His Church is a Moorish woman, dressed in orange. This surprises him, in a vague, detached way.
She turns to face him and presses her hands, pale-palmed, against the confessional screen that separates them. “I’m dying,” she says, calmly. “Help me.”
His heart swells with denial and conviction, so much so that his throat is entirely blocked and the words, feeble expressions, no, never, not in my lifetime, I will see the Borgia Pope removed, fall over themselves and stay silent.
“You cannot heal when you are not here.”
“I shall stay,” he vows. “I will not leave again. I will fight this sickness from within Rome.”
She regards him steadily, then pulls back and stands up. “Then I shall die.”
“No.” It’s a sob of sound he didn’t know he could make. “Tell me,” – and he is the one pressing forward, hands raised in supplication – “tell me what I must do.” The edge of desperation in his voice is unfamiliar to him, but in front of this…woman, he is bare. Grief and guilt stretch deep within him, far beyond his comprehension, yet he knows she understands.
“I pledge with my heart and my soul, I will do what I must. Tell me, Romana.”
Rome. His everything. The name fits, or maybe she changes to fit the name. Now a blonde woman in white faces him, without the separation of the screen.
“Your heart?” She laughs, and reaches out to him. Her hand goes right through him – he feels her, inside – and she brings out a bloody lump of meat. “I have it right here,” she says. “You left it with me.”
His heart still beats inside his chest. In time with the one held in her hand.
“One for casual, one for best,” she singsongs. “I have your hearts, Cardinal. But I have lost my own.”
She is Giulia Farnese. “Bring them back to me.”
She changes again, again, again, cycling through the three forms, orangewhitegreen, blackblondebrown, RomeRomanaGiuliaGalli-
Then he’s tumbling out of bed and snatching up his silver pendant, holding it tight until the metal is warm from his hands and his single heart has stopped pounding quite so wildly.