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

Chapter 16 of Eva’s Secret

16. Lay of the Land

The Cat

Tabita was concerned. She had seen this pattern once before. It started with nights where Eva screamed in her sleep, and woke shaking. Then the days would be filled with frenzied activity until she collapsed into exhausted sleep, only to begin the cycle again on waking.

It had started with that mating that was so completely wrong, because she was not yet fertile.

But now Eva was fertile—had been for years. And there was the scent of her vomit on the sleeve of the spotted man. Perhaps some good would come of all the activity. Eva was overdue to produce a human kitten.

One thing was sure, and that was that she was making this place their new lair. It was a fine thing for Elias and Eva and Tabita to be all together in the same place again. The only puzzling part was that Eva did not seem to know that Elias was living on the other side of the wall that surrounded Eva’s big new lair. And as for the cozy little lair where Elias slept through most of the days, it went right up to the unused cooking-room.

At night, when the curs slept, Tabita roamed the larger space, checking out the lay of the land. There was the central courtyard, of course. On the downhill street side was the ornate façade of oily-voiced man’s lair. It was closed now, and smelled like it did not receive much use.

Next to that was the hammam, where the old man who spoke cat lived in a little lair in the back. There was no smell of dog in or behind that building. And beside it, green with the drain-water, was the herb garden. Beyond that, the two-story building that ended at the east city wall was the woman-building. It smelled quite safe; the dogs had never been allowed across the threshold. They were also excluded from the courtyard behind and downhill from that, where the people-pelts were soaked, wrung and hung to dry. Such a lot of work the poor humans had to do, all because they could not lick themselves!

The eastern edge of the well-courtyard was the inside of the city wall. Tabita had been on the outside of it once; she knew exactly where this place was, because the wall stepped inward fifty paces or so as it ran down the slope from the Sacromonte to the Darro river, and the inside of that step provided a narrow L-shaped garden around two sides of Eva’s new lair. The third side, uphill and adjacent to the stable-building with its store-room topped by the dove-cote, was where Elias lived in a smaller patio with his cranky camel.

Closing the main court on the uphill side were two storage buildings. Between them was an alley, and at the end of it the stable-yard. This was the curs’ primary domain: it reeked of their foul unburied scat and urine. Of course it also smelled strongly of horse and mule. The open space was larger than any of the other courts. On the most-uphill, farthest side, it was lined with open-fronted stalls, while the nicer, closed-fronted stalls ran down the sunrise side. At the nearest end was the little room she had followed Elias into, full of barrels and bags of fodder. And above that was the dovecote.

Between that end of the stable-building and the wall of the feed-storage was a tall, stout gate. Tabita’s unerring sense of direction told her that this led to Elias’ courtyard, the space he shared with a cranky old camel.

The street side had a two-story building identical to the women-only place. It was definitely the men’s lair; they had marked all the walls with their urine. And between that and the central court, completing the circuit to the street gate, was the big eating-room. Tabita liked to hunt this kind of building, because they always had a cooking-place at one end; and mice could also be found on the patios outside, getting crumbs from around the beehive-shaped ovens.

Once, when Eva was scrubbing the floor of the kitchen, Elias had urged Tabita to go through the ash-pipe to attract her attention. But Eva had only laughed at Tabita, thinking she was playing a game, and kept on scrubbing.

Tabita went back and tried to tell Elias that he could use his words, because Eva was alone. But she had no way to express it that he could understand.

Tabita could see that Elias was keeping his presence very secret, but she did not know why. If Spots had been the dominant lion, he was now gone. Eva was energetically removing any trace of his scent from the lair. She covered it over on the walls, and with many applications of water she vigorously scrubbed it from the floors. Not even the mat where Spots once slept was left unmolested: the straw marked with his spoor was dumped with the rest of the stall-sweepings.

It was plain that Eva had become top lioness. The people were her servants, just like they had all been at Casa de Pazia. They ran back and forth at her bidding, doing the perplexing busy-work that occupied the human day. That was what happened when people got around Eva. She never hissed, or threatened, or did anything Tabita recognized as a dominance behavior, but she always came out on top. And if there was any doubt, her status in this new place was confirmed when all the other females participated in a ritual of bathing and grooming Eva in the hammam. Definitely dominant, and she, Tabita was the nearest pride-mate.

On the afternoon of the fourth day—cathedral-day, by the extra bells—Eva finally had her new lair arranged to suit her. She relaxed in her favorite way, by twanging the strings on a wooden box and miaowing plaintively. That was why she did not hear the mule train arrive in the main courtyard.

Spots was back. People scattered before his scowling face, hastening to do his bidding. Tabita saw him come in the entry, very quietly, and stand staring around the room. Eva was so lost in her music that she noticed nothing.

