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A Healing Pilgrimage
Topic Started: Feb 23 2014, 11:43 AM (2,050 Views)
Santiago Moreno
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Chago the Mercenary
Civilian Admin
[align=center]Date: 16-th of December 1719
Place: Rincon, Cuba [/align]



Rincon was a village not far from Havana, next to a little town called Santiago de las Vegas. There were tobacco fields on the way to it, and sugarcane fields in a lagoon of the river Govea.

If listening to the locals speaking, one would hear very seldom the King’s Spanish and almost everywhere the dialect spoken in Canarias, the islands of fishermen, labourers and pirates where the colonists had come from.

One could arrive there in less than one day of horse riding, but now many people were walking in groups towards this little village. They had started from Havana three days ago or more, some barefooted, or on their knees, or wearing clothes made of sack, or towing heavy objects such as large rocks, cement blocks, lead ingots and even cannon balls to show their penance and the fact that they were on a pilgrimage.

Chago had left Micah in Havana to arrange for what he needed for accomplishing the mission they had to do. The good news of the invitation of Sir Woodes Rogers, accompanied by a truce for the twelve days of Christmas, had given them new ideas about how one could do it. But there was enough time until the New Year Masquerade. For now, he had to do something else, for his inner peace and for the rest of Hermione’s soul. Namely, the pilgrimage to San Lazaro del Rincon.

He had been among those who came walking, not barefoot but in the pilgrim’s white cloth, with the staff showing he was in a pilgrimage and with the rosary from Hermione in his hands, counting prayers on the road.

"St James, Apostle
Chosen among the first
You were the first to drink
The Cup of the Master
And you are the great protector of pilgrims;
Make me strong in faith
And happy in hope
On my pilgrim joumey
Following the path of Christian life
And sustain me so that
I may finally reach the glory of God the Father
Amen."


He wasn't at his first pilgrimage; the one to Compostela had been much longer, and crossing a country at war.
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NPC

Civilian
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CONCHA ITALERA, healer[/align]

Concha Italera, or simply La Italera, how colloquially the fifty years old midwife and healer was called by those who knew her and needed her, had a good renown in her little village next to Havana. Many people from the surrounding villages, and even some from Havana had sought her one or another time, when sick, when in labour or when needing a spell of love or an amulet for protection against the evil eye.

She was a free woman – and unlike most of her female peers, who had been freed by their masters after having born them lots of children, or by the milkbrother/ milksister when coming of age and inheriting the family assets, she had bought her manumission, a few years ago, with the work of her skilled hands (and the side contributions of those whom she had healed or helped).

Concha Italera, if asked by anyone, said that she was going in pilgrimage to San Lazaro del Rincon. But deep in her soul, where nobody could ever penetrate, she knew the saint she was honouring through the pilgrimage had another name – Babalú Ayé, the saint who protected the poor and healed the sick.

La Italera was making the pilgrimage to Babalú Ayé every year, dressed in the traditional sack cloth of the penitents, to thank Him for the gift of healing she had, to ask for good health, prosperity and skilled hands in continuing her trade, and to give him …his due share of the fruits of her business, a good one that had allowed her the life of a free woman. She was bringing Him corn and a mix of grains, wine, garlic, spices and incense and clay pots with special marks on them, called cazuelas, in the rather heavy bag she was carrying. But carrying heavy things was something common for pilgrims.

If for the priests the celebrated saint had been a bishop, the one who had been resuscitated by Christ at his sisters’ plea, for the followers of the santeria, the African cult, San Lazaro del Rincon was another character from the Bible – the beggar, deformed by sickness and poor, with a crutch and surrounded by dogs. He was healing and doing miracles in Rincon. Not that most people knew to make any difference between the two characters of the Bible having the same name…

If the White masters had a name for their saints they had imposed to the Black slaves, the Blacks knew for sure that some of the saints, the ones protecting them as well, had secretly another name to listen to their followers of African descent. La Cachita, la Virgen de la Caridad, was actually named Ochun, while la Virgen de Regla, the patron saint of Güaicanamar next to Havana, the village where she resided now, was actually named Yemayá and la Virgen de las Mercedes had as true name Obatalá.

