The Key – Chapter 5

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[Warehouse 13 / Bering & Wells Early Modern Spain Über (AU)]
[written as Daphne]

[Banner sources: 1)2)3)4); see Chapter 1 for details]

***

5

[141610]

La puerta de mi querida ya se abrió
De lagrimas ya se hinchó

Como la primavera que ansí salió
La bella ninia que amo yo.

(Arvolicos d’almendra, Sephardic Romance)

[The door of my darling did already open,
Did already swell with tears.
Like the spring, like that did she leave
The beautiful girl that I love.]

[141610]

María’s fingers glide over the parchment, slowly, with intent. This is what she has known for as long as she can remember: ink and dividers and knotted threads, outlines of coast and land, the rose of the four winds in the corner, carefully painted names of cities she will never see.

She carries the shapes and the letters within her, a map of the world to revisit at her leisure. And she hopes with all that she is that she can form a map of Haya like that, that she can complete it in the scant weeks they have left, so that Haya will always, always be before her eyes.

Right now, Haya enters the room where María is working, standing bent over a large table in Abraham Abenhayon’s house.

“Don’t strain your back,” Haya mutters, her voice low, as she sets a small bowl of fragrant almonds on the edge of the table. Her other hand brushes against María’s shoulders in passing, right where the tension is beginning to coil.

María looks up, and the room around her is brighter simply because Haya is there. She adjusts the knotted thread between her fingers and squints at her map. In the upper right corner, she has drawn the rose of the four winds, and she wants to call them Hope and Adoration and Yearning and Abandon and spend days on their curved initials.

Haya slips out of the room again, quietly. She has to tend to the house, to her father, to his students whose voices María hears carrying over at times. The one person to sit with her for longer stretches of time is Hannah, whose eyes follow every of her movements, even if she does not speak.

María draws in stolen hours – before midday and before dusk, when the students are arguing, or when chants arise from the houses and wrap around her.

Sometimes, Abenhayon himself comes to see her. She fidgets under his gentle gaze, aware that she is in his house, that this is not the barn, and that he is Haya’s father, the man who holds all rights over Haya and would not hand any of them to María.

María has no words for what it is when she holds Haya, or when she has to kiss the hint of a smile off Haya’s lips or die on the spot. If there are no words for it, God perhaps has not created it.

Abenhayon says, “Shalom aleikhem,” but he calls her María.

She has worked up the courage to ask him why he does not say Miriam, and he smiles in reply.

“Does the language matter? It is still the same name. You are still the same.”

María does not understand how he can smile and be so calm, now that the days dwindle away. “Are you not worried, Don Abraham?”

“Oh, I do worry.” He looks at her, inquisitive and gentle, and María thinks how, if he were a proper Catholic, Abenhayon would be a man that her own father would look up to: well-spoken and of wealth. “At times, God tests us, but God is still there.”

“Even if God casts you from your own land?”

María cannot understand how he does not rage. He will lose his money, his standing. María herself, who can stay and whose life or faith is not threatened by a decree, is tasting ire, feeling it rise in her throat with every line she draws on the map, each of them another signpost towards Haya’s departure.

“And God also sent you, who has a brave and kind heart, and who knows how to draw a map.” Abenhayon is still smiling. “Besides, God did not write that decree. The Kings did.”

María twists a quill in her grip. “But are the Kings not commanded by God?” She should not sound doubtful, but she does.

Abenhayon cants his head to the side. “I am certain they think they are.”

Haya has entered again, she smiles, and she whispers, “He is treating you like one of his students.”

“Perhaps your God –“

“The name is another.” Abenhayon’s eyes twinkle. “But it is still the same God. – Imagine a mountain, María, and three valleys around it. And in all three valleys, there are people living.”

María looks at the mountain chains she has drawn on the map so far, and she nods.

“Now, in every valley – because it is a beautiful, high mountain, the highest of all – the people will look at the mountain, and know its shape. And if someone were to travel from one valley to another, what would they see?”

