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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.”