8. Dress Rehearsal
Casa Cerra, Monday morning August 29, 1513
Eva set up the trestles and placed the boards over them. Matron bustled in, followed by Analina and Josemona carrying a six-foot roll of heavy fabric.
“Lay it out on the table, like Eva said.” The two women unrolled their burden so that the bottom hung over the side of the table.
Eva stood in amazement. “This tapestry is beautiful!”
“And valuable,” Matron said. “Señor Cerra says that this comes from a city far to the north with the strange name of Bruzzels, and is worth thousands of maravedies. He was most displeased when he saw how poorly we had mended it, though the water-damage was no fault of ours.”
Eva inspected the damaged edge. “I will have to take out all the stitching you added. With heavy tapestries like this if you do not mend them in the position they will hang, the repair goes crooked when you put it up.”
“We did not know,” Analina said. “And the señor is upset the colors do not match.”
“I will unpick some of the original yarns and weave them to the front.” Eva crawled under the table so she could see the underside. “The new yarns I will splice into the back. It is painstaking work, but that is the only way to make it look right.”
“Josemona can stay and help you,” Matron offered. “She did the first repair.”
“It will be better if I do it by myself. This is the kind of job that takes a highly practiced needlewoman.” Which was true, but Eva had other reasons. Working alone would stretch the specialized task out, and so long as she was indispensable, she would not be sold.
They left her undisturbed at the task until midmorning. Eva was beneath the table, working on the backside, when she heard Matron’s voice coming in the entry of the women’s dormitorio. “—and the girl Andres picked up from Casa de Pazia is most exceptional. None of the usual fussing and bemoaning her fate. And so helpful with the shipment from Seville!”
A deep male voice replied. “Indeed? How so?”
“Last week the little Sevillana wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t get out of bed, just languishing away. I was at my wit’s end. But Eva knew just how to handle her, and in a trice she had the child taking her food and running around the patio.”
Matron and the deep-voiced man came into the room. “And more, this young woman knows much of needlework. I have put her to mending señor Cerra’s prize tapestry. Eva?”
“I’m under the table Matron, I’ll be out in a moment.” Eva unthreaded a gold-wire yarn. Beneath the edge, she could see Matron’s sandals approaching, and beside them a pair of backless felt babouche. As the feet came closer, she saw that the wearer was a very dark Moor. A survivor of smallpox.
Laughter bubbled up with the sudden hope. God had a sense of humor. Who but St. Basil’s namesake would she encounter while under a table? And who else would she recognize first from a view of his feet?
“And where is the little Sevillana now?” The feet turned, and Eva saw—as she knew she would— her backwards E on the inside of Baseel’s left ankle.
“At this very moment the child is upstairs memorizing Arabic words from a list they made.”
His voice was deeper, no hint of youthfulness in it now. “Bring her here.”
Matron hurried out while Eva scrambled from under the table and rose awkwardly to her feet. Baseel was more richly dressed than he had been, but her eyes sought the face. She searched the scarred features, trying to read what the years had written there. He stared back, his expression set, as though waiting for some reaction on her part.
Eva noticed that the smallpox scars had accentuated the normal creases and folds, so that Baseel looked like a much older man. But he could not be out of his twenties.
One eyebrow lifted in surprise, and Eva worried he recognized her from his long-ago visits to collect the Alhambra’s kitchen account. No, that’s impossible, she reassured herself. If Baseel even noticed two little girls whispering from behind the nearest bush or wall, they always wore their mantillas when they shadowed Cerra’s scarred representative. And Thank God he would never know that his disfigurement provided fodder for expanding episodes in Blanca’s tale of the enchanted prince!
Eva remembered her manners then. She dipped into a curtsey. “Can I help you, señor?”
“There is a service you can do.” He looked her up and down and his scarred face assumed an expression that was all-too-familiar to Eva. It was the look given her by the suitors attracted to her huge dowry when they saw the bride who came with it.
Dumpy, graceless, big-nosed, freckled, dull. And that was before they knew she had six toes on her left foot.
“Matron tells me that you have taken the Sevillana under your wing.”
“You mean Leonor?”
“Her new name is Aliya,” Baseel’s mouth tightened in displeasure, as though she had challenged him, although Eva was only trying to be sure they were talking of the same person. “Baltasar Cerra has contracted her to become the wife of Muammar Walid.”
Eva’s jaw dropped. “But she is too young to be married!”
“That is no business of yours,” Baseel snapped. “I want you to prepare her so that she knows what to expect.”
“And do not delay.”
Matron bustled in, Leonor in her wake. “Here is Aliya.”
“My name is Leonor.”
“It was Leonor. But now it is Aliya. Our tradition is not as the Spanish; when a woman marries, she takes on her husband’s name,” Baseel explained. His tone was more kindly than he had used towards Eva, but despite that Leonor’s expression became mulish.
Matron squeezed her shoulder. “You are honored to be given the name of the third wife of Muhammad, peace be upon them both.” Matron nodded. “You will be pampered, for Muammar is a very wealthy man, and he does not beat his wives.”
“Pampered indeed. Your future husband wants you to be suitably outfitted, and with that in mind he has ordered that you may choose whatever fabrics you wish from Casa Cerra’s stock. A maidservant accomplished in harem fashions has been sent all the way from Algiers to make them into garments. But we have only today and tomorrow, for Thursday we set out for the port of Malaga.”
Leonor was stricken into silence. Eva too quailed at the use of ‘we’. “Am I going with Leon—with Aliya?”
“You?” Baseel’s scowl grew deeper. “No, you’re staying here. So long as you remain useful.” He turned on his heel abruptly and left.
Eva stood rooted, her first surge of joy at seeing the scarred feet turned to dust.
“Do not be troubled, he is always like that.” Matron soothed. “Come, we will go and choose materials.”
The ugly two-story building on the opposite side of the central court was, as Eva had guessed, a storage depot for Cerra’s goods. On the second floor were the fabrics, rows of different sized bales stitched in protective coverings. To each was tied a swatch of the contents.
“See here, Aliya!” Matron fingered a swatch covered in gold-thread embroidery. “You can choose anything you want, your buyer will pay. There are velvets, satins, and brocades imported from farther than Baghdad!”
Eva inhaled. She could identify the smell of silk, wool, linen, all overlaid with camphor and sandalwood to ward off moths. The smells took her back to another time and place, the week before everything changed.
Eva Age 11, March 1508, The Alhambra,
Eva curtseyed formally to Governor Mendoza’s lady and her gentlewoman Ana Enriquez. “Condesa, my father asks that you accept as a gift your choice of dress goods to make a gown for yourself and your daughter.”
The two servants from Casa de Pazia began spreading their burdens out on every available surface of the salon in the Palacio Partal. The women exclaimed over the lovely fabrics being displayed
Eva presented the letter with the Casa de Pazia seal. “And in return, he begs a favor.”
The Condesa opened it and read the contents. Eva already knew what was in it: an invitation to a memorial dinner in honor of her late mother, and a request that Eva’s noble godmother should help her have a gown made up suitable to the occasion.
“Of course I will help you with a dress, Evita.” Condesa Francisca looked up from the paper. “I’m sorry at the reason, though. But I can offer you the comfort of knowing that, in her last illness, your mother was lovingly cared for by the Benedictine sisters.”
“Madrina, how long have you known?” Eva gave her godmother a reproachful look. “And why didn’t you tell me?”
“The abbess at the Abbey of the Annunciation in Avignon sent me the news six months ago,” Condesa Francisca replied. “I’m sorry, Evita, but I couldn’t tell anyone. Maria’s dying request was that her husband should not find out he was a widower. She did not want another woman to suffer as she had.”
Eva understood. So long as there was no confirmation of his wife’s death, her father had not been able to remarry. The news had come only last week, and already Iago de Pazia had negotiated with the family of a new bride. Her father made no secret of his intention to get another heir as soon as possible.
Blanca blew in, breathless and disheveled. “Mama, you must talk Papa into letting me have a decent horse! That little scrub they let me ride refused the jump across the ravine—why, hello, Eva, what’s all this?”
“I’ve come to stay a few days. Your mother is to help me have a suitable dress made for the memorial dinner, and there is fabric for you, too.” A bribe, so your parents won’t interfere with Father’s plans. But Eva kept the thought to herself.
Blanca took in the display of rich cloth, and her mercurial temperament shifted in an instant. “Oh, Mama! It’s been so long since I had an all-new dress!”
Eva knew the Alhambra household had to watch every maravedi, for all their presumed power. Governor Mendoza’s resources must go to paying soldiers and buying armaments, not dresses and jewels. “I have plenty of dresses already. I don’t know why Father has to have another one made up.”
“Those are girl’s dresses. He wants you outfitted as a woman to meet this potential suitor,” Condesa Francisca’s forehead creased in a little frown. “Who is this man he has invited? As your godmother, I have a responsibility to stand in for your mother, now that she is dead.”
“His name is Juan de—” Eva struggled with the strange last name “-de Abensay-something-hay. Of Adra.”
“Juan de Abencerraje.” The Condesa knew at once who Eva was trying to remember. “Morisco family, high in the old sultan’s favor. The Catholic Kings confirmed the father’s patent of nobility when he converted, and bestowed the title Count of Adra.” Condesa Francisca tapped her chin in thought. “A good match for Casa de Pazia, they own several ships, and Adra has a small harbor. I met the father, long ago, but I know nothing about the son.”
Eva supplied the only thing she knew about him. “He’s old. Maybe even forty.”
“That’s not old; Inigo was forty to my nineteen when we married.”
“But I’m only eleven! Please, Madrina,” Eva begged, “Tell him I’m too young.”
“Not for a betrothal. Why, we are also considering who will have Blanca’s hand.” The subject in question made a face behind her mother’s back at the mention of marriage. “And even if the wedding is finalized early, sensible people wait until both parties are of age before consummation.”
“We could get lucky in the meantime,” Blanca suggested. “Like our Princess Katherine in England—her husband died and left her a virgin widow.”
“She is not to be envied, Blanca,” her mother scolded. “The poor girl is stuck in limbo, getting older while that horrible father-in-law holds on to her dowry, yet refuses to marry her to the son now in line for the throne.” Condesa Francisca lifted a length of silk. “Blanca, look at this peacock blue! It is just your color.”
Blanca and her mother unrolled the bolts, discussing fashion and the predicament of Isabella’s youngest daughter in confusing sequence. Eva sat apart, feeling desolate. What did the affairs of far-off royalty have to do with her life? She was truly alone, now; this morning Nurse Veronica had departed with her husband for the de Pazia farm.
“It’s not far at all. I’ll see you often, cariña,” Nurse had said. But Eva was not fooled. Elias had said almost exactly the same thing when he departed to be a novice at Holy Cross, and how often was he able to visit? Almost never.
Misery overwhelmed Eva, and to her horror, an involuntary sob escaped her.
Condesa Francisca put down the figured velvet she was holding. “How rude of us! Here Evita is mourning her mother, and we think only of new clothes.” She turned to the servants. “We will make our choice after siesta. Leave the fabrics here for now, and go refresh yourselves in the kitchens. Come, Eva.”
Eva was glad she had her mother’s death as a dignified excuse for her tears. She did not want anyone to think she was crying about her nurse leaving, as though she were a big baby.
The girls followed the Condesa and Ana to the women’s patio facing Blanca’s chamber.
“This bench was Maria’s favorite place for our duets.” Condesa Francisca settled herself on the cushions and leaned against the back. “I would call for my guitarra and sing some of her favorite tunes to comfort you, but I am so great with child, I cannot hold it correctly. Remember how you children would play your little games while we practiced?”
Eva nodded, feeling guilty. In truth, she had rarely even thought of her mother in the three years since Maria left. Even before that, she had been a distant figure of beauty and grace, someone Eva longed to please but rarely did, homely and deformed as she was.
It was Nurse Veronica who had done the actual mothering. Tears came to her eyes once again as she thought of this morning’s leave-taking. She wiped them away. “I have nothing to remember her by except an ugly old prie-dieu.”
“Don’t cry Eva, I can give you something that was hers.” Condesa Francisca clapped her hands, and a maid appeared. “Alma, there is a painted chest with the Casa de Pazia seal in the back of the storage room behind Blanca’s chamber. Bring it out here.”
Shortly the maid deposited a dusty leather-bound trunk before the gathered ladies.
“This box was my mother’s?”
“It holds the dress she wore when she visited the last time, just before she left. It was to be given it to a mutual friend, but she is gone. So now it should go to you.”
Eva lifted the lid. Inside, under a layer of dried rose petals, a familiar green satin shimmered under a pattern of roses stitched in tiny garnet beads.
“Take it out, Eva,” Blanca said excitedly.
Reverently Eva lifted the shining folds from the box. She remembered this gown—the most beautiful of her mother’s dresses. Eva drew in her breath, fingering the silk. “This was her favorite.”
“I can still see her as she was that night in the banquet-hall, playing her guitarra for the guests.” The Condesa’s mouth turned down. “Iago was always jealous whenever she played—he left early in a rage.
“I confess that I helped your mother leave, Eva, though I pretended to be as surprised as anybody. I sent her to Guadalajara with some relatives. But I thought she would return when Iago cooled off. Of course this gown was too bulky to take, so your mother wanted Pilar Martinez to have it. But when I sent word, Pilar said I should keep it here. She was in my present condition, you see,” Condesa Francisca patted her bulging belly. “She said she would wear it at her little one’s christening in the new chapel.”
“I remember,” Ana said. “And we held a funeral for mother and infant instead.”
Condesa Francisca sighed. “Griefs come in threes, they say, and 1505 brought a grievous threesome for me. First, we lost Queen Isabella, our family’s loyal patroness. And then my dearest companion flees—and I don’t doubt your mother had good reason, although she never breathed a word against Iago. Lastly, my friend Pilar dies in childbirth.”
The Condesa put a hand on her own swelling belly and let out an explosive breath. Blanca looked alarmed. “Mama, is it the baby?”
“Don’t worry, cariña, this is my fourteenth, and I’ve never had any trouble.” Blanca’s mother stood and stretched her back. “Poor Pilar suffered with every child. The Martinez women always do.”
Eva started at the family name. “Was Pilar related to Marina de Fonseca y Martinez?”
“Yes, Marina is her daughter. Goodness, I haven’t seen her since she went to live with an aunt in Jaen.”
“You’ll see her at the memorial dinner.” Eva traced a beaded rose on the silk. “Marina will be my new stepmother. The match has already been arranged.”
“To Marina? She is only thirteen!”
“And Father isn’t going to wait for consummation.” Eva had overheard the maids gossiping that Marina had begun her monthly courses and was now fertile.
Blanca pounced. “If Marina is too young to marry at thirteen, Eva and I are surely too young for betrothal at eleven!”
“Marina’s age is not what concerns me—although it certainly would be a disgrace if she were not yet a woman.” Out of delicacy, the Condesa stopped short of mentioning the business that Casa de Pazia’s servants gossiped about so freely. “It is the bridegroom himself. Pilar would never have wanted her daughter given to Iago de Pazia! Forgive me for speaking of your father so, Evita, but his jealous rages toward his late wife were known to her friends.”
“Madrina, you don’t have to ask forgiveness for speaking the truth.” Eva bunched her fists in helpless anger. “I heard him wish Elias dead. And now that my brother is off at Holy Cross, Father can hardly wait to get rid of me too. Then there will be nothing left to remind him of my mother.”
“I intend to have a very frank discussion with Marina’s family.” Eva’s godmother had a determined look about the eyes. “And as for your father, he is due for a reminding he will not soon forget! Iago wants me to help outfit you, and so I shall. Eva, stand up.”
Bewildered, Eva stood. Condesa Francisca lifted the dress and held it against her. “Ana, what do you think?”
Blanca clapped her hands with delight. “Mama is going to have the dress remade for you!”
Eva was doubtful. “I’m too short, and mother was slender, while I’m not. And look at the top! I don’t have anything to fill it out with yet.”
Ana considered. “We can’t take in the bosom without ruining the beaded pattern, but we can pad Eva so that it will fit. And a puffed silk under-chemise.”
“But the skirt—!”
“That is the least of our problems. See, this garde can be removed to make it shorter. And look, this is an old-fashioned high waist. On Eva it will fall at her natural waistline and be right in style.”
“Iago de Pazia’s dead wife’s image, wearing her dress. It will be like a fairy-tale!” Blanca was enraptured. “He will be smitten with remorse!”
“It will need more than a dress to waken a calloused conscience,” Condesa Francisca said. “Scent will help. Maria always used attar of roses.”
Eva lifted the dress to her face and inhaled the smell of mother. “My father never has that around now.”
“Of course, he does not want to be reminded of his late wife.” Blanca said sagely. “Mama can supply you with some.”
“We will also prick his unwilling ears with Maria’s songs,” Condesa Francisca said. “The prerogative of rank, not to mention courtesy towards a guest, will allow me to override the planned amusement—spontaneously, as it will seem. I will bring my guitarra—Maria gave it to me, he will recognize that—and I will insist on playing her favorite songs for the guests. I want Iago to know that I have not forgotten his treatment of Maria, and squirm with shame.”
The Condesa gave another sharp intake of breath and put both hands on her belly. “You see, even the baby within me senses my excitement. But I think it is time I retired for siesta. Making another human being is hard work!”
Blanca looked after her mother and Ana, her face creased in worry. “Mama has had a hard time these last few months. Eva, have you ever read the tombstones in a graveyard? I have, and eight out of ten of the grown women are buried with an angelito.”
“Blanca, your mother never has any problem birthing. Look at how well she did with little Diego!”
“She was younger then. Our head groom says that age increases the risk for a mare.”
“Well, our head groom says it’s the first foal that carries the greatest risk.”
“Another good argument for joining a convent. Whether in the getting or the birthing, sex is the most dangerous thing a female can do.” Blanca picked up one handle of the trunk. “Help me carry this into my chamber, it’s Rosa’s day off.”
Eva took the other side and they brought the chest into the dimness of Blanca’s room. “Turn around and I’ll unlace your kirtle, and you can do mine.”
While the girls stripped down to their chemises for siesta, Tabita’s lookalike offspring appeared and began twining around Eva’s ankles. She scooped her up. “Tabita-too has gotten so big!”
“Cats get to choose their own mates.” Blanca stroked her pet. “If I were as free as a cat, I’d marry Elias.”
“They’d never let you marry a merchant’s son.”
“I know.” Blanca sighed. “Well, since he’s going to be a priest, I’ll be a nun. A great abbess.”
Eva pretended to give this serious consideration. “Then you’d better choose the black wool for your dress. That peacock-blue silk would be far too worldly for a girl who wanted to take the veil.”
“There’s no need to rush things!” Blanca pulled the green gown out of the trunk to admire it. “I do love beautiful clothes. Eva, let’s try this on you now.”
Relieved at the change of subject, Eva stood still while Blanca dropped the voluminous skirts, stiffened with the concentric hoops called verdugos, over her head. She tied off the waist at the back.
“Now to stuff your bosom, like Ana said.” Blanca folded a linen towel and pinned it below the neck of Eva’s chemise. When she laced on the beaded bodice, it fit perfectly. The swing of the conical skirt knocked the lid of the trunk shut on Tabita-too’s tail.
Blanca rescued her pet. “Look, Eva, there’s something more in the bottom!”
Beneath the dried rose-petals was a drawstring bag of cheap muslin. Eva opened it and shook out a mantilla of the sheerest silk, beaded in matching garnets and stitched to a garnet-jeweled high comb. Wrapped in the mantilla’s folds was a small evening purse made of the gown’s green silk, hung on a belt-rope of garnets.
“Oooh, they’re so pretty! Here, try it on.” Blanca thrust the comb into the back of Eva’s braids and draped the gauzy veil. “Your hair is so thick, Eva, and the garnets bring out the red. See, look at yourself.”
Eva examined her reflection critically in the mirror Blanca held up and adjusted the weighted edge of the mantilla. “Blanca, if I arrange the beads like this, do you think people won’t see my nose?”
“It’s hardly noticeable.”
Blanca was lying, of course, but Eva appreciated her loyalty. “My hair is still all frizzy.”
“That’s because you comb it so roughly. Ana can fix it for you the night of the dinner. Not this severe pulled-back way your nurse does it.” Blanca began undoing her friend’s braids. “We’ll pull ringlets down over your shoulders, like so, and nobody will notice that the bosom of your dress is stuffed.”
Eva looked in the mirror again. Only her mouth and chin showed clearly beneath the edge of the veil; the locks that flowed down over the square neckline were dark in the shuttered room. Maria’s eyes peered mysteriously from behind the sheer beaded mantilla. For the first time Eva realized that she did, in many ways, resemble her mother.
“Here, put on the garnet belt.” Blanca linked the rope of polished red stones around the waist of the dress, adjusting the clasp to Eva’s size.
Eva felt like another person, beautiful and gracious. She twirled until the skirts stood out, then stopped and swept a low curtsey. “Welcome to the Casa de Pazia, señores.”
“Oh, Eva, you look like a storybook princess!” Blanca pretended to bow like a Spanish grandee. “Fairest lady, I lay my heart at your feet!”
Eva giggled and struck a pose, offering one hand to be kissed while the other rested on the beaded bag at her waist.
“Hey, there’s something in the purse!” She pulled out a letter, folded in at the corners, the plain wax seal in the center unbroken.
