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Excerpt for Beyond the Mirror by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Beyond the Mirror


BY CHRISTINE DUTS

COPYRIGHT 2017 CHRISTINE DUTS


DISCOVER OTHER TITLES BY CHRISTINE DUTS

AURELIE: SURVIVAL

AURELIE: ON THE ROAD

AURELIE: GATES OF IMMORTALITY

LUCAN, BOOK 1 AND 2

A RIGHT TO LIVE


EDITED BY JK DUKE

COVER PHOTO: CAL SHARP


This book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by electronic, mechanical or any other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying or recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the Publisher and Author. You must not circulate this book in any format.


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For Murray




Table of Contents:


PART 1: Light


Chapter 1: The Mirror

Chapter 2: Tomatoes

Chapter 3: Tales from New Spain

Chapter 4: A Scary Vision

Chapter 5: Isabella

Chapter 6: Fire

Chapter 7: A Secret Accomplice

Chapter 8: A Sea Voyage

Chapter 9: A Revelation

Chapter 10: Ghosts in the Storm

Chapter 11: Havana

Chapter 12: A Horrible Truth

Chapter 13: Shaping Destiny

Chapter 14: Into Darkness


PART 2: Dark


Chapter 15: Where You Go I will Follow

Chapter 16: Through Flames

Chapter 17: The Lair

Chapter 18: The Last Step before Transformation

Chapter 19: An Eye for an Eye

Chapter 20: On the Road

Chapter 21: Losing Myself


Part 3: Grey


Chapter 22: A Different Transformation

Chapter 23: La Noche Triste

Chapter 24: Poisoned Blood

Chapter 25: Monster of the Storm


Part 4: Dark


Chapter 26: Caught

Chapter 27: A Last Demon

Chapter 28: Penelope´s Mission

Chapter 29: An Unlikely Leader

Chapter 30: Macedonia

Chapter 31: Flesh Store Room Duties

Chapter 32: Searching for the Enemy

Chapter 33: The Vampire Coven


Part 5: Grey


Chapter 34: Akira’s Lieutenant

Chapter 35: An Ignored Plea

Chapter 36: A Truce and a Capture

Chapter 37: Escape

Chapter 38: Seraphin


Part 6: From Dark to Light


Chapter 39: Aurélie

Chapter 40: The Broken Mirror

Chapter 41: Voices in the Wind

Chapter 42: Silio and Hadea´s Estate

Chapter 43: Battle through the Mirror

Chapter 44: The Mirror’s Magic

Chapter 45: Before the Storm Erupts

Chapter 46: The Volcano

Chapter 47: Battle with Penelope

Chapter 48: Light




Part 1: Light



Chapter 1: The Mirror


The mirror had hung in this room for eighty years. Its long, oval shape was framed by gilded fleurs-de-lys and roses, and it had always reflected the faces of my female ancestors: Thora, the one who had brought the mirror into the house; Margarita, her daughter and my great-grandmother; Isabella, my talented grandmother; Marina, my mother; and now me. A sketch of Thora hung on the opposite wall, next to the window. When looking into the mirror, her black eyes stared hard at me, reminding me who she had been, who my ancestors had been, and ultimately who I was. We could not escape our destiny.

When the sun rose in the sky, its early morning rays shone through the only window in the room and reflected on the tall mirror glass and even on its elaborate gilded frame. Such a mirror had no place in our simple household, and Thora had indeed taken it from a wealthy residence and brought it to our humble home where it outshone our rickety wooden furniture my great-great-grandmother had built. The floor in our small house was of simple soil, which provided a stark contrast to the mirror´s costly appearance, but Thora had not placed it in our care for financial gain. She had another purpose for it, a purpose it still fulfilled, even decades after her death.

I liked looking at my reflection in the mirror. Not because I was pretty, because I was not. I always wore my long black hair in a braid, which reached my lower back. My mouth was too small, my lips a little thin. I did not find myself attractive and the lack of suitors proved that, although one could argue that this could also be due to my heritage. When I looked in the mirror, I always gazed at my eyes, and I saw what Thora and Isabella had seen. The power in my black pupils stared back at me, sparkling in the mirror glass, indicating that I was its true heir.

A very dangerous inheritance … one that had brought death to Isabella. It was something we did not choose, it came to us every other generation. Thora had been a witch, but not like those poor innocent women who had been burnt at the stake, falsely accused of being someone they were not, persecuted by a paranoid church, and brought to their ends by overzealous fanatics. No, Thora had been a real one, and so had Isabella. It always skipped one generation, and now I was next. I had known as a little girl, when I gazed upon the mirror for the first time and my eyes sparkled like illuminated orbs. It was an unsettling experience, and I raced out of the room. My mother brought me back inside and explained why I saw what I saw. I never doubted her. From a very young age I had been told about Thora and Isabella, and I had known that I, Cecilia, would be chosen, but seeing my eyes like that was terrible to behold for a three-year-old girl.

I was a witch.

