TimePaths

The Books and Writings of
Kurt R.A. Giambastiani

  "The Duenna"
by Kurt R.A. Giambastiani

That morning was quiet, the sky heavy and massive after the stormy night.  The bark of seals drifted up from the rocks at the point.  I was still abed when I heard the shout from down on the pier.  I threw a shawl over my nightgown and went to the balcony.  From there, I saw Pedro sitting on a barrel down by his boat, one hand still full of netting, the other shading his eyes from the morning sun as he looked out toward the point.

There, the coast of Portugal dimly visible in the background haze, came a two-masted sailing ship, its mainsails in tatters, its ragged foresail luffing in the slight breeze.  As the ketch rounded the point, coming into the lee of the island, I saw a small dinghy out front, towing it.  A large man was at the oars.  Down on the pier, Pedro dropped his mending-work and ran up the path to the village.  He pounded on a few doors, quickly gathering a handful of the brawny, rough-edged fishermen that populated our little island.  They jumped quickly into two rowboats and went out to meet the storm-ravaged ship.

The ketch was well over forty feet in length.  Its hull gleamed in the morning light and the wood of its decks and railings were warm-hued and shiny with varnish.  It was well-appointed—a rich man's craft—and would normally be a beautiful sight.  But the rigging hung limply from its masts and spars, ropes cluttered its deck, and pieces of canvas covers and scraps of the two main sails fluttered from halyards and covered the booms. 

The few men aboard ship moved from place to place, coiling lines, stowing loose items, and pulling on the sheets at the skipper's shouted orders.  Everyone I could see had a task; all except one.

From my vantage point on the balcony in my father's villa overlooking Alvito and the harbor, I could see all the activity on the boat.  I could also see the small circle of calm amid the bustle, and the quiet, thin man who sat cross-legged in its center, his back against the foremast, oblivious of the work around him, silently reading a book.

His clothes were not the simple cotton shirts and drawstring pants of fishermen.  Neither did he wear a white jersey and blue trousers like the sailors of his boat.  As the three boats pulled the ketch into harbor, I could see he wore woolen tweeds, with a starched collar and cravat.  His vest gleamed of watered silk and the high-buttoned leather of his shoes shone brightly.  I could not make out his features well, but I could see that his hands and face were pale.  His hair moved with the air, slowly and with grace.

Upon seeing him I immediately felt I loved him, though I cannot tell you why.  Perhaps I saw in him my salvation, my deliverance from the tiny island upon which I had spent my seventeen years.  Perhaps I saw only a high-born gentleman and, he being the only one I had seen other than my father, he became the object of all my girlhood longings and desires.  Perhaps I truly did love him.  I do not know.  But I felt as though I did, and there was a warmth that accompanied that thought that spread throughout my body.  It was like a power that swelled near to bursting and, at that very moment, while this tremendous desire flamed through my brain, I saw the young gentleman look up from his reading and gaze toward the bluff, the villa, the balcony, and me.

"Marguerite," came a voice from behind me, and my roaring pulse was doused like a fire.  I turned in anger at having been disturbed and saw Maria, my governess, standing there with a tray of coffee and morning cakes.  My rage vanished, and my heart filled with excitement at the prospect of visitors.

"Maria!" I said, running to her.  She laughed as I pulled her toward the balcony with a fervor that nearly lost her the tray.  "Look," I said, pointing out toward the morning and the approaching ketch.  "And there's a gentleman on board!"

Maria kept her face to the view but her gaze swept sidelong up and down my length, a smile playing at the corner of her mouth.  "Yes," she said calmly, looking again toward the injured sailboat.  "We will most likely have a guest."  She turned and spoke to me, the smile gone from her face.  "Your father is away.  You will have to be hostess to our young visitor.  And I will have to be duenna to chaperone the visits."

"Maria, he's not a suitor."

"Nevertheless, your father would require it.  It would be improper for you to be alone with a young man, regardless of his intentions.  Agreed?"  I nodded, and Maria gave me one of her long, appraising looks, as if searching inside my mind for the truth.

