Eleno faces the Inquisition.
Their vestments glow red even in the Stygian darkness of his cell. Their eyes shine with religious fervour. They live in a world where uncertainty, transmogrification, introspection do not exist. They are as fantastic, as eerie to him as unicorns or griffins.
Eleno lives in a world that shifts and moves like the sand on the shore. He has worn skirts, married a man, given birth, gone for a soldier, practised medicine, married a woman, undergone countless physical examinations, been held in isolation by the authorities because they weren’t sure whether to cage him with the men or the women.
He answers all their questions, but he never gives the right answer. The inquisitors want penitent tears, a confession, lurid stories about dancing naked and being buggered by Satan’s imps.
Eleno gives them only himself, as God made him.
‘I am Eleno de Céspedes. I married my wife, and do not believe I erred in doing so, but rather that I married in God’s service.’
‘God’s service?’ An inquisitor parrots, horror lengthening his face till it resembles a horse’s. ‘You are a woman! You make a mockery of the blessed state of matrimony and deal in unnatural passions!’
‘I was a woman,’ Eleno shrugs. ‘Now I am a man. The change came upon me after I gave birth. My flesh parted and revealed a man’s organ. It was damaged when I rode a horse and is not so visible now. But I believe God intended me to be a man.’
The inquisitors howl in outrage and accuse him of monstrous arrogance, to think he can divine God’s intentions. They are impervious to irony.
‘Inquisition’ is a poor description, Eleno reflects. The inquisitors have no desire to query, to discover, to deduce. They only want to impose their narrative on him, on Spain, on the world.
They accuse Eleno of sodomy. Of a pact with the Devil. Of bigamy. They make him drop his breeches, take off his shirt. Then they search, frantic, for signs he is a man or a woman or Satan’s minion. They will find whatever they desire. Their zealotry will allow nothing less.
But Eleno does not care what the Inquisition decides. No matter what garments he is forced to wear or how much skin their whips tear from his back. Not even if he is parted from his wife and denied his surgeon’s licence.
He is Eleno de Céspedes, a man, as God made him.
Carys Crossen has been writing stories since she was nine years old. Her fiction has been published by several online and print publishers, and her monograph The Nature of the Beast is available from University of Wales Press. She lives in Manchester UK with her husband.
Photograph of detail of the creation of Adam (detail) from the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Photographer unknown.