Chapter 2 of Eva’s Secret
2. Undelivered Letters
Casa de Pazia, early Tuesday morning, August 23, 1513
Eva stood in the room, her emotions a confusing turmoil of relief alternating with shock. Relief at the last-minute rescue from Iago de Pazia’s fury. Shock at the soldier’s rough brutality as they dragged him away, nothing like the behavior she expected of the church. The whole affair, coming as it did in the middle of the night, lacked only a Judas.
Eva felt an overwhelming need to pray. She opened her bundle and took out the portable prie-dieu that had been her mother’s. The cross-shaped upright was curiously adorned with segments of stamped tin, bulging out from the wood like cylinders sunk half their width into the battered pine. Eva fitted this into a socket in the worn kneeler that served as both base and stand.
She knelt, hands clasped and head bowed. She said the Pater, and the Ave. But over and around the rote sentences, her mind kept seeing Paloma’s face when she heard it was the Inquisition at the gate.
That had terrified her more than even Iago de Pazia in a rage. Why?
Pounding noises echoed from the direction of Father’s counting room, as though somebody was hitting the walls with a sledgehammer.
Eva tried to shake off her doubts. She must trust the church. The Inquisition had been set up to guard souls from heresy. Perhaps when it was new to an area, as it was to Granada, a few mistakes were made. But they would be set right when everything came to light. Elias said that Cardinal Cisneros was a righteous man.
Where was Paloma with the keys? How long did it take to open the pantry?
Had the priests caught her?
Ridiculous thought! Why would anybody but her father care if the servants stocked their home pantries with the food once meant for her marriage feast? And if it was true that their quarterly wages would not be paid after the Inquisition seized the assets—not that she believed Paloma’s dire prediction was correct, for of course the church would be fair—how could anyone object to the debt being paid in kind?
Eva’s eye fell on the household account book where it rested in its niche. She might as well remove the three most recent pages, the ones containing all the records of the extra supplies bought especially for next week’s wedding banquet.
She tore them out. Her mother’s old prie-dieu had a space in the kneeler to store a devotional book where Eva kept some sheet music, a sermon of the late Bishop Talavera’s, and a letter from her mother. On impulse, she removed the letter, wrapped it in the account pages, and put the packet down her bodice, just in case she had to flee without the ugly old cross.
She pressed her hand over the place where her mother’s last letter rested. She had read and re-read the short missive so often, the contents were written on her heart.
I trust you will receive this, although as you know, it is safer if I name no names. I have given up hope that I can change my husband. There is no help for one who loves only money and does not fear God. And yet I cannot leave without some thought to the fate of the children I leave behind.
My son is well-instructed, but my daughter is as yet ignorant in our faith. So I bequeath her to your care, knowing you will be diligent in her religious instruction. To that end, I am leaving her my prie-dieu. Tell her she must keep it close, and never part from it; it is an heirloom passed from mother to daughter for centuries. When you judge she is ready, reveal to her the true meaning of the cross.
Please, my friend, do not let my child be given in marriage to a religious fraud such as I had to endure. Choose for her a sincere man of our own faith, and if her father balks, you well know what threat will force his hand.
Farewell, faithful friend. I will remember your kindness to me and mine, and will ever bring your name before heaven’s throne.
Maria de Pazia had not signed her name, but when Eva had stumbled across the unsent letter, she had recognized her mother’s distinctive backwards-slanting hand at once.
The letter steadied her. Mama would approve of what Eva did to get out of that marriage. The man her father had chosen for her was not merely an unbeliever; Conte Niccolo was a blasphemous idolater who worshiped at the same altar as Iago de Pazia: greed.
Paloma slipped in the door and closed it behind her. “It’s good we acted at once. The staff got out with the supplies just before they started to inventory the wine-cellar. The big priest say we are dismissed. The casa is to be cleared.”
“But surely you can come back on quarter-day to collect your wages?”
“The majordomo asked. I hear him. They say back, ‘You collect when we are done.’ But they know and we also that there will be not one maravedi left.”
“That is wrong!” Eva went to the large chest that held her clothing and flung it open. “See, I left my fancy gowns, and they have pearls and gemstones sewn on. You can distribute them in lieu of wages.”
“No, we must leave it as it stands, cariña. The pantry supplies are enough. Food we eat, but jewels and rich fabrics we must sell, and might be taken for thieves.” Old Paloma closed the coffer firmly. “Now quick, think of what else before they reach this room.”
“They will come into my bedroom?” The very idea of intrusion made Eva begin to shake.
“There are valuables.” Paloma pointed to Eva’s bundle where her guitarra’s leather case showed through the cloth. “We better hide that.”