“Still the mountain?” María guesses.

“The same mountain,” Abenhayon nods at her. “But it would have a different silhouette, perhaps bear a different name. Still, would it not still be the same mountain?”

“It would,” María has to agree.

“And which of the valleys has the true sight of the mountain?” Abenhayon asks. “Which name is the correct one?”

“A mountain cannot be truer on one side,” María argues. “It is a mountain, it is bigger than the valleys, and it has different sides.”

When she looks up, both Abenhayon and Haya are smiling at her. María is still not convinced that what she is doing here is not a sin, but when she goes to church, she remembers the Samaritan who helped a stranger and was lauded by Christ.

The weeks rush by far too quickly. The first houses are emptying, their windows now dark and quiet at night. The map is almost done and María sorts her quills, quills taken from her father’s shop in stealth. She stretches her back and reaches for an almond, looks Haya in the eye when she bites down on it.

“I could watch you draw and measure all day,” Haya murmurs into her ear, breathlessly, when María leaves at dusk and they are supposed to say goodbye. She pulls María out of sight and into a passageway beneath dark and silent windows. “Watch you all day, and then kiss you all night.” Her lips are on María’s jaw, her neck.

Even though her body is arching towards Haya, María tries to step away. “Don’t.”

Haya stands, hands still raised to hold María in the falling dusk, and her whole stance turns to edges and angles.

“Why?”

“Because it will end soon, and you will be gone,” María says around a tight throat. “And I will not be able to kiss you anymore.” She tries to draw breath, but her throat does not work properly. “And if you kiss me now, I don’t think I will ever be able to live without it.”

“Miriam.” Haya’s voice wraps around her in the dark. “Please.”

But María takes another step back, away from those outstretched arms.

“Please see me tomorrow, then?” Haya has never sounded so desperate. “Please.”

And María is thinking of the map in Abenhayon’s house, the one that is almost finished, and she stumbles out of the passageway and down the street.

At home, she catches her father slapping Gualterio and yelling at him because there are several threads and a set of dividers missing in the store. María feels guilty about not feeling guiltier, for she knows well where those threads and dividers are: at Abenhayon’s house. With half an ear, she listens to Teresa’s excited chatter about Carlos, the nephew of the sword smith. He has a kind enough face, and their father actually might consider talking to his uncle about marriage.

The next morning, María is back in the barn. She is early, and she sits in the attic and looks at the patches of sunlight that fall through the battered roof and then she sees Haya rushing in, sees the despair in her gaze as she looks around the barn and then, finally, up to where María is sitting, waiting for her.

And María thinks that even then flames of hell cannot burn as bright as the joy that lights up Haya’s face. If there is just one moment that she is allowed to take with her from this life to the next, she wants it to be this one.

Haya hurries up the worn ladder, two steps at a time, careless of the bits of hay catching on the hem of her skirts.

“You came.”

María tries to say, “I am sorry,” but Haya kisses her words away, and kisses her, and then kisses her again. She shrugs out of her clothes as if they were nothing but an afterthought, and when she finally sinks into María, skin to skin, María sees tears clinging to her lashes.

She leans up to kiss them away, but the move turns into a gasp, and then another.

“I know it will end soon,” Haya says fervently, her fingers moving against María’s skin. “I know that I must leave, that we will not be like this any longer. I know that.” Her lips move along María’s neck. “And this is why I need every last moment with you, so that I will be full of you, to the brim, to last for every day ahead without you.”

And María knows that every kiss now makes it more impossible to live without these kisses then, in the time that will come. And yet she kisses Haya back.

Haya’s lips trail along the skin between her breasts. “Lihi,” she mutters, and María does not know whether the wetness she feels is Haya’s kiss, or her tears. She wraps her arms around Haya, buries her nose in the soft fall of her hair, and she wants more moments. She wants to remember the scent of Haya’s hair and the tone of her voice as they lie curled up, raindrops falling through the roof as Haya speaks of her mother. She wants to remember how it feels, exactly how it feels, when Haya looks at her and says, “I could watch you draw all day, watch your fingers,” and then takes María’s hand and draws one of the fingers into the warmth of her mouth, slowly, and she never takes her eyes off María, at all.

