Excerpt from The Duty of Daughters.
Light. So much light. Beatriz Galindo walked back to the library in light, and not just the light from the high archways of the royal alcázar. It was the light of life. Her life. Before the shadows engulfed her again, one archway opened to a garden where running water from a fountain sparkled like diamonds, light and water ﬂashing rainbows onto the high, white stone walls. Beatriz halted by the arch, holding her habito away from her feet, and gazed out before treading into the garden. She sat on a stone bench and looked around her.
At summer’s end beauty and ugliness competed for dominance. Most of the ﬂowers were now gone to seed, even the well-tended roses drooped their heads, crimson petals and desiccated leaves of every shade of brown scattering upon an earth sucked dry and cracked by days of relentless heat. Life passed so quickly, one season dying, re-birthing into another.
Beatriz closed her eyes for a moment, raising her face to the sunlight. Dear God, I have much to give thanks for – I will always be grateful for what I’ve been given. Then she thought how complicated was this gratitude. It was a gratitude birthed from sorrow, and from loss.
A shadow fell upon her. She opened her eyes, relieved to see her dearest friend, Josefa de Salinas, smiling down at her. “You are fortunate, Beatriz, to have time to enjoy the day. I am on my way to the queen.” Josefa laughed a little. “My royal cousin has summoned me to embroider the hems and collars of her new shifts. Sometimes I wish my mother had not taught me so well my skills with the needle. I may then be like you, amigo, more at liberty to spend my mornings in the garden.”
The sheer, white fabric of Josefa’s toca wafted in a breeze against the sides of her face. Apprehension stabbed Beatriz. Her friend’s face was too pale, too thin. The deep hollows under her high cheekbones were as if strong thumbs had bruised her wan skin. A ﬂowing black habito revealed the swell of her belly, a jewelled scallop, made of gold, gathering together the points of the toca at the breast of her gown. Beatriz did not need her knowledge of medicine or midwifery to know that Josefa’s pregnancy was proving diﬃcult. Beatriz swallowed, thinking of what she could make to help her friend. Hiding her anxiety, she smiled at Josefa. “I was thinking of my own mother.”
Josefa sat beside her. “Did she not die when you were but a child?”
“Si – I was three when the black death took her. My father never forgave himself that he could not save her from suﬀering a terrible death. I think I have told you that my father was a famous scholar of medicine, highly regarded in all Castilla – yet all his knowledge proved useless at that time. I was just wondering how diﬀerent my life would have been if my mother had lived. My father’s grief was such he never married again. It no longer mattered that I was but a daughter. He consoled himself by teaching me.”
Josefa laughed. “And found himself with a prodigy.”
“Prodigy?” Beatriz shrugged. “I’m not certain I was ever that. Rather a child with a great passion for books and learning. I was twelve when my father’s great friend Antonio de Nebrija took me under his tutorage. It changed my destiny from that of a religious order to a respected teacher of Latin at the university itself. So respected Queen Isabel sought me out when I was twenty to teach her to read and speak Latin. I have found complete fulﬁlment these past ﬁve years and more – not only as a teacher at Salamanca, but in my work as tutor to the queen’s children.” Beatriz lifted her gaze to a rose dropping its petals. Si. Death not only destroyed the life I had then, but also planted the seeds for the life I have now. The life I was meant to live. She refused to ponder about the dues she sometimes paid.
“You have told me the story before. But what makes you think of this now?” Josefa asked.
“I am happy today – the queen wants me to continue as tutor to her youngest child, and your daughter.”
Josefa lifted her dark eyebrows, and grinned wryly. “So – I hear it ﬁrst from you.”
Beatriz eyed her friend. “Do you mind?”
“Does it matter if I mind, or not? Martin or I could not say no to the queen when she asked for María to grow alongside her daughter as her companion. It was a great honour for our family –and all of us saw how much the young infanta loved María. We are close kin, after all, with the queen. I must accept with good grace my daughter shares the same education as the infanta.” Josefa glanced towards the archway leading back into the building. “While I would like to sit and talk with you in the sunshine, I must be away if I have any hope of ﬁnishing even one of the queen’s chemises before the day grows too hot.”
Josefa stood up, shook out the folds of her habito and headed towards the sunlit corridor. “No doubt I will see you soon enough,” she called over her shoulder.