Eva snatched up the beloved guitarra and clutched it to herself. “They can’t take what is mine!”
“The Inquisition put up a paper on the gate, and I know already it will say: ‘whatever was Iago de Pazia’s is now ours.’ And a big red seal of the Inquisition.”
“But—I’m not even supposed to be Eva de Pazia, I’m—” What was her new name? “—Maria Perez.”
“That don’t matter.” Paloma lowered her voice. “I seen how they do, the priests and their familiars. First, they confiscate all the goods. Oh, they say if the person can prove they’s not a heretic they’ll give back, but they always find reason to keep most. So if you want to see your mother’s guitarra again, we have to hide it, pronto.”
Eva’s eyes fell on the carved wood that covered the lower half of the walls. “There, beside the bed. One of the panels is loose. Behind it is a hollow in the thickness of the wall.” Eva’s fingers found the shallow indentations in the carved relief and lifted the section. The rail that held it to the wall at waist-height had shrunk with the years, just sufficiently to allow this particular board to move enough to clear the tiled floor-base.
Paloma drew in her breath. “So large a cavidad—and in the base of the outer wall, too! Cariña, you should have told your father, this should be filled in before the bricks above crack.”
Tell her father? It was fear of her father that drove Eva to carve out this hidey-hole years ago, laboriously scraping the adobe bricks night after night, carrying the crumbles out in her chamber-pot every morning. “It doesn’t matter now. Hand me the guitarra case.”
Old Paloma pushed the guitarra to the furthest corner. After the board was fitted back into place, Paloma turned to Eva’s clothing. “You should change into a work dress. This is a rich woman’s gown—what servant would have nine yards to her skirt?” Paloma pinched the fabric. “Nine yards of heavy silk at that.”
“Blanca said this gray was perfect for my stay at the Carthusian charterhouse.” Besides, Eva couldn’t leave it—Blanca needed to return the gown to her older sister’s clothes-press before Maria de Mendoza noticed it was missing.
“But it’s safer if you pass for a servant. And even a lout who don’t know clothes can see you need a maid to get into that. It laces behind.”
“Well, I will say I am Eva de Pazia’s companion. See, this isn’t new—in fact, it’s quite worn.” Eva confided the most important reason for keeping the upper-class garb. “A servant wouldn’t wear a mantilla. I have to cover my face if any of our people see me.” And they’ll find out I didn’t really elope.
“Well, it do seem threadbare about the edges,” Paloma conceded. “It might pass as a castoff given to a duenna.”
“But what about Tabita?”
“In the morning, I’ll come back and get those things on the quiet, like, ‘cause they tap the walls to see if there’s treasure hid somewhere. The señor’s study is what has them busy at the moment.” Paloma flinched at a crashing sound, as though something had given at last. “Those of us who came from Old Castile try to forget it.” Paloma shook her head dolefully. “And as for Granada—well, they’ve never seen an auto-da-fé. But they will soon. There’s been an announcement that one will be held Wednesday after next.”
Eva puzzled over the phrase: auto-da-fé meant act of faith. Why would that be a bad thing?
Paloma opened the door a crack, peeped out, and then shut it firmly. “I remember Fray Torquemada, preaching in the square before Toledo cathedral. His eyes burned. Fair possessed, I thought he was. Didn’t like it, and neither did my man. But there’s those that did. There’s been a lot of jealousy against your people, see, because Jews seems to always get rich. And when they convert, they get richer.”
Her people. Eva digested this. Were the Jews ‘her people’?
“So. My father rented his bit of land from a Converso family—they kept kind of separate, like, even though they converted generations ago. But they was fair landlords, better than the Avilas, who had the land on the other side. And then the neighbors spread about that our landlord was Judaizing—I don’t altogether know what that is, but it has to do with them being secret Jews or something. And the Inquisition soldiers arrested him and his son, and took them away, and the next thing they know, they’re off to serve in the galleys and the Avilas are our new landlords. And the family’s women in the street and no one to help them. A bad affair.”
Eva jumped at the slam of a door two rooms down—Elias’ room, on the rare nights he was home. Paloma dropped her voice to a whisper. “After that, nobody trusted the family that did the talking. But we daren’t say anything, because we didn’t want the same to happen to us.
“Almost ten years later, it was, that Granada finally fell. And the treaty said there would be no Inquisition anywhere in the new province, on account of so many Moors. My Jose, he thought that the church would be too busy converting the Moors, seeing as the new province was full of them. And he knew Bishop Talavera didn’t like the goings-on that Fray Torquemada begun. So we emigrated here.”
“And now the Inquisition is here in Granada.” Eva wanted to cry. She had not known it would be like this.
