Being the Random Yarns of Emily Cotton, Merry Scrivener of Fact & Fiction Historical, Animal, & Minimal to Amuse, Inform, & Enlighten.

Chapter 12 of Eva’s Secret

  12. Power

Casa Cerra: Tuesday evening, August 30, 1513

“I hope none of the new shipment are as bad as that little Sevillana!” Matron shook her head in exasperation. “She has given us more trouble than the last five girls we have handled! Down, up, down, up, down! I am sorry to have to move you in with her, Eva, but we need your room. Is this all your things?”

“Andres didn’t give me time to bring much.” Eva hoisted her bundle of clothing and shoes, thinking regretfully of her prie-dieu left behind. Faithful Paloma might have retrieved the guitarra when she got Tabita, but not even the Inquisition would want the ugly old cross.

Matron picked up the straw pallet and led the way, speaking over her shoulder. “Four new girls have just arrived from Santa Fé—two will go here, and two in Analina’s room, who will share with you and Aliya-Noor–it’s only until the lot of them leave for Malaga day after tomorrow.”

In the room, Leonor was curled on the bed against the wall. Eva approached her softly. “Leonor?”

The girl was still sleeping deeply, after crying through most of the normal siesta hour. Relieved, Eva arranged her belongings in the plain wooden chest and slipped out. There were a few hours left of light; she could go down to the salon and stitch on the tapestry in peace.

She had almost made it to the top of the stairwell when a man came to the dormitorio entry and called for Matron. Eva ducked into a niche as the tall Morisca came striding down the corridor from the other direction, Analina in her wake. “Don’t bellow like a bull, Mario Hussein! What is it you want?”

“Just passing the word so you can be ready. I heard the señor has assigned a girl to Alcazar’s use.”

This announcement fixed both the women’s attention on the man below. Analina dropped her basket of wash. “What happened to the poor creature he keeps locked in his quarters?”

“Shhh, we do not know she exists. It is not as though anybody has ever seen this supposed woman.” Matron hurried down the stairs.

Mario Hussein reassured her. “Don’t worry, Alcazar isn’t back yet.”

“I heard that he came in with the shipment.” Matron challenged. “He was due back this afternoon.”

“Well, he left riding Kohli, his big black gelding. And I just saw to the stable-boys feeding the horses, and Kohli isn’t among them.” Nevertheless, Eva saw Mario Hussein step out the open door for a moment to check.

“As to the other matter, you saw that chest when Alcazar brought his things. Juan Omar and I were the ones who carried it in, and it was heavy enough, I can tell you! A smallish woman could have fit in it easy.”

“Last night he ordered that extra food brought to his quarters,” Analina said, “And he had eaten already in the commons, I served him myself.”

“Well maybe he has an appetite,” Matron countered. “He is a strong man.”

“But when we put the chest down,” Mario Hussein paused for effect, “—we heard it moan!”

“Pooh! This foolishness about women locked in chests. Why would he have to keep her secret?” Matron argued. “And if he really had a woman hidden, why would Cerra be giving him another?”

“Maybe he killed her,” Analina said darkly. “Nobody has any idea about Alcazar. He has no friends.”

“If he’s not keeping someone in his place, then why has no one been allowed in the apartment below the office since he moved in a month ago?” Mario Hussein retorted.

“Idle gossip will bring nothing but trouble.” Matron shut down the speculation. “I suppose one of the girls from Santa Fé turned out to be unsuitable for Cerra’s usual buyers, and he gave her to Alcazar to keep house.”

 “It’s not to keep house, and it’s not one of the newcomers.” Mario Hussein shifted uncomfortably. “That’s what I came to tell you. The señor has ordered the majordomo is to be given la Granadina for his bed.”

“You must be mistaken!” For a moment, Eva did not understand Matron’s shock.

“He mentioned her by name. Eva from Casa de Pazia.”

“No!” Eva hardly knew she had spoken; the blood pounded in her ears, and she gripped the stair railing.

Matron hurried up to support her. “It is a feint, cariña, señor Cerra does this sometimes, he has his reasons. You are not so pretty, it is true, but you are a gently-raised virgin, and you have the skills to prove it. You are much too valuable for Cerra to throw you away on a beast like Alcazar.”

Paco arrived in the door. “Señor Cerra says that he is in the office going over the accounts. I am to bring la Granadina at once. He wants to see her in person.”