Then he opened the front door again, and instead of going out, shut it a second time with more force than necessary.

Casa Cerra: Sunday afternoon, September 4, 1513

The entry door shut with a bang, and Eva jumped up to find herself facing the majordomo. One glance at his unsmiling visage replaced the mental construct of ‘Baseel’ with ‘Alcazar’.

Eva’s stomach dropped to her toes. Suddenly the overhaul of his private space did not seem like such a divinely inspired idea—especially helping herself to his treasured instrument. “For-forgive me!” She held the guitarra in front of her like a shield.

“I see that like Pandora, you could not resist opening the box.” He walked over to the chest and sat. “But your nosiness must not go undisciplined.”

Eva’s stomach heaved. Tonight

He softened the statement with a ghost of a smile. “Your punishment will be to entertain me. Sing that piece I just interrupted, from the beginning.”

Dismay filled Eva. Psalm 82 was the last thing she would have chosen to sing under these circumstances! But she sat down in the window-seat again, ducked her head and prayed for courage. She picked through the opening bars, and to her surprise, her voice came out almost normal.

“God stands in the midst of the mighty,

the small gods are weighed on his scale:

‘How long will you judge so unrightly?

How long will the wicked prevail?’

The poor and fatherless defend,

The needy and afflicted tend,

From wicked hands deliv’rance send!”

She ventured quick glance to see if the majordomo was taking this as a musical reprimand. He was leaning against the wall on the cushioned bench, legs stretched out, eyes closed.

Eva sang the refrain.

“They do not know him;

they will not understand.

They walk in darkness,

though the Lord shakes the land.”

Alcazar remained motionless. Eva hoped he was going to sleep. He must have ridden all day, to have gotten back from Malaga so soon. Maybe he was too tired to want her tonight. She softened the music until it was almost a lullaby.

“The Lord says: ‘You all are made god-like,

as children of God the most High.

But no mortal soul avoids death’s strike,

The mightiest princes still die!’

Arise, oh God, to us descend,

come judge the earth, our evil mend,

Yours are the nations in the end.”

 The last chord faded away. The fearsome majordomo appeared to have fallen asleep. In repose, it was easier to see Alcazar as Baseel, the young slave who poured hot tea on himself so an unknown child beneath a table could get away. Eva took the opportunity to study him.

When she unfocused a little, the light-and-dark pattern of his facial scars ran together in a uniform blur and the features were easier to see. His hawk-nose bespoke Arab ancestry, while the dark skin tone was all African. His hair, more curly than crimped, was sweat-damp and pressed tight in a circle corresponding to a felt helmet-liner; the remainder was severely clubbed back and tied off, except for a single escaped curl that straggled down beside his right ear into the close-trimmed beard. His chin was pressed into the same stained gambeson he had worn last time. Eva sniffed. That could certainly use a wash. He must have just removed a cuirass.

Her eyes paused at the bottom edge of the gambeson, at the codpiece of his plain breeches. Eva’s peace deserted her; she slid her gaze quickly past and fixed them on his knee-high boots, still covered with the dust of the road.

“Jesu,” she prayed silently, “You said that if anyone lacked wisdom, she should ask and you would give it. Please tell me, what do I do now?”

Her eyes went to Tabita, sitting under the table. Would Jesu once again answer her through her cat?

Tabita rolled onto her side and began licking her hind paw, taking a great deal of trouble over it. At the same time, a thought popped into Eva’s head, complete and urgent: Wash his feet.

She shook herself. She was going loco, hearing voices. Although a thought wasn’t exactly a voice. Tabita finished with the left hind and started on the right.

“Jesu, if that was you, I can’t do that! He has boots on.” Eva didn’t know if this silent conversation counted as prayer. “And besides, he might think I was inviting him to—to—”

Wash his feet. The thought recurred, definite and compelling.

Taking a deep breath, Eva knelt before Alcazar, grasped the right boot in both hands, and tugged it off.

He sat up, sur­prised awake. “What are you doing?”

She dropped her eyes blushing furiously. “I thought you’d be more comfortable in slippers.”

He grunted. “Just go easy on the inside.”

Eva got the boot off and saw that the woolen stocking was stuck to Baseel’s big toe. Carefully peeling it away, she saw the surrounding cuticle was inflamed.

“You have a badly ingrown toenail! Surely this is painful?”

He shrugged. “Mostly I ignore it. Every time I cut it out, it just grows back.”

“But look at this—Suor Lucia would call it proud flesh. If you do not tend it, the bad humors will go up your leg.”

“Galen’s theory of four humors is so much rot,” Baseel retorted. “I have the original Arabic treatises of Ibn Sina—your doctors know him as Avicenna—and he is the best medical authority there is.”