“I don’t want you to leave,” María says and she holds onto Haya as tightly as she can, wishing she could indeed melt into her.

“I do not care about leaving,” Haya breathes against María’s shoulder. “I do not care where I am, as long as there is you.”

But the days run through their fingers like sand, impossible to hold, like the sunlight that falls through the roof. Some of the earnest young men that surround Abenhayon have left already, their voices missing from the now familiar tone of scholarly arguments. The Hammam closes. And then, one day, the map is done.

News travels through curved streets that are emptying, and the steps of the remaining sound a little louder in between the house walls. María hears the rumors of captains who throw Jewish passengers overboard, and there are new ones every day.

“You have to leave,” she tells Haya, even as she holds onto her as if she will never let her go at all. “You have to leave now.”

But Abraham Abenhayon refuses to leave before all his students are on the road, their families, and the neighbors who still look to him for counsel. The first of August is drawing closer either way, the ninth of Ab, as he and Haya call it.

María hears the news of the first gutting at the sword smith’s shop.

“Everyone knows they swallow their jewels and pieces of gold,” the smith says derisively. “We just take back what’s ours. They know the law. And there are patrols on all roads to the East.”

But East is where Haya and her family are headed: to Catalunya, and then across the sea, towards the Ottoman Empire.

That night, María gives Haya her dagger. “You need it more than I do,” she says and she feels its comforting weight in her hand, one last time. Her thumb brushes along the red inlay at the bottom of the blade as she hands it over, and then her fingers brush along Haya’s temples, and into her hair.

Two days later, Hannah is attacked in the street.

“They kept yelling about my hair,” she says, as if she cannot quite understand what the issue is.

Next to her, Haya is even paler than a shaken Hannah. María has her hands balled into fists. “I should have been there with a dagger,” she swears and she is there, in their house, regardless of the map.

Now Abenhayon wants to leave, quickly.

“As soon as possible,” María agrees. She cannot look at Haya as she says it.

But the quick route East is no longer an option.

“We will travel in good faith,” Abenhayon decides. “ And carefully.”

But María shakes her head. “It is not safe, it is too dangerous. You have heard the rumors.”

“I am afraid everything is dangerous these days,” Abenhayon says gently. “And I am afraid that we do not have any other option. No matter through which gate we leave, someone will see us. And we cannot stay here.”

You could convert, María wants to say. “Take the river,” she says instead, suddenly. “Take the Tajo, follow it all the way to Portugal. The law has no hold there, not yet. You can get a sea passage from Lisboa.”

Abenhayon looks at her. “We would still need to get past the gates, and down to the river. And have a boat…”

“A small one,” María says. “To try and pass as a small merchant ship.” She looks at her hands, at her knuckles that the Tajo has left with marks and tears. They are always a little rough, even when Haya slathers ointment onto them and then kisses them, and María always thinks that they are too rough for Haya’s lips. “I know the river well. I know where you can get down to the embankment, mostly unseen.”

This is a sin, smuggling Jews out of town. She is surprised by how little she cares.

“We would need a map,” Haya points out. “We did not plan to go West.”

“I could draw one.” And María wants to barter with fate. For one more week, or just a few days, quiet days of aching shoulders and sweet almonds and Haya’s hand brushing across her back in passing. “But there is no time.” Not when Haya wants to travel safely, and María will make sure of that.

She looks at Hannah, who still seems shaken, her hair in disarray. And she remembers the maps her father and Gualterio are working on. Maps of the West, of the Sea. “I will get you a map,” she promises.

She will lie, and she will steal, and she will care less than she should. And Haya is looking at her in a way that makes her stop caring about anything else altogether.

