The Lies of the Lion
Book One of "The Lion's Trace"
BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
The Lies of the Lion
P.O. Box 115
Grass Valley, CA 95945
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
Copyright © 2009 by Ocean-Hose
Also by Suellen Ocean:
Acorns And Eat'em
The Acorn Mouse
Secret Genealogy II
Secret Genealogy III
The Celtic Prince
The Last Quadroon
The Common Sense Guide to Good Sex
June 1450 Amsterdam
Jacob’s almond shaped, hazel eyes darted self-consciously while he walked the canal trail that led to the bridge. During the night, the muscles in his neck had grown stiff when a cool breeze caught his flesh unprotected so he had not slept well. Now he was anxious to begin his day and he stopped at the bridge to slowly absorb the warmth of the sunrise until it filled his youthful body with the vigor needed to partake of the activities soon to begin.
Jacob knew this neighborhood near Amsterdam’s busy channel would start with the stalwart clanking of hammers and loud claps of carpet shaking. A scratchy chorus of brooms would sweep away what ever happened yesterday and birds would chatter about what would happen today but it was too early to do other than perceive hidden artisans inside their studios preparing to begin expressions of painting, metallurgy and pottery. He would soon be busy with his own creative endeavor, for Jacob was a writer, a chronicler of events. With the skill of slender fingers and sharp mind, his ambitious inquiries were each day transformed into a steady flow of news.
Jacob belonged to Amsterdam’s small community of Sephardic Jews who kept a low profile amidst the city’s Christian majority. Those among them all knew who was who and where each had come from, living presumed lives as either Protestants or Catholics. Most had not converted and would not hear of it but there were a few families who had outwardly converted to Catholicism, while in the privacy of their homes continued eating kosher diets and secretly observing the beloved holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Succot, Chanukah, Pesach and all other holy days that drew them together to partake of delicious plates of fish and brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Those that chose to pose as Catholics, the church called Conversos, Marranos or New Christians.
But inside Jacob’s secret Jewish neighborhood they were known to one another as the Sephardim, the descendants of the Jews of Spain and Portugal who had held a tight bond for as long as any could remember. They had come north hoping for peace but most of Jacob’s community did not feel secure in their current surroundings. Living and posing as Christians was humiliating and many pondered their fates. ‘How long will we be able to stay?’ they asked each other in lively debates when secluded with family and friends. If forced to depart, ‘Where would they go?’ was another question to which few had answers. They all shared the belief that though they were not yet secure in Amsterdam, they would one day feel as free as any other citizen of the Netherlands. Jacob kept these thoughts constantly in the back of his mind even though his nature wasn’t suited to dwelling upon the dismal. He was by nature and nurture, an optimist.
After allowing the sun to warm his body and the breeze to tussle his hair, he pulled himself up straight, took several deep breaths, ran his fingers through his straight, oily hair and began his daily ritual of walking about the straat, poking his head into different stalls to see what had been produced or imported and followed his nose toward any fresh baked goods, especially the undisputable smell of challah.
Jacob walked intentionally from the hub of Amsterdam toward the farmland, where with his writing instruments he could record the comings and goings of newsworthy people. Whether they be well-informed farmers, shoemakers, sailors, fishermen or chatty womenfolk, he plied them for any piece of information that might be pertinent to the future of his small but growing community of Sephardim. After collecting that information, like a puzzle, he would lay the scraps of parchment upon his table. Other scraps of knowledge that left him baffled would be bound tidily and saved until the next day when he would diligently arrange them once again scattered amongst his morning bread, herring and cheese. Then he’d elevate his leg upon the table and contemplate some of the odd bits of information he’d received. Today he pondered over one particularly vague message a lonely sailor and a wealthy man had both mentioned to one of the youngest of the prostitutes in the Oude Zijd, along Damstraat. A fellow in the Rhineland had successfully devised a method to mass-produce manuscripts and numerous copies of scholarly writings had begun reaching cafes in Paris. Jacob set this scrap of parchment above all the others and would set about verifying the damsel’s account. It would not be easy for him to sneak back to the prostitutes at Damstraat and he hoped that those in his neighborhood would know it was only to procure the latest information. But idle minds and busy mouths always seemed to win out and there had been that one incident, just the one.
“What is the news from Belgium?” a farmer shouted from his field to Jacob as he passed by.
“Two rogues stole two crates of Burgundy wine in Rouen and were caught in Belgium.”
“Hggg... This is the story you bring me? My daughter goes off to Antwerp,” the farmer rounds his hand over his belly to display he thought she was pregnant, “no word of her?”
Jacob shook his head. He knew the farmer’s daughter. She was probably not pregnant nor had she run off with a man. Antwerp was an exciting place to be and it must have been especially refreshing to be removed from her father’s presence and all his imaginings.