“I don’t know Galen or Ibn Sina, but I know what to do for an ingrown toenail.” Eva went to the entry and brought the towel, pitcher, and slop-basin, setting them down.

She washed both his feet, letting her fingers trace the backwards E below the inside left ankle. She hoped Alcazar was not one of those men who could face an army of cold steel but became like children at the removal of a splinter. “I’ll need your eating knife, if it’s sharp.”

He gave it to her, handle first. “You’re not planning murder, are you?”

“No, but it will hurt. Try not to move.”

He remained rock-still while she dug the overgrown nail from the swollen flesh and cut away the dead matter. “Now let it drain into the basin for a minute, I’ll get something to help it heal.”

Eva ran to the women’s dormitorio and begged some wine, rosemary oil, and a small roll of bandaging linen from Matron.

She returned to find the majordomo still in place. He had picked up the guitarra and was trying the chords from her song.

She washed the foot, dried it, and treated the toe with wine and oil, Suor Lucia’s unfailing recipe. “It was-e good for the Zamaritan, it will-e do for us,” she used to say. Eva smiled at the memory as she bandaged a tiny pad of linen beneath the nail to keep it from growing back into the inflamed area. “Isn’t that better?”

“Yes.” He set the instrument down. “And now I have to ask—whatever happened to this place?”

“I didn’t let anybody in.” She hoped he wouldn’t think that she hadn’t respected his privacy. “Except—well, I had help with the carpets.”

“Mustapha, of course.” Baseel spoke with a gruff fondness. “Tell me, was he the one who opened the chest?”

Eva did not want to place the blame. “You’re not angry?”

“Just so long as you don’t tell the staff that what I keep in there are books, not skeletons.” Baseel got up and looked through the bedroom drape. “And you did everything else by yourself?”

“Oh, no, not even a fifth part, I only did what couldn’t be taken outside, the whitewash and the floors. The women did the laundering and sewing and mending, and you already know Mustapha did the carpets, and the stable hands polished everything and Enrique weeded and stuffed.” Eva dropped her eyes. “Everybody assumed I was working on your orders, so they all pitched in. But I never actually said you had ordered anything.”

“We’ll let them think that I did. Better for discipline.” The majordomo looked around, puzzled. “Where did all these furnishings come from?”

“You said I could use whatever was in the storeroom.”

“All this was in the storeroom?” Baseel opened the door and inspected room in question, now almost empty except for Eva’s hay-filled pallet on the most-mended carpet next to her humble box of clothing.

Eva hurried to explain. “The things were neglected and dirty and needed mending, but we made do. Those spangles on the cushions cover moth-holes. The metal implements were dented and tarnished, but the stable-hands put them right. Jose’s son came to mend the table and polish the woodwork and he turned the packing crates into these little stands.”

“I stand in awe of your powers of persuasion.”

Eva was not at all sure what he meant by that. “Do you like it?”

He flashed her a smile that transformed his face. “Very much.”

Eva felt her heart skip a beat. He liked it! All the work over the last four days came together into a feeling of euphoria so strong that, quite paradoxically, she felt tears starting behind her eyes.

He returned to the table and sat. “Now as to your brother, or I should say, the scribe, Baltasar Cerra and I have discussed at some length what will present him in the best possible light. What we need is a résumé, a document in his own hand, which sets forth every skill he has mastered. Most important, of course, will be samples of his writing in Latin, Greek, and Arabic.”

“My brother can read and write Hebrew, too,” Eva said proudly. “He was translat­ing a new work on Proverbs for the holy fathers.”

Baseel nodded in approval. “There are many Jews who have fled Spain and are influential men under Sultan Selim, who welcomes their talents. That definitely adds to his worth. And persuade him to mention how grateful he is to be saved from the Inquisition. Even though he will be a slave, his greatest value lies in his willingness to serve.”

It was like a bucket of ice-water had been thrown in Eva’s face. Somehow, once she had decided on her course of action, she had completely put out of her mind that Casa Cerra had enslaved her brother.

Alcazar read her change in mood. “You will also have much to gain from your brother’s submission. In return for full cooperation, before he is on his way to his new owner he will see you free and your future provided for. And in the meantime, I will not force you in any way.”

Eva’s heart swelled with hope. Perhaps—perhaps she could stay here in Granada, and work with Suor Lucia and the Little sisters of Mercy in their hospital! But then she remembered her decision. “Elias must not be a slave. He is called to serve God.”

“Do not be put off by a word. Eva de Pazia, look at me.” Baseel waited until she lifted her gaze, and he met and held it. “We are all slaves to something, and all have a work laid out before them. What matters is not the name, but the value placed on us by the master we serve. And he can still serve God as a slave. Weren’t many of your early church fathers slaves?”

“I don’t know.” Eva dropped her eyes. “I’m not educated, like Elias.”

