Run, Katelina! Run until your feet are bloody.
Her grandmother’s last words to her echoed with the pounding of her bare feet. The earth pulsed beneath her, the blood of thousands surging through interlocking roots. She heard it in her head—the sound of distant chaos—a chorus that lingered between the birdsong. It only motivated Katelina to move faster, adrenaline turning her swift and agile. She slowed down only when she no longer felt the heavy feeling of being followed. Yet the panic within her did not lose its quick pace. Her thoughts were still with her grandparents, captured by the inquisition for the crime of healing in an unorthodox way. Katelina did not wish to imagine the ways in which they would be treated by the demons dressed in holy.
He will find you, Katelina. You must let him find you.
How could she be sure that this savior her grandmother spoke of would not bring the rest of his dogs with him? Men frothing at the mouth with hunger for her, for people like her. Katelina’s doubt began to outweigh the faith she had in a woman who would surely make the stars align to keep her safe. The same woman who took her in when there was no one else to offer the security, the unmatched generosity.
It was not until nightfall that Katelina arrived at her destination; the first stop on a long and arduous journey. Jaizkibel mountain, the akelarre that served as the meeting point for her grandmother’s coven. In the woods at the base of the mountain is where a small cottage housed Katelina’s only friend, Marina Gonçales. It was a trip she’s made hundreds of times since she was young, and even in the vast darkness of the woods, she could never get lost. Katalina knocked thrice on the wooden door of Marina’s cottage, which was well hidden in the foliage of leaves and fallen branches. A knock only Katelina would use, one that unlocked and opened the door wide to welcome her. Marina awaited with deep worry on her face.
“Will be fine,” Katelina interrupted in a deep, yet falsely confident tone. “But I did not simply come for refuge, Marina, you knew this. Just like you knew she’d be taken.”
“There was nothing you could have done to stop it from happening. They are everywhere, Katelina. They are roaches. It is a danger to practice now, even in our own homes. The coven will not meet with us,” Marina looked at Kat with such pity in her eyes. It only inflamed the anger that was brewing within her.
“Come with me, then. We will call for them together! If they ignore us, then we will continue the ritual ourselves. It might be the only way to save her, Marina. Say that you’ll come with me,” Katelina pleaded, something she does rarely. Her friend only sighed in defeat, unable to deny someone in desperate need, especially someone held so dear.
It was after a meal and some wine that the two left for the valley. Katelina borrowed a cloak and a pair of shoes, her steps no longer weary of the sharp objects that nicked her bare feet before. They did not even make it to the meeting bridge before the fires of the inquisition burned into view. Katelina watched in horror as the hope for her grandmother’s freedom turned to smoke before her. She felt Marina squeeze her shoulder, but no warmth could calm the tremors that shook her. The sting in her eyes was not caused by the brisk air, and she looked to the heavens for strength.
“Go home, Marina. Pack your things and find somewhere safe,” Kat turned to face her friend, taking the hand that attempted to comfort her and squeezing gently. “Promise me that you’ll be safe. When this is all over, I will find you again.”
Marina nodded and pulled Kat in for a quick embrace before she ran back towards her home. Katelina, however, had unfinished business with the men there. As she neared toward the burning bridge, the shouts of soldiers could be heard. The flames mirrored in her eyes and the bond between her and the energy it emitted grew strong. She began to chant under her breath:
Garra hondamendia, zure maisu heriotza.
Kasu nire deia eta zure zorra izango naiz.
The fire spread quickly, almost as if it were chasing the men who set it. She enjoyed watching them run for their horses, scrambling to mount them and escape. It would have caught them too, but the shock of a sharp object poking her back caused her mouth to snap shut. As soon as the words were cut off, so was the spell.
“Tell me, what is your name?” A man’s voice, intense and commanding. He held a sword to her back, and with good reason. The fire had acted on her will and he must have seen the odd way in which it acted. Or perhaps he did not.
“Katelina Vélez Aznar, from the village of Hondarribia. Have I intruded upon something? I can assure you that I am unarmed and I mean no harm,” A moment of silent tension before she exhaled deeply at the sound of his sword being sheathed.
“I have found you at last, Katelina.”
She turned quickly, facing the man who briefly threatened her life. She recognized him then, as soon as she saw his face. The same inquisitor who sat in her home and spoke to her grandmother as if he offered peace. An act he played before his men stormed the house. It was him. The one who condemned her family, yet was fated to be her savior. The light from the growing fire behind her danced on his face. A razor could do his chin some good.