Wandering through the farms and canals was pleasant but brought Jacob no new stories. The few remaining warm summer days were intoxicating but the vague story regarding Paris’s mass production of pamphlets was more so. He walked back into the city with the intent to pry where he might and see if others had heard of this intriguing bit of news.
Though Jacob enjoyed Amsterdam’s hectic atmosphere, when given the chance, he took work aboard ships loading and unloading cargo. Each excursion confirming to him that there were neither finer cafes nor distinct cultures than what he found in Amsterdam. He would forget, then travel to London, Paris or Rome, returning only to tell the others how fortunate they were to live amongst a community of such diverse thinking and political organizing. For Jacob, Amsterdam had it all.
“Jacob,” a gentleman said to him before quickly ducking into the cafe where he knew Jacob would follow, especially when the aroma of fresh bread oozed out into the straat.
“Morning Jacob,” the men said to him, while they enjoyed fresh, chewy, wheat pastry, washing it down with warm drinks. Then they sat and stared. Many of the men fondled their beards or ran their thumbs alongside their rough whiskers. It made Jacob uncomfortable, these elder men, waiting for his news, believing that he held the barometer of their day. He purposely bumped against a chair creating a small racket then spoke, “Do you hope for good news to bring joy or something obscure for which to contemplate all the day long?” He joked while looking about the room. The men smiled uneasily. This was the morning meeting place of the elder men of Jacob’s community. Most of these men had seen more troubled than peaceful days and Jacob’s jab at them was hurtful and he had not intended that. He knew that because of their past, it oddly made them comfortable having a bit of bad news each day. For these men, life had held more pain than pleasure and as strange as it was for Jacob he often played their game and fed them their daily dose of fear.
“I have heard news from the Garonne basin,” he told them respectfully and reverently.
“Ah, Garonne,” one after the other nodded, looked at one another and repeated again, “Ah, Garonne,” their eyes telling him, ‘please continue’.
Jacob’s hazel eyes focused intently at the men. “It is so close to the Pyrenees...”
“Yes, yes, yes...” they looked about in agreement. All were aware that there were Jews living and trading on the territory between Spain and France. Their Christian pretense was no secret, but because the stories had become so elaborated upon many were beginning to doubt their authenticity.
Jacob had nothing new to tell the men. He had told them last week what he had heard from his connections while snooping around the dock but the men needed something and he would provide it.
“A birth of knowledge is growing in that region. There are powerful influences wishing to squelch that growth.” Jacob said remembering what he’d heard from the prostitute on Damstraat in the Oude Zijd. “The tortured souls hiding behind Christendom are soon to have a voice.”
One man begged for him to continue. “Who will speak for them?”
“They shall speak for themselves,” Jacob said coolly.
There were faces of disbelief and nods to the contrary. These men knew better than to believe that New Christians would be speaking out. Such heresy would only bring their death.
Most of the others chuckled at Jacob’s audacity, except one who shouted from the corner, “The young man has lost his mind,” he said then hid behind the large brim of his black hat.
Jacob looked down after catching the eye of one of the men. “There is word. I can not reveal my source...” he said wondering if the man knew the information had been retrieved from a prostitute. Jacob shook the thought, looked away from the man and continued.
“Someone has devised a method to manufacture manuscripts. Many manuscripts.”
“How many?” the man next to him asked.
“Yes, tell us how many and how Jacob!” another cried out.
Jacob knew very little about the invention so once again relied on his creativity to get him out of a jam. He changed the subject. “Anti-Jewish rebels are springing up in Spain.”
A voice was quick to criticize. “You spoke of this a week hence, tell us something we do not know!”
Jacob fought back. “Do you not believe that an invention such as this could help the intellectuals make progress for us?”
With their continued love for their Iberian homeland, the wise old men were thoughtful. Jacob had once again succeeded in keeping their hope alive and provided them with something to debate and banter throughout the day and hopefully for several days. Jacob respected the old men but they never failed to leave him shaking. As old as they were, each held power in the community in one way or another and had a sharp, keen mind and could win any argument he presented to them. As they began to discuss this new invention amongst themselves Jacob quietly slipped out the door.
Jacob spent the afternoon prying his friend Abraham for anything pertinent he could chronicle and tell to his fellow Sephardim who waited eagerly.
“Lope de Montalvo is one of the most powerful officials in the Spanish Castilian government,” Abraham said to Jacob who accepted the statement apathetically.
“Abraham,” Jacob said, “we have known one another since we were boys, you have always looked toward that which is bright but you should remember, Montalvo is now a Christian.”
“But he will make things better and in his heart he will always be a Jew,” Abraham shot back.
Jacob would not budge, “Yes, he has great skill. Yes he lectures tirelessly. His work is beautiful. He is a true scholar but he has become a Christian.”
Abraham frowned. His eyes were blood-shot and his thick skin was creviced beyond his years. He always grew impatient with Jacob. “Why do you argue with me? Others tell me, ‘Jacob is so full of hope, he never fears’, my mother tells me, ‘think like Jacob, be uplifting’, she does not know how you trouble me.”