"Well, then.  You'd better eat something quickly and bathe.  I'll be back to help you dress."  She left the tray on the table and went to the door.  Before she left she stopped and looked at me again.  Her face was strange to me, for there was worry in her eye but the smile had returned to her lips.  It was an expression I could not fathom.

I ate nothing, but quickly bathed in the heated water the maid brought at my order.  I went to my bureau and began to comb my hair.  My reflection in the mirror showed a girl no longer.  A young woman looked out at me, dark-eyed, pretty, with a silver-handled brush pulling through her long black hair.  Father always said that I favored my mother in all things. I had never known her.  She had run off shortly after bearing me.  Father had never spoken an ill word of her, but I had formed my own opinion.  Speaking of her made Father sad, and would tinge his eyes with regret, so I never mentioned her to him.  I had asked Maria about her, but Maria said that she had never known my mother, having come to the villa after her departure.

I finished brushing out my hair, listening to the conversations drifting up from the quay as the village fishermen oared the ketch up to the pier and moored it fast.  I heard only the rough voices of the villagers and then the oddly-accented, broken Portuguese of the sailors from the ketch.  I caught my breath and ran to the window.

One of the sailors turned to the gentleman of the boat and spoke to him in English.  English!  Not only a gentleman, but a foreigner.  My desire to meet this man trebled.  Was he the son of a knight or lord?  Perhaps a nobleman himself!  What tales he could tell me of his life in that faraway place.  What sights he could show me, were he to take me from my dreary home.

A breeze wafted up the bluff, sweet with sage and woodsmoke, carrying with it the words of this mysterious Englishman.  His voice was refined, the words well-formed, which helped my understanding for my English was not perfect.

"A few days, eh?  Well, there's nothing for it, I suppose.  Any chance of putting up in that place on the hill?"  Here he pointed up to my home and I felt as though he were pointing directly at me.

The breeze shifted away and I could hear him no more.  From above me came the scree of a bird.  I looked up to see the kestrel that nested on our roofpeak, perched along the awning.  It ruffled its feathers and winked one eye, then hopped off the roof and dove down toward the pier, probably hoping for a chance at some imported British mice.


The houseman, Luca, opened the door to the drawing room and took a step inside.  Maria sat in a chair near the fireplace, picking at a piece of crochet, while I sat at the window, reading and re-reading the same page of a Dickens novel in a pose of affected nonchalance.

In truth, I was enormously excited, straining my ears for sound of our approaching Englishman.  I had heard the slowly increasing volume of voices as the knot of villagers escorted the sailors and gentleman up the slope toward our villa.  I had heard the slackening of conversation as that same group neared our door.  The villagers were silenced by a nervousness borne of their proximity to one of Portugal's so recently vanquished nobility, while the English became mute in sympathetic reflex.  I heard the tentative bang of the door knocker, and the muffled words as the situation, already well-known throughout the household, was formally explained to Luca.  I heard the approach of footsteps toward the drawing room door, I heard Maria clear her throat, I heard the pounding of my blood, the sliding of the door and then, I heard the one, quiet word Luca spoke, a word he had never spoken to me before.

"Dona?"

With that one word I was suddenly elevated beyond my previous station.  No longer the girl child of an upper-class landowner, I was now the lady of the manor, with all attendant rights and privileges.

I saw Maria's eyes flash up at me, then back down to her handiwork.  I caught the blur of the kestrel through the grey sky outside the window, returning to her roost.  Then, calmly, with a poise I did not feel, I turned to Luca who stood at the door, his fingers nervously holding a small silver tray.

"Yes?" I inquired softly.

"A...a gentleman to see you, Dona."  He crossed the room quickly, bowed and proffered the tray.  On it was a small card.  I took it up and let my finger run across the embossed edges, the raised script of the name printed thereon:  John Archer Keyes.

"Show him in, Luca."

Luca gave another short bow and walked out into the shadowed hallway.  He returned quickly, the tray still clasped in his hands like a helmsman holding the wheel of a ship.  He steered his way into the room and stepped to the side.  From behind him, into the bluish-grey light and framed by the dark gloom of the doorway, came the man from the boat.

