Falling Pomegranate Seeds by Wendy J Dunn [Extract] Part One

One of my goals is to start reading more about Katherine of Aragon. I realized this summer (after finding a book of Isabel of Castile, and not buying it, go figure), that I don’t really know much about her, or her parents. So you can understand how excited I was that Wendy agreed to submit her first chapter! The picture she paints even in this short passage alone makes me feel like I’m there.

A word from the author,

Years ago I discovered a footnote about this fascinating woman, known as La Latina (Lady of Latin), in an essay about Isabel of Castile. A Latin expert, poet, so knowledgeable about medicine, rhetoric and the philosophy of Aristotle, she tutored on the subjects at the University of Salamanca. Beatriz was also a friend and advisor toQueen Isabel, as well as being a wife and mother. She is yet another woman forgotten by history – and a womanwho deserves notice. I hope she forgives my imagination for the liberties I have taken with her story in these pages, but if it makes   people interested in finding out more about her, then I am happy. Beatriz was a student of Elio Antonio de Nebrija, a Renaissance scholar and a man known in history for writing one of the first books of grammar for a romance language.


“Follow your star and you will never fail to find your glorious port,” he said to me.

~ Dante Alighieri

Burgos, 1490

Doña Beatriz Galindo caught her breath and tidied her hábito. She shook her head a little when she noticed ink-stained fingers and several spots of black ink on the front of her green gown. She sighed. Too late now to check my face. “The queen has sent for me,” she told the lone guard at the door of the chambers provided for Queen Isabel’s short stay at Burgos. The young hidalgo straightened his stance, then knocked once with the back of his halberd on the door, his eyes fixed on the white, bare wall across from him. The door opened and a female servant peeked out at Beatriz, gesturing to her to come in.

In spite of the hours since dawn, the queen sat in bed, her back against oversized cushions. She still wore her white night rail, a red shawl slung around her shoulders, edged with embroidery of gold thread depicting her device of arrows. A sheer, white toca covered her bent head, a thick, auburn plait falling over her shoulder.

Princess Isabel, a title she bore alone as the queen’s eldest daughter, and named for both her mother and grandmother, sat on a chair beside her mother, twirling a spindle. Her golden red hair was rolled and wrapped in a cream scarf criss-crossed with black lines, a wry grin of frustration formed dimples in her cheeks before she discarded the spindle in the basket at her feet with the others. She nodded to Beatriz with a slight smile. “Good morning, Latina,” she murmured, using the nickname bestowed on Beatriz by the queen. Beatriz hid her stained fingers behind her back and curtseyed her acknowledgement.

Straightening up, Beatriz gazed at the bed-hangings, unfurled behind Queen Isabel. His wooden club on the ground beside him, a naked Hercules wrestled with a golden, giant lion. Turning to her queen, she fought back a smile and lowered her eyes, pretending little interest in Hercules, especially one depicted in his fullest virility.

Queen Isabel balanced her writing desk across her lap, scratching her quill against the parchment, writing with speed and ease. A pile of documents lay beside her. An open one, bearing the seal of the king, topped all the rest. Beatriz’s stomach knotted, and not just through worry. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. I am free; I am always free while the king is elsewhere. Pray, it is not bad news about the queen’s Holy War. The knot in her stomach became a roaring fire. Holy War? Jesu’ – how I hate calling any war that. Pray God, just keep my beloved safe.

She almost laughed out loud then; as one of the king’s most important artillery officers, Francisco Ramirez, the man Beatriz loved and had promised to marry, did not live to be safe but lived to live. His zest for life was what first made her fall in love with him. Waiting to hear the reason for her summons, she gazed around the spacious bedchamber, composing in her mind the letter she would write to him tonight:

My love, my days are long without you…

No – she couldn’t write that. If she did, it would be a lie. Her days were full – most mornings she spent tutoring the girls before relishing in the long afternoons free for her own studies. She missed Francisco, but still lived a rich life without him, a richer one when he was at court.

What to write to him then? She could not tell him of her hatred of the Holy War. She could never name as holy a war stamping out any hope of another golden age, when Jews, Moors and Christians lived and worked together in peace. Francisco was a learned man, but a man who used his learning to win this war. Her learning taught her otherwise. It taught her to keep silent about what she really felt to protect the freedoms of her life. Could she tell him then of her joy of teaching the infanta Catalina and her companion María de Salinas? For six months now she had been given full responsibility for their learning. She looked at the queen. Surely the queen was happy with the infanta’s progress?

As if Beatriz had spoken out her thought aloud the queen said, “I want to speak to you about my youngest daughter.” She waved a hand to a nearby stool. “Please sit.”

The queen put aside her quill and pushed away her paperwork. She lifted bloodshot, sore-looking eyes. A yellow crust coated her long, thick lashes.

Seated on the stool, Beatriz gazed at the queen in concern. If there was no improvement by tomorrow,  she would prepare  a treatment of warm milk and honey for her eyes, even at the risk of once again upsetting those fools calling themselves the queen’s physicians.

“Si, my queen?” she murmured.

“Tell me, how do you find my Catalina and our  little cousin María?”

Beatriz began breathing easier. Just another summons to do with the infanta’s learning. “Both girls are good students, my queen,” Beatriz smiled. “The infanta Catalina is a natural scholar. She relishes learning – even when the subject is difficult, but that does not surprise me. Your daughter is very intelligent, just like her royal mother. María too, is a bright child. Slower than the infanta, but already the child reads simple books written in our native tongue, as well as some Latin. The method of having books written in Latin and Castilian placed side-by-side is working well.” Beatriz straightened and lifted her head. “It was the method used to teach me when I was the same age as the infanta.”

