During the Spanish Inquisition, a young and angry, Catholic girl is kidnapped before her wedding. She then discovers a secret about her birth, and makes the fateful decision to find her Jewish parents. The grand Inquisitor searching for New-Christians, who have lapsed into heresy, sends armed guards to find her.
The Flower from Castile Trilogy opens in 1491 during the tumultuous unification of Spain under Catholicism. The battle for the conquest of Granada, which was held by the Islamic Moors for 700 years, empties Spain's coffers and decimates the ranks of her soldiers.
Beautiful young Isabella Obrigon lives a life of privilege in Seville until she is caught between these two poweful nations. She is forced to uncover a secret about her birth and becomes trapped between two faiths and two peoples. She must decide whether to follow her heart and join her endangered brethren seeking exile from the infamous Inquisition, or stay and live a lie. When Isabella is held prisoner int he fabled Alhambra palace in Granada, an encounter with Miguel Costa seals her fate.
Nearby, Christoper Columbus--who may have secrets of his own--waits impatiently for the war to be won. His dreams of exploration and fabulous wealth can only come true if he receives a summons from Queen Isabella.
Library of Congress Control Number:
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This Book Is Dedicated to
Inquisition Victims Whose Voices Were Silenced
A L S O B Y L I L I A N G A F N I :
Living a Blissful Marriage: 24 Steps to Happiness
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S
My gratitude to my editor
The Three Isabellas
J U L Y , 1 4 5 3
Love filled Isabel’s heart
as she gazed at her little
son. She knew Salvador would grow to make her proud. If
only her cursed, weak heart did not stop her from seeing her wish
come true! Baltasar, the physician, had warned her that her heart
would give out unless she took to her bed. She laughed in his face
and told him that her parents and grandparents had lived into their
seventies. Why wouldn’t she follow in their footsteps? Everyone
knew that only hardy people came from Sintra, the only town in
Portugal that had centenarians. She was from Sintra. Nevertheless,
Baltasar cautioned her to ease off. Ease off? She smiled at the
thought. How could she slow down?
With the extra laundry she took in each day and her cleaning
work for Dona Elvira, no time was left to slow down or rest. No. She
had to continue working hard so that Salvador could have all the
things she dreamed for him: an apprenticeship with the nearest
blacksmith, then an education at the best maritime school. His father,
Fernando, duke of Beja and Viseu, would approve, and so would his
grandfather, the famed navigator João Gonçalves Zarco.
She looked up at the castle on the hill and sighed. Fernando
hadn’t visited her lately. Nor had he brought her the allowance she
was waiting for. The last time he came to her with rent money was
last spring. She recalled the days before Salvador had been born, and
how wonderful their love had been for each other. From the start,
they both had kept their relationship secret so that Fernando’s father,
King Dom Duarte, would not find out. Summer had long passed and
her rent was overdue. She had been able to forestall her landlord by
paying meagerly with vegetables from her small garden and daily
fresh eggs from her hen. Sooner or later her landlord was bound to
throw her out. She shuddered. What would she do to shelter
“Mãe, Mãe, look!” Salvador called from the water’s edge.
Standing near the water on the wet sand, he was dwarfed by the
landscape of the wide and empty beach. Isabel felt fear in her heart
to see how vulnerable her son was. She watched with apprehension
the seagulls flying above his head, but they swooped down into the
water to catch fish, and flew back up to the cliffs above the beach,
where nests dwelled among the lichens in the rock. Isabel looked up
at those cliffs to see her little house near the places where thistle
grew in abundance, and thought it was high time to go home.
She ran to Salvador, who held a starfish struggling to free itself
from his hands. She smiled at him. “It’s a beautiful starfish, my son.
It is like the star in the heavens you will be someday.”
Salvador returned her smile then threw the starfish on the sandy
“No, no, Salvador, meu filho. You must return him to the ocean,
where he came from. You see,”—she picked up the starfish and
kneeled down beside Salvador—“you have to love the starfish
because he loves the ocean. And if you love the ocean, then the
ocean will love you and be good to you.” She picked up one end of
her billowing long dress and tied it to her waist, and then she and the
boy stepped into the gently lapping waves. She guided his hand as
they both threw the starfish into the oncoming waves. She grabbed
his hand then turned away from the ocean while Salvador trotted
after her on his small legs.
“Do you love the chickens and sheep, Mãe?”
“Of course I do!” Isabella exclaimed.
“But why do we kill them?” Salvador asked.
Isabella was surprised by her son’s astuteness. “Because we have
to eat,” she replied. “We still have to be good to animals the way we
have to be good to people. Don’t you ever forget it.”
Salvador nodded with his full head of reddish curly hair, and his
light-blue eyes smiled at his mother. Isabel’s heart warmed at the
sight of her son’s beautiful features. She sighed again at the thought
of his father’s prolonged absence. When she had inquired at the
castle, one of the servants told her that Fernando had traveled to
Cadiz and would be gone for a long time. Then the servant looked at
her suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh . . .” Isabel had said, “It was the farmers who were curious
about the Rendeiros tax collectors . . . he wasn’t doing his rounds to
check the land and collect the rents.”
“When the young master is gone, the master of collections is in
charge. You shouldn’t worry,” the servant had told her. “He will
soon be knocking at your door.”
