Author Topic: Interrupted journey  (Read 15208 times)

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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #30 on: July 22, 2008, 07:58:27 AM »
It was quite a long time before the boy reappeared and took away two more horses. It was then that I realized it would be some time before he got to the last ones on the end furthest from the barn. It occurred to me that Maria and I could travel much faster on horseback. My stomach tied itself in knots as I considered this course of action. As soon as the boy was inside the barn I scurried across the road. My heart pounded as I grabbed the reins of the two horses on the end furthest from the barn. Terrified of discovery, I led them away from the inn. At first they were reluctant to leave the water trough, but I insisted. If anyone had come back out of the inn’s door I would have been discovered. Maria waited for me inside the tree line. There was a dagger on one of the saddle skirts. This came in handy to slice our skirts up the front. Riding astride would have been impossible otherwise. Maria mounted one horse with some assistance from me; I mounted the other as quickly as possible. We knew we needed to leave quietly, so we started off at a walk. I had other reasons for our slow departure, not the least of those reasons was the fact that I was shook so badly that I did not think I could stay in the saddle otherwise. It was amazing that it had been so easy to steal two horses. The pace we set was a slow one for the horses, but much better than we could manage on foot. “What will we do if the bandits notice the missing horses before we reach someplace safe?” Maria asked. I had no reply to give her.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #31 on: July 23, 2008, 08:02:27 AM »
  Dawn was just a sliver of brighter sky when I saw the bell tower of a church. “Look” Maria called out “There is a church and some other buildings. I think we have found a convent.” My eyes closed briefly as relief flooded through me. Our adventure was not over, but we would be much safer. The gate of the churchyard was open and the courtyard quiet as we rode inside. Our poor mounts went directly to the water trough where a fat donkey slept on three legs. It showed its displeasure at being awakened by flicking an ear at us. The door of the rectory was answered by a very old woman. By her reaction, she could not see us too clearly in the early light. “My maid and I were attacked on the road by bandits” I explained “We need help and sanctuary”. She looked around me at Maria before she answered “Yes of course” she finally said “Come with me to the convent. I will bring you to the Abbess and place you in her care.” We followed the old woman through another gate into a separate courtyard. She went in through a door into a much larger building. “Wait here” she ordered as she left us in a tiled entry hall.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #32 on: July 24, 2008, 08:02:07 AM »
  After what seemed like an hour, the old woman returned with a nun who did not appear to be the Abbess. “I am Sister Catarina” she announced “I will take you to see our Mother Superior. Please follow me.” As we walked down the hallway away from the door, I turned back to see the old woman slip back outside. A plain wooden door was the entrance to the Mother Superior’s office. She was just rising from a kneeler when Sister Catarina showed us into the room. “Please be seated” she told us as she slipped into a chair herself. After a deep breath she said “Now tell me who you are and what this is all about”. “My name is Elvira de Silva and this is my maid Maria Gomez. We were traveling to rejoin my family when we were attacked by bandits and abducted. Since we were not mistreated I believe they intended to ask for a ransom. But we managed to escape and made our way here. Though my purse was taken by the thieves, I have a little money to pay for a message to my family.” One eyebrow raised she replied “I am sure that there is more of that story to be heard. But I will have Sister Catarina show you to some of our guest rooms. Clean clothes and some food will be found for you since I must assume you have had no breakfast. I am Mother Inez. As soon as you have composed a message for your family I will have it sent.” She gestured and Sister Catarina opened the door. Since it seemed that our interview was at an end, we followed the sister out.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #33 on: July 25, 2008, 08:05:18 AM »
