It was bitter cold in the great hall. The woman standing before the panel of calificadores shivered constantly, dressed as she was in nothing but a plain linen shift and a woolen shawl, which she clutched to her chest convulsively.
As Fray Daniel rose from his seat, he was aware that even his garments marked him as an outsider. The inquisitional panel was made up of Dominicans, richly robed in the deep formal red of their order. He, in contrast, wore his plain black vestments, proclaiming his order’s defiant rejection of worldly luxuries. But just at that moment, he wished that his order had been a little more pragmatic. His wool cassock was no match for the freezing damp of the Archbishop’s palace. As fiscal, he would formally interrogate the woman to make her guilt clear to the inquisitors.
“Did you come before this tribunal by way of an Edict of Faith?” asked Brother Daniel.
The accused didn’t answer. She made a vague movement with her head, her filthy black hair moving in rat’s tails.
He cleared his throat to continue. “The Notary of the Secreto must record that the accused, Laura Garrigues, makes no answer. And why? Because she cannot! Because she did not come to this holy court to cleanse herself of her filthy heresies of her own free will. Your Eminences will recall the denunciations heard yesterday by five true, old Christians, of pure blood, who testified to the fact that she is has relapsed and still practices the Hebrew faith in secret. Furthermore, this court will remember that two of the witnesses bring accusations of witchcraft against her also.”
Fray Daniel walked over to stand by the woman, unable to hide his revulsion. “And yet Laura Garrigues refuses to confess her sins, repent and ask forgiveness of the Holy Church. She insists on her innocence and insults this court with her despicable lies.”
The opportunity his job as prosecuting fiscal afforded Fray Daniel to walk around and warm himself with moral indignation, doing God’s good work, was appreciated. It banished the chill of sitting still.
The tiny, rake thin and ancient jurist who was acting on behalf of the accused pushed himself to his feet with a sigh. He steadied himself against his table with old gnarled hands.
“Your Eminences, ” he said, in a reedy, high-pitched voice. “I have counseled the accused, Dona Garrigues, to lay her soul bare before this court and confess her sins. I have exhorted her to confess truthfully of the evil acts she has committed. But I fear she is not of sound mind. I beg Your Eminences just a little longer to persuade her of the peril in which she is placing her immortal soul. I am sure, given a little more time, I can convince her to confess and ask forgiveness.”
The Grand Inquisitor, Archbishop Gaspar de Quiroga, nodded to the old man and motioned him to sit down. The Archbishop was of considerable age himself. His neat grey beard, and sunken eyes were testament to his years of devoted service to the Church. When he’d seen the old jurist, Don Jaime, seated, he spoke.
“This tribunal reminds the honorable Don Jaime that pity for the accused is not a kindness nor is it a Godly act, since it does not assist in cleansing the soul of the accused, nor does it bring her back into the comfort and spiritual safety of the Church. It is her salvation that must be kept uppermost in all our minds.” Turning his head to Brother Daniel, he asked, “How long has the accused been in detention?”
“Five months Your Eminence.”
The Archbishop spoke softly to his colleagues, the calificadores, on his left and right and then nodded sagely. “Five months is time enough, Don Jaime. The court instructs you, Brother Daniel, as fiscal, to put this woman to the Question, that she may be encouraged most strongly to make a full confession, in order that this court can show her the mercy it heartily longs to bestow on every good Christian soul who may have lost their way.”
Fray Daniel nodded, relieved that the panel had come to such a sensible and expedient decision. “And how does this honorable court instruct us to extract this admission?”
While the panel of inquisitors discussed the matter, Fray Daniel glanced at the woman Laura Garrigues. The toca would not work on her, he was sure. She seemed not to care much for her own life. Perhaps only the potro would give her the clarity of mind to unburden her soul of her sins, but it was, as properly ordained, for the court to decide which method would be the most likely to effect a happy outcome.
“Brother Daniel, you were invited here to Toledo because of your learning and your experience of inquisitional work. The court feels that you, as fiscal, are best suited to judge what method would be most appropriate and efficacious. Therefore, you are granted a free hand to carry out your duties, and ensure that this wretched woman makes a true and sincere confession. We will adjourn until tomorrow.”
And with that the session was over. Fray Daniel went back to his desk to collect his papers, deeply gratified by the Archbishop’s confidence in his abilities. Surely God had meant him to be here, serving Him in this most important work. Daniel would waste no time in extracting her confession, he decided. It was essential that Archbishop Quiroga have his confidence validated.