Isabel sighed again at the recollection, picked up her son, and
returned to her small thatched house.
A funerary procession made its way through the cold December rain
on the path leading to the town cemetery. At the head of the
procession an old man held the hand of a protesting boy. The man
wore black clothing, and his sagging face bore a pained expression.
He leaned heavily on a cane with his right hand while his left hand
held the hand of the young boy.
“But I want her!” cried Salvador. “She promised to take me to
the ocean. She promised!” He wiped his tears on his sleeve.
“I know, Salvador. I know she promised you.” He nodded at the
boy. “I will take you to the ocean, and when you grow up you can
sail the ocean all by yourself to the end of the horizon.” He made a
sweeping gesture with his hand. Salvador’s eyes followed the
gesture. He raised his wet eyes to the old man and said, “You
promise, Tiyo Abilio?”
“Yes, I promise. Now wipe your face.”
Salvador wiped his eyes again with the palm of his hand,
sniffled, and bowed his head.
The procession stopped at an open grave that had been dug in the
early morning hours. A man wearing a white gown and a skullcap
advanced to the grave’s opening, and recited a short prayer. “Baruch
atah Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam, Dayan ha’emet . . . Blessed
are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, the True Judge . . .”
“Is Mãe in there?” The boy pointed to the coffin.
Salvadore started to cry again and screamed, “Come out! I want
“Shuu, shuu,” Abilio said as he patted Salvador’s shoulders.
The pinewood casket was lowered into the grave, and handfuls of
soil were thrown down by each one attending the funeral. Salvadore
refused to grab a handful of soil. Instead, he kicked it and spread the
soil with his shoes.
After the last shovelful of dirt filled the grave, Abilio slipped his
hand into his overcoat pocket and brought out small pebbles. He put
them at the head of the grave and gave some to Salvador. The old
man wept silently as he watched the boy lay the small stones on his
mother’s grave. Isabel had been like a daughter to him since she
moved next door to him in Sintra. She had filled his cupboard with
food, brought woodchips to keep his house warm during cold
winters, and entertained him with Salvador’s exuberant clowning
and contagious laughter. Abilio promised Isabel, while she lay on
her deathbed, that he would find a good family to care for her son,
and to make sure that Salvador grew up to become a Navy sailor.
She confided in him before the end that Salvador’s father, Dom
Fernando, would honor the paternity and see to the boy’s well-being
and future. It was up to him now to fulfill Isabel’s wish. In time he
would do just that.
His thoughts were interrupted by Salvador’s sobs. The boy was
pounding at the wet clay with his small fists. Abilio pulled a
handkerchief from his own pocket and wiped his muddy hands.
“Let’s go, Salvador. We will visit Mãe tomorrow.” He pulled
Salvador away from the grave.
The grave diggers who had finished their work watched the
reluctant small figure of the three-year-old following the bent old
man with his cane, slowly walk away from the cemetery ground
overlooking the port.
On the following morning, when the sky was delicately lit in
shades of pink and blue, and the air had a deep chill, Salvador,
dwarfed by the figure of Abilio, his protector, boarded a carrack ship
bounded for Genoa.
A P R I L 1 4 9 1
Dusk had just set in on a
Friday, the kerosene
lamps lit up the windows in homes throughout the
city, and the people inside washed before their nightly meal. A lone
figure cautiously approached the Juderia, the old Jewish quarter in
Seville, looking furtively to see if anyone was in his path and
checking that his crucifix was well hidden. He was tall,
approximately forty-five years old, with white hair and piercing
green eyes that searched an alley only wide enough for one man to
pass through in the descending darkness. He felt a shiver when he
entered the round Puerta de la Carne gate into the Juderia.
He was uncomfortably aware that there was only one other gate
by which to exit because the adjacent Royal Fortress walls, the
Alcazar palace wall, Ibarra Street, and the city wall hemmed in the
Juderia’s Jewish quarters. He shivered again, remembering his
father’s tale of massacres, of his great-uncles and great-grandparents
being butchered. A hundred years ago on July 6, in 1391, the
archdeacon of Écija incited mobs to rush through both gates to
prevent Jews from escaping, then murdered four thousand men,
women, and children in their homes, in their beds, and as they
prayed in their synagogues.
Deep in thought, he moved through the dark alleys of the Juderia
lit by torches attached to outer walls and arrived at a white-thatched
house at the end of a forked cobblestone street. Green hanging plants
decorated the windows, and a small fountain added the sound of
bubbling water. He tried to look through the windows, but they were
covered with black curtains. He knocked cautiously on the heavy
wooden door decorated with metal scrolls. After a long silence, the
window curtains were pulled apart, and a pair of blue eyes peered at
him. The door swung open, and he entered a red-brick courtyard.
“Buenas noches, Téresa,” he said to the red-haired woman who
let him in.
“Buenas noches, João.”
“Are we safe here?” he asked.
“I made sure everyone came here one by one after the streets
were nearly empty. I also sent my children Miguel and José to stay
with Conchita, an old woman I trust.” She led him into the house
through a low-ceilinged room and into a narrow hallway, then
stopped at a closed door. The floor creaked as João followed her
into a small bedroom to a woolen rug lying along the bedside. She
lifted the rug and exposed a trapdoor. They both pulled it open and
descended a narrow staircase to a small windowless, dimly lit room.
