Mother Joanna sat in her room at the inn. She was more than a little afraid.
Outside, in the hallways, she could hear occasional scuffling sounds. They might have come from anything, natural or supernatural, but Joanna suspected they emanated from pilgrims who had decided to take Sir Antonio up on his offer and were on their way to his chambers.
Despite her holy office, Joanna was not unacquainted with human desire. There were things she wanted for herself, and, not being a moderate person, these desires burned in her immoderately. She was a political mother superior, not a religious one, and had looked upon her job much as the taking on of any other great enterprise. Her nunnery at Gravelines, with its seventy-two nuns and a host of servants and people to look after the animals, was an enterprise similar to that of a small town. Joanna had reveled in it from the very beginning. She might have been made for this. She had never been like other little girls, playing with dolls and dreaming of marriage. Even as a child she had been fond of giving orders to her birds and spaniels—You sit there, and you there — scolding them while she gave them tea.
This practice of giving orders had not left her when she grew to womanhood. Matters might have been different had she been beautiful, but she had taken after the Mortimer side of the family. She had the great white face of the Mortimers, the short, dry, lifeless hair, the stocky body more suited to laboring with spade and plough than to the languors of the pursuits of love. She wanted to be rich, and feared by all, and service in the Church had seemed the way to get it. She was conventionally pious, but her piety ran afoul of her practicality, which told her that here was an opportunity to get what she wanted rather than waiting forever until the Pope was induced to advance her to some larger nunnery.
She thought and thought, and she paced up and down her little room, taking note of her desires and asking herself which of them was paramount. Each time she heard a sound outside, she started; it seemed that all of the others were taking advantage of Sir Antonio's offer to give them their hearts' desires. Soon the required seven would be made up, and she would have no further chance. Finally she decided to act.
Mother Joanna crept out of her chamber and made her way silently down the inn's dark passageways.
She climbed the stairs to the second level and winced when they creaked. Coming at last to the door to Sir Antonio's room, she took her courage into her hands, reached up, and tapped lightly upon it.
Azzie's voice from the other side said, "Come in, my dear. I've been expecting you."
She had many questions. Azzie found her tiresome, but he managed to reassure her. When he came to inquire as to her heart's desire, however, he found her less than forthcoming. A look of sad embarrassment came across her broad white face.
"What I want," she said, "is something I do not even care to speak about. It is too shameful, too demeaning."
"Come on," Azzie said. "If you can't tell your demon, who can you tell?"
"Of course. He is our poet," Azzie said. "How else can he record our adventures save he be present? To make no record of these notable adventures were crime indeed, one that would condemn us to the vast unconsciousness of unrecorded life in which most people live out their lives. But Aretino will immortalize us, my dear! Our poet will take our exploits, no matter how slight they might seem, and weave them into deathless verse."
"Well, sir demon, you persuade me," Joanna said. "I confess to you, then, that ever in my dreams I would be a great Tighter of wrong of the public sort, receiving all manner of adulation in ballads for my accomplishments. Something like a female Robin Hood—with lots of time in between exploits for hunting."
"I'll figure out something," Azzie said. "We'll get started right away. Take this key." He told Mother Joanna what was coming up in the way of rings, doorways, magic candlesticks, and magic horses, and sent her on her way.
"And now, Aretino," Azzie said, "I think we have time for a tankard of wine before the next supplicant.
How do you think it's going so far?"
"Frankly, sir, I have no idea. Plays are usually laid out beforehand, with everything made clear in advance. In this drama of yours, all is muddy and uncertain. What does this fellow Kornglow stand for?
Is he Overweening Pride? Bucolic Humor? Unquenchable Courage? And Mother Joanna—is she to be despised or pitied? Or a little of both?"
"It is confusing, isn't it?" Azzie said. "But very lifelike, I think you'll agree."
"Oh, no doubt. But how are we to find suitable moral dicta in all this?"
"Don't worry, Aretino, no matter what the characters do, we'll find a way of making it represent what we have been speaking about all along. The playwright gets the last word, you must remember, and therefore is in a position to say that his idea is proven whether it is or not. Now pass that bottle this way."