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The fires of love and intrigue

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Maribel had told Carmen the story of her family in exchange of Carmen’s story, and how her brother Chema got to be sold to a smuggler who brought him somewhere to the Spanish Main. Maribel had promised her to read her the cards for the King of clubs Jose Maria, in her room, in deep secret.

”Why are you keeping it secret?” Carmen asked, naively.

”Because some people are afraid of what they don’t understand. Exactly how it was with your accusation, in the first day, that I poisoned you, when in truth you simply weren’t accustomed to the taste of the spiced coffee with cardamom. But what if people believed you and thought that I use poisons? They know I am into healing plants, so it would be only a next step, leading to an official prosecution. And having an ancestor who had been burnt at stake for witchcraft, I have to be careful with it.”

”Was she really a witch?” the younger woman was fascinated.

”No, she was not. She was no different than me, having the Gypsy gift of fortune reading, and the knowledge of healing plants. But it took loving the wrong man and getting the wrong enemies therefore, to be denounced as a witch and judged accordingly.”

Carmen looked at her fascinated.

”Tell me her story, please, if you know it. I don’t know about any relatives except my mother, who had been separated from her parents at an early age.”

Why not? A story more, to a girl who liked stories… nothing wrong with it. And the innkeeper understood what exactly could mean, for a slave, “separated from her parents at an early age.” She had seen other children sold without their parents… So, Maribel started:

”At twenty, Jacinta was a young widow. Her husband had died of lung fever almost one year ago, leaving her to care for three children. Barnabe was four years old, Jacinto was two and Marisol was still a baby.

The coins caught in her hair were sounding from time to time, equally like the bracelets at her wrists, and the flower in her hair was telling her name.

With the baby caught in a shawl around her hip and the two little boys holding on her many petticoats, she was reading the curious’s fortune at the fair when Don Pedro Nunez de Villavicencio, a young noble man, happened to pass by. Everybody in Sevilla knew him, as his father was an Admiral and he was supposed to follow in the old man’s steps. Only that the young man showed more inclination for painting than for military studies. Actually that was why he was now at the fair, looking for sights worth painting from memory and for interesting faces who would benefit of a few coins to pose for the painter for more detailed scenes. His friend was the known, older Murillo, who was in the process of setting in Sevilla an Academy of Arts.

But Jacinta didn’t know him. Well, she might have heard about his name somewhere, or not even. She was not too often in the town, except fairs and festivals where her skills could get handy in making more money for her family.

She read his palm, and she found there a long successful life, with the line of art very pronounced, with no marriage and with a heartbreak. He smiled at the prediction of no marriage, since his father was trying to convince him to get married to a young lady of his choice, and the painter was not interested. He looked at her better, and not only her beauty, but some unusual facial traits inspired him, and he asked her in many ways until he convinced her to let herself drawn some next day.

While he was completing a painting with her as the model, love was growing in both hearts. He didn’t care that she was a widow with children, he didn’t care that her origins were humble. He loved her and he wanted her by his side; she loved him and she ultimately accepted to be his mistress.

Don Pedro bought her a house in a middle-class neighbourhood – or, actually, the house was his, he used it as a painting studio, but she was the one who was actually living there with her children and with a twelve years old niece who helped her take care of the children and of the household. He was coming almost every day to visit her and to paint. Sometimes his friends, the painters, came too, in order to see a picture or another, and she was the good, silent servant who brought them refreshments. She was happy with her life, with his love, with him asking her and the boys sometimes to be his models for new paintings. But how long could this happiness last?

Her family – or rather the in-laws she was living with, according to their people’s traditions - was not too pleased with what was going on. However, this was an opportunity she couldn’t deny; it meant the children were raised in a moderate wealth and that she could help her family from her new position, so they were ready to close their eyes and to pretend it wasn’t happening. Unlike in other cases, she had no trouble from them, as her father-in-law understood that some day the nobleman would marry or find a younger mistress, and she was to return to them, as there was no other place she could go. If she was smart, she could raise some dowry in order to marry again afterwards, he mused.

The Admiral de Villavicencio couldn’t accept what was going on. Having a mistress… well, it was something normal for a young man, but being so attached of her that he didn’t want to marry as his father wanted him to, with a respectable noble lady with a good dowry, and whose father would have meant a good alliance for the Admiral’s interests? This was inconceivable! Besides, he was sure that the Gypsy woman had charmed him to keep him with her – how else could the old man explain his son’s attraction to a widow with three children, when he could have a younger, prettier woman, or as many as he wanted? If his son didn’t want to pursue the military carreer he was destined to, preferring to paint and to gallivant with a Gypsy woman, something had to be done about this. If he could get the woman out of his son’s life, then he would obey his father – or at least this was the Admiral’s opinion. And thinking how to do it for good, he got soon the best idea: he paid a few men and women with a good reputation in society to denounce Jacinta to the Inquisition as a witch. They declared she had read them their fortune, some of them declared also that she had stated that the Devil himself was her lover. And the Inquisition wasn’t sleeping when a witch was denounced…

The niece happened not to be at home when the guards sent by the Inquisition took Jacinta, so only the widow and her baby were taken. When she arrived to an empty home and found out what had happened, she returned with the two boys to her family.

