Back | Next

Chapter 5

The hidalgo did not stay in the carriage for long. Two minutes, perhaps. Rebecca was not certain. Several of his men came up the carriage. There was a rapid exchange of words. Rebecca could not understand much of it, partly because of the accent and partly because they were using terms unfamiliar to her. Odd, that. Rebecca had been born and raised in London. She had thought herself familiar with every flavor of the English language.

But she understood the gist of their discussion. And that, too, she found peculiar. The hidalgo and his men seemed puzzled, as if they were disoriented by their location. They were also confused, apparently, as to what course of action to pursue.

Strange, strange. Again, fear began to creep into Rebecca's heart. The hidalgo's men, for all that they clearly respected him and sought leadership, were not addressing him as a nobleman. That meant, despite his courtesy of manner, that he must be a leader of mercenaries. A bastard son of some petty baron, perhaps, from one of England's provinces. That would explain the accent.

Rebecca shrank back in her seat. Mercenaries were vicious, everyone knew it. Criminals in all but name. Especially here, in the Holy Roman Empire, which had been given over to the flames of war.

Her eyes flitted to her father. But there was no comfort to be found there. Her father was fighting for his life. The Moorish physician was holding him up and giving him some small tablets from the vial he had taken out of his box. Rebecca did not even think of protesting the treatment. The black doctor exuded an aura of competence and certainty.

The hidalgo came back to the carriage. Timidly, Rebecca turned her head toward him.

Relief. There was still nothing in his eyes but friendliness. That, and—

She found herself swallowing. She recognized that look. She had seen it before, in Amsterdam, from some of the more confident young men in the Jewish quarter. Admiration; appraisal. Desire, even, veiled under courtesy.

But, after a moment, she decided there was no trace of lust. At least, she thought not. Lust was not something Rebecca was really familiar with, except the flowery version of it which she had found in some of her father's books. The romances which she tucked into great tomes of theology, reading in the library of their house in Amsterdam, so that her father might not notice her unseemly interest.

She felt a flash of pain, remembering that library. She had loved that room. Loved its quiet, its repose. Loved the books lining every wall. Her father's mind lived in the past, and tended to be disdainful of the present. But for one modern device her father had nothing but praise—the printing press. "For that alone," he was wont to say, "God will forgive the Germans their many crimes."

And now here they were, in the land of the Germans. Adrift in time of war, seeking shelter in the eye of the storm. Or so, at least, they had hoped. She would never see that library again, and for a moment Rebecca Abrabanel grieved the loss. Her childhood was gone with it, and her girlhood too. She was twenty-three years old. Whether she wanted them or not, the duties of a grown woman had fallen upon her shoulders.

She straightened those shoulders, then, summoning determination and courage. The motion drew the hidalgo's eyes. The admiration lurking within those blue orbs brightened. Rebecca didn't know whether to cringe or smile.

As it happened, she smiled. And did not, somehow, find that unthinking reaction strange.

The hidalgo spoke. His words came clipped, full of peculiar contractions and idioms. Automatically, Rebecca translated into her own formal English.

"With your permission, ma'am, we need to use your carriage. We have injured people we must get to proper medical treatment."

"And quickly," muttered the Moor, still crouched on the floor next to her father. "I've given him some—" aspiring? Rebecca did not understand the word.

The hidalgo's eyes moved to the chests and crates piled on the other side of the carriage's interior. "We'll have to remove those, to make room."

Rebecca started. Her father's books! And the silver hidden within!

She stared at the hidalgo. As he recognized her fear, she thought to see a flash of anger. But if so, it was gone in an instant.

The hidalgo's large hand tightened on the carriage door. His right hand, she noted idly. One of the knuckles was split, scabbed over with blood. An injury from the battle?

But it was his face that she was concerned with. The hidalgo looked away for a moment, scanning the distance. His jaws seemed to tighten. Then, with a faint sigh, he turned back to her.

"Listen to me, lady." Pause. "What is your name?"

"Rebecca—" She hesitated. "Abrabanel." She held her breath. Of all the great family names of Sepharad, Abrabanel was the most famous. Notorious.

But the name, apparently, meant nothing to the hidalgo. He simply nodded, and said: "Pleased to meet you. My name is Mike Stearns."

