Authors: Aiden James,Michelle Wright
“You are nothing but the scum of the earth, Iscariot. Coming into my home and putting your nose in the business of my daughter. I strongly object to your presence, do not make me ask you again to leave. You are nothing but a blight upon humanity. It’s shameful God even allows you to wander the earth, you should be in hell!”
I had expected a humble shepherd with a sweet natured daughter, both unwittingly in possession of something they didn’t understand and prepared to accept reasonable payment. Instead, I found myself stuck in the presence of a deeply unbalanced stigmatic and a piggish lunatic.
“Emmanuel, I think it’s best we go. If you’re not prepared to pay then you must capitulate,” advised Juan, trying to appeal to my better nature.
Every fiber in my body screamed to gather my sword and bring it down on Isaac’s neck, his end swift but sure. I’d made up my mind he didn’t deserve to be in this world, a degenerate. Living as isolated as he did I was certain no one would miss him. In fact, I’d be doing a great service to humanity by stopping his lifeless heart and freeing a young girl from his grip. I had nothing to lose, with Isaac out of the way I could tune in better and locate the coins. He was unaware of my intentions as I gathered my belongings in readiness to leave. Isaac saw it as a weak spot he could use by lifting an axe in readiness to bring it down on my head. It came swift and hard aimed for the back of my neck, but the idiot underestimated my reflexes. With one hand, I stopped the axe and drove my drawn dagger deep into his stomach. Rachel screamed.
Juan was horrified, watching Isaac writhe upon the ground gurgling blood, his eyes rolling.
“Emmanuel, what have you done?” he whispered worriedly.
“The man was a bastard… and no doubt abusive to his only progeny. I put an end to such a wretched existence. After all, the fool even thought he’d chop off my head.”
“I think we should leave, now!” urged Juan.
But with a father gone, what were we to do with Rachel? I wasn’t selfish enough to leave her to an unknown fate, nor leave his body to rot away until an unsuspecting Dario found it. Leaving her behind to an uncertain fate was a harsh thing even for me to do. She could panic and alert the authorities, who might see her as the prime suspect. Juan and I would be long gone, safely across the border while she hung for murder.
“First we dispose of the body, as quickly as possible. Rachel, you must come with us. If you stay, you’re in danger of being accused,” I warned her.
“What about the goats, I can’t leave them?” she replied frantically, rising above her tears.
“Goats are resilient; they feed off the land and drink from the mountain streams. Even in winter, they survive. Dario will take care of them and we’ll create a story, one he’ll believe. He will sell the goats for you, don’t worry,” advised Juan.
“We will bury the body and come back for you when we’re ready to leave,” I said.
She looked at me with a sadness and bewilderment. My actions had changed the course of her life, taking her away from everything she knew.
We dragged the body as far as possible and managed to find a good spot. But just as we finished, we were alerted by voices coming from nearby. It prompted us to make our way back toward the hut quickly. Reaching it without interference, even though it took longer than we thought I was relieved. Rachel was sitting by the fire’s dying embers, wearing a lost expression. Beside her, a few pitiful belongings packed into a small bag. I felt some compassion for this abandoned girl in spite of her strange bleeding arousing my suspicions. Juan showed more than pity. He fussed like a mother hen, stoking the fire and heating water for her to wash the dried blood still on her face.
“I think it best we wait till dawn,” he said, almost sweetly. There’s little we can do now.”
“I believe it’s too risky to stay till dawn,” I said. “We need to make haste now and journey in darkness. Our renewed goal should be to reach the border safely, with Racco’s help. Surely, we can stay there for a while, until this unfortunate event is forgotten.”
Juan was unimpressed. “Racco? The man is poisoned, if you want to believe his story. How do you poison an immortal? Besides, what can he do to help when he can’t even help himself?”
“I do not know what he can or cannot do,” I replied sourly. “But I’m prepared to find out.”
Rachel grew steadily more agitated. “Can we go? I’m afraid they’ll come for us. They won’t care I’m a woman, we’ll all be executed!”
Not knowing a hanging for us was a mere inconvenience, I realized she lacked the full extent of her father’s sentient gifts.