“Then I will go too. I need to speak to the señor.” Matron guided Eva down the stairs and out the door. Eva moved like a puppet across the courtyard, repeating the Pater noster over and over in her head to keep the terror of her fate at bay.

They arrived at a heavy door with a little guard-booth built into the wall next to it. The man posted there expected them; he opened the portal with a muttered, “The señor is in the office.”

The door shut behind them. Eva saw they were in a large tiled entry with a stair leading up to a landing. Baltasar Cerra’s voice could be heard through the open door at the top.

“I see that the Governor’s household is late with the Alhambra kitchen bill.”

“I usually have to dun them three or four times before they pay up.” Eva knew that voice—Baseel. But of course—even back in her father’s shop, he had been managing the accounts.

Perhaps Baseel had some influence with Cerra—or with the terrible majordomo. Perhaps he could persuade them to wait until Elias could purchase her.

Matron paused on the landing, curtseying respectfully. “The señor sent for us?”

Cerra sat across from Baseel at a table littered with lists and ledgers. His expression was difficult to see as he was silhouetted against the evening light pouring in from a wide window that gave a view over the city ramparts. The merchant looked up. “Ah, here is the girl.”

Matron spoke in a breathless rush. “Señor, Eva is very marketable. She sings, and does needlework, and can read and write. It is true she is not very pretty, but—”

“Thank you, Matron, I am well-informed about my sale stock. You may rest assured that her varied experience is taken into consideration. And now you will leave the girl and go. And close the door.”

Eva stood, unable to speak. She tried to catch Baseel’s eye, but he was busily adding up a column of numbers, ignoring her.

Cerra surveyed Eva. “I know you are Eva de Pazia. Don’t try to deny it.”

Eva found her tongue again. “If you know who I am, then you know my brother Elias is Abbe Matias’ personal secretary. Please, he’ll pay more for me than anybody else will. I’m not worth much without a dowry.”

“That’s certainly true, now that your influential house has become a liability. Maybe you’re not as stupid as my informant claimed.”

His informant? Manuel Ortiz, of course. Casa de Pazia’s former captain of the guard had not taken her message to Elias, but to Baltasar Cerra.

“Sit.” Cerra shoved a stool out with his foot. “Now your brother, on the other hand, with his good looks and linguistic talents, is worth a great deal to me, should he decide to be. I hope you are worth something to him.”

“He’ll pay more than anyone else will,” Eva repeated. She hoped the proceeds Elias had realized from their mother’s lands in Maracena would be enough. “If you send to him at Holy Cross, I can explain—”

“Your brother is no longer at Holy Cross,” Cerra interrupted, watching her with the same intentness that Tabita gave a mouse trapped under her paw. “The Inquisition has accused him of practicing sorcery. I understand your father gave enough evidence to condemn him three times over.”

Eva could hardly breathe as the horror slammed into her. No. Please, Jesu, no! This, too was her doing: why hadn’t she realized that her father would drag his hated son down with him? Tears she could not stop slid down her cheeks.

 “Which leaves me with the question of how to dispose of you. I could, of course, turn you over to the Inquisition. They would very much like to ask about all your brother’s haunts, anyplace where he might hide.”

It took a moment for the meaning of this to penetrate Eva’s mind. “Then the Inquisition does not have him?”

“Not yet. Although Abbe Matias is turning all Granada over in the effort to find him.”

Steely resolve dried Eva’s tears. “Whatever tortures the Inquisitors might devise, I will tell them nothing.”

“Actually, I have decided to keep you, for the moment, and leave the devising of tortures to my majordomo Alcazar. He needs a new woman to serve his pleasure. I fear he is rather hard on them.”

Eva’s resolve turned to instant nausea; She clapped a hand over her mouth, trying to hold it back.

At that Baseel leaped up. “Not on the books!” He pushed her towards a potted palm in the corner.

Eva retched helplessly onto the trunk, hanging onto the planter’s pottery sides and hiding her face in the fronds. What awaited her was certain to be far worse than being sequestered in Conti Niccolo’s palazzo.

“This does not seem to please her, does it, Baseel?” Cerra’s tone was one of amusement. “Tell me, do you think Elias de Pazia will come around?”

“One can only hope that he will not leave his sister to Alcazar’s intemperate lusts.” The answering irony in Baseel’s response told Eva that no aid could be expected from that quarter.

