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Silvānus (Estonia)
Her offer of a portrait curled little tendrils of mischievousness within. He paused to look her over as though seriously considering the option. Finally, with an air of dramatic rejection, Philip decreed, “I know I am handsome, but you must try to move on from that. If I desired to look at myself, all I must do is find a mirror,” he concluded with a wince of the eye that may have been mistaken for the wink in her sketch. It was nothing of the sort, certainly, and they entered the building.

The church was small and completely without privacy. Therefore, he did not elaborate upon her insightful statement, despite side-stepping an answer on a technicality. The tongue almost slipped his other name, and he was curious to know if any moths escaped from her pencil. Thalia was more connected to Nimeda than she realized, which he already knew to be true, but also begged of himself the same query. How much was he connected to the facets of himself? Much like that crystal shard, the angles and planes of it locking into place, distinct and individual, they were yet pieces of a larger whole. The same could be said of the Church, himself at the center.

A Diet Vanilla Coke awaited his return, crisp and chill to the touch. He drank of the can with excruciating appreciation. A happy gasp escaped as he finished the concoction. Someone brought a quiet beverage before Thalia, water or whatever she desired. Their stock was minimal, excluding the aforementioned vanilla coke.

As offered, he rifled through some of the sketches, turning them this way and that. The pastoral image of a creek winding through a forest he pivoted until it was upside down, peering at it from new angles. He hadn’t complimented her skill, such that it was. ”You’re no master that’s for certain. I have lived surrounded by the works of man honoring God and themselves into the infinite everlasting. The Sistine Chapel is truly exquisite.” He was aware of the inherent contradiction in himself. On one breath judging the pride of man and on the other acknowledging their work.

“Despite the declaration of your religious affiliations, you are welcome to remain for mass. The children will likely find you more entertaining than me.” He continued to study the work as he spoke, entranced as fully as he was while studying the legendary works of century’s past.

Man is like God: he never changes.

Little in others every truly surprised Thalia, but the nature of the joke rose both brows before genuine laughter spluttered. If he hadn’t been the Pope it might have earned him a poke in the ribs. “Then it’s fortunate you didn’t come all the way from Rome for a mirror.”

She trailed after him back into the cool hallows of the church, pushing the hat back off her head where it slumped limply against her back. Someone offered a glass of water, which she accepted out of politeness more than anything. With a number of sketches clasped in her other hand, and the stick still wedged underarm, she was becoming quite encumbered in a somewhat awkward way. She shuffled to dispense at least her bag on the floor by one of the pews, negotiating a little chaotically until she only held the water.

His observations of the work drew not much more than an amused hum of laughter. She’d already told him the work pulled through her, not from her. Her entire living revolved around her art, and she survived on it, but the compulsion was such that it claimed so much time that it wasn't exactly a vocational choice so much as a necessity. There was often little passion, and she felt no great pride -- certainly not enough to be stung by the assessment. One only had to observe the crinkled pages and peppered fingerprints of blood to realise she was careless with the pieces. And on the other hand, he did spend a not inconsiderable amount of time frowning at each one.

“Hmm. Well, I had been thinking to make a gift, but perhaps it would be wasted.” Had they been in less public view, she would have cheekily plucked the sheet currently at his perusal from grasp, but as it was the tease remained in expression alone. The invitation did not go without note, which probably accounted for the rest of her grin. Not that she was particularly excited about mass, which she expected to be rather boring. “You’re probably right,” she agreed easily. “So I suppose I shall.”
Her burst of laughter was met with the sort of amused awareness one may have of gleeful children racing nearby. It was the heart of innocence that captured his spark of protectiveness. Philip wasn’t paternal – in fact he preferred avoidance of such responsibilities. To buffer innocence, though, may rise the sort of fire within him that ignited the fury of Christ revealed in the den of thieves. Thalia was that to him. A precious innocence that he needed to see preserved, if only to atone for all those equally lost to the bile and filth of a sinful world.

Despite his favor of this girl, which Cardinal Giancarlo recognized instantly, it was imperative that theirs remain a formal relationship. As such, Patricus strolled with perfect preservation of their personal space with his hands folded neatly at his waist as though ever prepared to lift them reverently skyward. Thalia would not be let go so easily, not until what interest she held to the Pope was determined.

They parted shortly after to allow time for preparation: spiritual and physical. It was not without consequence that he appeared to the whole of the church in double layers of white attire, the outermost one an intricate sheen of lace, representing purity and holiness. Layered atop the white he burdened the heavy load of an ornate chasuble of green and gold cloth cut in a medieval style. The pallium trailed, the cloak that only the Pope wore, was made from the wool of lambs raised by monks and the crosses upon it woven by nuns. Like everything, it was rich with symbolism as Patricus, the shepherd, literally carried lost sheep on his shoulders. The tall points of the mitre, an instantly recognizable Papal shape, pointed from his head, which was otherwise angled heavenward during the entire parade. The attire was heavy, hot, and uncomfortable. He did not arrange himself in such precious symbols out of preference, but he endured the duty with purposeful intent. His neck and shoulders burned with the posture, but it was a small discomfort compared to the sacrifice of the Lord. Only later beneath the stream of a hot shower would the ache eventually soothe but never fully relinquish.

It was said that to behold this Pope engaged in the liturgical rites of the word and eucharist was to imprint something everlasting on the soul. When Philip consecrated the bread and wine, the believer felt the pain of the cross and tasted the salt of cleansing blood within themselves purely as secondary consequence to the immense faith radiating from his princely authority. The intensity of his expression peered beyond the brick and mortar of a small building in the Estonian countryside. Through his eyes, a glimpse of the heavenly divine was reflected. Several children fell into peaceful slumber listening to the cadence of his speech, which spilled in silky Latin rather than the punctate tongue of English.

As the mass shifted from honoring with worship and awe, the children were suddenly woken by the Pope’s booming voice that heralded the liturgy of the Word. In the call, passion and emotional charges for the faithful were issued. Philip’s hands, so usually folded in demure softness, were corded tight with commands. In the back, a child was soothed by their mother, as it seemed none were expecting the loud outburst that continued for some time after.

Man is like God: he never changes.


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