Read Time: 5 mins | Historical Fiction | Romance | Drama | Part Two
It was my uncle and father who thought it would be best if I came back to Spain to get my education. Cadiz, he had said, was a lovely port town. Forget that the Anglo Saxons were constantly threatening ships and ports. Seville was still being rebuilt after the last raid nearly a quarter century before I had arrived here. The word in the town square and in the halls of power, was that George Villiers, the grand 1st Duke of Buckingham was harboring thoughts of plundering this vital trading port of the Spanish Empire. People still spit when they speak the name of Francis Drake, and his burning of all the ships in the harbor. That was in 1587 and many of the wealthy families were still recovering from his looting of the town. I would prefer to be back home. But Patagonia was perhaps no more if this letter was anything to go by.
I needed to speak with Carlos, my very invisible but ever-present guardian. He is like a distant cousin or uncle, and Carlos, I only recently discovered, was not his real name. Like my father, he is a proud Ottoman by descent. A Morisco who abandoned what was his heritage to fit into the new world and avoid persecution of determined Spanish locals, to eradicate whatever remained of our culture and religion. All Moors were expelled not too long ago, so for my uncle Carlos, his Jewish background, or at least he claimed to be when it suited the moment, meant his carefully woven persona could fit into any crowd. He was perfect for life in this hectic and busy side of Spain. He was an enigma, or a thriving lie in this new reality that was Cadiz. A chaotic melting pot, where Muslims, Christians and Jews coexisted, was perhaps the last place in the empire where religious suppression was not the dominating political factor. Here is where my father grew up, and this was where he called home.
This dock side town is where my father and uncle, in their sublimely inspired opinion, decided that the development of a young Christian woman, with openly heretical beliefs would be most successful. My uncle Carlos, I am not sure which side of the vine he fell on, who ran the brothel, was to be my guardian. I always wondered why my mother never voiced her displeasure. But I suspect that she too was wary of my rebellious streak and agreed with the learned opinion of two very weak, but respected men.
I drank the last dregs of the vase of water we used for washing hands, and slowly made my way back to the dormitory that was my home during my stay here. I had committed the last six months of my life to volunteering with the Dominican Order here in Cadiz. Their work was mainly charitable, and I found it quite appealing and soothing. It lacked the rigidity of my schooling, and the Order had been promised a parcel of land for the building of a small church and monastery, to celebrate the four hundred years that they had served the faithful in Cadiz. My father was a missionary from this monastery. His purpose in Rio De La Plata was to assist in establishing the Order in the New World. There was no wealth there, and if there was an abundance of gold and produce that flowed from the new colonies, as everyone had claimed, then it most certainly bypassed this part of Spain.
“You should not pout Sister Laura.” Monsignor Romano greeted me.
“I did not mean to. It has been a long day.” I apologized to him.
“It is no longer than it was yesterday, nor will it be any more tedious or prolonged tomorrow. What really troubles you, my child?” He clasped his hands under his frock and had the nerve to await a response, as if this ‘child’ would be willing to share her family’s private affairs with a stranger.
“I would prefer to lay my burdens at Calvary, Monsignor Romano.”
“The foot of the cross brings a blessed assurance. Yet, one should not neglect the privilege of the confessional, Sister Laura.”
“I know I have not been there lately, but we have been rather busy down at the docks. I promise I shall be there in the morning. I must hasten to prayers.”
He nodded as I made my way past him. Monsignor Romano had eyes that drifted in every direction as the ladies of the town went about their business. And it was rumored that he was more eager with the wine of the sacrament, than he was to hear anyone’s confessions. I brushed him from my thoughts. I would much prefer to sit and think on my own than share my innermost thoughts and feelings with any man.
Prayers could not be over fast enough. The setting sun had already begun to cast a golden shadow that stretched across the weathered walls of the buildings along the port. Tired and forlorn faces, slumped on stools, and makeshift benches soaking up the cool evening breeze that wafted in off the coast. The fishing vessels were already beginning to sail off into the sunset, and the straggling crowd, eager to get home, were making their way in the opposite direction to where I was headed. Cadiz was getting ready to sleep, but not the house of sin my uncle was permitted to operate. How he had managed to secure permission from the religiously dogmatic council was beyond me. But my uncle had his methods, and the Corrales de comedias he operated suited the milieu of the township. I was the one who was unsuited for this sector of the town. Yet no one bothered me. In Cadiz, all were welcomed.
I was closer to his place of business now, and the laughter and bawdy conversation hinted that the place was already packed to capacity for the evening. His small shabby theatre hid his more nefarious activities, as all appreciated the arts, and he was one of only three such merchants that I knew of who offered such services. His real enterprise was not so commonly known, except by those who could afford his services.
A slender dark figure stood within the shadows of the net-makers stall. He seemed agitated, as though he had been waiting too long for someone. A cold shiver ran up my arms as our eyes met. He averted his gaze and tipped the brow of his hat even lower. He did not wish to be seen. I noted his tanned leather boots, much too clean for these parts, and too expensive to belong to a commoner. The handle of a small blade jutted out from under the folds of his left trousers, and he pulled his coat tighter as he saw me observing him. I always wondered why so many men found it necessary to be armed in this quarter of Cadiz.
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