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Chapter 21 of Eva’s Secret

21. Bandits

The Cat: Tuesday September 20, 1513

Tabita watched with concern as Elias lowered himself over the edge of the roof. She was afraid he might fall again. Humans were not like cats; they could not twist and land on all fours and take no harm from a drop many times their own height. The wall that faced the camel-court on the uphill side was at least three times Elias’ height, and when he had fallen two weeks ago, the ground hitting his head had almost killed him.

Of course, his wound was healed now, but the left arm was still not as strong as the right. Elias used the better arm to hold the edge of the roof while his foot groped for the peg he had driven into the soft adobe bricks. It found and held.

The pegs had taken Elias three days to make and install. He had started several days ago, the morning Elias came back to the camel-court after quite some time in the paper-filled space above the lair Spots and Eva occupied. The day Elias and Spots had a hissing-spitting fight, and he took Eva away. Something that happened in that fight made Elias angry, frightened and very troubled.

As soon as he got back to the courtyard he broke an end off a branch of the carob tree and shaped it with a tiny knife, the kind used to sharpen feathers. The piece was half the thickness of his wrist and the length of his foot. It took a long time.

While he was about this, Elias talked softly to the camel, just like he used to do with the horse. Tabita wrinkled her nose. Grass-eaters seemed to like this constant stream of chatter; it calmed and reassured them. Grass-eaters were stupid.

But Fatima seemed smart enough when it came to knowing what Elias wanted her to do. Whenever he had to rest from his peg-making, he would train her.

Elias fed the camel pods from the carob tree whenever she pleased him. Fatima was so eager to get these that Tabita tried one herself to see what the appeal was. The pod was chewy and had a pleasant, faintly musty sweetness, but there was no nutrition in it that a cat could use.

Fatima already knew to be guided around the courtyard by a rider’s knees—nothing special in that. She quickly learned to come at his breathy whistle, the one most humans did not seem to hear. Elias taught her to get up and down with hand signals. And with a whispered command, she would stand where he told her to for longer and longer periods.

Tabita would not do that on command. But then, she was a pride-mate, an equal partner. Grass-eaters were only slaves.

Before dawn on church-bell day, Elias finished the first peg. Balancing on Fatima’s shoulder and reaching as high as he could, he used a rock to drive the peg into a crack between the bricks. Then he rested.

The next night, he drove a second, higher peg in by hanging onto the first. At the last stroke his weak arm gave away, and if the camel had not been standing there to break the fall, he might have been very badly hurt.

But the night after that, by pounding a third peg in place, Elias was able to climb out of the courtyard. He went crab-wise up the short roof, and Tabita, watching from a high branch in the carob tree, saw him loosen the dovecote grate and go through.

Tabita returned to the kitchen by the soot-pipe, and out the tiny window to the guard-room roof. It was early, but Fray Pablo’s horse was just coming in the front gate. That was expected; since Tabita had first come, the day before Market-day was always Fray Pablo day. When he dismounted, Tabita leaped onto his saddle-seat, safe from the curs as he led the animal to the same stall and set up his stools in the adjacent two stalls.

Elias had spoken to the priest, low and urgent: Eva was the subject, although Iago de Pazia was mentioned with even more venom than usual, along with somebody named Cerra. Then Fray Pablo diverted the people of the household, giving some kind of lecture in the front court, while Elias slipped into the feed-room below the dovecote.

Tonight Elias had merely gone up and down the wall. It was a new variation on the exercises Elias always did to keep himself strong and flexible.

Fatima stood patiently in her place below the peg-ladder, and Elias lowered himself onto her neck. He rode her over to the den, then slipped off and crawled inside. Tabita joined him there.

He was lying on his straw pallet, shaking with fatigue as he massaged the scar under his arm. And then, at last, he fell into uneasy sleep.

Tabita curled in the crook of his elbow and licked the healing gash on the inside arm while kneading the fresh scar tissue on his ribs. Elias was doing everything he could to promote rapid recovery except the one thing that was most important: he did not purr.

Elias used to purr. And for a short time, after that long ago fall when his heart stopped beating and then started again, he had purred a great deal. But then something had happened at the all-male place he lived, and Elias had stopped purring altogether. When all the other males at Holy Cross did the purring rituals he still made the noises, still went through the motions. But when he was alone, Elias did neither.

Tabita contrasted this with Spots, who purred in the manner called salat—but only when there was nobody around to see.

Tabita kneaded and purred for her damaged pride-mate.

Malaga-Granada road: Friday September 23, 1513

Eva woke drenched in sweat. In her dreams a priest had been pursuing her through trackless brush. As she shook off the fog of sleep, she realized that she had forgotten to tell Baseel about the armor the Franciscan was wearing beneath his cassock. He might be a bandit in disguise!

She sat up, every muscle protesting. Her pantalones and tunica, washed and dried, were folded on the end of the bed. Her new guitarra case was on the table. The light told her it was barely dawn, but the room was empty. She was alone.

A cold hand clutched her heart: Baseel had left without her! Eva did not take the time to question her sense of desertion; she forced her aching limbs into her riding outfit so that she could run downstairs.

Baseel came in as she was fastening her shoes. “Good, you are up. We have another long ride today. By midmorning the road will be easier, though. We will leave the mountain trails—and the danger of bandits—behind us.”

“There is something I forgot to tell you last night,” Eva said. “While I was sitting against the wall, a Franciscan arrived, but as he walked past me I heard the chink of a mail shirt.”

“Yes, Fray Pablo de Caceres. He’s the priest who has been coming to shrive Casa Cerra for the last month,” Baseel replied. “That heavy mail coat is his version of a hair shirt. And he carries a sword too. He was a knight of Calatrava before he joined the order, and now he’s one of those ‘fighting priests’. Here, eat this meat-pie, we won’t stop for anything until noon.”

Eva discovered that she was ravenous. “What is he doing here?”

“That has me puzzled as well. This morning he requested permission to accompany us back to Granada. Which seems very suspicious, considering he must have just come from that direction.” Baseel frowned. “I’m worried that he might be sniffing around for Elias. Fray Pablo is one of Cardinal Cisneros’ retinue.”

Cardinal Cisneros! Spain’s Grand Inquisitor himself! The meat pie suddenly tasted like mud. Eva swallowed her bite with difficulty.

“Perhaps he suspects Baltasar Cerra has their fugitive, and that we managed to smuggle him off to Malaga. Or maybe he thinks to worm information out of one of our men by riding back with us.” Baseel leaned out the window. “Ho—Ortiz, loosen the girth on that mule!” Then he turned back to Eva. “I found you a shawl, and I want you to wear it Saracen-style, over most of your face. And don’t forget that you are now EvaMaria Perez. This is a matter of life and death for Elias. If the Inquisition gets wind that we are hiding your brother, Cerra’s orders are to kill him and dispose of the body—and I have no qualms about doing it, if his presence endangers my people.”

A chill ran down Eva’s spine. One mis-step on her part could kill Elias, trapped between the Inquisition on the one side and this man—whom she had almost forgotten was Maloliente’s creature—on the other. “Manuel knows I’m Eva de Pazia.”

“Good point, I’ll send him ahead to scout out the road.” Baseel tightened the buckle on his cuirass.

——

The country opened up a little once they left the inn. Eva’s soreness eased as her muscles warmed. She looked around at the landscape, open areas interspersed with steep rugged montañas, scattered with unexpected outcrops of huge rocks, and tumbled lumps of lichen-covered boulders. Southern slopes abounded with aromatic brush, while the north-facing slopes were forested with mixed broadleaf and conifer trees.

Fray Pablo pulled alongside Eva’s mare. “Señora, I have not yet made your acquaintance. I am Fray Pablo de Caceres. Perhaps you have heard of me?”

“I know few people, Father. I am EvaMaria Perez.” Eva hoped that the road dust would explain her insistence on keeping her shawl across the lower half of her face.

Casually, as though he merely wanted to converse, Baseel let Kohli drop back so that the big gelding was between Fray Pablo and Eva. “Father, I’m curious as to what would bring you to this rugged place, only to turn and go back again?”

Fray Pablo seemed taken aback for a moment, but he recovered quickly. “The Cardinal received information that a rare Hebrew document might be held by a certain hermit who lives near last night’s inn, and I was sent to examine it.”

Baseel frowned. “Why does His Reverence Cardinal Cisneros want writings in Hebrew? Wasn’t he the one who burned all the books of the great library of Granada in the square before the cathedral?”

“Books on religion and philosophy. The church made an exception for Islamic works in medicine, mathematics, and science,” Fray Pablo corrected. “And of course none of the Old Testament volumes were burned. You see, in spite of his duties to shepherd his flock and his celebrated military victories in North Africa, the Cardinal’s life work is to produce a polyglot Bible.”

“Who are the polyglots?” Eva did not really care, but she wanted to keep the conversation away from herself.

“Polyglot means many languages. Our Complutensian Bible, when finished, will show the sacred texts in the language they were written in alongside the official version.” Fray Pablo warmed to his subject with the fervor of the true believer. “In the case of the Old Testament, this requires three columns: Greek and Hebrew down the sides, and Latin in the center. The Cardinal likes to call it ‘Christ between two thieves’. Of course, working from the oldest original texts that we can acquire is of utmost importance.”

Fray Pablo looked directly across at Eva. “Before this I was working with a young man at Holy Cross who was most gifted with Hebrew, one Elias de Pazia. Would you have heard of him?”

Eva’s heart began to thump so loudly she was afraid Fray Pablo could hear it. But Baseel was completely nonchalant. “Of course I have heard of him—everybody in Granada was at the auto-da-fé where they denounced the family’s Jewish subversion. Elias de Pazia died by plague. The hand of God, if I recall the sermon correctly.”

Just ahead the trail narrowed into a ravine, and the horses had to go single file. The north-facing side was thickly wooded. Baseel loosened his sword in its sheath, examining the slopes that loomed over them, clearly worried.

Even Eva could see that this was an ideal place for an ambush. Huge boulders frequently occupied the middle of the ravine, where they had come to rest after tumbling from the rocky outcrops above. The trail snaked over or around them as needed.

At a sharp bend in the dry creek bed, a newly fallen boulder blocked the road. The caravan halted, the eight mules and their five guards bunching up behind Eva, Fray Pablo, and the majordomo.

Baseel dismounted and waved one of the men-at-arms to come with him. Cautiously, with drawn swords, they climbed up the ravine wall until they could ease by the boulder.

As soon as they were out of view, Fray Pablo leaned toward Eva and spoke rapidly, keeping his voice low. “Listen, Eva de Pazia, and do not react. The real reason I came is because your brother told me that you had been taken to Malaga, possibly to be sold.”

Was he trying to trick her into admitting she knew where Elias was? “Father, I don’t know what you are talking about. I have no brother.”

 “I know you must be careful but I can prove—” He broke off as the two men came back, slipping down the steep bank.

The majordomo spoke softly. “Keep as quiet as possible—we don’t want to attract attention. Unload the mules; we will have to squeeze them through one by one and re-load them on the other side. Jose, you and Alvaro stand guard as the packs come through. Juan and Paco stay at the rear until all is done. Father, you can stay with the señora?” He gave Eva an apologetic glance.

Fray Pablo nodded, and Baseel led Eva’s horse up the slope, stamping down the disturbed earth to make a better footing for the rest.

As soon as they were alone on the front side, Pablo continued. “Elias sent me to Malaga to buy you back if necessary. Imagine my relief when this morning I learned you were at the same inn, returning with the Granada-bound caravan.”

The first man-at-arms led his mule through the narrow spot, one of the pannier-bags on his shoulder. Behind him came another man, similarly burdened. Once back on sound footing, they went to work roping the mule’s bags to either side of the wooden pack-frame.

Fray Pablo’s tone changed, speaking as though in light conversation. “I have a friend, a young lady of about your age named Blanca. Three weeks ago Tuesday she introduced me to her charming cat, a tortoise-shell she called Tabita. And to my surprise, I found the creature in my saddle-bag later that afternoon.”

That was the day before Tabita had found her! Eva ventured a hesitant question. “Father, have you ever—have you ever dealt in slaves?”

Fray Pablo’s answer removed any doubt. “Only once, recently. The circumstances seemed to excuse my action but on reflecting on the harsh words Saint Paul wrote against those who deal in human flesh, it has so struck my conscience that I intend to undo the deal as soon as the opportunity affords.”

The two men were busy helping another mule down onto the trail. Eva leaned forward and whispered. “Please, the majordomo mustn’t suspect you know,” she begged. “He has orders—”

The men came close again, although they were so busy re-loading the mule that they paid no attention to Eva or the priest. Fray Pablo nodded. “I understand this is a life and-death situation. If the wrong persons were to discover our whereabouts—”

At that moment Baseel came leaping from the other side of the boulder. He grabbed Eva by the neck of her tunica and the waistband of her pantalones, lifted her bodily from Fea’s saddle and flung her face-down among a smaller group of rocks beside the trail. Eva’s ribs were bruised by a rock the size of a cow-skull, complete with a horned protuberance.

“Stay down!” He snarled, and then was gone. For a split second, Eva thought he knew what they had been talking about. Until something whizzed over her head and she heard a thunk of metal on wood.

She looked up and saw a spear-shaft quivering in the trunk of an oak three paces beyond her. Shouts echoed from the other side of the fallen boulder.

Bandit attack! Eva heard the clang of sword on sword, the scream of an injured horse. Too terrified to move, she put her head down and covered her ears.

If the bandits took her, she would suffer far worse than anything Cerra had devised. Eva began to pray in deadly earnest.

Prayer for herself became prayer for Baseel. So what if she was killed? She would be in heaven with Jesu. But Baseel—he would be in hell! Eva lifted her head to look for him, and saw the majordomo on the level top of the boulder, fighting with a man equally armed. Baseel leaped to avoid a sword-swipe at his legs and brought his own blade down, only to be blocked by the swift upward parry of his opponent.

Her heart was in her mouth as the two stabbed and hacked at each other. Please, Jesu, please Saint Basil, spare him! He hasn’t had the chance to believe—how could he, when the church is so corrupt?

A soft curse in Spanish came from below her. Eva became aware of a man crouching by the trunk of a huge old oak, the tree shielding him from the fighting. He was not one of Cerra’s men—a bandit, then. What was he doing, so still there?

Then she noticed the stave sticking over his head—he had a bow! The position of his arms showed it was at full draw, aimed toward the fighters on top of the boulder. He was waiting to kill Baseel!

Just as the archer had a clear shot Eva threw herself at him, slamming into his shoulder with all her weight. The man fell forward; she heard the snap of an arrow leaving the string, saw it fly as though in slow motion. But the trajectory was now towards the base of the great rock where more men struggled. It hit a man’s raised arm, and he dropped his sword with a cry.

The archer rose beneath her with an enraged bellow, and Eva was flung to the side. He threw away his weapon, useless now, its string broken, to pick her up like a rag doll. She flew backwards and hit the ground with such force that the world spun around her. Eva waited for the killing blow.

A distant shout sounded, and Eva heard the archer run off. The shout came again. Slowly, the wind knocked out of her, she pushed herself upright to look. Over the brow of the hill opposite rode Manuel, charging down on the fight without regard for his horse.

The man fighting Baseel atop the rock must have been the leader, for he yelled at his men: “Retreat!” He ducked under Baseel’s thrust and leaped down from the rock.

But the majordomo had no intention of letting his opponent go free. Baseel launched himself into the air like a madman, his sword held downward in a stabbing position. He landed almost atop the bandit leader, and the force of that landing felled the man and spitted him in the same motion.

Eva felt hot and cold sensations all over her body. Although she had held the hands of many victims of violence as they breathed their last, she had never seen a man die in battle. She could not turn her eyes away as Alcazar jerked his sword out of the man’s chest, and a fountain of blood, bright red and pulsing, sprayed him in its wake.

Alcazar turned and saw Eva standing transfixed. “Get on your horse!” he ordered. “Paco! Finish loading those mules!” And then he charged off, up and around the boulder to the other side.

Paco glanced her way. “Need help señora?”

Eva shook her head. “I can manage. You have enough to do.”

Paco did not ask twice. The two mules already brought over danced and backed, the smell of blood making them nervous, and he and the other man were hard-pressed to get them loaded.

Fea came to Eva, her ugly, obedient head hanging patiently. Eva almost stepped on the dead bandit leader.

She looked down at the face. A handsome face, and nothing written on his features to indicate whether he had been evil or good in life. His expression was not peaceful or resigned, as was usual for her hospice patients; rather he looked surprised, as though death was something that happened to others, not himself.

Eva bent down and closed the dead eyes, and, as they did at Hospice Santa Ana, said the brief prayer for the dead while making the sign of the cross on his forehead.

“Angel of God!” Eva turned and saw the speaker was lying beneath a tangle of dry tree branches that had been crushed by the fall of the boulder. “Beautiful lady, help me! If this wound is not staunched, I die!”  

Stooping beneath the broken foliage, Eva saw a man clutching his arm. Blood soaked the sleeve above and below an arrow-shaft that protruded from just above the elbow. Bright red blood.

With practiced haste, she tore off her shawl and twisted it around the arm just above the arrow. As she tightened the makeshift bandage, the pulsing flow slowed and stopped.

“Eva!” Baseel pulled her out of her brushy cover. Blood was splattered and smeared all over him. “I told you to get on your horse! Our attackers may be regrouping even now.” He almost threw Eva into Fea’s saddle. “Where is your shawl?”

Eva’s stubborn courage drove out everything else. “Saving a man’s life.”

Baseel looked under the fallen branch and saw the wounded bandit. He stooped swiftly and jerked the shawl off. “Leave him to his just deserts. He was trying to kill us.”

“No!” the man clutched his arm, which was turning bright with fresh blood. “I warn’t going to kill nobody, just share a teeny bit of old man Cerra’s wealth.”

Eva started to say something, but Baseel cut her off. “Don’t listen to the ladrone. If he lived, he would be back to thieving and murder as soon as he was able.”

Eva was shocked at the majordomo’s callousness. “You don’t know that! People can change their ways.”

“Yes, I’ll change, I’ll repent of all my bad deeds,” the bandit begged. “Doncella, merciful lady, don’t let me die!”

“At least he should be shrived.” Fray Pablo was there by Fea’s side, his own cassock bloodstained.

“There’s no time,” Alcazar was getting angry. “I killed El Asesino, but I saw his brother, El Jabalí get away with most of their men. They’ll be regrouping as we speak. What is it, Ortiz?”

“Majordomo, one of the mules got a slash in the gut. And they got one of the panniers. Pepper, I think.”

“Then strap the other one on the back of Pepe’s saddle, his horse can carry another seventy pounds. Kill the mule, he’ll not recover from a gut wound.”

Eva looked around then and saw that the seven sound animals were now all on this side of the boulder, the men re-loading the last of them.

“Line them up and move them out!” the majordomo shouted. “Father, are you coming?”

“There is a soul at stake,” Fray Pablo said, very calm.

“Then stay and shrive him at your own risk.”

“My days are in the hands of God.”

Eva looked back as Fea fell in behind Kohli. Fray Pablo knelt at the dying bandit’s side. They wound up through the ravine and came out on top.

She looked back and could just see the back of Fray Pablo’s horse below them. And then she looked ahead, where Baseel’s armored back was splashed with the blood of a man he had killed—even though his victim had acknowledged defeat and was trying to flee!

Of course he did not care if the poor wounded man died unshriven—beneath his Catholic pretense, Baseel Alcazar was a Saracen through and through.


Chapter 20 of Eva’s Secret

20. Guitarras

Malaga: Wednesday September 21, 1513

Last night, Baseel had given curt orders that she was to dress for riding and be ready early. Eva inhaled the clean scent of sun-dried linen from her Moorish pantalones and tunica, freshly laundered by the wash-women of Casa Cerra Malaga. Despite a lifetime of seeing women in this style of dress, and three days wearing it herself, the unfamiliar garb felt like a disguise. But then, so far from anyone and anything she knew, everything felt like a disguise.

Eva sank to the marble floor in prayer. Since they arrived here on Saturday night, she had been alone in this room, unless you counted the few hours Baseel Alcazar spent sleeping after coming in late. And leaving at the crack of dawn.

A faint clatter of dishes outside the door meant that one of the servants had dropped off her morning meal. Here in Baltasar Cerra’s palatial new Malaga compound, as in the older Granada compound, Alcazar insisted his quarters remain strictly private.

He had barely spoken to her in that time, although he had otherwise been considerate. Over Eva’s protests, he set up a pallet on the floor and made Eva sleep in the bed. “I must be up and about early,” was his explanation. “Meanwhile, you will not leave this room.”

Sunday Eva had not minded. After three days of riding, she had been grateful to do nothing more than lie about in bed. Muscles she had not known she owned were sore, and Eva heartily wished that the numbness between her thighs extended around to her backside.

Baseel came back late Sunday night and seemed surprised that Eva was waiting up to massage his feet. But she was hungry for company.

“Could I go out and see the compound? I won’t say or do anything stupid.”

“Absolutely not!” Baseel’s answer allowed for no argument.

“Then I could spend the time mending.” Eva hated being idle. “Your gambeson needs patching.”

“I’ll find you some sewing things.” And with that, he rolled out the pallet on the floor and went to sleep.

A woman had delivered the requested items with her breakfast, and Monday Eva stitched and patched.

Tuesday was hammam day here as everywhere, and Alcazar had grudgingly given permission for Eva to join the women so long as she remained veiled coming and going. Eva had soaked in the hot pool for hours. Their female masseuse was much rougher than Mustapha. But the second day after an exertion ended was always the sorest, Eva told herself at the time.

This morning as she dressed, she noticed bruises where the woman had pounded her ribs.

The door opened on Alcazar. “Andres and the señor left this morning,” he greeted her. “We’re leaving tomorrow, and I want to see how you manage with the horse I picked for you on the ride back.”

“I was just getting used to the mule I had on the trip out.” Eva’s relief that she was going back to Elias was tempered by dread of the coming journey.

“That one only works the coast road. We assign our animals to the same routes. They do better when they know they are heading for a familiar stall.” Baseel led her down the corridor and through a gate to the stable-yard. “I need you to be prepared for tomorrow. The route we’re taking is much more rugged, through the mountains. I selected an animal that will see that you stay on her back.”

The horse the groom led up was a ewe-necked, hammer-headed pinto mare with one blue eye. “This is Fea,” he introduced her. “She’s as obedient as they come and she can do the trip from Malaga to Granada in her sleep. The perfect horse for the job—hardworking, wise and sturdy but so ugly nobody would think of stealing her.”

Eva timidly stroked her forelock, thinking that she and the horse had much in common.

When Baseel gave Eva a boost into the saddle, she overbalanced and would have fallen down the opposite side if Fea had not side-stepped to compensate.

Eva reddened as the stable hand guffawed. “Are you sure you want to take this woman on the mountain route, Alcazar? We could send her by wagon on the next journey up the coast. Andres would see to her comfort.”

“I’m sure he would, but I have need of her in Granada,” Baseel snapped.

Alcazar the majordomo was back in full force. He urged his mount into a trot, and Fea followed obediently. The mare’s gait was a spine-jarring misery that revived all the sore places on Eva’s bottom. But to her relief, they pulled to a walk just out of sight of Casa Cerra Malaga. Baseel motioned for Eva to come alongside.

“That last was for Cerra’s benefit,” he explained. “The real reason you must come with me tomorrow is that once out of my sight, someone might molest you. Andres has different rules for his people, which is why I made you stay in our room until he left.”

Eva felt suddenly lighthearted. All these last days, the boredom, the confinement—they had been for her benefit, not because Maloliente had completely taken over his pupil!

Baseel scrutinized her posture as they headed out onto the streets of Malaga. “Remember I told you to put more weight in the stirrups? It also helps take pressure off your seat if you stay on by squeezing a bit with your thighs. Did you never have a riding master?”

“When I was ten, my father insisted I take lessons. But they were in a sidesaddle, and I was terrible at it,” Eva confessed. “Until this trip, I never rode astride.”

“That’s a stupid convention of the rich—just to prove they are rich, I think. Ordinary people can’t afford a to buy special saddle only the family women can use.” Baseel turned up a street that began to climb. “It’s bad for the horse, too, having the rider’s weight off to one side. And that twisted way a woman must sit has got to be hard on her spine.”

“Astride is much easier on my back,” Eva agreed. It was about the only part below her shoulders that didn’t ache.

They wound along the street. Eva looked around her with interest. “Oh, how beautiful the sea is!”

Baseel smiled. “Have you seen the Alcazaba?”

“I’ve never been further than ten miles from Granada,” Eva admitted. “Except one trip to Guadix. It was dusty, and I rode terribly.”

“Then we will combine your riding practice with a tour of Granada’s second most beautiful city.” Baseel took her from one street to the other, pointing out the landmarks and telling her how Malaga had beaten off the first attack by the Catholic kings, only to fall five years later. Eva listened and looked, but in between noises of appreciation, she was working on her great dilemma.

How was she to bring any understanding of Jesu to this man? She could not do it with reason, because Baseel was much more learned, not to mention more intelligent, than she was. The church, which was supposed to bring unbelievers to Christ, had done nothing but drive him closer to hell. The only thing she knew to do was to pray for him—and Baseel found her prayers repulsive.

“And here is another thing for which Malaga is famous.” Baseel dismounted and lifted her down. He tied off the horses and led her through the door of a shop. In the sudden change from the bright daylight, Eva could not see, but the smells of wood were pervasive: oak, with its hint of sour milk, the acrid tang of cured walnut, and the peppery scent of mahogany. As her eyes adjusted, she saw rows of instruments hanging along the wall, everything that could be made of wood—guitarras, lutes, rebecs, cornets and flutes.

The proprietor set down the instrument he was working on and greeted them with the dignity of an artiste. “How may I help the señores?”

“I am in the market for a guitarra.” Baseel turned to Eva. “I am sure that your ear is better than mine. You must pick the one with the best tone.”

The guitarra-maker brought down his instruments one at a time. Eva was in raptures. She examined each one, plucking the strings and listening, until finally she narrowed it down to a beautiful specimen with mother-of-pearl and ebony marquetry defining the edges and delicate carved filigree over the sound-hole. “This one is best,” she whispered to Baseel. “But it might be too expensive.”

The craftsman asked a high price indeed. Baseel bargained with skill until they settled on a figure half-way between asking and offering. Then the man placed it in a triangular wooden case and presented it to Eva with a bow. “Although I could have sold it for much more, the pain of my loss is eased by the knowledge that such skilled hands will put my work to good use.”

It was graciously said, so Eva did not enlighten him until they were out of the shop. She smiled at Baseel. “He thought you were buying the guitarra as a present for me.”

“I did buy it for you.” Baseel boosted her onto Fea. “I can’t pass up the chance to learn from a maestra, and passing my old guitarra back and forth between us is inefficient.”

“I couldn’t accept such an expensive thing!” Eva protested as he gave her the box.

“It’s not a gift, it’s fair payment for lessons.”

“You don’t need to pay me, I love to show you.” A sudden inspiration struck her: this was the answer to her dilemma! “But most of my repertoire—especially the harder pieces—are psalms and Christian music. You won’t mind?”

“Why should I mind?” He grinned. “Music is the language of the universal God, whatever name one may call him by.”

Eva grinned back, her spirits soaring. She was going to teach Baseel every psalm she knew. And she was going to keep praying for him, whether he believed in it or not.

Malaga-Granada road: Thursday September 22, 1513

It was not yet light when the caravan left the Malaga compound early next morning. Although she was glad to be going home to Elias, the return journey was an ordeal. Eva retired into the background to escape notice as the majordomo gave last-minute instructions. The early hour, the bustling men-at-arms and the smell of the pine torches reminded her of that fateful night when the inquisition had struck and her life had come crashing in.

She tried to dwell instead on her new guitarra and the consideration Baseel showed in the face of Cerra’s orders to abuse her. She watched him as he worked. But he took no notice of her this morning. The majordomo, armed as on the outward journey, was busy going up and down the string overseeing the loading of the goods.

A familiar voice behind her made her jump.

“Here is your mare, señorita.” When she turned, the bald head shining in the torchlight was her old nemesis, Manuel. “Let me mount you, my lady.”

The mocking deference and his sly double meaning, combined with the memory of his recent assault, overwhelmed her already low defenses and she was suddenly sick with fear. She leaned over the bush behind her and lost her breakfast.

Manuel’s tone suddenly changed. “I was only offering to help the lady into her saddle, señor.”

“Leave her alone! And get to the back of the string. You’re rear-guard today.” Eva felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Eva? Are you ill?”

“It has passed.” Still shaken, she let Baseel help her into the saddle. “I get queasy when I am frightened.”

“Was Manuel threatening you?” He swung up onto Kohli. ““I warned him not to bother you again.”

No! She did not want to be responsible for a fight to the death. Why did so many men have only one solution when it came to dealing with each other?

“Was he?” Baseel demanded, as they pulled in place and waited for the caravan to file out the gates.

“He was perfectly polite,” Eva said firmly. Then, seeing Baseel’s unconvinced expression, she felt compelled to explain. “He didn’t do anything this time. It was only the memory— Just the idea of— some things—always makes me sick to my stomach.”

“Oh. And here I thought it was me.”

Eva could feel her cheeks grow hot and was thankful for the dark. “That was before I knew that I didn’t have to worry about— about—”

He cut her off abruptly. “Your place in the line is behind the two men riding in the van. The mules we are taking are hand-picked for this route; like your mare, they know it from one end to the other and are used to following her. Just don’t interfere, and she’ll take care of you. I have to be free to move up and down the caravan if needed.”

With no further fanfare, the torches were doused, and they pulled out of the gate. Nobody spoke as they wound through the streets of the city; an air of tense secrecy prevailed. To Eva’s surprise, they turned north out of the city gates, leaving the wide, easy coastal road.

The men relaxed as they reached the ridgeline to the north. Baseel came back from the front of the line and pulled Kohli in beside her. “How are you doing with Fea?”

“Fine.” The mare’s gait was rough enough to churn butter, but Eva did not want to complain. She changed the subject. “Why are there so many more men on the trip back?”

“We are transporting spices. These men are among Casa Cerra’s best fighters.” Baseel squinted into the rising sun, alert to every boulder, bush and tree.

Eva understood. Some spices, the ones that came from beyond Cathay, were worth more than their weight in gold.

Baseel seemed satisfied for the moment. “Any who are watching will think they went with the señor and Andres yesterday. They will not suspect we would take this route—the montañas de Malaga provide a perfect cover for bandits.”

“If the mountains are dangerous, then why not take the coast road?”

“Last week, there were several sightings of corsairs. Sea bandits. They move faster than the brigands in the mountains and because they can transport them quickly across the strait to Tangier, captured men add to their profit in the slave market.”

Eva looked at the grim armed riders in front and behind them. “Would the pirates be able to take these strong men as slaves? What for?”

“Most would die fighting, but some would be captured. They would put them at oars in the galleys, for one. Fresh rowers are always needed. And digging in the mines.”

“But how could they manage them?”

 “Chains, of course. Iron is stronger than flesh, and the lash an effective motivator.”

Eva pictured the cuff on Elias’ ankle while he recuperated. “How can you say slavery is not so bad?”

“I said it was not so bad for one of your brother’s talents. Scribes, interpreters and accountants do not have physically demanding labor, and mind, unlike muscle, does not respond well to chains and whips. Which is why a certain level of consent is required.” Something caught his attention at the back of the line. Baseel turned Kohli and spurred off.

When he returned, his expression was worried. “I caught sight of someone behind us, possibly a scout for El Asesino’s band.”

“Who is that?”

“The leader of a band of brigands I have had past dealings with. The word is they have shifted their operations to this area. Should I give the signal, spur the mare and hang on. Let her pick her own way and she will take you to the inn where we will stay tonight. It is where she was bred.”

All the men were nervous and edgy as they rode through the steep brushy terrain. The mules kept at a fast walk; they stopped at midday only long enough to water the animals and relieve themselves—always with swords in hand—and then continued on without a siesta, taking a little food in the saddle.

Despite following all she could of Baseel’s riding instructions, as the day went on Eva became so miserable that it was all she could do to simply stay on the mare. Just as the sun was setting they saw a tiny cluster of buildings, one of them a walled inn which was a veritable fortress.

Everyone was relieved when the string pulled in the gate. The men fell to unloading the mules with practiced efficiency while the inn’s hostlers came for their horses. The majordomo directed the operation.

“Put the packs in the center room upstairs; I will sleep there with my woman. Three of you will take the room on the right, and three the left. Diaz, set up a watch rotation to sit in the hall.”

Not wanting to be a bother, but desperately wanting to get out of the saddle, Eva managed to get her left leg over and slid down. When her feet hit the ground her legs buckled and she fell in a heap. Fea, glad to be shut of her rider, trotted off to find somebody to remove her tack and feed her.

Eva, completely mortified, could do nothing more than pull herself over to the wall and hope Baseel would notice she was missing.

Just then a Franciscan rode in on a lathered horse. Unnoticed in her spot against the wall, Eva saw that he wore something that looked like a short sword across his backside beneath his cloak. And as he walked past her, she heard the distinctive metallic rustle of a mail shirt. Why would a priest need to go armed?

“Eva!” Baseel came over. “What are you doing there?”

“I can’t walk,” she admitted. “At least, I can’t get up.”

“That’s to be expected. The trails we covered today are some of the hardest miles our caravans travel.” He leaned down. “Grab my neck, I can’t lift a dead weight without some help.”

Eva had never held any man close other than her brother. She clasped her arms around Baseel and he scooped her from the ground with a grunt. Even in the nervous embarrassment of being pressed close to his chest, she felt sorry for the work she was causing; she weighed more than twelve stone. Nevertheless, he carried her into the inn and up the stairs. Baseel dropped her on the bed with his last strength.

 One of the men was lining up the leather pack-bags containing the precious spices. The room was filled with their aroma: cloves, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and cardamom.

“Get out,” Baseel told the leering man. “And close the door.”

“I’m sorry, I’ve made your cuirass filthy.” Eva looked with dismay at the smear of manure she had acquired from her inn-yard crawl.

“It’ll clean. While I get us something to eat you can wash and change into your chemise. I’ll send up the innkeeper’s wife with water.”

Eva had to hang onto the bed-post to manage even the ordinary task of getting out of the pantalones. The señora of the place bustled in without knocking, but the can of steaming hot water she bore made Eva forgive that.

“Here, cariña, let me help. These roads are so dusty by the end of summer.” The goodwife saw her tunica and pantalones. “Ah, yes, your man told me these would need cleaning. And of course, you must have them tomorrow, you can’t ride in a skirt! Well don’t you worry, I’ll do them at once, and in this weather they’ll be dry by morning.”

She bustled out with the articles, and Eva pulled on her chemise. It was a state of undress that she would have considered scandalous just a month ago, only one layer of fabric between her skin and male eyes. Such conventions now seemed ridiculous. What would he see? The voluminous chemise covered her from neck to ankle.

Baseel brought back some meat-pies and a basket of oranges. “We came too late for dinner, so these will have to do. But first, I have to do something about your condition.”

Eva blinked. “What condition?”

“Your soreness. Tomorrow we have another thirty-five miles to cover before these spices are safely in Granada. You have to be able to ride—unless you want me to leave you here to be a tavern-maid.” Baseel smiled at that last so she would know he was only joking.

Eva cringed inside at the thought of another twelve-hour day enduring Fea’s punishing gait. “I’ll manage. See, I’m fine.” She tried to rise and found that her abused muscles had seized up.

Baseel pushed her back onto the bed. “That’s not ‘fine’. I don’t have Mustapha’s skill, but I can at least knead your leg muscles so they don’t freeze up on you. Just don’t get queasy on me, it’s entirely platonic.”

More big words. “What does platonic mean?”

“It describes a fraternal relationship.” Baseel must have seen her blank look, because he added, “Like between siblings. Now lie on your stomach so I can get all the places that are saddle-sore.”

Eva was so tired that she barely felt embarrassed when Baseel, working through the heavy linen folds of the chemise, squeezed the muscles of her legs between his big hands. “Does that help ease the soreness?”

“Yes, but it hurts, too.” She felt him work methodically up and down each limb, first the left side and then the right. “How do you know what to do?”

“I learned growing up as the son of the harem laundress.” Baseel started on her sore buttocks. “All of us children took turns massaging our father. He had a bad leg that pained him after a day of hard work.”

“Ow! Please, don’t push so hard,” Eva begged.

“It’s what you need. Make a noise if you want to.”

The kneading burned like fire every time he pressed down with the heel of his hand, and she could not help whimpering. The bed began to shake, and she realized that Baseel was laughing silently.

Annoyance filled her. “What’s so funny?”

Baseel lowered his voice so that only she could hear. “The men in the rooms on either side will be listening. Baltasar will have at least one spy among them. He should be satisfied with the report he gets.”

Eva put her face back in the covers and moaned—this time in sheer mortification.

After they ate, Baseel asked her to play her new guitarra for him. Several times, he stopped her to ask for a demonstration of this chord or that.

“You should take the new one, and I’ll just borrow the one you have.”

“My big fingers don’t fit on these skinny little frets. See?” He strummed a few notes, producing an awful discord. Eva started to apologize, but he cut her off. “I’m fond of the guitarra I have. My father bought it for us with money he scraped and saved from his private vegetable patch.”

It was encouraging to hear that Baltasar Cerra was not the only influence on Baseel. “Tell me about your father. What did he do?”

“My father was the under-gardener for the Generalife. Have you ever been there?”

“Yes, Blanca and I used to visit the de Venegas family there. The gardens are beautiful.”

“My father laid them out. He loved to work with his hands in the soil with growing things. But he always wished he had learned to read, so he could study the Holy Qur’an. He had a little patch of vegetables that were his own, and from it he eked out enough to pay for my oldest brother to be taught by a local scholar.”

Baseel grinned. “Farid hated every minute. He bribed me to sit in with him and do his lessons. Until my father found out, and let him off, which is how the reading and writing instruction fell to me. I would copy the lessons—mostly verses from the sacred writing—onto the back of used paper my mother would beg from the harem women, and at night I would read them aloud to my father. He always strove to model his life on that of the Prophet, peace be upon him.”

“Did your father have other wives?” Eva asked.

“No. Abi said that the Prophet allowed a man to take more than one wife only if he treated them all equally, and that no other woman could rival my mother in his heart.” Baseel chuckled. “My father liked to study birds. There was a pampered and petted peacock on the grounds, who used to strut around showing off in front of his harem of peahens. My father used to compare the peafowl to the pair of robins that came every year to make their nest in the peach tree. He said a peacock could afford to take many wives, for his females did all the feeding and guarding of the chicks. And what did he care if any died, seeing as there were so many?

“But the wise little cock-robin took only one wife, and both parents worked to find enough worms for their young. My father showed us how much more praiseworthy the robins were, for Allah is worshiped best when a creature does all it can to produce and raise its own offspring.”

Baseel grinned again. “We children knew that the peacock was really the old sultan, Muley Hasan—that was Muhammad XI. And the robins were my parents. Abi had very strict ideas about how Allah expected a righteous man to treat women.”

“And that’s why you disobeyed Cerra’s orders concerning me,” Eva said, half in wonder. If only her own father had been like Baseel’s!

“Better the señor doesn’t find out. He’s jealous, in his own way.” Baseel put the guitarra back in its box. “My father was the man named Abdullah I spoke of before. Despite his social station, he saw himself not as a slave of the Sultan’s, but of Allah.”

“My father was not a slave, and he beat my mother mercilessly.” Eva found herself putting her deformed foot behind her leg, although her stockinged feet were hidden under the long chemise. “You must miss him terribly.”

“I try not to think about him.” Baseel rose from the chair and began to line up the pack bags full of spices in a compact row. “It’s just as well that Abi died before Cisneros forced all the Muslims to be baptized. He would have called me a hypocrite. But then, he lived and died a slave. Baltasar Cerra has raised me high, and I intend to rise higher. My only master is ambition.”

And yet, Baseel had refused to rape her because this good man, his father, had taught him how a man should behave towards women.

Baseel arranged some blankets atop the spices. “For me. With this cargo I take no chances.” He waved her to the room’s comfortable four-poster. Before Eva could protest, he put a finger to his lips and jerked his head towards the door. “I am going to check the watch.”

Eva gratefully slid into the bed. Some time later, Baseel came in quietly. Still in his clothes, weapon to hand, he stretched out on the lumpy cargo panniers and was soon snoring softly.

In spite of her exhaustion, Eva’s aches made it hard for her to sleep. She lay awake enfolded in the pungency of the spices, listening to Baseel’s breathing. Starlight silhouetted his hawk-nosed face with its uneven skin; his hand tightened on his sword-hilt in some militant dream.

She reviewed her blessings and realized that even with this man in the room—actually because of his presence—she felt more secure than she had in a long time.

Was it just five days ago that they had left Granada? So much had changed. Last week, her safety had hung on the false belief that Cerra valued her presumed virginity.

This week, it rested in the decency of a man whose father knew himself to be a slave of God.


chapter 19 of Eva’s Secret

19. Gifts

The Cat

Things had been going along quite well for several days, although the slow pace of this human courtship ritual was enough to try even a cat’s patience.

Eva made her interest very plain. She groomed Spot’s feet. She serenaded him with the twang-box. And tonight, she even brought him a chicken.

He had rejected it with harsh words, even though she begged him on her knees. Then Spots had gone stomping off, and now Eva was very sad. The dominant lion refused to mate with her.

Perhaps he knew that Eva had not killed the chicken herself. A male might be reluctant to take on a mate who was a poor hunter.

And of course, a chicken was not so delicate a morsel as a mouse. If Eva presented Spots with some nice fat mice, then perhaps he would be more receptive to her overtures.

That night, Tabita risked hunting in the stable-yard, where mice were most plentiful. The curs were not nocturnal, so it was unlikely that they would notice her. But nevertheless, Tabita was silent as a shadow, knowing that it was worth her life if any of the three awakened while she was in their domain.

She was rewarded with immediate success. Proudly, she bore her trophy back to the camel-yard. Elias’ lair was vacant, of course; he was upstairs. Tabita slid through the ash-pipe. The door between the kitchen and the entry was closed, so Tabita could not take the mouse directly to Spots’ sleeping-place. But that was just as well; he would know that Eva could not have hunted it while she was sleeping. Tabita would wait until he left in the morning, and then put her offering on his pillow. He would find it during siesta, a delightful snack to enjoy when he woke up.

As for herself, Tabita had always been careful not to be seen by Spots when she was in his lair. So of course he would believe the gift was from Eva.

Casa Cerra: Monday, September 12, 1513

“Eva!” Matron beckoned to her as she was taking a basket of Baseel’s laundry to be washed. Several women hovered around the cleaning-area, an air of friendly conspiracy about them. “We have something to go with your new clothes.”

“What new clothes?” Eva dumped her basket into the wash-trough.

“Did you not know? The majordomo, he say to me, ‘Is all la Granadina’s clothing like this?” Matron swept a disdainful hand over Eva’s stained gray Spanish surcote. “And I say, ‘Andres, he did not let her bring much.’ Like that, I say, so he know it is not how you choose to dress. And he tell me, ‘get her something more womanly. I cannot take her about like that. Be sure to provide at least one pair of pantalones in the style of old Granada.’ So you see, you are making good progress, even though he is grumpy to us as always.”

That was only the normal business between master and servant. After his rape, Eva had chosen her dowdy clothes as a silent rebuke to her father, but the rest of their employees had worn de Pazia livery. It reflected poorly on a household if their servants were ill-clothed.

“We women know what really keeps a man happy, no?” Josemona winked at the others. “But how can a girl learn, if someone does not teach? And who, since your mother is long dead?”

“It is also because you were rich,” Matron explained. “We have heard that the Spanish do not let their ladies learn about such things. They think the dowry money is enough.”

Eva was completely bewildered. “What do I need to learn?”

“How to please Alcazar, of course! Everyone wants to see you succeed, so we bought you something to help.” Analina brought out a small stoppered flask.

Maria Aliya, who worked in the kitchens, chimed in. “It was expensive, but we all put a few coins in. Even Jose the cook gave!”

“Thank you,” Eva accepted the flask and looked around at the beaming faces. “What is it?”

“A special oil.”

“It’s an afrodisíaco!

“The most powerful!”

“But not the kind you put in his food. This is for the woman, you must apply it just before.”

“Yes, men love it when you go wild.”

“You mustn’t just lie there like a dead fish.”

“And old Simon the apothecary says that it is when the woman responds that she will conceive!”

Realization began to dawn on Eva. “The clothes!” she cried. “I must stir them!” She grabbed the wooden laundry paddle and worked Baseel’s shirts. She kept her face in the steam. It would explain the beads of sweat and the bright red flush.

Of course they all assumed Baseel was sleeping with her. It was just that Eva automatically blocked such thoughts—not that they surfaced often.

Oh, Jesu! Everyone is speculating! How could she even look at Jose the cook again?

The Cat: Thursday September 15, 1513

Tabita was waiting for her share of what Eva was cooking when she heard a horseman come into the main courtyard. Shortly Giant, as Tabita thought of the big, quiet man who usually occupied the little room right outside the door, stuck his head in the entry. “Messenger from the señor come for Alcazar,” he told Eva.

Spots appeared from behind the curtain, and Tabita whisked out of view. Whenever she caught a mouse, Tabita only ate part. The rest she left on Spots’ pillow—the bottom half, with the precious pre-digested grains only to be found in mouse guts. And if he were to think Eva was the source of his little treats, a good hunter who would be a worthy mate, then better she remain unseen.

“I’ll receive him in Baltasar’s quarters.” He grabbed a cake from the pan Eva held. “How is your brother doing?”

 “Elias was very ill. It takes a long time to recover from an infected wound, even without a blow on the head.” Tabita felt Eva’s unease; that meant what she said was a little untrue. Eva was bothered about things like that.

Spots frowned. “I need him out of the office soon.” He radiated jealousy. Not of Eva, but of Elias. Tabita knew Elias was equally jealous of Spots. Whenever Eva and Elias were together, Spots was there, too. Elias didn’t want him to be there, but there was nothing he could do about it.

The tension between them was a hindrance to Eva’s wooing. It made Spots angry that he was not as important to her as Elias.

Spots closed the door a little too firmly—that was one way you could tell when the humans were annoyed. Eva put the food on a tray and ran it upstairs. She pulled the door almost shut. “He’s gone, but only for a minute.”

“Good. Did you take the note I gave you and put it behind the loose brick in the tack room?”

“Yes. And Elias, yesterday I asked the majordomo if I might go to market with Jose next week, and he said if I took Matron along, I could!”

Tabita heard Spots come in the entry, although he stepped so quietly her human pride-members did not notice. She meowed an alert.

Elias was not listening. “Excellent! It’s the best protection you could have, Eva. The more he likes you, the safer you are.”

Tabita meowed again. Spots was coming up the stairs.

“I don’t know, Elias. Sometimes, he’s so nice. And sometimes, it’s like he can’t stand the sight of me.” Tabita rubbed up against Eva to get her attention. Spots was standing on the landing, right outside the half-open door. “Are you sure that—that he won’t carry out his threat?”

“Of course I am. I had years to watch Casa Cerra’s tactics. Has he made any move against your virtue?”

“No. He doesn’t ask for anything. I try to please him, and sometimes I think I’ve succeeded. And then other times I think he’d rather I weren’t even there.” Eva gathered up the breakfast tray.

Eva opened the door to find Spots standing outside it. “My patience is at an end!” he snarled. “Cerra has sent for me, and you as well. Go dress in the pantalones, you will ride astride. We leave in an hour. And now go! I have something private to tell your idiot of a brother.”

Tabita preferred not to be trapped in the office with an angry male. She darted across the room to where the balcony doors were open just a crack and squeezed through. Below was the camel-yard where she had first found Elias.

The miserable beast saw the balcony door move and ran over, emitting a breathy roar. Tabita could not even hear what Elias and Baseel were saying, but a quick peek around the curtain made it clear that they were hissing and spitting at each other.

As soon as Spots left, Tabita returned to Elias’ side. He radiated fury—but mixed with that was the unmistakable scent of fear.

 On the road south of Granada, Thursday afternoon

The scent of dry grass baking in the late-summer sun mingled with the sharp smell of horse-sweat. They had ridden at a fast walk all day, with only an hour allowed midafternoon for siesta in a grove of scraggly cork trees.

Eva pulled her veil across her mouth to keep out the dust kicked up by the big black horse ten feet in front of her. The sun winked off the majordomo’s armored back and steel helmet. He sat his horse bolt upright, yet moving with it as though he grew out of the high-backed saddle. A leading-rein stretched from the back of that saddle to the halter of the mule Eva rode with far less ease. She shifted in her seat, vainly trying to ease her sore buttocks.

