Friday, February 22, 2013

PART 1, NICOLAE'S ESCAPE: Chapter 3 (UNEDITED)

If you're just catching up, read the PROLOGUE through the SECOND INTERLUDE in the CHAPTERS SECTION.



CHAPTER 3
Aragon, Spain
 May, 1846

The elusive young man had taken over Teresa’s every thought since she crossed paths with him by the lake three days ago.  She and her younger sister Alea had finished washing clothes and were returning the bucket they were using to the shed some of the men from their small Gitano village had built.  They were walking the short distance back to the village to hang the clothes on the line to dry.  Teresa was a girl of sixteen and Alea was twelve.  Teresa had caught site of the young man in the opposite direction, walking rather quickly toward them along the trail.  Alea tugged at the sleeve of Teresa’s dress trying to steer her older sister in a direction away from the approaching stranger.  But Teresa’s curiosity overtook any fear she may have had, especially when she was able to see how pleasing to her eyes the young man was.
“Teresa!” Alea urged, pulling on her older sister’s arm.
But Teresa ignored Alea and continued her walk toward the young man.  Alea kept up behind the older girl as she still made attempts at taking them in an opposite direction.  Alea knew that even if the man turned out to be nice, they could still get into trouble with Gabriella and the elders of their village.  Both of the girls were unmarried and conversing with a young man not approved by the girls’ guardian or village elders was not permitted.  It was also known that the girls’ guardian, Gabriella, and the elders were actively seeking out a suitor for Teresa.  Teresa’s peers were, of course, thrilled for her and Teresa would feign a smile whenever it would be brought up. 
Teresa loved her village and the people she had grown up with.  Gabriella had been the only real mother figure Teresa and Alea had known.  Teresa had also helped raise Alea through the years.  An outsider could observe that Teresa was content with her life and Teresa herself would also be likely to say so.  But it would be during the quiet nights she would lay awake in the hut she shared with Gabriella and Alea.  There were many nights Teresa would look out at the night sky and feel nothing but emptiness.  But it wouldn’t be until the day she would first encounter the young man on the trail that she would begin to understand where that feeling came from.  Teresa had been captivated by the man’s dark eyes and wavy, shoulder length black hair.  As the man got closer, she was able to see a beautifully chiseled jawline and mouth under dark, facial hair and a strong, but lean, build under his dark clothes.  He carried all he had in the world inside a bag slung across his upper body.  Teresa smiled and greeted him when the gap between them had closed.  He was about a foot taller than she was when she stepped up to him and he appeared to be a few years older than she was; perhaps his very early twenties.  The young man’s half conversation was brief and clipped.  She was able to get his name (he called himself Luiz) and the fact that he, like her and Alea, was Romani.  She could tell from the way he spoke that he wasn’t a Gitano, but he wouldn’t offer any information on where he was from. 
“I’m not from here,” he had simply stated.
Teresa wasn’t very well learned when it came to dialect and geography, but she knew enough to figure that he was from somewhere further east.
Teresa attempted direct eye contact with him before he shifted his dark eyes away.  She could tell that he was deciding whether or not to trust her.  She made a bold move by reaching out and touching his arm which caused him to tense up and Alea to gape wide eyed at her sister.  Teresa’s heart picked up it’s pace as she felt the muscle definition in the young man’s arm.  It was then that Teresa suggested that he come stay in her village until he was ready to continue on.  Luiz hesitated, moving out of Teresa’s touch and looking from her to Alea before finally accepting and muttering a ‘thanks.’ 
The brief walk back to the village was rather silent despite Teresa’s further attempts at conversation with Luiz.  The only other real piece of information she was able to get out of him was that he was on his way to a seaport.
“Where are you going?” Teresa asked full of interest.
“Wherever it will take me, I suppose,” he answered.
Alea walked along side of them, watching intently.  She could tell her sister had taken an instant liking to the strange young man despite his unwillingness to say much to her.  There was a spark in Teresa at that moment that Alea hadn’t seen before in her older sister.  But dread began to fill Alea as the village came into view.

Sure enough, Teresa had been scolded by Gabriella.
“How do you expect to attract a decent suitor if you are bringing strange, young men here?” Gabriella yelled.
“Sorry,” Teresa said, her voice barely above a whisper.  “But I thought since he is a Rom…I never would have brought him back otherwise.  Honest!” 
Gabriella sighed and rolled her eyes to the heavens.  She then looked at the young girl in front of her and said, “Fine.  Because he is a Rom, he can stay.  Only a day or two.  No more than three.”
“Yes,” Teresa said, “thank you!  I’ll run out and tell him right now!”
“Ah!  You will do no such thing!” Gabriella said, stopping Teresa from running outside of the hut.  Teresa turned around to face Gabriella again, unable to mask her disappointment. 
“But who will tell him?” Teresa asked.
“I’ll inform Felipe that you and I had this discussion and he will tell the young man.  We will let this go, but don’t ever pull a stunt like this again.”

