Cadiz, Spain 1740
Marisol Valentin pressed her tearful face onto the warm neck of her beloved mare, blocking out for a moment the sickening smell of human blood in the barn corridor. “Goodbye, my dear Jada.” The horse nickered and nuzzled her as if understanding. Dragging her feet out of the pregnant Andalusian’s stall, Marisol couldn’t prevent a sob escaping her lips.
She averted her eyes from the form lying in the moonlight near the tack room entrance. The still body of Diego Vargas, nobleman of Spain, sprawled across the dirt passage.
She killed him but she’d not had a choice.
Her breath strangled in her throat as she inched by. Somehow she made it across the shadowed stable courtyard and up the rear stairs of the hacienda. Bursting into her bedchamber, she shoved the door closed, and leaned against it. The pressure in her chest, the awful bile churning her middle, they both rose up to strangle her. She drew in ragged breaths as tears flooded down her cheeks and onto her ripped gown.
Her maid Carmela dropped the camisole she was setting out on the bed. “Oh, my lady, what has happened?”
“Diego Vargas came into the foaling barn after I entered to check on Jada and he...” Her voice broke down. She clenched her eyes to block scenes of his savage attack assailing her mind. “He’s ruined me, and I stabbed him.” Her lips trembled. “I only meant to stop him. Not kill him.”
Carmela gasped and her hand flew across her mouth. “Madre de Dios!”
Marisol’s shoulders slumped, and she swayed toward the wash stand. Every movement of her body ached. She would have bruises everywhere by morning.
Yes, Mother of God, if you’re there, I need your help. Would God aid a murderess? She plunged her hands into the tepid water and scrubbed them raw. “Carmela, I must flee tonight. His family will never believe my story or be content until I sit in the garroting chair. My blade is in his side.”
The woman hastened to Marisol’s side, her face pale and tense. “You will not go alone, dear one. I’m going with you.” She darted to the chifferobe and stood on tip toes to reach for the travel bags on top.
Marisol turned from the washing bowl, wishing she had more time to sponge away the man’s dreadful smell of unclean linen and wine that clung to her. But there was not a moment to spare. She frowned at her maid flinging clothes into both their valises. “No, my friend. I’ll be a castaway, a criminal fleeing justice. You must not come with me.”
Seeing her words had no effect, she continued, “You can go back to your brother’s house tonight. Say you weren’t even here.”
Carmela shook her head. “You cannot travel alone. I’m coming. I have a little savings of my own, my lady. We need to find a ship to the New World and you will be safe.” The woman squatted, loosened a floor board, lifted out a small leather pouch, and stuffed it into her bodice.
Watching her, Marisol sighed and ceased trying to discourage her. She did not have time to protest. She rushed to the wardrobe and snatched a garment. The notion of an escape to the colonies of Spain in the West Indies took root in her mind. Carmela helped her peel off her ruined clothing and change into the simple, dark blue silk dress. She decided against a hoop or layers of petticoats. They would have to travel fast and on foot. She agreed with her maid about the type of shoes. She would put on her thick, black leather boots. Who knew how long they would have to walk over what kind of terrain to the harbor? Heretofore, she’d only gone there in a carriage and by the main road.
Marisol opened her jewel case and scooped up her valuable necklaces, pearl comb, and the Valentin rose-cut ruby brooch, her precious last gift from her mother. Dear Madre. How she missed her. She pressed an emerald choker into Carmela’s hand. “For our passage when we get
to the harbor,” she whispered and stashed the rest of her jewels in a concealed pocket under her skirt. But she tied the thin leather strap bearing the ruby pin around her neck and thrust the gem deep into the top of her gown. She dropped her mother’s miniature into her bag. Her heart faltered as she thought of her departed father and how his proud Valentin name would now become a byword linked with murder. A tear ran down her cheek. She swiped at it and cast her mind again on the New World. Maybe they could make it to her father’s sister in Cartagena on the Spanish Main. Aunt Lucia would help her, and that destination should be far enough away.
She reached to the rear of the chifferobe and withdrew a short Sevillian steel blade, similar to, but longer than the navaja left in Diego’s chest. She cast aside the memory of his glazed, shocked eyes and slid the weapon into the top of her boot. Her father’s brother, who now managed the estate, did not know about the rapiers her dear Papa had given her. Nor had she told him about the sword fighting lessons, he’d insisted she take.
Her maid touched her arm. “I will go as your dueña and you’ll be safer on the road and on the ship.”
Carmela dressed her own dark hair as an older woman’s, donned a plain black dress, headpiece, and wrap. She handed Marisol a blue cloak and thick lace mantilla to cover her tresses and shadow her pale face. Then she moved to the cold supper tray and stuffed every sandwich and biscuit she could into her pockets.
A glimmer of a smile touched the corners of Marisol’s mouth. Dear Carmela, only ten years older than her own eighteen summers, but so sensible. They would require food on their long journey. Her maid resembled a stern governess, clad as she was. She loved and trusted the woman like a sister she’d never had.