Mike? Then: Oh. It's those bizarre contractions again. Michael.

The hidalgo flashed a smile. Then, as quickly as it came, the smile vanished. His face became stern and solemn.

"Listen to me, Rebecca Abrabanel. I do not know what this place is, or where we are. But I do not care." Fiercely: "Not one damn bit. As far as I am concerned, we are still in West Virginia."

Rebecca's mind groped at the name. West—what?

The hidalgo did not notice her confusion. His eyes had left her for a moment. Again, he was scanning the countryside around them. His look was fierce. Fierce.

Growling, now, almost snarling: "You—and your father—are under the protection of the people of West Virginia." His eyes moved to his men, clustered nearby. They were watching him, listening to him. The hidalgo's jaw tightened. "Specifically," he stated, "you are under the protection of the United Mine Workers of America."

Rebecca saw the hidalgo's men lift their shoulders, swelling their own determination and courage. Their sleek, delicate-looking weapons gleamed in the sunlight.

"Damn straight!" barked one of the younger men. He cast his own hawk glare at the countryside.

Rebecca was heartened by that reaction, but her confusion deepened. America? Her jaw grew slack. There are almost no English in America. True, that little wretched colony of theirs is called Virginia, if I remember correctly. But America is—

Hope flared. Spanish, of course. But Sephardim are there too. Since the Dutch took Brazil, eight years ago, America has been a refuge. My father told me there is even a synagogue in Recife.

Rebecca stared at the hidalgo. Was he a hidalgo? She was completely adrift, now. Her mind groped for reason and logic.

Her confusion must have been apparent. The hidalgo—Michael, think of him as Michael—chuckled. "Rebecca, I am just as puzzled as you seem to be."

The brief moment of humor passed. Severity returned to his face. Michael leaned forward, placing both hands on the open window of the carriage. "Where are we, Rebecca? What place is this?"

Her eyes went past his shoulders. She could not see much, they were so wide. "I am not certain," she replied. "Thuringia, I think. Father said we had almost reached our destination."

Michael's brows furrowed. "Thuringia? Where is that?"

Rebecca understood. "Oh, of course. It's not well known. One of the smaller provinces of the Holy Roman Empire." His brows were deep, deep. "Germany," she added.

His eyes grew wide, almost bulged. "Germany?" Then, half-choked: "Germany?"

Michael turned his head, staring at the landscape. "Rebecca, I've lived in Germany. It's nothing like this." He hesitated. "Oh, I suppose the countryside's a bit the same. Except for being so—so raggedy-looking." He frowned, pointing a finger at the corpses still lying in the farmyard. "But there are no men like this in Germany."

Michael barked a sudden laugh. "God, the Polizei would round them up in a minute! Germans love their rules and regulations." Another barked laugh. "Alles in ordnung!"

Rebecca's own brows were furrowed. "Alles in ordnung?" What is he talking about? Germans are the most unruly and undisciplined people in Europe. Everybody knows it. That was true even before the war. Now—

She shuddered, remembering Magdeburg. That horror had taken place less than a week ago. Thirty thousand people, massacred. Some said it was forty thousand. The entire population of the city, except the young women taken by Tilly's army.

Michael's blue eyes were suddenly dark with suspicion. No, not suspicion. Surmise.

"Guess not, huh?" He shook his head, muttering. "Later," she thought he said. "Deal with it later, Mike. For now—"

There was a shout. Several. Michael pushed himself away from the carriage, looking toward the woods. Rebecca leaned forward, craning her neck.

Many more men were coming out of the woods. For an instant, Rebecca was paralyzed with fear. But seeing the odd costumes and weapons, she relaxed. More of Michael's men. More of these—Americans?

Then Rebecca saw the first women coming through the trees, their faces filled with worry and concern. Like a child, she burst into tears.

Michael. And women.

Safe. We are safe.


For Rebecca, the rest of that day—and the next, and the next, and the next—passed in a daze. She was lost in legends not even Sepharad had ever dreamed. All she ever remembered were glimpses and flashes.