Of course, I had no magical wand, and fortunately I did not have a wart on my nose; but my mind was strong and it made me do things that were deemed impossible by ordinary humans. I could make objects move and even float; I could speak to animals and understand them; I could read people´s thoughts, and I could even impose myself on them, enter their thoughts and modify them or send them visions. I had a natural talent for potion making, and with my mother´s instructions I improved it. Although my mother was no witch, she had still learned the secrets of brewing useful concoctions, just like Margarita had, to instruct the witches in our family. The mirror had taught me too. It had looked back at my eyes and shown me what I could do. It had given me images of my destiny, of which some were disturbing and others quite pleasant. The mirror had not shown me fire, which was a relief. Fire meant destruction. My grandmother, Isabella, had always known that she would die by fire. The mirror had shown her when she was fifteen. It had shown her only once, but it had been enough. Whatever the mirror let us see was true; and indeed, seven years later, she was seized and burnt at the stake. My mother was three when it happened, Isabella twenty-two.

Men had never been constant in our lives. They came, left their seed, and moved on when they found out what their wives were. Thora´s husband left her a few months after marrying her. Her daughter Margarita was born eight months later and never knew her father. Margarita never married. Being Thora´s daughter, she grew up an outcast in a small place in Andorra, and when the village elders arrested her mother, they seized her too. Margarita was raped. Thora escaped from her dungeon, went to get Margarita, and then they left the village. On her way to a new home, Thora stopped at a castle where she found employment as a maid. A few months later she ran off again, with her pregnant daughter and the mirror she had found hidden behind a curtain in her lady´s chambers. The lady had not been a witch, and she had hidden the mirror because it terrified her. Thora did not expect anyone to rush after her and retrieve this magical item, and she was right. They left Andorra and travelled south. They settled in a small town on the Spanish plains. It was not an enticing place, unworthy of its name being remembered, but it offered a future and Margarita was due to give birth to Isabella.

So, it was in this town that our generations grew up. Isabella, like I mentioned before, did not escape the flames. Her own husband gave her up and testified against her. After her execution, he wanted nothing to do with his three-year-old daughter, Marina; and consequently, Margarita raised the little girl. Just like Margarita, Marina never married. She did meet someone though and fell in love. I believe that he was also smitten with her and wanted to marry her, but his family opposed the union, and even when she was pregnant, the boy was refused permission to wed her. His family called her “a whore”. My mother was hurt, very much so; and she never talked about it. She closed up completely and shriveled behind the invisible walls she had drawn up around her, walls that were supposed to protect her from pain, but that increased her bitterness and reclusiveness instead. My great-grandmother Margarita told me. She lived until her late sixties, and when it was her time to leave us, she went in peace, content with her long life and with the protection she had given Marina and me. She died with a smile on her face. She left me with my mother, whose disillusionment in love had made her harsh and cold. My mother taught me everything I needed to know, and she gave me what I needed and what she could afford, but she still failed me. She never expressed her love for me. She never hugged or kissed me, never showed me any affection. I grew up resenting it but somehow believing that this was normal. I did not know anything else.


I was sixteen the first time the mirror showed me a wolf. I saw the majestic animal in an unknown forest. The trees were thin and tall, and the forest ground was covered with grass. The wolf´s coat was silvery grey, and its eyes stared at me hard. Its tail was bushy and streaked with grey and white. He was gorgeous. He did not seem to bear me any ill will. He just stood there, all alone, looking at me. I gazed back, not knowing what to make of it, but I felt no menace. For the next days I pondered what it meant - even the unfamiliar surroundings I had seen – but it was something I could not explain. I asked my mother if anyone in our family had ever had a vision of a wolf, but she shook her head and continued sweeping the dirt floor. A grey cat walked in. He was a stray, but he visited us every day, because we fed him. He never allowed us to touch him. He only came to eat his food; sometimes he curled up by the fire, and then he left. Occasionally he turned up with scratches and bite marks from other cats, but he never allowed us to treat his wounds. He was big and strong though, and his injuries were usually minor. I wondered how the other cats fared after fighting him. On the day I saw the wolf in the mirror, the cat walked in a little later than usual, looking scruffier than ever. There was dried mud on his back and paws and some blood trickled from his ear. It was the first time, however, that he rested his yellow eyes on me. He stood still in the door way and stared at me, and I recognized the same yellow pupils I had seen in the wolf. Confused I gazed at him. It only took a few moments, but I felt the hairs on my arms rise and I shivered involuntarily. I did not believe in coincidences. How many times had I seen this cat´s eyes? Never before had they disconcerted me. I broke my gaze away and rushed back into our bed room. I stopped before the mirror and looked at my own reflection. My face was pale, my lips thin and colorless, but my eyes began to shine. My black pupils glittered like stars in the mirror, but I saw nothing else. The mirror had shown me enough on that day and refused to divulge more.



Chapter 2: Tomatoes


The women in my family shaped me, even Thora who had lived long before my time. Their stories were passed on, and to me it seemed as if I knew them all closely, and in fact I did. My mind had great powers and as a child it felt as if I could communicate with their spirits, although I was still clumsy about it. When I still was not able to control it, random spirits would take over my mind and go rampant, driving me mad with all the voices which suddenly found a way to make themselves heard. They never cared about me. They needed to be heard. It worried my mother, but there was nothing she could do. I had to learn by myself how to be in command of my mind. As I grew up, I learned how to deal with my powers and I learned how to control my mind. Most of the profound changes happened when I was fourteen. At that age I finally managed to understand how my mind worked and how I could use it, within my limits. I knew a lot, but not enough, as I would discover over the following years. When I was sixteen I saw the wolf in the mirror, and I also had my first conversation with Thora and Margarita´s spirits. I wished to also speak to Isabella, but she did not appear.