Before leaving the room in which she grew up, Marisol marked her reflection in the walnut framed mirror over her marble-topped dresser. Her mantilla covered most of her thick, ebony hair. But the lace edge pulled close did not mask the paleness of her face or the bruise on her left cheek where Diego had knocked her to the barn floor.
Careful not to awaken the servants on the top floor, they glided like silent ghosts down the hall, the staircase, and through the shadowed kitchen toward the back door. Carmela lifted a leather skein of water from the servant’s pantry and draped it across her sturdy shoulder.
Marisol followed the woman outside and to the farm road exit carrying her own valise. The moon drifted in out of clouds like a stealthy galleon following its prey.
Carmela unlatched the wide gate, and they passed under the arched sign above the entrance. Marisol stole a look backward. Valentin Andalusian Stud Estate. Her heart broke anew. She loved the famous Spanish horses they bred, the spacious home her mother had once graced, and the large estate her papa had run like a gentle lord. Would she ever see it again? Nothing had been the same since her uncle took over at her father’s death. A tear plopped down her cheek. The man had several faults but one most costly—gambling.
The taunting words of Diego tripped back across her hot mind. “Don’t think your dear uncle will come to your rescue, my girl. I’ve won all he owns tonight, including you. And he’s passed out drunk in the Vargas game room.”
“Walk faster, my lady,” Carmela urged her on the narrow path winding through the forest below the main road. “We must reach the harbor before dawn.”
Marisol cast her sorrowful thoughts aside and did as her maid asked. The breeze rustled through leaves, and the screech from a pursued animal gave her pause. She took a deep breath.
The woodsy smell of wild mint, sweet cedar, and verdant growth encouraged her, and she continued on as fast as she could.
They passed the last majestic oak on the Valentin estate. No lights or shouts followed them from the house or stables. The tightness in Marisol’s shoulders eased, but not the heaviness in her heart. Murderess. The word stung her mind like a scorpion.
The unpredictable moon covered their flight one moment and revealed their hasty passage the next.
“How long should it take us to get to the harbor, Carmela? Surely we can count on the night for travel before they will miss us in the morning.” Before the stable hands find Diego’s body. Marisol shuddered and ignored her tiring legs. The humid evening air promised rain. Something else to worry about.
“We must walk fast, my lady. I’ll not have any peace until we’re on a ship setting sail. And we can’t go the easy road. We have to stay in the forest shadows cuatro millas más. But never fear, I know the way.”
Four more miles? How many had they traveled already? Marisol marveled that the woman wasn’t even breathing hard. Her own legs ached from the continued rapid walk and she switched her valise to her other hand for relief. Her maid must have sensed her tiredness for she soon left the path and stopped at a log lying deep in the trees. Marisol dropped her baggage and sat. Her partner did the same.
“We can rest now, my lady. But merely for a moment.” She swung the skein from her shoulder and passed it to Marisol. The welcome water soothed her dry throat and refreshed her.
Too soon Carmela stood up, and Marisol followed her back onto the path.
When she felt she couldn’t take another step, the scent of the sea and cry of seagulls lifted her heart and renewed her energy. They had to be close to their destination. When the moon moved out from the clouds, she could see in the distance a row of waterfront buildings lit by feeble lights and beyond them, the tops of ship masts bobbing in the water. The harbor of Cadiz. Thunder rumbled, and the sound of horses on the high road made Marisol tremble. Carmela pulled her from the path into the forest. She stopped at a large oak stump.
“We are entering the most dangerous part of our journey, my lady,” she whispered. “And it may rain. We must wait for time to buy passage on one of the ships at dawn and we won’t have our cover of darkness. I’m going to look for a merchant ship heading to Hispaniola.”
“But I want to go to Cartagena. I have an aunt living there who will help us.”
“So you have someone who might offer you shelter? That’s good news, my lady. And don’t fret; from that island we can gain passage to your aunt’s city and to any other Spanish colony. It’s the right port to find our way in the West Indies.”
“Oh. I am so glad you know all this, Carmela.”
The woman smiled. “Well, that comes from having a father and a brother who were sailors. Now would you like to rest here until I check things out?”
Marisol nodded and sank onto the tree stump. She dropped her valise next to her aching feet.
Her tired mind kept replaying the face of Diego Vargas, her ears still heard his contemptuous voice as he clamped her hands behind her back. “Since I saw you dance the flamenco at the harvest gathering, I knew I would have you. And I guessed right you would check on your prize mare tonight to see if she had foaled. I’ve got plans for this stud farm. Europe is begging for our Spanish horses.”
Marisol shook her head and forced away the memory of Diego. She propped her elbows on her lap and leaned her chin onto her hands. For just a moment she closed her eyes.
Cool raindrops on her face awakened her. She lay on the damp forest floor next to the stump. Surprised, she sat up and looked around. Pink and purple streaks spread across the horizon. Where was Carmela?
Marisol stood and grabbed her valise. She followed the path from the woods her maid had taken and came to the outskirts of the harbor town. Continuing through narrow, sleepy streets of Cadiz, she passed store fronts whose owners had yet to open their shutters. Somewhere a baker cooked bread. The smell of fresh loaves made Marisol’s mouth water. The shrill cries of two cats fighting in a nearby alley startled her, and she dropped her bag.