Bizarre vehicles, not drawn by anything other than a roar from within. But those roars, soon enough, she understood to be machinery. She was more fascinated by the speed of the vehicles—and still more by the smoothness of their progress. A carriage traveling at that speed would have been shaken to pieces. The secret was only partly contained in the incredible perfection of the road itself. There had also been—

When she climbed out of the vehicle, in front of a huge white-and-beige building, curiosity overcame concern for her father. She stooped to examine the vehicle's wheels. Odd-looking, they were. Small, squat, bellied—almost soft-looking. She poked the black substance with a finger. Not as soft as she thought!

"What is that?" she asked the hidalgo. He was leaning over her, smiling.

"Rubber. We call those 'tires.' "

She poked it again, harder. "It is filled with something. Air?"

The smile remained as it was. But the hidalgo's eyes seemed to brighten. "Yes," he replied. "That's exactly right. The air is—ah, pumped—into them at high pressure."

She nodded, and looked back at the tire. "That's very shrewd. The air acts as a cushion." She looked back up at him. "No?"

There was no reply. Just a pair of bright blue eyes, staring at her intensely. Very wide, too, as if he were surprised by something.

What? she wondered.


Into a room now, buried somewhere within the labyrinth of that huge building. The building was a school, she realized. She had never heard of a school so big.

The equipment was odd, dazzling. Rebecca realized that she was in the presence of a people who were master mechanics and craftsmen—far more so, even, than the burghers of Amsterdam.

But she had no time to wonder. The room was filled with people, urgently moving furniture and equipment aside in order to create a makeshift hospital. The badly injured farmer and his wife were being attended by several women. The doctor was easing her father onto a table covered with linen and removing his clothing. There was a rapid exchange of words between him and the women. Rebecca couldn't follow the conversation. Too many of the words were unknown to her. But she understood the meaning of the womens' head-shaking. Whatever the doctor wanted was not available. She saw his black face tighten grimly.

Despair washed over her. She felt the hidalgo's arm go around her shoulder. Unthinkingly, again, she leaned into that comfort. Tears began filling her eyes.

The doctor saw her face and came over to her, shaking his head. "I think he will survive, Miss—ah—"

"Abrabanel," said the hidalgo. Rebecca felt a moment's surprise that he had remembered the name.

The doctor nodded. "Yes. I think your father will live. But—" He hesitated, making vague gestures with his hands. As if groping for something. "We do not have the medication that I wanted most. The"—again, that strange term: clot-busting?—"drugs."

The Moor sighed. "He will lose some of his heart capacity. But I have sent people into town to get"—she recognized the Greek term beta; not the rest; and there was a substance he called niter-something. "That will help."

Hope flared. "He will live?"

"I think so. But he will be incapacitated for some time. Days, possibly weeks. And will have to be very careful thereafter."

"What can I do?" whispered Rebecca.

"For the moment, nothing." The Moor turned away and went to the farmer. A moment later he was back at work, surrounded by assistants. She saw that he was going to suture the man's wounds, and was deeply impressed by his obvious skill and confidence. She felt her anxiety begin to lift. Whatever could be done for her father would be done.


The room was now packed with people. Rebecca realized that she was in their way and edged to the door. A moment later, unprotesting, she allowed the hidalgo to lead her out of the room. Out of the room, down a long corridor, down another, into a library.

She was stunned by the number of books. There were many young people gathered in the library, talking excitedly. Most of them were young women—girls really. Rebecca was amazed to see so many prostitutes in a library, wearing clothing more immodest than any permitted even in Amsterdam's notorious brothel district.

She glanced up at the hidalgo. Odd. He seemed to take no notice of the girls.

They are not prostitutes, Rebecca realized immediately. That scandalous show of bare leg is simply their custom.

She pondered the matter, as the hidalgo gently steered her onto a couch. "I will be back in a moment," he said. "First I have to make a"—garble—"call, in order to arrange for you and your father. They've got the"—garble—"system working again."

He was gone for a few minutes. Rebecca pondered the strange term he had used. She recognized the Greek prefix "tele." A long call? she wondered. No. Distant.

Mainly, however, Rebecca spent the time trying to settle her nerves. It was not easy, with all those youngsters staring at her. They were not impolite, simply curious, but Rebecca was relieved when the hidalgo returned. He sat next to her.

"This all seems very strange to you," he said.

Rebecca nodded. "Who are you?"

Fumbling, obviously confused himself, the hidalgo began to explain. They talked for at least two hours. Rebecca became so engrossed in the conversation that she was even able to ignore her fears for her father.

