Casa Cerra: Tuesday August 30, 1513
They entered the salon where the tapestry still hung waiting for Eva to work on it. On a carpet in the corner was the pile of folded fabrics they had chosen from Casa Cerra’s stores yesterday. Eva, a merchant’s daughter, knew well how much that stack was worth. Aliya’s husband wanted to make her happy—most women would love the offer of clothing, and a maid to attend her on the way. A pity the hammam had been so difficult!
Eva tried to comfort her with what Matron said in the hammam. “It’s not so bad, Leonor. Your future husband didn’t want a child bride, he just wanted a silver blonde. Your coloring is so rare, he probably wouldn’t find another gently-raised silver-blonde virgin for sale. You’ll have years to get used to the situation before your actual wedding night.”
“A third wife. No matter what I do, the first two wives will hate me.” Leonor plopped on the hassock.
The only solution Eva knew, the only thing that had ever worked for her, was prayer. And surely Jews believed in prayer. When she took her confirmation classes, Fray Hernando told them that God was the same God, whether you were Jew or Greek. Eva remembered that particularly because she had guessed ‘Greek’ meant the same as ‘Saracen’ and a boy had mocked her for being stupid. But Fray Hernando had silenced him by telling the class that Allah was just the Arabic word for God.
One thought led to another. Greeks, according to Blanca, liked to prove their point by asking a question where the answer was already a given. Eva tried several ideas, and came up with what she hoped was an irrefutable question.
“Leonor, Jews believe in the same God as Christians don’t they?”
“No.” Leonor promptly dismantled Eva’s planned approach. “Christians started with the God of Abraham, but they added to the Holy One of Israel.”
Eva tried to get back to her point. “Bishop Talavera said it was the same God. He said even though Jesus was Emmanuel, God among us, he did everything according to the Jewish form of worship.”
“Of course he did. Yeshua—that was Jesus’ real name, his Hebrew name—was a wise Rabbi. In fact, Papa said that he didn’t claim to be God. He always said he was the son of a man.”
“The New Testament says he also called himself the son of God.” Eva had never read any for herself, but she had often heard scriptures read during the weekly homilies.
“The New Testament was all written by Saul of Tarsus,” Leonor dismissed it with a sniff.
Eva had never heard of such a person. “Who?”
“Saul of Tarsus. He was the one who invented a religion around Yeshua, that later got called Christianity. Papa showed me where this Saul, in the New Testament, said that he would become anything to anybody, just to convince them to join his new religion. And Saul never even met Yeshua, because the Romans had already crucified him.”
There was familiar ground! “The crucifixion was a divine atonement for mankind’s sins. It proved that Jesus was the promised Messiah, because the prophets foretold the manner of his death.” Eva repeated lines from a familiar hymn. “He said ‘If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.’”
“Nonsense. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die, but back then it was as ordinary as hanging is now. The Romans crucified tens of thousands of Jews, anyone they saw as a threat.” Leonor pointed to the cross prominently displayed on the wall. “That’s a disgusting symbol, if you think about what it really represents. Like worshiping before a hangman’s noose.”
Her persuasion attempt in tatters, Eva was relieved Matron chose that moment to enter with a middle-aged woman dressed in Berber garb. “This is Lamis, who has been sent by Muammar Walid to accompany his new wife.”
Lamis inclined her head. “This is Aliya?”
“Yes, but she is from Seville, where they do not speak our tongue.” Matron stood aside for Analina, burdened with yet more fabrics. “Eva will stay to translate.”
“I am learn Arabic.” Refuting Eva appeared to have restored Leonor’s self-assurance. She pointed to herself. “I be Aliya-Noor.”
“You are very fortunate that Muammar Walid has accepted you.” Lamis closed the window shutters against prying male eyes. “Your new master is very devout, striving to follow everything the prophet has done before him, even in choosing a young bride. Although you are not so young as your namesake, who was given in marriage when she was six.”
In case Leonor had understood that, Eva hurried to clarify. “Then of course he waited until she was older to consummate the marriage.”
“Yes, indeed. Our holy writings say that he waited until she was nine—and he fifty-three! A lusty man, our prophet.” Lamis shook her head in admiration. “You will not have to wait. Your bridegroom prefers his bed-mates young.”
Leonor stood frozen in shock, and Eva knew that the girl grasped what had been said. She swayed as though she were going to faint, and Eva hurried to push her down onto a leather ottoman before she collapsed.
Leonor trembled violently. All her bravado was gone.
“Are you all right?” Eva whispered.
“I’ve been sold to a pervert who rapes little girls.”
Eva offered the one bare comfort the situation allowed. “At least you will be a wife. The world will not hold you up to shame.”
“A third wife is nothing more than a concubine. My parents would not even consider Morisco suitors.” Tears dripped down Leonor’s cheeks. “Mama always told Papa they must find me a good Converso bridegroom, a man of our own faith. If she had foreseen this—”
Leonor put her head in her hands and sobbed.
Lamis shrugged. “She is ungrateful. But I must hurry to sew these garments, we are leaving for Malaga Thursday.”
Eva felt as though her insides were being tied in knots. Somehow, she must think of a way to prepare Leonor for the excruciating experience ahead. God knew Eva understood well enough what faced the child. She had been almost the same age.
Eva age 11 Casa de Pazia, March 1507
The room was so empty, without Nurse Veronica. Last night Eva had slept alone for the first time in her life. She was glad that tonight Blanca would be staying with her, and Blanca’s maid Rosa would sleep on Nurse Veronica’s pallet. But she must get used to it; the new duenna was of a noble Morisco family and would be given her own suite of rooms, as befitted her rank.