La Italera was not at the first pilgrimage; she knew that people of all colours, asking for the Saint’s help under both His names, were attending the procession. The road was swarming of the saints’ followers, passing anxiously, silently or joyfully towards their destination, while accomplishing certain penitences too, devout Catholics and santeros alike. What prevailed and mattered was the gratitude they had for favors received or the faith that their new prayers would be heard.

As she was walking towards the side of the road, a big dog, almost as tall as her, and sturdy, of the kind the slave hunters used for finding and catching their trespassers the cimarrones, appeared from nowhere and jumped on her, throwing her on the ground. Her former master on the plantation used to have some for the same purpose.

She was so shocked that only a little cry for help got from her mouth when falling under its huge paws. But most people around her were afraid of the dog and kept a greater distance. Her last thought, as she was looking the aggressive dog in his eyes, was that Babalú Ayé was considering her unworthy and sent one of His dogs to kill her.

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
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Santiago Moreno
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Chago the Mercenary
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Chago was walking peacefully, saying prayers. He had noticed just a little his traveling companions, not paying much attention to them. But the cry, albeit not loud, startled him and made him see the attacked woman. He didn’t hesitate one moment, even if he preferred fighting men than such wild beasts.

He knew what a slave hunting dog could do.

”Put your hand at your throat,”, he shouted to her while unsheathing his machete. ”I am coming to your help, but if you can gouge his eyes or his nose with the other hand, you will avoid being bitten too hard meanwhile”.

The machete, once drawn, got the dog pierced from a side to the other. The dog started bleeding and let his prey, first trying to jump at the new enemy, who retaliated with the blade again, then falling dead.

The mercenary bent over the elderly woman, asking her on a soothing tone:

”How seriously did he succeed to bite you? I can’t see which blood is yours and which his.”
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The dog's tense muscles swelled powerfully. The frothing slobber was covering her as the beast moved its head around with high velocity, pearly sharp teeth tearing into her flesh.

Concha wasn’t sure if to try to fight the dog and prolong her agony, or let it do the thing Babalu Aye had sent it for. Why fight the destiny anymore?

Hearing a man’s concerned voice promising help and giving instructions made the woman snap out of her previous, resigned attitude. She did as told, covering her throat just in time, as the dog latched on to her just raised arm. The high pain gave her the needed courage to go for the dog’s eyes.

Soon the attacker was laying dead, bleeding all over her. She heard the man’s question, and she could look better at her saviour. A man around thirty, tanned not only by the sun of the Caribbean. The shape of his eyes was telling another story – a castizo or chino, she thought, not knowing that he was actually half of each. And the quick reflexes with his machete didn’t inspire her a peaceful worker.

”I’m not sure… definitely the arm is the worst, but until I wash myself properly and stop the bleeding I can’t know,” she said on a trembling voice.

Her body was trembling in shock too, but not enough to make her forget her good manners towards an obviously white(r ) man.

Gracias, senor! I am too poor and humble to be able to repay your kindness and bravery, but the Saint we are going to pay our homage to surely will.”


[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
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Santiago Moreno
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Chago the Mercenary
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Chago put back the machete in its sheat before meeting the woman’s eyes. She was answering coherently, which meant that she wasn’t severely wounded and in shock. And she was thanking him so politely.

”God is above us and He knows I would have done it for anyone, without waiting for anything in exchange. But having San Lazaro answer my prayers would be the greatest reward,” he said.

The woman had a point. They were pilgrims, they couldn’t show themselves in front of the saints in this state.

”I’ll accompany you to the river. I think both of us have to get the blood out of our clothes. I can help you with cleaning and bandaging the wounds then. I have an idea how to put some plants to work in our favour, to help healing.”

He wasn’t bragging, but he didn’t know either that he was talking to a healer who was far wiser than him.
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The healer paid attention to the man’s words, as they could tell enough things about him. For the start, there were things she liked at him and things she didn’t – and it wasn’t about his good looks, as she was old and not interested in these details which might get a younger woman’s pulse quicker.

