Authors: Aiden James,Michelle Wright
“Hold your horses, I’m here,” she announced sarcastically. I saw something animal in her nature. Even though she drew a shawl tightly around her body, it didn’t hide the wildness.
“Serve girl, we’re hungry and parched with thirst. Hurry up, I don’t want to see your sluggish behavior in front of guests,” Isaac barked.
Rachel was no more than a servant, a slave to her father’s demands from which Juan and Dario were easily distracted. His obnoxious behavior ignored as they ate and drank endless cups of wine served by a girl slight in build, her black hair matted from lack of a good wash, and her hands worn from work, I studied her features. Mountain air coupled with sun and wind had darkened and dried her young face resulting in a look much older than her years. With not a smile or greeting to be had, she reluctantly slopped food in bowls and replenished the wine, avoiding eye contact at every turn.
“If you stay long enough you will see what an abomination of a human being my daughter is. Don’t be fooled by appearances, she’s not what she appears be.”
By the look of things, she was nothing more than a peasant girl with little or no knowledge of the world away from the mountain. I doubted she ever went further than the goats bleating outside.
“Your daughter doesn’t seem to be in your favor, why is that?” I enquired, caring not for Isaac’s rhetoric.
“She’s not normal; sometimes she behaves like a mountain cat. I would say she belongs in the insane asylum. The only reason she’s not is because of my good nature and mercy.”
“I’d like to discuss why I’m here,” I replied, needing to direct the conversation toward my coins. I could
the pull that had become familiar to me over time.
“If I were to, say, ‘bite off your ear’, would it hurt? I presume immortality means you can’t be maimed or killed,” he joked.
“Well, if you try to harm me, you will be sorry.” In no mood for his ridiculous comment, I wondered what kind of a man even thinks to bite off an ear. Strange, indeed.
It was expected for Dario to leave us. I knew in advance he had business matters needing attention and would return within a week. He’d arrange with Isaac to guide us back down if we left sooner.
“I trust you to be a respectful host and discuss with Emmanuel the problem at hand. Good negotiations always bring a positive result,” said Dario.
I was grateful for his helpful nature and told him so. Juan, on the other hand, embarrassed himself by falling asleep on account of the wine he had consumed. With Dario gone, I was left to deal with Isaac alone, who seemed determined to gain the upper hand.
“I have no intention to comment on Dario’s expertise in negotiations, if he has any. You can sleep here for the night.” Isaac pointed to a straw mattress on the floor. “It looks like Juan is unconscious in the chair, I’ll leave him.”
“You have coins belonging to me, paid in exchange for the betrayal of Jesus Christ. I have come to redeem them, since word has it you acquired two of them. I can only pay you a small sum, or perhaps another kind of reward would be agreeable to you?”
He didn’t respond, as the conversation was cut short by a violent scream that made me jump out of my skin. It was Rachel, standing by the window with blood dripping from her hands and feet, wailing loudly in agony. Juan, who slept so little, awoke with a start. In his drunken stupor, he was forced to witness her tears of blood.
“C’est quoi ceci? Emmanuel, what is going on?”
“I bear the wounds of Christ, I am Stigmata!” Rachel cried out as she fell to the floor, writhing.
“What kind of trickery is this? I will not be intimidated nor played with,” I demanded, thinking this was some sort of hoax. “Give me my rightful coins. I will pay you for your trouble, and then be done!”
“Oh, you think I jest and my daughter too? Take heed my friend, this is no show. She bleeds like this at least once in the month, sometimes more. I’ve had the priest here many times, he claims her to be genuine. Who am I or you to doubt the word of God?”
“I am only here for my coins, if I have to resort to extreme measures to get them, I will. I’m not interested in your daughter and her wild claim.”
Juan sobered up quickly. A girl lying prostrate on the floor with arms and legs stretched out, blood streaming from what appeared to be four wounds, was enough to sober his brain into action.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he commented quietly. “It’s unbelievable… A genuine stigmatic.”
? In all my journeys, I’d never come across one, taking the notion as one of attention seeking, mainly from women. Now I was expected to believe the cunning game-playing Isaac’s claim that this was the truth. If Rachel was a genuine case, why was I to be so punished? Reminded of the marks of Jesus as he hung dying on the cross would be a grim distraction from what I set out to do.
“Damn this to hell!” I voiced my displeasure loudly.
Juan nodded, speechless. He could do no more than look at me in wonder and confusion.
“I can do you no favors,” said Isaac. “I don’t know where the coins are now. I sold them a while back to a traveling merchant who buys and sells old artifacts, and given a tidy sum in exchange.”
“You’re lying. I feel at least one of them is close by. Besides, why would you deceive Dario into believing you have them, and then tell me you haven’t a clue where they are, the moment he’s gone. I want them back. If it means employing extreme measures, I will.”
Rachel had become quiet and, it appeared the bleeding had stopped. Oblivious, she remained on the floor in a very compromising position, displeasing Isaac. “Close your legs girl,” said her father. “Do you want these men to think you’re given to wrongdoings?”