She was anxious to hear what the Condesa had been able to discover about the suitor she would meet tonight. In the meantime, it would not hurt to pray.
Eva’s knees fitted neatly into the worn grooves on the kneeler of the ugly old prie-dieu her mother had so treasured. She recited the Ave, picturing Maria the mother of God being very much like Maria de Pazia.
Her feelings toward her deceased mother had undergone a complete transformation. Where once Eva thought Mama was ashamed of her big-nosed, six-toed daughter, now Eva had proof, in her mother’s own hand, that she was loved.
In the days it had taken to have the dress remade, Eva had stayed at the Alhambra, listening to Blanca’s mother reminisce about her friend Maria until Eva felt she knew her mother better than she ever did when they lived under the same roof.
The scent of attar-of-roses brought her mother back so vividly that sometimes Eva closed her eyes and almost felt Maria’s presence in the room. Eva conjured an ideal angel-mother to fill the vacant place Nurse left, always there to encourage and reassure. She practiced Maria de Pazia’s favorite songs. She was fitted for Maria de Pazia’s dress.
Eva slipped her mother’s letter from the slim storage box that formed the kneeler and base of the prie-dieu and re-read it, stopping on the last few lines. 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.
Eva’s lip curled in scorn. For all his vaunted generosity to the church, Iago de Pazia had changed his coat for money and power, not out of any spiritual conviction.
A knock came on the chamber door. That would be Blanca, come early to help her dress. Eva ran to open it, and was surprised to see doña Ana Enriquez.
“Evita, Blanca is so sorry! But she cannot come. The Condesa has gone into early labor, and Blanca will not leave her mother’s side. I am here with Rosa to help you get ready, and then I too must return to attend my lady.”
Eva’s first thought was a disloyal one: Blanca must have heard that Elias had taken sick and would not be at the dinner tonight. But she squelched that at once, hiding her disappointment. Blanca was worried about her mother.
There was no cause for complaint in the attention she received from the two women: the condesa’s attendants knew all about dressing a lady to best advantage. Eva submitted to their ministrations willingly, and after an hour of being fussed over, she felt a newfound confidence.
“There, the gown fits perfectly. No one who didn’t know you would guess you were only eleven.” Doña Ana settled the spreading skirt, which made Eva’s waist seem tiny by comparison. Under the low square neckline and tucked silk chemise, her bosom swelled in a most realistic way. For once she did not even mind the constriction of the tight-fitting corset that Ana had laced her into.
“And such hair!” Doña Ana rearranged the dark red ringlets that spilled over Eva’s shoulders and tucked a stray lock behind her ear so that her gold pendant earrings would show better. “What I would give for your thickness and length.”
“Señorita, you are lovely!” Rosa held up the mirror for Eva to see her handiwork. “Didn’t I tell you that henna around the eyes would bring them out, even behind that mantilla?”
Eva studied the image. Her mother’s dark eyes peered back from the mirror, seductive and mysterious behind the sheer silk. Her lips, touched with pomegranate juice, showed full and red below the beaded edge.
“I look—grown up!” She was no longer plain little Eva; tonight she was the daughter of beautiful Maria de Pazia, poised and sure of her femininity. At this dinner she would shine in her mother’s memory.
“And so you are. You are no longer a little girl being minded by her nurse. Tonight, you step over the threshold of womanhood.” Rosa bustled about, gathering up their pots of cosmetics. “We must leave you now and return to the Alhambra. But I will be sure to tell the Condesa how beautiful you looked. What a shame that her time came early!”
Eva accompanied them to the front just as the Mendoza carriage arrived at the gate. Iago de Pazia hurried out to greet the occupants. Eva stepped behind one of the wide pillars of the colonnade; she did not want her father to see her quite yet.
Iago was hardly able to hide his chagrin when Luis Mendoza descended from the carriage and helped his wife down. Bows and compliments were exchanged, and the eldest Mendoza brother explained what Eva had just heard from Ana. Luis, as his eldest son and lieutenant, would take the governor’s place with his new bride Catalina, and as the Condesa had asked Blanca to remain, their brother Antonio had come in his sister’s place.
Iago recovered from his disappointment enough to insist that they were just as welcome as their noble parents would have been. Eva wondered if her father had discovered that it was her godmother’s intervention that undid Iago’s own marriage plans. He politely asked after the Condesa’s well-being.
Doña Catalina assured him that all would be well. “I know that we are early, señor de Pazia, but I had heard much praise of the layout of this house and was hoping I could see the kitchen gardens.”
“Catalina is planning improvements to our home in Montefrio,” don Luis explained. “Forgive my forwardness, but I told her your daughter would not mind giving us a tour.”
“Of course. I will send for her at once.” Really, there was nothing else he could say. Eva slipped back around to the family patio in time to meet Old Paloma, come to fetch her.
Don Luis gave a startled look when they met. “Why, Eva, what a change has come over you.”
“Eva, do you remember ‘Tonio? He has just returned after five years in Valladolid.”
A tall youth with craggy features stepped forward to bow over her hand. “Can this be the little girl who used to play dolls with Blanca?.
Their reaction was most gratifying. “Welcome back to Granada, don Antonio.” Eva curtseyed to Blanca’s second-oldest brother, feeling an unaccustomed self-confidence. “Even if I did not remember you, I could not mistake the resemblance to your father.”
The young man took her arm. “Show us these gardens, señorita Eva, preferably the remotest section where we will not be overheard.” The last was said in a voice so low that Eva barely caught it.
“Come with me, then. The most productive part is on the upper slope, near the orchard.” She led them through the kitchen court, where servants were running back and forth preparing the many dishes and rich sauces that would be served tonight. The aroma of chicken roasting over the fires made Eva’s stomach flutter. She was so keyed up, there would be no problem eating sparingly tonight!