Marina, my mother, was reluctant to confide much in me, and she limited my lessons to potion making, which she considered to be enough knowledge. I knew that she was afraid. She feared that the inquisition would also get hold of me, like they had with Isabella. She had kept up the tradition of teaching me what I needed to know, but she preferred to keep witches out of the family. She had hoped that it would skip another generation, but of course it would not. Our special powers had only brought disaster to our family, even to the ungifted ones like my mother and Margarita. She knew how much Margarita had suffered when she had lost her only daughter to the scaffold. My mother had lost the man she loved, and she was terrified of losing me too.


Tell me about Thora,” I begged my mother. We walked on the small path that led from town to our house, which stood a little beyond the outskirts. We both carried a basket filled with goods: grains, bread, eggs, apples, cheese, and some imported herbs and spices. My mother had not wanted to buy the last items. They were foreign, and she had no idea what she could use them for, although the vendor had told her amiably that they would enhance the flavor of her dishes. I insisted that she bought them, since I was keen to find out to what use I could put them. It was the year 1527 and with the colonization of the Americas and the colonies in Asia, many goods were exchanged. Tomatoes, potatoes, and corn had arrived from America, spices and dyes from Asia, and many more products that enriched our cuisine and clothing. My mother was not very enthusiastic about the new goods; she viewed them with suspicion. In fact, when the tomato first came to us, many claimed that it was poisonous and caused death. I never believed it and I wholeheartedly set my teeth in this delicious red delicacy whenever I had the opportunity.

It was a good time to be living in Spain, for the new lands claimed in New Spain brought the crown much good fortune. Hernan Cortez had conquered the Aztecs, and Francisco Pizarro had subdued the Incas. Both Aztecs and Incas were rumored to be wild savages. I heard stories of hearts cut out on stone altars and their bloodthirsty war cries when the Aztecs fought the Spanish soldiers. Some men returned with lots of heroic stories, always exaggerating the opponents´ cruelties. Many stayed and built a new existence in this land far away. Sometimes I wondered if the tales of the conquered peoples were true. I wondered what life would be like over there and I doubted the natives´ savagery if European settlers voluntarily decided to live on their lands. I had a lot of questions, and every time I met someone who had been in New Spain, I hungrily asked him as much as I could. I thought it would be a good idea to venture out there and begin a new life, far away where nobody knew that my ancestors had been witches, and where my own powers would remain hidden.

My mother snapped her fingers and brought me back to my senses.

“What is the point of telling you if you are not paying attention?” She said.

“I am now. Please tell me.”

She shook her head and said: “I told you twice already.”

“Yes, but that was years ago.”

“You remember.”

“I just like to hear it again.”

What for? To hear how special you are?”

“Please, mother.”

“No.”

Marina was not to be swayed. I knew her too well. She could be stubborn, and I knew better than to insist, because my mother´s rage was not to be underestimated. So, in silence we walked on, my hand on the tomato I had secretly stacked in my basket. I had only taken one and paid for it behind her back, then surreptitiously slipped it between the apples. I would eat it later.

It was early afternoon and the sun stood brightly in the blue summer sky. Trees flanked the clearing ahead of us, providing shade for our little house. It was only a quarter of a mile now.

A rider on his horse suddenly rode out of the forest. He wore a green coat over his black pants, and long rider boots. From afar he looked quite dashing and heroic, but as he approached us, I could see that he was exhausted. His beard was dirty and messy, his black hair hung loosely over his shoulders, and his eyes were red from fatigue. It was a miracle he remained seated on his horse. When he rode past us, he raised his hand in greeting. Despite the shaggy beard that hid half of his face, I could see that he was still young. I stood still and looked at him. It seemed as if he had been through hell. His beautiful coat was ripped at the hem and his fancy boots had holes. Our eyes met, and under his beard a mischievous grin appeared. He probably thought that it made him look disarming, but to me it appeared rather scary. My mother was not much impressed by him and hurried on her way.

“Come, Cecilia,” she urged me, but I stayed where I was, staring at this stranger.

He wanted to go on, but then he changed his mind and stopped his horse.

“Can I get a decent meal in this town, a good shave, and a clean bed?”

“There is plenty of food, and you will find a barber, but I am not so sure about a clean bed,” I said.

He smiled amused, and said: “Well, I´ll make do with the first two.”

“Cecilia!”

My mother stood a few feet ahead of me, looking at me impatiently.

I nodded at the stranger and ran after my mother, my hand still protectively on the tomato.


The mirror showed me a whole stack of tomatoes, piled up on top of each other. Amazed I stared at the image, pleased to have such a pleasant vision. What confused me though was the place I saw them at. It was nowhere nearby – that was for sure. It was not a place I knew. There were even trees I had never seen before. The mountain of tomatoes was balanced on thin, golden sand and behind them stood a tall tree with the funniest leaves. Instead of having hundreds of small leaves like the apple tree, this one had long spiky leaves sticking out from its trunk. It looked very pretty, but it was rather strange. It was the first time I saw a palm tree, but at that moment I had no idea what it was. Relaxed, I sat on the dirt floor and pulled my knees up. The tomatoes disappeared and for a moment I looked at myself, my eyes shining like stars. Suddenly I seemed to be flying over a thick forest. It was immense, and I knew that it was not in Spain. The mirror glass showed me tree after tree, and then took me down into the forest. On the ground there were different objects and as I came closer, I saw that they were leaking blood. I landed next to a bloody mess. I watched myself bend over to pick it up, and to my horror I realized that my mirror image was holding a bloody heart. I sat on my knees now and peered at the other objects, curious but at the same time horrified at what I was going to find. Indeed, they were body parts; a gnawed off hand, loose viscera, shattered bones, and blood everywhere. What had happened here and who or what had done that, and why was I being shown this vision? Was this what my destiny had in store for me? It could not be!