  The rooms that we received were clean but very sparsely furnished. It did not matter as I was so tired that just a bed seemed like luxury, and I was sure that Maria felt the same. As she went into her own room she said “My lady, I feel as if I could sleep for a week if my aches and pains would let me. Food and clean clothes arrived in a short time, brought by more nuns. The brown dress was plain and serviceable. However it was a considerable improvement over the torn dirty garment that I had worn for at least three days. The baths were made available to me after I had eaten. I was sure that the same was done for Maria. It was deliciously pleasurable to be able to comb out my hair and wash it. Since Maria was not there to help me, I twisted it into a simple knot and pinned it to the top of my head. I had not had a chance to write a letter or do anything else when one of the nuns knocked on the door. She had been sent to summon me back to the Mother Superior’s office.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #34 on: July 28, 2008, 08:36:36 AM »
  “Thank you Sister Anna” the Abbess said as I stepped into the room. The nun who had brought me back to the office left and closed the door behind her. I realized that a man was standing in the far corner of the room. His clothes were of good quality but had seen some hard usage. He wore an empty scabbard at his side. The sword must have been left in the entry hall. His hair and beard were dark, but a streak of white ran across his chin on the left. When he looked towards me I realized the white hair followed the line of a scar that began just below his left eye. The scar gave him a dangerous look. If not for his menacing air, I might have considered him very handsome. “Doña Elvira, would you please sit down?”  Mother Inez directed at me. “I need to ask some questions” she continued. Her eyes flicked up at me and took in my improved condition. “This gentleman tells me that the two horses you arrived on were stolen” she stated questioningly. His penetrating stare unsettled me so that I was afraid my voice would betray my anxiety. “That is possible” I replied flatly “I took the horses from an inn. But I could not say who they were stolen from”. Mother Inez’s eyes widened at my matter of fact statement.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #35 on: July 29, 2008, 09:12:37 AM »
The man in the corner had an obvious reaction to my statement. His expression was enigmatic, and not exactly anger, so I found the courage to continue “I took the horses out of need. The clothes and manner of the riders led me to believe they were bandits. My maid is not young and I was afraid the hardship of walking in this heat was killing her.” Both Mother Inez and the man continued to look at me steadily. I was not about to apologize for what I had done, even though I was a little afraid. If the man wanted recompense for his inconvenience, I could make sure he got that. As the silence dragged on I realized that Mother Inez probably thought that she encouraged me to talk by being quiet. I jumped when the man’s deep voice broke the lengthening silence “Why were you walking in this heat in the first place?” In my chair I turned to look at him straight on and replied “Señor that is a long and involved story.” He suddenly moved away from the corner and sat in the chair next to me. With great effort I keep myself from showing fear. He leaned slightly towards me with his lips parted in a halfway smile “Suppose you tell both of us that story here and now” I blinked at the sudden change in his manner, which had gone from menacing to curious within the space of a heart beat. My whole body cried out for sleep, but I was forced my eyes to stay open. Neither of them interrupted my tale until I described the house where I had been briefly imprisoned. When the man asked me to give him the description of the road up to the house for a second time I retorted “Señor I do not know your name or anything about you but it sounds as if you do not believe me. I have no knowledge of this place or the people who own it and I have no reason to lie.” A bitter smile moved his lips as he answered “My name is Ramiro de Medina. I do not believe that you are lying to me Doña Elvira. I have my own reasons for being sure of the description.”
