Chapter 11 of Eva’s Secret
Casa de Pazia six years ago: Eva age 11, May 1508
Eva thrust her trowel into the earth. The rich-smelling garden loam covered her hands, streaked her sweaty face and stained the knees of her plain surcote. It gave her an excuse to have water brought to her rooms every day, so that she could wash and wash and wash.
A centipede crawled away from the disturbed earth, legs wriggling. The centipede was busy doing what God made it to do, sinless and devoid of any responsibility. Eva watched it disappear into the cracks and wished she too could follow the insect, down into the depths where she would never have to see or be seen again.
A shadow fell across her, and she turned her tear-stained face away—although surely the servants had seen her crying. But they were too kind to probe. “Thank you, Blas. You can just put the basket at the end of the row.”
“Eva.” The mild voice was Bishop Talavera’s. “I’ve been missing your cheerful face.”
“Oh, hello, Your Reverence!” The last person she wanted to see! “I’m sorry I can’t greet you now, but I’m covered in dirt.” Filthy forever. No matter how much soap and water she used, the uncleanness remained. Eva swiped at her tears with a grubby hand, smearing her face with yet more dirt.
“Evita! Since when have you called me ‘Your Reverence’?” Fray Hernando squatted next to her. “It’s been two months since you have come visiting the poor with me.”
“I’m too busy to go anymore. Tomás, our head gardener, moved out to manage the farm in Maracena.” Eva dug furiously with her trowel, opening a hole big enough for a shrub. “Father said that marriageable girls of the station to which I aspire—” the last was said with bitterness “—do not go about attended by peasant women, but by ladies of rank. So of course Nurse Veronica went with her husband. I never realized before how many jobs that couple did around here.”
“But your father has hired a new gardener,” the gentle voice pointed out. “Of course, nobody would expect a chaperone to replace the nurse who raised you, and your new duenna is reserved by nature. But if you take the time to get to know doña Barbola, I am sure you will become great friends. When I recommended her to your father, I thought it would be a good match.”
Eva had not known that the tall, austere Moorish noblewoman had been sent by Fray Hernando. But it did not change that she was an ‘after’ person. From that horrible night and forevermore, as long as she lived, all Eva’s relationships would fall into ‘before’ and ‘after’.
“I’ve given doña Barbola de Venegas no reason for complaint. And she gets a day off every week to go visit her relatives at Palacio Venegas.”
“She expected to chaperone you about the city. But doña Barbola tells me she is puzzled, as you do not seem to have much need of her services.”
Eva jammed the trowel hard into the dirt. “I don’t go to social events. Perhaps when she agreed to be my duenna, she didn’t understand what goes on in a merchant’s household.” Little did doña Barbola know what went on in this household.
“I doubt that very much. Barbola is acquainted with all levels of society. I have often recruited her help on my visits to the poor.”
“How come I never met her until she came to work here?” Eva challenged.
“Sometimes I need a mature woman to help with female problems. There are still many Morisco households that insist on keeping their women sequestered,” Fray Hernando said. “Before, you were too young for such work. I thought that when you were older, you and doña Barbola could serve together.”
“I don’t want to go help with female problems. After Condesa Francisca—” Eva choked. “I never want to see a pregnant woman again.” Or to think about how they got that way.
“We all miss that gracious lady.” Fray Hernando sighed. “Your friend Blanca was terribly hurt that you didn’t come to her mother’s funeral.”
“I was ill.”
“And you haven’t been to visit the Alhambra since,” Fray Hernando persisted. “That is unlike you, Eva. You must know that Blanca needs your support now more than ever.”
“Blanca only wants to hear about Elias.” And now that he had gone to study at Holy Cross, Eva hardly ever saw him.
“I’m sure that’s not true. You girls have been friends since before you could talk.”
“Blanca won’t want to be my friend anymore!” Eva blurted it out before she thought. If Fray Hernando asks why, what shall I say?
He gave an exasperated sigh. “Is this about your six toes?”
Eva looked up then, horrified. Could he read the whole terrible incident in her mind?