She appreciated that he had saved her life, and she saw him, for this, the hand of the orishas who didn’t want her death. Maybe Babalu Aye, the one surrounded by dogs, had just tested her faith. She secretly liked the fact that he wasn’t fully white too, even if she would have never stated this. She liked that he hadn’t shown any greed and he had given a humble answer, putting himself in the hands of Babalu Aye. Like most pilgrims, he had something to ask, something to heal, for sure...

She also liked that he offered to accompany her to the river. Concha was strong, she had overpassed rather quickly the first shock, even if the pains and the bleeding persisted for the moment being; however, she was afraid that the attack could repeat, that there could be other dogs obviously belonging to a slave hunter who might roam free and assault her. So, she found his company partially reassuring.

She was apprehensive for the way he was carrying his machete, for the cold blood he had shown when giving her wise instructions and for his bragging – as she had interpreted it – that he knew about wounds and plants. These were usually the signs of a man who was trouble for those around.

But she needed bandages, and one couldn’t put them alone. So, she had to accept his help, somehow intrigued how much did he know about plants and things. He didn’t look like a healer, definitely.

”I think the river has bushes around and would allow each of us to bathe undisturbed,” she said. ”And I am glad you are coming with me. I am Concha Italera, at your service,” she introduced herself as politely as she had been taught.

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Santiago Moreno
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Chago the Mercenary
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If she introduced herself to him, it was the case for him to introduce himself too:

”My name is Santiago Moreno,” he said simply.

Given that on a pilgrimage none of them had come with a full luggage, they had no spare clothes besides the pilgrim’s sack shirt. So they were bound to bathe with the clothes on, making sure the stains of blood go away, because presenting themselves in front of the saint covered in blood was the worst choice.

The water was cold – to be expected at this time of the year – but this meant also that it took less effort to wash away the blood. For the wounded woman, he knew the coldness took away the pain as well.

Once they were back on the shore, dripping wet and chilly, Chago looked around for some branches and made a fire, enough to help them dry without catching a cold.

”How are your wounds? May I help you bandage them?” he asked her.
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Concha noticed the way the man introduced himself. And it made sense, she thought, that the Orishas sent her, for defense, not a messenger of Babalu Aye, but of Oggun, the warrior with a machete in hand, patron of soldiers and blacksmiths and equivalent of Santiago in some versions (and of Saint Peter or one of the archangels in others).

”Glad to meet you, Senor Moreno,” she said. ”You must stop on the way at the church in Santiago de las Vegas, and bring to the Apostle an offer of aguardiente, corn flour, tobacco, spices, sweets and three candles, to ensure his further support, besides the money you are leaving for the mass,” she advised. ”And if you don’t mind, I’ll be accompanying you”.

Once she knew his name, she started to understand him better, with the experience of having dealt with the Orishas before. He had to be a strong character and always wanting to impose his thought, righteous and fighting to defend anyone in need, but also obstinated and not liking to be told what to do. However, she knew better what kind of gift each saint of the Santeria pantheon was awaiting from the followers, so she had been quick in explaining him.

Once they arrived to the river, she washed herself carefully, saying the needed spells…. Well, prayers.

She smiled glad that he had thought about starting a fire to warm up her bones and not allow the wet shirt on herself to get dangerously cold.

”Thank you for your kindness. I have a few wounds which need bandaged, on both arms, while others are just scratches,” she said. ”If you didn’t warn me to put my hand at the throat, the dog would have killed me. He bit the arm instead, and that is the worst wound.”

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
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Santiago Moreno
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Chago the Mercenary
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Chago looked first at his companion with bewilderment. Indeed, the reccomendations came unexpected… but he could see the wisdom in them. And with the details about the offerings to San Santiago he saw the truth too. His gaze inspected thoroughly the woman, finding some known amulets at her neck and round her arms, as bracelets. Now he understood, even if not having any idea that the name Italera meant anything, that she was one of those who followed la Regla de Ocha.

He had known not only the bokors and healers of Hispaniola, with whom he negotiated when bringing back their young female relatives who had been kidnapped to be sold to the highest bidder. He had known santeros in Cuba too. He had laid half dead once in one’s home near Santiago de Cuba for two weeks, while the soldiers were seeking the mysterious assassin, after a mission ended successfully for the employer, but less successful for the price of blood he had left there. He still had a scar across the ribs to account for that. So, he had an idea now whom he had in front of him. It didn’t scare him, and it didn’t make him condemn her. It didn’t harm if the offerings were more specific than the ones he had intended. It still meant honouring the saint.

