A bandit works the streets, forming his own personal army to shake down anyone for good coin. Only, the bandit Vaho is hiding a deep secret, he is actually a she.
The below excerpt is when Vaho stops by to visit the only person trusted with the great secret.
The strangulations of a goat regurgitating up a wire emanated from the propped open door. A final warm winter breeze blew into the house while the machinations against music-kind wafted out. Occasionally, there was a melody, but only by accident, before the strings — vibrating in terror — tripped over each other.
Vaho slipped off the doorjamb, mercifully saving the street from the noise, but trapping it inside with him. He laid the hunk of metal beside a tipping end table, when a head poked around the corridor.
“What are you doing?!” she shouted before Vaho raised his head and smiled at the girl.
Teresa reached to her ear, removing a wad of cloth as she apologized, “Messir, I did not recognize you.”
“It’s all right,” Vaho said, “Some mornings I fail to recognize myself.” He weighed the pot in his hand and passed it to the servant.
Teresa accepted it, a node of confusion in her young brow, “Is this for…”
“You,” Vaho said, “have a bit of pottery.”
“I…very well,” she said, not looking at the mediocre piece. Out of all the artistry Granada offered, he was often dragging in the remnants from a going out of business sale. “Madam is not in,” Teresa said.
“Strangling a nest of squirrels,” Vaho sighed, “I heard. Almost the entire street could hear, in fact. A curious thing, no less, the musician giving an impromptu concert before she is prepared.”
Teresa shrugged one shoulder, her dress straining from the force. Anymore growth from mother nature and the girl could wind up indecent from a sneeze.
“I won’t tell Mariana of you trying to turn the mob against her, if you warn me when her mother approaches,” Vaho said.
“But Madam was very strict with her instructions.”
Vaho winked, “Isn’t she always?”
Teresa laughed, her fingers patting the bottom of the gifted pot. “Very well, but be quick about it. She’s been gone half the day and is liable to return soon.”
“Thank you, my dear,” Vaho said, bowing deeply. The overt gallantry was enough to cause a blush across the girl’s cheeks. She bounced on her toes, the burst of nervous energy keeping her rooted to the spot blocking the door. Lightly placing his thumb and fingers around her expanding arm, he guided her to the side.
Before leaving the girl to sit upon the stoop as lookout, he whispered, “If Madam catches you, you can always claim I bewitched you.”
“You could charm the Inquisitors themselves,” Teresa said, her face beaming with that rose of youth. The patina of adulthood washed away so quickly.
“I pray it never comes to that,” Vaho said, bowing his head once more and sliding open the door to the sitting room.
Mariana perched upon one of the grander chairs, mahogany wood carved by master hands. The instrument of torture filled her lap, fingers plucking at the air as she thumbed through a sheet of music sketched by an instructor who couldn’t take the barrage anymore.
Vaho leaned against the door frame, watching as tired sunlight lit up her warm face. Even through the concentration and slight confusion of practice, a tiny smile worked the edges of her lips. Her face projected tales that Vaho would watch enraptured for hours. But there wasn’t much time.
“How is it going?”
She turned up from her papers and warmed her smile at the body filling the door. “You have ears, I’m certain you already have an opinion,” Mariana said, testing him.
Vaho scratched his head, stalling, “Well, it is not as bad as last time.”
“You mean when you told Teresa I was slitting open the throat of a rabbit?”
“Yes, it is certainly a much smaller animal’s death throes.”
Mariana laughed, “Well, thank the Lord for small miracles.”
Vaho smiled at her joke and stepped into the room. He collapsed haphazardly onto one of the benches, his legs dangling over the arm rest. “I do not know why you waste your time with that contraption.”
“It is our duty, and the gifts from God, to strive to better ourselves,” Mariana said, sitting up squarely.
“I don’t think Jésu said much about playing the lute.”
Mariana twisted her lips up, her fingers dragging along the wires. The lute cried in response to her treatment. “Mother thinks it’s best if I learn how to accompany my own singing.”
“Your mother would suggest you learn how to juggle wolves if it would get you married off,” Vaho said.
“Already nineteen and only one failed proposal to my name.”
“You’re welcome, by the way.”
Mariana sighed, “Of course I am grateful, the bastardo had it coming. But…”
Vaho sat up at the wistful sigh in her voice, “Ana, there is no reason to rush such things.”
“All but one of my friends is married or engaged. And the final holdout often gets mistaken for her own horse.”
“You are still in mourning, for your dead fiance. These things take time to overcome, yes?”
She narrowed her eyes, jutting out the bottom lip.
“I could tell you the tale of how I finished him off again, if that would help,” Vaho threw out.
“I do not understand you,” Mariana said, twisting her head.
“You would not be the first.”
“Do you not wish to be married? To find joy in the sacrament, to birth children?”
Vaho dropped his shoulders and struggled to sit up properly. What began as some light teasing a few years ago was turning quickly into a weekly battering. She had babies on the brain and assumed everyone else around her did.
He waved down his bandaged chest and joked, “What man would want this?”
Mariana sighed, “You can easily discard the disguise. Slip back on a dress, speak as Lucia, settle into domestic bliss.”
Vaho pursed his lips together and nodded along as if Lucia wasn’t as much a disguise as Estevan. Some nights, when sleep floundered on the edges, dreams haunted him as he ripped off each mask until only a black hole remained. What he…what she had been before Vaho was born was long dead.
“Perhaps you should try slipping on the trousers,” Vaho said, shifting the conversation.
Mariana laughed, “That would send Mother to an early grave.”
“That would be such a shame,” Vaho responded in monotone.
But Mariana only waved him off in an ‘Oh you’ manner. “I am curious,” she slid forward in her chair, the lute dipping dangerously off her lap, “if, if the Lord came to you in the night and offered you the chance to change parts, would you?”
Vaho’s heel kicking into the priceless antique, he muttered, “I must admit, there is a curiosity about the rod. But not the jewels.” He leaned up with that, emphasizing some long contemplated ideas.
“Why ever not?” Mariana asked softly.
“A dangling sack right in the perfect spot to be knocked about? Seems a cruel joke all around. No, if God asked me I would give the penis a test, but he could keep the testicles.”
Mariana chuckled as if he spoke childish nonsense.
Vaho continued, “I have often wondered to myself, if, as the priests say, we are formed in God’s image, what does the Lord appear as?”
“What do you mean?”
“Think of it, to appear as both of us, He or She would have to have the full bosom of a woman, the spear of a penis, and a cunt.”
“But no testicles?”
“Of course not. God isn’t about to be fooled into that trap,” Vaho said, shaking his head.
Mariana laughed, “You speak such blasphemous thoughts, Lucia.”He knocked another boot into the chair and shrugged. If ever there was a soul worth saving, it rotted away from neglect long ago.