Fray Hernando smiled gently. “Don’t look so surprised. Of course I know about your extra digit—I baptized you.”
“Some say—” Eva swallowed down the lump that constricted her throat, “—it proves I am the devil’s child.”
“That is the rankest superstition. An extra digit, which creates no disability, is no more a defect than skin or eye color.”
Eva said nothing. Whether Fray Hernando believed it or not, an extra toe was a defect. It wasn’t just like the color of your hair, or skin, or even having a big ugly nose. An extra toe made you despised by those who ought to love and protect you.
“Your Reverence.” They were both startled by the voice over their heads. As always, Manuel had arrived so silently neither had been aware of him. The man-at-arms bowed deeply. “The master of the house sends me to announce that a repast has been spread in the hall.”
Bishop Talavera got to his feet. “You will give an old man heart seizure, my son.”
“Your pardon, Father, it is a soldier’s habit. I served with Cardinal Cisneros at the conquest of Oran.” Manuel always found a way to work that bit in—but Eva knew very well that sneaking around was Ortiz’s way of dominating her, and anyone else he could cow.
The bishop of Granada was not one of the latter. “You are forgiven, then. Tell Iago that I will come shortly, and give my compliments to your diligent cook.”
Eva found that her hands shook in spite of her best efforts to control them. Fray Hernando noticed her trembling. “Evita, why does your head guard make you afraid?”
“Afraid?” Eva forced her shaking to stop by balling her hands into fists. “I’m not afraid of Manuel. He just startles me by sneaking up.”
The silence was so long that Eva thought Fray Hernando might have left as quietly as Manuel had come. She risked a glance upwards and found that the bishop was staring into the distance, an expression of inexpressible sadness on his long face.
He caught her watching him and sighed. “I will bid you farewell now, but only until tomorrow. I need female translators to help me minister to the Moriscas. And there is someone I want you to meet.”
Eva started to protest, but Fray Hernando stopped her with a raised hand. “Eva, as your shepherd and spiritual father, I cannot let you neglect your practice of charity. I will arrange with your father for you and doña Barbola to accompany me.”
The next morning, Eva set out with her duenna, suitably dressed in plain, loose-fitting surcotes and modest head-coverings. Ernesto accompanied them as far as the church of Santa Ana, although it was only a quarter mile down the avenue that fronted their Casa.
Eva walked sedately, dreading a day working with the bishop as much as she had once looked forward to it. That sad expression when he left yesterday—was it because he could see right through her and knew how befouled she was?
They paused in the porch that fronted the ancient domed place of worship. A rude wooden cross partially covered the crescent incised into the stone above a font of holy water. They dipped their fingers and crossed themselves.
Ernesto held the door open for them. “Where shall I meet you with lunch, señorita Eva?”
The May day promised to be warm. “I think the picnic spot by the River Darro.” Eva ducked inside the church. She was met by the smell of old stone and incense, and her jangled nerves calmed at the comforting scents.
Bishop Talavera was kneeling before the altar in prayer. At their entrance he rose, smiling. “I am so glad you could come today! As I said, there is someone I especially want you to meet.”
Eva looked beyond him, puzzled. She already knew the only other person present, Fray Esteban, a hulking young Moorish Franciscan who often joined Fray Hernando on his visits to the Albaicin quarter.
Fray Hernando led them to a side door of the church. It opened onto an alley which faced the crumbling gate of a Moorish-style carmen. The two-story edifice might once have housed three or four extended families, but like many of the buildings in old Granada, it was half in a state of ruin.
Eva picked her way around fallen building blocks as she followed the bishop through the broken arch and into the interior patio. A picture of my life.
Here there were signs of new occupation. Rubbish had been raked into a corner, and sagging arches were shored up with salvaged timbers. Fray Hernando called, “Suor Lucia?”
A middle-aged woman in a threadbare grey habit emerged from one of the rooms and hurried toward them, hands outstretched in greeting. “Vescovo Talavera!”
“Suor Lucia is the prioress of a minor Italian order, the Little Sisters of Mercy.” Fray Hernando drew Eva forward. “Suor Lucia, may I present Eva de Pazia and her duenna, doña Barbola de Venegas.”