“Bring it over here to the window, I’ll open the shutters for light!” Blanca was as excited as Eva. “Who is it from? Who is it for?”
“There’s no address, unless you count this little column drawn in the corner.”
“It’s a pillar! Blanca guessed. “For Pilar, the friend who your mother left the dress for.”
“My mother’s last letter before she left.” Eva fingered the thick paper. “Would it be wrong to read a letter sent to someone else?”
“Of course not! Not when both the sender and the intended recipient are gone,” Blanca added. “I’ll bet your mother is looking down from heaven right now, wanting you to read it. Go ahead!”
With shaking fingers, Eva broke the seal and unfolded the thick paper. Blanca looked over her shoulder as she read,
I trust you will receive this, although as you know, it is safer if I name no names. I have given up hope that I can change my husband. There is no help for one who loves only money and does not fear God. And yet I cannot leave without some thought to the fate of the children I leave behind.
Eva held the parchment up to the dim light from the shuttered window, for the next lines were blurred where the ink had run, as though tears had fallen on the paper.
My son is well-instructed, but my daughter is as yet ignorant in our faith. So I bequeath her to your care, knowing you will be diligent in her religious instruction. To that end, I am leaving her my prie-dieu. Tell her she must keep it close, and never part from it; it is an heirloom passed from mother to daughter for centuries. When you judge she is ready, reveal to her the true meaning of the cross.
That battered tin and pine cross! Far from being something too ugly to take, it was a treasure her mother had valued greatly. She must get it out of the closet and use it for her devotions.
Please, my friend, do not let my child be given in marriage to a religious fraud such as I had to endure. Choose for her a sincere man of our own faith, and if her father balks, you well know what threat will force his hand.
Farewell, faithful friend. I will remember your kindness to me and mine, and will ever bring your name before heaven’s throne.
Blanca looked at Eva wide-eyed. “See Eva? You were meant to find this right now, before you are contracted. Your mother wanted to be sure you married a man who loves God.”
What Elias had shouted on the day they found out Mother had gone rang in Eva’s mind: “You’re the reason Mama left us, because of your lack of faith! She couldn’t live with your hypocrisy, prating first one creed and then another, pretending to honor God.”
“Odd, I wonder why she didn’t leave your spiritual care to my mother? That’s what a godmother is for, isn’t it?”
“Pilar knew something that could force my father’s hand.” Eva took a deep breath. “Blanca, if I tell you what it is, will you promise never to breathe a word?”
“By the Cross of Santiago!” Blanca signed an X over her heart.
“Iago de Pazia is a secret Jew. His conversion was only for show.” Eva was almost glad her father was not a real Christian; his rages would have made her doubt her faith. “Mama must have tried and tried to get him to submit to Jesu, until she finally gave up hope that she could change him.”
“What if this man he wants you to marry is a secret Saracen?”
“I’d never marry a Saracen! They commit bigamy.”
“And tri-gamy, and even quatri-gamy—that’s four wives. The followers of Muhammad can have that many.”
Eva was appalled. “But if he keeps his real religion secret, how would I know until it’s too late?”
“Mama will find out. She’s your godmother, so it’s her responsibility.”
8. Dress Rehearsal
7. Manuel’s Threat
Tabita woke to the tolling of bells. The great bonger of the Cathedral was muffled by the bulk of the Alhambra, but the smaller, higher bells of San Nicholas atop the Albaicin hill gave her the exact location. Tabita thought this was very clever of the humans, to make up for their poor sense of direction. Any place in Granada would be pinpointed by the position and sound of the different bells.
They were going on more than usual. It was Cathedral-day. Eva often went to the great domed building in the center of town on this day. Tabita tried to get up, and then collapsed again. Everything hurt.
Between her efforts on Elias and Blanca’s behalf, she had taken a severe beating yesterday. It was the most she could do to drag herself over to a tiny springlet to drink.
That made her famished, but she knew that she could not catch anything in her current condition. She made do with worms and beetles, which tasted like mud.
Then she purred a little, for healing, curled up in the leaf-mold and went back to sleep.
Casa Cerra, Sunday August 28, 1513
Cathedral bells rang above the city. Elias would be there, sitting with the novices from Holy Cross. Eva bent over her work, counting the strokes. Twelve. Mass was over.
Her brother thought she was worshiping in the charterhouse chapel right now. He would have no means of finding out otherwise: the Carthusians were a closed order, and they did not allow guests.
Elias would get her out of here, even if he had to buy her. But how could she get a message to him? The one she had given Andres was no doubt discarded; that had been a ruse to allay her suspicions. If only there were someone she could reveal her true identity to, someone who would go to Elias at Holy Cross!
“I’m tired of walking around the laundry patio.” Leonor leaned her elbows on the deep windowsill. “I wish we could go explore the rest of the compound.”
“It’s against the rules. The men-at-arms are rough.” Eva bit off the thread, also biting back what she wanted to say: Four days ago you wouldn’t even leave your room. She took up another torn garment from the basket and re-threaded her needle. “Why don’t you try sewing?”
“Our servants always did that.” Leonor pressed her face to the iron grille. “Don’t you at least want to see what’s out there?”
“I’ve already seen it. And anyway, if I was interested, I’d go to an upstairs window.” The view consisted of a wide brick-paved space with a central well enclosed by ugly, utilitarian buildings. Across the courtyard from the women’s dormitorio was another two-story edifice which housed the office and quarters for the dreaded Alcazar. This was flanked by blank-walled storehouses. Through an arched passage between buildings were stables for Cerra’s packstock. Eva could not see them, but she could smell them when the wind was in that quarter.
On the east, the compound backed up to the city ramparts. And to the west they were bounded by another wall with spikes on top, each spike a visual exclamation point declaring her new status: Slave! Slave! Slave!
“There’s a caravan coming in the front gate,” Leonor said. “That’s odd. Caravans don’t usually travel on Sunday.”
“They not let anybody in yesterday, all gate closed at command Inquisition.” An answer came from the door in Matron’s ungrammatical Spanish. She entered with a swish of skirts in the Castilian style. “I be returned from al Catedral. Everyone whisper over hunting demon-possessed priest. But Josemona’s cousin’s brother say to her they be all wrong; Inquisition looking for sorcerer be turned into cat.”
Eva choked. She missed Tabita dreadfully, although she knew that her pet was better off with Old Paloma.
“Well, whoever it was, I hope he got away.” Leonor craned her neck. “They are unloading bales of fabric. What’s the Arabic word for silk?”
“Harir.” Eva pronounced it carefully, without the Granadan slurring.
“You are teaching her Arabic! But that is wonderful!” Matron exclaimed. “That will make her life a hundred times better, for ours is the common tongue in all the lands of the Prophet.”
Leonor got the gist of that, for she made an attempt at an Arabic reply: “I learn fast. I have already please, thank you, I need water, I am hungry, and where is the privy?” She switched back to Spanish. “But I would learn even faster if I had a list of the words to study. Matron, can you get us a pen and some paper?”
“I have none of that, and I dare not ask Alcazar. But señor Cerra came with the caravan, perhaps he will give me some scrap—if he is in a good mood.”
Matron took the finished mending and left. Leonor surveyed Eva, arms akimbo. “You look like you’re sucking a lemon. What’s the matter?”
“It’s no use asking for a list of words.” Eva hated having to explain this. “I can’t read or write Arabic, I only speak it.”
Leonor gave an exaggerated sigh. “I don’t want it written in Arabic, I can’t understand the characters. I’ll just put down what each word sounds like using the Latin alphabet.”
Eva bit off another thread. The girl’s superior attitude was getting on her nerves. She would have to pray about it, or she was likely to say something she would regret.
She had let her regular prayer ritual lapse since coming here. Eva was used to kneeling before her mother’s prie-dieu, and it was harder to enter into the sense of God’s presence in the absence of a physical cue.
“I was taught to read and write Hebrew.” Leonor went back to staring out the window. “They say Arabic writing is similar. I bet I could learn it, if there was anybody here to teach me.”
God help me deal with this spoiled brat! Eva pressed her lips together and stitched with unnecessary vigor. If she were at home, she would work out her annoyance by playing her guitarra.
Eva hummed the opening notes of a favorite psalm and the music soothed her ruffled spirits. Why should she be annoyed at Leonor? The child’s whole world had fallen apart. Let her boast of what remained.
Eva started the first verse. “God stands in the midst of the mighty…”
Leonor came over and sat, listening. She joined in the second verse. Although she knew all the words and the rhythm, her nasal voice wandered off-tune.
When they were done, she sighed. “My Papa used to sing that. It’s a Jewish song.”
“No, it isn’t,” Eva countered. “It’s right out of the Bible. Psalm eighty-two.”
“Well, of course it is,” Leonor said. “The Psalms were written by King David. Most of the Bible is Jewish.”
“It’s Christian,” Eva insisted. “I was taught that song by Bishop Hernando Talavera, and he was the truest Christian I ever knew.”
Leonor softened. “It’s too bad there weren’t more like him. My Papa liked your Bishop. He said that if Talavera hadn’t given up his post as the Queen’s confessor, Torquemada would never have gotten so much influence, and Isabella wouldn’t have issued that decree making all the Jews convert.”
“He always preferred to be called Fray Hernando rather than Bishop Talavera.” Eva was pleased that there was something she knew that Leonor didn’t. “Once every fortnight I went with him on his visits to the poor.”
“The Queen protected him. But as soon as she was gone, the Inquisition started working out how to get him tried for heresy. If he hadn’t died when he did—” Leonor let the sentence hang.
“But Fray Hernando was a bishop! An archbishop.” Eva found that her fingers were shaking so much she could not sew straight.
“It doesn’t matter. No Spaniard is safe from the Spanish Inquisition.” Leonor got up. “I’ve had enough of sitting here. I’m going out to the laundry patio.”
Once alone, Eva put her head in her hands and wept. If she had any remaining doubts that the Inquisition was evil, this last bit of information removed them. Fray Hernando had said something once about the religious authorities being the ones who opposed Jesus.
But she had not understood that he was warning her about the church in her own time.
Outside, there was a shout. “Manuel Ortiz, you sly dog! When did you start working for Casa Cerra?”
Eva jerked upright, her tears forgotten. She flew to the window and looked out into the welter of baggage, mules and men milling around the central court. “Rafael Ortega, by my beard!” A familiar voice rose amid the dust. “Haven’t you heard? Casa de Pazia was shut down by the Inquisition. But Andres took me on as a man-at-arms. I’ll be working the caravans between here and Malaga until I prove myself.”
Someone swatted the mule nearest Eva on the rump, and the animal moved off toward the stables. And there, not ten yards from Eva, was the man who, until last week, had been the head of the de Pazia guard.
Eva pulled back again, her heart racing. If Manuel Ortiz saw her, he would know at once that she was not Eva Maria Perez. Her mind flashed back to her first encounter with Manuel, when he really did not know who she was.
Eva, age ten, October 1507
Anticipation lightened Eva’s heart as she skipped toward the front gates. Today was the day she most looked forward to, helping Fray Hernando Talavera. She loved his kindness and the way he made her feel known and special, even though he had the whole city in his spiritual charge.
He always wore the plain brown Hieronymite habit when he worked with the poor, and on this day only, Eva was allowed to dress in an old, undecorated grey Spanish surcote. The garment hung like a sack, its much-washed fabric flowing softly against her bare arms and legs: such a delightful difference from the many constricting layers of dress and underdress that were usually required to demonstrate to the world her father’s wealth and rising influence.
Even her shoes were plain – although if she were really poor she would have no shoes at all. Thinking of her favorite quote from St. Basil, Eva slipped off her jeweled pendant with the family crest and put it in the pocket of her baggy surcote, lest the gold chain show above her neckline.
She did not recognize the guard at the gate, a balding brown-haired man of average height whose shoulders were so wide that they strained the fabric of his new de Pazia livery. He turned at her approach, and she saw that despite his receding hairline he was not yet out of his twenties.
“Hey, little girl! Get yourself to the kitchens, you’ve no business loitering around the Casa gates!” The strange man’s brows were drawn in a frown and under his beard his mouth turned down at the corners.
Eva drew herself up with dignity. “I am not a little girl. I have almost eleven years. And I have every business here; I am waiting to greet His Reverence Bishop Talavera and welcome him as becomes the daughter of the house.”
“The daughter of the house indeed! Does a de Pazia dress like a beggar’s brat?” He raised a thick arm. “Get yourself from my sight, before I give you the blows you deserve for such impertinence!”
Eva jumped back just in time to miss the cuff aimed at her head.
She was shocked speechless; never had she imagined someone challenging her very identity!
But the new guard was advancing on her, and fear overrode her indignation. She fled, not pausing until she reached the shaded walkway closest to the kitchens.
She stopped behind one of the wide pillars of the colonnade surrounding the courtyard. Peering out cautiously, she saw that he had gone back inside the gate-chamber. She would wait for Fray Talavera here. When the Bishop came and she greeted him, the new man would be put in his place!
As she waited in the shadows, Tabita came running. The cat meowed pitifully, twining herself around Eva’s ankles. Then Tabita ran out into the courtyard. She stopped and looked back, meowing again. She expected Eva to follow.
Eva stepped out after the cat. Tabita led her to the massive old cypress tree around which the courtyard had been built, and Eva gratefully dodged behind it. High in the branches came the exhausted mew of a kitten.
The tree’s flat, scaly, evergreen branchlets were so dense that she could not see beyond the bottom limbs. Could she reach it?
Tabita rubbed against her ankles again. Another pathetic feline whimper confirmed that the kitten was stuck somewhere up in the tree.
At least there was no need to worry about damaging her clothes. Eva kicked off her shoes, climbed on the back of the ornate marble bench that framed the tree’s wide roots, stepped on the lowest branch, and forced her way into the dense foliage. The pungent smell of cypress surrounded her. Cobwebs and flat dry needles stuck in her hair and tickled down her neckline as she wriggled her way upwards. At last she found Tabita’s kitten: Stormy, the gray one, always too adventurous. He was a pathetic ball of striped fluff wedged between two high branches.
Eva reached out and gathered Stormy to her. She tucked him into the neckline of her gown, softness and tiny pricking claws sliding on her skin until the rope belt arrested his motion. There in the makeshift pouch he curled up, exhausted. The rumble of a miniature purr vibrated against Eva’s ribs.
On the way back down, the pressing branchlets insisted on sweeping her sack-like dress upwards. She had on nothing underneath, which did not matter while the dense evergreen foliage hid her, but Eva would have to be sure no one was in the courtyard when she descended the last few limbs.
As her groping foot found solid purchase in the crook of the thick lowest branch, she heard activity at the gate. It was the now-respectful voice of Manuel greeting her father! Eva froze. Then came the sound of Fray Hernando Talavera’s hearty welcome.
“Bring the meal out here and serve us in the courtyard, Nicolás,” her father was saying. “After you set up the table, you may go. His Reverence and I would speak of matters that are private.”
Eva did not want to hear about private matters. She only wanted to be gone before she was discovered. “Oh, St. Basil! Help me again!” Eva prayed silently.
Should she climb down right now and reveal her presence before they began their conversation? But that would mean exposing her legs before the Bishop, for the branches had a firm hold on the fabric of her skirt. And her deformed foot besides—in front of the bishop! Father would beat her unmercifully.
Nicolás set up the table right in front of the bench that surrounded the tree. It was one of her father’s favorite places to seat his guests, looking down the shallow rectangular pool toward the imposing front gates of Casa de Pazia. The diamond spray of the fountain led the eye upwards above and beyond the gate, where the Alhambra hill, topped with its ancient fortress, reminded the viewer of Iago’s influential connections.
Her shoes! She had kicked off her shoes and left them, right down there by the bench! Bishop Talavera sat down next to them and one of his feet nudged the stray footwear out of sight. Eva let out her breath in relief. Fray Hernando was always kind. She looked fondly down at his shiny bald tonsure fringed by white hair and the long beaky nose. If it were not for her father’s presence, modesty or no she would climb down and show him Stormy.
The savory odor of pastilla, a favorite meat-pie, was tempting. “Iago, my son, I wanted to speak to you about sending Elias into the church.”
“Fray Matias says he has the vocation. And the boy himself desires it most eagerly.” Her father piled rich food on his guest’s plate. “Try this, your reverence, the cook has made pastilla especially for you.”
“I fear Fray Matias has other motives than Elias’ vocation. As do you.” Bishop Talavera’s voice was gentle and persuasive. “As a recent convert, I understand why you might think it advisable to have one of your children enter the church. But of the two, I would choose Eva. She has the gift of mercy.”
Eva held her breath. If her father said yes, then she could dedicate her life to the poor! And then she would not have to marry some noble who wanted the de Pazia money and wear tight, hot clothing and spend her life among those to whom such things were important, pretending that they really were.
Her father was silent.
Fray Talavera pressed his point. “King Ferdinand is dedicating a new Franciscan convent right at the top of the Alhambra, in memory of Queen Isabella. I could use my influence to get Eva accepted as a full nun, instead of a lay sister. For a family not of noble descent, that would be most prestigious.”
“Oh please, St. Basil, let Father say yes!” Eva sent up another silent prayer. She would stay nearby, where she could still see all her friends, Nurse Veronica, the servants and the poor. And Elias would stay at home, instead of going off to live at Holy Cross.
Eva heard the knife clink as Iago set it down on his plate. “Eva’s dowry has already attracted considerable interest. Even though she is not yet eleven, Viscount de Badalona has made inquiries on behalf of his son. And I have been given to understand that the Conde Balazote is interested for himself.”
Eva’s jaw dropped in horror. She had been made to sit next to Don Renaldo, Conde Balazote, at a dinner last month. He must be fifty! He had pinched a bruise on her bottom and exhaled bad breath all over her while making sly remarks she did not understand. She had not been able to eat a thing after he had blown his nose on his fingers and wiped them on the tablecloth.
Badalona or his son she knew nothing of, but there was a town of that name on the map in the study, far, far to the east, almost in France. She would never see Elias or Nurse Veronica or any of her friends again if she were married to someone so far away!
Fray Talavera persisted. “If Elias goes into the church instead of Eva, you lose your only male heir! Who would carry on your family line?”
“I am not that old. If I marry again, I could get more sons.”
“That is another matter I wished to speak to you about today.” Eva could not quite see what Fray Talavera was reaching for, but she heard the rustle of paper. “I have received in my office your petition for a divorce from your wife, Maria de Pazia, on grounds of desertion.”
The girl’s heart turned into ice. Divorce! That meant there would be no hope of her mother returning. Fray Talavera’s tone became stern. “Surely you know that in these cases, the church recommends that the husband pursue his erring wife and do everything in his power to reconcile with her.”
Iago flung out his hands. “Maria left a year ago! How can I reconcile with her when I don’t even know where she went?”
“As to that, I have many friends among the Conversos, and I have made inquiry as to her whereabouts.” The priest withdrew a letter from somewhere in his robe. “According to my source, your wife Maria was staying last year with other refugees of your people in Avignon, France. You can write her in the care of Abbe Jean-Pierre.”
Eva’s heart leaped with hope. She might see her Mama again! Oh, if she would come back, if Father would forgive her—!
Iago became more conciliatory. “Of course I would not want to send my son into the church a beggar. I plan to settle a large gift on Holy Cross. Perhaps I could also fund another wing in your hospice for the destitute.”
Fray Talavera stood. “As to your son, you may disregard my advice; I am not in charge of Holy Cross.” There was anger in his voice; Eva had never heard Fray Hernando angry before. “But for the sake of your own soul, and so that your prayers are not hindered before God, I urge you to write to your wife and seek reconciliation.”
“I will write her then, Your Reverence.” Her father’s growl did not hold much promise of forgiveness.
Fray Hernando stumbled suddenly and grabbed the stone bench to support himself. Veins stood out on the back of the hand; his other was pressed to his chest.
“Your Reverence! Are you all right?”
For several long seconds there was no sound but labored breathing. Then Fray Hernando pushed himself upright. “I am sorry, but I am not feeling at all well. Please tell your daughter that I beg her pardon, but today we will not be visiting the poor together.”
“Of course, Your Reverence.” Iago raised his voice. “Manuel! Get the two-man litter for the Bishop!”
Eva saw flashes of activity as the litter with the family coat of arms was brought and Talavera, looking very pale, helped into it. “St. Basil, please make him well,” she prayed, trying to stifle her disappointment that today she was to be denied her small time of ministry at his side. “Bring him back next fortnight.”
The great gates clanged shut behind the litter and its bearers, but Iago still stood in the courtyard staring after it. He angrily kicked over the tray-table, dishes smashing against the tiles. “Six-toed Devil’s spawn!”
As soon as the courtyard was empty, Eva scrambled down from her hiding place. If she could not go with Fray Talavera, at least she could gather a bowlful of meat scraps to give Tabita and her kittens from the ruined meal.
Clutching her bounty, she hurried off through the kitchen courtyard, past the garden rows and the stables where she had made a nice nest for Tabita’s family behind the tool shed.
Just beyond the shed she could see Nurse Veronica coming down from the orchard, her apron full of pears. Eva was about to call her to come admire the kittens when she heard the voice of Manuel.
“Sweet Veronica! You have put on flesh. It becomes you.”
Eva crouched in the tall dry weeds by the shed and became very still. She did not want another meeting with this rough new man, not until she was properly dressed and with somebody powerful.
