Ysabelle’s daily routine consist mainly of staying inside the mansion as per the House Master’s order. She of all the members of the family was treated like a prisoner although she wasn’t even one. Alfon’s reason was simple and that was to guard her welfare. She didn’t thought much of it though, but sometimes, when the moon was so high and mystical, or the rainbow was spouting beautiful colors over the horizon, or the sun was brightly shining in the blue sky, she desired to go out of the mansion with her digital SLR camera in hand.
This was exactly what she did early in the morning with Alfon’s permission. Without any companion, she went straight ahead to the City of Prague where there she knew she would catch numerous lively activities in the streets, establishments or parks.
The Plaza Citadelli was where she headed for the remainder of her excursion. It was actually her favorite place among the rest of the city’s plaza as it had the one photo subject she had liked so much and it was the center fountain. Click by click, she took as much as she could of almost all she could see inside the garden: the greenery surrounding her, the shrubs full of flowery details, the children’s playfulness, happy families passing her, the colorful balloons in the vendor’s hand, and even one simple gesture of kindness, she was able to capture on film.
The scene showed a man wearing a loose cotton white shirt bending over in front of a little girl and handing her two rolls of pastries without hesitation. He had a warm smile on his face that showed of sincerity. Ysabelle knew she just had to immortalize it in a photo.
And immortalize it she did with one click of the camera, smiling when she looked at the shot in the preview screen. She choose the protect icon of her gadget to preserve the photo knowing it was a capture she needed to print. Acting like a professional photographer that she is, she continued her job taking pictures on other sights, turning away from the man and the little girl.
Photography was one of Ysabelle’s fine pleasures when not inside the mansion, but even so, when she is staying in her room, the photos she had captured during the day, she prints it in her mini studio area. It was a hobby she had taken an instant liking since she was first introduced to it...many, many years so to say.
Feeling tired, she decided to sit at a vacant area in the fountain’s base. Although it was a hot weather, she didn’t mind the burn of the sun at all. She even had a fun time watching a group of children playing with a skipping rope.
It was normal for her to observe the happenings in her front. She had always been a silent watcher in many, many occasions of her life; always been the wallflower of her family. However, never had she imagined that by this time — this early morning in particular — she would be the one being watched at. Sensing that someone was looking, she glanced to where she felt a pair of eyes observed her.
She immediately blushed seeing a man staring at her intently. It was the same man earlier who kindly gave two pastry rolls to the beggar girl. He was handsome, she thought. As handsome as the statue of the Sun God, Apollo, standing meters away from his back. Ysabelle could well admit to herself that he could be a good subject in her photographs. An interesting model to be exact.
Unable to notice his piercing eyes earlier, this time, she found it clearer. For the first time, his gaze made her feel two things. First, it made her feel bare all throughout; as if her soul was a display and he alone could see right through it, particularly all the secrets that she hid. Second is, it made her feel stripped out of her clothes — nude, so to say — but there was no sense of wickedness with it at all. No lust — the usual that she had seen in most men she encountered in her Uncle’s parties. How could a stranger make her feel emotions that she had long thought nonexistent? She couldn’t create an answer, but truly, it unnerved her.
Standing up, she quickly gathered her backpack and jogged away from the fountain. Did her heart race as she did so? Yes, it did, for she could still feel the man’s gaze on her back the whole time she covered the pathway to the exit gate.
“Auntie Belle!” a teenager’s voice emerged from inside the foyer the moment Ysabelle entered the double door. She glanced towards the source and found the youngest member of the Rogratiatto Family, Mehaque Maris, sitting in a sectional sofa near the base of the grand staircase. She was wearing her school’s uniform and black shoes, apparently ready to attend class.
The girl was of fourteen summers. She had delightful almond eyes and long chocolate brown hair in delicate curls. Most of her features were from her mother, which was a fact that pleased Regina greatly. Ysabelle did the usual — accepting the warm hug of the girl. She was her favorite niece in fact, being that Mehaque was the only one who could converse with her openly. No awkwardness, no hint of ambiguity. Well, except for André that is, but he was under an unfortunate possession as of the moment.
“Where have you been Auntie Belle?” Mehaque asked, looking up with twinkling eyes.
Ysabelle smiled and patted her niece’s head. “In Plaza Citadelli, Sweet. I took a lot of pictures there.”
It was Ysabelle’s unique endearment for the girl. No one used it except her and Mehaque of course was more than willing to be called one.
“Oh, really? Can I see it?” The girl’s giddiness immediately surfaced. She was known to adore the work of her Aunt, finding every bit of photo a masterpiece.
Ysabelle smile and nodded. “Sure, you may, ” she said and took out the camera from her backpack.
Mehaque immediately focused her attention on the pictures on screen, looking at them with great fascination. Pressing the scroll button, the photos one by one slid down. She saw the happy children, the lively vendors, and the detailed stream of water from the fountain. She also saw the many faces of the subjects, including one picture that was in the Protected List particularly. “Wow, these are beautiful Auntie, ” she exclaimed after the slides ended. “I sure wished I was able to join you there.”
Ysabelle gave her a lopsided smile. “Hmmm... yes, I know, but your mom doesn’t want you late in class again.”
