Chapter 2: Protection
She had said the word so matter-of-factly, that it had taken Robin more than a few seconds to absorb the meaning.
Grandmother. Mother of her mother. Married to Juliano, her caretaker as she had grown to maturity in the Roman monastery.
So why did she not recall this woman's face?
She wasn't the only one shocked; Amon seemed immobile from disbelief. Both of them stood rooted in the doorway like inanimate statues, until Jana finally tugged both of them by their long, dark sleeves.
" Avanti !" she insisted, frowning. "Before you catch death outside in cold air! I don't cook all day for nothing," she implored in broken English, pulling them both inside.
They came through the door, Amon closing it behind him; and both removed their long dark coats at Jana's insistence. Robin was wearing her traditional high-necked pilgrim's attire, a black long-sleeved turtleneck with a long, black bibbed dress, and Amon had removed his dark high-collared coat to reveal a simpler, button-down black long-sleeved shirt. As they did so, Robin noted their clothing and suppressed a smile at Jana's words---they were both dressed so warmly that they couldn't have possibly been vulnerable to the temperature outside, which was cool with the onset of dusk, but not cold.
Jana walked hurriedly back towards the kitchen, her long skirt and apron fluttering with her movements, muttering to herself in Italian---some of which was decipherable to Robin's ears, some not. "I check on the stew...make yourselves comfortable," she called out behind her, and Robin and Amon took a few moments to absorb their surroundings.
The farmhouse was modest; surprisingly large and spacious, but not with typical luxuries they would have found in a more modern home. The furniture was old, rustic; yet looked as though it were comfortable. There was a large living room area, complete with mantle and old brick fireplace, a dining area adjacent to the kitchen, and further away, rooms that were probably bedrooms and bathrooms. There was no evidence of electricity, no radios or television or electrical appliances of any sort; candles lit some of the more dim rooms, giving them a peaceful glow. Despite the meager surroundings, Robin found herself wistfully hoping for a bathroom with running water, in which she could bathe and cleanse herself of the weariness of traveling. A soak in a hot tub was the only way she preferred to end her evenings; a cleansing, purifying ritual for her thoughts as well as her body.
As if he read her thoughts, Amon spoke up beside her, his voice low and quiet towards her ear. "We will have to go into a nearby town at some point soon." Robin nodded distractedly. She instinctively knew he was already probably going through withdrawal from the idea of not being able to access his vast array of technical gadgets, most of which he had pilfered from STN-J. There was no outlet to power up his laptop, his phone, his electronic binoculars, once the batteries died.
She was sure he felt he needed those things for surveillance, and survival. But for the moment, at least, they were safe. She continued to look around the house.
There were works of art on the walls of the living area, most of them looking to have been original oil on canvas paintings. Many of them were hauntingly beautiful, depicting scenes of nature and different animals, and some of people, who were equally beautiful.
The rooms were alive with plants of every different sort; each window to the outside held plant boxes overflowing with greenery and flowers, and possibly also herbs. Robin moved into the foyer to gaze outside a large glass window overlooking the backyard, replete with oak and rowan trees amidst fields of grass and crops.
Jana had returned from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel, to find them still standing in the foyer, looking like lost children who had no idea what to do with themselves. Her eyes softened wistfully, before she hardened her features and mock-scolded them. " Per amor di Dea... you two are so silent, like stones; I almost forget you are here," she said, shaking her head at them. She waved them towards her. " Per favore , come sit down and eat...you are hungry, aren't you?"
Amon glanced at Robin, who nodded and smiled at her grandmother. " Si ," she said, and they followed Jana into the kitchen.
She had prepared pollo di cacciatore , a flavorful chicken stew with wine, peppers and onions in a tomato base, and Robin idly wondered if anyone else around her had caught on to the irony of the dish and the guests it was served to. Jana placed utensils and a basket of fresh bread at the table before them as they sat down.
She gestured at the stew and its ladle. "Please, eat up. I have so much food, I not know what to do with it."
"We are not really that hungry," Amon began, then realized he spoke for the both of them too soon, when he saw Robin ladling heaping piles of stew and fresh pasta onto her plate. He stopped himself, and addressed Jana again. "But we will eat something," he finished lamely.
Jana smiled at him. She served Amon after Robin had finished dishing up her plate, and then served her own plate. She took small bites as she watched the young golden-chestnut-haired witch bring a heaping forkful of stew to her mouth, closing her eyes as the heavenly taste melted on her tongue.
Robin had enjoyed Japanese food, especially Master's miso soup...but Italian food surpassed everything else by far. The taste of the home-cooked meal reminded her of the monastery, and the nuns who had cooked tasty meals for her each night.
Suddenly Jana jumped up from the table. "I almost forget---I have vino , very good, bottled from wine in Sovana....you must try." She took a bottle from a shelf and brought it back with her.
Robin had finished chewing her food, and set down her fork. She had begun shaking her head as a refusal, but Jana stopped her.
"Nonsense...you are in my house, you drink my wine." She poured a glass for each of them.