“Hello, Manuel.” Nurse stepped to one side.
Manuel blocked her path. “I thought to myself, ‘perhaps during siesta Veronica will give me a warm welcome home.”
“You know I am married now.” Nurse had that angry sound Eva had learned to respect. “I didn’t really like you much before you left, and the African campaign hasn’t improved you.”
“Ah, but my station in life has improved a great deal. Haven’t you heard that señor de Pazia has made me head of the household guard?” He gave what was intended as a smile, but looked more like a baring of teeth. “If you play nicely, I could make many good things come your way. But if you show yourself unfriendly, I can make your life, and that of fat Tomás, your husband, miserable.”
“Go away.” Veronica pushed past. Manuel took a grab at her bottom.
“Take your hand off me, you pig!” Veronica slapped Manuel with a resounding crack.
“You’ll pay for that in like coin!” Manuel threw Nurse right up against the tool shed wall.
“Tomás! Help!” Nurse Veronica sounded really scared.
Eva rose from her brushy camouflage like a small fury and went for the big man, kicking his ankles and pummeling his back. “Leave Nurse alone! You big bully!”
In his surprise at the unexpected attack, Nurse Veronica broke free. She ran back up the hill towards the orchards, shouting for Tomás.
Manuel spun around, astonished at seeing Eva again. “The brat who bothered me at the gate!”
This time she was not able to duck fast enough to avoid a heavy cuff. She stumbled, and the chain of her pendant slipped partly out of her pocket. The flash of gold caught Manuel’s attention.
He gripped her by the shoulder, his hold painfully tight. “So you are a thief! You will just hand over whatever is in your pocket.”
Eva’s head had barely stopped ringing from the blow. A surge of indignation gave her strength. “I am Eva de Pazia, the daughter of this house! I am going to tell my father that you struck me! You will be dismissed at once when he finds out how you have treated his family!”
“You already tried that tale, little liar.” Manuel reached over and ripped her pocket off.
To Eva’s mortification, the old fabric of her dress tore away with the pocket, revealing chubby lower limbs. Stormy tumbled out, clawing frantically, his tiny paws leaving long scratches as he slid down her bare leg.
Eva crouched, speechless, trying to cover herself with her arms as Veronica ran up, Tomás behind her.
“Evita! What has he done to you!” Nurse snatched off her apron and wrapped it around the shaking girl, while Eva burst into tears. “What is the meaning of this? Will you even molest the daughter of the house?”
Tomás waved his spade. “You will be sent packing, when the master hears!”
“This is really the daughter of the house?” Manuel lost all his bluster. “Her clothes–I thought she was just a beggar child–”
A high-pitched yowl cut him off as he backed over Stormy’s tiny tail. The furious mother cat launched herself at Manuel’s leg, claws digging into his hose.
Nurse turned on him just as furiously. “Wait until I tell the master how the man he hired to protect his house struck his young daughter and stripped her nearly naked!”
“Get off me, you vermin!” Manuel kicked Tabita from his leg and turned to Veronica. “You’ll find that will cut both ways. I have tales to tell of you. And there are others who can back me up. I am in mind of a certain night, a certain flamenco performance ‘Wild Veronica’ did for all the stable hands.”
Tomás looked at his wife and dropped the shovel.
“That was almost twelve years ago,” Nurse Veronica protested. She looked at her husband. “Tomás, I was young and foolish, and drunk besides.”
Eva peeped from the folds of Nurse’s skirt at the dreadful new man. He seemed to relish the trouble he was causing. “And now you are married to fat Tomás, and have no more children. Who knows, except for that night, you might never have been in the fortunate position you were, ready to step in as wet-nurse for Doña Maria’s daughter.”
Eva wondered what they were talking about. She could feel her beloved Nurse beginning to tremble.
Manuel’s voice turned low and menacing. “What if señor de Pazia knew about your past? Would he want a woman of such low moral character to have charge of his only daughter?”
For some reason Nurse Veronica was afraid, although Eva could not guess why; Nurse was the most moral person Eva knew! She tugged on Nurse’s hand reassuringly. “I would never let Father dismiss you!”
But she knew as well as her nurse that she had no say in such matters. She could only hope that Manuel was not aware of how lightly Iago regarded his children.
Veronica hushed her and spoke to Manuel. “All right, Tomás and I will overlook your behavior. Eva will too, because she can see that you really did not know who she was. Isn’t that so, Eva?”
Eva nodded reluctantly, unsure why Manuel made Veronica so afraid.
“Remember, then.” Manuel gave Eva a curt formal bow. “Your pardon, señorita. I will treat you with all respect due a daughter of the house.”
But his eyes were cold, and Eva shivered at the look he gave her.
Nurse Veronica took Eva to her room, where she put a cold, wet compress over the side of her head where Manuel’s blow had fallen. “Thank heaven he didn’t strike your face. I will be sure to comb your hair carefully, and the bruise will be gone in a few days.”
She put Eva in bed for siesta, tucking her in. “You won’t tell, will you, cariña? It could cost me my job, and I promised your mother that I would always look after you. Since the day I first put you to the breast you have been like my own child, little Dolores that died just after you were born.”
“Oh, Nurse,” Eva held onto Veronica tightly. “I wouldn’t ever do anything to make Father send you away!”
“Then go to sleep. I must go speak with my Tomás. He will be angry at Manuel, but he mustn’t do anything foolish.”
Sleep would not come. Eva lay staring at the door. Suddenly she realized that the latch was turning, ever so quietly. She sat up in panic, clutching the coverlet to her as the door opened.
Manuel slipped in. “Good. You are awake. I had to return this.”
He set her jeweled pendant with the de Pazia crest on the wash-stand. Eva stared at him, shivering with dread.
“Nurse Veronica says you will not tell your father about my unfortunate mistake today,” he went on, his voice soft but somehow threatening. “But I wanted assurance from your own lips.”
“I won’t tell,” Eva tried to keep her teeth from chattering in fear.
“I sw-swear by St. Basil that I will ne-never tell Father,” Eva stuttered.
“Good.” A small noise came from Manuel’s pocket. He brought out Tabita’s grey kitten.
“Stormy!” Eva held out her hands.
“I see you are fond of it.” He grasped the kitten’s head, ignoring its pitiful shriek, and with a brutal twist, wrung its neck.
He leaned in close, dangling the tiny lifeless body in front of her horrified face. “If you ever tell your father about today, I will do this to another of your cats.”
Casa Cerra, Sunday August 28, 1513
Eva shook off the memory. She had spent seven years avoiding the brute, but now Manuel Ortiz was her only chance. She leaned on the sill, her face to the window grille, and called. “Manuel!” He turned at the sound of his name. “Manuel Ortiz!”
Now he saw her at the window, he was coming over. “Eva de Pazia!”
“Please, don’t use my real name. I’m going as Eva Maria Perez.”
He looked at her speculatively. “So your nobleman got away with the dowry—right from under the Inquisitor’s nose! And left his ugly bride behind. How did you get here?”
“Andres tricked me. He thought I was Eva de Pazia’s companion.”
“I should have guessed you would be here. But if I keep your secrets, I’ll expect to be rewarded.”
“You will be!” Eva cast around for what would motivate Ortiz. “Elias will pay handsomely for news of me—he must be very worried. Can you get a message to him?
Manuel showed a sudden interest. “Of course. Just tell me where I can find him.”
Eva was puzzled. “At Holy Cross, of course.”
“I was there recently, and Elias was gone. Can you tell me where else he might be?”
“Over a week ago Abbe Matias sent him on some mission, but he should have been back for—” Eva stopped, remembering that Elias had said it was secret. There was an eagerness in Manuel’s manner which was out of proportion to the matter she was asking. “—perhaps you could ask if anybody has seen the Borgia. Elias and his horse are inseparable.”
“Well, I can’t promise anything. But I’ll ask around. Elias de Pazia is good for a lot of money.”
“I know he’ll pay well for news of me,” Eva repeated. “But hurry! I don’t know how long it will be before I’m—” Eva almost choked on the word, “—sold.”
6. Battle Cat
Tabita was patient. She waited through the rest of market-day. And the next day would be cooking- and baking-day at Casa de Pazia. The routine was the same at Paloma’s daughter’s lair, although in a much smaller way. But the day after that, with still no sign of Eva, Tabita went scouting on her own.
For Eva, it would be sick-people day—the second in Eva’s weekly cycle. Every week before market-day, and after baking-day, Eva always went to the place where the sick people were and worked all day cleaning and comforting and generally purring over them. If she were still in Granada, Eva would be at the sick-people place. Purring over sick people made her happier than anything else.
Eva was not at the sick-people place. Tabita knew only one thing more to do: go to Elias’ lair, the place called Holy Cross.
Elias was not there when Tabita arrived. That was not unusual. He frequently came and went, sometimes for days and one or two times, for weeks. Elias hunted a wide range, but he always came back. Tabita must wait.
When the ground vibrated with horse’s hooves approaching the gate, Tabita streaked up a nearby carob tree and settled in the crotch of a large branch where she would have a better view.
It was Abbe Matias. Tabita could see that he had been out intimidating the other humans, for he was wearing his most splendid robes and with him rode and walked more attendants than usual. The stable-man held the Abbe’s stirrup for him to dismount, for when the dominant lion of this pride wore his sparkly pelt, he needed help for everything he did. While they bustled about, sending the horses away, Tabita’s attention was on the gate. There were five more horses coming, and one of them might well be Elias, who often accompanied the dominant lion of this pride.
It was indeed Elias, although Tabita would hardly have recognized him otherwise: the lower half of his face was swathed in cloth, and what was visible above was discolored and patchy. On the near side his stallion was flanked by a tall sorrel horse and its rider; and on the far side, a bay mule whose rider was hidden from view. Tabita could see Elias’ paws were not holding the reins, as was usual, but something like a rein was tied to each wrist, and the rider on either side held the other end. Sometimes as they moved, one hand or the other would jerk out in an odd gesture, like the little puppet-doll Eva used to dance for Tabita to play with.
Was Elias playing at being a puppet? Before Tabita could decide if this was some sort of game, they rode under the gate-arch. When they came out the other side, she would be able to tell more.
But what was this? Two more horsemen approached the gate, men in turbans, which was unusual in Granada. Despite that, the one in the fancier clothing was on a she-horse from Casa de Pazia!
Now Elias’ group had come out of the arch to the near side. The stocky man on the far side dismounted. Tabita’s fur bristled as she recognized the man. Manuel Ortiz!
The sorrel’s rider tossed his puppet-string to Manuel, who used both cords to drag Elias roughly from the saddle. He twisted both of Elias’ hands behind his back and marched him toward the Abbe’s group.
She hissed at the hated sound of his voice. “Abbe Matias! Your Reverence! We have captured Elias de Pazia, the sorcerer!”
The Abbe jerked around. “What nonsense is this?” The man’s expression was one of disbelief, but Tabita saw it change to shock when he saw Elias.
The man on the sorrel bowed. “Your reverence, pardon my friend’s outburst. He used to work for Casa de Pazia and he claims to recognize that this is the son of the house. And so we gagged him to safeguard against being cursed, and brought him to you.”
Abbe Matias pulled himself up stiffly. “This is an impostor. Elias de Pazia died a week ago, in Acatusi.”
“No, he didn’t!” Manuel protested. “I know his horse! See, he’s even wearing the training caparison, there’s the Casa de Pazia crest on the lower corner!”
“Silence!” The Abbe roared. He turned to a burly man-at-arms. “Hold the suspect; I want to question him. And perhaps these two liars also?”
Manuel released Elias into the man-at-arms’ custody and backed away, gabbling hastily. “It isn’t Elias, I never saw him, I don’t know him!”
The reek of fear rose from below as the sorrel-rider backed toward his mount. “Pardon, your Reverence, we made an honest mistake, and we only meant to do service to the church.”
“Go, then!” the Abbe ordered. “But the animal stays. You say he is wearing a de Pazia caparison, and all property belonging to Casa de Pazia is forfeit to the church.”
Elias let himself be handed passively from one captor to another; but above the cloth wound around his mouth Tabita saw an alert expression. Which meant he was waiting for a moment to catch them off guard.
Silk-turban dismounted and bowed. “The canvas trapping may belong to Casa de Pazia, and you are welcome to it. But the horse wearing it is not the property of Casa de Pazia. The stallion is mine.”
The Abbe’s face froze when he saw him; the scent of fury rose even to Tabita’s perch. Before the Abbe could get anything out, silk-turban spoke again. “This stallion belongs to the Sultan of Tunis, whose buyer I am; and moreover I have as proof two documents showing that the stallion was given into my possession in return for certain—” he paused meaningfully, “—valuable considerations and services.”
“Do you have these papers with you?” The two were sparring; Tabita could smell it on them.
“I do not carry documents on my person, but like any prudent man, leave them with my agent in a safe place, to be produced as needed. However, if the Abbe will but draw aside so that we may speak privately, I will explain all the circumstances pertaining to my claim on the stallion.”
The Abbe waved his attendants aside and followed the turbaned man over beneath Tabita’s tree. “I could have you taken into the Inquisition’s custody!”
“In which case my agent would appeal at once to Cardinal Cisneros, presenting the documents I spoke of.” The turbaned man held up a hand. “But I did my best to uphold our agreement; I had de Pazia neatly trussed and on the way to the designated resting place when the horse himself managed to dash my head against an obstacle. And when I came to, de Pazia was on his back and I was the one trussed up and left for dead.”
“Then how did you come to be here?”
The turbaned man smiled and spread his hands. “It is my practice to keep my servants apprised of my movements. One found me and carried me back to my rented villa. By the time I recovered, they told me the news of Elias de Pazia’s death, and so it seemed there was no need to apprise you of what transpired between us. But today I saw the stallion being led here and followed to claim him, for what use is he to you?”
The Abbe’s mouth opened, and then closed again, rather like a fish, Tabita thought. But the turban continued. “Is it not best that the stallion be speedily removed from Granada? See, the horse is covered so none will recognize him and I will take him out of the city this very day. If you give me a writ of safe passage, stamped with the seal of the Granada Inquisition, no one will question us between here and Malaga, where a swift galley awaits my purchases. And so you will be rid of us both.”
The Abbe’s eyes narrowed in the way that a cat’s did when calculating whether the prey was worth the risk. “Very well. But the safe-passage will be good for one week only. After that, I cannot answer for what happens to you.”
The turbaned man bowed and made sounds of effusive thanks, and the Abbe shouted at the group holding Elias. “Fray Martin! Bring your writing case here. And you, Bartolomeo, take the suspect to the cell Fray Guillermo has just vacated. I will question him there.”
Tabita leaped from the tree to the boundary-wall and raced along it to the shed roof. She had hunted Holy Cross many times, and the layout was familiar to her. The direction they were taking Elias would pass through the arched gate into the herb garden, and there was a perfect place to leap down on an unsuspecting prey.
Humans were larger prey than she had ever hunted before, but that was no matter: this armored hulk was threatening a member of her pride. Elias and Eva protected and fought for her, and now she would fight for them. It was no different from catching a mouse: the trick was being in the right place and exact timing.
Running over the roofs, Tabita made it to the arch just as Elias with his big guard turned the corner of the adjacent building. It was only an opening in the wall between one area and another, such as the humans liked to surround themselves with; but the top of the thick wall had been given a little ridge of clay tile, steep to shed water and rather slippery even when dry. Tabita crouched on the tiles, ignoring the heat on her sensitive pads, and waited as the man tramped nearer.
She risked a single “Miaow!”
The guard paid no attention, but Elias looked up and his eyes widened as he recognized his pride-mate. Good: now he was prepared. They would hunt together. The eyes; she would go for the eyes.
The guard was almost beneath her; Elias sagged suddenly in his grasp, and with an earsplitting yowl, Tabita launched herself straight at his captor’s face, claws slashing with practiced precision.
“Aiee!” The man tried too late to protect his eyes, but Tabita knew that two claws at least had cut one wet orb. His flailing arm flung her into a lavender bush, but Elias had already wrenched free. Trailing a loose puppet-string from each hand as he yanked the cloth from around his mouth, he dashed back along the route they had come.
The guard bellowed, but Tabita did not waste any more time on him. She dodged between his legs and raced after Elias, away from the center of Holy Cross, out toward the gate. She would create a diversion so that he could escape.
But the guard continued shouting behind them, and the place buzzed with people like a beehive that has been tipped over, all shouting to each other.
When Tabita rounded the corner into the gate-court, she saw that Elias had three pursuers close on his heels. One with a garden-rake thrust the long handle between Elias feet, and Tabita’s pride-mate went sprawling.
And then the stallion danced sideways over his master, and Elias disappeared!
“That way! He dived under the horse, came out the other side and scaled that wall!” Turban pointed and shouted. “Just grabbed the bricks and climbed it like a cat! It took him less than three seconds!”
“Quick! Catch him before he gets far!” Abbe Matias came puffing up. “I want somebody at every city gate who can recognize Elias de Pazia by sight!”
The courtyard emptied of everyone but silk-turban and his servant, who unwound his headdress into a length of cloth, which he laid on the ground in a line. Silk-turban moved Elias’ horse to stand over it. Then he mounted, and the servant handed up first one end of the cloth, and then went around to the horse’s far side and gave silk-turban the other end.
“Best pass this under your butt,” silk-turban was directing his words downwards, as though speaking to the horse. “It’s a mile to the south gate.”
“Why are you doing this for me?” It was Elias’ voice, coming from under the horse!
Tabita ran closer and looked up. There was her pride-mate, hanging beneath the canvas blanket, pressed belly to belly with the horse.
“Because you are worth more to me alive in Tunis than dead in Granada.” Silk-turban’s voice was soft, pitched to carry only as far as Elias’ ears. “Besides, if they torture you, the Abbe might discover that I gave you those letters. There; I have loosened the front strap. See if you can get it under your shoulders.”
Elias had looped the turban-cloth beneath his hips; both knees were tucked into the leather strap that ran around the horse’s torso just in front of the hind legs, and he was shrugging his arms through the strap that passed behind the horse’s forelegs.
“Now, we are going to walk quietly out of the city. And pray to Allah that nobody notices the strain on the caparison, for if we are caught we are dead men!”
Tabita followed behind the burdened horse as the little procession left Holy Cross, tail held proudly upright. Her pride had won the victory, and now Elias would praise her.
. But no such praise was forthcoming. Tabita miaowed, thinking Elias might not have noticed her, pressed as he was to the horse’s underside.
Elias responded then, an angry whisper. “Tabita, go home!”
He followed it with a cat hiss and a spitting noise that made it more than clear her presence was unwelcome.
Tabita’s tail drooped. How had she offended him?
But the words came again, words she understood, even though they were human noises she could not make herself. “Go home!”
She turned and started on the long journey back to Casa de Pazia.
Tabita could not remember when she had felt so tired. She was old; it was getting plainer with every passing day. Her pride-members, the ones who kept her fed and protected, were themselves hunted.
She picked her way slowly down the brushy slope on the Alhambra side of the Darro river. Casa de Pazia was across the stream. If she was to go home, as Elias had said, she must backtrack along the bank to a certain tree that overhung the main channel, and from there she could leap onto a long, brushy bar that was exposed now the stream was end-of-summer low.
At the west end of the bar, there was a shallow spot where she could ford to the other side without getting too wet.
Above her came a crashing noise of breaking foliage: something was coming down the steep brushy slope. A round bundle hurtled into view, smacked wetly against the mossy rocks that lined an overgrown ditch, then bounced onward.
The scent that sprayed outward when it struck answered the question of what: it was a ball of clothing—wet clothing, and more specifically, Blanca’s clothing.
Tabita heard a splash as it reached the river below. Her cat curiosity was roused. Why was Blanca’s clothing being thrown down into the river?
Cloth, if it was not completely waterlogged, floated a little. Tabita picked up her pace and angled down toward the stream. The current would carry Blanca’s bundle to the shallow ford, and then she might find out what was up. Perhaps Blanca would come to get her things. Perhaps Eva had gone to stay with Blanca, as she often did!
“Hey, Aldonza, what’s that in the stream?” Tabita froze at the female voice.
Sure enough, when she crawled out on a nearby branch, she could see two naked females, young, nubile ones from the shape of them, in the pool just below the ford.
One of them was lifting the dripping object from the water. “It’s clothes, Beatriz!” She waded to the Alhambra side bank and unrolled the bundle. “Women’s clothes. And nice! This is fine linen, a lady’s chemise!”
The girl Aldonza wrung out the white garment that smelled intimately of Blanca and pulled it over her head.
“Hey! Aldonza, who says you get that?”
“I says so.” Aldonza began wringing the water out of the dark woolen kirtle. “I got to it first.”
“But you’da never knowed of it but for me!” Beatriz splashed over and grabbed at the kirtle. “I get a share, you perra!”
“Perra, am I?” Aldonza pulled on the other side. “It’s mine, you puta!”
Then the two women went for each other like a pair of cats, clawing, biting, and rolling. The one called Aldonza pummeled the one called Beatriz in the stomach. Beatriz grabbed Aldonza’s hair and shoved her face into the muddy bank.
Another voice rang out over the fray. “Those clothes are mine!”