Eva’s horror grew as she grasped that Cerra was using her as bait to capture her brother! He must not give himself up on her account! Elias was chosen, God had put a call on his life. “No,” she said. And then, more clearly, “No, Elias won’t rescue me.”

“For your sake, I do hope you are wrong.” Cerra waved a negligent hand. “Baseel, take her downstairs. There is a set of slave-chains in the store room.”

Baseel regarded her with distaste. “Why not give it another day? I understand she is still translating between the Sevillana and the woman Muammar Walid sent.”

“A good point,” Cerra stroked his beard. “And now that I think of it, tomorrow should persuade her better than a night in chains.”

“Is it wise to have her attend such a public affair?” Baseel asked. “What if she is recognized?”

“Not likely. People see only what they expect to see, and the news of her elopement is all over the city. The gossip-mongers have embroidered the tale to make her a raving beauty, which backs up my informant’s assurance that hardly anybody knows what Eva de Pazia looks like. Moreover, few will be paying attention to anything other than the auto-da-fé.”

So that was the religious ritual in front of the cathedral, that was the reason for the confession! Eva’s thoughts went to Leonor’s account of her parent’s burnings. But surely, Iago de Pazia would repent rather than be burnt at the stake!

Eva desperately wanted to avoid the auto-da-fé. “The people of Casa de Pazia would recognize me.”

“You can be sure that the servants of Casa de Pazia will not be stepping forward to identify themselves. Andres tells me the Inquisition audit found the Casa de Pazia’s store rooms and pantries cleaned out—not so much as a sack of meal remained. And, not surprisingly, the servants’ quarters were vacated the same night.” Cerra gave an unpleasant laugh.

“Would anybody else know you?” Baseel asked.

“I worked twice a week at the hospital of the Little Sisters of Mercy. We served many of the poor of Granada.”

“Their practice is to veil the lower half of the face, is it not?”

Eva nodded miserably under Cerra’s penetrating gaze.

 “Then I see no reason for you to miss such an enlightening event. Baseel, see that Matron keeps her surrounded.”

“As you will.” Baseel rose and stretched. “I’ll take her back to the women’s dormitorio on the way to the hammam.”

The Cat

Tabita woke. Her time-sense told her that it was evening. There was still a faint smell of dog drifting in the opening of the drain. Perhaps it was only their lingering spoor, but Tabita knew how patiently she herself would wait just to the side of a mouse-hole, until the hapless creature decided she was gone. Better not to back out and be caught.

She inched forward along the pipe, hoping that the hammam side would not be blocked by a grate, as the one at Casa de Pazia was. To her relief there was no grate, although the drain-end was wide and flat enough to require effort to squeeze out of it. The yarn harness had become a serious nuisance.

Tabita found a convenient niche in the wall on one side, deep enough to hide in, and set about cleaning the scum from the pipe off her fur as best she could. It tasted of the foul goo the humans used. Horrible.

When she was done, she went looking for water. There was always water in a hammam; it was the place where humans sloshed water over themselves, first hot, and then cold. It was so time-consuming and inconvenient that only the well-fed did it often enough for proper hygiene, but as they lacked sufficient flexibility to lick themselves clean, it was the best they could do.

The door opened, and someone entered. A man whose face was unusually patterned—rather like a very large hunting cat Tabita had once seen, only that cat had been dark spots on a light coat while this man was the reverse. It was quite striking.

The paw that he placed under the spigot was also covered with white spots, as was the one that turned the water on.

Khara!” Spots made the same noise Elias did when something displeased him. At the sound, an old man came in, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

He raised his wrinkled brow in surprise and made the motions as if he were riding an invisible horse, then pointed to the spotted man and shook his head.

“Maria Hussein told you I wasn’t back because my horse wasn’t in the stables?”

The old man nodded.

“Kohli cast a shoe, so I left him at the blacksmith’s. No, Mustapha, you don’t need to start the boiler, lukewarm will do tonight. Go back to bed.”

Mustapha shook his head firmly, then went into the adjacent chamber where Tabita heard him moving firewood. She regretted not going with him—when firewood was shifted, mice were frequently to be had. But it was wiser to remain unnoticed. She crouched, watching while Spots stripped off his shirt and dropped it on the bench.

Tabita’s whiskers twitched into alertness: for just a second, she had caught a whiff of Eva! As soon as Spots turned his back, Tabita crept out of her niche to examine his discarded shirt more closely. Mustapha’s return sent her ducking back.