No sooner were they through the garden-gate than Catalina began. “Eva, your godmother, my mother-in-law, made inquiries into this man who is interested in you, and he is most unsuitable.”
“Juan Abencerraje only converted when Cardinal Cisneros forced it,” Luis added. “He made a great show of putting away his two Muslim wives. But he keeps them still—under lock and key. The ladrone!”
“That he keeps his wives is not entirely to his discredit, Luis,” Catalina put in. “What would the poor women do if they were cast out?”
“That is not our concern, cariña. The point is that this ship-owner is sailing under false colors, and is no suitable match for a god-daughter of the Condesa de Tendilla.”
Perhaps it was the dress, or perhaps the spirit of her mother gave her strength, for Eva felt determination instead of fear. “I will never, never marry a secret Saracen! And when I meet him tonight, I will tell him so, right to his face.”
“Unfortunately, your wishes are not important to either your father or your suitor,” Antonio said. “Mother suggested a better way, if you are up to it.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes. My mother wanted me to marry a sincere Christian, not a religious fraud.”
“Well said,” Luis approved. “My mother knows human nature, and she has been a student of Saracen culture, especially as it regards their women. The upper class into which Juan Abencerraje was born, are fanatic about female modesty.”
“Their poor wives!” Catalina exclaimed. “It sticks in the Saracen craw that Christian women are allowed to interact with other men.”
“Exactly. And that is the crux of our plan,” Tonio said. “Nobody can protest at a show of courtly love, which is anathema to the Saracen culture.” Antonio finished.
“What is anathema?” Eva did not want to appear stupid, but if she was to avoid her fate, she must understand the Condesa’s plan.
“Something they hate. Like this.” Antonio bowed to Catalina and kissed her hand, then turned to Eva. “Now if Luis were a Saracen and I not his brother, that simple gesture would justify beating his wife, or perhaps killing me for daring to make it. Possibly both.”
“So that’s how we get him to reject you as a bride.” Catalina put an arm around Eva’s waist. “Luis has my permission to pay far too much attention to you for a married man. Which you must accept, despite my glaring, for I will be putting on quite the show of being the slighted wife.”
Luis, always staid and proper, looked a little uncomfortable. “You only have to smile and look at me sideways and get out a word or two.”
“And I will be the ardent suitor,” Antonio grinned. “Juan de Abencerraje will no doubt have the place on your right, but am I correct in assuming that Blanca would have been seated on your left?”
“Perfect. I am taking my sister’s place tonight. You must cut your suitor cold and attend only to me while I regale you with amusing stories until the entertainment starts.”
“The entertainment!” Catalina exclaimed. “Luis, we have left out the most important point! The musicians Iago de Pazia contracted have already been paid to leave town.”
Luis nodded. “Mama planned to play your mother’s favorite songs tonight, accompanied on her guitarra. Do you have the courage to perform in her place? Mother says you are very good.”
At the Alhambra, where she took her lessons, Eva had played and sang for gatherings of perhaps twenty, if you counted the servants who stood in the background to hear. Tonight there would be forty or more at the banquet. Eva felt her knees go a little weak at the thought of so many people. But her mother would glory in the attention. “I will play.”
“Mama hoped you would. She sent a list of your mother’s favorite pieces, the ones you play best. When the musicians do not show up for the entertainment, you must step forward,” Luis said. “A wink or two in our direction as you play number three should convince Abencerraje that you are as unsuitable to his requirements as he is to yours.”
Eva tried to imagine herself in that role. “What if I’m very bad at it?”
“Then we’ll make up the difference,” Catalina said. “’Tonio, why not give the girl a little practice?”
“A good idea. You two move off. The first time goes better without an audience.” Antonio offered his arm, and Eva hesitantly took it. Blanca’s big brother was so tall! He put his hand over hers. “Now, lean into me a little, as we walk. Besides playing the guitarra, what do you find interesting?”
“Cats,” Eva said promptly.
“Then we will talk about cats. I note that my sister has a new one. Calico, very brightly marked. She calls it by the strange name of Tabitatoo.”
“That’s after my cat, Tabita,” Eva explained. And then she found herself telling this attentive young man how she had given the remaining kitten of Tabita’s first litter into her friend’s keeping to protect it from being killed. Bit by bit, Antonio got the story from her, his anger at Manuel’s behavior overcoming her reticence.
“That man needs to be disciplined.” Antonio steered her through the gate to the kitchen patio.
“But I swore never to tell Father.” Eva caught a movement, a flash of the orange de Pazia livery on a broad back. Manuel! How much had he heard?
“I made no such promises.” Antonio’s voice was grim. “From tonight on, things will be different for you, little Eva.”
His assurance filled her with courage. As they walked the length of the formal courtyard to the doors of the great hall, Eva saw Manuel take his place beside the door.
His eyes narrowed as he stared at her, threat in every line of his rigid body.
She lifted her chin and sailed past him with a haughty smile. No more would she cower before his threats: at last, Manuel would pay for Stormy’s murder!
Inside the great hall, Father stood with a man elegantly dressed, his features more Arabic than Moorish, and fairer-skinned than any of the de Pazias.
Her father started when he saw Eva in her mother’s dress. The man next to him inquired, “Señor de Pazia? Is something wrong? You look like you have seen a ghost.”
Eva stepped forward with a curtsey. “You must be Juan de Abencerraje. I am Eva de Pazia, the daughter of the house.” She deliberately—and rudely—left off the suitor’s title, and the honorific don which signified his superior rank, while pulling her escorts forward one to a side, a little too close, a little too familiar. “May I present the sons of Governor Mendoza, don Antonio and don Luis.”