Tabita had been so interested in the catfight that she had not noticed Blanca until she rose, dripping wet, out of the deepest place in the channel. She had nothing on except a skimpy cloth wrapped around her torso under her arms.
Aldonza and Beatriz released each other and picked themselves up, mud-smeared and wary. “Who speaks?”
“I am Maria Sanchez.”
Tabita wondered at that. It was not the usual noise by which Blanca identified herself.
“She talks fancy, like a hidalga.” Beatriz was already cowed.
“I am hidalga. And those are my clothes. Give them back to me!” Blanca’s command cracked with all the assurance of a dominant female speaking to lower pride members.
Aldonza clutched the bundle, her stance belligerent. “I’m giving her nothing. Hidalgas aren’t found swimming naked and alone.”
“I don’t blame you for doubting. But listen to my story before you judge.” Blanca changed timbre; Tabita recognized her story-telling voice, the one she used when Eva sat and listened, rapt. “It is because of my evil stepmother that I am here. You see, after my father died, she gambled through my dowry. I had been betrothed to Miguel, my childhood sweetheart, but when his father found we were impoverished he refused to let us marry and betrothed Miguel to a rich widow instead. We begged and wept, but his cruel father cared nothing for our broken hearts.”
“Ah, pobrecita!” Beatriz exclaimed.
Blanca continued: “My beloved refused to marry the heiress, a vain, spiteful woman ten years his senior. He swore that if he could not marry me, he would not marry at all. And so he went to Holy Cross, where he studied to become a priest.”
Aldonza folded her arms across her chest. “Priests are worthless parasites.”
“But he won’t be a priest after all. We resigned ourselves to a lifetime of miserable separation. And then, an answer to prayer!” Blanca exclaimed. “He was walking in a certain place, when he saw the edge of a jar sticking out of the earth. And when he dug it up, it was full of money! Straightaway he wrote me. He told me to meet him at a little picnic terrace on the Alhambra side of the Darro just after dark, and we would run away together.”
“A likely story!” Aldonza said. “No hidalga would come down here at night, the place where whores meet their customers.”
“We did not know about that,” Blanca made her voice humble. “We only picked a place where we used to meet for lunch, that we thought would be deserted at night.”
“And where do you think poor girls such as ourselves bathe, now that Cardinal Cisneros has closed all the public hammams? Perhaps in tubs filled by servants?”
“Leave off, Aldonza. She can’t help being stupid.” Beatriz turned to Blanca. “So, Maria Sanchez, how is it that you lost your clothes?”
“I had to cross the Darro, and didn’t want to get my dress wet. Since the place was so deserted, I thought it would do no harm to take them off and carry the bundle on my head. But I tripped on a stone and dropped them, and the current took them away.”
That seemed to work better than her previous imperious command. Aldonza picked up a tattered garment from the ground. “Thanks to Beatriz here, your chemise is covered in mud. So I’ll let you have mine.”
“I’ll be glad to exchange. Yours is dry.” Blanca waded to the Alhambra bank and pulled the coarse cotton garment over her nakedness.
“Then you can trade for my kirtle. It’s dry too.” Beatriz held out an old woolen garment. “It’ll fit once I take in the back-lacing. You do the front.”
Blanca slipped her arms in the sleeves without protest and turned her back to let Beatriz tighten the behind-body-section. But Tabita saw her wrinkle her nose as she poked a cord through the many holes that ran up the front.
Tabita alerted: there was a rank scent of male sweat, from two different individuals. She leaped to another branch, and ran along it, the better to see who was coming.
Her night-sensitive eyes focused on the other side of the river and spied two men, moving with the swagger of dominant males daring any to bar their way. The first leaped from stone to exposed stone across the ford. His arms were thrown out for balance, showing forearms sheathed elbow to wrist in leather cuffs covered with little iron spikes that bristled like a porcupine.
That was a threat message: such trappings were worn by males that cowed the lower class. Tabita took in more: the leather belt with a longer-than-usual knife sheath. The heavy boots. The unwashed smell.
His companion followed: shorter, but more massive in girth. His gut lapped over in front, and as he jumped from rock to rock it jiggled with each landing.
Aldonza saw them coming and turned. “Hola, Jabalí, Juanito. You are early.”
“The early bird gets extra!” Spike-cuffs ogled Blanca.
“Ay, fortune smiles on us.” Gut-lap bared his teeth in what the humans considered a friendly expression. He was missing several. “We get three for the price of two.”
“Not so fast, you haven’t paid yet.” Aldonza moved in front of Blanca. “As for this scrawny one? You don’t want her, she doesn’t know the business, and is likely terrible at it. Just a whey-faced ninny running away from home.”
“A virgin, eh?” Gut-lap gave off the scent of a male in heat. “We’ll send her back with something to remember us by.”
“On your back, girl, I’ve got a blade that wants sheathing!” Spike-cuffs whipped off his codpiece, and Tabita saw that he was fully erect and ready to mate. “It’s not for nothing they call me El Jabalí, the wild boar!”
Rather than arousing Blanca, she responded with shocked offense: “My betrothed will kill you for that!”
Beatriz tugged at Spike-cuffs arm. “Jabalí, wait! She’s hidalga.”
“And I’m the pope! She’s dressed like any tavern wench.”
“Those are our clothes. We stole hers.” Beatriz lifted her wet kirtle. “Look—merino wool—and five yards to the skirt.”
“And see this chemise I’m wearing? Fine linen.” Aldonza held up a mud-smeared sleeve. “Besides, only a hidalga would invoke her betrothed’s vengeance over the mere sight of a man’s zibi.”
Gut-lap fingered the lace on Aldonza’s wet, muddy garment. “So what’s a hidalga doing here?”
“Like I said, she thinks she’s going to run away,” Aldonza sneered. “With her rich lover. A priest, yet.”
“A rich priest, eh?” Tabita saw the men’s interest in mating shift to something else.
Spike-cuffs put away his male member. “Well that’s a different twist of the knife.”
“Yes, and he could come any time.” Beatriz looked around. “Do you want to risk being caught with your pants down?”
“I lied. Nobody’s coming to meet me.” Blanca began to cry—but her smell was all wrong for crying. She did not smell sad, she smelled very angry. “I ran away because—because my lover gave me the French Pox!”
“And how would running away help with the French Pox?” Gut-lap mocked. “It would take a better story than that to protect your lover’s fat purse!”
From a sheath that hung to his knee, Spike-cuffs drew a well-honed blade. “When he comes, we’re going to gut him like a fish.”
“Then we’ll bid you adios! We don’t want to be any part of murder.” Aldonza and Beatriz turned to go.
“Not yet, you don’t! We need you to hold the hostage,” Gut-lap growled.
“Tell you what,” Aldonza spoke in a conciliatory tone. “Before we go, I’ll tie her hands with my belt. It’s good stout round-braided leather. So long as you bring it back. It has my lucky deer vertebrae on the end.”
The men agreed to this plan. Aldonza produced a knife, which she held to Blanca’s throat. “Walk nice and quiet-like over to where I left my clothes, and you won’t get hurt.”
Aldonza marched Blanca to the water’s edge, where she scooped up a thin snake-like cord. Blanca’s hands were pulled behind her back. Tabita saw Aldonza’s mouth move, but the sound was covered by the water’s gurgle as it swirled around a tree-root.
She slipped down from her branch and crept closer so she could hear what Aldonza was saying, or, more importantly, the tone in which it was said.
It was a hissing, angry sound. “—and don’t let on I helped. This is just a noose around your wrists, see, and the rest is wrapped around and around them, nice and tight. Do you feel this knobbly thing I’m putting in your hand?”
Blanca made an almost-inaudible sound of assent.
“That will hold it so they won’t notice.” Aldonza tucked the white bone under the back-lacing of Blanca’s borrowed bodice. “Wait until they’re busy with your novio, then pull it out, unwind your wrists, and sneak off. Once you are far enough away, run like the devil was after you.”
With Blanca’s hands tied securely behind her back, Aldonza grabbed her roughly by the elbow and hauled her over to Spike-cuffs and Gut-lap. “You’ll have no problems with this one, she’s a complete ninny and scared as a rabbit. She told us they are supposed to meet in that little terrace, the one up-slope with the stone benches facing. Good hunting!”
The two women splashed off across the ford, leaving Blanca alone with Spike-cuffs and Gut-lap. Blanca was a friend of Eva’s, in the outer circle of Tabita’s pride. Tabita decided that she must try to help Blanca.
She would have to repeat the maneuver first tried that afternoon, jumping down on the enemy and going for the eyes, even though the likelihood of success was small. Tabita was more tired; there were two instead of one, and Blanca was not as strong or clever a fighter as Elias.
They led her up-slope. Tabita followed them, going from tree to tree, stalking carefully, imagining that she was hunting great big rats. They stopped at the flat place cut into the hillside. Eva and Blanca sometimes met there to sit on the mossy benches, eat, and talk. In the daylight, it was always shady, and Tabita was familiar with the overhanging branches.
They shoved Blanca down on the bench, her back facing downhill, and ordered her to stay while they moved some distance away. Blanca stayed immobile.
Tabita crept after them, wanting to see what they were up to.
Spike-cuffs was the dominant one. He was whispering into Lap-gut’s ear: “—no chances. Make him think you’ll give him the girl. Say whatever, but keep him yakking until I can slip up and knife him in the back.”
Tabita did not understand the words, but when Spike-cuffs faded into the bushes uphill and Gut-lap returned to duck behind Blanca, it was clear what their tactics would be.
Tabita positioned herself overhead. She heard a rider coming up the back road to the Alhambra gate. A male voice said, “Whoa.” The horse stopped at the place where a path led down to the river, the path that passed by the little terrace where Blanca sat.
Tabita sorted through her mental catalog of sounds. She knew that voice. It belonged to Fray Pablo, a man who came sometimes to Holy Cross. And Elias met with him in secret.
Fray Pablo dismounted. He turned down the steep path, leading his horse. Gut-lap crouched behind Blanca, his hand over her mouth.
Fray Pablo strode forward into the clearing, carrying a roll of cloth. “Doña Maria?”
Gut-lap released her mouth so she could answer. “Fray Pablo!” Tabita heard the astonishment in her voice.
Gut-Lap stepped out of the shadows, knife out. “If you want to live, you will hand over your bundle.”
“Come and take it, if you want it.” Almost faster than Tabita’s quick vision could follow, a blade was in Fray Pablo’s hand and the bundle cast to the ground behind him.
Gut-lap retreated behind Blanca and pressed a knife to her throat. “Beg him for your life, girl.”
“Abner! Abner, please think of Joab. If you love me, Abner, remember Joab!”
More oddness: Fray Pablo’s name was neither Abner nor Joab. But Tabita saw Fray Pablo’s eyes narrow and knew he received some meaning from the words that Gut-lap did not.
“My lady, your lover was discovered and captured.” Fray Pablo jerked his head upward, toward the towering walls of the Alhambra. “You must return the way you came. At once.”
Blanca stiffened. Tabita could read that she had no intention of obeying. Tabita heard the crackle of a leaf, too soft for human ears. Spike-cuffs was moving through the underbrush, he was almost close enough to rush Fray Pablo.
“She’s going nowhere!” Gut-lap snarled. “Who’s Joab?”
“You would not know.” Fray Pablo spoke with cool assurance, although Tabita could smell he was afraid for Blanca. “You also do not know that this lady is of the highest nobility of Castile. If it should become known that you had so much as touched her, a hundred soldiers would hunt you down the length and breadth of this land. Release her, and we will forget this ever happened.”
Fray Pablo’s speech somehow turned the tables; now he was dominant. Gut-lap let go Blanca’s arm and stepped away. Immediately, she bolted down the wooded slope. Tabita heard her trip and go rolling, crashing through the underbrush.
“Don’t let her get away, you fool!” Spike-cuffs jumped out then, bringing his knife down on Fray Pablo’s back. The cloth of his robe tore, and the knife slid down the mail shirt underneath, making little ‘chinks’ as it moved against the links.
Fray Pablo shifted to the side. From someplace behind his back he whipped out a wide, short sword, his movements showing the ease of long practice. The point of Spike-cuff’s blade caught in the deep grooves that scored the wide steel. And then the priest did something twisty with his wrist, and Spike-cuff’s knife flew from his hand.
Fray Pablo’s blade flashed. Spike-cuff jumped back and to the side just in time; Fray Pablo’s blade missed his midsection, but the arm was sliced along its length. He stumbled over the stone bench, dropped to the ground and rolled beneath it, the dark screening him from human eyes. Tabita smelled the coppery scent of blood.
Fray Pablo picked up Spike-cuff’s weapon and threw. Tabita heard the knife crash into the undergrowth far downhill, where it could not be retrieved. She also heard Gut-lap charging back to his companion’s aid. Fray Pablo was ready for him. The two assailants circled below Tabita’s perch, jumping into the attack and back out again, steel ringing on steel.
Tabita turned to follow after Blanca. But the stupid female was not running away: she was sneaking back up the slope—although she had no weapon but Aldonza’s belt.
Tabita saw something else: Spike-cuffs crawling from beneath the bench, drawing a short dagger from the top of his boot. He held it with both hands, the uninjured arm steadying the bloody one, crouching, hardly visible to human eyes beside the dark mass of the stone bench.
The closest branch from which Tabita could launch was three feet to the side of where he waited. Tabita slunk along it, ready to pounce down on him.
Blanca had come back to the terrace; the stupid, stupid girl! She held in her hands the leather cord that had bound her—nothing against the cold steel of her attackers!
Gut-lap was tiring; he parried too wide, and Fray Pablo’s blade buried itself in his body.
At that moment, Spike-cuffs rose from his crouch, both hands raised to swing the dagger down onto the base of his opponent’s skull.
But the blow never fell. Blanca leaped on the bench and dropped the loop over Spike’s doubled hands. She yanked, and the cord snagged in the spikes of the cuffs. He tried to lower his hands, but Blanca jumped down from the bench, letting her weight haul Spike’s arms backwards so hard that his shoulders creaked with the strain.
He almost toppled, then recovered and whirled towards this new threat. Blanca skipped just as nimbly, staying behind him, keeping the tension on the cord as she hooked the cord’s deer-vertebrae end beneath Spiked-cuff’s belt. Now he could not get his arms free, and with bound wrists behind his neck, his spiked cuffs were poking the back of his own head!
But those sky-pointing elbows were in the way, so Tabita could not aim for the eyes. She launched herself at the back of his head, screaming her battle-cry.
He ducked and she landed on top of his head. His cap flew off. Tabita dug her laws into his shaggy unkempt hair.
He bellowed and spun and flailed against the side of his head with his elbows, spiking his own ears with his cuffs, but so long as the cord encircled his hands, he could not knock her off. Tabita clung, clawing forward with her hind legs. Get to the eyes.
With one powerful jerk, Spike-cuffs got the cord free. He swiped at Tabita while racing for the horse. She hung on with both forelegs while he leaped into the saddle. He whirled the animal so swiftly that Tabita was flung off into the branches. She struck, and knew no more.
Casa Cerra, Wednesday August 24, 1513
Eva started up at the sound of footsteps in the hall outside. By the light streaming through the window, it was almost noon! She must have dropped back to sleep, thinking of Blanca and her fairy-tales.
A bolt slid back, and the door opened on a girl bearing a wooden tray identical to the one she had eaten from earlier. Behind her loomed a tall woman Eva vaguely remembered from when Andres the majordomo brought her here.
“Good. You is awakes.” The tall woman’s heavily accented Spanish mangled the verbs, but Eva was used to that.
The girl spoke in Arabic. “Matron, she has eaten. Not like the other.” She set down the fresh meal and gathered up the other tray.
“Well, we were not worried, were we? This one has plenty and to spare on her bones. Which is well for her, for this one is nothing much to look at.” The two appeared to be under the impression that Eva did not understand.
“Alas, too true. My mother despaired of finding me a husband.” Eva added a smile to her Arabic so that they would not feel embarrassed.
“I forget, we will also be handling native Granadans now.” The woman addressed as Matron told the girl. “Analina, warn the others, lest they be indiscreet.”
The girl gathered the chamber-pot and left. Eva ventured an introduction. “I’m Eva-Maria Perez. I’m sorry señora, but I can’t remember your name. It was late, and the shock—”
“You will call me Matron. I am in charge of the women’s dormitorio and for the time you are here you are my responsibility.” Matron drew herself up, and Eva saw that she was taller than doña Barbola, even, although she had none of the latter’s aristocratic bearing. “These are the rules: Men are not allowed past the archway in the women’s quarters. Virgins are to take their exercise in the laundry patio, but they are not to go out to the central courtyard.”
Eva swung her stockinged feet to the floor and slipped them into the shoes by the bed. “You must think me very lazy, sleeping for so long.”
“We are used to it. Most rich Converso girls give themselves the manners of fine ladies.”
“But I’m not like that at all! At Casa de Pazia I ran—” At the last minute Eva remembered that she wasn’t supposed to be herself, but a companion to the daughter of the house. “—that is, I helped with everything.”
“Which will be well in your future life.” Matron wrinkled her nose expressively. “The hammam is heated for women’s bathing on Tuesdays and Fridays. You were asleep yesterday, but Friday you must bathe.”
Surely she would not still be here on Friday! She had sent a letter to Elias—generically addressed to ‘mi hermano’ in care of Veronica, and although Andres had said it might take a day or two, surely by now he had delivered it? “Señor Andres promised to tell my family I was here. I must talk to the majordomo.”
“Andres is no longer majordomo here. Señor Cerra has promoted him to be majordomo of the shipping base in Malaga. He comes and goes about the señor’s business. I do not know where he is staying, or even if he is still in town.”
“Then I will see whoever is in charge now.”
“I assure you, you do not want to attract the notice of the new majordomo! Alcazar is our jefe since a month ago, he that used to be caravan leader. His name is feared on all the routes from here to the sea, and when he looks at you, it freezes the bones.”
A cry of pain echoed from somewhere not far away. “There! That is the kitchen-boy, and Alcazar is laying on the lash with his own hand.”
Whippings? Eva’s eyes widened in horror. The servants at Casa de Pazia were never whipped. Another howl echoed off the walls, and Eva flinched as though the lash had struck her own back.
“Ah, do not fear, Alcazar will do nothing like that to you.” Matron patted her hand. “Baltasar Cerra is very careful of the virgins he handles. And truly, those who come to us are far better off than if they had been taken for questioning by the Inquisition.”
The Inquisition again! Eva felt as though her head was stuffed with wool. Why should someone who had nothing to hide fear being questioned?
“You are older than most of the virgins.” Matron was surveying her with an appraising eye. “I think Andres decided to bring you because it was dark, and he was in such a hurry. How many years have you?”
“Even so.” Matron nodded. “I can see that you are a sensible girl who will make the best of things, despite the misfortune that befell your house.”
Eva dropped her eyes. The woman could not know that Eva was responsible for the ‘misfortune’ that befell Casa de Pazia.
Matron’s brows knitted as though considering a new thought. “Another Jewish girl might do what I cannot. If you were willing to help.”
“I would be happy to give whatever help I can,” Eva said. “But I’m not Jewish, I am Christian.”
“And I was also baptized.” Matron winked. “But in private I still perform salat as the Prophet, peace be upon him, has prescribed. We Moriscos and Conversos can be honest here; the priests will not interfere with señor Cerra. He has an understanding with the chief Inquisitor.”
Eva did not want to think about the Inquisition. “What do you need help with?”
“I fear that Alcazar will hold me to blame, although Allah knows that I have tried everything.” Matron sat on the room’s one stool. “It is like this: Alcazar has made new rules for virgins, that they must exercise for health and receive the best of food. And we have had for two weeks a girl from Seville who is pining away. Leonor will not eat, she does not even leave her bed. If she does not improve, this terrible new majordomo might have me on the whipping post next!”
Eva was glad to have something to occupy herself with. “I have some skill coaxing those who are ill and despondent. I worked with the Sisters of Mercy in their hospital for the poor every week. Suor Lucia taught us that when a patient refuses to eat, put nourishment in their drink, for thirst is stronger than hunger.”
“Ah, we will remove the water and substitute broth.”
“Orange juice is better. If she is from Seville, then oranges will remind her of home.”
“I see you are also wise.” Matron broke into a broad smile. “I will let you bring it to her. Someone in like circumstances to herself will better gain her cooperation.”
Being complimented on her mental capacity was a new experience for Eva. Shortly she was given a tray with the suggested juice and ushered to a door down the passage. Matron opened it and stepped aside to let Eva enter.
The small chamber was identical to her own. Leonor was crouching on the bed in the corner, huddled against the wall, arms wrapped around knees. All that could be seen of her head was a ratted mass of pale gold hair.
She did not move as Eva came and set the tray on the stand. She sat on the edge of the bed. “Hello. They say your name is Leonor. I am Eva.”
The blond mop lifted to show a pale face, delicate features pinched in misery. “You are new.”
“They brought me here early Tuesday morning. I’ve been sleeping since then.”
“The Inquisition struck your house also?”
“That of my cousin, Eva de Pazia, whom I serve as companion.” The falsehood was coming easier with practice. “My mistress was gone, but the soldiers carried off the head of the household, and everything was confiscated until the trial.”
“There will be no trial. Not a real one, anyway.” Leonor put her head back down. “Have they made you into a servant?”
