The man with the red right hand was there, his face snarled with hate. His hand severed, bleeding on the floor, and an iron hook emerged from the bloody stump. Thick hair shook out from his shoulders, his mouth was filled with great gnashing teeth. The fox appeared, and the man pursued, they vanished in the labyrinth of the city and overhead soared great castles that screamed like banshees. Marisol tried to follow, but the alleys too narrow, their turns to unpredictable. She could hear the heaving sighs of the bellows in the forge, the regular tap of metal on metal. Sofia was there, waiting for her, angry that Marisol had left, angry that she had been away for so long. The sounds of the forge roared with anger and Marisol felt slick sweat break out on her forehead, felt her stomach contract with fear.
She needed to find Sofia, needed to get back before the work was done, needed to say that she was sorry for leaving, sorry she hadn’t come back sooner, but the streets of Toledo turned her away, again and again, a spiraling labyrinth that offered no escape. The man howled like a wolf, and she was in a tower with a black door. The door creaked open, and a red fox looked back at her, incurious. She looked up, and stood on a city wall, high above a desert, where desiccated hands reached up from the sand like withered plants. A black cloud stained the horizon. The sun had rebelled from the commands of its orbit, and began to drift from its position in the sky.
Marisol woke, and all these images vanished, dissolved like dew in the hot sun, leaving behind nothing but the nagging memory that she’d been thinking something important just a second before. Somewhere, far away, water dripped into a tin pan, with a regular tap-tap-tap. All else was quiet.
She was in a cell, on a bed of hay. The room was stone and very narrow, iron bars caged her in. On the wall opposite her cell was a sickly white witchlight. Its luminescence slithered over her skin like slime, illumined every corner of its reach, and cast no shadows for rats or fleas to hide in. Beneath that dim, pearly light sat a man. He wore a neatly-trimmed beard and a long, gray caftan made of rough wool, tied with a sash that was covered in a jagged, foreign script. His skin was very dark and his eyes were fierce, though his face was kind.
“I am Sulayman al-Abyad,” the man said, when he perceived that Marisol was awake. “I am master of the Turuq of Toledo. I have conjured a devil that sits on your shoulder, though you do not perceive it. If you speak a word that is not the truth, that word will ring like a brass bell and I will know that you are lying.”
Marisol considered this.
“There is no devil,” she said. “You are trying to trick me.”
Sulayman Al-Abyad frowned, but no bell rang, no sound came at all except that distant tapping of falling water. “Hm,” he said at last. “Would you believe that it only works if you say something that you know is false?”
“I might have before,” Marisol admitted, “But not now.”
The man nodded to himself, as if making a note for future reference. “Nonetheless,” he said, “it is in your interests to tell me as much truth as possible. Though you might not believe it, I am your ally tonight.”
“You are part of the Cabal,” Marisol said.
“Yes,” he said. “And my brethren are very displeased with you. They believe you are a Medici spy.”
“Hah,” said Sulayman Al-Abyad. “Hah. Because they have very simple notions of politics, in the first place. But in the second, because you are involved in something that you should not be.”
Diego’s princess, Marisol thought. Was she a real princess? Here to have a marriage arranged? “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marisol said. “I was out in the street for a walk, when I came across…a wild animal. It attacked and I defended myself. By coincidence I came to the Jewish quarter.”
“Oh, an animal?” Sulayman al-Abyad asked. “Not a man? Because it is a man that we found you with. A man that you stabbed through the arm.”
Marisol shrugged. “It was very dark. Maybe it was a man who looked like an animal.”
“Yes,” Sulayman replied. “Maybe. So. Where do you live?”
“You said you were out for a walk, you must live here in Toledo. Where?”
“Uhm,” said Marisol. “The…by the smithies. Next to Jeronimo Sanchez. Across the street from him, I mean.”
“Of course, Jeronimo.” Sulayman al-Abyad leaned back against the wall. “What pump do you draw your water from?”
“Your water,” Sulayman said. “You get it from somewhere, yes? From one of the pumps that draw from the river. Which one?”
“The…the one…” Marisol’s mind raced, desperate for an answer. Had she even seen a water pump? “The one that is…nearby.”
“Ah,” said Sulayman al-Abyad. “So, you see, I do not need a devil to sing to me to know that you’re not telling the truth. Would you like to try again?”
Marisol struggled to come up with some plausible story, but panic had left her mind resolutely blank. “I…I am a student. Of Don Lope de la Barca, the fencing master. I came into town on an errand.”
“And how did you come to meet the Prussians?”
“I…a man I met told me that he had fallen in love, and he needed my help. Who am I to stand in the way of love? Of course I did not know what he wanted, and did not know that the man, or beast, would try to kill us. I thought I was only doing good.”