Luiz stayed alone (something he seemed to favor) in a tent on the men’s side of the village.  He had shown his gratitude to the village elders, but he seemed to prefer being left alone.  He didn’t communicate with anyone unless it was absolutely necessary to do so.  Teresa would sneak glances over to the area where Luiz’s tent was.  She couldn’t help becoming more intrigued by the brooding young stranger.  Of course, Gabriella had forbidden Teresa from going over and talking to him. 
Teresa was five years old and Alea a year old when the two girls had lost their parents.  While the women in the village all contributed to raising them, Gabriella (now in her mid forties) had been their primary caregiver.  Gabriella was widowed shortly before the disappearance of Teresa and Alea’s parents and had never been able to have children.  She was happy to take on raising Teresa and Alea.  Like most inhabitants of their village, the two girls were descended from the Romani of Spain and France. 
Teresa had a natural curiosity to her and often wondered about what had happened to her parents.  But anytime she would try to ask someone for answers, she would walk away discouraged.  Teresa knew that her father’s name was Ferdinand and her mother’s name was Dominique and that she had awoken one morning to find Alea crying in her cradle and their parents missing.  She had learned a little of the rather gruesome history her kind had had in Spain and France and that she and Alea were all that remained of her bloodline.  There was one night in particular that Teresa remembered.  She was eleven years old and had asked Gabriella again for information about her parents. 

“Why do you insist on bringing up the past?” Gabriella said.
“I just want to know!” Teresa cried, on the verge of frustrated tears, “why won’t you tell me?!”
Gabriella paused, taking in a breath and turning away from her adopted daughter.  Teresa could see the wheels in the older woman’s head turning.  The little girl waited with anticipation, hoping Gabriella could finally tell her something.
“Be careful,” Gabriella simply stated, keeping her eyes forward.
“Of what?” Teresa asked.
“You’ll know,” Gabriella answered.
“What?”
“Your mother, Dominique, was a free spirit.  Maybe too much of a free spirit.  I can see a lot of her in you,” Gabriella said with a small sigh.
Teresa frowned and began to question Gabriella further, but Gabriella cut her off saying, “Our race has been through enough pain and suffering.  We are just now beginning to live peacefully among the outsiders.  Please keep it that way.”
Teresa stood, wondering what Gabriella’s final words had to do with her mother and father…

Teresa had gone over that conversation many times in her mind over the passed few years.  That night was the first and last time anything was ever discussed.  She had also tried conjuring up memories of her parents.  The memories were vague, but Teresa was able to recall the carefree personality of her mother and the strong, serious nature of her father.  She also remembered them being rather secretive with some of the activities they participated in.  The stories about the previous generations were scary and Teresa could only imagine what they had gone through.  She could see the weariness on the elders and most of the elderly folk in her village, their faces were careworn from the centuries of persecution and nomadic lives. 
There were times when Teresa wished she could be more like Alea.  Alea had no recollection of their parents and she was the type to just accept things as they were.  Alea would sleep well at night as Teresa lie awake consumed by scattered, broken memories and the desolate void in the pit of her stomach.  Meeting Luiz had jarred something in Teresa.  She thought of his words when he mentioned he had planned to head to a seaport.  The more Teresa thought about it, the more the idea of the seaport (and going with Luiz) appealed to her. 