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #36 on: July 30, 2008, 08:16:32 AM »
    After their questioning had exhausted everything I knew about the house or its occupants, I slumped in my chair and waited. Don Ramiro stood up and began pacing the room. My eyes were bleared with fatigue and I only wished for this ordeal to be over. Mother Inez split her attention between and the man pacing her office like a caged tiger. Her voice sounded frustrated when she said at last “Don Ramiro, I must insist that we send this child back to her room for some rest. She is falling asleep in her chair”. He whirled around turned his full attention on me. His steady regard made me feel warm and uncomfortable. Without ever taking his eyes from me he replied “Yes Reverend Mother, I must apologize for keeping her here so long.” He held out his hand to help me up from my seat. A spark burnt my fingertips as his hand touched mine. His smile turned crooked at my involuntary flinch. “Doña Elvira” he said to me “Can I beg you to enjoy this convent’s hospitality for a few days? Of course we can reveal your whereabouts to your family, but I believe I can also solve the mystery of your abduction.” His hand was large and warm as it slowly engulfed mine. My thoughts refused to focus on anything but his hand. Finally I shook myself from the trance and looked up into his face. I really was almost asleep on my feet so I simply answered “I will remain here for awhile”. He released my hand abruptly and stepped back. The nun who had waited outside the office took me back to my room. Sweet oblivion took me for the rest of that day.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #37 on: July 31, 2008, 09:30:09 AM »
It was slightly dark in my room in a way that could be dawn or dusk. I laid still and watched the slight shift of the curtains. A hesitant knock brought me up from the bed. Maria was in the doorway. “Mistress” she said “Did I awaken you?” I laughed and threw my arms around her. “I was being shamefully lazy and lying in bed. I do not know when I have ever been so tired in my life.” She hugged me back and then I sat down on the edge of the bed. “We have survived quite an ordeal together and I have been soundly asleep since shortly after I changed clothes. I do not even know what time of day it is.” I told her. Her smile widened as she informed me “It is just after dawn and just before breakfast. We both slept through most of the day and the night.” I drank some water from a cup by the bed. “That explains why I am so thirsty” I commented “I will write a letter for my parents. Mother Inez has promised that a messenger will be sent.” Maria waited while I hastily scribbled down the more important details. Then I tucked the paper into my skirt pocket and queried “Now, do we go find breakfast, or does it find us?” Maria smiled “The sisters had breakfast just before dawn, but I was told that you could have breakfast in the dining room whenever you were ready.” To this I replied “Let us go have some breakfast then.”
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #38 on: August 01, 2008, 08:15:51 AM »
For the rest of the morning I spent my time exploring the convent grounds. The gardens, from which the convent received much of its food, were extensive. Olive and fruit trees grew along the stone walls that enclosed everything. Young novices pulled weeds from the garden and gathered some of the produce. Chickens ran everywhere inside the walls except for a covered and gated courtyard. The main dining hall looked out into this same courtyard. Flowering vines climbed a trellis along one side of the courtyard. Their heavy perfume added to the pleasant and tranquil atmosphere of the day. The quiet and solitude seemed to seep into my soul. Wooden benches underneath the trellis provided rest and relief from the heat. It was on one of these benches that I was resting when Maria found me. “Mistress” she called out to me “Your mid day meal is ready. I can show you where you will be served.” I stood up and replied “Thank you Maria and please lead on.” Somehow I was not surprised when we passed by the main dining hall. The sisters took their food with them and had lunch wherever they were working. But I was surprised when Maria led me towards the main gate and we left the convent walls. My time of peace and quiet was not meant to last. We walked to a covered veranda that extended from there to the back of the rectory. I expected to see Mother Inez, but it was Don Ramiro who was seated at one of the three tables there. Two men who looked as much like soldiers as they looked like servants stood behind him in attendance.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #39 on: August 04, 2008, 08:48:59 AM »
  “Please come join me Doña Elvira” he greeted me. Don Ramiro stood until I was seated. “I have just returned from a year in Italy.” He informed me. One of his attendants poured wine into the two goblets that stood on the table. He waited for me to take a sip and continued “It seems much longer since I have been able to sit at a meal and have a pleasant conversation.” His attendants moved away from our table just far enough that they could not overhear our conversation. This made me slightly apprehensive about what he planned to say. Don Ramiro seemed perfectly relaxed as he commented “I could only wish that we had met under better circumstances.” I managed a reply “Of course”.
