Sunday, July 30, 2017

Joanna Pypłacz
The Tower of Aura Sagrada
I will never forget the journey on which we went many years ago: the journey to Aura Sagrada, a tiny village in the North of Spain. It was surrounded by dark and gloomy woods and situated practically in the middle of nowhere, yet a wonderful nowhere permeated with mystery and supernatural awe. where time seemed to have miraculously stopped in the ancient times.

When we arrived, I had a strange sensation of having entered into a labyrinth from where I would never be able to escape, or at least, where an essential part of me was going to perish forever. I clang to Cristóbal with all my strength, trying to persuade myself that these weird, disturbing thoughts resulted from the primordial superstition with which the little village was entirely imbued.

As we proceeded towards the famous castle, its towers emerging from the forest and proudly arising upon the never-ending desert of dark green, the strange sensation increased, making me shiver all over my body. I successfully managed to disguise it from my dear Cristóbal, who could not stop wondering at the enchanting, yet somewhat sinister beauty of the surrounding landscape.

However, he finally realized that I was not being entirely myself.

-Don’t tell me you’re afraid of that silly old tale! – he said, his inquisitive, dirty green eyes looking at me with an expression of irony combined with tenderness.
I shook my head with a smile.

-You are afraid! – he cried, laughing.


-Yes, you are... Admit you are! – he went on teasing.

Eventually, I also laughed, but I never responded to his question, and this is how that brief conversation came to an end.

Some of you might be acquainted with the legend of the tower of Aura Sagrada, but I am quite sure that most of you are not, which is why I feel much obliged to give you at least a brief outline of that story. Although the tower itself dates back to the fourteenth century, the legend is much younger, as it was forged in the early 1770s, after the elopement and subsequent disappearance of Doña Carmen Aparicio, who left her cruel husband Count Juan de Silva for a young musician called Luca Murillo.

Earlier on that terrible day, the lovers had resolved to meet at midnight at the source of a stream which still flows beneath the old tower. Unfortunately, one of Carmen’s maids – who secretly loved Luca – betrayed her mistress by unfolding this plan to the Count. Therefore, instead of going straight to his library, what he always did in the evenings, the jealous aristocrat decided to go directly to the place when the couple was supposed to reunite, and to wait until one of them would turn up.

He was almost certain that he would first see Luca, whom he planned to shoot and subsequently throw his body into the dungeons of the tower, as he had previously disposed of a number of other bodies. He knew he would easily get away with yet another crime, especially that Murillo, though widely appreciated for his music, came from a poor family. With a stonemason for a father and a seamstress for a mother, he was just a nobody compared to the rich and powerful Juan de Silva. Besides, Carmen would never openly admit to the affair as, according to the Count, she was too feeble both to protest as well as to dare to investigate her lover’s unexplained disappearance.

Having carefully planned all his movements, De Silva hid himself in a small cave situated a dozen metres or so away from the source of the stream. It was not until eleven o’clock in the evening that he finally heard somebody heading towards the place where he was sitting, disguised in the gloomy shade and plunged into an even gloomier despair. Very carefully, he moved towards the entrance of the cave, poked his head out and checked: it was Carmen.

At this sight, a thousand knives pierced the hard and cruel heart of the Count, and the more he suffered, the more he hated his wife. For a few minutes, he just stayed where he was, contemplating the fragile silhouette clad in a cream-coloured silken dress. Part of  (picture inserted)

her hair was pinned up high, and part of it flew lavishly down her shoulders in thick, ebony tresses. She looked so magnificent, and yet so unreal, almost like a ghost!

An icy shiver ran down Count de Silva’s back. He felt sick and weak, and yet the eagerness for revenge pulled him out of his hiding place, pushing him towards that white, almost transparent figure decorated with an elegant tinge of black. As he left the cave and slowly went towards Carmen with his eyes full of hateful rage, his face pale like that of a wrathful, hellish phantom, she was so petrified with fear that she was unable to make the slightest movement.

Without uttering a word, the Count took her by her shoulder, mangling the delicate flesh with his iron fingers, and led her upwards, toward the tower of Aura  (picture insert)

Sagrada. Paralysed with horror, Carmen obeyed. She could hardly walk, so the Count dragged her forcibly all along the steep hillside, until she finally fell down unconscious, soiling her white face and her cream-coloured dress with brown, putrid mud.

Then, he took her into his arms and carried – senseless and almost lifeless – to the damp and moldy realm of the tower. However, instead of throwing her into the dungeons, he decided to confine her in a tiny cell in the upper part of the building. It was a dreadful place, infested by rats and all kinds of vermin, of which giant, black flies that entered the room through a small, narrow window, were the most voracious.