Jacob went to a jug in the corner, swung it up to his lips and gulped loudly then looked intently at Abraham. “It is through dissent that we will win the freedom to practice our religion openly, without fear of punishment or death. One day this will be so, but you wish to see New Christians as Jews and they are not.”
Abraham walked up to Jacob so closely Jacob could feel his breath, “But they were,” Abraham pointed his finger into Jacob’s face. “They were born Jews, out of fear for their lives they converted, it is still in their hearts.”
Jacob shrugged. He knew his friend spoke the truth but once again it had gotten late into the evening and he was tired of the discourse.
Abraham continued. “Come to me tomorrow evening and I shall tell you what I know. I am having a conversation with Rabbi Samuel and he has told me some things.”
Jacob straightened his back. Did Abraham have a jewel of information? Why didn’t he tell him now? He called Abraham’s bluff. “Rabbi Samuel has not been out of Amsterdam except to Antwerp in many a year, he’s secluded and short sighted.”
Abraham was not going to waste an opportunity to torment Jacob. “Rabbi Samuel has...” Abraham leaned forward stealthily, lowering his voice into the mocking tone he’d used with Jacob many times, “Tomorrow evening I will tell you.” And when Abraham laughed his wrinkles and worry seemed to disappear.
Jacob was quick to respond, “I will come tomorrow night because we meet most every night but I will not spend my day anticipating you have a great, important story, I believe you do not,” he said going right up to Abraham’s face before he went to the jug in the corner and took several large gulps before departing. Once outside he pulled up the fabric of his thick shirt to protect himself from the late afternoon wind.
The next day Jacob’s anticipation kept pace with the sun’s decline. He had given many of his peers an opportunity to tell him about Rabbi Samuel and any delicious rumors they may have heard but Jacob could tell that no one had heard anything out of the ordinary and that made him all the more excited to greet Abraham for their nightly conference. Not wanting to appear anxious, he stalled and kicked around later than usual. He had a late supper and lingered longer with the fisherman’s wives, as if they would have anything new to tell him since the morning.
Abraham recognized Jacob’s game and Jacob knew it by the look on his face when he meandered into Abraham’s small studio below the home of their friend, the merchant, Jean La Roz.
Jacob stepped down into his friend’s organized but dusty and moldy-smelling room. “Abraham.”
“Jacob,” Abraham said, ready to argue. They both stood squarely. Abraham ready to defend, Jacob ready to dispel.
Jacob nervously gave a tap tap, to his writing board. “You were to tell me, something you deemed important...Rabbi Samuel,” he reminded Abraham.
Abraham walked over to the massive wooden door that had warped with the rise of the winter’s floodwaters. He had to bend down and lift it to get it to close. His muscles were taut and his curly white hair flew wildly as he came back up again. He wanted to make certain no one could hear the information he was about to share with his friend.
Jacob was stunned at the secrecy but grew excited, no longer trying to conceal it, “You’ve got my curiosity up my friend, please...”
Abraham glared at him then walked to the windows and drew the curtains. Flying dust caused him to sneeze. Abraham had turned the pantry of the merchant Jean La Roz’s home into a workshop by day where he made sacks for his bare root, grape stock cuttings, that he exported and by night used the pantry to study his religion and converse with other men in the neighborhood before retiring upon the make-shift loft he’d devised. Usually only Jacob came by. Many of the other men who shared similar political views and enjoyed conversing were older and a bit more conservative and met at the home of Peter Le Sueur’s.
Jacob grunted impatiently as Abraham continued securing the room for secrecy. “It is just I...”
Abraham looked at him unsympathetically, “It would be all of them if they knew what I am about to tell you.”
Jacob, who had decided to relax, let out a deep sigh and began fumbling with the grape rootstocks.
“Don’t touch those, you’ll bruise them. The growers are strict about that.” Abraham scolded.
Jacob let go, turned and stared at Abraham who stared back.
Finally, Abraham looked at Jacob and spoke genuinely, “Spain’s renegade New Christians have succeeded in bribing the Pope.”
Jacob was thoughtful. “Have you told the others?”
Abraham shook his head, “I have only told you. The men that meet at Peter Le Sueur’s, they probably already know."
Jacob was still impatient with Abraham and even more doubtful. “What did the Pope acquire and what did the New Christians receive in return?”
Abraham could see Jacob’s misgivings. “The Pope can be bought many times over with art from right here in Amsterdam. The more art he receives for his collection, the more power he gives to Albert Barrents and Montalvo. Do you know all that these men can do for our plight?”
Jacob looked dryly at him. “They are New Christians, or as some in Spain refer to them, Marranos.”
“They’re Jews!” Abraham pounded his fist on the table, knocking dark soil across the room. He was furious with Jacob for using the derogatory term, for the New Christians of Spain caught in a difficult situation. “The New Christian intellectuals have been allowed to write publicly and have their arguments heard respectfully. They portray the Jews in the light that is deserved and...”