“Ciao, ciao!” Suor Lucia’s homely face split into a wide smile, showing several missing teeth. “Your Vescovo Talavera, he tell to me, Eva di Pazia, she é une brava persone, very devote di our signore Christo.”
The nun’s lilting speech gave an extra aspiration at the end of each word, but Eva grasped that she had been highly recommended. The polite reply stuck in her throat. She was not that girl anymore; she was a fraud.
Suor Lucia mistook her expression. “Perdono, mi espanishe é no zo fluente. Di accente é differente di Italiano, zo I é frequente not—how you say—comprehende.”
Fray Hernando stepped into the gap. “Suor Lucia and five sisters from her convent in Siena have come in answer to my appeal for more religious to help minister to the needy souls of Granada. And they have just puchased this property.”
“Sí,” Suor Lucia nodded vigorously. She waved at the surrounding carmen, plainly delighted with the dilapidated building. “Ecco questo edificium!” Suor Lucia’s hands flew in accompaniment to her animated speech. Eva did not understand Latin, but the expressive gestures communicated the Abbess’ meaning well enough. So large a spatium! Her hands repaired, added, until Eva could almost visualize airy wards of a hospitium downstairs, and over here the tables for the refectorio; cubiculum for the nuns on the second story. And no need for an ecclesia separata, with Santa Ana right next door! Never in Siena would such a situation be available. Such a blessing!
Fray Hernando smiled at Eva. “You should also know this about the Little Sisters of Mercy: they will accept postulants that are not hidalga.”
Suor Lucia beamed at Eva, nodding brightly.
So that was what the bishop was up to! Mingled with her sadness, Eva felt a surge of relief that he had not guessed her impurity. If he knew, he would never propose that she be a nun.
Despite herself, a sob rose as she realized another dream had been torn away. She shook her head and gave the old reason. “My father expects me to marry. That huge dowry—” Tears slipped down her cheeks, and she wiped them away with the corner of her headscarf.
“Be comforted, child. He might yet be persuaded.” Fray Hernando addressed Suor Lucia in Latin. Then he turned back to Eva and her duenna. “Today the sister will minister with us. She has great skill, but she speaks no Arabic.”
The trio of women, lugging baskets heaped with bandages and ointment-pots, set out after the Bishop and Fray Esteban. Today they went into places Eva had only skirted the edges of before, deep into the crooked streets of the Albaicin quarter where the poorest Moors and Gypsies lived. Fray Hernando and Fray Esteban ministered to the men and boys while Eva and her duenna helped Suor Lucia with the girls and women, carefully screened behind a divider of patched and tattered cloth.
Eva translated the women’s whispered explanations to Suor Lucia, who responded with gentle compassion and matter-of-fact skill. Over the course of the morning, Eva learned shocking things about female parts and the injuries that happened in intimate places. Case after case bore witness that the tearing brutality of her own experience was by no means unique.
When the sun reached its zenith, Suor Lucia turned to the Bishop and spoke rapidly in Latin. He nodded and started off at a brisk pace. They came to a street that was completely deserted, as though the inhabitants had all taken an early siesta.
“Dis es di platze,” Suor Lucia stopped in front of a two-story building.
Fray Esteban knocked at the door. Nobody answered. He knocked harder.
Above them, a shutter was flung wide. A woman leaned out over the street. “We’re not open yet, but here’s a free sample!”
The two priests hastily averted their eyes. Eva did not, and was shocked to see bare breasts clearly visible through the sheer fabric of the woman’s flimsy chemise.
A male voice shouted from within. “It’s not a customer, but the padres, puta estupida!” The shutter slammed closed. Eva’s stomach churned as she realized what wares were on offer in this place.
Steps thumped down interior stairs; the door opened on a burly, unshaven man in a dirty shirt.
“I come, like I telle to you,” Suor Lucia managed to sound stern despite the foreign lisp. “And for testimonie, I bringe il Vescovo Talavera.”
“Talavera, eh?” The unkempt man eyed the bishop speculatively. “Well, I changed my mind. She’s worth more than four reales—I might get six or seven more years from that one.”
