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Authors: Teresa Denys

The Flesh and the Devil

BOOK: The Flesh and the Devil
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The Flesh and The Devil

         
Teresa Denys

         

         

         

         
CHAPTER 1

         

         

         

         
She was, he thought, the loveliest thing he had ever seen.

         

         

         
His first glance down the sunlit steps had been mere
curiosity, to see whose coach had been driven into the courtyard below the
Castillo's Grand Patio in defiance of the twenty-five years' rule that no one
save the King himself-if he ever came - was permitted to drive through the
inner wards of the great building. Then he had noticed the scarlet-clad
outriders and grown interested. There was a standing command that any comer
from Ring Felipe should receive a royal welcome, and Eugenio's own men would
scarcely have gone out to convoy anyone of less importance-It would be ironic,
he had thought, if the King had chosen to break his long silence now; now when
Eugenio was busy creating the masterpiece of plotting that would thwart all his
royal benefactor's intents and desires.

         

         

         
But the coach that rolled to the foot of the steps had been
Eugenio de Castaneda's own, the ostentation his. The watching man had been
about to turn away with no more than faint amusement at this gaudy return from
what was bound to have been yet another fruitless quest - what could it have
been else? - when the crested door had opened and Eugenio himself had sprung
out with unusual vigour, his broad flushed face creased in an excited grin. The
man had paused then, motionless and watchful, and his companion had noticed his
abstraction and halted, too.

         

         

         
Through the haze of settling dust, over the heads; of
twenty-five men dismounting, the man had watched Eugenio hand the girl down the
carriage steps. The clumsy cartwheel farthingale, so out of date for all its
preposterous grandeur, swung like a bell as she clambered cautionsly to the
ground. From the depths of the interior of the carriage a thin full lipped
Moorish girl, evidently a maid, had emerged and was steadying her mistress's stiffened
skirts. The girl herself, rigid and apparently oblivious of being the centre of
so much anxious attention, should have looked like every other acquiescent,
well-bred Spanish girl: a haughty, lifeless doll. Like the rest she was encased
in heavy brocades that imprisoned her body like a cage, her hair tortured into
a span of stiffly artificial ringlets that framed her Ace like a yoke
overlapping her head. Like theirs her skin was alabaster-pale, her eyes
downcast as though she flinched from the sun's lessening warmth.

         

         

         
Then she disengaged her hand from Eugenio de Castaneda's
clutching fist and raised her face to look around her it was only for a moment
and then her eyes were lowered again, but that first flashing impression had
been confirmed and he had felt the involuntary tightening of every sinew in bis
body. She must have been seventeen or eighteen years old, be thought, old by
the usual standards to be a bride, yet she could not be a companion — Eugenio
would never waste the miserly treasure of good manners on one who was not of
the first importance to him. He had succeeded at last, then, and had brought
back a bride to the castillo - his bride-a new Duquesa.

         

         

         
At his side his companion was breathing heavily, and the
man noticed that his eyes, too, were riveted to the girl. The realization
annoyed him obscurely.

         

         

         
He heard himself say, 'Shall we go? It must be close on
dinner-time,‘ and the other man grunted a reluctant assent.

         

         

         
Together they moved along the shadowy colonnade to the main
door, catching glimpses of the sunlit scene below them between the bars of
shadow as they passed pillar by pillar. Another woman, older it was hard to see
her face - had climbed out of the carriage and stood beside the girl, who was
listening stonily to Eugenio's speech of welcome. In answer to her companion's
expostulation the girl said. Something but did not smile, and the other woman's
lifted voice came with sudden, unexpected clarity to the men beneath the
colonnade.

         

         

         
‘But it is all so splendid, Juana - and to think that all
this belongs to your intended husband!’

         

         

         
The first watcher did not look back again, but as he
ushered his companion ahead of him he was amused to find his own fingers clenched
hard on the hilt of his sword. His lips curled; he had thought that over the
years he had learned to govern his emotions better, there was no need for any
such disquiet; no need, even, for haste. Now that Eugenio had brought her here,
by whatever means, he would not lightly let her go, and it should be simple to
concoct some plan which would serve his own intents at the same time as de
Castancda's. He could act when he chose, do what be would, and it would not
blast this marriage, for Eugenio would take care not to know of anything that
might spoil his infinitely simple, infinitely difficult scheme to cheat the
King.

         

         

         
He wondered if Eugenio had realized that he was playing
with fire by bringing such a creature into a game that demanded a docile, mindless
doll with no thought beyond obedience to father or husband. Well, he would
learn soon enough. He himself could afford to wait a little before he played
his first card in the game.