He carried the usual bath implements—a little bucket containing dark slimy goo that the humans spread all over themselves, along with a brush to do it.

Spots stepped out of his lower garments. “Why won’t you take it easier? I told you that once I became majordomo you could retire and I would see you provided for.”

 “We have a new batch of Inquisitorial victims. Ugh, anything to do with the church makes me feel unclean.”

Mustapha set the items down with a disapproving rap.

“Look, I didn’t invent the Inquisition. And these children wouldn’t be any better off if the señor weren’t making a profit from them.”

Mustapha’s lips formed a word. Although he made no sound, Spots apparently knew what he said. “Leave my father out of this. Abi is dead, and only you and I remember him.” Spots flung himself down on the bench and began rubbing the goo into his skin rather too vigorously. “Times have changed. Granada has changed, the state religion has changed, and I—” he indicated his spotted face, “—have changed most of all.”

The old man put both hands beside his ears, then clasped them together across his body as though he were going to start the purring ritual of his kind. But not a word escaped him. Tabita was intrigued.

“I know Allah hasn’t changed!” Spots snapped. “But even the Prophet, peace be upon him, agreed that it is better to bend than to break. Look at you—still a slave, when a little water on the head, a few mumbled words—which in your case, you wouldn’t even have to say—and you’d be a free man.”

Mustapha shrugged and pointed upwards.

“Yes, he’s free now—but in this world, Abi lived and died a slave. Thanks to Baltasar Cerra, I am free, and if I continue as I have been, I can rise higher than Abi ever imagined.” Spots went to the pillar set against the wall on the low side of the room and turned a handle. Water flowed from the spout. “It’s hot enough now.”

He sat on the edge of the depression, his back to the bench where his clothing lay. Keeping one eye on the two men, Tabita slunk quietly out of her hiding place to investigate the Eva-smell she had caught when he disrobed.

She nosed aside the undergarments, and there it was: a trace of Eva’s vomit on his shirt sleeve! Moreover, the smell was very fresh. Less than an hour ago, Spots had been with Eva.

And if she had thrown up, that meant there had been the possibility of a mating. Eva always threw up at the least hint of sex.

Mustapha was pouring water over his shoulders while Spots scraped off the goo, which ran down the drain in a foamy mess. Tabita slid beneath the seat and turned her attention on Spots with new interest, sizing him up as a potential mate for Eva. Taller than most. Lithe and controlled in his movements—not so graceful as Elias, but he had too much length of limb for that.

He had a short beard, but the rest of him was very sparsely furred. Which was to be expected, because the darker humans were, the less covering they had. In fact, the only human Tabita had ever seen with anything like a proper pelt had been a ginger-colored male. That was why they had to hamper themselves with so much cloth, the poor naked creatures.

Spots gave the old man a slap on the shoulder. “Just don’t unmask me, Mustapha. Fear inspires obedience.”

The old man made an inarticulate noise and pointed to his open mouth. Tabita saw the tongue was missing.

Spots sighed. “Sorry. I know you’re discreet. And it’s good to have somebody who knew me before smallpox turned me into a freak.”

Tabita assumed his dissatisfied air referred to the very few spots on his now-exposed torso. The white dots seemed to be concentrated on his head and paws, but there were several long puckered scars on chest and arms, the kind acquired from a blade. That was good; it showed Spots was an experienced fighter, able to protect his mate and their young.

One scar ran up the thigh, toward Spot’s crotch. That was a worry; human tomcats carried everything hanging out where it could get hurt. This might be useful as a virility display to win breeding partners—but they ruined that by covering them up whenever females were in sight.

It was worth risking notice to make sure Spot’s reproductive organs were unharmed. Tabita crept from under her bench.

Spots glanced her way. “What was that?”

Tabita whisked back into the niche and crouched, waiting. Mustapha made a motion with his hand as though petting a cat. “Meow.” It was a perfect intonation of the sound that meant nothing was amiss. The tongueless man spoke Tabita’s language!

“Oh. Another of your strays. Gave me a start for a moment—I was afraid someone was spying on me.”

Mustapha indicated the barred door and shook his head.

“All right, maybe a little paranoid. But I have an image to maintain. And that kitchen-boy, Enrique, follows me around like I was his dadi.” Spots turned so Mustapha could dump another pitcher down his front. Tabita, still crouched in her niche, had a clear view of his male equipment. Tabita assessed Spot’s reproductive organs. They appeared to be adequate to sire offspring.