Catalina pretended to glare as she shouldered between Eva and her husband. “And don Luis’ wife, doña Catalina.”
While the hidalgos bowed and exchanged compliments, Iago de Pazia found his voice again, or rather, the semblance of it. “Where did you get that gown?” The demand came out as a hoarse croak.
“From Mother, of course. You must remember it.” Eva swished the skirts, sending up a waft of attar-of-roses. “Condesa Francisca said it would be perfect for her memorial dinner.”
The guests were seated according to plan. When Iago gave the grace, he was so shaken that instead of the flowery rhetoric typical of his public prayers he stumbled over a basic blessing. Eva stepped into the host’s role, beckoning for the servants to bring and clear the courses, chatting animatedly with the guests—with the notable exception of de Abencerraje on her right.
Luis leaned forward to address Eva, barely noticing his host. Catalina followed each sally of her husband’s with a jealous retort. Antonio told one funny cat story after another. Iago did not seem to hear. Usually jovial and talkative with his guests, her father became more silent and taciturn as the evening wore on.
Eva laughed unrestrainedly and allowed Antonio to share her cup while barely acknowledging the conversational attempts of her unsuitable suitor. Juan de Abencerraje was reduced to glaring at Antonio, who returned his hostility with a insolent grin.
Oh, this was wonderful! To be beautifully dressed and grown-up and have a young man hanging on your words! It felt as though a different person inhabited her body, the spirit of Maria de Pazia, vivacious, feminine, assured. Even Manuel, standing behind her father two places down, could not dampen Eva’s spirits this evening. Let him glower! Let him whisper in Iago’s ear as he refilled the wine in his master’s cup! Tomorrow Antonio would fix him.
The servants brought in small dishes of pomegranate ice. Eva’s stomach gave an unpleasant lurch: the time had come for her next move. She nodded to Ernesto, and shortly he was back with her guitarra. She took it with shaking hands, breathed deep to quell the nausea, and rose.
The steps around to the center front, where stools had been placed for the expected musicians, felt like a walk to the gallows. Eva seated herself and stroked a chord for attention.
The conversation hushed. Her father glanced up in surprise.
Eva looked him in the eye. “Tonight, in honor of my mother Maria de Pazia, I will entertain you with her favorite songs.”
She plucked an intricate pattern on the strings, then began the first song on Condesa Francisca’s list, in instrumental. As her fingers moved in the familiar rhythm, Eva’s nervousness dropped away.
The second piece was a song everybody knew, and Eva relaxed as the guests joined in the traditional refrain.
And then came the third song, the one Antonio had highlighted. Yes, she knew that one, although it had never before occurred to her that it was courting poem.
She looked under her lashes at Antonio’s craggy face. He smiled and winked encouragement. Maybe he wasn’t just pretending; maybe he was interested on his own account! A Mendoza, even a second son, would surely be acceptable to her father.
Juan de Abencerraje was positively glowering. The Condesa’s plan was taking effect.
“Whosoever that would love catch,
From Venus he surely must it fetch,
Or else from her which is her heir.
And she to him must seem most fair.”
Eva played the bridge between verses, glancing coyly at her admirer from under the beaded mantilla. Heat suffused her cheeks, as though she had a fever. In fact, she felt very odd indeed, light-headed and dizzy. This must be what Blanca meant when she described the sensation of being in love.
Eva projected her voice so that the guests could hear to the end of the hall, but her words were for Antonio alone.
“Where eye and mind do both agree;
There is no but—there must it be!
The eye does look and represent,
But flesh affirms with full consent.”
“Stop!” Iago de Pazia’s chair clattered on the tiles, overturned when he sprang to his feet. Eva saw her father’s face and felt a frisson of danger run up her spine.
At that moment, the double doors to the hall were flung open and an agitated man in the Mendoza livery was framed against the spring night. Tear tracks glistened down his cheeks.
“Antonio, Luis!” he cried. “Your father sends for you! I have horses outside, we cannot wait to saddle the ones you brought.”
The Mendoza brothers went white. Eva saw both mouth the same word: “Mother!” And without taking the time to bid their host farewell, Antonio, Catalina, and Luis ran for the door.
It was as though all Eva’s new persona left with them. Her queasiness became full-blown nausea.
She could not remain here and vomit in front of the guests! Eva set down the guitarra, clapped a hand over her mouth and raced for the open door.
She managed to reach the privacy of the family patio before her dinner came up. It went all over the wide skirts of her beautiful gown.
Eva looked down at the mess, mortified. She could not return in this condition, not even to explain. Her head pounded, and she realized that the fluttering in her stomach had not been love. The excitement had masked the plain fact that she was coming down with whatever had indisposed Paloma and Elias.
Leaning dizzily against the patio wall, Eva wobbled to her room. It took several minutes to untie the skirt and free herself of the bulky concentric rings of verdugos. She hung it in the guarderobe chamber and shook off the worst of the muck.
Then she was sick again.
Next Eva tried to remove the constricting bodice and corset, but her upper arms were so tightly encased in the close-fitting sleeves she could not reach the back-tied lacing. Paloma was sick, Nurse was gone and the new duenna not yet here. She needed to get help—but how could she venture out of her room wearing only the light undergarment below her waist?
Eva fell onto the bed, her head pounding. Dimly, she became aware that the beating was not inside her head, but coming from the door.
The portal burst open. Her father staggered in and slammed it behind him.
“You lying perra!” He leaned against the jamb, breathing heavily. “You’ve ruined the best marriage prospect I could have made.”
Eva snatched at a shawl to cover her bare lower legs.