Suor Lucia spoke in rapid Latin to Fray Hernando. He translated into Arabic. “The good sister says if you do not let us have her, she will be dead in a week.”
The man shrugged, his bluff called. “Take her, then. She’s just another mouth to feed, and as she is now, she puts the customers off.”
He shouted into the darkness behind him. “Zara!”
In a few moments a girl appeared. Eva could not help gaping, for although she seemed no more than twelve, her belly bulged hugely beneath her filthy skirt.
Suor Lucia held out a purse. The man emptied it into his hand and counted. Satisfied, he pocketed the coins, shoved the pregnant girl into the street, and slammed the door.
Fray Hernando held out his hand. “Come with us, child. We will take you to a place where you will be safe and cared for.”
But the girl—Zara?—remained pressed against the wall, terrified.
Fray Hernando leaned over to whisper in Eva’s ear. “You are less threatening than any of us. Tell her we want to give her a hope and a future.”
Hesitantly, Eva went to Zara and took her hand. Feeling the fleshless bones, she thought of the hamper she had packed that morning. “Do you want to come with us for a picnic by the Darro? We have cheese, olives, new-baked bread, and cold meats. And today there will be fresh figs.”
That inducement brought immediate results, although Zara made sure to keep Eva between herself and the strange men. Walking was awkward with the girl clinging as close as her bulging belly allowed. Eva felt the baby kick in protest.
Thank St. Basil, my monthly flow has not yet begun! In another year or two, maybe even less, she might find herself in Zara’s state—bearing her own brother! A cold shiver ran up Eva’s spine.
A single bell tolled the hour of sext from the newly-built belfry of Santa Ana. Ernesto waited at the grassy place on the riverbank shaded by willows. As soon as they approached, he spread several rugs and began laying out food. Zara’s eyes grew huge at the abundance.
Fray Hernando motioned them all to sit. The pregnant girl crouched beside Eva, furtively wiping away a thread of drool as she watched Fray Hernando take up one of the crusty loaves and say grace.
Everybody else began to eat, but Zara waited, hesitant. Fray Hernando smiled encouragingly, broke off a portion of his loaf and held it out. She snatched it and crammed the whole chunk into her mouth.
Suor Lucia gave her more. “Mangia! Ese plenitude. But zlowly, or you choke.”
Eva spread a cloth napkin in front of Zara and heaped it with cheese, olives and figs. Understanding that Zara would be more comfortable with less scrutiny, Eva averted her eyes.
The others followed suit. Talavera and the nun conversed softly in Latin as they ate, while doña Barbola asked Fray Esteban about family members which they seemed to have in common.
Eva herself preferred to listen rather than talk. A fat, lazy bee zigzagged over the fragrant honeysuckle vine nearby, its buzz blending with the chuckle of the Darro rippling in its stony bed. The scene was peaceful, fresh and soothing—a complete contrast to everything she had seen, heard, and smelled that morning.
How could two such different worlds exist side by side?
Her thoughts were interrupted by a cry from Zara. Suor Lucia came and placed her hands on Zara’s belly. She waved the others to silence, listening with complete focus.
“Sí, your time come,” she said at last. “But is no hurry—you are small, the child big. Will take hours.”
“Then let us use the time in cleansing the soul,” Fray Hernando said. “Child, we will find a private place, and Fray Esteban or myself can hear your confession.”
“What need of privacy?” Zara grimaced, holding her belly. “My sins are here for all to see.”
“You do not require forgiveness for what was done to you,” Fray Esteban replied. “Considering your tender age, you are but the victim of another’s sin.”
Zara shook her head. “That does not matter to Allah, nor to your Christos, either. Muslim or Christian, all agree that to lie with a man you are not married to is contemptible. And I have lain with many men.”
Many men? The rich cheese turned sour in Eva’s mouth at the very thought, and her appetite deserted her.
