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An Excerpt from Prince of Shadows ...

I had missed the morning mass, and was early for the noon, which was a good time to find Monsignor Giacomo in the confessional … but I found that it must have been a busy evening for sinning. At least ten aspired to cleanse their souls before me –four of them young ladies, accompanied by their ill-favored escorts. One went veiled, but her dress, and that of her lady-in-waiting, signaled her house: Capulet. It might have been the lady of that house, but the veil was not rich enough for someone of her status; Juliet was a small young lady, and this one was almost of Lady Capulet’s height. Therefore, it was Rosaline.

She stood patiently as she waited for confession, her no-doubt-bruised face concealed by her veil. Her hands were gloved to conceal the discolored knuckles. I saw her head turn to regard me for what seemed like a long few seconds, and then she went back to contemplation of the Virgin’s statue. Her escort left her to light a candle and pray to Saint Zeno, and Rosaline knelt in a rustle of skirts and folded her hands piously together.

“Wait here,” I whispered to Balthasar, and went to genuflect to the altar, then made my way to the niche where the Madonna waited, her marble face placid and full of peace. Her open hands offered the same, and I wanted it, badly, because the stress of taking a life tore at me, and the sight of Rosaline …

I knelt a few feet away from the girl and bent my head in prayer. There was a subtle, traitorous sense of comfort in being close to her, even here in sacred peaceful space, even knowing there was no possibility of anything more between us.

“Are you all right?” Rosaline whispered, just for my ears, and I had to struggle to hold myself quiet, to not betray my surprise. She asked after me? “You have blood on your neck.”

“It isn’t mine,” I said. I felt light-headed, hot, and my heart was suddenly beating too quickly. “I might ask you the same, my lady.”

She was so very still that she might have been marble herself, carved by the same master who’d made the holy statue. “A nun needs no beauty.” It was calm enough, but it wrenched at my heart. “But I will heal right enough. You must go, before you’re seen.”

She said it out of concern for me, but it was her own life in jeopardy, as well I knew; I’d receive a scorching rebuke from my grandmother, at worst, but Tybalt had already punished her viciously. Any other missteps could result in one of House Capulet’s famous accidents, so common to disobedient daughters. Easy enough to trip and fall on the steep, slick stairs, or suffer a sudden and fatal sickness. The world had no shortage of ways to die, for either of us.

“I killed two of your brother’s men, just now,” I said. “They would have killed me.” Why I said it, I do not know; I simply needed to do it, and her head bowed just a little more, as if from the weight of my admission. “It never ends, does it?”

“No,” she said softly. “Pray God it does, some day, but it will not end today, nor likely tomorrow.”

She did not say it, but my actions had certainly rolled the cycle forward, postponing that day of peace. And, looking at it squarely, it had been my own fault. If I had not been so angry at Romeo, if I had not stormed out looking for a brawl, then I would not have found one.

I crossed myself, rose, and retreated to where Balthasar was fidgeting nervously from foot to foot. He breathed a sigh of relief when I took my place beside him. He didn’t say it, but I read the stiff disapproval in his body language.

I nodded to him and headed toward the exit, just as one young lady emerged from the confessional, and another took her place.

“Sir?” he asked, startled, and hurried to catch up. “Were you not here to be shrived?”
“I’ve confessed as much as I need,” I said. “The rest can wait.” In truth, in my most heretical heart, I thought there was no real forgiveness for taking a life, in this world or the next, regardless of what the priests might say.

I wished I’d been able to see her face, but I knew that witnessing the bruises and cuts again would have given me no peace, only ignited another round of fury at Tybalt. Perhaps she had known it, too. Or perhaps I only imagined the friendship between us, fragile and unspoken and as deadly to us both as a cup of poison.

Who’s the foolish one now? I asked myself, and vowed that I would apologize to my cousin.