All friendliness was gone from Alcazar’s manner. Since overhearing her conversation with Elias this morning, he had remained aloof, speaking to the other two men-at-arms and looking past Eva whenever he happened to face her direction. Nevertheless, Eva’s saddle had been thickly padded, and despite her inexperience, the mule he assigned her was a soft-gaited animal.

Cerra must have sold her. That would account for Alcazar’s sudden withdrawal even more than his anger at what she and Elias had been saying. How much had he overheard?

The sun was setting when they pulled into a inn at a roadside hamlet. The innkeeper hurried out. “Ah, señor Alcazar! Welcome back to Mondújar. We heard you have been promoted to a higher post!”

“Yes, but my duties will still keep me coming and going, so you will not forget me.” Alcazar jerked his head back towards Eva. “The woman will be sharing my room.”

Sharing his room? Then Alcazar was going to carry out his threat. Eva’s stomach churned.

She managed to swing her numb leg over the saddle to dismount, but when she got both feet on the ground, she found that unaccustomed use had so cramped her muscles she had to hang onto the stirrup to keep from collapsing.

A hostler came to take the majordomo’s horse, leering at him suggestively. “Ah, now you are made majordomo, you must bring your own personal whore!”

Another hostler joined in the banter. “She looks too saddle-sore to be of any use.”

His fellow made a crude gesture. “Maybe she’s worn out from a different kind of riding!”

Eva ducked her head, going scarlet with shame. It did not escape the first joker’s quick gaze. “Nay, she’s blushing like a virgin. Never you mind, wench, I have it on authority from the tavern-maid here that he’s so small, you’ll hardly notice!”

“And if you turn around, then you won’t have to see his face!” the second one replied, the two of them engaging in a crude burlesque to demonstrate, howling with laughter.

“Enough!” Alcazar snapped, his expression taut. “Are my animals to stand uncared-for?” He grasped her arm, his rough manner belied by the gentle firmness of his grip as he helped her walk. Eva’s embarrassment was allayed a little by the thought of his. How often had his scars been mocked? At least she did not have to bear a lifetime of that.

Eva’s heart sank when she saw the room they were shown to had only one large bed. Alcazar pointed to the pitcher and stand. “You may have a few minutes to wash. I will bring food.”

Eva dipped a cloth in the basin and washed away the road-dust, mentally rehearsing every comforting thought she would muster.

She was grateful for the lack of sensation on her inner thighs, although she suspected that she was chafed raw in that area. Maybe if it looked bad enough, he would take pity on her. Anyway, she must get used to it. Women everywhere had to endure sexual relations, whether they wanted them or not. At least she would not be able to feel anything.

It is better than if I were given to Manuel. It can’t be worse than my father. It doesn’t last very long. Most women have to endure this. But her stomach heaved at the prospect.

She started up as the door opened. Baseel entered, carrying a pot of something that smelled like mutton stew.

In spite of all she had rehearsed, now that she was presented with the awful prospect, the blood drained from her face. He stared at her, wordless, his expression one of displeasure.

He is kind! She reminded herself frantically.

But the steaming smell of the food made her nausea worse. She clapped her hands over her mouth and ran for the slop-basin, tripped on a loose floorboard, and went sprawling face-first into the bedpost, where she stifled her retching in the coverlet.

“Can you not refrain from soiling the linens?” Alcazar hauled her bodily off the edge of the bed and dropped her on all fours on the floor.

When her stomach stopped heaving, she rose trembling. “I’m so sorry. I’ll clean it up.”

“Use the towel, I’ll send for more. And extra blankets so you can make a pallet for yourself on the floor. You need not fear any advances on my part.” His low voice was loaded with scorn. “In fact, I have never met a woman I am less interested in bedding.”

Someone knocked on the door, and the majordomo opened it to find the hostler with their saddlebags. He took them and shut it firmly. When he spoke again, his voice was low, but emphatic. “That last is to remain our secret. When we meet Baltasar Cerra tomorrow, you will do your best to keep up the pretense that you are, as the hostler so delicately put it, my personal whore. If you give him any hint to the contrary, we may be forced into a more intimate acquaintance than either of us desire.”

He sent a saddlebag in her direction with a vicious kick. “I am going to eat in the common room. It stinks in here.”

Eva set about the tasks slowly, trying to absorb what she had just learned. Elias had been wrong about it being a bluff. Baseel had actually disobeyed Maloliente on her account. And yet—

The realization slammed into her. Baseel Alcazar was no rapist, but that did not mean she was safe. If Baltasar Cerra did not value her supposed virginity—if he had already given that up—

Elias had not cooperated, and now she was being taken to Malaga, the port from which Leonor had been shipped to North Africa.

Matron’s words came back to her. “Leonor here, she will be a rich man’s wife, they pay high for pretty young girls who are untouched by a man. But you are not so pretty, not so young. And to have commoner’s hands also! It is well you are virgin or Cerra might sell you to a brothel.”

And although he might sympathize with her plight, Baseel Alcazar was in no position to do anything to prevent her sale.

Friday September 16, 1513

The next morning, Eva’s muscles were so stiff and sore that she moved like an old woman. Baseel glanced up from the washstand. “That must hurt.”

Eva put a hand to the side of her face where she had struck the bedpost and winced.

He studied her. “Don’t try to hide that beneath a veil. It may turn out useful to our little pretense.”

One of the Casa Cerra men knocked at the door. “Majordomo, the saddlebags?”

Baseel handed them out while speaking to Eva in a harsh tone. “That black eye will teach you not to cross me in the future.”

Eva was bewildered. She had gotten that by falling—oh yes. She would have to remember to keep up the pretense she was the majordomo’s ‘personal whore’—she winced even thinking of the label—until they got to Malaga.

This morning there was no sign of the bitterness that had surfaced last night. Baseel supported Eva by one arm as she limped downstairs and lifted her into the padded saddle.

He adjusted the stirrups a little shorter. “Put more of your weight on your legs, it will take the pressure off your sore trasera.

Eva tried. But her legs were sore, too.

An hour from the inn, they reached the junction where the track to the mountain village of Lanjarón met the main road to the coast. Baltasar Cerra was waiting for them with a party of several more men. “Ah, Baseel. You are in time, we have just finished breakfast.”

Alcazar immediately became all business. He rode by Cerra’s side giving an account of affairs at the Granada compound and receiving the merchant’s every word with deference. Maloliente himself. Eva watched Cerra’s influence transform Blanca’s fairy-tale prince into the wizard’s pupil.

Riding behind the pair, Eva could hear everything. That they did not care about that was the plainest indication that she was no more to them than the animal she rode.

“Well, Baseel, you have risen quite high for a former slave. And I hope to see you rise higher, perhaps even to my second-in-command. But let us not tell that to Andres or Raoul.”

“I am better with accounts and numbers than Raoul, and manage the staff better than Andres. Tell me what skills they have that I lack, and I will strive to best them.”

“Pragmatism. Self-interest. Your prickly façade does not fool me, nor anyone else with a sharp eye—as the brother of your current woman surely has. Speaking of which,” Cerra continued, “I suspect you are going too easy on the sister.”

“By Allah, nobody would call my treatment of her easy!” Baseel retorted. “I have made her labor from dawn to dusk—whitewashing, mending, laundering, scrubbing floors, cleaning everything. I beat her until she weeps. The whole compound hears her wail at night.”

“And that has not moved him? Does he care nothing about her welfare?”

“At the beginning, he was furious with her, because the stupid girl told him she turned their father in. He told me she deserved whatever I did to her. I hoped he would change his mind after hearing her screams—not to mention several days being chased around the courtyard by the camel.”

Baseel’s reply brought a smile to Eva despite her misery. Imagine trying to tame Elias with an animal!

“And yet in three weeks, he has not produced a resume.”

“The last two hardly count. He couldn’t even hold a pen. And the blow on the head—your investment was very nearly lost entirely.”

“What is this?” Cerra’s tone sharpened.

“I wrote you as soon as it happened. Didn’t you get my message?”

“It must have come just after I left Malaga. Tell me everything!”

 “Tuesday night, the week before last, Lope found him unconscious with a huge lump on his head. We decided he must have hit it on the stone trough after falling out of the carob tree. And that was because he was burning up with fever.” Baseel guided his mount around a large rock in the road. “Mustapha looked him over and found a half-healed spear-wound between his ribs and left arm. Given about a week before you bought him, I would guess. It had been festering for some time.”

“So Sahma bin Qadir sold us damaged goods!” Cerra let out a string of words that were not part of Eva’s vocabulary. “He claimed he didn’t want the risk of getting a fugitive out of the country with the Inquisition searching every road. I take it he survived?”

“I moved him to the office, shackled, of course, and gave his sister the task of nursing him. She is very attached to her brother.”

Eva heard a wistful note in Baseel’s voice. He is so alone.

“Which is how I learned that his indifference was nothing more than a front.” Baseel raised his voice slightly, although Eva was sure he already knew she was paying attention. “I overheard them yesterday morning, and it seems that our slave is too well acquainted with Casa Cerra. This whole time, he was under the impression that my threat was a bluff, because our the usual practice is to preserve a girl’s virginity against a future sale.”

“Elias de Pazia is a strange blend of naiveté and intelligence. You disabused him of his mistaken assumptions on that count?”

“As soon as I understood the problem, I made it plain that asset is no longer relevant. And we left immediately. By now, he’ll be in a sweat.”

“It would serve him right if I sold her.”

‘If’ he sold her? Did that mean that Cerra had not sent for her because there was a buyer, but merely to confirm her status as ‘personal whore’ to the majordomo?

“She wouldn’t bring enough to justify the trouble.” Baseel gave a forced-sounding laugh. “She has none of the graces you would expect of a gently-raised girl. Her hands are ruined, she’s sunburnt, And she has inherited Iago’s beak of a nose, an unfortunate feature at best.”

Eva heard the statements with acceptance. She never had aspired to be a coddled rich lady, and nobody but Elias ever called her beautiful.

“Well, how about selling her to Blas’ brothel? He’ll take an ugly woman if she’s young and lusty.”

Eva’s breath caught in horror.

“Lusty, my trasera! Eva de Pazia is the most unsatisfactory bed-partner I have ever had to suffer through. Blas would poison your wine if you sold him that one! She acts like sex is her personal martyrdom. Since you cursed me with her, she has prayed ceaselessly for me to repent, wicked sinner that I am. By Allah, she would turn a satyr soft!”

Was that how Baseel saw her faith? Eva felt as though he had punched her in the stomach. Tears started in her eyes, and the blood pounded in her ears.

“How you suffer in my service!” Cerra laughed. “Well, now our slave knows his assumptions are so much air, he will no doubt do as we ask in exchange for finding his sister some obscure husband. Will he be recovered before the mistrals start?”

Eva was not entirely sure what mistrals were, but she knew that they interfered with shipping. She must ask Elias to explain—especially when they started.

“Youth and a strong constitution have returned him almost to full health. And credit should be given to his sister, who has cared for him diligently. The nuns at the hospice trained her well.”

Baseel’s words brought a small glow of satisfaction to Eva.

Maloliente pressed on with business. “But you must hire someone to keep house. Someone who can keep her mouth shut. I have the perfect candidate in mind: Aldonza.”

“The flamenco dancer from Sancho’s taverna?”

“Yes. Don’t deny you have lusted after her—all the men do, she’s a hot piece.” Cerra nodded with satisfaction. “Yes, I think she’s just the woman to warm your bed.”

Baseel shook his head. “She wouldn’t want the job.”

“Oh, I think you underestimate her pragmatism. Now that you are majordomo, she will look at you with new eyes. Besides, I am authorizing you to pay her twice what she makes at Sancho’s.”

Baseel’s demeanor brightened at his master’s praise. Or maybe it was the prospect of this ‘hot piece’ in his bed. Eva did not want to know more about Aldonza, or Cerra, or Baseel Alcazar. She tried not to look at the two backs in front of her.

Fortunately, Baseel changed the topic to something about the Toledo steel trade. Cerra made points here and there, while his majordomo almost fawned on the merchant in his eagerness to please.

Eva could not keep from dwelling on Blanca’s fable. Maloliente was winning the struggle for his victim’s soul. She loathed him.


Chapter 18 of Eva’s Secret

18. Healing

The Cat: Tuesday Evening, September 6, 1513

Tabita had developed the habit of going to the hammam in the evenings to keep company with the old man. Mustapha was like no human Tabita had ever known. He made no noises except cat-noises. And because he did not speak, he noticed far more than most humans. He also purred a great deal in the manner the humans called salat.

He needed to purr a lot, because Mustapha was ill. His aura was full of pain. But he never let it show, and he never let it change the way he acted toward others.

The regular cycle by which the hammam was made to belch forth steam was the same as Casa de Pazia’s hammam: the day before Church-bells day, and the day before market day. Tabita enjoyed watching the humans cleaning themselves. Even without the pleasant stimulation of tongue-stroking, the ritual made them happy. Females bathed in the morning, and the males in the evening. Last of all, and always alone, came Spots.

Tabita whisked beneath one of the benches against the wall. In the case of this dominant lion, she preferred not to be observed. Not that Spots was very observant tonight. He was plainly tired, and he was covered with even more white spots than usual.

Mustapha came out with the bath implements.

“How are you feeling?” Spots asked.

Mustapha shrugged.

Spots stripped off his cloth coverings. “I see Mario Hussein has assigned Enrique to help you. Is he around now?”

Mustapha shook his head, then put it to the side and laid his cheek against both hands in a gesture of someone asleep.

“Gone to bed in the men’s dormitorio. Good.” Spots took his hair out of the tie. “I’ll need to do my hair, it’s full of paint. That woman Cerra gave me has had me whitewashing the office.”

Mustapha grunted in a way that expressed disbelief.

Spots laughed. “All right, she didn’t make me, I chose to help. I couldn’t stand to sit and do the accounts while she was working so hard on the other side of the room. Anyway, it was overdue. The ceiling had gone gray from candle-soot, and now it’s white, the light is doubled.”

Mustapha silently offered to shampoo Spot’s hair. He shrugged. “All right, I’ll let you do it. My arms are tired. Odd, I can wield a sword for hours, but wielding a brush against the ceiling has made me sore in odd places.”

Mustapha took the soap and turned Spots’ head into a mushroom of foam, his fingers working into the kinky hairs.

Spots relaxed visibly. “That does feel good. Eva has been filling my ears with homilies on the healing properties of massage. To listen to her, you’d think it was a panacea for everything from toothache to toenails.”

Grunting agreement, Mustapha doused Spots’ head with repeated buckets of hot water until the shallow pool’s surface was a mass of foam.

“I wish it could help you.”

Mustapha made a dismissive noise that said the topic was closed.

Spots sighed and rubbed his hair dry into a wild bush while the old man spread a sheet over a tall padded bench.

Tabita heard somebody approaching at a run, the steps coming down hard—a big man bearing a heavy burden.

Thump! Thump! Someone banged the door with a booted foot.

Mustapha opened it, and Lope hurried inside, a great cloth bundle in his arms. Tabita smelled who was under it: Elias! And he was very sick.

“Took dinner to camel-yard. Lying on the ground.” That was the longest sentence Tabita had yet heard the big man utter. “Camel chase.”

“It couldn’t have been Fatima, she only threatens. And maybe bites, but she’s got no more front teeth. Lay him down here on the padded bench.”

Lope deposited Elias with clumsy gentleness, pointing to a lump on Elias’ head. “Fall down.”

“He must have slipped climbing the tree to get away from her, and hit his head against the trough. You did well to bring him to me. Now guard the door. There’s no risk of him escaping, but I don’t want anyone else barging in.”

Mustapha put his hand on Elias’ forehead and jerked it off in a motion even Tabita could read as ‘hot!’

“That’s odd, a fall shouldn’t make him feverish.” Spots bent over Elias, an ear to his chest. “Heartbeat is fluttery. Mustapha, you’d better check him over.”

While Spots dressed, Mustapha stripped off all Elias’ clothing. Tabita wrinkled her nose. It was filthy.

 But the old man paid no attention to that. He ran light searching fingers over every part. When his examination was done, he rolled Elias onto his side and held up the left arm so that Spots could see. Elias had a great half-healed wound on his ribs, and another on the inside of his arm. Tabita saw that the edges were stitched together like one of Eva’s needle projects, but much more crudely done.

Spots whistled. “He must have just dodged a double-sided blade aimed at his chest to get matching cuts on torso and underarm. A spear, looks like.”

Mustapha pressed the bottom edge of the arm wound, redder than the rest. Tabita could smell the putrid odor of pus.

“He’s gone feverish. Damn!” Spots hovered over as Mustapha gently sponged away the ooze. “Will he live?”

Mustapha looked doubtful.

“That slimy Tunisian Sahma sold us an injured man!” Spots snapped. “If de Pazia dies, I will be the one who bears the blame. Baltasar has made the successful completion of this transaction the test for keeping my new promotion. If I had known about that wound, I would have had him shackled to a bed instead of left to the mercy of Fatima.”

Mustapha brought a bucket of clean water and several cloths and washed Elias from head to toe while Spots watched.

Tabita saw that Elias was regaining consciousness. “I’m not leaving Granada!” he yelled. “Mama, don’t let Aliya go! Iago de Pazia, damn you to hell!”

“He’s delirious—and he’s starting to convulse!” Spots grabbed one side of the sheet that covered the bench, and Mustapha the other. Together, they wrapped it around Elias and held him still until the thrashing subsided.

Spots released his side. “What am I going to do with him? I can’t leave him here with you, his identity has to be kept secret.”

Mustapha’s lips formed a word: Eva.

Spots nodded. “Of course, she’s his sister. And besides, Eva knows a lot about healing. She worked with the Little Sisters of Mercy for years. As it happens, she even has the makings of a poultice that is quite effective at drawing infection.”

Spots went to the door. “Lope! Come help me carry him to the office.”

Eva

Eva tossed in restless sleep.

She was reading her mother’s letter. “You shall not marry a religious fraud. He shall not be Saracen.” The letters on the parchment rearranged themselves. “Especially not Cerra’s sin.”

Immediately Baltasar Cerra was there, as though conjured by his name. They were in the office, but it was filled with magical implements, skulls lining the shelves where books and scrolls had been. Maloliente stirred something in a brass retort that gave off sulfurous fumes. “By my magical arts, I have seen through your pretense. You aren’t a virgin, Eva de Pazia. Don’t try to deny it.”

Eva wanted the ground to swallow her.

“So really, you are worthless. I’ll have to sell you to a brothel, where you will suffer as your lies deserve.” He grinned at her evilly. “But I have decided to keep you, for the moment, and leave the devising of tortures to my majordomo Alcazar here.”

Eva saw that Baseel was standing behind Cerra. Around his neck was a golden slave-collar, from which dangled a chain. Cerra jerked on it and he jumped forward. “He needs a new woman to serve his pleasure. I fear he is rather hard on them.”

To her horror, she saw Baseel’s face change, the scars melting away as the features shifted to resemble those of Cerra. She cried out.

“This does not seem to please her, does it, Baseel?” Cerra’s tone was one of amusement.

“One can only hope that Elias de Pazia will not abandon his sister to Alcazar’s intemperate lusts.”

Cerra waved a negligent hand. “Take her downstairs and rape her. She won’t feel a thing—her own father broke her in.”

The horrible Cerra-faced version of Baseel gripped her shoulder. But instead of dragging her off, he shook her. “Eva! You must come with me!”

Eva opened her eyes to see Baseel’s face leaning over her, his hair standing out from his head in every direction like a black-maned lion. He had her shoulder in his grip, and he shook her again.

Every muscle in her body reacted in instinctive terror. Eva bolted up and crouched pressed into the corner, arms crossed before her to ward off attack.

Baseel pulled back, and she saw, in the dim candlelight, that he was wearing only a djellaba.

This is it. He’s going to carry out his threat.

“Stop it!” Alcazar snapped. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Angry words burst out of Eva. “You can’t hurt me! I don’t feel anything there anymore!” As she realized what she had just blurted out, Eva gasped in horrified mortification. All of that, her loss of sensation from inner thigh to crotch, was connected to her shameful secret. Was that normal for victims of incest? Would Alcazar be able to deduce her awful history?

Nausea overwhelmed her and she threw up.

Alcazar snatched her straw-tick away, peeling off the vomit-splattered coverlet. He gathered the mattress in his arms, sending the soiled blanket her way with a disgusted sweep of his foot. “When you are done being sick, go to the kitchen and fix more of that hot paste you put on my toe, then bring it up to the office. Your brother is in need of your healing skills.”

Something was wrong with Elias! The nausea was gone in an instant. Eva flew to the kitchen and blew the banked coals in the brazier into a fire. While the resinous pine burned to ash, she ran back to her room, bundled her unruly hair into a head-rail and put on her dress and shoes.

Eva prayed for Elias as she pounded the comfrey into the earth and ash. What could have happened, there in that little enclosed courtyard? Was the camel more ferocious than the Borgia?

She ran up the stairs with the steaming poultice. Lope stood stolidly on the landing outside the door, which he opened for her. Eva looked around the room, the ledgers and codices still piled on the furniture which just that afternoon they had pushed to the newly whitewashed side in order to do the other. The room still smelled of drying lime. Moonlight streamed though the open doors to the balcony.

“Over here.” Alcazar’s voice came from the little ell which would be directly over the kitchenette. There he had placed Eva’s mattress and bedding. The form lying on the pallet was wearing nothing but a pair of oversized linen braies.

Eva ran to him. “Elias?” She put a hand on his forehead—fever, and he was shaking with ague.

“Lope found him lying on the ground tonight, this huge bump on his head. We think he fell out of the tree in the courtyard and hit it on the stone trough. Probably because his arm gave way.” Alcazar lifted Elias’ left arm to reveal an angry, puckered gash, inexpertly stitched, and another across Elias’ ribs just below it.

Eva saw and smelled the infection at once. She applied the hot poultice to both the arm and his ribs, and with the majordomo’s help bound the two in place with a strip wound around the chest.

Elias roused. “Mama?”

“It’s Eva, Hermano mio.” Eva held a cup of water to his cracked lips. “Try to drink.”

He sipped a little, then fell to retching, unable to hold it down, and passed out. Eva noticed Alcazar working at the foot of the mattress. “What are you doing?”

“I’m affixing an ankle-cuff and chaining him to the wall.”

“You think he can escape?” Fury rose in her breast. “This festering wound—it’s more than two weeks old, which means it’s been sapping his strength all that time! And the blow to the head—don’t you understand, he may not last out the night!”

“I understand perfectly how perilous his situation is,” the majordomo was stern. “That’s why I’m going to let you tend him here in the office. But whether he lives or dies, leaving Elias de Pazia unfettered in the same room with Casa Cerra’s papers is a risk I will not take. Or would you prefer to treat him outside with the camel?”

Gone was the camaraderie of the last two days. Now Baseel had become entirely Maloliente’s creature. Without a farewell, he left the room.

Eva lay down next to Elias and wrapped her arms around his wasted frame, giving him what comfort she could. Jesu couldn’t let her brother die, could he? Not after miraculously saving him—and besides, there was the vision, a call on his life.

And the inside voice that was yet outside whispered: Everyone has a call. But not every call is answered.

Eva curled herself around Elias’ back, pressing in despite the burning fever that consumed him while her tears dripped into their shared pillow. What would she do if Elias died?

She awoke damp with sweat—not her own, but Elias’. Praise God, the fever had broken!

Eva rose and slipped down to the kitchen to heat more poultice. When she returned, Elias was awake and lucid. He jerked his head toward the door. “Is there a guard?”

“No. That’s why you are fettered.”

“Then we can talk.” Elias gave the ghost of a smile. “I told you I needed to rest. But this illness isn’t altogether a bad thing. I can’t be sold until I’m healthy.”

Eva held his head up and put the cup to his lips. “Was it the camel?”

He managed several swallows. “No. I fell climbing back into the courtyard. But it was worth it, because I made contact with my helper and now we have your escape all set up. More water.”

Eva held the cup to his lips again, encouraged. Elias was young and strong. He had bounced back from worse falls.

 He finished the cup and lay back so Eva could attend to the messy business of changing the poultice. “Here’s the plan: Every market-day Tomás will bring in some produce. You are to locate him, and then drop your basket in front of his barrow and exclaim ‘Saint Basil!’ He will send his boy for my accomplice, who will spirit you away.”

“But they won’t let me leave the compound.”

“You are going to become the majordomo’s personal cook, remember? And I have decided to become fearful of poison, so I will only eat from my sister’s hand that which she herself has prepared. It will take a few weeks to get everything ready, and by then you’ll have the majordomo agreeing to anything you ask. Nobody could really suspect you, Eva—not once they know you.”

Eva was not so sure. “But why would Alcazar let me go to market? I could just order what I need, like I did at Casa de Pazia.”

“You want to examine the ingredients yourself. You’re very picky.” Elias smiled. “And if you take an escort, why would he refuse? Disarm his suspicions. Win him over. Just be yourself, Eva.”

She had been herself when Alcazar awakened her unexpectedly just a few hours ago. Eva had a vivid recollection of Baseel’s face when she cowered away in terror. And then she had thrown up.

“I’ll try, Elias. But I don’t think the Majordomo likes me very much.”

The week passed in a whirl of activity. Eva prepared Elias’ food in the little kitchen, although the only things she knew to cook were couscous with vegetables and fish soup. But she also took daily lessons with Jose. Moroccan cooking was not a simple skill. There were so many ways to ruin a dish!

Elias continued to improve, although he steadfastly refused to cooperate in his sale. This infuriated Alcazar, who became silent and short-tempered.

Only when they were alone and Eva massaged his feet did he loosen up. Then Alcazar the majordomo became Baseel, a different person entirely. Every night Eva circled the cuff of scar tissue, praying silently and half-pretending that she was draining Maloliente’s poison away from his heart.

Wednesday a caravan came in from Casa Cerra Almeria. Mario Hussein was trying to find places to house all the extra men and animals, while Baseel kept a sharp eye on the unloading and inventory of the goods.

“Ya, Eva!” Jose the cook had returned with Enrique and another helper laden with their purchases. “I got you a chicken from the market today. A nice fat one.” Jose beamed as he held out a live hen. “You have to let it hang for at least a day after slaughter.”

“I—I can’t kill it,” Eva stammered. “At home, the men always—”

“You’ll have to get over those fine-lady sentiments if you are going to get anywhere in cooking. But you must do it quickly, because if there is suffering, the animal’s spirit gets even by making the meat tough. Now watch.” Jose took the hen and efficiently whacked off the bird’s head. “Now don’t be squeamish, you must gut it and hang it up by the feet in the little kitchen.”

Eva hastily put the still-wriggling body in her basket with the onions. But to her horror, the headless chicken convulsed wildly, flipped over the edge of the basket and hit the ground running.

“Go catch it, quick!” Jose yelled. “She might take it into her head to fly away! Take it into her head—har, har!”

To his whoops of good-natured laughter, Eva chased the headless chicken around the corner into the alley between buildings that led to the stable-yard. She stooped to pick it up.

Heavy boots stopped in front of her. “Well, well! You’re still here. I guess your brother didn’t want to pay for you after all.”

Manuel! Eva straightened, beating back the familiar feeling of panic. “You never found him to give the message.” She put the now quiet bird in her basket. “I must be going now.”

He blocked her way. “Still all cold and haughty, are we? But now I’m the one with the higher status. You’re nothing but slave labor.”

“I don’t mind labor.” Eva turned away.

 Manuel blocked her. “And how about the auto-da-fé? Did you mind that?”

Eva flinched at the memory of that terrible day.

Manuel leered at her and probed further. “What, didn’t you like seeing your pervert of a father roasting in the fire like a rabbit on a spit? I enjoyed it immensely.”

Eva backed away from him. “Manuel, your mortal soul is in peril.”

Manuel laughed. “As a Jewess, you are a fine one to lecture me on the state of my soul!”

Manuel thrust his face into hers. “I was the one who turned him in. I’ve known for years that Iago was a secret Jew.”

You told the Inquisitors?”

 Manuel misunderstood Eva’s shocked expression. “Yes, it was me that brought your great Casa down. And it required persistence! I had to take it straight to the offices of Cardinal Cisneros. I got no results from telling Fray Salvador, even though he saw the evidence. But the stupid priest wouldn’t turn the de Pazias in.” Manuel gave a hoot of derisive laughter. “He told me I should pray for old Iago’s withered soul instead. Imagine that!”

Fray Salvador had given her the same advice! So it was not her betrayal that caused the downfall of Casa de Pazia.

“The word in the stables is that you are no longer housed in the women’s quarters with the sale virgins. As if anybody would give a hundred reales for such as you!” Manuel threw her against the granary wall. “Which reminds me that I have not fully settled my score with you for breaking your promise not to tell about the cat.”

Eva tried to get away, but Manuel placed an arm on either side of her to prevent her escape. “As I recall, Veronica accused me of violating your modesty.”

“Let me go!” Her basket was jarred out of her hands and the chicken and onions rolled on the ground. Two or three of the new men from Almeria stopped to watch, but instead of helping, they only egged Manuel on. “Let’s see you do her in broad daylight!”

Enrique stuck his head around the corner, but when he saw what was going on, the kitchen boy ran away. Eva did not blame him. What could a child do against a brute like Manuel?

Eva cringed against the wall. Manuel tried to kiss her, but she jerked her head to the side.

“Ho! You think I am not good enough for you? A Jewess, and an ugly one at that!” He lifted her skirt. “Now I’m going to violate a lot more than your modesty!”

His groping hand slid up her leg; it had not reached the places where the feeling was gone.

No, not here, in the open! She thought frantically. I will die of the shame!

“Jesu, help me,” she prayed. “Help me bear without hatred whatever you do not turn aside.”

And with that prayer, Manuel was jerked away from her. Eva heard the crack of a fist on bone and the thud as Manuel went sprawling into the dust. She dived behind a nearby handcart and vomited repeatedly.

Dimly in the background, she could hear Alcazar. “Whatever the rules are in Almeria, while you are on these premises you will treat the women workers with respect. Do you understand?”

Eva did not wait to hear Manuel’s response. She picked up her basket and fled to the safety of the majordomo’s apartment. Once in the kitchen, she fell to her knees, still trembling. After her heart had stopped pounding, she was able to think of the other thing that she had learned.

A huge weight lifted from her shoulders. It was Manuel who had been the cause of her father’s downfall! Even though she was still guilty of conspiring to bring her father to poverty, it was wonderful to know that it had not been her foolish action that had sent him to the stake.

Eva rested her forehead against the bricks of the wall and thanked Jesu that she had been given to the majordomo. Far from being the disaster everyone pitied her for, it had been divine provision. Baseel was a man who took care of his own household. And besides, Jesu had put her right next to Elias.

——

Baseel came in late and immediately stretched his legs out for a foot massage, a routine he appeared to enjoy even though no further treatment was necessary. Eva rubbed in embarrassed silence, remembering the state he had seen her in that afternoon and wondering if he thought she had done something to invite Manuel’s attentions.

“What, no sub-vocal prayers for my Saracen soul tonight?”

He had noticed that? Eva turned beet-red, but a quick glance showed that the majordomo’s mouth quirked up. He was teasing her!

“It’s just—this afternoon—I didn’t do anything to encourage—” she trailed off awkwardly.

His face darkened. “I never thought you did. That was one of Andres’ recent hires. The caravan goes on to Seville tomorrow, but before it leaves I’m going to find out who he is and where he was from.”

“His name is Manuel Ortiz, and he was the head of our guard.” Eva felt a sudden anger at the way he had grabbed her today. “He was getting even with me because he thinks I was a tale-bearer about something he did. Manuel will try to bully and manipulate his way to power—he’s competent, but he’s cruel.”

“He worked for Casa de Pazia?” Baseel put his feet down and sat up. “So that was the one!”

Did the majordomo already know who turned her father in? Eva glanced up again and saw that Alcazar’s face was a thundercloud, his eyes sparked lightning.

“Quite aside from his insubordination this afternoon, and the information you just gave as to his character, if Manuel Ortiz knows the de Pazia family by sight I can’t leave him running about Granada—especially not with your brother here. Get me my writing case.”

Eva brought the marquetry box to the table. Baseel wrote a short quick note. Then he went to the rack where his armor hung and unsheathed his sword.

Eva was alarmed. “What are you going to do?”

Baseel took a whetstone from its pocket in the sheath and ground the edge of the blade. “The note is to Garcia, the caravan leader. I told him to send Manuel aside to receive a message at a certain inn at tomorrow’s siesta stop. It is still unwise for a Moor and a ‘New Christian’ to be called in front of the magistrates, especially as Cerra is trying to demonstrate that he is a loyal and law-abiding citizen of Spain. So it is better Manuel meet his fate well outside of Granada, with no witnesses.”

Eva recoiled in horror. Alcazar was planning to kill Manuel! “No, you can’t do this! It’s wrong!”

Alcazar looked up from his task with a frown. “Do you think I am going to sneak up and stab him from behind? It’ll be a fair fight.”

Until now, Eva had only thought of Manuel’s death. Terror gripped her as she pictured Baseel’s. “But he might kill you!”

“Just because I know languages and numbers does not make me a soft-handed clerk like your fool of a brother.” Baseel returned to honing his sword with long susurrating strokes that made the air smell of hot steel. “I was born a slave, it is true. But I learned early how to defend my goats from predators, and Cerra had me train as a man-at-arms.”

“But Manuel is an experienced fighter, a veteran of Cardinal Cisneros’ campaign against Oran.”

“You need not worry on my behalf.” Baseel wiped the blade with a rag and slid it back into its sheath. “Bandit attacks are a fact of life in our business. Before I was promoted, I was one of Casa Cerra’s caravan leaders. And now I am majordomo, I do not intend to allow an upstart braggart like this Manuel to challenge my authority.”

“So you’d take a life needlessly all to save face?” Eva found herself shaking with anger born of fear. “There’s no need, the whole compound is already afraid to cross you!”

“Except you, apparently.”

“I am afraid of sending someone to hell. Manuel. Or you.”

“Is not my life in the hands of Allah? Besides, I do not believe in your religion where all is forgiven for the cheap price of a confession. Manuel’s angels have been recording his deeds. If the good outweigh the bad, Allah the merciful may allow him to enter paradise. I say he is the better off dying while the inno­cence of childhood might yet outweigh the evil he has done as an adult.”

“Don’t do this, I beg you.” Eva got down on her knees before him. “Please don’t add another death to those already on my conscience!”

“Oh, get up!” Baseel crumpled the note with an Arabic epithet dredged from the gutter. “The sister will not allow the most practical of retributions, while idolizing a brother who lives and breathes for vengeance. May Allah deliver me from this plague of de Pazias!” The door slammed behind him as he went out again, even though it was late.

Eva went to bed and wept into her pillow. Elias had given her the task of winning him over, and she had completely antagonized him.


Chapter 17 of Eva’s Secret

17. Brotherly Love

Casa Cerra: Sunday afternoon, September 4, 1513

Eva hurried after him up the stairs and waited on the large landing while he unlocked the door. The office, which was the size of the salon and master bedroom combined, had not noticeably changed from last Tuesday evening, but Eva now saw it with entirely different eyes. It badly needed whitewashing. And the drapes on the double doors that must lead onto a balcony—full of moth-holes! Dust filled the air as Baseel shoved a stack of papers to the side of the largest table. Eva sneezed.

Sniffling afterwards, she caught a foul smell, and realized that no one had cleaned her vomit from the planter. Did anyone even water that palm? It was a wonder it survived!

“Will the señor let me clean this room?” she asked. “After I dusted the rolls and papers, I would be careful to put everything back just the way it was.”

“From anyone else, especially the daughter of a rival merchant house, I would take that as a clumsy attempt to spy out Casa Cerra’s secrets.” The majordomo quirked an eyebrow at her. “Eva de Pazia, I do not know what to make of you. Are you really as naïve as you sound, or a diabolically clever female?”

“I need something to do, that’s all,” Eva mumbled, twisting her hands in the folds of her skirt. “Ask Elias, he’ll tell you.”

The entry door below creaked open, and two people came up the stairs. The chink of chain and the halting steps told Eva that they had Elias in leg-irons. She held back her tears of guilt; she must be strong and not influence her brother away from God’s will.

A huge man, who must be the same Lope that had been ordered to bring her brother, ushered in a figure completely shrouded in a hooded djellaba.

“Lope, wait at the bottom of the stair, and shut the door.” Alcazar unfastened the wrist-fetters. “Scribe, there is someone who would like to see you.”

Elias put back his hood. His cheeks were hollow, a sparse bristle of beard covered his chin, and there was a new scar on his lip. “Eva, what are you doing here? You were supposed to be safely out of Granada a week ago!”

“Oh, Elias, I went back to get Tabita and ruined everything!” Eva ran to embrace him. Beneath the djellaba he was thin and dirty, and he smelled of camel-dung, but Eva cared nothing for that.

He hugged her back, ducking his face into the head-rail that controlled her bushy curls. His stubbly cheek was hot and harsh against her ear. Eva heard the barest whisper: “Late tonight, be at the other side of the ash-dump pipe. Put the cat through, so I know you’re there.” Then he straightened and said in a normal voice, “Give over, Eva. You’re making my ribs ache.”

She pulled back to look at him, a little hurt at his brusqueness. Elias brushed his chin with the back of his hand in a private gesture that meant not in front of Father and his eyes flicked in the direction of the Majordomo.

Eva gave a sideways look and was startled to see that Alcazar wore the expression of a starving man watching a banquet. He caught her gaze and scowled. “Don’t use his name, unless you want to see him burn. This is the scribe.”

Turning to Elias, he snapped, “You see that we do, in fact, have your sister. Now that your doubts are resolved, perhaps our discussion as to your future will be more productive.”

Eva hurried to say her piece. “Hermano, forgive me! When you told me the plan to get me out of the marriage, I had already turned Father in to the Inquisition.”

“Eva! Why did you do such a stupid thing?” Elias was angry. Justifiably.

“I’m sorry Elia—scribe. I didn’t know about the tortures, so I never thought that Father would implicate you.”

“So I have you to thank for my fall from grace!” Elias thrust her away roughly.

Eva felt his rejection like a physical blow.

“That will be enough!” Alcazar interrupted. “Go to your room.” He almost pushed Eva out the door. She stumbled down to her barren little room, almost blinded by tears. She had never heard Elias speak to her in such tones.

But then, she had never before ruined his entire life.

The Cat

Tabita nudged Eva where she lay curled up and crying on her bed. Something had happened behind the closed door upstairs that had plunged Eva into the depths of despair. She had not been harmed physically. No one had even raised their voice loud enough for the cat to notice, and she had listened right outside on the landing.

Tabita replayed the events of the afternoon and evening.

Perhaps Spots was upset over changes in the lair. Tabita had hidden where she could watch him carefully, staying close enough to see his facial expression, smell his emotions and check his aura. She feared he might be angry at Eva’s removal of his scent. But her wailing with the twang-box appeased him, because he allowed her to groom his feet.

Then they had an exchange about Elias. Eva became distressed, and Spots reacted with comforting noises and body positions. After which the discussion had turned toward mating—no words that Tabita recognized, but whenever Eva smelled like she was about to throw up, mating was the topic.

And Spots had become furious. He pounded the table and marched Eva upstairs. Next, Elias had been brought in, all chained up. And then the three of them had been behind the closed upstairs door until Spots had pushed Eva out, and she had gone downstairs to collapse in her bed, weeping.

Tabita would very much have liked to see and smell—or at least hear—what was passing between Spots and Elias right now. Very faintly, through the heavy planking that divided the upper space from Eva’s lair, came growling sounds from Spots, to which Elias hissed back.

However Eva’s need, at the moment, was greater than a cat’s curiosity. She nudged her head under Eva’s hand again. Right now, what Eva required was to engage in some serious stroking.

Eva sat up and gathered Tabita into her lap. “I have to stay awake, Tabita. Elias said to be at the other side of the ash-dump at midnight.”

She sat and stroked. Tabita purred. Eva purred in her own way, invoking the names Jesu and Paternoster and even Avemaria. They heard Elias come clinking down the stairs, and then leave with his heavy-footed escort. Spots remained above them for some time longer, and then he too went to his lair.

After some time, Eva got up. “Tabita, can you go see if Alcazar is asleep?” She stroked her. “I know you understand some of what I say. Tabby, go check on the man.”

Eva carried her out into the largest room of the lair, and set her down facing the curtain behind which Spots slept. Tabita understood that Eva needed reassurance on that subject, because she was unable to hear the deep, regular breathing that meant he was not even dreaming.

Tabita slid between the curtain, waited long enough that Eva would be reassured, then came back. “Mew,” she vocalized very softly.

Eva picked her up again and went through the entry to the little cooking-place. She closed the door firmly, placing a brick in front of it. A precaution; the scraping noise would alert her if Spots woke and came prowling. Tabita would have let her pride mate know about the danger long before the brick moved, but Eva did not really understand what Tabita could see, and smell, and hear, and sense. She was not very bright, but she was Eva, and Tabita loved her.

Then Eva gathered Tabita up and stuffed her into the ash-dump. “Go, Tabita! Go find Elias!”

So that was what it was about! She could have just said that, Tabita understood those human sounds. She slid through the ash-scented pipe until she emerged a few feet lower in Elias’ lair.

He was waiting. “Good kitty!” He put his mouth to the pipe. “Eva! Can you hear me?”

“Yes, Elias! I’m right here.”

Tabita hopped into the pipe and ran back up to Eva. This was a fun new pastime, playing shuttle between pride-mates. Maybe it would cheer Eva up.

Elias did not enter into the spirit of the game. His echoing whisper was serious, urgent. “You are alone? No one will hear?”

“Yes, although you should speak softer, the pipe magnifies your voice.”

“Yes, it does yours as well. What is on your side of the ash-dump? A fireplace?”

“A small indoor kitchen. The pipe empties the ash from a raised hearth atop a brick work surface. And there’s a little oven above it, built into the wall.”

“Is there a door that closes?”

“Yes, it opens onto the entry they brought you through. Where are you?”

“I’m in a narrow, low-ceilinged kind of den off an enclosed patio where they keep me penned up. It’s the only place Cerra’s slaves-in-training can get away from the crazy camel he puts them in with to soften them up.”

Tabita wished that Elias would say cheerful things. That last made Eva tear up again. “Oh Elias, I’m so sorry—”

“Hush Eva, I’m not angry with you. I just had to pretend to be in front of Alcazar.”

Tabita saw Eva’s aura brighten with her relief. “But what I did—it’s the reason for you being a slave now!”

“Eva, you’re not responsible for the Inquisition. Anyway, nobody captured me, I arranged to be sold to Baltasar Cerra in particular. Blanca and I have worked out a plan to get you safely to your convent and I have to be on this end; you’d never manage it yourself.”

“I can’t just go and leave you trapped here!”

“I’m not trapped. Once the hue and cry for me dies down, my agent will buy me back again.”

“You didn’t need to do that for me. I would have made the best of whatever God does not see fit to turn aside.”

“Eva, you should learn to be more selfish, it would be easier to help you.” Elias’ ghostly laughter came through the grating. “Just trust me, and do what I say. I was a merchant’s son before I was a novice, and I made a special study of our rivals. That’s why I can be so sure of what Baltasar Cerra plans for both of us. He takes educated youths and gently-bred virgins from the Inquisitors and exports them to his select list of clients.”

“Churchmen deal in slaves?” Eva was shocked.

“Not all of them. It’s quite illegal, but the greedy ones are happy to make a profit, and others look away because once-well-off children starving on the streets gives the church a bad name.” Elias’ tone became serious. “But we can discuss all that another time. Right now, I want you to understand that Alcazar’s threat to molest you is a bluff for my benefit. Only virgins sell for Cerra’s prices. I have to pretend I’m so angry at you I don’t care. That’s why I acted like I did. I wanted to warn you first, but your reaction had to be real.”

“Oh, Elias, I was so miserable at the thought that you hated me!” Finally, Elias had said something to help! Tabita hoped that he would continue being comforting. Eva needed it.

 “I could never hate you, hermanita. You’re all the family I have.” Tabita purred. But Elias became suddenly serious. “I’m sure Alcazar questioned you. Did you tell him anything about me?”

“I told him you could read and write Hebrew.”

“I wish you hadn’t done that. What other languages did you tell him I know?”

“I didn’t tell him—he told me. I was to persuade you to give samples of your writing in Spanish, Latin, Greek, and Arabic.”

“Good. Eva, as of now, I can’t read or write Arabic.”

“But everybody born in Granada knows Arabic!”

“Of course, but everybody doesn’t read and write it. But if anybody asks, just say you aren’t sure. I’m not going to tell them right away, I’ll use it to sour the deal if Cerra finds an Ottoman buyer. It reduces my value as a scribe if I’m illiterate in the lingua franca of the Saracen world.”

“But Elias, the longer you stay in Granada, the more chances the Inquisition might catch you and burn you!”

“Don’t you realize, hermanita, that Cerra’s compound is the safest hiding place from Abbe Matias and his minions? Thanks to the secret deal between them, Baltasar’s premises are the only places that won’t be thoroughly searched. For now, I’m just going to refuse to cooperate.”

“But why not? It would make your life easier.”

“Because they won’t sell you until they have a buyer for me, and we need to play for time. Your escape will take a week or two. Abbe Matias has to become convinced I’m no longer in Granada—and he has some strange ways of knowing things.” Another laugh. “Besides, I need the rest. It’s been a frantic two weeks. And for entertainment, I’ve started training Cerra’s slave-breaking camel to do tricks.”

Tabita swished her tail in annoyance at the fond tone in Elias’ voice when he spoke of the mangy old menace he shared the courtyard with. The he-horse had been rival enough, but this camel!

“Be careful, Elias! Remember the Borgia nearly killed you, before he settled down.”

“Don’t worry, we’ve already established a rapport. Fatima is old and wise, with a delightful sense of humor. She already understands that I need her to be her usual ferocious self whenever my keepers come to check how things are progressing. Which brings me to how we are going to continue to communicate.”

“But we’re doing that now.”

“Yes, but it was only luck I got the chance to whisper in your ear. I’ve spent a week here, knowing you were somewhere in the same compound and racking my brains on how to get in touch. Now that you’re being kept in the majordomo’s quarters we have the kitchen pipe, but there is still the matter of how to signal that we need to talk to each other.”

Eva picked Tabita up and urged her back down the pipe. “What about using Tabita?”

“She’s not always available, and she doesn’t stay put.” Tabita knew she was the subject of discussion, and felt bad that she was somehow found wanting.

She nudged Elias’ hand, and he stroked her. “I tell you what: I have plenty of camel dung to hand, which the Berber nomads use for fuel, so that’s a good excuse to have it in a kitchen. I’ll form little balls of the stuff and poke it up through the pipe as a signal we have to talk. And you can roll them back down if you aren’t alone.”

“What if I need to talk to you?”

“Shove anything else down the pipe. I’ll see it when I come back, and if I didn’t put it there, I’ll know it had to be you. Like the half-eaten dead mouse you gifted me with on Thursday.”

“Oh, I forgot about that! It was from Tabita’s hunt.”

“You should start using this room often. Cook for the majordomo. Win him over.”

“I only know how to cook a few things. What if he doesn’t like them?”

“Get the cook to teach you Moroccan recipes. And win them to your side as well. Though if I know you, you already have.”

“It isn’t me. The servants here—they’re all really good people.” Eva thought of Matron, Analina, Josemona, Mustapha, Mario Hussein, Enrique, and Jose the cook. “But they are afraid of Alcazar, because he won’t make any friends.”

“Well, he’s not going to befriend me, for sure. I’m going to be unreasonably stubborn, so you need to make up for it by being extra-cooperative.” Tabita felt Elias begin to tremble; his skin was hot and dry. She smelled infection. “And now, go to bed, we’ve been talking too long.”

Casa Cerra: Monday morning, September 5, 1513

When Eva rose the next morning, she had no time for prayer; she could hear the majordomo in the other room. Hastily she twisted a head-rail around her unruly auburn locks, pulled the loose gray surcote over her chemise, slipped indoor shoes on and hurried out into the salon.

Alcazar was sitting at the table eating. The aroma of hot bread told Eva that Jose had delivered breakfast.

“I’m sorry, I overslept,” she apologized.

“So I see.” He poured something steaming into a small clay cup and held it out to her. “Here, try this. It will wake you up.”

The contents were dark and mysterious, and gave forth a wonderful smell. “What is it?”

“It’s kaffe. An infusion of roasted beans, ground fine. It’s a stimulant Berbers have used for centuries.”

He sounded friendly, and Eva wanted to win him over, as Elias had instructed. She swallowed the hot brew. Bitterness shriveled her tongue! “It’s wonderful,” she choked.