         

         
Juana de Arrelanos had barely listened to Eugenio de
Castancda's flow of words; three days in a closed carriage with him and her
aunt Beatrix had bred in her not so much a distaste as an aching indifference
to the sound of his voice. It seemed incredible that when she first saw him she
had thought his voice to be the most attractive thing about him, its rich
musicality in part redeeming his unprepossensing looks. But when she had first
seen him she bad not known why he had come to visit her father, and she had not
dreamed that she would ever spend days trying to pretend indifference while his
voice harried her, questioning, expatiating, tapping at her protective shell
like a thrush with a snail.

         

         

         
That first day at Zuccaro she had believed him to be one of
her father‘s merchant friends who came to deal in rights for wool or grazing
land. In recent years there had been more and more of them; as taxes bit more
and more deeply into her father's income he had been forced to dabble in trade
Instead of granting the privilege of using his lands to tenants. The prouder
nobility of Navarre - those who had only countenanced Miguel de Arrelanos at
all because he had had the wit to marry a rich and noble wife, an Austrian lady
who could boast of no worse kin than the Hapsburgs themselves-had quickly
fallen away, but Juana had not regretted them. Their oldest friends, like the
de Nuevas, had held fast, and that was all she had cared for. Eugenio de
Castaneda had come with letters of introduction from the Conde de Maranon,
which was strange - the Conde had been the first to withdraw from Miguel's
acquaintance - but she had simply assumed that it was some matter of business
that she would not understand, even if her father had spoken of it in her
presence.

         

         

         
At first, de Castaneda had appeared a very commonplace
little man. Looking at him now with clearer eyes, she saw how she could have
been mistaken. He was well past forty years old but scarcely taller than she,
thickset and stocky; his rapidly-greying hair was cropped far shorter than was
fashionable and with his plump cheeks and squared-off nose gave his heavy head
the look of a baby's. It was easy to overlook the calculation in the childishly
bright eyes, the aggressive forward thrust of the head; not to notice that the
wide-lipped smile had the predatory look of a crocodile's. Her father had not
perceived any such matter in his jovial, forthright guest. But now as he stood
akimbo, legs planted wide, she could see by the smug cock of the little man's
head that he was gloating over her presence and remembering all her efforts to
prevent this moment. Her mouth trembled suddenly. If only Jaime had been
faithful. . . .

         

         

         
'You must be weary after your journey.' His voice was thick
with relish.

         
'You look pale ... it ill becomes me to keep my nephew's
bride standing in the sun. Why, you will be mistress of the whole Castillo soon
enough! Come in, and my wife will order food and drink so that you and your
aunt can refresh yourselves.'

         

         

         
Juana's chin jerked up in a disdainful little movement.
'Has my future husband no welcome for me?'

         

         

         
She thought de Castaneda hesitated, but any silence was
filled by Tia Beatrix's distressed clucking at her side; ]uana knew that she
had committed a gross breach of manners in even appearing to notice the absence
of the man she had travelled the width of two provinces to marry. Then her host
grinned, scratching his chin speculatively.

         

         

         
'Here is an alteration! You want to see my nephew now, mmn?
Yet a week ago you were so averse to him that you vowed never to set eyes on
him-you would have run away with a farmer's son rather than wed him. What now?
Does the thought of him tempt you now that you have seen all this?'

         

         

         
Juana's cheeks burned, but she ignored the gesture of his
stubby hand at the huge, austerely beautiful building that surrounded them.

         

         

         
'On the contrary, senor. I mean to ask him to release me
from this marriage contract. I cannot believe that he will desire to marry me
when he knows how unwilling I am.'

         

         

         
'Juana!' Her aunt gave an agitated little cry. 'Your father
has given his word that-'

         

         

         
'My father's words binds his will but not mine! If the
Duque de Valenzuela insists on marrying me I shall have no choice, but if he
relents and releases me, I shall not have broken faith - my duty is only to
obey my father's will, and 1 have done that-' her voice grew bitter-'in corning
here, have I not?'

         

         

         
‘Juana!
' Clearly Dona Beatriz de Ayala was deeply
shocked by her niece's speciousness. She was about to say more when a movement
on the steps from the patio caught her eye, and she folded her lips together.

         

         

         
What looked like a small army of liveried servants was
approaching down the steps, led by a white-haired man carrying the staff of a
household major-domo. No one would have recognized his stately progress as
hurry, but the eager jut of his head as he halted the requisite number of paces
from them, peering out from between his age humped shoulders lite a curious
tortoise, gave the lie to his manifest disinterest. He had hurried to make
himself known to the new Duquesa, Juana thought scornfully; she had already had
a taste or two of this hateful new servility on the journey, and it seemed like
one more insidious strand of the web they had woven to part her from Jaime.

         

         

         
De Castaneda was watching her as she stood to hear the
major-domo's speech of welcome on behalf of the household, and she strove to
keep her face blank under his scrutiny. It had been folly to blurt out her
plan, but she had been unable to bear his smug certainty that her marriage was
an unalterable thing; the words had seemed to spring from her lips of
themselves, and then it had been too iate to retract them.

BOOK: The Flesh and the Devil
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