The girl jerked as if startled to be addressed. When she managed to speak again, her voice was a barely audible murmur…but Isabel could hear every word as if the girl stood right beside her, speaking into her ear.
“I…I was at the Church one evening…I was bringing medicine to the Father…err…to this woman,” a quick glance towards Isabel, and then a downward sweep of lashes, “who was sick…I was walking beside the Chapel…it’s closed off from the rest of the Church, and I heard something. I thought it was just someone at their prayers, but then I recognized the words spoken over the Blessed Sacrament…”
Though this girl would have no understanding of the Latin, she would be able to identity that part of the Mass, having grown up hearing it.
The girl continued. “It was not uncommon for the Fathe…for the accused to hold private Masses, but it was growing late and he…she had been so ill, I did not think it good for…her to be alone. So I entered the chapel…”
Isabel stopped listening. She didn’t need to hear the rest. She remembered it all too well. The girl had entered the Chapel and found Isabel at the altar, performing the Eucharistic rites. Startled by the sudden and unexpected interruption, Isabel had whipped around, forgetting that she was not in full disguise. Why should she be? No one had dared disturb her when she was at her private prayer before. She had been ill that day, and so had forgone her formal priestly robes in favor of a worn Alb cinched tightly at the waist. The girl had seen Isabel’s outlined figure, illuminated by the candles lighting the altar, and her eyes had gone wide with comprehension and shock. She’d fled the Chapel before Isabel could speak a word to her.
Isabel had known it’d only be a matter of time after that. The Inquisition had come pounding on her door the very next day. She’d imagined them darkening her doorstep many times before, wondering how she would be caught, because she never doubted that she would be.
She’d just never thought her downfall would be at the hands of one of her own flock.
“Are you not nervous today, Juan? I admit to being quite terrified myself.”
Isabel turned to look at the young man who stood next to her, dressed in robes that matched her own. His bright gaze showed his fear, and his clasped hands trembled. Isabel offered him a kind smile.
“It will be all right, Mateo. This is a joyous day! We are about to commit ourselves and our lives to the work of the Lord!”
Mateo gulped, but nodded, offering a tremulous smile at her words.
“You are right of course, my friend. This is a joyous day indeed.”
It was the day of their ordination. The day they would officially enter into the priesthood, and be granted the authority to bring God’s grace into the world.
Isabel and Mateo stood with several others as they waited to process into the Cathedral as a group. Quickly and subtly, Isabel checked to make sure her disguise was thorough, but of course it was. She had lived as a man for years as she’d prepared for her ultimate destiny. It had become second nature to her to hide her figure, masking her breasts and hips with robes just slightly larger than was necessary. She’d allowed her hands to become roughened over the years so that some of their delicateness was hidden by calluses and cracked palms.
Hiding had been easier than she’d initially anticipated, especially within the walls of the humble seminary she’d run away to not long after she’d spoken with the old priest. There was no communal bathing, no show of nakedness. There was no concern of prying eyes as long as she was obedient, humble, and holy. She had been all those things, and so had managed to blend into her new identity as Juan, the eager seminarian.
Now, she would be Fr. Juan, and she would see God’s will finally done.
“It’s beginning!” Mateo whispered, excitement lacing each word.
Isabel drew herself up and folded her hands in front of her as the doors to the Cathedral’s sanctuary opened. Warmth filled her as she made her way down the long aisle towards the altar. In that moment, she felt nothing but absolute joy and the unwavering love of God shining down on her.