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Thoughts For The Departed; att. Chago
Topic Started: Aug 22 2013, 02:56 AM (1,516 Views)
NPC

Civilian
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PEPITA ZAMORRA de DOMINGUEZ[/align]

[align=center] Date: 1-st to 2-nd of November 1719
Place: Nueva Valencia, Nueva Granada[/align]



The Feast of the Departed was a holiday Pepita loved. Her deceased parents and siblings deserved being honoured properly, according to the tradition. Praying for them, in order to obtain the forgiving of past sins, and feeling their eerie, but familiar presence in the night when they return to watch over their loved ones, meant feeling a renewed connection with them. They have passed to a better life up there in heavens, without any pain and sorrow, and without the earthly worries.

She had prepared thoroughly for the holiday, cooking and baking both for the family feast and for the offerings meant to be brought to church and to the cemetery. There was a traditional sweet bread meant to be blessed by the priest and eaten during the two days of celebration, the first and second of November, which children were looking forward to taste too.

Today she had asked the children to help her clean and adorn the tombs, putting on them cypress branches and the traditional flower of the deceased, yellow-orange like the sun watching over all God’s creatures and like the dried blood turns after a while, getting one with the mother earth how it was told, with different words, even in Church.

To her surprise, Chago has been actively helping too, both here and at the house altar raised in the memory of God’s servants Jose Santiago, Juana, Maria, Francisco, Benito and a few other little angels whom God had called before their loving parents could give them a Christian name and a proper baptism. She hadn’t paid attention, though, to what he put there. The children dedicated one of their toys and a favourite item of clothing for their angel uncles and aunts, even little Chonita had to part with a shift which she had outgrown.

But the surprises didn’t end with Chago actively helping and getting involved in the decoration, more than her husband had done in any year for his own family’s deceased ones: at the masses held today, when the names of the deceased from the family were read, in between her family’s and her husband’s family, she had heard an unknown, strange name, obviously foreign: Hermione. And it was surely not a mistake, because it kept being mentioned, until she understood that it was there by her brother’s request. For this, it was enough to see his expression when hearing the name. So he lost a loved one – otherwise, he wouldn’t have insisted to have her name listed with the family; she must have had somewhere family to list her in their prayers, Pepita mused, oblivious to the fact that different countries had different traditions.

It explained why he seemed somehow changed from last time, why he sought, lately, Josema’s company… She was intrigued, but she knew that she’d have the answer tonight, during the cemetery vigil which marked the night when the spirits of the dead families returned to partake with the living ones the feast, the flowers, to hear the prayers and to watch over them. It was also a time to tell stories about all the deceased, and if Chago had a burden on his heart, this was the right time to take it out.

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
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Santiago Moreno
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Chago had been busy these days. Too busy to think deeper at Josema’s words from the first day they had met again. But as long as he had promised to think more about them, and as long as he kept spending as much time as he could with his brother and most time with his sister’s family, preparing for the Feast of the Departed, he was already on the way to healing his troubled soul… Only that it required still a long path. Besides prayers and being surrounded by the family love, both Josema and him knew it required quiet reflection time to realize everything new which was building inside him. To be an open vase to God’s work, as Josema had told him among other things - and for this, he was not ready yet.

For now, he had helped Pepita and Juanba build the cross decorated with the proper flowers, to be put at the cemetery, and the children to do the home altar, also adorned with the same yellow-orange specific flowers and plenty of candles. Here in Nueva Valencia, the altars had two or three levels, representing the Heavens and Earth, and the third was the Purgatory. In other people’s interpretation, the three layered altars were representing the Holy Trinity.

According to the tradition, there were toys for Chago’s, Josema’s and Pepita’s deceased young siblings, their father’s favourite sombrero and neckerchief, kept as mementos, their mother’s jewelry that Pepita had inherited – a silver medal of Saint John and a pair of silver earrings her husband had bought her, and a few amulets from her tribe. They had vases of water, wine and the local fermented drink made with maize and pineapple, chicha, a traditional drink offered at the Feast of the Departed.

People believed that their departed loved ones returned that night to look at things they liked, to partake of their favourite foods and drinks, the children to play with toys and to watch over the new occupants of the craddle. They definitely weren’t the scary ghosts from certain stories. The familiar spirits weren’t to fear, but to love, and the Feast of the Departed was exactly the moment when living and dead could be reunited again for a brief respite.

Chago had been the one to bring two buckets of water, to fill all the needed dishes… and one more. Nobody had paid attention what else the home altar had: a few sea shells from his eldest niece’s collection he had brought her a while ago, as they were rarities in a town far from the sea, and a green silk scarf knotted into a bow, with a ring on it. The scarf was Hermione’s gift to him when he left Kingston, seeking the peace of Tortuga to heal the aching wounds of torture, and the ring with turquoise sea waves was the one he wanted to give her on Michaelmas, when he came decided to convince her to go away with him, only to find the desert shadows of death. The other gift from her, the rosary, received in June, for protection, was kept against his chest, close to his heart. This couldn’t have been put on the altar, but there was another rosary, made of scented rose wood, next to the scarf and ring.

