Alchemist's Gift

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But in Ourselves

While Doctor Jacopo Gallo did his work pro bono, Bishop DiMars quietly slipped out of the Provost Office, stood under the overhang, and watched the raindrops run along the edge of the tiles, collecting at the lowest corner and dripping onto the ground. The rain had eased to a drizzle. This was supposed to be the day that was to make his name as destroyer of witches and a champion of good, especially in the eyes of the upper echelons of the church.

He blamed the rain. He blamed Mezzi and the confounded wood that refused to burn. If the wood had lit, none of these terrible things would have come to pass. He cursed Renaldi for not insisting more to honor Lorenzo Patriarca’s demand to postpone the burning, and lastly he blamed his ambition and his vanity. He headed across the courtyard to the rectory. He desired--no, he needed--the privacy and refuge of his chamber. He saw Renaldi with a few others waiting at the front door. Relieved that he was unobserved, Bishop DiMars quickly changed his route, took the garden path, and hurried to the back door. He tried the door handle. The door was barred.

His girl Annamarie, by good fortune, was in the kitchen sitting by the fire. Her embroidery hoop was on her lap. She had her thimble but was anxious and sad because she could not find her fine golden needle. She had even turned her sewing pouch inside out. Annamarie opened the door when she heard the bishop call her name. Annamarie almost did not recognize him. His clothing was soaked and dripping. His hair was plastered to his forehead, and his face was wet. The rain collected in little drops just under the tip of his nose and chin. “Sir, do you want hot cider or broth?” she asked with an unsure smile.

Bishop DiMars said nothing. He picked up a dish rag and dried his face and hair. “No, nothing. I must not be disturbed. Let no one in.”

“Yes, sir.” Annamarie had never seen the bishop so quiet and reflective. Before she returned to her stool next to the hearth, she made one more scan of the floor, hoping to find her golden needle.

DiMars mounted the stairs and entered his apartment. He closed the door and locked it. The bishop drew the curtain on the small window over his bed, casting his room into a twilight world for only him and--he hoped--the Holy Ghost.

DiMars stripped off his wet clothes and left them near the door. He was covered in gooseflesh and shivering uncontrollably. With some difficulty, he knelt before his dressing chest. In the bottom drawer, hidden under some odd bits of clothing and linens, he found his scourge wrapped in a small piece of carpet. He unrolled the little carpet and took the leather handle in his hand. On his way to the rectory, he imagined this moment.

“I have failed you, dear God,” he whispered. He felt the flush of anticipation when he drew the thin leather strips that made up the business end of the scourge over the palm of his left hand. He felt the little lead bead sewn to the end of each narrow leather strand. One at a time, he took a bead between his index finger and his thumb, and gently rolled it in a tiny circle. He went from one bead to the next as if he were saying the rosary.

He made the sign of the cross and knelt on the scrap of carpet. The last thing he saw before he closed his eyes was the large gilded crucifix on the wall. He found it difficult to swallow. His face grew hot and his heart raced. DiMars whispered, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” When he spoke the words “thy will be done,” he swung the whip over his shoulder. He repeated his mantra again and again, each time accentuating the word “will” with each stroke. The first three lashes stung. As he punished his vanities, the sting and the sound of the leather cracking against his flesh faded into an ecstasy of release and redemption.

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