His form was long—much moreso than I had gathered from seeing him cross-legged on the pilothouse— and spare of build.  His clothes were well-tailored and spoke of wealth.  His hands, long-fingered and fine, held a well-worn Tyrolean by the brim, its trimmed feather a spark of iridescent color in his otherwise muted ensemble.  It was, however, his face that surprised me.

He was young, perhaps only a short handful of years older than myself.  He sported a neatly-groomed moustache beneath a long, straight nose and large blue eyes.  His hair, still a bit rumpled from the breeze, gave him a look of boyish innocence. 

He looked at me unabashedly, and a smile crept upon his lips.  He entered the room fully, walking slowly towards us.  I could feel a flush rise to my cheeks.  He turned to Maria and bowed.

"Dona Albiņa, please permit me..." he began, but was cut off by a knitting of Maria's brow.  I smiled, willing to forgive my Englishman his understandable mistake, and rose from my chair.  He turned at the sound and looked at my extended hand, bewildered.

"Mister Keyes, I am Dona Marguerite Albiņa," I said, the smile still on my lips and my English slow and dignified.  "I am sorry my father, Don Carlos Albiņa, is not here to meet you."  He took my hand and pressed it to his lips.  My heart leapt in my breast and I felt my smile broaden.  "And this is Maria," I said.  "My governess."

Comprehension spread across his face like a breaking wave.  He looked from me to Maria, and back to me again.  His eyes were alive and sparkling, his lips recurved in a smile that mirrored mine.  I wanted nothing more at that moment than to press my lips to his and feel his arms enfold me.  I wanted him to whisk me up into his embrace, and take me away to his white-cliffed Isle where kings still ruled and nobility still walked the earth.  The horizons of my future expanded around me and my dreams entered the realm of possibility.


It was as if some power was thwarting of each of my particular fantasies regarding Mister Keyes. 

His men conferred with the villagers and informed us that they could procure the needed sails from the mainland.  It would take them all day.  I would have Mister Keyes to myself for the whole day!  But the weather worsened shortly after noon, and the three of us were prisoners of the villa.  My hopes for walking hand in hand through the orchards were dashed as the light rain pattered against the windows.  And of course there was Maria.

Whenever I turned around, Maria was there.  Whether it was showing Mister Keyes the collection of family portraits in the library, or stepping out onto the verandah for a breath of air, or even when we met in the hallway before dinner, Maria was there, watching.  The duenna.  The chaperone.

But I could not restrain myself.  At every opportunity I punctuated my comments with a touch of his arm, his hand.  I could not keep from looking into his pale, blue eyes, except to watch his delicate mouth form the words which he spoke to me and me alone. 

He paid Maria no mind.  It was as if, for him, she was not there. 

After supper I sat at the piano, playing Bach.  I put my efforts into playing as best I could, to impress him.  My Englishman walked about the room, touching the spines of books, speaking blithely of his life, complimenting me on my playing, all the while addressing me by name, oblivious to Maria's looks of reproof and the clearings of her throat.

"My father sent me on this trip," he said, pulling out a book of Portuguese poetry and leafing through it.  "As you can see," and here he spread wide his arms, opening himself for our inspection, "I am no athlete.  Father thought the sea air and a spot of angling would do me good.  'Put some color in your cheeks,'" he mimicked in a deep voice, and smiled at me.  He replaced the book and walked to behind Maria's chair.  His hands rested on the high, carved back and he looked across the room. 

"I tell you, Miss Marguerite, the only color this adventure has put in my cheeks is the green pallor of mal de mer.  That is, until I met you.  Your beauty and charm seem to have cured me of a good many ailments."

Maria's head came up from her work and her fierce eyes locked on my face.  Then she half-turned in her seat and looked up at this amazing Englishman who stood above her, smiling at me, ignorant of or purposefully ignoring her gaze of censure.

"Tell me about your work," I said, the blood rising to my cheeks.  Mister Keyes began to explain about his aspirations.  He spoke of his hopes to return to Cambridge to teach, and about his particular theories on politics and economies. 

I turned back to the keyboard to cover my delicious embarrassment and quietly played a trembling version of the Sarabande from the Second English Suite.  I dared not look at Maria, for I was sure she would see into my eyes and beyond; into my heart, and even further.  I was sure she would see my building desire for this man, and discern the outlines of the plan that was still forming in my mind.