“I demand you return my coins!” I repeated, more sternly than before.
Isaac eyed me defiantly and left us, slamming the door behind him. I expected he would tend to his goats in the darkness. A distraction from his lies and deception, perhaps?
Juan, the peacemaker, urged me not to follow him. “There is more than one way to skin a cat,” he whispered, blocking my path.
Why my thoughts went again to Isabella was beyond me. Then it dawned, if she was here, knowing her true colors, I could manipulate her to bed him. Pillow talk could be very revealing. But I had discarded her and rightly so. There was no other recourse than to wring the man’s neck until he confessed.
Rachel rose from the floor frantically wiping the blood from herself, a pathetic sight.
“Let me assist you, Je aderai?” Juan offered. I looked on with frustration and anger, no more concerned with her welfare than that of Isabella.
My romances this century had become a wreck, a wasteland of betrayal and broken promises.
Before Isabel, there was Angelica, who gave an outward impression of a pious married woman. In bed, she was another, with an appetite for sex away from normality. I was encouraged to tie her hands to the bedposts and flog her wildly, something she enjoyed with the deepest pleasure. Meeting by chance in Constantinople in the year 1677, I cursed the day I set eyes on her. She brought me almost to the brink of insanity with her desires, impressing on me how little her husband satisfied her. It was over before it began. Her guilty pleasures becoming a weight she couldn’t bear, and, against my pleading, she drifted back into respectful married life leaving me wanting. To compensate for the loss, I nursed my wounds with many a fleeting dalliance. Until a year later when I came across Isabella, my latest abomination.
“Juan, do yourself an enormous favor. Don’t involve yourself with her attention-seeking act. Many say, and quite rightly, that stigmatics perform the work of Satan, conning everyone in sight. This girl carries the inheritance of her father, himself a bad man. You’d do best to form the right opinion.”
Too late. Juan’s empathic eyes revealed his intrigue and compassion as he lifted her to her feet and set her down in a chair. The holes in her hands and feet, and scars on her forehead doing little to convince me. I presumed she’d gouged out the flesh and burned the edges herself, it was easily done.
“I’m a Catholic and believe strongly in atonement and sacraments. Christ died for our sins, the ultimate sacrifice. His death resulted in stigmatics still suffering his wounds to this day. Satan be damned!” Juan replied. Clearly, I had upset him, his nostrils flaring. “Francis of Assisi suffered the pain of stigmata. Take pity on this poor girl, she’s done nothing to harm you. Just look at her.”
I looked upon her, per his request. She smiled, a devious smirk disguised by a mask of innocence riling me to strangle Isaac even more
“My father is bringing the goats up from pasture. If you wish to kill him, wait until he returns. There are some very steep inclines, treacherous for the inexperienced walker,” Rachel advised, her voice hoarse for the screaming.
Did she read my thoughts like Juan? She is a sorceress like her father!
“What makes you think I want to kill him? I only want what’s mine so I can be on my way. I haven’t come here looking for trouble, only my coins.”
think by gathering every single coin lost, you’ll have peace, an end to your suffering? No one promised you a dowry for heaven!”
For someone so young and sheltered, she certainly had a bold voice. A definite change from when she first entered the room as a shy and nervous girl. Was this also an act, or something more…?
“Do not waste your time trying to discern Father’s hiding places,” she said, her knowing smile widening. “He never divulges anything to me, not even where he keeps his money. I can better tell you where he keeps his whipping belt, as I’m often ordered to fetch it for a beating.”
’m only waiting to appease you,” I reminded Juan as the coins and Rachel’s beatings weighed annoyingly on my mind. Isaac’s absence became wearisome, as the three of us barely made conversation. Juan moved his chair closer to Rachel, who I suspected he was sadly smitten with. For the life of me, I couldn’t work out how her bleeding at a whim could ever be attractive.
“Don’t do anything stupid when he returns. You will need to negotiate a price for the coins; he’s not going to give them up out of the goodness of his heart. If he beats his daughter, you must not come between them,” Juan warned.
I had no time to argue my point. The door burst open revealing a strong gust of wind and a sorry excuse for a human being, Isaac.
“Rachel, go to your bed,” he demanded. “Judas, Emmanuel, whatever you’re called. I expect high payment for what you want. If you’re unwilling, then leave and take your drunken friend with you.”
“I refuse to negotiate with a lying pig. Hand over what doesn’t belong to you for a fair price,” I replied, my determination stronger than ever.
Rachel ignored her father’s demand, moving her chair closer to Juan.
“I’m telling you girl, defy me and you’ll be sorry.”
I could no longer stay compliant. Deciding to ignore Juan’s advice to not come between a father and daughter, I made my stand.
“Touch her and I will strike you,” I warned as I moved toward him.
Then came an eerie silence as Juan moved forward ready to stop whatever was about to happen. Rachel sat transfixed, her eyes full of anxiety. Fearless, I challenged him to make the first move.