chapter 5 of Eva’s Secret
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.