The lamp was still lit in Maria's room as I walked down the hallway.  I did not attempt to mask my footsteps as I went past her door and down the stairs.

At the foot of the stairs I ran on tiptoe toward the pantry and silently up the servants' stairway.  Back in the upstairs hallway, approaching his room from the other side, I scurried up to his door.  His lamp, too, was still lit.  I slid the envelope under his door and turned back toward the servants' stairs.  I heard Maria's door open just as I began my tiptoed descent.

By the time Maria came down the stairs and found me in the kitchen, I was busy heating some milk over a low flame.  I smiled wanly as she entered, but realized within me a building antagonism toward this woman who had been, for so many years, a mother to me in all but name.

"Trouble sleeping?"

"Yes," I said, deciding to stick close to the truth.  "Too much excitement."

"It's not often that we get visitors."  I heard her come round the table and up behind me.  I cringed at her closeness.  I knew why she was down here.  She didn't trust me.  I ignored for the moment the fact that, indeed, I couldn't be trusted, and focused instead on Maria's meddling in what I saw as solely my affair.  Maria reached around me to take the spoon from my hand.

"Here, let me do this."

Without looking at her I relinquished the wooden spoon and went to sit at the table.  I kept my back to her, and gazed out the window into the blackness of the night.  The rain had deepened outside.

"He seems a very nice man."

"Yes," I said.  It was all I could think of to say.  I did not want to talk about him, not with her.  Maria would not understand my feelings, could not.  I was not sure that I could make sense of the jumble of emotions that rolled around within me.

"His sailors returned tonight," she said.  The scrape of the wooden spoon in the iron pan filled the kitchen.  The scent of the warming milk reached out, trying to calm me.  "They bought new sails in Peniche."  The scraping stopped.  "They plan to leave in the morning."

My view of the night beyond the glass was replaced by the reflection of a ghostly girl sitting at a table, her hair long and tumbled, her eyes extraordinarily sad, her mouth down-curved, while behind her stood an older woman, hair pulled into a tight bun, eyes glinting in the lamplight, her lips curled up in a prim, knowing smile.  Anger burst within me.

"You don't want me to be happy," I said.  "You're jealous of me and you want me to suffer."  I stood and stepped away from her, putting the table between us.

"What?"  Her mouth was open but the smile had not disappeared.  Incredulity hung on her face, laughing.  "Jealous?  Of what?"

"Of Mister Keyes.  Of his affection for me."

Her eyes widened.  Her eyebrows leapt upward.  A burst of air passed her lips.

"Don't try to come between us," I warned her.  "I love him, and I'm sure he loves me as well.  He's going to take me off this tiny island.  I'm sure of it."

The look of incredulity on Maria's face changed—as if a sculptor was working in clay, taking a bit from here and adding it there—transforming it into a mask of fury.  Her grip on the spoon tightened and she took a step toward me, bumping into a chair in the blindness of her rage.

"You stupid little girl!  You have no inkling of the powers at play in this house tonight!  I've worked too long and too hard to bring things to this point, and I will not allow you or anyone else to ruin it.  Augh!" she cried and raised her fists above her head.  I shrank back against the cupboards, fearful.

Maria stepped around the table, the spoon held before her like a weapon, droplets of milk spattering the tiled floor.  She advanced on me slowly, and the smile returned to her lips.  I heard a thump at the window and saw, in the darkness beyond the sill, a flurry of feathers and the curve of a sharp beak, then nothing.  Maria closed in on me, her face feral, her knuckles white on the handle of the spoon.  When she spoke it was in a whisper, low, hoarse, and even.

"That Mister Keyes is here at all is thanks to me.  I was the one who set in motion the disturbance that called your father to Lisbon.  I charmed the tiny rips into Mister Keyes' sails so that they would tear free.  I coaxed the storm off its path so it would blow him toward our tiny island.  And I was the one who appeased the storm so his sailors could leave him and go in search of sails."