He also asked Manolita for a hot chocolate among the beverages brought to the altar, in the memory of their date and of the bouquet of spices he had brought her at his second trip. Yes, raiding Pepita’s kitchen for spices to create a similar “bouquet”was also an idea, and he succeeded it with his niece’s complicity. It was nothing unusual in his request, as Manolita knew already that incense, laurel, sweet basil, marjory and sage were used as fragrances to guide the souls back to their dedicated altars. The perfume of the spices would remind him the afternoon he had explained the secrets of his original bouquet, the afternoon he had tasted for the first time her love and passion. Their short time of happiness before everything went spiralling downwards at his subsequent trip to Kingston.

Honouring the dead ones and feeling them close meant for him, first and foremost, a last opportunity to feel Hermione close, to tell her how many things had remained untold and to understand how to live with the guilt of having been the reason for her untimely death. This and the novena were ways to find closure. Every gesture he had made lately, every thought, were for her. He knew that some people, some years, had succeeded to feel or see one of their loved ones returning around the altar for the holiday. He hoped he might get a sign from Hermione too, if he helped her, with everything he could, find her rest.

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JOSE MANUEL ZAMORRA [/align]

Padre Jose Manuel felt a little strange to have to officiate exactly for the Feast of All Saints and for the Feast of the Faithful Departed here, in his birth town, where he was known more as Josema, the son of Don Sancho Zamorra, a former Mayor’s guard. He was officiating a mass in honour of his parents who hadn’t lived enough to see him becoming a priest, how his mother had fervently wished, and of his deceased siblings he remembered or not.

But, besides being in a closer communion with his ancestors now, there were the living siblings who needed light and guidance… and especially Chago, his elder brother. He had talked with him extensively, he had heard his confessions, he had prayed with Chago the novena for the rest of the departed soul of God’s servant Hermione – today was the sixth day, and between masses, they had done it too.

Searching through the lives of the saints, he told Chago that Hermione had a patron saint, who had known torture and execution for her faith, like most saints, and who had as feast day the 4-th of September. Therefore, one saint more to pray for the rest of her soul. He gave Chago to read the saint's life, highlighting the fact that Saint Hermione's tomb in Ephesus became a place of healing and pilgrimage, with holy myrrh flowing from the grave for the healing of the faithful.

"With the help of her patron saint and your prayers, she'll find the needed rest, and you'll find the healing and peace of soul you are searching," he said.

Josema didn’t judge – nor Chago’s deeds, neither the woman’s he was praying for. It was between his brother and God, and between the unfortunate Hermione and God. He knew that before an execution, a holy confession and the prayer for the absolution of sins was among the rules; at least her poor soul didn’t leave unattended - or so he thought. He couldn't know that the evilness of her prosecutor hadn't allowed even this to happen.

By the power of the novena prayers, which Josema used to continue with a few more, given that they were praying together, Chago had felt God’s guidance, His support in the bereavement, His tears united with the mourner’s, and also the fact that the remembrance of death was also the remembrance of eternal life had been the focus on today’s part of the novena. There were still three days left of it. Very well, as, with God’s help, Padre Jose Manuel would have to leave in about a week, remembering that his return to the civilization had a purpose for the mission he was serving at.

What nobody knewn was that he had also prayed a lot these days for the troubled soul of Juan Santiago, asking for guidance from all patron saints – his and his brother’s. Chago needed healing, forgiveness, guidance and another kind of repentance than the one he had succeeded to evoke in his brother.

Yesterday evening, at All Saints’ Vigil, after lighting the candles and saying the litany of saints, he was the one to perform the affirmation of the commitment to Christ and the rejection of all evil – or, how some people called it, not so correctly in his opinion, a renewal of the Baptism. He had asked the congregation to stand and answer to his questions, reaffirming their belief in the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, as he had done it so many times – only that now, here were the elders who had known him from early childhood, his former schoolmates and their families, the neighbours and the only Earthly relatives he had. But for the next specific questions, no matter that he had asked the whole congregation, it was his brother he was looking at and paying attention to his lips in answers:

”Will you forgive others as you are forgiven? Will you seek to love your neighbour as yourself, and strive for peace and justice? Will you accept the cost of following Jesus Christ in your daily life and work?”

Unfortunately, he had heard enough of Chago’s original way of thinking, to know that the answer to the latest question might mean something different for him than it should. But he had been taught that for any thought to have strength to effect a change deep within the soul, it needed to be incarnate in daily life and to find expression in Christian behavior, and that the link between the living and the dead was reinforced by prayers. Actually, this was what he had said at the mass today, as well. He kept praying for all the dead ones, including Chago’s lover, and for the healing of the bereaved ones.
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Chago had attended all the church services, listening piously and saying, in a whisper, the Requiem and all the other prayers he knew. Actually, given that he was doing the novena for the rest of the departed souls, and Josema had been praying together with him, he was now accustomed with many of them. Yesterday evening, in church, at all saints’mass, he felt his brother’s boring gaze after the lighting of the candles. Josema was looking at him precisely when asking the congregation:

”Will you forgive others as you are forgiven?”

