city of Aragon sprawled across the emerald green hills, the white stone walls
and buildings bathed in the golden rays of the midday sun. The occasional wisp of cloud was strewn
across the blue sky, seemingly added as final touches by the Almighty to this
most splendid canvas of firmament.
Letitia listened to the churning roar of
the city, and watched from her balcony as the people flowed along the
streets. It was a wonderful day to be
alive, no more so than because of its significance. Her stomach was still unsettled with
apprehension, for today she was to visit the Countess Attaras.
Leaving her elevated perch, she returned to
her dresser and continued to arrange her hair, scrutinising every detail,
intent on making as good an impression as she could.
Their chance meeting at the theatre had
allowed the two women to talk, followed by an invitation to tea. If she could behave flawlessly, there existed
the pleasing possibility of gaining entrance to the elite social circles. Her meagre funds would not serve her long
under such taxing demands, but if she could find a husband from the noble
caste, a marriage would ensure her secure welfare for life.
Letitia assessed her reflection in the
mirror. She was attractive, her long
sable hair shone with radiant health and wreathed her elegant features like a
midnight halo. Her form was fairly
small, but curvaceous and well proportioned.
At seventeen she was desirable enough to attract affluent suitors, and
should she succeed in merging with the noble echelons of Spanish society, her
virginal status would surely gain her the husband she sought.
Straightening the folds of her white dress,
she left her apartment and made for the villa of the Countess.
The villa was a true reflection of the
aristocratic stature, bedecked in finery and sumptuous works of art. Even the furniture was of the most luxurious
design, each piece a magnificent aesthetic sight.
A valet escorted her up to the veranda,
where the Countess sat beside a low table.
The woman was not alone either.
Opposite her sat a rigid form, a complete contrast to the hedonistic
ambience. He was approaching thirty,
with handsome features which made him an alluring sight save for the black hair
and dark robes that marked him as a holy man.
“Ah, Letitia, how nice of you to come. Please, sit down and join us for
chocolate. This is Don Francisco Tirregon, my confessor, and second Inquisitor of the Holy
Office. Don Francisco, this is a new
acquaintance of mine, Letitia Rochus.”
She knelt and kissed the signet ring he
extended. The man regarded her with a
stern eye, his very presence intimidating.
Was it merely a sub-conscious reaction to his standing, or was it an actual
aura that he himself generated. She had
heard the dark rumours concerning the Inquisition, but she paid such lies
little heed, for it was God’s work they performed in their eradication of
heretics and witches. Several times she
had attended the Auto da Fe, the mass burnings where the Inquisition paraded
those who had been found dabbling in the dark arts, before expiating them for
their blasphemous crimes, and never had she felt cause to fear the righteous
officers, or feel pity for the condemned.
Mundane pleasantries were exchanged between
the Countess and herself, but all the while she could feel Don Francisco’s
rigorous stare boring into her. It was
disconcerting, and several times she lost track of the conversation as her
thoughts strayed to the foreboding spectre.
When he joined in the conversation, his
deep voice brought both women to silence.
He asked Letitia her age, her confessor’s name, and many intricate
questions about religion. Such was the
intense nature of his quizzing, Letitia soon began to feel uneasy, the severity
of his look making her thoughts whirl in panic.
Having noticed this angst, he told the
Countess to inform her that he was not as fierce as he seemed, and leaned forth
to caress her in an obliging manner, to reassure her that his banter was
nothing save benign. With a stifled sigh
of profound relief, she kissed his presented hand with great reverence and
modesty, and watched with no small measure of mental turmoil as he left. The confusion in her head was further kindled
by his last words, “My dear child, I shall remember you till the next time.”
It was a remarkable expression: however,
she was inexperienced in matters of gallantry, and could see no significance or
menace in the words.