By now she was close enough that I could feel her breath, feel the pressure of the spoon's edge up under my lowest rib, smell the aroma of her lavender perfume.  I was more frightened than I had ever been and yet I found myself unable to scream. 

"I called him here for one reason.  It is your time.  Oh, you need him, little girl, but not in the way you think.  When his boat leaves in the morning, he will not be on it.  He will remain here, having fulfilled his purpose.  And it will be I who releases the storm and lets it smash that ketch against the rocks.  Word of John Archer Keyes' death shall never reach Britain."  The laugh that issued on the heels of these words was sepulchral.

I bolted from my spot and flew out the pantry door, into the rain, that laugh following me into the night.  She was mad, Maria was mad, and I had no idea of how to save myself or the man I loved.

I fled to the only place I could imagine.


The shepherd's shack atop the hill behind the villa was easy to find, even in the night and rain.  The trail that led through the trees up to the first meadow of the island's leeward side was broad and well-traveled.

The shack was empty, as I knew it would be, and as I pushed open the door I could see that it was still provisioned.  In a moment I had lit the lantern and, with a woolen blanket over my drenched and shaking shoulders, I began to build a fire in the tiny iron stove.

The little, clapboard cabin had always been a haven for me.  It was sheltered on one side by the heavy trunks of ancient oak and cork trees, and flanked on the other by huge worship stones, Erected by the island's first inhabitants when the surrounding trees were merely saplings.  It was a place of serene power and calm strength.  Whether trying to escape my father's wrath or the tedium of my live of isolation, I had always been able to find solace there in that meadow near the tiny, drafty, one-room crate of a cabin.

But never before had I needed to escape from Maria.

Governess, tutor, protector.  Maria had never been a loving guardian, but neither had she been a cruel one.  Until now.  Now, her laugh still ringing in my ears, her mad ravings still sending shivers up my spine, I knew that I had need to escape her.  I knew, too, that escape to my shepherd's shack would not be enough.  The whole of the Ilha Carvoeiro was too small; Portugal, even all of Spain was not enough room.

John, and Britain, held my only hopes for freedom.

The crackling wood and heating metal of the stove warmed my skin and dried my clothes and hair.  My thoughts of John, the memory of his words and of his touch fired my heart and fanned my desire.  When I heard the sound of feet splashing up the path to the shack I stood, my heart pounding high in my breast.

The door opened and there he stood, his ragged breath misting in the cold air, the flickering lamplight catching at the droplets on his rain-soaked clothes.  In his trembling hand he held my note.  He looked at me.  His eyes seemed haunted, troubled.  He looked down at the parchment, at the droplets that smeared the words of my message begging him to meet me here.

"I...I..." he began.

I took his hand from the door latch and guided him inside.  The door creaked closed.  I walked up close to him.  He remained silent, looking only at the ground.  I touched the note with a finger.

"Did I misunderstand you?" I asked.  "Did I misread your looks, your touch?"

He shook his head, his lips forming a soundless "No."  He looked up and I saw confusion wrestling behind his eyes. 

"No," he told me.  "You misunderstood nothing."  He turned and sat on the cot near the stove.  "I have been bewitched by you from the start.  I apologize for being so bold.  It is quite out of character for me.  I have never done anything...like this."  He seemed embarrassed, almost agonized by the admission.

"Neither have I," I said, kneeling before him.  Emboldened by his tenderness and my relief at his appearance, I reached out and caressed his cheek.

There was so much in him I adored, and so much of my hope invested in him, that when he brought his face near mine, I did not pull away as modesty said I should.  And when his lips were near enough that I could feel the warm, moist bloom of his breath, I did not turn away as a good Catholic girl should have done.  Instead, I straightened up and met his kiss with my own.

We flowed together and down, onto the tiny cot, our arms and mouths embracing.  The wind rattled the latch and soughed through the trees with moans that matched ours.  Lightning lit the space beneath the door and flashed through the crack between the shutters, as a tympanous roll of thunder shook the hill.  Our clothing parted, giving access to secret places and there, amid the roaring thunder and crashing rain, we joined like droplets of quicksilver:  what was two suddenly one, shivering in our newfound wholeness.

