Chapter Twenty-Three

Sword, she needed her sword. He was here, the man was here. She was out the servants’ door of the house and the long way around to the barn, while Maestro Lope and the man with the red right hand stood at the road. He was here, here without his men, without Toledo guards keeping her from him. Unprotected and vulnerable this, this was her chance.

Marisol tore through the fresh hay in the barn until she found the weapon in its burlap sack. She pulled it free just as a heavy weight crashed into her from the side and bore her to the ground.

“You can’t, you can’t,” it was Diego, whispering furiously as he tried to hold her down. Marisol struggled against him, finally heaving him bodily away and springing to her feet.

Undeterred, Diego leapt at her again, wrapped his arms tight around her, tried to hold her back. “You have to let him, you can’t interfere, Marisol, please listen to me—“

But Marisol saw only red, heard only the pounding of her heart and the blood rushing in her ears.

“—he can’t know the Maestro has students, Marisol, he’ll—“

Marisol flung herself and Diego with her against the wall. The impact drove out Diego’s breath and he gasped for air, slackening his grip and falling to the ground. A third time, Marisol made for the door, and a third time Diego tried to stop her, this time jumping onto her back and getting an arm nearly around her throat.

“Look, look at them,” Diego pleaded in her ear, “look how the Maestro plays the fool, how he leaves his sword to lie on the ground—“

Marisol saw nothing she pulled free of Diego and finally punched him in the jaw with one heavy fist. The force of the blow sent him staggering back into the hay, where he collapsed. Marisol set the point of her sword against his throat; Diego was too stunned to move.

“I. Will. Kill. You.” Marisol said, all fire beneath her skin. If Diego spoke or moved, she didn’t see it. Her eyes were turned to the road, where the man with the red right hand was returning to his bronze horse, turning away and disappearing into the night.

She ran towards him and drew breath to scream only to feel Maestro Lope’s shoulder collide with her stomach, send her coughing and sprawling to the ground.

“DO NOTHING!” He commanded. “Say nothing! Your life depends on it!”

The man with the red right hand was escaping. He was alone and vulnerable and she could kill him now, she saw her mother’s dead face, her glassy eyes, she saw the blood on the grass, she could kill him now, but he was getting away.

“Let me go,” she said. “Let me go after him.”

“No. You will not. You will not tell him you are my student,” Maestro Lope insisted.

Marisol stood and scanned the dark and distant road for any sign of the man, but it was too late. He was gone.

She screamed with rage.

“That man is dangerous. He cannot know—“

“That is the man who murdered my mother,” Marisol shouted at him. “That is the man who I mean to kill.”

“No,” Maestro Lope shook his head. “No, no you cannot.”

“Why do you think I even came to you? It is only so I can kill him.”

“No. No student of mine will fight him. I will not let you.”

“Let me?” Marisol snapped. She saw where the Maestro’s sword lay in the grass, the consequence of whatever groveling pantomime he had performed for the man with the red right hand. Marisol kicked the sword over to him. “You do not have to let me. You cannot stop me.”

“You don’t understand—“

“You are a fat, drunken fool,” Marisol said. “You are old and weak, and you’re scared of him because you are a coward.”

The Maestro’s face turned red, and his beetle-brows crowded close above his eyes. He picked up his sword. “Arrogant girl. I am your master—“

Whatever else he would say was lost, as Marisol took the long chords to cross the circle of his sword, her weapon flashing its sharp edge at his cheek and wrist, snapping away at his knee. Their swords clashed; the Maestro was not fast, but he seemed to know cut and thrust that Marisol prepared before she made them, bringing his sword to bear in the nick of time.

One thrust slapped away from his knee, the Maestro slapped her across the face with the flat of his weapon. The pain, just along the scar that the man with the red right hand had left her, was intense, but she ignored it. Instead, she thrust again, moving to the outside of his guard, trying to push him off balance. She feinted high, then low, then high again, but the Maestro caught her sword.

Their weapons were connected, no long two separate instruments, but a silver cord hung between them, here he pushed and she pulled back, there she pushed and controlled his sword, then the Maestro regained control, sent her point away, slapped at her wrist.

Marisol snatched her hand away unscathed, and then redoubled her efforts. Her sword was fast and vicious, never giving quarter or room for breath, a torrent of blows falling on the Maestro. But if Marisol was a raging river, the Maestro was an immovable boulder, a heavy stone that no river could dislodge. Each thrust and cut was diverted, her rage spent and wasted.

She thrust at last at his face, no longer conscious of the scream that pealed from her throat. Maestro parried and bound her sword, twisting it away as he had so often before. The pain in her wrist was excruciating as it bent against muscle and tendon, but the fury in her soul had made her strong. She clutched the weapon with a death-grip, and despite the agony as she held on, she did not let go. Instead, she stepped in and threw her shoulder against her teacher.

Maestro Lope took the blow and stepped back, and Marisol followed with another cut and another, as fast and hard as she could, raining them down like the hammer in her smithy. Maestro Lope stumbled as he stepped back again, his flush face revealing how the alcohol had compromised his balance. Marisol cut and slashed again, her sword a wild fury now.

One blow landed close to his throat, and the Maestro caught it again, and again they were connected. Marisol felt herself boil away from her body, felt her limbs move along of their own accord, felt the weapons tied together by combat or by fate. The Maestro moved her point away, his own sword in line to bite deep into her wrist. She could see it all happening, and knew there was nothing to be done about it, the swords and hands and feet and bodies would all take their own path, and she would lose her hand.

Until the Maestro, by misfortune or by drink, by uneven ground or grass still damp from the last night’s rain, slipped. His back foot gave way, and the power of his bind was broken. Marisol regained control of the weapons and brought her own point to bear.

For a moment, all the world stopped, and Marisol saw before her a hundred futures. She saw herself one day opening her own school, and teaching the Destreza to her own students. She saw a life with Diego, in which they married and had children. She saw herself returning alone to the smithy, saw lives of comfort and contentment, some lives of happiness, some of sadness, saw so many paths laid out before her. But they all turned away, and she would not.

Her futures escaped, a flock of birds taking to wing, flying off into the night with the sound of rushing wind, as her sword, bound by the inexorable laws of the path she had chosen, every step aligned for this moment, followed Maestro Lope’s sword around as he fell, then sank deep into his chest.

***

“Come. Come on, Marisol.” Diego tugged at her sleeve. “We have to leave here. We have to go now.”

Marisol stared at the ground where Maestro lay, her sword still inside him. He had whispered something to her, with his very last breath. Diego had appeared and wailed, disappeared and returned again. Marisol’s body felt too small for her mind, which was suspended beyond the reach of skin and nerves.

“We cannot stay here, Marisol.” Diego said again.

She could only stare. This was the second corpse she had seen in a year, and this was a man that she had killed. A man who had done no wrong but tried to protect her, had committed no crime but tried to teach her. And she had killed him.

“Marisol.”

Diego drew Marisol’s sword from the Maestro’s body and wiped it off, sheathed it, returned it to its sack. He had brought coats and satchels from somewhere, had gathered up food.

“Marisol, we have to go.”

Marisol stood transfixed by the enormity of what she had done, still turning over the Maestro’s last words as Diego led her away, took her by the arm and fairly dragged her down the road.

He’d had just enough breath to speak before his eyes became as still as stones.

“We can’t stay,” Diego said, leaving Maestro Lope’s body for the foxes and the crows. There would soon be nothing left but his words. “Come on, Marisol.”

“You cannot,” the Maestro had said before he died. “You cannot kill the man with the red right hand.”

Marisol’s stunned shuffle became a run as Diego dragged her along.

“No one can kill him.”

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