“You are an evil, spiteful creature.” The head of her tribunal spat just as a viper would spit venom.
She regarded him for a moment before speaking. He was a fat little man, bloated with noxious gases and self-worth.
“Sir, if it were possible for you to remove my heart and examine it, you would find within it no amount of malice.”
“My dear girl, please.” Another of her judges spoke in a voice meant to lull and calm. “This will go much easier for you if you admit your guilt and repent of your sins.” He was thinner than the first, younger, but much more dangerous in his false kindness. Her confession would be their triumph, but it wouldn’t save her from her fate.
“I have nothing to confess. All I have done, I have done to achieve God’s will.”
“She is mad,” the final examiner declared with a shake of his head. He was not so fat as the first man, but not as thin as the second, and clean shaven. Just as his appearance appeared halfway between the other two judges, so too did his demeanor. He exuded neither great rage nor false care, but instead appeared almost indifferent to her plight. She took him to be the most honest of the three, unconcerned with impressing the witnesses around them, or trapping her in a web of deception and twisted words.
“She is possessed,” the first judge countered. “The Devil himself resides within her. She is his instrument.”
“She is a woman.” The second judge nodded in agreement. “Her whole sex is far more delicate in constitution, and so much more susceptible to the powers of Hell.”
Isabel stood silent, waiting as the three men bickered back and forth about her state of being. They were like children who had been caught in mischief, and were making excuses for their behavior, convincing their own selves of the truth of their words.
Let them bicker. Let them believe her possessed, or weak because of her sex. In the eyes of God, there was neither man nor woman. God did not limit grace to one over the other. God had chosen her, as God had chosen so many men before her.
When the three continued in their bickering, Isabel fought back a sigh of frustration. Could they not get this over with?
“What proof have you of the crimes I am accused of committing?” she demanded to know, interrupting them.
All three turned to stare at her, no doubt shocked by her authoritative tone. She spoke to them as she imagined the great Queen Isabella might, with strength and confidence. A greater authority than these men possessed stood at her side, guiding her way and clearing her path. They would continue to hurt her, there was no doubt of that. Kill her, even. But they would never break her.
Only one person had ever come close to accomplishing that.
“But, mama, why can I not?”
Isabel’s mother let out a deep breath of frustration, pausing in her work tending their small garden to glance over her shoulder at her daughter.
“It is not allowed,” she answered in a firm tone. “Tis blasphemy to even speak such a thought, but you are a child and cannot be blamed for your ignorance.”
A warm spring breeze played with a tendril of her dark hair, but Isabel swiped at it, annoyed and unsatisfied by her mother’s response. “I am not a child! I am thirteen years this summer, and know my own mind and my call. It is God’s will…”
“Enough of this!” her mother snapped. She stood from her crouch over the soil and turned fully to face Isabel. Her expression was severe, tightening her weathered face, which had once held such beauty before life had imprinted its hardships on her. Her bright dark gaze was tinged with worry and impatience, her full lips thinned into a tight line. “You are just a girl now, but you must learn to mind your tongue and not speak of such things. God’s will for you is to someday marry and bear your husband children. He would not call you to a station so impossibly out of your reach, contradicting the teachings of His Own Church. This is a foolish fantasy, and you must put it aside and face reality.”
But it was not a foolish fantasy. Isabel was certain of that. When she had first been graced with God’s call to her, she had been so young, and oblivious to the difficulties that lay before her in answering that call.
She had told her mother and father about her path that same day it'd been opened to her. They had dismissed it as childish fancy.
When she continued speaking of it, their dismissal evolved. For her mother, it had turned into a fear that she tried to temper with maternal affection. For Isabel’s father, it had turned to anger.
She suspected, though, that his anger was also rooted in fear. It was a fear she had never understood. If God had shown her the path of her life with such vividness, what had she to fear by following it?
Her mother shook her head sharply. “I said no more. One more word, and your father will hear of it by day’s end.”
That did make Isabel pause. Not with doubt, but from fear of a lashing. She dropped her chin and stared at the ground, fighting to keep the tears that threatened to fall from spilling.
“Yes, mama,” she murmured.
There was a pause, and then her mother drew close, her hand coming to rest on Isabel’s shoulder. Gazing up, she met her mother’s saddened eyes and soft smile.
“You are a good girl, Isabel.” Her tone was gentle and soothing, but layered with unmistakable sorrow. “Strong, and faithful…and I have no doubt you truly believe what you say God has called you to. You must understand, my sweet, that it is simply not possible. To even attempt to pursue that life would mean your death.” She wrapped both arms around the girl in a sudden and desperate embrace. She smelled of freshly turned earth and sunshine, the comforting scents at odds with her pleading whisper. “Please, put it from your mind. For my sake, if not for your own. I could not bear it if I lost you.”
At a loss for words, Isabel encircled her mother’s waist with her arms and returned her embrace. Could obeying God in this matter truly lead to her death? The idea had never occurred to Isabel before.
And if her call was meant to bring joy…why was it causing her mama such pain?