The feast got underway in due course, signaled by the house lights dimming. Liveried servants lit candelabras along the long rows of tables that lent an air of romance. The three MacLantis siblings gradually made their way towards the high table through the colorful crowd. There, blocking Gus’ path stood Raimondo, like Nigel, clad in a Dominican friar’s black and white habit. Holding a goblet in one hand, he made florid gestures with the other as he talked.
With a polite nod at the couple he was talking to, Raimondo turned to Gus the moment he saw him. “Ah, the lucky champion,” the old man said with unexpected warmth, taking Gus’ hand in his. “Or I should say, clever, for I must admit it was done like a true master, Augustine.”
“High praise coming from you, Maestro,” Gus replied through gritted teeth, trying not to pull away. “Not the way I was wanting to handle it but you rather left me little choice.”
“Come now, don’t be so modest, young man,” Fatamorgana said. “Surely you must have planned that for months! A brilliant gambit; the work on the doll was magnificent. Your presentation – so droll, so serious! I pinched myself to keep from laughing lest I spoil it.”
“You think Gus made it up?” Skip asked, incredulous.
“It matters little what I think,” the Italian shrugged. “The fact is it worked. I’m a bit of a showman myself, you know, although an amateur compared to your father – and now, Augustine. I applaud a good presentation, and that was one of the finest I’ve seen.” He gave Gus a pat on the back. “Not many would have the stomach to use a parent’s death like that.”
Gus winced, but no knife stuck out of his back. He glanced at his siblings; Allie and Skip looked as disbelieving as himself.
“I can’t fault you for earning James a little overdue recognition,” Raimondo continued, “even at my expense. And I daresay we produced enough sparks there should be more people next time. We must keep the – how do you Americans say? – the ‘gravy train’ running.”
Waving his finger at Gus, Raimondo winked. “Just wait until next year, yes? Ha!” He drained his goblet and set it on the table behind him. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be off to a private dinner with the Cardinal. I have you to thank for that. I wish you a pleasant evening.”
Bowing, the old man paused, then unexpectedly embraced Gus. Startled, Gus hugged Fatamorgana clumsily as the Maestro whispered in his ear, “Of course Jim was murdered, probably by someone in this room. Doc should have taken the advice he gave me the last time I saw him. ‘Ray,’ he said, ‘Ray, whatever you truly believe in your heart, the louder you deny any thought that the Holy Tub can be found, the happier you will be.’”
Raimondo stepped back, regarding Gus through his thick glasses. “Your father would be proud of you, Augustine, but even more so if you learn from him and quit while you’re ahead.”
He smiled like an old friend and departed, pausing to kiss Allie’s hand and compliment her. “You look as lovely as your mother, my dear, snatched away from us far too soon.”
“Did that really happen or did I dream it?” Gus said in his wake, but no one replied. “I still can’t tell if this is just a game to him or not.”
“Don’t let it bug you, brother,” Skip said. “He was just messing with you again.”
“Score another face-saving point for Raimondo,” Allie added, wiping her hand upon the tablecloth. “What else could he do? You beat him fair and square for once.”
They found their place at the high table and Angelique’s seat was taken by Nigel. The food was excellent and authentic for the most part, starting with boar’s head and roast pheasants, followed by remove after remove of more meat and fowl cooked on spits than could be counted, with numerous sauces, puddings, tarts, and fritters galore. Plus there were platters of various cheeses, fruits, and breads, as well as green salads for more modern or modest appetites.
All were brought in with elaborate processions by a company of liveried servants – every waiter in town must have been drafted for the occasion. Accompanied by period music played by costumed musicians on an upper level, the feast’s glorious finale was a giant subtlety of a flaming castle shooting fireworks which was actually a sumptuous, nut-filled cake.
During the meal numerous diversions were presented. Acrobats, dancers, and clowns put on their shows. As ringmaster, Taff in Don Yago Ionas’ garb provided most of the entertainment. He acted out the story of the finding of the bones of the dragon and his descent to the gates of Hell itself, demonstrating his juggling and flame-eating skills.
Then Jesús announced the arrival of a new exhibit at the Chateau. Servants wheeled in a large covered mirror and set it before the high table. “This,” Don Yago declared at Roland’s request, “is the ‘Speculum Mysterium’ the recently-discovered fabled magic mirror of Heronimo le Mage. Behold the wonders within.” With a flick of his wrist, he threw off the black silken cover.
“This mystic mirror,” he proclaimed, “displays marvels of its own choosing within its glass. True visions from the Ampliospectus, Cosmoscope, Danse Macabre, and other creations of Heronimo, for instance, or perhaps views of the town may be glimpsed.”
Count Roland bantered with Don Yago in witty scripted dialog, and eventually talked the mirror into revealing a glimpse of the Holy Tub to general delight of his guests.