“Maybe next time Auntie?” Mehaque quickly bargained. Soft pleading eyes she consequently used in order to receive a yes from her Aunt. “I really want to see your photo subjects in person.”
Gathering a sigh, Ysabelle nodded again. “Sure, sure. Next time it is, ” she answered, thus receiving a big white smile from her niece.
“Yes!” the girl immediately celebrated, embracing the older woman in response.
This was always what Ysabelle desired for ever since she was admitted into the family tree, but it seemed the members weren’t as keen on showing this warm emotion to her other than the teenager herself. She wasn’t begging for it though, but sometimes, there are instances that she wished for this kind of warmth from the whole family. A warmth as sincere as the one that the man in the plaza showed to the young beggar.
“Father wants to talk to you by the way, ” Mehaque informed after she withdrew from her embrace. “He says it is very important.”
Ysabelle cocked her head. “Really now?” she said in disbelief, and the girl only responded with a short nod. “Oh well, that’s not new at all, everything is important for him when it concerns me, ” she added, whilst shoving the camera inside her backpack.
“You better go now, Auntie Belle. Father is waiting for you in brother’s...uhmm...in the Altar room, ” Mehaque expressed with a tone that left a sense of fear. Never was she a fan of anything scary, but her older brother’s demon possession was one thing that she was shit scared the most.
Sensing her trepidation, Ysabelle patted her head once again and answered before walking up the grand staircase, “Yeah, thanks Sweet.”
After producing a knock on the door, Ysabelle heard a low voice from the inside of the Altar room bidding her to come in. She stepped in slightly, still hiding from behind the varnished mahogany door.
“You called for me?” she said, looking at her Uncle with clear confused eyes.
Alfon bobbed his head. “Yes, I need to tell you something, ” he replied and gestured for her to advance. “Come, sit.”
Ysabelle obediently complied, crossing the room towards the Victorian furniture set close to the fireplace.
“You look serious Uncle, ” she remarked by the time she sat on a chair across the Master’s one.
“Because it is warranted, ” Alfon expressed rationally. He crouched forward, putting his elbows in his knees and gazed at her with great depth. “Dear Ysabelle, I did tell you how sorry I am right? I am supposed to be a man of my word, but right now, André’s life is in dange--” He abruptly stopped after realizing he was choking up his words. After taking a deep breath to relieve himself, he started once again, “This demon possession is strong. If we prolong his agony, it wouldn’t be good.”
“I know, ” was Ysabelle’s quick reply. She clasped her hands in her lap and stared at the still flaming body of André in the marble table. A thought crossed her mind and she cringed because of it. “I understand Uncle. André...he...he is more important than my silly final wish. Do as you thought best for him. He doesn’t deserve to die like this.”
Alfon stood up and graced to where she sat. Gathering up her trembling hands, he knelt in her front and stated stiffly, “We will find a way, I will make sure of it.”
There was a minute of contemplating silence between the two. Ysabelle opted not to reply immediately, but when she did, it was one of relief, “Thank you Uncle.” It was low, barely audible, but Alfon knew that it was enough for him.
Clearing his throat, he stood up from kneeling and watched the growing blue and violet flames; watching it with disgust in his eyes.
“I have already sought out the help of the Vatican Office to rectify this issue, Ysabelle.”
The somber woman quickly glanced up and stated in disbelief, “You did?”
“Yes, an exorcist priest is on his way here as we speak to exorcise the demon out of André’s body.”
She may not be as happy as the Mistress of the house of this news, but still it gave her relief that her Uncle had finally decided to ask for help other than the brotherhood. “That’s...that’s a relief Uncle!” she exclaimed.
“Hmm...knowing that only a Vatican exorcist priest can do the job, I have to set aside any differences of beliefs this time.”
Alfon returned to his master chair and willfully admitted to himself that this would be a good decision above anything else. He took out a stick of black cigar from its Cuban box and lit it up with a lighter all the while looking at his niece’s present clothing. He shook his head shortly and furrowed his brows.
“Now, you should change clothes, ” he initially stated, tone undebatable. “Be at your best to meet the priest.”
After hearing it, Ysabelle felt disheartened. It wasn’t her taste to dress up fancy clothes for any guests of the mansion, a priest in particular wasn’t exempted too. She preferred herself the way she is -- always showing her tomboyish side with regards to clothing. Anyway, what does a priest have to do with her dressing up? Priests don’t reproach a person’s fashion style at all. They aren’t even permitted to be judgmental.
“But Uncle, is it that necessary? I am at my best, ” she announced with her voice unintentionally pleading.
Alfon shook his head rigidly. “No, dear. Sneakers and sweaters don’t look good on the most important woman of the humankind, ” was his stiff answer.
Retreating her eyes in another object - the burgundy carpeted floor in particular - she felt herself a prisoner once again. She wanted to argue more, but decided to follow his will in the end. “Very well...” she said, looking forlorn.
“Good. See you in the receiving room later.”
It was a sign of dismissal and Ysabelle was glad to take the hint. “Yes, ” she stated and stood up quickly, never looking at her Uncle again until she exited the room.