“No. Matron only thought some company might cheer you up.” Eva poured the juice, holding the pitcher well above the clay cup and letting it fall in a thin stream so the scent of just-squeezed oranges would fill the air. “Here, try some of this.”
Leonor looked like she was going to refuse, but the smell of home got the better of her. “Well— I don’t want you to get in trouble on my account.” She took a sip, which became a gulp.
“Let me untangle your hair. You’ll be more comfortable.” Eva pulled her comb out. Leonor passively allowed herself to be turned so that Eva could work. She carefully eased out the knots, taking pleasure in her own competence. This simple act of grooming had often worked wonders to win over the beggar children the sisters of Mercy took in—and this was the more pleasant for Eva, for Leonor had no lice.
“Your hair is such a pretty shade, fairer even than my friend Blanca’s.”
“Some of our people are blond.” Leonor’s voice held a defensive note. “Papa said I take after the Slavic strain. Our family were descended from Khazari Jews, you know. But we were driven out of the east, and then we settled in England, until they drove us out of there, too. So we came to Al-Andalus and prospered.”
“And then your family decided to convert?”
“Decided?” Leonor gave a derisive snort. “The Catholic Kings ordered all the Jews to leave Spain, but they weren’t allowed to take any money with them! How is one to manage that? So we accepted baptism. They gave us no choice.”
Eva worked on a difficult snarl, thinking of her father’s feigned piety. “But surely they knew that forced conversions wouldn’t be sincere.”
“Queen Isabella thought that Jews would become Christians if she made them go through the motions long enough.” Leonor turned to face Eva. “But that isn’t why her husband King Ferdinand of Aragon wanted the decree. He needed to balance the power of the nobles with a class loyal to the crown alone.”
“But isn’t everyone a subject of the crown anyway?” Eva pocketed her comb and began to braid Leonor’s long tresses.
“Maybe here in Granada, where you have a governor instead of a hereditary lord. But elsewhere in Castile, Jews who convert aren’t subject to whoever is the local lord. Forcing all of us to become Conversos meant that overnight Ferdinand would gain a big middle class of Letrados—scholars, merchants, doctors, artisans—who had to do his bidding or be accused of heresy. Because the Spanish Inquisition isn’t under the control of the Pope—it answers to the monarch.”
“How can you know all this?” Eva was getting annoyed at Leonor’s we and us, when she could not possibly have been there, let alone known what the Catholic Kings were thinking. “You’re just a child.”
“I was taught with my brothers, Talmud and logic and political theory.” Leonor’s chin lifted a few degrees. “Papa believed that girls should have the same education as boys, if they were bright, and he said I was—I was—” her proud demeanor fell apart, and she began to shake with sobs.
“There, there.” Eva gathered the girl into her arms, feeling the bones fragile as a bird’s. “It’s all right now.”
“It isn’t all right!” Leonor pulled away from Eva’s comfort. “You won’t think it’s all right after they hold the first auto-da-fé here.”
At a loss to respond, Eva parroted a line from Bishop Rojas’ sermon. “If the accused recant, the church shows mercy.”
“Another of their lies!” Leonor’s pupils made pinpoints of scorn in her pale grey eyes. “My brothers recanted and got worse than our parents, who paid the full price.”
Eva thought of the way the Inquisition had behaved last night, and Paloma’s account of their neighbor in Toledo. “Life does not consist only of worldly possessions.”
“No, life consists of breathing, and eating, and sleeping—and every day breaking your body before an oar until at last you die under the lash!” Leonor became animated with her list of horrors. “That’s what the mercy of the church gave my brothers: the long torture of ten years rowing the galleys! My parents got their torture faster—they were racked until their bodies were so broken they had to be carried to their sentencing.”
“That can’t be true!” Eva exclaimed, shocked. “The church is forbidden to shed blood.”
“Oh, they don’t shed blood. Their methods are more sophisticated than that.” Leonor balled her fists. “And it is the crown that carries out the sentence when the Inquisition is done with their victims, so that they cannot be accused of shedding blood. They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”
Eva could not believe it. Torture was what was done to Christians, not by them. All the martyrs whose stories were depicted in gory detail in religious literature and art—Saracens and Pagans gleefully feeding Christians to the lions, dismembering or roasting or hacking body parts from unresisting saints. “That can’t be true,” Eva whispered again. “Jesu said, ‘Love your enemies, and turn the other cheek.’”
“I bear witness to what I have seen. After taking all we had, after torturing my parents, the Inquisition burnt them at the stake!”
Eva was suffocating. She ran for the door.
Leonor started after her. “Wait! Don’t leave me!”
But Eva fled blindly down the stairs, not knowing where she was going, not caring. As if by running she could leave behind this fresh revelation of the consequences of her action.
She came out onto a patio. Three women looked up from their work at a steaming laundry trough as she ran by. The patio was bounded by a high wall, and there, between two espaliered lemon trees, she was forced to stop.
Eva leaned her head against the bricks, panting. Elias must have known all these things. And she had asked him, just last Tuesday she had asked! Had she missed something?
Eva reviewed the afternoon, trying to notice any clues which had escaped her at the time.
Last week at Casa de Pazia, Tuesday August 16, 1513
Eva tossed and turned during siesta. The hour of decision was drawing near: this evening, when Fray Salvador came to say a mass for the household, she must either follow Blanca’s plan to scuttle the wedding, or lose her one chance.
Last night, it had seemed a near-miraculous escape from a dreadful future. But in the hot light of day, removed from her friend’s contagious enthusiasm, Eva’s doubts had been growing. She remembered all the other impulsive ideas of Blanca’s, and how they always seemed to result in trouble for Eva.
She knew very little of the Inquisition, other than a sermon Bishop Rojas had preached recently. Oh, she had noticed the occasional wanderer from the north wearing the sack-like yellow garment of penitence, the sanbenito. They said that was what the Inquisition did to relapsed Jews, once they turned back to the church.
Father would have to wear one of those. Serve him right.
Wasn’t it proper that the church should correct error, and so save men’s souls from damnation? And if there was any soul headed straight for Hell, it was Iago de Pazia’s.
Eva got up and knelt at her prie-dieu, asking for some sign. But it felt as though her prayers stopped at the high ceiling of her bedroom.
Doña Barbola put her head in at the door, saw that her charge was awake, and entered, the brocaded overgown in her arms rustling with every motion. “Señorita Eva, Tomás has brought the week’s hay from Maracena. He asks that you come to the barn.”
“Oh, maybe Nurse Veronica came with him!” Eva hurriedly slipped her stockinged feet into her everyday clogs.
“You cannot go like that, your hair all down. Let me fix it now, so you will be ready to dress for the interview with your betrothed. Your father will expect you to look your best.”
While the older woman worked on her hair, Eva decided to pry a little into her duenna’s previous life. Maybe she could shed some light on Eva’s situation.
“Barbola, did your late husband marry for your dowry?”
There was such a long pause that Eva feared her question had given offense. But when Barbola had finished pinning the braid she was working on, she replied. “When I was young, before the conquest, dowries were not our way. A man who can have four wives does not expect a dowry, but rather pays a bride-price.”
“That sounds like buying a cow.” Although Eva supposed that it was merely the shoe on the other foot. Wasn’t her father paying an exorbitant amount to buy a noble son-in-law? She thought of what she had overheard last night. If Conte Niccolo had to pay for me, I would not be getting married.
“I was too tall, and darker than the rest.” It was the first time that Eva heard her reticent duenna mention the shade of her skin. “No man was willing to pay my father for me.”
“Then how did you marry?”
“We took in a wounded soldier, thinking he was of our side, for he had Moorish armor. As it happened, he was a Castilian who had taken his equipment from the body of a slain jinete.”
Eva shuddered, and Barbola added, “That is the usual way poorer soldiers get their gear. At that time the head of our household, my uncle Cidi Yahia, converted and joined the Castilians, so it was well for my soldier.”
Barbola sighed in reminiscence. “He was weary of all the fighting, and while he recovered, he renounced it for God. In him I saw the love of Jesu, like it was in the good Talavera, may they both rest in the joy of our Lord.” Her duenna crossed herself. “That is how I came to faith, despite the bad examples of many who say they are Christians.”
Eva thought of Conte Niccolo’s hypocritical piety at the banquet last night. A religious fraud, exactly the kind of man her mother had not wanted her daughter married to. “Then when you wed, you were both Christian?”
“Yes, but that was not enough for my family, even though they too had converted. The de Venegas were nobles of Granada, as they still are, and my soldier was of low rank. They would have little to do with him while he lived. Only after he died was I welcome at the Palacio de Venegas. My cousins were most upset that I chose to work as your companion instead of being their dependent. As if I did not work when I was under their roof! The difference is that your father pays me well, and you are more pleasant to serve than my cousins.” Eva’s duenna sighed. “Where I will be again, after you leave. I will miss you, Evita.”
Eva felt a rush of warmth. “I wish you could come with me to Venice!”
“Ah, cariña, they do not like Moors there, at least not those dark-skinned such as I am.” Barbola fastened the last braid in place with a jeweled pin. “There, that is done. Let me tie a head-rail over all, and you can go and hear Tomás’ message. But be sure and leave yourself enough time to get dressed.”
“I won’t let Tomás keep me long.” Eva looked with distaste at the sumptuous gown doña Barbola had laid out. Embroidered with gold and pearls, it weighed almost forty pounds. She dreaded putting it on, dreaded still more the coming interview, when her betrothed would present her with the traditional bride-gift.
After what she overheard last night, how could she even look at him?
As she hurried to the barn, Eva pondered her next move. If she revealed that her father was a secret Jew to Fray Salvador—outside the sanctity of the confessional, of course—the priest would be duty-bound to tell the Inquisition. From what Blanca said, the fines would be so heavy her father would have to use her dowry to pay them. And if he did not turn from his wicked ways, he would have to leave Spain penniless, and Elias would inherit Casa de Pazia.
Elias would let her dedicate her life to God. Blanca had already promised to arrange a place with the convent where a Mendoza cousin was Abbess. And I will never have to face a wedding night.
Tomás was in front of the barn, unloading hay from a wagon whose back was occupied by a large wooden tun. Eva could see it had already been emptied, but she was puzzled. What might the farm in Maracena send that required a barrel at this time of year?
Even more puzzling, Tomás was unloading the hay by himself. “Tomás! Shall I call for the stable boy?”
“No, señorita Eva, I sent him away.” He came near and spoke in a low voice. “There is someone who wants to see you in the Borgia’s stall.”
Mystified by the farmer’s secrecy, Eva went down the row of open-fronted stalls to the one on the end. She timidly called into the warm darkness, “Hello?”
“Elias!” she gave her brother a hug. She saw that he had exchanged last night’s festive clothing for the ill-fitting garb of a peasant, a flat cap low over his forehead, shadowing his eyes. Eva remembered that he had been sent on an errand right in the middle of last night’s banquet. Whatever it was must be urgent. “Where is your horse?”
“I left him in Maracena with Tomás and Veronica. My stallion is too recognizable, and until this business is finished, I’m going incognito.”
“Secret. Nobody is to know I even came here.” Elias leaned against the stall, looking very tired. “Eva, I need your help. Don’t you visit a Gypsy woman who lives in a cave on the Sacromonte?”
“Oh, yes, Blas’ mother, Old Drina.” Eva thought that her brother looked beyond tired—he looked ill. “Elias, is something wrong?”
He put a hand to his head, atop the flat cap. “It’s just lack of sleep. And I haven’t broken my fast.”
“Oh, let me get you something to eat!”
“Wait—could you fix me a basket of food? Say it’s for the poor. I’ll share it with your Gypsy woman.”
Eva ran to pack bread, cheese, olives, dried sausage, oranges, and a cake of pressed almonds and figs into a large hamper. At the last minute she remembered that doña Barbola had sorted through her clothing in preparation for her impending severance, and set aside several well-worn garments for Old Drina, who was nearly as tall as she.
Topping the load with doña Barbola’s discards, Eva tucked a meat-pie into the pocket of her apron and brought the lot out to the stables.
Elias was seated in the straw with Tabita in his lap, purring loudly. He took the pie eagerly and fell on it with an appetite. “Thanks, Hermanita.”
Eva sat beside him. “This bundle on top is clothing for Old Drina. She’s the same size as doña Barbola.”
“Mmm hmm.” Elias dusted the crumbs out of the light stubble on his chin. “There’s something else I need to tell you. You know the Perez properties in Maracena?”
“The farm and Jorge’s livery business.” They were the dowry their mother had brought, and were to pass to her children. “What about them?”
“I just signed them over to Nurse Veronica and her Tomás. For a consideration to be paid later.”
“I’m glad! Veronica always wanted her own land.” Eva frowned. Elias was only nineteen, not legally of age. “Can you do that without Father’s permission?”
“Don’t worry about the legalities, the papers will stand up to scrutiny. But keep it to yourself. I just wanted to make sure that if anything happens—if Casa de Pazia’s assets were to be seized by the Inquisition—the farm in Maracena won’t be taken. You can go there, and Veronica will give you shelter. Do you understand what I am saying?”
“If they found out father was a secret Jew, you mean?”
“Something of that nature.” Elias gave a sardonic smile.
It was exactly what Eva needed to know. “But after they fined him, wouldn’t they give what was left to you?”
“Eva, you’re such an innocent. When the Inquisitors strike, they clean out every maravedi. If I hadn’t needed Father’s money to launch my career in the church, I’d have turned the old hypocrite in long since.”
Elias must have seen how shocked she was at the idea, for he added, more gently, “Money buys influence, which is needed to accomplish God’s work here on earth.” He rose and picked up the basket. “Now tell me how to find this Gypsy woman.”
“Old Drina’s cave is the one right below the old Saracen graveyard. There are three openings very close together, and then one that stands slightly above and to the left, which is hers. But she’s very suspicious of strangers.”
“I need to find a way to make her trust me. Could you write a note so she knows I come from you—” Elias stopped, frowning. “No, that won’t work, she probably can’t read.”
“Just let Tabita go along. Drina knows my cat wouldn’t follow a stranger.”
“What a good idea! Eva, you can still surprise me.” And before she could tell him about Blanca’s plan, Elias was gone.
She walked back to her room, thinking about what Elias had said: If I hadn’t needed Father’s money to launch my career in the church, I’d have turned the old hypocrite in myself.
She sighed. Iago de Pazia was a hypocrite, and he had chosen another for a son-in-law. Mother would have been horrified.
But what Elias had just told her made it clear he would be affected too. Mother had loved Elias best, and she would not want Eva to do anything which would damage his future. And that settled it. She must go through with the marriage, even if it meant being locked up for the rest of her life by the loathsome Conte. She had endured worse for her brother’s sake, although how much worse she hoped he would never know.
She was late. Doña Barbola hurried her into the corset. The stiff panels made Eva feel like a fowl trussed for roasting, extra flesh pushed up until her bosom flowed over the top, and down to bulge out below her waist.
On the way to the great hall, dressed for another encounter with her betrothed, dread weighted Eva like the decoration sewn onto every inch of the elaborate costume. Father and Conte Niccolo were already there, deep in discussion over the various lands and moneys the Conte would receive with her hand. She paused in the shadows, reluctant to be in the presence of either man.
Conte Niccolo spotted her by the door. “Ah, here is my lovely bride!”
Iago frowned. “Eva, you are late.”
“I am sorry, Father, I was preparing a basket for the poor.” Eva set her features in a neutral expression as she made her curtsy. Do not think of what you overheard last night.
“As you see, my daughter is charitable. But she is also a prudent manager of the household—she has been running mine since her mother died.”
“And I have brought a tribute worthy of her.” Conte Niccolo bowed towards Eva and signaled to his servants, who had been standing in the corner with something large and bulky and draped in cloth. “Bring my bride-gift. Put it on this table, where it will show to good effect.”
The men positioned the object, and with a flourish, Conte Niccolo whisked off the cover. There stood an ornate prie-dieu. The kneeler was padded in velvet and the front-piece rose up like a tombstone of polished planes surrounded by bas-relief figures of gold-plated saints. Three crosses made of semiprecious stones crowned the top.
Eva knew she was supposed to be impressed, but the garish thing was so different from the simple pine-and-metal cross where she brought her petitions before God that if it had not been for the religious symbols she would not have guessed its purpose. She could think of nothing appropriate to say.
“My daughter is speechless with gratitude,” Iago jumped into the gap. “And I am also in awe. This is a work of art such as I have rarely seen.”
“It was commissioned by my father from the brilliant Venetian sculptor Tullio Lombardo,” Conte Niccolo boasted. “You may have heard of his most famous work, a full relief of Bacchus and Ariadne.”
Eva ventured a question. “Are those the patron saints of Venice?”
One of the Conte’s men started choking. Niccolo burst into laughter. “If the lady saw Venice during carnival, Bacchus might well be thought her patron saint,” he gasped between whoops of mirth. “But no, Signorina, Bacchus is the Roman god of wine.”
Eva grew beet-red.
“Eva knows nothing of pagan gods,” Iago excused her. “You will find she is of a meek and reverent disposition, exactly what a prudent man seeks in a wife.”
“Truly, I thank God to have found such a pious woman.” Conte Niccolo sobered. “Forgive my humor. What I want is a wife who will produce strong sons.” He winked at her and made a small motion of his hips, calling attention to his overstuffed codpiece.
Sudden nausea almost overwhelmed Eva. “Thank–thank you so much for the prie-dieu, Conte Niccolo,” she stammered. “I fear I must leave you now, there is much to prepare.”
After another round of fulsome compliments, Eva was out the door, closing it behind her. She leaned against the passage wall, swallowing hard and willing herself not to throw up. She would not, could not, marry that man!
But marry him she must. Elias needed the de Pazia money to rise in the church. If she took the only way out, it would cost Elias his inheritance. She breathed deeply, waiting for the nausea to pass.
The Conte’s voice came faintly through the door. “What if your son finds out about our arrangement?”
“He will not suspect. He thinks that I need him, as he needs my wealth to feed his ambition.” Eva’s breath caught at the venom in Iago de Pazia’s voice. “But his usefulness to Casa de Pazia will end as soon as I clear Spain.”
“And you have no last regrets?”
“I tell you, I would sooner give everything I own to the Turk than let one more maravedi fall into the hands of my unfaithful wife’s conniving bastard.”
Eva hurried away, her thoughts whirling. Elias would get nothing! She was so preoccupied that she almost ran into Fray Salvador, the Alhambra’s chaplain, who came on Tuesdays to shrive the de Pazia household.
“My daughter, your face is full of trouble.” Fray Salvador paused, leaning on his cane.
“Oh, Fray Salvador! I fear for my father’s immortal soul. He is guilty of—” what was the word they used last night? “—of Jewishizing.”
Casa Cerra, Wednesday August 24, 1513
“Eva?” Leonor was tapping on her shoulder. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault that you believed the church’s lies.”
“I’ll be all right.” Eva stuffed her emotions down into the secret place where she kept everything that could not be spoken. “It’s just I’m not used to doing nothing.”
“It is good to be outside again.” Leonor stretched. “They kept trying to make me come out and walk. So at least that giantess will be happy with you.”
Eva needed more than that to keep her mind off what Leonor had told her. As they passed the washing, her eyes fell on the rinsing trough. “Leonor, let’s help them wring the sheets.”
The three women looked bemused when Eva and Leonor fished a dripping length from the trough, but they did not interfere. Eva gave one end to Leonor. “Now you hold this tight, while I twist my side!” The physical effort was a relief.
After the first two sheets, Leonor stood back and watched while Eva paired with the young woman Matron had called Analina.
They had been at it for almost an hour when Matron came running. “No, no! You will ruin your hands! Alcazar will hold me to blame!”
“But I have been working with my hands for years, Matron. See the calluses?” Eva held out her work-roughened hands “Anyway, what does it matter? I am not some rich heiress.”
“What does it matter? What does it matter?” Matron’s agitation increased. “Do you not care who buys you?”
The last of Eva’s illusions collapsed. The business with Andres—his questions about her Converso status—he was not extending hospitality, but luring her into slavery. To be sold just like Leonor.
The woman was too agitated to see Eva’s sudden shock. “Leonor here, she will be a rich man’s junior wife, they pay high for pretty young girls who are untouched by a man. But you are not so pretty, not so young. And to have peasant’s hands also! It is well you are virgin or Cerra might sell you to a brothel.”
The implications of Matron’s statement slammed home with the nausea that accompanied sexual thoughts. If she were not a virgin – a brothel?
Eva threw up into the nearest bush. She had leaped out of the frying pan into the fire.
4. Alhambra Tales
At Casa Cerra, Wednesday August 24, 1513
Eva opened her eyes to semi-darkness. She sat up and tried to orient herself rubbing the cobwebs from her eyes. This was not her room at Casa de Pazia; it was a small whitewashed chamber with a high window.
Oh yes, the Carthusian nuns had given her this cell when she came to their charterhouse. But wait—the whitewashed wall was missing a crucifix.
Eva remembered she had left the charterhouse—why? Her eye fell on the simple stand beside the bed, which held a clay pitcher and cup. Her mouth was dust-dry. She filled the cup and drank, again and again until the pitcher was empty.
Her thirst abated, she recalled that she had left the Carthusian nuns and gone back to Casa de Pazia to find Tabita. The events of the previous night came crashing in.