Chago had found the question extremely painful. He was forgiven… was he? Well, for past sins from the Army time, he had been forgiven by doing the pilgrimage to Compostela. Padre Domingo had talked with him a whole night, and he gave him the absolution. For what he had done meanwhile… he hadn’t received the absolution yet, but he hoped that, he would, following a new discussion with Josema, after the holidays. Josema told him that they would talk in depth again only after finishing the novena, because this would help him learn new things about himself. Maybe his brother understood him and wouldn’t deny it to him, with the proper penitence.

But to forgive the others… wouldn’t this include Commander Benton too, among others? How could he, when the one who had ordered Hermione’s death was happy and successful, torturing others and others and sending them to untimely death? Was it fair to give up any wish of revenge against the man who had ordered Hermione’s execution?

”I will, with God’s help,” he answered, as requested, but with difficulty and a bit later than the others, swallowing a painful knot in his throat.

He remembered that Old Garrick, the Grey Traveller, had advised him the same, but then, Chago had focused on thinking Hermione would have wanted to know the villain had paid for his deeds. He didn’t know anymore if this was true or not, but he hoped that during the feast vigil he would understand. Maybe this was the right sign in this direction…

”Will you seek to love your neighbour as yourself, and strive for peace and justice?”

It was a bit easier to answer this. He had always strived for peace and justice, this was why he was choosing his missions and why he had never accepted a mission he considered wrong. (Well, there was one, a few months ago, about which he had twists of conscience afterwards, enhanced by the different perspective Hermione had brought about it when asking her, as neutrally as possible, for a woman’s point of view. But in the moment he had accepted it, and in the moment he had carried it out, he thought that helping a grieving father find his missing daughter was the best thing possible. The fact that she had not been exactly kidnapped sank in only afterwards.)

The part of “seeking to love your neighbour as yourself” was the problem here, as it involved also people like Commander Benton, and like those who had kidnapped the coloured girls and brought them to Santo Domingo’s marshes, and many others he had been paid to kill.

Garrick and Josema had told him that he shouldn’t judge the others; that it was only God’s to do it. But, at the same time, Padre Domingo had told him differently, while in Compostela: that if God considered a man not worth dying, He could do anything to prevent his death – escaping a follower, making an aim or a stroke fail, or other things. If this was the way God was telling him that He had other plans on Commander Benton… could he say anything else?

But this line of thought, about judging another’s timely death, brought to Chago a revelation: what if he wasn’t the one guilty for Hermione’s death, as he had thought since learning about it? What if God had allowed her to die for reasons only He knew? It could have been a punishment for her adulterous life, and it could have been a punishment for Chago’s previous sins as well… to lose the woman he loved.

“I will, with God’s help”, he finally said, feeling clearly that he was abandoning his dream of revenge with it.

Maybe old Garrick was right too. Killing Commander Benton would not bring Hermione back to life, unfortunately; it would only add to his sins a broken promise… perjury. Besides, any man he had killed had a wife, a beloved or a fiancée to mourn his death, maybe a mother, a sister or children to miss him. If he had deserved a comeuppance, they might not. And could Chago doubt that God had a punishment in store, sooner or later, for the man who had committed enough sins in his authority position?

Yes, Chago would try to forgive and go on, if it was the only way to honour Hermione’s memory. He mustn’t let anger consume him and send him on a mad path, losing his life in vain. This was a conscious decision from his part, even if he didn’t know exactly how to accomplish it.
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PEPITA ZAMORRA de DOMINGUEZ[/align]

Pepita was proud to attend a mass officiated by Josema. She felt that everybody was looking at her too, thinking or whispering – ”Look, she’s his sister! Such a good priest… why had he left for the wilderness instead of staying here with us, his folks?”

However, she had to pay more attention to her children, to make sure they were behaving properly in church, especially the younger ones. The exhaustion of the day of intensive work took a toll on the woman. Holidays of all kind were always like this. Pleasant, but so tiresome.

Besides, unlike her brothers, who had attended school with the priests and knew as much Latin as needed in church, she had only learnt by heart the prayers she had to know for the confirmation, so there were many parts of the mass she didn’t actually listen to. She was praying in her own way – including for her brother Chago, who, on the opposite side of the church, seemed to be focusing on the sermon and answering with the others – but, after a while, her thoughts drifted at what she had to do further tomorrow. Arranging the tombs. Preparing the feast. So, her brother’s emotion remained unnoticed this time. There were other things she was curious about in his respect. And he would be properly questioned…

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
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Santiago Moreno
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The prescribed questions, appropriate for the mass of All Saints, continued:

”Will you accept the cost of following Jesus Christ in your daily life and work?”

It was a high cost, indeed, but he could do it. Again, in his own way – as he could always do things. If this was the cost needed to obtain the peace for Hermione’s tormented soul, so be it. Was it such a big sacrifice? He had always tried to serve God in his work, as he had promised to Padre Domingo in Compostela, when receiving the Cross of Santiago and pledging blemishless honour. Obviously, he hadn’t always succeeded it…

“I will, with God’s help”.

With these questions, given that he was already in the mindset of praying and searching for his own healing and atonement of the guilt for Hermione’s death, the sound of the organ and the smell of incense and of so many people gathered to pay devotion to all saints – all meaning Saint Hermione was included, Santiago the Apostle was included, Saint John, his other patron saint too – he reminisced another crowded Cathedral where pilgrims were asked similar things.