The alguacil Herrera came over to him. The middle-aged, portly man was, Daniel thought, a little too fond of his wine, but as bailiff, he was in charge of the prisoner’s detention, and it was he who would provide the facilities for the physical persuasion. A familiar, a lay servant of the court, named Gutierrez, joined them.
Daniel turned to the bailiff. “I assume you have a potro to assist with the putting of the Question?”
“Of course we do, Brother. We have had all the necessary implements since the Inquisitional Court of Toledo was convened, sixteen years ago. It’s a little worn, of course,” Herrera grinned, “but it is in good working order.”
“Then make sure that the prisoner is brought to the place where we may help her in making a good confession this evening, after Vespers,” ordered Brother Daniel.
Herrera nodded solemnly.
“And you,” Daniel turned to the other man, “You are acquainted with the family of this woman?”
Gutierrez, the familiar, also nodded. “Yes indeed, Brother. The Garrigues family is old and established in Toledo, but both her parents are dead. She has only an older brother to care for her. He is wealthy and pays for her detention and feeding. But he seldom shows his face in the streets anymore. Perhaps he is ashamed of his sister, or busy with his commerce.”
Fray Daniel thought for a moment, tugging on his beard to concentrate his thoughts. “Ashamed? Yes, for if he is not like her, a Marrano and a witch, then he must surely be shamed by her iniquity. And perhaps he can lend some of that shame to his sister. Go and fetch him to the prison after Vespers. Perhaps his presence will persuade Laura Garrigues to reject the devil and return to the Church’s embrace.”
* * *
As was Brother Daniel’s habit, he attended afternoon mass and made confession. He felt it was essential that he himself be absolved of all sin and come to his task as fiscal with a pure heart.
His own sins sickened him, as they should. For every offense against God was a rejection of His love and an affront to the great sacrifice the Father had made by sending in Son to this world, and to make redemption possible.
For Daniel, despite his sins, loved God with all his heart. It was his flesh that betrayed him, over and over. And he knew very well that God despised the sin of lust, for it drew His children away from the heavenly light. It trapped them in their mortal coils, clinging to the base and transitory sensations of this world. He had never lain with a woman. He had come to the order at the age of sixteen, and now, in his twenty-eighth year, he was still chaste. But his thoughts tormented him.
After his confession, he performed the penance of proscribed prayers, but this was only halfway to a pure heart. Before he went to perform his office as fiscal, he would scourge himself until every unclean thought was driven from his mind. As Ignacio of Loyola had instructed, “The safest and most suitable form of penance seems to be that which causes pain in the flesh.”
That, and only that, would drive the images of Laura Garrigues’ slender neck from his mind. Only that would wipe away the vision of her small, pert breasts that meekly pushed at the fabric of her shift. Only pain would stop him from wondering what it would be like to wash her hair until it shone like polished ebony, and feel it dry in the sun, spread out over his chest. It wasn’t until after he had spoken to her, in her stinking, damp cell in the prison that the visions had started to haunt him. He had suffered from impure thoughts before, but he was sure that his very proximity to her had made it worse. She was to blame for the dreams he could not seem to stop, she was to blame for the way his flesh rose at the thought of her. But then she was a witch.
He felt his body stir again, there, in the deep silence of the Cathedral. He hurried back to his simple cell in the Residency, angry at his own weakness and determined to beat it down.
In the privacy of his room, he unbuttoned his cassock and pushed it down to his hips, exposing his chest and back to the Crucified Christ hanging on the whitewashed wall. Daniel picked up his scourge, gripping the handle tight, and sent the stiff leather tails over his shoulder.
The first few strokes did not clear his head. The pain he felt as the leather bruised and cut the skin of his back only served to give the lust power. He imagined the scourge on her skin, marking her back, her buttocks, her legs until they bled. He could hear her screams and her pleadings in his head. Visions of covering her marked and bloody body with is own tormented him.
“Whore,” he hissed between his teeth. “Witch. Whore, witch, whore, witch…” He repeated the words over and over, wielding the scourge with all the force he could, until suddenly she wasn’t there in his mind anymore. He had obliterated her with his penance. The demon of her loveliness and her pain retreated into the white of the wall and nothing but the Christ, staring down from His place on the Cross remained.