The Inquisition had taken over Casa de Pazia! That was it, this room was in the women’s dormitorio of Casa Cerra. Old Paloma had promised to wait for her cat and deliver Tabita to the farm in Maracena, along with Mother’s guitarra.
Casa Cerra’s nice majordomo Andres had waited while she wrote the letter to ‘the brother of Eva-Maria Perez’. The Eva part was a mistake, blurted without thinking. She must be more careful from now on. Eva-Maria Perez, a cousin on mother’s side, she rehearsed.
Maybe it was just as well she had given her real name. Eva had all she could do to conceal her great secret; adding an unfamiliar first name on top of that would surely ruin her flimsy disguise. If anybody noticed it was the same as that of her pretended cousin Eva de Pazia, well, next to Maria, Eva was one of the commonest Spanish names.
She rose and padded on stockinged feet to the window. This room was on the second story. Below was a patio, and from the cauldron set over a fire-pit, Eva saw that it was the place where laundry was done. Off to the east the sky was pearly with the brightness that preceded dawn. Against the lightening sky, she recognized the outline of the Sierra Nevada.
Near the bed lay her bundle of clothing—four linen chemises and plain woolen smocks in the baggy shapeless style called a Spanish surcote. Most important, she had brought plenty of spare stockings and two pairs of shoes custom-made to hide her defective foot.
By the door there was a wooden tray with a lump of cheese and a loaf of bread. The kind people of Casa Cerra had brought food, but not wanting to disturb her, had left the tray. The bread was dry now, and the cheese hard, but Eva found that she was ravenous.
She bit the tough wheaten crust and chewed, calculating the time elapsed. If it was almost dawn, she must have slept through yesterday and around the clock. It must be early Wednesday morning.
Wednesday! Tonight was to have been her wedding feast. A repeat of the great betrothal banquet at the Alhambra which had greeted her prospective bridegroom on his arrival in Granada nine days ago.
Eva shuddered, just thinking of that evening. Her father, so puffed up with pride to be co-host with the great Inigo Lopez de Mendoza, II Count Tendilla, Governor of Granada and friend of King Ferdinand of Aragon. His daughter’s betrothal celebrated together with that of the Governor’s own daughter! Eva understood that Governor Mendoza had extended the honor from financial necessity as much as anything else—Casa de Pazia had covered all the cost of the lavish affair. Despite that, she could never doubt Blanca Mendoza’s loyal friendship.
After all, it was Blanca who had thought of a way to get rid of the Conte. Eva lay back on the narrow cot and let her mind go back to Monday before last, the night of their betrothal banquet.
Monday before last, at the Alhambra
Doña Barbola unlaced Eva’s heavy brocaded under-kirtle. “Señorita Mendoza, it was gracious of you, to escort us back to your room. But you must not miss the rest of the festivities. I am happy to retire early with Evita, for I have been up since dawn.”
“No, I’ll stay, at least until the entertainment starts. I’m glad of the excuse to avoid that horse-faced solemn stick they’ve picked for me.” Blanca slipped out of her overgown. “Eva, does your tummy feel better now the corset is off?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t the lacing, I’m used to that. It was the Conte’s pinching and leering and looking down the front of my gown instead of at my face when he talked to me. And the jokes everybody was making—they made me feel so unclean.” Eva hung her head, as though Blanca would be able to read her private shame.
“Cariña, such bawdy talk is usual for betrothals and weddings,” her duenna soothed. “The jokes were aimed also at señorita Mendoza and her betrothed, were they not?”
“Of course. Not that any of them amused my betrothed, what a long face!” Blanca said. “Your Conte is bit of a buffoon, I admit, but at least he was making an effort to please you.”
“He thinks I’m stupid.” Eva undid the lacing on doña Barbola’s long back. “I tried to memorize all the names of his family back in Venice, but I couldn’t recognize any of the people he kept talking about. And they sound angry—like they are fighting all the time.”
“Those weren’t his family, Eva!” Blanca laughed. “He was working in references to the Greek gods and goddesses.”
Eva felt a prickle of worry. “I asked him about his faith. He assured me that he was very devout. Why should he be talking about pagan superstitions?”
“It has nothing to do with his faith, it’s just the fashion to study pagan legends in Italy. Come on, it’s stuffy in here. We’ll take a turn around the lion fountain in the courtyard and talk about old times.” Blanca put an arm around her friend’s waist. “That way, your duenna can get some well-deserved rest instead of being kept up with our chatter.”
They strolled out into the adjoining courtyard, where the delicate columns of the inner arcade cast lacy shadows against the plastered wall. Water glittered in the moonlight and the scent of orange blossoms perfumed the air. The fountain, supported by its twelve beasts in the form of a clock, began spurting water from the mouth of the ninth lion.
“This will be my last night here.” Eva cupped her hands under the stream and lifted them to drink. “Water from the springs of the Alhambra has a special taste.”
“Those Moorish builders knew what they were about,” Blanca agreed. “It tastes of the rock that filters it.”
“It tastes enchanted, like the stories you used to tell me. I wish I could fly away on one of your magic carpets.”
“I know—I can tell you the legends of the Greek gods!” Blanca exclaimed. “Then the next time Conte Niccolo refers to them—”
“No,” Eva interrupted. “I don’t want to think about the future, I want to think about the past. Tell me the one about Basil.”
“All right.” Blanca settled herself on the bench facing the fountain and began: “A highly respected man named Heradius had an only daughter whom he intended to consecrate to the Lord, but the devil, foe of the human race, got wind of this and inflamed one of Heradius’ slaves with love for the girl. The man, knowing that as a slave he could not possibly win the embraces of so noble a lady, turned to a sorcerer—“
“No, not the legend of St. Basil and the slave,” Eva said. “I meant the story about our spotted Moor.”
“The enchanted prince? Oh, Eva, that was such a childish fairy-tale! I would die of embarrassment if anyone overheard me telling that.”
Eva crossed her arms. “I want the one you made up yourself.”
“Well, if you insist.” Blanca looked around at all the doors that opened onto the courtyard. “But not here. If I’m going to revive that ridiculous thing, we’ll have to be where nobody can come upon us unawares.”
“We could go to the Sultana’s mirador.”
Blanca tucked up her silk chemise and led the way to a staircase that wound up from an arched doorway. Eva followed to the second story balcony. They climbed to the wide roof beyond and crept along the terra-cotta tiles above the court of the myrtles to the tiny balcony that gave a view over the garden below. The girls slipped over the railing and sank down onto the leaf-strewn mosaic floor, stifling giggles like a pair of adolescents.
“All right.” Eva felt ten again. “Nobody can come upon us unawares.”
Blanca sat cross legged and started in her storytelling voice: “In the days when Abu Abdullah Mohammad the twelfth ruled Granada—”
“You mean King Boabdil,” Eva corrected.
“That’s what ignorant people call him. Or King Chico, which is even worse. I know better now.” Blanca assumed her ‘more-knowledgeable-than-thou’ expression. “The Saracen rulers of Granada were sultans, not kings, and their proper address was muley.”
“That makes him sound like an animal,” Eva objected. “The story begins: In the days when King Boabdil ruled Granada, he received a visit from the daughter of the most beautiful woman who ever lived, the Queen of Sheba.”
“No, I changed that, remember? The Queen of Sheba was from King Solomon’s time, there’s no way her daughter could have been in this story. I made her an Abyssinian princess. As dark as the tents of Kedar, and beautiful.”
“—and King Boabdil fell madly in love with her, and made her his queen,” Eva prompted.
“So Abu Abdullah loved her passionately, and made her his sultana.” Blanca corrected. “And of their love she conceived a son. But the previous favorite hated the Abyssinian and plotted against her. Then the Sultan was captured in battle and made prisoner.” Blanca gave Eva a sideways look. “You know that was our own Castilian army, right?”
“Don’t ruin story with facts,” Eva said. “—in the fullness of time, the queen gave birth to a son—”
“But alas! The birth sapped what little strength the Abyssinian had, and she felt herself near unto death.” Blanca picked up the tale again. “She feared for her newborn, knowing her rival would contrive that the infant died before his father returned. And so she secretly entrusted her child to a slave woman in the harem, bidding her present the babe as her own.”
Blanca shook her head. “Honestly, Eva, you can tell I made that part up when I was ten. If the foster-mother served in the harem, wouldn’t you think everybody would have noticed she was never pregnant?”
“You could add that she gave birth the same day and her child was stillborn,” Eva suggested. “Go on. ‘—and she named him Basil—”
“Before the sultana breathed her last, she named her son Basil, which means ‘royal’ in Greek.” Blanca smiled. “When I made up that part, I actually thought they spoke Greek in Abyssinia. But they don’t.”
“Then you can say she learned it from her mother. The Queen of Sheba was supposed to be really smart, wasn’t she?”
“Eva, your timeline is a hopeless muddle.” But Blanca went on. “The slave woman loved Basil dearly, but she feared for his life, and so she kept the secret of his true parentage to herself. The harem accepted him as the slave woman’s son, because he was so dark. He wasn’t handsome, but he was so kind that everybody loved him. And whatever language any of them spoke he quickly learned.”
“—because his royal blood made him so intelligent,” Eva inserted.
“I don’t like that part any more, Eva. Tonight I was listening to the ordinary Granadans and comparing their conversation to that of the visiting nobles and gentry. By what I overheard, you could make a very good case that the more hidalgo blood a person has, the stupider they are likely to be.”
“I’m trying not to think about tonight.”
“Sorry. Me either.” Blanca made a face. “Granada fell to the Catholic Kings. But Ferdinand and Isabella, ever merciful, graciously granted the former sultan a small fief in the Alpujarra mountains to the south of us. And the whole household went with him, and Prince Basil was reunited with his father, and Abu, all right, Boabdil, took his son with him when he left Spain for Morocco. And so they lived happily ever after.”
“That wasn’t the end!” Eva protested. “You added to the story for years.”
“I could hardly tell the whole thing, we’d be here all night.”
“Well, it doesn’t fit if it ends there, because that’s before it began. The whole story started with what I overheard in Father’s shop.” Eva remembered every detail of that day, it had been so often embroidered. “How could Prince Basil have been Baltasar Cerra’s slave seven years ago, if he was living happily ever after in Africa? You have to at least get as far as the thirteen-year-spell.”
Blanca traced a finger through the dust on the balcony floor. “The trouble is, the things I made up about Baltasar Cerra amount to outright slander. The Alhambra buys spices from his house, and he’s always courteous about extending us credit.”
“How would he ever know? Anyway, the story wouldn’t make any sense without him.” Eva remembered something Blanca had explained about storytelling. “A good fairytale has to have a powerful anti-agony.”
“You mean an antagonist.” Blanca dimpled. “I know, I’ll change the story so that Cerra was duped by the djinni he conjured up.”
“But the anti-ag—the bad guy—has to be a person, because Bishop Talavera always said that evil spirits need to persuade actual people to do their dirty work.”
“I suppose. Abu Abdullah, Sultan Muhammad the twelfth—” Blanca stopped at Eva’s audible sigh. “Oh, all right, King Boabdil sent the sad news of his queen’s death to her father, the King of Abyssinia, by the hand of one Baltasar—no, Eva, Cerra deserves better than to be cast as the villain. Aren’t you supposed to be the one with the tender conscience?”
“Well, why don’t you just call him Maloliente, the stinker.”
“Maloliente, I like that. Malo for short.” Blanca grinned.
“And we can skip the part where Cerra meets the dead queen’s father, and gets involved in the dark arts, and how he starts working for a rich merchant,” Eva offered. “It’s the enchanted prince part of the story that’s interesting.”
“Maestro Nuñez wouldn’t think much of your taste in literature,” Blanca said. “So Malo envied his wealthy employer intensely, and used his magical arts to call up a djinni.”
“You changed the djinni to a ghula,” Eva corrected. “It has to be a female or the seduction part won’t work.”
“That’s right, I forgot. Anyway, the ghula offered him a bargain: if Malo would sell his soul to her master, the devil, the rich merchant would be struck dead and Malo would gain all his wealth and his business besides. And he would not only keep what he had gained, but grow richer and more powerful, for she would give him the gift of seeing men’s darkest secrets. Maloliente thought it over, and agreed on condition that he would have a long life to enjoy his ill-gotten gain.”
“And right after that was when he ran into Prince Basil herding goats,” Eva said.
“Yes. And he noticed that the goat-boy was the exact image of the King of Abyssinia. Well, Malo asked around and found out the boy was born to a slave woman in the Alhambra just about the time the Princess died in childbed. And he sought out the foster-mother, and with his gift he read her darkest secret.” Blanca laughed. “As though that needed any special gift. I would make it much more subtle now.”
“Get to the part where he deals with the devil,” Eva prompted.
“When the devil heard of the pact his ghula made, he was furious. ‘You stupid spirit! Why did you bother with him? His soul was already well on it’s way to damnation!’ And he appeared to Maloliente in a murderous rage, ready to slay him on the spot.
“But Maloliente fell on his face. ‘Don’t kill me yet! I can bring you another soul, one that you couldn’t have damned without my help. I’ll bring you the soul of a prince who has never been touched by pride.”
“The devil was intrigued. ‘Nobody born to royal blood can escape pride. But if you can find such a one, and turn him to me completely, I will confirm all that my ghula has promised you.’
“Malo said, ‘I will need time.’ And they agreed he should have thirteen years. So Maloliente went into his wizard’s room and pored over his books of dark arts, until he crafted a magical bangle. Its power was to give the maker influence over the wearer, hardly noticeable at first, but growing stronger over time. But how to get it on his victim?
“Now, Basil was fifteen, just approaching manhood. The ghula assured Malo that she could easily entrap a male that age through lust of the flesh.” Blanca stopped. “Remember the sermon we got that from? Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”
“The three temptations of the evil one.” Eva shuddered.
“I had to borrow the story of Joseph in Egypt with Potiphar’s wife, because I had only the vaguest idea what was involved in ‘lust of the flesh’,” Blanca giggled.
Eva wished she had asked to skip this part too. But the three temptations were important to the story.
“The ghula appeared in a form that was irresistible to men, and Prince Basil fell immediately in love with her. Then she laid hands on him, urging, ‘Come lie with me.’
“But Basil said, ‘I must first seek my master’s permission to marry, for I am a slave.’
“The ghula was astonished. ‘Marriage? Why bother with that?’
“Basil said, ‘Lying together gets children, and a woman must be married or they will be bastards.’ See, Eva, that was one thing about ‘lust of the flesh’ Mama drubbed into me.”
“Condesa Francisca was wise.” Eva missed Blanca’s mother.
“She should have been here at my betrothal.” Blanca looked sad for a moment, but she picked up the story again. “The ghula said, ‘Do not let that trouble you. I have a husband who would think any child was his own.’ And that was her undoing, for Basil ran away lest he be tempted to commit adultery with another man’s wife.
“Malo realized that he would get nowhere using fleshly indulgence. He knew that the prince hated being a slave, so Malo arranged for one of his men to fall in with Basil and ‘accidentally’ leave behind a purse full of enough gold to buy his freedom. But however much he despised his condition, Basil was too honest to steal. He ran after the stranger and returned the bag.
“While Cerra—I mean Maloliente—was working out his next attempt, smallpox struck the province. Now Maloliente had already had the disease himself. So he gathered some matter from the pustules of a victim and used it to contaminate some goat-cheese.”
“Ewww,” Eva always said that at this junction. “Changing his name to Stinker really fits now.”
“And then Malo disguised himself as an old beggar-man and waited where the goats were watered. He pretended to be very hungry, and of course Basil shared his lunch of bread and cheese.”
Eva remembered the pockmarked youth. “He was kind to me, too.”
“But in this case, his kindness was his undoing, for when he divided the scanty meal, Maloliente switched Basil’s portion for the contaminated cheese. By the time he reached home, Basil was already ill.”
“He had a very bad case of smallpox. The worst I’ve ever seen,” Eva said.
“While the slave prince lay raving in delirium the evil wizard fastened on the magical bangle he had made. It sank into the flesh until it looked like nothing more than a ring of scar tissue. And then Maloliente waited patiently while the magic began its evil influence, changing the victim ever so slowly, working up from the ankle until the evil spell would blacken his noble heart.”
“But a woman could break Maloliente’s spell,” Eva prompted.
“Yes, a woman who loved him could drain the effect back down, like sucking venom from a serpent’s bite. And she would do this by circling the magical cuff with her hands and praying to Saint Basil with each circuit. Only thus could the enchanted prince be released from the spell. And if that was not done by the end of the thirteen years, then he would become just like his mentor Maloliente, and the devil would claim his soul too.”
“I didn’t mean that ending,” Eva said. “The ending you borrowed from the story of the Beast was better. Where he asks her every day to marry him in spite of his ugliness, and the spell will be broken when she realizes she truly loves him.”
“I thought we agreed it was stupid for him to keep asking after she said no.”
“I like it because it’s simpler,” Eva explained. “How would the heroine ever find out how to break the spell, if the prince didn’t know himself?”
“Maybe Saint Basil appeared in a dream and told her what to do. Or a talking cat. It’s a fairy tale. Use your imagination.”
“I don’t have much imagination.” Eva sighed. “I guess what I really liked about the first ending is the hope of marriage for love.”
“Marriage for love is just another fairy tale for children.” Blanca said bitterly. “I have to marry Juan Padilla because my family needs it. Just like your family needs you to marry the Conte for his title. What else can we do? Run away to a convent?”
“Father would just find me and drag me back,” Eva said. “I suppose I should be grateful Conte Niccolo is sincere about his faith. He told me all about his pilgrimages to Rome.”
“Oh, Eva, I will miss you so!” Blanca wrapped Eva in an impulsive hug. “But your bridegroom seems kind, and at least you’ll get away from your father.”
“Not for long.” Eva wasn’t supposed to know, which meant she certainly was not supposed to tell, but she no longer cared. “We’re going to be transferring all our business to Venice.”
“But your family has been based in Granada for centuries! Why would he pull up his roots?”
“Because of the church—really, because the Inquisition has come to Granada. All those benevolences, paying to help construct the cathedral—Father doesn’t think of them as tithes and offerings. I actually heard him call it extortion. As though he were bribing the priests to leave him alone!” Eva felt a twinge of guilt. I should be praying for Father’s soul, instead of revealing his secrets to Blanca. But now that her stomach had settled down, a long-suppressed anger bubbled up. “It’s just like Mama wrote in that letter we found—Iago de Pazia worships no god but money and status!”
Footsteps sounded on the graveled path that approached the little garden below. Blanca pulled Eva back against the wall. The moon, setting behind the palace, put the little mirador in shadow. “Shh! They can’t see us if we don’t move.”
Three men came through the arch of lantana vines below, one weaving slightly. There was no mistaking that ostentatious hat. “Conte Niccolo!” Eva mouthed at Blanca.
The man supporting Eva’s betrothed was speaking. “Truly, don Jeronimo, you Spaniards do not know how to celebrate. Niccolo, tell him about carnival in Venice.”
“It’s the new Chief Inquisitor, staring down at the guests from the head table,” the man addressed as Jeronimo replied. “Everybody is going to be very careful about what they say and do until they know how Abbe Matias will run things in Granada.”
“Sink me such religion!” Giulio exclaimed. “Priests with their Latin hocus-pocus! Popes with more bastards than most men have heirs!”
Eva was shocked at the man’s slander. Latin was the sacred language, the one in which God spoke to mankind. And God would never allow someone to be elected Pope if he were not worthy to be Saint Peter’s successor.
“The church is a farce, and all this prating of saints mere hypocrisy. Bishops made at the age of twelve—now there’s vocation for you.” Eva listened in horror as her future husband added to his friend’s blasphemy. “If one must believe in anything so childish as Gods, I’ll take the Roman pantheon. Licentious Venus, legs spread wide; Zeus raping pretty women!”
“Have a care what you say, compañeros!” don Jeronimo cautioned. “Do you not know the Inquisition hires familiars to listen behind every keyhole and hedge?”
“My good man, your Inquisition has no jurisdiction over foreigners,” Conte Niccolo leaned unsteadily against a trellis. “And it’s only got started, in this province. And as to hiring familiars—I am told that at the moment there is a shortage of funds.”
“All the more reason for you to be concerned.” Jeronimo said. “Iago de Pazia is Converso, and the dowry that comes with his daughter’s hand must be a sore temptation to an Inquisitor’s greed. Were his conversion to be proved false, they would fine him every maravedi.”
“Ah, man, you worry too much. Isn’t Elias de Pazia the new Inquisitor’s personal secretary?”
“That should worry you even more,” Jeronimo retorted. “I do hear there is no love lost between father and son. The assets of the elder might easily go to the younger—and he’s not bound to honor the marriage contract.”
Eva and Blanca exchanged a look. That Elias hated his father was not news, but the potential transfer of Casa de Pazia’s wealth was.
That possibility also sobered Conte Niccolo. “God’s bones! What if I saddle myself with this ugly Jewess only to have her dowry snatched from under me before I get my hands on it?”
Giulio clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Then there’s no time to waste. Never mind the planned festivities; the day after the ceremony, we’ll be off to the nearest port with your fat bride and her fatter dowry. And then you’ll have the leisure of the voyage to sample the charms of your Venus.” Eva winced at the sarcasm in Giulio’s description.