Heavy footsteps sounded behind her. Before she could turn about, thick arms strong as iron bands wrapped around her. The odor of sweat, rum, and unwashed clothing gagged her. In another quick movement her captor grabbed her hands and clapped a cuff on her wrists. She tried to scream but a foul-smelling hand clamped down on her mouth. She bit into the fingers and the metallic taste of blood flowed onto her lips.
The man slapped her so hard for a moment she lost consciousness. His harsh words, spoken in a guttural whisper next to her ear brought her back. “If you try that again, you’ll be sorry, senorita, and don’t scream or you’ll die and I mean a painful death. We thought there might be more of you heading to the harbor.”
Others? Poor Carmela. Had they caught her, too? If only she’d had time to reach for her knife in her boot before he’d twisted her hands behind her.
The man, twice her size, pulled her into an alley like a rag doll with his hand still over her mouth. Carmela lay bound on the ground before a tall ruffian with a full red beard and wild hair. Her maid twisted her head around and groaned through her gag when she saw her mistress.
The larger captor holding Marisol bragged. “Now we have two fine senoritas to help colonize the King’s colonies. These ought to bring plenty of gold, Jacque.”
The man kicked Carmela and her moan made tears spring to Marisol’s eyes. “Yeah, well this one put up quite a fight. But she ain’t going nowhere, except to that ship awaiting a few more warm bodies for the Indies.”
The ruffian called Jacques ripped the mantilla from Marisol and gagged her with it. Then he wound her cloak around her body like a mummy, preventing all movement.
Carmela’s captor pulled a sack over head. He lifted her and slung her across his shoulder as if she were a sack of potatoes.
The monster standing over Marisol did the same and plopped her on his back as if she were a feather weight. He patted her covered head as they moved out onto the harbor road. “You senoritas can rest easy. We’re bringing your valises, too. We’ll make sure your valuables find their way into our pockets before we put you on the ship.” His low, wicked laugh, echoed by his mate, made her want to chew nails and throw up at the same moment.
Six weeks on board the Magdalena were more like months for Marisol. Most of the time she and Carmela stayed in the cramped women’s cabin to avoid the crew and the indentured male passengers. But a greater concern gripped her than the crowded conditions. Every morning for the past week she had thrown up in the chamber pot. El mareo? But she had never suffered sea sickness when sailing.
One day after a difficult episode, Marisol wiped her mouth and sank onto the cot. Other women in the cabin had murmured when her vomiting started and piled out the door as fast as they could. Only Carmela remained. Concern ridged her face as she handed her mistress a damp cloth. She patted her hand, and whispered, “My lady, do you also have a tender bosom?”
Marisol hung her head. “Yes, dear friend.” A tear slid down her cheek. “I may be with child.”
“How do you feel about that since...” Her maid lifted her brow.
Marisol faced her. “You think because I conceived a babe in violence, I would hate the little one?” She didn’t expect her friend to answer. “The child had no choice in this matter. I would never be bitter against an innocent baby.” She looked away. “But I wonder how we can ever handle this.”
“But our God will care for you, milady, and the babe.” Carmela spoke with confidence. Marisol shook her head. “The same one who protected me from Diego and both of us from the kidnappers? Sorry to disappoint you, dear friend. But I have no such assurance.”
A deafening boom sounded from the side of the ship. They both jumped to their feet. Another blast followed, and the cabin rocked, causing them to grab hold of the cot posts to keep from being thrown to the floor. The sound of splitting wood, running boots, and vulgar curses echoed from above. Smoke seeped down into their space.
Carmela coughed and wrapped her arms around herself. “We’re under attack, and they have hit us. May the Blessed Virgin have mercy on us.”
The other women passengers flew into the cabin, their faces tight with fear. The last one in, bolted the door. A few minutes later, loud knocking sounded.
“Who is it?” Marisol called.
A hoarse, anxious voice answered from the passage. “The Captain says tell ye, we are under attack by them English pirates and ye may have to fight for your lives.”
The voice was somewhat familiar. Marisol pushed toward the sound, unbolted the door and opened it wide.
A short Spanish sailor stood there, pale under his dark tan. “He’s sent a sword. Hope one of you can use it.”
He thrust a rapier handle into Marisol’s hands and scrambled back up the passage.
Hope you enjoyed this beginning of Marisol, Spanish Rose, Book 1 in our Charleston Brides series. Grab it at this link for $.99 Friday, May 29 - Friday, June 5! https://amzn.to/3dfMBOM
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Have a blessed, wonderful day,
Elva Cobb Martin is 2020 President of the SC Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a former school teacher and a graduate of Anderson University and Erskine College. She has three inspirational novels published, Summer of Deception, a contemporary romantic suspense, and two historical romances, In a Pirate’s Debt, and Marisol, Book 1 in a new Charleston Brides series for Wild Heart Books. All three novels have spent time on Amazon’s 100 Best Sellers List for Women’s Religious Fiction.
Link to all her books: http://amzn.to/2pOgVHI