“No, it’s burnt. Jose’s assistant over-heated the beans, but the energizing effect is the same and they are too expensive to waste.”

“You don’t have to have your meals sent from the common kitchens.” Eva ventured. “If I can have supplies stocked in the little kitchen, I will cook for you.”

“That won’t be necessary. Besides, I can’t imagine a rich man’s daughter has had much practice in the culinary arts. Drink up.”

He was right about that last. With a sinking heart, Eva drained the cup right down to the gritty sludge in the bottom. If she wasn’t cooking, what excuse could she give for spending time in the kitchen?

“Don’t look so glum. Whatever your brother says, you aren’t answerable for the Inquisition. And he is an ass.”

“He’s not!” Eva said hotly. “He had every reason to be angry with me.” But he wasn’t, thank Jesu!

“If my little sister were still alive, I’d do anything it took to save her. Even being a slave again.”

Elias was doing everything; he had arranged this whole capture. But the majordomo must not suspect that.

She leaped on the subject of Baseel’s sister. “I’m sorry you lost her. Was it recent?”

“I was the only one of my family to survive the smallpox epidemic of 1501.” Baseel shrugged.

Twelve years since he had any family! Eva thought of the starving expression on Baseel’s face when he watched her meeting with Elias. “You must have loved her very much.”

“It was a long time ago.” Alcazar shut the door on his private past. “Your brother has no business blaming you. He knew all about what was going on, and you didn’t. He doesn’t deserve such loyalty.”

Beneath Alcazar the majordomo was Baseel, the bereaved brother. This Eva understood. It was a key to winning him.

Baseel set down his kaffe. “I have decided to let you clean the office. Baltasar will not object so long as I keep an eye on you. And I may as well spend the day working on the books, seeing as I cannot go anywhere on business wearing babouches.” Alcazar put his foot up on the other chair. “After what you did to my toe last night, my boot won’t go on.”

To her dismay, Eva saw that the treated digit was red and puffy. “Oh, no! I’m at fault, I should have applied a poultice to draw out the festering matter. I can prepare it quickly—it’s a simple mix of fuller’s earth burned together with resinous pine and moistened with pounded comfrey. May I?”

The majordomo grunted, which Eva took for consent. She hurried to get the ingredients. If she could not use the excuse of cooking to be in the little kitchen, she could use it to prepare poultices.

Jose gave her what she requested from the stores. “Such a savage mood, the majordomo is in! I feared he might be angry about everyone’s nose in his living quarters.”

“No, he loved what we did with his apartments. Last night we even played together, a little. And he was very sympatico.” Until he didn’t get his way with Elias, Eva reflected. “But he woke with an infected toe.”

“So that is it, is it?” Jose nodded. “I saw him limping this morning.”

Eva seized on the turn of subject. “Jose, can you teach me to cook what he likes?”

“I could. It will be hard work, and you must pay careful attention,” Jose drew himself up with the importance of his profession. “But if that’s what will keep the majordomo happy, it will be better for us all.”

“And I can teach some dishes, as well!” Maria Aliya, the kitchen maid, had been listening. “The señor knew what he was about, giving Alcazar such a woman. Though we are all sorry this had to happen to you, Evita,” she added as an afterthought.

Eva lit a fire in the little kitchen’s brazier. While she waited for the pinewood to turn into fine ash to be ground with the fuller’s earth, she pounded the comfrey into a pulp and pondered on Jose’s comment.

Alcazar let no one close to him. Except Mustapha, who was left over from his childhood. Before he had become so noticeably marked. From long ago, Eva remembered the wry expression on the face of Cerra’s slave when the shop-boy gaped at his scars. They were fresh then, but small wrinkles had formed around them now.

Pity for Baseel pierced her through. Twelve years of insults, pointing, and unkind stares! No wonder he did not care to risk more rejection. And the only reason she was here was, not because Baseel wanted a woman, but because Cerra had ordered it. And that only because Maloliente the evil wizard thought it would put pressure on her brother.

Stubborn determination rose in Eva. It would not go Cerra’s way, not if she could help it. Mustapha had as good as said that there was a battle for Baseel’s soul. She, Eva, was inside Alcazar’s walls now, whether he wanted her here or not. She was going to serve him. She was going to use the opportunity to do more than disarm him: she was going to save him.

Eva sieved the hot ash and fuller’s earth into the comfrey, added water and waited until the bubbling stopped, and carried the bowl up to the office.

The door was open and Alcazar seated at the table, papers spread out before him. Eva pulled a round leather ottoman to one side of the table. “Put your foot up, I need to apply this before it cools.”

He stuck the affected foot out to the side without looking up from his figures. Eva went to work, gently massaging out the festering matter and cleaning it, then binding the hot poultice on with more linen strips. “As it cools, it will draw out the impurities from the blood.” Eva flexed the arch.

“Now what are you doing?”

Eva’s fingers traced the backwards E on Baseel’s left ankle. “Massaging your foot to speed the process.”

“Your grip is like a vise! Where did you get hands like that?”

“Suor Lucia, at the hospice where I volunteered, was very emphatic on the subject of foot massage. She taught us that all of the ills of the body might be aided by massaging the feet. She said—not that it was doctrine, she said, just an idea she had—she said that was why Jesu washed his disciples’ feet, and told them to do the same.” Eva brought out a small flask of olive oil. “We used a little lubrication to help the skin. Suor Lucia said Mary Magdalene rubbed Jesu’s feet with precious oils.”

“Who am I to argue with such a model as Isa Masih?” Baseel’s tone was ironic, but nevertheless he turned in his chair and put his other foot up on the ottoman.

It was better not to mention that Suor Lucia had taught them to do more than massage; while they worked, the sisters were to repeat prayers for the subject’s health. Eva prayed silently as she rotated the ankle to loosen the tendons. The ridged scar left by the childhood slave-cuff was the only place not dimpled with close-set pockmarks.

“Rub that. It itches,” Baseel said.

“Scars often do.” A memory popped into her head: two weeks ago after the betrothal banquet, sitting with Blanca and listening to their made-up story: “While the slave prince lay raving in delirium the evil wizard fastened on the magical bangle he had made. It sank into the flesh until it looked like nothing more than a ring of scar tissue. And then Maloliente waited patiently while the magic began its evil influence, changing the victim ever so slowly, working up from the ankle until the evil spell would blacken his noble heart.”

“But a woman could break Maloliente’s spell,” Eva prompted.

“Yes, a woman who loved him could drain the effect back down, like sucking a serpent’s venom from the bite. And she would do this by circling the magical cuff with her hands and praying to Saint Basil with each circuit. Only thus could the enchanted prince be released from the spell. And if that were not done by the end of the thirteen years, then he would become just like his mentor Maloliente, and the devil would claim his soul too.”

Eva worked on the other foot. That was a stupid fairy tale. Baltasar Cerra was not Maloliente, although everyone was a sinner in God’s sight. And Baseel was not an enchanted prince, and he was not under any spell. He was only a scarred, lonely man whose soul hung in the balance.


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?”


Chapter 15 of Eva’s Secret

15. the Awful Alcazar

Casa Cerra: Thursday, September 1, 1513

Eva started by arranging the things neatly. First, she had to remove the carpets piled over and under the rest of the bric-a-brac. Eva hauled the largest out to the salon, where there was more floor space. She spread the rug flat over the one already on the floor, grateful that the main room was so sparsely furnished.

She got on her knees and rolled the carpet toward the far wall, sneezing at the dust that puffed from its woolen fibers. At the last turn her nose bumped into the huge chest that squatted against the wall. Eva straightened and looked at it more closely. It was made of dark wood, almost black, wrapped around with iron bands. Double latches, one at each band junction, warned her against any prying. It had a malevolent air about it.

Eva stood and looked around. The room was large, but Alcazar had not bothered to furnish it with much. There was a bench, one chair and a small table. Stacked in the corner were two round leather poufs of the sort they called ottomans. The majordomo clearly did not expect to entertain guests in his quarters.

There was a window seat with a moth-eaten cushion. Eva opened the shutters to see a narrow enclosed space between the building and another wall, so high that Eva supposed it must be the city rampart. What was once an intimate little garden was full of dry weeds and a few tenacious bushes. Further down the same wall was another window—that must open onto the bedchamber.

She went back into the store-room to drag out the next carpet. Beneath it was a nest of mice, two of which Tabita got while the others escaped—for the minute. They had chewed a hole the size of her hand in the carpet. Eva took it by the corner and hauled it to the salon for rolling.

Eva moved bales of fabrics, shaking them out, folding and stacking according to the amount of damage. A round table with one leg broken had been upended against the back wall. Eva shoved it off a crumpled carpet and saw that the top was beautifully inlaid with mother-of-pearl marquetry. When she dragged the carpet away, she found four matching chairs.

“Miaow.” Tabita pawed her skirt. The cat rose on her hind legs to present her with Eva’s share of the hunt: the bottom half of a mouse.

“Why thank you, Tabita!” Eva accepted the gruesome gift with enthusiasm. “I’ll just take this to the kitchen for cooking.”

The kitchen was the little room off the entry where she had found Tabita last night. There was nothing in it except a counter along one wall with a hearth built into it. Beneath that was the hole Tabita had emerged from, and next to it a long-handled hoe for shoving ash down the pipe. Eva used it to shove the half-eaten mouse.

On the way back through the entry, she noticed the stairs that ran up to the office for Casa Cerra. Beneath them was a small door. Eva opened it and saw that it contained a commode and covered pot. She sniffed. Men! They splattered. Why, oh why, couldn’t they just sit?

A wave of memory hit her: Iago de Pazia, chasing her into the guarderobe next to her bedchamber. She hated him! And then another, fresh as yesterday: the crackle of flames and her father’s screams.

No! Eva hurried back to her task, stacking the packing crates, rolling carpets, arranging dusty bric-a-brac into piles to be cleaned or thrown out. After two hours, Eva was breathing hard and coughing at the dust, but the room was beginning to take on some form of order.

There was a knock at the door. Eva went to open it, and found Jose the cook.

“The majordomo has left with the caravan. So I brought you a good breakfast. Where shall I put it?”

“I’ll take it. Alcazar forbade me to let anyone in his rooms.” Eva reached for the tray, realized her hands were filthy, and tried to wipe them on her apron. “I’m sorry I’m so dirty, I was cleaning.”

Jose put the tray on the bottom step. “To give you work, today of all days! Alcazar is a foul beast.”

His sympathy brought fresh tears to Eva’s eyes. “It’s all right—I don’t mind having work to do. It keeps me from thinking about it.”

He examined her with solicitous concern. “Is there any way I can help?”

Jose seemed so eager to be useful that Eva had an inspiration. “Wait.” She ran into the salon where the round marquetry table was propped on its side against a wall. With a little difficulty she was able to roll it through the entry-drape to the door. “Can you find somebody to fix this table leg?”

“I will call my son, who is a carpenter in the woodworker’s street. And while he is here, he can tend to anything wood that needs polishing and refinishing. Shelves, stools, chests?” Jose peered around her, trying to see through the crack in the entry drape.

Of course, the chest. Everyone wanted a look at it. Eva thought of Alcazar’s warning: “—you will tell the staff nothing—absolutely nothing—of what does or does not happen behind this curtain. Is that clear?”

Eva thanked Jose and saw him out. If the ominous chest should need work, Alcazar must arrange for it himself.

She ventured into the bedroom and was at once assaulted by the scent of mold, coming from the large mattress on the bed. Goodness, they must have stuffed it when the hay was not completely dry! And the cushions on the window-seat, too!

There were hardly any furnishings in the bedroom either. There was a clothing chest, still left half-open, one sleeve of a doublet hanging out. Eva tucked it away, noticing that the majordomo’s clothing was plain but of good quality. Next to the large four-poster bed stood an austere little table with a lamp and books on it. Eva picked one up.

It was poetry, written right-to-left like Arabic on battered parchment that had plainly been rubbed out and re-used. Eva wondered if this was the same handmade copy that Cerra had found his new purchase reading, back when Baseel was only a goat-boy.

She put it back, feeling a little ashamed, like she had seen him naked when he did not know there was anyone watching. She picked up another book, this one in Spanish, but it was hard to read. And no wonder; the light from the window was lost in the dimness of a ceiling stained dark from candle-soot. It would be much easier to read, day or night, if the room were properly whitewashed.

She took another turn around the apartment, storeroom to salon to kitchen to entry. The whole place needed a whitewash. At Casa de Pazia, Eva saw that every room was painted once a year. This place looked like it hadn’t been done for a decade. Whitewash was a messy job, one that would keep her mind too occupied to think about yesterday. Besides, if she was exhausted then tonight there would be no nightmares.

As she stood, the scent of fresh bread made her suddenly ravenous. She washed her hands in the basin, sat on the stairs next to Jose’s tray and lifted the lid to find a new loaf, a hard-boiled egg and a small pot of crushed olive tapenade. Eva ate, planning the familiar task.

Rain or even dew would be very unusual at this time of year, so a day or two outside would do the apartment contents no harm. The furniture could go out to the central court to be polished and sanded. The rugs, too must be beaten outside. The drapes had to be taken down, or they would get splattered—they should be washed, if Matron wouldn’t mind running the laundry cauldrons another day.

No sooner had Eva stepped into the central courtyard than Mario Hussein came hurrying over. “Eva, are you all right?”

Her face must still be puffy from last night’s weeping. “I am fine.”

“Well, you have time to recover, now. The pack string left this morning for Malaga. The majordomo won’t be back until Monday at the earliest.”

Eva heaved a sigh of relief. Five days, at the least, would give her enough time. “Mario Hussein, do you know where the supplies of whitewash are?”

“He has set you to that?!” Mario Hussein gave Eva no time to explain that the idea was her own. “Painting walls is not a task for a gently-raised girl. I will send two of my stable boys to do it.”

“I have to do it myself. The majordomo doesn’t want anyone in his apartment,” Eva explained again. “Just have them mix the whitewash and bring it to the door. But there are carpets I can drag as far as the entry. Could your boys hang them and beat out the dirt?”

“Ah, carpets! For that we will need old Mustapha. He is our expert rug restorer.” Mario Hussein turned and called to a youth. “Paco! Bring the carpet washing frames to the hammam, they are kept in the last stall on the right.”

“Oh no, that is too much,” Eva protested. “I know Alcazar didn’t expect—”

“We will surprise him.” Mario Hussein winked at her. “If he is pleased, he will go easier on you. Do not worry, Mustapha will start at once, and with this hot weather they will be dry before the majordomo returns.”

“Thank you.” And Eva also thanked Jesu, who must be working on all these people, that they should show her such surprising favor. “Where can I find cleaning things?”

“Matron will know. I am sure she will help, too.”

Eva crossed the court to the women’s dormitorio.

“Oh, cariña, I am so sorry!” Matron enveloped her in a motherly hug. “I would have spared you, if I could. But Cerra’s orders must be obeyed. Was it so very bad for you?”

Eva thought about the flames, the smell of roasting flesh. “It was the most horrible experience I have ever endured.”

“It is always bad, the first time. But after that, it gets better.”

Eva did not want to think about any future autos-da-fé. “Matron, I need cleaning things, a broom, buckets. And I will need the wash-cauldrons heated. There is so much to be laundered, the mattress and cushion covers, the drapes—it will use up all the drying-lines.”

“What a monster that man is, giving you all that work after putting you through a night like that! Wait here.” Matron bustled off.

Eva was puzzled. The auto-da-fé was yesterday afternoon, not at night. Less than a minute later, Matron was back with Analina.

“Now that Aliya-Noor is off to her new husband, we have more time,” Analina said. “Do not fret, we will help you. If Alcazar is happy, we are all better off.”

Soon the laundry cauldrons were bubbling. Matron had everyone from the women’s dormitorio running back and forth as Eva handed out whatever could be washed: cushion-covers, mattress ticking, unbaled fabrics from the store room, and last, after she had tacked canvas up as a temporary screen, the heavy drapes from the entry doorway.

Jose’s son appeared with an apprentice, and Eva brought the furniture into the courtyard to be mended, pumiced or polished according to need.

Mario Hussein’s stable-boys brought smoking buckets of whitewash and bore the carpets off. Soon the rhythmic ‘thwock’ of rug beaters echoed from behind the hammam.

The apartment was almost empty. Eva took up the long-handled whitewash brush and began with the salon. Even though she was used to helping at Casa de Pazia, this task made all her muscles scream with protest. She gritted her teeth and leaned into the effort as a penance. It kept her thoughts of yesterday at bay.

She kept the windows open to air the acrid fumes. Outside, in the narrow strip of garden, Enrique the kitchen boy was cutting weeds.

Eva finished her bucket of whitewash. She set it on the window-seat. “Enrique,” she called. “Could you take this to Mario Hussein and tell him I need more mixed?”

The boy paused, hand on the handle. “Señorita Eva, I wish to tell you a thing.”

Eva stretched her tired arms. “You don’t need to call me señorita, Enrique. I’m just a slave.”

“You are a good woman. Me, I am a thief. But I steal no more!” Enrique looked at her earnestly. “I get caught.”

Eva remembered the screams from the courtyard that first day. “Are you the kitchen boy who was whipped?”

He nodded. “I want for you to know something about Alcazar, so you do not be so afraid. The majordomo, when he first take over three weeks ago, he check the spices and find out I steal them. He ask, would I rather be whipped, or thrown back to the streets. The old majordomo, he would not have asked.”

“And you chose the whipping.” Eva’s perception of Baseel changed. That was a kindness, although it still did not absolve him of the severity of the beatings, or that he took pleasure in laying it on with his own hand.

“Yes. The majordomo, he tell me, very secret, that the louder I yell, the lighter he hit. So I scream very loud, and he crack the whip—an expert he is, with that whip.” Enrique shook his head in admiration. “It make much noise, but only sting a little. It was for example to all, you see.”

“Yes, I see. Thank you, Enrique.”

“You will not tell?” Enrique looked at her anxiously. “This is very secret. I break a promise for you.”

Eva reassured him, and then went back to work with all her strength, keeping the horror of the auto-da-fé at bay with activity. Her urgency infected everyone, and they weeded and washed and fetched and carried for her, anything that they could do without actually entering the majordomo’s quarters.

Evening saw every room in the apartment coated with drying whitewash. “You must sleep in the garden, tonight. To breathe the fumes will unbalance your humors,” Matron declared. She waved a lumpy apparition past the door.

“I stuffed this mattress with grass hay,” Enrique’s voice issued from under the lump. “No stiff straws will poke you tonight.”

“The ticking is clean, so I brought this manta to put under it.” Analina snapped a canvas square onto the now-bare strip of garden.

Enrique flung down the mattress. “It is extra fluffy, like sleeping on a cloud. Here, señorita Eva, you must try it!”

Eva stretched out willingly. She meant to thank them. But the next thing she knew, Tabita was kneading her chest, and it was dawn.

Eva knelt in prayer. Again she confessed her guilt, and again she heard the gentle voice: Be clean.

She splashed water on her face at the center well and went into the quarters. Early light, bouncing off the pristine walls and ceilings, illuminated the years of grime that had built up on the floor tiles.

All Friday Eva scraped and scrubbed. Her efforts revealed tile mosaics. Even the memory of the burnings could not damp her pleasure in the traditional zellige patterns.

In between buckets of scrub-solution, she gave an appreciative ear to Jose the cook’s garrulous carpenter son where he worked in the courtyard. He showed her the secrets of delicate marquetry work, then expanded on how best to sand and oil the plainer pieces. Her admiration inspired him to new heights; by afternoon, he was converting the empty packing-boxes into tables and stands.

Throughout the day, the piles outside the door grew: laundered sheets, cushion-ticks, and bolts of fabric. Analina and Josemona did wonders patching the moth-eaten fabric from the storeroom with spangles and designs, stitching them into cushion-covers and tablecloths.

The stable-boys, not to be outdone by all the busy stitchery of the women’s dormitorio, took on the discarded metal pieces from the storeroom trove. They heated a forge and soldered split seams, repaired handles and reattached broken legs. Hammered copper and ornamented brass vessels had dents smoothed, then they were polished with sand until the pitchers, lampstands, braziers, trays and water-vessels sparkled. There were basin-and-ewer sets for her room and the big bedroom, and one in the entry, too.

Eva admired each effort and creation when she hauled the buckets out to exchange dirty water. Jose the cook set up boards and trestles in the central court and provided simple, hearty fare for everyone. He set aside special morsels for Eva, and stood over her insisting she try them.

 Just before night fell, she finished the last of the floors. Eva dragged her newly-filled mattress back into her little room and collapsed onto it without even taking the time to undress.

She slept so soundly that the sun was well up before she opened her eyes. Saturday! There was still so much to do!

The heavy drapes were dry at last. Standing on a chair, Eva re-hung them in the entry arch and the bedroom doorway. It took all her strength to lift each end of the rod and drop it into the bracket.

Enrique proved to be an exemplary mattress and cushion-stuffer, making sure that the hay was completely dry and carefully removing every cocklebur, filling cushions to plump softness but packing the leather poufs tight as a drum. The canvas manta beside the door was piled high with his efforts, waiting along with the shining furniture for the carpets to be laid.

After dinner that night, Old Mustapha took her behind the hammam to see what had been done. Three large carpets and eight smaller ones lay on drying racks. In the sunset light, the colors were so jewel-bright that Eva refused to believe these were the same rejected rolls she had sent off with the stable-hands. Mustapha grinned widely and showed her the places where he had patched the mouse-chewed holes.

Matron put her head out the back door of the hammam. “Mustapha, we will need more wood on the boiler; the women have used all the hot water and there must be some for Evita!”

Mustapha nodded and led Eva into the hammam. There she found the women of Casa Cerra in various states of undress.

Josemona followed her shocked gaze toward the old man shuffling off to the boiler-room. “Oh, Mustapha? You needn’t worry about him—he’s a eunuch, didn’t you know?”

“Come on, Eva, after all the cleaning you need a cleaning!” Analina urged.

“Yes, you have worked the hardest. We have arranged a massage, too!”

She was too tired to protest. Who cared if they saw her toe? Eva let them undress her, chattering like magpies: Usually we women bathe Friday, but the hammam pool was full of carpet frames and boys scrubbing—here, pour another pitcher on her hair, these bits of dried whitewash are so stubborn—but don’t worry, Evita, we don’t mind the extra work—move over, Analina, I have to get her back—now at least all the hardest tasks are done—Get the dirt under her nails, here’s a shaped stick—even Alcazar, the brute, will have to be pleased when he gets back—oh, these cracked fingers, we must rub in lotions—

They had even brought her fresh clothing. Eva blessed their thoughtfulness as she tied the waist-string of the clean braies. She picked up the chemise when Matron stopped her.

“No, not yet the chemise—even the braies are not needed, but we know you are body-shy. Come lie here, face down. Always, Mustapha starts with the knots in the shoulders.”

They pushed her onto a cushioned bench. Eva felt the gnarled hands on her upper back. A distant part of her mind wondered how it could be so relaxing to have a stranger handling her in this unclothed state.

But it felt wonderful. It was hard to believe that one so old and stringy could have such strength. Mustapha rolled and pushed and pulled every joint and muscle until Eva felt like jelly.

She did not remember falling asleep.

She woke to the distant sound of cathedral bells. Eva was still lying, face-down, on the massage bench; someone had thrown a light cover over her. She sat up, still counting. Ten strokes—later even than yesterday! Thank Jesu that Alcazar was not here to see how lazy she had become!

Eva dressed and made her way out the back door to check if the carpets had finished drying. The frames were gone.

Mustapha must be waiting for her to take them into the apartment! Eva ran across the center court, deserted except for a lone guard at the gate.

“Good morning, Juan Omar. Where is everybody?”

“A very good morning, señorita Eva. They are all gone to church. After Wednesday, it was thought advisable to make a good show.”

Eva looked toward the canvas-covered stacks just outside the majordomo’s door; they were unchanged from yesterday. “Where are the carpets?”

“I helped Mustapha take them into the entry. I thought you must have asked him to.”

Eva found the old man unrolling a carpet in the bedroom. “Mustapha, thank you for your help, but you must leave. Alcazar told me no one was to know—”

He looked at her and shook his head, smiling. With his hand, he sketched a small child, and then grew him to adult size.

“You mean—you’ve known the majordomo since he was small?”

He nodded, put his finger to his lips, and winked.

What could he mean?

They rolled the most worn carpet out in Eva’s small room. Last was the largest carpet, the one that had come from the salon. Working each on a side, they unrolled rapidly towards the wall. The last several inches lapped against the great chest.

Mustapha motioned that she was to lift one side of it while he lifted the other, so the carpet edge would lie flat.

Eva picked up her corner. This thing was heavy! Her tired muscles shook, and the handle slipped from her grasp, yanking the old man’s grip loose as well. As the chest thumped onto the carpet, a strange, deep moan issued from it.

Eva started back in horror. Could Alcazar really have something living locked in that box?

Mustapha saw her reaction. He undid the two latches and raised the lid. Inside, stacked two layers deep, were books! And tucked along one side, in a specially-built compartment, was a long cloth-wrapped bundle whose shape was familiar.

Mustapha tapped the bulbous bottom gently. It emitted a little moan—the reverberation of strings and wood.

Eva should have recognized the noise the first time. “A guitarra!” That was what Mario Hussein had been so worried about?

Mustapha nodded, grinning.

“So there never was a woman in the chest. Why would he want the staff to think so?”

Mustapha raised one eyebrow.

“But Mustapha, he’s wrong! It isn’t fear that makes people work for you, it’s love.”

Mustapha nodded his agreement. He put his hands together and fluttered like wings, first on his right shoulder, and then on his left. He waited to see if she understood.

“A good angel sat on the right shoulder, and a bad one on the left?” Eva knew that Saracen belief.

He looked very grim, then touched both fists to his heart and pulled them apart.

“You mean—there’s a battle for his conscience.”

Satisfied that she understood, he held a finger to his lips. Don’t tell him what I told you.

Eva thought of Enrique’s secret. “The louder you yell, the lighter I strike.” And Alcazar’s stern warning: “—you will tell the staff nothing—absolutely nothing—of what does or does not happen behind these doors.”

After Mustapha had helped her move the larger items inside, Eva set herself to decorate in the most pleasing way possible. Cushions, wall-hangings, lamps, wash-stands and ottomans were pushed from here to there until Eva was satisfied with the effect.

This place was lovely. The polished wood and metal reflected the purity of the walls and the bright patterns of the rugs. The acrid scent of whitewash had faded to a background with the clean new hay and dried-lavender smell of the cushions, tinged with lemon-oil and beeswax.

It was done, and she had a day to spare. Maybe several.

The staff insisted that Eva share their after-siesta meal in the big hall off the compound kitchen. It was the first time she had been there, and they treated her like the guest of honor. This was so much better than a banquet, nobody dressed up and everybody friendly and laughing over the simple fare with the camaraderie that came from shared labor.

Eva loved them all, but she deflected their praise. They were so kind to her, while she was a fraud. If they really knew her sordid history, they would shun her completely.

Jose the cook sent her back with a hamper of wine and non-perishable food to have ready to hand. Eva arranged them in the little kitchen and on the sideboard in the salon. And then she sat with nothing else to do.

She must not think of the auto-da-fé. She must not think of Elias’ predicament. If she only had her guitarra, she would play.

Oh, how she missed music! The great chest drew her like a magnet. Really, what would it hurt? How would he ever know? None of the staff would tell, she was sure.

Eva took a deep breath and lifted out the bundle. She carefully unwrapped a plain, worn instrument. It was strung just like her own, although the neck was wider. But the wood was polished and cared for, and the fingerboard and the front beneath the sound-hole showed the wear of much use.

She stroked the strings and was surprised to find it was in tune. The majordomo must have used this very recently.

Eva sat down on the window seat with the instrument in her hands. Burdens and cares rolled away with the familiar chords. She lost herself in the ecstasy of music, unmindful of the passing time.

She began to sing, and the words became a prayer for Alcazar.

No. She might address her new master as majordomo, or Alcazar, or señor. But he had also been a young slave who helped a ten-year-old escape her father’s wrath.

The person she prayed for was named Baseel.


Chapter 14 of Eva’s Secret

14. Ultimatum

Casa Cerra: Wednesday evening, August 31, 1513

Eva regained consciousness with a jolt. She was slung, stomach-down, over a donkey. The beast’s neat little hooves came to a halt. Under its belly she could just see the threshold of a door.

“Where should we put her?” That was Mario Hussein.

“Set her down in the entry.” Baseel’s voice echoed from somewhere inside the door.

Eva felt herself hefted over a strong shoulder. “I’m awake now,” she mumbled.

Mario Hussein carried her through the door into the same entry she had traversed last night and set Eva on her feet, steadying her until she stopped swaying. “All right now? You’ve had a bad afternoon.”

Eva’s fuddled mind tried to grasp whatever he was trying to tell her. Then she remembered the horror of the auto-da-fé. The Inquisition had burned her father at the stake.

Mario Hussein spoke respectfully. “I’ll have Matron send her things over to the majordomo’s quarters.”

The majordomo’s quarters? She remembered Cerra’s orders. The horror of her fate did not touch her now; she simply felt numb. Nothing mattered. Elias was dead.

 Baseel guided her through a curtained arch and pushed her onto a chest against the wall. A clay goblet was pressed into her hands. “Drink.”

It was a brusque order that brooked no disobedience. Hands shaking, Eva drank. Sweet wine flowed smoothly over her tongue. A part of her consciousness automatically cataloged the faint burnt-caramel taste of Madeira, and she felt a mild surprise at the quality; this must be from the majordomo’s special stores. Eva discovered she was terribly thirsty. She drained the cup.

As the effects spread through her blood, Eva could view herself dispassionately. She was alone in the world. Mama was dead. Fray Hernando was dead. Her Godmother, Condesa Francisca, was dead. Elias was dead.

But if Elias was dead, she was no longer any use in capturing her brother. Eva turned this thought over in her mind and found it hardly mattered what happened to her. “What will Baltasar Cerra do with me now?”

“That depends on many things.” Baseel stood in front of her, arms akimbo. Eva stared straight ahead at his middle, focusing on the sweat and rust stains on his padded cotton gambeson, the scarred fists resting on either hip. “Let us begin with you telling me the particulars of your much-publicized elopement.”

There was no reason to hide anything, not anymore. “I didn’t want to marry. So Elias sent Conte Niccolo a note in my name, begging him to come at night with a litter and take me away to Venice. He pretended to be me by dressing in my clothes—”

“The Conte?”

“No, my brother. Elias knew that once my bridegroom had the money, I would—that is he would—be abandoned at the first chance, and he didn’t want me stranded outside the city.”

“So your dowry is on its way to Venice with Conte Niccolo?”

Eva nodded.

“Hmm. The Inquisition hasn’t found it yet, and they’ve searched high and low. I am tempted to believe you.”

Why shouldn’t he believe her? Eva dared a quick glance at the scarred face, but it was impassive, hard. “Who knows you are still in Granada?”

“Only two old servants who helped me hide.” And Blanca. Eva did not want to think about her friend’s involvement, so she rushed on with more specifics. “It was arranged that I should go by Maria Perez, that was Mother’s name. I was to leave last week with a group of nuns from Tordesillas. Their convent agreed to accept me as a lay sister.”

“A lay sister is nothing more than a glorified servant. Why would you rather have been a laborer than a Contessa?”

Eva ran a finger around the chipped edge of the goblet in her hands. “God doesn’t care about ranks or titles.”

“But Iago de Pazia did.”

“I knew I’d never be allowed to take the veil. But I hoped—that is, my mother’s last wish—” Eva hesitated to use her mother’s term ‘religious fraud’, since most of Cerra’s household were secret Saracens. “—she wanted me to marry a sincere man of our own faith.”

“Sincere Jews are hard to come by in Spain nowadays,” Baseel said drily.

“Oh no, mother was a devout Christian!” Eva was startled at the very idea. “And the Conte wasn’t, not even a little. He said if you were stupid enough to believe in such things as gods, he preferred the Roman ones!”

Baseel began to pace, hands behind his back, thinking. At the end of the second circuit, he paused. “So you didn’t like the suitor your father picked for you, and your brother was willing to give up your dowry to get rid of him. He must love you very much.”

He did. The numbness that had gripped Eva began to crack.

“That’s encouraging. It means you should be able to bring him around to our point of view.”

Eva gaped at him. “But Elias died last week. I heard the man—the plague—the body—”

“You shouldn’t believe everything you hear.” Baseel dismissed it with a gesture. “Abbe Matias must have been convinced when he made the announcement last week. He had some elaborate mumbo-jumbo about demonic battles and sorcery—you heard some of it this afternoon. But your brother made the mistake of returning to the city last Saturday, where he was recognized.”

“Then he’s alive!” Joy suffused Eva’s being.

“He is at the moment. Abbe Matias is turning every stone to find him. On his own, he is unlikely even to make it out of the province of Granada.”

“He’s never on his own.” Eva declared. “God will supply his help. Elias has been given a divine mission.”

“Baltasar Cerra would be amused that you see him as an agent of God.” Baseel removed the empty goblet. “If my master had not come across him three days ago, the Inquisition would have burned him next to your father today.”

Eva sprang to her feet, ablaze with hope. “You know where Elias is?”

“He is being kept—very secretly—in a place where the Inquisition will not search.” Baseel gave her a measuring gaze. “I trust you understand how sensitive that information is.”

“May I see him?”

“All in good time. Sit.”

Eva sat.

Baseel pulled up a chair and straddled it opposite her, scrutinizing her expression. “The best hope your brother has for a future is to seek safety under the influence of the Ottoman Sultanate. And Baltasar Cerra will help him get there. But my master did not become wealthy because of his charitable nature. He has taken the considerable risk of hiding your brother from the Inquisition because he expects to reap a generous profit. Any of the great eastern trading concerns will pay a high price for a man of your brother’s experience and education.”

A price? It sank in on Eva: Baltasar Cerra wanted to sell her brother as chattel! “Elias a slave! Oh, no, anything but that!”

“Anything but that, in his case, would be an agonizing death.” Baseel said coldly. “Your brother, for all his learning and intelligence, knows nothing of making his way in a world without privilege and position.”

Eva choked down fresh tears, sniffling. “But—but what does Baltasar Cerra need with me, if he already has Elias?”

“A slave of your brother’s ability and learning is worth a fortune—if he is cooperative.”

Eva saw where this was going. “Elias isn’t cooperative.”

“He is not.” Baseel sighed tiredly. “Unfortunately, his lack of acceptance will not change the fact of his slavery, only the condition of it. Uncooperative, your brother is just another rebellious body, useful only for chain labor or the galleys. Whereas the life of a learned slave can be much better than that of a freedman. I speak as one with experience.”

A sob rose from deep within as Eva was overwhelmed by a fresh wave of guilt. She was the one who had done this to Elias. The innocent would reap what she had sown in her selfish bid for freedom.

“Before Cerra gives up that much profit, we are prepared to persuade Elias with—harsher measures.”

 Eva had forgotten that she had been assigned to serve the majordomo’s vicious appetites. For the first time she noticed a bedroom through a second arch, only partly concealed by a drape. She put a hand to her mouth to stop the nausea.

“You needn’t throw up just yet.” Baseel went to a small door in the corner of the same wall. “For now, you will sleep in the storeroom.”

He stood aside for Eva to enter. It appeared to be used for storage: the dim light from a single high window showed boxes and bales, all tumbled helter-skelter about the floor amid broken chairs and discarded bits of furniture.

“I’m sure you can find something to make a pallet with. I must accompany the señor to Malaga tomorrow, along with Aliya-Noor and certain other fruits of today’s religious event. Bringing order to this mess will give you something to do with yourself until I return. Whatever you find in here is available to your use.”

Despite his brusqueness, Eva did not want Baseel to leave. His manner suggested that he had more power than just an accountant; perhaps he could even provide her some protection against the fearsome majordomo. But she must prepare herself for the worst. “When will Alcazar come?”

Baseel stared at her. “Who do you think I am?”

“Baseel.” He frowned at her familiarity, and Eva hurried to add, “I overheard señor Cerra call you that.”

“Then let me introduce myself.” He gave a small bow. “I am Baseel Alcazar. You will address me as either Majordomo or señor Alcazar.”

Eva’s mouth dropped open. This was the man all the servants feared? The man who whipped the kitchen boy with his own hand? Her eyes fell on the chest against the wall.

He followed her gaze. “Oh, the servants have told you about my secret woman? And no doubt my alchemical experiments, and my dealings with the devil.”

“Yes—I mean, no!”

“Well, EvaMaria Perez, if you don’t want to suffer the same fate she did, you will think of a way to persuade your brother. Whom we will refer to, from now on out, as simply ‘the scribe’.” He scowled. “And now I must attend to certain business in the city. My absence is to remain a secret. In fact, you will tell the staff nothing—absolutely nothing—of what does or does not happen behind this curtain. Is that clear?”

Eva found she was trembling in shock and relief. “Y-yes.”

But Alcazar had already gone through the curtain into the entry. She heard the door open, and latch quietly, like a man who was involved in secret things.

Eva could not help thinking of Blanca’s fairy tale: “And if the spell was not broken by the end of the thirteen years, then Prince Basil would become just like Baltasar Cerra, and the devil would claim his soul too.”

Stop it! Eva told herself, That was just a made-up story. A stupid, little-girl fantasy!

But a part of her brain was doing calculations more rapidly that her conscious mind could follow, and the realization slammed home with a stomach-churning lurch.

The thirteen years were up.

 The Cat: Early Thursday morning September 1, 1513

Tabita stretched slowly, working each stiff limb. Her old bones had not liked hanging from a torch bracket for half an hour. Her foreleg muscles screamed with pain up at the joint of the shoulder, where they had been torn by the sudden jolt.

Elias twitched and moaned in his dreams, but he did not wake. The cat smelled him over carefully. He was not well.

She forgave him his slowness earlier that night in responding to her squall for help. She could hardly hold their handicaps against her pride-mates: human ears were too dull to differentiate all but the crudest sounds one from another. Tabita did not think they could hear bats at all.

Not that there were any bats in this cozy lair. It was just deep enough for Elias to stretch out fully, and just high enough for him to sit with Tabita in his lap. Right outside couched the cranky camel—she could not get into this small space, for which Tabita was grateful. Camels were not pride mates. And their concept of ‘clean’ was no better than a chicken’s—completely powdered in dust.

She turned to lick the sore spots, and her tongue felt bald patches where the yarn-harness had ripped out fur. Elias had seemed very pleased to get it, though, so Blanca’s strange pouch must have carried a message to him. The humans had many mysterious methods of conveying information which could be useful, Tabita granted them that.

What was that noise? Tabita sprang up. She stood perfectly still, every sense alert. Outside, ordinary night sounds and smells combined with the scent of camel-dung. A feather-light draft stirred her whiskers. It came from the deepest end of the little den, where old ash and burnt bits of wood made a pile. Above the pile was a hole that smelled of a disused cooking-hearth.

And then the sound came through the hole, distant, but perfectly clear: it was Eva screaming! Tabita stuck her head in the hole, and discovered that it was much the same kind of pipe as the one to the hammam, only wider and less tall.

Tabita wriggled her way through and came out below some kind of hearth-grating. She was in a small cooking-room, long unused. Beyond the door, some distance away, she could hear Eva sobbing.

But there were no other sounds: no blows, no voices, in fact, no noises but Eva’s. Eva must be alone. Tabita relaxed. Eva was plagued by disturbed sleep, and the pattern was familiar. Who knows what had happened in the week poor Eva had been left to fend for herself?

Tabita pushed on the door, but it did not open. She slipped a paw under it and tried to pull it towards her, but that did not work, either.

She must call Eva to let her out of this place. Tabita started to howl.

It was not long before the door flew open. Eva! “Miaow?”

Eva let out a shuddering breath. “Tabita?”

Tabita would have jumped into Eva’s arms for joy, but she was too sore for that. No matter, Eva swooped down on her and gathered her up. Tabita did not care that her injured tendons were wrenched by the move; she had her pride mate, her mistress, her friend back again.

“Oh, Tabita!” Eva started crying again, but they were tears of happiness. “Thank you, Jesu! Thank you, God!”

Eva carried her back to her new sleeping-place, a straw tick on the floor of a cluttered dusty room. She buried her face in Tabita’s fur. “Oh, Tabita, I asked Jesu to help me, I asked him what to do, and I didn’t know how he would answer. And he sent you!”

“Miaow.” Tabita licked the salty tears off of Eva’s chin. The happy tears tasted different from the dried misery tears.

“They wouldn’t let me go to confession, Tabita, and I need to tell someone the evil thing I did. Of course God knows, but I need to speak it out. I need someone to listen. If Saint Francis preached to the animals, I can confess to one. What do you think?”

“Miaow.” Tabita made her agreement sound, although she wasn’t sure what this was about. But after these episodes when Eva screamed and thrashed in her sleep, it calmed her to stroke Tabita. She nudged Eva’s hand with her head, suggesting that a good stroking would help.

Eva complied. “I have sinned. I was the one who turned him in, Tabita. I thought the Inquisition would just fine him, take everything. I never thought Father would be burnt at the stake. They didn’t even give him the chance to repent, and now his soul is in hell! Oh, Tabita, I saw his burning face in my nightmares; he is burning in hell now, and he comes to accuse me!”

Eva clutched Tabita hard, and her bruised ribs hurt. She gave her mistress a nip to get her to loosen her hold.

“Tabita, I’m hurting you! I’m sorry!” Eva started to cry again. “I’m poison, Tabita, I hurt everyone who gets near me. I’m a selfish, selfish person. I wanted out of marriage so badly—not just because of Mother’s letter, but because of what he did to me. Not because of the act itself—it’s disgusting and degrading, but it can’t hurt me any more, I haven’t been able to feel anything down there for years, thank God. No, it was because I didn’t want to be exposed to the shame and the ridicule. Because it doesn’t matter if Jesu doesn’t think less of me because of what Father did, everybody else will. Even Fray Hernando didn’t try to brush that over. I’m ruined until I get to heaven.”

Eva blew her nose on a scrap of fabric, then resumed her monologue. “And the waste of it all is that I didn’t need to turn Father in to get out of the marriage. Elias already had a plan for me to elope. So by turning Father in I brought down Elias, and for no good reason. Of course Iago de Pazia would pull Elias down with him, he always hated my brother. Why didn’t I think of that?”

A response seemed in order. “Miaow?”

“Because I’m stupid, that’s why!” Eva answered her own question with unnecessary vehemence. “I’m stupid and ruined and even worse, I’m a liar and a perjurer. Every time I recite the paternoster, I say, ‘et dimitti nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.’ I know cats don’t know Latin, I don’t either, really, but I know that means ‘and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ How many times I’ve said that, and the ugly truth is, I haven’t forgiven Father for what he did.”

The stroking hand paused, and Tabita pushed with her head again. “Tabita, I’m so mixed up! I hate him, and I feel guilty because he died unrepentant, and I hate him for that, too. And I hate the Inquisition, and I hate myself!”

This last ended on a wail of pain. Tabita felt that Eva had rambled on long enough. She needed to purr. Tabita began a little rumble to help her pride-mate along.

“But you love me, don’t you, Tabby? And Jesu sent you back just when I needed comfort. You’re proof that Jesu loves me too.”

It took several minutes of earnest purring before Eva’s aura began to soften. Her voice was calmer when she spoke again, but still troubled. “So now here is the problem. They have Elias, and he won’t do what they want, so Baltasar Cerra will use me to get him to be a good slave. And if I can make him agree the majordomo won’t hurt me.” Eva stroked Tabita for several minutes, smelling thoughtful.

“Everything the majordomo said makes sense. Elias doesn’t have any other way out of Spain. And he wouldn’t be out of God’s hand, of course, he’s dedicated his life to Jesu. But if that is all true, why do they need to use me? Elias is lots smarter than I am. If this were the best way, he’d take it.”

She heaved a sigh. “He has a plan. I can’t guess what it is, but Elias always has a plan. I’m not going to try to persuade him of anything. Alcazar can do whatever he wants to me.” Eva shuddered. “I may not be able to feel anything down there, but it still makes me so sick. But for Elias I can put up with anything. After what I did to him, it’s no more than I deserve.”

After Eva cried herself to sleep, Tabita slipped out to explore this new lair. Everywhere was the spoor of the spotted male—except in the room where Eva slept. So they were not mated yet. And the part of the lair which contained Spot’s nest was empty.

At dawn, the compound came awake. Tabita was in the biggest room when she heard the door open. She crept to the heavy drape that separated the big room from the entry and stuck her head out just enough so that she could see without being seen. Spots strode in with another man.

“Wait a minute, Maria Hussein, I’ll be right back down.”

“It’s Mario now, señor Alcazar.”

Spots pounded up the stairs without answering. He was dominant. Mario took the metal body-shells from the rack where they had been hanging.

Spots pounded back down the stairs, a pair of saddlebags over his shoulder. Eva slept on; Tabita could hear the slow breathing of deep sleep.

Spots dumped the saddlebags on the floor and stood to let Mario strap the metal shells to his chest and back. The lower-status man ventured a hesitant comment. “The auto-da-fé was very hard on the girl.”

“How I treat my woman is no affair of yours!” Spots snapped. “I have given her plenty to occupy herself in my absence. She is to have the freedom of the compound, but you are to make sure she does not go beyond the gates. Is that clear?”

“Yes, majordomo.”

“And one more thing: I want you to assign somebody to help Mustapha. He’s getting too old to manage the hammam by himself. I can’t think why Andres didn’t see to it long ago.”

“Yes, majordomo.”

The slam of the door as the men left woke Eva. Tabita heard her breathing change and slipped back to her mistress’ side. Eva lay still, listening to the bustle outside: harness jingling, the impatient stamp of many hooves. Tabita knew those sounds meant a caravan of horses and mules was being loaded.

Feminine wails echoed, muffled by the thick walls. Eva stroked her cat. “That’s Leonor, poor girl, they’re taking her off to Malaga. I’ve been so impatient with her. But after yesterday, I understand.”

Eva knelt, her face to the dirty floor in abject submission. “Jesu, give me a penance! I know I can’t work my way to salvation, but I must do something to expiate my sin. Please, give me something difficult.”

She remained in that position, repeating herself. She seemed to be waiting for a response, so Tabita uttered a long-drawn-out “Liaoooww.”

Eva’s head came up. “Did you just say limpia lo?”

“Liaoooww.” Just then, Tabita became aware of an annoying bit of soot on her fur. It seemed extremely important that she get it off. She busied herself removing it.

“That’s as plain as it gets. Limpia lo—clean it!” Eva’s tone changed; she was talking to herself now, not Tabita. “Why shouldn’t God speak through a cat? Fray Hernando said that once he used a donkey.”

She scraped the floor before her with a fingernail. “Look—there’s actually tile under the grime. And the mess!” She straightened and looked around her with new interest and determination. “Tabita, for a penance I’m going to clean this place from top to bottom. The majordomo did say it would give me something to do until he got back.”

Tabita felt a glow of satisfaction. Once more, her efforts had pulled Eva back from the brink of despair.


Chapter 13 of Eva’s Secret

13. Acts of Faith

Casa Cerra: Tuesday night, August 30, 1513

It was after the servants’ usual bedtime when Eva got back to Leonor’s room. She opened the door gently so as not to wake Analina, who had to rise early to stoke the kitchen fires. The light of a crescent moon shining through the west-facing window revealed an unexpected problem: there was no place for her to sleep.

Analina lay on a straw pallet arranged on the floor. Leonor’s bed was slightly wider, but she was curled up in a fetal position that used all the space in the middle.

Eva would have to make a thin pallet out of the clothing she had put in the old wooden chest. She did not mind. Anything was better than being held in chains until the dreaded Alcazar arrived to abuse her.

The lid of the box creaked, and Analina sat bolt upright, instantly awake. When she saw it was only Eva, she relaxed against the wall. “Eva! I thought you— I thought Alcazar—” Analina stopped, and then finished lamely, “I thought you weren’t going to be here tonight.”

“Cerra wants me to finish translating for Leonor, so I don’t have to go until she leaves,” Eva whispered. “I’m sorry I woke you.”

“It’s not a problem, I’ve learned to fall asleep as quickly as I rouse.” Analina patted the straw pallet. “You can share with me, and we’ll spoon like I used to do with my little sister. There aren’t any other covers.”

Eva sank down onto the straw, realizing how tired she was. “It’s only a one-night reprieve. Tomorrow—” Eva trailed off. Tomorrow was the auto-da-fé. She put her aching head in her hands. Surely her father would mend his ways rather than be burned at the stake.

Analina shook her head. “Cerra gave you to Alcazar because he thinks you are a nobody. Tell the señor your real name. He can get more money for Eva de Pazia.”

Eva was startled. “You know who I am?”