“Venus, ha!” Niccolo retorted. “More like Medusa—all I saw of the face was her nose; she kept her head ducked and that mantilla over it. And her conversation—God this, Jesu that. I’ll have to humor her until we get home. But once she’s safely in Venice, my palazzo has a widow’s tower.”
“Yes, keep her locked up tighter than our Crazy Queen Juana.” Jeronimo laughed. “That’s the best way to handle ugly wives.”
“And I’ll only have to visit her to get heirs on her body.” Conte made an obscene pantomime which made his friends roar with laughter.
Eva’s stomach, which had settled, rebelled again. The bitter taste of bile filled her mouth, and she clapped a hand over it to keep from retching.
“Ah, and the cat is to keep her company. When she asked if she could bring her pet, I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard you agree.” Giulio turned to don Jeronimo. “Niccolo here cannot abide cats. They give him a splitting headache.”
“Diplomacy, Giulio! I haven’t got the money yet, have I?” The voices began to recede as the trio walked away. “But I’m not putting up with a headache all the way home. The first storm at sea, and my bride’s sweet little kitty is going overboard when nobody is watching. I’ll be the most diligent searcher for the mangy fleabag, and when we can’t find it, I’ll grieve like I lost my own dear mother.”
The girls stared at each other in horror, waiting until the footsteps died away.
“Oh, Blanca, I’ll have to leave Tabita behind!” Eva burst into tears. “I’m going to be trapped into marriage with an unbeliever, just like Mama warned against.”
“Eva, you can’t marry him!” Blanca was shaking with rage. “You heard him—he’s going to keep you locked up! And after you bear him a son, he’ll probably murder you, just like he wants to do to Tabita!”
“I could get Father drunk and tell him I won’t marry. He’ll go into a rage, and maybe he’ll kill me.” It was wrong, she knew, plotting to add this sin to Iago de Pazia’s account, and he not even saved. “Oh, Blanca! I’m a wicked, wicked sinner, I don’t even care if my father goes to hell.”
Blanca stood transfixed; she had that look which meant her nimble brain was testing some audacious idea. “Eva, you have to consider the good of your father’s soul. Doesn’t the Bible say that the love of money is the root of all evil?”
“Yes.” Eva was confused. “What does that have to do with it?”
“You won’t have to marry Conte Horrible. Or leave Spain. Just listen, I have the most perfect plan to put an end to this wedding!”
The Cat: Wednesday August 24, 1513
“Out, you mangy cat!” The cook opened the kitchen door and Tabita slipped through it, too quickly to need the aid of the woman’s foot.
There was no point in staying at the sterile stone-pile. Tabita had searched it from one side to the other. Eva was not there.
Tabita guessed that her pride-mate must have left sometime between when she herself had been thrown out by this same cook two nights ago, and yesterday morning when Tabita had returned. But where would she have gone?
Casa de Pazia was the first place to check.
The hungry-people section of the city was quiet this morning. It was market-day, and the people were down at the flat area near the cathedral. Market-day was when everybody went there, and many goods exchanged hands. But that was out of her way. Tabita made a beeline up over the hill through the hungry-people quarter and over the back wall of her own hunting grounds.
Casa de Pazia was empty. There were no horses in the stables, no activity on the kitchen patio. Only a pair of guards at the gate—not men Tabita recognized. The monster Inquisition had struck her home-place.
She made her way to the patio that all the family rooms opened onto. It was silent, except for bits of detritus tossed about. The doors hung open. Eva’s had been wrenched off the hinges and thrown down.
Tabita entered the room. It was empty, of course; but she stalked carefully around it, smelling for hints of recent occupation.
Footsteps were approaching. Tabita whisked beneath the open lid of one of Eva’s clothes-chests. She relaxed when she heard the voice: it was only Paloma.
“You don’t need to dog my footsteps, Franco. The priests have had all yesterday to take everything of value.”
“Tia Paloma, it’s orders,” a young male voice replied.
“Taking orders from the Inquisition! My dear sister would rise from her grave if she knew her son gave up a good post in the Governor’s guard.”
“Mama would have understood.” Tabita could tell that Paloma had the young male on the defensive. “I am still waiting for six month’s back wages. The Governor only pays when the king pays, and King Ferdinand doesn’t pay.”
“Well, then, you can at least help me find Eva’s cat. Go check the room across the way, that was doña Barbola’s.”
Paloma entered the room, and Tabita came out to meet her. But she was brushed aside while the woman hurried to the place where the wall-boards hid Eva’s secret den. Removing only the first section, she reached in and brought out Eva’s stringed twang-box, a prized possession.
Paloma worked very quickly now, glancing towards the door as though she were afraid the young man might see. A string was looped around the long stick part of the twang-box. Then Paloma lifted her skirts to hang the twang-box beneath them.
The young man was coming back. Tabita sensed that a diversion was in order. With an earsplitting screech, she shot out the door, right between the man’s legs.
“Catch her!” Paloma called.
Tabita rather enjoyed the race around the family patio. She led the youth on two loops before Paloma came out, walking a little oddly from the twang-box bumping her legs under the skirt.
Paloma held out her arms. “Tabita, kitty!”
Tabita jumped into them. Franco came panting up and reached for her. She swiped him with a vicious paw.
“No, sobrino, I can hold her if you don’t get her any more upset. Just open the side gate, that’s a good boy, and we’ll be on our way.”
3. Under the Table
10-year-old Eva, Granada’s Silk Market, 1506
Eva was not exactly forbidden to be there. But she and Blanca were definitely not supposed to be out alone and unaccompanied by doña Teresa Pacheco, the poor but genteel relation who served as Blanca’s duenna.
“Are you sure that doña Teresa will be gone for another hour?” Eva whispered as they hid behind the wall that surrounded the flat roof of her father’s warehouse in the old Silk Market.
“Don’t be so worried, you silly goose!” Blanca giggled. Their duenna thought they were waiting for her in the Cathedral nearby, saying prayers for the souls of Blanca’s dead brothers and sisters. “Even if she’s not, she won’t say anything. She’d be the one in trouble, leaving us like that.”
Blanca would not get in trouble, but Eva surely would, if her father found out. Still, he would not restrict Eva’s visits with her friend; Iago de Pazia was flattered that the daughter of a Count should be willing to spend time with a merchant’s daughter, even a very rich one.
“I must have been wrong about the day. Blanca, let’s go back.” Eva was hot. Her dark blue velvet was smothering, its rigid bodice pinched, and the stiff leather of her best shoes pressed on her extra toe.
“No, look! Here he comes!” The clop of hooves in the street below announced Elias, riding Fez, the new Arabian stallion that was part of the latest de Pazia shipment. The horse was groomed until his red-bay coat shone. He held his black tail high and arched his neck, tossing his head against the bit. Elias appeared to sit him with perfect ease.
“Oh, Eva, your brother is sooo handsome,” Blanca sighed. “Look, your father and his customer haven’t come out yet, couldn’t you just wave at him so he would look up at us?”
Eva knew the intent expression of concentration on Elias’ face meant Fez was barely under control. “No, it’s risky. There are too many eyes in the silk market today and we don’t want to attract attention.”
“Maybe I could talk my father into buying me a new palfrey. Then Elias could come and show me all your father’s stock, one at a time!”
“Oh, no,” Eva said quickly. “Father would never sell the Governor any of the horses Elias shows.”
“Those are the ones that are too high-spirited. It’s just when my brother rides them, he makes them behave. But they’re dangerous.”
This information only served to increase Blanca’s admiration. “He’s as brave as El Cid!”
“Shh! There’s my father and the man who wants to see the horse.” The two girls ducked down below the parapet, listening to the bargaining below. The dickering went on and on, while Elias trotted the sale animal in a tight circle. Eva could see its eye showing white, and a scrim of sweat-foam starting along the lines of its elaborate chest-band.
The deal finished at last, but still they stood out in the street. Now the discussion was over delivery of the goods. The buyer purposed to take the horse at once, while Iago de Pazia argued that Elias should ride it to the purchaser’s estate later in the day.
“We need to get back,” Blanca whispered. “If we sneak down the stairs while they are still haggling, maybe we can make it to the Cathedral before doña Teresa returns.” The tall door of the Royal Chapel was visible just over the colorful awnings that hung in front of the shops and market stalls that ringed the square.
Their skirts bunched to keep from brushing the whitewashed wall, both girls tiptoed down the stairs to the alley. Turning away from the loud business transaction, Eva and Blanca slipped unnoticed around the corner of the building. The narrow alley behind the shop opened onto the cathedral square.
“Come on!” Blanca broke into a run. She burst out of the alley almost on top of an elegantly-dressed nobleman. Unable to stop in time, Eva crashed into Blanca, knocking her into the man’s arms.
“Maria Blanca Mendoza y Pacheco!” Eva recognized the stern voice: don Luis Mendoza, Blanca’s oldest brother! “I have been looking for you! Your duenna said you had left her in the Chapel.”
“Luis!” Blanca was dismayed at finding herself in the grasp of her least-favored brother. She took a moment to settle her skirts—and, Eva knew, to invent a plausible excuse. “We went to see the beautiful things Eva’s father just got in from Constantinople. The de Pazia shop is right across the square from the Cathedral, so—”
“No matter how close it is, you should have waited for doña Teresa.” Luis took her arm firmly. “You are coming home with me.”
“—can go home with her father,” Luis finished. “I will escort your young friend back to her family business. An early end to your visit is a small enough punishment for this prank. I can’t imagine what señor de Pazia will think of us, letting his daughter go about unchaperoned.”
Eva cast a despairing look at Blanca. Her father would be furious that she had done anything to displease the powerful Mendozas.
At that moment Elias came around the front of the building. “Oh, here is my brother! You don’t need to bother, don Luis, Elias can take me back to the shop, it’s only one door down, you won’t have to trouble yourself,” she babbled.
Elias took in the situation and, quick as ever, he bowed. “Don Luis! I just stepped away from the girls for a moment. Please forgive that I let your little sister out of my sight. It was entirely my fault.”
Luis was taken aback; twelve-year-old Elias was not really mature enough to pass as any kind of guardian. Before don Luis could respond, Elias gave a courtier’s bow, taking Blanca’s hand and kissing it like a hidalgo grandee. “Farewell, señorita Mendoza. As your brother is no doubt in a hurry, we will send your purchase to the Alhambra tomorrow.”
Eva watched in admiration as Elias handled the encounter like another grown-up, making knowledgeable compliments on don Luis’ mount as he lifted Blanca onto the saddle in front of her brother. By the time don Luis rode off, he was mollified.
As soon as the Mendoza siblings were out of earshot, Elias addressed her in an angry whisper. “Eva, what are you doing here?”
“We were on the roof. Blanca wanted to watch the horse sale.” Eva hung her head.
“We’d better not let Father find out about this.” Elias considered her velvet dress and inadequate shoes. “You can’t walk far in that. I’ll run home and get another horse, and you can ride pillion. You’ll have to hide in Father’s shop.”
They had reached the front of the shop next to their father’s and her brother pretended to be interested in one of the lengths of cloth hung out for sale. Eva needed no warning to keep the billowing layers of yardage between herself and their father, now finishing the paperwork of the horse’s pedigree. Fez was attracting all the attention in the market square, prancing and pawing in circles while the buyer’s servant held his reins.
Elias pointed to a covered table deep inside the open front of the de Pazia shop. “Hide under there, and make sure to arrange the tablecloth after you,” he whispered. “When I come back, I’ll give our whistle. After you hear it, wait until everybody is distracted, then unbar the back door and slip out as quietly as you can.”
The horse reared up and flailed with his forefeet. Eva took advantage of the distraction and quickly moved from behind the neighbor’s display of fabrics into the open front of her father’s shop. She dived under the richly covered table while everyone was busy with the stallion. One of the items displayed on the top fell off. There was a small divide between the two embroidered cloths that covered the table, and Eva reached a hand through it to pick up the expensive jeweled vase, carefully replacing it on the surface over her head.
There was a crash in the square. Eva put her eye to the crack between the table-covering and saw her father run outside. Stacks of merchandise partially blocked her view, but between the bales and displays she could see the street. Fez’ shrill whinny was followed by a ring of horseshoes on cobbles, the thud of hooves striking baled cloth, the splintering of wooden awning-poles. A flash of polished red-bay hide shot past Eva’s restricted view, soon blocked by frantic figures of shopkeepers and assistants trying to divert the frightened stallion.
Father was shouting for Elias. She had gotten him in trouble again: her brother was off getting a horse to take her home while the sale animal trampled the silk market. Iago would be furious.
The hue and cry moved further down the square and Eva, who had lifted the cloth to see better, quickly dropped it as her father and two of his shopkeepers returned. The fabric hung a little crookedly so that a narrow v-shaped opening gave a view into her hiding place beneath the table. Eva did not dare adjust it with her father looking into the shop, no doubt checking the contents to be sure nothing of value had been snatched during the brief time his attention was outside. Eva quaked when he came to the table and rearranged the vase, but although he looked straight at her he did not seem to see her. She thanked Saint Basil that the underside of the table was in shadow and she had worn the dark blue dress and mantilla instead of the cream-colored lace.
“The fool! I told him not to take the horse today, but he insisted. On his head be it!” Iago sat down at his elaborate desk in the rear of the shop. Eva heard his quill scraping on the accounting sheets he kept so carefully. “Where is that useless son of mine? Get back to work.”
The shop-boy returned to polishing the expensive merchandise, while the guard lounged outside. It was so quiet in the shop, any movement would be heard. Elias’ whistle would attract her father’s attention at once. If only a customer would come!
Cross-legged was not the proper posture for prayer, but Eva did not dare shift into a kneeling position. She folded her hands and prayed earnestly to Saint Basil to send a distraction, help her escape notice, help Elias hurry back, and get her out the back door without Iago de Pazia ever being the wiser.
Saint Basil answered: Eva heard the guard greet a customer at the shop entrance. From the respectful note in his voice, it was someone of consequence. Her father rose and exchanged courtesies with the newcomer, addressing him as Baltasar Cerra.
The man replied fulsomely, his accent identifying him as Moorish. Another man—or, judging from the timbre of his voice, a youth—seconded the greeting, his tone deferential. No doubt a servant of some kind.
Eva begged Saint Basil to let them stay and keep her father occupied until she made good her escape.
They accepted the offer of tea! Paco the shop boy hurried to the back to boil water. The guard spread a silk carpet on the tiled floor, and Eva discovered to her alarm that the area selected for her father’s hospitality was directly in front of her hiding place. Iago waved his guests onto the rug while the seats were brought.
The two newcomers paused a few feet from her table. Eva got a good view of the bottom of Cerra’s robe, a typical Granadan burnoose, while the younger voice’s bare legs confirmed her guess of his servile status. The lace pattern of her mantilla played tricks on her eyes, distorting the skin on the man’s muscled calves. Eva tipped her head just enough to see his feet below the edge of her veil and discovered that the dappled effect was not the fault of her mantilla. Rather, every exposed inch was pitted with indentations, each pit stark white against deep brown skin. It was the worst case of smallpox scarring she had ever seen, worse even than old Blas, their gardener.
The guard rolled a gilded leather ottoman onto the carpet, and the bare legs stepped out of the way, closer to Eva’s table and just inches from her nose. Eva hardly dared to breathe as she stared at his scars. The only place that was free from the white pits was a band of callus that ringed the leg nearest her. The cause of it rested loosely against the ankle: an iron slave-cuff which showed the weld-marks of many enlargements. Eva realized that the enlargements, together with the callusing, meant that the wearer had borne it since childhood.
So the man was a slave. Eva was fascinated. She herself did not know anybody who was a slave, although the institution was common enough in Granada. Her father held that slaves were lazy workers and untrustworthy, while Blanca’s father had freed all the slaves that came with the Alhambra. The only thing Eva knew about slaves was hearsay and stories.
One of her favorite stories about Saint Basil involved a slave who was trapped by the devil. Eva wondered if her patron saint had sent this slave, whose status was made so obvious by his ankle. Half-ashamed of her presumption in asking for so much, she silently prayed for a sign.
No sooner had she finished than the slave shifted his feet so that the inside of his opposing leg was visible. To her astonishment, several scars on the slave’s ankle ran together to form a familiar shape—the backwards ‘E’ which was once her childish signature!
Her little gasp was covered by the thump of a second ottoman dropping onto the carpet. Her father waved an ink-stained hand. “Please, be seated.”
To Eva’s intense relief, Iago de Pazia took the closest ottoman, facing away from her hiding place. Cerra, a short, fat Moor, settled onto the ottoman opposite, where he was mostly blocked by her father’s back. In the middle of the carpet, Paco unfolded a wooden tray-stand. As he moved out of the way, Eva saw that the slave had seated himself cross-legged on the carpet next to his master–and eye-level to her where she sat under the table. Fortunately, his attention was directed to the conversation between her father and Baltasar Cerra, who were engaged in the boring banalities that always preceded a discussion of business in Granada.
Eva was surprised at how much older the slave looked than his voice sounded. Was it those lines that scored the high forehead? But they were a trick of the scar-pattern, not wrinkles. Although there was nothing youthful about the strong furrows that bracketed his long, prominent nose. They disappeared into sparse facial hair, framing full lips, stippled by yet more scars. That mouth was the one feature that seemed young—young and somehow vulnerable. It was a face made prematurely old by suffering, Eva decided.
Paco reappeared with the round brass tea-tray laden with the silver tea-service. He settled the huge tray onto its wooden stand with hardly a rattle of the objects thereon. From a paper cone he sifted freshly chopped mint leaves into the high-domed Moroccan pot, and the air filled with astringent steam.
The slave’s image wavered in the steam. Eva had a moment of unexplained recognition—he was familiar, and yet strange—like the time that she had not quite recognized Ramon, the head groom, because he had cut off his long beard.
That was it—the beard was too short! Beneath the disfiguring marks, the slave’s elongated features bore a striking resemblance to the painting of Saint Basil in her book of hours.
Paco reappeared with an ewer of water, a linen towel and the brass basin. Cerra and Father held their hands out while rose-scented water was poured over them.
Her father dried his hands. “And now, what is the business you wished to see me about?”
“A matter of three French horses—destrier material.” Cerra finished with the towel and draped it over Paco’s arm. “They were offered to me in a group purchase with some new pack-mules I acquired for my caravans, but as you know, I do not sell livestock.”
Paco took the used towel and basin away, but as he turned, Eva saw him covertly make the sign against the evil eye in the pockmarked slave’s direction. He saw it and his lips twisted in a small wry moue. Eva’s ready sympathy was aroused, and she was indignant at Paco’s rudeness. She wondered how long the slave had borne the scars, and how often, in those years, he had endured stares, ridicule or avoidance just because of something he could not help.
“Casa de Pazia does not handle livestock, either,” Iago was saying. “We only broker horses if they are the finest examples of equine breeding. And just because these animals are French does not make them destrier material. Have you seen them yourself?”
“No. I act on the word of my man, here.” Cerra turned to the pockmarked slave. “I have brought him so that you may question him personally as regards the quality of the horses.”
“I thank you for the offer, but I cannot make a business decision on nothing but the word of a Saracen slave.” Though she could only see the back of his neck, Eva could well imagine the disapproval on Iago de Pazia’s face, because that look was so often directed at herself.
Eva saw the slave’s features go still at her father’s blunt words, in the same way Elias did when he did not want others to see that something had stung.
“As to the first, he is no more a Saracen than you are a Jew.” Cerra’s tone was one grown-ups used when they did not quite mean what they said. “We are all baptized Catholics now. And as to the second, I can assure you that I do not keep fools by me. Baseel is one of my protégés.”
His name was Basil! Eva’s hands flew to her mouth in surprise, attracting the slave’s attention. He looked straight at her where she sat in the shadows. Her heart almost stopped. Would he give her away?
”Well, at least he had the wit to choose a different baptismal name,” Iago was saying. “Half the native population of Granada is now named either Maria or Jose. Without regard for gender.”
Eva moved her hands down and clasped them together, a silent plea not to be revealed. Cerra laughed. “Yes, my stable-manager’s Christian name is Maria. Although we call him Maria-Hussein to differentiate him from Maria-Omar, who leads one of my mule caravans. But that is the fault of the priest who baptized them, for these older Moriscos speak only Arabic, and accepted whatever name the priest suggested. But Baseel is of a different cut.”
The slave gave a little smile—Eva could not be sure if it was for her, or for her father, whom he addressed. “My master gives me too much credit. I am merely fortunate that the Berber name bestowed on me at birth happens to sound the same as a Christian one. Though I believe that the Saint of that name is more popular in the Greek church.”
“There, you see?” Cerra said. “I judge people, like you judge horses. Baseel came with an estate in the Alpujarra mountains, a part of the grant the Catholic Kings gave Boabdil when he surrendered Granada.” Cerra sipped his tea. “I overheard someone speaking court Persian, and on coming very quietly to investigate, found Baseel here quoting Rumi to his goats.”
“People did not find the sight of me welcome.” Eva felt relief wash over her. The slave was on her side. “And in any case, goats appreciate poetry more.”
“How does a goat-boy come to read Persian?” Her father’s question showed that he was intrigued.
“Ah, there is where my investigation paid off.” Cerra became visible as her father poured himself more tea. “It seems that Baseel was born in the Alhambra, in the service of Muley Hassan, the old sultan. But that is something I have never asked. Baseel, how did you learn court Persian?”