Bishop Talavera turned his deep-set eyes on the ragged rescue. “Let us say that a child carries a precious jewel which is hers alone. And a grown person comes upon her when she is unprotected and robs that child of her treasure. Perhaps he tricks her into surrendering it with false promises and fair words, or perhaps he threatens to do horrible things to those she loves if she does not let him. Or perhaps she does resist, but he takes it by force.” Talavera looked not at Zara, but at Eva. “In such a case, it is the man who sins, and he will have to answer for his evil act before God.”
“If it is the man who sins, then why am I the one who gets with child?” Zara asked bitterly. “Why doesn’t God make men pay?”
“They pay with the corrosion of their soul. Every action carries its price both in this world and the next, although the exact how and why is not ours to know.”
Suor Lucia tugged on his sleeve and said something in Latin. Talavera nodded. “Of course, how stupid of me. Child, were you born Christian or Saracen?”
“How would I know?” Zara said. “My mother died before I can remember, and brothel owners do not trouble about the souls of their whores. We never went to the mosque then, or to the church now. Neither Allah nor Christos gives a damn about me.”
“That is a lie from the pit of hell. JesuChristo loves you deeply, and waits to help you if you but ask it.”
“How can your JesuChristo help me?” Zara pointed to the agonized wooden figure on the crucifix that hung from Fray Talavera’s belt. “He couldn’t even help himself.”
Eva was stunned by the sacrilege of Zara’s statement. But it made perfect sense. If Jesu was powerless, it would explain what she had seen this morning—Jesu loved, but he could not effect change. And that was why, when she had prayed and prayed for him to stop the pain and the degradation and the horror, he had done nothing.
“Jesu didn’t help himself when he was here among us, because he came to live as man—poor and powerless, as we are, and suffering, as we do,” Fray Hernando said. “He modeled how to live a sinless life amid all the persecutions and temptations flesh is heir to.”
Fray Esteban could not resist chiming in. “But now he is in heaven, seated at the right hand of the father in power and glory, waiting to welcome us. It was his sinless life that gives him the right to pay our debts—but he understands our failures, because he was tempted in every way as we are.”
Zara cowered away from the priests. Although Eva knew well how gentle and trustworthy both were, Zara did not. To her, it was two well-fed grown men, secure in their position and certain of what they believed, banding together to beat down the truth of Zara’s own bitter experience.
And with what? Eva’s thoughts, once loosed from their obedient orthodoxy, followed the little prostitute’s logic. Jesu came as a man—with male parts and male power. He suffered none of the things I saw this morning. And his parents were perfect—the sinless holy Virgin. And patient Saint Joseph, not a violent father who raped his own child.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Zara’s cry. She had risen to her knees, clutching her belly again. A gush of water stained her ragged skirt, so much that a patch of mud began spreading in the dust beneath her. “This baby—” she gasped. “It will be my death.”
Zara collapsed into the muck she had just created. “I. want.” She spaced her words with panting, “To go to. Heaven. Right. Now.”
Suor Lucia was kneeling beside her at once, dipping a finger in the wet mud and bringing it to her nose. She looked at Bishop Talavera and spoke rapidly in Latin.
“Suor Lucia says we must get Zara to their convent, quickly!” Fray Hernando translated. “She must not walk because of the bloody discharge. Eva, help me clear the biggest rug. We will use it to carry her. Thank Jesu we are so near! ”
Eva swept the remains of lunch into the hamper, and Zara was laid in the center of the rug. Fray Esteban and Ernesto, each on a side, took most of the weight, while doña Barbola steadied the girl’s head and Suor Lucia walked at the foot, checking beneath the skirt, which was now staining bright red.
Eva started to follow after them, but Fray Hernando held her back. “Your duenna will return shortly. You and I can best help Zara by staying out of the way. Come pray the short strand of the rosary with me.”
The bishop led her down to a favorite spot on the bank. Fray Hernando settled himself on a big log and began with the first bead on his rosary, reciting the credo. Eva said the words with him, hardly focusing on the rote lines as they followed with a pater, then three aves, finishing with a gloria. When they were done, they sat in silence.
Fray Hernando broke it with an unexpected topic. “I am sending a group of friars trained to preach in Arabic to Oran. Do you know where that is?”