“Don’t pretend modesty with me!” Iago de Pazia snarled. “Manuel overheard you with those Mendoza lechers. I should not have trusted the Condesa with your morals during those overnights at the Alhambra.”
Dimly, Eva realized Manuel’s whispers into her father’s ear had been an attempt to discredit Antonio before he could speak about the strangling of the kitten. She tried to come up with a response, but all that came out was a whimper.
“So you admit it’s true! And to think I assured Abencerraje my daughter was a virgin!—though God knows you’re none of mine, you six-toed bastard.”
Her father’s face was suffused with drink and rage, and this time it was not Elias, but herself who was the target. Eva knew she must get out. He advanced on her, and she dashed for the door.
He caught her arm as she passed and flung her down. Her head cracked on the tiles and stars danced before her eyes.
“Like mother, like daughter—a whore!” His foot on her chest pinned Eva to the floor while he fumbled with his codpiece. “Tonight, you can take her place.”
Casa Cerra: Tuesday August 30, 1513
Leonor refused the noon meal and went to her room.
Matron was concerned. “Not again! I will fix a tray with dainties. You take it up to her, and persuade her to eat. She is already too thin.”
Eva brought the food—orange juice, stuffed roast quail wrapped in pickled grape leaves, cheese and little cakes.
Leonor was on the bed, face down and sobbing. Eva set the tray down and sat next to her. “Leonor, try some of these little cakes. They’re made with extra cinnamon.” Eva broke one in two and ate half. “Mmm, delicious.”
“No. I’m going back to starving myself.” Leonor’s words were muffled by the pillow. “If you hadn’t talked me out of it last week, I’d be dead by now. And the pervert would have to find another blonde child to rape!”
“I think it takes much longer than a week to starve to death. Jesu fasted for forty days and nights.”
“You are a deluded fool!” Leonor lifted a swollen, tear-stained face. “Yeshua wasn’t god. There is no god. If there were a god, my brothers wouldn’t be grinding out their lives pushing a galley-oar. My mama and papa wouldn’t have been burned at the stake. And horrible old Saracens wouldn’t be able to rape little girls. The evil you see all around is proof that there is no god, and no hell, and I am going to die now!”
Leonor pulled the blankets over her head, despite the August heat.
Eva stroked the stiff, unresponsive back. She understood just how Leonor felt, because she, too, had once felt the same way.
9. Naming Names
The Cat: Monday August 29, 1513
Tabita slipped into the back gate of the Alhambra. She had been watching since yesterday afternoon, waiting for it to open. Her muscles and joints burned at the effort to get in faster than the visitor could shut her out. Why was it that, after getting knocked around, it was always worst two sunrises later?
There were many smaller gates between here and Blanca’s room, but once inside Tabita ran into a stroke of luck in the person of Rosa, a lower-status pride-mate of Blanca’s.
“Tabita-Too! You shouldn’t be running around out here!” Rosa scooped her up. “And how did you get into such a state? Blanca will be worried!”
Tabita let herself be borne off to Blanca’s lair as though she really were her placid look-alike offspring with the confusingly similar name. In truth, she was too sore and hungry to do anything else.
“Señorita, look: I found your cat out by the alcazaba!”
“Oh, Rosa, I’m so glad you found her!” Blanca took Tabita into her arms. “This isn’t my cat, it is her mother—Eva’s cat. Quick, go get me a dish of chopped meat. The very best; this is my feline guardian angel!”
Tabita’s look-alike offspring rose from her silk-lined basket, fur bristling. She did not welcome this intrusion.
Blanca ignored her, stroking Tabita and lavishing praise upon her. Tabita arched under the friendly hand. Why shouldn’t Blanca praise her? They had fought together and vanquished the enemy completely.
“You know, Tabita,” Blanca’s voice was thoughtful, “A cat can go anywhere and not attract attention. You could go right into Casa Cerra—and you would, too, if you only knew Eva was there.”
“Miaow?” Tabita stared at Blanca earnestly. Where was Eva?
“Why, I could use you to send a message!” Blanca began to smell excited. “Fray Pablo will be going there tomorrow, he could take you in his saddle-bag and let you out inside the compound. Yes, and it would be safe if I used our code—but how to keep it on you?”
Casa Cerra: Monday Evening, August 29, 1513
Eva saw Leonor to sleep, but she was in no mood for siesta herself. She plodded back down to the salon to work on the tapestry and think how to fulfill the assignment she had been given.
Although Eva had little interest in clothing—that had always been Blanca’s passion—she had done her best to enthuse over the lovely fabrics, impressing on Leonor how highly she must be valued. There had been no response, but then, the child was still in shock. Maybe after siesta she would be more receptive.
Eva worked on the tapestry, calming herself by going through the usual list of prayer for all the Casa de Pazia people, then each of the five hardworking Little Sisters of Mercy at the Hospice—how she missed helping there! After she ran through that list, she began on the staff of Casa Cerra. Prayer helped Eva memorize the names she already knew: Matron, Josemona, Analina, and even old Jose the cook, the foul-mouthed curmudgeon who delivered meals to the women’s dormitorio. And there was the twenty-something woman with the burn scar on her arm, and the shy girl with a lisp who stirred the laundry cauldron—what was her name?
Eva tried to remember the others she had seen coming and going, when the main door of the dormitorio opened and four of the people she had been praying for entered the salon. Matron was in front, looking worried. And so did old Jose, standing beside her, and Josemona, and behind her a taller man, one of the hostlers Eva had noticed from the window, because he was incongruously named Maria Hussein. He looked troubled, too.
They stood in silence, prodding one another as though each was reluctant to speak.
“What is it?” Eva asked in alarm.
