Marisol crept close to the door, staying as close as she could to the tall, dark house that housed the Cabal. The sounds of stirring within the house subsided; all that remained was the faint, distant tapping of water onto metal, somewhere far off. By good fortune, priest and kitchen steward had left the kitchen door unsecured, and a gentle push opened it enough for Marisol to see inside.
The kitchens were dark, lit only by a small candle. They were empty, except for the steward, who had gone back to dozing on his stool. He did not seem very alert, but Marisol supposed it wasn’t precisely his job to guard the kitchens. He wasn’t a soldier, just an old man there to point the way to the pheasants if someone was hungry.
As softly as she could, Marisol pushed her way into the kitchen. The breath of her passing made the candlelight flicker as she closed the door. She considered the room in the barely-sufficient light: the larder was stocked full with hanging game. Some wilted vegetables were piled high on the counters. There were jars and pots filled with salt and ground black and white and red pepper. The steward remained still, ensconced even deeper in his stony slumber.
Where now, Marisol wondered? Her eyes lit on a small, narrow staircase in a corner of the room. The backstair, Sulayman had said. It led to the master’s quarters, but they never used it. Had he meant…? Sure it was just a warning? Or else…
Marisol selected one jar from the kitchen pantry and made her way up the narrow staircase. It twisted around in a tight circle, and she paused to let her eyes grow accustomed to the dark. On the upper floor, there was only the warm yellow glow spilling out from beneath one of the doors. Voices murmured behind it. Marisol moved closer.
“—how she got out. Perhaps your wards were insufficiently applied.” Sulayman’s voice.
“You malign me, brother,” another man’s voice. “You know full well there’s nothing wrong with the wards.”
“Whoever’s fault it was, we need to recapture her,” a third man spoke. “If she’s disrupted the Crown’s alliance—“
“The Cabal’s mandate has nothing to do with politics.” Sulayman again. “She’s not a devil and nothing to do with the Medicis—“
“Are you sure about that?” The second man asked, his voice deathly quiet.
Marisol peered through the keyhole and blinked at the light. The room was filled with orange candles, perched on tall golden candelabras. Sulayman stood at the far end of the room, by a small window. The other two men sat in heavy chairs, turned towards him. Marisol could not see their faces, but she could hear the tension in their voices. Her sword rested on the floor by the chairs. It was stuffed back into the burlap sack, which was something marvelous: Marisol could not remember bringing the sack with her, though she supposed she must have, must have kept it clenched in her free hand while she fought.
“The Crown’s problems with Prussia are its own,” Sulayman said, turning to look out the window. “We have our mandate.”
Now was her chance, Marisol realized. There was no room for hesitation. She softly opened the door and, in a low crouch, crept towards where her sword lay.
“You’re a fool then, Sulayman. Our mandate comes from the Crown. Do you think Philip won’t revoke our charter in a heartbeat, won’t dissolve the Cabal itself…?”
Her fingers outsretched, Marisol just managed to catch a hold of the brown sack.
“He wouldn’t dare,” said Sulayman. He turned back, and his eyes met Marisol’s.
Marisol froze. Sulayman’s eyes widened, ever so slightly.
“Castille…all of Spain would fall without us.” He took a small step to the left, drawing his brethren’s eyes farther away. “He may hate us, he may want to see Samuel and I shipped off to the Seven Nations or to Songhai, but he knows that he cannot protect his nation without us.”
Marisol took up her sword and slowly backed away towards the door.
“Without the Cabal,” the third man insisted. “Not without us in particular. Our kind are rare, but not irreplaceable, and frankly I’m not sure I’d like to see just how well the Cabal can protect us—“
Marisol had almost reached the door when it swung open and hit her in the back, almost knocking her from her feet.
“Brothers, I just…” the young priest she had seen before trailed off, half in the room, half out.
Marisol stood up. The other two members of the Cabal, both old men with long grey beards, were on their feet staring at her. Sulayman hid his eyes behind his hand.
“Girl,” said the second man. “Girl…what…what is this?”
“Well,” said Marisol. “You see, the truth. Is.” She waited a long moment to see if the sentence, half-formed, would spontaneously generate its missing part, and perhaps her own mind would provide the answer.
When it did not, she kicked over the gold candelabra then threw the jar she’d pinched from the kitchen in the young priest’s face. The jar was full of ground white pepper; the priest yelped with pain and staggered back into the hall, brushing wildly at his face, which of course only serve to further coat him with the spice. Marisol followed, her sword held tight.
Behind her men shouted about fire and slapped at it with their robes, but Marisol ignored them, blundered down the stairs and a second time out through the kitchen, a second time disturbing the poor steward, who must have wondered if he’d have any uninterrupted hours of sleep tonight at all.
She crashed into the alley and, after a moment’s disorientation, headed up the hill towards the Alcázar. At least she recognized that; if she could make her way to it, she could make her way out of the city altogether.
“Girl!” A man shouted at her from the house of the Cabal. Marisol looked back to see one of the old, bearded men framed with light. “Stop where you are, at once!”
He raised his hand, then, and spoke a word in a language that Marisol did not know. Somewhere, distant thunder rumbled, and a soft rain began to fall on the streets of Toledo. Beyond this, nothing happened. The man lifted his hand again and spoke the word a second time. Rain pattered on her hat, but still nothing that she could see.
To his confusion, she shrugged, then turned off and ran. Strange words and incantations followed her down the shimmering, slippery streets, but if they were puissant, their power never took hold, and soon she had left them all behind.