The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was a journey of intense spiritual load, beyond any comparison. An experience which meant more than talking to God, finding forgiveness and finding himself. Well, with gaining a high-up friend as a bonus.

It was as if the sudden darkness around him transported him back in time to the year 1711, when he had made the journey to Compostela in the middle of the war, as a guard to Don Manuel Benavides Davila, the son of the marquis de Villafranca, Don Francisco Benavides Dávila. The old marquis was too ill to be able to do the pilgrimage, but he had promised it to the saint in a particular circumstance, so it was up to his son to meet the promise. It was wartime, even if this route was considered safer now and no enemy was in sight, only some French allies hosted in the main cities. The Eastern side, with the assieged Barcelona, was the enemy target now; nevertheless, the noble pilgrim received as companions the best Army men, led by a young lieutenant who had the honour to have the Great Apostle as patron saint. This particular mission had been Chago’s greatest joy. He had wished for an opportunity to make the pilgrimage while in Spain, not only to honour his patron saint and to give thanks for having remained alive after so many battles and after crossing the ocean during wartime, under the nose of preying English privateers and Navy. Only Rome and Jerusalem were stronger pilgrimages than the Way of Santiago, and properly arriving to Compostela with saying the right prayers meant obtaining for sure the atonement of sins and finding the inner peace he was lacking since the pacifying missions among the Guajiro Indians.

Chago remembered the route they had taken, from Villafranca to Avila, then, following the river Duero, to the beautiful Zamora – no doubt, the place of origin of his hidalgo ancestors, kept in his Sevillan father’s surname. He wished his father could know about it... Both in Avila and in Zamora there were churches dedicated to Santiago, but he felt even more impressed when learning that El Cid Campeador had been knighted in the church Santiago de los Caballeros, in Zamora. El Cid had always been his favourite hero, so this had been a special experience.

From Zamora to Verin, already in Galicia, where people spoke a dialect Chago hadn’t heard before, closer to Portuguese language, there had been troubles on the roads. Highwaymen were well organised, given that the armies, both the Spanish and the French one, had taken, in the previous years, what they could from the poor villages and little towns, and the forests were on their side more than on the pilgrims’. They had the traditional pilgrim’s staff, but not in plain view, and they hadn’t got yet the scallop, as they were far from the shores, so the highwaymen might not have known whom they had attacked. They were taken by surprise, and the escort was rather scattered, both advantages of the bandits. There were five men – don Manuel included – against twelve for the main conflict, as the other soldiers had theirs to fight with where they were, more in front or at the end of the convoy. Don Manuel had been hurt, but if it wasn’t for Chago to deflect the enemy’s attack, he would have been dead. Then, once most of the highwaymen killed and the surviving ones scared away, he was the one to know how to clean and stitch the wound, and what plants to use as a poultice in order not to get worse.

From Verin to Ourense,where another cathedral which envied the one in Compostela and attempted to copy its portic, given that it was deidicated to the same saint, the road was quieter, and Don Manuel, friendlier. Even more that he recovered his strength until arriving to Compostela. He was really grateful to Chago for having saved his life, and this had been the start of an interesting friendship between the heir of a marquis and the one of a hidalgo.

The last part of the pilgrimage to Compostela, and the most difficult, started in Ourense, with long stretches of sun-beaten steep trails over an already installed tiredness, and with the need to avoid more delays in order to arrive in Compostela a few days before the saint’s feast day, July 25. This was the essence of the effort and meditation put in the pilgrimage. Even if they weren’t barefoot and walking, like some of the pilgrims, travelling on horseback on that kind of terrain meant often having to take your horse on the reins and walk by its side. It had been a time to think and a time to pray, and also a time to discuss with Don Manuel and find things in common and differences alike.

Then, he remembered the joy of arriving to Compostela before the saint’s feast day. The great church in the main square, with the portico da Gloria so sumptuously carved, and with the pillar where the hands of the many pilgrims have worn a groove in the stone.

They were hosted by monks, in the wait for the festivities of the next days. It was believed that having the company of a monk who would prepare the pilgrim for the holiday was benefic – and for Chago it was. His kind host was padre Domingo, a man in his sixties. Besides praying together, the old man had asked him why he wanted Santiago’s grace. They had discussed all night, exchanging stories from the Army, as padre Domingo had been in the Order of Santiago before settling to a completely monastic life, and he had fought enough wars, knowing the hardships and the temptations a soldier encountered. He had confessed to him, receiving absolution, together with wise advice for his life in the army (and not only). He also received the cross which had protected him until now.

”You are a soldier, fighting where you have been ordered to. God’s word says to do your duty properly wherever you are, and to obey your superiors. They will be judged for their orders. Your sins aren’t yours, they are the ones’ who had ordered you to kill women, children and priests, and they will be judged accordingly. You can do your duty well, and you can choose not to kill innocents when you are given the possibility, given that you are a lieutenant now. But you know sometimes others will decide for you, and you won’t have the choice. Try to serve God in no matter what job you are doing, because the Psalm 112 teaches you that He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.. And you will have the protection of your patron saint and my prayers for you too.”

