After dinner, Marisol washed their plates by the water pump. Off in the distance, she could see a black splotch against the setting sun; probably a Prussian airship, trailing along after the dragons she’d seen earlier. The ships were infrequent, but not unheard of. Whatever the Eisengraf wanted from his occupation of southern Granada, it had a lot to do with crisscrossing the skies above the mesa, drifting around on inscrutable errands.
Dishes washed, Marisol and Sofia settled in for the evening. The business of the smithy had been good, and with candles to spare, Marisol and her mother would often read late into the night. Diego brought books and plays, poetry, pamphlets from the church and Salamanca along with his coal and raw iron, and this amounted to all of the schooling Marisol was likely to get. She didn’t mind this, and she treasured the quiet, close comfort of the dim nights with her mother as the candles slowly burned down.
Tonight, they were interrupted. Marisol was reading a tattered copy of Lope de Vega’s The Dancing Master that she suspected Diego had fished out of a gutter – the corners were brown with water stains and mold, and some number of pages were missing from the end – when she heard a noise, the sound of flapping canvas and creaking wood, like a ship at sea, jarring and out of place among the sounds of the birds and insects of the night. Marisol looked up from her reading to see her mother already staring intently out the window. Sofia said nothing; Marisol got up, and followed her gaze.
The Prussian airship was close by now, only a few hundred yards away. It’ huge, black shape blotted out the stars; red torches burned along its smoothly-curved shape, probably surrounding an almadel on the top. At the front, a witchlight lamp cast its greasy, silvery, shadowless light on the ground, its brightness obscuring the ship proper. Marisol could hear the clattering language of the ships’ crew as they called to each other. Men dropped down from the body of the ship on ropes, and fasted grapnels into the hard soil, slowly drawing the ship down towards the earth. Marisol turned back to Sofia, to find her chair empty. Sofia was gone. Marisol began to panic.
She turned back to the window to see the ship was nearly on the ground. A ramp extended from somewhere behind that sneering witchlight, and men in black doublets and iron helms tromped out in a loose, jagged formation. They were armed with swords and pistols, but hadn’t drawn their weapons. The men stood in a loose knot, each a coil of ready violence.
With a start, Marisol turned back to see her mother standing by the back door. She held a drawn rapier in her right hand and something else of a similar size, wrapped in sackcloth, in her left.
“What is happening? What are they doing here?” Marisol asked. The voices of the Prussians were louder now: harsh, incomprehensible orders shouted at each other.
“Sofia de la Espada!” One of them called from outside, his voice muffled by his helmet.
“Marisol,” said Sofia, pressing the wrapped bundle into Marisol’s hands. It was a sword, but why had Sofia brought it here? Did she want Marisol to fight them? “No matter what, do not let them find this.”
“But what is—“
“Shh. If something happens to me—“
“What is going to happen to you?” Marisol asked, desperately.
“Listen. If something happens to me, you need to find a man. An Italian named Salvatore Savonarola. Say it.”
“I don’t understand, why are those men here?”
“Say it.” Sofia’s voice was calm but her eyes were fierce, and they made Marisol flinch.
“Savonarola. But where is he? How will I find him?”
“I don’t know,” said Sofia, as the Prussians called for her again. “Do not let them find that sword.”
A cold wind whipped through the open door. Marisol looked through the window to see her mother, drawn sword in hand, approaching the knot of men at the bottom of the hill. It was too far to make out what they were saying. Sofia seemed angry, but did not raise her voice, as she never raised her voice.
A man stepped forward to meet Sofia. He was dressed similarly to the other men, but haphazardly. No helmet, and his doublet was unbuttoned and loose, his shirt rumpled. He had brown hair in disarray, and his scuffed black boots did not gleam in the witchlight the way the other men’s did. His manner and clothes all bespoke a man who had just recently been roused from bed, and had only just bothered to dress. The right sleeves of his doublet and shirt were cut to reveal his arm up to the elbow. His whole hand and forearm, elbow to fingertips, was marked with a red tattoo.
They spoke in low voices that Marisol could not hear, but the tension between them was palpable, even at such a distance.
Marisol tore herself away from the window and looked at the bundle in her hands. Her heart thudded in her ears. Sofia seemed to know what was happening, to have been expecting it, even. Did she know that man? Marisol ran into her room, pulled up the rug and found the loose floorboard that always creaked when she stepped on it in the morning. She dug her nails in around the corner and managed to pry it up, revealing a dark crawlspace underneath. Hastily, she stuffed the sackcloth-wrapped sword in and shoved the board into place, then ran back to the window.
The scene had changed, her heart stopped. The man had a sword in his red hand, it dripped with black with blood in the witchlight. Her mother, where was her mother? Not that body that lay at his feet, it couldn’t be, that couldn’t be her. Marisol had only turned away for seconds, she couldn’t have…not in so short a time. It hadn’t been ten seconds, she couldn’t…
Marisol cried out in horror, as someone passed the strange man a carving knife and he leaned down and began to hack with it. When he stood again, Sofia’s severed hand in his, dripping blood onto the man’s scuffed boots, Marisol ran. Out the door and down the hill towards the Prussians and the murderer screaming at the top of her voice, barely pausing to snatch up Sofia’s sword where it fell and hurling herself against the man.
Caught off guard, the man fell backwards, dropping his knife to the ground where it stuck point first; he barely managed to get his sword up as Marisol slashed at him, fury lending her a speed she didn’t know she was capable of. She knew how to fence, of course, but a fire moved within her now as she threw training aside and tore blindly after the man in rage. For his part, he hardly seemed to move except to retreat, a curious, bemused expression on his face, just barely out of reach of Marisol’s sword until, eyes wide, he managed to make contact. Their weapons tangled together in a clang of steel on steel, then sprung apart; the force of it awkwardly levered Marisol’s sword from her hand and caused the tip of the man’s sword to slash across her cheek.
The pain caused her to wince and leap back out of his reach, where she tripped over the knife still stuck in the ground. She twisted as she fell, so she wouldn’t land on her back, instead landed hard on her hands and knees. Distantly, she felt a twinge in her left wrist. Something hit her hard in the back and a great weight forced her to the ground. A man’s hand pinned her head down, pressing it into the dry grass. His thumb dug painfully into her jaw. His knee pressed into her back, just above her kidneys. His other hand held her right down, and she was trapped.
“Kas ze assa?”
“Dukre, sedens,” said the man’s voice, close by her ear. He snorted. “Luysis.” Marisol squeezed her eyes shut and tried to find the strength to throw him off of her, but she couldn’t. She slammed her free left hand against the ground and screamed again.
“Little wild cat,” he whispered softly to her, his Spanish only slightly, strangely accented. “Very quick, very rash…” his face must be very close, she could feel the stink of his hot breath. “I would take your hand, too, but there is no merit in maiming a child.”
The weight lifted, the hands pinning her down were gone, but Marisol couldn’t bring herself to get up, or even to open her eyes. She shuddered and was nearly sick, and curled up in the grass. Her mind was on fire; too much had happened too quickly, and she didn’t know or care to know what was happening anymore, she just wanted it to be over.
“Come for me again,” the man said. “Make it worth my time.”
Boots tromped up and down the hill as the men ransacked the house, then returned to their airship, shouting to each other as they pulled up the cables and let it drift into the sky. Its eldritch engines hummed and shuddered and finally faded away, leaving Marisol alone, by her dead mother and her ruined home, the oppressive silence slowly giving way to a whistling wind and the chatter of night insects.