Several men and women sitting around a square pine table lifted
their heads as he came in. He could only distinguish their chins and
mouths; the rest of their faces were lost in darkness. Large burning
candles flickered at each end of the table, filling the air with their
“Do you know everyone here, João?” she asked him.
João shook his head, noticing that the assembly was made of
Conversos with large crosses at their necks, and Jews wearing the
red badge on their sleeves. Téresa made the introductions. “Maria
Donarojo, Alfonso Sabatin, and Hernán Çavallos, whom you already
know. “Both men smiled as they acknowledged him, and Téresa
continued. “Pedro Grasin, Ester Castelan, Salamon Moresco, Ana
Saraual, and Benvenide Matigoro.”
They smiled at João and nodded when Téresa mentioned their
names. “João will tell you all about our plan.” Téresa motioned to
João to proceed.
“Gracias to all of you for welcoming me into your assembly,” he
began. He sat quietly with his head bent for a moment as if reflecting
on what he was going to say next. Raising his head, he said, “The
Inquisition has hounded us now for more than ten years, and there is
no respite from the church and Torquemada.” At the mention of
Torquemada and his cruelty, a chill fell on the room.
João continued. “As you well know, it was in this same Jewish
quarter a hundred years ago that mobs ran through the Juderia and
massacred thousands of us, killing fathers and mothers, brothers and
sisters. Whole families disappeared. They butchered us. It was the
hate-filled sermons of the archdeacon of Écija, the Jew-hater, who
incited the mobs. Now there are only a few dozen of us living here,
the majority of the homes having been expropriated by the rest of the
population.” He stopped, took a breath, and then went on. “What I
would like to propose to you is a way out of this never-ending cycle
The man called Alfonso laughed nervously. “What makes you
think we can find a way out? They’ve been persecuting and killing
us for centuries, and we haven’t been able to free ourselves from
“You are true to your words. I, too, haven’t been able also to
escape their hate. I, too, spent years in prison . . .” He stopped
hesitantly. He was glad that the darkened room hid his face distorted
by hate and pain.
“What do you intend to do?” asked Pedro.
“There’s a rumor that a voyage is in the making by a Genoese
voyager. You also know that España and the monarchs are on the
verge of completing the Reconquista by invading Granada?”
Everyone in the room nodded. Their eyes hung on João’s face.
Impatiently, Salamon urged, “Go on?”
“As soon as the Reconquista is over, I intend to find passage to
the Indies. Anyone, be it a converted Jew or unbaptized, can join me
in this venture. This could become a haven for all free men, and
especially Jews,” said João.
Alfonso, a Jew, asked, “How do you know if the port authorities
would let us go, and if it would be safe to travel the seas with pirates
“I don’t have an answer as how you can leave the country, and
have no guaranties that we would be safe. But I can tell you this
much. We have no assurance that staying in España is safe either.
Unlike the unbaptized Jews”—with a respectful movement of his
head, João acknowledged the Jews in the assembly—“who have to
wear the Jewish red badge on their shoulders that guarantees poverty
because the Gentiles ostracize them, some of us as Conversos have
achieved a standing in the community. As Conversos, or converted
Jews, we can trade with anyone; we can hold properties and
employment. Yet, we can lose that security at any time with the
church’s constant suspicion of our whereabouts. To them, we’re still
Jews, and they can punish us any time as lapsed Christians. Tell me
if this is the life you want. Who knows when they will start a new
Inquisition against us?”
They all fell silent to João’s argument. Salamon asked, “Do you
have any assurance that we’ll make it to the end of the voyage?”
Téresa interjected, “João gained years of sailing experience when
he worked with my beloved husband, Nahum. May Ha Shem keep
him in peace.” She kissed the palm of her hands and looked up to
João nodded his head in sympathy with Téresa. “I can’t give you
any guaranties. What I know for sure is that the passage to the Indies
will need manpower on the ships, boatswains as petty officers in
charge of the deck crew, the rigging, etc. They will need seamen,
carpenters, cooks, and tailors. Once we land in the Indies, you can
then bring your families.”
Alfonso looked unconvinced. “I, too, have plenty of sailing
experience. What makes you so sure we’ll be employed or hired by
“Look, I can tell you that we have no guarantees that this might
happen. On the other hand, the alternative isn’t any better. We can
only try,” João said. “I will detail my exact plans the next time we
“We can meet at my farm,” Maria said. “It’s on the outskirts of
Seville, and we won’t be disturbed there.”
“Are we all agreed?” João asked.
They all nodded their heads.
Téresa went to a low pinewood console to retrieve two black
wrought-iron candelabra; the candles were half melted and had been
used sparingly. Too many candle purchases meant heretical Sabbath
practices. She put them both on the table and lit them. She covered
her head with a scarf, then covered her eyes with both hands.
“Baruch Ata Adonai Elohenu Melech haolam Asher kedishanou be
Mitsvotav ve hitsevanou lehadlik ner shel Sahbbat, amen. Blessed be
God, King of the world, who blessed us in his wisdom to light the
Sabbath candles. Amen.”
