A Stormy Spanish Summer(7)

By: Penny Jordan

‘Did my father go there with you?’ she had asked her mother.

She had only been seven or so at the time, but she had never referred to the man who had fathered her as ‘Daddy’. Daddies were men who played with their children and who loved them—not strangers in a far-off country.

‘Yes,’ her mother had responded. ‘I once took Vidal there, and your father joined us. We had the most lovely day. One day you and I will go there together, Fliss,’ her mother had promised. But somehow that day had never come, so now she was here on her own.

Through the tinted windows of the car she could see the city up ahead of them, its ancient Moorish quarter of Albaicín climbing the hillside that faced the Alhambra. Close to it was the equally historical medieval Jewish quarter of the city, but Fliss wasn’t in the least bit surprised, once they were in the city, to find Vidal turning into a street lined with imposing sixteenth-century buildings erected after the city’s capture by the Catholic rulers Isabella and Ferdinand. Here on this street the tall Renaissance-style buildings spoke of wealth and privilege, their bulk blotting out the rays of the sun and casting heavy, authoritative shadows.

She might have been surprised to discover that Vidal drove his own car, but she was not surprised when he slowed the car down and then turned in towards a huge pair of imposing double-height studded wooden doors. This area of the city, with its air of arrogance and wealth, was perfectly suited to the man who matched its hauteur—and its visually perfect sculptured classical magnificence.

Fliss was relieved to be distracted from that particular thought by the sight of the sunny courtyard they had just entered, its lines perfectly symmetrical, and even the sound of the water splashing down into the ornate stone fountain in its centre somehow evenly timed.

The house—more a palace, surely, than merely a house—enclosed the courtyard on all four sides, with the main entrance facing the way they had come in. On the wall to their right a two-storey archway led into what had looked like formal gardens from the glimpse Fliss had seen before Vidal had brought the car to a halt alongside a flight of stone steps. The steps led up to a wooden studded door that matched the style of the doors they had just driven through. Around the middle floor of the three-storey building ran what looked like a sort of cloistered, semi-enclosed walkway, whilst the windows looking onto the courtyard were shuttered against the late-afternoon sunlight. On the stonework above the windows Fliss could see the emblem of Granada itself—the pomegranate—whilst above the main doorway were carved what she knew to be the family’s arms, along with an inscription which translated as ‘What we take we hold’.

It wasn’t just the way her job had encouraged her to look at new areas with an eye to their tourism potential that caused her to note these things, Fliss admitted. She had made it her business as she grew up to read as much as she could about the history of Vidal’s family—and of course that of her own father.

‘Does it ever concern you that this house was built with money stolen from the high-ranking Muslim prince your ancestor murdered?’ she challenged Vidal now, determined not to let the beauty and the magnificence of the building undermine her awareness of how the fortune that had bought it had been made.

‘There is a saying—to the victor the spoils. My ancestor was one of many Castilians who won the battle against Boabdil—Muhammad XII—for Ferdinand and Isabella. The money to build this palacio was given to him by Isabella, and far from allowing the murder of anyone, the Alhambra Decree treaty gave religious freedome to the city’s Muslims.’

‘A treaty which was later broken,’ Fliss reminded Vidal sharply. ‘Just as your ancestor broke the promise he made to the Muslim princess he stole away from her family.’

‘My advice to you is that you spend more time checking your supposed facts and rather less repeating them without having done so.’

Without allowing her time to retaliate, Vidal got out of the car, striding so quickly round to the passenger door that Fliss did not have time to open it. Ignoring his outstretched hand, Fliss manoeuvred herself out of the car, determined not to let herself be overwhelmed by her surroundings and instead to think of her mother. Had she felt intimidated by the arrogance and the disdain with which this building frowned down upon those who did not belong to it but who were rash enough to enter? Her mother had loved her time in Spain, despite the unhappiness it had eventually brought her. She had been hired by Vidal’s parents as an au pair, to help Vidal with his English during the school summer holidays, and she had always made it plain to Fliss just how much she had liked the little boy who had been her charge.

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