Mustapha must have been thinking along the same lines, for he indicated little ones and grunted with a questioning inflection.

“I don’t want any children.” Spot’s voice carried the truculent grumpiness of a human trying to convince others of something he does not believe himself. “Anybody you love becomes a weapon that can be used against you.”

Mustapha made a disapproving noise that expressed Tabita’s feelings exactly. To reproduce successfully, to rear a healthy second generation that could repeat the process, that was the whole point of existence. Every creature knew that except humans. It was another example of the wrongness with which their species was infected.

“Well, you’ll be happy to know that Cerra has now assigned me a woman.” Tabita was confused by Spot’s use of the one word she recognized, happy. He did not smell happy. “Not a willing one, either. When Baltasar told her she’d be my bed-mate, she threw up at the very idea.”

Mustapha’s body language registered extreme disapproval. He made a rolling motion with his hands.

“My father turning in his grave, you mean? Well, he’s dead, and I have to make a life for myself.” Spots flung the water off with the scraper. “Cerra thinks I’m too soft with slaves. So his cure is to force me to be the instrument of this poor girl’s torture.”

Mustapha handed Spots a towel, the old man’s stiff gestures showing his disapproval.

“It’s not my choice. But I’m still only on probation as the Granada majordomo. There are three other men Cerra could appoint to the post. If I have to turn rapist to keep Baltasar’s favor, so be it.”

Mustapha frowned. His hands moved up and down in a seesaw motion.

“Raping captive women doesn’t count as a bad deed on Allah’s scales—not if they aren’t Muslim. Abu Dawud clarifies in the Hadith that forcible sex with captives is acceptable to Allah. And this girl is Jewish.”

Mustapha frowned and made a negating gesture.

“Okay, so you don’t think that Hadith counts.” Spots toweled himself dry. “Tell you what: I’ll load the right side of the scales with plenty of good deeds once I’m secure in this new position.”

Mustapha made a disgusted noise as he gathered up the damp linen.

“It’s not as though it will be a new experience for this girl. The señor can’t market her as a virgin. And there are other reasons, too—which I can’t tell you about now.” Spots stepped, one leg at a time, into a freshly laundered crotch covering. “The difference between myself and you is that I’m ambitious. I’m not going to stay at the bottom, where others control my life. I’m going to rise to a position of prestige and power.”

Power. That last was another word Tabita knew. It was one of the few areas where humans made sense, in cat terms, even if some of their means and moves were inexplicable to her limited understanding. Eva, for instance, was powerful among the humans. Almost everybody at Casa de Pazia catered to her. They brought her the best food; they protected her.

How this had been accomplished, Tabita did not know. Eva never hissed—those harsh tones humans used were not quite the same as hissing, but Tabita could tell they meant the same thing. Eva was not physically stronger, or bigger, or more experienced than most of the humans subordinate to her. But wherever Eva went, she changed people’s emotions so they felt calmer, smelled more positive.

Only the dominant lion did not cater to Eva. Hair rose along Tabita’s back as a picture of Iago de Pazia formed in her mind’s eye. He was eaten inside with the human-wrongness. There had been a time when Eva was powerless against him, too.

The damp scent of earth-baked bricks in the place she crouched filled Tabita’s nostrils, reminding her of the scrape Eva had made in the bricks of her lair.

Casa de Pazia, January 1510

The first time Eva had used it was when the balance of power at Casa de Pazia had finally tipped in Eva’s favor.

Eva lay stretched out in the space behind the wall paneling, a space almost as high as Tabita could reach, standing on her hind legs, and longer than Eva was tall. But the cavity was so narrow that when Eva pulled the last panel in front of her there was little room for a cat.

“Go away, Tabita,” Eva whispered through the knot-hole she used to return the wood to its usual position. “Go hunting. I’ll come out in the morning.”

Tabita could not leave her pride-mate when she was in such distress. Eva was trembling like a mouse in a corner. Under her breath she was repeating: “Please God, don’t let him come tonight. Please, please, Jesu, don’t let him find me.”

Tabita knew what the trouble was. It happened regularly, on the nights that the tall dark duenna was gone. The dominant lion came to mate with Eva. His furtive behavior was proof that he knew as well as Tabita that his actions were evil.

Tabita lashed her tail. It was always the same. Iago de Pazia was always angry. He always stank of the fermented drink that made humans crazy. He snarled at Eva, and forced her down, and he hurt her terribly.