* * *
Fray Daniel followed his brothers into Vespers, trying to concentrate on order of the service. He chanted the versicles, he listened to psalms, the antiphon. But his thoughts would give him no peace now. He had determined, after his private penance, to do all in his power to bring Laura Garrigues to God. He would have her confession tonight, no matter what it took.
Vespers concluded, Fray Daniel eschewed supper and hurried out of the residency and down the dark streets towards Toledo’s prison, torch clasped firmly in his fist. It was only a short distance from the Archbishop’s Palace, down Bitter Well Street. The guards recognized him and greeted him with deference, and Herrera met him in the central hall.
“Is everything readied? Is the Notary of the Secretos here to record her confession?”
The bailiff nodded. “We’ve done this before, Brother. Just because you’ve come from Madrid with its fine ways, doesn’t give you reason to doubt our abilities.”
“Of course, of course,” said Brother Daniel, patting the thickset man on the back. He could smell wine on his breath. “Where’s her brother?”
Herrera gave a shrug. “Gutierrez went to fetch him. The family’s house is not far. Close to the Alcazar. But there’s no telling if the brother will come. Put yourself in his shoes. Would you?”
Daniel didn’t have time to ponder that question, because the thick, metal bound main door to the street opened, and a tall, pale man came in, with Gutierrez on his heels.
It was very hard not to stare at the man. Finely dressed, in an expensive velvet doublet and matching breeches, hose dark and well cared-for, his shoes were of the most expensive leather. But none of these things could distract from the man’s face whose pallor was almost shocking. Fray Daniel had only ever seen skin so pale on a corpse. Surely the young man was gravely so. His dark eyes locked on to Daniel, his face held no expression at all.
“Are you the fiscal to the inquisitional court?” asked the man.
“I am. Fray Daniel Ortiz de Velez.”
The man’s eyes bored into his, and though he showed no emotion, his eyes were filled with a bottomless well of hatred, though Daniel was unable to account for how he knew this.
“I’m Laura Garrigues’ brother. She is unmarried and therefore my ward. Your accusations of her are unfounded and ridiculous.”
“And your name, sir?”
Fray Daniel nodded and stepped towards the man. It was obvious Francisco Garrigues was in torment over his sister. And only a man with no heart, no compassion would not understand his pain. But it was Brother Daniel’s obligation to make sure he understood.
“Your poor sister is most surely guilty. Five people have given evidence against her. If she is not reverted to her shameful, godless religion, she has most certainly taken up practicing witchcraft.”
Daniel looked into the young man’s hollow eyes, waiting for some sign that he understood. Perceiving none, he continued. “What is important to us all is her immortal soul. I am sure that you do not wish to see your own sister consigned to hell. This is why I have asked you to come. Help me to persuade her to confess, and I’m certain the inquisitional tribunal will be lenient. We all pray for her salvation, do we not?”
Francisco Garrigues’ gaze flickered. He swallowed and then spoke. “I have no wish to see my sister suffer further. I will try to persuade her in any way I can. But you must understand. She will not lie. She will not confess to what she has not done.”
Fray Daniel reached out to pat the young man on the hand. His skin was so cold, so unyielding, as if carved from marble.
Herrera, who was still hovering close, invited them to descend the stairs into the bowels of the prison. “The questioning room is ready and the Notary of the Secretos is prepared. The prisoner is waiting to be put to the Question.”
* * *
“We should always be disposed to believe that that which appears white is really black, if the hierarchy of the Church so decides”
Spiritual Exercises, No. 365. (1548), Ignatius of Loyola
The vaulted ceiling of the prison’s chamber of torture was lined in rough granite blocks. A thousand fires had blackened it with soot and so it seemed that to look up was stare into a starless night sky. Its walls were mottled with damp. In some places, water ran in little rivulets down onto the stone floor. The straw that was strewn over it was old and fetid. The smell of rot and mold and the smoke of the small central fire made the air almost unbreathable.
The Notary, a soft, pudgy priest with small hands and fastidious tonsure was already seated at a table; parchment, quills and ink at the ready.
Two familiares stood by the potro, a flat table made of wood, with two cylindrical wheels at either end. It angered Fray Daniel that the Inquisitional Court left it to lay members to perform these most blessed and important of tasks.
