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A secret scandal: Zaraus part II

« In an old and lost time a great sage lived here, a man of knowledge and kindness. Seduced by the beauty and serenity of the place he came to settle here. He built a hermitage and every day through his prayer spread his blessing on this deserted site. After his death a few monks succeeded him and built a small convent around the well that is now in the basement of the palace. Then the monks disappeared and the place fell into disuse, nevertheless it retained its great reputation. […]

It was by chance that the ancestors of the castle’s current owners passed through; and yet, at the same time of this rumour, they were convinced that there were treasures to be found on the land and so constructed the castle. On the existing structures built so shortly before by the monks they established the cellar of the present house. Expecting to find mountains and wondrous sites, and discovering only the roar of the ocean and the whistling of the wind, they cursed the peasants who had deceived them. Given, however, that the castle had indeed been constructed, it became thenceforth necessary that it be frequented from time to time. It was thus that a succession of great men of Spain made their way to these places. For some of them the place struck a chord, for others less so but all oddly loved the place. One day a shipwreck survivor appeared. He was not a Protestant but a Muslim: a pirate, of those who infested the seas at the time. A diabolical power possessed him and it was that, that had allowed him to be the only one to survive. Like the hermit years before, he had not thought to understand the reasons which had led him to this place, but, as soon as he arrived, he understood that it was incumbent upon him to destroy the serenity which existed there. He ignored the great, beneficial forces which were to be found in the place which, revitalising the good man, burn the man of evil to the foundations of the soul. The pirate saw his power neutralized and was destroyed. His body was thrown back into the sea from whence he had come.
A century later it was I who owned the palace. I was a very great lady, of high rank at court. My husband was a serious, hardworking man, not especially funny but generous and, for a man of his condition, very charitable. I cherished him and my children […] From the very beginning of my marriage I was so drawn to this house at the time that it seemed as if it were at the end of the world, that we could never make enough trips to stay there […]

I was sending out my ruffed collars and my embroidered velvets which I wore during the ceremonies, and I ran into the orchard to gather fruit or in the fields to smell the smell of the fresh corn.

One day I strolled along the road with nothing particular on my mind. A man was advancing towards me in the opposite direction. We crossed and stared briefly at each other, and in a flash I realized that I was lost. There was nothing about the occasion that should rightly have brought us close, and yet a single glance had been enough to light the spark between us. I know how disastrous these loves can be. However they always have some meaning even if they lead to tragedies.

The next day I returned to the same place, at the same time, knowing that he would be there. There he was, waiting for me. I addressed a few words to him, questions of the most banal sort. I learned that he had come from far away to find work and that he had been hired in our absence. I returned almost every day to that spot. One evening as I was about to return, he clutched hold of my hand to stop me from leaving. I ended up in his arms; he kissed me and spoke to me in softened tones. He showed me a new meaning of sensuality and a powerful physical bond soon united us. Yet, our love had no roof to shelter it. Our palace then became the forest and our bed the hard ground. I had to come back down to earth and we were forced to separate. I left with my family for Madrid and lived in expectation that we would meet again. Little by little I began to lengthen the short stays that my husband and I made to the region. He accepted this without suspecting anything. More and more my separations from Luis became intolerable to me. Our love had become insatiable and we could not even write to each other. However, from this very castle I wrote to him the day before I saw him and the night on returning from our encounters. As for him, he brought me gifts, flowers, fruits, often little gifts. He even went so far as to bring me a pair of silver earrings. They seemed to me much more precious than the historical jewels my husband had given me at our wedding. Those around me found it strange that I should wear these modest jewels and I was reduced to wearing them secretly or during our meetings. […]

From the day when Luis entered my life, I was the first to change and, as those around me were really my own reflection, they too changed. I began to feel an indifference towards my children and an ever growing distance separated me from my husband.

One winter when I was staying in Madrid, the separation from Luis became so unbearable that I asked my husband to take me away to Zaraus for several weeks. I explained to him that I needed a spiritual retreat. He was astonished at this sudden display of piety. I saw the suspicion rise up in those eyes, for he did not believe this explanation for a moment. My husband undertook to find a man of religion to accompany me to this retreat and, having found a priest, we set out on our way. Although the priest said nothing he had already noticed that I was not pious because I declined his invitations to join him in recitation.

We arrived one evening after several long days’ travel. I hoped that Luis would have been warned of my coming by the upheaval it provoked. I had the patience to wait until the end of the meal. At last I was able to pull myself away. Veiling my face with a mantle, I snuck out of the house. I reached the countryside and ran to our meeting place. Luis was there, waiting for me under a tree.

I succeeded in sneaking back into the house before dawn broke as easily as I had left it. The priest would need recompensing. I begged him to organize some recitations, and, exhausted by the previous night, had to make a desperate effort not to fall asleep. One night I was surprised as I was leaving: one of the maids had seen me as I was covering my face with a mantle. I waited an hour before leaving. Luis was there.

I spent one last night with Luis. I knew we would not meet again until spring. The day after my arrival in Madrid my husband summoned me. Without a word he handed me several letters that I had written to Luis. During the whole of the sojourn the priest he had despatched with me had acted as a spy on me. He had searched Luis’ effects, and of the bundles of letters I had sent him he had taken the most passionate.

My surprise and horror reduced me to silence. Slowly I turned and walked out of the room and went up to my room. For three days he left me alone to stew. […] On the fourth day, my husband came to find me and told me that a place was waiting for me at the convent that his family had kept for centuries. I knew that protest would have been useless. No one would run to defend me. It was known that I was not a devout believer, but those open to reason would admit that God had called me and that I had answered. I begged him that they should spare me the farewells especially to my children.

[…]

I crossed the threshold into the convent, and the heavy, iron-clad door closed on me. I did not wear the veil. Like many men and women of my day, who renounced the world without entering holy orders, I led a conventional life but much more freely than the nuns. I did not wear the uniform of the convent and was simply required to adopt a modest outfit.

The name and the image of Luis accompanied me night and day. It would have been useless to try to communicate with him and so I never found out what happened to him. From the inside I was burning, from the outside drying up. I continued to live yet, thenceforth, without any desire and took several years to die. In the end a mild illness was enough to carry me away in a few days.

My husband alone, with perhaps the sole addition of Luis, knew the real reason for my entry into the convent. I do not haunt the convent where I died but this Palace of Narros where my happiness and misfortune were made and then came crashing down. […] I am happy to reside in this house built on such a blessed place. To this day it retains its restorative powers and those who stay there drink from the cup of vitality; its revitalises good men and holds captive the prisoner who falls under its charm because when he understands the true meaning of the place he does not want to leave. Although I now discretely reside in this house, it brought me pleasure to reveal myself to Queen Isabella when she was sleeping here in the room in which I myself had lived. When my appearance awakened her, I had successfully dispossessed her of her haughtiness: she wanted to sleep and made fun of the ghosts. Whilst her courage did not displease me, I had such love for this house that that I did not mind scaring its descendants.

To all those who hear me I ask them to pray for Luis. Where is he? Has he passed into the next world and already entered the light? I know not, but I know that one day I will see him again.


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