He couldn’t help wondering if padre Domingo was still alive and praying for him, as he had promised.

The mass the next day was done in a Cathedral fuller than the one today. The same questions as today had been asked at a certain moment, and he had answered more whole-heartedly than now. He was twenty years old and full of hopes… Now he was almost twenty nine and feeling all the weight of a hundred years.

He had lived the miracle of the mass at the Feast of Santiago. He had been told that the swinging of the centuries-old, solid silver censer would grant them Saint James’ blessing, and he was extremely grateful. He felt so light without his tormenting sins, knowing that he had been forgiven and that he could change the way he was seeing his life, even if he kept being in the Army. The cross of Santiago, protector of all soldiers, was protecting him too.

Chago also remembered the feast day parade of giant puppets, the strident sound of Galician bagpipes, the traditional music of the region, the religious plays… Both he and don Manuel had fraternized with all the others, had learnt to dance ribeirana in the sound of those bagpipes and in the percussion rhythm… Joy after meditation, feeling a new impetus to life… one he had recently lost. And, also, at the end of the festivities, the dare to complete their pilgrimage with the three day journey to Finisterre, a place of astonishing beauty where they said it was Europe’s westernmost extent.

His nephew’s hand on his arm made him return to present, and to the church of Nueva Valencia. The mass was over, the feasts would start. But the impression of the pilgrimage remained.

...Maybe this was the solution. He would talk with Josema, one of the upcoming days, if it was wise to consider one of the pilgrimage destinations of the Spanish Main, because there were a few. Surely not as famous as Compostela, Rome or Jerusalem, but still a experience which might bring back peace of soul and forgiveness of sins.
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PEPITA ZAMORRA de DOMINGUEZ[/align]

The Day of All Saints had passed, with them attending the masses, then going to the cemetery, putting the flower cross and all the decorations. Flower and fruit garlands were everywhere. To her astonishment, Chago was the one who volunteered to put the flower cross at the tomb. Last years it was her husband, Juanba, who did it. She saw her brother doing something more there, but when she wanted to ask him about it, Pepito and Manolita started to fight and she had to separate them, so she lost the moment.

Tomorrow would be the Day of All Souls. Some people spent the night between these days at the cemetery, others at home, in front of the family altar, but anyway, they were to tell stories about their deceased loved ones. This was the best time for her curiosity to get sated.

Tomorrow, the Feast of the Departed required them to spend all day in the cemetery. Three masses were to be held there during the day. The churches were empty, the cemeteries full. The living and the dead together for a night and a day, this was the way of life here. Pepita felt good about it. She missed her mother the most.

As they were eating, drinking chicha and talking about the departed, Pepita couldn't abstain anymore, and she asked directly, looking at Chago:

"Who is Hermione? Today is the right day to tell us about her, since her name got counted with our family's."

She had been patient enough...

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
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Santiago Moreno
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Chago couldn’t say that he didn’t expect at all the question – he might not have expected it if it wasn’t a foreign name.

”If she was still alive, I was going to bring her home to you, Pepita. You and the children would have been the best ones to teach her Spanish, and to help her adapt to a new country,” he started, not sure what exactly to say about her.

There were many things he could tell them… except the fact that he had been in love with a married woman. This was a detail worth Josema’s ears, as he could forgive everything, but not for Pepita and the children.

”I am not sure what would you want to hear from me now… She lived in Kingston, she was beautiful, with chocolate brown hair and amber eyes. Her parents owned a little plantation, not too big but not as small as to be called a mere farm. It was God who wanted me to meet her. We found each other in church, in early May. She was… just different. Delicate and smart, worldly and cultivated. She liked poetry, songs, she could give good advice… I enjoyed spending my free time with her every time I went there, but it took a while until I understood that I really loved her. She loved me too. She sacrificed her life for me, only that I learnt too late the details. And when I was ready to take her away, she wasn’t anymore among us,” he ended the story barely able to speak.

Manolita came by his side, in a gesture of comfort. She was curious about the love story too. She had remarked the green scarf and the ring on the altar, but she hadn’t dared to ask him yet for whom they were.

”There have remained lots of things untold between us. We thought time was on our side, unfortunately we were wrong. And, besides the novena for the rest of her soul, that I am praying together with Josema, her unquiet soul needs being prayed for during the mass. She has nobody else left to pray for her than me; she needs a thought and a place in this altar too… and even tomorrow at the cemetery. I was in the cemetery in Kingston, but I couldn’t find where she was buried.”

Of course he couldn’t, since executed criminals didn’t have a distinct tomb.

Tio, were the scarf and the ring hers?” she asked.

”Yes, the scarf was hers, and she gave it to me when I had to leave. The ring is the one I wanted to give her on Michaelmas and to persuade her to come with me,” he said. ”I have also this rosary from her – yes, she was Catholic, like us.”
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Pepita listened to his story, as fascinated as Manolita was. Josema knew it, but he listened with interest too, curious how he’d tell it this time.

If Chago said that he was ready to bring her home, it meant it was serious. Of course she was curious and willing to hear more, but his voice was full of grief, the wound in his heart was still fresh.