“Amen,” everyone repeated after her, then they shook hands and
kissed each other on the cheeks as they wished for a good Sabbath.
Afterward, they each drank a small glass of wine and shared a loaf of
João got up and saluted everyone. “Until our next meeting.” He
turned to Téresa and said quietly, “I want to talk to you and Maria
when everyone has left.”
Téresa nodded and made a sign to Maria to stay.
After the assembly left, João turned to the two women and said,
“I have a sure plan to reach our goal, and I wanted to get your
agreement before I tell the group at the next meeting.”
“What plan?” asked Maria.
João bent down and mumbled some words; Téresa and Maria
had trouble hearing them. When they finally understood, their faces
“This is dangerous,” Téresa said. “Do you realize the
“Yes, I thought about it, and I am solely responsible for my
actions. But think about the card we will have in our hand.”
“Yes, we’ll have more persecution, and they’ll hound us like
never before.” Maria huffed.
“Think of the difference it will make!” João exclaimed. “They’ll
hound us no matter what we do.”
Maria and Téresa gave each other a sidelong glance. After a long
silence they nodded their heads in agreement with João.
“You do what is right, and we’ll follow you,” said Téresa.
“In that case, let us part here until our next meeting,” he said,
turning to the staircase.
Each morning sixteen-year-old Isabella woke up and greeted the
light air and shadows made by the warm sunshine moving through
her room. She allowed herself to luxuriate in bed for a half hour until
her dada Hannah, her nanny, came in huffing like a dragon, scolding
and spewing dire predictions of what would befall her if she were
not up on her feet in a hurry. This morning was no exception;
Isabella heard dada Hannah’s heavy footsteps on the corridor’s red
slate tiles, accompanied by loud breathing from her enormous chest.
Out of breath and red-faced, the older woman flung open the door.
“I won’t say it again! I gave you instructions a half an hour ago
to be ready for breakfast—and you’re still in bed!” She flung her
fleshy arms up in the air. “You’d better be ready when I come back
shortly!” With that she turned her back and stormed out of the room.
Isabella jumped out of bed, knowing too well that dada Hannah
would report her immediately to her father, who would take away
her evening walking privileges in the park. Indeed, that would be
severe punishment. It would separate her from Juan for that day, and
that would be an eternity. Her dada looked the other way each
evening when Isabella and Juan spoke a few words to each other as
they greeted on Fernando Road. If, however, they dared touched
hands, dada Hannah would look at both Isabella and Juan with sharp
eyes that cut like a knife, and they would quickly withdraw their
hands. Isabella would plunge her hands into her dress pockets and
Juan would cross his arms behind his back. Juan often turned redfaced
while Isabella’s clear laughter echoed down the cobblestones
in the plaza de la Madonna del Dio. Her anticipation and desire to
see Juan each night put her in a feverish state throughout the day
until the evening arrived. Both her father and mother looked
favorably at the courtship between the youths. His parents, Don
Pedro Escobar and Doña Maria Escobar de Santilla, a Grandee, also
approved and gave their blessing for the match.
Juan Escobar de Santilla was seventeen, and in one year expected
to be married to Isabella in the imposing cathedral in Seville. Their
parents were already preparing for the wedding. Don Pedro was
paying for a small house in the blue gypsy quarters of Seville, and
Isabella’s father, Don Arturo Obrigon, and her mother, Doña Estrella
Obrigon, planned to pay for the sumptuous wedding to take place at
their palatial house near the Guadalquivir River.
It seemed nothing on earth would prevent the young couple from
marrying; they were in love, they were in the prime of their young
lives, and Seville was, after all, the city for lovers. Many couples
sanctified their weddings in the great Seville Cathedral under the gaily
ringing bells on the Giralda Tower. The soothsayers and falajas of
Seville said that to be married there was to have a good marriage that
would last for the rest of their lives. Their words were taken seriously
because of their predictions about the future of married couples. Only
one couple had not fulfilled the predictions of blissful coupling. They
had died in a tragic accident right after the wedding when their coach
overturned on a country road on the way to their honeymoon home.
The falajas, or palm readers, explained that accidents could not be
foreseen in the predictions of happiness. Nevertheless, both Juan and
Isabella looked forward to great happiness in their future with no
hitches along the way.
Isabella finished dressing and ran down the gleaming red-tiled
hallway as fast as her cumbersome long skirts would allow her. She
entered the imposing spacious dining room furnished in rich
mahogany furniture and damask draperies. A fire crackled in a
limestone fireplace even though the weather was beginning to warm
up. She prepared herself to face her parents’ feigned admonition for
being late for breakfast. Her parents, Don Arturo Obrigon and Doña
Estrella Obrigon, could never bring themselves to be cross with
Isabella. She could usually break up the frown and furrows on her
father’s forehead by giggling and laughing, and both parents would
end up laughing with her. Dada Hannah cautioned them many times
against giving in to Isabella’s whims. “Mark my words,” she warned,
“she will have her way each time until she brings you down to your
knees, where you won’t be able to refuse her anything!”