”If you are willing to come with me, I have nothing against it. And the stopping in Santiago de las Vegas won’t be a detour too long. I’ll follow your advice on the offerings as well,“ he said.

Once the fire was going, he opened his bag to seek what to bandage the wound with. He had some willowbark powder too in a snuff box. He didn’t smoke, but having things ready to treat quickly an injury came handy in his trade. He also looked around for plantain or Murdock leaves which might help the wounds not get infected.

”Let me bandage your wounds,” he said simply.
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CONCHA ITALERA, healer[/align]

The healer nodded at his words on following her advice. It was more than she could ever hope. Then, as he offered to help bandage her wounds, she looked with attention what he was doing. She sniffed the box, sensing the bitter scent of willow bark, and she understood. While he was looking for leaves, she asked him too:

”Is it a certain type of leaves you are looking for?”

Ultimately, any leaf would do as a sort of additional barrier between the skin and the bandage, but she knew some would really help. And this was a way to test how much he bragged and how much he knew.

His hands were sure in their moves and delicate in their touch, trying his best not to cause more pain. A reason more to like this messenger of Oggun.

”Thank you very much,” she said. „I feel better now.”

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
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Santiago Moreno
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Chago didn’t mind her following, inquisitive eyes. Now that he knew that she was one of the wise women, it was natural for her to be like this.

”Yes, I am looking for plantain or murdock,” he answered. ”And I have just found them.”

These were plantain leaves, good to prevent swelling. He fixed the bandage quickly, and he received her thanks with a brief:

”You are welcome!”

As they were sitting next to the fire, he searched in his luggage and he found a loaf of bread. He broke it in two, offering her half. A pilgrim’s food was nothing else than bread and water, most of the time. Some sugarcane juice or coconut milk, or fruits found on the way, added to the pilgrims’ diet… but now there were none.

”May I ask you if you are going to ask for a favour or to thank for a received one?” he asked the usual question a pilgrim directed to another.

He might have been a little curious, but mostly interested in having the time pass quicker... at least until they got dry enough to be able to sleep.
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The man wasn’t bragging, he really had an idea what he was looking for. And this was good, in Concha’s opinion. After tending to her wounds, he was willing to tend to her hunger too, offering her half of the bread he had.

She took it eagerly, as she was hungry. Even hungrier now, that the emotions were settling, the pain got dulled and she started being again herself.

”Thank you very much. It is highly appreciated. And yes, I am thanking for received favours. I come every year to thank San Lazaro for the gift of healing, because I am earning my living as a midwife and healer, to ask for good health, prosperity and skilled hands in continuing my trade, and to give Him a part of my income, because without His help I wouldn’t have succeeded to buy my freedom and to live not exactly in poverty.”

This being said, she remembered that she had a bottle of wine, brought to be put in front of Babalu Aye – as she said San Lazaro only when speaking with a white person, how it was the case now. Given the circumstances of tonight, she could share the wine with the messenger of Oggun instead, and buy another bottle when arriving to Rincon. And yes, Oggun loved more aguardiente than wine, but it made sense. It would give taste to the bread and it would warm them up until the fire succeeded to dry them.

Concha Italera took the wine out of her luggage, uncorked it, spilled a few drops on the ground and a few in the fire, then gave it to the man who was protected by Santiago the Apostle, Oggun.

”And you? You said that you were waiting for a favour. You can ask it also tomorrow morning in Santiago de las Vegas.”

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Santiago Moreno
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Chago listened to her. So, recently manumitted, and a healer, besides being one of the initiated. It made sense, since San Lazaro was the patron saint of healers, to undertake every year this pilgrimage.

”I think I should apologize to you. I didn’t know your profession. I do my best, but I am not a healer like you,” he said with respect in his voice.

He would have never wanted to be on the bad side of a santera and the target of her curses.

He took the offered wine, spilled a little on the ground at his turn, for the dead, and took a swill, after having bitten from the bread. Bread and wine. Exactly what God was feeding the devout Christians – His body and His blood. And he could appreciate the wine’s quality when soaked wet on a December night outside.

