Chapter 4 of Eva’s Secret
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.”