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The Light of the Stars
                      by Angelina

I did not believe because I could not see
Through you came to me in the night
When dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me the light of the stars

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
            ~Dante's Prayer~

"When Amanda told me you had agreed to meet us off Holy Ground, I was a little surprised to say the least, Darius."  Duncan stared at his old friend intently, but Darius' expression was blank, not the haunted look that Amanda had claimed to have seen a couple nights before.  He was ready to chalk it up to feminine sentimentality as the two men made their way down the corridor of the auction house.  Duncan had visited many of these houses when Tessa was alive, but since her passing his interest in art had taken a back seat to other issues in his life.

Duncan had observed the change in attire of his friend as well.  Darius was not wearing his usual clerical garb, but dark gray trousers and a soft light gray sweater. He had distinctly excellent taste for a man who had no interest in the fashion world.  If Duncan's old friend ever decided to leave the religious community, Duncan would certainly place good money on his modeling capabilities.  So would Amanda if Duncan had ever thought to inquire.  Darius, unbeknownst to him, was the object of many women's, both mortal and Immortal, affections.  His unattainability, as a priest, was certainly a part of it, but he had a uniqueness about him that translated over into sex appeal for many of the female gender.  Of course, Darius was never the kind of man to seek out such shallow intimacies or the limelight, would be intriguing.

Amanda had gone ahead to meet with the house manager and make the arrangements for the showing.  Mr. Telois had quite a list of affluent customers, but none quite so interesting as Mr. MacLeod.  He was sorry to hear of Tessa's death, it was a devestation to the art community as a whole, but it was nice, very nice indeed, to hear of Mr. MacLeod's return to the art and antiquities' world.  Duncan and Darius knocked on the door and were lead in by Mr. Telois' secretary.  Duncan didn't miss the slight glances the middle aged woman gave Darius, who seemed quite oblivious to the attention.  Wouldn't she just die if she found out the man she was ogling was a Roman Catholic priest, Duncan thought to himself.

"Mr. MacLeod, it's so nice to see you again."  Mr. Telois almost visibly ran across the room to meet with his guest.  The tall, ascetic-looking gentleman standing next to Mr. MacLeod looked at him with a keen eye.  The man had the look of a Roman warrior, and Telois realized that this man might very well be Mr. MacLeod's bodyguard.  He backed off immediately.  Duncan had to smile when he realized the sudden shock Darius' appearance had on Telois.  Maybe he should have Darius accompany him more often.

"Mr. Telois, I would like to introduce you to an acquaintance of mine..."  Duncan then realize he had no idea what to call Darius.  He never had heard tell of a last name for Darius.

Darius came to his rescue.  "Darius Krieger."  The gutteral German pronunciation was slightly more apparent, and Duncan didn't fail to miss the reference in the assumed name: Krieger meaning warrior in the German language.  How fitting, Duncan thought to himself.  He looked over at Amanda, who looked stricken herself.  Duncan's smile faded as he became aware of the threat that Darius could have posed to his and Amanda's relationship if he had been the type of man to steal another man's love.  Darius held his hand out to shake the little Frenchman's hand, who reluctantly reciprocated.  Unfortunately Darius squeezed a little too hard in the handshake causing the smaller man to flinch.

"Nice to you, Monseur Krieger."  Telois was grateful to get his aching hand back from the huge German.

Amanda spoke up. "Mr. Telois, why don't you show us the painting now?"

"Yes, yes."  He walked over to an easel which was covered with a large white sheet.  "We received this painting with instructions to its disposal and the letter which was forwarded to Monseur MacLeod.  The only instructions were to give Monseur MacLeod a chance to decide what he would like to do with the painting."

"And my letter instructed me to bring along Darius," Duncan added.

Telois pulled off the sheet to display the painting:

Amanda and Duncan gazed at the breathtaking painting for a moment, but Darius' sharp intake of breath caught Duncan's attention.  He looked over at his friend, who stood frozen, almost the proverbial deer in the headlights look upon his face. Whoever had engineered this little get-together realized what kind of impact this painting would have upon his old friend.

"Mr. Telois, can you tell us anything about the painting?," Duncan inquired.