He was asked, at his turn, for the purpose of his pilgrimage. He knew that some people wouldn’t tell, especially if the favour had been already granted. But he would. Maybe God had a purpose when sending this wise woman in his path, to remember him that he had another stop to make on the pilgrim’s road.

”Yes, I will ask for it my patron saint as well. With the offerings you have recommended, and some more. And if the night is still young, you may listen to my story and give your opinion of a person with more life experience than me,” he added, avoiding to call her old as he had thought it.

He was ready to tell Hermione’s story, even if he hadn’t made the ballad yet. It was on his list of priorities, but Micah’s appearance and his news had thrown him back on the old tracks, as he couldn’t leave alone the young mercenary in his predicament.

”I am asking for the forgiveness of my sins, for good health and prosperity like any other man, but I am also asking for the healing of my heart following the loss of the woman I loved. Not to forget her, but not to ache as much. Just to honour her memory as she deserves. And I am praying for the rest of her soul, as she died without a candle and in violent conditions,” he said simply, taking another sip from the bottle, then passing it to the woman.

The night and the fire were witnesses to the story he was telling. A summary of Hermione's story, avoiding to say the name of a place or a country, just "enemy territory". Which given the situation of Spain in this war, all the islands around, be they British, French or Dutch, were enemy territory.
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When a whiter man apologized to her, admitting that he wasn’t a healer like her, Concha smiled and replied quickly:

”Of course not, you are a warrior. A man of the arms, I saw you with the machete, one would have said you were the Apostle in person, your patron saint. But you know what to do with the plants too, you hadn’t bragged in vain.”

It was her turn to be bewildered of his politeness and way of treating her as an equal.

She was curious to listen to his story, and she did it in silence, pleased that her words were taken into account.

”I understand better your quest now. And besides the two saints’ help, I will offer mine too,” she said.

It was not a thing a santera would have said lightly to a foreigner. But she owed him her life, and Oggun and Babalu Aye had chosen him to bring him in her path for a reason. She was ready to offer him as much as he could understand and accept. Starting with her own story in exchange for the one she had just heard.

"I loved two men, and I lost both to death. One, the father of my children, went to dance for Mani. The other, years later, got killed by thunder - maybe he had angered San Elias, what can I know? I am still alive, having survived them and learnt to cope with the loss. You will too. My twins got separated from me and sold, at ten, each one to a different master, far away that I don't know anything about them ever since..."

Her voice broke in sadness. She took a deep breath, then she continued:

"You'll overcome your grief too. You'll learn to think of her just to be inspired to attain greater achievements. I became a healer because I lost people to Death and I thought I could learn to negotiate with San Lazaro and Santa Maria Candelaria," she said the saint names the white man would know. "You should pray for the rest of her soul, later, in a novena to Santa Maria Candelaria, she advised further, without saying openly that she meant Oye, the Death.

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Santiago Moreno
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He raised a brow, sort of wondering how she knew that he was a warrior, and a bit flattered to be compared with his patron saint. But since she was a wise woman, one who knew, it was somehow logical to be perceptive, he mused.

”I think I shouldn’t refuse any help,” he answered honestly, wondering what kind might be hers.

Chago listened carefully to the woman’s life story. Yes, she was strong. He knew what meant for a slave he went to dance – it meant he ran away and joined the maroons. Probably killed by slave hunters, a terrible death that she was near to find it today too.

The mercenary made, respectfully, the sign of the cross and told her:

”May they rest in peace.”

When hearing about ten years old children sold, though, he protested loudly:

”I know the laws say families shouldn’t be separated from their children.”

He wasn’t born yesterday; he had never owned slaves, but he had heard about the laws.

Her encouragement that he’d overcome his grief and Hermione’s name would help him to attain greater achievements made him smile. This was what Old Garrick and dona Mariana had told him, at their turn, with different words.

The advice to pray to Santa Maria Candelaria made sense to him as well. He hadn’t told her that this was the feast day he intended to go to La Cachita in the last of the pilgrimage rows.

”I guess you are right, I will make that novena and go to Cobre on that feast,” he answered receptively.
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