Antonio gulls the Cardinal and the King scolds Don Ricardo
Chapter 16: Consequences of a Rash Act
It took a week to shape the beams and another to set them in place. Benvolio did all the adz work himself. Then the trusses had to be dragged inside and hoisted up onto the set stones. It was slow hard work. His helpers were willing but they were inexperienced young women. It took a while but at last the project was complete.
He had not seen Maria since their return.
One night, two weeks later, he lay tossing on his cot, drifting in and out of a dream world. The memory of her waist in his hands as she writhed played in slow motion through a hazy fog of memories. Her groans and heaving breasts stirred a wet longing and the seeping of desire brought him to the edge of slumber. Someone hovered over him, breathing down into his face. He flew up.
"Shhhhh,” said Maria, kneeling alongside the bed.
“Sweet Saints!” he muttered. “Don’t ever come on me like that again!”
“I’ve a job for you.”
“What kind of job?” Her woman’s scent set his heart to pounding.
“Hush,” she cautioned, ”You’ll alert the kitchen. Already they begin to move about, so we haven’t much time.”
“Time for what…?” Desire stirred beneath the blanket.
“...for words! I’ve a message for Ricardo. You must deliver it and tell everything that’s happened.”
“...Everything?” Benvolio drew her close.
“Stop it! Not here!” She pushed his hand away.
“What are you worried about? We have at least an hour before anyone ever ventures back here.”
“This is God’s house; not a brothel.”
“This’s a store room.”
“I’m not just another girl from Madrid.”
“There is no girl from Madrid. I made that up.”
She mimed his parting words… “So, do you want me all to yourself?”
“I was only joking.”
“My body is no joke….it was not made for your recreation.”
“I never considered it such. I love you Maria.”
“Are you making that up too?”
"No, I want to marry you."
“Quit talking through your cock!”
“I mean it.”
“Should I swoon now? No, we’re beyond that…, it’s time for me to spread my legs.”
“You’re not listening…”
“Closer than you think, and the answer is ‘no’…not here, not now and never again.”
“What have I done?”
“You found my weakness, you arrogant bastard, and took advantage of it.”
“That’s nonsense," he said reaching out.
“Don’t touch me….”
“Is something wrong? Is it your woman’s time of month?”
“You’re a dog, Benvolio. You belong in a kennel! Here, take this message and deliver it to my brother.” She arose abruptly...
“Can we talk when I get back?”
“Don’t be in any rush. You'll have plenty of time to visit your girlfriend.”
When Father Bernardo finished planting the seeds of rumor, he went to the Cardinal’s suite where the pious man was just finishing his breakfast. "Welcome Antonio," he said.
"I bear tidings..."
"You asked me to keep you informed if there were further developments on the Don Ricardo scandal..."
"What's he done now...?"
“It’s more a consequence of what he did earlier....”
"You remember the young novitiate named Teresa?"
"…Ah yes, the one who scolded the Commissioner in public."
"Well now we know why."
"Because he raped her and she feared he might return to do it again."
"Dear God, can this be true?"
"I wish it were otherwise."
"What evidence do you have?"
"Well, for one thing she's pregnant."
"Once we realized her condition Reverend Mother Sanchez sent the poor girl to the Hermitage."
"Unfortunately, Don Ricardo discovered her whereabouts and went there with a troop of dragoons."
The poor girl was terrorized when he rode up and she pleaded with the Reverend Mother to save her. So when the scoundrel pounded on the door the good sister tried to reason..."
"I take it that reason was not enough?" said the Cardinal shaking his head.
"That she soon discovered, because upon refusing to turn the poor girl over, Don Ricardo threatened to tear the place apart."
"...The nerve of him."
"Yes it was only through the intervention of armed Sisters and the arrival of the Magistrate, that he was dissuaded from following through on his threat."
"This is an unbelievable affront to the Church....I mean, what was he thinking? Are you sure you have all the facts straight?"
"I’ve a letter from Sister Garcia and also Reverend Mother Sanchez. They attest in writing to everything I've said."
"Give them to me." The Cardinal read nervously, his eyes glowing with rage.
"I would not have upset your serenity, had you not said that we would do whatever possible to protect this young woman."
"I remember what I said. That we would take the matter to the King and Queen if that was what it took. Are you ready to lend me your support?"
"You want me to accompany you?"
"Are you not the King's confessor? Does he not trust you with the stewardship of his soul?"
"Yes your Eminence...of course I’ll go boldly and stand witness to all I have said."
"Then draft a request asking for an immediate audience."
The king looked down at the petition shaking his head. He handed it to Isabella, who sighed. "I suspect we know what's prompting this."
"I know what the pretext is going to be," replied Ferdinand, "but I also know the underlying reason. They will go to any length to discredit Don Ricardo." They see their power being diminished by the Hermandad.”
"The church wants the power of the Inquisition." replied Isabella.