“You helped treat me once, in the Hospital of Santa Ana. They stitched up a slash on my cheek, see?” Analina turned her head to show a six-inch scar that began beside her ear and ended at the jawline. “The nun called you Evita, but the other patient addressed you as señorita de Pazia.”

“But how did you recognize my face?” Eva wondered. “Didn’t I have a larvita over my nose and mouth? Suor Lucia, the abbess, was very strict about our wearing them—she claimed the herbs filtered out the disease humors.”

“When you first came, I wasn’t sure it was you,” Analina admitted. “But it was your eyes, that green flecked with yellow. I remember staring at them the whole time while you bent over me holding my head still. I bet the señor hasn’t bothered to look at you. You have your own kind of appeal.”

Eva blushed at the compliment, but she shook her head. “Baltasar Cerra already knows who I am. He warned me that if the Inquisition got wind I didn’t really elope, they would seize me and put me to the question.” The enormity of what Eva had done in her ignorance overwhelmed her once more. She had only wanted to take away her father’s wealth. But instead, she had condemned him to torture, and destroyed Elias, and cost all Casa de Pazia’s faithful servants their jobs.

“The foul priests! I have heard that they torture family members, just in case there are hidden valuables. But don’t worry, Eva, the Inquisition won’t search Casa Cerra for you.” Analina jerked her head towards the silent form of Leonor. “The señor has a deal with the Santa Casa—he’s been taking marketable girls and youths off their hands for years.”

And she, Eva, had walked right into Andres’ trap. She was a selfish, foolish, ruined girl, and it would soon be plain that she wasn’t even virgin. Not that Cerra appeared to be much concerned about that, if he was handing her over to the horrible Alcazar. She shuddered. “Cerra said he decided to give me to Alcazar instead of the Inquisition.”

“That don’t sound like the señor.” Analina was puzzled. “Even if you aren’t a raving beauty, it isn’t like Baltasar Cerra to throw away the profit he could make on a de Pazia daughter.”

 “It’s because he wants to catch my brother Elias. Cerra thinks that if he gives me to Alcazar, my brother will try to rescue me. But what does Cerra want with him?”

“Is he educated?” Leonor, still facing the wall, had apparently been awake and listening to the whole exchange.

“He’s brilliant at languages.” Eva could not keep the pride from her tone, after all Leonor’s bragging about her family’s intellectual accomplishments. “My brother can speak, read and write Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Latin, Greek, and Arabic.”

“If your brother can do all that, he’s worth his weight in gold to an Ottoman buyer.” Now Leonor sat up and faced them. “My youngest brother was educated in Hebrew and Greek, and I heard Cerra’s agent bargaining for him when he bought me from the Inquisitor in Seville. But Cardinal Cisneros got wind of it and the deal was off.”

“But they said he’s hiding from the Inquisition, too. And if I’m not supposed to be Eva de Pazia, then how will Elias even find out what is happening to me?”

“They must know how to reach him, somehow,” Analina said. “I’ll bet Alcazar will make you write and beg him to come get you, and then they will grab him.”

“I won’t. No matter what Alcazar does to me.” I’ve already endured rape, and beatings, and shame. Eva crossed her arms, dreading what lay before her. “I can’t protect my body, but he won’t have my will. I’ll die first.”

“Why don’t you pray for deliverance?” Leonor’s voice was bitter. “You told me that prayer solves everything.”

“I never said prayer would keep bad things from happening to you. Prayer changes how we deal with things inside, so we don’t go around always feeling sorry for ourselves.” Thinking of poor little Zara, Eva spoke bluntly. “It’s a bad, cruel world. Lots and lots of children and women and sick people and cripples and slaves suffer terrible things. But God doesn’t want us to just wallow in self-pity. He has work for us to do, whatever condition we find ourselves in.”

“And so long as you’re alive, God can make things better,” Analina added. “You don’t know what the future holds. Who knows—you might fall in love with this man you are going to!”

“I don’t believe in miracles.” Leonor pulled the covers back over her head.

“It doesn’t take a miracle—” Analina stopped, staring at Eva. “Hey, wait—if you’re Eva de Pazia, then your brother was—is—the miracle boy! The one who died and came back to life!”

Leonor stuck her head out from under the covers. “Returning from death isn’t a miracle, it happens all the time. My uncle was a physician, and he said sick people often fall into a really deep kind of unconsciousness that looks like death. Then when they wake up, everybody says it was a miracle, when it was just a totally natural occurrence.”

“But Elias wasn’t sick—he had a terrible fall. The back of his skull was caved in.”

“What happened?” Analina was goggle-eyed. “I always wondered—everybody talked about the boy who came back from death, but there were all different stories about what killed him.”

“It was a barb stallion whose temper was so treacherous, they named him the Borgia. Elias set out to gentle him. He knew how to fall if he was thrown.” Eva felt the incident coming back fresh, although it had been four years. “And he was thrown—but there was an old plowshare propped right where he fell, and the back of his head struck hard against the point. He died instantly. I know—I ran to him and felt for his pulse at the throat where the nuns taught me you can always feel it if the heart is still beating.”

Eva’s hearers were rapt. She felt like Blanca, spinning her tales—except this one was true, and better than any fairy-tale could hope to be.

“They laid him out in the best room, with the pillow soaking red from his poor battered head, while we waited for the priest to come give the last rites.”

“Why did you send for a priest, if you knew he was already dead?” Leonor asked.

“It’s custom. Nobody knows how long the soul remains after the body dies,” Eva said. “It doesn’t do any harm, and it might spare the departed time in purgatory.”

“And then Fray Matias came and performed the miracle,” Analina said.

“No, that isn’t what really happened.” Eva was almost as surprised as her hearers to hear the denial that came from her own lips. Somewhere deep within a memory she could not access, the statement reverberated with the ring of truth.

“But all Granada knows the story!” Analina protested. “That’s how Fray Matias got the position of Abbe at Holy Cross.”

“What ‘everybody knows’ isn’t necessarily the truth,” Leonor put in. “Eva was there. Let her tell what really happened.”

Eva had never before told anyone about the vision she was given. But Leonor needed to hear what Jesu could do.

But would she believe? Eva prayed her words would be right. She began hesitantly. “I laid down on the bed next to Elias’ body, holding him close and begging God to bring him back. And then I remembered a sermon Bishop Talavera preached—a story in the Bible, where the prophet Elias was named after raised a boy from the dead.”

“The prophet’s name wasn’t Elias, that’s a Latin corruption,” Leonor corrected. “It’s really Elijah. In Hebrew, that means ‘Yahweh is Lord’.”

“That’s one of my favorite Bible stories, too,” Analina nodded. “The widow’s son dies, and the man of God stretches himself out on the child and breathes life back into him.”

“Yes. And just a few weeks before this, I had tried praying directly to God instead of the virgin or the saints, and Jesu answered.” Eva shuddered, thinking of her father’s final visit. “I was desperate, and so I did the same thing.”

She thought of the way she had put her lips against Elias’ cold ones, trying to repeat the prophet’s actions. “I was there, praying over and over, and I felt Elias take my hand. Except I also knew that his hands were resting at his sides. But he pulled me away from where I lay next to him—though I was still there, I could see me crying. And that’s when I knew it was a vision.

“We floated away from Casa de Pazia, into a kind of tunnel, all dark and formless. But we were moving towards a light. And the tunnel opened out into the most beautiful country—” Eva paused, unable to explain how the grass was so green, and the flowers vibrant with colors she had no words for.

“Go on,” Analina urged.

“There was some kind of city, off in the distance. Fray Hernando—Bishop Talavera, that died earlier that spring, came to greet us. That was how I knew it was heaven. He was laughing, so full of joy, and all the care-lines were gone from his face. On his shoulder he was carrying Stormy—that’s a kitten I had. Beside me I heard Elias cry out ‘Raya!’ and there, trotting towards us like she had springs for legs, was the white mare that was his first pet. Then I saw Mama running beside the horse, keeping up easily.”

“There are animals in heaven?” Analina asked.

“Yes, every kind!” Eva said. “I even saw a snake, very pretty red and black stripes, mama was wearing it like a bracelet. And there was a lion grazing among a flock of the cutest baby camels with rabbit ears and tails. Out of the midst of them bounded Inigo de Mendoza, Elias’ best friend who died when he was eight. And there was Old Ines, who used to sell water, but she wasn’t old anymore, and her donkey—oh, lots of people and animals who had gone on before.”

Eva felt a renewed awe at the best part of the memory. “And then they all parted, because a man of light was coming. He was so bright, I couldn’t look at him—not his face, or his clothes, or anything. But he came alongside and—it was kind of like he held Elias—all warmth and love. I knew it was Jesu.”

A vestigial trace of that warmth encircled her. “He took us away and showed us a strange land—a wide treeless plain with snow-capped peaks that reared higher than the Sierras, mountains that went straight up and straight down, cut by raging torrents. And then the picture zoomed just like we were a hawk stooping down, and we saw herds and herds of the baby camels, shepherded by a race of dark people.”

“You were seeing Africa,” breathed Analina.

“I don’t think so. The people were short and their hair was straight.” Eva remembered. “But what was most important was the way Jesu felt about them—it glowed all around him and touched us too, the love he had for those people. And then my Lord began to weep, and I saw why: the people were sick, dying by the thousands, and they were crying out for help.” Eva teared up just thinking of it. “I saw a palace covered with beaten gold, where their ruler was dying too, and his heir with him. And when we came close enough, I saw it was smallpox.”

Eva shuddered. “Next we were whirled high again, where we could see fantastic cities of stone with golden buildings, and there were armies, everybody at war with everybody else. Jesu’s sadness was so deep that it was as though my heart were being crushed in a vise.”

She stopped to mop her face. “Right then I heard voices coming down the corridor outside the bedroom, and Elias wasn’t holding my hand any more. I was back on the bed with his body, cold and stiff. And I knew that he had gone to heaven, and I was left behind without him.”

Leonor and Analina did not interrupt while Eva recovered herself. “I didn’t want to see any of the people outside the door, so I hid behind the big prie-dieu in the alcove next to the bed. I pressed against the tiled wainscot, and suddenly it gave way, just swung inward, and I lost my balance and fell into a kind of shaft.”

“Were you hurt?” Analina and Leonor asked in unison.

“No—it was so narrow, I got kind of stuck. But my hand brushed a metal loop set into the wall, and I realized that it was one rung of a ladder.” Telling it, Eva could smell the dank stone scent of the shaft. “I scrambled up it like a squirrel, passing the panel which had swung shut again, until I came out in an attic crawlspace.” Circles of light showed against the underside of the roof. Eva saw they came from holes in the dusty wooden slats, gaps that were integrated into the pattern of plaster spikes that decorated the blue chamber’s ceiling.

“I could see what went on through peep-holes. Fray Matias was there to give the last rites.” Eva grasped for the elusive memory that this re-telling had stirred up. There was a something she had seen—it had to do with Fray—now Abbe—Matias. Something evil.

But the wonder of what followed had driven out every other thought.

Elias’ lifeless body was stretched out on the bed in the room below, and Fray Matias was already on his way to the door. Eva‘s grief was so deep, she felt as though she would die. And then, inexplicably, her terrible sadness was replaced by elation, and a certainty that her prayer was answered.

Elias’ eyes flew open, and he cried out, “Father!”

“Elias?” Fray Matias strode swiftly back to the bed. He grabbed Elias’ hand and pulled him upright in the bed, stuffing pillows behind to support him. But Elias swung his legs over the side and stood, glowing. “I had a vision of Jesu. He said I must go back, because he had great things for me to do.”

Everybody came running at the priest’s shouts. Fray Matias told the gathering group, “During the last unction, I felt that God was calling me to pray for the lad’s healing. I felt such a spiritual opposition, I could hardly breathe, but I persevered and labored greatly, and God granted my prayers!”

“Eva?” Leonor’s question brought her out of her reverie.

“Sorry, I was lost in the memory. Elias just got up. From where I was hiding, I saw that the back of his head was no longer caved in—it was completely whole, even the hair clean, although the pillow was still all blood-soaked. It was a real miracle of God.”

“But you said Abbe Matias didn’t do anything,” Analina said. “He said it was his prayers that accomplished the miracle.”

“It wasn’t his prayers that did it, because he didn’t pray. He didn’t even do the last rites, not properly. He cursed, and he was—obscene.” Eva frowned. She could not remember the particulars.

 “Fray Matias was almost to the door and when Elias sat up, he was more shocked than anybody. But he used it to make himself important.”

“He lied,” Leonor stated. “No wonder they picked him for chief Inquisitor. That’s what the Inquisition does. They lie, and they take what is not theirs, and they claim to speak for God. In our law, anybody who claims to speak for God falsely is put to death.”

“But my vision really was from God.”

“How do you know it wasn’t just a dream? Have you met, or even heard about, people like those you saw, with their rabbit-camels?”

“No. But Elias gave public testimony about what he experienced when he was dead. He described the land where dark people with herds of baby camels lived. But,” Eva looked at her hearers, “I never told him—until now I never told anybody—about my trip to heaven.”

“Your brother was brought back from death for a divinely appointed mission.” Analina crossed herself. “You should look to yourself instead of worrying about him. If God wills it, then who could interfere?”

“I could,” Eva said miserably. “If you think about it, God doesn’t will any of the awful things people do. But he lets us do them.”

And then she knew the reason God had let her share Elias’ experience: so that she would be able to withstand whatever happened to her rather than undo Elias’ life work.

Tabita

After Spots had left, Tabita came out of her hiding place. The old man saw her and made small friendly noises in cat-language, holding his hand at petting level.

For a moment, Tabita was tempted to let him stroke her. But then she remembered the encumbering harness. She did not know what it was about, but still, she did not want a stranger discovering the twists of yarn under her fur. So she very politely asked to be let out.

He understood, and held open the door for her with grave courtesy.

The dogs were nowhere to be seen or smelled. Dogs generally hunted in the daylight; they did not see as well as cats. She crept out, every hair on the alert, staying in the moon-shadow. Spots was just entering a two-story building on the far side of the central court, almost against the city wall. Perhaps she would find Eva in there.

Tabita sprinted across the open space, but the door shut before she reached it. She explored around the edge of the building—there were often other ways in, ways that a human would not fit through, but allowed for the passage of a smallish cat.

There was a little room with a man sleeping in it near the door. A guard room. It was a dead end, but there was one use: the roof was low enough at the back for Tabita to climb. Getting higher would allow her to see, hear, and smell a wider area.

From the guardroom roof, she was able to climb along a slim ledge, the kind that marked the beams of a second-story floor on the inside. It was narrow but she could navigate it, and it would be useful as a route out of reach of dogs. She proceeded along the face of the building, away from the door Spots had entered, then continued around the corner, approaching the stable-yard. This was the alley she had fled through this afternoon. Another corner, and she was overlooking the dogs’ domain. Beneath the smell of horses and mules and even a camel was the scent of canine urine and scat. Tabita’s night-sensitive eyes made out their sleeping forms, snoring in a pile on the far side.

She followed the ledge along the third side of the building until she was blocked by a taller wall that abutted at right angles. Tabita climbed to the top of that and found herself looking down into a courtyard of pounded earth with a single tall carob tree next to a watering trough. A mangy camel couched next to a dark, low opening in the wall of Spot’s lair.

She peered along that wall. Further down Tabita could see a balcony, but on the camel-court side the convenient ledge had been sloped with extra mortar to prevent any foothold. Tabita followed the top of the barrier that separated the camel-court from the stable-yard until it ended at another building reeking of equine manure; obviously one leg of a stable block. She jumped down a few feet onto the roof. Horses shifted below her, most asleep.

After a rooftop circuit of the L-shaped stable, Tabita retraced her steps to the end nearest the camel-court. A square second story towered up here. She smelled feathers and bird-droppings and recognized the small upper addition as a dovecote.

She was hungry.

They had made little shelving perches outside the nest openings, and using these Tabita was able to scramble to the pointed roof at the very top. From this high vantage point, she could see over the city rampart to the mountains where the sun rose, downhill over the roof of Spot’s two-story lair that blocked her view of the central courtyard and the tumble of structures that flanked the Darro river valley, across the gulf of space and up again to where the Alhambra hill was crowned with its massive fortress.

Tabita tensed. The wind shifted, bringing another odor to her nose, one that had been hidden beneath the much stronger scent of horse, dog, and camel: Elias!

He was somewhere down there, in the courtyard with the camel. Tabita gathered herself and sprang lightly down onto the roof in front of the dovecote window.

The place where she landed was steeper than she had anticipated; her claws could find no purchase to stop her momentum. Tabita slid down, leaving scratches in the terracotta tiles, until they ended abruptly. She plunged over the edge of the drop.

Instinctively she turned, positioning herself to land feet-first.

She saw the torch bracket in the wall and twisted in mid-air to avoid it. One projecting iron finger grazed her side, and then she slammed to a stop with a sinew-stretching jerk.

She dangled by the horrible yarn-harness five feet from the ground.

Cathedral Square, Granada: Wednesday August 31, 1513

Rickety wooden risers, hastily constructed for the occasion, creaked dangerously under the packed numbers. The afternoon heat was oppressive. It sweated from the bodies that surrounded Eva, beat down on her shawl-covered head, radiated off the stone facade of Granada Cathedral. Casa Cerra’s men-at-arms must be baking in their armor, although they had partial shade from the canopy erected over Baltasar Cerra where he sat on a folding stool in front of his assembled household.

Three stakes had been set up in the center of the square, piled high with seasoned wood. A crucifix faced away from them. To the side, some fifty paces away, a dais had been raised, strategically placed where the occupants would be shaded from the afternoon sun by the five great plane trees to the west of it. Eva saw the red of cardinal’s robes, flanked on either side by the jewel-encrusted miter of Bishop Rojas and the black robes of Abbe Matias, the chief Inquisitor.

Beneath the royal insignia was a richly dressed nobleman representing the king. Eva wondered why it was not Governor Mendoza, but then she saw Blanca’s father off to the side of the square with his sons Antonio and Luis. They sat still as mounted statues in front of a contingent of troops.

The crowd-hum was subdued, even quiet. Not a sleepy quiet, although it was the normal hour of siesta; rather it was an ominous quiet, a sullen grumbling composed of equal parts resentment and fear.

“This is supposed to be a demonstration for all of us Moriscos, but they are afraid it may turn into a demonstration of another kind.” Matron pointed to the tall figure on Cerra’s right. “Even Alcazar came fully armed today.”

Eva stared at the dreaded majordomo who would be her new master, but could see nothing other than his back, steel-crested morion helmet and the half-cape, slung over one shoulder to leave his sword arm free.

Her attention was diverted by jeers from the eastern side of the square, where peasants from the countryside jostled for standing room. These voluntary attendees, most in the garb of northern Castile, wore a more festive air. They parted for a procession of penitents: barefoot men and women being led, pushed, some even carried, by men-at-arms in the livery of the Inquisition. Their charges were wearing tall conical hats of brown paper and coarse tunics of various colors. Some were green; others brown. Yellow ones had flames and stick figures painted on them. These were worn by people who needed help walking, miserable hobbling human wrecks.

After the penitents lined up in front of the dais, Bishop Rojas rose and gave a sermon. Where once Eva had believed every word, now they rang hollow with hypocrisy. How could these brutal tortures be commanded by Jesu, who ordered his followers to love their enemies and forgive every harm done against them?

The Mass was over. An officiating priest called a name, and soldiers shoved the first trembling man forward. His sentence was to pay a fine and wear the sanbenito four years. He kissed the cross held out and accepted absolution, almost incoherent in his gratitude.

There followed more sentences. After the fines came the penitents—all young men—who were given several years serving in the galleys.

“Ho! I’d rather be burned,” Matron muttered to Josemona. “Get the torture over all at once.”

“Ay. That sickly youth there won’t last six months under the whip.”

Eva’s dread mounted. The number of accused was getting fewer. Could one of the cripples that remained be her father?

Then the yellow-clad ones were led out: First, a kind old doctor Eva knew from the hospital. He was accused of Judaizing, holding satanic masses, and eating the flesh of Christian children.

How could anybody believe that of Doctor Solomon? All they had to do was look at his years of service! They tied him to one of the stakes.

The next cripple was a woman. She was accused of being party to his crimes. Just as they were tying her to the stake, she gave a thin cry, begging for mercy, swearing repentance.

The priests untied her from the stake and let her kiss the crucifix. Eva prayed that her father might also repent.

Then an executioner strangled her.

They lit the pile of fagots. Eva wanted to faint. She tried to look away. But outside of her will, her eyes remained locked on in fascinated horror as the flames surrounded what was left of Doctor Solomon. The sickening odor of roasting flesh filled the air.

He lifted his voice in a clear cry: “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One!”

The Morisco section of the crowd gave a low, sullen rumble, but the Castilian peasantry roared like beasts.

Abbe Matias rose and stood at the podium. He stood until the crowd was silent. And then he began to speak—gibberish, it sounded to Eva. A Jewish cabal, whatever that was, a conspiracy to murder King Ferdinand’s natural son—what was a natural son? Weren’t all children natural?—and more about using blood for sorcery, witchcraft. The whole business made no sense at all. The stench from the smoldering corpse made her ill. Where was her father?

And then they names the man behind this evil: her brother, Elias de Pazia. There was more, much more, horrible accusations against Elias, but Eva could not take it in.

They brought out a straw effigy of her brother and tied it to one of the two remaining stakes. And then the last of the yellow-clad prisoners was half-dragged, half carried to the other. It was Iago de Pazia.

Torches were brought for lighting. The pale flames danced, almost invisible in the hot bright air. Her father was shaking his head wildly. Eva read his lips, the pleading gestures.

He wanted to repent!

But Abbe Matias did not see; the Inquisitor was busy speaking to the Cardinal, who was also not paying attention to the proceedings.

Eva quailed in dread. If Iago de Pazia died apostate, his soul would spend eternity in hell, and she, his own daughter, would be the one who had damned him!

She rose from her place, waving her arms. “Wait! He wants to repent!”

Now she had Abbe Matias’ attention. He sent a soldier running towards them. The torch-bearer was lighting the straw effigy.

Eva screamed again. “Stop!” She bounded down the risers. “Can’t you see he wants to repent!”

Just as she reached the bottom, a short cloak, heavy with braid, whipped around her upper body, muffling her cries. Eva was jerked off her feet and slammed prone onto the ground. Somebody twisted the ends of the cloth so that she could not get free. A knee on the back of her head pressed her cloth-bound face into the ground.

From above and to the side, she heard a rough, angry voice. “What’s the meaning of this disturbance?”

The folds of cloth around her nose and mouth were suffocating. Eva could hardly breathe.

“Only a kitchen wench prone to falling fits.” That was Cerra. “I would have left her at home but for the Cardinal’s decree that all must attend. My man Alcazar has her under control now.”

Eva struggled against her captor. Surely it would be a good example if the apostate repented! But the twist tightened around her arms, and the boot pressed heavier against her head.

“Well, keep her quiet. Anything could start a riot, today.”

 “Yes, the mood is dangerous,” Cerra agreed. “Too bad they didn’t have the younger de Pazia himself at that stake, instead of merely an effigy.”

Eva strained her ears to hear the guard’s answer.

“The Devil takes his own back,” the guard said. “He got off easy, dying as he did. But the effigy will have to serve, for nobody’s going to dig up a plague-corpse!”

Elias, dead of the plague? Eva’s mind refused to take it in; she sank gratefully into the blackness of oblivion.


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.  


Chapter 11 of Eva’s Secret

11. Defrauded
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.”
Granada’s Albaicin
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?”
“Eleven.”
“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.


Chapter 10 of Eva’s Secret

10. Devastation
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?”
Eva nodded.
“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.
“Señores!”
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.


Chapter 9 of Eva’s Secret

9. Naming Names
The Cat: Monday August 29, 1513
Tabita slipped into the back gate of the Alhambra. She had been watching since yesterday afternoon, waiting for it to open. Her muscles and joints burned at the effort to get in faster than the visitor could shut her out. Why was it that, after getting knocked around, it was always worst two sunrises later?
There were many smaller gates between here and Blanca’s room, but once inside Tabita ran into a stroke of luck in the person of Rosa, a lower-status pride-mate of Blanca’s.
“Tabita-Too! You shouldn’t be running around out here!” Rosa scooped her up. “And how did you get into such a state? Blanca will be worried!”
Tabita let herself be borne off to Blanca’s lair as though she really were her placid look-alike offspring with the confusingly similar name. In truth, she was too sore and hungry to do anything else.
“Señorita, look: I found your cat out by the alcazaba!”
“Oh, Rosa, I’m so glad you found her!” Blanca took Tabita into her arms. “This isn’t my cat, it is her mother—Eva’s cat. Quick, go get me a dish of chopped meat. The very best; this is my feline guardian angel!”
Tabita’s look-alike offspring rose from her silk-lined basket, fur bristling. She did not welcome this intrusion.
Blanca ignored her, stroking Tabita and lavishing praise upon her. Tabita arched under the friendly hand. Why shouldn’t Blanca praise her? They had fought together and vanquished the enemy completely.
“You know, Tabita,” Blanca’s voice was thoughtful, “A cat can go anywhere and not attract attention. You could go right into Casa Cerra—and you would, too, if you only knew Eva was there.”
“Miaow?” Tabita stared at Blanca earnestly. Where was Eva?
“Why, I could use you to send a message!” Blanca began to smell excited. “Fray Pablo will be going there tomorrow, he could take you in his saddle-bag and let you out inside the compound. Yes, and it would be safe if I used our code—but how to keep it on you?”
Casa Cerra: Monday Evening, August 29, 1513
Eva saw Leonor to sleep, but she was in no mood for siesta herself. She plodded back down to the salon to work on the tapestry and think how to fulfill the assignment she had been given.
Although Eva had little interest in clothing—that had always been Blanca’s passion—she had done her best to enthuse over the lovely fabrics, impressing on Leonor how highly she must be valued. There had been no response, but then, the child was still in shock. Maybe after siesta she would be more receptive.
Eva worked on the tapestry, calming herself by going through the usual list of prayer for all the Casa de Pazia people, then each of the five hardworking Little Sisters of Mercy at the Hospice—how she missed helping there! After she ran through that list, she began on the staff of Casa Cerra. Prayer helped Eva memorize the names she already knew: Matron, Josemona, Analina, and even old Jose the cook, the foul-mouthed curmudgeon who delivered meals to the women’s dormitorio. And there was the twenty-something woman with the burn scar on her arm, and the shy girl with a lisp who stirred the laundry cauldron—what was her name?
Eva tried to remember the others she had seen coming and going, when the main door of the dormitorio opened and four of the people she had been praying for entered the salon. Matron was in front, looking worried. And so did old Jose, standing beside her, and Josemona, and behind her a taller man, one of the hostlers Eva had noticed from the window, because he was incongruously named Maria Hussein. He looked troubled, too.
They stood in silence, prodding one another as though each was reluctant to speak.
“What is it?” Eva asked in alarm.
“It is like this,” Matron said. “Wednesday, market day is to end at noon because of the—religious affair—to be held in the Cathedral square. And we are all to attend.”
A public mass! Eva’s heart leaped. She had missed the lovely ritual of mass. “Why is that a problem?”
“Well, this priest has told señor Cerra that he will come tomorrow afternoon, to confess the household so that we may be ready to take communion,” Josemona said.
“And we must act like proper Christians, or señor Cerra will be very displeased,” Matron finished.
Eva was bewildered. “Weren’t you all baptized?”
“Of course we were baptized!” Jose the cook exclaimed. “Back when Cardinal Cisneros ordered it.”
“That’s when we got our front names,” Maria Hussein explained.
“Is that why you are named Maria?” Eva giggled in spite of herself.
Offended by her amusement, Maria Hussein drew himself up with dignity. “Maria is what the priest called me, and so it is written on the paper I must have.”
“Why don’t you just go by the masculine form, Mario?” Eva suggested. “The ‘a’ can be changed to an ‘o’ without anybody being the wiser.”
“That is a good idea. I did not know about this name, Mario. Well then, I will be Mario Hussein.” The re-christened Mario grinned. “And now, tell us what to say when we are in the little booth across from the priest. What it is we are to confess.”
“But didn’t they tell you about confession when you were baptized?” Eva asked. “Before my first communion, I had to take catechism classes for months!”
Matron shook her head. “Cardinal Cisneros gave a public lecture—hours it was, in the hot sun. But it was in Spanish, not Arabic, so we did not know what he said.”
“By time he finished, we were glad of the water on our head!” Josemona laughed nervously. “In that heat, we dry quickly.”
“And after that, we were Christian, and so they let us alone.” Maria Hussein finished. “Until this nosy priest comes and wants us to be shreeven.”
They had gone all these years and never confessed! Eva was amazed.
“So we thought, before the priest comes, we will ask Eva. Eva has been pretending for so much longer than any of us have, she would know how it is done.”
“But I’m not pretending,” Eva protested. “I really do confess.”
“You do not have to put up a front with us, are we not all ‘new’ Christians?” Jose the cook waved her protestation aside. “All we want is for you to tell us what it is we are to do.”
“You just tell your sins to God—all of them since the last confession.” Eva struggled to explain.
“Why does God need us to tell him? The all-knowing was there when we did them.”
“Well, yes, but confession is when you say you are sorry.” Eva racked her brains for bits from catechism classes. “The Bible says we are to confess our sins to one another to show our repentance. Then God will forgive us.”
“Then why do we need a priest?” Mario Hussein asked. “I can just tell Matron here mine, and she will tell me hers, and we say sorry, and so we are confessed.”
“No, it has to be a priest. Only a consecrated priest has the authority to absolve you in God’s name.”
Jose the cook frowned. “This sounds like something the Inquisition made up so they can spy on us!”
“The Inquisition didn’t make it up, it has been going on—oh, since the beginning of the church. And a priest isn’t allowed to ever breathe a word about something that was told him during confession,” Eva said earnestly. “After confession, you feel so clean inside! I will be so glad to confess again.”
“But you aren’t going,” Analina said. “Majordomo Alcazar said the sale stock are not to be shown to the priest.”
“Anyway, what do you want with this confessing?” Mario Hussein asked. “Aren’t you Jewish?”
“I am Christian,” Eva insisted. “The first Christians were Jews. And they were Christian, too.”
“Here, you will be only Jewish.” Matron shook her head in a little warning. “A Jewish slave going to confession would never be allowed.”
“Ay, Alcazar would skin us alive if we let the priest know about you!”
The Cat
Blanca stayed in the room most of the day. Tabita watched with interest as Blanca spun an unusual yarn: a little sheep’s wool, stinking of lanolin; cat-fur snipped from her fat offspring, who objected loudly; and several of Blanca’s own long sand-colored hairs.
She braided the spun yarns together into a cord. Then she cut the thumb from a glove and turned it fur-side out—rabbit fur, the smell was unmistakable, even though it was quite old. Blanca punched a hole in the thumb tip, doubled the cord and pushed it through until a loop stuck out the open end.
Tabita’s curiosity increased with each step. What could Blanca be making?
She went to the writing desk then, and worked for some time putting tiny black marks—much smaller than Eva’s—on a scrap of paper. This she folded over several times, and stuffed it into the cut-off glove thumb.
So it was a kind of case. But what was it for?
Tabita got the answer when she was picked up. The loop went over her head, and the paper-stuffed glove-thumb under her chest. Tabita did not mind that—but she minded very much when Blanca passed each free end of the cord under a forelimb, fastened them together over Tabita’s spine, and tied the ends to the loop at the back of her neck.
“Look, Tabita, you can’t even see my little message-pouch!” Blanca held out the glass-faced circle. Tabita batted the image a few times, just to please Blanca, although she knew there was nobody there. Apparently humans thought that what was in the glass was real. They did not notice that the reflection was missing essential attributes like scent. But then, they had hardly any sense of smell.
Tabita was tired of the game, now. It was an annoying encumbrance, even though the cords were not really tight. She asked Blanca to take it off.
Blanca only petted her. “There, Tabita, you’ll get used to it.”
Tabita rubbed her shoulder against the cushion so the thick-headed female would understand what was wanted.
Blanca picked Tabita up—but instead of removing the harness, she closed her in the little room where the humans did their business.
Tabita was furious! She set out to get the contraption off. But no matter how she rubbed, her efforts only served to work the cords deep into her thick fur.
Some time later, Blanca opened the door just enough to push in Tabita-too’s silk-lined cat basket and a dish of fresh fish.
Tabita ignored the bed and the food. Throughout the night, she unceasingly voiced her outrage. If she was not able to sleep, neither would Blanca.
Casa Cerra: Tuesday, August 30, 1513
Leonor perched on the wide tiled bench against the hammam wall, arms wrapped around her knees. Eva sat next to her, trying to look nonchalant about her unclothed state while keeping her right foot atop her six-toed left foot.
She pondered once again what, exactly, was included in Baseel’s curt order: “I want you to prepare her so that she knows what to expect. And do not delay.”
Eva had made little progress on that assignment. Leonor bewailed her future and stubbornly ignored Matron when she called her ‘Aliya’. And the warmth of the bath-house was doing nothing to soften her up.
The hammam boiler emitted a burst of fragrant steam. “Smell that, isn’t it lovely?” Eva coaxed. “The stoker must have put in more cardamom pods.”
In the center of the steamy room, all of the Casa Cerra women servants were gathered around the central fountain or seated at the edge of the shallow pool that surrounded it, laughing and chattering while they scrubbed each other with black soap.
“This room is too big to be naked in.” Leonor drew her knees up tighter to her flat chest. “At home, we had a tub brought into our chamber.”
“You’ll come to enjoy it. Group bathing is a central part of Arabic culture.” Eva looked around the crowded room, not really so very big, as hammams went; Casa de Pazia’s hammam was large enough to accommodate twenty bathers, between the warm room and the dressing and massage area. Although she was not about to tell Leonor that she had always used it alone, except for Nurse Veronica and later doña Barbola. Iago de Pazia did not want the women servants to be reminded of his daughter’s defective foot. “Can’t you see how much fun the Casa Cerra women are having? It’s the high point of their week.”
“You’re trying to make me into a submissive little Saracen bride. Well, I won’t cooperate,” Leonor said stubbornly. “And my name isn’t Aliya. If they call me that, I won’t answer.”
“You can use a name without being the name,” Eva coaxed. “Just because people call you something, it doesn’t mean you have to become it. For example, I haven’t stopped believing in Jesu, even though ever since I came here they all insist I’m Jewish.”
“Well, I am Jewish, even though I’ve spent my life pretending to be Christian.”
“So see, you’ve already had a lot of practice.” A sudden flash of inspiration hit Eva, “I know—you can add an Arabic middle name—Noor! It means ‘light’. Lots of Moorish girls in Granada are named Noor.”
“I don’t like Noor any better than Aliya. My name is Leonor.”
“Don’t you see? You would be Aliya Noor. Like it was Ah-Leonor. You could outwit them while seeming to submit!”
“Ah-Leonor? Aliya Noor.” Leonor tested the sounds, and broke into a smile. “I like it!”
Eva heaved a sigh of relief. It was a beginning.
Just then Matron noticed them over by the wall. “Ay, women! Make room for the new merchandise to wash—the little one in particular, for today the seamstress sent by her future husband will be fitting her new clothes!”
A herd of naked women descended on Eva and Leonor. With coarse good humor, they were pushed and pulled to the central fountain. Eva quickly stepped down into the pool, the foam-flecked water covering her feet. For Leonor’s sake, she tried to look as though she did not mind the foreign hands touching her body.
But the women were not fooled. Laughter rang out. “Ah, this one has goose-bumps! She is body-shy.” Eva felt the flush of mortification, soon doused by a bucketful of water down her back.
“She will have to get over that.” The women laughed and called to each other as they soaped Eva’s ample curves. “Now this is the one that should be going as a bride!” Somebody scrubbed beneath her breasts. “Look at what we have here—lots of milk for strong sons!” Other hands slapped her behind. “And buttocks!”
“Ah, the man who gets this one won’t be clutching a bunch of bones in bed!”
Eva felt the familiar nausea that the topic of sex always roused. Fortunately, the attention shifted to Leonor. “Why do you think that buyer wants this one? She’s got the body of a child.”
“Maybe he’s one of those who likes boys.”
“No point in getting a girl-child, then, for she’ll soon grow into a woman!”
“Oh, it’s because of her fair hair.” That voice was Matron’s. “Muammar Walid specifically asked for a blonde.”
“Well, she’s blonde enough on top, but he’ll have to wait for her to grow some down under!” The chaffing, far from abashing Leonor, made her furious. She shoved the women away and rinsed herself.
The Cat: Tuesday August 30 1513
Tabita flexed her muscles. She was still a little sore, even though it had been three days and two nights since she had rescued Elias and later Blanca. The odd body-harness made of yarn and Blanca’s hair was becoming more familiar. It was a nuisance, but a mild one.
This morning, upon releasing her from the little chamber where scat was dropped, Blanca had said many things about Elias and Eva, her tone so earnest that Tabita had allowed herself to be confined in this saddlebag. She peered out the crack where the leather-flap top did not quite meet to see where Fray Pablo was taking her.
First he went up the hill they called the Sacromonte, where the Gypsies lived. Tabita could see the distant peaks of the Sierra Nevada, white even in August. Fray Pablo had some dealings with the people who lived in caves near the top of the hill.
Tabita recognized the voice of Drina, a beneficiary of Eva’s. And there was also an old, sick priest. He must be a priest, for he and Fray Pablo spoke together in priest-language. Elias was fluent in that too—he could make the meowings of all kinds of humans. Tabita wondered where he had gone after he got away from Abbe Matias, and if he was safe.
His business on the Sacromonte complete, Fray Pablo turned his horse downhill. They were on the street that paralleled the east city wall. Tabita’s sense of space was still excellent; she knew that if he kept going downward, and turned west at the Darro River, they would come to the gate of Casa de Pazia. But two-thirds of the way down the hill, Fray Pablo turned his horse in a large arched gate.
A male voice spoke, this time in the language of Granada’s everyday humans. “Good day, Father. We have been expecting you. Wait and I will bring the master.”
The saddle shifted as Fray Pablo dismounted. Tabita peered through the crack. She was looking eastward, across a large, gently sloping paved space with a well nearly centered. At the back of the space was a wall much higher than usual, with familiar stonework. After a moment’s reorientation, Tabita realized that she was looking at the inside of the city rampart. Behind her she heard the sounds of the street, separated by another wall with spikes and a single gate-opening. She wished the horse would move so that she could see what was on either side of the open space.
Sounds and smells filled in what Tabita could not see: immediately to the side of the gate was an indoor cooking-and-eating place for many people. Further uphill and likely behind a barrier, many equines were stabled—mostly mules, some horses and donkeys. The ground there had been put to that purpose for many years. And on the downhill side of the well-courtyard, somebody was cultivating herbs: lavender, mint, basil, rosemary, and dill. There was the distinctive soap-steam-and-wood-smoke scent of a hammam in use—that would be next to the garden, they usually were.
Tabita heard footsteps, and a suave, oily voice. “Fray Pablo! I am honored that one of the Cardinal’s own suite should concern himself with my household’s spiritual well-being.” Tabita heard the undertones: oily-voice was displeased but dared not object.
“Good day, señor Cerra. Cardinal Cisneros concerns himself with the spiritual well-being of all his flock.” Fray Pablo, in his turn, had some other agenda than the one he presented. “Have you prepared a private place to be used as the confessional?”
“Yes, it was kind of you to suggest the solution. I have had the last two stalls thoroughly cleaned and spread with fresh straw. The stall partitions are only five feet high, but we have provided a stool in both, and if you remain seated, everyone will have as much anonymity as if they went to the cathedral itself. Ah, here is my stable-manager, Maria Hussein.”
After the usual greetings, the horse was led forward. Tabita caught a quick glimpse of various two-story buildings surrounding the space with the well. She combined them with the smells to make a mental map, in case she must escape quickly: oily-voice had fancy-quarters on the downhill side of the gate; hammam next to that, with the aromatic herb garden between that and another big building that extended to the city wall. There were more two-story buildings on the far uphill side, but Tabita’s view was blocked as the horse moved through an echoing alley that opened onto the stable-yard.
Now another scent met her: dog! The hackles on her back rose. Dogs killed cats.
And there was the source of the danger: three lean curs, pawing at a heap of used horse-bedding. One lifted its head and sniffed the air, then ears pricked, the canine nose swiveled around to point towards her. She had been discovered!
The horse halted, and a man’s voice spoke. “We figured, the one at the end for who’s confessing, and you in the next. I’ll set up your horse in the stall next you, so’s nobody else can hear. Does he like bran?”
“Yes, thank you. Here, I’ll take the saddle-bags.” Tabita felt herself lifted and carried. A door closed.
Fray Pablo lifted the lid of the saddle-bag.
Tabita climbed out into the deep straw and looked around. There under the edge of the door, was a shifting shadow. Dog paws. Dog noses. Waiting to get at her.
“Go find Elias,” Fray Pablo whispered. That meant Elias was somewhere near here. But Tabita could not go find Elias while the dogs waited to kill her. She crouched in the corner. She was patient.
Fray Pablo, like most of his species, was not patient. He scooped her up and put her on the top edge of the stall door. “Go!” he hissed.
The cur-pack saw her and alerted, silent and deadly. The stable-man was walking toward them with a bucket of bran.
“Find Elias!” Fray Pablo gave her an impatient shove. Tabita went flying off the door and, claws unsheathed in terror, landed right on the back of the biggest dog. Using her momentum, she propelled herself into a great bound and hit the ground running.
The dogs were so startled that for a fraction of a second none of them reacted. Then they exploded in a chorus of barking and charged after her.
Tabita streaked toward the alley that gave onto the central space, the pack at her heels. She knew too well what would happen if they caught her: the pounce, the killing bite at the back of the neck, and then her body torn to scraps, yarn-harness and all.
Out into the main courtyard! People at the well. Women, with long skirts—a haven! Tabita raced for the nearest one, shot between her legs. The curs jumped at her skirt, and the woman shrieked and beat them off.
While the woman berated the dogs, Tabita leaped onto the short, squat wall that surrounded the well. One caught sight of her and barked to his companions.
Tabita cleared the well opening with one leap, bounced off the coping and down onto the baking-hot bricks.
The dogs renewed the pursuit. Tabita bolted for the herb garden. There was a fence, a rickety paling of wooden sticks.
She squirmed under the fence. But the dogs ran around, right through a gate Tabita had not been able to see. One cur was almost on her as she dove into a tall patch of oregano. The pungent scent of the herb filled the air as the dog thrashed after her.
Then with relief Tabita saw the thing she hoped for: on the side of the building that smelled like a hammam gaped the exit-pipe for a drain.
She gained the haven just as the nearest dog’s snapping teeth closed on the tip of her tail. For a terrifying moment they engaged in a life-and-death contest. Tabita’s shoulders braced against the upper wall of the pipe, claws dug into the slimy terracotta; the cur pulling her backwards by his incisors clamped on a half-inch of mostly fur.
And then, with a ripping of hair, Tabita pulled her tail-tip free. She inched forward on her belly, deeper into the pipe.
The hollow tube magnified sounds outside it. She heard snuffling of canine noses, and the soft thud of dogs settling down to wait.
Tabita knew herself to be well and truly stuck. How was she supposed to find Elias now?