”If God had other plans about her, I guess He knows better. He wanted to test your faith and strength, most likely,” she repeated the words she had heard in church so many times – including when she lost a child not yet two months old.

So she was English, but Catholic? Pepita didn’t understand anymore. As far as she knew, they were all heretics. But if Chago said it, it meant he knew better. He had traveled a lot. She had questions for him, but she hesitated asking them. She didn’t want her brother to suffer more than he obviously did – and if the part of “She sacrificed her life for me, only that I learnt too late the details” might wait for later, no matter how much she wanted to know everything.

So, the loving sister preferred to focus on another part of her brother’s confession:

”I think you have done the best thing, if she has nobody else to pray for her. I promise to light a candle for her too every time I do it for our parents, if this eases your burden a little,” she said earnestly. ”As for the untold things… I think tonight is the best moment to actually say them. Later, when the feast is over and the atmosphere quieter, take a quill, a piece of paper and write her a letter. It’s not about her actually being able to read it if you gave it to her then. Her spirit will understand the words from your heart no matter in which language you write them.”

”Yes, Chago, this is the best advice,” Josema intervened too. ”Besides writing in a letter everything you had never arrived to tell her in person, spend your night here, next to the altar, praying for her, thinking of her… The things you couldn’t do at a normal vigil, as she had none. And I think you will feel better in the morning, albeit tired. You’ll have time to rest after the mass in the cemetery.”

All three – Pepita, Josema and Manolita – looked silently at the rosary.

Tio, I’ll pray for her too, if you tell me again her name,” the little one said on a serious tone.

Manolita had studied the ring extensively before. It had the sea waves expected from a sailor as she knew her uncle was. Too pity that the lady it was destined to never got to receive it.

”Have you ever played your guitar to her? Because if yes, this evening is the right moment to do it again. We want to hear the songs she liked. You have put there the scarf and the ring – so she is with us tonight, and she can listen to you. She knows you love her and cherish her memory,” the girl added, looking up at her uncle with faith and determination.

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Chago looked at Pepita startled, admitting, inside him, that she somehow had a point – both about him being tested (or rather punished for his own misdeeds, and she for hers) and about writing her a letter with all the things left untold.

”This is something I can do, and I will do.”

It matched well his ideas.

”I will need, however, you to give me back, empty, the tea caddy I brought you. I promise you another full one next time I come here… and it hopefully will be sooner than once a year.”

He had intended to ask for it anyway, but putting also a letter inside made better sense and, at the same time, it allowed him to express what he hadn’t been able to since Michaelmas.

Chago was deeply moved by Pepita’s offer – accompanied, a little later, by Manolita’s – to pray for her and light a candle even when he wouldn’t be there with them.

”Tell it after me: Hermione,” he repeated the dear name for both of them. ”Thank you for your prayers, they are greatly appreciated.”

The song request made sense also, Manolita had a good idea. Of course Hermione was with them in this special night, of course she knew that he loved her, and he knew that he had been loved too; at least this was what they had time to share during their last two encounters in August, the one interrupted by soldiers and the good bye one after his reluctant release.

After the meal, Chago played, right there, in front of the altar, ”If I was a blackbird”, the first song he had dedicated to her, then the ballad of the third sister, which shocked them that they were able to understand it, despite the certain differences in words.

Later, he played for his present, Spanish-speaking, familiar audience two other appropriate songs - the nightingale prince’s ballad, valid for all the princesses confined in towers built without their approval, and poor Count de Olinos’ ballad. He couldn’t help his voice from trembling at the final stanzas, thinking that, in his case, it was the reverse – she had been killed, and he was looking for reasons not to happen like in the song, not to die of broken heart by her side.
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Pepita looked at him, surprised by his request. Of course she would have used the tea caddy if he didn’t ask for it back, but she didn’t object at all.

”I’ll give it back to you. And if you come home again sooner, the better!” she answered with a smile.

She hadn’t expected to learn so much about her eldest brother… and she had no idea that there were still a lot of things she didn’t know about him. She repeated, together with her daughter, the British name to get it right, then she focused on serving the courses and making sure that everybody had a full mug of chicha, drank in the memory of the departed.

After dinner, when the people remained gathered around the altar, telling stories about the deceased and playing and singing their favourite songs, Chago had played foreign, strangely sounding but beautiful songs, as well as the well known ones which described better his grief.

She felt suddenly ashamed for all her matchmaking attempts.

As promised, all of them have said together, upon Josema's leading, the prayer for the rest of the departed souls, mentioning also Hermione. Pepita hoped it would help, especially that Chago had done the novena before the mass too.

Upon Chago’s request, later in the evening, Juancho brought him a quill, ink and paper, but he hadn’t started yet to write the letter until all of them had gone to sleep.

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The night was advanced when Chago started writing. At first, the letters came with difficulty, as if he had forgotten how to write. Then, they came in a hurry, keeping up with his feverish thoughts, in the candlelight and in the smell of incense and spices from the altar. He was alone to gather his thoughts and put them on the paper. To evoke Hermione’s love and his honest intentions.

Beloved queen of my heart,

I don't know how to start this letter, as there are so many things I had longed to tell you and I couldn’t anymore. I have never thought this would happen, never thought that it would be over, that we would say our last goodbye when I had to run away.