“It is like this,” Matron said. “Wednesday, market day is to end at noon because of the—religious affair—to be held in the Cathedral square. And we are all to attend.”
A public mass! Eva’s heart leaped. She had missed the lovely ritual of mass. “Why is that a problem?”
“Well, this priest has told señor Cerra that he will come tomorrow afternoon, to confess the household so that we may be ready to take communion,” Josemona said.
“And we must act like proper Christians, or señor Cerra will be very displeased,” Matron finished.
Eva was bewildered. “Weren’t you all baptized?”
“Of course we were baptized!” Jose the cook exclaimed. “Back when Cardinal Cisneros ordered it.”
“That’s when we got our front names,” Maria Hussein explained.
“Is that why you are named Maria?” Eva giggled in spite of herself.
Offended by her amusement, Maria Hussein drew himself up with dignity. “Maria is what the priest called me, and so it is written on the paper I must have.”
“Why don’t you just go by the masculine form, Mario?” Eva suggested. “The ‘a’ can be changed to an ‘o’ without anybody being the wiser.”
“That is a good idea. I did not know about this name, Mario. Well then, I will be Mario Hussein.” The re-christened Mario grinned. “And now, tell us what to say when we are in the little booth across from the priest. What it is we are to confess.”
“But didn’t they tell you about confession when you were baptized?” Eva asked. “Before my first communion, I had to take catechism classes for months!”
Matron shook her head. “Cardinal Cisneros gave a public lecture—hours it was, in the hot sun. But it was in Spanish, not Arabic, so we did not know what he said.”
“By time he finished, we were glad of the water on our head!” Josemona laughed nervously. “In that heat, we dry quickly.”
“And after that, we were Christian, and so they let us alone.” Maria Hussein finished. “Until this nosy priest comes and wants us to be shreeven.”
They had gone all these years and never confessed! Eva was amazed.
“So we thought, before the priest comes, we will ask Eva. Eva has been pretending for so much longer than any of us have, she would know how it is done.”
“But I’m not pretending,” Eva protested. “I really do confess.”
“You do not have to put up a front with us, are we not all ‘new’ Christians?” Jose the cook waved her protestation aside. “All we want is for you to tell us what it is we are to do.”
“You just tell your sins to God—all of them since the last confession.” Eva struggled to explain.
“Why does God need us to tell him? The all-knowing was there when we did them.”
“Well, yes, but confession is when you say you are sorry.” Eva racked her brains for bits from catechism classes. “The Bible says we are to confess our sins to one another to show our repentance. Then God will forgive us.”
“Then why do we need a priest?” Mario Hussein asked. “I can just tell Matron here mine, and she will tell me hers, and we say sorry, and so we are confessed.”
“No, it has to be a priest. Only a consecrated priest has the authority to absolve you in God’s name.”
Jose the cook frowned. “This sounds like something the Inquisition made up so they can spy on us!”
“The Inquisition didn’t make it up, it has been going on—oh, since the beginning of the church. And a priest isn’t allowed to ever breathe a word about something that was told him during confession,” Eva said earnestly. “After confession, you feel so clean inside! I will be so glad to confess again.”
“But you aren’t going,” Analina said. “Majordomo Alcazar said the sale stock are not to be shown to the priest.”
“Anyway, what do you want with this confessing?” Mario Hussein asked. “Aren’t you Jewish?”
“I am Christian,” Eva insisted. “The first Christians were Jews. And they were Christian, too.”
“Here, you will be only Jewish.” Matron shook her head in a little warning. “A Jewish slave going to confession would never be allowed.”
“Ay, Alcazar would skin us alive if we let the priest know about you!”
Blanca stayed in the room most of the day. Tabita watched with interest as Blanca spun an unusual yarn: a little sheep’s wool, stinking of lanolin; cat-fur snipped from her fat offspring, who objected loudly; and several of Blanca’s own long sand-colored hairs.
She braided the spun yarns together into a cord. Then she cut the thumb from a glove and turned it fur-side out—rabbit fur, the smell was unmistakable, even though it was quite old. Blanca punched a hole in the thumb tip, doubled the cord and pushed it through until a loop stuck out the open end.
Tabita’s curiosity increased with each step. What could Blanca be making?
She went to the writing desk then, and worked for some time putting tiny black marks—much smaller than Eva’s—on a scrap of paper. This she folded over several times, and stuffed it into the cut-off glove thumb.
So it was a kind of case. But what was it for?
Tabita got the answer when she was picked up. The loop went over her head, and the paper-stuffed glove-thumb under her chest. Tabita did not mind that—but she minded very much when Blanca passed each free end of the cord under a forelimb, fastened them together over Tabita’s spine, and tied the ends to the loop at the back of her neck.
“Look, Tabita, you can’t even see my little message-pouch!” Blanca held out the glass-faced circle. Tabita batted the image a few times, just to please Blanca, although she knew there was nobody there. Apparently humans thought that what was in the glass was real. They did not notice that the reflection was missing essential attributes like scent. But then, they had hardly any sense of smell.
Tabita was tired of the game, now. It was an annoying encumbrance, even though the cords were not really tight. She asked Blanca to take it off.
Blanca only petted her. “There, Tabita, you’ll get used to it.”
Tabita rubbed her shoulder against the cushion so the thick-headed female would understand what was wanted.
Blanca picked Tabita up—but instead of removing the harness, she closed her in the little room where the humans did their business.
Tabita was furious! She set out to get the contraption off. But no matter how she rubbed, her efforts only served to work the cords deep into her thick fur.
Some time later, Blanca opened the door just enough to push in Tabita-too’s silk-lined cat basket and a dish of fresh fish.