Chapter 8 of Eva’s Secret

8. Dress Rehearsal
Casa Cerra, Monday morning August 29, 1513
Eva set up the trestles and placed the boards over them. Matron bustled in, followed by Analina and Josemona carrying a six-foot roll of heavy fabric.
“Lay it out on the table, like Eva said.” The two women unrolled their burden so that the bottom hung over the side of the table.
Eva stood in amazement. “This tapestry is beautiful!”
“And valuable,” Matron said. “Señor Cerra says that this comes from a city far to the north with the strange name of Bruzzels, and is worth thousands of maravedies. He was most displeased when he saw how poorly we had mended it, though the water-damage was no fault of ours.”
Eva inspected the damaged edge. “I will have to take out all the stitching you added. With heavy tapestries like this if you do not mend them in the position they will hang, the repair goes crooked when you put it up.”
“We did not know,” Analina said. “And the señor is upset the colors do not match.”
“I will unpick some of the original yarns and weave them to the front.” Eva crawled under the table so she could see the underside. “The new yarns I will splice into the back. It is painstaking work, but that is the only way to make it look right.”
“Josemona can stay and help you,” Matron offered. “She did the first repair.”
“It will be better if I do it by myself. This is the kind of job that takes a highly practiced needlewoman.” Which was true, but Eva had other reasons. Working alone would stretch the specialized task out, and so long as she was indispensable, she would not be sold.
They left her undisturbed at the task until midmorning. Eva was beneath the table, working on the backside, when she heard Matron’s voice coming in the entry of the women’s dormitorio. “—and the girl Andres picked up from Casa de Pazia is most exceptional. None of the usual fussing and bemoaning her fate. And so helpful with the shipment from Seville!”
A deep male voice replied. “Indeed? How so?”
“Last week the little Sevillana wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t get out of bed, just languishing away. I was at my wit’s end. But Eva knew just how to handle her, and in a trice she had the child taking her food and running around the patio.”
Matron and the deep-voiced man came into the room. “And more, this young woman knows much of needlework. I have put her to mending señor Cerra’s prize tapestry. Eva?”
“I’m under the table Matron, I’ll be out in a moment.” Eva unthreaded a gold-wire yarn. Beneath the edge, she could see Matron’s sandals approaching, and beside them a pair of backless felt babouche. As the feet came closer, she saw that the wearer was a very dark Moor. A survivor of smallpox.
Laughter bubbled up with the sudden hope. God had a sense of humor. Who but St. Basil’s namesake would she encounter while under a table? And who else would she recognize first from a view of his feet?
“And where is the little Sevillana now?” The feet turned, and Eva saw—as she knew she would— her backwards E on the inside of Baseel’s left ankle.
“At this very moment the child is upstairs memorizing Arabic words from a list they made.”
His voice was deeper, no hint of youthfulness in it now. “Bring her here.”
Matron hurried out while Eva scrambled from under the table and rose awkwardly to her feet. Baseel was more richly dressed than he had been, but her eyes sought the face. She searched the scarred features, trying to read what the years had written there. He stared back, his expression set, as though waiting for some reaction on her part.
Eva noticed that the smallpox scars had accentuated the normal creases and folds, so that Baseel looked like a much older man. But he could not be out of his twenties.
One eyebrow lifted in surprise, and Eva worried he recognized her from his long-ago visits to collect the Alhambra’s kitchen account. No, that’s impossible, she reassured herself. If Baseel even noticed two little girls whispering from behind the nearest bush or wall, they always wore their mantillas when they shadowed Cerra’s scarred representative. And Thank God he would never know that his disfigurement provided fodder for expanding episodes in Blanca’s tale of the enchanted prince!
Eva remembered her manners then. She dipped into a curtsey. “Can I help you, señor?”
“There is a service you can do.” He looked her up and down and his scarred face assumed an expression that was all-too-familiar to Eva. It was the look given her by the suitors attracted to her huge dowry when they saw the bride who came with it.
Dumpy, graceless, big-nosed, freckled, dull. And that was before they knew she had six toes on her left foot.
“Matron tells me that you have taken the Sevillana under your wing.”
“You mean Leonor?”
“Her new name is Aliya,” Baseel’s mouth tightened in displeasure, as though she had challenged him, although Eva was only trying to be sure they were talking of the same person. “Baltasar Cerra has contracted her to become the wife of Muammar Walid.”
Eva’s jaw dropped. “But she is too young to be married!”
“That is no business of yours,” Baseel snapped. “I want you to prepare her so that she knows what to expect.”
“I—prepare—?”
“And do not delay.”
Matron bustled in, Leonor in her wake. “Here is Aliya.”
“My name is Leonor.”
“It was Leonor. But now it is Aliya. Our tradition is not as the Spanish; when a woman marries, she takes on her husband’s name,” Baseel explained. His tone was more kindly than he had used towards Eva, but despite that Leonor’s expression became mulish.
Matron squeezed her shoulder. “You are honored to be given the name of the third wife of Muhammad, peace be upon them both.” Matron nodded. “You will be pampered, for Muammar is a very wealthy man, and he does not beat his wives.”
“Pampered indeed. Your future husband wants you to be suitably outfitted, and with that in mind he has ordered that you may choose whatever fabrics you wish from Casa Cerra’s stock. A maidservant accomplished in harem fashions has been sent all the way from Algiers to make them into garments. But we have only today and tomorrow, for Thursday we set out for the port of Malaga.”
Leonor was stricken into silence. Eva too quailed at the use of ‘we’. “Am I going with Leon—with Aliya?”
“You?” Baseel’s scowl grew deeper. “No, you’re staying here. So long as you remain useful.” He turned on his heel abruptly and left.
Eva stood rooted, her first surge of joy at seeing the scarred feet turned to dust.
“Do not be troubled, he is always like that.” Matron soothed. “Come, we will go and choose materials.”
The ugly two-story building on the opposite side of the central court was, as Eva had guessed, a storage depot for Cerra’s goods. On the second floor were the fabrics, rows of different sized bales stitched in protective coverings. To each was tied a swatch of the contents.
“See here, Aliya!” Matron fingered a swatch covered in gold-thread embroidery. “You can choose anything you want, your buyer will pay. There are velvets, satins, and brocades imported from farther than Baghdad!”
Eva inhaled. She could identify the smell of silk, wool, linen, all overlaid with camphor and sandalwood to ward off moths. The smells took her back to another time and place, the week before everything changed.
Eva Age 11, March 1508, The Alhambra,
Eva curtseyed formally to Governor Mendoza’s lady and her gentlewoman Ana Enriquez. “Condesa, my father asks that you accept as a gift your choice of dress goods to make a gown for yourself and your daughter.”
The two servants from Casa de Pazia began spreading their burdens out on every available surface of the salon in the Palacio Partal. The women exclaimed over the lovely fabrics being displayed
Eva presented the letter with the Casa de Pazia seal. “And in return, he begs a favor.”
The Condesa opened it and read the contents. Eva already knew what was in it: an invitation to a memorial dinner in honor of her late mother, and a request that Eva’s noble godmother should help her have a gown made up suitable to the occasion.
“Of course I will help you with a dress, Evita.” Condesa Francisca looked up from the paper. “I’m sorry at the reason, though. But I can offer you the comfort of knowing that, in her last illness, your mother was lovingly cared for by the Benedictine sisters.”
“Madrina, how long have you known?” Eva gave her godmother a reproachful look. “And why didn’t you tell me?”
“The abbess at the Abbey of the Annunciation in Avignon sent me the news six months ago,” Condesa Francisca replied. “I’m sorry, Evita, but I couldn’t tell anyone. Maria’s dying request was that her husband should not find out he was a widower. She did not want another woman to suffer as she had.”
Eva understood. So long as there was no confirmation of his wife’s death, her father had not been able to remarry. The news had come only last week, and already Iago de Pazia had negotiated with the family of a new bride. Her father made no secret of his intention to get another heir as soon as possible.
Blanca blew in, breathless and disheveled. “Mama, you must talk Papa into letting me have a decent horse! That little scrub they let me ride refused the jump across the ravine—why, hello, Eva, what’s all this?”
“I’ve come to stay a few days. Your mother is to help me have a suitable dress made for the memorial dinner, and there is fabric for you, too.” A bribe, so your parents won’t interfere with Father’s plans. But Eva kept the thought to herself.
Blanca took in the display of rich cloth, and her mercurial temperament shifted in an instant. “Oh, Mama! It’s been so long since I had an all-new dress!”
Eva knew the Alhambra household had to watch every maravedi, for all their presumed power. Governor Mendoza’s resources must go to paying soldiers and buying armaments, not dresses and jewels. “I have plenty of dresses already. I don’t know why Father has to have another one made up.”
“Those are girl’s dresses. He wants you outfitted as a woman to meet this potential suitor,” Condesa Francisca’s forehead creased in a little frown. “Who is this man he has invited? As your godmother, I have a responsibility to stand in for your mother, now that she is dead.”
“His name is Juan de—” Eva struggled with the strange last name “-de Abensay-something-hay. Of Adra.”
“Juan de Abencerraje.” The Condesa knew at once who Eva was trying to remember. “Morisco family, high in the old sultan’s favor. The Catholic Kings confirmed the father’s patent of nobility when he converted, and bestowed the title Count of Adra.” Condesa Francisca tapped her chin in thought. “A good match for Casa de Pazia, they own several ships, and Adra has a small harbor. I met the father, long ago, but I know nothing about the son.”
Eva supplied the only thing she knew about him. “He’s old. Maybe even forty.”
“That’s not old; Inigo was forty to my nineteen when we married.”
“But I’m only eleven! Please, Madrina,” Eva begged, “Tell him I’m too young.”
“Not for a betrothal. Why, we are also considering who will have Blanca’s hand.” The subject in question made a face behind her mother’s back at the mention of marriage. “And even if the wedding is finalized early, sensible people wait until both parties are of age before consummation.”
“We could get lucky in the meantime,” Blanca suggested. “Like our Princess Katherine in England—her husband died and left her a virgin widow.”
“She is not to be envied, Blanca,” her mother scolded. “The poor girl is stuck in limbo, getting older while that horrible father-in-law holds on to her dowry, yet refuses to marry her to the son now in line for the throne.” Condesa Francisca lifted a length of silk. “Blanca, look at this peacock blue! It is just your color.”
Blanca and her mother unrolled the bolts, discussing fashion and the predicament of Isabella’s youngest daughter in confusing sequence. Eva sat apart, feeling desolate. What did the affairs of far-off royalty have to do with her life? She was truly alone, now; this morning Nurse Veronica had departed with her husband for the de Pazia farm.
“It’s not far at all. I’ll see you often, cariña,” Nurse had said. But Eva was not fooled. Elias had said almost exactly the same thing when he departed to be a novice at Holy Cross, and how often was he able to visit? Almost never.
Misery overwhelmed Eva, and to her horror, an involuntary sob escaped her.
Condesa Francisca put down the figured velvet she was holding. “How rude of us! Here Evita is mourning her mother, and we think only of new clothes.” She turned to the servants. “We will make our choice after siesta. Leave the fabrics here for now, and go refresh yourselves in the kitchens. Come, Eva.”
Eva was glad she had her mother’s death as a dignified excuse for her tears. She did not want anyone to think she was crying about her nurse leaving, as though she were a big baby.
The girls followed the Condesa and Ana to the women’s patio facing Blanca’s chamber.
“This bench was Maria’s favorite place for our duets.” Condesa Francisca settled herself on the cushions and leaned against the back. “I would call for my guitarra and sing some of her favorite tunes to comfort you, but I am so great with child, I cannot hold it correctly. Remember how you children would play your little games while we practiced?”
Eva nodded, feeling guilty. In truth, she had rarely even thought of her mother in the three years since Maria left. Even before that, she had been a distant figure of beauty and grace, someone Eva longed to please but rarely did, homely and deformed as she was.
It was Nurse Veronica who had done the actual mothering. Tears came to her eyes once again as she thought of this morning’s leave-taking. She wiped them away. “I have nothing to remember her by except an ugly old prie-dieu.”
“Don’t cry Eva, I can give you something that was hers.” Condesa Francisca clapped her hands, and a maid appeared. “Alma, there is a painted chest with the Casa de Pazia seal in the back of the storage room behind Blanca’s chamber. Bring it out here.”
Shortly the maid deposited a dusty leather-bound trunk before the gathered ladies.
“This box was my mother’s?”
“It holds the dress she wore when she visited the last time, just before she left. It was to be given it to a mutual friend, but she is gone. So now it should go to you.”
Eva lifted the lid. Inside, under a layer of dried rose petals, a familiar green satin shimmered under a pattern of roses stitched in tiny garnet beads.
“Take it out, Eva,” Blanca said excitedly.
Reverently Eva lifted the shining folds from the box. She remembered this gown—the most beautiful of her mother’s dresses. Eva drew in her breath, fingering the silk. “This was her favorite.”
“I can still see her as she was that night in the banquet-hall, playing her guitarra for the guests.” The Condesa’s mouth turned down. “Iago was always jealous whenever she played—he left early in a rage.
“I confess that I helped your mother leave, Eva, though I pretended to be as surprised as anybody. I sent her to Guadalajara with some relatives. But I thought she would return when Iago cooled off. Of course this gown was too bulky to take, so your mother wanted Pilar Martinez to have it. But when I sent word, Pilar said I should keep it here. She was in my present condition, you see,” Condesa Francisca patted her bulging belly. “She said she would wear it at her little one’s christening in the new chapel.”
“I remember,” Ana said. “And we held a funeral for mother and infant instead.”
Condesa Francisca sighed. “Griefs come in threes, they say, and 1505 brought a grievous threesome for me. First, we lost Queen Isabella, our family’s loyal patroness. And then my dearest companion flees—and I don’t doubt your mother had good reason, although she never breathed a word against Iago. Lastly, my friend Pilar dies in childbirth.”
The Condesa put a hand on her own swelling belly and let out an explosive breath. Blanca looked alarmed. “Mama, is it the baby?”
“Don’t worry, cariña, this is my fourteenth, and I’ve never had any trouble.” Blanca’s mother stood and stretched her back. “Poor Pilar suffered with every child. The Martinez women always do.”
Eva started at the family name. “Was Pilar related to Marina de Fonseca y Martinez?”
“Yes, Marina is her daughter. Goodness, I haven’t seen her since she went to live with an aunt in Jaen.”
“You’ll see her at the memorial dinner.” Eva traced a beaded rose on the silk. “Marina will be my new stepmother. The match has already been arranged.”
“To Marina? She is only thirteen!”
“And Father isn’t going to wait for consummation.” Eva had overheard the maids gossiping that Marina had begun her monthly courses and was now fertile.
Blanca pounced. “If Marina is too young to marry at thirteen, Eva and I are surely too young for betrothal at eleven!”
“Marina’s age is not what concerns me—although it certainly would be a disgrace if she were not yet a woman.” Out of delicacy, the Condesa stopped short of mentioning the business that Casa de Pazia’s servants gossiped about so freely. “It is the bridegroom himself. Pilar would never have wanted her daughter given to Iago de Pazia! Forgive me for speaking of your father so, Evita, but his jealous rages toward his late wife were known to her friends.”
“Madrina, you don’t have to ask forgiveness for speaking the truth.” Eva bunched her fists in helpless anger. “I heard him wish Elias dead. And now that my brother is off at Holy Cross, Father can hardly wait to get rid of me too. Then there will be nothing left to remind him of my mother.”
“I intend to have a very frank discussion with Marina’s family.” Eva’s godmother had a determined look about the eyes. “And as for your father, he is due for a reminding he will not soon forget! Iago wants me to help outfit you, and so I shall. Eva, stand up.”
Bewildered, Eva stood. Condesa Francisca lifted the dress and held it against her. “Ana, what do you think?”
Blanca clapped her hands with delight. “Mama is going to have the dress remade for you!”
Eva was doubtful. “I’m too short, and mother was slender, while I’m not. And look at the top! I don’t have anything to fill it out with yet.”
Ana considered. “We can’t take in the bosom without ruining the beaded pattern, but we can pad Eva so that it will fit. And a puffed silk under-chemise.”
“But the skirt—!”
“That is the least of our problems. See, this garde can be removed to make it shorter. And look, this is an old-fashioned high waist. On Eva it will fall at her natural waistline and be right in style.”
“Iago de Pazia’s dead wife’s image, wearing her dress. It will be like a fairy-tale!” Blanca was enraptured. “He will be smitten with remorse!”
“It will need more than a dress to waken a calloused conscience,” Condesa Francisca said. “Scent will help. Maria always used attar of roses.”
Eva lifted the dress to her face and inhaled the smell of mother. “My father never has that around now.”
“Of course, he does not want to be reminded of his late wife.” Blanca said sagely. “Mama can supply you with some.”
“We will also prick his unwilling ears with Maria’s songs,” Condesa Francisca said. “The prerogative of rank, not to mention courtesy towards a guest, will allow me to override the planned amusement—spontaneously, as it will seem. I will bring my guitarra—Maria gave it to me, he will recognize that—and I will insist on playing her favorite songs for the guests. I want Iago to know that I have not forgotten his treatment of Maria, and squirm with shame.”
The Condesa gave another sharp intake of breath and put both hands on her belly. “You see, even the baby within me senses my excitement. But I think it is time I retired for siesta. Making another human being is hard work!”
——
Blanca looked after her mother and Ana, her face creased in worry. “Mama has had a hard time these last few months. Eva, have you ever read the tombstones in a graveyard? I have, and eight out of ten of the grown women are buried with an angelito.”
“Blanca, your mother never has any problem birthing. Look at how well she did with little Diego!”
“She was younger then. Our head groom says that age increases the risk for a mare.”
“Well, our head groom says it’s the first foal that carries the greatest risk.”
“Another good argument for joining a convent. Whether in the getting or the birthing, sex is the most dangerous thing a female can do.” Blanca picked up one handle of the trunk. “Help me carry this into my chamber, it’s Rosa’s day off.”
Eva took the other side and they brought the chest into the dimness of Blanca’s room. “Turn around and I’ll unlace your kirtle, and you can do mine.”
While the girls stripped down to their chemises for siesta, Tabita’s lookalike offspring appeared and began twining around Eva’s ankles. She scooped her up. “Tabita-too has gotten so big!”
“Cats get to choose their own mates.” Blanca stroked her pet. “If I were as free as a cat, I’d marry Elias.”
“They’d never let you marry a merchant’s son.”
“I know.” Blanca sighed. “Well, since he’s going to be a priest, I’ll be a nun. A great abbess.”
Eva pretended to give this serious consideration. “Then you’d better choose the black wool for your dress. That peacock-blue silk would be far too worldly for a girl who wanted to take the veil.”
“There’s no need to rush things!” Blanca pulled the green gown out of the trunk to admire it. “I do love beautiful clothes. Eva, let’s try this on you now.”
Relieved at the change of subject, Eva stood still while Blanca dropped the voluminous skirts, stiffened with the concentric hoops called verdugos, over her head. She tied off the waist at the back.
“Now to stuff your bosom, like Ana said.” Blanca folded a linen towel and pinned it below the neck of Eva’s chemise. When she laced on the beaded bodice, it fit perfectly. The swing of the conical skirt knocked the lid of the trunk shut on Tabita-too’s tail.
She yowled.
Blanca rescued her pet. “Look, Eva, there’s something more in the bottom!”
Beneath the dried rose-petals was a drawstring bag of cheap muslin. Eva opened it and shook out a mantilla of the sheerest silk, beaded in matching garnets and stitched to a garnet-jeweled high comb. Wrapped in the mantilla’s folds was a small evening purse made of the gown’s green silk, hung on a belt-rope of garnets.
“Oooh, they’re so pretty! Here, try it on.” Blanca thrust the comb into the back of Eva’s braids and draped the gauzy veil. “Your hair is so thick, Eva, and the garnets bring out the red. See, look at yourself.”
Eva examined her reflection critically in the mirror Blanca held up and adjusted the weighted edge of the mantilla. “Blanca, if I arrange the beads like this, do you think people won’t see my nose?”
“It’s hardly noticeable.”
Blanca was lying, of course, but Eva appreciated her loyalty. “My hair is still all frizzy.”
“That’s because you comb it so roughly. Ana can fix it for you the night of the dinner. Not this severe pulled-back way your nurse does it.” Blanca began undoing her friend’s braids. “We’ll pull ringlets down over your shoulders, like so, and nobody will notice that the bosom of your dress is stuffed.”
Eva looked in the mirror again. Only her mouth and chin showed clearly beneath the edge of the veil; the locks that flowed down over the square neckline were dark in the shuttered room. Maria’s eyes peered mysteriously from behind the sheer beaded mantilla. For the first time Eva realized that she did, in many ways, resemble her mother.
“Here, put on the garnet belt.” Blanca linked the rope of polished red stones around the waist of the dress, adjusting the clasp to Eva’s size.
Eva felt like another person, beautiful and gracious. She twirled until the skirts stood out, then stopped and swept a low curtsey. “Welcome to the Casa de Pazia, señores.”
“Oh, Eva, you look like a storybook princess!” Blanca pretended to bow like a Spanish grandee. “Fairest lady, I lay my heart at your feet!”
Eva giggled and struck a pose, offering one hand to be kissed while the other rested on the beaded bag at her waist.
“Hey, there’s something in the purse!” She pulled out a letter, folded in at the corners, the plain wax seal in the center unbroken.
“Bring it over here to the window, I’ll open the shutters for light!” Blanca was as excited as Eva. “Who is it from? Who is it for?”
“There’s no address, unless you count this little column drawn in the corner.”
“It’s a pillar! Blanca guessed. “For Pilar, the friend who your mother left the dress for.”
“My mother’s last letter before she left.” Eva fingered the thick paper. “Would it be wrong to read a letter sent to someone else?”
“Of course not! Not when both the sender and the intended recipient are gone,” Blanca added. “I’ll bet your mother is looking down from heaven right now, wanting you to read it. Go ahead!”
With shaking fingers, Eva broke the seal and unfolded the thick paper. Blanca looked over her shoulder as she read,
Dearest Friend,
I trust you will receive this, although as you know, it is safer if I name no names. I have given up hope that I can change my husband. There is no help for one who loves only money and does not fear God. And yet I cannot leave without some thought to the fate of the children I leave behind.
Eva held the parchment up to the dim light from the shuttered window, for the next lines were blurred where the ink had run, as though tears had fallen on the paper.
My son is well-instructed, but my daughter is as yet ignorant in our faith. So I bequeath her to your care, knowing you will be diligent in her religious instruction. To that end, I am leaving her my prie-dieu. Tell her she must keep it close, and never part from it; it is an heirloom passed from mother to daughter for centuries. When you judge she is ready, reveal to her the true meaning of the cross.
That battered tin and pine cross! Far from being something too ugly to take, it was a treasure her mother had valued greatly. She must get it out of the closet and use it for her devotions.
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.
Farewell, faithful friend. I will remember your kindness to me and mine, and will ever bring your name before heaven’s throne.
Blanca looked at Eva wide-eyed. “See Eva? You were meant to find this right now, before you are contracted. Your mother wanted to be sure you married a man who loves God.”
What Elias had shouted on the day they found out Mother had gone rang in Eva’s mind: “You’re the reason Mama left us, because of your lack of faith! She couldn’t live with your hypocrisy, prating first one creed and then another, pretending to honor God.”
“Odd, I wonder why she didn’t leave your spiritual care to my mother? That’s what a godmother is for, isn’t it?”
“Pilar knew something that could force my father’s hand.” Eva took a deep breath. “Blanca, if I tell you what it is, will you promise never to breathe a word?”
“By the Cross of Santiago!” Blanca signed an X over her heart.
“Iago de Pazia is a secret Jew. His conversion was only for show.” Eva was almost glad her father was not a real Christian; his rages would have made her doubt her faith. “Mama must have tried and tried to get him to submit to Jesu, until she finally gave up hope that she could change him.”
“What if this man he wants you to marry is a secret Saracen?”
“I’d never marry a Saracen! They commit bigamy.”
“And tri-gamy, and even quatri-gamy—that’s four wives. The followers of Muhammad can have that many.”
Eva was appalled. “But if he keeps his real religion secret, how would I know until it’s too late?”
“Mama will find out. She’s your godmother, so it’s her responsibility.”


Chapter 7 of Eva’s Secret

7. Manuel’s Threat
The Cat
Tabita woke to the tolling of bells. The great bonger of the Cathedral was muffled by the bulk of the Alhambra, but the smaller, higher bells of San Nicholas atop the Albaicin hill gave her the exact location. Tabita thought this was very clever of the humans, to make up for their poor sense of direction. Any place in Granada would be pinpointed by the position and sound of the different bells.
They were going on more than usual. It was Cathedral-day. Eva often went to the great domed building in the center of town on this day. Tabita tried to get up, and then collapsed again. Everything hurt.
Between her efforts on Elias and Blanca’s behalf, she had taken a severe beating yesterday. It was the most she could do to drag herself over to a tiny springlet to drink.
That made her famished, but she knew that she could not catch anything in her current condition. She made do with worms and beetles, which tasted like mud.
Then she purred a little, for healing, curled up in the leaf-mold and went back to sleep.
Casa Cerra, Sunday August 28, 1513
Cathedral bells rang above the city. Elias would be there, sitting with the novices from Holy Cross. Eva bent over her work, counting the strokes. Twelve. Mass was over.
Her brother thought she was worshiping in the charterhouse chapel right now. He would have no means of finding out otherwise: the Carthusians were a closed order, and they did not allow guests.
Elias would get her out of here, even if he had to buy her. But how could she get a message to him? The one she had given Andres was no doubt discarded; that had been a ruse to allay her suspicions. If only there were someone she could reveal her true identity to, someone who would go to Elias at Holy Cross!
“I’m tired of walking around the laundry patio.” Leonor leaned her elbows on the deep windowsill. “I wish we could go explore the rest of the compound.”
“It’s against the rules. The men-at-arms are rough.” Eva bit off the thread, also biting back what she wanted to say: Four days ago you wouldn’t even leave your room. She took up another torn garment from the basket and re-threaded her needle. “Why don’t you try sewing?”
“Our servants always did that.” Leonor pressed her face to the iron grille. “Don’t you at least want to see what’s out there?”
“I’ve already seen it. And anyway, if I was interested, I’d go to an upstairs window.” The view consisted of a wide brick-paved space with a central well enclosed by ugly, utilitarian buildings. Across the courtyard from the women’s dormitorio was another two-story edifice which housed the office and quarters for the dreaded Alcazar. This was flanked by blank-walled storehouses. Through an arched passage between buildings were stables for Cerra’s packstock. Eva could not see them, but she could smell them when the wind was in that quarter.
On the east, the compound backed up to the city ramparts. And to the west they were bounded by another wall with spikes on top, each spike a visual exclamation point declaring her new status: Slave! Slave! Slave!
“There’s a caravan coming in the front gate,” Leonor said. “That’s odd. Caravans don’t usually travel on Sunday.”
“They not let anybody in yesterday, all gate closed at command Inquisition.” An answer came from the door in Matron’s ungrammatical Spanish. She entered with a swish of skirts in the Castilian style. “I be returned from al Catedral. Everyone whisper over hunting demon-possessed priest. But Josemona’s cousin’s brother say to her they be all wrong; Inquisition looking for sorcerer be turned into cat.”
Eva choked. She missed Tabita dreadfully, although she knew that her pet was better off with Old Paloma.
“Well, whoever it was, I hope he got away.” Leonor craned her neck. “They are unloading bales of fabric. What’s the Arabic word for silk?”
“Harir.” Eva pronounced it carefully, without the Granadan slurring.
“You are teaching her Arabic! But that is wonderful!” Matron exclaimed. “That will make her life a hundred times better, for ours is the common tongue in all the lands of the Prophet.”
Leonor got the gist of that, for she made an attempt at an Arabic reply: “I learn fast. I have already please, thank you, I need water, I am hungry, and where is the privy?” She switched back to Spanish. “But I would learn even faster if I had a list of the words to study. Matron, can you get us a pen and some paper?”
“I have none of that, and I dare not ask Alcazar. But señor Cerra came with the caravan, perhaps he will give me some scrap—if he is in a good mood.”
Matron took the finished mending and left. Leonor surveyed Eva, arms akimbo. “You look like you’re sucking a lemon. What’s the matter?”
“It’s no use asking for a list of words.” Eva hated having to explain this. “I can’t read or write Arabic, I only speak it.”
Leonor gave an exaggerated sigh. “I don’t want it written in Arabic, I can’t understand the characters. I’ll just put down what each word sounds like using the Latin alphabet.”
Eva bit off another thread. The girl’s superior attitude was getting on her nerves. She would have to pray about it, or she was likely to say something she would regret.
She had let her regular prayer ritual lapse since coming here. Eva was used to kneeling before her mother’s prie-dieu, and it was harder to enter into the sense of God’s presence in the absence of a physical cue.
“I was taught to read and write Hebrew.” Leonor went back to staring out the window. “They say Arabic writing is similar. I bet I could learn it, if there was anybody here to teach me.”
God help me deal with this spoiled brat! Eva pressed her lips together and stitched with unnecessary vigor. If she were at home, she would work out her annoyance by playing her guitarra.
Sing anyway.
Eva hummed the opening notes of a favorite psalm and the music soothed her ruffled spirits. Why should she be annoyed at Leonor? The child’s whole world had fallen apart. Let her boast of what remained.
Eva started the first verse. “God stands in the midst of the mighty…”
Leonor came over and sat, listening. She joined in the second verse. Although she knew all the words and the rhythm, her nasal voice wandered off-tune.
When they were done, she sighed. “My Papa used to sing that. It’s a Jewish song.”
“No, it isn’t,” Eva countered. “It’s right out of the Bible. Psalm eighty-two.”
“Well, of course it is,” Leonor said. “The Psalms were written by King David. Most of the Bible is Jewish.”
“It’s Christian,” Eva insisted. “I was taught that song by Bishop Hernando Talavera, and he was the truest Christian I ever knew.”
Leonor softened. “It’s too bad there weren’t more like him. My Papa liked your Bishop. He said that if Talavera hadn’t given up his post as the Queen’s confessor, Torquemada would never have gotten so much influence, and Isabella wouldn’t have issued that decree making all the Jews convert.”
“He always preferred to be called Fray Hernando rather than Bishop Talavera.” Eva was pleased that there was something she knew that Leonor didn’t. “Once every fortnight I went with him on his visits to the poor.”
“The Queen protected him. But as soon as she was gone, the Inquisition started working out how to get him tried for heresy. If he hadn’t died when he did—” Leonor let the sentence hang.
“But Fray Hernando was a bishop! An archbishop.” Eva found that her fingers were shaking so much she could not sew straight.
“It doesn’t matter. No Spaniard is safe from the Spanish Inquisition.” Leonor got up. “I’ve had enough of sitting here. I’m going out to the laundry patio.”
Once alone, Eva put her head in her hands and wept. If she had any remaining doubts that the Inquisition was evil, this last bit of information removed them. Fray Hernando had said something once about the religious authorities being the ones who opposed Jesus.
But she had not understood that he was warning her about the church in her own time.
Outside, there was a shout. “Manuel Ortiz, you sly dog! When did you start working for Casa Cerra?”
Eva jerked upright, her tears forgotten. She flew to the window and looked out into the welter of baggage, mules and men milling around the central court. “Rafael Ortega, by my beard!” A familiar voice rose amid the dust. “Haven’t you heard? Casa de Pazia was shut down by the Inquisition. But Andres took me on as a man-at-arms. I’ll be working the caravans between here and Malaga until I prove myself.”
Someone swatted the mule nearest Eva on the rump, and the animal moved off toward the stables. And there, not ten yards from Eva, was the man who, until last week, had been the head of the de Pazia guard.
Eva pulled back again, her heart racing. If Manuel Ortiz saw her, he would know at once that she was not Eva Maria Perez. Her mind flashed back to her first encounter with Manuel, when he really did not know who she was.
Eva, age ten, October 1507
Anticipation lightened Eva’s heart as she skipped toward the front gates. Today was the day she most looked forward to, helping Fray Hernando Talavera. She loved his kindness and the way he made her feel known and special, even though he had the whole city in his spiritual charge.
He always wore the plain brown Hieronymite habit when he worked with the poor, and on this day only, Eva was allowed to dress in an old, undecorated grey Spanish surcote. The garment hung like a sack, its much-washed fabric flowing softly against her bare arms and legs: such a delightful difference from the many constricting layers of dress and underdress that were usually required to demonstrate to the world her father’s wealth and rising influence.
Even her shoes were plain – although if she were really poor she would have no shoes at all. Thinking of her favorite quote from St. Basil, Eva slipped off her jeweled pendant with the family crest and put it in the pocket of her baggy surcote, lest the gold chain show above her neckline.
She did not recognize the guard at the gate, a balding brown-haired man of average height whose shoulders were so wide that they strained the fabric of his new de Pazia livery. He turned at her approach, and she saw that despite his receding hairline he was not yet out of his twenties.
“Hey, little girl! Get yourself to the kitchens, you’ve no business loitering around the Casa gates!” The strange man’s brows were drawn in a frown and under his beard his mouth turned down at the corners.
Eva drew herself up with dignity. “I am not a little girl. I have almost eleven years. And I have every business here; I am waiting to greet His Reverence Bishop Talavera and welcome him as becomes the daughter of the house.”
“The daughter of the house indeed! Does a de Pazia dress like a beggar’s brat?” He raised a thick arm. “Get yourself from my sight, before I give you the blows you deserve for such impertinence!”
Eva jumped back just in time to miss the cuff aimed at her head.
She was shocked speechless; never had she imagined someone challenging her very identity!
But the new guard was advancing on her, and fear overrode her indignation. She fled, not pausing until she reached the shaded walkway closest to the kitchens.
She stopped behind one of the wide pillars of the colonnade surrounding the courtyard. Peering out cautiously, she saw that he had gone back inside the gate-chamber. She would wait for Fray Talavera here. When the Bishop came and she greeted him, the new man would be put in his place!
As she waited in the shadows, Tabita came running. The cat meowed pitifully, twining herself around Eva’s ankles. Then Tabita ran out into the courtyard. She stopped and looked back, meowing again. She expected Eva to follow.
Eva stepped out after the cat. Tabita led her to the massive old cypress tree around which the courtyard had been built, and Eva gratefully dodged behind it. High in the branches came the exhausted mew of a kitten.
The tree’s flat, scaly, evergreen branchlets were so dense that she could not see beyond the bottom limbs. Could she reach it?
Tabita rubbed against her ankles again. Another pathetic feline whimper confirmed that the kitten was stuck somewhere up in the tree.
At least there was no need to worry about damaging her clothes. Eva kicked off her shoes, climbed on the back of the ornate marble bench that framed the tree’s wide roots, stepped on the lowest branch, and forced her way into the dense foliage. The pungent smell of cypress surrounded her. Cobwebs and flat dry needles stuck in her hair and tickled down her neckline as she wriggled her way upwards. At last she found Tabita’s kitten: Stormy, the gray one, always too adventurous. He was a pathetic ball of striped fluff wedged between two high branches.
Eva reached out and gathered Stormy to her. She tucked him into the neckline of her gown, softness and tiny pricking claws sliding on her skin until the rope belt arrested his motion. There in the makeshift pouch he curled up, exhausted. The rumble of a miniature purr vibrated against Eva’s ribs.
On the way back down, the pressing branchlets insisted on sweeping her sack-like dress upwards. She had on nothing underneath, which did not matter while the dense evergreen foliage hid her, but Eva would have to be sure no one was in the courtyard when she descended the last few limbs.
As her groping foot found solid purchase in the crook of the thick lowest branch, she heard activity at the gate. It was the now-respectful voice of Manuel greeting her father! Eva froze. Then came the sound of Fray Hernando Talavera’s hearty welcome.
“Bring the meal out here and serve us in the courtyard, Nicolás,” her father was saying. “After you set up the table, you may go. His Reverence and I would speak of matters that are private.”
Eva did not want to hear about private matters. She only wanted to be gone before she was discovered. “Oh, St. Basil! Help me again!” Eva prayed silently.
Should she climb down right now and reveal her presence before they began their conversation? But that would mean exposing her legs before the Bishop, for the branches had a firm hold on the fabric of her skirt. And her deformed foot besides—in front of the bishop! Father would beat her unmercifully.
Nicolás set up the table right in front of the bench that surrounded the tree. It was one of her father’s favorite places to seat his guests, looking down the shallow rectangular pool toward the imposing front gates of Casa de Pazia. The diamond spray of the fountain led the eye upwards above and beyond the gate, where the Alhambra hill, topped with its ancient fortress, reminded the viewer of Iago’s influential connections.
Her shoes! She had kicked off her shoes and left them, right down there by the bench! Bishop Talavera sat down next to them and one of his feet nudged the stray footwear out of sight. Eva let out her breath in relief. Fray Hernando was always kind. She looked fondly down at his shiny bald tonsure fringed by white hair and the long beaky nose. If it were not for her father’s presence, modesty or no she would climb down and show him Stormy.
The savory odor of pastilla, a favorite meat-pie, was tempting. “Iago, my son, I wanted to speak to you about sending Elias into the church.”
“Fray Matias says he has the vocation. And the boy himself desires it most eagerly.” Her father piled rich food on his guest’s plate. “Try this, your reverence, the cook has made pastilla especially for you.”
“I fear Fray Matias has other motives than Elias’ vocation. As do you.” Bishop Talavera’s voice was gentle and persuasive. “As a recent convert, I understand why you might think it advisable to have one of your children enter the church. But of the two, I would choose Eva. She has the gift of mercy.”
Eva held her breath. If her father said yes, then she could dedicate her life to the poor! And then she would not have to marry some noble who wanted the de Pazia money and wear tight, hot clothing and spend her life among those to whom such things were important, pretending that they really were.
Her father was silent.
Fray Talavera pressed his point. “King Ferdinand is dedicating a new Franciscan convent right at the top of the Alhambra, in memory of Queen Isabella. I could use my influence to get Eva accepted as a full nun, instead of a lay sister. For a family not of noble descent, that would be most prestigious.”
“Oh please, St. Basil, let Father say yes!” Eva sent up another silent prayer. She would stay nearby, where she could still see all her friends, Nurse Veronica, the servants and the poor. And Elias would stay at home, instead of going off to live at Holy Cross.
Eva heard the knife clink as Iago set it down on his plate. “Eva’s dowry has already attracted considerable interest. Even though she is not yet eleven, Viscount de Badalona has made inquiries on behalf of his son. And I have been given to understand that the Conde Balazote is interested for himself.”
Eva’s jaw dropped in horror. She had been made to sit next to Don Renaldo, Conde Balazote, at a dinner last month. He must be fifty! He had pinched a bruise on her bottom and exhaled bad breath all over her while making sly remarks she did not understand. She had not been able to eat a thing after he had blown his nose on his fingers and wiped them on the tablecloth.
Badalona or his son she knew nothing of, but there was a town of that name on the map in the study, far, far to the east, almost in France. She would never see Elias or Nurse Veronica or any of her friends again if she were married to someone so far away!
Fray Talavera persisted. “If Elias goes into the church instead of Eva, you lose your only male heir! Who would carry on your family line?”
“I am not that old. If I marry again, I could get more sons.”
“That is another matter I wished to speak to you about today.” Eva could not quite see what Fray Talavera was reaching for, but she heard the rustle of paper. “I have received in my office your petition for a divorce from your wife, Maria de Pazia, on grounds of desertion.”
The girl’s heart turned into ice. Divorce! That meant there would be no hope of her mother returning. Fray Talavera’s tone became stern. “Surely you know that in these cases, the church recommends that the husband pursue his erring wife and do everything in his power to reconcile with her.”
Iago flung out his hands. “Maria left a year ago! How can I reconcile with her when I don’t even know where she went?”
“As to that, I have many friends among the Conversos, and I have made inquiry as to her whereabouts.” The priest withdrew a letter from somewhere in his robe. “According to my source, your wife Maria was staying last year with other refugees of your people in Avignon, France. You can write her in the care of Abbe Jean-Pierre.”
Eva’s heart leaped with hope. She might see her Mama again! Oh, if she would come back, if Father would forgive her—!
Iago became more conciliatory. “Of course I would not want to send my son into the church a beggar. I plan to settle a large gift on Holy Cross. Perhaps I could also fund another wing in your hospice for the destitute.”
Fray Talavera stood. “As to your son, you may disregard my advice; I am not in charge of Holy Cross.” There was anger in his voice; Eva had never heard Fray Hernando angry before. “But for the sake of your own soul, and so that your prayers are not hindered before God, I urge you to write to your wife and seek reconciliation.”
“I will write her then, Your Reverence.” Her father’s growl did not hold much promise of forgiveness.
Fray Hernando stumbled suddenly and grabbed the stone bench to support himself. Veins stood out on the back of the hand; his other was pressed to his chest.
“Your Reverence! Are you all right?”
For several long seconds there was no sound but labored breathing. Then Fray Hernando pushed himself upright. “I am sorry, but I am not feeling at all well. Please tell your daughter that I beg her pardon, but today we will not be visiting the poor together.”
“Of course, Your Reverence.” Iago raised his voice. “Manuel! Get the two-man litter for the Bishop!”
Eva saw flashes of activity as the litter with the family coat of arms was brought and Talavera, looking very pale, helped into it. “St. Basil, please make him well,” she prayed, trying to stifle her disappointment that today she was to be denied her small time of ministry at his side. “Bring him back next fortnight.”
The great gates clanged shut behind the litter and its bearers, but Iago still stood in the courtyard staring after it. He angrily kicked over the tray-table, dishes smashing against the tiles. “Six-toed Devil’s spawn!”
——
As soon as the courtyard was empty, Eva scrambled down from her hiding place. If she could not go with Fray Talavera, at least she could gather a bowlful of meat scraps to give Tabita and her kittens from the ruined meal.
Clutching her bounty, she hurried off through the kitchen courtyard, past the garden rows and the stables where she had made a nice nest for Tabita’s family behind the tool shed.
Just beyond the shed she could see Nurse Veronica coming down from the orchard, her apron full of pears. Eva was about to call her to come admire the kittens when she heard the voice of Manuel.
“Sweet Veronica! You have put on flesh. It becomes you.”
Eva crouched in the tall dry weeds by the shed and became very still. She did not want another meeting with this rough new man, not until she was properly dressed and with somebody powerful.
“Hello, Manuel.” Nurse stepped to one side.
Manuel blocked her path. “I thought to myself, ‘perhaps during siesta Veronica will give me a warm welcome home.”
“You know I am married now.” Nurse had that angry sound Eva had learned to respect. “I didn’t really like you much before you left, and the African campaign hasn’t improved you.”
“Ah, but my station in life has improved a great deal. Haven’t you heard that señor de Pazia has made me head of the household guard?” He gave what was intended as a smile, but looked more like a baring of teeth. “If you play nicely, I could make many good things come your way. But if you show yourself unfriendly, I can make your life, and that of fat Tomás, your husband, miserable.”
“Go away.” Veronica pushed past. Manuel took a grab at her bottom.
“Take your hand off me, you pig!” Veronica slapped Manuel with a resounding crack.
“You’ll pay for that in like coin!” Manuel threw Nurse right up against the tool shed wall.
“Tomás! Help!” Nurse Veronica sounded really scared.
Eva rose from her brushy camouflage like a small fury and went for the big man, kicking his ankles and pummeling his back. “Leave Nurse alone! You big bully!”
In his surprise at the unexpected attack, Nurse Veronica broke free. She ran back up the hill towards the orchards, shouting for Tomás.
Manuel spun around, astonished at seeing Eva again. “The brat who bothered me at the gate!”
This time she was not able to duck fast enough to avoid a heavy cuff. She stumbled, and the chain of her pendant slipped partly out of her pocket. The flash of gold caught Manuel’s attention.
He gripped her by the shoulder, his hold painfully tight. “So you are a thief! You will just hand over whatever is in your pocket.”
Eva’s head had barely stopped ringing from the blow. A surge of indignation gave her strength. “I am Eva de Pazia, the daughter of this house! I am going to tell my father that you struck me! You will be dismissed at once when he finds out how you have treated his family!”
“You already tried that tale, little liar.” Manuel reached over and ripped her pocket off.
To Eva’s mortification, the old fabric of her dress tore away with the pocket, revealing chubby lower limbs. Stormy tumbled out, clawing frantically, his tiny paws leaving long scratches as he slid down her bare leg.
Eva crouched, speechless, trying to cover herself with her arms as Veronica ran up, Tomás behind her.
“Evita! What has he done to you!” Nurse snatched off her apron and wrapped it around the shaking girl, while Eva burst into tears. “What is the meaning of this? Will you even molest the daughter of the house?”
Tomás waved his spade. “You will be sent packing, when the master hears!”
“This is really the daughter of the house?” Manuel lost all his bluster. “Her clothes–I thought she was just a beggar child–”
A high-pitched yowl cut him off as he backed over Stormy’s tiny tail. The furious mother cat launched herself at Manuel’s leg, claws digging into his hose.
Nurse turned on him just as furiously. “Wait until I tell the master how the man he hired to protect his house struck his young daughter and stripped her nearly naked!”
“Get off me, you vermin!” Manuel kicked Tabita from his leg and turned to Veronica. “You’ll find that will cut both ways. I have tales to tell of you. And there are others who can back me up. I am in mind of a certain night, a certain flamenco performance ‘Wild Veronica’ did for all the stable hands.”
Tomás looked at his wife and dropped the shovel.
“That was almost twelve years ago,” Nurse Veronica protested. She looked at her husband. “Tomás, I was young and foolish, and drunk besides.”
Eva peeped from the folds of Nurse’s skirt at the dreadful new man. He seemed to relish the trouble he was causing. “And now you are married to fat Tomás, and have no more children. Who knows, except for that night, you might never have been in the fortunate position you were, ready to step in as wet-nurse for Doña Maria’s daughter.”
Eva wondered what they were talking about. She could feel her beloved Nurse beginning to tremble.
Manuel’s voice turned low and menacing. “What if señor de Pazia knew about your past? Would he want a woman of such low moral character to have charge of his only daughter?”
For some reason Nurse Veronica was afraid, although Eva could not guess why; Nurse was the most moral person Eva knew! She tugged on Nurse’s hand reassuringly. “I would never let Father dismiss you!”
But she knew as well as her nurse that she had no say in such matters. She could only hope that Manuel was not aware of how lightly Iago regarded his children.
Veronica hushed her and spoke to Manuel. “All right, Tomás and I will overlook your behavior. Eva will too, because she can see that you really did not know who she was. Isn’t that so, Eva?”
Eva nodded reluctantly, unsure why Manuel made Veronica so afraid.
“Remember, then.” Manuel gave Eva a curt formal bow. “Your pardon, señorita. I will treat you with all respect due a daughter of the house.”
But his eyes were cold, and Eva shivered at the look he gave her.
——
Nurse Veronica took Eva to her room, where she put a cold, wet compress over the side of her head where Manuel’s blow had fallen. “Thank heaven he didn’t strike your face. I will be sure to comb your hair carefully, and the bruise will be gone in a few days.”
She put Eva in bed for siesta, tucking her in. “You won’t tell, will you, cariña? It could cost me my job, and I promised your mother that I would always look after you. Since the day I first put you to the breast you have been like my own child, little Dolores that died just after you were born.”
“Oh, Nurse,” Eva held onto Veronica tightly. “I wouldn’t ever do anything to make Father send you away!”
“Then go to sleep. I must go speak with my Tomás. He will be angry at Manuel, but he mustn’t do anything foolish.”
Sleep would not come. Eva lay staring at the door. Suddenly she realized that the latch was turning, ever so quietly. She sat up in panic, clutching the coverlet to her as the door opened.
Manuel slipped in. “Good. You are awake. I had to return this.”
He set her jeweled pendant with the de Pazia crest on the wash-stand. Eva stared at him, shivering with dread.
“Nurse Veronica says you will not tell your father about my unfortunate mistake today,” he went on, his voice soft but somehow threatening. “But I wanted assurance from your own lips.”
“I won’t tell,” Eva tried to keep her teeth from chattering in fear.
“Swear it.”
“I sw-swear by St. Basil that I will ne-never tell Father,” Eva stuttered.
“Good.” A small noise came from Manuel’s pocket. He brought out Tabita’s grey kitten.
“Stormy!” Eva held out her hands.
“I see you are fond of it.” He grasped the kitten’s head, ignoring its pitiful shriek, and with a brutal twist, wrung its neck.
He leaned in close, dangling the tiny lifeless body in front of her horrified face. “If you ever tell your father about today, I will do this to another of your cats.”
Casa Cerra, Sunday August 28, 1513
Eva shook off the memory. She had spent seven years avoiding the brute, but now Manuel Ortiz was her only chance. She leaned on the sill, her face to the window grille, and called. “Manuel!” He turned at the sound of his name. “Manuel Ortiz!”
Now he saw her at the window, he was coming over. “Eva de Pazia!”
“Please, don’t use my real name. I’m going as Eva Maria Perez.”
He looked at her speculatively. “So your nobleman got away with the dowry—right from under the Inquisitor’s nose! And left his ugly bride behind. How did you get here?”
“Andres tricked me. He thought I was Eva de Pazia’s companion.”
“I should have guessed you would be here. But if I keep your secrets, I’ll expect to be rewarded.”
“You will be!” Eva cast around for what would motivate Ortiz. “Elias will pay handsomely for news of me—he must be very worried. Can you get a message to him?
Manuel showed a sudden interest. “Of course. Just tell me where I can find him.”
Eva was puzzled. “At Holy Cross, of course.”
“I was there recently, and Elias was gone. Can you tell me where else he might be?”
“Over a week ago Abbe Matias sent him on some mission, but he should have been back for—” Eva stopped, remembering that Elias had said it was secret. There was an eagerness in Manuel’s manner which was out of proportion to the matter she was asking. “—perhaps you could ask if anybody has seen the Borgia. Elias and his horse are inseparable.”
“Well, I can’t promise anything. But I’ll ask around. Elias de Pazia is good for a lot of money.”
“I know he’ll pay well for news of me,” Eva repeated. “But hurry! I don’t know how long it will be before I’m—” Eva almost choked on the word, “—sold.”