“Even without your dagger, you are still Juan,” Haya says when she escorts her, out into the street, and now they glance around themselves, alert. The dark passageway lies deserted and Haya kisses the corner of her mouth, and her eyes are so, so soft when she looks at María.

She looks after her with a sigh when María leaves and wraps her arms around her middle, suddenly feeling cold, as she walks back inside.

“You will stay here, won’t you?” Hannah asks quietly. She nods in the direction of where María has left. “With her. And live as a marrano.”

“No, I will not,” Haya is quick to protest, perhaps too quick.

“I need your help,” María tells Pedro, later in the evening. They are whispering across the street in the attic, like they used to as children. “Can you make a large house key, big enough to hide a few jewels?” She is upfront about the reasons. “It is for Abenhayon, for his family.”

“Sure I can, in the evenings.” Pedro says, and he never even hesitates. He also says, “You really like Haya, don’t you?”

Maria takes a large breath, and then exhales again without saying anything. “It is more than that,” she finally admits.

Pedro frowns. “How could it be more than that?”

“I don’t want her to get married,” María says, in a rush. “And if she were of our faith, and a man, I’d want her for a husband.”

“Well…” Pedro shrugs. “If she were a Christian, I’d want her for a husband, too,” He is unperturbed. “For a wife, I mean. She is beautiful, and imagine how she must cook, when the almonds are already that good!”

María thinks of Haya’s hands, of her fingers when she picks up an almond and offers it to her, and she wants that moment, too.

~~

“Any day now.” Haya has to draw a deep breath. Now the dagger slides out of the folds of her dress as she takes it off, takes María into her arms, just one more time, always one more time.

María wants to push her away, and she wants to hold her forever. Suddenly, she is afraid that someday, she might forget the scent of Haya’s hair. “I can’t –” And she is crying.

They are King Alfonso and his lover, but they do not have a lifetime.

Teresa does not talk about anything but Carlos. “Marriage,” she whispers, with a certain reverence. “Can you imagine?”

“Not so fast,” their father cuts in, and they are all sitting around the table: Gualterio, her mother, her siblings, spooning up stew. “María is the older one, she has to be married first.”

And María has to laugh, a little, because her father needs her in the shop and two dowries at once are more than they can afford. Teresa does not laugh.

“María will marry Gualterio, of course,” their father announces in between two spoonfuls, as if it does not merit further mentioning. “And Gualterio will take over my shop.”

María is laughing, now a little more, because it is Gualterio, and it is ridiculous. But then she is not laughing any longer because she sees the tense line that Gualterio’s shoulders suddenly form and there is something wild lurking in his lowered gaze that sobers her up instantly. She reaches for where her dagger used to be inside her dress.

“But there is no rush…” she hears herself say. If Gualterio will take on the shop, there is no need for a dowry. He is poor enough to wear her brother’s jacket, he will not ask for much either way.

“At the end of the summer,” her father states, and it is final. “Then Teresa can get married next spring.”

“So you’re officially betrothed,” Haya bites out when María tells her the story. She crosses her arms over her chest. “My congratulations.”

“Not yet,” María says. She has not slept this past night.

“How can you be so calm?” Haya asks and she sounds angry. “I have to leave you, and you have to marry that weasel!”

“That’s what Pedro calls him, too,” María says, and she smiles fondly. She will miss Pedro. “And I will not marry Gualterio.” She looks at Haya, and she is very calm indeed. “I will go with you. Away.”

“Yes?” Haya says breathlessly and there is rapture shining in her smile.

“Yes.”

Haya is kissing her, her lips, her brow, her temples, her ear. Only then, she whispers, “But you can’t. You would be an outcast.”

“I can be Juan,” María offers. “Or Miriam.” She allows herself to look at Haya the way they look at each other when they are alone, when Haya calls her Lihi. “It would be enough. I know that we could not be like we are now. I know that someday, you will be married. But this –” She looks at Haya, more subdued now, and she whispers, “This would be enough.”

~***~

on to Chapter 6

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