Chapter Eleven

Rachel slipped back to her painting, while Marisol returned to woodcutting with a certain amount of anxiety. She’d been neglecting the one task she’d been assigned since coming to the estate, and had done that so that she could spy on the Maestro, when he clearly preferred to instruct in private. Had he seen her? Would he punish her? Expel her? Now that she’d descended from the giddy heights that her misadventure with Rachel had brought her, she began to feel a little sick, and started entertaining disheartening fantasies. She imagined a variety of cruel punishments, but none worse than the possibility that she’d be sent away, useless draft letter in her hand, having come this far only to learn nothing because she couldn’t be patient for an afternoon. In her imagination, it was raining when the Maestro had Diego send her away. The boy looked sad when he said it, but the Maestro glowered behind him, quivering with fury, while Marisol was consumed with shame.

This hypothetical future drove her back to her wood-chopping with a renewed vigor, as she perhaps subconsciously hoped that even an infuriated Maestro might forgive her if he came to find all the wood chopped up, neatly stacked, and ready for the cold nights ahead. It happened that the Maestro did not come that afternoon; no one came at all, not even as evening swept purple across the sky and Marisol finished the cutting the last few dry logs, her shoulders aching and hunger gnawing at her stomach.

Frustrated, and now nursing a growing unease about the future, Marisol left the wood and headed back towards the main house. The gloomy onset of night did not enhance her mood. The house seemed forbidding in its monumental disrepair, a stony fortress to which she was not welcome and could expect nothing but to be turned away by cold eyes. She approached the servants’ entrance and knocked loudly.

Diego met her at the door, warm candlelight spilling out behind him, and if he knew of any recriminations that Marisol might have merited, he didn’t mention them. He was positively jovial as he invited her into the kitchen, to sit around a low table and share the evening meal. Rachel was there as well; when Diego’s back was turned, the girl winked, but said nothing. Once she was inside, and could see Diego in more than silhouette, the angry red welt on his face where the Maestro had struck him was uncomfortably apparent. Diego seemed to be trying to banish the mark by the unflagging expression of good cheer.

“Marisol,” Diego said, spooning bean stew into a bowl for her. He set it down on the table along with a hunk of stale bread. “Mari – sol, the Rebel Sun,” he said as he sat, looking up and off into the distance as though he was seeing his own words written on the air in front of him. “Shook loose from her place in the heavens, traversing the sky, seeking a new world on which to shine…”

“Diego is a poet,” said Rachel. She leaned in close and whispered, “Not a very good one, though.”

“Bah, woman.” Diego replied with good-humored gruffness. “Your stony heart wouldn’t know poetry if it bit you.”

“See?” Rachel said. “How could poetry bite me in the heart, anyway? Is it going to cut me open first? Does it go in through my ear and then claw its way into my chest? Grrggghh, aaaaaak,” she added, as she mimed Diego’s words clutching at her heart. “It doesn’t make any sense! You should say, ‘Your feet wouldn’t know poetry if you tripped over it,’ or else, ‘Your mouth wouldn’t know poetry if you bit into it like a rotten apple and its juices oozed over your chin—“

“Enough!” Diego laughed, “Enough, fine, you are the poetical expert.”

“It’s Mar y Sol,” said Marisol. “Not mari-sol.”

Diego looked at her appraisingly. “Hm. No, I don’t think so. There’s nothing of the sea in you. The sea does not break into a man’s house and knock his candles over. The sea does not threaten to kill a man if it thinks it’s being robbed.”

Rachel gasped. “Did you do that?”

Marisol blushed and frowned. “It was just one candle.”

“Rebel Sun suits you better,” said Diego.

“But—“

Rachel agreed. “I like it better Diego’s way, too.” She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter; your name can be anything you want.”

“My mother gave me my name,” said Marisol.

An uncomfortable silence arrived at this juncture, and instead of conversation they all attended to their food. After he’d judged a suitable amount of time had passed, Diego spoke up. “I am a poet, though, and I will be a great one. Once I win the contest in Salamanca. I sent them four poems this year, they’re very good.”

“They’re all right,” said Rachel.