Chapter 6 of Eva’s Secret

6. Battle Cat
The Cat
Tabita was patient. She waited through the rest of market-day. And the next day would be cooking- and baking-day at Casa de Pazia. The routine was the same at Paloma’s daughter’s lair, although in a much smaller way. But the day after that, with still no sign of Eva, Tabita went scouting on her own.
For Eva, it would be sick-people day—the second in Eva’s weekly cycle. Every week before market-day, and after baking-day, Eva always went to the place where the sick people were and worked all day cleaning and comforting and generally purring over them. If she were still in Granada, Eva would be at the sick-people place. Purring over sick people made her happier than anything else.
Eva was not at the sick-people place. Tabita knew only one thing more to do: go to Elias’ lair, the place called Holy Cross.
Elias was not there when Tabita arrived. That was not unusual. He frequently came and went, sometimes for days and one or two times, for weeks. Elias hunted a wide range, but he always came back. Tabita must wait.
When the ground vibrated with horse’s hooves approaching the gate, Tabita streaked up a nearby carob tree and settled in the crotch of a large branch where she would have a better view.
It was Abbe Matias. Tabita could see that he had been out intimidating the other humans, for he was wearing his most splendid robes and with him rode and walked more attendants than usual. The stable-man held the Abbe’s stirrup for him to dismount, for when the dominant lion of this pride wore his sparkly pelt, he needed help for everything he did. While they bustled about, sending the horses away, Tabita’s attention was on the gate. There were five more horses coming, and one of them might well be Elias, who often accompanied the dominant lion of this pride.
It was indeed Elias, although Tabita would hardly have recognized him otherwise: the lower half of his face was swathed in cloth, and what was visible above was discolored and patchy. On the near side his stallion was flanked by a tall sorrel horse and its rider; and on the far side, a bay mule whose rider was hidden from view. Tabita could see Elias’ paws were not holding the reins, as was usual, but something like a rein was tied to each wrist, and the rider on either side held the other end. Sometimes as they moved, one hand or the other would jerk out in an odd gesture, like the little puppet-doll Eva used to dance for Tabita to play with.
Was Elias playing at being a puppet? Before Tabita could decide if this was some sort of game, they rode under the gate-arch. When they came out the other side, she would be able to tell more.
But what was this? Two more horsemen approached the gate, men in turbans, which was unusual in Granada. Despite that, the one in the fancier clothing was on a she-horse from Casa de Pazia!
Now Elias’ group had come out of the arch to the near side. The stocky man on the far side dismounted. Tabita’s fur bristled as she recognized the man. Manuel Ortiz!
The sorrel’s rider tossed his puppet-string to Manuel, who used both cords to drag Elias roughly from the saddle. He twisted both of Elias’ hands behind his back and marched him toward the Abbe’s group.
She hissed at the hated sound of his voice. “Abbe Matias! Your Reverence! We have captured Elias de Pazia, the sorcerer!”
The Abbe jerked around. “What nonsense is this?” The man’s expression was one of disbelief, but Tabita saw it change to shock when he saw Elias.
The man on the sorrel bowed. “Your reverence, pardon my friend’s outburst. He used to work for Casa de Pazia and he claims to recognize that this is the son of the house. And so we gagged him to safeguard against being cursed, and brought him to you.”
Abbe Matias pulled himself up stiffly. “This is an impostor. Elias de Pazia died a week ago, in Acatusi.”
“No, he didn’t!” Manuel protested. “I know his horse! See, he’s even wearing the training caparison, there’s the Casa de Pazia crest on the lower corner!”
“Silence!” The Abbe roared. He turned to a burly man-at-arms. “Hold the suspect; I want to question him. And perhaps these two liars also?”
Manuel released Elias into the man-at-arms’ custody and backed away, gabbling hastily. “It isn’t Elias, I never saw him, I don’t know him!”
The reek of fear rose from below as the sorrel-rider backed toward his mount. “Pardon, your Reverence, we made an honest mistake, and we only meant to do service to the church.”
“Go, then!” the Abbe ordered. “But the animal stays. You say he is wearing a de Pazia caparison, and all property belonging to Casa de Pazia is forfeit to the church.”
Elias let himself be handed passively from one captor to another; but above the cloth wound around his mouth Tabita saw an alert expression. Which meant he was waiting for a moment to catch them off guard.
Silk-turban dismounted and bowed. “The canvas trapping may belong to Casa de Pazia, and you are welcome to it. But the horse wearing it is not the property of Casa de Pazia. The stallion is mine.”
The Abbe’s face froze when he saw him; the scent of fury rose even to Tabita’s perch. Before the Abbe could get anything out, silk-turban spoke again. “This stallion belongs to the Sultan of Tunis, whose buyer I am; and moreover I have as proof two documents showing that the stallion was given into my possession in return for certain—” he paused meaningfully, “—valuable considerations and services.”
“Do you have these papers with you?” The two were sparring; Tabita could smell it on them.
“I do not carry documents on my person, but like any prudent man, leave them with my agent in a safe place, to be produced as needed. However, if the Abbe will but draw aside so that we may speak privately, I will explain all the circumstances pertaining to my claim on the stallion.”
The Abbe waved his attendants aside and followed the turbaned man over beneath Tabita’s tree. “I could have you taken into the Inquisition’s custody!”
“In which case my agent would appeal at once to Cardinal Cisneros, presenting the documents I spoke of.” The turbaned man held up a hand. “But I did my best to uphold our agreement; I had de Pazia neatly trussed and on the way to the designated resting place when the horse himself managed to dash my head against an obstacle. And when I came to, de Pazia was on his back and I was the one trussed up and left for dead.”
“Then how did you come to be here?”
The turbaned man smiled and spread his hands. “It is my practice to keep my servants apprised of my movements. One found me and carried me back to my rented villa. By the time I recovered, they told me the news of Elias de Pazia’s death, and so it seemed there was no need to apprise you of what transpired between us. But today I saw the stallion being led here and followed to claim him, for what use is he to you?”
The Abbe’s mouth opened, and then closed again, rather like a fish, Tabita thought. But the turban continued. “Is it not best that the stallion be speedily removed from Granada? See, the horse is covered so none will recognize him and I will take him out of the city this very day. If you give me a writ of safe passage, stamped with the seal of the Granada Inquisition, no one will question us between here and Malaga, where a swift galley awaits my purchases. And so you will be rid of us both.”
The Abbe’s eyes narrowed in the way that a cat’s did when calculating whether the prey was worth the risk. “Very well. But the safe-passage will be good for one week only. After that, I cannot answer for what happens to you.”
The turbaned man bowed and made sounds of effusive thanks, and the Abbe shouted at the group holding Elias. “Fray Martin! Bring your writing case here. And you, Bartolomeo, take the suspect to the cell Fray Guillermo has just vacated. I will question him there.”
Tabita leaped from the tree to the boundary-wall and raced along it to the shed roof. She had hunted Holy Cross many times, and the layout was familiar to her. The direction they were taking Elias would pass through the arched gate into the herb garden, and there was a perfect place to leap down on an unsuspecting prey.
Humans were larger prey than she had ever hunted before, but that was no matter: this armored hulk was threatening a member of her pride. Elias and Eva protected and fought for her, and now she would fight for them. It was no different from catching a mouse: the trick was being in the right place and exact timing.
Running over the roofs, Tabita made it to the arch just as Elias with his big guard turned the corner of the adjacent building. It was only an opening in the wall between one area and another, such as the humans liked to surround themselves with; but the top of the thick wall had been given a little ridge of clay tile, steep to shed water and rather slippery even when dry. Tabita crouched on the tiles, ignoring the heat on her sensitive pads, and waited as the man tramped nearer.
She risked a single “Miaow!”
The guard paid no attention, but Elias looked up and his eyes widened as he recognized his pride-mate. Good: now he was prepared. They would hunt together. The eyes; she would go for the eyes.
The guard was almost beneath her; Elias sagged suddenly in his grasp, and with an earsplitting yowl, Tabita launched herself straight at his captor’s face, claws slashing with practiced precision.
“Aiee!” The man tried too late to protect his eyes, but Tabita knew that two claws at least had cut one wet orb. His flailing arm flung her into a lavender bush, but Elias had already wrenched free. Trailing a loose puppet-string from each hand as he yanked the cloth from around his mouth, he dashed back along the route they had come.
The guard bellowed, but Tabita did not waste any more time on him. She dodged between his legs and raced after Elias, away from the center of Holy Cross, out toward the gate. She would create a diversion so that he could escape.
But the guard continued shouting behind them, and the place buzzed with people like a beehive that has been tipped over, all shouting to each other.
When Tabita rounded the corner into the gate-court, she saw that Elias had three pursuers close on his heels. One with a garden-rake thrust the long handle between Elias feet, and Tabita’s pride-mate went sprawling.
And then the stallion danced sideways over his master, and Elias disappeared!
“That way! He dived under the horse, came out the other side and scaled that wall!” Turban pointed and shouted. “Just grabbed the bricks and climbed it like a cat! It took him less than three seconds!”
“Quick! Catch him before he gets far!” Abbe Matias came puffing up. “I want somebody at every city gate who can recognize Elias de Pazia by sight!”
The courtyard emptied of everyone but silk-turban and his servant, who unwound his headdress into a length of cloth, which he laid on the ground in a line. Silk-turban moved Elias’ horse to stand over it. Then he mounted, and the servant handed up first one end of the cloth, and then went around to the horse’s far side and gave silk-turban the other end.
“Best pass this under your butt,” silk-turban was directing his words downwards, as though speaking to the horse. “It’s a mile to the south gate.”
“Why are you doing this for me?” It was Elias’ voice, coming from under the horse!
Tabita ran closer and looked up. There was her pride-mate, hanging beneath the canvas blanket, pressed belly to belly with the horse.
“Because you are worth more to me alive in Tunis than dead in Granada.” Silk-turban’s voice was soft, pitched to carry only as far as Elias’ ears. “Besides, if they torture you, the Abbe might discover that I gave you those letters. There; I have loosened the front strap. See if you can get it under your shoulders.”
Elias had looped the turban-cloth beneath his hips; both knees were tucked into the leather strap that ran around the horse’s torso just in front of the hind legs, and he was shrugging his arms through the strap that passed behind the horse’s forelegs.
“Now, we are going to walk quietly out of the city. And pray to Allah that nobody notices the strain on the caparison, for if we are caught we are dead men!”
Tabita followed behind the burdened horse as the little procession left Holy Cross, tail held proudly upright. Her pride had won the victory, and now Elias would praise her.
. But no such praise was forthcoming. Tabita miaowed, thinking Elias might not have noticed her, pressed as he was to the horse’s underside.
Elias responded then, an angry whisper. “Tabita, go home!”
He followed it with a cat hiss and a spitting noise that made it more than clear her presence was unwelcome.
Tabita’s tail drooped. How had she offended him?
But the words came again, words she understood, even though they were human noises she could not make herself. “Go home!”
She turned and started on the long journey back to Casa de Pazia.
——
Tabita could not remember when she had felt so tired. She was old; it was getting plainer with every passing day. Her pride-members, the ones who kept her fed and protected, were themselves hunted.
She picked her way slowly down the brushy slope on the Alhambra side of the Darro river. Casa de Pazia was across the stream. If she was to go home, as Elias had said, she must backtrack along the bank to a certain tree that overhung the main channel, and from there she could leap onto a long, brushy bar that was exposed now the stream was end-of-summer low.
At the west end of the bar, there was a shallow spot where she could ford to the other side without getting too wet.
Above her came a crashing noise of breaking foliage: something was coming down the steep brushy slope. A round bundle hurtled into view, smacked wetly against the mossy rocks that lined an overgrown ditch, then bounced onward.
The scent that sprayed outward when it struck answered the question of what: it was a ball of clothing—wet clothing, and more specifically, Blanca’s clothing.
Tabita heard a splash as it reached the river below. Her cat curiosity was roused. Why was Blanca’s clothing being thrown down into the river?
Cloth, if it was not completely waterlogged, floated a little. Tabita picked up her pace and angled down toward the stream. The current would carry Blanca’s bundle to the shallow ford, and then she might find out what was up. Perhaps Blanca would come to get her things. Perhaps Eva had gone to stay with Blanca, as she often did!
“Hey, Aldonza, what’s that in the stream?” Tabita froze at the female voice.
Sure enough, when she crawled out on a nearby branch, she could see two naked females, young, nubile ones from the shape of them, in the pool just below the ford.
One of them was lifting the dripping object from the water. “It’s clothes, Beatriz!” She waded to the Alhambra side bank and unrolled the bundle. “Women’s clothes. And nice! This is fine linen, a lady’s chemise!”
The girl Aldonza wrung out the white garment that smelled intimately of Blanca and pulled it over her head.
“Hey! Aldonza, who says you get that?”
“I says so.” Aldonza began wringing the water out of the dark woolen kirtle. “I got to it first.”
“But you’da never knowed of it but for me!” Beatriz splashed over and grabbed at the kirtle. “I get a share, you perra!”
“Perra, am I?” Aldonza pulled on the other side. “It’s mine, you puta!”
Then the two women went for each other like a pair of cats, clawing, biting, and rolling. The one called Aldonza pummeled the one called Beatriz in the stomach. Beatriz grabbed Aldonza’s hair and shoved her face into the muddy bank.
Another voice rang out over the fray. “Those clothes are mine!”
Tabita had been so interested in the catfight that she had not noticed Blanca until she rose, dripping wet, out of the deepest place in the channel. She had nothing on except a skimpy cloth wrapped around her torso under her arms.
Aldonza and Beatriz released each other and picked themselves up, mud-smeared and wary. “Who speaks?”
“I am Maria Sanchez.”
Tabita wondered at that. It was not the usual noise by which Blanca identified herself.
“She talks fancy, like a hidalga.” Beatriz was already cowed.
“I am hidalga. And those are my clothes. Give them back to me!” Blanca’s command cracked with all the assurance of a dominant female speaking to lower pride members.
Aldonza clutched the bundle, her stance belligerent. “I’m giving her nothing. Hidalgas aren’t found swimming naked and alone.”
“I don’t blame you for doubting. But listen to my story before you judge.” Blanca changed timbre; Tabita recognized her story-telling voice, the one she used when Eva sat and listened, rapt. “It is because of my evil stepmother that I am here. You see, after my father died, she gambled through my dowry. I had been betrothed to Miguel, my childhood sweetheart, but when his father found we were impoverished he refused to let us marry and betrothed Miguel to a rich widow instead. We begged and wept, but his cruel father cared nothing for our broken hearts.”
“Ah, pobrecita!” Beatriz exclaimed.
Blanca continued: “My beloved refused to marry the heiress, a vain, spiteful woman ten years his senior. He swore that if he could not marry me, he would not marry at all. And so he went to Holy Cross, where he studied to become a priest.”
Aldonza folded her arms across her chest. “Priests are worthless parasites.”
“But he won’t be a priest after all. We resigned ourselves to a lifetime of miserable separation. And then, an answer to prayer!” Blanca exclaimed. “He was walking in a certain place, when he saw the edge of a jar sticking out of the earth. And when he dug it up, it was full of money! Straightaway he wrote me. He told me to meet him at a little picnic terrace on the Alhambra side of the Darro just after dark, and we would run away together.”
“A likely story!” Aldonza said. “No hidalga would come down here at night, the place where whores meet their customers.”
“We did not know about that,” Blanca made her voice humble. “We only picked a place where we used to meet for lunch, that we thought would be deserted at night.”
“And where do you think poor girls such as ourselves bathe, now that Cardinal Cisneros has closed all the public hammams? Perhaps in tubs filled by servants?”
“Leave off, Aldonza. She can’t help being stupid.” Beatriz turned to Blanca. “So, Maria Sanchez, how is it that you lost your clothes?”
“I had to cross the Darro, and didn’t want to get my dress wet. Since the place was so deserted, I thought it would do no harm to take them off and carry the bundle on my head. But I tripped on a stone and dropped them, and the current took them away.”
That seemed to work better than her previous imperious command. Aldonza picked up a tattered garment from the ground. “Thanks to Beatriz here, your chemise is covered in mud. So I’ll let you have mine.”
“I’ll be glad to exchange. Yours is dry.” Blanca waded to the Alhambra bank and pulled the coarse cotton garment over her nakedness.
“Then you can trade for my kirtle. It’s dry too.” Beatriz held out an old woolen garment. “It’ll fit once I take in the back-lacing. You do the front.”
Blanca slipped her arms in the sleeves without protest and turned her back to let Beatriz tighten the behind-body-section. But Tabita saw her wrinkle her nose as she poked a cord through the many holes that ran up the front.
Tabita alerted: there was a rank scent of male sweat, from two different individuals. She leaped to another branch, and ran along it, the better to see who was coming.
Her night-sensitive eyes focused on the other side of the river and spied two men, moving with the swagger of dominant males daring any to bar their way. The first leaped from stone to exposed stone across the ford. His arms were thrown out for balance, showing forearms sheathed elbow to wrist in leather cuffs covered with little iron spikes that bristled like a porcupine.
That was a threat message: such trappings were worn by males that cowed the lower class. Tabita took in more: the leather belt with a longer-than-usual knife sheath. The heavy boots. The unwashed smell.
His companion followed: shorter, but more massive in girth. His gut lapped over in front, and as he jumped from rock to rock it jiggled with each landing.
Aldonza saw them coming and turned. “Hola, Jabalí, Juanito. You are early.”
“The early bird gets extra!” Spike-cuffs ogled Blanca.
“Ay, fortune smiles on us.” Gut-lap bared his teeth in what the humans considered a friendly expression. He was missing several. “We get three for the price of two.”
“Not so fast, you haven’t paid yet.” Aldonza moved in front of Blanca. “As for this scrawny one? You don’t want her, she doesn’t know the business, and is likely terrible at it. Just a whey-faced ninny running away from home.”
“A virgin, eh?” Gut-lap gave off the scent of a male in heat. “We’ll send her back with something to remember us by.”
“On your back, girl, I’ve got a blade that wants sheathing!” Spike-cuffs whipped off his codpiece, and Tabita saw that he was fully erect and ready to mate. “It’s not for nothing they call me El Jabalí, the wild boar!”
Rather than arousing Blanca, she responded with shocked offense: “My betrothed will kill you for that!”
Beatriz tugged at Spike-cuffs arm. “Jabalí, wait! She’s hidalga.”
“And I’m the pope! She’s dressed like any tavern wench.”
“Those are our clothes. We stole hers.” Beatriz lifted her wet kirtle. “Look—merino wool—and five yards to the skirt.”
“And see this chemise I’m wearing? Fine linen.” Aldonza held up a mud-smeared sleeve. “Besides, only a hidalga would invoke her betrothed’s vengeance over the mere sight of a man’s zibi.”
Gut-lap fingered the lace on Aldonza’s wet, muddy garment. “So what’s a hidalga doing here?”
“Like I said, she thinks she’s going to run away,” Aldonza sneered. “With her rich lover. A priest, yet.”
“A rich priest, eh?” Tabita saw the men’s interest in mating shift to something else.
Spike-cuffs put away his male member. “Well that’s a different twist of the knife.”
“Yes, and he could come any time.” Beatriz looked around. “Do you want to risk being caught with your pants down?”
“I lied. Nobody’s coming to meet me.” Blanca began to cry—but her smell was all wrong for crying. She did not smell sad, she smelled very angry. “I ran away because—because my lover gave me the French Pox!”
“And how would running away help with the French Pox?” Gut-lap mocked. “It would take a better story than that to protect your lover’s fat purse!”
From a sheath that hung to his knee, Spike-cuffs drew a well-honed blade. “When he comes, we’re going to gut him like a fish.”
“Then we’ll bid you adios! We don’t want to be any part of murder.” Aldonza and Beatriz turned to go.
“Not yet, you don’t! We need you to hold the hostage,” Gut-lap growled.
“Tell you what,” Aldonza spoke in a conciliatory tone. “Before we go, I’ll tie her hands with my belt. It’s good stout round-braided leather. So long as you bring it back. It has my lucky deer vertebrae on the end.”
The men agreed to this plan. Aldonza produced a knife, which she held to Blanca’s throat. “Walk nice and quiet-like over to where I left my clothes, and you won’t get hurt.”
Aldonza marched Blanca to the water’s edge, where she scooped up a thin snake-like cord. Blanca’s hands were pulled behind her back. Tabita saw Aldonza’s mouth move, but the sound was covered by the water’s gurgle as it swirled around a tree-root.
She slipped down from her branch and crept closer so she could hear what Aldonza was saying, or, more importantly, the tone in which it was said.
It was a hissing, angry sound. “—and don’t let on I helped. This is just a noose around your wrists, see, and the rest is wrapped around and around them, nice and tight. Do you feel this knobbly thing I’m putting in your hand?”
Blanca made an almost-inaudible sound of assent.
“That will hold it so they won’t notice.” Aldonza tucked the white bone under the back-lacing of Blanca’s borrowed bodice. “Wait until they’re busy with your novio, then pull it out, unwind your wrists, and sneak off. Once you are far enough away, run like the devil was after you.”
With Blanca’s hands tied securely behind her back, Aldonza grabbed her roughly by the elbow and hauled her over to Spike-cuffs and Gut-lap. “You’ll have no problems with this one, she’s a complete ninny and scared as a rabbit. She told us they are supposed to meet in that little terrace, the one up-slope with the stone benches facing. Good hunting!”
The two women splashed off across the ford, leaving Blanca alone with Spike-cuffs and Gut-lap. Blanca was a friend of Eva’s, in the outer circle of Tabita’s pride. Tabita decided that she must try to help Blanca.
She would have to repeat the maneuver first tried that afternoon, jumping down on the enemy and going for the eyes, even though the likelihood of success was small. Tabita was more tired; there were two instead of one, and Blanca was not as strong or clever a fighter as Elias.
They led her up-slope. Tabita followed them, going from tree to tree, stalking carefully, imagining that she was hunting great big rats. They stopped at the flat place cut into the hillside. Eva and Blanca sometimes met there to sit on the mossy benches, eat, and talk. In the daylight, it was always shady, and Tabita was familiar with the overhanging branches.
They shoved Blanca down on the bench, her back facing downhill, and ordered her to stay while they moved some distance away. Blanca stayed immobile.
Tabita crept after them, wanting to see what they were up to.
Spike-cuffs was the dominant one. He was whispering into Lap-gut’s ear: “—no chances. Make him think you’ll give him the girl. Say whatever, but keep him yakking until I can slip up and knife him in the back.”
Tabita did not understand the words, but when Spike-cuffs faded into the bushes uphill and Gut-lap returned to duck behind Blanca, it was clear what their tactics would be.
Tabita positioned herself overhead. She heard a rider coming up the back road to the Alhambra gate. A male voice said, “Whoa.” The horse stopped at the place where a path led down to the river, the path that passed by the little terrace where Blanca sat.
Tabita sorted through her mental catalog of sounds. She knew that voice. It belonged to Fray Pablo, a man who came sometimes to Holy Cross. And Elias met with him in secret.
Fray Pablo dismounted. He turned down the steep path, leading his horse. Gut-lap crouched behind Blanca, his hand over her mouth.
Fray Pablo strode forward into the clearing, carrying a roll of cloth. “Doña Maria?”
Gut-lap released her mouth so she could answer. “Fray Pablo!” Tabita heard the astonishment in her voice.
Gut-Lap stepped out of the shadows, knife out. “If you want to live, you will hand over your bundle.”
“Come and take it, if you want it.” Almost faster than Tabita’s quick vision could follow, a blade was in Fray Pablo’s hand and the bundle cast to the ground behind him.
Gut-lap retreated behind Blanca and pressed a knife to her throat. “Beg him for your life, girl.”
“Abner! Abner, please think of Joab. If you love me, Abner, remember Joab!”
More oddness: Fray Pablo’s name was neither Abner nor Joab. But Tabita saw Fray Pablo’s eyes narrow and knew he received some meaning from the words that Gut-lap did not.
“My lady, your lover was discovered and captured.” Fray Pablo jerked his head upward, toward the towering walls of the Alhambra. “You must return the way you came. At once.”
Blanca stiffened. Tabita could read that she had no intention of obeying. Tabita heard the crackle of a leaf, too soft for human ears. Spike-cuffs was moving through the underbrush, he was almost close enough to rush Fray Pablo.
“She’s going nowhere!” Gut-lap snarled. “Who’s Joab?”
“You would not know.” Fray Pablo spoke with cool assurance, although Tabita could smell he was afraid for Blanca. “You also do not know that this lady is of the highest nobility of Castile. If it should become known that you had so much as touched her, a hundred soldiers would hunt you down the length and breadth of this land. Release her, and we will forget this ever happened.”
Fray Pablo’s speech somehow turned the tables; now he was dominant. Gut-lap let go Blanca’s arm and stepped away. Immediately, she bolted down the wooded slope. Tabita heard her trip and go rolling, crashing through the underbrush.
“Don’t let her get away, you fool!” Spike-cuffs jumped out then, bringing his knife down on Fray Pablo’s back. The cloth of his robe tore, and the knife slid down the mail shirt underneath, making little ‘chinks’ as it moved against the links.
Fray Pablo shifted to the side. From someplace behind his back he whipped out a wide, short sword, his movements showing the ease of long practice. The point of Spike-cuff’s blade caught in the deep grooves that scored the wide steel. And then the priest did something twisty with his wrist, and Spike-cuff’s knife flew from his hand.
Fray Pablo’s blade flashed. Spike-cuff jumped back and to the side just in time; Fray Pablo’s blade missed his midsection, but the arm was sliced along its length. He stumbled over the stone bench, dropped to the ground and rolled beneath it, the dark screening him from human eyes. Tabita smelled the coppery scent of blood.
Fray Pablo picked up Spike-cuff’s weapon and threw. Tabita heard the knife crash into the undergrowth far downhill, where it could not be retrieved. She also heard Gut-lap charging back to his companion’s aid. Fray Pablo was ready for him. The two assailants circled below Tabita’s perch, jumping into the attack and back out again, steel ringing on steel.
Tabita turned to follow after Blanca. But the stupid female was not running away: she was sneaking back up the slope—although she had no weapon but Aldonza’s belt.
Tabita saw something else: Spike-cuffs crawling from beneath the bench, drawing a short dagger from the top of his boot. He held it with both hands, the uninjured arm steadying the bloody one, crouching, hardly visible to human eyes beside the dark mass of the stone bench.
The closest branch from which Tabita could launch was three feet to the side of where he waited. Tabita slunk along it, ready to pounce down on him.
Blanca had come back to the terrace; the stupid, stupid girl! She held in her hands the leather cord that had bound her—nothing against the cold steel of her attackers!
Gut-lap was tiring; he parried too wide, and Fray Pablo’s blade buried itself in his body.
At that moment, Spike-cuffs rose from his crouch, both hands raised to swing the dagger down onto the base of his opponent’s skull.
But the blow never fell. Blanca leaped on the bench and dropped the loop over Spike’s doubled hands. She yanked, and the cord snagged in the spikes of the cuffs. He tried to lower his hands, but Blanca jumped down from the bench, letting her weight haul Spike’s arms backwards so hard that his shoulders creaked with the strain.
He almost toppled, then recovered and whirled towards this new threat. Blanca skipped just as nimbly, staying behind him, keeping the tension on the cord as she hooked the cord’s deer-vertebrae end beneath Spiked-cuff’s belt. Now he could not get his arms free, and with bound wrists behind his neck, his spiked cuffs were poking the back of his own head!
But those sky-pointing elbows were in the way, so Tabita could not aim for the eyes. She launched herself at the back of his head, screaming her battle-cry.
He ducked and she landed on top of his head. His cap flew off. Tabita dug her laws into his shaggy unkempt hair.
He bellowed and spun and flailed against the side of his head with his elbows, spiking his own ears with his cuffs, but so long as the cord encircled his hands, he could not knock her off. Tabita clung, clawing forward with her hind legs. Get to the eyes.
With one powerful jerk, Spike-cuffs got the cord free. He swiped at Tabita while racing for the horse. She hung on with both forelegs while he leaped into the saddle. He whirled the animal so swiftly that Tabita was flung off into the branches. She struck, and knew no more.


chapter 5 of Eva’s Secret

5. Inheritance
Casa Cerra, Wednesday August 24, 1513
Eva started up at the sound of footsteps in the hall outside. By the light streaming through the window, it was almost noon! She must have dropped back to sleep, thinking of Blanca and her fairy-tales.
A bolt slid back, and the door opened on a girl bearing a wooden tray identical to the one she had eaten from earlier. Behind her loomed a tall woman Eva vaguely remembered from when Andres the majordomo brought her here.
“Good. You is awakes.” The tall woman’s heavily accented Spanish mangled the verbs, but Eva was used to that.
The girl spoke in Arabic. “Matron, she has eaten. Not like the other.” She set down the fresh meal and gathered up the other tray.
“Well, we were not worried, were we? This one has plenty and to spare on her bones. Which is well for her, for this one is nothing much to look at.” The two appeared to be under the impression that Eva did not understand.
“Alas, too true. My mother despaired of finding me a husband.” Eva added a smile to her Arabic so that they would not feel embarrassed.
“I forget, we will also be handling native Granadans now.” The woman addressed as Matron told the girl. “Analina, warn the others, lest they be indiscreet.”
The girl gathered the chamber-pot and left. Eva ventured an introduction. “I’m Eva-Maria Perez. I’m sorry señora, but I can’t remember your name. It was late, and the shock—”
“You will call me Matron. I am in charge of the women’s dormitorio and for the time you are here you are my responsibility.” Matron drew herself up, and Eva saw that she was taller than doña Barbola, even, although she had none of the latter’s aristocratic bearing. “These are the rules: Men are not allowed past the archway in the women’s quarters. Virgins are to take their exercise in the laundry patio, but they are not to go out to the central courtyard.”
Eva swung her stockinged feet to the floor and slipped them into the shoes by the bed. “You must think me very lazy, sleeping for so long.”
“We are used to it. Most rich Converso girls give themselves the manners of fine ladies.”
“But I’m not like that at all! At Casa de Pazia I ran—” At the last minute Eva remembered that she wasn’t supposed to be herself, but a companion to the daughter of the house. “—that is, I helped with everything.”
“Which will be well in your future life.” Matron wrinkled her nose expressively. “The hammam is heated for women’s bathing on Tuesdays and Fridays. You were asleep yesterday, but Friday you must bathe.”
Surely she would not still be here on Friday! She had sent a letter to Elias—generically addressed to ‘mi hermano’ in care of Veronica, and although Andres had said it might take a day or two, surely by now he had delivered it? “Señor Andres promised to tell my family I was here. I must talk to the majordomo.”
“Andres is no longer majordomo here. Señor Cerra has promoted him to be majordomo of the shipping base in Malaga. He comes and goes about the señor’s business. I do not know where he is staying, or even if he is still in town.”
“Then I will see whoever is in charge now.”
“I assure you, you do not want to attract the notice of the new majordomo! Alcazar is our jefe since a month ago, he that used to be caravan leader. His name is feared on all the routes from here to the sea, and when he looks at you, it freezes the bones.”
A cry of pain echoed from somewhere not far away. “There! That is the kitchen-boy, and Alcazar is laying on the lash with his own hand.”
Whippings? Eva’s eyes widened in horror. The servants at Casa de Pazia were never whipped. Another howl echoed off the walls, and Eva flinched as though the lash had struck her own back.
“Ah, do not fear, Alcazar will do nothing like that to you.” Matron patted her hand. “Baltasar Cerra is very careful of the virgins he handles. And truly, those who come to us are far better off than if they had been taken for questioning by the Inquisition.”
The Inquisition again! Eva felt as though her head was stuffed with wool. Why should someone who had nothing to hide fear being questioned?
“You are older than most of the virgins.” Matron was surveying her with an appraising eye. “I think Andres decided to bring you because it was dark, and he was in such a hurry. How many years have you?”
“Seventeen.”
“Even so.” Matron nodded. “I can see that you are a sensible girl who will make the best of things, despite the misfortune that befell your house.”
Eva dropped her eyes. The woman could not know that Eva was responsible for the ‘misfortune’ that befell Casa de Pazia.
Matron’s brows knitted as though considering a new thought. “Another Jewish girl might do what I cannot. If you were willing to help.”
“I would be happy to give whatever help I can,” Eva said. “But I’m not Jewish, I am Christian.”
“And I was also baptized.” Matron winked. “But in private I still perform salat as the Prophet, peace be upon him, has prescribed. We Moriscos and Conversos can be honest here; the priests will not interfere with señor Cerra. He has an understanding with the chief Inquisitor.”
Eva did not want to think about the Inquisition. “What do you need help with?”
“I fear that Alcazar will hold me to blame, although Allah knows that I have tried everything.” Matron sat on the room’s one stool. “It is like this: Alcazar has made new rules for virgins, that they must exercise for health and receive the best of food. And we have had for two weeks a girl from Seville who is pining away. Leonor will not eat, she does not even leave her bed. If she does not improve, this terrible new majordomo might have me on the whipping post next!”
Eva was glad to have something to occupy herself with. “I have some skill coaxing those who are ill and despondent. I worked with the Sisters of Mercy in their hospital for the poor every week. Suor Lucia taught us that when a patient refuses to eat, put nourishment in their drink, for thirst is stronger than hunger.”
“Ah, we will remove the water and substitute broth.”
“Orange juice is better. If she is from Seville, then oranges will remind her of home.”
“I see you are also wise.” Matron broke into a broad smile. “I will let you bring it to her. Someone in like circumstances to herself will better gain her cooperation.”
Being complimented on her mental capacity was a new experience for Eva. Shortly she was given a tray with the suggested juice and ushered to a door down the passage. Matron opened it and stepped aside to let Eva enter.
The small chamber was identical to her own. Leonor was crouching on the bed in the corner, huddled against the wall, arms wrapped around knees. All that could be seen of her head was a ratted mass of pale gold hair.
She did not move as Eva came and set the tray on the stand. She sat on the edge of the bed. “Hello. They say your name is Leonor. I am Eva.”
The blond mop lifted to show a pale face, delicate features pinched in misery. “You are new.”
“They brought me here early Tuesday morning. I’ve been sleeping since then.”
“The Inquisition struck your house also?”
“That of my cousin, Eva de Pazia, whom I serve as companion.” The falsehood was coming easier with practice. “My mistress was gone, but the soldiers carried off the head of the household, and everything was confiscated until the trial.”
“There will be no trial. Not a real one, anyway.” Leonor put her head back down. “Have they made you into a servant?”
“No. Matron only thought some company might cheer you up.” Eva poured the juice, holding the pitcher well above the clay cup and letting it fall in a thin stream so the scent of just-squeezed oranges would fill the air. “Here, try some of this.”
Leonor looked like she was going to refuse, but the smell of home got the better of her. “Well— I don’t want you to get in trouble on my account.” She took a sip, which became a gulp.
“Let me untangle your hair. You’ll be more comfortable.” Eva pulled her comb out. Leonor passively allowed herself to be turned so that Eva could work. She carefully eased out the knots, taking pleasure in her own competence. This simple act of grooming had often worked wonders to win over the beggar children the sisters of Mercy took in—and this was the more pleasant for Eva, for Leonor had no lice.
“Your hair is such a pretty shade, fairer even than my friend Blanca’s.”
“Some of our people are blond.” Leonor’s voice held a defensive note. “Papa said I take after the Slavic strain. Our family were descended from Khazari Jews, you know. But we were driven out of the east, and then we settled in England, until they drove us out of there, too. So we came to Al-Andalus and prospered.”
“And then your family decided to convert?”
“Decided?” Leonor gave a derisive snort. “The Catholic Kings ordered all the Jews to leave Spain, but they weren’t allowed to take any money with them! How is one to manage that? So we accepted baptism. They gave us no choice.”
Eva worked on a difficult snarl, thinking of her father’s feigned piety. “But surely they knew that forced conversions wouldn’t be sincere.”
“Queen Isabella thought that Jews would become Christians if she made them go through the motions long enough.” Leonor turned to face Eva. “But that isn’t why her husband King Ferdinand of Aragon wanted the decree. He needed to balance the power of the nobles with a class loyal to the crown alone.”
“But isn’t everyone a subject of the crown anyway?” Eva pocketed her comb and began to braid Leonor’s long tresses.
“Maybe here in Granada, where you have a governor instead of a hereditary lord. But elsewhere in Castile, Jews who convert aren’t subject to whoever is the local lord. Forcing all of us to become Conversos meant that overnight Ferdinand would gain a big middle class of Letrados—scholars, merchants, doctors, artisans—who had to do his bidding or be accused of heresy. Because the Spanish Inquisition isn’t under the control of the Pope—it answers to the monarch.”
“How can you know all this?” Eva was getting annoyed at Leonor’s we and us, when she could not possibly have been there, let alone known what the Catholic Kings were thinking. “You’re just a child.”
“I was taught with my brothers, Talmud and logic and political theory.” Leonor’s chin lifted a few degrees. “Papa believed that girls should have the same education as boys, if they were bright, and he said I was—I was—” her proud demeanor fell apart, and she began to shake with sobs.
“There, there.” Eva gathered the girl into her arms, feeling the bones fragile as a bird’s. “It’s all right now.”
“It isn’t all right!” Leonor pulled away from Eva’s comfort. “You won’t think it’s all right after they hold the first auto-da-fé here.”
At a loss to respond, Eva parroted a line from Bishop Rojas’ sermon. “If the accused recant, the church shows mercy.”
“Another of their lies!” Leonor’s pupils made pinpoints of scorn in her pale grey eyes. “My brothers recanted and got worse than our parents, who paid the full price.”
Eva thought of the way the Inquisition had behaved last night, and Paloma’s account of their neighbor in Toledo. “Life does not consist only of worldly possessions.”
“No, life consists of breathing, and eating, and sleeping—and every day breaking your body before an oar until at last you die under the lash!” Leonor became animated with her list of horrors. “That’s what the mercy of the church gave my brothers: the long torture of ten years rowing the galleys! My parents got their torture faster—they were racked until their bodies were so broken they had to be carried to their sentencing.”
“That can’t be true!” Eva exclaimed, shocked. “The church is forbidden to shed blood.”
“Oh, they don’t shed blood. Their methods are more sophisticated than that.” Leonor balled her fists. “And it is the crown that carries out the sentence when the Inquisition is done with their victims, so that they cannot be accused of shedding blood. They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”
Eva could not believe it. Torture was what was done to Christians, not by them. All the martyrs whose stories were depicted in gory detail in religious literature and art—Saracens and Pagans gleefully feeding Christians to the lions, dismembering or roasting or hacking body parts from unresisting saints. “That can’t be true,” Eva whispered again. “Jesu said, ‘Love your enemies, and turn the other cheek.’”
“I bear witness to what I have seen. After taking all we had, after torturing my parents, the Inquisition burnt them at the stake!”
Eva was suffocating. She ran for the door.
Leonor started after her. “Wait! Don’t leave me!”
But Eva fled blindly down the stairs, not knowing where she was going, not caring. As if by running she could leave behind this fresh revelation of the consequences of her action.
She came out onto a patio. Three women looked up from their work at a steaming laundry trough as she ran by. The patio was bounded by a high wall, and there, between two espaliered lemon trees, she was forced to stop.
Eva leaned her head against the bricks, panting. Elias must have known all these things. And she had asked him, just last Tuesday she had asked! Had she missed something?
Eva reviewed the afternoon, trying to notice any clues which had escaped her at the time.
Last week at Casa de Pazia, Tuesday August 16, 1513
Eva tossed and turned during siesta. The hour of decision was drawing near: this evening, when Fray Salvador came to say a mass for the household, she must either follow Blanca’s plan to scuttle the wedding, or lose her one chance.
Last night, it had seemed a near-miraculous escape from a dreadful future. But in the hot light of day, removed from her friend’s contagious enthusiasm, Eva’s doubts had been growing. She remembered all the other impulsive ideas of Blanca’s, and how they always seemed to result in trouble for Eva.
She knew very little of the Inquisition, other than a sermon Bishop Rojas had preached recently. Oh, she had noticed the occasional wanderer from the north wearing the sack-like yellow garment of penitence, the sanbenito. They said that was what the Inquisition did to relapsed Jews, once they turned back to the church.
Father would have to wear one of those. Serve him right.
Wasn’t it proper that the church should correct error, and so save men’s souls from damnation? And if there was any soul headed straight for Hell, it was Iago de Pazia’s.
Eva got up and knelt at her prie-dieu, asking for some sign. But it felt as though her prayers stopped at the high ceiling of her bedroom.
Doña Barbola put her head in at the door, saw that her charge was awake, and entered, the brocaded overgown in her arms rustling with every motion. “Señorita Eva, Tomás has brought the week’s hay from Maracena. He asks that you come to the barn.”
“Oh, maybe Nurse Veronica came with him!” Eva hurriedly slipped her stockinged feet into her everyday clogs.
“You cannot go like that, your hair all down. Let me fix it now, so you will be ready to dress for the interview with your betrothed. Your father will expect you to look your best.”
While the older woman worked on her hair, Eva decided to pry a little into her duenna’s previous life. Maybe she could shed some light on Eva’s situation.
“Barbola, did your late husband marry for your dowry?”
There was such a long pause that Eva feared her question had given offense. But when Barbola had finished pinning the braid she was working on, she replied. “When I was young, before the conquest, dowries were not our way. A man who can have four wives does not expect a dowry, but rather pays a bride-price.”
“That sounds like buying a cow.” Although Eva supposed that it was merely the shoe on the other foot. Wasn’t her father paying an exorbitant amount to buy a noble son-in-law? She thought of what she had overheard last night. If Conte Niccolo had to pay for me, I would not be getting married.
“I was too tall, and darker than the rest.” It was the first time that Eva heard her reticent duenna mention the shade of her skin. “No man was willing to pay my father for me.”
“Then how did you marry?”
“We took in a wounded soldier, thinking he was of our side, for he had Moorish armor. As it happened, he was a Castilian who had taken his equipment from the body of a slain jinete.”
Eva shuddered, and Barbola added, “That is the usual way poorer soldiers get their gear. At that time the head of our household, my uncle Cidi Yahia, converted and joined the Castilians, so it was well for my soldier.”
Barbola sighed in reminiscence. “He was weary of all the fighting, and while he recovered, he renounced it for God. In him I saw the love of Jesu, like it was in the good Talavera, may they both rest in the joy of our Lord.” Her duenna crossed herself. “That is how I came to faith, despite the bad examples of many who say they are Christians.”
Eva thought of Conte Niccolo’s hypocritical piety at the banquet last night. A religious fraud, exactly the kind of man her mother had not wanted her daughter married to. “Then when you wed, you were both Christian?”
“Yes, but that was not enough for my family, even though they too had converted. The de Venegas were nobles of Granada, as they still are, and my soldier was of low rank. They would have little to do with him while he lived. Only after he died was I welcome at the Palacio de Venegas. My cousins were most upset that I chose to work as your companion instead of being their dependent. As if I did not work when I was under their roof! The difference is that your father pays me well, and you are more pleasant to serve than my cousins.” Eva’s duenna sighed. “Where I will be again, after you leave. I will miss you, Evita.”
Eva felt a rush of warmth. “I wish you could come with me to Venice!”
“Ah, cariña, they do not like Moors there, at least not those dark-skinned such as I am.” Barbola fastened the last braid in place with a jeweled pin. “There, that is done. Let me tie a head-rail over all, and you can go and hear Tomás’ message. But be sure and leave yourself enough time to get dressed.”
“I won’t let Tomás keep me long.” Eva looked with distaste at the sumptuous gown doña Barbola had laid out. Embroidered with gold and pearls, it weighed almost forty pounds. She dreaded putting it on, dreaded still more the coming interview, when her betrothed would present her with the traditional bride-gift.
After what she overheard last night, how could she even look at him?
——
As she hurried to the barn, Eva pondered her next move. If she revealed that her father was a secret Jew to Fray Salvador—outside the sanctity of the confessional, of course—the priest would be duty-bound to tell the Inquisition. From what Blanca said, the fines would be so heavy her father would have to use her dowry to pay them. And if he did not turn from his wicked ways, he would have to leave Spain penniless, and Elias would inherit Casa de Pazia.
Elias would let her dedicate her life to God. Blanca had already promised to arrange a place with the convent where a Mendoza cousin was Abbess. And I will never have to face a wedding night.
Tomás was in front of the barn, unloading hay from a wagon whose back was occupied by a large wooden tun. Eva could see it had already been emptied, but she was puzzled. What might the farm in Maracena send that required a barrel at this time of year?
Even more puzzling, Tomás was unloading the hay by himself. “Tomás! Shall I call for the stable boy?”
“No, señorita Eva, I sent him away.” He came near and spoke in a low voice. “There is someone who wants to see you in the Borgia’s stall.”
Mystified by the farmer’s secrecy, Eva went down the row of open-fronted stalls to the one on the end. She timidly called into the warm darkness, “Hello?”
“Hermanita.”
“Elias!” she gave her brother a hug. She saw that he had exchanged last night’s festive clothing for the ill-fitting garb of a peasant, a flat cap low over his forehead, shadowing his eyes. Eva remembered that he had been sent on an errand right in the middle of last night’s banquet. Whatever it was must be urgent. “Where is your horse?”
“I left him in Maracena with Tomás and Veronica. My stallion is too recognizable, and until this business is finished, I’m going incognito.”
“What’s incognito?”
“Secret. Nobody is to know I even came here.” Elias leaned against the stall, looking very tired. “Eva, I need your help. Don’t you visit a Gypsy woman who lives in a cave on the Sacromonte?”
“Oh, yes, Blas’ mother, Old Drina.” Eva thought that her brother looked beyond tired—he looked ill. “Elias, is something wrong?”
He put a hand to his head, atop the flat cap. “It’s just lack of sleep. And I haven’t broken my fast.”
“Oh, let me get you something to eat!”
“Wait—could you fix me a basket of food? Say it’s for the poor. I’ll share it with your Gypsy woman.”
Eva ran to pack bread, cheese, olives, dried sausage, oranges, and a cake of pressed almonds and figs into a large hamper. At the last minute she remembered that doña Barbola had sorted through her clothing in preparation for her impending severance, and set aside several well-worn garments for Old Drina, who was nearly as tall as she.
Topping the load with doña Barbola’s discards, Eva tucked a meat-pie into the pocket of her apron and brought the lot out to the stables.
Elias was seated in the straw with Tabita in his lap, purring loudly. He took the pie eagerly and fell on it with an appetite. “Thanks, Hermanita.”
Eva sat beside him. “This bundle on top is clothing for Old Drina. She’s the same size as doña Barbola.”
“Mmm hmm.” Elias dusted the crumbs out of the light stubble on his chin. “There’s something else I need to tell you. You know the Perez properties in Maracena?”
“The farm and Jorge’s livery business.” They were the dowry their mother had brought, and were to pass to her children. “What about them?”
“I just signed them over to Nurse Veronica and her Tomás. For a consideration to be paid later.”
“I’m glad! Veronica always wanted her own land.” Eva frowned. Elias was only nineteen, not legally of age. “Can you do that without Father’s permission?”
“Don’t worry about the legalities, the papers will stand up to scrutiny. But keep it to yourself. I just wanted to make sure that if anything happens—if Casa de Pazia’s assets were to be seized by the Inquisition—the farm in Maracena won’t be taken. You can go there, and Veronica will give you shelter. Do you understand what I am saying?”
“If they found out father was a secret Jew, you mean?”
“Something of that nature.” Elias gave a sardonic smile.
It was exactly what Eva needed to know. “But after they fined him, wouldn’t they give what was left to you?”
“Eva, you’re such an innocent. When the Inquisitors strike, they clean out every maravedi. If I hadn’t needed Father’s money to launch my career in the church, I’d have turned the old hypocrite in long since.”
Elias must have seen how shocked she was at the idea, for he added, more gently, “Money buys influence, which is needed to accomplish God’s work here on earth.” He rose and picked up the basket. “Now tell me how to find this Gypsy woman.”
“Old Drina’s cave is the one right below the old Saracen graveyard. There are three openings very close together, and then one that stands slightly above and to the left, which is hers. But she’s very suspicious of strangers.”
“I need to find a way to make her trust me. Could you write a note so she knows I come from you—” Elias stopped, frowning. “No, that won’t work, she probably can’t read.”
“Just let Tabita go along. Drina knows my cat wouldn’t follow a stranger.”
“What a good idea! Eva, you can still surprise me.” And before she could tell him about Blanca’s plan, Elias was gone.
——
She walked back to her room, thinking about what Elias had said: If I hadn’t needed Father’s money to launch my career in the church, I’d have turned the old hypocrite in myself.
She sighed. Iago de Pazia was a hypocrite, and he had chosen another for a son-in-law. Mother would have been horrified.
But what Elias had just told her made it clear he would be affected too. Mother had loved Elias best, and she would not want Eva to do anything which would damage his future. And that settled it. She must go through with the marriage, even if it meant being locked up for the rest of her life by the loathsome Conte. She had endured worse for her brother’s sake, although how much worse she hoped he would never know.
She was late. Doña Barbola hurried her into the corset. The stiff panels made Eva feel like a fowl trussed for roasting, extra flesh pushed up until her bosom flowed over the top, and down to bulge out below her waist.
On the way to the great hall, dressed for another encounter with her betrothed, dread weighted Eva like the decoration sewn onto every inch of the elaborate costume. Father and Conte Niccolo were already there, deep in discussion over the various lands and moneys the Conte would receive with her hand. She paused in the shadows, reluctant to be in the presence of either man.
Conte Niccolo spotted her by the door. “Ah, here is my lovely bride!”
Iago frowned. “Eva, you are late.”
“I am sorry, Father, I was preparing a basket for the poor.” Eva set her features in a neutral expression as she made her curtsy. Do not think of what you overheard last night.
“As you see, my daughter is charitable. But she is also a prudent manager of the household—she has been running mine since her mother died.”
“And I have brought a tribute worthy of her.” Conte Niccolo bowed towards Eva and signaled to his servants, who had been standing in the corner with something large and bulky and draped in cloth. “Bring my bride-gift. Put it on this table, where it will show to good effect.”
The men positioned the object, and with a flourish, Conte Niccolo whisked off the cover. There stood an ornate prie-dieu. The kneeler was padded in velvet and the front-piece rose up like a tombstone of polished planes surrounded by bas-relief figures of gold-plated saints. Three crosses made of semiprecious stones crowned the top.
Eva knew she was supposed to be impressed, but the garish thing was so different from the simple pine-and-metal cross where she brought her petitions before God that if it had not been for the religious symbols she would not have guessed its purpose. She could think of nothing appropriate to say.
“My daughter is speechless with gratitude,” Iago jumped into the gap. “And I am also in awe. This is a work of art such as I have rarely seen.”
“It was commissioned by my father from the brilliant Venetian sculptor Tullio Lombardo,” Conte Niccolo boasted. “You may have heard of his most famous work, a full relief of Bacchus and Ariadne.”
Eva ventured a question. “Are those the patron saints of Venice?”
One of the Conte’s men started choking. Niccolo burst into laughter. “If the lady saw Venice during carnival, Bacchus might well be thought her patron saint,” he gasped between whoops of mirth. “But no, Signorina, Bacchus is the Roman god of wine.”
Eva grew beet-red.
“Eva knows nothing of pagan gods,” Iago excused her. “You will find she is of a meek and reverent disposition, exactly what a prudent man seeks in a wife.”
“Truly, I thank God to have found such a pious woman.” Conte Niccolo sobered. “Forgive my humor. What I want is a wife who will produce strong sons.” He winked at her and made a small motion of his hips, calling attention to his overstuffed codpiece.
Sudden nausea almost overwhelmed Eva. “Thank–thank you so much for the prie-dieu, Conte Niccolo,” she stammered. “I fear I must leave you now, there is much to prepare.”
After another round of fulsome compliments, Eva was out the door, closing it behind her. She leaned against the passage wall, swallowing hard and willing herself not to throw up. She would not, could not, marry that man!
But marry him she must. Elias needed the de Pazia money to rise in the church. If she took the only way out, it would cost Elias his inheritance. She breathed deeply, waiting for the nausea to pass.
The Conte’s voice came faintly through the door. “What if your son finds out about our arrangement?”
“He will not suspect. He thinks that I need him, as he needs my wealth to feed his ambition.” Eva’s breath caught at the venom in Iago de Pazia’s voice. “But his usefulness to Casa de Pazia will end as soon as I clear Spain.”
“And you have no last regrets?”
“I tell you, I would sooner give everything I own to the Turk than let one more maravedi fall into the hands of my unfaithful wife’s conniving bastard.”
Eva hurried away, her thoughts whirling. Elias would get nothing! She was so preoccupied that she almost ran into Fray Salvador, the Alhambra’s chaplain, who came on Tuesdays to shrive the de Pazia household.
“My daughter, your face is full of trouble.” Fray Salvador paused, leaning on his cane.
“Oh, Fray Salvador! I fear for my father’s immortal soul. He is guilty of—” what was the word they used last night? “—of Jewishizing.”
Casa Cerra, Wednesday August 24, 1513
“Eva?” Leonor was tapping on her shoulder. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault that you believed the church’s lies.”
“I’ll be all right.” Eva stuffed her emotions down into the secret place where she kept everything that could not be spoken. “It’s just I’m not used to doing nothing.”
“It is good to be outside again.” Leonor stretched. “They kept trying to make me come out and walk. So at least that giantess will be happy with you.”
Eva needed more than that to keep her mind off what Leonor had told her. As they passed the washing, her eyes fell on the rinsing trough. “Leonor, let’s help them wring the sheets.”
The three women looked bemused when Eva and Leonor fished a dripping length from the trough, but they did not interfere. Eva gave one end to Leonor. “Now you hold this tight, while I twist my side!” The physical effort was a relief.
After the first two sheets, Leonor stood back and watched while Eva paired with the young woman Matron had called Analina.
They had been at it for almost an hour when Matron came running. “No, no! You will ruin your hands! Alcazar will hold me to blame!”
“But I have been working with my hands for years, Matron. See the calluses?” Eva held out her work-roughened hands “Anyway, what does it matter? I am not some rich heiress.”
“What does it matter? What does it matter?” Matron’s agitation increased. “Do you not care who buys you?”
The last of Eva’s illusions collapsed. The business with Andres—his questions about her Converso status—he was not extending hospitality, but luring her into slavery. To be sold just like Leonor.
The woman was too agitated to see Eva’s sudden shock. “Leonor here, she will be a rich man’s junior wife, they pay high for pretty young girls who are untouched by a man. But you are not so pretty, not so young. And to have peasant’s hands also! It is well you are virgin or Cerra might sell you to a brothel.”
The implications of Matron’s statement slammed home with the nausea that accompanied sexual thoughts. If she were not a virgin – a brothel?
Eva threw up into the nearest bush. She had leaped out of the frying pan into the fire.