I could feel the smile on my face.  He loved me!  I would be free of this place.  He would take me away with him on his shining ship, and I would live in a land of nobility and grace.

The thunder outside seemed closer, more rhythmic.  I opened my eyes and saw that he had heard the change, too.  The sound grew as the thunder receded; a long, low, booming like the heartbeat of the island itself.  With each slow beat it seemed nearer.  In my growing fright I held onto my lover, pulling him close.  He, too, was afraid, staring at the door to the shack, eyes wide.  I felt his skin go clammy against my breasts.

The door burst open with a shuddering bang.  Before us, the kestrel on her shoulder and a huge kettledrum resting on her hip, was Maria.  She struck the drum with a curved, leather-bound stick and the entire room was filled with a booming bass that rattled the lantern on the table.

"Just in time!" she crowed.

John leapt up from the cot, hurriedly pulling his clothing together.  I began rearranging and relacing my own garments, but at a slower pace.

"No, Maria," I said.  "You're too late."

"You're wrong, girl.  I'm just in time.  He's taken you, hasn't he?"

"I say," said John.  "That is an exceedingly rude question.  And not one to which you are likely to get an answer.  What do you mean, barging in here, beating on that drum?  Are you mad?"

"I'm the duenna, boy!  You're lucky I don't have you drowned for dishonoring her house.  Now, be quiet!"  She made a motion with the drumstick and John suddenly ceased to move, frozen in place.  He did not struggle.  It was as if she had turned him into stone.  I recalled her words in the kitchen.  I charmed the tiny rips into Mister Keyes' sails so that they would tear free.

A witch.

"Come, girl," she said.  She crossed the room and grabbed me by the arm.  I was too stunned by the revelation of Maria's power to fight or struggle.  "You," she said over her shoulder to John.  "Follow."  As she dragged me out of the door into the rain, the kettledrum thumping at her side and the kestrel screeching at her bumping movement, I saw John Archer Keyes step forward and commence to shamble after us like some ghostly revenant.

With this madwoman, this witch, this concubine of Satan tugging me along and the man I loved ensorcelled by her magic, it came to me that I was being punished for my wickedness.  I began to fear for my life.

"Hurry up, Marguerite.  We haven't all night."  She pulled me after her into the arc of standing stones, to the focal slab upon which I had sat on many a sunny afternoon, eating a packed meal of hard cheese and warm bread.  I began to cry.

"What are you going to do to me?"

Maria stopped and looked at me.  The madness seemed to drain away and the hard edges of her eyes became soft and human.

"Do to you?"  The rain hushed through the trees behind me and the air became still.  I smelled wet wool and wet earth all around me.  The kestrel gave a quiet chuk-chuk as Maria looked at me.  "Why, I'm not going to do anything to you, Marguerite.  This is all for you, I've done this all for you.  It's your time."

Water streamed through my hair and down my chest.  I hugged myself against the cold, as well as to quell my fearful trembling.

"My time for what?"

"Time for you to follow in your mother's footsteps."  She smiled and I could see the madness return.

"I'll never be like my mother," I said with bitterness.  "She was a tramp and a whore.  She ran off and left me, and broke Father's heart."

The blow was swift and unseen.  I was standing before Maria and then suddenly was on the ground, small rocks digging into the palm of my hand and the sting of her slap reddening my cheek.

"I am your mother," Maria shouted.  "Your father told you that story to hide his shame at having coupled with a commoner.  He wouldn't marry me, so he made up that ridiculous lie and kept me on as your governess.  And as his mistress."  She spat on the ground.  "I've been waiting for this night since the day he refused me.  The day I told him I was with child.  And tonight that child comes into her own."

I could not take it all in.  I crouched there, shivering, dully shaking my head, unable, or refusing, to comprehend.

"Surely you've felt it, girl?  I saw the way you pulled him up from the docks."  She raised her stick to indicate John.  The kestrel flapped its wings once and then subsided.  "The air between you fairly sang with your raw talent, spinning him in.  You had him bewitched for certain with that music of yours, if not right from the start."  She laughed then, high and teetering, and motioned John to the slab.  He dumbly stepped over to the granite.