Baseel picked up a pewter vase and examined the mended handle. He spoke a little slowly, reminiscing. “I once knew a man who was born and died a slave. And yet he understood that his whole purpose in life was to be God’s slave. In fact, his name was Abdullah, which in Arabic, means ‘slave of God’. In serving his master well, he served his divine master.”

He put the vase down, and his tone changed, became somehow sardonic. “Think of the number of heathens your brother could reach as an influential scribe in an Ottoman household. Who is to say that this was not God’s intention from the beginning?”

Was that true? Eva remembered her vision, all the people and the little rabbit-camels. But against that was her terrible mistake, and all the destruction that had resulted.

She shook her head. “If God is calling Elias to this, then Elias will hear from God, not from me.”

“You don’t think that God could speak through you?”

“No. I’m not learned. Everything I have done, I ruin,” Eva said miserably. “I don’t trust myself to make the right decision.”

“Others trust you. You seem to have impressed all my staff—in under a week.”

“It’s because they think I’m somebody I’m not.” Eva hung her head. “They don’t know the evil I have done.”

“Nothing you might possibly have done can compare to real evil,” the majordomo scoffed. “For that, you need people in authority—especially spiritual authority. Last week’s auto-da-fé, for example—there’s real evil.”

 “Yes, that was real evil, and I participated in it!” Eva cried out, pierced through with guilt. “I was the one who turned my father in to the Inquisition.”

Alcazar was speechless at this admission, and suddenly Eva could not bear that he should think she had wanted Iago de Pazia burned alive. “I thought the Inquisition would take all his wealth and status. I didn’t know they would torture and burn him!”

The majordomo spoke in exasperation. “So you are taking on your shoulders the responsibility for Abbe Matias, the Inquisition’s need of money, the whole rotten mechanism of the Catholic church? Don’t you think they are the ones who will answer to God?”

“I only know that I will have to answer for what happened to my Father. Jesu says that if you want something in your heart, it’s the same as if you did it. I hated my father, and I wanted the Inquisition to ruin him.” Eva hid her face in her hands and burst into tears. Between sobs she gasped out the rest of her guilt. “Bishop Rojas said—sniff—the Inquisition would correct the sinner—sniff—and turn him to true belief. —sniff— But they wouldn’t let him repent. —sniff— And now he’s in hell, and it’s my fault!”

“Compose yourself and blow your nose.” Baseel pulled the linen scarf off the nearest small table and gave it to her for the purpose. “The God of the universe does not allow corrupt men like Abbe Matias to decide the destiny of the souls he created. If Iago de Pazia truly repented, then Allah, the merciful, the just, has already taken it into account. And now if you don’t mind, I’m going to get out of this gambeson.” He retreated through the curtain into his room.

Eva mopped her face, her sobs subsiding at this novel thought. Could a Saracen’s theology be sounder than a Bishop’s?

Yes, the little voice inside her replied. Bishop Rojas was no Talavera.

Eva got out the delicacies that Jose the cook had supplied and arranged a plate with a cold mutton pasty and a carrot-raisin pudding.

Alcazar reappeared, wearing a Moorish djellaba that reached his ankles. Eva noted that no outline of breeches or codpiece showed against the soft cotton folds of the robe. Her stomach clenched at what Elias’ refusal to cooperate would mean for herself.

He sat at the table and held out his hands for Eva to pour water over, then ate in silence. She served him, thinking it over. All right, granted that she had no say in the eternal destiny of her father’s soul. That still did not absolve her of the responsibility for the rest: the horror of his last moments on earth, all the servants at Casa de Pazia who had lost their livelihood, and worst of all, the predicament Elias was now in.

Finished with his meal, Baseel bowed his head and said, “Omein.” Then he turned to Eva. “You look like you have been thinking. Well?”

Eva took a deep breath. “If what you say is the whole truth, then Elias will take what you offer. He’s brilliant, and he will know what is right to do. But I’m too ignorant and dumb to understand all the consequences. Elias would have taken care of the Conte, except I had to go tattle on Father.” Eva’s knees went weak. She sank to the chair, hands clasped together, swallowing hard. “Whatever you do to me, it would be no more than I deserve.”

The Majordomo slammed his fist onto the table. “So you would cast me in the role of the brutal antagonist! What—don’t you feel any responsibility for my soul?”

Eva gaped. Had he somehow overheard Blanca’s fairy-tale?

Alcazar rose abruptly. “Before we go any further, we shall see what the scribe has to say about that.”

The majordomo passed through the curtain to the entry and opened the front door. “Lope!”

“Majordomo?” From the quickness of the response, Lope must have been on duty in the little guardroom just outside.

“Bring the current occupant of the camel court up to Cerra’s office. The usual security measures.” He held open the curtain for Eva. “You wanted to see your brother?”

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