I promised to return to you and I did, with a ring (which, even if it couldn’t mean what it usually does, it was a lifelong promise from me to you) and with the intention to take you away, to a safer place, and to a life surrounded with love. The ring which is still here, making waves as deep as the tears I could or couldn’t shed when learning about your death… your execution. And everything from my fault!

Three months have passed since I have seen your face and heard your sweet voice professing your love for me – as if I needed any reassurance, when the facts showed it better. You have endangered yourself for me; you have put your reputation at risk going to ask for my employer’s favour; you have kept loving me …and I kept loving you too, no matter what obstacles life gave us. And instead of anything else… you gave your life where mine would have been asked for. There is no word in any language for my grief in these circumstances, and it is too hard to realize that we will never again have a conversation. Never again will I feel your delicate touch.

Well, this love letter – the only one I had ever written in my life – is my side of the conversation which had built up inside me… like the turquoise waves on the ring, willing to get out somehow. And tonight is the night when you are here with me, unseen but present, reading over my shoulder what I am writing to you, knowing my love for you. Probably you have heard the prayers too. Including my sister’s and the children’s. You got a glimpse of the life I would have offered to you.

Somehow, every day I am reminded of you in some little way, and I wonder if this is meant to happen for the rest of my life. Yes, I know, in my thoughts I had compared you, for a while, at the beginning of our relationships, to a past flame, finding similarities and differences. And the differences were exactly why I love you, while for her it wasn’t exactly love. Call it lust mixed with admiration, respect and friendship… but not the love we shared. And this was why it was easy to break up with her without bad thoughts, while I couldn’t get my thoughts off you when I got scared, in June, that I was too attached to you and I had tried to run away from myself more than from you.

I can’t believe how badly I ache for you right now, and I have been for a long while. Thinking about it brings the feelings back all over again. I loved the way you felt in my arms, so fragile yet so strong, the silky softness of your body, your touch, the taste of your lips. Words could never express the waterfall of emotions you opened inside me. How you made me quiver with every touch, how my heart resounded with the music of your soul. I loved holding you, kissing you, just being with you. You were everything I wanted, and not only someone I lusted for, but whose witty conversation and wide culture I admired. I was lucky to feel, for a short while, the thrill of knowing I am the one for you, that out of all the people in the world, you chose me, I was the one you needed.

And now, that everything went upside down by a twist of fate, I am so lost without you. You are all I think about, the one I pray for, the one whose death I can’t find a way to avenge. At least if I hadn’t made a promise before it happened… a promise which binds me. Life without you, and with the guilt of knowing that you got killed instead of me, is a living hell. Now, Josema and the others are trying to alleviate it, but I can’t estimate for how long.

I am so thankful to have met you because you have taught me hope, and made me fall in love again. I know in my heart you were sent to me for a reason, to teach me the gift of love, to make me overcome Luisa’s ghost and dare again to offer my heart to a woman. If only I could figure out why I was left without you now. Why you were taken and not me.

I’ll go through each and every day putting one foot in front of the other while working hard to convince everyone that I am fine knowing that by my fault you had found your end. Until I hear a song I played to you, until I drink a hot chocolate flavoured like the one we drank together, or until I smell the same combination of spices I had offered you. Until I have to go to sleep. Until I fall apart and have to start all over again…without you, a lonely, errant knight who has as shield only your rosary.

I want you to know that you will always be in my heart. The times we spent together I will carry forever deep in my soul, keeping the memory of this incredible, untouchable, everlasting love for each other. A sad love like in the legends. And, like there, I am telling you that one day we will meet again. If it’s purgatory or hell, we’ll be together again, taking strength from each other. Our love will shine again once more - forever.


The page was filled on both sides with his neat, orderly penmanship. He let it dry and searched for the jug with chicha, to drink a sip more, then he folded the letter and kneeled in front of the altar, looking a place to put it. Perhaps under the scarf tied as a bow. He wanted to say another prayer afterwards, then go to sleep. As he was kneeling, he felt a feathery light touch on his shoulder, hearing a whisper he had heard a few months before:

”So you grace this place with your presence again, my kneeling Knight. Or do my eyes deceive me to see what my heart desires?”

He raised his eyes in surprise, recognizing both Hermione’s voice inflexions and her perfume.

”I am here, my lovely queen, trying to heal my heart from the grief you left behind. I love you, I could never forget you, and I can never forgive myself for having provoked you so much pain and the worst things possible,” he answered with a similar whisper.

He couldn’t see anything, but the reply came promptly:

”I love you too. My last thoughts have been about you, about our love. And it wasn’t you who brought me pain and shame – it was the cruel fate and that liar who had promised me something else. Your prayers do help, and so do your songs.”

”You will have more of them tomorrow, my love, and not only then.”

He hoped to hear something more, but it was just a gust of wind, blowing out a few of the candles on the altar, not all though.

In the morning, he told Josema that he had seen Hermione during the night.
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Josema somehow expected this to happen. It was a night when it was possible, when God allowed the dead and the living to mingle for appeasing grief. And given that his brother was in deep sorrow, and thinking only about his loss, the approach was welcome.

