Maria visits Teresa and the King is Compromised
Chapter 8 Visit and Compromise
Three weeks after Ricardo had departed for negotiations with the Basques, Maria decided to go to the convent in Segovia and see Teresa. Sunday was visitor's day and a time when family and friends gathered in the sanctuary. Maria had not received a letter from her friend and was beginning to worry.
After services Teresa returned to her cell and began going through her prayer ritual. Her period was late and she found that vexing….she was ordinarily regular and hoped in the next day or two her fears would be put to rest. The Hermandad had not come to take her off to the Sacerdotal Court which was a huge relief. The following morning Sister Ramirez told her the matter was taken care of.
So far the Nun experience had not been what she expected. Instead of helping the poor and down trodden there was a never-ending regimen of discipline, prayer and praises. Then there were the indoctrination classes and the endless harangue, aimed at expelling the Jews and punishing the false believers. Her parents had been new Christians and never in her life had she heard even a whisper of what these “Evil Conversos” were being accused of…then again she reasoned, perhaps I've led a sheltered life. Still Teresa was determined to succeed in this quest of faith and not endure the humiliation of being sent home a failure.
She was kneeling at her devotional, not focused as she should have been, when her daydreaming was interrupted by a knocking on her door.
“You have a visitor downstairs,” Sister Lopez informed her. I wonder who that could be, she thought and got hastily to her feet. In the sanctuary she found Maria sitting in a pew. I do hope she hasn’t come to plead on behalf of her brother.
“It’s so good to see you again,” said her friend warmly.
"And what occasion brings you to Avila?”
“Well first you promised to write," she scolded
“Well I was hoping you might have reconsidered…”
“…RECONSIDERED,” She bridled…He stabs me in the back and then uses his power to get me branded a Heretic and thinks I might Reconsider? Is he mad or does he think me stupid? “Reconsider what?”
Actually Teresa had given the matter some thought…that is until the summons scare. That was injury added to insult….It cost her virtue, and perhaps a balance of the payment still to be collected...
“…his marriage proposal.”
She must not know about the Summons, thought Teresa starting to weep. "My heart is now in the hands of God . I pray he’ll be a better steward than your brother ever was.”
Maria had a strong intuition and found it difficult to reconcile the strong emotions she saw in Teresa with the merit of the circumstances. Yes, the young girl had been shocked but this hysteria did not match the character of the friend she knew.
“Is there more troubling you that what happened in the garden?”
Teresa began sobbing even more…“Was that not enough?”
“You once had warm feelings…is forgiveness not divine?“
“I could forgive the witness,“ she said bitterly, “but not…..”
“Not what? There’s more to this than she’s telling. I just knew there was.
Don’t make matters worse than they already are, thought Teresa…
“Forgive myself, “she answered evasively. “I’ve made my decision and placed my future in God’s hands….Please! This is hard enough…don’t make matters worse.”
“What could be worse than the pain you inflict on yourself?”
“…the pain of being married to the wrong man. I've no claim on Ricardo. I admit I was shocked and taken by surprise …But I was infatuated with your brother and he jerked me rudely to my senses.”
“The feelings you once shared, still weigh on his heart. Can’t you find it in yourself to give him another chance?”
“I've made my decision and nothing will change my mind; On the contrary I'm more certain now than ever. Tell Ricardo to go and find somebody else.”
“Won’t you at least give the matter some thought?"
“There's nothing more to consider," cried Teresa, becoming even more emotional…"Thanks for coming …I’m sorry the circumstances couldn't have been better.” With that she stood and fled from the sanctuary.
Later that day Teresa knelt in prayer trying to collect her thoughts. Then the notion came to her that the Summons must have been a gloved threat… No doubt he was prepared at the last minute … to come to me, as I was vulnerable and frightened and offer to dismiss the charge if I agreed to marry him… Dear God! Did I ever misjudge him. Once I loved him but now the very thought of marriage sends a shiver down my spine. Thank God the Church intervened and rescued me from such a fate. I thought I knew Ricardo, but it only shows my naivety and how little I really know about men.
I hope this letter finds you well. I've bad news to report.
Today I went to the convent and talked with Teresa. She became distraught. I sensed that any love she might have once held has been extinguished. I told her of your love and proposal but she wouldn’t hear of it. It was almost as if she didn’t believe a single word. I sensed an undercurrent that eludes my understanding… something more than finding you together with Angelina. I got the distinct feeling that something was going on that I wasn’t aware of. If there’s anything you aren’t telling me don't hold back.