Only then, after he had noted that all was properly arranged, did he look down at the prisoner. She looked weaker now and was still gagged to prevent her from spreading her heresies to others in the prison. Her eyes, an unusual watery blue, stared unseeing up at the vaulted ceiling. At some point, she had torn her shift. Perhaps she had fought them as they had secured her to the rack, for both her wrists and ankles were bound to the wheels with thick ropes. The seam on the side of her garment was split apart, exposing her flesh from underarm to hip. Fray Daniel noted the shadowed pit of her arm, with its delicate thatch of dark hair; the unwashed flesh that covered her ribs; the hollow of her belly. There were streaks of dirt and red welts where fleas or lice had had their feast. She had once, he was sure, been God’s creature and the knowledge of that made his head ache and the wounds on his back itch. Before he could make himself look away, Fray Daniel caught a glimpse of the outer curve of her small, pale breast. He turned in desperate haste, away from that terrible sight.
“Take off the gag,” he ordered. “We must be able to hear her answer the Question.”
Her brother stood some distance away, his hands fisted, still his face showed nothing. Fray Daniel could have no pity for the witch, but he felt a great compassion for her brother, who was forced to see his own sister in this degraded state. Perhaps God would help him find the words to bring it to an end.
“Will you speak to her Don Francisco? Persuade her to make her confession?”
Only then did the man betray his feelings. He swallowed and nodded curtly and stepped towards the rack.
“Laura, beloved sister. Will you not simply tell them what they want to hear? Please.” Francisco’s voice trembled as he spoke and his eyes shifted from his sister to Fray Daniel’s face.
For a moment, Fray Daniel felt examined with eyes he could not comprehend. The gaze was neither angry, nor sorrowful. There was menace but also cunning in the man’s eyes. “What is required for her confession?” asked Francisco.
“An admission of witchcraft, and of a relapse into the Hebrew faith.”
“But this is not true. It was our grandfather who renounced his Israelite faith. Our family has been Christian for three generations!” he hissed.
“And what of witchcraft, Don Francisco? Two of the accusers swore a holy oath that they had knowledge of it. She purchased a spell from a gypsy.” Fray Daniel tried to keep his voice even, reasonable. “In any case, she must confess to both.”
Laura’s brother edged closer to the rack, looking down at his sister. There was moisture in his eyes that made them glitter like cut onyx. “Please, sister. Confess to what they wish and save yourself from the pain.”
For many minutes, although she was free to speak, Laura Garrigues was silent. Her gaze moved over her brother’s face. “I… I thought you were dead, Francisco. I saw you…I thought that the curandera had killed you with…” Her words drifted off like leaves on a slowly moving stream.
The poignancy of her words, her confusion, tugged at Fray Daniel’s heart. But a sense of duty rose up and drowned it in stern purpose. Behind his back, he heard the steady scratch of quill on parchment. No communication that did not lead to confession could be allowed.
“Help her speak,” he said to one of the familiares, who stood at the ready, the crank of the wheel in his hand.
The rope creaked as the cylinder turned, pulling Laura Garrigues’ upstretched arms tightly above her head. At first, she was silent again, as they all are. But as the ropes bit into the flesh of her wrists, and her body began to stretch, she whimpered.
“Laura Garrigues,” said Fray Daniel, his voice speaking the formal words. “What ever pain you feel, whatever injury you may suffer, it will be by your own doing. For you have been asked to confess your crimes and you have refused.”
The roped creaked again and, as the wheel took up the slack, and her body was pulled taut, the mechanism itself gave a groan. Blood welled up where the ropes cut into her wrists and ankles, and the girl began to scream. Her brother turned away, unable to watch her torment.
It wasn’t the screams that bothered Fray Daniel. He was inured to them. It was the sight of her thin side rising up off the table as the mechanism pulled at her bones. The gaping hole in the side of her garment afforded him a glimpse of her naked flesh. As she struggled and screamed, her body twisted, and a small dark nipple came into view.
“She is but a child, and has made a child’s error!” said Francisco. His voice was tight and low, he turned back and stared at Fray Daniel. Something in his face had changed. “In the name Christ, show her mercy!”
Above the girl’s screams, Fray Daniel shouted. “This *is* mercy, Don Francisco. For we save her eternal soul. She must confess to be saved!” he bellowed.
Even as his words died away, absorbed into the stone of the walls, the girl’s screams became weaker. Not because the pain had gone, Daniel knew, but because the extension of her arms made it hard for her to take in enough air.
“It was a spell…” she panted, “A love spell for him…” Her slight chest rose and fell rapidly as she fought for breath. “I meant no harm, no harm.”
Daniel nodded to the Familiar to stop the wheel and lessen the tension to allow the girl to speak. “This is witchcraft. Do you confess to it?”
