The Contessa Piccolomini entered the narthex of the Guardian Angel cathedral, escorted as usual on formal family occasions by the patriarch of the family Orion Sienna. Her great-granddaughter followed effortlessly behind as though pulled along in the wake of the powerful duo’s passage. The contessa, even at this great age, continued to be a stunning ethereal beauty. Her long silver hair had a curl and bounce to it that could be the envy of a younger woman, if anything like a negative opinion could be held of the family matriarch. Harmonia (that was the contessa’s name) was simply elegant in appearance and style, simply charming, simply “august” with not pretension. She stopped their progress before entering the nave proper.
Turning to her namesake great-granddaughter she said, “Harmonia, I realize that Orion is old enough to be your grandfather,” here her left eye winked just for her escort, “but would mind escorting him to our pew? I have to meet Maeve...”
“I would love to grand-mama.” came the soft, emotionless reply from the down-turned face. As the younger Harmonia looked up, her translucent soft hands, enfolded Orion’s upper arm and the stiff, coarse fabric of his jacket. A Mona-Lisa smile grew on her lips as she gazed into his eyes.
“The pleasure will be all mind.” Orion assured her. His features were not so emotionless, but rather painted with pleasure.
The older woman smiled kindly upon the young couple and continued “…we are escorting your cousin, I mean, your nephew Balder and his wife to their seats on the distaff side of the aisle.”
With a double take Orion’s face turned to the contessa, the younger Harmonia’s gaze placidly followed his and her smile redouble on her “grand-mama”.
“Why? Why aren’t the ushers escorting him?”
“Because, sweet man, no one messes with Maeve and because I know where all the bodies are buried, which babies arrived early, whose ancestral claims are a little shaky and all the embarrassing little family anecdotes that everyone else has forgotten about. We will make sure they are received politely by the rest of the family.”
The explanation seemed to please the younger man; he smiled when he entered the nave with Harmonia on his arm. Just before moving into view, he had waved a little too enthusiastically to the grooms who were his 10th ex-wife’s sons. The brightness of the space enclosed by the whale-boned arched roof forced their eyelids to bat away the light. Maeve requested that all the stained glass windows be removed to accommodate the overflow crowd. Most of the men of the Sienna family stood outside the church. Several of them studied his features closely. There had been odd rumors and quiet murmurings about the head of the family business. His business partner John Sienna, the father of the grooms, had refereed to Orion as “son” at a recent meeting. Inside were the well-heeled women of the family, Maeve’s old-money friends and diplomats from Aethiopia, Italy, France, India, Siam and most of the “ –stan’s”. The pews were sleek and blondish in keeping with the modern theme. The pews were tightly spaced and tightly packed. . The building was an enormous A-frame built in 1963, with an exterior mosaic depicting a guardian angel. Dramatic triangular recesses framed the absent stained glass windows, which also served as the Stations of the Cross. The mural above the altar seems to depict three men flying through the air. During the rehearsal, the father of the brides referred to them as “Eros, Pothos and Himeros” deities quite appropriate for a wedding. . A “closed” gift shop stood to the right and a line of confessionals to the left.
The family rose at Orion’s entrance. At this point in his life Orion seemed almost a caricature of the role he played as patriarch of the family. The perfect touch of gray at his temples accessorized his short-kept curly black hair. His traditional slim hard-muscled frame seemed beefier now and filled his smart military dress jacket. His russet uniform tinted with brown emphasized the fairness of his (still) youthful complexion. The erectness of his frame and grace of step indicated what his charming features shone with; power and charisma. There was something about Orion that made men what to follow and women adore. Several beauties curtsied as he passed in hopes of catching his proverbially wandering eye. Orion would whisper endearments that stole the hearts away from the even the most thoughtful and intelligent of women. There seemed still a chance they might be his eleventh wife, although everyone noted the younger Harmonia seemed to be the companion of choice lately.
Mohammed might not be able to move mountains. Orion could and like Joshua, he could to dictate to the sun. Because, in addition to the twin blessings of charisma and personal appearance, Orion was blessed with endless wealth and unimaginable influence. As Kissinger said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” Orion had power. Being in his presence was a heady event. The younger Harmonia had him in arm as they sauntered down the aisle to the first pew on the right.
The brides’ maids were in their place lead by the brides’ sister, like the goddess Artemis a head taller than the rest of the nymphs. The grooms, Shep and Nom though actually a year apart looked more like twin than ever with the hair sun streaked from their recent tour of duty. They beamed their famous smiles as they watched the couple come in. Whispering to themselves and their groomsmen about what a fine couple Orion and Harmonia made. They were accompanied by a childhood friend and de facto foster-brother Diodatus, who newly naturalized and newly enlisted, also wore a dress uniform.
The second time in moments, Orion did a double take when he saw the gentleman standing next to the grooms’ friend. His skin was dark. His lips were as plush as Orion’s, but darker. His eyes were large and wide set in contrast to Orion’s narrow judgmental gaze. His cheeks bordered on jowls, there was a scar on one check, a tattoo on the opposite side of his forehead, his ears largish and mismatched, his nose clearly broken on several occasions, his forehead “lumpy” and there seemed something wrong about the shape of his skull. People with less self-control than Orion would gape open-mouthed or advert their eyes. On the other hand, the man had long handsome black hair and a muscular frame. He had just enlisted also and uncomfortably wore the uniform. Orion noticed that the man could not keep his eyes off the maid of honor across the aisle. And vice versa.