Jacob rudely interrupted him. “And? There is an and? This sounds sinister Abraham.”
“My friend,” Abraham grabbed the top of Jacob’s hand, his voice was soft but his clutch was threatening. “They have succeeded in altering the historical record.”
Jacob laughed. “This can’t be truth that you tell me, the hold that the Pope has on Catholic Spain, this ... it can not be true. But, if it is true, it is an affront, albeit an interesting one, tell me, what historical truth has been altered?”
Abraham hesitated, and with an ironic smile said, “The Bible.”
Jacob’s laughter filled the room and surely spilled outside upon the straat.
“Shhh.” Abraham scolded, “It is not meant to be for your humor, if Rabbi Samuel tells me this, it is true.”
Between chortles Jacob spoke, “Let’s get these facts aligned my friend. Are you telling me that Albert Barrents and Lope de Montalvo come to Amsterdam, purchase art and sell it to the Pope and he lets them alter the Bible?”
Abraham finally smiled. “Not those words exactly. Albert Barrents and Lope de Montalvo send others to Amsterdam and have art commissioned and give it to the Pope as gifts. In turn, they are given powerful positions in the government of Castile which include...”
Jacob stopped him, “Please ... allow me,” he said, his eyes alert and his mouth turned sarcastically at the corners, “powerful positions in the government of Castile which include ... lying?”
“Jacob, I knew you would twist it such, I suppose one could see it that way, but they are divine lies.”
“Divine lies?” Jacob laughed heartily and feeling ornery he fondled one of Abraham’s grape rootstocks. “I need to return home. This will require deep thought,” he turned to his friend. “Abraham, I am grateful that you shared this information with me. You needn’t worry that I spread it about as I do the other information, I would not want trouble to come upon Barrents and Montalvo. I will agree that there are some uncomfortable stories in the Bible that may have led to bloodbaths. Perhaps we can convince Amsterdam’s finest artist to dazzle the Pope and he will excommunicate the anti-Jewish Toledo rebels.”
“I thought you’d see it my way,” Abraham smiled, patted his friend on the back and the two of them, side by side, heaved the massive warped door open.
Abraham sat down upon his favorite carved chair. The fingers of his left hand followed the grooves that formed the wings of the bird that created armrests. His right hand cupped a clay vessel that held the stimulating dried herbal beverage that had been gifted to him from the Rabbi. Abraham had kept it in a jug steeping in the sun all day. He had wanted the plant’s strongest potency. Letting out a deep sigh, he dropped his head, closed his eyes and sipped. Jacob’s visits were never without confrontation. No matter how hard Abraham tried to remain calm, Jacob’s visits left him feeling frayed. But now the herbal tonic both soothed Abraham’s nerves and aroused his senses. After finishing his cup he rose and returned to his tasks. His rootstocks were due to ship out in two days. One by one he heard the final sounds of doors shutting. The city was soon quiet except for the rhythm of water swooshing about the canals and rats scratching beneath the foundations of the homes along the river’s waterfront.
Powerful positions in the government of Castile, Jacob could not remove that thought from his mind. He hadn’t wanted to reward his friend but would have loved to stay and continue bantering. Jacob didn’t validate Abraham who knew Jacob well enough to know that the curious Chronicler would busy himself in the coming days with the story Rabbi Samuel had conveyed. And busy himself indeed. Jacob vigorously propped his boot upon his cracked and crumb-filled table and began attempting to solve this new puzzle. Dozing off in the chair, reawakening to ponder a bit more, then finally removing only his boots, he crawled into bed.
Jacob hadn’t bothered to remove his clothes the night before so the next morning he was dressed and set to begin his day. Shuffling to the basin, he splashed the cool water upon his summer-dried skin, still lost in thought about the two Marranos bribing the Pope. Could it be true? How could he prove it and why would he want to? He knew he had to give this new investigation time to percolate. He’d drop a few hints at market stalls, toy with the produce vendors and even sneak over to the prostitutes on Damstraat and see if there were any pieces of this puzzle yet to confirm. It was late morning and his eyes suffered from dryness. He hated starting the day like this and would avoid running into Abraham, he wouldn’t want to give him the impression that he had lost any sleep over such random prattle. He returned to his bed and sat squarely, boots flat upon the wooden floor, elbows upon knees. Why would he bother asking produce vendors? It was the art vendors he needed to ask but they wouldn’t tell him anything. All the Jews spoke among themselves, secrets were rampant, that was how they survived and now, yes, as a matter of future survival, two well-heeled Jews, New Christians really, Jews no more, were busy changing history’s story. Though deceitful, quite altruistic and in an enlightened way designed to protect the community from further harassment. The peers in his community could all read Hebrew. If they read the altered version they would all know. But of course, the Jews would not be reading the Christian text. Could the whole community keep quiet? Jacob shook his head affirming, it would be a little of both. Besides, what monopoly did the Papacy have on God? And then there would be those that didn’t read the Bible and there would be those that didn’t notice. Before Jacob walked out the door into Amsterdam’s late morning bustle, he concluded that it was possible. But how, who and what would prevail?