Her mouth was gaping; she fought to take a breath. “Yes… I do.”
“And who helped you in your practice of this evil?”
“The curandera, Rosa Salinas.” Her voice was nothing but a breathy whisper.
“And who else?”
“No one, I swear upon the Virgin’s tears.”
Fray Daniel looked up and caught the bailiff’s eye. “Don Herrera, remove Don Francisco.”
Laura’s brother looked furtively from Daniel to the bailiff. “She has confessed, yes? She has said what you wanted her to say. ”
Daniel nodded. “Go with Don Herrera now, and let us finish here.”
Don Francisco looked confused. But as the bailiff took his arm, he did not fight. He allowed himself to be led from the chamber.
When he was gone, Fray Daniel turned back to the girl on the rack. He came closer, standing over her. “And what of your return to the old religion of your forefathers? What of your rejection of Christ? Does your brother also reject Christ?”
“This is not true!” she hissed. Again she fought to gain breath. “We are both true and faithful Christians.”
Fray Daniel surveyed her impossibly taut, slender frame. He nodded to the Familiar to resume his turning of the wheel. It shrieked at the tension, and the girl made a similar noise, which rose, hitched and rose again. Somewhere, something had torn in her body. Her screams were higher and jagged.
Abruptly the screaming stopped. Fray Daniel bent over Laura Garrigues’ silent, suspended body. Her eyes were open, unblinking, her mouth slack, and the dark smell of voided excrement assaulted his nostrils. She no longer fought for breath, and never would again.
Perhaps the familiares had misjudged the tension? Then this was the will of God, Daniel reasoned.
He turned to the Notary of the Secretos. “Duly record that the accused, Laura Garrigues, was put to the Question, but died without confessing fully to her sins. She named Rosa Salinas as her accomplice. Also, I recommend that the Inquisitional court order that Francisco Garrigues, her brother, be taken into custody and appear before the calificadores to answer for his own soul. It is highly unlikely that the relapse to Hebraism was hers alone.”
* * *
After he had read through the Notary’s account of the Questioning, and assured himself that everything was as it should be, Fray Daniel climbed the old stone prison steps and, begging a torch from the bailiff, set off on his way back to the residency.
He heard the Cathedral bells marking Compline. If he hurried, he could join his brothers. Laura Garrigues had died unabsolved, and the sadness of this ate away at his strength and dragged at his pace. He had hoped so much to be able to bring her before the Inquisitional court a confessed and repentant Christian, free of the burden of her sins.
As he turned down the narrow, deserted street beside the Archbishop’s Palace, a figure stepped in front of him. Before Daniel could even identify the man, or speak to greet him, he felt a blow to the side of his head.
* * *
Cold and pain.
There was nothing else in Fray Daniel’s universe as he inched his way to consciousness. His eyes opened onto impenetrable blackness and the left side of his head – his jaw, his cheek, his ear – was a single throbbing mass of hurt.
He shifted and the pain lessened a little. He had been lying with his injured face pressed against a cold, stone surface. A cascade of metal clinks followed his movement; a sound so familiar to him, he identified it at once. Chains. Thick-linked and slippery with damp, like those the accused wore in detention, waiting their turn before the inquisitional court.
Even as Daniel pulled on his arm, he knew. His body had warmed the metal of the manacles, but now he felt their weight on his wrists and ankles. He curled his body, pulling his knees up to his chest and his arms inwards as far as the chains would allow. The gravity of his situation came crashing down upon him. He was naked, chained and frightened in a very dark room.
“I was worried that I had killed you,” came a voice out of the blackness, low and bitter. “Luckily, you soldiers of God are built tough.”
Daniel squinted through the blackness in the direction of the speaker, but the smothering dark was absolute. “What is this place?” he asked, and then gasped in agony; the smallest movement of his jaw sent a flight of arrows to his skull.
“The place of your death, brother.”
The response came in a hissed whisper and so close to Daniel’s ear that his body jerked. He tried to sit up, his head looking this way and that, despite the darkness, and despite the pain. “What? What do you mean by this?” he demanded, speaking through clenched teeth to quell the pain of his bruised jaw.
“This is where you die.”
“Then I go to God,” Daniel hissed.
A low laugh emerged from a distance. The speaker was moving around the room on silent feet. “Oh, no, brother. You do not.”
