“Where have you come from?”
Manuel’s voice did not sound too friendly as he looked at his wife. She had obviously bathed, and was now tidying her hair. She smiled at him. Although her clothes were drying fast, they still showed the curves of her body. He had to look away. The way the cloth clung to her breasts…
“There’s a brook a bit further” she told him. “I could not resist freshening up. The water is so lovely! I’ve soaked my clothes as well.”
“You’re foolish, Maria! You don’t know the dangers of this forest! Besides, what must the men be thinking?”
Now she laughed aloud. “They are all busy setting up the tents, like you ordered. Rest assured, they won’t be looking at me!”
“How many times do I have to tell you not to leave the company of the others?” he went on, not hearing what she said. “I don’t want it, Maria!”
“Are you afraid that something might happen to me?” she asked, inwardly smiling at his show of feelings.
It was his pleasure to answer Maria. “Of course! I could not bear to lose you, mi cielo!”
“Neither would I.” She went over and kissed him full on the lips. “Not much longer now, cariño…”
He answered her kiss with another one, but then she tore herself free.
“Let’s eat first. Travelling sharpens the appetite!”
The Indians had angled up some fish and were now roasting them, wrapped in banana leaves, over a smothered fire of leaves and fine branches. It was not a fish they had eaten before, but the meat was white and firm and had a good taste.
“They call this fish piranha,” the Padre mentioned. “I believe the Tupi Indians in Brazil use that word too.” He had taken a lively interest in the heathen Indians. He even spoke some words of their language. This came in useful, he had once told Maria, as his aim was to convert these believers in the ancient Aztec gods to Catholicism.
“I was told that a piranha was a very small fish, which eats meat. Commandante Muñoz advised me never to put my hand into the water of any stream, because the piranha’s could snap off my fingers!” Miguel said.
“That’s true enough” the Padre agreed. “It appears though that there are various kind of piranha. The bigger fish are excellent food, as we can all tell from experience!”
They finished their evening meal with a cup of red wine, which they had brought along. Not much later most of the men retired to the tents to sleep.
Miguel and Maria remained by the fire for a while longer. Being responsible for his soldiers, the captain had to make sure that everything was in order and that the guards on night watch had been posted. When he was satisfied, he took his wife by the hand.
“Let’s go to bed, mi esposa.”
As soon as he had closed the flap of the tent, he flashed his white teeth. “You made me a promise, madam! Are you ready to make good of your word?”
She did not say anything, but slowly unfastened the laces which tied the skirts to her bodice. For comfort on their travels, she was only wearing one skirt above her shift, and it was made in a practical and light material. Miguel came closer and helped her to untie the long sleeves, after which he continued to open up the bodice. His fingers played with her breasts while doing so. At last she was only wearing the thin shift, which did nothing to hide the curves of her delicious body. His Maria was a beauty, he thought. From her Flemish ancestors she had inherited the blonde hair and blue eyes. Her breasts were round and firm and her hips promised easy birth-giving.
He gave her a playful kiss and then started to get out of his uniform as well. Finally he pulled her down on the makeshift bed. Slowly his fingers picked up the hem of the shift and caressingly he pulled it over her head. He kissed her again, more passionately this time.
“How gorgeous you are” he sighed. “And mine alone…”
He began to fondle her milky-cream breasts. His thumb touched a nipple and started to rub it enticingly. She leaned back against the cushion, to better feel the hardness of his body. She grabbed hold of him.
“Ahh!” she let out as her heart started to beat faster. His lips now descended upon her breast and his warm tongue left a trace of burning desire. Then his head went lower, to her navel and slowly, teasingly lower and lower… Before she had been married, Maria had never suspected that such delights between man and woman existed. Her aunt Francesca had been trying to prepare her for her marriage, but she had only spoken of duty. “It is God’s will, my dear,” she had explained “that wives should endure the carnal desires of their husband. I always close my eyes, and silently pray to Our Lord.”