”If you wrote her a letter, no doubt that she could understand it and she came to give you some answers. Were the answers satisfactory?” he asked simply.

Then, as he had to be in the cemetery before the others, together with the priests, for the mass, he told Chago that today, the novena in church would be prayed later in the evening, after the third mass, but there would be the traditional prayers in the cemetery too.
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In the morning, even if he hadn’t slept much, Chago was ready to go to the cemetery with the others. He was feeling more serene after the brief discussion with Hermione, that he confessed to Josema, receiving only a raised brow and a direct question..

”I wouldn’t call the answers satisfactory. It would be too small a word for my feelings, but yes, she told me that my prayers help her, and that I am not to blame for what happened – and this makes me feel better. I will gladly rejoin you in church after the third mass – until then, I am with Pepita and the family.”

While Pepita and the older children were busy to strip the altar in order to bring the offerings to the tomb, Chago took the scarf with the ring, and a few orange flowers, thinking how Hermione loved life, sun and bright colours, so these traditional flowers were more appropriate for her than for anyone else.

He put first the letter on the bottom of the tea caddy, folded to stay there well. Then, he spread on it a few of the spices he had put on the altar two days ago: cloves, cinnamon, coffee and cocoa beans, a little vanilla stick, nutmeg, ginger and cumin. There remained some on the altar, to be gathered on a plate and put by the children on the tomb. But the ones already inside made him remember the original bouquet of spices he had brought her in June. Her passion, her caresses, as that was the first time they had laid together.

The scarf, tied in a bow as it was, lingered more in his hands. Half of himself was in favour of keeping it. It had been close to him when he was healing in Tortuga, and also after Michaelmas, when he had learnt the sad news. It had her scent, the memory of the last time he had seen Hermione.

The ring was also there, on it, staring at him with its turquoise waves. Assuming he would ever fall in love again, he would be able to buy to his new love a better matched engagement ring for her. This one had been meant for Hermione and surely it couldn’t belong to anyone else.

He caressed the silk and the metal before parting with them for good, and the flowers of the dead went over it, together with a few shells from Manolita’s collection. It was just fair, as their first date had been on the sea shore. One of the rosaries was the only detail missing there, and he put it before closing the lid of the tea caddy. He would keep forever the one from her, but she would have one to convey his prayers for her as well.

Once closed, the tea caddy looked like a little coffin, having inside Hermione’s soul …and his as well, trapped into the letter and the memories of a painful, short, suddenly and cruelly ended love story. At least Chago would know from now on, every time when returning to Nueva Valencia and to the tomb of his family, that the memory of Hermione was there too, buried at the foot of the flower cross, in the place he had left yesterday specially for it.
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It was the afternoon of the Feast of the Departed. Up to now, Josema had conducted two of the three masses of this special day – according to the traditions, held at the cemetery. At the second one, he chose as highlight the reading from the second book of the Maccabees:

And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachms of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection. For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And also in that he perceived that there was great favour laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.

It is a comfort to know that we are doing now, in our own way, the same thing they had done two thousand years ago, partaking our offerings with God, with the saints and with our dear depaprted. Our prayers soar higher when they are added with those of the departed, and theirs when added with that of ours. Since both we here and they who aren’t anymore with us have our souls sealed with the seal of baptism, we pray today for them and in their realm they pray for us that the Lord prepare us all to experience the heavenly bliss of resurrection. Because man was created for immortality, and by His resurrection Christ opened the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness for those who have believed in Him and have lived righteously.”


The sermon focused more on the power of prayer and on the link between the deceased and the living ones, more apparent today.

”Our earthly life is a preparation for the future life, and this preparation ends with our death. The focus on others heals us of our selfishness and the focus on those who have departed reminds us of eternity and brings God’s will in our approach to life through repentance. It is extremely important and beneficial for the reposed if the loved ones who remained behind offer fervent prayers for their souls and have them commemorated in the liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are immersed in the Blood of the Lord with the words: Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood and by the prayers of Thy saints. We, those who were left on the Earth for a while when our dear ones had left us, have to do for them what is needful and within our power. To use our money not for outward adornment of the grave in which the body is placed, but in order to help those souls in need, in memory of our close ones who have died, and for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the departed by continuing to take care of their souls. The path that they have now taken lies before you. And when we have departed, how we shall then wish that we would be remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead.”

Of course, he remembered that he had a purpose why he was here in Nueva Valencia now and not in his corner of the jungle, so he added:

”And those who have enough money to spare, might give for charity a duro for their parish church, and one for the missions meant to bring Christ to the heathens of the jungle. The Cathedral receives such donations for one more week, and the benefactors will be listed as church founders, being in the priests’ and congregation’s prayers at every mass.”

Then, he passed from a tomb to the other, blessing the offerings and ending the prayer with the words:

”May your hearts and souls find peace and comfort too, while God grants His peace to the souls of your dearly departed through our prayers.”

He did the same at his family tomb, however he spent a longer time there, not doing only the usual blessing, but also praying together with them for the rest of their souls. When he pronounced Hermione’s name, all the voices repeated it too. She was already a part of the family memorial since last night.
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