It wasn’t the pain that was so wrong. Cat mating was always painful, at the end. Tabita howled with the best of them when the tom’s barbed member scraped her birth canal. Nevertheless, a female in heat accepted the tom because that was the only way to get kittens.

What was wrong, wrong, wrong about these matings was that the old lion did them knowing there was no possibility of a human kitten. Anybody could smell that Eva was not yet mature.

And the proof of the damage was in the change that had come over Tabita’s pride-mate since that first time, almost two years ago. Eva’s earlier tendency to alert at any threat had increased tenfold. She worked like a frenzy all day, and at night her exhausted sleep was broken by dreams from which she woke up screaming. And then she would occupy herself by taking the wooden panels off the lower section of the wall and scraping at the bricks, until now at last she had made a cavity big enough to hide in.

Tabita’s hackles rose as the key turned in the lock. Eva’s door opened quietly and Iago de Pazia entered. She crouched in the shadows, not moving an inch, as Iago held the candle up. “Don’t pretend to be asleep, you little devil’s brat.”

He walked to the bed and seized the covers, but there was no resistance when he jerked them off.

Behind the wall-boards in her narrow scrape, Eva’s heart was drumming so loudly anybody but a human would have known she was there.

For a stunned moment he stood staring at the pillows Eva had arranged on the mattress. And then he swept them onto the floor, hissing. “The little puta! Just like her mother!”

He staggered out in the direction of the servant’s quarters. Tabita followed cautiously, curious to see what the dominant lion would do.

When she arrived, Iago was speaking to a group of five servants, three men and two women, people who had been here as long as Tabita could remember.

“I want her found!” he snarled. “And whoever she’s with will pay for violating my daughter!”

The servants mumbled assent, none of them daring to look at their master. He steadied himself against the wall, speaking thickly. “And not a word of this, not any of you. If my plans for her marriage are shadowed by even a hint of a rumor, I promise that every servant in the Casa tonight will be out of a job.”

They scattered in different directions. Tabita followed Iago on a circuit of the stables. She left him poking into the stalls and returned to check on Eva.

Paloma was there, muttering underneath her breath, “Pobrecita! Who can blame her for hiding from the foul old pervert?” Tabita saw that the old woman was arranging the covers back around Eva’s pillows so they looked like a body was under them.

 Next Paloma found the knife Eva used to sharpen her pens. She opened the door of the little chamber where Eva took care of body functions and did a very strange thing: Placing one foot on the edge of the sitting-place, Paloma lifted her skirts and slashed her upper leg!

Blood spurted from the wound. Paloma mopped it up with a clean rag from a basket hung on the wall, not in a careful pad the way Eva swabbed wounds at the sick-people place, but messily, as though the point was to make the cloth as stained as possible. When the bleeding slowed, Paloma bound the cut with another rag and went to the open door, calling softly.

“Ernesto! Tell the señor I found Eva. She was in the guarderobe, that’s all.”

Iago came panting up in minutes. “What is this? If she was taking a dump, why didn’t she respond when I called?”

“She was not in there for the chamber-pot, señor.” Paloma held out the bloody cloth for Iago’s inspection. “It is that her monthlies have begun. The first time, before a girl is accustomed to her monthlies, it is too embarrassing even to speak of them. Evita has terrible cramps—see, I have given her more cloths and put her to bed.”

“Fertile now, is she?” Iago looked disgusted. He addressed the lumpy blankets. “Well then, it’s time you are married off. God knows your dowry will cost me enough.”

He staggered again, and Paloma hurried to support him. “Ernesto! Come and get the other side—we must help the master back to bed.”

One on each side, the two servants half-dragged him off. Tabita went at once to the moveable board and put her face to the knot-hole. “Miaow.”

The panel lifted from the floor strip and tilted out enough for Tabita to wiggle in. “Oh, Tabita, it worked! Prayer really does make a difference, if you do it right.”

Eva clutched the cat to her chest. “I prayed to the Virgin before, but she didn’t understand. She never had to deal with—with that.”

Eva paused; she smelled the way she did when she was thinking very hard. Tabita licked the salty tears from the underside of her jaw.

“Fray Hernando said Jesu took on all the sins of humanity when he died for us. So he knows the pain of everything. And he stopped Father, for tonight. Next time, I’ll pray directly to Jesu.”

But there had never been a next time.  

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