He took a sip of his own wine and laughed “Of course the novelty of our meeting is undeniable. It is not usual to have my horses stolen by such a lovely lady.” His laughter was genuine where I had expected sarcasm. My face grew warm under his steady gaze. For the first time I looked directly into his eyes and I discovered that they were pale blue inside a darker ring. “You certainly do not seem disposed to hold a grudge over it, for which I am glad” I finally managed to reply. The food arrived at that point so I took the opportunity to change the subject. “Would you be so kind as to tell me about Italy? I have heard it is a beautiful place.” I asked. One of his eyebrows lifted as he gave me a slight grin. He saw through my clumsy attempt to forestall discussion of myself. “Parts of it are indeed beautiful” he told me “But the hills are full of bandits and many of the towns are falling to ruin.” Suddenly I realized I had been gazing intently at into his eyes. I dropped my gaze to my plate as I listened. He spoke again after a pause “Italy has been contested over for many years now. Soldiers and mercenaries take resources that might been better spent” I flicked my eyes up briefly and saw that he looked intently at me for no apparent reason. Most men I had met at dinners and dances had never given me such an intense inspection as Don Ramiro did that day. This was unexplored territory for me as I had no experience in dealing with such a man. Desperate to deflect his attention I pleaded, “But is there nothing good you can say?” He relented and looked away from me. After another sip of wine, he spoke “I can tell you about beautiful flowering gardens and the moon on the Tiber River, which, incidentally, looks much better by moonlight than by day”. He laughed his light infectious chuckle again and continued to describe the Italian countryside while we ate. After the food was gone, one of Don Ramiro’s attendants brought wine and we continued to talk until the ninth hour of the day. While we spoke of far away places and people I began to relax in Don Ramiro’s presence. That he had a mastery of with polite conversation that I did not was more than evident. I mostly restricted myself to questions.  Shortly after the bell had rung for afternoon prayers a man came onto the veranda and handed Don Ramiro a scrap of parchment.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #40 on: August 05, 2008, 08:30:52 AM »
Don Ramiro quickly scanned the document and a scowl flashed across his face. He stood up and told me “I am afraid that I must go. Perhaps we can dine again tomorrow since I will not be back tonight.” My face flushed a little as I answered “That would be most welcome”. That I could have answered otherwise did not occur to me at that moment. Don Ramiro and the other three men all disappeared quickly around the front of the rectory and I was alone again with Maria. My heart was cold with mixed feelings about this man. He was a total stranger to me, so I felt his reasons for paying me so much attention were suspect. Don Ramiro was an attractive man with much experience of the world. So what did he learn form our conversation that I did not suspect? Why did he make light of the theft of his horses? Of course I also wondered what unhappy news drew him away so suddenly. There were undercurrents here of which I had no knowledge. Maria was looking at me from her seat at the far end of the veranda. All this time she had been patiently working on some sewing after she had finished her own meal. From the closed look on her face, it seemed she had doubts about Don Ramiro also. When I saw her work, I remembered the current state of my wardrobe. Since it would be some days before my family would receive my message and come for me, I decided I had better occupy myself with some sewing also. “Maria” I called to her “let us go and see what fabric we can get from the convent. We both could benefit from a change of clothes. I think we can start with a few chemises” She folded up her work and followed me to find Sister Catarina. Since she appeared to be in charge of the convent’s guests, I reasoned that she would know how to get what I needed.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #41 on: August 06, 2008, 08:25:21 AM »
We started our work early the next day by sorting out what clothes we had. The dresses supplied by the convent were adequate for the short term. Undergarments were our first priority. It also helped that the light linen acquired from the convent was easy to work with. Maria and I were engrossed in sewing when the summons for lunch arrived. Dom Ramiro waited for me at the same table as yesterday. There was also a chess board set up on the table. “Do you play chess senorita?” he asked after I was seated. I viewed the board with trepidation as I answered “I know how to play, just not very well”. He gestured for one of his attendants to pour us some wine. He took a sip before he commented “I hope you do not object to playing a game or two with me. I promise to play as ruthlessly as a rose petal”. This comment caught