Walking on the shady side of the straat, Jacob whistled and kicked about debris that came in his way as he walked along the canal. The coolness provided by the brick homes and the breeze blowing in from the water made his walk pleasant. People were about doing chores, repairing crooked doors damaged by floods, washing windows and a beautiful young girl was upon her stoop brushing her long, wavy, light-brunette hair. Her posture was upright and as her slender fingers slowly combed through her hair, she seemed to dance about the stoop as if her life were free of care. He tried to analyze her unfamiliar face but was spurred on by pedestrians from behind so while his heart quickened he still had to keep up his pace and headed for the dock.
“Nicolaes! My friend how is the zee today?” Jacob shouted out to the skipper as he jumped down into the ship, startling the gentle zee captain who smiled, apparently pleased to see him.
“Ah Jacob, are you looking for work?”
Jacob jumped down further into the ship. His feet landed firmly. “When are you shipping out?”
“Not for three weeks,” Nicolaes said putting his head down. “I need to rest and care for the wife and children.”
Jacob understood how the life of a Zeeman caused conflicts for such a righteous man as Nicolaes who suffered tremendous guilt at being away for such long periods.
“How are your stories?” Nicolaes said, his face browned from the constant zee and his dark eyes sparkling with interest in Jacob’s stories. “Anything of interest?”
Besides their cryptic practice of hiding and gathering for Shabbat and other holy days, Jacob’s stories were one of the few ways this small, secretive community of Sephardim could stay connected.
“Yes, good news,” Jacob told him as he used his boot to kick an empty crate around turning it so that he would have a better view of the dock and the comings and goings of pedestrians. He finally settled down and sat upon another crate and began relating the latest to Nicolaes. “An enterprising chap has created a way to mass-produce pamphlets. My understanding is that he writes one and from that one is able to duplicate many ... many Nicolaes, many.” Jacob waved his arms about passionately expressing his amazement. “The straats of Paris are littered with pamphlets.”
The skipper looked warily at Jacob. He didn’t always believe the entirety of Jacob’s stories, which were credible but prone to exaggeration. Jacob saw the skipper’s doubt and reinforced his news.
“I have heard it from two sources.”
“Well Jacob, I should confirm your tale in July. I sail to Roen, that’s close enough to Paris to have received these pamphlets you speak of.”
“Roen? Where else do you sail?”
Nicolaes dropped his head but did not speak. Jacob attributed the silence to another long trek away from his family. Or was it that Nicolaes didn’t wish to speak of his business ventures? As Nicolaes looked up with a slight apologetic smile Jacob backed away and stopped questioning. The skipper was no Converso but he did let strangers assume he was a Protestant, a common practice amongst the secretive Sephardim ship merchants living and working about the docks of Amsterdam.
“Have you seen any paintings lately?” Jacob asked.
Nicolaes laughed but kept his mind on his task of securing the cargo of his ship, “No, no art. The zee would have surely destroyed it on my ship, we ran into heavy waves, we were fearful, it was rough for June.”
“I don’t doubt the power of the zee, nor your skill. You humor me Captain but I expect you will soon be enjoying the delights of your wife and children. Perhaps someday I too will be proud to have a family.”
Nicolaes nodded while he worked. His coarse, nimble fingers kept to task. “Yes, you will be proud.”
Jacob asked more questions of the Captain and took notes regarding the ship’s departure times and inquired about destinations, a routine he practiced regularly. Jacob quickly eyeballed the dock for any signs of art shipments. Though one masterpiece could fetch a hearty favor, he soon realized how trivial that approach was. If art were shipping out, it would be crated up. At that thought, Jacob jumped up and gave the Captain a hearty handshake. He then headed past a row of homes along an adjacent canal to one deeper into the old city. A community of artists had recently become settled there. About five minutes into his jaunt he spotted a bench and sat down to think and soon began mumbling aloud to himself.
“If the Pope is acquiring artwork it is of course religious in nature, that would eliminate any Jewish artists. No they should not be eliminated, of course not." The pressure of the information caused a headache. He closed his eyes and took the cool summer zee breeze into his lungs to relax and clear his mind. Deciding to stay put, he stretched out his legs and slumped down into the bench. Closing his eyes he concentrated while the puzzle pieces floated about his mind. Needing more pieces of the puzzle prompted and stimulated him. He rose from the bench and despite his impatience continued toward the homes of the artists. When he reached the breestraat he decided to focus on the tall, slender brick homes attracting visitors. Patrons were knocking on the doors and some were allowed in while others tried without luck to stir the artists.