"From all accounts..." the small Frenchman began, still staring at the startled expression on the large German man's face.  He pulled out his notes nervously, then turned his attention back to Duncan.  "the painting was done by Dante Rossetti, a British-born artist of Italian descent, who painted from about 1848 t0 the late 1870's and helped to found the Pre-Raphaelite school in England.  It seems he had quite an interest in Italian literature, and even made a translation of Dante Alighieri's La Vita Nuova."

Amanda thought to herself, 'That's the second time that book popped up this week.'  She hadn't thought to mention about the book to Duncan, it just hadn't crossed her mind to, until now.  Telois continued.

"He had several mistresses and one beloved wife, Elizabeth Siddell, who died in 1862 but was often a model for him.  It is believed that she modeled for this painting.  From gallery logs, it is indicated that this particular painting, although privately held for many years, is entitled "Beate Beatrice" and was painted 2 years after Elizabeth's death.  It is unique because it is the only painting after her death that still contains her likeness."

Darius interrupted the little information session Telois was providing.  "You said that painting was done about 150 years ago, yes?"

"Yes, from all of the research my firm has done, Monseur Krieger."

Duncan and Amanda looked at Darius, thinking his inquiry about the painting strange.  "What is it, Darius?  Apparently this painting is supposed to have some meaning for you, otherwise we wouldn't have been told to invite you along."

"It's...just...well, the title is quite strange along with the subject matter.  To tell you the truth, Duncan, the model looks quite familiar to me."

Telois jumped in.  "She did pose for several of Rossetti's early works.  He had quite a fascination in his younger years for his namesake's, Dante Alighieri, literary works.  Many of his painting and illustrations at the time concerned subject matter found in these works.  He truly pictured Madamoiselle Siddell as his Beatrice - she being younger and somewhat out of his grasp for many of the years of their acquaintance."

"You said Miss Siddell died.  How?"

"From an overdose of laudanum.  It was under somewhat suspicious circumstances, but her death was never really investigated.  Apparently she had no real family, she was a orphaned heiress."

Amanda and Duncan looked at each other knowingly at that last statement.  From their deductions, Miss Siddell sounded like a likely candidate for Immortality.  And somehow she tied in with Darius.  And that damned book, Amanda guessed.  The two lovers turned to look at Darius, who was intently staring at the painting.

"You must be Brother Darius.  I am Alighiero  d'Alighiero.  Welcome to my home."  The dark, older gentleman appeared quite worn before Darius' scrutiny.  The loss of his wife, along with the political turmoil of his city, had taken its toll upon t he middle aged gentleman.  Darius could discern that Alighiero was not long for this world and was saddened by the observation.  The older man led Darius on a tour of the modest home, probably once more luxurious and grandiose than it was at present.  As the two men came out of Alighieri's enormous library, something of which Darius certainly wanted to take advantage while he was in residence, they ran into a laughing couple of teenagers, the girl not more than sixteen and the young man in his late teens, not quite twenty.  They were having great fun, and Darius watched as the young girl refused to bow to society's dictates and comport herself in a deliberately dignified manner.

Alighiero cleared his throat to get the two youths' attention, then looked over at Darius, embarrassed and apologetic.  "Brother Darius, I do apologize for these two and their antics.  This young man is my son, Dante."  He gestured at the dark haired young man, whose facial features were not classically handsome, the nose being the most prominant feature upon his face.  His son wrinkled his brow at Darius, probably because he assumed that Darius was like most of the clerics with whom he had come in contact. "And this lovely creature is Bice Portinari.  Her father is also a great friend and ally of our cause."

Darius looked to the young woman before him. She gazed back at him with intense dark eyes, almost defiant in her perusal of the priest.  Lovely could only begin to describe the girl, whose first blushes of beauty had already settled quite a lot of attention upon her.  Her build was athletic with a few curves, her face a creamy porcelain slightly tanned by the hot Italian summer sun.  Her chestnut hair was streaked through with highlights of amber and gold , a most unusual color for a native Italian. She kept his gaze, almost forcing him to lower his to maintain the premise of modesty.  "How do you do....Brother?"  She held out her small hand quite assuredly to Darius and challenged him to take it with her eyes.

Darius shook her hand briefly and realized that she had quite a strong grip for a woman.  The residual tingle touching her left an unsettled feeling in the back of Darius' mind.  It was very inappropriate for him to feel anything towards a woman, much less a woman like her.  "It is a pleasure to meet you, Signorina Portinari."