Daniel fought to vanquish two enemies: the pain and the fear rose up inside him like twin dragons, jaws snapping, tails writhing. “If I die,” he slurred in defiance, “I die confessed of my sins. I go to the Father a faithful servant to his cause!”
“NO!” screamed the voice, “NO YOU DON’T!” So near that its force pushed at Daniel’s body.
Daniel reached out, grabbing into the void as far as his tether of chains would allow, but his fingers caught nothing.
A hand seized the back of Daniel’s neck, icy and like steel, pushing his head down, forcing his body to follow. Daniel saw stars as his injured jaw hit the stone. A cold weight settled on his back, crushing his body to the floor. The pain and pressure robbed him of breath.
Frigid lips pressed to Daniel’s ear. “You die like my sister, you fucking butcher. Screaming and broken, and abandoned by God. Just like she did.”
Daniel closed his eyes and his fear flared. Of course, now he remembered: the witch, her brother. Now he remembered the face before the blow: the pale skin, the dark hollow eyes. “Adiuva me Domine Deus meus salvum fac me secundum misericordiam tuam,” he whispered.
“Shut up…God can’t hear you and He doesn’t give a fuck!” snarled Garrigues. “But I will. Why don’t you pray to me? Pray!” His spittle sprayed over Daniel’s face and his weight shifted. Cold fingers worked their way between the flattened bodies. Daniel felt the other man tug at the closure of his doublet, then at his breeches. Even as he uncovered himself, Garrigues was pushing Daniel’s legs apart with his knees.
This could not be, thought Daniel. God would not let this befall him. Had he not kept the spirit of Christ in his heart? Had he not followed His commandments and done His work? Daniel struggled against the other man’s weight, trying to unbalance him by twisting. His naked hips, his belly, his chest scraped against the rough stone floor, but the demon would not be dislodged.
“Do not do this, Don Francisco,” he said, trying to put some steel in his voice. “Have a care for your immortal soul. Even you are not beyond God’s forgiveness. Don’t… don’t do this unnatural thing.”
Another laugh, but this time short, harsh, and distracted. “Un…Unnatural?” There was a strange hitch in the other man’s voice and he wrapped his arm around Daniel’s neck, pulling his head back and to the side. “And what you did to my poor Laura was not?” Francisco’s voice was choked with grief and a bottomless rage. “Unnatural?” This time it was no more than a breath.
Daniel felt a strangely cold hardness between his buttocks. Rigid and pulsing, like a man’s prick, but uncannily cold. It pushed and prodded blindly, seeking out his anus.
“God sees what you do, Francisco Garrigues,” wheezed Daniel, trying to find his voice despite the arm that was compressing his windpipe. “Sodomite!”
Daniel writhed again; fear and desperation gave him more strength than he ever imagined he had. Francisco only grunted and forced his thighs wider with his own, and the arm around his neck squeezed, blocking off his airway completely.
“I condemn you, Brother Daniel Ortiz de Velez, to life everlasting,” whispered Garrigues.
When the pain came, it was not where Daniel expected. Sharp teeth tore into the side of his neck, and he screamed. The fountain of his own hot blood spewed along his cheek, covering his face, bathing it in heat. And yet a peculiar icy stillness came over him as the other man’s mouth pressed against the wound. Garrigues was drinking, sucking. Daniel heard the man swallow his life as it flowed from his neck. He tried to breathe, taking huge, whistling gulps of nothing.
Daniel’s saw sparks in the darkness, and the high-pitched whine of swarming bees filled his head. He tried to pray, to think of God. In these last moments of his life, he wanted to believe that Christ was with him in his anguish. But he could not hold a thought – they slipped and slid through his mental grasp like eels in icy water. Perhaps this was as it should be, he tried to reason. God’s will. God’s good will. Then Daniel felt a burning pain rip into his bowels and streak up his spine. Francisco growled like an animal and thrust deeper.
Angels were singing, high and lovely. Their voices like crystal, and their song wordless. The pain was still there, but Daniel no longer cared about it. He was dying. The defilement of his body, still being forced into the cold stone by his tormentor’s strange lust, mattered nothing. Soon, soon he’d be received into the arms of the Heavenly Father.
The pressure on his neck eased, his body had stopped moving, but Daniel took no breath. The Virgin stood before him in her dark blue robe, her face radiant in the Holy light of heaven. She held her cupped hands before her.
“Drink,” she whispered. “Drink deeply.” A cool hand covered his mouth; thick sweetness trickled down Daniel’s raw throat like honey. The Blood of Christ, he thought.