, looking in her eyes intently:

"Give me your worries and unburden them from your heart. Don't forget that you are my beloved little sister, no matter what. And if you ever have a problem you feel you wouldn't confess to our mother, neither to your closest friend, I am here to listen and not judge you, because God is kind, is . We, His representatives on Earth, are here to help and give advice <a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sub_rosa' rel='nofollow noopener' target='_blank'>sub rosa</a>. You can always confide in me. I prefer to worry and pray for you, than to know that you don't have the support you need."

The sin of vanity was present in each nobility offspring. He couldn't be exempted, so he smiled silently when hearing her latest words.
word count: 412

As always, Agustin wanted to make her life easier. Better, even. Looking both ways to ensure no lurking monks were within earshot, Ilaria stepped closer and whispered to her brother. "Lothario has a reputation for... womanizing. He has for many years--he is, I think, thirty six years of age to my nineteen, and for many years he has found the company of harlots favorable. His mother, when I went to meet my intended, warned me that he might forget himself and his words to me. She suggested that I might have to assert myself--to strike him, perhaps, and remind him of his vow." Sniffling, running her nails beneath her eyes again in an effort to remove the tears without ruining her makeup entirely, Ilaria gave Agustin a sad smile.

"I don't know if he will be loyal or not, Agustin. But it scares me to think of... of a man who womanized." Which was absolutely true. All of these emotions, so different from the heady, giddy experience she'd had in the company of the Venturis, were genuine. She was concerned. Frightened, even. Between Lothario's experience and his insatiable lusts, would she manage to be sufficiently frigid to send him back to the harlots' dens without revealing to him her own secret desires? Would he find her out and care? Or would he use it to shift the balance of power within the marriage, to assert himself and dominate her entirely for fear of social ruination and the damage to her family's name?

Ilaria nodded and took a deep, steadying breath. "Forgive me, Brother, for I have sinned. It is a sin to gossip, is it not?" Her smile took on an element of mirth as she punched her sadness in the face and forced it down into her soul again. "You may be forbidden from blasphemous joking, but at least let me make my little heresies. You know I come to church every Sunday. If the Lord found my humor distasteful, surely He would have smote me by now. If He loves me, surely He loves my sense of humor, too."
word count: 357

Maybe Agustin had overestimated himself. Maybe he wasn't as ready as he thought to be a proper priest. Not even to take his sister's confessions. But it was well that she trusted him. And if God chose him for this vocation, He would give him the good mind he needed. For now, he tried to understand her worries. He might have been chaste, as per his vows, but he had heard enough to have an idea what happened in this world – and an opinion about it.

"He is older than me, but I think not as old as you are guessing. Maybe thirty two or thirty three. Definitely there are less than ten years between us, as I can remember him before he left for studies. I wasn't that young. As for being a womanizer… this thing happens. Saint Paul says that God has given the Holy Matrimony to people exactly in order to avoid temptation and sin. Sanctifying a link between a man and a woman, so that he wouldn't seek others afterwards. But until he is actually married with you, the marital vows aren't binding yet. I don't think that striking a man would be the best idea, though. You might turn him into an enemy, and this is what you want the least, if you are going to spend a lifetime together."

It made sense for an innocent maiden to be scared of her future husband's worldliness:

"You have no reason to be scared. It is normal for him, at that age, to have known the world's temptation. But this could be for the best, and not to be tempted anymore after he got married, because he had tried everything before. However, it is important for you to be loyal. It matters less if he is, as long as he is discrete, not bringing you dishonour, he treats you well and gives you all the attention his wife deserves. Having mistresses, while punished by God's commandments. Is still a thing accepted for men. Not all of them can wait the needed time when their wife is with child or tending the baby, even if they should. Some priests say that a woman is always to blame for men's sins, since Eve's fall. While I can't contradict the sin and the curse of Eve happened, I think women could be saintly too and rise their men through their saintly behaviour, because they aren't only daughters of Eve. They are also Saint Mary's daughters."

Life was not fair. Men and women were treated differently in society. And it didn't harm for a future bride to know what to expect and what shouldn't be a concern.

Now, Ilaria, most likely unsatisfied with his answer, tried to retreat with half jokes.

"It is a sin to gossip, but it is no sin to honestly confess your worries. Give them to God too, in your prayers, and ask Him to take your worries away," he smiled again. "Your sense of humour might be a blessing, Ilaria, if it helps you pass easier through the meanders of life."

He knew well that outside the monastery, life wasn't as quiet as it was here.
word count: 547
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