“I think it’s on the sea.” Eva was not very good with geography, but she had heard Manuel brag many times about sailing with the campaign Cardinal Cisneros mounted against this city.
“On the sea indeed—across the strait in North Africa. A long, long way from Granada.” Fray Hernando tossed a twig into the stream. “I want to send a guard with them, and since Manuel Ortiz has some experience of the city, I will insist your father allow him to go.”
Eva felt a surge of relief. She would be free of Manuel’s threatening presence. But why was Fray Hernando telling her this?
“I have certain suspicions regarding Manuel’s behavior toward you, guesses born of long experience. Which is why, once in Oran, Manuel Ortiz will be given good reason never to return.” He waited, as though expecting some response.
Eva shredded a blade of grass and said nothing.
“Now that you know he will be gone, is there anything you want to tell me about him?” Fray Hernando coaxed.
“No.” There was nothing she wanted to tell Fray Hernando.
Fray Hernando tossed another twig into the river and watched it float away. “Eva, how old are you?”
“I am seventy-nine. I once was a child, as you are. Then I became a youth, a student. I have been priest in a small parish, and prior of a large monastery, and, before I was bishop, confessor to royalty. I have heard every sin imaginable confessed, from the lips of thousands, young and old, high and low. I know the dregs of human depravity, so there is very little left that can surprise me.” Fray Hernando sighed deeply. “Yet today I feel that there are still things which can break my heart.”
Eva’s mind went immediately to the child giving birth. “Do you think Zara will die?”
“That is very likely. But Esteban will see that she is baptized, so if Zara goes, it will be straight into the sweet presence of Our Lord. A better future than any this fallen world has ever allowed her.” A gentle hand fell on her shoulder. “No, Eva, I am grieving on your account.”
Eva felt a sinking in the pit of her stomach. He knew she was no longer pure. She stared towards the river, blinking back tears.
“But there is one good that can come of your loss. Now your father will certainly release you to a religious vocation. And the Little Sisters of Mercy are here in the right place, at the right time, and have much need of you.”
That took her by surprise. “I can’t be a nun, not now! I’m ruined.”
“Many violated and abused girls and women find refuge in the convent,” Fray Hernando said. “And even though, in the eyes of sinful men, what was done to you might be called ‘ruin’, it is not so in the eyes of God.”
“But it was my fault,” Eva whispered. “I lure men to evil.”
“Do not believe it!” Fray Talavera’s voice was angry. “The evildoers who prey on children say that to shame their victims into silence, so that their foul deeds will stay hidden and they can continue to molest and destroy. But God, who sees the heart, knows the truth. Whether by force, or coercion, or subtle entrapment, when a child’s innocence is stolen, God always holds the man to account.”
Fray Hernando’s concern broke through the fragile shield she had built around her shattered heart. The dam burst, and racking sobs rose from somewhere deep inside.
The shepherd of all Granada wrapped his arms around her. “Oh Evita, my precious little child!” Fray Hernando’s own voice was thick with tears. “That this should have happened to you, so sweet and sincere, fills me with fury. Were it not for the damage it would cause if this were revealed—how unjust, that your reputation would suffer more than his!—I would use every influence to make your rapist pay!”
Eva felt Fray Hernando’s own tears fall on her head. She buried her face against his chest and bawled her heart out.
When at last the storm of emotion was over, he mopped her face. “That helped, did it not? Jesu said to weep with those who weep.”
Eva nodded, sniffling.
“Now then, we must plan what to do next, before your duenna returns. I have already prepared a letter of recommendation to whatever convent—not that Suor Lucia needs such a thing, but I wrote it last year, when I thought I would have to persuade some hidalga Abbess to take in a girl of lesser social status, for I knew that Iago de Pazia would not consent to his daughter becoming a mere lay sister.”
Eva twisted her hands in her skirt, her misery back. “It still wouldn’t be enough for Father. I have to marry into some noble house.”
“He will have to agree, now that your father can no longer present you on the marriage market as the virgin bride such a husband will expect. Your groom would think himself defrauded—forgive me, Evita, but I must speak as the world sees it, and not Jesu.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll be married for my dowry, and their family won’t be able to afford to give it up.” Eva sniffled again. “So when my husband finds out I’m ruined, he’ll just take it out on me.” For the rest of my life.