Today was different. When she entered the dining room, Isabella
found her parents silent and their breakfast untouched. A veil of
anxiety hung on her mother’s usually serene features, and her
father’s face looked grim. Isabella felt her heart tightening, and with
a plaintive voice asked, “What is it?” In her young mind she
visualized with dread that something may have happened to Juan. “Is
it Juan? Please, Padre, tell me!” She then ran to her mother, who
shielded her with both arms and consoled her by caressing her
lustrous black hair.
“No, no, my flower. Juan is in good health. It isn’t that. Your
father will tell you.”
“My dearest Isabella.” Her father stopped for a moment, wiped
his forehead with a linen handkerchief embroidered with the Obrigon
family crest, swallowed, then cleared his voice. “I received a letter
that is puzzling to your mother and me. We can’t understand what it
means. This letter is written in ancient Hebrew text, and we already
consulted with Father Angelo early this morning.”
Isabella ran to the letter on the dining room table, picked it up,
and saw unrecognizable strange characters written on it. “I can’t
understand what it says. Please read it to me,” she pleaded with her
father while feeling great anxiety descend upon her.
Don Arturo took the letter from her hand and read: “‘Do not
allow your daughter to marry. A great calamity will befall your
house if you do.’ That is all it says.” Her father wiped his forehead
“What could it mean?” Isabella asked, puzzled as well.
“I don’t know nor do I want to consider it. I have no enemies,
and who would want to harm one hair of your beautiful head?”
“Where did this letter originate? And who brought it to you?”
“It was found by the gate in the egg basket that Maria brings to
us on Friday,” her mother said.
Maria, being the old woman who prided herself in possessing the
healthiest chickens in all of Castile at the outskirts of town, always
delivered her best eggs to the Obrigon family at dawn. Nevertheless,
Isabella could neither understand nor believe what she was hearing
from her father’s mouth.
“We must fetch Maria. We must! I’m not going to let this old
wretch give me orders,” said Isabella.
Her mother, who had been quiet until now, spoke to Don
Obrigon. “My dear Arturo, can’t we drive right out of town to
Maria’s farm and have words with her?”
“Not now. I’m due to meet with Seville’s mayor in one hour. It
will have to wait till I return this afternoon.”
“But how can we wait?” Isabella asked her father. “Isn’t my
happiness more important than affairs of town?” She felt completely
abandoned by her father. He had nurtured every request and desire
she had while growing up, and could never say no to her. He had
given her the beautiful blue-tiled fountain adjacent to her room,
where twenty colorful blue jays sang all day long, and had not
refused her when she wanted to invite all her friends to the country,
housing them in a morada near the enchanted gardens. She knew that
her father had spoiled her as a child, but this was a different matter.
Her union to Juan was a matter of life or death to her. She could not
live without him, not for one day. “If you don’t care about my
happiness, then I’ll have to go to Maria myself!”
“Don’t be a fool! I’ll be back in a few hours, and then we’ll
decide what to do,” her father said. With that, he left the dining
room, leaving his breakfast untouched.
Isabella stared with her mouth open at the dining room doors,
through which her father disappeared. In all of her sixteen years he
had never spoken to her with such harshness. This letter and the
threatening message must have frightened her father somehow. She
couldn’t understand the seriousness of the threat. She thought maybe
it was a merchant who had not been paid for his wares who was
trying to extort money from Don Obrigon. Nevertheless, sadness fell
upon her like a heavy black mantilla.
Doña Estrella’s heart broke to see tears streaming down Isabella’s
beautiful face. She looked at her only daughter with the fierce pride
that sometimes threatened to cripple Isabella. Isabella was a great
beauty. Everyone who set eyes on her concurred that Isabella had the
most striking face that the Obrigon family had ever produced. Of all
the paintings displayed in the grand gallery of their home, not one
ancestor possessed her features. Theirs showed rather stern, harsh
faces that were bent under the weight of their heavy coiffures, lace
hats, and elaborate dresses. When Isabella laughed or stomped her
foot when she wasn’t given what she asked for, her green eyes
burned as two emeralds in a white satin skin, to which dada Hannah
claimed even the Milky Way could not compare. With her full redruby
lips, Isabella could outdo a berbeliko nightingale. When she
sang accompanied by her guitar, her voice rang out crystal clear.
Don Arturo and Doña Estrella guarded her health almost fanatically,
protecting her from the humidity and hot sun in summers, and the
cold evenings of the Castilian winter months.
A sudden chill passed over Doña Estrella. What more could she
do to protect her daughter from harm? Isabella’s movement was
limited throughout the day. Various tutors who came to their home
gave lessons in Latin, foreign languages, music, and grooming in the
social graces. They had come highly recommended by the duke de la
Mancha, who was her godfather and the minister of finance in
Seville. Every moment of her day was occupied, leaving her little
time to dream, except when it came to Juan. At that warm thought,
Doña Estrella smiled and began to forget the projected threat upon
her daughter’s future wedding.
“Mother!” Isabella’s voice shook Doña Estrella out of her
“What is it, mi amor?”
“My life hangs on a thread, and neither Padre nor you, Madre,
“You know how much we love you, my dove—both your father
and me. We must wait for your father’s return before we make any
Seeing no reaction forthcoming, Isabella said, “Well . . . if no
one will help me, I will now return to my room.”