“It seems I did not do a good enough job at running… or hiding. You are quite good at your job, I must say. Was it worth it? Putting all your efforts into finding me, even though I am innocent?” Katelina was taught to be a good liar. It is the one skill every witch must be adept at. He stared at her without response for a breath too long. It caused her discomfort but she did break eye contact.
“Innocent? That is the one thing you are not, Katelina. You know this very well. I witnessed the way that fire moved with such human intent—your intent, to be exact. You have never been innocent. Being who you are makes you a criminal.”
“And what am I, according to you? You do not know me, Inquisitor…”
“Mateo de la Torre.”
“And I do not know you, Mateo. So what is it that you believe I am?” Katelina wrapped her cloak tighter around herself. Her grandmother must have been mistaken. This man would not help her, not knowing the truth. He belongs to the church, and she to the Devil. In his eyes, at least.
“A witch, a heretic, a pagan. One of the infamous sorginak, the devil’s whores. For crimes against the Holy Office, you must be punished!” He tightened his grip on the sword he had held to her back. Katelina sensed it was out of fear, disguised as an act of intimidation.
“Then kill me, Mateo. Punish me yourself because I will not be shamed in front of hundreds. I know you all claim to hold a just trial, but there is only one side to this and it is not a woman’s, much less that of a witch,” Her teeth were grinding against the urge to spit at his feet.
Mateo looked at her, transfixed by the passion in her voice. Or was it the beauty of her fair face? He was told that witches were grossly deformed creatures, if not elderly. Yet the woman before her was perfection in his eyes. It confused him terribly, causing his hesitation to act on her suggestion. He felt terribly lost in his own emotions and, when he spoke, it was as if the words were not his own.
“I would pardon you, Katelina. However, the Holy Office would not. They will have no mercy on your soul and God save mine, but I will not let them take you.”
His words surprised her more than the way he had approached her—with steel to her spine. In her head, she blessed her grandmother. It was that old woman’s power that saved Katelina now. She would take advantage of this with no guilt in her heart for wronging this man, as he has wronged her. Katelina would play her part now. She offered him a timid smile.
“What will you do, then? To save me? To save us both, since you are so willing to commit such treason against your own cause?”
“Your identity will be the death of you, Katelina. Abandon it. Abandon the craft, abandon your name, your beliefs. I will sacrifice to save you, but you must sacrifice as well,” Mateo felt utterly betrayed by his own desires. He was filled with strong attraction and care for a woman he stolen a glance from only once before. Not just a woman but a witch. The very creature he had been hunting tirelessly for months. It felt so wrong and yet almost everything in him was against him. He acted only on the urge to help her and his desire for her.
“You ask me to abandon my life? My family? For the sake of survival?”
“Have you not already done that? You left your home and you can never return. Your family is gone, we have your grandparents. The only way to survive is to leave it all behind. Become someone new… and then I can truly protect you,” He wanted her to agree. As a ploy to capture her or for another reason? If she converted to Catholicism, if she changed her name and took on a new identity, he could take her as his wife. Yet he was unsure if that was what he truly wanted. Perhaps he was bewitched. That had to be it.
Katelina hesitated to answer. It was a ridiculous idea, but if she denied… there could be no other option. At least not at the moment and definitely not in the position she was in now. Whatever her grandmother had done to this man, it was only meant for her protection.
“If you believe that is best solution, then I will agree. For my sake, not yours.”
He offered his hand to her and she took it. He led her through the haze of fading smoke, heading further away from the fire. It burned in her throat but she swallowed the instinct to cough. The future did not make her promises, and she did not count on it to do her any favors. If this was the path she must follow, with her life in the hands of a Catholic man, it must be playing a cruel joke on her now.
Mateo did not love her. Not truly. It was the tea that her grandmother gave him, the herbal brew mixed with Katelina’s blood and tears. A love potion, a tragic spell. Her grandmother’s parting gift before his men attacked her like wolves. It was behartu debozio, forced devotion. It was a powerful and dark force that fueled such a spell. Her grandmother must have traded her life for it. She knew that was the end for her anyway. The realization of this did not cause her pain or sorrow. It bit her hard with anger and injected such rage that she had to clench her fist until her nails pierced her skin in order to contain it.
“I must warn you of something, Mateo. You are risking your life for someone who will never care for you. I will not be indebted to you, who took everything from me. If this goes wrong, if you push my life further in danger… for your sake—run. Run until your feet are bloody. If you think that God’s bloodhounds have no mercy, just imagine ‘the devil’s whore‘.”