The rest of the audience with the Countess
went well; she avoided talk of the Inquisitor with almost fanatic verve. The noble lady was much taken with the
youthful girl, so much so that she was invited to shop with her the following
day in preparation for a dinner party, which she could also attend as the
Letitia was in high spirits as she returned
home, and it seemed that the sun celebrated with her, filling the horizon with
a crimson hue. The blazing sunset had
her enthralled, and with a glass of wine, she watched the sight from her
balcony. The sun slipped behind the
horizon, the streets began to clear of people, and dusk settled into a star
With darkness approaching, and a chill
breeze lifting to strip away the warmth of the day, she went to bed after
giving thanks in her prayers. She was
exhausted by the day’s events, and most eager to be fresh and vibrant for those
that awaited her tomorrow. But, because
of her excitement, it took all her efforts to calm her raging thoughts and fall
A resounding volley of thuds had her jerk
upright in bed with a start. She swept
her hair from her eyes and listened to make sure that it was not a noise in her
dream responsible for stirring her so sharply.
The metallic clatter and booming thump of
an impatient knock upon her door echoed up from the street. With a vexed murmur, she slipped from her
soft bed and took a gown from her door.
She hurried down the stairs, pulling the garment on and fastening
it. She paused before opening the locks,
for brigands in the city were not unheard of.
She opted for caution and asked who it was paying a visit at such a late
“The Holy Inquisition!” came the terse
“What is it you wish of me?” she stuttered,
scarcely able to believe her ears. She
was pious and God fearing, she attended church and gave as generously as she
could, surely they were in error.
“Open the door in the name of the Holy
Office,” demanded a strident voice.
“Again Sir, I ask, who is it you seek?” she
responded, her heart pounding in her chest.
The brittle crunch of wood being punished
by a blow, reverberated in her ears, and the door bucked in its frame. Letitia gave a shriek of shock, put her hands
to her face in horror, and began to back away.
The door jolted under another impact, and the next blow was joined by
the splintering of timber around the hinges.
Her resolve crumbled and she turned and
fled, every nightmarish whisper she had overheard about the Inquisition
suddenly polluting her thoughts.
She had barely reached the top of the
stairs when the door burst inward, smashing onto the floor, fully torn from its
mounts by the assault of the guards.
Charging for her balcony, she hoped to
shout pleas for help onto the night, but even her gown was against her in this
matter, and snagged her legs with its length, sending her tumbling to the
The cold grip of gauntlets snapped onto her
body like metal teeth, and a trio of armoured soldiers hoisted her into the
air. She squirmed in their grasp,
seeking to break free while screaming with all the volume she could muster. She demanded to know her crime, what it was
they sought, but they ignored her every word, seemingly engrossed with their
duty of carrying her out into the street, where she was manacled and hurled
into the rear of a caged wagon.
Undaunted, she continued her cries as the vehicle took off, the two
steeds thundering down the street under the eager whip of the driver.
Clutching the bars of her prison for
stability against the lurching cage, she wept for her soul.
“What is to become of me? I am ruined,” she whispered, wiping away her
tears with the torn and dirty hem of her only sparse garment.
She was expecting to die this very night,
so numbing was her fright. Her surprise was all the greater when instead of the
stake or executioner’s block, she was delivered to an apartment near the grim
fortress of faith which served as the Inquisition’s bastion. The home lay in the castle’s shadow,
swallowed up within the sheet of darkness cast down by the towering structure,
its battlements manned by armoured forms, bright banners fluttering in the breeze. From this fortress the Inquisition spread out
into the surrounding area, making it the centre of a web of zealous
persecution, and perhaps the most feared structure in all Aragon.
The armoured driver descended from his post
and pulled her from the cage, his metal form towering over her as he drew her
to the door. She resisted as best she
could, pulling away because she feared what unspeakable hell might lay beyond.
“Where am I being taken! I am innocent of any crime!” she exclaimed,
and gave a yelp as the driver tugged up her arm and then lashed his whip across
the backs of her thighs.