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The Last Confession (2014)


Catalina had no memory of blacking out. She awoke to hymns being sung and church bells tolling in the distance. Her eyes wearily surveyed the little room where she lay; it was built of stone, with the morning light filtering through the ivy covered outlets.

The door opened and a nun entered. “You’re awake,” she said, sounding delighted.

“Where am I?” Catalina muttered.

“In the Hospice of the Daughters of Charity. I’m Sister Marie Bernard. The Mother Superior asked that I look after you today.”

The nun drew near and set a bowl of warm stew on the little table beside the cot.

“How long have I been asleep?” Catalina asked.

“Nearly two days now. We all feared the fever would take you. Have some soup.”

The nun helped Catalina sit up, and she brought a spoonful to her lips. After the third sip, Catalina held out her hand weakly, hindering a fourth.

“There was a man – a priest I met the other night.”

“Whom? Father Benedict?” the nun asked brightly. “He was just here this morning to see about you.”

Catalina furrowed her brow, perturbed. “I must go,” she uttered under her breath, slipping out of the cot. She was so weak, her legs felt like they could scarcely carry her.

The sister immediately rose to assist her. “You needn’t hurry, you’re more than welcome to remain here and rest,” she assured, but Catalina shook her head.

She found stable footing, her arms clung to the sister for support, the pain in her back intensified as she attempted to straighten up, and she whimpered.

“Who did this to you, child?” Sister Bernard asked, staring at the blood smeared on the back of her chemise.

Catalina looked at her, color left her face, and she shook her head. “Please, I need to leave.”

“Wait!” the nun exclaimed as she steadily made her way to the door. She took up a pair of shoes, and reached for the cloak hanging on the chair by the cot. She drew Catalina’s arm around her shoulder as she helped her fit into the shoes, and then she wrapped the cloak around her back.

Catalina stared at the sister, unable to understand her kindness. Then she remembered it was the same cloak the priest had given her. She slipped her arms through the sleeves and smiled a little. “Thank you…” she said to the nun, and departed.

She called for a carriage outside and asked to be driven to the cathedral. The carriage parked on the path leading to the main entrance of the church, though Catalina made no move to go inside, she only gazed indecisively out of the window. She could hear her heart pounding as memories of the priest were revived in her head. She had to talk to him, to thank him.

Her hand trembled as she reached for the door. She couldn’t tell if her weakness was from nerves or hunger. She drew back, letting out her breath, realizing she’d been holding it, and told the coachman to drive on.

Catalina was beset with fear through the entire ride back to Lord Guy’s. The carriage curbed the path towards the flat, and she sunk into her seat. She wanted to drive on as far away as she could from that place. The coachman came around and opened the door for her. 

“Are you alright, Mademoiselle?” he asked.

Catalina shuddered and looked at him. She hadn’t heard what he’d asked, nor could she find the words to answer. She quickly wiped away her tears, realizing she was crying, and placed a trembling hand in his. He caught her as she stumbled down the carriage steps and timidly entered the house. She half-expected to find Guy waiting at the door for her, his silver dagger scorching and ready to burn her again.

The entrance hall was silent and empty. The door made a low echoing sound as it closed behind her. It would have been hard to see that something was off; the apartment was still dark and gloomy as ever. Catalina followed the murmurs into the kitchen where the servants were gathered and talking quietly amongst each other. They all fell silent when she appeared.

“Oh, Mademoiselle!” one maid exclaimed, hastening to embrace her. “Thank God you are back! We thought the worst!” Almost immediately, the maid had faltered at the sight of Catalina’s bruised face. “Mademoiselle…” she said pitifully, though she had no words of comfort. It hardly mattered. It wasn’t the first time the servants had seen her in such a bad condition, and Catalina was certain it wasn’t going to be the last before the contract with Guy was finally over.

She took in the troubled faces of the others gathered. “What has happened here?” she asked.

“Monsieur Guy, Mademoiselle. He’s not come out of his room since yesterday,” said the maid. “He fell into a fit of rage yesterday morning and wouldn’t stop screaming your name. We don’t dare disturb him. He’ll be happy to know you’ve returned –”

Catalina wandered out of the kitchen without another word. She made her way up the stairs to Lord Guy’s bedroom, and quietly knocked on the door. There came no answer – only incoherent babblings on the other side. She slowly crept open the door, and found the room in further disorder than it had ever been. The bed had been turned over and cut into, stuffing coming out the seams; the tapestries had been torn from the canopy; the mirror was broken, like the window, like the chair, like the wine bottles.

Guy was slumped in a corner, empty bottles of wine on the floor beside him. He looked so small and shriveled, Catalina almost pitied him. She warily neared him, shrouds of broken glass clinking beneath her feet, and placed her hand upon his shoulder. He looked up at her mystified, as though he’d come out of a dream.