“It was too good to last. Gracias a Dios, Jose is in his grave these five years, may he rest in peace.” Paloma crossed herself.
Tabita backtracked her night’s journey, disappointed. Eva could not return to Casa de Pazia. But if she remained at the infertile place, then she might miss the whole purpose of life: to bear young. Tabita understood that the humans matured much more slowly than cats, but her mistress and pride-mate had been sexually mature for at least three years now, and in all that time, she had done nothing to produce a human kitten.
At first, Tabita thought Eva was merely picky. Human mating went on everywhere, even on the grounds of Casa de Pazia. Eva could have coupled with any of several prospects; so long as they were healthy and virile and could complete the act of mating, what else did you need from a tom-cat?
But longer acquaintance with human habits explained Eva’s reluctance. With their slow-growing young so vulnerable, and for so long, a human female had to choose a mate who would be around to hunt for her while she raised their kittens, starting the next and then the next before ever the first was mature. And Eva would not want a mate who had to divide his prey among several females and their offspring; Tabita saw too many starving children on the streets.
She smelled mouse. There it was! The rodent slipped under an entry gate. Tabita pressed herself flat to the bricks and was able to follow. She slid quietly along, looking for where the prey might have gone.
She had entered the courtyard of a residence. There were herb beds all around and among the brick paving, and the mouse-scent was very strong in one corner. Aha! It had holed up in a miniature brass teapot tumbled among the mint. Sooner or later, it would have to come out.
Tabita settled down to wait. She observed the place she was in. There were more tiny cups scattered about, and a doll. These were objects indicating the presence of human kittens. In fact, the smell of infants and toddlers was in evidence throughout the plants—the human kittens were indiscreet about urination. Several different children used this patio, both male and female from the scent. This was the lair of a very fertile pride.
The mouse decided it was safe and came out. It never knew what happened. Tabita took her meal to a quiet corner.
She alerted at the sound of a shuffling step. An old man came out of one of the doors that faced the patio. He settled stiffly on a bench, brought out a string of beads, and began to speak, very soft: “Allahu akbar—”
Tabita relaxed. She knew this noise-making. Some of the humans would make them regularly, at sunrise and sunset, and several times in between. Usually they got up and down, but it was plain that this man was too old to do that.
A woman, equally old, came out of the door and settled next to the man, one hand rubbing his back. “Tahir, is it your kidneys again?”
“Ah, Safa, I did not mean to wake you.”
“Prayer is better than sleep,” the woman said.
Tabita considered the elderly pair. They were beyond the age of fertility, so these infants that populated their lair must be the second or even the third generation.
The woman spoke the words in unison with her mate as she rubbed his back. Their aura began to change, peace surrounding them. This was the human equivalent of purring. Tabita purred with them. Purring brought healing.
Eva purred a lot, too. Hers took a different form, but she would get the same aura, and it did her good.
You could always tell when people really purred because their aura changed. And you had to wait for that to figure out if they were truly purring, or just going through the motions.
It was another wrongness about humans that some could go through the motions and make the purring noises of their kind without really purring inside. Those humans were generally not safe to be around—unless they were a member of your own pride, like Elias.
Tabita cleaned her whiskers and went her way, back to the stone pile on the hill. She had to go all the way around the building before she found an open door: the big gathering place where the males and females met to purr together. And they were filing in now, each from their separate lairs, chanting together, as they always did several hours before sunrise.
The sound was pleasant to Tabita’s ears. She crept along behind the row of men—some really purring, and some not—and across to the rows of women, most of them sincere. It was very peaceful. Their combined auras filled the place. And yet there were no kittens. All that purring had not managed to heal their barrenness.
Eva was not among the women, so she must still be in her stone cell, sleeping. Tabita slipped through a little door into the women’s side.
Elias lived in a barren place just like this—only there were not any women where he lived. And they all purred in this fashion.
In the Albaicin, they purred like the old couple, with the sounds Allahu akbar and the bowing motions. The Albaicin was crammed with children. The humans there were not all well fed, it was true, but they were bursting with fertility.
Tabita decided that she must somehow lure Eva away from here. And they must find her a male who purred as the successful old pair purred.
Casa de Pazia, early Tuesday morning, August 23, 1513
Footsteps stopped outside the bedroom door. A man’s voice: “This would be the room of the daughter of the house. The one who eloped.” The door opened, and the speaker entered. In the light of the pine torch he carried his steel breastplate gleamed. Behind him came a short priest, carrying one of her father’s ledgers and a pen.
Frantically, Eva pulled her mantilla down to her chin.
The man frowned. “Who are you?”
“E—Eva,” she stammered without thinking. And then she remembered she was supposed to be somebody else.