Sulayman al-Abyad’s eyes narrowed. “What was his name.”
“The man that you met.”
Marisol spread her hands. “I don’t remember.”
“You followed a stranger deep into an unfamiliar city, you risked your life against a monster for him, and you don’t remember his name?”
“It was a confusing time. So many things happened at once. I can’t be expected to remember it all.”
Sulayman al-Abyad did not seem satisfied with this, but his skeptical scowling was met with Marisol’s unrelenting impassivity. They both sweated beneath the witchlight, their skin becoming slick and greasy.
“What now?” Marisol said, breaking the silence at last.
“Now,” Sulayman al-Abyad mused, stroking his beard. “Now. My brethren want to send you up to the Alcázar. They suspect what you have done is treason. The matters of kings and lords are not meddled in lightly, and you have caused Toledo a great deal of trouble.”
“Do you think that the Prussians send their highborn daughters to Toledo to take in the air?” Sulayman snapped. “Fighting her bodyguard is one thing, that could be forgiven. But abetting the other…well, nevermind. It seems to me that the Cabal’s mandate is for devils only, and as you are plainly not a devil, or possessed by devils, then it is appropriate for us to let you go.”
Sulayman al-Abyad spoke a word, and the iron locks on the cage made a grinding, wrenching sound, then fell away. The bars swung open.
“Quickly,” he said. “They will be here for you soon. Up the stairs and down the hall. Do not look at anyone, walk quickly but do not run, and no one will notice.” He held out Marisol’s hat.
“Where is my sword?”
“Your sword?” Sulayman asked. “I have given you your life. The sword is lost.”
“No,” said Marisol. “No, the sword was my mother’s—“
“Then you shouldn’t have fought a man in the street with it. The Cabal wants the weapon, the Cabal will keep it.”
Marisol felt heat rise in her face. Her collar was too tight, her throat small. “It was my mother’s. I will not go without it.”
“You will go, and go quickly,” Sulayman insisted, “or they will send you to the Alcázar where you be flogged and hanged and certainly not given your sword back.”
She seized Sulayman by the wrists. He looked at her with great surprise. “Why? Why do you want it? It’s just a sword, it means nothing to you!”
Sulayman al-Abyad struggled to break Marisol’s grip on his wrists. “I do not know, it is not my decision to make. I should not have even done this much!” He finally pulled away, leaving Marisol stunned in the doorway of her cell.
“No,” she said, “no, no.”
“Go!” Sulayman hissed. “Do not make me regret this.”
“No, listen,” Marisol said. “It’s…it’s not mine. It was made as a commission, for someone else, I was only carrying it. You cannot rob him because I committed a crime. It doesn’t belong to me…”
“Who? Who was it commissioned for?”
“You must let me have it!” She practically screamed.
“Who is it for?”
“Savonarola,” Marisol said. “Salvatore Savonarola.”
Sulayman al-Abyad’s eyes widened at the mention of the name, but he would not relent. “You cannot retrieve it now.” Sounds on the floors above them, men quickened by Marisol’s voice now trickled down. “You cannot…ai, we are too late.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and looked her in the eye. “Listen, girl. Take the stairs up, follow the corridor to your right. There is a door there to the kitchens…”
“I must have it—“
“Listen. There is a backstair for the servants that leads to the masters’ study, but the masters will not come down that way. Do you understand? You must leave now!”
He practically shoved Marisol up the stairs. She was resolved not to leave without her sword, but she needed time. She took the stairs up, and then the narrow wooden corridor. She walked quickly but didn’t run, didn’t look at anyone else as she barged through the quiet kitchens and out the back door. She was conspicuous enough, and the commotion in the house had grown great enough, that she disturbed the kitchen steward, a very old man who napped on a stool by the larder.
Marisol fled out into the dark alley behind the Cabal house and ducked into a low doorway. There was no light here at all but the dim glow of the low moon, limning the pointed roofs and chimneys of the nearby houses, and the torches on the Alcázar, which thrummed red and ruddy to the north, much closer than Marisol had expected. She hid in the doorway, hat tugged low over her face, and watched.
The kitchen steward, who had long white hairs growing from his ears and whose nose and chin could very nearly touch, followed her blearily out of the door. He looked, squinting with nearsighted eyes, to the left and right. Behind him appeared a younger man, dressed in the cassock of a Christian priest. The priest spoke something to the old man, who waved his hands, grumbled, shrugged. The steward went back into the kitchen.
The priest glanced around the alley, but he did not see Marisol where she hid. Satisfied, he, too, went back inside.
As the door swung shut, Marisol crept close to it, hugging the wall, moving as quickly as she dared.