“Is that someone from Cousin Balder’s side of the family?” he whispered to Harmonia after nodding curtly to the foursome.
“No, that’s Diodatus’ buddy, Todd. His family is from American Samoa. You’ve been gone a lot haven’t you? Everyone just loves him.” She responded sweetly soto voce while gazing upon the grooms’ party in front of them.
Orion noted the distance between the grooms and their first groomsman; “It looks like their missing their best man.”
Harmonia turned in order to catch Orion’s eye, before reporting that they were saving that spot for their half-brother Puck. Orion was suddenly aware of the people in the pew behind them listening to the conversation.
“I’ve spent the better part of the last six years looking for my prodigal son. I’ve found no sign of him and no one has heard from him.” Orion replied with a practiced shake of the head and a soft sad tone he'd perfected.
Harmonia waited to respond as though waiting for a cue. Her left hand rose to the streak of silver at his right temple. With sylph-like grace, her lips slipped to his left ear, opposite the eavesdroppers. She explained that the boys’ mother Maeve, “who knows things sometimes” was quite confident of his appearance. Orion’s super-confident and rather stoic features began to crumb before her eyes. To hide his confusion she kissed his right cheek and turned her right ear to his thick lips as though listening to some whispered response. “Orion” has spent the last six years in preparation for this day. He’d skillfully filled key positions in the family business with men obligated to him and his mother and stepfather for their positions. Once the master of the Siennan financial empire regained his composure, he responded with praises to her beauty.
A murmuring arose behind them, followed by gasps and a few exclamations of “Oh, my God!” The expression on Shep and Nom’s faces could only be described as dumbstruck! Orion and Harmonia acknowledged to one another that “Nephew” Balder must have arrived, but neighed not to notice. Orion better spent the time whispering sweet nothing to his fair companion. But at the touch of Maeve’s hand on his epaulets, the sound of his name and her words of introduction he rose to shake the hand of his long estranged kinsmen. Balder hugged him. Orion seemed embarrassed, the crowd delighted. When released, Orion discovered why the look of shock on his kinsmen’s faces. Balder looked like a Greek god carved in ebony. His midnight locks spiraled down to his broad shoulders in perfect imitation of Zeus’. His face was that of Adonis. His features as smooth and clean as some sort of polished black marble. His under torso herculean, narrowing to his waist and long legs. He was shockingly beautiful. His wife was even darker, with a voluptuousness that Orion found moving. The slim-waisted, full-figured, wide-hipped woman had skin of midnight black. A constellations of star sapphires hung at her ear lobes. Beauty and innocence defined her features. There was a warmth about her, an aura of friendliness; a wave of sexuality. The sheerness of her simmering charcoal gray gown trimmed in sable revealed a womanly figure so abysmally black skinned as to appear featureless beneath. A shock of aromatic curly charcoal gray hair surrounded her fair face like a halo. After a few quite words of introduction and promises to meet at the reception, Balder and his wife were escorted to their place on the front row of the bride’s side and Maeve and the contessa joined Harmonia and Orion.
“Grand-mama?” Harmonia began. She leaned across the front of Orion to see her great-grandmother. In the process her right hand landed gently upon his left thigh, her slim shoulder nudged his firm chest; the aroma of perfume filled his nostrils. “Cousin Balder seemed quite charming. Why do people say they will never forgive him?”
Contessa Piccolomini unlike her namesake could laugh after decades of practice. She smiled indulgently before answering, “Oh, that was all ages ago. Plus, it wasn’t Balder who cooperated with the fascists. It was his father and other uncles. Much to the enrichment of everyone that makes that comment.”
The church bells began to peal. As though that was her cue, the contessa commented on how much Todd looked like someone from Balder’s side of the family. “I should say hi, to the boys.”
She rose. Everyone took that as a signal and noisily followed suit. She exchanged quiet words with Shep and Nom. At a nod from them, she turned to Orion and Harmonia indicating the empty groomsman’s position before the altar beckoning with her right index finger. The octogenarian spoke loud enough for those in the pew behind “Orion” to hear, “Come hither, sweet Puck.”
Meanwhile, the congregation excitedly turned towards the back of the church. They stood and turned noisily. The organist struck up “Here Comes the Bride”. The eavesdroppers weren’t sure what they heard. Stan Scamander escorted his daughters down the aisle with the assistance of John Sienna. While everyone looked at the blushing brides, Maeve and Harmonia gave several influential member of the family a nod and knowing look. When the congregation sat, everyone knew what they saw. They saw Puck, the long lost heir of the Siennan fortune, standing with his brothers.
The ceremony went off without a hitch. All in French, course. The beaming brides and grinning grooms departed the church side by side by side. Men began climbing in over the windowsills. The bridesmaids and groomsmen paired up as the filed out followed hurriedly by Cousin Balder and his wife. (Todd somehow was paired up with the brides’ maid). Parents of the bridal party rose from their pews and were swarmed by well-wishers, engaged by enraged cousins wanting to know how long Puck had been covering for his father and the fawning nods of those aware.
Digital image thanks to NYPL
Digital image thanks to NYPL