"That too, my dear, fear was the tool they used against the people and the nobles; now they only have recourse to "Love." For them it's a poor substitute."
"People love as they choose but fear as they must," she answered.
"When they harangue from the pulpit, exhorting the" Fear of God," what they are actually referring to is a bitter longing for the power of the Holy Office. They created it to strike terror into the people, the nobility and even their Sovereigns; bitter is the pill that they’re denied the use of it.”
“Ricardo makes their work easier and our efforts harder to justify." she said shaking her head, "He serves himself up on a silver platter."
“I hate surprises," he replied. "Why didn't he tell me this was coming?"
"What If Lady Aragon had not whispered it was afoot?"
"We would have been taken by surprise and floundered like fools. Even now I have no sense for the extenuating or mitigating circumstances. I can't wait to hear what Ricardo has to say about all this. Did he take leave of his senses?"
“His love for Teresa has clouded his judgment,” offered the Queen.
"How do you suppose he found out where they had Teresa hidden?"
"I imagine it to be part of this mysterious "Strategy" Maria was talking about."
"We should have inquired more deeply. Ignorance is a bald defense for Sovereigns."
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the Cardinal and his Secretary. Father Bernardo was no stranger. For a churchman he had always seemed a decent enough fellow....still, the Friar had deep flaws in is character.
"What a pleasure to see two of my favorite clerics, said Ferdinand. “To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"Matters have come to our attention, said the Cardinal, which involves the behavior of a man held in high esteem, who occupies a position of highest trust; who of late threatened to carry off a young pregnant woman being protected under the roof of God's house."
"And who is accused of this heinous crime?"
"It's not so much the crime Sire, as it is the fear he will return and try again, Next time with a larger force."
"Name the one you're referring to."
"He is The High Commissioner, Don Ricardo de Quintillion."
"…And the details of the offense?"
"He and a troop of his men threatened to tear apart the church's mission at Hermosa. A place called the ‘Hermitage.’"
"And exactly what is this place’s Mission?"
"A home for unwed mothers."
"And who is the pregnant woman?"
"A Novitiate named Teresa Montevallo"
"Has she filed a complaint?"
"Then from whence do the allegations stem?"
"They come from Sister Gomez at the Hermitage and Reverend Mother Sanchez from the Convent at Avila."
"Let me see the depositions." After the king read them over, he handed the documents to Isabella and continued... "I see no harm alleged here. Is this best you have? You use these to impugn a trusted agent of the King?"
"We wish to impugn no one," said the Cardinal, "or bring charges for that matter. Since the Commissioner of the Hermandad is a law onto himself we only hoped that you might restrain him from further capricious outbursts of violence."
"I'll speak to Don Ricardo and tell him to mind his manners, but the worst that can be said for his alleged actions is that he displayed poor judgment. I hope you will both join me in reminding our flock that making rumors that defame the character of good men carry consequences. I will not listen to such talk or condone the spread of it. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes Sire," they both repeated in unison.
Don Ricardo looked at the summons from the king. He had been distracted by pressing matters regarding the Basque Treaty when he returned from the Hermitage...and had thought he would have more time to explain what had happened. He realized now that he had made a huge mistake. He hastened to the court and was ushered into the salon. Ferdinand greeted him placing a fatherly arm around his shoulder.
"I've heard from no fewer than five sources that you visited a retreat called the Hermitage. That you threatened to tear the place apart to get your hands on a certain Novitiate the church has stashed there."
"I won't dispute the truth..."
"I'm told that Teresa is pregnant, that you are the father, and that you raped her."
"The first part is true. The second two are utterly false."
"True false, what does it matter? The rumor is all over the court. It's enough that everyone believes it and what would you expect? It fits nicely in nicely with the scandal you introduced several months ago in the witness of damn near everyone in the Court. Now comes the revelation that she resides in a home for unwed mothers. And if that isn’t enough, you go there and threaten to tear the place apart. Is it any wonder the lie is widely believed?"
Don Ricardo Tomas extended his palms in contrition. "I concede how it looks Sire and it makes the truth blush but I am not the father of her child, and I have never had sex with that girl."
"How did you find where they’ taken her?"
"Maria told me,"
"How did she find out?"
"She pretends to be a Novitiate at the Convent of the Sisters at Avila. She is trying to discover what’s going on."
"So she sent you a note?"
"Yes Sire, and upon reading it, I acted rashly to confirm the truth for myself."
Did you get to the bottom of it?"
"No... I was refused an audience and when it dawned how this was going to appear...I returned to Madrid."
"Why didn't you report to me at once...?"
"The treaty with the Basques had taken on new developments that required my immediate attention. By the time I had that settled I receive your summons to report here."
"Very well, it's better than I expected and not exactly the end of the world."
"What am I to do?"
"Tell the truth...deny that you raped her...Explain your love for the girl...That your visit to the Hermitage was to ask for her hand in marriage."
"Yes! I will do that for a certainty."
"It should take some of the steam off the kettle."