Please post me on anything that might shed further light. I'll try again to see her in the next two weeks. Pray I have better tidings when you return home.
I ‘m beside myself…. Isn’t it ironic that I seem to manage the most complex matters of State while my personal life falls utterly to pieces? Thanks for trying a second time.
I’m intrigued by your assessment that something is going on that we’re not aware of. Why would she doubt my love? I can understand her sense of betrayal and desire to get away, however her reaction seems much too extreme. However, if what happened in the garden isn't the whole explanation, then what is?
Be advised I've told you everything I know. If there are any fresh revelations, they won’t be coming from me. I intend to get to the bottom of all this when I get home and we can discuss then any further actions.
Please post me on any new developments.
King Ferdinand had a rule when it came to confessions. The rule was not to tell the priest anything he didn’t want to become common knowledge. Translated into even more basic terms it said, If you’d be uncomfortable seeing your words posted on the church door then don’t discuss the matter with a priest. Adding to his lack of trust was also a fear of being overheard and he liked to have his confession taken out of doors.
While he didn’t trust the clergy there were some priests he felt more comfortable with than others….That was the operative word “Comfortable.” If the Priest wouldn’t joke around with him and get into a little back and forth banter than he looked around to find someone else.
Frey Bernardo was as close to ideal as a priest could be. Ideal anyway in Ferdinand’s eyes. He passed the “Real Deal” test. Antonio was a man who struggled… to reconcile what he was with the world around him….He was a survivor in a demanding and unforgiving profession that turned most into unthinking followers of dogma. The King had intuition and indeed it was one of his greatest assets. He read people. This intuition gave him the distinct impression that God loved Father Bernardo because of his humanity....that he saw in him a struggle to retain the vestige of an open mind...a quality so utterly beyond the grasp of most of his peers. He saw in the Fryer many of the struggles he wrestled with himself one in particular being the temptations of the flesh. On the one hand Ferdinand lusted after women and on the other was acutely aware of the consequences of getting caught. Like many who face the abrasive and protracted effects of power the King’s moral veneer had become thread bare and it was not the sin that bothered him so much as the social consequences of being brought to account.
He loved Isabella. Theirs was not just a marriage of arranged by convenience. She gave him a love that was affectionate and endearing and it should have been enough….Yet It wasn’t. Worse she knew it and did everything she could to eliminate temptation….Everyone thought she was Jealous and in a sense she was but not an imaginary fear and she did what she could to keep an eye on him. There were however corners surveillance didn’t reach and the sacrament of the confession was one of them… She was a pious woman with utter faith in God and felt herself safe when her husband went to reconcile his sins.
As the king entered the sanctuary he saw Louisa for the first time. She was an attractive young woman but not an exceptional beauty. Attired in her habit and scrubbing the floor is not exactly an ideal means for a woman to display her feminine wares but there was a sensuality to the novitiate that caught Ferdinand’s eye. She tossed her head, brushed aside a curl and looked up. She saw him approach and for a brief moment achieved eye contact…. It was sufficient to bridge the distance between them and down the filament raced their sprits. It was a contact that left no evidence but a moment that both realized had occurred. Then she looked back down and resumed scrubbing the floor .
Frey Bernardo was waiting at the doorway to the sanctuary to greet the King. They spoke a few brief words of greeting before walking through the domed chapel and out into the garden. As was their custom they proceeded to a small fountain beneath an oak tree. Nearby was a bench where they sat down together.
Ferdinand smiled over at the priest and broke the ice.
“Father, I’m pleased to report that I have not sinned in the past week.”
This was utterly false and they both knew it, and in knowing , there sprang a certain levity that made the experience easier to bear.
“Do not make mock of me Sire,” answered Antonio, “I’m but an intermediary between yourself and God, who looks down and watches from above.“
“Watches or listens?”
“Then I better behave," replied the King, “Perhaps I have sinned a little…"
"Give me your confession…"
“Well, Brother Antonio..., what disturbs me most is that I’ve not been the husband I should be….Isabella deserves better than me and brings to our marriage great love and affection. For my part I'm often distracted by temptations of the flesh.”
The King sighed. This theme was familiar .
“… Proverbs 7:25 tells us that men who succumb to their lusts, wind up living unhappy lives."
