Chapter Forty One

"What was that about a masked ball?"

Jedidah and Sal sighed when Signor Hassan asked once more to hear of the masquerade. For the past half-hour or so the two had been trying to clear the air only to offend the Moor. Snubbed by the Prince, Signor Hassan commanded to learn of every detail and though the two young ones could not recognize the gleam in his eye, Gustavo and Madame Diamantina exchanged glances every so often.

Heaving another impressive sigh, Sal began waving his arms and talking, "The Prince holds a ball every year to celebrate the arrival of the month of May but it is believed he has a hidden purpose for this year's ball, he wants to find a husband for his daughter—"

"But why has she chosen to act now?" Gustavo interjected.

"Because…because…the time is right." Sal faltered.

For Jedidah it was as if the truth appeared to her bathed in golden light, "Because the Prince is finding a husband for his daughter by Ridah who is barely of age first instead of tending to the needs of his older children, such as Vespera and Birgitta that the twins are plotting their revenge!"

Sal looked on in amazement while Gustavo and his aunt applauded their ward, only Signor Hassan saw nothing new.

"So why you?" he asked impatiently.

Not for the first time, Jedidah fidgeted nervously under the Moor's piercing gaze, "Because…because…she thinks my family was that of the man she loved and hated…"

"Is that all?"

"Wait a minute! Wait just one minute!" Gustavo stood and yelled red-faced, "Who was your family, why haven't they searched for you—tried to protect you? They…"

The stork-like fellow continued to bellow for some time and his aunt tried her best to get him to see reason and save their guest's hearing. Jedidah only knew to fidget under the pressure and Signor Hassan continued to regard his companions with a look of limited interest.

By himself, Sal hunched over and muttered to himself, "I've only done the best I could."

Upon hearing Sal, Jedidah turned and fixed him with a look of utmost pity and reached out to pat him on the shoulder. When her hand touched the woolen shirt and felt the lean bone beneath it, the girl drew back and blushed. Sal looked at his companions only to see the burning gaze of Gustavo and the Moor's self-satisfied smirk. Madame Diamantina on the other hand, invited Jedidah to help her fetch some things for the noon meal ("Might as well, seeing as we have so many to cook for…")

When the woman and girl were outside, heading toward the market, the former asked, "Are you afraid?"

With only a nod, Jedidah turned to scan the crowds for some olive oil vendors.

"You shouldn't be, they have no control over you."

It was then that Jedidah faced Diamantina and asked, "How do you know?"

"You're an adult, it's clear to anyone who looks at you but a soft one. Toughen up."

"You say that as if I could do it at a moment's notice."

Madame Diamantina stopped to putter around a rock with the toe of her shoe. In that time she said, "Courage, girl, courage."

"What would that get me, Vespera kills those who resist."

"And is death the worst that could happen?"

Upon locating an oil vendor, Jedidah took the opportunity to ignore her elder's question. When a hefty jug was placed into her arms and a load was lifted from Diamantina's pocket, the two made their way to the fruit merchants. Citrons of every sort and color were spread before them in the stalls of Ippolito Bend. Jedidah was left standing with the previous purchases while the old woman proceeded to thump, bump and batter every lime before her.

"Signora! Signora, you must pay for the fruit you have damaged!" the vendor cried when he saw just what Diamantina had done to his merchandise.

With a dismissive wave, the gypsy continued her examination of his wares, "Those limes are as old as I am, Signore, they aren't worth a lira!"

"I had them shipped from Espana! You must pay!"

"It's your shippers who should do so, have you ever seen so many bruised fruit, Jedidah?"

Nervous at the idea of entering an argument with a vendor, Jedidah sputtered, "I…I…they do look a bit overripe if you ask me…"

"That's settled, I'm sorry your wares are sub par but because you tried to pin your business short comings of me, I'm afraid we cannot do business. Good day Signore."

They left a seething man in their wake as the two went to examine a different seller's limes. Greener than the emeralds that adorned the goblet at mass that held the blood of Christ, the limes were in paramount condition. Pleased, Diamantina bought pounds upon pounds and bought an orange for Jedidah as a treat.

As he took Madame Diamantina's money, the merchant boasted, "All grown in Odalis by Calisto son of the Doge himself."

Diamantina scoffed but Jedidah was impressed and exclaimed, "Noblemen working in the field alongside his subject?"

Immediately her companion tried to dislodge the idea from Jedidah's skull but the vendor only smiled, "He would have it no other way."

They bid the merchant a hasty good bye when Diamantina sent a knobby elbow into Jedidah's softening side. Her protests were great but silenced by a pointing finger: Frauke.

Vespera was nowhere in sight, but behind one stall the handmaid leaned over the counter rolling dice. She did not see her mistress' quarry and it seemed Diamantina was intent on keeping things in such, judging by the way she tugged and pulled Jedidah along. At first, the youth was impatient, her feet went faster than her brain and was heeled several times before she realized that to go quickly would be to draw attention to herself.

When the women cleared the market place, Jedidah asked, "If I am not to be afraid why did you take me from Frauke."

Scoffing as she had at the merchant's boasts, Diamantina replied simply, "You have a brain in that soft skull of yours, think about it. Why would I have put you in undue risk? If anything had happened Gustavo would have dealt me quick justice and by this point I'm sure Signors Alvah and Hassan might lend a hand in such endeavors."

Then confused, Jedidah crossed herself and said nothing.