Chapter 4 of Eva’s Secret

4. Alhambra Tales
At Casa Cerra, Wednesday August 24, 1513
Eva opened her eyes to semi-darkness. She sat up and tried to orient herself rubbing the cobwebs from her eyes. This was not her room at Casa de Pazia; it was a small whitewashed chamber with a high window.
Oh yes, the Carthusian nuns had given her this cell when she came to their charterhouse. But wait—the whitewashed wall was missing a crucifix.
Eva remembered she had left the charterhouse—why? Her eye fell on the simple stand beside the bed, which held a clay pitcher and cup. Her mouth was dust-dry. She filled the cup and drank, again and again until the pitcher was empty.
Her thirst abated, she recalled that she had left the Carthusian nuns and gone back to Casa de Pazia to find Tabita. The events of the previous night came crashing in.
The Inquisition had taken over Casa de Pazia! That was it, this room was in the women’s dormitorio of Casa Cerra. Old Paloma had promised to wait for her cat and deliver Tabita to the farm in Maracena, along with Mother’s guitarra.
Casa Cerra’s nice majordomo Andres had waited while she wrote the letter to ‘the brother of Eva-Maria Perez’. The Eva part was a mistake, blurted without thinking. She must be more careful from now on. Eva-Maria Perez, a cousin on mother’s side, she rehearsed.
Maybe it was just as well she had given her real name. Eva had all she could do to conceal her great secret; adding an unfamiliar first name on top of that would surely ruin her flimsy disguise. If anybody noticed it was the same as that of her pretended cousin Eva de Pazia, well, next to Maria, Eva was one of the commonest Spanish names.
She rose and padded on stockinged feet to the window. This room was on the second story. Below was a patio, and from the cauldron set over a fire-pit, Eva saw that it was the place where laundry was done. Off to the east the sky was pearly with the brightness that preceded dawn. Against the lightening sky, she recognized the outline of the Sierra Nevada.
Near the bed lay her bundle of clothing—four linen chemises and plain woolen smocks in the baggy shapeless style called a Spanish surcote. Most important, she had brought plenty of spare stockings and two pairs of shoes custom-made to hide her defective foot.
By the door there was a wooden tray with a lump of cheese and a loaf of bread. The kind people of Casa Cerra had brought food, but not wanting to disturb her, had left the tray. The bread was dry now, and the cheese hard, but Eva found that she was ravenous.
She bit the tough wheaten crust and chewed, calculating the time elapsed. If it was almost dawn, she must have slept through yesterday and around the clock. It must be early Wednesday morning.
Wednesday! Tonight was to have been her wedding feast. A repeat of the great betrothal banquet at the Alhambra which had greeted her prospective bridegroom on his arrival in Granada nine days ago.
Eva shuddered, just thinking of that evening. Her father, so puffed up with pride to be co-host with the great Inigo Lopez de Mendoza, II Count Tendilla, Governor of Granada and friend of King Ferdinand of Aragon. His daughter’s betrothal celebrated together with that of the Governor’s own daughter! Eva understood that Governor Mendoza had extended the honor from financial necessity as much as anything else—Casa de Pazia had covered all the cost of the lavish affair. Despite that, she could never doubt Blanca Mendoza’s loyal friendship.
After all, it was Blanca who had thought of a way to get rid of the Conte. Eva lay back on the narrow cot and let her mind go back to Monday before last, the night of their betrothal banquet.
Monday before last, at the Alhambra
Doña Barbola unlaced Eva’s heavy brocaded under-kirtle. “Señorita Mendoza, it was gracious of you, to escort us back to your room. But you must not miss the rest of the festivities. I am happy to retire early with Evita, for I have been up since dawn.”
“No, I’ll stay, at least until the entertainment starts. I’m glad of the excuse to avoid that horse-faced solemn stick they’ve picked for me.” Blanca slipped out of her overgown. “Eva, does your tummy feel better now the corset is off?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t the lacing, I’m used to that. It was the Conte’s pinching and leering and looking down the front of my gown instead of at my face when he talked to me. And the jokes everybody was making—they made me feel so unclean.” Eva hung her head, as though Blanca would be able to read her private shame.
“Cariña, such bawdy talk is usual for betrothals and weddings,” her duenna soothed. “The jokes were aimed also at señorita Mendoza and her betrothed, were they not?”
“Of course. Not that any of them amused my betrothed, what a long face!” Blanca said. “Your Conte is bit of a buffoon, I admit, but at least he was making an effort to please you.”
“He thinks I’m stupid.” Eva undid the lacing on doña Barbola’s long back. “I tried to memorize all the names of his family back in Venice, but I couldn’t recognize any of the people he kept talking about. And they sound angry—like they are fighting all the time.”
“Those weren’t his family, Eva!” Blanca laughed. “He was working in references to the Greek gods and goddesses.”
Eva felt a prickle of worry. “I asked him about his faith. He assured me that he was very devout. Why should he be talking about pagan superstitions?”
“It has nothing to do with his faith, it’s just the fashion to study pagan legends in Italy. Come on, it’s stuffy in here. We’ll take a turn around the lion fountain in the courtyard and talk about old times.” Blanca put an arm around her friend’s waist. “That way, your duenna can get some well-deserved rest instead of being kept up with our chatter.”
They strolled out into the adjoining courtyard, where the delicate columns of the inner arcade cast lacy shadows against the plastered wall. Water glittered in the moonlight and the scent of orange blossoms perfumed the air. The fountain, supported by its twelve beasts in the form of a clock, began spurting water from the mouth of the ninth lion.
“This will be my last night here.” Eva cupped her hands under the stream and lifted them to drink. “Water from the springs of the Alhambra has a special taste.”
“Those Moorish builders knew what they were about,” Blanca agreed. “It tastes of the rock that filters it.”
“It tastes enchanted, like the stories you used to tell me. I wish I could fly away on one of your magic carpets.”
“I know—I can tell you the legends of the Greek gods!” Blanca exclaimed. “Then the next time Conte Niccolo refers to them—”
“No,” Eva interrupted. “I don’t want to think about the future, I want to think about the past. Tell me the one about Basil.”
“All right.” Blanca settled herself on the bench facing the fountain and began: “A highly respected man named Heradius had an only daughter whom he intended to consecrate to the Lord, but the devil, foe of the human race, got wind of this and inflamed one of Heradius’ slaves with love for the girl. The man, knowing that as a slave he could not possibly win the embraces of so noble a lady, turned to a sorcerer—“
“No, not the legend of St. Basil and the slave,” Eva said. “I meant the story about our spotted Moor.”
“The enchanted prince? Oh, Eva, that was such a childish fairy-tale! I would die of embarrassment if anyone overheard me telling that.”
Eva crossed her arms. “I want the one you made up yourself.”
“Well, if you insist.” Blanca looked around at all the doors that opened onto the courtyard. “But not here. If I’m going to revive that ridiculous thing, we’ll have to be where nobody can come upon us unawares.”
“We could go to the Sultana’s mirador.”
Blanca tucked up her silk chemise and led the way to a staircase that wound up from an arched doorway. Eva followed to the second story balcony. They climbed to the wide roof beyond and crept along the terra-cotta tiles above the court of the myrtles to the tiny balcony that gave a view over the garden below. The girls slipped over the railing and sank down onto the leaf-strewn mosaic floor, stifling giggles like a pair of adolescents.
“All right.” Eva felt ten again. “Nobody can come upon us unawares.”
Blanca sat cross legged and started in her storytelling voice: “In the days when Abu Abdullah Mohammad the twelfth ruled Granada—”
“You mean King Boabdil,” Eva corrected.
“That’s what ignorant people call him. Or King Chico, which is even worse. I know better now.” Blanca assumed her ‘more-knowledgeable-than-thou’ expression. “The Saracen rulers of Granada were sultans, not kings, and their proper address was muley.”
“That makes him sound like an animal,” Eva objected. “The story begins: In the days when King Boabdil ruled Granada, he received a visit from the daughter of the most beautiful woman who ever lived, the Queen of Sheba.”
“No, I changed that, remember? The Queen of Sheba was from King Solomon’s time, there’s no way her daughter could have been in this story. I made her an Abyssinian princess. As dark as the tents of Kedar, and beautiful.”
“—and King Boabdil fell madly in love with her, and made her his queen,” Eva prompted.
“So Abu Abdullah loved her passionately, and made her his sultana.” Blanca corrected. “And of their love she conceived a son. But the previous favorite hated the Abyssinian and plotted against her. Then the Sultan was captured in battle and made prisoner.” Blanca gave Eva a sideways look. “You know that was our own Castilian army, right?”
“Don’t ruin story with facts,” Eva said. “—in the fullness of time, the queen gave birth to a son—”
“But alas! The birth sapped what little strength the Abyssinian had, and she felt herself near unto death.” Blanca picked up the tale again. “She feared for her newborn, knowing her rival would contrive that the infant died before his father returned. And so she secretly entrusted her child to a slave woman in the harem, bidding her present the babe as her own.”
Blanca shook her head. “Honestly, Eva, you can tell I made that part up when I was ten. If the foster-mother served in the harem, wouldn’t you think everybody would have noticed she was never pregnant?”
“You could add that she gave birth the same day and her child was stillborn,” Eva suggested. “Go on. ‘—and she named him Basil—”
“Before the sultana breathed her last, she named her son Basil, which means ‘royal’ in Greek.” Blanca smiled. “When I made up that part, I actually thought they spoke Greek in Abyssinia. But they don’t.”
“Then you can say she learned it from her mother. The Queen of Sheba was supposed to be really smart, wasn’t she?”
“Eva, your timeline is a hopeless muddle.” But Blanca went on. “The slave woman loved Basil dearly, but she feared for his life, and so she kept the secret of his true parentage to herself. The harem accepted him as the slave woman’s son, because he was so dark. He wasn’t handsome, but he was so kind that everybody loved him. And whatever language any of them spoke he quickly learned.”
“—because his royal blood made him so intelligent,” Eva inserted.
“I don’t like that part any more, Eva. Tonight I was listening to the ordinary Granadans and comparing their conversation to that of the visiting nobles and gentry. By what I overheard, you could make a very good case that the more hidalgo blood a person has, the stupider they are likely to be.”
“I’m trying not to think about tonight.”
“Sorry. Me either.” Blanca made a face. “Granada fell to the Catholic Kings. But Ferdinand and Isabella, ever merciful, graciously granted the former sultan a small fief in the Alpujarra mountains to the south of us. And the whole household went with him, and Prince Basil was reunited with his father, and Abu, all right, Boabdil, took his son with him when he left Spain for Morocco. And so they lived happily ever after.”
“That wasn’t the end!” Eva protested. “You added to the story for years.”
“I could hardly tell the whole thing, we’d be here all night.”
“Well, it doesn’t fit if it ends there, because that’s before it began. The whole story started with what I overheard in Father’s shop.” Eva remembered every detail of that day, it had been so often embroidered. “How could Prince Basil have been Baltasar Cerra’s slave seven years ago, if he was living happily ever after in Africa? You have to at least get as far as the thirteen-year-spell.”
Blanca traced a finger through the dust on the balcony floor. “The trouble is, the things I made up about Baltasar Cerra amount to outright slander. The Alhambra buys spices from his house, and he’s always courteous about extending us credit.”
“How would he ever know? Anyway, the story wouldn’t make any sense without him.” Eva remembered something Blanca had explained about storytelling. “A good fairytale has to have a powerful anti-agony.”
“You mean an antagonist.” Blanca dimpled. “I know, I’ll change the story so that Cerra was duped by the djinni he conjured up.”
“But the anti-ag—the bad guy—has to be a person, because Bishop Talavera always said that evil spirits need to persuade actual people to do their dirty work.”
“I suppose. Abu Abdullah, Sultan Muhammad the twelfth—” Blanca stopped at Eva’s audible sigh. “Oh, all right, King Boabdil sent the sad news of his queen’s death to her father, the King of Abyssinia, by the hand of one Baltasar—no, Eva, Cerra deserves better than to be cast as the villain. Aren’t you supposed to be the one with the tender conscience?”
“Well, why don’t you just call him Maloliente, the stinker.”
“Maloliente, I like that. Malo for short.” Blanca grinned.
“And we can skip the part where Cerra meets the dead queen’s father, and gets involved in the dark arts, and how he starts working for a rich merchant,” Eva offered. “It’s the enchanted prince part of the story that’s interesting.”
“Maestro Nuñez wouldn’t think much of your taste in literature,” Blanca said. “So Malo envied his wealthy employer intensely, and used his magical arts to call up a djinni.”
“You changed the djinni to a ghula,” Eva corrected. “It has to be a female or the seduction part won’t work.”
“That’s right, I forgot. Anyway, the ghula offered him a bargain: if Malo would sell his soul to her master, the devil, the rich merchant would be struck dead and Malo would gain all his wealth and his business besides. And he would not only keep what he had gained, but grow richer and more powerful, for she would give him the gift of seeing men’s darkest secrets. Maloliente thought it over, and agreed on condition that he would have a long life to enjoy his ill-gotten gain.”
“And right after that was when he ran into Prince Basil herding goats,” Eva said.
“Yes. And he noticed that the goat-boy was the exact image of the King of Abyssinia. Well, Malo asked around and found out the boy was born to a slave woman in the Alhambra just about the time the Princess died in childbed. And he sought out the foster-mother, and with his gift he read her darkest secret.” Blanca laughed. “As though that needed any special gift. I would make it much more subtle now.”
“Get to the part where he deals with the devil,” Eva prompted.
“When the devil heard of the pact his ghula made, he was furious. ‘You stupid spirit! Why did you bother with him? His soul was already well on it’s way to damnation!’ And he appeared to Maloliente in a murderous rage, ready to slay him on the spot.
“But Maloliente fell on his face. ‘Don’t kill me yet! I can bring you another soul, one that you couldn’t have damned without my help. I’ll bring you the soul of a prince who has never been touched by pride.”
“The devil was intrigued. ‘Nobody born to royal blood can escape pride. But if you can find such a one, and turn him to me completely, I will confirm all that my ghula has promised you.’
“Malo said, ‘I will need time.’ And they agreed he should have thirteen years. So Maloliente went into his wizard’s room and pored over his books of dark arts, until he crafted a magical bangle. Its power was to give the maker influence over the wearer, hardly noticeable at first, but growing stronger over time. But how to get it on his victim?
“Now, Basil was fifteen, just approaching manhood. The ghula assured Malo that she could easily entrap a male that age through lust of the flesh.” Blanca stopped. “Remember the sermon we got that from? Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”
“The three temptations of the evil one.” Eva shuddered.
“I had to borrow the story of Joseph in Egypt with Potiphar’s wife, because I had only the vaguest idea what was involved in ‘lust of the flesh’,” Blanca giggled.
Eva wished she had asked to skip this part too. But the three temptations were important to the story.
“The ghula appeared in a form that was irresistible to men, and Prince Basil fell immediately in love with her. Then she laid hands on him, urging, ‘Come lie with me.’
“But Basil said, ‘I must first seek my master’s permission to marry, for I am a slave.’
“The ghula was astonished. ‘Marriage? Why bother with that?’
“Basil said, ‘Lying together gets children, and a woman must be married or they will be bastards.’ See, Eva, that was one thing about ‘lust of the flesh’ Mama drubbed into me.”
“Condesa Francisca was wise.” Eva missed Blanca’s mother.
“She should have been here at my betrothal.” Blanca looked sad for a moment, but she picked up the story again. “The ghula said, ‘Do not let that trouble you. I have a husband who would think any child was his own.’ And that was her undoing, for Basil ran away lest he be tempted to commit adultery with another man’s wife.
“Malo realized that he would get nowhere using fleshly indulgence. He knew that the prince hated being a slave, so Malo arranged for one of his men to fall in with Basil and ‘accidentally’ leave behind a purse full of enough gold to buy his freedom. But however much he despised his condition, Basil was too honest to steal. He ran after the stranger and returned the bag.
“While Cerra—I mean Maloliente—was working out his next attempt, smallpox struck the province. Now Maloliente had already had the disease himself. So he gathered some matter from the pustules of a victim and used it to contaminate some goat-cheese.”
“Ewww,” Eva always said that at this junction. “Changing his name to Stinker really fits now.”
“And then Malo disguised himself as an old beggar-man and waited where the goats were watered. He pretended to be very hungry, and of course Basil shared his lunch of bread and cheese.”
Eva remembered the pockmarked youth. “He was kind to me, too.”
“But in this case, his kindness was his undoing, for when he divided the scanty meal, Maloliente switched Basil’s portion for the contaminated cheese. By the time he reached home, Basil was already ill.”
“He had a very bad case of smallpox. The worst I’ve ever seen,” Eva said.
“While the slave prince lay raving in delirium the evil wizard fastened on the magical bangle he had made. It sank into the flesh until it looked like nothing more than a ring of scar tissue. And then Maloliente waited patiently while the magic began its evil influence, changing the victim ever so slowly, working up from the ankle until the evil spell would blacken his noble heart.”
“But a woman could break Maloliente’s spell,” Eva prompted.
“Yes, a woman who loved him could drain the effect back down, like sucking venom from a serpent’s bite. And she would do this by circling the magical cuff with her hands and praying to Saint Basil with each circuit. Only thus could the enchanted prince be released from the spell. And if that was not done by the end of the thirteen years, then he would become just like his mentor Maloliente, and the devil would claim his soul too.”
“I didn’t mean that ending,” Eva said. “The ending you borrowed from the story of the Beast was better. Where he asks her every day to marry him in spite of his ugliness, and the spell will be broken when she realizes she truly loves him.”
“I thought we agreed it was stupid for him to keep asking after she said no.”
“I like it because it’s simpler,” Eva explained. “How would the heroine ever find out how to break the spell, if the prince didn’t know himself?”
“Maybe Saint Basil appeared in a dream and told her what to do. Or a talking cat. It’s a fairy tale. Use your imagination.”
“I don’t have much imagination.” Eva sighed. “I guess what I really liked about the first ending is the hope of marriage for love.”
“Marriage for love is just another fairy tale for children.” Blanca said bitterly. “I have to marry Juan Padilla because my family needs it. Just like your family needs you to marry the Conte for his title. What else can we do? Run away to a convent?”
“Father would just find me and drag me back,” Eva said. “I suppose I should be grateful Conte Niccolo is sincere about his faith. He told me all about his pilgrimages to Rome.”
“Oh, Eva, I will miss you so!” Blanca wrapped Eva in an impulsive hug. “But your bridegroom seems kind, and at least you’ll get away from your father.”
“Not for long.” Eva wasn’t supposed to know, which meant she certainly was not supposed to tell, but she no longer cared. “We’re going to be transferring all our business to Venice.”
“But your family has been based in Granada for centuries! Why would he pull up his roots?”
“Because of the church—really, because the Inquisition has come to Granada. All those benevolences, paying to help construct the cathedral—Father doesn’t think of them as tithes and offerings. I actually heard him call it extortion. As though he were bribing the priests to leave him alone!” Eva felt a twinge of guilt. I should be praying for Father’s soul, instead of revealing his secrets to Blanca. But now that her stomach had settled down, a long-suppressed anger bubbled up. “It’s just like Mama wrote in that letter we found—Iago de Pazia worships no god but money and status!”
Footsteps sounded on the graveled path that approached the little garden below. Blanca pulled Eva back against the wall. The moon, setting behind the palace, put the little mirador in shadow. “Shh! They can’t see us if we don’t move.”
Three men came through the arch of lantana vines below, one weaving slightly. There was no mistaking that ostentatious hat. “Conte Niccolo!” Eva mouthed at Blanca.
The man supporting Eva’s betrothed was speaking. “Truly, don Jeronimo, you Spaniards do not know how to celebrate. Niccolo, tell him about carnival in Venice.”
“It’s the new Chief Inquisitor, staring down at the guests from the head table,” the man addressed as Jeronimo replied. “Everybody is going to be very careful about what they say and do until they know how Abbe Matias will run things in Granada.”
“Sink me such religion!” Giulio exclaimed. “Priests with their Latin hocus-pocus! Popes with more bastards than most men have heirs!”
Eva was shocked at the man’s slander. Latin was the sacred language, the one in which God spoke to mankind. And God would never allow someone to be elected Pope if he were not worthy to be Saint Peter’s successor.
“The church is a farce, and all this prating of saints mere hypocrisy. Bishops made at the age of twelve—now there’s vocation for you.” Eva listened in horror as her future husband added to his friend’s blasphemy. “If one must believe in anything so childish as Gods, I’ll take the Roman pantheon. Licentious Venus, legs spread wide; Zeus raping pretty women!”
“Have a care what you say, compañeros!” don Jeronimo cautioned. “Do you not know the Inquisition hires familiars to listen behind every keyhole and hedge?”
“My good man, your Inquisition has no jurisdiction over foreigners,” Conte Niccolo leaned unsteadily against a trellis. “And it’s only got started, in this province. And as to hiring familiars—I am told that at the moment there is a shortage of funds.”
“All the more reason for you to be concerned.” Jeronimo said. “Iago de Pazia is Converso, and the dowry that comes with his daughter’s hand must be a sore temptation to an Inquisitor’s greed. Were his conversion to be proved false, they would fine him every maravedi.”
“Ah, man, you worry too much. Isn’t Elias de Pazia the new Inquisitor’s personal secretary?”
“That should worry you even more,” Jeronimo retorted. “I do hear there is no love lost between father and son. The assets of the elder might easily go to the younger—and he’s not bound to honor the marriage contract.”
Eva and Blanca exchanged a look. That Elias hated his father was not news, but the potential transfer of Casa de Pazia’s wealth was.
That possibility also sobered Conte Niccolo. “God’s bones! What if I saddle myself with this ugly Jewess only to have her dowry snatched from under me before I get my hands on it?”
Giulio clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Then there’s no time to waste. Never mind the planned festivities; the day after the ceremony, we’ll be off to the nearest port with your fat bride and her fatter dowry. And then you’ll have the leisure of the voyage to sample the charms of your Venus.” Eva winced at the sarcasm in Giulio’s description.
“Venus, ha!” Niccolo retorted. “More like Medusa—all I saw of the face was her nose; she kept her head ducked and that mantilla over it. And her conversation—God this, Jesu that. I’ll have to humor her until we get home. But once she’s safely in Venice, my palazzo has a widow’s tower.”
“Yes, keep her locked up tighter than our Crazy Queen Juana.” Jeronimo laughed. “That’s the best way to handle ugly wives.”
“And I’ll only have to visit her to get heirs on her body.” Conte made an obscene pantomime which made his friends roar with laughter.
Eva’s stomach, which had settled, rebelled again. The bitter taste of bile filled her mouth, and she clapped a hand over it to keep from retching.
“Ah, and the cat is to keep her company. When she asked if she could bring her pet, I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard you agree.” Giulio turned to don Jeronimo. “Niccolo here cannot abide cats. They give him a splitting headache.”
“Diplomacy, Giulio! I haven’t got the money yet, have I?” The voices began to recede as the trio walked away. “But I’m not putting up with a headache all the way home. The first storm at sea, and my bride’s sweet little kitty is going overboard when nobody is watching. I’ll be the most diligent searcher for the mangy fleabag, and when we can’t find it, I’ll grieve like I lost my own dear mother.”
The girls stared at each other in horror, waiting until the footsteps died away.
“Oh, Blanca, I’ll have to leave Tabita behind!” Eva burst into tears. “I’m going to be trapped into marriage with an unbeliever, just like Mama warned against.”
“Eva, you can’t marry him!” Blanca was shaking with rage. “You heard him—he’s going to keep you locked up! And after you bear him a son, he’ll probably murder you, just like he wants to do to Tabita!”
“I could get Father drunk and tell him I won’t marry. He’ll go into a rage, and maybe he’ll kill me.” It was wrong, she knew, plotting to add this sin to Iago de Pazia’s account, and he not even saved. “Oh, Blanca! I’m a wicked, wicked sinner, I don’t even care if my father goes to hell.”
Blanca stood transfixed; she had that look which meant her nimble brain was testing some audacious idea. “Eva, you have to consider the good of your father’s soul. Doesn’t the Bible say that the love of money is the root of all evil?”
“Yes.” Eva was confused. “What does that have to do with it?”
“You won’t have to marry Conte Horrible. Or leave Spain. Just listen, I have the most perfect plan to put an end to this wedding!”
The Cat: Wednesday August 24, 1513
“Out, you mangy cat!” The cook opened the kitchen door and Tabita slipped through it, too quickly to need the aid of the woman’s foot.
There was no point in staying at the sterile stone-pile. Tabita had searched it from one side to the other. Eva was not there.
Tabita guessed that her pride-mate must have left sometime between when she herself had been thrown out by this same cook two nights ago, and yesterday morning when Tabita had returned. But where would she have gone?
Casa de Pazia was the first place to check.
The hungry-people section of the city was quiet this morning. It was market-day, and the people were down at the flat area near the cathedral. Market-day was when everybody went there, and many goods exchanged hands. But that was out of her way. Tabita made a beeline up over the hill through the hungry-people quarter and over the back wall of her own hunting grounds.
Casa de Pazia was empty. There were no horses in the stables, no activity on the kitchen patio. Only a pair of guards at the gate—not men Tabita recognized. The monster Inquisition had struck her home-place.
She made her way to the patio that all the family rooms opened onto. It was silent, except for bits of detritus tossed about. The doors hung open. Eva’s had been wrenched off the hinges and thrown down.
Tabita entered the room. It was empty, of course; but she stalked carefully around it, smelling for hints of recent occupation.
Footsteps were approaching. Tabita whisked beneath the open lid of one of Eva’s clothes-chests. She relaxed when she heard the voice: it was only Paloma.
“You don’t need to dog my footsteps, Franco. The priests have had all yesterday to take everything of value.”
“Tia Paloma, it’s orders,” a young male voice replied.
“Taking orders from the Inquisition! My dear sister would rise from her grave if she knew her son gave up a good post in the Governor’s guard.”
“Mama would have understood.” Tabita could tell that Paloma had the young male on the defensive. “I am still waiting for six month’s back wages. The Governor only pays when the king pays, and King Ferdinand doesn’t pay.”
“Well, then, you can at least help me find Eva’s cat. Go check the room across the way, that was doña Barbola’s.”
Paloma entered the room, and Tabita came out to meet her. But she was brushed aside while the woman hurried to the place where the wall-boards hid Eva’s secret den. Removing only the first section, she reached in and brought out Eva’s stringed twang-box, a prized possession.
Paloma worked very quickly now, glancing towards the door as though she were afraid the young man might see. A string was looped around the long stick part of the twang-box. Then Paloma lifted her skirts to hang the twang-box beneath them.
The young man was coming back. Tabita sensed that a diversion was in order. With an earsplitting screech, she shot out the door, right between the man’s legs.
“Catch her!” Paloma called.
Tabita rather enjoyed the race around the family patio. She led the youth on two loops before Paloma came out, walking a little oddly from the twang-box bumping her legs under the skirt.
Paloma held out her arms. “Tabita, kitty!”
Tabita jumped into them. Franco came panting up and reached for her. She swiped him with a vicious paw.
“No, sobrino, I can hold her if you don’t get her any more upset. Just open the side gate, that’s a good boy, and we’ll be on our way.”


Chapter 3 of Eva’s Secret

3. Under the Table

10-year-old Eva, Granada’s Silk Market, 1506

Eva was not exactly forbidden to be there. But she and Blanca were definitely not supposed to be out alone and unaccompanied by doña Teresa Pacheco, the poor but genteel relation who served as Blanca’s duenna.

“Are you sure that doña Teresa will be gone for another hour?” Eva whispered as they hid behind the wall that surrounded the flat roof of her father’s warehouse in the old Silk Market.

“Don’t be so worried, you silly goose!” Blanca giggled. Their duenna thought they were waiting for her in the Cathedral nearby, saying prayers for the souls of Blanca’s dead brothers and sisters. “Even if she’s not, she won’t say anything. She’d be the one in trouble, leaving us like that.”

Blanca would not get in trouble, but Eva surely would, if her father found out. Still, he would not restrict Eva’s visits with her friend; Iago de Pazia was flattered that the daughter of a Count should be willing to spend time with a merchant’s daughter, even a very rich one.

“I must have been wrong about the day. Blanca, let’s go back.” Eva was hot. Her dark blue velvet was smothering, its rigid bodice pinched, and the stiff leather of her best shoes pressed on her extra toe.

“No, look! Here he comes!” The clop of hooves in the street below announced Elias, riding Fez, the new Arabian stallion that was part of the latest de Pazia shipment. The horse was groomed until his red-bay coat shone. He held his black tail high and arched his neck, tossing his head against the bit. Elias appeared to sit him with perfect ease.

“Oh, Eva, your brother is sooo handsome,” Blanca sighed. “Look, your father and his customer haven’t come out yet, couldn’t you just wave at him so he would look up at us?”

Eva knew the intent expression of concentration on Elias’ face meant Fez was barely under control. “No, it’s risky. There are too many eyes in the silk market today and we don’t want to attract attention.”

“Maybe I could talk my father into buying me a new palfrey. Then Elias could come and show me all your father’s stock, one at a time!”

“Oh, no,” Eva said quickly. “Father would never sell the Governor any of the horses Elias shows.”

“Why not?”

“Those are the ones that are too high-spirited. It’s just when my brother rides them, he makes them behave. But they’re dangerous.”

This information only served to increase Blanca’s admiration. “He’s as brave as El Cid!”

“Shh! There’s my father and the man who wants to see the horse.” The two girls ducked down below the parapet, listening to the bargaining below. The dickering went on and on, while Elias trotted the sale animal in a tight circle. Eva could see its eye showing white, and a scrim of sweat-foam starting along the lines of its elaborate chest-band.

The deal finished at last, but still they stood out in the street. Now the discussion was over delivery of the goods. The buyer purposed to take the horse at once, while Iago de Pazia argued that Elias should ride it to the purchaser’s estate later in the day.

“We need to get back,” Blanca whispered. “If we sneak down the stairs while they are still haggling, maybe we can make it to the Cathedral before doña Teresa returns.” The tall door of the Royal Chapel was visible just over the colorful awnings that hung in front of the shops and market stalls that ringed the square.

Their skirts bunched to keep from brushing the whitewashed wall, both girls tiptoed down the stairs to the alley. Turning away from the loud business transaction, Eva and Blanca slipped unnoticed around the corner of the building. The narrow alley behind the shop opened onto the cathedral square.

“Come on!” Blanca broke into a run. She burst out of the alley almost on top of an elegantly-dressed nobleman. Unable to stop in time, Eva crashed into Blanca, knocking her into the man’s arms.

“Maria Blanca Mendoza y Pacheco!” Eva recognized the stern voice: don Luis Mendoza, Blanca’s oldest brother! “I have been looking for you! Your duenna said you had left her in the Chapel.”

“Luis!” Blanca was dismayed at finding herself in the grasp of her least-favored brother. She took a moment to settle her skirts—and, Eva knew, to invent a plausible excuse. “We went to see the beautiful things Eva’s father just got in from Constantinople. The de Pazia shop is right across the square from the Cathedral, so—”

“No matter how close it is, you should have waited for doña Teresa.” Luis took her arm firmly. “You are coming home with me.”

“But Eva—”

“—can go home with her father,” Luis finished. “I will escort your young friend back to her family business. An early end to your visit is a small enough punishment for this prank. I can’t imagine what señor de Pazia will think of us, letting his daughter go about unchaperoned.”

Eva cast a despairing look at Blanca. Her father would be furious that she had done anything to displease the powerful Mendozas.

At that moment Elias came around the front of the building. “Oh, here is my brother! You don’t need to bother, don Luis, Elias can take me back to the shop, it’s only one door down, you won’t have to trouble yourself,” she babbled.

Elias took in the situation and, quick as ever, he bowed. “Don Luis! I just stepped away from the girls for a moment. Please forgive that I let your little sister out of my sight. It was entirely my fault.”

Luis was taken aback; twelve-year-old Elias was not really mature enough to pass as any kind of guardian. Before don Luis could respond, Elias gave a courtier’s bow, taking Blanca’s hand and kissing it like a hidalgo grandee. “Farewell, señorita Mendoza. As your brother is no doubt in a hurry, we will send your purchase to the Alhambra tomorrow.”

Eva watched in admiration as Elias handled the encounter like another grown-up, making knowledgeable compliments on don Luis’ mount as he lifted Blanca onto the saddle in front of her brother. By the time don Luis rode off, he was mollified.

As soon as the Mendoza siblings were out of earshot, Elias addressed her in an angry whisper. “Eva, what are you doing here?”

“We were on the roof. Blanca wanted to watch the horse sale.” Eva hung her head.

“We’d better not let Father find out about this.” Elias considered her velvet dress and inadequate shoes. “You can’t walk far in that. I’ll run home and get another horse, and you can ride pillion. You’ll have to hide in Father’s shop.”

They had reached the front of the shop next to their father’s and her brother pretended to be interested in one of the lengths of cloth hung out for sale. Eva needed no warning to keep the billowing layers of yardage between herself and their father, now finishing the paperwork of the horse’s pedigree. Fez was attracting all the attention in the market square, prancing and pawing in circles while the buyer’s servant held his reins.

Elias pointed to a covered table deep inside the open front of the de Pazia shop. “Hide under there, and make sure to arrange the tablecloth after you,” he whispered. “When I come back, I’ll give our whistle. After you hear it, wait until everybody is distracted, then unbar the back door and slip out as quietly as you can.”

The horse reared up and flailed with his forefeet. Eva took advantage of the distraction and quickly moved from behind the neighbor’s display of fabrics into the open front of her father’s shop. She dived under the richly covered table while everyone was busy with the stallion. One of the items displayed on the top fell off. There was a small divide between the two embroidered cloths that covered the table, and Eva reached a hand through it to pick up the expensive jeweled vase, carefully replacing it on the surface over her head.

There was a crash in the square. Eva put her eye to the crack between the table-covering and saw her father run outside. Stacks of merchandise partially blocked her view, but between the bales and displays she could see the street. Fez’ shrill whinny was followed by a ring of horseshoes on cobbles, the thud of hooves striking baled cloth, the splintering of wooden awning-poles. A flash of polished red-bay hide shot past Eva’s restricted view, soon blocked by frantic figures of shopkeepers and assistants trying to divert the frightened stallion.

Father was shouting for Elias. She had gotten him in trouble again: her brother was off getting a horse to take her home while the sale animal trampled the silk market. Iago would be furious.

The hue and cry moved further down the square and Eva, who had lifted the cloth to see better, quickly dropped it as her father and two of his shopkeepers returned. The fabric hung a little crookedly so that a narrow v-shaped opening gave a view into her hiding place beneath the table. Eva did not dare adjust it with her father looking into the shop, no doubt checking the contents to be sure nothing of value had been snatched during the brief time his attention was outside. Eva quaked when he came to the table and rearranged the vase, but although he looked straight at her he did not seem to see her. She thanked Saint Basil that the underside of the table was in shadow and she had worn the dark blue dress and mantilla instead of the cream-colored lace.

“The fool! I told him not to take the horse today, but he insisted. On his head be it!” Iago sat down at his elaborate desk in the rear of the shop. Eva heard his quill scraping on the accounting sheets he kept so carefully. “Where is that useless son of mine? Get back to work.”

The shop-boy returned to polishing the expensive merchandise, while the guard lounged outside. It was so quiet in the shop, any movement would be heard. Elias’ whistle would attract her father’s attention at once. If only a customer would come!

Cross-legged was not the proper posture for prayer, but Eva did not dare shift into a kneeling position. She folded her hands and prayed earnestly to Saint Basil to send a distraction, help her escape notice, help Elias hurry back, and get her out the back door without Iago de Pazia ever being the wiser.

Saint Basil answered: Eva heard the guard greet a customer at the shop entrance. From the respectful note in his voice, it was someone of consequence. Her father rose and exchanged courtesies with the newcomer, addressing him as Baltasar Cerra.

The man replied fulsomely, his accent identifying him as Moorish. Another man—or, judging from the timbre of his voice, a youth—seconded the greeting, his tone deferential. No doubt a servant of some kind.

Eva begged Saint Basil to let them stay and keep her father occupied until she made good her escape.

They accepted the offer of tea! Paco the shop boy hurried to the back to boil water. The guard spread a silk carpet on the tiled floor, and Eva discovered to her alarm that the area selected for her father’s hospitality was directly in front of her hiding place. Iago waved his guests onto the rug while the seats were brought.

The two newcomers paused a few feet from her table. Eva got a good view of the bottom of Cerra’s robe, a typical Granadan burnoose, while the younger voice’s bare legs confirmed her guess of his servile status. The lace pattern of her mantilla played tricks on her eyes, distorting the skin on the man’s muscled calves. Eva tipped her head just enough to see his feet below the edge of her veil and discovered that the dappled effect was not the fault of her mantilla. Rather, every exposed inch was pitted with indentations, each pit stark white against deep brown skin. It was the worst case of smallpox scarring she had ever seen, worse even than old Blas, their gardener.

The guard rolled a gilded leather ottoman onto the carpet, and the bare legs stepped out of the way, closer to Eva’s table and just inches from her nose. Eva hardly dared to breathe as she stared at his scars. The only place that was free from the white pits was a band of callus that ringed the leg nearest her. The cause of it rested loosely against the ankle: an iron slave-cuff which showed the weld-marks of many enlargements. Eva realized that the enlargements, together with the callusing, meant that the wearer had borne it since childhood.

So the man was a slave. Eva was fascinated. She herself did not know anybody who was a slave, although the institution was common enough in Granada. Her father held that slaves were lazy workers and untrustworthy, while Blanca’s father had freed all the slaves that came with the Alhambra. The only thing Eva knew about slaves was hearsay and stories.

One of her favorite stories about Saint Basil involved a slave who was trapped by the devil. Eva wondered if her patron saint had sent this slave, whose status was made so obvious by his ankle. Half-ashamed of her presumption in asking for so much, she silently prayed for a sign.

No sooner had she finished than the slave shifted his feet so that the inside of his opposing leg was visible. To her astonishment, several scars on the slave’s ankle ran together to form a familiar shape—the backwards ‘E’ which was once her childish signature!

Her little gasp was covered by the thump of a second ottoman dropping onto the carpet. Her father waved an ink-stained hand. “Please, be seated.”

To Eva’s intense relief, Iago de Pazia took the closest ottoman, facing away from her hiding place. Cerra, a short, fat Moor, settled onto the ottoman opposite, where he was mostly blocked by her father’s back. In the middle of the carpet, Paco unfolded a wooden tray-stand. As he moved out of the way, Eva saw that the slave had seated himself cross-legged on the carpet next to his master–and eye-level to her where she sat under the table. Fortunately, his attention was directed to the conversation between her father and Baltasar Cerra, who were engaged in the boring banalities that always preceded a discussion of business in Granada.

Eva was surprised at how much older the slave looked than his voice sounded. Was it those lines that scored the high forehead? But they were a trick of the scar-pattern, not wrinkles. Although there was nothing youthful about the strong furrows that bracketed his long, prominent nose. They disappeared into sparse facial hair, framing full lips, stippled by yet more scars. That mouth was the one feature that seemed young—young and somehow vulnerable. It was a face made prematurely old by suffering, Eva decided.

Paco reappeared with the round brass tea-tray laden with the silver tea-service. He settled the huge tray onto its wooden stand with hardly a rattle of the objects thereon. From a paper cone he sifted freshly chopped mint leaves into the high-domed Moroccan pot, and the air filled with astringent steam.

The slave’s image wavered in the steam. Eva had a moment of unexplained recognition—he was familiar, and yet strange—like the time that she had not quite recognized Ramon, the head groom, because he had cut off his long beard.

That was it—the beard was too short! Beneath the disfiguring marks, the slave’s elongated features bore a striking resemblance to the painting of Saint Basil in her book of hours.

Paco reappeared with an ewer of water, a linen towel and the brass basin. Cerra and Father held their hands out while rose-scented water was poured over them.

Her father dried his hands. “And now, what is the business you wished to see me about?”

“A matter of three French horses—destrier material.” Cerra finished with the towel and draped it over Paco’s arm. “They were offered to me in a group purchase with some new pack-mules I acquired for my caravans, but as you know, I do not sell livestock.”

Paco took the used towel and basin away, but as he turned, Eva saw him covertly make the sign against the evil eye in the pockmarked slave’s direction. He saw it and his lips twisted in a small wry moue. Eva’s ready sympathy was aroused, and she was indignant at Paco’s rudeness. She wondered how long the slave had borne the scars, and how often, in those years, he had endured stares, ridicule or avoidance just because of something he could not help.

“Casa de Pazia does not handle livestock, either,” Iago was saying. “We only broker horses if they are the finest examples of equine breeding. And just because these animals are French does not make them destrier material. Have you seen them yourself?”

“No. I act on the word of my man, here.” Cerra turned to the pockmarked slave. “I have brought him so that you may question him personally as regards the quality of the horses.”

“I thank you for the offer, but I cannot make a business decision on nothing but the word of a Saracen slave.” Though she could only see the back of his neck, Eva could well imagine the disapproval on Iago de Pazia’s face, because that look was so often directed at herself.

Eva saw the slave’s features go still at her father’s blunt words, in the same way Elias did when he did not want others to see that something had stung.

“As to the first, he is no more a Saracen than you are a Jew.” Cerra’s tone was one grown-ups used when they did not quite mean what they said. “We are all baptized Catholics now. And as to the second, I can assure you that I do not keep fools by me. Baseel is one of my protégés.”

His name was Basil! Eva’s hands flew to her mouth in surprise, attracting the slave’s attention. He looked straight at her where she sat in the shadows. Her heart almost stopped. Would he give her away?

”Well, at least he had the wit to choose a different baptismal name,” Iago was saying. “Half the native population of Granada is now named either Maria or Jose. Without regard for gender.”

Eva moved her hands down and clasped them together, a silent plea not to be revealed. Cerra laughed. “Yes, my stable-manager’s Christian name is Maria. Although we call him Maria-Hussein to differentiate him from Maria-Omar, who leads one of my mule caravans. But that is the fault of the priest who baptized them, for these older Moriscos speak only Arabic, and accepted whatever name the priest suggested. But Baseel is of a different cut.”

The slave gave a little smile—Eva could not be sure if it was for her, or for her father, whom he addressed. “My master gives me too much credit. I am merely fortunate that the Berber name bestowed on me at birth happens to sound the same as a Christian one. Though I believe that the Saint of that name is more popular in the Greek church.”

“There, you see?” Cerra said. “I judge people, like you judge horses. Baseel came with an estate in the Alpujarra mountains, a part of the grant the Catholic Kings gave Boabdil when he surrendered Granada.” Cerra sipped his tea. “I overheard someone speaking court Persian, and on coming very quietly to investigate, found Baseel here quoting Rumi to his goats.”

“People did not find the sight of me welcome.” Eva felt relief wash over her. The slave was on her side. “And in any case, goats appreciate poetry more.”

 “How does a goat-boy come to read Persian?” Her father’s question showed that he was intrigued.

“Ah, there is where my investigation paid off.” Cerra became visible as her father poured himself more tea. “It seems that Baseel was born in the Alhambra, in the service of Muley Hassan, the old sultan. But that is something I have never asked. Baseel, how did you learn court Persian?”

“Until I grew too old for such company, I was a kind of mascot to the sultan’s harem,” Baseel replied. “One of the women was from Baghdad. She taught me just so that she could speak to someone in her own language. Or so she said.”

“Many a street beggar has picked up a polyglot of tongues.” Iago shrugged. “To be useful to business, a man must not merely speak a language, but read bills of lading and write orders for merchandise.”

“Indeed, that was what made me realize that I had here a lad of rare initiative. For he was reading Rumi from a book made of re-used scrap paper, copied by himself. Baseel, tell señor de Pazia of your languages.”

“I am fluent in Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, and Persian. Also, I speak a dialect of Berber, although there is no written form; and I can read and write Latin, but I do not speak it.”

“Hmmph.” Eva could tell that, despite her father’s dismissive noise, he was impressed. “But you are unwise to put so much trust in a slave, whatever his learning. A free man works well because it is in his own interest to do so, but a slave’s efforts are forced. Whatever he can get away with, a slave will do, and one with initiative is the more dangerous for that. Given the chance to gain his freedom, he will desert you.”

“An interesting theory. Let us test it.” Cerra turned to the his slave. “Baseel, if you wish to leave my service, I will write you a certificate of manumission here and now.”

Baseel thought a few seconds before he answered. “No matter how free a man may be, he is still a slave to his belly. If you had not given me this chance to use my talents, a face such as mine would have little prospect of employment.”

“There, you see?” The merchant’s voice had the quality of one who was smiling. “But I will give him his freedom anyway, in due time. Baseel is a hawk, to be trained to the lure, and when their feathers are fully fledged, the hunter unleashes them on the chosen prey with confidence that they will return to the glove.”

At that moment, Eva heard Elias whistle in the alley behind the shop. He must have ridden hard to have returned so quickly!

Eva re-positioned herself onto her hands and knees. She started to back out, but her foot bumped a rear table leg. The objects overhead jiggled. Eva froze, waiting for her father to whirl around. But at that moment, Basil made to rise, and his knee bumped the edge of the tea-tray. It went over with a clash of silver pot, cups, and sugar-coffer.

He jumped up. “My apologies, señor! Forgive my clumsiness!”

Iago de Pazia had also risen, spluttering as he held his robe, now soaked with the still-hot contents of the teapot, away from his body. The gangling young slave bent over to retrieve cups from the floor. Eva turned and rapidly crept out towards the back, but not before she saw Basil’s eye close and open again in what was unmistakably a wink.

She unbarred the back door and slipped out, thanking her patron saint.

Casa de Pazia: August 23, 1513

“Señorita? Here is the paper and a quill. If you will write to your relatives now, I will make sure that they receive it.”

Casa Cerra had nothing but good associations for Eva. She took the pen and sat down to write Elias, in care of Nurse Veronica. She addressed him only as ‘brother’—Elias had warned her to name no names.

Hermano mio, Casa Cerra kindly offered to shelter me until you could come get me.

Your loving hermanita. Written early Tuesday morning, August 8.

And then, because Nurse could not read, Eva drew the little cat that was her special signature.

She gave it to the waiting Andres. “Take this to the farm of Tomás in Maracena. He will get it to my people.”

“It is as good as done.” Andres blew the ink dry and carefully folded the paper. “And now, let me escort you to our women’s dormitorio.”


Chapter 2 of Eva’s Secret

This isn’t the cover on the current kindle edition.