“How do you expect them to create if the whole of the city is upon their stoop?” Jacob called from the straat to one man who was much too snoopy at an artist’s residence.
The gentleman shouted back, “How do you expect them to pay their rent if they do not sell?”
Gathered at the door of what must have been the home of another artist, Jacob saw a cluster of young people loitering, not caring whether the artist made an appearance or not, they appeared happy to have a meeting place. He believed the crowd to be a testament to the fame of the artist and entered upon the crowded porch; pleasantly surprised to recognize the young woman he had seen earlier, brushing her long locks. Her beauty wasn’t as stunning as he had at first thought, yet he stared at her, analyzing what her future might bring. Her hair was brunette but bright. Her skin was a dark olive and her eyes dark. She smiled at him then looked down. He edged his way through the group, drew closer to her and made his presence known. She looked up. Suddenly his impression of her station in life was altered. She was older than the others. Though she wore youthful styles and tossed her head about as the other girls did, this was not a girl, this was a woman and what was she doing here? Before Jacob had time to question her, the door opened, a large male hand reached and pulled her into the residence leaving Jacob standing perplexed. Looking at the young group of would-be art patrons, he commented, “I didn’t expect to encounter female painters, they would be too busy performing the duties of sewing, cooking and entertaining.”
Three out of the four boys shrugged but one of them smiled and spoke to Jacob. “You believe she enters because she paints? I believe she poses for the artists and when she is done she ... is paid for her patience,” he stated then laughed.
The sound of a girl’s soft voice entered the conversation. “Sir, may I speak my thoughts?”
Jacob turned to her, “Yes, your thoughts are indeed of importance in this matter. Women procure art as well as a man, is this not true?”
“Yes,” she said. “Though it is the man of the hearth who purchases the work, he does not do so without the approval of his wife. I have spoken with this woman before. She is not a model. I too have wondered what the nature of her business is. There is something...” she paused, and with a far-away smile she leaned up against the porch railing, “something alluring about her.”
“Alluring?” Jacob asked the girl who was infatuated with the same woman as he.
She turned and faced Jacob. “She is entirely opposite of the other women in the community.”
“In what way?” he asked.
The girl was adamant as she spoke. “I doubt she busies herself performing the duties of sewing, cooking and entertaining. She may be a patron, I’ve seen her clasp her money purse when she exits.”
Jacob saw the light peeking through one of the stained glass windows and bent down to have a look. Inside he could see no furniture. There were easels, spirits for mixing the paints, but no painting upon the easels. He turned back to the youths, “It appears this front room is the preparation room for the paintings. Why do you loiter about? Are there truly grand artists residing here?”
“They give us the left over food," one of the boys told Jacob. “This home attracts patrons, they bring art here and they showcase and feed the patrons, giving them food and drink to liven their spirits so they will feel giddy and want to buy.”
The girl nodded, “That’s what I believe too. We are here because they let us play about their porch and they feed us, our families appreciate that we receive several meals a week here and it is of the finest.”
“Finest?” Jacob asked while stooping down to peek into another small piece of lighter stained glass.
“When patrons come from Iberia, France, the Rhine, they are of the wealthier variety and...” One young boy began before he was interrupted.
“Nobles maybe,” another boy said.
“No, they are not Nobles,” the girl shook her head. “These are wealthy patrons but not Nobles.”
Jacob grew tired of the banter but asked one last question. “Do you ever see Holy men?”
None of the youth responded. Jacob waited but when he received no response, he walked away and with lightness headed toward Abraham’s.
The door was open, letting the afternoon’s fresh air inside. Jacob barged in. “I have come to several conclusions but my emotions guide me to abandon this story about the paintings and the Papacy. There is a great feeling in release. I care not about the Pope nor the fact that the New Christians are bribing him ... I abandon,” Jacob told his friend who was busy slicing grape rootstalks.
Abraham looked up suspiciously. “You, my most curious of friends? If that is your wish it shall be my wish as well.”
Jacob was surprised he did not argue. Wishing for a drink, he eyed his friend’s water jug in the corner but dared not go to it. “Well...” he said, then paused, leaving an opening for Abraham to speak more on the subject but he did not. Jacob thought of fondling one of the grape rootstalks but decided against it, “Shalom,” he finally said.
“Shalom,” Abraham said with a resentful nod.
Jacob walked along the cool canals towards his own small abode. It felt better to be free of such an investigation. That lightness brought him joy as he prepared for the afternoon. Lost in thought he soon found himself abruptly stopped in the straat by a horse and carriage coming towards him. He could hear the whistling of a familiar tune, an old Hebrew tune and as the black clad Rabbi Samuel cheerfully maneuvered his carriage up the cobblestone breestraat, Jacob could see several large, flat, rectangular shaped objects draped in black and carefully arranged to look like caskets.
“Good day Jacob,” Rabbi Samuel said with a wry smile, a wink and a nod. Jacob could only stare, his mouth agape.
