Quick Author Notes: Many thanks to Moey for beta reading this! Also, a big thank you to my good friend Emily, who gave me a hand with the Spanish, including making a term up. And thank you to the guy who puts Hershey’s bars in the vending machines on campus, the presence of which were responsible for this fic.
That crazy old man was at it again.
Sister Francesca hated being sent into the village because of him. He was always dressed neatly, which perhaps added insult to injury, but he was nothing short of mad. Carrying a stick with him, always muttering in a language which was Latin and yet not quite Latin. And strange things happened in his wake.
The nun had successfully avoided him on her way to the house of a sick woman, but on her way back to the abbey she had not been so lucky. The man was standing just outside the door, that stick in his hand. He was also directly in her path. “Sir, stand aside, please,” said she.
The old man did not move. “Sir?” she repeated. “You stand in my path.”
He looked to his right, and slowly began turning his head toward the left. An inexplicable cold washed over the nun, though she saw no cause why. The cold grew stronger and stronger, until at last Sister Francesca felt as though she would never be happy again. She shivered and drew her cloak tighter around herself. It was getting worse, and she closed her eyes
Francesca was nearly knocked into the wall by the force of the old man’s words. Suddenly everything was very bright. When the nun opened her eyes again, however, everything had gone back to normal: birds were singing, and she felt relief. How she had landed on the ground, she did not know. However, she felt very light-headed.
The man offered to help her up, and despite her personal dislike of the man, she let him. She was feeling very weak and dizzy. But when the surroundings stopped spinning somewhat, she noticed the stick in his other hand; it was not a stick picked up from the ground, but smooth and tapered, like some kind of wand. He had yelled something, and the dark cold had lefta minion of the devil had answered to him. That meant that either he was a servant of the Almighty or that he was a minion of Satan himself. Were he a man of God he would wear a cross, and Sister Francesca saw no crucifix on him. Quickly she made the sign of the cross herself. “You are a sorcerer,” she said.
“You are a nun,” he replied in the same tone.
Taken aback, she blinked several times. She had expected him to curse her, or perhaps to drop to his knees and beg her to pray for him. Instead, she had been informed that she was a sister. What a brilliant man he was. Yet it would be good to know what had happened just then, so that she and the sisters could be aware of the servant of Satan who roamed these parts. “What was that?”
“Los Sinalma,” he replied. It was a word Sister Francesca had never heard before, but it sounded ominous. “Their mere presence will make you feel as if you will never feel joy again, and if they touch you. . . .why, if they come close enough, they will eat your soul.”
Though she was sure he was posturing, she shuddered. Sin, without, alma, soul. If the crazy wizard was to be believed, these were sinister spirits indeed. For how could the body live without the soul, the light of God, within it?
Feeling very much as if she needed to return to the nunnery, she nodded to the man. “I must take my leave of you.”
He extended his hand again, this time holding out a long, wide box. “Take, eat,” said he. The words called to mind the Lord’s command on the night in which He was betrayed, that they take and eat of His flesh. The comparison made Francesca want to laugh. “It will make you feel stronger,” he added. “Keep this. If Los Sinalma return and you or any of the sisters feel their presence again, eat just a little of this to restore you to health. From time to time I shall send a box of it up to the abbey, for your protection. But if the spirits attack, there is no hope.”
She took it warily; she did not feel much like trusting this strange sinner. “I will pray for your soul,” said she.
The wizened man nodded, and with a pop, he was gone.
Blinking, Francesca picked up the basket she had dropped earlier, placed the box inside it, and returned to the abbey.
The nun was still feeling a little weak when she entered the kitchen, so she set her basket on the table and took out the box given to her by the sorcerer. With it she drew a small, silver cross. She held it over the box and thought for a moment. Then she said, “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.”
She was no exorcist, but when nothing happened, she felt safe in opening it up. Inside was a plain brown substance that filled Francesca’s nostrils with the most pleasing aroma. It was heavenly, and the smell alone was enough to make her feel stronger, little by little. Without really thinking about it, she broke off a small piece from the corner and popped it in her mouth. The taste was no less divine than the scent.
She was about to eat a second piece when another nun walked into the kitchen. “Oh!” cried Sister Guadalupe. “You have returned, Sister Francesca!”
Francesca smiled at Sister Guadalupe. “I have.”
“What is that smell?” the nun asked.
She related in short the tale of her encounter with the old man, and when she was finished, Guadalupe frowned. “They say that old man deals in witchcraft,” said she. “I would not trust his gifts.”
“I prayed before partaking,” said Francesca. “And nothing so heavenly could be evil in nature, I assure you.”
“Beware of ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing,” Guadalupe replied. “This man fought off a demon; do you trust he will not destroy you in the same manner?”
“I do not believe he shall. If he delighted in my death, he would have let the demon kill me first and then driven it back to Hell.”
Guadalupe sighed. “Did you pray to our Lady?”
Francesca nodded, and then noticed that the brown stuff was melting on her fingers. Out of reflex more than anything, she set the small block down and licked the sweet coating off. “Sister Francesca!” the other nun cried.
Like a child caught stealing bread, Francesca lowered her hand, then made the sign of the cross. Yet before either woman could speak again, the Mother Abbess entered the kitchen, followed by some five or six other women. “Mother Isabela,” the two nuns said in unison.
“Ave,” said the Mother Abbess. “What sweet thing do I smell here, Sister Francesca?”
Yet again Francesca told the story of the man who had given her the box, though she left out the part where she knew him to be a wizard. “And it did impart some strength to me, Mother Isabela,” she added at the end. “I know not by what power he drove away the demon, but his remedy was sure.”
“Mother Isabela,” Sister Guadalupe interrupted, “he was a conjurer at best! How else could he drive away this spirit of the air and foul humours, if not by some blackness of the soul?”
The Mother Abbess smiled kindly. “My child, you have not yet learned all you will know, yet this you should remember from when you sat at the sisters’ feet: sometimes the blessings of the Lord come through the strangest of men. Why, even our Lord’s feet were washed and anointed by a sinful woman whose heart was touched.”
Guadalupe opened her mouth, but thought better of arguing, it seemed. “Yes, Mother Abbess,” she said, meekly.
“Now, Sister Francesca,” Mother Isabela said, “let us try some of this which your mysterious rescuer gave you.”
It was not long before the nuns were seated around the table, eating dainty pieces of the sweet, talking and laughing as they rarely did. The room seemed brighter and cheerier as they ate, and all began to feel better. Even Sister Guadalupe was persuaded to try it, and even enjoyed it grudgingly. Yet all too soon the Mother Abbess closed the box and said, “What shall we call this treat?”
“The devil’s food,” said Guadalupe, and the others laughed.
“Perhaps that is a fitting epithet, Sister Guadalupe,” Mother Isabela replied, “but as servants of God, we should call it by another name.”
Sister Catarina spoke up. “Then ‘the wanderer’s gift’?”
The other women nodded. “A fitting name,” said Sister Maria.
Sisters Carolina and Elena concurred, and for some time the sisters there called the wizard’s present el regalo del peregrino. Months passed in which a box containing more of it would arrive on the doorstep mysteriously. But one day a similar substance arrived in the hands of another traveller, this time from far across the globe. This one was bitter, but the nuns added milk and sugar to it and concocted the same sweetness of their wanderer’s gift.
This, they were informed, was called chocolate.