"Deine Italienisch ist sehr gut, aber du bist Deutsche."  Darius' eyes flashed up to meet hers.  The German was flawless, and her perceptive nature about his past and his native land overwhelmed him.  The shock must have registered upon his face, for Dante made a passing comment to his "Beatrice", an endearment meaning "the bringer of blessings."

"Beatrice, you've done it once again, my dear.  You should not shock the priest so with your intuition."

"Intuition be damned.  He speaks with an accent no amount of polishing could hide.  It was inductive reasoning that determined his native language, not guesswork,"  Beatrice snapped at Dante tiredly.  Dante was taken aback by her sharp tone, but even her shrewish response could make his affection for her waver.

The elder Alighieri appeared as though he was about to have a fit of apoplexy at the young woman's behavior.  Darius put a comforting hand upon the older man's shoulder.  "It is okay, Signor.  It is understandable that my Italian is quite flawed, something which the Signorina was kind enough to point out.  Perhaps the Signoria would be accomodating to help me correct my imperfections?"  To himself, Darius railed inwardly....'Are you crazy?  You're just asking for trouble if you keep it up.'  He ignored that inner voice and set his powerful bluish-green gaze upon the expression of Beatrice.

"I'm not sure what you are requesting, Brother Darius?"  This wasn't going at all as Beatrice had imagined it.  He didn't become angry with her, instead he asked for her help to improve himself.  "I  do not have time to tutor priests, nor would it be seemly to do so."

Darius smiled beatifically at her.  "What could be more seemly, in the eyes of the Lord, than to help a fellow brother in need?"  She was stymied, how was she to get out of this situation of her own device.

"As I said, I do not have the time."  She turned to leave, when Dante's father spoke up.

"Beatrice, you are in my home so often, I think on you as family."

"As do I you, Papa Alighieri."

"Then I would be remiss to permit one of my children to treat a very important guest in such a shoddy manner."  The expression on his face brooked no argument from the young woman.  "I am certain that your father, my friend, would feel as I do."

"Yes, Papa."  Beatrice faced Darius, her gaze still as intense but suitably respectful if not humbled.  "Brother Fransican, I owe you a sincere apology for my impertinence.  My linguistic skills are at your disposal, should you require them."

"It is no matter and soon forgotten, Signorina Portinari.  I take no offense for an opinion well spoken."  Darius gave her a brilliant smile, his chiseled but uniquely attractive features bringing her to notice.  She swallowed hard and grabbed Dante, making their excuses and retreated out through the door.

Alighiero was solemn.  "Brother Darius, I do apologize for dear Beatrice's unseemly behavior.  She is quite a challenge on occasion."

"And quite intelligent."

"I do not think it is her mind that my son is interested in at the moment."

"Yes, she is very winsome, as well.  We were all young once, Signor.  I do not think it a problem unless the elders make it so."

"You are very understanding, Brother Darius.  I see you will be an asset to our cause."

"We shall see."  The two men walked the house and the grounds of the small estate, speaking knowledgebly on a variety of topics.

 A sharp rap resounded upon Darius's door a few hours later.  He rose to open the door, but before he could respond to the knock, his tormentor from earlier in the day strode into his room.  This time clad in a ball gown of the first water, her hair curled and intricately piled upon her head.  Darius was startled by the sudden interuption.  She stood there, defiantly for a moment  then spoke, "Brother Darius, do you hear confessions?"

Darius was speechless for a moment, staring intently at the breathtaking vision which stood before him.  After all, he was a man first and foremost.  He shook his head and castigated himself for the lascivious thoughts coursing through his mind and his blood.  He met her intense gaze with a calm one of his own.  "Yes, my child."

"You are barely old enough to be my father."

"I am older than I look."  Darius was flattered at her observation.  Maybe he wasn't so old after all.

"Whatever.  I need to talk to someone, but all of the priests at the Cathedral of the Virgin are in the pockets of the politicians.  If I confessed to them, anything but the most innocuous chatter, it could be distastrous.  I trust that you will remain silent, priest. You have an honest air about you."

