"We are going to get into the Alhambra. I know a gate, a little
postern gate, that is not well guarded, where we can force an entry. We
are going to go in, and guess what?"
She shook her head vigorously, her auburn plait swinging beneath her
veil like a puppy's plump tail.
"We are going to say our prayers in their mosque. And I am going to
leave an Ave Maria stabbed to the floor with my dagger. What d'you think
She was too young to realize that they were going to a certain death.
She had no idea of the sentries at every gate, of the merciless rage of
the Moors. Her eyes lit up in excitement. "You are?"
"Isn't it a wonderful plan?"
"When are you going?"
"Tonight! This very night!"
"I shan't sleep till you come back!"
"You must pray for me, and then go to sleep, and I will come myself,
Princess, and tell you and your mother all about it in the morning."
She swore she would never sleep, and she lay awake, quite rigid in
her little cot bed, while her maid tossed and turned on the rug at the
door. Slowly, her eyelids drooped until the lashes lay on the round
cheeks, the little plump hands unclenched, and Catalina slept.
But in the morning, he did not come, his horse was missing from its
stall, and his friends were absent. For the first time in her life, the
little girl had some sense of the danger he had run -- mortal danger,
and for nothing but glory and to be featured in some song.
"Where is he?" she asked. "Where is Hernando?"
The silence of her maid, Madilla, warned her. "He will come?" she
asked suddenly doubtful. "He will come back?"
Slowly, it dawns on me that perhaps he will not come back, that life
is not like a ballad, where a vain hope is always triumphant and a
handsome man is never cut down in his youth. But if he can fail and die,
then can my father die? Can my mother die? Can I? Even I? Little
Catalina, Infanta of Spain and Princess of Wales?
I kneel in the sacred circular space of my mother's newly built
chapel; but I am not praying. I am puzzling over this strange world that
is suddenly opening up before me. If we are in the right -- and I am
sure of that; if these handsome young men are in the right -- and I am
sure of that -- if we and our cause are under the especial hand of God,
then how can we ever fail?
But if I have misunderstood something, then something is very wrong,
and we are all indeed mortal, perhaps we can fail. Even handsome
Hernando Pèrez del Pulgar and his laughing friends, even my mother and
father can fail. If Hernando can die, then so too can my mother and
father. And if this is so, then what safety is there in the world? If
Madre can die, like a common soldier, like a mule pulling a baggage
cart, as I have seen men and mules die, then how can the world go on?
How could there be a God?
Then it was time for her mother's audience for petitioners and friends,
and suddenly he was there, in his best suit, his beard combed, his eyes
dancing, and the whole story spilled out: how they had dressed in their
Arab clothes so as to pass for townspeople in the darkness, how they had
crept in through the postern gate, how they had dashed up to the mosque,
how they had kneeled and gabbled an Ave Maria and stabbed the prayer
into the floor of the mosque, and then, surprised by guards, they had
fought their way, hand to hand, thrust and parry, blades flashing in the
moonlight; back down the narrow street, out of the door that they had
forced only moments earlier, and were away into the night before the
full alarm had been sounded. Not a scratch on them, not a man lost. A
triumph for them and a slap in the face for Granada.
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