Jacinta was tortured under the accusation of witchcraft, to which blasphemy was added too, when she had said that she loved don Pedro and their love had no sin. The Church happened to think otherwise. Fornication was a sin, so her stance was a blasphemy against the Ten Commandments. Then, they started to look for evidence that she was a witch – and when the Inquisition looked for evidence, they were bound to find it, by misinterpreting everything.

She had a pigmented birthmark in the shape of a cherry, which was regarded as a mark of the Devil; she had cards and bones to read fortune; she had a cat she cherished, and cats, no matter that it wasn’t black, were cherished by the Devil; she had been denounced by blemishless members of the society and by another witch during the interrogation… What was easier than making a tortured woman to tell exactly what the torturers wanted to hear, when the clerk was there to note the confession? Besides, the suffering under torture she had endured was offering more “evidence” of demonic possession, in the Inquisition’s opinion, such as blasphemies uttered to the torturers, uncontrollable spasms, and, for a woman whose mother tongue was not Spanish, “speaking in tongues”, which meant saying, in delirious pain, words the torturers couldn’t understand.

Exactly how the other witch had been tortured to denounce her, Jacinta also, under tortures, admitted all the accusations, including having slept with a demon who took the shape of Don Pedro Nunez de Villavicencio, whom everybody knew to be a pillar of the society… Good finding, nothing to say!

All these were grounds to declare her a witch, and being Gypsy meant from the start that she would be condemned. And yes, she got condemned for witchcraft and blasphemy, to be burnt at stake. The confession of her sins and the alleged repenting had to take the form of a ritual of public penance for condemned heretics; this is why it got to me something of what had been said.

Her baby, little Marisol, had been taken from her and given to nuns to properly raise her, which was something common for the suspect women before being subjected to torture. Nobody could learn afterwards what happened with her. If she survived childhood, she might have become a nun at her turn, taught to pray for the soul of her heretic mother.

But the two boys remained with the family. Among the great number of children who were there, belonging to several sisters-in-law, nobody except the family could say who were Jacinta’s. And the authorities didn’t care about two Gypsy boys, anyway. The witch was away from the path of the admiral’s family.

One would think that don Pedro Nunez de Villavicencio, the noble painter, got himself exempted of the scandal with the demon confession trick, but he didn’t. The town was still gossiping and wondering what had really happened. The Inquisition trial didn’t fool most people; they knew the Gypsy beauty had to be removed in order for the man to follow his path in the society. Nevertheless, he couldn’t remain in Sevilla either. Not only the people’s gossips, but the shadows of his love and his cowardice hanged heavily on his conscience. In that very year, 1661, he joined the order of the Knights of Saint John, an military order of monks fighters, pronouncing his vows of chastity and poverty, together with repenting for all the previous sins.

He left for Malta in the service of the order, spending many years abroad. He had become a known painter, as far as I heard, and he returned, in his old age, to die in Sevilla. Several of his paintings had been given to the king and his court. I wonder if those where Jacinta had served as model too, and I wonder sometimes how it was for him to have his lover executed in front of his eyes and he not able to show any grief. How much he had seen her in his dreams afterwards, and if he had painted her from memory afterwards too.”

”I would have been curious about this too,” Carmen admitted. ”If he confronted his father and he didn’t want to get married or to give her up, then it meant he truly loved her. And the fact that he wanted no other woman afterwards, is also a sign in the same direction. It is a sad love story which has impressed me a lot, one worth a song,” she expressed her admiration as well as she was able to.

Carmen figured out that when the painter had returned, older and wiser, he didn’t want to stir up the scandal back. Besides, he might have loved the woman, but since they hadn’t got children of their own, he wasn’t curious to learn about two boys he had no connection with.

Maribel guessed her thought and continued the story in her own way:

”…Nevertheless, at that time my family was not there anymore, they had left for Granada. Little Barnabe Heredia had grown into a strong man, and his uncles had taught him both how to raise and train horses and how to fight. In Granada, Gypsies were good at this. At eighteen, he got married to a young girl he had been promised to for a while, Mariquita, and they got ten children. There were several boys among them, but the oldest girl was Maria Salome, my mother. All the women of the family, who were taught to read cards and palms, were also taught to be careful where they do it and not to flaunt it in public, unless they want to end like poor Jacinta,” Maribel ended her story with a sigh.

Carmen had understood her reasons already, and something more as well:

“Maybe this is why your grandfather had understood and he had welcomed your father when his family disowned him. He didn’t want to lose his daughter and he had thought they were safer this way, under the eyes of the whole family,” the younger woman concluded.

This was a good point she had never considered.

”Now, it’s time to come back to the cards, and to your brother…”, Maribel said, taking them from the table and shuffling them, while saying the traditional invocation words.


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