“Go, my child. I will see you before lunch is served,” her mother
said with calm eyes that did not betray the turmoil inside her. She let
out a sigh at the untouched food on the breakfast table.
“Make haste!” Don Arturo Obrigon ordered the carriage driver as he
sat back on his seat inside the coach. His thoughts went back to
Isabella and the blackmail letter. Who could have foreseen that his
daughter would be in danger? What he needed right now was a
soothsayer. He surprisingly smiled at the thought. As a rule, he never
took old wives’ tales seriously. He only believed in scientifically
proven hard facts.
His wife, Estrella, though, had been told by her servant Miranda,
who read teacups, that she would meet a handsome man who was a
healer. During their courtship, Estrella told Arturo the future
Miranda predicted. “You will be thrown off your horse Vega, and be
treated by a handsome physician who will marry you.” It was
another estate horse, not Vega, that had kicked her, bringing Arturo
to treat her sore ankle. Not quite as had been foretold by Miranda,
but pretty close, no? He had to admit that Miranda had been right
when she foretold the birth of a girl so beautiful that everyone would
Young men had flocked at their gate when Isabella was but
twelve years old. Both Arturo and Estrella discouraged all young
suitors, and also some old men who were widowers vowing to wait
for Isabella to grow up to the marrying age of sixteen. But when
Juan Escobar showed up at their door one day accompanied by his
father, Don Pedro Escobar, all resistance vanished. Juan’s handsome
features, his proud gait, and intelligence seemed to pierce Isabella’s
heart with cupid arrows. She fell in love the moment he addressed
her, melting her with his passionate black eyes. Arturo had seen his
daughter lower her green eyes in modesty at this sudden welling of
passion in her young heart. He knew that from that moment on
Isabella had sworn herself to Juan in the secret depth of her heart.
Isabella exploded with joy when her parents announced that
Juan had asked for her hand. Don Escobar, however, hampered that
joy on the condition that they wait to be married for one year until
Juan turned eighteen and completed his engineering studies next
spring. Pleading and crying, she begged her parents to move the
wedding day sooner, but they chose to honor Don Escobar’s
The abrupt stopping of the carriage at the mayoral building of
Mayor José de Gerondi pulled him out of his thoughts. Don Obrigon
alighted and was shown in the antechamber, where he was told that
an important visitor was consulting with the mayor.
As he waited, Arturo tried not to fidget, while reminiscing on his
lifelong friendship with José. They had met while in the naval
academy when they were sixteen. His parents and José’s parents had
insisted that the young men perform naval duty before they each
married or settled in their respective careers. José chose to go into
civic duties, while Arturo chose the medical profession. After Arturo
finished medical school practice in León, he set up a small practice
Arturo fidgeted on his chair and sighed at the thought of having
to wait much longer. Finally the door to José’s office opened up, and
out strutted King Ferdinand of Aragon followed by his servant.
Stunned, Arturo quickly bowed to the king.
“Don Obrigon, how good to see you. How is your charming wife
and your beautiful daughter?” King Ferdinand waited for Don
Obrigon to kiss his ring, and then waited to hear news of his family.
“Come on, man. The cat’s got your tongue?” he joked when no
words escaped Don Obrigon.
“Oh no. I was just waiting for Your Majesty to speak first.”
The king laughed in a low baritone voice. “Very wise indeed.
You must visit us with your family at the palace someday next week.
After all, you named your daughter after the queen, and we’re
gratified by that choice.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty. It is we who thank you for allowing
us to use the queen’s illustrious name.”
“All right, Don Obrigon. Send word to the court as soon as
Don Arturo bowed, and the king with his attendant disappeared
through a door that led to a small courtyard. Don José looked at Don
Arturo and said, “I always worry whenever the king comes to the
mayoral house. I’ve told him it isn’t safe, but he insisted on seeing me
today. Come in, Arturo.”
Arturo followed him to his chambers decorated with tapestries,
where the only piece of furniture was a large dark walnut desk
presiding over the entire room. Sunlight fell from the high-ceilinged
windows, illuminating the center of the room and capturing floating
dust particles in its rays. Two chairs stood in front of the desk, and
José invited Arturo to sit down. Arturo sat in his chair and wondered
if he had taken the same seat that King Ferdinand had just vacated. It
gave him a fleeting feeling of importance.
“What’s so urgent that you sent for me this morning?” he asked
José, who sat close to him in the other chair.
“It has to do with the king’s visit,” said José.
Arturo felt his stomach tighten. A visit from King Ferdinand was
bound to signify a serious request from José, whether it was affairs
of state or additional taxes. Either way, it would mean additional
hardships on all the country. They were already heavily taxed.
“You know, Arturo,” began José, “I would not have asked you
here unless something was afoot in the palace.”
“Every time you ask to see me, José, it’s for more revenues for
running this city. I’ve contributed already—very handsomely, if I
may say so—to your budget, but my reserves are not limitless.”
“I know, I know.” José rushed to agree with him.
Arturo, nevertheless, guessed that José would use another one of
his convincing arguments that every head in Castile was in jeopardy
unless they forked over more maravedís, for more religious or public
“But you see . . .” José continued, “I know how helpful you’ve
been whenever I came to you. This time it’s urgent and vital that we
find three hundred thousand maravedís.”
