Beatriz, Mistress of Columbus
Chapter 1 Friday, June 2, 1471 Valladolid, Castile
Before dawn, soldiers in the uniform of King Henry IV of Castile surrounded the Palacio de los Vivero, blocking any from entering or leaving. Five year old Beatriz Enriquez and her older brother Pedro, were quickly dressed and taken by their aunt to a hiding space in the old wall at the back of the palace. Beatriz knew this place. There was a small window that was hidden from the outside by a row of bushy, low growing figs. Aunt Mayor opened the window and told Pedro to climb out.
“Quickly now, child. We must hurry. I will hand your sister to you.”
This process had been practiced, the routine established for as long as Beatriz could remember. There was no talking. Everyone knew what to do. The little parade kept close to the wall of the palace until it reached the alley. Turning south they moved along the Calle Prado to the Moorish quarter and on to the Church of Santa Maria. Uncle Francisco was waiting there with a wagon. The family climbed aboard quickly, and they began the long journey to Cordoba. Finally, Beatriz spoke.
“Where is Papa?’
Francisco considered for a moment before he answered.
“Your Papa is not coming with us. We will go to Trassiera. We are going home.”
For the next several hours the wagon clattered out of the city and onto the narrow cart path through the woods toward Tordesilla. Early the next day they found the ancient roman road and headed south toward Andalucía. Pedro had kept silent for the entire journey, but now, with his sister sleeping soundly in the back of the wagon, he needed an explanation from his uncle.
“What has happened, uncle? Why is Papa not with us?”
Francisco looked at Beatriz to make sure she was asleep.
“There has been trouble, Pedro. If your father can join us, he will. Now we go home. He knows the way. God willing, he will be there when we arrive.”
It took them four days to reach Merida, travelling mostly by night until they reached Placencia. It became much less likely the King’s men would follow that far for children. In Merida they turned southeast and began the slow climb into the hill country. They crossed the Rio Guadiato late in the evening of June 12, ten days after leaving Valladolid, and turned east to the Arana estate.
“We are home. We are safe now.”
Francisco handed the leads to a young man who had come out of the house to meet them.
“We are very tired, Antonio. We must get the children something to eat and then, let them sleep. Where is your mother?”
His question was answered when an older woman, tall and straight, approached.
“I will take the children. Lady Mayor, will you eat?”
“No, Anna. I am very tired. I will sleep. I will sleep for a week.”
It was near mid-day when Beatriz woke. She climbed out of bed and went into the main room of the house. There was no one there. Her uncle had called this home, but it was not hers. She had no memory of this place. This was where she was born, but not where she lived. She lived in the palace. She lived at court with music and people, with soldiers and ladies. She already missed the smells of her father, of the palace kitchen, of the perfume of the ladies. She walked to the large, double door that stood open to the estate. She saw nothing. No towers, no people, only trees and small stone sheds. She smelled dung, and smoke, and sour wine. To her left was a corral with a dozen horses prancing about. In the distance she could hear men yelling. It was dusty and hot. She was hungry.
She went outside and around to the side of the house, one of four buildings surrounding a courtyard with a large stone wall in the center which enclosed an open well. Fig and olive trees grew in small clusters. Flowering vines climbed the walls of the buildings, and in front of one building, was a fire pit. One man attended the fire and two others, using long sticks with cotton wrapped ends, were basting the hindquarter of a bull roasting over the heat.
“Beatriz. You are awake. Very good. Come, eat with us.”
Uncle Francisco was sitting at an iron table with aunt Mayor. He rose as Beatriz approached, and turned to the two boys sitting next to him.
“Pedro, get your sister some food. Diego, your cousin will need some wine.”
Beatriz sat at the table and watched the activity around her. Men she did not know came and went, some talking with Uncle Francisco, and others wrapping roasted beef in soft bread and carrying it out toward the corral. Aunt Mayor sat at the head of the table, fanning herself, and sipping on the sweet wine. Every few minutes she threw a bit of beef to the dogs that were moving about, laughing when they snapped and snarled over the scraps.
“Mayor, be careful. If they begin to fight the children may be hurt. Pedro, come with me. Let’s go see how the bulls are doing.”
The large horse corral, anchored by a stone barn, lay to the west of the main house. On the east side, a stone wall nearly six feet high, broken at spaces with wooden fencing, stretched in a large circle enclosing nearly three acres of land. Inside the circle, a criss-cross maze of containment pens cut the area into small spaces. The posts and rails were sturdy, but could be easily adjusted to increase or change the shape of the enclosures. Two iron gates, one on the north side and the other to the east, allowed the vaqueros to herd the bulls in from the larger estate to the training area where they would be prepared for the corrida. Two large, very black bulls were standing in the nearest enclosure watching Francisco, Pedro, and Diego approach.
“They are looking at me, uncle.”
Pedro slid behind Francisco and peeked around him.
Beatriz, not wanting to be left out, had followed them, and now ran up to the nearest break in the wall and began to climb the fence.
“Look! Uncle. See how big they are.”
Diego ran to her and grabbed her arm.
“Do not get that close again, cousin. These are very dangerous. Only men should be so close to these devils.”
He led her by her arm back toward Francisco. She turned as he was nearly dragging her, and waved at the bulls.
“Beatriz, go back you your aunt. Diego, you are responsible. This estate can be dangerous for a young girl. You will make sure she stays safe. Pedro, you also. I will hold both of you to account if anything happens to her.”
For the next several weeks Beatriz, Pedro, and Diego spent their days investigating the estate. Diego had lived there all his life and knew most of the secret places. But for Pedro and Beatriz, it was an adventure. He showed them the chain of small spring fed pools scattered among the pine trees. The rocky cliffs on the west side of the estate were dotted with caves, some very small, some large enough for the three of them to enter completely. One of these became a sanctuary for Beatriz. Her brother and cousin were not excited by having to babysit a girl and left her on her own for long stretches. She found the quiet cool of the cave restful, and safe. She began to collect things, saving them in small boxes tucked into corners of the cave. Mi Casita she called it, my house.
She had just returned from her casita to the hacienda when a messenger arrived with word from Valladolid. She sensed something was wrong. Her uncle was nervous; his eyes were moving quickly, not focusing on her when he spoke.
“Do not go out of the house alone. Your brother or your cousin must be with you. Promise me. Promise me now that you will not go out alone.”
Runners were sent to several of their relatives and friends in the area, and on a particularly warm night in July, a dozen men gathered at the Arana estate.
“Don Pedro is dead. It is still unclear, but we think this was done by the King.”
There were murmurs and the men looked to each other to see reactions. Questions came from several of them.
“But why would the king kill him? He was no threat.”
“Could it be the Church? Pedro was Anusim. There is still great suspicion of the converted. Perhaps the church believes he was still a practicing Jew.”