Chapter Three

Marisol didn’t know how long it had been, how long the men took to leave before she started to move, when her mind finally cooled and she could think again. She raised up her head and looked at the body crumpled on the ground, a shape she still couldn’t bring herself to think of as her mother. She hadn’t seen its face, hadn’t turned it over, had never seen her mother fall. Maybe it was someone else. Maybe her mother had run, and this was Diego, who’d turned back at the last minute and tried to intervene, maybe it was a Prussian who’d tried to get the best of Sofia and found himself outmatched.

Maybe anything, anything else. It couldn’t be what it looked like, no matter how she thought about it. She had turned away from the window for a minute. Not even a minute, a second. The blink of an eye, too small a time for so large a thing to happen. The enormity of it just didn’t seem possible, a whole life snuffed out in the space of time it took to turn her head. And somewhere behind that shock and disbelief was a niggling fear, a slow terror that began gnawing on her gut, that maybe if she hadn’t turned away, if she’d seen what was happening, she could have stopped it, could have run out sooner, could have, could have, could have. The thought gained little traction at first, because to feel the guilt over failing her mother required her to accept that this body, lying stone-still in the dirt, its hair and clothes stirred faintly by the wind, was her mother, and it couldn’t be her mother.

Trembling, Marisol turned the body over, and moaned involuntarily as she saw Sofia’s face. There were the freckles across her nose, almost hidden by the skin reddened by sun and forge. There was the worn skin and wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, here the lines etched on her cheeks from that easy smile. Sofia’s face was calm now, her eyes glassy and staring. Marisol wanted to close them but couldn’t move any closer, as though there was still a chance that this might all not be real, that it might be some mistake, some trick of her senses or the light. Maybe if she looked again it would be someone else, or she’d wake up from a nightmare to discover everything the same as it had been, just so long as she didn’t touch. The body. Her mother.

Finally, she did take Sofia’s head and cradled it in her lap, while a fountain of tears bubbled out of her. . The tears came in waves but were insufficient to the grief and anger boiling inside her. Rage drove her to her feet and screamed, she wanted to make her choke on her bile. She wanted to be sick, to stomp the body into the ground, to rend her clothes and tear her skin and just scream the hate out of her.

But she didn’t. She felt a hard, hot stone in the center of her chest, a searing coal beside her heart, and she understood what it was for. It calmed her, soothed her, turned her breath from ragged gasps into something slow and even, as she made a resolution.

She would find this man. Wherever he was, whatever it took, she would find him. And she would kill him.

This resolution made, Marisol found she had a sudden, remarkable clarity of vision. The past few moment were swept aside by the surety of her course.

Marisol went back into the house to examine her options. Sofia had kept some money in the house, but she didn’t know how much, or how far it would get her. The Prussians were many miles to the south, in Granada, but she couldn’t go there right away.

Her mother had taught her to fence a little, out of necessity – a smith cannot make a sword if she doesn’t understand how to use it. So she’d learned the nine parries; the imbrocade, the estocade, the stramazone; the disengage, the bind, the envelopment. But it had all been too boring, and she had never devoted time or energy to it, never given it more than a cursory thought. Now she would have to do that, and more. The man had been lucky, and Marisol had been blind and wild with rage, but she’d take no chances.

She might get no more than a single chance to kill him, and she would not waste it.

She’d find a fencing master and study with him until she was sure that she could satisfy her vendetta. A fencing master meant going to Toledo, which was closer at least. She’d need money to live on, money for her training with the master, money to pay her way to Granada when she was ready. Marisol immediately began ransacking her own house for anything of value that she might carry with her.

There was precious little; for whatever reason, the Prussians had taken everything they could find. Every piece of metal, every knife or sword or bit of ironmongery, finished or unfinished, they could find. Marisol and her mother had hardly anything else worth carrying.  A few coins in her mother’s purse. Some books that were useless to her now – they sat in sullen piles by the light of the candles, and in a fit of rage Marisol nearly burned them all, tore them apart for their weakness.

There was the dirty, stained copy of The Dancing Master, lying on the floor. She seized it and meant to set it alight, but the fury passed her by. There was no time to waste on petty spite. She clutched the play tightly, but did not destroy it.

After she’d investigated the last room in the house – her bedroom, with its curtains torn down and the straw mattress torn apart and scattered across the floor, her wardrobe overturned and emptied – she nearly wept with frustration.

It was only when she collapsed on the floor of the house that she used to share with her mother — and that she was about to leave behind forever – digging her nails into her palms and pounding her fists against the ground, that she remembered the loose board, and the object hidden under it. Hastily, she found the loose floorboard in her room and yanked it away. The sword, in its sackcloth wrap, was still there. The Prussians had either been less eager to find it than Sofia had imagined, or they hadn’t known to look for it, or else they’d just been too stupid to think to examine the floor very closely. Whatever the case, she had the sword at least. She unwrapped it and examined it.

It was not the most impressive rapier she’d ever seen. Of average length, the blade ending at about the height of her navel — the preferred size for her, but she was unusually tall; it would have been unwieldy for her mother, and short for the hidalgos of Toledo, where the fashion was for very long blades. The ricasso and quillons were smooth and unadorned, as was the plain cup hilt and pommel, though all of the furniture was polished mirror-bright. The grip was wrapped in soft, dark-brown leather to match the scabbard.

She drew the sword. It was reasonably light and well-balanced, the weight resting mostly in her palm, but the blade looked to be fairly ruined. There was a nice etching at the very base of the blade of three sunflowers, but the body of it was marked with a watery pattern where the impurities in the metal hadn’t been completely worked out. The pattern was faint, but unavoidable once it was noticed. It didn’t look like Toledo steel at all, which burnished to a bright, even gleam the way the furniture on the weapon did.

Disappointed, Marisol put the sword back in its sheath. She could probably sell it for some money, anyway. Even if the blade was beyond salvation, the furniture was worth something, at least. Besides that, it was all she had.

Her heart quivered at the thought of giving up the last piece of her mother. She felt fresh tears welling over the image of the sunflowers, which had been Sofia’s signature, but hate overcame sentiment. If she needed to sell the sword to kill the man who murdered her mother, then she would. If there’d been anything left in the house, if there’d been a hundred swords, she’d have sold them all if that was what it took.

Marisol found a coal shovel left behind by the Prussians, and used it to dig a shallow grave for her mother. It was back-breaking labor that took her the better part of the afternoon. She buried Sofia de la Espada by the small stream that drove the bellows in her forge. There was nothing to mark the grave, so Marisol left the coal shovel stuck as deep in the earth as she could. It was nearly dark by the time that she finished, but Marisol couldn’t be bothered to wait any longer. She packed her few clothes into her satchel as well as The Dancing Master, which she had somehow managed to retain through all of this, though she could not remember how. She took some hard cheese, a piece of dry sausage, and a stale loaf of bread, and followed the road to Toledo.

She hadn’t meant to start crying again as she walked, but the tears came anyway. She permitted them until her house had passed out of sight, taking one last look at. Her home, at the bottom of its little hill, the little stream curled around it. Marisol knew she would never see it again. She swallowed up the last of her tears, and vowed to herself that she would not shed another until the man with the red right hand was dead.

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