There was a little food packed for the journey, water and other supplies to keep us warm. Juan’s steady and calm presence would come in handy for Rachel’s moods and attacks.
The three of us made our way in the opposite direction of where we left Isaac. Important to keep to another route and hopefully recall the way to Racco by memory, without Dario, we would have to depend on instinct. Rachel covered her head with a thin cloth, giving little protection against the wind. I thought it strange, a Shepherd’s daughter dressed in clothing not adequate for life in such harsh conditions. Isaac didn’t strike me as a poor man. Now he was dead, I couldn’t be sure of the truth. If he really had sold the coins, the bastard must have procured a tidy sum unknown to his daughter.
I was doubtful he sold them, although the sense of their presence remained with me. I could come back another time.
Trying to negotiate rocky terrain in such darkness was no easy task. It was only a matter of luck not one of us fell, somehow avoiding the chasms hidden in the dark. Rachel had brought a small lamp, but the oil was nearly gone, and we would have need of that luxury at camp.
The weather had been holding steady, cold, but dry. But with the dawn came rain, and the wind picked up. When Rachel complained about the increasing chill, Juan gallantly gave up his cloak, wrapping it tightly around her. I would later thank him for remembering the human condition, since neither of us was susceptible to common ailments, like influenza.
“Emmanuel, please don’t think ill of me for being a stigmatic. I can’t help it.”
Despite my distrust of her condition, I hadn’t even thought of it since leaving her father’s house. “I think no less of you… but let’s keep going, shall we?”
The rain came down harder with no signs of stopping, prompting Juan to suggest we take shelter in an abandoned hut we came upon. The place was devoid of furnishings, but dry and without any obvious roof leaks in sight. We laid blankets down, glad of the reprieve. Rachel seemed unperturbed to be alone with two men in the dead of night. She curled into a ball near the fire we made, and fell asleep almost immediately.
Her face was so much older than the young woman she should be. Too many lines etched in her forehead, under the eyes and around her mouth. I watched her sleep, wondering if she ever had a moment’s blessing. Juan lay quietly, his eyes staring at the roof. Neither of us spoke, not being able to sleep didn’t mean we had to talk. Often both of us benefited from silence. By dawn’s light, the rain had mercifully stopped. After waking Rachel, we ate a small meal and moved on. But less than five minutes from the hut, trouble appeared.
“Who goes there? What’s your business on my land?’ A man stood firmly in our path, musket in hand, demanding an answer.
“We were under the impression this is a public footpath for everyone. We’re passing through, good sir, and mean no harm.” I smiled, in hopes he would lower the gun and its presumed hostility.
“It’s you, Witch be gone! Do not cross my land and mark me for death.” His eyes were set on Rachel, who was trying to disguise her face with a shawl. I couldn’t understand why he was so terrified by her presence, even going so far as to step backwards. But then saw the rash of sours upon his face and neck.
“We’ve been charged with the responsibility of taking this mad girl across the border to meet her punishment. She’s wanted in Spain, you’ll never see her again,” I replied, hoping a lie would suffice for a quick resolution. There was a possibility of my yarn unraveling and putting us all in trouble.
“Be gone then, all of you!’
I took his order as a sign to grab Rachel harshly by the arm and move her along with Juan in hot pursuit.
“That was interesting,” I said, after he was no longer in earshot.
“I did nothing to you, mountain man, nor your family. I’m not the one responsible for their deaths. I claim my innocence!” Rachel called back to the man, defending herself in defiance. The last thing we needed.
“Shut up and keep walking,” I whispered harshly “We can ill afford to attract attention because of a stupid girl who imagines she’s bleeding the wounds of Christ!”
“I need to defend myself and admonish any guilt laid at my feet!” she hissed back at me. “Did you hear what he called me? I’m being wrongly accused as a witch. I’m also hurt you perceive me as nothing more than a cheap liar. Are you so honest Emmanuel? No, you are nothing more than a cold blooded murderer.”
This was the gratitude I received for saving her hide from vicious beatings by a man who treated her like a slave-girl?
“Be grateful we are not leaving you to the lions,” I replied coldly.
“Where’s your father girl? Does Isaac know you being taken out of the country against your will?”