I wanted to run, but I knew that I could not. I had to stay and watch until the mirror decided it had shown me enough. Abandoning the mirror before it was done could have dire consequences. So, very reluctantly I waited and watched as I was taken through the forest and came upon a deep hole in the ground, which provided an entrance into profound darkness. I saw nothing, but I heard low growls, and I even smelled something … the unmistakable scent of body decay and blood. Yes, I could smell blood. It had always had a particular aroma to me, and I could always smell it. Now, however, it was different. Now it reeked of blood, urine, musk, decomposing flesh, and terror. It was a horrible scent that clung to my nose and would not leave me for several days.

At night Thora came to me. I was asleep, but she woke me by gently blowing over my face. Immediately I rose in bed and stared at the ghost of my ancestor. Her translucent form was covered by a silvery, transparent gown, her long hair cascading over her in lucid waves. She was an amazing vision. She hovered over me and said: “You saw something very disturbing in the mirror today.”

Immediately I turned to the culprit. It was covered as it was always done at night. At night, the mirror did not work, and I had had enough visions.

“What does it mean?” I wanted to know.

Slowly she shook her head. “That, I cannot tell you. You need to follow your destiny, let nothing stand in the way. Every little chance you get is an opportunity to outrun calamity. Do not waste those chances.”

“And how will I know if it is an opportunity?”

“You will. It will be clear.”

“If it is so clear, then why don’t you explain what I saw in the mirror today?”

“I cannot, for not even I comprehend it completely.”

“Why did you steal the mirror?”

She smiled indulgently and said: “You know the story.”

“Tell me again.”

“Not today. You have a lot to think about. I will tell you again when it is time, but not now.”

I got off my straw mattress and threw a coat over my night gown.

“You are teasing me. Why do you wake me if you cannot tell me anything worthwhile?”

“But I am. I gave you a message.”

Not to let go of opportunities? Everyone knows that.”

And few heed that advice. In your case, it is important to know, very important.”

You know more than you let on. Why can you not tell me?”

“It is too soon, Cecilia.”

Then you should not have come!” I spoke angrily. I did not like being roused from my sleep, certainly not for trivialities.

Thora raised her eyebrows in mock surprise.

“You do take after your mother.”

“My mother? I cannot believe that. She is as cold as ice, and I know I am not.”

“Your mother has suffered.”

“I know, and how is that my fault?”

“You are being unfair.”

“Am I or is she?”

Thora shook her head in disapproval.

“Forgive her, Cecilia. She is your mother.”

Thora´s spirit rose to the ceiling and then floated to the open window. She stared at the full moon which illuminated most of the room. My mother was asleep in the front room. She did not do that out of consideration for me. She feared sleeping in the same room with the mirror. If it were up to her, she would have thrown it out a long time ago, but she was too much in awe of it to do that. She knew that vengeance would be taken, and she was terrified of what could happen.

Is there truly nothing you can tell me?” I tried again.

Staring outside she shook her head.

“Not even about the tomatoes?”

Now she turned around and looked at me with a grin on her pale face.

“I thought that one was obvious,” she said in an incredulous voice.

How?”

You are going to eat a lot of tomatoes,” she said and laughed. I grabbed some soil from the floor and flung it at her, but it went through her white, translucent form and hit the wall.

You know better than that,” she mocked.

Enraged, I lied back down and drew the blankets over me. I turned my back on her. For a while I still sensed her presence in the room, but after a while she left, and when I at last turned around, the moon light shone in on an empty room.



Chapter 3: Tales from New Spain


The next day I returned to town, this time alone. The market was still open and would be for the rest of the week. Surprisingly, my mother let me go, although she probably suspected that I wished to acquire more spices and herbs. When she had caught me brewing them earlier in the morning, she disapprovingly glanced into the kettle that hung over the fire. She did not ask what I was making. She knew that something would come out, something useful to cure some ailment. She was aware of my powers, and I had a talent for inventing new concoctions that always turned out to be beneficial. When I left the house a little after noon, she asked me to bring milk, and she told me to be back before dinner. I nodded and strolled along the path.

The walk into town took twenty minutes. I followed the narrow path that wound its way through the fields and then entered through the city gates. The guard at the gate greeted me with a friendly smile. He had known me for a long time. For two years he had watched me come and go. When he was not busy he always joked around with me, but when a lot of people came through, he limited himself to a pleasant beam. He was young, perhaps four or five years older than I was. He must have had the most tedious work in the world, yet he was always in a good mood. That would not fool anyone though. If he had to put his foot down, he did, and very firmly, which was probably the reason he was stationed at the city gates.

Once I was inside, I walked down the main street, passing a few blocks. At a small square, I turned right and followed a narrow, cobbled street that was covered by a series of canopies. It felt like walking in a lofty tunnel, although some sun light always shone through torn holes or in between the hanging canopies. Some vendors had set up their stands in this street. They were the ones who had not been able to get a stand at the main town square. In fact, I was not going to the square. I was heading straight to the last stand in this street where a large man with an enormous, curly moustache had a whole set of exotic spices and herbs on display. When he saw me, he beamed at me, and said: “You are back. What do you need this time?”