Jacob found himself returning day after day to the straat that housed the artists and any and all commerce surrounding the painters of Amsterdam. He told himself that it was to further search for clues about the Papal bribery scandal but in his heart he knew better as his heart was what led him each day to the neighborhood. Why would he turn against his fellow Jews and reveal the inner workings of a system that would probably serve his people well? It was no secret amongst the Northern Europeans that all was not ethical within prestigious and wealthy Rome especially with Cosimo de Medici as head of the bank. And then there was the subject of the Pope’s nephews who were really the Pope’s illegitimate sons. Well, at least Rome was encouraging the arts and the arts were where Jacob’s heart had led him once again today. But each day he was disappointed at not seeing the young woman who frequented the artist’s homes. He did not know her name nor where she came from, how old she was or what she found so interesting in the artsy section of Amsterdam but lurking in his thoughts was the knowledge that eventually he would encounter her and when he caught sight of what he thought was the back of her head along the side of the home where he had originally seen her brushing her hair, the neighborhood closer to the docks and several blocks down from the artstraat, he developed a nervous stomach and he hid from view. He stayed there quietly hiding for half of an hour’s time until he heard her footsteps and the rustle of her dress coming his way. His courage and self-confidence returned and Jacob jumped out in front of the woman, startling her.
“Good day Madame,” he said tipping his tattered old hat.
“You startle me sir, I felt I was alone,” she said turning her head around expecting others to join in an assault.
“You have nothing to fear,” he said. To calm her, he spoke of the familiar subject of art. “I have seen you in the artist’s neighborhood, is this not so?”
She was relieved but still looked around double-checking that there were no others and it was not an assault. Feeling assured this was not the case she smiled and was quite friendly. “Yes, Amsterdam is the seed of the most wonderful of artists. It is only the beginning you know.”
“Yes. Patrons have begun coming from London, Paris, Barcelona...”
“And not Rome?” he asked wondering if she knew of the Papal’s current hunger for art from his local Rabbi.
“Rome? Perhaps,” she said wondering why the strange questioning.
“Please forgive my abruptness when I encountered you in that last block. I am Jacob.”
“Ahhh...” she smiled, “another Jacobi.”
He frowned. His parents had always called him that. His father had been Jacob and to distinguish them from one another they had branded him with the name. He could still hear it echoing throughout Leeuwarden Friesland. ‘Jacobi do this, Jacobi do that’...”
“Did I offend you Jacob?”
“If thinking of Mamma and Papa are offensive then yes,” he said laughing.
“You appear a nice lad,” she said then looked up at him with dark eyelashes and dark eyes, her wavy hair tousled, twisted and pinned up.
“I am a nice lad,” he winked. “And your name?”
“Ahhh...” he smiled, “another Marie.”
Swinging her foot out from underneath her modest but fashionable skirt, she feigned trying to trip him. It was apparent she was older than he yet she was childish and he liked that.
“Are you from France?” Jacob asked her.
“No, are you?” She said, her dark eyes lighting up his heart.
“No. Are you from...” he said but she stopped him.
“The Rhineland? No,” she laughed again enjoying the banter.
“Are you from...” he pretended to be concentrating fiercely, “one of the Italian States or Greece?”
“No, she said still appreciating the game. “Perhaps I am from right here in Amsterdam.”
“No,” Jacob told her.
“No?” She said with a fetching smile.
“No,” he stated again behaving as a know it all. “I have lived in the Nederlands all of my life, I am quite certain you are not from Amsterdam, London maybe?”
“No, London would not...” embarrassed she stopped herself. Jacob could see her face was red. He had wondered but now he knew she was a Jew. London still continued its ban on his people. Not many chose to risk oppression and live across the channel. He was relieved to be in Amsterdam.
Jacob took a closer look at her features and her coloring. She was beautiful and seemed to pose while he admired and analyzed her.
“Your skin is not so white as many in the north, it has a...”
She smiled and was very excited with the attention.
“A Mediterranean quality to it, sun-kissed, if you will,” he said pleased with himself for choosing what he felt were the perfect words.
“I will accept that as complimentary. Do you wish to try again?” she said, with an even disposition. Marie Belle’s nature was not fragile, it was very strong yet soft.
“Spain?” he asked, growing truly curious where this delightful young lady hailed from.
She laughed and swung her market bag towards him.
“Oh, the lady is Portuguese, I see that now. It should have been my first pick, and your skin, has fared well through the mists of zee you must have encountered through your years there.”
She averted his eyes, “I should have not played this game. I wish I could tell you that I had a permanent home, one I could call my own but it would be false. My father is in the money-lending business and we move about.” She sighed and looked around her. The tall red brick homes that were being built, especially in the Jewish neighborhood, made her homesick for something that had never existed. “I have lived in Rhodes, Palermo, Barcelona, Tarascon, Valencia, Turin, Murcia ... I have been to many more places, including Jerusalem. We are never at any one place for long,” she told him genuinely.
