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Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Two Brothers of Malta Part Eleven

July was coming to a close, with a few odd encounters with the enemy. The Muslims were encircling the peninsula with cannons for a huge assault on Birgu and Senglea. In the Fort of St. Michael, an encounter occurred which changed the lives of several people.

Isabella and Rebecca had been escorted out of the camp near the harbor to St. Michael’s Fort. Immanuel accompanied them to the fort, before he returned to the interior to help some of the Maltese, who were beginning to starve, or who lacked water. Many goats had been stolen and eaten by the invaders. Little food was left in the catecombs, as so many people had to be fed. The cutting down of the unripe grain had caused a bread shortage and no supply ships from Italy or Sicily could break through the clogged harbours. In addition, some of the Suleiman’s ships sailed into St. Paul’s Bay, causing interruptions in trade.

Immanuel, Rebecca and Isabella were accompanied by the Bishop of Malta, a Knight of Malta, and by the servants of the Chevalier. Because Isabella was dying, the Bishop gave her the Last Rites and absolution, including a special blessing from the Pope. Immanuel stayed by her bedside in a small villa near the Fort, while the Bishop and the servants went on to the Fort.

It was the Feast of St. Anne, the Mother of Mary and Grandmother of Christ. During normal times, there would have been processions in Mdina and other towns honoring this beloved saint. Now, on this day, which was overcast and grey, the Catholics could only remember days of festivities.

Rebecca fanned Isabella in the oppressive heat. The clouds pressed the heat onto the island like a giant’s hands. Some said the heat was a sign of defeat. Immanuel was thinking of his thirsting, dying people of Malta. He and the Bishop went back to the chamber in the fort.

The first surprise was the arrival of Frederico. He had heard that Immanuel and his mother were in the camp area, hidden away for safety. He had met the Bishop himself. And thanked him for his kindness is bringing a sad soul to some peace.

“She is not a bad women, Your Excellency. She was young and weak. Personally, I believe she has suffered more than enough for her sins.”

The Bishop answered quickly, “I am inclined to agree with you, Frederico. She will have a peaceful death. Her confession was that of a child.”

Just then, Rebecca burst into the chamber. “Frederico, Your Excellency, please come back to the villa. Isabella is dying, I am sure.” The three men walked quickly down a small street to the house, but just as they were going to enter the dark, cool room, they heard a voice in the street. “Frederico, may I come in?”

It was Tomas. He had heard that his brother, son, and former mistress had gathered in this place. He looked strange, almost feverish. “Are you ill, my brother?” Frederico spoke first.

“I am better than I have been in years. Do you think she would see me?”

The Bishop walked over to Tomas and whispered in his ear. Tomas realized the closeness of death. “Then, I have no time. Bishop, listen to me. Take this.’

Frederico and Immanuel could not see what Tomas handed to the Bishop, but the Bishop looked for a long time at the object. “This is good, Tomas, this is very good. Come.”

All walked into the sick room. Rebecca respectfully stood by a back door. The Bishop approached Isabella who looked pale, very pale.

“My daughter, there is someone here who wants to see you. He wants to ask your forgiveness, and he wants to ask you something else. Will you see Tomas?”

Isabella tried to sit up. “Yes, yes, I shall. I will.” She looked over the Bishop’s shoulder as Tomas stepped forward.

“Will you forgive me, a pig, a stubborn, selfish man, Isabella? I took your son from you and I see God restored him behind my back. But, I am content, except for one thing.”

Isabella pressed her thin hand on the brown strong hand of Tomas. “Please know you were forgiven a long time ago. I have harbored no hatred or unforgiveness. I, too, was selfish and irresponsible. But, we have a beautiful son.”

Tomas looked at the worn face, but Isabella’s eyes glowed with love and joy. “Isabella, will you marry me, now, here?”

She turned to the wall for a moment. “You have taken a long time to ask this, Tomas. Yes, for the few days I have left, I can be restored to society, as will your son.”

The Bishop suggested that Tomas first make a general confession. In the next room, Tomas made the first confession he had made in almost thirty years before receiving the sacrament of marriage. All left Tomas and the Bishop alone for about a half-hour. Isabella was given some water. She glowed with an odd light, but she was breathing normally. Tomas and the Bishop returned to the sick room.

The Bishop came forward with his prayer book, and a small package. In it was the ring which had belonged to the noble mother of Tomas and Frederico. Immanuel choked. The ring was made of four emeralds and four diamonds in the shape of the Maltese Cross. Tomas knelt by the bed and the Bishop began the Nuptial Blessing.

A great silence enveloped all who were there. Frederico noticed tears in his brother’s eyes, but Isabella’s eyes shone with love. They said their vows quietly, serenely.

Then, the Bishop pronounced them man and left the room, indicating to Immanuel and Frederico to follow him.

“She does not have much time, perhaps hours, or a day. We can only pray.”

Immanuel hung his head but Frederico said, “You realize what a miracle this is, Your Excellency. Something has happened to my brother. This is a miracle, indeed.”

A few minutes passed and Tomas came out of the room. “She fell asleep, smiling. I had forgotten the charm of her smile. Rebecca will care for her and I shall come back after she rests, but I need some care.”  He opened his shirt and there on his side was a huge bandage, with blood beginning to seep through. “Father, we need to get the surgeon, now.” Immanuel almost shouted, but remembered the woman in the next room and lowered his voice.

“It is too late, my son. Look, I have blood poisoning and gangrene. I came here to die and to make you my son in the law and in the eyes of God. My son, no longer a bastard-the Bishop restores you as well to your rightful place. Can you forgive me?”

Immanuel led his father to a chair. “This is a day of forgiveness, Father. Of course. And as I love my mother as I love you, I am forever grateful that you made her your wife. Father…” But, Immanuel could not speak, for Tomas slid over and laid his head on the table. He took three or four deep breaths. “Your Excellency, give me the Last Rites. Please.”  Then, the Bishop began the prayers as the brother and son walked outside as Immanuel was trembling. It was now dark. In a few moments, the brother and son returned to watch Tomas receive the Body and Blood of Christ, His Lord, Whom he had avoided for years. Now, God and he were united again.

Then, after receiving the Eucharist peacefully, he fell into a fever and then, later, a coma. By midnight, he was dead.

Frederico discovered that his brother had been ambushed by Turks on the way to St. Michael’s Fort. He had killed two, but had received this blow from the third. This encounter happened four days ago.

“He may have been poisoned by the swords as well,” remarked Frederico. Some find mountebanks to buy poisons. He would not have died so soon. He was a strong man.”

Early the next morning, while the sun rose over the sea, Isabella passed away.  Immanuel asked permission for them to be buried in Mdina, in the Cathedral. The Bishop heartily gave permission, and if you visit there today, you will see a white tomb, embellished with stars, with the dust of Tomas and Isabella resting together.

The son took a carriage and escorted the two caskets, made hastily by soldiers, with Frederico and the Bishop back to Mdina.

Rebecca came as well, but did not stay in the house with the Knights. She had someone else to find. After the twin funeral in the Cathedral, she sought out Salim.

But, that is another story for another day.

July limped into August and the battering of the last two forts began. The siege was not over for Immanuel and Frederico.

But, the two old lovers rested away from the din, in a place for those who die in love and not in hate, who die in forgiveness and not in rancor, who die in humility and not in pride.

To be continued…