I pointed at a yellowish, funnily shaped root and asked: “What is that? “

“That is ginger, my dear.”

He picked it up and held it out to me. “Smell it.”

I sniffed and picked up a tangy whiff. That would certainly add a nice flavor to some tasteless potions I had made.

“And that?” I asked, pointing at the next item.

“Turmeric.”

My hand went through a yellow ground mass, and the man said: “It adds a nice flavor to your meals.”

“I think I took some of that yesterday.”

Possibly, but you did not take ginger.” Suddenly his face lit up and he said: “Oh, you have not tried cinnamon yet. Why I did not show you yesterday is beyond me. Here, smell this.” He held out a brown stick to my nose. Indeed, it had a very pleasing, sweet aroma.

“Boil it in water and you have yourself a delicious tea,” he recommended.

I´ll take it, and the ginger too. And a little more of the turmeric. What else have you got?”

“Peppers from India, very hot.”

I sniffed, but the powdered pepper travelled up my nose and made me sneeze so much, that I shook my head. I was not going to take that one. He laughed and put it back in its bowl. Then he showed me a few more bowls and indicated: “Paprika, cloves, nutmeg.”

I bought nutmeg and paprika yesterday, but I did not notice the – what do you call it – cloves? Where do you get all that?”

“I travel, my dear.”

“I have never seen you here before. Will you come back one day?”

I am just passing through. I hardly return to any place, but you never know. So, you better stock up, because you do not know if I will ever be back.”

I doubted that that was true. He probably told everyone the same to make them buy more, and then he surely returned a year later. Nevertheless, I did buy large amounts of ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, and for good measure some more nutmeg and paprika.

After I paid, I suddenly realized that I did not have enough coins left for milk, but it did not matter to me much. I had never liked milk. My mother would be upset though. Perhaps I could get a small mug. I headed back down the street, and then turned left into a quieter alley. A few people were out, most probably on their way to the market. I knew most of them, but few inclined their heads in greeting, wary of the witch´s granddaughter. They knew that my mother was no witch, but Isabella’s tragic story was widely known and I was also regarded with suspicion. I thought it was a miracle that the mirror had not shown me fire … or perhaps it had not shown it to me yet …

“Cecilia.”

Surprised I stopped. Who had called me? Who was not afraid to talk to me? What man did not care about my ancestry and talked to me on the street?

“Good morrow, Cecilia.”

He walked up to me, a tall, handsome man with short black hair and vivid dark eyes. He had high cheekbones and a firm mouth with strong, demanding lips. I had never seen him before and I wondered who he was. How did he know my name? He grinned and said: “You do not recognize me.”

When I did not answer, he continued. “I know I was a dreadful sight yesterday, but you were right about the barber. He did good work. You were also right about the bed.”

A smile finally broke through my face, and I noticed that he had bought new boots. Gone were the holes, and his feet donned fancy riding boots that closed a little below his knees.

“It is you,” I said, “the man I saw on the road.”

“Indeed.”

How different he looked without the long shaggy beard and the mane of matted hair! I wondered where he came from and for how long he had been travelling. I was awed by his beautiful physique and I could not stop staring at his face. What a fine-looking man! He probably addressed me only because he knew me. My dull face could not be of any interest to him. He glanced at my basket, and intrigued he asked: “Spices?”

“Yes.”

He moved closer and inspected the goods.

“So, you like imported foods.”

“Yes, I especially love tomatoes.”

He laughed.

“Why did you not buy them?”

“Because my mother believes that they cause disease and death.”

“And do you believe that?”

“No.”

For a moment he contemplated my face. Nervously I shifted on my feet. Some people stared at us as they walked by, curious about the stranger and probably aching to “warn” him about the witch he was talking to.

“Could I walk with you?” He then asked out of the blue.

Oh … yes … certainly.” Of course! How could I say no to him? He wanted to walk with me? With the pale, thin-lipped little witch? I was flattered. No, much more than that. I felt proud when we walked side by side and people still looked at us, most likely wondering who he was and how he was related to me.

“What is your name?” I asked.

Hernando Villahermosa Palacios.”

I had never heard his surname before. He had to come from far away. There were no families called Villahermosa or Palacios in this area.

“What are you doing here?”

“Just passing through. In fact, I am on my way to Barcelona. I am going to board a ship to New Spain.”

Excited I stared at him. An adventurer! I wondered what his plans were. And he was going alone! There was no one with him, meaning that there was possibly no woman in his life …

“Oh, and what are your plans? I hear that one can get rich there, but that it is hard work.”

It always is, everywhere, not only in New Spain, but my work is already done. I am returning to my encomienda. I only came to convince my parents to join me, but they stubbornly refused. So, I am travelling alone. I did leave them enough gold though, for the years left to them. I cannot stay here. My future is in New Spain.”

“You have an estate there? How did you acquire it?”

“Services to the Spanish crown.”

“Tell me more!”

Pleased by my enthusiasm, he began to tell me about the conquest of New Spain. He was fifteen when he first arrived on the island of Cuba and joined the 500 soldiers who travelled to the Aztec Empire in 1519. He told me about the conquest, about their hardships, Hernan Cortez who had even talked to him, his first contacts with the natives, and the first time he saw the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. When he described the structure of this once great city, the causeways between the islands, the high temples, the rich colors, the food, and the people, there was not an inkling of the usual litany about savages. Hernando clearly admired America´s natives and was impressed by the grandeur of the Aztec Empire. He said that it was a shame when they raided Tenochtitlan and destroyed it, and its people were reduced to slaves. He had survived the conquest and as a reward for what he had done for Spain, he was given an encomienda – an estate with its own slaves, a house, and fields to work.