The Priest touched a raw nerve….If Isabella knew the smallest part of his escapades his life would be unhappy indeed
“A very keen observation and a telling line of scripture…..Tell me Brother Antonio….Are you ever unhappy?”
“This is your confession,” Sire not mine…
“I hear some of those Nuns can be pretty affectionate….That one scrubbing the floor, for example, had her eye on you.”
“Prayer shields us from temptation.“
“I take it you pray a lot….”
“Man’s will is not enough….it must be fortified by God‘s infinite strength.”
“I pray a lot Father, take my word for it….but sometimes….”
“Romans 6:13 tells us that God will not put us in a position where we have no choice but to sin.”
“Well that’s good to hear….So what you’re saying is that with some prayer, willpower and a little help from of the Almighty I can escaped the temptations that often plague me?
“Yes, God shows us the path to righteousness….”
“You’re being evasive Father…I sense you're not being entirely open....come now, .answer truthfully…you don’t always take the right path, do you…?”
“In Genesis 39:12...it says To overcome temptation you must flee from it…”
“How fleet of foot are you, Bernardo?
“The road is long and the struggle unending. For each onto ourselves we must be diligent in our struggle with sin.”
“How do you stand it? I have a wife and the temptation still mocks me….It compels me like a hangman’s rope.”
“With every temptation God reveals a pathway to escape…”
“And where does this path lead; into the forest of perversity? Is that what where you flee to escape temptation?
“My escape is to zealously spread the gospel of the one true faith…”
“I’m familiar with that zeal…..Instead of women or young boys there is always recourse to the pursuit of Infidels and Heretics… torture their confession and light them on fire. I know all about Zealots….I pray God spare you such a fate. Better to succumb to the flesh. Better to surrender to the arms of a woman, than rack disbelievers and burn innocents at the stake…”
“The Inquisition has no quarrel with the innocent…”
“So I hear repeated over and over….Now the very words coming from your lips….Verily I say onto you my friend, that just as God’s spirit reaches out to me though your soul, so the Almighty compels me to warn you….Do not be consumed by your zealotry.”
This admonishment found its mark. Antonio was surrounded by zealots who filled him with dread. One was Frey Tomas Torquemada and another, the woman he loved. He trembled.
The king drew a deep breath and gathered his fortitude…For an instant he felt the touch of God's power before It reflected back through the priest.
“I’m but a simple man with an honest desire." said Ferdinand. "Should I give vent and punish others for the temptation of my own demons?"
“The two of us are not so different sire…Corinthians 10:13 says that we bear no temptation that is not common to man.”
“Yes, and it is better to suffer a speck to the eye that a stake through the heart. “
“God will not suffer us more that we can bear…”
“Let's pray together on that one," said the King.
“Give us this day our daily bread and lead us not into temptation….”
“...but deliver us from Evil…”
When they were finished with the Lord’s Prayer, they stood and took note of one another.
“Go and sin no more….”
“I feel better. How about you?“
“Confession opens the door to forgiveness.”
“…what now of my penance?”
“In the library I have prepared some texts for you to read….It is a quiet place I often use for devotionals…Feel free to use it anytime you have need to meditate in a tranquil surrounding.”
They walked inside into the alcove set aside for devotionals. Ferdinand walked over to the table and began reading the passages that had been selected for his spiritual development. Prominently displayed was the story of Solomon and Bathsheba… It was a scripture that showed clearly where lust could lead a sovereign. When he finished the king walked from the room and down a hall towards the main sanctuary. As he passed a closet he heard a low groan. He paused and listened. He heard it repeated.
“Yes my child,” a familiar voice implored.
He continued listening and heard an, “Ahhhh…” He raised the latch and opened the door.
Inside was Frey Bernardo with the Novitiate he had seen earlier.
Bernardo turned his head and covered his face. His phallus was in her mouth. He turned shamefaced. Overtaken with humiliation he fled to his office.
The young woman stood and wiped her mouth. “Brother Antonio is a good man," she said, "and sometimes the sisters and I try and make his cross easier to bear.”
“How considerate," replied the King, “Do you know who I am?”
“…A noble by the look… and a rich one at that.”
She tried to move past and he blocked her path…
“I too have a cross ….That and an appointment with the Cardinal this afternoon…Perhaps you could help me decide what to tell him?”
“Perhaps,” she answered with a knowing smile.
The king pulled the door closed as she unbuckled his belt.