The queen exchanged a look with her listening daughter.

“I have been pleased to see how much my Catalina, my sweet chiquitina, enjoys her mornings with you.” Queen Isabel brought her hands together, drumming her fingertips together for a moment. “Latina, I believe the infantas Juana and María can be given over to other tutors now that you have provided them with an excellent grounding in Latin and philosophy, but I desire you to be Catalina’s main tutor, of course that includes María, her companion.” Queen Isabel twisted the ring on her swollen finger.

“One day, my Catalina will be England’s queen. It will be not an easy task – not in a country that has known such unrest for many, many years. I want to make certain my daughter is as prepared as I can make her, but I need your help. Can I rely on you to stay with us, and teach Catalina what she needs to know of England’s history, its customs, its laws?”

“My queen, of course…” Beatriz halted her acceptance when the queen raised her hand.

“Think before you commit yourself. You are betrothed. What will happen when you are wed and, God willing, have the blessing of children? We talk of an obligation of at least ten years, and for you to be not only my daughter’s tutor, but act also as her dueña.”

Beatriz smiled at Queen Isabel. “Francisco and I are both your loyal servants. When the time comes, we will do what needs to done for our marriage and children, but I will confess to you that my real life is here, and as a teacher at the University of Salamanca. I am honoured that you wish me to continue in that role for the infanta. And to be entrusted with teaching your daughter, now and in the future… my queen, words can not describe what that means to me.”

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 hábito 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, amiga, 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 hábito 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 hábito and headed towards the sunlit corridor. “No doubt I will see you soon enough,” she called over her shoulder.

Beatriz watched her friend go. For a time, she sat there, content to be alone with only her thoughts as company, content this sunlit garden held no dark memories for her. At last, she sighed and rose from the bench, heading towards the library. Almost at its door, she heard voices of children. She slipped into the alcove that hid her from view but also allowed her to look into the room.

Catalina and María bent their heads over a book, opened wide upon María’s lap. The girls sat in a pool of light from the window behind them. It burnished their hair with gold – lighting Catalina’s to a fiery red and covering María’s black hair with a veil-like sheen. Even at only five, both girls took great care of precious books. But where is Doña Teresa Manrique? She should be here. A tender-hearted woman, Doña Teresa carried in her pocket a seemingly endless supply of rose sugar as rewards for the children. The last time Doña Teresa left the girls alone in the library she had told Beatriz the infanta had commanded her to go. No wonder the queen desired a new dueña for her daughter.

“My turn to be Arthur!” María said, placing her finger on the page closest to Catalina. Her face a picture of concentration, María licked her top lip. “And as they rode, Arthur said, I have no sword.” María’s sigh was one of clear relief.

Catalina pulled the book closer to her. “No matter, said Merlin, hereby is a sword that shall be yours.”

Beatriz restrained a laugh, hearing the infanta deepen her already low voice. But while one child loved learning, the same couldn’t be said about the other. When Catalina pointed to the next passage there was no mistaking María’s discomfort as she shook her head. “You do it. You read better.”

Catalina’s grin revealed missing milk teeth, giving her round face an endearing look. “I only try harder.”

“You forget,” María said quietly, glancing towards a hoop with an uncompleted embroidery some distance away, “Mamá doesn’t care whether I read or not.”

Catalina turned to María a look of determination, it was one that mirrored the queen’s. Just like her mother, altering the girl’s chosen course was nigh on impossible. “I do,” Catalina said. “I want you to be as good as me at this. Think, when we learn about herbs from Latina and the good sisters, you can go to my mother’s library to know more. Latina says knowing Latin is like having a key that will open many doors. You read now.”

Beatriz grinned again. Her lessons were not falling on deaf ears. María read in a halting, uncertain voice: “So they rode till they came to a lake, which was a fair water and broad, and in the midst of the lake Arthur was aware of an arm clothed in white samite, that held a fair sword in that hand…” “Catalina!”

Beatriz almost jumped out of her skin when the young, grating voice called. Stepping out of the alcove, she saw the infanta Juana rushing down the corridor, followed by her dueña and two female servants. A child of ten, Juana’s slight form was outlined in sun- edged shadow.

“Latina! I did not think to find you here too.” Juana looked into the library. “Sister, our lady mother desires our presence in her chamber.”

Catalina gazed at her older sister and then back at the book. “Come, my sister. Latina, you come too.”

The infanta Juana disappeared from view, her women picking up their skirts and rushing after her. Beatriz smiled, reminded of the goose girl she had seen only this morning, searching for herbs not grown in the royal gardens. The swish of long dresses and under-breath protestations hissed after the infanta like a gaggle of annoyed geese.

Her face pensive and full of regret, Catalina shut the book, caressing its engraved leather cover before passing it to María. The two girls got to their feet, María cradling the book in her arms. Catalina ran after her sister. Silken slippers padded against the tiled floor until fading to a whisper. Now all alone in the library, María stood on her tiptoes, returning the book to its rightful place.

Stay tuned next week for the second part!


I'm a lover of all things Tudor, and historical - fiction or fact. My aim is to bring together writers of all calibers to share their work with like minded people!

Leave a Reply