Robin could see there was no arguing with her on the subject...possibly on any subject. She cast a glance at Amon, who responded to her with a raise of his eyebrow, telling her in so many words, do as you wish .
Robin raised the glass to sip. It was the first wine she'd ever drank that was not of the Catholic practice of Communion. It was a rich red cabernet, heady in its flavor, and she decided it felt pleasant as it slipped warmly down her throat, like red velvet.
After minutes of silence punctuated by clinking forks and the setting down of glasses, Amon finally leaned back in his chair. The food had been excellent, the wine perfectly complementary. For the first time in days---no, months---he felt relaxed, as though he could let down his ever-present guard. He looked over to Jana, who had been glancing between the both of them ever since the dinner had begun. "Arigatou," he began, instantly realizing he had spoken Japanese, and not English.
" 'Grazie' ," Robin corrected him softly, and he nodded, penitent.
Jana looked from one to the other, and smiled secretly.
Amon seemed uncertain how to begin the conversation further. He made a few attempts, and finally settled with, "How long?"
Jana looked at him quizzically. " Come? "
"How long...have you known about us?" He directed his head at his partner. "How long have you known about Robin?"
Jana set down her glass and regarded him with an amused expression. "How long?" she repeated, her eyes twinkling. "As long as Robin exists, that is how long I have known." She gazed fondly at her granddaughter, who had put down her glass, having finished her wine, and was now listening in on the conversation.
She turned back to Amon. "Now I ask you question, Amon," she began in her direct manner, putting a strange emphasis on his name, and he visibly straightened. "What did Juliano tell you about me?"
"Juliano gave us your name, but he did not mention that you had been his wife," Amon replied. "We followed his directions to come here from Japan...he told us we could seek refuge in your company. That is all he revealed."
"I see." Again her green eyes were glistening...perhaps it was the candlelight, Amon thought to himself.
"How long were you married to Father Juliano?" Robin asked softly, taking advantage of the momentary lull.
Her grandmother smiled a sad smile. "Juli and I married for seventeen years," she said thoughtfully. "When Maria was fifteen years old, the same age you are now," she glanced at Robin, "he joined SOLOMON as Priest and Witch Hunter. We divorced after that." She glanced down at the table, as though the memory was a sad one. "Maria lived with me during that time...she saw Juliano often, he remained in Rome at Headquarters there."
"Then through Juliano, and SOLOMON, Maria met Toudou," Amon prompted, and Jana nodded her affirmation.
She smiled again, her eyes reflecting her mental traveling backwards in time. "She was so happy..." she said softly. "When she bring him home to me, she introduce him as her fidanzata , her promised one. I was so happy to see her happy. When she was born, doctors told us she would not live to be twenty....because she had an inherited disease, passed down in mi famiglia ...so to see her happy was more than Juliano and I had hoped."
Amon leaned forward. "When did you know that Maria was a Witch?"
Jana's eyes became serious in the candlelight. "I know when she was born...that she was a Witch, la bambina di Diana . I loved her more because of it," she said, her green eyes displaying a stubborn pride. "She was a special baby, cosi bella , never cried or whined for anything." She looked again at her granddaughter. "You're just like her."
Robin found herself turning the corners of her mouth upwards in response. It made her feel warm inside to know how beautiful of a person her mother had been.
"When did Juliano know?" Amon asked, pressing the issue, and Robin glanced at him in moderate surprise. Why did he want to know so many details about her mother?
"Juli found out when we divorce," Jana said, lowering her eyes. "The stress of our breakup make her act out with her power. I never meant for him to know...he was a very religious man, always make us go to Mass; I knew he'd never accept it." She looked into Amon's eyes again. "But even when he find out, he keep it quiet. He tell me...'no one will ever know'. I trusted him...and he kept her secret for all these years."
"How did you react when you found out about Toudou's experiment?" Amon inquired further. Robin was looking at him in earnest now. It didn't seem relevant to ask the questions he was asking, but Amon seemed intent on knowing all he could about her family.
Jana's eyes steeled again, as though she were daring him to contradict her opinion. "Toudou was a good man," she replied, "...he knew Maria's secrets and he wanted to make things better for her...if not her, than for her bambina ." She straightened in her chair. "I was proud of him."
Robin glanced at her partner again, and Amon seemed satisfied with her grandmother's answer to his question.
She looked back at Jana. "Maria..."
Her grandmother and Amon both looked at her expectantly.
"She called me...Hope."
To her surprise, Jana's dark green eyes filled slowly with unshed tears.
" Tu es la sua speranza ," Jana said. "You will be, always."
Jana took them down the hallway of her home, to allow them to wash in the bathrooms, and to show them their room. To Robin's immense relief, there was indoor plumbing, and a large, pristine white tub in which she could soak herself. She looked hopefully up at Amon, who nodded briefly---he would allow her to take her bath first before he used the bathroom, to allow her that one creature comfort she seemed unable to do without.