“Oh, my poor little Kitty,” he gasped. He looked so lost, like a man asking for something and he didn’t know what it was. He reached up and clumsily put his hands on her face as though he were testing to see if it was really her.

“My Kitty…” he said again in broken syllables, and Catalina burst into a sob.

She sank onto the ground beside him, and he pulled her into his arms. He put his mouth on her bruised cheeks and lips. He stunk, he hadn’t bathed, his tunic was covered in sweat and amethyst, yet Catalina didn’t push away from him. Instead she wrapped her arms around his neck and took his kisses in welcome.

After Guy had fallen asleep in her arms, the maids helped Catalina lay him to rest in his bed. They tended to her within her own chamber afterward. They washed her wounds, and put scented ointments on the hideous burns on her back. Catalina tried not to cry when she made herself look at them. It almost hurt more to see the marring than to feel its numbing sting.

When she was dressed, she retreated outside to sit in the courtyard. The sun was warm on her skin, and she wanted to pull off her clothes and lie naked beneath it, roll around in the grass without care.

Her body instinctively tensed when she viewed Guy in her peripheral vision, coming out of the house, looking around as if he had no idea where he was. He went blank when he saw her.

A smile lit up Catalina’s face as he approached. She went up to meet him, flung her arms around his neck and pulled him into a kiss. It was strange form of welcome considering the unpleasantness of the other night. He might have been intoxicated, but he had a vague recollection of treating her quite badly. Still, this rare sentiment did not go unwelcomed by him. He wrapped his arms around her back, lifting her just slightly off her tiptoes, and Catalina whimpered softly to the pain it caused her.

He set her down again. "It seems the wine gained the better of me the other night. I apologize," he said, but Catalina shook her head.

"You’ve nothing to apologize to me for," she reassured in a trembling voice, and then she kissed him once more. "I'm not delicate. You don't have to be afraid of being rough with me..."

Guy took her chin between his fingers and tilted her head back to look at her. He saw the bruises on her right cheek and lips, the tears welling up in her bruised eyes, her face shaking in his hand.

"My Kitty, what have I done?" he uttered as if he could scarcely believe it himself.

"It’s nothing. Just kiss me!" Catalina implored, slipping her arms around his neck once more and pulling his face to hers, into a kiss. It was better that way, with him this close he couldn’t hurt her.

They spent what remained of the afternoon together. They had a late breakfast – a singular occasion – outside on the terrace.

Guy had taken Catalina onto his lap and held the wine bottle to her lips as she sipped.

"Ah, careful," he said softly, wiping her bruised lips of drips, and he breathed a laugh.

Catalina smiled in seeing his contentment, her eyes shimmered with unshed tears. He always became this attentive whenever he’d done something to hurt her.

He stared at her through his one eye. Her beautiful green eye glistened through purple splotches on the right side of her face. He felt her tremble in his arms. She tried to hold back the pain, she tried to keep her face calm in fear of his displeasure, but tears had already begun to flow.

“Shush,” Guy whispered, wiping her moistened cheeks. “You know I don’t mean to hurt you when I do. I need you to forgive me, sweet Kitty,” he pleaded, his face filled with remorse.

“I do forgive you, I forgive you!” Catalina cried, as she covered his face and neck with fevered kisses.

Guy gathered to his feet with her and carried her into the house, up the stairs to his chambers, where he laid her down upon the disheveled bed with surprising gentleness. He left a trail of tender kisses on her body as he opened her dress. Catalina barely moved, barely breathed as he took her slowly, as though he was afraid to hurt her. She tried to calm herself, assuring herself that it would soon be over, but the pain in her back intensified to the point where it was almost unbearable. Catalina clamped her teeth together to keep from screaming.    

Guy let out a sigh of displeasure at the sight of her distress, and he moved himself off her. Catalina sat up and watched as he fixed his breeches then picked up the nearest discarded, half-empty wine bottle from the floor.

"Have I displeased you, Monsieur?" she asked between frantic intakes of breath.

"Enough of your little remarks!" Guy snapped at her. "I know the games your sorts play. I warn you not to toy with me, Catalina." There was a warning in his voice, in his eye. Rare was the occasion that he would call her by her actual name.

"What game am I playing!?” Catalina cried.  

Guy didn’t seem to hear her as he gulped the bottle down quickly until wine was dripping down his chin, and he began to cough. He tried to stand straight, but could barely walk without stumbling. He leaned weakly against the wall for some kind of support as he fell into a hysteria of coughing.

Catalina slipped out of bed and hastened to him. He tried to push her away, his hand was bloody.

"Monsieur!” she gasped, seeing the blood spilling down his chin. She wrapped his arm around her shoulder and took the pains to help him limp to his bed. He was mumbling incoherent words to her as she laid him down, and then called for one of his servants.

