Alchemist's Gift

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And the Veil Shall be Lifted

“How did you come to be here?”

Rosanera settled into the settee and snuggled against Roland. “My mother married Gunter when I was five. My father was Conte Emilio d’Benevita. We lived in a beautiful villa in Italy.” She looked up to Roland and kissed his cheek. “It was such a beautiful place. My Grandpapa and Grandmamma were the masters of Casa Bella.” She sighed. “It seems so long ago.”

“What happened to your father?”

“No one knows for sure. I do not really remember him. I was just a baby, maybe two years old. Mama told me he went to visit his friend. Papa never came back. Mama told me she and Papa loved each other very much. She told me he loved me too. Mama never knew the reason he would leave us and never come home. She mourned for two years.”

“And your mother married Gunter.”

“Yes, a bishop named DiMars arranged it. It made me so sad to leave Grandpapa and Grandmamma. I know they loved me very much. Sometimes it seems like it was yesterday that I sat on Grandmama’s lap.”

They sat quietly. Rosanera was exhausted. She leaned in a little closer and clung to Roland’s arm.

Roland was ambivalent toward his lack of a past. “At least you have those memories. I have only the memories from the past few weeks.” He cradled Rosanera and repeated something Rene told him. “It is said that we are the sum of our memories.” Rosanera nuzzled against his chest.

“Poor Roland! You have come to me with no past,” she whispered. “It seems I am the total of your memories now.” She looked up and waited for him to return her attention. When he met her gaze, she continued, “I am yours, and you belong to me.” She closed her eyes. A serene smile came to her lips.

Roland looked down on Rosanera. She was so playful and teasing in her lovemaking, but firm and haughty in the way she dismissed him. He did not know why he had so willingly given his word to help her that night in the courtyard. Roland allowed Rosanera to usurp his selflessness as he humbly bowed to her promise of a reward and the privilege of returning to Adler Kralle the hero with a cartful of gold and to claim his place in her bed and rule by her side. Roland now understood what Rene had meant by the truth being transitory.

“I am so glad you are here, my love.” Rosanera snuggled against Roland to the point of discomfort. And so they sat; she, the desperate victim of circumstance with her future in the hands of this naïve and unknown man Roland Hughes, and Roland, who now felt uneasy and unsure about the person to whom he made such a promise.

“Yes” was all Roland could say. He knew that they had been brought together by the strangest of circumstances and were an improbable match. The more she huddled against him, the more he wondered where that strong, confident woman from just a few days ago was.

It was getting on to dusk. Both were glad, almost relieved, when Clotilda interrupted them with their dinner. Rosanera had Clotilda close the shutters, draw the drapes, and start a fire. She sent her on her way and told her that she would not need her until tomorrow morning.

They dined on truffles and capers in a buttery broth, honeyed roast duck, and bread flavored with anise seed. They ate grapes and pears and drank a goodly amount of white wine until they were sated and sleepy.

There were more smiles than conversation during dinner. At times, Roland felt awkward and even unsure why he was there.

They retired to the settee after dinner. Rosanera pulled a grape off the bunch and brought it to Roland’s lips. On her playful insistence, Roland sucked the grape into his mouth and bit it in half. “We sit here, fed, warm, safe. I must ask my dearest, are we closer to getting the gold? Our people need so many things.” She stretched and settled back into the crook of Roland’s arm.

“Things go well, but slowly.”

Rosanera put her hand on his thigh. “Tell me, where does such a treasure come from, Arabia?” She moved her hand up to his lap.

“Is it really that important?”

Rosanera kissed Roland on his lips. Her fingertips explored, and she passed her hand over his crotch, quickly withdrew it and started at his knee again, drew her trailing fingertips up his thigh and encircled his belly. She gave him an open mouth kiss and moistened his lips with her tongue then kissed him again. She nibbled on his lower lip. He pulled his head away.

In an airy voice Rosanera asked, “Will you need any help bringing the gold to me?”

“No, I do not think so.” He had to take a deep breath. “Careful with those hands,” he said with a slight laugh to his voice.

“I have no worry when I am with you. When I hold you in my arms, I feel safe.”

Rosanera leaned in close to Roland and invited a kiss with an arch of her eyebrow. She put her hand on the back of his head. Roland closed his eyes and when his lips met hers, Sofia’s radiant face filled the landscape of his mind. Startled, he opened his eyes and saw Rosanera’s eyes were open and expressionless.

Rosanera sighed. “What a wonderful kiss. Tell me one more thing about your promise. Will the gold be coin or ingots?”

Roland shook his head and sat up straight. He took his arm from around Rosanera. “You ask such an odd question at a time like this.” Roland held her hand, not out of affection but to stop her relentless teasing.

Rosanera made a little kiss in the air and blew it to Roland. “Not so odd my love. Minted gold spends quicker than bullion.”

Roland pressed, “You seem more interested in the gold than me.”

“Oh, I am interested in you, cara mia.” A crisp and clear tone replaced her soft and lazy words. The sleepy look left Rosanera’s eyes. “Understand dear Roland, time is not on our side. So much is at stake. I ask these questions because I must be sure of you if we are to share power. Do you want that? Or would you rather live in that dreary little house with that mouse Sofia and her father’s old books?”

Roland disliked the question and the insinuating way she asked it.

Rosanera passed off Roland’s silence as a childish pout. She returned to her sleepy persona. “Do not be angry with me, my love. Please?”

“No, I am not angry,” his voice tailed off and the tension left his shoulders.

“You do know that strange old Hermes was rumored to practice alchemy.” Rosanera freed her hand from Roland’s and traced her fingertip over his lips. “Did you find the secret of alchemy in those dusty old books full of spells and chants he used in his black arts?”

“There are no black arts here. Nothing bad. What difference does it make if I study his works and, with Sofia’s help, use that knowledge for good? Use that knowledge to help starving people, and you to claim your title?”

Rosanera found her kernel of truth. She smiled inwardly. “I am just so tired and frightened right now. Let us forget about this talk and your Sofia. We are here now at this moment, and the moment passes so quickly. Hold me, make me feel safe, love me.”

Rosanera kissed Roland on the neck and lips. Roland barely returned her kiss. She stood and led him to her bed. She playfully tried to push Roland down on his back. He kept to his feet and did not surrender. Roland sat on the bed with his feet flat on the floor. He covered his mouth and yawned.

Rosanera fell next to him and tried to pull him onto his back. When he did not respond, she rolled to her side, crooked her arm, and propped her chin in the palm of her hand. “Are you not amorous, cara mia?” Rosanera roughly tugged on his waistband.

“I am rather tired tonight. I have spent much time working to get your gold. Let us just lie in each other’s arms tonight.”

Rosanera felt slighted and bit annoyed. She repeated the words and added with a cool, nonchalance, “Hold each other? If you so wish. Yes, I will allow you to hold me. If you are that tired, I will keep my favors for another time.”

Roland did not sleep very well.

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