Jana paused by the bedrooms. She opened one door, revealing a large, comfortable looking bed with a sturdy frame. There were windows facing the side of the house, and outside the stars were clear and bright, as was the full moon in the sky.
"This is your room," she told them, and Robin began to enter, bringing her bag into the room, but Amon hesitated.
"I prefer to sleep in a separate room," he told Jana, and both she and Robin stopped, turning to look at him.
Jana wore a look of surprise, but she nodded then, and with another glance at her granddaughter, led Amon to a separate, smaller bedroom.
Robin walked the rest of the way into what was to be her bedroom, placing her bag down on her bed. She looked up into the empty room.
It was really not that big of a deal, his decision to have his own sleeping quarters apart from hers....but she was surprised; especially because despite it being initially awkward, they had shared rooms already for the previous three days, and she had found she enjoyed his presence and nearness.
Perhaps he feels differently , she realized, with a sudden feeling as though her heart had fallen.
She began to unpack her clothing. Jana came to tell her goodnight, embracing her again and kissing her forehead, whispering Italian charms for a peaceful and good sleep.
While she bathed---delighting in the feel of the hot water and soft soap against her skin---she became thoughtful, thinking about the dream she'd had aboard the airplane, before they had left Japan.
An image of Amon as he had been, standing next to her, bathed in flames.
His face contorting...changing...suddenly into something that had resembled an animal with horns...
She shivered in the warm water.
The first thought that had come immediately into her mind upon waking up, after years of Catholic training and religious indoctrination...
...had been.... ...demon .
She sunk lower in the water, allowing it to cover her nose momentarily.
Amon was left alone with his thoughts. He sat on the bed, his hands folded beneath his chin.
They were safe, for now....the grandmother was obviously a Witch sympathizer, and Juliano seemed to be able to keep her whereabouts secret from SOLOMON. That meant they might not be discovered here, even in the region of one of SOLOMON's three headquarters.
His mind wandered. That's not really what you are worried about, is it.
He had had just enough wine to momentarily dull the strict voice in his head that was his conscience, the voice that in his waking hours, always drove him to be alert, watchful, suspicious, cautious...
He had thought, for a fleeting second, as Jana had opened the bedroom door...
...of sharing the bed...with her...with Robin.
With a fifteen-year-old Witch, who slept in the nude.
It didn't seem possible that he was thinking of her in that way, that he could think of her in that way...
It must have been the wine.
There were other things to be concerned about. He didn't think she had any knowledge of what had happened in Factory right after she had burned the Witches' tombs, and after Karasuma had made her escape...
She hadn't noticed when he had leapt to save her, and had landed thirty feet away from where he had jumped....
She hadn't noticed that he had recieved no injury whatsoever from the purified Orbo bullet that Zaizen had shot him with....
He hadn't told her these things....and as he sat on the bed, his chin beneath his hands, listening to her finishing her bath...he decided he would not tell her now.
In bed, Robin lay awake, her mind drifting aimlessly, restlessly. She continued to glance up at the moon outside, hovering in its brightness in the dark sky.
She had no idea what time it was when she finally fell into a light sleep....but she was awakened shortly afterwards by the soft sounds of someone speaking below her bedroom window....soft rhythmic words, like chanting.
Fully awake, she slipped out of bed, not in the least modest of her nudity, and went to the open window, level to her neck, to investigate.
What she saw made her eyes widen in the moonlight.
Jana was outside, near an oak tree with knotted roots, drawing a circle in the grass with what looked like salt or coarse sugar, casting a white appearance in the dark green grass. She stepped inside the circle she had made, sprinkling the area with water from a bowl, chanting something soft and incoherent, gentle blessings that Robin could not decipher into English. She then turned to face the directions of east, south, west, and north, consecutively.
Finally her next chants reached Robin's ears, as Jana spread her arms in supplication to the full moon:
"Great Diana, Goddess, hear my words of adoration. Hear my voice when I speak your praises. Hear my chanting as it rises upon the smoke of the incense I offer you. See me when I reach up to you; when the Full Moon shines upon me give me your blessings. Give me wisdom, Diana, and bind my oppressors. Grant me the Ancient Knowledge, to Protect those whom I love. Protect this House.
"I believe your ancient promise, the promise to all the ancient Clan, that we who seek your Holy Presence will receive of your Wisdom. Diana, think yet even for a moment, upon one who calls upon your name."
Robin's jaw dropped in stunned fascination, even as she shivered slightly from the cold breeze coming in through her window. It seemed impossible to believe that the truth had escaped her all evening.
Jana was a Witch.
Fear of shared blood...An offering of kindness...The beautiful pilgrim basks in the pure light of Diana. Chapter 3.
Per amor di Dea: For the love of the Goddess
pollo di cacciatore: Hunter's chicken (chicken cacciatore) ^_^
mi famiglia: my family
la bambina di Diana: child of Diana
cosi bella: so beautiful
Tu es la sua speranza: You are her hope
"Prayer to Diana" from The Witches Workbook: The Magick Grimoire of Lady Sheba