Having sensed the smell of Carmen’s blood oozing out of her fresh wounds, they immediately attacked her exhausted, feeble body, and began their morbid feast, eagerly preying on the Countess’ delicate flesh. De Silva looked at his wife for the last time, drunk with hatred and vengeance; triumphant over the white shape lying motionless on the stony floor, almost entirely covered with a bustling swarm of the insatiable insects. He left her no food or drink, nor was his intention to do so, as Carmen was to stay in her prison forever:

-Till her death and beyond – he murmured at leaving the cell.

When Luca Murillo came to the appointed spot, there was no trace of Carmen. The Count had also long gone, and the woods remained as silent as Death itself. He waited, though, for several hours, until the gentle glow of Dawn arose upon the endless sea of dark green. Finally, the young musician left the place, never to come back. Rumors say that he was eventually tracked down and murdered by the vengeful Count, but no proof of that has ever emerged.

The imprisoned Countess died on fifteenth February, exactly the same day on which we set for our trip to Aura Sagrada, a circumstance neither of us had known before. We learnt it already in the village, while we were having a meal in a tavern, from an old, blind woman who asked “for a loaf of bread in exchange for a piece of history”, as she expressed herself with a faint, melancholy smile. The woman was poorly dressed, yet – in spite of her poverty – she spoke in a cultivated manner, as if some unknown disgrace had reduced her to the present, rather deplorable state.

It was then that she disclosed to us what I have just summarized to those of you who happen to be unfamiliar with the old tale. She also warned us against going to the woods on that particular day, claiming that we could see the ghost of Carmen.

-Never go near that rock – she advised, opening widely her white eyes. -Why? – I asked, slightly surprised.

-Because she is mad! – whispered the woman.

Her face became distorted by a sudden bout of fear.

However, Cristóbal bridled at that remark.

-But it was her husband, not her, who was a madman and a murderer! – he protested
vigorously. – Even if there is a ghost, it must be quite harmless!

The woman’s useless eyes opened even wider, shining with horror like two glowing bulbs.

-But she also went mad... There, in the tower! – she whispered. 
Cristóbal laughed nervously.

-How do you know? – he asked. – And, for Christ’s sake, how on earth do you know the day of her death? She was all alone when she died, poor thing!

The woman was not confused by his question and seemed determined to continue her terrifying account:

-The body was discovered quite accidentally, many years after Count de Silva’s death, by his distant relative who wanted to turn the tower into a museum of curiosities. What he witnessed when he entered the cell where the skeleton of Carmen still lay, exceeded the boldest of his eccentric ideas. The walls were scratched all over and bore visible traces of blood, which rendered the deranged writing quite legible. It is incredible that, though deprived of food and drink, the poor Countess was still capable of scribbling her dreadful curses! She did that with such a supernatural force... the force of a mad woman!

-I’d rather say, a desperate woman – corrected Cristóbal.

-Despair drives us mad, my child – replied the blind storyteller. – On the last day, she wrote just beneath the narrow window (here the woman took a deep breath, almost like an opera singer before beginning an aria):

El dia quinze de Febrero os maldigo y me muero. Quien haya aqui venido,
perdera un ser querido. 

-Good heavens! She was mad indeed! – exclaimed Cristóbal.

-Yes, she was, poor thing... – replied the woman. – Don’t go there, my friends, I pray you! Don’t go near that accursed creek!

Having expressed our gratitude for her valuable advice (of which of course we took no notice), we left the tavern. When we came near the tower, I suddenly repeated aloud Carmen’s crazy poem of despair. Some strange, inexplicable force urged me to pronounce those sinister words, the horrific legacy of a woman dying in extreme pain and solitude. A tear escaped from my eye, which I quickly wiped off with my fingers.

-Why are you repeating this nonsense? – asked my husband with a perplexed smile. 

-I don’t know, Cristóbal... - I replied. – I don’t know...    (picture inserted)

Then, suddenly, I shrieked. A shape glided gently behind the “accursed” rock which filled the blind woman with such terror. Almost instantly, it disappeared into the darkness of the woods, but I could swear that my eyes had distinguished the shape of a woman; a tall, dark-haired young woman wearing a very old-fashioned, cream-coloured dress. 

-Are you all right? – asked Cristóbal.

-I thought I saw something – I replied.

-Two years together, and I have never suspected that my intelligent wife believes in such a nonsense as ghosts!

-It is just my imagination... Some stories are very powerful! -Especially when they are told by such a storyteller!

As soon as Cristóbal pronounced the last word, the noise of a shooting gun could be heard somewhere near us.

-Bloody hunters! – I said, disgusted. – They have to ruin every romantic walk! Cristóbal did not reply.
-Did you hear that? – I repeated in an annoyed voice.

When I turned to my husband, I saw a thin thread of blood flowing out of the corner of his mouth. His eyes were wide open, staring at the tower with an expression of utmost horror. On his chest, there was a big gaping shot wound.

-Cristóbal! – I shouted.

But he was already dead. He fell on the ground with a blunt, heavy noise as his dead body hit the soft, forest soil. 

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