Read The Quality of Mercy Online

Authors: Faye Kellerman

Tags: #Contemporary Women, #Dramatists, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Drama, #Literary Criticism, #Shakespeare, #Historical, #Fiction

The Quality of Mercy

BOOK: The Quality of Mercy
6.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Rebecca, the headstrong daughter of a Jewish conversos, flees an arranged marriage for the heady world of Elizabethan London. Disguised as a man, she embarks on an adventure that plunges her into the sinks and stews of Elizabethan England with the equally headstrong and romantic Will Shakespeare.





Copyright © 1989 by Faye Kellerman


For Jonathan.

And for Barney Karpfinger: Diogenes,
stop looking, I found him.


Thanking the translators: Maribel Romero, Phyllis Elliott, and Miriam Lewis.

And a special thanks to John and Mary Jane Hertz — two people worthy of their titles.











Chapter 1


As I see the first hint of sunlight, the death march begins. We advance toward the Terriero do Paco — the great city square adjacent to the Royal Palace on the seafront.

Leading the processional is Don Henrique — the Inquisitor General of Portugal by appointment of his older brother, His Royal Highness John the Third. Don Henrique is an ugly man — lean, with an avian nose, and black eyes set so deeply that the sockets appear hollow. His thick beard — a weave of bronze, copper, and iron — is meticulously shaped to a dagger point. His dress is appropriately august — official: floor-length black robe and cape, white clerical collar, and black trapezoidal hat. Dangling from his neck is his scallop-edged crucifix of gold, inset with topaz, lapis, aquamarine, sapphire, and topped with a finial of diamonds. A haughty man, Don Henrique always wears jeweled crosses. Gilt bible clutched to his breast, eyes fixed straight ahead, he presses on slowly but inexorably, prepared to carry out the work of his God.

Following the Inquisitor are four rows of black-garbed monks. Around their necks are unadorned crucifixes fashioned from the heavier base metals. Rigid and stone-faced, they carry black-covered bibles and hold aloft crosses and banners. They chant low-pitched dirges as they trudge forward on sandaled feet.

Behind the clergy are the royal officials and the black-hooded executioners — the secular arm of the law. Their ranks advance in taut, military fashion — arms swinging with pendular precision, not a boot out of step.

We are at the rear of the retinue. The victims — the wretches. We are heavily guarded and hold lighted tapers that spit fire into the early morning sky. Some of us endure the ordeal with stoicism — posture erect, gait sure-footed and strong. That is how I walk. Others about me seem stuporous, stumbling off-balance, as if being yanked forward by an invisible harness. The weakest weep openly.

The auto-da-fé — act of faith — is the day of reckoning for us. We’ve been convicted of violations of the Church. We walk forward, clearly identified for the onlookers; we wear the dreaded
— the two-sided apron of shame imprinted with symbols corresponding to our infractions. Serious sinners like myself wear
— conical miters — as well.

Some are considered penitent and deemed reconcilable to the Church. They will gratefully accept the penalties meted out to them. The pettiest among them will be punished with fines, terms of forced servitude, or imprisonment. More serious transgressors will merit whipping or public shaming — being stripped to the waist and paraded around town to the derision and jeers of their countrymen. Wretches who committed grave infractions will be plunged into poverty, have all their worldly possessions confiscated by the Holy Office. These offenders will be stigmatized for generations, their descendants barred forever from entering the Holy Office, from becoming physicians, tutors, apothecaries, advocates, scriveners, or farmers for revenue. They will be forbidden to dress in cloth woven from gold or silver thread, wear jewelry, or ride on horseback.

But they are fortunate.

I, and others like me, are deemed impenitent. We hapless souls are guilty of the most odious heresies. My specific crime is Judaizing — practicing and professing the ancient laws of Moses rendered obsolete by their Jesus Christ. Once, Spain called me a converso — a
of Jewish bloodline. I was an overt Catholic, but secretly I practiced the old ways. My transgressions were discovered by a wanton woman. Now I am doomed.

Distinguished from the fortunates by our green tapers and dress, we — the
— wear special fiery miters and the
of death imprinted with the likeness of the Devil himself. Around his horned visage and pronged fork are leaping flames: the Hell that is to await us.

I spit on their stinking Christian ground. That’s what I think of their Hell.

This morning will be my last. Before the night is over, I will be sentenced to die without effusion of blood, their castigation derived from John 15:6 — from the teachings of their Savior Himself:
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned

The dank ocean fog begins to melt, yielding to an opaline sky dotted with tufts of woolly cloud. At six in the morning the city bells ring out the signal and I shudder with dread. The cobblestone walkways begin to fill with austere gentlemen somberly wrapped in dark capes. They step with much haste, their servants at their heels. Ten minutes later the veiled women of the households emerge — wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. Some of the women hold babies and toddlers, others drag older children, chiding them for slowness. The streets soon become a throng of bodies. In the center is this murderous tribunal — as poisonous as an asp. It undulates its way to the city square.

By the time the officials arrive at the Terreiro, most of the spectators have been positioned, either standing, or seated in the gallery benches that form a semicircle around the dais, the garrotes, and the stakes. In the foreground are the white-capped swells of the ocean. In the background stands the great palace, casting a deep shadow over the galleries.

We are ordered to stand up straight. A guard hits the woman next to me. She is eight months pregnant, younger than I, I think. Around seventeen. Her back is stooped from the weight of her fruit. I smile at her. Wet-eyed, she smiles back at me. Our eyes have told each to be strong.