Rachel and Diego talked at length then, giving Marisol the abbreviated accounts of their own histories. Diego had become a student of Maestro Lope’s largely against his will; his father, a formerly-successful farmer who had fallen on hard times since the Prussians had come, had very particular notions about what a gentleman ought to know. “Poetry and riding I excelled at,” Diego said, “and I’m at least a competent painter. But fencing….ugh.” He made a face and shrugged. “My father insisted that if I fail at it, it’s at least not for want of trying. He and the Maestro were friends from old times, and so here I am. I hope, quite frankly, to never pick up a sword again once I leave.”

Rachel’s family were reconverso, and she regaled Diego and Marisol with stories of how her grandfather had kept practicing his religion in secret when the Jews were expelled. He had once kept pigs for six months to throw the Inquisition off his trial, reasoning that a temporary association with that unclean animal was a paltry sacrifice in the grand scheme of things. Rachel’s Grandfather had once taken his entire family into Portugal, then back when they saw what was happening there. He had kept their traditions alive until King Carlos had undone the expulsion and formed the Cabal. Now, they made a decent living selling the services of their mystic grammaria. Occasionally, they sold their skills to people who had a legitimate need for protection; mostly, they sold them to the superstitious.

Throughout all of this, Marisol offered up very little of her own background. The pain was still too fresh, and every time she thought she might say something about her mother, the words caught in her throat and she refrained. It was nice to listen to Diego and Rachel talk, to hear them carelessly tell their stories in that warm, stuffy little kitchen that smelled like old wood and burnt stew, and Marisol felt increasing guilty at the thought of disrupting the mood with the weight of her own tragedy. It was better to keep it private, she thought; better to bear it herself than to burden someone else with it. Besides, it wasn’t their business anyway.

The sense of disconnection from her companions gradually soured the atmosphere for Marisol, turned the cozy friendliness of the little kitchen into something oppressive, hot, and increasingly intolerable. She caught herself resenting Diego’s casual laughter, Rachel’s wry grin. She found her mind wandering, distracted by a feeling of hollowness in her chest. Finally, after listlessly trawling the remnants of her bread through the dregs of her stew, Marisol interrupted a frankly outlandish story that Rachel was telling involving her Grandfather in disguise as a French princess on a ship bound for the African coast.

“I should go,” said Marisol, abruptly rising. “I need to sleep.”

If Rachel or Diego was offended, neither showed it. “I should go, too,” said Rachel, cheerily. “It’s a long walk ahead of me.”

“You..” Marisol began. “You’re not walking back to the city? Tonight?”

Rachel laughed. “Not quite that far, but it is an hour at least. My uncle has a farm down the road.”

“Why don’t you just stay here?”

Diego coughed uncomfortably. “Ah…the Maestro does not…”

“Does not prefer…?” Marisol continued for him.

“He does not prefer that, uhm…”

Rachel stood and put her hand on Marisol’s arm. “He doesn’t prefer Jews to sleep in the house,” Rachel said, conspiratorially. “It’s terribly embarrassing for Diego, who tries his best to be polite about it. I don’t mind, though.”

“No,” said Marisol, a stab of anger in her throat. “No, you can stay in the stables with me.”

“Ah,” said Diego, “Well, I mean…”

“It’s not,” said Rachel at the same moment, “it’s not really…”

They both trailed off when they saw Marisol’s face – iron jaw firm, haunted eyes scowling. She’d made up her mind and dared either of them to challenge her. Neither Diego nor Rachel felt up for it and, actually quite relieved that she wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark, Rachel agreed to stay that night.

Diego still hesitated, teetering on the brink of offering up another objection, perhaps out of loyalty to his teacher; perhaps out of a finely-tuned instinct for avoiding trouble. The Maestro’s temper was quick, and his punishments often severe; a substantial part of Diego’s mind was now devoted to strategies to evade those punishments wherever possible.

Marisol, seeing those objections warring on Diego’s face, tried to reassure him. “Just tell him it was my fault,” she said, as though this would be sufficient to curtail the Maestro’s anger. “Let him hit me if he wants to.”

She said the last with a casual indifference that Diego couldn’t quite believe – in the space of an hour he’d seen Marisol go from anxious to open to gloomy to angry, until finally this glimpse of something else: an unwavering, stony certainty. She had become an immovable object, a rocky cliff against which oceans might clash with futile waves, a mountain that broke the backs of storms. Diego had the nagging sense that this was the real Marisol. Beneath the moody surface, Marisol had a soul as cold and hard as steel.

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