me off guard and I laughed out loud. “Very well, Senor,” I replied “I will play chess with you. But try not to be disappointed if you win too easily.” He only chuckled in reply. Our food was served and we played as we ate. That I did not do too badly, I credited to Don Ramiro. Several times it was obvious that he was more interested in prolonging the game than winning outright. Several times he suggested that I retract one of my moves and try again. That did not fit with any rules of chess that I had ever heard. After losing twice I begged a halt. He teasingly asked for one more game but gave in to my refusal with exaggerated reluctance. He stood up to leave but then paused. “Doña Elvira, I have arranged for a carriage for tomorrow. Mother Inez has graciously agreed to let one of the sisters accompany us if I could convince you to go for a ride with me.” My heart pounded with sudden fear. The lump that rose in my throat kept me from answering for a moment. “Let me consider my answer first” I finally managed “May I give you an answer in the morning?” He made a slight bow and answered “Of course. I have no wish to pressure you into a decision, until tomorrow then.” And with that he and his men were gone again.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #42 on: August 07, 2008, 08:07:24 AM »
The thought of leaving the convent in the company of a man I hardly knew was daunting to say the least. It was difficult not to refuse the offer outright. The fact was that with Maria and one of the nuns along, I would be well chaperoned. When I found a chance to speak with Mother Inez, I asked her opinion of whether I should go or not. She said she knew his family and seemed to think that the idea of a carriage ride was perfectly harmless and would probably be good for me. She said that he could hardly make off with me and one of her nuns without consequence. Regardless or her encouragement, when I left the dining room after breakfast the next morning I was resolved not to leave the convent with Don Ramiro. Maria found me as I was returning to my rooms. She told me that he was waiting for my answer in the entrance hall of the convent. For a moment I considered sending Maria with my refusal. But to be polite, I knew I had to tell him myself. So I went changed direction and went to see Don Ramiro and brought Maria along with me. Don Ramiro was concentrating on reading some documents when I came through the door. By his expression, I judged that what he read was unpleasant. The ferocity of his gaze when he looked up made my heart quaver.
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Offline DonaCatalina

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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #43 on: August 08, 2008, 08:25:54 AM »
After a brief moment, it was obvious when he recognized me because his smile broke over his face like the sun breaks through storm clouds. Don Ramiro rushed up to take my hand and said “I’m so glad you decided to come with me this morning. The carriage is here and your maid is helping the sister get into it. There is a nice bottle of red wine for us to enjoy while we travel. Nothing is lacking now that you are here.” He had taken my arrival as agreement to his proposal. I could hardly break through his torrent of words as I was hustled out the door and into the waiting carriage. Maria and Sister Catarina were already seated on side of the carriage so I slid into the seat facing the front. Don Ramiro sat down next to me and handed me a goblet of red wine. It was a good thing I waited before I tried to drink because the carriage rocked wildly for a moment. He must have read the question on my face because Don Ramiro explained “Some of my men will be riding on the roof. I thought it best to discourage any temptation.” Maria and I exchanged a look as the carriage lurched forward.
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Re: Interrupted journey
« Reply #44 on: August 08, 2008, 04:06:35 PM »
Don Ramiro knew the surrounding countryside fairly well. This was made evident when he pointed out various landmarks. He explained to me that the river road had actually been built by the old Romans. At that point it was the main thoroughfare to the sea. The ride was pleasant enough. Don Ramiro had ordered some wine packed in the carriage for our trip. He opened a bottle and poured some wine for all us. Except that Sister Catarina declined the wine that was offered to her. We were traveling at a fairly slow pace; I supposed it was to avoid jostling the occupants and their wine. Once when he refilled my glass, Don Ramiro’s hand closed over mine. My heart raced at the intimate contact. Some combination of fear and other emotions made me anxious in this man’s presence. It was late in the afternoon when the carriage made a sharp turn and interrupted the conversation. Curious as to the change in direction, I looked at my window. To my horror, I realized that we had turned onto the same road that led to the house of my imprisonment.
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