by Michael Díaz Feito
Table of Contents|
Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Chapter 8: Taxes
Liuve was below deck in the dark. Lying prostrate in a musty berth, she gripped her belly to bear the cramps. “God,” she said to herself, “clean me, and lift me up. From feebleness, lift me up. I can’t be humbled here. Asperges me...”
The slaves were no longer rowing. The ship rocked, but the sickening thrust had halted. Voices rode the waves. A cacophony of Arabic and Catalan smacked the hull’s carvel planking. Liuve suffered. Each wave echoed, scraped her womb, stung her joints.
Fèlix, who believed Frater Luís was seasick, descended the forecastle. He informed Liuve that a Moorish fleet from Majorca had surrounded the ship. “Do not worry,” he said. They demanded payment for safe passage, a traveling tax. Manfred would pay it. It was nothing unusual. Fèlix paused to consider what else Frater Luís should know. He concluded this consideration. He climbed the ladder and left her.
“Bring me another bucket,” Liuve said.
The stink of her vomit became less familiar by the second. It soured, turned on her, in the bucket by the berth. The flesh, spilling over, revolts against the spirit. And we were almost friends, she thought. How can Fèlix hate the body, as he says he does, without ever feeling this? No man can know Christ’s suffering.
Liuve had not bled since her enclosure. The first and last time, she was twelve years old. Mother delivered her to Nonna Antía the following week. Pious denial had cured the curse. But with this month of travel and beer, of meat and potency and wine, of being Frater Luís, her period returned. She was afraid. She was angry. She adjusted the rag beneath her black habit.
A long-faced slave watched her with bright eyes. His hair was ginger and matted, and his patchy beard grew high on the cheekbones. His descent into the hold had not made a sound. He held an empty bucket.
“Ah! You’re Galician? Okay, I can do Galego as well. I’m Bhaltair. Won’t you be wanting a fresh rag? The only men I’ve heard of having such uterine pain are the ancient men of Ulaid, who were cursed with it. That’s why I’m asking.”
“What do you want?”
“Don’t lie,” Bhaltair said. “I can always smell it. Tell me, does your hideous companion know you’re a woman?”
Nonna Antía had prepared Liuve for this kind of inquisition. They had rehearsed strategies of evasion. The abbess was very clever. In the moment, however, Liuve could not draw up any of these strategies. She did not have enough patience for her mind’s slow searching, either, so when a painful spasm interrupted it, she said, “Well, what the heck do you want?”
“Money, of course,” Bhaltair said. “I’m fundraising for my freedom.”
“No, no, no,” Liuve said.
“How dare you! You’re interfering with God’s work. Servos dominis suis subditos esse in omnibus placentes non contradicentes non fraudantes. That’s from the epistle of Paul to Titus. Go away.”
Bhaltair’s pitiful expression pleased her. He sulkily set down the empty bucket. When he began climbing back to the top deck, Liuve said, “But, slave, I will take that fresh rag.”
To her surprise, Bhaltair did return with a rag. He handed it to her. He sat on the floor near her, between the full and the empty buckets, with his back turned. The stink did not offend him.
“Forgive me, but I’ll be rowing again in a moment,” Bhaltair said. “Mind if I keep you company till then? I won’t say anything.”
They shared the quiet.
Copyright © 2017 by Michael Díaz Feito