Teresa now stood in the doorway of the hut looking out to where Luiz was staying.  It was late enough for most in the village, including Gabriella, to be in their huts asleep.  Teresa had crept as far over to the area where Luiz’s tent was.  She kept herself hidden, peering over to the silent tent as she began to have thoughts of him asleep inside.  Teresa smiled to herself as she wondered what he was dreaming of.  She began scolding herself for having such a silly, childish thought when she saw the flap of the tent open.  She held her breath as she watched Luiz depart from the tent.  He was clutching his bag protectively as he headed out into the darkness away from the village.  Teresa felt her heart sink.
You’re not leaving already…?  Without saying goodbye to anyone? 
A feeling of nausea entered her stomach and without giving it much thought, she began following him, running as silently as she could keeping up with him in the dark.  Luiz stopped at the lake and Teresa situated herself behind some brush, watching as he grabbed a bucket from the small shed.  He walked back over to the lake’s shore and set his bag down before setting the bucket down on the ground beside it.  Teresa slipped further behind the tree when he stopped to observe his surroundings.  When he seemed satisfied that he was the only one present, he knelt down and dug into his bag. 
Teresa came back around to watch him remove what appeared to be a small wooden box.  He hunched over, holding it to his chest and she could hear him whispering something to it.  She tried her best to listen to what he was saying but to no success.  He was then silent as he held the box for a few seconds longer before he returned it to the bag.  Luiz rose and looked out to the lake before removing his shirt.  Teresa could feel her heart thudding hard against her chestwall as she watched him peel it off over his head.  Her breath caught in her throat when she saw his defined torso was in the moonlight.  But there was also something else.  Scars.  Scars that criss-crossed Luiz’s upper body.  Pangs of sadness began to wash over Teresa as she wondered what kind of suffering he had been through.  In her mind’s eye, she had a brief vision of a whip being cracked.  Teresa covered her mouth, suppressing a gasp that threatened to escape.  She turned her eyes back toward the young man.  By then, he had loosened his belt, removing it and placing it by the bucket.  He removed the dagger from a sheath, placing it on the ground.  She ducked further back into the shadows when he glanced around once more before he removed his boots.
I should go back, Teresa told herself.  But her eyes remained glued to the half naked young man in front of her. 
She watched, clutching the tree for support, as he undid his trousers, sliding them down his firm thighs.  The awareness that she was watching a young man about to bathe made her face flush hot.  Her breath quickened as he shed the last of his clothing and stood naked in the moonlight.  Teresa shut her eyes and leaned against the tree as she began to feel dizzy.  She could hear him stepping into the lake, filling the bucket with water before dumping it onto his body.  Images of Luiz naked and soaking wet began to assault Teresa’s mind.  She turned and ran back toward the village.  The images of Luiz were replaced by ones of Gabriella and her many looks of disapproval. 
Teresa couldn’t re-enter the village fast enough and to her relief, the huts were all dark and Gabriella and Alea were fast asleep.  Teresa entered the hut as quietly as she could, hearing the soft breathing of Gabriella and Alea.  She slid into her cot, bringing the blanket up to her chin and willing her breathing to return to normal.  Her heart continued to race as thoughts of Luiz remained with her.  She lay awake with all sorts of emotions pulsing through her.  That feeling of emptiness she always had was gone.  And it frightened her.
 
The following morning, Teresa had no trouble with avoiding contact with Luiz.  She could feel her face turning scarlet the few times she would see him throughout the day and on the second night, she had stayed in her hut, curled up in her cot.  Gabriella had asked Teresa if she was feeling well and Alea regarded her older sister rather curiously.  Teresa had lay thinking about how Luiz would be leaving if not tomorrow, than surely the day after. There was something about him that she had felt drawn to. 
On the third and final night of Luiz’s stay in her village, Teresa stood in the doorway of her hut, once again looking out to where he stayed.  Her heart raced again when she pictured him emerging from his tent and heading over to the lake.  Her face grew hot, but she decided she wanted to talk to him before he would leave that morning (and she would of course try to catch him before he would get to the lake).  Teresa took a quick glance around to ensure no one was there to see her.  She had stepped out into the night when a voice from behind stopped her.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Teresa slowly turned to see Gabriella standing in the doorway, eyeing her suspiciously. 
“I…just thought I’d go for a walk…” Teresa stammered.
“Well you can go for a walk in the morning.  It’s too late now and a respectable girl your age has no business walking around by herself late at night.”
Teresa rolled her eyes when Gabriella had turned her back.  She looked back out toward Luiz’s tent, lost in her own world.
“By the way,” Gabriella said shaking Teresa from her thoughts, “I have wonderful news.”
“What,” Teresa replied.
“The elders and I…we’ve found you a suitor!”
“Really,” Teresa asked, a numbing sensation taking over her.
“Yes,” Gabriella answered, “he’s from another Gitano village.  Comes from a good family…”  Gabriella’s voice trailed off when she saw Teresa crestfallen.
“Well what’s wrong with you, girl?” Gabriella exclaimed. “This is a blessing!  You should be thrilled!”
“Oh, I am,” Teresa said, feigning the same smile she always had when such things were discussed in front of her.  “I am,” Teresa repeated at Gabriella’s critical gaze, “I’m very happy.”
“Good,” Gabriella said, “now come inside.  We begin the official arrangements in the morning.”
Teresa responded with another weak smile before Gabriella turned and disappeared back into the hut.  She stood alone, turning to look back toward Luiz’s tent before retreating back inside. 
Teresa did her best to cover her restlessness as she got read for bed.  Overall, she was a good girl and did what was expected of her, but meeting Luiz had awakened something in her that began to complete the emptiness she felt.  He would be leaving early in the morning.  It was strange, the feelings she was developing for him.  It was something Teresa had never felt for anyone.  Though she hardly knew him, she cared about him.  The young man was alone in this world and Teresa understood what it was like to be surrounded by many people yet still feel alone.
She lay in the dark, thoughts of the young man she knew as Luiz filling her mind.  She remembered his scars, the vision of the whip, and the box he seemed so protective of.  Teresa turned her head and looked at Alea, who lay asleep next to her.  Teresa got out of her cot and stood watching her sleeping sister, marveling at the serenity of the little girl.  She leaned over and softly kissed Alea’s forehead, taking care not to disturb her. 
“I love you,” Teresa whispered sadly. 
She returned to her cot and lay staring out at the night sky as a lump began to rise in her throat.

Continue on to Chapter 4

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