"Please sit down."  Darius gestured for her to take the chair at the desk while he sat upon the bed, his fingers steepled together in front of him and his expression on of a contemplative and receptive listener.  Beatrice gingerly sat on the edge of the upholstered chair, fingering the brocade edge of her gown nervously.  Darius sat for several silent moments, before she began her confession.

"Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  It has been...well, far too long since I bared my soul honestly.  My heart is impure."

"Why do you say this?"

"I  have had angry thoughts about my father.  He wants me to marry a man, who is thrice my age and whom I could never love.  I have kept this from Dante, my closest bosom friend, for fear of his response.  He is impetuous and prone to moods which vary upon the hour it seems."

"At times, parents do not realize that what they may think to be best is truly the most beneficial for their child."

"It is unfortunate that I was born a woman."

"How so?"

"I was a man, I could decide my own fate.  As it is, under the law of the Church and the law of the land I must always have some masculine shadow to be my voice in society.  I do not desire to marry anyone, not even Dante, which saddens me."

"Because he is your friend?"

"Because he sparks no heart-felt stirrings in my soul.  I love him, as only the most staunch of brothers-at-arms can.  We hold the same opinions, the same goals, but now he has turned in a besotted fool.  And besides, men's love is fickle.  A pretty piece can easily turn their heads, and I will not suffer the indignity that illicit trysts bring with it to a marriage."

"It is a quandary.  One that many women throughout the ages have suffered with no recourse.  I feel that I can not give the best advice, for I know not what I would do in your situation."

"I ask not for advice, Brother Darius, but a confessor, someone I can trust with my secrets without betrayal."

"That I can promise."

"Oh, there is one other thing."  She swallowed, pausing to gather her scattered thoughts.  Even in the proximity of this room, his bedroom, the handsome German priest shook her to the core.  What would it be gain his attentions?

"Forgive me for being forward,Signorina,but I do not see you as a shrinking violet."

"I must confess that speaking with you about a very personal issue is a bit disconcerting."

"I usually find it best to simply talk it out."  Darius smiled another one of those brilliant smiles of his.

"I have recently discovered feelings for someone, someone with whom a match could never be.  He is totally unsuitable."

"I thought you felt your heart should lead you in such matters?"

"I do, but love must be counseled by reason.  I refuse to through all caution to the winds because of a simple case of physical attraction.  I would like to make my feelings known...I want to know if he feels the same."

"I can not in good faith, in accordance to the dictates of the Church, advise you to do anything that might jeopardize your soul."

"What would you do, say I asked you as a friend?"  Her innocent question was an essential one, the type of thing Darius had not reconciled in his own life, in over a thousand years of walking the terra firma.  She looked at him, a soft expectant expression upon her lovely face.

"Honestly, Signorina, I do not know what to tell you.  I have never had much experience in this particular line of questioning.  I think....I know that I would be afraid of the rejection that might occur and therefore, I would a little reticent about expressing my intimate feelings with the object of my affections.  But if you do not, then you may also regret it for the rest of your life.  It is a question only you can answer in your heart."

Beatrice mulled over what Darius had spoken for a moment, then rose to her feet.  "It grows late and I must go.  Brother Darius, I can not express my gratitude for lending me your ear this eve.  Your advice is invaluable to me."  She closed the distance between them and offered Darius her hand in friendship.  He brought it to his lips, lingering lightly there above her hand to memorize the scent of her skin.  She gazed into his eyes, her thoughts unreadable to the sage priest.  As he escorted her to the door, then closed the door behind him, Darius knew that he would have a most difficult time keeping his emotions under tight rein.

"Darius,"  Duncan waved his hand in front of Darius' blank face.  "Darius, are you in there?"

Darius shook his head softly, forcing his mind to clear away the cobwebs of memories which were coming back to haunt him.  "Wha...what?"

"Are you okay?"  Amanda inquired gently.

" thinking about what that painting reminded me of."  His cerulean gaze was haunted with the recollection of his introduction to Bice Portinari, Dante's "Beatrice" of his La Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy.  Oh, how he wished to forget.

"Darius, do you want the painting?"  Duncan asked.

"What use would I have for it?"

"I think someone really wants you to have it.  Make them happy and take it.  It certainly has some meaning to it."

"I want nothing to with it.  Would you please excuse me?"  Darius turned and walked out of the room in a hurried pace, leaving the two lovers, along with Mr. Telois, standing there speechless.