Chapter 10 of Eva’s Secret
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.