“It must have been such an adventure,” I said.

“It was. I can tell you so many stories.”

“Please do.”

We were nearing the city gates, and I remembered that I had forgotten to buy milk, but at that moment I did not fear my mother´s wrath. All that mattered was now. I would never see him again and I wanted to enjoy his company as long as I could. He had to be 23 now if I calculated correctly. I was 16, and at an age to get married. If anyone should marry me, then it had to be a stranger, because no local boy would take me. They were all afraid of me. If they only knew what I could do… But somehow it was inevitable that they would find out sooner or later. The guard was the only one who treated me like a normal human being, but how would he react once I was accused of witchcraft? Although the mirror had not shown me fire, I was not foolish enough to believe that my life would not have its obstacles, surely more than others. My vocation was bound to attract trouble. I wondered when Hernando was leaving …

I listened spellbound as he related the splendor of Tenochtitlan and the opulence of Montezuma´s palace. He described the exotic meals they were given when visiting the palace for the first time; and yes, he had been one of the chosen party to accompany Hernán Cortez upon the Aztec emperor`s invitation. He told me about the beautiful feathers that adorned the headdresses, peacock and parrot feathers in vivid red and blue colors, and many more different ones from birds whose names he did not remember. He explained how the Aztec capital was organized and he drew on paper the many islands with their connecting causeways. Tenochtitlan was built on a lake in a valley surrounded by mountains. I envisioned an amazing place with golden rooftops, majestic temples reaching for the sky, proud handsome people walking the streets and causeways, and the chinampas carrying the various flowers and vegetables. When he described the variety of flowers, it nearly felt as if I could smell them. He said that their aroma hung in the air and that it was lovely to walk nearby and have the scent fill his nostrils. I could see that he was in awe at the Aztec Empire.

“I heard that they were savages, barbaric and cruel,” I interrupted him.

Well, yes, they are fierce fighters. They showed us no mercy when we had to battle them. It was … hard to watch what they did to our soldiers once they caught them alive. There was one battle … one battle that we lost. It was a sorry and humiliating defeat.”

“What battle was that and what did they do to your soldiers?”

His face became hard and he clearly did not like to remember the events.

“Look, is that your house over there?” He suddenly asked.

It stood about twenty meters away, and disappointed I nodded. If I had not asked him that question though, he would have continued talking. It was my fault that this conversation ended so abruptly. Why did I want to know about slaughter and battles? Why could I not have asked different questions? I should have asked about the peacocks and the flowers, the chinampas and the city of Tenochtitlan. He clearly enjoyed telling me about that.

My mother appeared in the doorway, very taken aback at seeing me in company. She wiped her hands on her apron and impatiently awaited me. I had to say goodbye now …

“How long are you staying?” I asked him.

I do not know yet. Perhaps a few more days, perhaps another week. I have a long journey behind me, and I would like to get my strengths back.”

He was indeed a little thin. I wondered what had happened to him. Did he mean the journey from his hometown? Maybe he had been attacked by thieves … I still had so many questions to ask him and I did not know if I would ever have another opportunity. It would be bad manners to ask if I could see him again. A lady did not do that. A woman did not woe, she had to be wooed. She had to inspire and be a muse, entertain … Nothing much else was expected from women, in my opinion. I, however, was more than just an object to inspire a man. If society´s norms allowed me to woe a man, I would do it. Especially in my case, since my prospects here were next to nothing. If this handsome stranger had not come along, I might have tried to get some more attention from the friendly guard. But Hernando intrigued me and I could not stop looking into his dark eyes. The town´s gate guard had never provoked that in me. I liked him, but I did not feel like a string of butterflies was raging through my belly and up to my throat, and even teasing my fingertips.

“If you happen to be in town tomorrow, I would love to invite you for lunch,” he then said, taking me completely by surprise.

You would?” I asked, barely hiding my surprise. He smiled at my reaction.

“Yes, I am staying at the inn by the main square. There is a canteen at the inn and they serve fine food. I could see you there if you like, and of course I will escort you home.”

“Yes! I mean, yes, that would be lovely.”

My face was hot, a blush working its way up and encircling my ears.

“See you tomorrow then,” he said, grinning amused.

“Until tomorrow.”

He walked away, and I stood there, staring at him. He was wooing me. Me! I could not believe it!

When my mother called me, I raced towards the house and rushed inside.

“Did you get the milk?”

“No.”

Her face screwed up in anger and she began to yell: “I need it for dinner! I am making …”

“Mother, did you see what happened? That man invited me for lunch! He wants to see me again. He…!”

I need milk, Cecilia! I do not care about that man! He is not from here. What do you want with a stranger anyway? He will leave you once he finds out what you are. Mark my words. You will not meet him for lunch tomorrow and that is my last word! I will get the milk myself!”

And she hurried outside, slamming the door behind her, smashing my dreams with her words.



Chapter 4: A Scary Vision


Regardless of what my mother had said, I planned to meet the stranger anyway. I was not a disobedient girl, but I knew that he was my chance to get out. He was my chance to get a normal life, hopefully get married, and maybe even have children. Why my mother would stand in my way was beyond me and I did not believe that he would abandon me. He had asked to see me again! He could certainly ask to take me to New Spain!

