Maria and Benvolio discuss meeting with Teresa, while Antonio spreads gossip in the Court.
Chapter 15 Pieces Coming Together
After Maria left Teresa paced about her room filled with anger and indignation. After a few minutes of fuming and muttering, she heard a scratching on the door and went to open it. It was her friend, Bruno, a large mastiff hound. Without realizing it the time had come and gone when she usually took him for a long walk. Peering outside she saw the corridor was empty and went to the window that looked down into the courtyard. She saw Maria walking with a satchel over her shoulder, going out the door that led to the road. Teresa went downstairs and opened it a crack in time to see a cart heading back towards town. Maria was sitting next to the driver. Bruno was jumping up and down excitedly, impatient for their walk to begin. She petted him on the head and looked carefully about to make sure no one was watching.
“Sit!” She said firmly and the hound settled at once to his haunches. “It won’t do to have others see us talking, so be a good dog. Be patient until that cart passes from view; then we’ll take our walk. I’ve been arguing with an old friend over matters I need to discuss with you.”
Since coming to the Hermitage Teresa had reverted to her old habit of talking to the animals. It was a mechanism she had learned as a child that had once helped her cope with the many difficulties that life seemed forever serving up. Never mind that the animals never really answered back. She always had an ample supply of responses that they would have answered with had they been able to talk. After a few minutes she opened the door again, peered out and the cart had disappeared. She stepped outside and began walking down towards the river trail, the hound next to her.
“The nerve of her,” muttered Teresa.
“What did she want?” inquired the dog.
“She wanted to know who fathered my child.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I said to tell Ricardo that he needn’t worry…it wasn’t his.”
“Is he the one who shared your heat?”
“He’s always had my love…. But my heat, no. He wasn’t the one who made this baby… Still he’s responsible.”
“How can that be if he didn’t mount you?”
“I sought the protection of another to prevent him from doing so.”
“Happens all the time…”
“Maria thinks I was tricked into believing her brother unworthy.”
“Of course not, do I look stupid?”
“Certainly not, for a human I find you very intelligent.”
“If anyone was tricked it was her; in believing anything that liar said.”
“Yet you feel heat for this brother of hers?”
“I always have and I always will.”
“Then don’t blame him for sniffing around. It’s the way of nature. It’s compelling and irresistible and once it enters the nostrils there’s no escape.”
“You think my scent lingers in his memory?”
“...For an absolute certainty.”
Maria returned to the cart and stepped up onto the seat. Benvolio looked over inquiring, “Did you find out anything?”
“Not much, let's go."
He shook the reins and the horse stepped off. Once past the town the terrain became rolling hills and forests. Maria sat pensive. He watched from the corner of his eye, her breasts moving with the clip-clop of the horse’s hoofs. His thoughts returned to earlier in the day when they made love. Shaking his head he took a breath, trying to concentrate on the matters at hand.
“How did it go?”
“I posed the questions we discussed."
“What did you find out?”
“Well, to begin with, I asked Teresa why she’s so upset with Ricardo.”
“I expected her to bring up the garden incident, but she dismissed that as almost inconsequential.”
“So I asked who the father of her child is.”
“She said Ricardo didn't have to worry, even though she held him personally responsible.”
“......Hmmmm. What the heck is that supposed to mean?”
“She’s covering for someone to protect them from blame.”
“Now that’s interesting.”
“I presume she feared that Ricardo would use the power of his office against her friends.”
“She’s wrong, but I can see why she might think that.”
“I told her those 'friends' were the ones she needed to worry about..."
“How did she respond to that?”
“It made her mad.”
“What did she say about Juanita's mysterious rendezvous in the Convent?”
“That it probably wasn't a priest; more likely her old boyfriend, returning for a visit.”
“Did you offer your opinion...?”
"Yes, that I believed young girls were being duped into granting favor; that there's altogether too much foot traffic in the halls at night.
“...That really got her goat. Teresa said that if anyone was being used it was me, by my brother, to get even for the scolding.”
“I'm beginning to see why it was a short visit.”
“Indeed..., with that she ordered me out of her cell.”
“I think you did a good job...I'm impressed."
They had gone several miles caught up in this animated discussion and as a consequence were taken by surprise when two brigands sprang suddenly from hiding. The shorter one took the bridle and the other confronted the driver, his sword menacing….
“What do you want from us?” asked Benvolio.
“…Your valuables and the saddlebag that Nun’s carrying," said the one with the sword.
"We have no valuables," replied the Basque, "and the satchel contains only letters from the Sisters at the Hermitage.”
“Hand it over…and let me see for myself.”
“It’s my responsibility," said Maria clutching it tight.
The brigand stepped closer poking his blade into Benvolio’s chest.
“Must I kill this man, Sister, and take it over his dead body?”
“…While I hold you down,” added the runt.
“Give it to me,” said Benvolio extending his hand towards her.
She handed him the satchel and he turned, shifting his body to the side.
The thief reached up for it and Benvolio kicked him, springing from the livery. The rogue staggered backward and recovered, only to face a sword, drawn from beneath the seat.
“Killing these amateurs is going to be unsettling. Maria, don't watch."
“There are two of us and but one of you,” blustered the pip squeak.
“I've an appointment with the Devil and a girl in Madrid," Benvolio reflected calmly. "I'll be sleeping with one of them tonight.”
Maria’s eyes got wide. The brigands stepped back. They looked at one another and hesitated... then, nodding in agreement, turned and fled.
Benvolio returned the sword in disgust and stepped back up onto the seat. He feigned calmness but his heart was pounding. Taking the reins, he gave them a shake and resumed the journey. Maria trembled, scooting a hip against his and putting her head on his shoulder. One arm went around his waist and her fingers began rubbing his thigh...She watched as the fabric stretched. A mile up the road they pulled off onto a logging trail and halted. Alighting, he walked around and lifted her from the cart. She responded clutching him tight. They kissed long and passionately while the heat started rising.
