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The Little Gold Ring: Chapter 2

Toledo, Spain, 1504

Isabela hitched up her skirts and ran, laughing, after Ava Bibas through the narrow streets.

“Ava!” she cried out, breathless. “Stop…”

Ava turned to look back as she ran, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. She paused for a moment to wave tauntingly at Isabela, before ducking beneath a low archway that led to another street.

Isabela eventually caught up to her friend. Panting, breathless, the two of them collapsed in a fit of wheezing giggles upon the cobblestones. A few people passing gave them disapproving looks.

“Ava!” Isabela cried, in mock admonition. “That is not the way a young lady should behave! Decorum! Dignity!”

“You sound like Hermana Maria,” Ava chuckled. “The other day she scolded me for taking my hairpins out. Told me that a lady wears her hair gracefully, not letting it blow all over the place. But those wretched pins do itch me so!”

Isabela smiled fleetingly at her friend’s indomitable spirit. Not even the local Sister and teacher, Hermana Maria, had succeeded in molding Ava into a prim and proper lady. Then Isabela’s smile faded as she grew thoughtful.

“I still don’t understand why we go to Hermana Maria anymore,” she mused. “We are past the age of governesses and teachers. Our parents will be looking for suitors for us soon. I know for a fact that my father has been speaking to Don Rodriguez a lot lately. He claims it is for business, but I think my parents want me to marry Benedicto. It is a good match, I know that. And Don Rodriguez will want me for his son,” she finished.

Ava frowned. “It is a good prospect,” she agreed. “But how do you know he will consider you?”

“Because of this,” Isabela replied, taking a little gold ring off her finger. “This is my father’s signet ring, which he has given to me now that I am old enough to marry. It bears a secret mark to show that my family are still Judeo, no matter what face we present to the Church. And if a man were to be sure that his children would be Judeo, he would need a wife who is such. This is my proof. G-d willing, I will marry a Judeo, and give my eldest daughter this ring so that she may continue the line.”

Isabela slipped the ring back onto her finger and stood up. She smoothed the creases out of her dress and shook the dust off her hem.

“I must go home now,” she said to Ava. “It is almost sunset. Mamá is expecting me.”

“See you tomorrow?”

Isabela nodded, then parted from her friend. The walk back home took her through the marketplace. Normally, Isabela loved to dawdle by the stalls; she would touch the fine satins and wools on the textile trader’s stand, or perhaps buy herself an orange from the fruit vendor. But not today. She must reach home by sunset, to light the single candle that would serve as their chanukiah. She walked deep in thought, contemplating the changes she would soon be welcoming into her life. She had made peace with the fact that it would not be such a bad thing to marry Benedicto Rodriguez — he was Judeo, like her own family, and Don Salvadore was much, much wealthier than her father Miguel. Don Salvadore hid his family’s Judaizing well, helped by the fact that their servants were all Conversos. Rosamaria, the housemaid in the da Costa household was not Converso — not Judeo — and although she was loyal, they knew that loyalty could be easily bought.

But back to the matter at hand. Isabela had already decided that if her parents had indeed arranged this match for her, she would accept their wishes. She could only hope to continue her parents’ tradition with her own children. It would be a difficult task.

Isabela could hear the sound of urgent conversation coming from the windows as she neared her parents’ house. Two of the voices belonged to Miguel and Lea da Costa — her mother and father. There were two other voices Isabela did not recognize. One was a deep, husky voice, obviously male. The other was too faint for Isabela to hear properly.

Isabela pushed open the heavy front door and ducked beneath the lintel. She followed the sound of the voices to the dining room, debating momentarily whether she should listen outside, when she heard her own name spoken. Isabela slipped in through the open door and shut it behind her. The animated conversation suddenly stopped as the room’s occupants all turned to face her. The two people whose voices she had not recognized were Don Salvadore Rodriguez and his wife, Filipa. They were talking about her, Isabela realized with a jolt. Were they finalizing the match now?

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 737)

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