“Three hundred thousand!” Arturo cried with shock. “I could
never raise this sum even if I were a close friend to all the princes of
Europe and the Levant! You’re asking too much, my friend.”
“I’m not asking you to do that from your own monies. What I’m
asking you is a different favor this time.”
Arturo sighed with relief, then looked questioningly at José.
“You do have as patients some of our richest members of
Castilian families here in Seville. I’m also referring to the rich
Jewish merchants who come to you for their health. I’m speaking of
Don Abraham Senior, and especially the financier Don Isaac
Abravanel. I’m told he has the ear of Queen Isabella.”
“If Don Abravanel is in the confidence of the queen, perhaps you
should ask him personally.”
“But you’re the only one he trusts, and he has befriended you
since you established your practice. There’s good reason why I’m
asking you personally. Something grave has come up.”
Arturo sensed a veiled meaning behind the remark. Don
Abravanel had loaned him funds to open his medical practice a
number of years ago, and referred all of the Hebrew community to
him and his expert medical care for many years. “You know I owe
him a tremendous gratitude for all he has done. But I’ve repaid him
every maravedi I borrowed. I owe him nothing!” Arturo was
beginning to feel uneasy with José’s request and abruptly changed
the conversation. “I have something more important to deal with
right now. I’ve received a blackmail letter that has threatened my
daughter’s own happiness.”
“What do you mean?” asked José while raising both his
Arturo related everything that happened that morning, including
Isabella’s dismay. “So you see, I have to trace where the letter came
from as soon as possible.”
“This is serious indeed. I’ll send away for Inspector Guerida’s
help. You know you can depend on me. I wouldn’t want anything to
happen to your beautiful Isabella. Sometimes I wonder that if my son
hadn’t squandered his fortune, perhaps we would have been related,
adding depth to our friendship.” José sighed. “You know I wouldn’t
have asked you unless it was urgent. I know I can confide in you.”
Arturo was remembering that the reason he and his wife,
Estrella, had rejected José’s son was that he had tarnished many
young señoritas’ reputations, not due to lack of dowry for the match.
“Arturo? Are you with me?”
José’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts.” “I’m sorry; you
were saying something about a grave reason?”
“Yes. And I know I can trust you not to breathe a word to
“Of course. You have my complete confidence.”
“You know that the armed men of King Abdallah have been
staging coup after coup since last year?”
“Of course. I get news every day of the wounded coming home.”
“Well, news of the utmost secrecy has reached the palace that
several Berber battalions from Morocco and Tangiers will cross the
channel to join the Moors by next spring. King Ferdinand has vowed
to eradicate them from our frontiers and Granada. We used many
maravedís to conquer one half of the kingdom of Granada, and
we’ve been fighting them since 1481. Almost ten years! The treasury
is almost empty.” José stopped, out of breath. He then continued.
“Baza, Alméria, and Guadix surrendered to our brave soldiers two
years ago. Now we need to conquer the city of Granada itself. But
we need funds to enlist at least two hundred thousand foot soldiers
and officers. Let me remind you that Seville is only two hundred
kilometers from the frontier in Granada and from our homes. This is
a battle we can’t lose. If we do . . . there is no telling what might
happen to our very own existence—our lands, our wives, and our
At that last word Arturo jumped. If anything harmed his
daughter, he wouldn’t forgive himself, nor would his wife forgive
Without hesitation, Arturo asked, “What exactly do you want me
“I want you to go to Don Abravanel and ask him personally for
the funds without telling him the real reasons. You know that Don
Abravanel has also been giving loans for a number of years to the
many cities in Granada. You know what that means, don’t you?”
Arturo thought for a moment, then it became clear—José was
asking him to blackmail Don Abravanel, and question his allegiance
to Queen Isabella and the kingdom of Aragon. How could José ask
him to do that when he himself was being blackmailed?
He suddenly felt a heavy weight pressing on his chest, and he
fought for air. He said, “You know, José, my allegiance to you and
to the queen. But you’re asking me to do something abhorrent to my
honor. You’re asking me to blackmail Don Abravanel!” Arturo
pulled out his linen kerchief to wipe sweat beads on his forehead.
José defended himself. “No, no, Arturo. All I’m asking you is to
intimate to Don Abravanel that the funds are needed to help our
wounded and their families.”
“But you’re asking for a fortune! I don’t see how he would part
with that immense sum.”
“I do know that Don Abravanel is the queen and king’s treasurer
and is amazingly rich himself. He has amassed fortunes of his own.
He is the only one who can keep the dominion from ruin.”
Arturo stayed silent for a long moment. Then he sighed. Nothing
was going to dissuade José from giving him this mission. He would
have to think of a persuading argument to have Don Abravanel part
with his money.
“All right, I’ll do what you ask of me. But don’t forget that the
queen has to know that I’m the only one taking on this enterprise.”
“The queen will thank you and your family personally. I
promise,” said José solemnly. He then went to Don Arturo and
embraced him. “Just think about it. You’re saving the realm.”
Arturo strode from the room without answering.