“I will not allow that to happen,” Fray Hernando said. “The office of bishop comes with a certain amount of secular power, although I have always been careful to use it only in genuine service to God. Which your case surely is. So as soon as Manuel is removed, we will go together and explain to your father—”
“No! You mustn’t tell father!” Eva panicked. “Please, if he thinks I told, he will ruin mother’s name, deny we are his children and Elias—” Eva felt the blood drain from her face, remembering the threats their father had made against Elias.
Fray Hernando was looking at her in shock. “You were violated by your father?!” His voice shook with fury.
She cringed away. It was as she expected—to be raped was one thing, but incest was in a category so loathsome that there was no forgiving it.
Fray Hernando saw her flinch. “No, don’t be afraid, Evita, it isn’t you I am angry with, but Iago de Pazia. There are no words for this betrayal!” He stood abruptly. “I am Bishop of Granada, and I have authority to excommunicate any of my flock who continue in such sins. As God is my witness, if your father does not repent, he will find himself cut off from mother church!”
Eva felt a flare of hope. Being excommunicated—it was a terrible threat. Even though she knew her father was a secret Jew who cared nothing for the sacraments, he would not dare defy the church, for it would cost him his business. She jumped up. “Truly?”
“I promise, by this time next week you will be a postulant with Suor Lucia’s Little Sisters of Mercy. And every penny of your dowry shall go with you.” Fray Hernando put an arm around her shoulder. “Look, your duenna is coming back, and Fray Esteban, too. Let us go to meet them.”
He took a step, then halted. Eva felt him lean heavily on her shoulder; his other hand went to his chest. “Father? Are you all right?”
Fray Hernando did not answer. Beads of sweat stood out on his face, which was going gray. Eva could hardly support his weight as he leaned against her. Fray Esteban noticed and broke into a run.
He arrived just in time to catch the bishop as he crumpled. “It is his heart. Doña Barbola, take the señorita home. I will take care of the Bishop.”
Eva was hurried off. But Fray Hernando’s words ran around and around in her head: “Yet today I feel that there are still things which can break my heart.”
Later that evening the cathedral bells began to toll. It was not vespers, nor any other time when they might normally ring. People stopped to listen and count, in the streets, in their homes. They did not toll the cathedral bells for ordinary deaths.
Eva stood stricken as the last bell fell silent. Seventy-nine strokes.
Somewhere in the kitchen courtyard, a maid began to wail, and another took it up, Moorish-fashion. But Eva’s sorrow was too deep for tears.
Fray Hernando Talavera de Toledo, the first and most beloved bishop of Granada, was dead.
They laid him out in the Cathedral surrounded by the pomp he had avoided in life. The people he had so faithfully served came to pay their respects. Iago de Pazia dutifully brought his entire household, every member dressed in their best.
Eva dared a look as she filed by the casket. Talavera’s homely face smiled in repose, the lines of care smoothed out. Like Zara, he had gone into the sweet presence of his Lord, and the peace and justice he had given his life to win was his at last.
Fray Esteban had brought her the letter of recommendation, but the bishop had not lived to implement his solution. Jesu’s power was in heaven, and not on this earth. So it was plainly God’s Will that she suffer patiently until her dying day, and not expect any happiness here in this vale of tears.
Eva glanced up and saw Baltasar Cerra leading a file of his staff down the opposite side of the coffin. Eva ducked her head so that her mantilla shaded most of her face as her father and the other merchant met at the foot of the bier and stopped to exchange insincere compliments. They’re both just like the wicked wizard from Blanca’s story.
In the line of Cerra’s people Eva saw Baseel, his pockmarks stark white against dark skin. She averted her eyes. Another brokenness that could not be fixed until the kingdom of heaven made all things new.
Tears met with bitter bile in the back of Eva’s throat. Here on earth, happily ever after was nothing but a fairy-tale. In real life, the good die broken-hearted, the wicked triumph, the spell has no cure, and the scars never go away.