Not a word about lust, about desire. It was only after their marriage that she had experienced this wonder. Now she knew that a man’s body could actually give delight. She was not shy anymore and loved to look at the nakedness of Miguel, with the hard proof of his desire so clearly visible.
Now his tongue was licking her love bud, and she let out moans of desire.
“Oh, yes, please” she begged. “Come into me, mi amor!”
He was about to comply, when all hell broke loose.
They had been too enticed in their nightly activities to hear or notice anything. Nor had the rest of the camp suspected that danger was lurking in the rain forest and that they had been watched all the time, from the moment that they entered the forest until they made camp. The Spaniards had not suspected that the seeming cries of exotic birds had really been a way for the Aztec to pass signals among themselves.
All of a sudden, a big shadow loomed over the love-making couple. Maria opened her eyes wide, and when she saw the painted face and long black hair above hers she screamed in terror. An Indian, dressed in short white tunic, showing the reddish-brown of his skin, holding a dangerously looking knife!
Miguel needed a moment to come to reality. His wife’s anxious screaming then urged him into action. He quickly got to his feet and made a threatening gesture towards the Indian.
He had not the chance to do anything else. In a fluid movement, the Indian plunged the sharp knife into his breast, killing him almost instantly. He then turned to Maria, the dripping knife in hand, and grabbed her by the hair.
She screamed even louder and struggled against his grip. Her loose hair swirled about in flashes of gold. To her surprise, the Indian loosened her as suddenly as he had grabbed her. He even stepped back a couple of paces, and shouted some words in a language she did not comprehend.
Other Indians appeared into the tent’s entrance. One of them was holding a torch. The man who had killed Miguel took it and approached her a second time. When the light of the raised torch fell over her and disclosed her light hair and blue eyes, the Indians looked awe-struck. Hesitatingly, one of them reached out and touched her hair, uttering more strange words. The intensity of his look was more than frightening.
After a while they started to whisper in hushed tones, accompanied by broad gestures. They seemed to come to some agreement, because some time later their leader beckoned one of his men to fetch a cape, and he handed it to Maria. All of this time, she had not risked to open her mouth, in fear of doing something the Indians would take offence to. Apparently they had never seen blond hair. Would they spare her life because of it? She almost dared to hope so. At last she spoke up.
“What are you going to do with me?” she demanded. They only gave her a blank stare and shrugged.
She was escorted outside, where the success of their ambush laid in evidence. The soldiers of the company had all been slain. Some had their throats cut, others had severed heads or limbs. The stench of blood filled the air with a coppery scent. She had to suppress a feeling of nausea and quickly closed her eyes.
She only felt how she was lifted upon a horse. A horse? Why had they been spared? A hand prodded the back of her horse and it went into a trot. Away they went.
When they were well away from the camp, she dared to open her eyes again. At least there was no more carnage now. She tried, as best as she could, to block out everything that had just happened in the camp. She could not yet bear to think about Miguel’s death and what this would mean to her. Mourning would have to come later, when they would be brought back to safety. Surely, the soldiers would come and look for them…
So now she concentrated on memorizing their route through the rain forest. It appeared to her they were heading north, which was the best she could do. When she looked around, she saw that their party consisted of about fifteen warriors and six unsaddled horses. And then she discovered a dark form astride yet another horse.
“Who’s there?” she whispered.
“It is I, Padre José” a soft voice answered.
“How are you doing, my dear?” the padre asked, his voice full of compassion. She felt a pang of pain when she thought of her loss, and impatiently wiped away the tears that suddenly appeared. She did not want to show weakness in front of the Aztecs.
The guard that rode next to the padre gave him a push. Apparently they did not like that they were talking. He said something they did not understand, but obviously meant: “Keep quiet!”.
No more time for further thoughts. The band of Indians started its way into the depths of the forest and she had to follow. Deeper and deeper they disappeared into the forest.