“Take off your habit,” he said, voice straining with desire.
She pulled it over her head as he untied his britches. She gazed wide-eyed as his poised manhood sprang to view. He lifted her once more onto the bed of the cart. His fingers fumbled with the laces holding her breasts and they spilled into plain and open view. He put a hand over each, squeezing the soft curves and kneading the nipples. Gripping one he kissed it, teasing the milk bud with his tongue; watching as it perked shyly from its dark areola. Then, as earlier, Benvolio had his way as she laid back and surrendered her body. This time he worked her with a more measured and insistent stroke. At first she lay quietly trying to rid her mind of the bandits. Soon however her thoughts turned to the pleasure of the intercourse and she began responding to his lovemaking. This time the experience was longer and built more slowly to a climax. Amid grunts and sighs they began to peak as the tempo increased and he began to pummel without restraint. Maria started sobbing, overwhelmed by the raw physical and emotional intensity. She locked her legs about his waist and came as the rush swept over and all her tension and frustrations came whooshing out. At length, both spent, he pulled out and she sat up. They embraced a long time rocking back and forth in the clutch of each other's arms.
“I thought I was going to lose you,” she sniffled, her breath coming in short halting Jerks.
“For highway men they were exceedingly inept….”
“Who is this girl in Madrid?” she wanted to know.
The Basque smiled. "Why, do you want me all to yourself?" He said this in a mixture of bravado and jest...; however, they were words he would soon come to regret.
After the walk Teresa went to the library….In the old days, of the Sacerdotal Court the Hermitage had been used in the Interrogation of Heretics and Conversos. The library still contained many of the records of those dark times. Teresa, to pass the time, had spent many hours there looking for distraction and something besides legers of those brought in for questioning and depositions of interviews. Now however, she had a sudden interest in the subject and after several hours of searching, came across a volume entitled, “Interrogation Practices and Techniques.” It was a compendium on instruments of torture, and techniques for the questioning of transgressors, facing an assortment of accusations by the Church. Turning to the section on Sorcery and Witchcraft, she read the following account. It was written by Hermes San Sebastian, a Franciscan Monk in the early 1500s. She had seen his name listed earlier as one of the chief interrogators at the monastery.
I have had the opportunity to question several hundred women accused of Sorcery and have yet to find a case worthy of merit…Indeed I am better informed on the subject than any of the accused I have encountered to date and can only conclude that the persecution of women for this alleged heresy is so much superstitious nonsense. It is a carryover of some of the obscure rituals practiced by the pagans who once occupied these lands. In the past there have been unscrupulous interrogators who took advantage of these women using their fear of these walls to garner sexual favors. Such behavior is an affront to God and those guilty will have hell to pay come judgment. Those brought here, particularly women are so terrified that they require no physical cohesion to speak the truth; the problem faced in questioning is that they will say anything they believe the interrogator wants to hear, regardless of its veracity. They will also agree to any form of degrading sexual behavior to escape the threat of physical suffering.
There are rumors, no doubt the result of those facing persecution…Followers of Zion, Islam, and hypocritical Conversos, who make many absurd and false claims... that Witches have been able to escape discovery and retribution by casting enchantments or masking their lies in in magic. One of the more amusing and utterly false of these claims is the inane notion that an interrogator must question a sorceress joined in carnal union to avoid becoming enchanted or deceived by untruths. This is sheer nonsense, masquerading as the truth. This sort of distorted claim is an insult to anyone with a modicum of intelligence and detracts from the seriousness of the work we do here in God’s name.
Teresa, upon reading this, snapped the book shut with a vengeance. She stamped her foot, muttered an obscenity and began pounding the heel of her hand against her head. Bruno found her in this agitated state of mind and nuzzled her hip….
“Could it be that Maria was right?” she asked him?
He answered with a lick and nudged her fingers.
Antonio walked about the court in search of Duchess Ursula of Falmouth. She was a notorious gossip. He had already given various versions of the rumor he was about to repeat to several other Ladies. Already the word was beginning to spread. He saw the Duchess standing with Lady Cuervo of Aragon.
“Pious Ladies,” he addressed them, “It’s such a pleasure to see two such paragons of virtue in this world of infamy and sin… You stand like pillars of goodness in a sea awash in decadence and shame.”
Lady Cuervo rolled her eyes…"And what is troubling you now Brother Bernardo?”
“Just more of the same; things I hesitate to mention, in the certainty they will come back and haunt me for the outspokenness I use to voice the indignation of God.”
“The truth is the gridiron of all virtue,” said the Duchess…”and if we fear to speak it, the light soon dims and evil spreads like a dark cancer.”
“You speak with such eloquence and conviction,” he answered….”It is you who should hear my confession and not the other way ‘round.”
“So what is it now you find so troubling?"
“The abuse of certain nobles, who will go unnamed, one in particular… A man of great authority held in the highest esteem and one who uses the power of God’s righteous Inquisition to his own selfish and perverse ends…”
“What has Ricardo done this time?”
“It will upset your sensitivities ….”
“Out with it…What mischief has he been up to?”
“He raped a Novitiate. Now she’s with child and he seeks to take her off to be silenced…that is until the evidence is disposed of…”
"Take her off?"
"Just last week he all but broke down the door to the Hermitage to lay his hands on her...”
"A home for unwed mothers; a retreat operated by the church....”
"Had it not been for the Magistrate...."
“Is this another episode in a story we're already familiar with?”
“Sadly so…please don’t quote me, but your mind recollects and closes like a steel trap.”
“What is this world coming too? I do hope the king and Queen get him under control and see that justice is done. Teresa practically grew up in the Court."