Guy spent several days in bed. A physician bled him, and then politely asked Catalina to keep him out of any sexual escapades – at least until he healed. Catalina found no difficulty in doing as was requested of her. Sex had never been enjoyable with Lord Guy, and she was a woman who took great pleasure in pleasing a man. Her own pleasure came in knowing their contentment, but there were never any kind remarks from Guy, never a smile or a kiss, not even a pat on the head.

She stayed by his bedside one evening after the physician had left, watching Guy while he slept. Her feelings for him were conflicted; one moment she grieved for him, and then he appeared grotesque to her. Now he was the one who was powerless, the one who was suffering. It would be so easy to put an end to all of this, to him.

Catalina carefully reached for one of the pillows. She could smother him and blame it on his ailment, she kept hearing herself scream, a violent ringing in her ears.

Guy let out a sigh, and she held her breath, shuddering out of her plan. She rose quickly and fled the room. 

Guy was slow in healing, and his promises of being a better man proved to be of no worth – though Catalina hadn’t allowed herself the vain hope that he would change for her. That hope had died long ago. She did well to stay away from him when he fell into rages and then drunk himself to slumber. She kept denying invitations to dinner parties until she looked appropriate enough to leave the flat.

One morning she received an invitation to dinner at the house of a former lover, Nicolas Daspit. He was sort of the sweetie to all Madame Poppa’s girls. He painted every single one of their portraits. Then when Catalina came along he didn’t want to paint anyone else but her.

Guy entered the parlor while she was reading the letter. He looked a dreadful mess. His clothes were untidy and his long dark hair hung disheveled around his shoulders like he’d just rolled out of bed.

“What’s that?” he asked groggily.

“I’ve been invited to dinner at Comte and Comtesse Daspit’s home,” Catalina replied.

“Huh? The pedigree what spawned your artist?”

Catalina heard the cynicism in his voice. She wasn’t about to rouse his jealousy on the matter; she’d sooner skip the banquet altogether. As it was, she was still timid about going out into public. She feared that someone would notice the marks on her skin.

“Go,” Guy said sullenly as he poured a glass of wine. “You’ve been hiding inside longer than a fortnight.” It was typical of him, he would hurt her and then feel bitter about having to see her with bruises.

“You’ll come with me?” she asked.

He set aside his drink and drew near to her. Catalina didn’t flinch as he took her chin between his fingers.

Guy smirked cynically at her. “You think I would enjoy myself dining with duplicitous nobles and a clergy of miscreants who rely on their pope and the king for permission before voicing their opinions?” He pecked her chin. “Go, enjoy yourself.” It sounded more like a command than encouragement.

Catalina watched as he left the room with his bottle of wine. Suddenly the thought of getting away for an excursion didn’t sound so awful.

The maids prepared for her a fragranced bath; Catalina stepped out to dry after soaking in it. She peeked a glance over her shoulder in front of the mirror. The pain in her back had subsided some time ago, but the marks were still there. Catalina feared at this point they wouldn’t heal completely. It was no matter; her hair was long enough to hide them. She’d simply wear it down, she reassured herself.

Her face grew hot with tears again, and she looked away. She was so close to calling off the night altogether. She slipped on a chemise and her black lace stockings that went all the way up past her knees, with black garters. The maids helped lace her up in a corset and a dark green silk gown was draped over the petticoats. The neckline was very low, and Catalina wore a gigantic emerald around her neck, it rested just above the valley of her breasts. Her auburn hair had been twisted into thick curls, rolling down her shoulders, held together by a silver clip. She stepped into her high-heeled shoes, they added another two inches to her five-foot-five frame, then put deep rogue on her lips and used some charcoal to darken her already thick eyelashes.

She gazed at herself in the mirror when she was finished preparing. Her skin was silken and had a faint shimmer to it, the dress was tightly fitted and her breasts were perking up, the emerald was embedded between them. She imagined the man who’d bought it for her must have spent his life’s employment on it. He’d said that the moment he saw it he thought of her eyes. He was not wrong there; the emerald matched her eyes.

She was stunning, and without a companion by her side she was certain to attract unwanted attention that evening. Why did it matter? Lord Guy wasn’t going to be seeing her flaunt herself, after all.

Just the idea made her blood curdle. She didn’t dare, fearing what Guy would do to her if he ever found out. He was a very jealous man, and for now, she was his property. She had to respect him. She was going to behave like a proper lady – as absurd as that idea was. She wasn’t going to fool anyone with that brazen gaze of hers. Even if she was fully dressed in a nun’s outfit, any man would have been able to point her out for the kind of sinful woman that she was. Madame Poisson had always told her she was a sensualist at heart. She didn’t have to take off her clothes to lure men to her. She only needed to look at them.

She retreated downstairs, ready to face Guy, but to her relief, he didn’t appear to bid her goodnight. She wasn’t sure if that entailed good or ill later.

Chapter 3: About
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