- Chapter Twenty Five
Maria wakes up in the Cardinals’ guest room.
The sparsely decorated room is bathed in pure white light from arched glass-pane windows, as the sun’s rays filter through the sheer curtains. With the gentlest of warm breeze, the curtains’ gossamer shadows gently dance on the veined marble floor. The room’s vaulted high ceiling, with its ornate crown moldings and wall corbels flanking the windows, at once gives the space a feeling of openness and comfort.
A large sculptural wall frieze depicting the coronation of the seven Cardinals grace the wall directly above a four-poster bed. By its side, a mahogany side table displays a crystal vase with one single red rose. Swaths of fabric curl like ribbons from the top of the bedposts to the bed itself, softly floating on the satin sheets. Here is where we find a sleeping Maria. No longer the unkempt and disheveled dump miner, she has been bathed, her skin cleaned and her hair washed and groomed. Sighing perhaps in a dream while she sleeps, we see an almost new woman in her prime, with glowing tawny skin and silken ebony hair.
Maria slowly awakens from a deep, restful slumber. As she regains consciousness, she is both startled and pleasantly surprised to feel the satin sheets enveloping her. She reaches behind her head and gently squeezes the soft pillows she rests on. She scrunches a lock of her hair and breathes in its clean fragrance, like a child first discovering the bouquet of wildflowers. She spreads her arms out and, underneath the quilted sleeves of a thick robe, notices that they are clean and that her nails have been trimmed.
Maria looks around the room and sees a nun in a traditional habit, wearing a black veil over a soft crown band, a white wimple, a long black tunic and scapular. Sitting in a cane-back chair, the nun puts down the book she is reading when she notices that Maria is awake.
Oh, you are awake. I will get the Cardinals. They are very anxious to see you.
The nun leaves the room and Maria slowly regains her faculties. Maria rubs the clean new clothing she is wearing and smells the sheets of the bed. She explores every object around her; she has never had clean clothing in her life. Slowly, she looks around the room like a child about to be discovered for doing something bad. She reaches out to the bedside table, carefully takes the rose from the vase, and savors its sweet fragrant smell. The Cardinals enter the room quickly with Father Templar following them. Frightened once again upon recognizing him, Maria recoils at Father Templar’s sight and drops the rose to the ground.
Do not be afraid. We would never harm the mother of our newest Reagan Walker.
Maria (pointing at Templar):
What is he doing here?
He is your personal servant of God. Aren’t you so lucky? We don’t all get a personal servant who would die for us.
Father Templar (bows slightly in respect):
I am here to serve my Reagan.
Maria stares in stunned silence and, realizing that she is the only woman in a roomful of strange-looking and strangely attired men, attempts to hide behind the bed sheets and pillows.
Where am I?
You are where the mother of our future Reagan Walker should be after such a horrible ordeal.
Cardinal Luxuria sits on the bed next to Maria and slowly parts the hair from her frightened face.
You need your rest; if you feel uncomfortable here, you can sleep in my room tonight, just until the shock of all this wears off.
Maria pulls away from him, all the Cardinals laugh.
Oh, poor dear, you must be exhausted, the horrors you must have seen, the horrors.
Cardinal Invidia (to Cardinal Luxuria):
Get away from the girl!
Cardinal Ira (to Maria):
You rest now.
Cardinal Superbia (screams out the door) :
Nurse! Get in here now!
The nun runs back into the room.
Maria, this is your nurse. (To the nun.) Cater to her every whim. If she is cold, get her a blanket. If she is hot, get rid of the blanket. Do you understand?
Yes, your holiness.
Father Templar, stand watch outside and protect the mother of our glorious Reagan. Protect her and do not let anyone in. Do you understand?
Cardinal Luxuria (to Maria):
We will be back for you tonight.
The Cardinals and Father Templar leave the room, the nun looks at Maria.
Can I get you anything, Maria?
Some water, please.
The nun walks across the room to a console table with a pitcher of water and two glasses resting on a silver tray. She fills one glass with water and brings it back to Maria. Puzzled and not knowing how to react, Maria looks at the glass.
What is this?
It does not look like water.
Maria lifts the glass to her nose and smells it.
It does not smell like water.
I assure you it is water.
To satisfy Maria’s curiosity and disbelief, the nun pours some water into the other glass and drinks it in front of Maria.
Maria straightens herself on the bed, sits upright, takes the glass from the nun and lifts the glass to her lips. She drinks some of the water, slowly at first. But when she discovers its fresh, clean taste, she drinks it in gulps until the glass is empty.
Slow down, Maria, don’t drink so fast.
Maria (wiping her wet lips with the back of her hand):
May I have some more?
Of course you can.
Maria extends her glass out with both hands and the nun retrieves the pitcher and refills Maria’s glass. Maria drinks the water slower this time but still drinks it all.
Would you like another glass?
No, I am fine, thank you.
Would you like me to read to you?
Maria (settling back in bed):
No, thank you.
The nun brings the cane-back chair closer to the side of the bed, sits next to Maria, picks up book, and starts to read silently. Maria piles the pillows around her, lies back in bed and, pulling the soft satin sheets to cover her, slowly melts back to sleep.