Bewitched?  Hadn't he used that word himself?  Could it be true?  This cackling madwoman?  My mother?

John sat up on the rock and lay back at Maria's direction.  The wind picked up, swirling stray leaves at the base of the stone.  She lifted her stick and banged on the kettledrum three times.  I looked at John's face, his passive, unblinking eyes staring upward into the pelting drops of rain.  Could I, too, be a witch?  Was Maria a vision of what I would become?

Maria set the drum on the ground and pulled something from within the folds of her dress.  In the dim light thrown from the still open door of the shack I saw the gleam of a knife blade.

"No!" I shouted and took a step.  John's body convulsed once and fell still again.  Surprised, I tried to will him awake and saw him struggle in response.  Maria put a hand to his brow, stilling him once more.

"You're a strong one," she said and a flare of lightning lit her grinning profile.  "Even without focus.  But he's got to go on in exchange for your control."  She shouted to be heard over the roll of thunder.  "Ah! with you helping me I shall be your father's wife within a fortnight!"

It was the image of this thing as wife to my father that crystallized my soul and froze my heart.  Never would I let that come to pass.

"Don't worry about this one," Maria yelled to me, bending John's head back.  "You'll find another.  I had to.  We all have to."  John's neck and chest were open to the night and the blade that hung above them.  I had to do something, and thought, if I am a witch, so be it.  But I would not be one as she had been.  I would not travel the path that had led her to this night.

As Maria lowered her hand and began to mumble words I could not understand, I brought all my love for John to the fore and shouted out his name.

"John!"

He shuddered and blinked.  His arm came up and pushed at Maria.  I went to the drum and grabbed the curving piece of wood.  I looked up to see John with one hand at his throat and the other pushing at Maria.  Then she was stumbling backward toward me and I swung — God forgive me — I swung with all my might and heart at the back of her head.

She crumpled without a word.

Thunder cracked the sky as I ran to John.  The wound was long but not deep.  I held him to my breast for a moment, and then led him back toward the shack, stepping gingerly around the motionless form next to the drum.  The kestrel was nowhere to be seen.

There was a screech from the roof of the shack and behind us there rose a shriek that was not the wind.  We turned and saw Maria stumbling towards us, eyes wild, the blade of the sacrificial knife held high in her pale, pale hand.  Hate, defiant enough to match her madness, filled my vision and I screamed, tearing my throat.

"Maria!"

A searing light rose from a circle at her feet, limning her in brilliant white.  The bolt of lightning shot up to heaven with a concussion of noise that threw us to the ground.

Then all was darkness, and I could hear nothing but the ringing of my ears.  A hand touched my shoulder and I saw John's face dimly through my foggy sight.  We rose as our sight returned, grasping onto one another both for support and for comfort.  I looked back toward the stone.

Maria was dead.

She lay in a steaming circle of charred grass and splintered rock, her teeth white and gleaming between cracked and cindered lips.  I turned away, unable to see any more.

We walked past the shack and continued on to the house, John and I.  Once there, we collapsed on the drawing room floor before a roaring fire, our ears still cottoned by the crash of Maria's demise.


In the morning, I stood on the pier, the light wind tugging at my shawl.  The air was crisp and tart with salt and seaweed, and the sun, just now above the low arm of the island, was warm on my shoulders.

The bright, new sails of the ketch filled with a thump as she put her quarter to the wind.  The skipper steered her out toward the point.

John, Mister Keyes, stood on deck abaft the mainmast and raised his hand in farewell.  I did not raise mine in return.

Maria had been right:  I had bewitched his heart.  Her death had purchased my control and, at dawn, as we awoke in front of the ruins of the night's fire, I saw his soul as clearly as I saw his face.  The silver twinings of my clumsy enchantments were wrapped round and round him.  I understood now the confusion I had seen behind his eyes.

I trimmed away most of the twinings before we breakfasted, and that made it easier for him to gather up to leave.  As the ketch gracefully leaned its way towards the point, I trimmed away some more.  One here, two there, each singing of Bach and love as they pulled free.  By the time the ship made the coast of the mainland only a few threads still bound us.  Those few I left until I felt him catch sight of Britain, and then I cut them, too.


   

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