“Don’t lie to me. Eva de Pazia eloped with Conte Niccolo di Argenta last Friday.”
“I—I—“ Eva could not remember her new name. But Paloma pushed between them.
“Do you think our mistress sleeps alone, with no lady to guard her virtue?” Paloma demanded. “This is Eva Maria Perez.”
“I am Andres.” The armored man thrust his torch into a cast-iron bracket on the wall. “You sound young. I was told Eva de Pazia’s duenna was an elderly widow. And Moorish, besides—related to the noble de Venegas.”
“Doña Barbola didn’t want to go to Venice.” That was the truth, at least. Eva gathered her wits together and ventured a small invention. “They promised to arrange a marriage for me in Italy. But Eva ran away and here I am, still unwed.”
The man spoke more deferentially. “Then you are a maiden? Of good family?”
“I’m a cousin on her mother’s side. We were both named after my grandmother, Chava Abramavel.” That much was true.
“A Jewish name,” the short priest commented. He opened his ledger, set it on the wash-stand and brought out an ink-pot and pen.
“My parents converted before I was born,” Eva hurried to explain. “Mother was very devout.”
“I don’t doubt it. Did she pray every Friday at sunset?”
“Oh, yes,” Eva remembered the solemn ritual. “And she lit candles on our altar.”
Andres nodded, smiling. “She probably said the Latin words, like this: Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam.”
Eva relaxed at the change in the man’s tone. “Yes, that was how it started. But I don’t have any Latin, so I don’t know what it means.”
“Oh, I know what it means.” The man bowed. “Señorita, I do apologize for bursting in on you like this. I am not with the Inquisition per se, but only on loan, as it were, until they have sufficient staff of their own.”
The short priest, who had been scribbling rapidly during the conversation, took that moment to draw Andres to the open ledger. “Señor, will you check the inventory and sign that the contents of the room are accounted for?”
Andres read aloud. “Silver pitcher and bowl, yes, ivory-inlaid rosewood wash-stand—I’d say worth twenty reales, as a set. Two tapestries—don’t put from Brussels, that’s a guess. The carpets are Persian, though, best quality. Velvet bed-hangings, yes, feather bed, linens with cutwork, yes, silver-backed grooming set, hmm, jewel-box—empty, is it? No doubt in the Conte’s hands, the Inquisitor is furious about losing the dowry.”
He turned back to Eva. “Are those four chests full of Eva de Pazia’s gowns?”
Eva nodded. “She left most of them behind.”
Now the priest produced a stick of sealing wax. “I’ll put a stamp on the latch to prevent tampering. We can’t do a proper inventory in the dark. The gowns will be worth plenty.”
“Good.” Andres added his stamp to the ledger and shut it. Eva hoped now they would leave. Tabita would never come near with all these strangers about.
The priest took the book away, but Andres remained. “Señorita, is your family nearby?”
Eva remembered the farm that was their mother’s dowry in a town north of Granada. Just last week Elias mentioned that he had transferred the deed to the current managers, Nurse Veronica and her husband Tomás. “My family has lands in Maracena. I will go there.”
“Ah, but that is several miles outside the city.” Andres frowned in genuine concern. “I can’t leave you here tonight, not with all these newly hired men-at-arms ransacking the Casa. It isn’t safe.”
Paloma spoke up then. “I have a daughter in the city. Eva can go with me.”
Andres snapped his fingers, as though an idea had just occurred to him. “I have something better! The merchant house I work for is hardly a half-mile from Casa de Pazia—though not nearly so prestigious a street, it’s a large compound. My master keeps a dormitorio for the women servants, and a room in it has just become available. The women’s dormitorio is well-guarded at my master’s orders. He’s very strict about morals.”
Eva was dismayed. “But how will Tabita find me?”
“You need not worry your family at all.” Andres pointed to the writing stand. “You read and write, yes? Simply pen a letter telling where you are, and I will deliver it to Maracena myself. It may take me a day or two, but I know my master would be happy to offer you his hospitality until your father or brother could come and fetch you. Although our fare is plain and the room small, nothing so fancy as what you are used to.”
“And who is this master of yours?” Paloma demanded. “If he is so careful of his female servant’s virtue, he will be known in the city.”
“Indeed he is, and well-known to the master of this house,” Andres replied. “I serve Baltasar Cerra, of Casa Cerra, and until recently I was the majordomo of his Granada operation.”
Casa Cerra. The name brought conflicting emotions. On the one hand, the owner figured as the evil wizard in a made-up story Blanca once invented as a childish amusement. But pretending aside, Baltasar Cerra was a successful merchant, an associate of her father’s, and, most in his favor, the master of a certain young man who had once helped Eva out of a terrible fix.