Tabita ignored the bed and the food. Throughout the night, she unceasingly voiced her outrage. If she was not able to sleep, neither would Blanca.
Casa Cerra: Tuesday, August 30, 1513
Leonor perched on the wide tiled bench against the hammam wall, arms wrapped around her knees. Eva sat next to her, trying to look nonchalant about her unclothed state while keeping her right foot atop her six-toed left foot.
She pondered once again what, exactly, was included in Baseel’s curt order: “I want you to prepare her so that she knows what to expect. And do not delay.”
Eva had made little progress on that assignment. Leonor bewailed her future and stubbornly ignored Matron when she called her ‘Aliya’. And the warmth of the bath-house was doing nothing to soften her up.
The hammam boiler emitted a burst of fragrant steam. “Smell that, isn’t it lovely?” Eva coaxed. “The stoker must have put in more cardamom pods.”
In the center of the steamy room, all of the Casa Cerra women servants were gathered around the central fountain or seated at the edge of the shallow pool that surrounded it, laughing and chattering while they scrubbed each other with black soap.
“This room is too big to be naked in.” Leonor drew her knees up tighter to her flat chest. “At home, we had a tub brought into our chamber.”
“You’ll come to enjoy it. Group bathing is a central part of Arabic culture.” Eva looked around the crowded room, not really so very big, as hammams went; Casa de Pazia’s hammam was large enough to accommodate twenty bathers, between the warm room and the dressing and massage area. Although she was not about to tell Leonor that she had always used it alone, except for Nurse Veronica and later doña Barbola. Iago de Pazia did not want the women servants to be reminded of his daughter’s defective foot. “Can’t you see how much fun the Casa Cerra women are having? It’s the high point of their week.”
“You’re trying to make me into a submissive little Saracen bride. Well, I won’t cooperate,” Leonor said stubbornly. “And my name isn’t Aliya. If they call me that, I won’t answer.”
“You can use a name without being the name,” Eva coaxed. “Just because people call you something, it doesn’t mean you have to become it. For example, I haven’t stopped believing in Jesu, even though ever since I came here they all insist I’m Jewish.”
“Well, I am Jewish, even though I’ve spent my life pretending to be Christian.”
“So see, you’ve already had a lot of practice.” A sudden flash of inspiration hit Eva, “I know—you can add an Arabic middle name—Noor! It means ‘light’. Lots of Moorish girls in Granada are named Noor.”
“I don’t like Noor any better than Aliya. My name is Leonor.”
“Don’t you see? You would be Aliya Noor. Like it was Ah-Leonor. You could outwit them while seeming to submit!”
“Ah-Leonor? Aliya Noor.” Leonor tested the sounds, and broke into a smile. “I like it!”
Eva heaved a sigh of relief. It was a beginning.
Just then Matron noticed them over by the wall. “Ay, women! Make room for the new merchandise to wash—the little one in particular, for today the seamstress sent by her future husband will be fitting her new clothes!”
A herd of naked women descended on Eva and Leonor. With coarse good humor, they were pushed and pulled to the central fountain. Eva quickly stepped down into the pool, the foam-flecked water covering her feet. For Leonor’s sake, she tried to look as though she did not mind the foreign hands touching her body.
But the women were not fooled. Laughter rang out. “Ah, this one has goose-bumps! She is body-shy.” Eva felt the flush of mortification, soon doused by a bucketful of water down her back.
“She will have to get over that.” The women laughed and called to each other as they soaped Eva’s ample curves. “Now this is the one that should be going as a bride!” Somebody scrubbed beneath her breasts. “Look at what we have here—lots of milk for strong sons!” Other hands slapped her behind. “And buttocks!”
“Ah, the man who gets this one won’t be clutching a bunch of bones in bed!”
Eva felt the familiar nausea that the topic of sex always roused. Fortunately, the attention shifted to Leonor. “Why do you think that buyer wants this one? She’s got the body of a child.”
“Maybe he’s one of those who likes boys.”
“No point in getting a girl-child, then, for she’ll soon grow into a woman!”
“Oh, it’s because of her fair hair.” That voice was Matron’s. “Muammar Walid specifically asked for a blonde.”
“Well, she’s blonde enough on top, but he’ll have to wait for her to grow some down under!” The chaffing, far from abashing Leonor, made her furious. She shoved the women away and rinsed herself.
The Cat: Tuesday August 30 1513
Tabita flexed her muscles. She was still a little sore, even though it had been three days and two nights since she had rescued Elias and later Blanca. The odd body-harness made of yarn and Blanca’s hair was becoming more familiar. It was a nuisance, but a mild one.
This morning, upon releasing her from the little chamber where scat was dropped, Blanca had said many things about Elias and Eva, her tone so earnest that Tabita had allowed herself to be confined in this saddlebag. She peered out the crack where the leather-flap top did not quite meet to see where Fray Pablo was taking her.
First he went up the hill they called the Sacromonte, where the Gypsies lived. Tabita could see the distant peaks of the Sierra Nevada, white even in August. Fray Pablo had some dealings with the people who lived in caves near the top of the hill.
Tabita recognized the voice of Drina, a beneficiary of Eva’s. And there was also an old, sick priest. He must be a priest, for he and Fray Pablo spoke together in priest-language. Elias was fluent in that too—he could make the meowings of all kinds of humans. Tabita wondered where he had gone after he got away from Abbe Matias, and if he was safe.
His business on the Sacromonte complete, Fray Pablo turned his horse downhill. They were on the street that paralleled the east city wall. Tabita’s sense of space was still excellent; she knew that if he kept going downward, and turned west at the Darro River, they would come to the gate of Casa de Pazia. But two-thirds of the way down the hill, Fray Pablo turned his horse in a large arched gate.