The man had followed in our wake, demanding an explanation.
“She claims to be a stigmatic and has bothered many folks around here. Her father requested she be taken to a madhouse, as far away as possible,” said Juan, offering a demure smile to the man.
“Why take the wench to Spain when we have places for her in France?” Our nuisance raised his rifle while eyeing us suspiciously.
“Because her father insisted she be gone, far away. He could no longer bear the shame.”
“Is he paying you well?”
“Well enough,” I replied, hoping he’d tire of the conversation and go.
“Isaac believed in burying his gold, it’s surprising to hear he paid you to take his daughter away. He parted with no monies if he could help it.”
“He paid us,” Juan assured him.
Buried his gold? Suddenly I had the feeling he may have buried my coins alongside it. But where? The terrain was extensive and full of rocks. Without a firm location, it would be an impossible task, unless Rachel knew the location.
“Can we now be on our way without hindrance?” I asked. “We need to make headway by nightfall.”
My plans had changed. First, I needed Rachel to tell me if she knew where the gold was. Then I had to weigh up whether it was worth the risk to return. To keep everything the same and appearing normal, I allowed the journey to continue.
“Why do you make conflict with every woman you come into contact with, Judas? I don’t understand,” asked Juan.
“It’s the women of this century that are the problem. Most are without heart and are uncharitable, unfaithful, and thus unworthy of my esteem.”
It pained me to think back to the greatest loves of my life. Memories of centuries past, of heartbreak in the spoils of war and in peace. I had mostly learned to prefer a life on my own.
“Rachel, do you know anything about your father’s buried gold?” I asked casually, looking to change the direction of our discourse.
“He would never tell me where he hid anything.”
Surely, it was buried close to the house, or on the hill where the goats grazed. With three of us searching, the odds of discovery widened. I cursed myself for not exercising patience and waiting a few hours to leave. Of course, I had no idea the coins were still there, despite the nagging feeling they remained nearby. Though faint, I could hear the call of at least one of them.
“I’m thinking we should return and search for the gold. Rachel will need it for her new life and there’s a slim chance my coins are there,” I told Juan, after suddenly finding an angle to employ. “Of course, I understand if you have strong objections.”
“You are asking me to go back? Where exactly are we supposed to start digging, by the house, up or down the hill? Are you crazy?”
“Rachel will show us because she knows where it’s buried.”
“What? She’s made it clear she doesn’t know.”
“She is lying through her teeth. Look in her eyes, they show a marked degree of dishonesty, look!”
Rachel’s response was to turn on her heels and run, our cloaks discarded as she went. I responded by pursuing her, not prepared to lose the only link to my coins.
“It will do you no good to run away!” I shouted, with Juan right behind me, as we gave chase. “We are your only salvation!”
Our pleas went unanswered. Faster than I thought and more used to the terrain than us, she continued to run. Undeterred and keeping her in my sights, it would only be a matter of time before she ran out of breath. She lost her footing and took a tumble, allowing us to catch up to her.
“Now, you will tell me where the coins are hidden, along with the gold,” I demanded, furious by what I perceived as deceitful behavior.
“My father said you believed yourself to be Judas Iscariot. If it’s so, then you must have the Devil’s powers to see and know everything that’s bad. Find it yourself,” she said with a sly smile.
It was enough. I wasn’t here to play games and based on her comment I made my decision, regardless of consequence.
“I’m going back, and Rachel, I’m taking you with me,” I ordered. “Juan, the choice is yours. The last thing I want to do is put you in any danger.”
“I’ll go with you, we will finish what we started,” he replied.
If only Rachel could have struck me down with only a look. Such was the expression of hatred and anger, as she struggled to free herself from Juan’s grip. So, she wasn’t the girl I originally thought she was.
“It’s imperative to take a different route. We can ill afford to come across the man so angered with her.” Juan had a point.
Sometimes, I wondered why I worried about the damned things… my coins. Part of me considers such pursuit as my penance, since I’m forced to suffer with every precious coin recovered. I had but a handful, and many more that I loathed to consider reclaiming. But something inside told me
to let these particular coins go without an effort to find them.