2. Undelivered Letters

Casa de Pazia, early Tuesday morning, August 23, 1513

Eva stood in the room, her emotions a confusing turmoil of relief alternating with shock. Relief at the last-minute rescue from Iago de Pazia’s fury. Shock at the soldier’s rough brutality as they dragged him away, nothing like the behavior she expected of the church. The whole affair, coming as it did in the middle of the night, lacked only a Judas.

Eva felt an overwhelming need to pray. She opened her bundle and took out the portable prie-dieu that had been her mother’s. The cross-shaped upright was curiously adorned with segments of stamped tin, bulging out from the wood like cylinders sunk half their width into the battered pine. Eva fitted this into a socket in the worn kneeler that served as both base and stand.

She knelt, hands clasped and head bowed. She said the Pater, and the Ave. But over and around the rote sentences, her mind kept seeing Paloma’s face when she heard it was the Inquisition at the gate.

That had terrified her more than even Iago de Pazia in a rage. Why?

Pounding noises echoed from the direction of Father’s counting room, as though somebody was hitting the walls with a sledgehammer.

Eva tried to shake off her doubts. She must trust the church. The Inquisition had been set up to guard souls from heresy. Perhaps when it was new to an area, as it was to Granada, a few mistakes were made. But they would be set right when everything came to light. Elias said that Cardinal Cisneros was a righteous man.

Where was Paloma with the keys? How long did it take to open the pantry?

Had the priests caught her?

Ridiculous thought! Why would anybody but her father care if the servants stocked their home pantries with the food once meant for her marriage feast? And if it was true that their quarterly wages would not be paid after the Inquisition seized the assets—not that she believed Paloma’s dire prediction was correct, for of course the church would be fair—how could anyone object to the debt being paid in kind?

Eva’s eye fell on the household account book where it rested in its niche. She might as well remove the three most recent pages, the ones containing all the records of the extra supplies bought especially for next week’s wedding banquet.

She tore them out. Her mother’s old prie-dieu had a space in the kneeler to store a devotional book where Eva kept some sheet music, a sermon of the late Bishop Talavera’s, and a letter from her mother. On impulse, she removed the letter, wrapped it in the account pages, and put the packet down her bodice, just in case she had to flee without the ugly old cross.

She pressed her hand over the place where her mother’s last letter rested. She had read and re-read the short missive so often, the contents were written on her heart.

 Dearest Friend,

I trust you will receive this, although as you know, it is safer if I name no names. I have given up hope that I can change my husband. There is no help for one who loves only money and does not fear God. And yet I cannot leave without some thought to the fate of the children I leave behind.

My son is well-instructed, but my daughter is as yet ignorant in our faith. So I bequeath her to your care, knowing you will be diligent in her religious instruction. To that end, I am leaving her my prie-dieu. Tell her she must keep it close, and never part from it; it is an heirloom passed from mother to daughter for centuries. When you judge she is ready, reveal to her the true meaning of the cross.

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.

Farewell, faithful friend. I will remember your kindness to me and mine, and will ever bring your name before heaven’s throne.

Maria de Pazia had not signed her name, but when Eva had stumbled across the unsent letter, she had recognized her mother’s distinctive backwards-slanting hand at once.

The letter steadied her. Mama would approve of what Eva did to get out of that marriage. The man her father had chosen for her was not merely an unbeliever; Conte Niccolo was a blasphemous idolater who worshiped at the same altar as Iago de Pazia: greed.

Paloma slipped in the door and closed it behind her. “It’s good we acted at once. The staff got out with the supplies just before they started to inventory the wine-cellar. The big priest say we are dismissed. The casa is to be cleared.”

“But surely you can come back on quarter-day to collect your wages?”

“The majordomo asked. I hear him. They say back, ‘You collect when we are done.’ But they know and we also that there will be not one maravedi left.”

“That is wrong!” Eva went to the large chest that held her clothing and flung it open. “See, I left my fancy gowns, and they have pearls and gemstones sewn on. You can distribute them in lieu of wages.”

“No, we must leave it as it stands, cariña. The pantry supplies are enough. Food we eat, but jewels and rich fabrics we must sell, and might be taken for thieves.” Old Paloma closed the coffer firmly. “Now quick, think of what else before they reach this room.”

“They will come into my bedroom?” The very idea of intrusion made Eva begin to shake.

“There are valuables.” Paloma pointed to Eva’s bundle where her guitarra’s leather case showed through the cloth. “We better hide that.”

Eva snatched up the beloved guitarra and clutched it to herself. “They can’t take what is mine!”

“The Inquisition put up a paper on the gate, and I know already it will say: ‘whatever was Iago de Pazia’s is now ours.’ And a big red seal of the Inquisition.”

“But—I’m not even supposed to be Eva de Pazia, I’m—” What was her new name? “—Maria Perez.”

“That don’t matter.” Paloma lowered her voice. “I seen how they do, the priests and their familiars. First, they confiscate all the goods. Oh, they say if the person can prove they’s not a heretic they’ll give back, but they always find reason to keep most. So if you want to see your mother’s guitarra again, we have to hide it, pronto.”

Eva’s eyes fell on the carved wood that covered the lower half of the walls. “There, beside the bed. One of the panels is loose. Behind it is a hollow in the thickness of the wall.” Eva’s fingers found the shallow indentations in the carved relief and lifted the section. The rail that held it to the wall at waist-height had shrunk with the years, just sufficiently to allow this particular board to move enough to clear the tiled floor-base.

Paloma drew in her breath. “So large a cavidad—and in the base of the outer wall, too! Cariña, you should have told your father, this should be filled in before the bricks above crack.”

Tell her father? It was fear of her father that drove Eva to carve out this hidey-hole years ago, laboriously scraping the adobe bricks night after night, carrying the crumbles out in her chamber-pot every morning. “It doesn’t matter now. Hand me the guitarra case.”

Old Paloma pushed the guitarra to the furthest corner. After the board was fitted back into place, Paloma turned to Eva’s clothing. “You should change into a work dress. This is a rich woman’s gown—what servant would have nine yards to her skirt?” Paloma pinched the fabric. “Nine yards of heavy silk at that.”

“Blanca said this gray was perfect for my stay at the Carthusian charterhouse.” Besides, Eva couldn’t leave it—Blanca needed to return the gown to her older sister’s clothes-press before Maria de Mendoza noticed it was missing.

“But it’s safer if you pass for a servant. And even a lout who don’t know clothes can see you need a maid to get into that. It laces behind.”

“Well, I will say I am Eva de Pazia’s companion. See, this isn’t new—in fact, it’s quite worn.” Eva confided the most important reason for keeping the upper-class garb. “A servant wouldn’t wear a mantilla. I have to cover my face if any of our people see me.” And they’ll find out I didn’t really elope.

“Well, it do seem threadbare about the edges,” Paloma conceded. “It might pass as a castoff given to a duenna.”

“But what about Tabita?”

“In the morning, I’ll come back and get those things on the quiet, like, ‘cause they tap the walls to see if there’s treasure hid somewhere. The señor’s study is what has them busy at the moment.” Paloma flinched at a crashing sound, as though something had given at last. “Those of us who came from Old Castile try to forget it.” Paloma shook her head dolefully. “And as for Granada—well, they’ve never seen an auto-da-fé. But they will soon. There’s been an announcement that one will be held Wednesday after next.”

Eva puzzled over the phrase: auto-da-fé meant act of faith. Why would that be a bad thing?

Paloma opened the door a crack, peeped out, and then shut it firmly. “I remember Fray Torquemada, preaching in the square before Toledo cathedral. His eyes burned. Fair possessed, I thought he was. Didn’t like it, and neither did my man. But there’s those that did. There’s been a lot of jealousy against your people, see, because Jews seems to always get rich. And when they convert, they get richer.”

Her people. Eva digested this. Were the Jews ‘her people’?

“So. My father rented his bit of land from a Converso family—they kept kind of separate, like, even though they converted generations ago. But they was fair landlords, better than the Avilas, who had the land on the other side. And then the neighbors spread about that our landlord was Judaizing—I don’t altogether know what that is, but it has to do with them being secret Jews or something. And the Inquisition soldiers arrested him and his son, and took them away, and the next thing they know, they’re off to serve in the galleys and the Avilas are our new landlords. And the family’s women in the street and no one to help them. A bad affair.”

Eva jumped at the slam of a door two rooms down—Elias’ room, on the rare nights he was home. Paloma dropped her voice to a whisper. “After that, nobody trusted the family that did the talking. But we daren’t say anything, because we didn’t want the same to happen to us.

“Almost ten years later, it was, that Granada finally fell. And the treaty said there would be no Inquisition anywhere in the new province, on account of so many Moors. My Jose, he thought that the church would be too busy converting the Moors, seeing as the new province was full of them. And he knew Bishop Talavera didn’t like the goings-on that Fray Torquemada begun. So we emigrated here.”

“And now the Inquisition is here in Granada.” Eva wanted to cry. She had not known it would be like this.

“It was too good to last. Gracias a Dios, Jose is in his grave these five years, may he rest in peace.” Paloma crossed herself.

The Cat

Tabita backtracked her night’s journey, disappointed. Eva could not return to Casa de Pazia. But if she remained at the infertile place, then she might miss the whole purpose of life: to bear young. Tabita understood that the humans matured much more slowly than cats, but her mistress and pride-mate had been sexually mature for at least three years now, and in all that time, she had done nothing to produce a human kitten.

At first, Tabita thought Eva was merely picky. Human mating went on everywhere, even on the grounds of Casa de Pazia. Eva could have coupled with any of several prospects; so long as they were healthy and virile and could complete the act of mating, what else did you need from a tom-cat?

But longer acquaintance with human habits explained Eva’s reluctance. With their slow-growing young so vulnerable, and for so long, a human female had to choose a mate who would be around to hunt for her while she raised their kittens, starting the next and then the next before ever the first was mature. And Eva would not want a mate who had to divide his prey among several females and their offspring; Tabita saw too many starving children on the streets.

She smelled mouse. There it was! The rodent slipped under an entry gate. Tabita pressed herself flat to the bricks and was able to follow. She slid quietly along, looking for where the prey might have gone.

She had entered the courtyard of a residence. There were herb beds all around and among the brick paving, and the mouse-scent was very strong in one corner. Aha! It had holed up in a miniature brass teapot tumbled among the mint. Sooner or later, it would have to come out.

Tabita settled down to wait. She observed the place she was in. There were more tiny cups scattered about, and a doll. These were objects indicating the presence of human kittens. In fact, the smell of infants and toddlers was in evidence throughout the plants—the human kittens were indiscreet about urination. Several different children used this patio, both male and female from the scent. This was the lair of a very fertile pride.

The mouse decided it was safe and came out. It never knew what happened. Tabita took her meal to a quiet corner.

She alerted at the sound of a shuffling step. An old man came out of one of the doors that faced the patio. He settled stiffly on a bench, brought out a string of beads, and began to speak, very soft: “Allahu akbar—”

Tabita relaxed. She knew this noise-making. Some of the humans would make them regularly, at sunrise and sunset, and several times in between. Usually they got up and down, but it was plain that this man was too old to do that.

A woman, equally old, came out of the door and settled next to the man, one hand rubbing his back. “Tahir, is it your kidneys again?”

 “Ah, Safa, I did not mean to wake you.”

“Prayer is better than sleep,” the woman said.

Tabita considered the elderly pair. They were beyond the age of fertility, so these infants that populated their lair must be the second or even the third generation.

The woman spoke the words in unison with her mate as she rubbed his back. Their aura began to change, peace surrounding them. This was the human equivalent of purring. Tabita purred with them. Purring brought healing.

Eva purred a lot, too. Hers took a different form, but she would get the same aura, and it did her good.

You could always tell when people really purred because their aura changed. And you had to wait for that to figure out if they were truly purring, or just going through the motions.

It was another wrongness about humans that some could go through the motions and make the purring noises of their kind without really purring inside. Those humans were generally not safe to be around—unless they were a member of your own pride, like Elias.

Tabita cleaned her whiskers and went her way, back to the stone pile on the hill. She had to go all the way around the building before she found an open door: the big gathering place where the males and females met to purr together. And they were filing in now, each from their separate lairs, chanting together, as they always did several hours before sunrise.

The sound was pleasant to Tabita’s ears. She crept along behind the row of men—some really purring, and some not—and across to the rows of women, most of them sincere. It was very peaceful. Their combined auras filled the place. And yet there were no kittens. All that purring had not managed to heal their barrenness.

Eva was not among the women, so she must still be in her stone cell, sleeping. Tabita slipped through a little door into the women’s side.

Elias lived in a barren place just like this—only there were not any women where he lived. And they all purred in this fashion.

In the Albaicin, they purred like the old couple, with the sounds Allahu akbar and the bowing motions. The Albaicin was crammed with children. The humans there were not all well fed, it was true, but they were bursting with fertility.

Tabita decided that she must somehow lure Eva away from here. And they must find her a male who purred as the successful old pair purred.

Casa de Pazia, early Tuesday morning, August 23, 1513

Footsteps stopped outside the bedroom door. A man’s voice: “This would be the room of the daughter of the house. The one who eloped.” The door opened, and the speaker entered. In the light of the pine torch he carried his steel breastplate gleamed. Behind him came a short priest, carrying one of her father’s ledgers and a pen.

Frantically, Eva pulled her mantilla down to her chin.

The man frowned. “Who are you?”

“E—Eva,” she stammered without thinking. And then she remembered she was supposed to be somebody else.

“Don’t lie to me. Eva de Pazia eloped with Conte Niccolo di Argenta last Friday.”

“I—I—“ Eva could not remember her new name. But Paloma pushed between them.

“Do you think our mistress sleeps alone, with no lady to guard her virtue?” Paloma demanded. “This is Eva Maria Perez.”

“I am Andres.” The armored man thrust his torch into a cast-iron bracket on the wall. “You sound young. I was told Eva de Pazia’s duenna was an elderly widow. And Moorish, besides—related to the noble de Venegas.”

“Doña Barbola didn’t want to go to Venice.” That was the truth, at least. Eva gathered her wits together and ventured a small invention. “They promised to arrange a marriage for me in Italy. But Eva ran away and here I am, still unwed.”

The man spoke more deferentially. “Then you are a maiden? Of good family?”

“I’m a cousin on her mother’s side. We were both named after my grandmother, Chava Abramavel.” That much was true.

“A Jewish name,” the short priest commented. He opened his ledger, set it on the wash-stand and brought out an ink-pot and pen.

“My parents converted before I was born,” Eva hurried to explain. “Mother was very devout.”

“I don’t doubt it. Did she pray every Friday at sunset?”

“Oh, yes,” Eva remembered the solemn ritual. “And she lit candles on our altar.”

Andres nodded, smiling. “She probably said the Latin words, like this: Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam.”

Eva relaxed at the change in the man’s tone. “Yes, that was how it started. But I don’t have any Latin, so I don’t know what it means.”

“Oh, I know what it means.” The man bowed. “Señorita, I do apologize for bursting in on you like this. I am not with the Inquisition per se, but only on loan, as it were, until they have sufficient staff of their own.”

The short priest, who had been scribbling rapidly during the conversation, took that moment to draw Andres to the open ledger. “Señor, will you check the inventory and sign that the contents of the room are accounted for?”

Andres read aloud. “Silver pitcher and bowl, yes, ivory-inlaid rosewood wash-stand—I’d say worth twenty reales, as a set. Two tapestries—don’t put from Brussels, that’s a guess. The carpets are Persian, though, best quality. Velvet bed-hangings, yes, feather bed, linens with cutwork, yes, silver-backed grooming set, hmm, jewel-box—empty, is it? No doubt in the Conte’s hands, the Inquisitor is furious about losing the dowry.”

He turned back to Eva. “Are those four chests full of Eva de Pazia’s gowns?”

Eva nodded. “She left most of them behind.”

Now the priest produced a stick of sealing wax. “I’ll put a stamp on the latch to prevent tampering. We can’t do a proper inventory in the dark. The gowns will be worth plenty.”

“Good.” Andres added his stamp to the ledger and shut it. Eva hoped now they would leave. Tabita would never come near with all these strangers about.

The priest took the book away, but Andres remained. “Señorita, is your family nearby?”

Eva remembered the farm that was their mother’s dowry in a town north of Granada. Just last week Elias mentioned that he had transferred the deed to the current managers, Nurse Veronica and her husband Tomás. “My family has lands in Maracena. I will go there.”

“Ah, but that is several miles outside the city.” Andres frowned in genuine concern. “I can’t leave you here tonight, not with all these newly hired men-at-arms ransacking the Casa. It isn’t safe.”

Paloma spoke up then. “I have a daughter in the city. Eva can go with me.”

Andres snapped his fingers, as though an idea had just occurred to him. “I have something better! The merchant house I work for is hardly a half-mile from Casa de Pazia—though not nearly so prestigious a street, it’s a large compound. My master keeps a dormitorio for the women servants, and a room in it has just become available. The women’s dormitorio is well-guarded at my master’s orders. He’s very strict about morals.”

Eva was dismayed. “But how will Tabita find me?”

“You need not worry your family at all.” Andres pointed to the writing stand. “You read and write, yes? Simply pen a letter telling where you are, and I will deliver it to Maracena myself. It may take me a day or two, but I know my master would be happy to offer you his hospitality until your father or brother could come and fetch you. Although our fare is plain and the room small, nothing so fancy as what you are used to.”

“And who is this master of yours?” Paloma demanded. “If he is so careful of his female servant’s virtue, he will be known in the city.”

“Indeed he is, and well-known to the master of this house,” Andres replied. “I serve Baltasar Cerra, of Casa Cerra, and until recently I was the majordomo of his Granada operation.”

Casa Cerra. The name brought conflicting emotions. On the one hand, the owner figured as the evil wizard in a made-up story Blanca once invented as a childish amusement. But pretending aside, Baltasar Cerra was a successful merchant, an associate of her father’s, and, most in his favor, the master of a certain young man who had once helped Eva out of a terrible fix.

 


chapter 1 of Eva’s Secret

This isn’t the cover on the current kindle edition.

1. Abandoned
Granada, Spain: late Monday August 22, 1513
The urgency that carried Eva across Granada drained away, and she began to shake with a chill, although the night was warm. Coming back here was a terrible risk. But she could not face the future without Tabita. Loyal Tabita, who did her best to mother, protect, and provide for her people.
Eva indulged in uncharitable thoughts toward the bad-tempered cook who had thrown Tabita out of the charterhouse kitchen. And not just out of the kitchen, but into the street, where she had no way to get back to her mistress. Of course, the cook could not have known that Tabita was there with Eva. It was only for a few days, until they could travel north to the convent of the Poor Clares in Tordesillas.
Eva had been assured that the Poor Clares would allow cats. Apparently the Carthusian nuns were less tolerant. Poor little Tabita, put out into the night in a strange place! Where else could she go but back to Casa de Pazia?
Across the broad street from her stood the elaborate ironwork gates of the home Eva left only five days ago, thinking that she would never have to pass through them again. By returning tonight, Eva was putting the whole escape plan at risk.
That was not Tabita’s fault. How could a cat understand the complicated business of Eva’s pretended elopement? Her high-born friend Blanca Mendoza, who contrived the scheme to rid Eva of her murderous Italian bridegroom, had stressed how important it was that everyone be convinced Eva de Pazia was gone forever.
Blanca’s brilliant plan had gone off without a hitch. Conte Niccolo had jumped at the offer to elope instead of going through with the public wedding—so long as Eva brought the dowry with her.
Eva’s disappearance was no doubt already being used as a cautionary tale. She imagined parents shaking their heads and telling their marriageable daughters about the foolish de Pazia girl who was lured from under her father’s protection by a smooth-talking man. They would invent tragic endings for her story: abandoned to starve somewhere along the road, or tossed overboard and drowned on her way to Venice.
It was certain that Conte Niccolo and his retainers would never dare show their faces in Spain again. So if nobody else saw her, then nobody would find out that Eva, under an assumed name, had really gone into retreat with Granada’s Carthusian nuns until the travel arrangements were ready for her to go be a lay sister with the Poor Clares, far to the north in Castile. A new start–except that she was bringing to it the same old secret.
Nobody knew, of course. No convent would take her—nobody would have anything to do with her if they knew the awful truth. Even impulsive, generous Blanca, who cared nothing that such a great gulf of class lay between them—even Blanca might withdraw in revulsion.
Only Tabita could be trusted to love Eva unconditionally. And so Eva had risked a visit to Casa de Pazia tonight, because a cat would always return to her hunting grounds.
Eva set down her lumpy bundle and adjusted the mantilla pinned to her head-rail, checking again to make sure she had left enough in front to cover her whole face if needed. She peered around, looking for a small feline shadow. The night was still, except for the chirp of crickets, the croak of frogs from the river Darro whose brushy thickets ran beside the street that faced the palatial Casa de Pazia.
It was at least three miles from the Carthusian charterhouse to Casa de Pazia. What if that was too far? Tabita was no longer young. Maybe she was even old, as cats went.
How old? Eva used her fingers to count the years backward. She remembered the day she had been given Tabita—a day she would never forget.
Casa de Pazia, 8-year-old Eva
It was right after Christ-Mass, December of 1504—the day Queen Isabella’s body arrived in Granada. Eva was eight, then, and her brother Elias had just turned ten. She remembered Nurse Veronica holding her up so that she could see King Ferdinand ride past these very gates at the head of the funeral procession that bore his late wife’s casket to its resting place in the Alhambra Chapel.
Afterwards, Eva had to wait in the salon until it was time for the memorial service. “Now don’t make a mess of your best clothes,” Nurse admonished. “And leave your shoes on, by all the saints!”
“Couldn’t I change to another pair?” The stiff brocade was rubbing painfully against Eva’s little toe. “These new ones hurt.”
“Just bear with it a little longer, cariña. Your father would notice if your shoes didn’t match your gown, and we don’t want that, do we?”
That was as close as anyone came to mentioning her terrible defect. Eva sat down. Beneath the cover of her stiff skirts, she pried the irritant off, right foot against left, keeping her hands innocently in view. She was well-practiced in this secret disobedience.
Nurse Veronica brought the sewing basket. “Here, why don’t you finish the piece your mother set. She’ll be back from her stay with the Condesa today, and you want her to be proud of you.”
Eva picked up the embroidery with a sigh. Mama would never be proud of her. Even without the deformed foot, she looked too much like her father, with his frizzy reddish hair and freckles that sprang up on her olive complexion at the least touch of the sun. And worse, she had inherited his most prominent feature. Eva’s mother used to sigh and shake her head when her daughter was brought to her. “What can we do about that nose? It is a good thing your father is rich enough to buy you a husband!”
A tear of self-pity ran down the offending part and splashed onto her embroidery. Eva was not pretty, and try as she might, she could not be clever. Not like her brother Elias.
Mother doted on her firstborn. Which was only to be expected. Elias was a strikingly handsome boy, dark-haired and dark-eyed like his mother. But Eva adored him because he was her protector against Father, and she was his special little sister.
As Nurse left, Elias came in the salon from the direction of the stables, his good clothing still bearing the faint scent of horse.
“There you are, Evita! I have a late Christ-Mass gift for you.” Elias withdrew something small and fragile from the breast of his best green doublet and deposited into Eva’s hands a minute ball of fluff.
“Oh Elias!” Eva cupped her fingers around a tiny orange-and-black kitten. “Won’t he run away?” All Eva’s attempts to catch one of the wild barn-cats’ kittens had been failures.
“It’s a she.” He smiled at her pleasure. “This one is too young to run anywhere–see, her eyes are barely open. Just keep her close, and she’ll bond with us. So you will always be the top lioness in her pride.”
“She should be proud! She’s so pretty!” Eva stroked the walnut-sized head as she cradled the kitten against her.
“Not proud, hermanita.” Elias used his favorite endearment for her, ‘little sister’. “Pride. It’s what you call a family of lions.”
Eva tried to feel big and brave, like a lioness. “Where did you get her?”
“You remember Manolo?” Eva nodded; she had once met the head trainer for the Alhambra. “Well, after we had seen the Queen’s casket into the chapel I stopped to see the new colts, and we found this litter at the back of one of the stalls. Notice anything special about her?”
The kitten mewed and started to climb up Eva’s bodice, tangling its minuscule claws in the gold brocade threads. Eva carefully detached the little paws. “She has six toes!”
“On every paw. Though Manolo says that’s not so uncommon in cats.” Elias flashed one of his rare smiles as he skirted the forbidden subject.
The kitten wriggled into the square neckline of Eva’s too-large new gown, snuggled down and went to sleep. Eva felt the tiny heart beating against her own and a surge of protective love filled her. “I shall call her Tabita, and she will be my special friend.”
“She’ll be a lot of work,” Elias warned. “I just fed her, but you’ll have to do it again every three hours. She’s too young to be weaned.”
“Then shouldn’t we take her back to her mother?”
Elias took the household ledger from its niche and sat down to add figures before answering. “We can’t. The litter was abandoned.”
“Poor thing!” Eva kissed its little striped nose. “Why would a mother just leave her babies?”
“Some mothers care more about themselves than they do about their offspring.” Elias’ reply was so curt that Eva wanted to ask why, but he bent his head over the account book on the table, mouth pressed in a firm line which said the subject was closed. Eva picked up her embroidery and worked in silence.
Through the carved wooden screen of the window that opened to the kitchen patio, the delicious aroma of fresh bread meant that cook was taking the day’s crusty loaves from the large beehive oven. Eva finished the border of the altar-cloth she had been working on and sat fidgeting, wishing she could run out and show Old Paloma her new kitten. Beneath her skirts, she surreptitiously rubbed her extra little toe against the normal foot.
Eva would far rather be out there helping, instead of stuck in here in these tight, uncomfortable clothes, waiting to play her role of dutiful daughter in the dreary pageant that her father insisted on maintaining: a perfect, pious, and successful merchant family. She heaved a resigned sigh.
Elias heard. “You should practice your calligraphy.”
Eva pouted. “So long as I can write enough to run a household, why should I worry about my penmanship?”
“Because an elegant hand reflects your upbringing. Queen Isabella made it the fashion for noble ladies to be learned.”
“We’re not noble!” Eva protested. “We’re not even remotely hidalgo.”
“Well, you’re going to marry a noble. A connection by marriage to a hidalgo family is Father’s next step on the social ladder. That’s why he keeps building up your dowry.”
A number of recent comments that had gone over her head suddenly made sense. “I’m only eight!”
“Doesn’t matter—even a betrothal confers status. But don’t worry, the wedding waits until you are old enough.”
Eva contemplated her impending social elevation in dismay. “I can’t be like Blanca, riding and hawking and dancing and talking about olden-time books. You’re the one who is good at all that. You can have my share of the money, and then you can marry Blanca.”
“Brides bring dowries to their husband’s family, not the other way around. Like the lands Mother added to Casa de Pazia.” Elias made a strange choking sound, quickly stifled. “You should be glad Father has a use for you. It’s a protection, of a sort.”
He turned his back, but Eva caught a sweep of his arm and realized he was wiping away a tear. “Elias, what’s the matter?” Eva had never before seen her brother cry, no matter how hard the beating.
“Nothing.” And then he abruptly changed his mind. “Maybe it’s better if you are prepared. Mother’s horse wasn’t in the Alhambra stables. Manolo said she left last week, the morning after the Governor’s dinner.”
A choking lump filled her throat, and Eva realized that she had always dreaded this. Her frantic thoughts sought other possibilities. “Maybe she decided to visit her friend Pilar.”
“No.” Elias’ flat statement left no room for argument. ”She left us.” He angrily dashed away another tear.
Nurse put her head in the door. “Your father wants to see you in the great hall. Hurry, don’t keep him waiting!”
Eva hastily shoved her offending foot back into its shoe, not stopping to tie the latch-strap, and followed Elias out the salon and across the formal courtyard. Nurse held open one of the double doors to the great hall and stood aside, letting them go in alone. She gave Eva an encouraging pat on the shoulder, and Eva saw that Nurse was afraid for them.
The door slammed shut on Nurse, and the children whirled to find their father. Iago de Pazia stood in silence, glowering down at his offspring, his expression ominous.
Eva’s glance darted around the huge rectangular room, checking for other ways out. She looked to the servant’s door at the back. It was too far; she could never make that before her father caught her. Closer, facing the main doors, the great fireplace yawned, with its huge chimney. If Eva could only turn herself into a bird and fly up the flue, out to the street—but that was foolishness.
“You wanted us, sir?” Elias nudged her with the hand away from their father. Eva realized he was drawing her attention to the ladder which led to the newly-built minstrel’s loft. It had a door leading to the second-floor corridor.
“Do you know where your mother is?”
“We know she’s been visiting at the Alhambra,” Elias’ face was carefully blank, but under their father’s scrutiny, Eva gave a little whimper.
Their father turned on her. “So you did know! She gave you a last, loving goodbye, did she?”
“Eva only found out a few minutes ago.” Elias stepped between her father and herself. “And that’s only because this morning Manolo told me Mother’s horse wasn’t in the palace stables.”
“So she has a week’s start,” Iago snarled. “Much good that will do her. She can run, but she can’t hide forever. I have contacts who will track her down.”
“It wouldn’t be good for business if this were known, sir.” Elias spoke smoothly, sounding like one of Father’s customers instead of a ten-year-old. “Why not just give out that your wife went to visit a distant relative, and later pretend she died of a fever? It would save face for Casa de Pazia.”
“I’ve spent ten years saving that woman’s face!” Iago raged. “But no more! When I find her, I’ll kill her!”
“You wouldn’t want to be accused of murder.” Elias was trembling in his effort to keep himself under control.
“You have her cunning.” Their father advanced on Elias, who backed away, pulling Eva with him. “But it won’t save your whoring mother. No court would deny the right of a husband to take vengeance on an adulterous wife.”
Elias turned and pointed Eva toward the ladder, mouthing a soundless command: “Go!” Then he whirled on Iago. “You lie! Mama would never commit adultery.”
Eva bolted for the ladder as her brother drew Father’s anger. “You’re inventing threats because you’ve always been crazy with jealousy. And without a shred of reason!”
Eva scrambled upwards, feeling her untied shoe loosen as she went. It came off at the last step. The offending footwear called attention to itself as the wooden heel bounced off every rung, rolling across the floor at the bottom until it came to rest at the edge of the great hearth.
“No reason?” Iago de Pazia scooped up the shoe, custom-made to hide her deformity, and shook it under Elias’ nose. “Six toes! The mark of a woman’s intercourse with an incubus.”
Eva could tell that it was a horrible accusation, although she did not understand the terms incubus or intercourse. But she understood that she, with her horrible foot, was the cause of their family’s misery. She wished she had never been born.
“Bishop Talavera says that is an ignorant pagan superstition! And Mother said that an extra digit runs in her family.”
“She told you that, did she?” Iago’s tone was venomous. “Such a loving, true mother! But she didn’t tell you she was abandoning her children. Her children, and none of mine. The faithless puta!”
Eva cringed. The p-word was so foul, it could never mean Mama!
“You talk about faithless!” Elias pointed at him, shouting now. “You’re the reason Mama left us, because of your lack of faith! She couldn’t live with your hypocrisy, prating first one creed and then another, pretending to honor God. You sold your soul for money. And I see you whoring after status! Puta yourself!”
Then Elias ran. Iago, purple with rage, snatched up the iron poker from the fireplace and hurled it after the fleeing boy.
The heavy missile struck Elias in the back of the head, and he fell almost directly beneath her.
Eva stared horrified at her brother’s prone body, watching as bright red blood spread through his black hair.
Her father rolled Elias over with his foot. Now she could see his still face, the olive skin going white, and her heart almost stopped. That blow must surely have killed him.
“God, don’t let him be dead,” she prayed. “Please, please God, I’ll say the whole rosary every day if you just don’t let him be dead!”
Iago de Pazia looked at Elias, his mouth set in fury. Then he kicked the poker, making it skitter across the tiles toward the hearth. “Nurse!” he bellowed.
Veronica appeared at once, as though she had been stationed right outside the door. “He fell from the loft.” Iago lied. Why, Eva did not understand. Nurse must have heard everything. “Have him taken to the Blue Chamber. And fetch a priest.”
And with that, he strode from the hall.
As soon as he was gone, Eva flew down the ladder. “Oh, Nurse!” she cried. “Father murdered him!”
“Hush, cariña, the hakim will be here soon,” Nurse soothed. “Jose went for him already. We will do what we can.”
Weeping, Eva flung herself into Nurse’s arms. A minute cat-howl came from the area of her bosom and Eva remembered Tabita.
Casa de Pazia, late Monday August 22, 1513
Eva was pulled back into the present by the same sound, faint in the distance. But this was no kitten-noise of distress; it was a cat-mating screech.
Eva groaned inwardly. Of course: Tabita was out with some street-wise tom, and afterwards, she would roam with him, sharing in the hunt. It might be morning before she came back home.
And what would Eva do until then? Eva’s exit, like her mother’s, was a blow to her father’s pride—and with all the wedding preparations in hand, a very public insult.
But then maybe he was gone, off hunting for her as he had hunted for their mother while Elias lay unmoving between life and death.
That had been a horrible three days. Eva had prayed the promised rosaries, but God was too busy and the Virgin had little power. Like Eva’s own mother, also named Maria, Jesu’s mother ignored her.
At last, in desperation, Eva had turned to the book of saints she had received that Christ-Mass. The heavy volume was to be part of her dowry, painted by somebody famous, and every page picked out in gold leaf. And there, on the first page, she found Saint Basil.
Nine years later, Eva knew by heart the quote that was written opposite the saint’s idealized image: “The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The acts of charity which you do not do are so many injustices you commit.”
At last, she had found something real that she could bargain with for her brother’s life. Right then and there, Eva promised to dedicate herself to helping the poor, if the great saint would bring her petition before the powers of heaven. And within minutes of that prayer, Elias awakened.
She had kept that promise. Ever since, Saint Basil had been her favorite intercessor, the more so because he was the patron saint of the powerless. Eva had always been powerless. And now, she thought, she would be poor as well.
It was a relief.
She bowed her head and asked Saint Basil to protect her from her father. Then she crept toward the ornate ironwork gate and called softly. “Ernesto!”
There was no response. Eva pressed against the wall just to the side, out of view, and threw a pebble between the bars of the gate.
After a few minutes the guardroom door opened, and to her relief she heard Ernesto’s arthritic step, stiff from sleep.
“Ernesto! It’s me, Eva.”
Ernesto shuffled up to the gate and peered through the ironwork. “Señorita Eva?”
His astonishment was justified. Eva had never been out alone at night before. In fact, she had never been out alone at any hour. “Let me in, before somebody comes,” Eva begged.
“But you’re on your way to Venice!” Ernesto scratched his head. “Friday it was, you eloped. All the wedding guests your father has invited, the big show. Granada is buzzing with it.”
“Conte Niccolo deserted me.” Which was true, after a fashion.
“May Shaitan infest his beard!” Ernesto unlocked the gate and let her in. “But señorita Eva, your father and the men-at-arms came back just an hour ago! Four days they scour every route to the coast for nothing. Now the master’s in as black a mood as I ever seen—and I seen plenty señor de Pazia’s rages!”
“I’m not staying.” Eva sank onto the bench in the guardroom and marshaled her thoughts. Who would Tabita allow to pick her up? “Go get Old Paloma and bring her here. Not a word to the other servants—it would put them at risk.”
Old Paloma entered, followed by Ernesto. The faithful servant ran to embrace her.
“Evita, cariña! Ernesto told me how the Conte abandoned you, that bad, bad man!”
“Vieja Paloma!” Eva hugged her back. “It’s for the best, I didn’t want to marry him any more than he wanted to marry me.”
“But the shame! Your father is right to be angry—though not at you, cariña, the master should know you’d never plan something like that on your own. It was your bridegroom used doña Barbola to trick you into going, wasn’t it? We never trusted her in the servant’s quarters, she was too good for such as we. Never let us forget that she was a Moorish noblewoman, and how lucky for you that she had agreed to be duenna to a merchant’s daughter.”
“No, Paloma, doña Barbola doesn’t know anything about it. I sent her to visit family the night before. It was Blanca who helped me.” Eva silently blessed her highborn friend. “She pulled strings with her cousin who is Abbess of the convent where Queen Juana worships. They will accept me as a lay sister. The travel arrangements are all made. But this evening, Tabita turned up missing.”
“Ah, that cat isn’t one to stay cooped up.” Paloma nodded, understanding. “She’ll come home, a cat always does. Come, the best place for you to wait is your old room. Nobody will go there now that they think you’re gone to Venice with that dreadful Conte. May he rot in hell!”
Old Paloma took her bundle and led the way across the formal courtyard. The doors that separated it from the private patio creaked, and from the direction of the street came a clatter of hooves and a clash of armor. Through the branches of the olive tree in the center planter, she saw the door of her father’s room open.
“Who’s there?” Iago de Pazia stood in his night-dress, outlined by the light of a candle in the room.
Eva pressed herself against the wall of the wide colonnade, but even in the shadows she could feel her father’s eyes boring into her.
And then she heard a pounding on the front gate. “Open!” a deep voice shouted. “Open in the name of the Inquisition!”
The Cat
Tabita crouched under a clump of weeds, watching the two drunks weaving down the dark street. There was something wrong with humans. Not always wrong, but one never could tell when the wrongness would come out. That was why she allowed only Elias and Eva to be human members of her pride.
They were not entirely free from the wrongness, either, though she had not understood that at first, when her human litter-mates were all that kept her from starvation. But so far as Tabita was concerned, her handicapped pride-members were her responsibility because she was naturally superior.
They had the advantage of size, it must be admitted—but it was wasted by clumsiness, stumbling around on only two feet, and being so slow to react. At least most of them; Elias was quick enough. But their feet had no claws, which is why those with more awareness of their species’ shortcomings kept them covered, as Eva usually did.
One of the drunks stopped to defecate in the gutter. Tabita wrinkled her nose in distaste. Humans did things like that, and many of them did not even cover their scat. The drunk finished and the pair of them staggered off. Tabita continued on her way, following her internal compass in a straight line, obstacles permitting, between the square stone-built pile where Tabita had endured four long, tedious days cooped up with her pride-mate in that whitewashed cell. But enough was enough. The place appeared to be a kind of asylum for human reproductive failures. No place for Eva.
It was she, Tabita, who must lure Eva back to her home hunting grounds. Casa de Pazia had not produced any mating prospects lately, either. But at least Eva was top lioness there.
A rat scuttled from a nearby refuse-heap, but tonight Tabita let it go. There were plenty of vermin here in this area, where the skinny humans lived. It was another example of the inferiority of the two-leggeds, that they should let their young go hungry when surrounded by so much food. But they were poor hunters, too slow to catch a mouse, and without proper teeth to administer the killing bite.
Tabita came down the last slope and saw the back wall of the home-place, where it abutted the slum. It was half again as high as Elias. She crouched at the bottom, gathering her muscles for the leap.
At that moment, a cloth-wrapped bundle came flying over. Tabita jumped aside as it thumped to earth, giving off a gust of food-and-clothing smells. A figure appeared at the top of the wall, whom Tabita recognized as one of the stable-hands. He lowered another bundle, this one clanking with the sound of breakable objects, and then jumped down. Then he held up his hands to help his mate, the fat woman who worked in the dairy-shed. The two moved in hurried silence and they reeked of fear.
Something odd was going on here. Tabita was on guard at once: this was not the way humans came and went from Casa de Pazia—except for Elias, who used the back way when he wanted his movements to go unnoticed.
The couple gathered their bundles and ran off. Tabita made her leap and gained the summit only to be nearly hit in the face by the leg of a ladder as it was placed against the other side. Cook was already pushing her two children up it, while her scrawny husband steadied the base. They too were carrying bundles and stank of fear.
Tabita leaped down as the husband went up. “Take the ladder!” Cook hissed from the other side. “We don’t want the Inquisition to find out how we left.”
Inquisition was a new sound to Tabita. They said it as though speaking the name of a monster.
Below, Tabita could hear shouts of male voices, unfamiliar voices. There were torches in the courtyard and formal patio. Clearly the whole house was in an uproar. The fear was infectious, but she set herself to go investigate.
She reached the main gate just in time to see the dominant human-lion going out. Iago de Pazia, scantily covered, was being dragged between two men in metal-wear. He was protesting in a blustering voice. It did not impress his captors any more than it fooled Tabita. Eva’s father did not hold dominance over these men.
They spoke roughly, invoking the name Inquisition. Tabita did not know what sort of creature Inquisition might be, but one thing was clear: Casa de Pazia was no longer a safe place for Eva.


Wilderness Tales: the Stone

Lundy Lake, on the eastern side of the Sierras near Mono Lake, is set in a long narrow cleft eponymously named Lundy Canyon. (‘Eponymous’ is so rarely used, I figured I’d better air it out before it becomes one of those words my aging brain forgets. An adjective meaning ‘of a thing named after a person or thing’. Word for the day.)

Lundy Lake

It was a short trip, by backpacking standards—only 3 miles in to the abandoned May Lundy Mine. Just right for a family with young kids. Except that the trailhead started at 7830 feet and ended at 9860 feet! That’s 2000 feet of elevation gain in thin high-altitude air, and our family came from L.A. just a few feet above sea level.  But the mountains were gorgeous, and we were primed for adventure. Gamely shouldering our old-fashioned packs, we trooped down the trail.

“Down the trail’ is a figure of speech. Up fit better, although the going was not too bad for the first half-mile. But then the trail angled upward. It got harder as it went until we were puffing and huffing.  Pop called for a rest stop at a lovely little waterfall surrounded by lush early-season Sierra flowers.

We sat down gratefully, while Mom handed out generous chunks of chocolate, which, for some reason, was the Alaskan ideal for wilderness energy food. And that is when I saw it.

The most remarkable rock. Or so it seemed to my juvenile eyes. It was basalt, about an inch and a half thick, three hand-spans wide and four long, with an irregular shape that bore a startling resemblance (or so I thought) to South America. It even had a ridge down the left-hand side where the Andes Mountains would have been, and a dip for the Amazon Basin.

It doesn’t take much to astonish a kid, and that rock purely amazed me. I showed it to the family. Everybody duly admired my find and nodded as I pointed out the salient features which made this chunk of basalt the most incredible discovery of my young life.

I intended to keep it, of course. I picked up the uneven 34-pound slab and clutched it to my chest, ready to resume the trek with my treasure.

Mom and Pop agreed that it was a most incredible find, and surely I must bring it home. But why carry it all the way up hill and back again? We would be returning this way day after tomorrow, and I could simply collect it then.

I knew perfectly well what my parents were thinking: that I, their notoriously absent-minded child, would forget entirely about it until we were back at the car. And even if I DID remember, it was just one rock among many flat slabs of basalt that littered the slope. I’d never locate the darn thing once I set it back among its less dramatically shaped fellows.

I stowed the rock carefully to one side. While the rest went ahead, I piled a heap of smaller, less-notable rocks across the trail so I wouldn’t forget. And then I caught up.

Because I didn’t forget. But more on that later.


Wilderness Tales–part the first

I was 12 years old when my Pop (he hated the term ‘Dad’, which in his day and place was a term of disrespect) took the family on our first backpacking trip. Now, taking 4 kids into the wilderness was a venture that needed much preparation. But my father was wilderness-bred, a native of Colorado, raised in Seward, Alaska, and he wanted to pass his legacy on to his multiple offspring.
First, he tackled the matter of packs. You didn’t buy those things in his childhood, you made them. Pop assembled oak frames in his shop, while Mom sewed canvas covers to wrap around the wood, hammering in rows of grommets along the folded edges with lots of space between so the laces could be tightened to take up slack as the fabric stretched through use. The solid side of the canvas would rest against our backs, while the vertical and horizontal bars of the frame stayed well to the sides, top, and bottom. Needless to say, each frame had to be specially-sized to the wearer.

But what about the bag? Where did you PUT stuff?
Back when my Pop was learning his skills, (for those who wonder, he was born in 1918) when you wanted to tote a load, you tossed your things onto a piece of canvas or oilcloth fabric called a tarp (or a ‘manty’ in horse-packer parlance). And you folded the thing into a bundle and using rope, attached it to the lash points (usually metal rings) on the frame, and ran the rope in a complicated pattern known as a ‘diamond hitch’ – so-called because the crisscrossing lines made the shape of a diamond on the outside of the load. Of course that was the way it was done—easy! (Well, it was once you’d done it a hundred times, which I haven’t. I graduated to pack-bags the following year.) And the rest of our equipment? The same stuff we camped with, of course! Cotton sleeping bags weighing 8 pounds each—twice today’s inexpensive backpacking bag. Sturdy Spaulding leather-soled shoes, my oldest sister with new ones, my brother’s, mine, and my 5-year-old sister wearing successively more well-worn hand-me-downs. (Don’t be shocked, this was normal in the 50’s and 60’s, most middle-class kids wore hand-me-downs, since a family of 5 was about average.) They made ‘em to LAST, back then. And there were cobbler shops to put little metal bits on to extend wear, and to re-sole them when even those wore through. A tent, you ask? Good grief, the only one we had was made of canvas and took both my parents to carry it! You didn’t take tents into the wilderness, didn’t we all have a piece of tarp on our packs? Anyway, the chosen destination, fully described to Pop by a co-worker and fellow wilderness enthusiast, had an abandoned mining camp with a couple old buildings we could use. So THAT was solved.
Food was no problem. It was the early 1960’s, so of course there were plenty of cheap army surplus rations available. Left over from WWII, packaged and preserved to last for ages, what more could any wilderness traveler need? A luxury, compared to what my Pop had in his youth.
Suitably equipped, the six of us (plus our dog) drove up to Lundy Lake.
To be continued.


Aside

Batty and the Beast

When Jay and I bought our first house, we agreed to take a dog that his ex and her husband had raised from a puppy. They were giving up an aborted attempt to homestead and had no place to keep him. As the dog had saved my stepson from drowning in a creek, and was depicted as a highly responsible animal, we accepted him without reservation.

Mistake.

‘Beast’ was aptly named. His ancestry was uncertain: he had the size and shagginess of a St. Bernard, and the head and markings of a husky. But his sense of pack responsibility was all timber wolf. In the forested land where he spent his early years, he had been trained to patrol the boundaries of his owner’s territory.

I remember when he was dropped off, his former master showed him the front property line, walking him up and down it. “Beast, guard!” was the command.

And Beast took the order seriously. How seriously, we were about to find out. His stay with us lasted for about six hair-tearing months, and then, in complete exasperation and with the neighbors threatening lawsuits, we found him a home in a rural area with people who had an apple orchard that needed guarding.

On the Saturday morning when this transition was in process, I was waiting for the new owners to pick him up when the phone rings. But it isn’t the new owners, it’s my Mom.

We started with the usual catch-up on family. And then Mom asks, “How’s Beast?”

At least, that’s what I THOUGHT I heard her say. Given the circumstances, it seemed perfectly in context, as I had spoken to her briefly a couple days earlier about the grief this dog was causing us.

As I later found, to my great mortification, what she had actually said was, ‘How’s Jay?”

Out the window, I can see my husband rounding up the mutt from our front yard. Beast had once again jumped over our 6-foot board fence in his desire to patrol our entire property line.

So you can understand the exasperation in my reply. “Oh, I am getting RID of him!”

My mom seemed unduly surprised. “Why? What has he done?”

“What HASN’T he done?” I exploded. “Like right now the place stinks, because yesterday, AGAIN, he prevented the garbage men from picking up the trash!”

Mom was baffled. “Why would he do that?”

“Oh, he thinks it’s valuable, because it’s ours. He thinks anything we’ve ever owned has to be guarded. Ever since we got this house, he has paced up and down the property line, looking menacing. The mailman gave us a notice the other day saying we’d have to get our mail at the post office, because he’s afraid to deliver it.”

My mother is used to dealing with nutty people; she was custodian of her two schizophrenic nephews. Which might explain why her mind immediately jumped to conclusions about Jay’s sanity. “I had no idea he was so disturbed. Can you get him help?”

“I’ve already tried everything I know!” Says I. “I can keep him under control in the daytime. But at night, he just works the window latch and slips out again. And if you tie him up, he just chews through the rope!”

At this point, you would have expected my mother to realize that we were on totally different topics, but the shock apparently prevented her from putting two and two together. As for me, I am oblivious—as I can be, when I’m on a roll and there is a sympathetic ear.

“The final straw happened the other day! A girl came by riding a bicycle, and he cleared the six-foot fence in one bound and took off after her, barking and nipping at her heels!” I exclaimed. “And she was only twelve!”

There was a silence on the line. Then Mom said, “Are you going to file for divorce?”

“Divorce?!” It was my turn to be shocked. “Why would we get a divorce over Beast? Jay is as weary of his antics as I am!”