A male voice spoke, this time in the language of Granada’s everyday humans. “Good day, Father. We have been expecting you. Wait and I will bring the master.”
The saddle shifted as Fray Pablo dismounted. Tabita peered through the crack. She was looking eastward, across a large, gently sloping paved space with a well nearly centered. At the back of the space was a wall much higher than usual, with familiar stonework. After a moment’s reorientation, Tabita realized that she was looking at the inside of the city rampart. Behind her she heard the sounds of the street, separated by another wall with spikes and a single gate-opening. She wished the horse would move so that she could see what was on either side of the open space.
Sounds and smells filled in what Tabita could not see: immediately to the side of the gate was an indoor cooking-and-eating place for many people. Further uphill and likely behind a barrier, many equines were stabled—mostly mules, some horses and donkeys. The ground there had been put to that purpose for many years. And on the downhill side of the well-courtyard, somebody was cultivating herbs: lavender, mint, basil, rosemary, and dill. There was the distinctive soap-steam-and-wood-smoke scent of a hammam in use—that would be next to the garden, they usually were.
Tabita heard footsteps, and a suave, oily voice. “Fray Pablo! I am honored that one of the Cardinal’s own suite should concern himself with my household’s spiritual well-being.” Tabita heard the undertones: oily-voice was displeased but dared not object.
“Good day, señor Cerra. Cardinal Cisneros concerns himself with the spiritual well-being of all his flock.” Fray Pablo, in his turn, had some other agenda than the one he presented. “Have you prepared a private place to be used as the confessional?”
“Yes, it was kind of you to suggest the solution. I have had the last two stalls thoroughly cleaned and spread with fresh straw. The stall partitions are only five feet high, but we have provided a stool in both, and if you remain seated, everyone will have as much anonymity as if they went to the cathedral itself. Ah, here is my stable-manager, Maria Hussein.”
After the usual greetings, the horse was led forward. Tabita caught a quick glimpse of various two-story buildings surrounding the space with the well. She combined them with the smells to make a mental map, in case she must escape quickly: oily-voice had fancy-quarters on the downhill side of the gate; hammam next to that, with the aromatic herb garden between that and another big building that extended to the city wall. There were more two-story buildings on the far uphill side, but Tabita’s view was blocked as the horse moved through an echoing alley that opened onto the stable-yard.
Now another scent met her: dog! The hackles on her back rose. Dogs killed cats.
And there was the source of the danger: three lean curs, pawing at a heap of used horse-bedding. One lifted its head and sniffed the air, then ears pricked, the canine nose swiveled around to point towards her. She had been discovered!
The horse halted, and a man’s voice spoke. “We figured, the one at the end for who’s confessing, and you in the next. I’ll set up your horse in the stall next you, so’s nobody else can hear. Does he like bran?”
“Yes, thank you. Here, I’ll take the saddle-bags.” Tabita felt herself lifted and carried. A door closed.
Fray Pablo lifted the lid of the saddle-bag.
Tabita climbed out into the deep straw and looked around. There under the edge of the door, was a shifting shadow. Dog paws. Dog noses. Waiting to get at her.
“Go find Elias,” Fray Pablo whispered. That meant Elias was somewhere near here. But Tabita could not go find Elias while the dogs waited to kill her. She crouched in the corner. She was patient.
Fray Pablo, like most of his species, was not patient. He scooped her up and put her on the top edge of the stall door. “Go!” he hissed.
The cur-pack saw her and alerted, silent and deadly. The stable-man was walking toward them with a bucket of bran.
“Find Elias!” Fray Pablo gave her an impatient shove. Tabita went flying off the door and, claws unsheathed in terror, landed right on the back of the biggest dog. Using her momentum, she propelled herself into a great bound and hit the ground running.
The dogs were so startled that for a fraction of a second none of them reacted. Then they exploded in a chorus of barking and charged after her.
Tabita streaked toward the alley that gave onto the central space, the pack at her heels. She knew too well what would happen if they caught her: the pounce, the killing bite at the back of the neck, and then her body torn to scraps, yarn-harness and all.
Out into the main courtyard! People at the well. Women, with long skirts—a haven! Tabita raced for the nearest one, shot between her legs. The curs jumped at her skirt, and the woman shrieked and beat them off.
While the woman berated the dogs, Tabita leaped onto the short, squat wall that surrounded the well. One caught sight of her and barked to his companions.
Tabita cleared the well opening with one leap, bounced off the coping and down onto the baking-hot bricks.
The dogs renewed the pursuit. Tabita bolted for the herb garden. There was a fence, a rickety paling of wooden sticks.
She squirmed under the fence. But the dogs ran around, right through a gate Tabita had not been able to see. One cur was almost on her as she dove into a tall patch of oregano. The pungent scent of the herb filled the air as the dog thrashed after her.
Then with relief Tabita saw the thing she hoped for: on the side of the building that smelled like a hammam gaped the exit-pipe for a drain.
She gained the haven just as the nearest dog’s snapping teeth closed on the tip of her tail. For a terrifying moment they engaged in a life-and-death contest. Tabita’s shoulders braced against the upper wall of the pipe, claws dug into the slimy terracotta; the cur pulling her backwards by his incisors clamped on a half-inch of mostly fur.
And then, with a ripping of hair, Tabita pulled her tail-tip free. She inched forward on her belly, deeper into the pipe.
The hollow tube magnified sounds outside it. She heard snuffling of canine noses, and the soft thud of dogs settling down to wait.
Tabita knew herself to be well and truly stuck. How was she supposed to find Elias now?
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.”
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.”