I was so young then. At 16, I was so naïve and I honestly thought that things could be that simple. I knew that my life was going to be challenging – to say the least – due to my being a witch, but I was still very inexperienced in this great experiment called life and I did not know anything about men. I believed in the ideal of a true man who was educated, witty, an able horse rider and a skilled swords man, a good dancer and a poet – preferably romantic – and knowledgeable about the arts. Hernando seemed to be much of that man. He was a soldier, so he knew how to handle a sword, he rode horses; he was funny and educated. Of course, I had no idea whether he could dance or make up verses, but I hoped to find out. My enthusiasm seemed to have given me wings and I spent most of my time with my head in the clouds, imagining different scenarios and conversations with him.

When morning came, I wore my nice dress. I possessed only two dresses: the one I wore on a daily basis, grey with long black sleeves and a black belt; and the one I saved for special occasions, such as town festivities, fairs, weddings, and my meeting with this handsome stranger. This gown was of a much brighter color. It was pleasantly soft yellow and puffed up below the waist. Its top closed with white buttons just above the chest and it did give me a nice figure, although I still thought that I was too thin. My mother was in the back yard feeding the chickens when I got changed, and she was not supposed to see me in this dress, for she would know right away why I wore it. She blindly trusted me to obey as I always had in the past. She never suspected me when I closed the buttons of my bodice and then silently escaped the small house. I ran down the path, hurrying away from our dwelling before she came back inside and noticed my disappearance. What I would tell her later, I did not know yet, but I knew I would be in huge trouble. He was worth it though, and even if he left and did not take me with him, I would always cherish the memory of him, of a beautiful man who was not afraid to talk to me.

When I made it to the main town gate, the young guard regaled me with a look I had never seen on him. He seemed … impressed, or perhaps he was just surprised.

“My, Cecilia, you look stunning! What is the occasion?” He said.

Immediately I blushed.

Or shall I ask who the occasion is?” He grinned mischievously as he let me through. I smiled but did not say anything.

I knew where the inn was, and I headed for the main square. The market stalls were still in the street covered by canopies and I passed the stand of the man with the great moustache. He began to offer me his wares, but I shook my head and pointed to the main square behind him.

Other business, eh,” he said. I nodded and entered the square which was filled with food stalls, vegetables, fruits, nuts, goats, pigs, horses, chickens, different cheeses, and many more wares. I did not stop at any of the stands; I only had eyes for the inn on the opposite side. My heart beat loudly; I could feel it in my rib cage. Nervously I hurried over the square, the various stands blocking my way, obliging me to turn left and right on the makeshift paths between them, making my journey longer. When I finally reached the inn, I stood still for a moment, feeling the butterflies rage through my body. I flicked my hair back. I wore it loose today, something I never did, but it had looked nice in the mirror.

There was no need to go in and look for him. He came outside to meet me. He took my hands in his and said: “You look beautiful.”

No one had ever called me beautiful …

“Are you hungry?” He asked.

I nodded and smiled.

He pulled me gently inside where a large room welcomed us. It was filled with wooden tables and a few were occupied by locals. I knew most of them and some turned to look who had come in. When they saw me in the company of the stranger, they seemed very surprised, and they whispered to their companions who then also stared at me. Hernando noticed, but did not comment on it. I was terrified. What if he discovered what I was and let me go because of it? All the men in my family had abandoned us, Thora, Margarita, Isabella, my mother Marina, and now me? Perhaps I had been too hopeful. It did not matter if he took me away from here. Once he knew what I was, he would discard me like the men of my ancestors had done. I felt like walking out right there, but instead I allowed him to lead me to a table. It stood by the wall. The whole room had stone walls which made it look like a cavern. The entrance to the kitchen was barred by a low wooden door, and delicious aromas wafted out.

I made a remark about the interior, saying that it seemed like a giant cave.

“Have you never been here?”

"Not inside.”

“Why not?”

I shrugged.

“I never had any need.”

“You always eat at home?”

“Yes.”

His eyes twinkled as if my answer amused him.

Tell me more about New Spain,” I said, not willing to say anything else about it, and I was dying to hear more about his adventures.

“It will be my pleasure, but on one condition.”

Surprised I looked at him.

“You need to tell me about yourself too. I know nothing about you whereas you already know so much about me,” he said.

“Fair enough.”

Lunch turned into a beautiful afternoon. We had a scrumptious meal and drank wine. We talked and laughed, strolled over the market place, looked at the wares and found out more about each other, but I kept my mouth firmly shut about my inheritance. I learned that he indeed was an educated man. He had studied history and French and he was knowledgeable about science. To my delight, he informed me that he liked to dance, but unfortunately, he was not much given to create poetry. He said that he did not have any talent for it. He had joined Hernan Cortez´ expedition because he was looking for adventure, and in the process discovered a great culture and found his home. He told me a lot about his encomienda and he patiently answered all my questions about the Aztecs. My curiosity seemed to intrigue him.

In turn I told him about my life here, my mother, and how we maintained the little house on the outskirts of town, but I wisely avoided the topic of witches. When he asked me why we did not live in town, I told him that the house had been passed down for generations and that in that time most people moved into town. I lied when I said that there used to be more houses. He did not contradict me, but I knew that there was doubt in his mind. Nowhere near my home were any ruins or even markings of former dwellings. There was nothing made or left by man, only fields and forests, nothing else. He did not say anything about it, but I read his mind and there were a lot of questions. He started to doubt me … The word “witch” had not entered his thoughts yet, but it would not be long before someone in town would put it there. He would find out soon enough.