As Don Henrique ascends to the black-draped podium, the noise of idle conversation softens, then finally quiets to silence. The Inquisitor stands immobile, his head bowed in meditation. The sun, now higher in the advanced morning sky, projects a metallic sheen onto the ground, gilding the Inquisitor. Tides yawn rhythmic, lazy growls. An uneasy calm has blanketed the air.

Suddenly, a mourner’s wail blasts through the square, reverberating against salty air and harmonizing with the ocean’s roar — the baritone summons of a sheep’s horn. The pregnant girl next to me jumps. I do nothing. The audience is cleaved in two by a red carpet, unfurled and smoothed by royal attendants.

King John and Queen Catalina — may they rot in Hell — enter the gathering, followed by their entourage. His Majesty’s porcine features are embedded in pillowy cheeks that are pink and pockmarked. He’s fair-complexioned, with a neatly trimmed but scant beard. His portly frame looks especially obese today, swaddled under layers of clothing. His sable collar, draped over a padded doublet of gold, frames his chin like the mane of a lion. Resting on his shoulders is a blue velvet robe secured by a clasp of jewel-encrusted animals linked together with braided silver. His round hose are pleats of blue and scarlet velvet and puffed out at the hip line. Hanging from his belt is a gold scabbard revealing the gem-studded handle of a broadsword. His stockings, no doubt made of pure silk, are obscured by high-polished black boots that end mid-thigh. On his head is perched the royal crown of the State.

The Queen is the daughter of the Emperor Charles the Fifth of Rome, granddaughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. Her facial features are small and pinched, her complexion tinged with olive. Her slender arms are hidden under full, maroon sleeves, but the bodice and stomacher of her dress reveal her pride, her vanity — a tiny waist that is rumored to be encircled easily by her husband’s thick hands. She wears a flowing skirt of black taffety overlaid with gold lace, and is crowned with a diamond and emerald tiara. A staunch Catholic, Catalina is the driving wind behind the Inquisition. She was inspired by the religious fervor of her late confessor, Frai Diogo da Silva — another pig.

The monarchs are led to raised thrones at the top of the galleries. As soon as they are seated, the Inquisitor lifts his head and extends his arms toward the rulers of the land.

“Mighty Sovereigns.” Don Henrique bows low. “King and Queen, Protectors of the True Faith. On a throne of velvet you sit most high. Justice and truth in God you preach as well as practice. In the great reign of King John the Third, the Savior shall once again witness purity of blood as we ferret out the foul stench that has infiltrated the rightful Church. Only under fair and impartial rulers such as yourselves, good King and Queen, will Catholicism be purified for true believers. A pure race — of pure, true Christians — to serve the most Holy One, Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

King John and Queen Catalina — the swine — duly nod.

“As for the condemned, the wretched souls,” Don Henrique continues, “assuming they
souls, so beastly and dung-riddled are their filthy, ghastly undertakings…”

The crowd nods in agreement. A baby lets out a sudden shriek.

“Yea,” Henrique exclaims. “Yea… even an innocent
cries out at the sight of the Devil himself, beseeching the Lord, ‘Most holy Savior! Protect my baptized soul!’”

The Inquisitor’s voice rings out. “Protect me against the disgusting, putrid pollution that has entered the most holy religion of God, subverting the good into evil.”

Don Henrique points to us — those sentenced to death.

“Damned ye be! Damnable are your crimes against man and against God. Ye are to consider the stake a most gentle taste of what awaits you once ye are in the grasp of the Devil. Ye shall drink boiling lead and eat molten brimstone for ale and food. Daily ye shall be skinned and burned, steamed in cauldrons of liquid fire. Your livers shall be fodder for the vulture, your hearts sustenance for the crow. Your entrails shall ye eat, the filth of your bowels shall ye breathe. Your eyes will be plucked out with glowing pokers as the Devil and his servants laugh at your wretched miseries.”

The Inquisitor holds his breath until his face is flushed, then lets out a chilling scream directed at the crowd.

“Ye think you are safe from the wiles of the Devil? Think again lest in your airs ye drop your shields and give space for the Devil to come and do his bidding.”

He returns his attention to us. I listen, but his words do not affect me. I’ve heard them many times before. Don Henrique clutches his heart and says,

“Satan — cursed be his name — has entered these filthy souls. But Jesus Christ, in His martyrdom, died for you. Died for your souls — all souls, the filthy with the pure. There remains hope for your souls in the life hereafter. Your earthly life is over. By your own stinking hand ye were sentenced, as God and the Church had tried to enter in life and failed. Perhaps ye shall see His wisdom now that death is upon your wretched bodies.

“Ye still have a chance! Ye still can make restitution to the cross by publicly confessing your errors and admitting them before man as well as God.”

Don Henrique lights a torch and hoists it into the air.

“Let the proceedings begin,” he says.

The ordeal will last all day. The lightest offenders are dealt with first. One by one they are summoned before the Inquisitor, insulted and cursed, then assigned their punishment by the secular arm. Maria Gomez is fined for appearing unveiled in public against the wishes of her husband. Joao Dias is whipped for theft. Salvador Guterrias is imprisoned for life for unnatural fornication with his wife. They should know the real truth. In the dungeon he told me that he had fornicated with animals, that they were more satisfying to him than his fat, stinking wife. Had that bit of knowledge come to the attention of the Inquisition, he would have been sentenced to die.

BOOK: The Quality of Mercy
6.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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