Isabella paced back and forth in her bedchamber while mumbling to
herself. What should I do? At times of crisis in her young life, she
usually turned to her parents. Don Arturo and Doña Estrella had
come to her rescue, but so far her protected and abundant life had
been marred only by small disappointments. Now she was facing
the ultimate fear—losing Juan. She never imagined any harm
happening to her. Rather, if anyone were to be harmed, it would be
Juan. Juan had a short temper and had used his sword to defend
slights caused by misunderstanding among his peers at school. She
also knew that Juan spent his days at school studying engineering
and learning fencing—as every gentleman in his class did. The
thought of his vulnerability made her fear for him. A shiver ran
down Isabella’s spine.
She chased the thought from her mind and concentrated on the
threatening letter her father had read to her. Maria must know where
the letter came from; she delivered the basket this morning. The only
solution was to ask Maria. Isabella decided to find out for herself
since her father was too busy to take on the task. With that thought,
she rushed to the imposing carved mahogany closet and pulled out
the black hooded coat hanging among her many dresses. She slipped
it over her blue velvet dress and pulled the hood over her head,
leaving only her eyes uncovered. She grabbed several maravedís
coins from a silver chest on her dressing table and slipped them into
a small string purse. Next, she took the brass key to open the locked
gated in the small garden behind her room. She slipped the key into
the lock, but it resisted her attempt. She tried again and again, but the
lock remained frozen. She rattled the gate with a cry of impatience.
How else could she leave the house? Every servant working in the
house would notice her leaving through the front door and would try
to stop her. She could only leave the house escorted by dada Hannah
or her parents, or one of the servants to take her to the market.
She stepped out of her room into the long hallway, trying to see
if any of the servants were in sight. The hallway was silent, meaning
that the servants had already cleaned that part of the house. Now she
had to slip quickly across the rooms beyond the hallway. She swiftly
walked past the reception room and prepared to slip out the front
door, when dada Hannah appeared before her. She gasped.
“What’s this?” dada Hannah exclaimed. “Why are you dressed in
this coat? It isn’t winter yet! Go back to your room and take it off.
You have a guitar lesson beginning in ten minutes. Have you
“I forgot!” Isabella hit her forehead. “I just felt a chill and
wanted to keep warm.” She lowered her eyes, hoping that her dada
would not see the lie in them.
Dada Hannah came close to Isabella and touched her forehead
with concern. “You have no fever.” She looked relieved. “Go to your
room quickly and get ready for your lesson.” With that, dada Hannah
Isabella turned around, slipped her coat off, and pretended to be
headed for her room, but stopped midway to see if dada Hannah was
out of sight. After a few seconds, the entry hallway was clear. She
bolted for the door, and then stopped to face a small alcove in which
the Madonna stood. She crossed herself, opened the door, and closed
it silently after her. She ran across the courtyard and down the street
away from the house. As she turned the corner, she glimpsed her
music teacher’s carriage stopping at the front door.
She jostled pedestrians as she bolted down the narrow alleys, and
found an open carriage with the driver asleep in his seat high up on
the forward bench. His whip lay on the pavement, so she picked it up
and used it to rudely tap his thigh.
“Wake up, wake up, Driver!”
“What is it?” The driver opened his eyes and took the whip from
her hand. “Where to?” he asked, as he glanced at his well-dressed
passenger. “Where is your chaperone, señorita?”
“Never mind!” she quickly replied. “Take me out of town to the
farming district. Do you know Maria’s farm? The chicken grower in
the town of Dos Hermanas?”
The driver thought for a moment, then said, “Climb aboard,
señorita.” When she clambered into the carriage, he whipped his
horse into a trot down the cobblestone streets.
Isabella tapped the driver’s shoulder and yelled, “I want to avoid
the market streets in Olivera Plaza. Is that understood?”
“Very well, señorita,” said the driver, and the carriage lurched
into the streets that were emptying for the approaching siesta.
Flower from Castile Trilogy
“In Flower from Castile Trilogy Book One: The Alhambra Decree,
truth and convenience all too often pit themselves against one
another. The Alhambra Decree is the first book from Lilian Gafni’s
Flower from Castile trilogy, discussing the late fifteenth-century
wars between Islamic and Catholic Spain, as the two faiths form two
nations and battle over the Iberian peninsula. Isabella Obrigon,
blessed with a noble life, finds that she has the power to turn the
conflict if she faces the truth. But in doing so, she makes many
enemies but few friends. A riveting tale of medieval Spain, The
Alhambra Decree is an excellent choice for fans of historical
—Midwest Book Review
Flower from Castile Trilogy
“Gafni uses historical fiction to retrace the steps of displaced Jews
during the Inquisition. She writes with passion—her experiences a
—The Desert Sun/My Desert
flower from Castile Trilogy
“Author Lilian Gafni transports the reader into the rich and evocative
world of Spain back when Columbus readied to venture to the New
World and the church fomented its Inquisition against the Jews and
war against those worshipping Allah. Gafni captures the smells,
tastes, and textures of this time while drawing you into the
heartbreaking and complex stories of those caught on opposing
sides, with the church in the middle. A master storyteller, Gafni will
reveal to you a world that will open your eyes and show you a piece
of important history while keeping you riveted wondering what will
happen next. A must-read!”
—C. S. Lakin, author of Someone to Blame and Intended for Harm