He walked me home in the late afternoon and when we passed the gate the guard smirked mischievously. However, when we reached our house I grew very apprehensive. My mother would be furious at my disobedience. Hernando insisted on delivering me safely to her and speak on my behalf, and he would not take no for an answer.

As I expected, Marina was standing in the doorway, awaiting me impatiently, crossing her arms and glaring at me with dark, threatening eyes. Before she could speak, Hernando said: “Do not be cross. It is entirely my fault that she went to see me. She had no way of sending me a message, and so she came to tell me that she could not come, and I kept her.”

It was a silly lie, and he was even amused by it, for he could not hold his grin, but she scoffed.

In her good dress?” She asked in a shaky voice. I knew that voice too well. She was trying to control herself, trying not to shout in front of this man.

“Well, it does look nice on her.”

“She had no permission and if you had any good sense, you would have escorted her home immediately.” Then she turned to me and asked sternly: “Has this man touched you?”

“Mother!”

“Has he?”

“No, Milady,” he said. “Why do you insult me?”

“You insult me by taking my only daughter away for a whole day! I did not know if she was safe or…”

Why would she not be?” He asked surprised.

I remember you, with your beard and torn clothes. I know what you are, and your fancy clothes and clean-shaven face do not change that.”

Feeling slighted, he stared at her, and his mind asked the unspoken question if the woman was mad. I was embarrassed.

“Mother, what is wrong with you? He has been such a gentleman. In fact, he is much more of a gentleman than any of the scoundrels in town.”

Angrily she turned to me and said: “He is a gentleman until he gets what he wants, and then he will drop you, just like that!”

Milady,” he said, clearly insulted now.

“You are not staying here, are you? Then tell me, what do you want from my daughter? Why would you want to spend so much time with her?”

She is excellent company. “

“And so you will fill her head with ideas and hopes, and then one day you will leave and break her heart.”

“Milady, we met two days ago. What do you expect from me? That I ask for her hand in marriage?”

He was mocking her, but to my horror, she replied: “Yes! If you have no decent intentions, then you should leave and not come back. In fact, stay away until you leave town, because as soon as you find out what she is, you will turn your back on her anyway.”

I realized that she was trying to protect me from harm, but I resented her for the way she was doing it. She had insulted him and now she had frightened him off. She had ruined my chances before I even got them. She had ruined everything, but now even she understood that she had given away too much, and when he wanted to know what I was, she bit her lip, regretting her outburst.

“Nothing,” she said. “Please leave now.”

“What is she?” He repeated.

“Go,” she said.

“Please go,” I insisted, not wishing to answer any more questions. He saw my embarrassment, and I knew that he was curious, but he also knew that I did not wish him to see me like this.

He took a few steps back, looked at me one more time, and then turned and walked back to town. I stormed inside and to my room. My mother followed me, but I turned and faced her, and raged: “Stay away from me!”

“Cecilia!”

“You have ruined everything, everything! Just stay away! I do not want to see you right now!”

Surprisingly, she listened and indeed left me alone.


We spent the rest of the evening in stubborn silence and I refused to eat with her. She had spoiled one of the most beautiful days for me, and I was now convinced that he would not want to see me again. Why would he if he had to put up with my mad mother?

When she asked me for the fifth time to join her for dinner, I shook my head again. Annoyed, she left the room. I rose from my bed and walked over to the mirror. I knelt in front of it and looked at my reflection. My long black hair hung over my shoulders, forming a stark contrast with the pastel yellow dress. My face had some more color, probably because I had spent most of the afternoon outside. I met my black eyes in the mirror. They stared back at me and I knew that soon it would begin. When my mother came for the sixth time and saw me sitting in front of the mirror, she stopped asking me. She returned to the main room and ate alone while I saw my eyes glitter in the mirror. Sparks flew out and lit up the glass; and then I disappeared, and I saw a green meadow with a variety of flowers. Bees zoomed happily from flower to flower; yellow, green, and blue butterflies fluttered amiably over this sea of colors and here and there a hummingbird joined them. Such peace and absolute harmony. It was lovely to see such a beautiful image after the horrid scene from before. With joy I watched the display. Prey birds circled the sky. I knew they were predators, although I had never seen them here. What was the mirror showing me and where was this?

Suddenly the image was gone and bars appeared … prison bars … and behind them I saw desolate faces staring back at me. Young men and women, even children. There was sorrow in their eyes, a deep sadness and acceptance of their fate. Their skin was very pale and their hair hung listlessly and colorlessly around their haggard faces. They seemed to beckon me, ask me for help. I did not know who they were, but they seemed to know me. They seemed to be ageless. I moved a little closer and peered at their faces. I was dying to know what this meant, but suddenly my thoughts came to a sharp stop when the captive men and women opened their mouths. A horrid smell emanated from the mirror – something that very rarely happened – and in disgust I held my nose. To my horror their mouths opened wider and stretched abnormally as if their lips were elastic. Their mouths became deep dark holes and displayed long and sharp fangs. Their animalistic fangs began to drip blood as if they had just ripped flesh. The mouths stretched and stretched, the fangs flashed threateningly, and then shrieks came from deep inside their throats, but they were not their screams. They came from others … victims they had bitten, torn apart with their enormous fangs.


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