“Until I grew too old for such company, I was a kind of mascot to the sultan’s harem,” Baseel replied. “One of the women was from Baghdad. She taught me just so that she could speak to someone in her own language. Or so she said.”
“Many a street beggar has picked up a polyglot of tongues.” Iago shrugged. “To be useful to business, a man must not merely speak a language, but read bills of lading and write orders for merchandise.”
“Indeed, that was what made me realize that I had here a lad of rare initiative. For he was reading Rumi from a book made of re-used scrap paper, copied by himself. Baseel, tell señor de Pazia of your languages.”
“I am fluent in Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, and Persian. Also, I speak a dialect of Berber, although there is no written form; and I can read and write Latin, but I do not speak it.”
“Hmmph.” Eva could tell that, despite her father’s dismissive noise, he was impressed. “But you are unwise to put so much trust in a slave, whatever his learning. A free man works well because it is in his own interest to do so, but a slave’s efforts are forced. Whatever he can get away with, a slave will do, and one with initiative is the more dangerous for that. Given the chance to gain his freedom, he will desert you.”
“An interesting theory. Let us test it.” Cerra turned to the his slave. “Baseel, if you wish to leave my service, I will write you a certificate of manumission here and now.”
Baseel thought a few seconds before he answered. “No matter how free a man may be, he is still a slave to his belly. If you had not given me this chance to use my talents, a face such as mine would have little prospect of employment.”
“There, you see?” The merchant’s voice had the quality of one who was smiling. “But I will give him his freedom anyway, in due time. Baseel is a hawk, to be trained to the lure, and when their feathers are fully fledged, the hunter unleashes them on the chosen prey with confidence that they will return to the glove.”
At that moment, Eva heard Elias whistle in the alley behind the shop. He must have ridden hard to have returned so quickly!
Eva re-positioned herself onto her hands and knees. She started to back out, but her foot bumped a rear table leg. The objects overhead jiggled. Eva froze, waiting for her father to whirl around. But at that moment, Basil made to rise, and his knee bumped the edge of the tea-tray. It went over with a clash of silver pot, cups, and sugar-coffer.
He jumped up. “My apologies, señor! Forgive my clumsiness!”
Iago de Pazia had also risen, spluttering as he held his robe, now soaked with the still-hot contents of the teapot, away from his body. The gangling young slave bent over to retrieve cups from the floor. Eva turned and rapidly crept out towards the back, but not before she saw Basil’s eye close and open again in what was unmistakably a wink.
She unbarred the back door and slipped out, thanking her patron saint.
Casa de Pazia: August 23, 1513
“Señorita? Here is the paper and a quill. If you will write to your relatives now, I will make sure that they receive it.”
Casa Cerra had nothing but good associations for Eva. She took the pen and sat down to write Elias, in care of Nurse Veronica. She addressed him only as ‘brother’—Elias had warned her to name no names.
Hermano mio, Casa Cerra kindly offered to shelter me until you could come get me.
Your loving hermanita. Written early Tuesday morning, August 8.
And then, because Nurse could not read, Eva drew the little cat that was her special signature.
She gave it to the waiting Andres. “Take this to the farm of Tomás in Maracena. He will get it to my people.”
“It is as good as done.” Andres blew the ink dry and carefully folded the paper. “And now, let me escort you to our women’s dormitorio.”
2. Undelivered Letters
Casa de Pazia, early Tuesday morning, August 23, 1513
Eva stood in the room, her emotions a confusing turmoil of relief alternating with shock. Relief at the last-minute rescue from Iago de Pazia’s fury. Shock at the soldier’s rough brutality as they dragged him away, nothing like the behavior she expected of the church. The whole affair, coming as it did in the middle of the night, lacked only a Judas.
Eva felt an overwhelming need to pray. She opened her bundle and took out the portable prie-dieu that had been her mother’s. The cross-shaped upright was curiously adorned with segments of stamped tin, bulging out from the wood like cylinders sunk half their width into the battered pine. Eva fitted this into a socket in the worn kneeler that served as both base and stand.
She knelt, hands clasped and head bowed. She said the Pater, and the Ave. But over and around the rote sentences, her mind kept seeing Paloma’s face when she heard it was the Inquisition at the gate.
That had terrified her more than even Iago de Pazia in a rage. Why?
Pounding noises echoed from the direction of Father’s counting room, as though somebody was hitting the walls with a sledgehammer.
Eva tried to shake off her doubts. She must trust the church. The Inquisition had been set up to guard souls from heresy. Perhaps when it was new to an area, as it was to Granada, a few mistakes were made. But they would be set right when everything came to light. Elias said that Cardinal Cisneros was a righteous man.
Where was Paloma with the keys? How long did it take to open the pantry?
Had the priests caught her?
Ridiculous thought! Why would anybody but her father care if the servants stocked their home pantries with the food once meant for her marriage feast? And if it was true that their quarterly wages would not be paid after the Inquisition seized the assets—not that she believed Paloma’s dire prediction was correct, for of course the church would be fair—how could anyone object to the debt being paid in kind?
Eva’s eye fell on the household account book where it rested in its niche. She might as well remove the three most recent pages, the ones containing all the records of the extra supplies bought especially for next week’s wedding banquet.
She tore them out. Her mother’s old prie-dieu had a space in the kneeler to store a devotional book where Eva kept some sheet music, a sermon of the late Bishop Talavera’s, and a letter from her mother. On impulse, she removed the letter, wrapped it in the account pages, and put the packet down her bodice, just in case she had to flee without the ugly old cross.
She pressed her hand over the place where her mother’s last letter rested. She had read and re-read the short missive so often, the contents were written on her heart.
I trust you will receive this, although as you know, it is safer if I name no names. I have given up hope that I can change my husband. There is no help for one who loves only money and does not fear God. And yet I cannot leave without some thought to the fate of the children I leave behind.
My son is well-instructed, but my daughter is as yet ignorant in our faith. So I bequeath her to your care, knowing you will be diligent in her religious instruction. To that end, I am leaving her my prie-dieu. Tell her she must keep it close, and never part from it; it is an heirloom passed from mother to daughter for centuries. When you judge she is ready, reveal to her the true meaning of the cross.
Please, my friend, do not let my child be given in marriage to a religious fraud such as I had to endure. Choose for her a sincere man of our own faith, and if her father balks, you well know what threat will force his hand.
Farewell, faithful friend. I will remember your kindness to me and mine, and will ever bring your name before heaven’s throne.
Maria de Pazia had not signed her name, but when Eva had stumbled across the unsent letter, she had recognized her mother’s distinctive backwards-slanting hand at once.
The letter steadied her. Mama would approve of what Eva did to get out of that marriage. The man her father had chosen for her was not merely an unbeliever; Conte Niccolo was a blasphemous idolater who worshiped at the same altar as Iago de Pazia: greed.
Paloma slipped in the door and closed it behind her. “It’s good we acted at once. The staff got out with the supplies just before they started to inventory the wine-cellar. The big priest say we are dismissed. The casa is to be cleared.”
“But surely you can come back on quarter-day to collect your wages?”
“The majordomo asked. I hear him. They say back, ‘You collect when we are done.’ But they know and we also that there will be not one maravedi left.”
“That is wrong!” Eva went to the large chest that held her clothing and flung it open. “See, I left my fancy gowns, and they have pearls and gemstones sewn on. You can distribute them in lieu of wages.”
“No, we must leave it as it stands, cariña. The pantry supplies are enough. Food we eat, but jewels and rich fabrics we must sell, and might be taken for thieves.” Old Paloma closed the coffer firmly. “Now quick, think of what else before they reach this room.”
“They will come into my bedroom?” The very idea of intrusion made Eva begin to shake.
“There are valuables.” Paloma pointed to Eva’s bundle where her guitarra’s leather case showed through the cloth. “We better hide that.”
Eva snatched up the beloved guitarra and clutched it to herself. “They can’t take what is mine!”
“The Inquisition put up a paper on the gate, and I know already it will say: ‘whatever was Iago de Pazia’s is now ours.’ And a big red seal of the Inquisition.”
“But—I’m not even supposed to be Eva de Pazia, I’m—” What was her new name? “—Maria Perez.”
“That don’t matter.” Paloma lowered her voice. “I seen how they do, the priests and their familiars. First, they confiscate all the goods. Oh, they say if the person can prove they’s not a heretic they’ll give back, but they always find reason to keep most. So if you want to see your mother’s guitarra again, we have to hide it, pronto.”
Eva’s eyes fell on the carved wood that covered the lower half of the walls. “There, beside the bed. One of the panels is loose. Behind it is a hollow in the thickness of the wall.” Eva’s fingers found the shallow indentations in the carved relief and lifted the section. The rail that held it to the wall at waist-height had shrunk with the years, just sufficiently to allow this particular board to move enough to clear the tiled floor-base.
Paloma drew in her breath. “So large a cavidad—and in the base of the outer wall, too! Cariña, you should have told your father, this should be filled in before the bricks above crack.”
Tell her father? It was fear of her father that drove Eva to carve out this hidey-hole years ago, laboriously scraping the adobe bricks night after night, carrying the crumbles out in her chamber-pot every morning. “It doesn’t matter now. Hand me the guitarra case.”
Old Paloma pushed the guitarra to the furthest corner. After the board was fitted back into place, Paloma turned to Eva’s clothing. “You should change into a work dress. This is a rich woman’s gown—what servant would have nine yards to her skirt?” Paloma pinched the fabric. “Nine yards of heavy silk at that.”
“Blanca said this gray was perfect for my stay at the Carthusian charterhouse.” Besides, Eva couldn’t leave it—Blanca needed to return the gown to her older sister’s clothes-press before Maria de Mendoza noticed it was missing.
“But it’s safer if you pass for a servant. And even a lout who don’t know clothes can see you need a maid to get into that. It laces behind.”
“Well, I will say I am Eva de Pazia’s companion. See, this isn’t new—in fact, it’s quite worn.” Eva confided the most important reason for keeping the upper-class garb. “A servant wouldn’t wear a mantilla. I have to cover my face if any of our people see me.” And they’ll find out I didn’t really elope.
“Well, it do seem threadbare about the edges,” Paloma conceded. “It might pass as a castoff given to a duenna.”
“But what about Tabita?”
“In the morning, I’ll come back and get those things on the quiet, like, ‘cause they tap the walls to see if there’s treasure hid somewhere. The señor’s study is what has them busy at the moment.” Paloma flinched at a crashing sound, as though something had given at last. “Those of us who came from Old Castile try to forget it.” Paloma shook her head dolefully. “And as for Granada—well, they’ve never seen an auto-da-fé. But they will soon. There’s been an announcement that one will be held Wednesday after next.”
Eva puzzled over the phrase: auto-da-fé meant act of faith. Why would that be a bad thing?
Paloma opened the door a crack, peeped out, and then shut it firmly. “I remember Fray Torquemada, preaching in the square before Toledo cathedral. His eyes burned. Fair possessed, I thought he was. Didn’t like it, and neither did my man. But there’s those that did. There’s been a lot of jealousy against your people, see, because Jews seems to always get rich. And when they convert, they get richer.”
Her people. Eva digested this. Were the Jews ‘her people’?
“So. My father rented his bit of land from a Converso family—they kept kind of separate, like, even though they converted generations ago. But they was fair landlords, better than the Avilas, who had the land on the other side. And then the neighbors spread about that our landlord was Judaizing—I don’t altogether know what that is, but it has to do with them being secret Jews or something. And the Inquisition soldiers arrested him and his son, and took them away, and the next thing they know, they’re off to serve in the galleys and the Avilas are our new landlords. And the family’s women in the street and no one to help them. A bad affair.”
Eva jumped at the slam of a door two rooms down—Elias’ room, on the rare nights he was home. Paloma dropped her voice to a whisper. “After that, nobody trusted the family that did the talking. But we daren’t say anything, because we didn’t want the same to happen to us.
“Almost ten years later, it was, that Granada finally fell. And the treaty said there would be no Inquisition anywhere in the new province, on account of so many Moors. My Jose, he thought that the church would be too busy converting the Moors, seeing as the new province was full of them. And he knew Bishop Talavera didn’t like the goings-on that Fray Torquemada begun. So we emigrated here.”
“And now the Inquisition is here in Granada.” Eva wanted to cry. She had not known it would be like this.
“It was too good to last. Gracias a Dios, Jose is in his grave these five years, may he rest in peace.” Paloma crossed herself.
Tabita backtracked her night’s journey, disappointed. Eva could not return to Casa de Pazia. But if she remained at the infertile place, then she might miss the whole purpose of life: to bear young. Tabita understood that the humans matured much more slowly than cats, but her mistress and pride-mate had been sexually mature for at least three years now, and in all that time, she had done nothing to produce a human kitten.
At first, Tabita thought Eva was merely picky. Human mating went on everywhere, even on the grounds of Casa de Pazia. Eva could have coupled with any of several prospects; so long as they were healthy and virile and could complete the act of mating, what else did you need from a tom-cat?
But longer acquaintance with human habits explained Eva’s reluctance. With their slow-growing young so vulnerable, and for so long, a human female had to choose a mate who would be around to hunt for her while she raised their kittens, starting the next and then the next before ever the first was mature. And Eva would not want a mate who had to divide his prey among several females and their offspring; Tabita saw too many starving children on the streets.
She smelled mouse. There it was! The rodent slipped under an entry gate. Tabita pressed herself flat to the bricks and was able to follow. She slid quietly along, looking for where the prey might have gone.
She had entered the courtyard of a residence. There were herb beds all around and among the brick paving, and the mouse-scent was very strong in one corner. Aha! It had holed up in a miniature brass teapot tumbled among the mint. Sooner or later, it would have to come out.
Tabita settled down to wait. She observed the place she was in. There were more tiny cups scattered about, and a doll. These were objects indicating the presence of human kittens. In fact, the smell of infants and toddlers was in evidence throughout the plants—the human kittens were indiscreet about urination. Several different children used this patio, both male and female from the scent. This was the lair of a very fertile pride.
The mouse decided it was safe and came out. It never knew what happened. Tabita took her meal to a quiet corner.
She alerted at the sound of a shuffling step. An old man came out of one of the doors that faced the patio. He settled stiffly on a bench, brought out a string of beads, and began to speak, very soft: “Allahu akbar—”
Tabita relaxed. She knew this noise-making. Some of the humans would make them regularly, at sunrise and sunset, and several times in between. Usually they got up and down, but it was plain that this man was too old to do that.
A woman, equally old, came out of the door and settled next to the man, one hand rubbing his back. “Tahir, is it your kidneys again?”
“Ah, Safa, I did not mean to wake you.”
“Prayer is better than sleep,” the woman said.
Tabita considered the elderly pair. They were beyond the age of fertility, so these infants that populated their lair must be the second or even the third generation.
The woman spoke the words in unison with her mate as she rubbed his back. Their aura began to change, peace surrounding them. This was the human equivalent of purring. Tabita purred with them. Purring brought healing.
Eva purred a lot, too. Hers took a different form, but she would get the same aura, and it did her good.
You could always tell when people really purred because their aura changed. And you had to wait for that to figure out if they were truly purring, or just going through the motions.
It was another wrongness about humans that some could go through the motions and make the purring noises of their kind without really purring inside. Those humans were generally not safe to be around—unless they were a member of your own pride, like Elias.
Tabita cleaned her whiskers and went her way, back to the stone pile on the hill. She had to go all the way around the building before she found an open door: the big gathering place where the males and females met to purr together. And they were filing in now, each from their separate lairs, chanting together, as they always did several hours before sunrise.
The sound was pleasant to Tabita’s ears. She crept along behind the row of men—some really purring, and some not—and across to the rows of women, most of them sincere. It was very peaceful. Their combined auras filled the place. And yet there were no kittens. All that purring had not managed to heal their barrenness.
Eva was not among the women, so she must still be in her stone cell, sleeping. Tabita slipped through a little door into the women’s side.
Elias lived in a barren place just like this—only there were not any women where he lived. And they all purred in this fashion.
In the Albaicin, they purred like the old couple, with the sounds Allahu akbar and the bowing motions. The Albaicin was crammed with children. The humans there were not all well fed, it was true, but they were bursting with fertility.
Tabita decided that she must somehow lure Eva away from here. And they must find her a male who purred as the successful old pair purred.
Casa de Pazia, early Tuesday morning, August 23, 1513
Footsteps stopped outside the bedroom door. A man’s voice: “This would be the room of the daughter of the house. The one who eloped.” The door opened, and the speaker entered. In the light of the pine torch he carried his steel breastplate gleamed. Behind him came a short priest, carrying one of her father’s ledgers and a pen.
Frantically, Eva pulled her mantilla down to her chin.
The man frowned. “Who are you?”
“E—Eva,” she stammered without thinking. And then she remembered she was supposed to be somebody else.
“Don’t lie to me. Eva de Pazia eloped with Conte Niccolo di Argenta last Friday.”
“I—I—“ Eva could not remember her new name. But Paloma pushed between them.
“Do you think our mistress sleeps alone, with no lady to guard her virtue?” Paloma demanded. “This is Eva Maria Perez.”
“I am Andres.” The armored man thrust his torch into a cast-iron bracket on the wall. “You sound young. I was told Eva de Pazia’s duenna was an elderly widow. And Moorish, besides—related to the noble de Venegas.”
“Doña Barbola didn’t want to go to Venice.” That was the truth, at least. Eva gathered her wits together and ventured a small invention. “They promised to arrange a marriage for me in Italy. But Eva ran away and here I am, still unwed.”
The man spoke more deferentially. “Then you are a maiden? Of good family?”
“I’m a cousin on her mother’s side. We were both named after my grandmother, Chava Abramavel.” That much was true.
“A Jewish name,” the short priest commented. He opened his ledger, set it on the wash-stand and brought out an ink-pot and pen.
“My parents converted before I was born,” Eva hurried to explain. “Mother was very devout.”
“I don’t doubt it. Did she pray every Friday at sunset?”
“Oh, yes,” Eva remembered the solemn ritual. “And she lit candles on our altar.”
Andres nodded, smiling. “She probably said the Latin words, like this: Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam.”
Eva relaxed at the change in the man’s tone. “Yes, that was how it started. But I don’t have any Latin, so I don’t know what it means.”
“Oh, I know what it means.” The man bowed. “Señorita, I do apologize for bursting in on you like this. I am not with the Inquisition per se, but only on loan, as it were, until they have sufficient staff of their own.”
The short priest, who had been scribbling rapidly during the conversation, took that moment to draw Andres to the open ledger. “Señor, will you check the inventory and sign that the contents of the room are accounted for?”
Andres read aloud. “Silver pitcher and bowl, yes, ivory-inlaid rosewood wash-stand—I’d say worth twenty reales, as a set. Two tapestries—don’t put from Brussels, that’s a guess. The carpets are Persian, though, best quality. Velvet bed-hangings, yes, feather bed, linens with cutwork, yes, silver-backed grooming set, hmm, jewel-box—empty, is it? No doubt in the Conte’s hands, the Inquisitor is furious about losing the dowry.”
He turned back to Eva. “Are those four chests full of Eva de Pazia’s gowns?”
Eva nodded. “She left most of them behind.”
Now the priest produced a stick of sealing wax. “I’ll put a stamp on the latch to prevent tampering. We can’t do a proper inventory in the dark. The gowns will be worth plenty.”
“Good.” Andres added his stamp to the ledger and shut it. Eva hoped now they would leave. Tabita would never come near with all these strangers about.
The priest took the book away, but Andres remained. “Señorita, is your family nearby?”
Eva remembered the farm that was their mother’s dowry in a town north of Granada. Just last week Elias mentioned that he had transferred the deed to the current managers, Nurse Veronica and her husband Tomás. “My family has lands in Maracena. I will go there.”
“Ah, but that is several miles outside the city.” Andres frowned in genuine concern. “I can’t leave you here tonight, not with all these newly hired men-at-arms ransacking the Casa. It isn’t safe.”
Paloma spoke up then. “I have a daughter in the city. Eva can go with me.”
Andres snapped his fingers, as though an idea had just occurred to him. “I have something better! The merchant house I work for is hardly a half-mile from Casa de Pazia—though not nearly so prestigious a street, it’s a large compound. My master keeps a dormitorio for the women servants, and a room in it has just become available. The women’s dormitorio is well-guarded at my master’s orders. He’s very strict about morals.”
Eva was dismayed. “But how will Tabita find me?”
“You need not worry your family at all.” Andres pointed to the writing stand. “You read and write, yes? Simply pen a letter telling where you are, and I will deliver it to Maracena myself. It may take me a day or two, but I know my master would be happy to offer you his hospitality until your father or brother could come and fetch you. Although our fare is plain and the room small, nothing so fancy as what you are used to.”
“And who is this master of yours?” Paloma demanded. “If he is so careful of his female servant’s virtue, he will be known in the city.”
“Indeed he is, and well-known to the master of this house,” Andres replied. “I serve Baltasar Cerra, of Casa Cerra, and until recently I was the majordomo of his Granada operation.”
Casa Cerra. The name brought conflicting emotions. On the one hand, the owner figured as the evil wizard in a made-up story Blanca once invented as a childish amusement. But pretending aside, Baltasar Cerra was a successful merchant, an associate of her father’s, and, most in his favor, the master of a certain young man who had once helped Eva out of a terrible fix.