By the end, Rebecca was answering far more questions than she asked. She seemed to accept the reality, in some ways, much better than the hidalgo. She was surprised, at first, because of the man's obvious intelligence. But eventually she understood. He had none of her training in logic and philosophy.

"So you see," she explained, "it is not really so impossible. Not at all. The nature of time has always been a mystery. I think Averroes was right—" She flushed, slightly. "Well, my father thinks—but I agree—"

She stopped abruptly. The hidalgo was no longer listening to her. Well, not exactly that. He was listening to her, but not to her words. Smiling with his eyes even more than his lips.

Blue eyes held her silent.

"Keep talking," he murmured. "Please."

Flushing deeply, now. Silent. Flushing.


The Moorish doctor rescued her. He strode into the library and came up to them.

"Your father is stable, Miss Abrabanel," he said. "The best thing to do is get him into a bed and make him comfortable." The doctor smiled ruefully. "Away from this madhouse." He cast a questioning eye at the hidalgo.

Michael nodded. "I already sent word into town." He gave Rebecca a glance which combined care with—puzzlement? "Under the circumstances, I thought—"

There came another interruption. An elderly couple was entering the library. They spotted the hidalgo and approached. Their faces were creased with concern.

Michael rose and introduced them. "Miss Abrabanel, this is Morris and Judith Roth. They have agreed to provide lodgings for you and your father."


The rest of the day was a blur. Her father was carried into a large vehicle shaped like a box. The words "Marion County Rescue" were emblazoned on the sides. She followed with the hidalgo, in his own vehicle. The hidalgo's men had already loaded all of the Abrabanels' possessions in the back of the vehicle. In a very short time—so fast! so smooth!—they drew up before a large two-story house. Her father was carried up the stairs on a stretcher, into the house, up the stairs into a bedroom, and made comfortable. Rebecca and he whispered for a few minutes. Nothing more than words of affection. Then he fell asleep.

The hidalgo left, at some point. He murmured something about danger needing to be watched for. He gave her shoulder a quick reassuring squeeze before he went. His departure left her feeling hollow.

Everything was rolling over her now. Her mind felt adrift. Mrs. Roth led her downstairs into the salon and eased her into another couch. "I'll get you some tea," she said.

"I'll get it, Judith," said her husband. "You stay here with Miss Abrabanel."

Rebecca's eyes roamed the room. They lingered on the bookcase for a moment. For a longer moment, on the strange lamps glowing with such a steady light.

Everything seemed vague to her. Her eyes moved on to the fireplace. Up to the mantel.

Froze there.

Atop the mantel, perched in plain sight, was a menorah.

She jerked her head sideways, staring at Judith Roth. Back to the menorah. "You are Jewish?" she cried.

A day's terror—a lifetime's fear—erupted in an instant. Tears flooded her eyes. Her chest and shoulder heaved. A moment later, Judith Roth was sitting next to her, cradling her like a child.

Rebecca sobbed and sobbed. Desperately trying to control herself, so she could ask the only question which seemed to matter in the entire universe. Choking on the words, trying to force them through terror and hope.

Finally, she managed. "Does he know?" she gasped.

Mrs. Roth frowned. The question, obviously, meant nothing to her.

Rebecca clutched her throat and practically squeezed down the sobs. "Him. The hidalgo."

Still frowning, still uncomprehending. Hope burned terror like the sun destroys a fog.

"Michael. Does he know?" Her eyes were fixed on the menorah. Mrs. Roth's gaze followed. Her own eyes widened.

"You mean Mike?" The elderly woman stared at Rebecca for a moment, her jaw slack with surprise. "Well, of course he knows. He's known us all his life. That's why he asked us to put you up, when he called. He said he thought—he didn't understand why, he just said he had a bad feeling—but he thought it would be best if Jewish people—"

The rest of the words were lost. Rebecca was sobbing again, more fiercely than ever. Purging terror, first. Then, touching hope. Then, caressing it. Embracing it, like a child embraces legends. Hidalgo true and pure.


With the morning, blue eyes came again. As blue as the cloudless sky, on a sun-drenched day. In the years after, Rebecca remembered nothing else of the two days which followed. Simply blue, and sunlight.

Always sunlight. Drenching a land without shadows.



Back | Next