“Your father is a money-lender?” Jacob asked.
“Oh yes, and a very intelligent one. My father is prudent and does not expose anyone to false and risky endeavors,” she said proudly and with just a hint of the class she knew she held. “Did you know that money lenders help finance wars that rise?” she asked him.
“Yes, I am aware of that,” Jacob said, stretching the truth somewhat as he was not that familiar with the system but he had heard that the Jews had on numerous occasions helped the Nobles of Europe fight their wars and he had wanted to know more. “Does your father lend to the Papacy?”
Her laugh was hearty yet feminine. “Oh my no, my father would not lend to the Papacy,” and then as if something in her memory was triggered, she said, “I would not think so but...”
Jacob jumped in, “Yes, there are always ifs, ands and buts. The day shall not go on forever, would you care to walk towards the fish market with me, I am feeling hunger and thinking of dinner.”
“If only I were so free to do so. I have some business to attend to for my father and then I must care for my son,” she said, disappointed that she had to decline.
“Your son?” Jacob was surprised.
“Yes,” she said, her eyes glowing with talk of her young son David, the boy who constantly impressed the adults who came into contact with the Soeira family. He was extremely bright and his grandfather, Monsieur Soeira had seen to it that his tutors were well versed in literature, mathematics and science. Marie Belle oversaw his artistic and cultural instructions. “David is my beloved young boy,” she paused, her mouth forming cute little wrinkles as she smiled.
Jacob knew something must have happened to the lad’s father. He waited for her to broach it.
“His father...” she put her head down. Now it all made sense. She was a bit older and now that Jacob thought about it, she did hold a tiny bit more weight about her body, as many women often do after childbirth. The thought of her having a child was quite freeing to Jacob, he was in no position to burden himself down with a family and so he would withhold any further charms and flirtations but there was one further question he needed to ask. “Is your father here in Amsterdam?”
“My father is here in the Nederlands but he is presently in the north, in Friesland. He has business there. I expect his return any day,” she answered him.
“I see,” Jacob said, absolutely curious throughout his whole being and at the same time suddenly struck by her beauty. He did not know what had prompted his feelings but he felt the strongest sexual urge toward her, as if he could just grab her right there and push his chest up against her full breasts and grab an erection that would soon follow and lead it into places he should dare not go.
“Jacob?” she asked, her voice concerned by his change of character.
“Yes, yes, of course, I am feeling hungry though,” he said smiling at the thought.
“Yes," she said, her dark eyes and olive skin displaying a full array of beauty for him to admire and dream about as he lay in bed, pondering his next writing venture, “I am hungry too.”
Jacob lied. He had not really needed to visit the fish market and now he certainly was not hungry. Returning early, he tossed and turned about his bed in his small quarters. Why had he become so smitten with her, obsessively so after she told him of her father’s trip to Friesland? What manner of man was he that the power her father displayed should entice him about his groin? Or was it really such? Perhaps it was the way the light hit her dark eyes at just the right moment, or the way the muscles of her cheeks tightened vividly as she smiled. Was it the way her vest fit tightly about her full body, or that he knew underneath that abundance of linen on a hot day were two warm breasts that would delight him on any occasion?
“Oh that I should be struck so, Jacob thought. “Lord God of Avram, please be with me and guide me throughout my endeavors. I know I am not a great Jew but I am a Jew none the less and though I stay away from the homes that hold Synagogue, except for my own ambitions to find stories, I believe in your power Lord and that power I will trust and depend on if and when I should meet this delicious woman again.” Just as Jacob thought of grabbing himself and relieving that need which had welled up so strongly in his groins he heard a rap at his door.
“Yes, Jacob is here but he is napping. It must be important, if not please go away,” Jacob said.
“Jacob, open the door, it is me Abraham.”
“Abraham? I am too weary this late in the day and I no longer have an interest in pursuing the story. Let me be.”
“Jacob, open the door. There is more to the story, it is needed that two minds attend to this.”
“Go away Abraham. I have no further interest.”
Abraham pounded louder and Jacob knew the whole neighborhood could hear him. He wanted no suspicion aroused, not many knew where he lived. Jacob rose, re-united his leggings and ran his fingers through his oily brunette hair, looking back longingly at his bed where he was sure he would have enjoyed himself were it not for the interruption of his friend. His bare feet enjoyed the cool floor on the warm day and he looked about for something to cover his erection. Finding nothing of cloth he grabbed his writing tablet, stepped to the door and pulled it open to find Abraham pushing his way in forcefully and fearfully.
“What is it Abraham that you push your way in here while I nap?”
“It has been done, it has been done,” Abraham said dreadfully shaking his head.
“What has been done?” Jacob asked.
Abraham looked up at Jacob who had never seen such trepidation.
“The man with the contraption to print multiple copies of pamphlets, the one you spoke of Jacob. It appears the news has reached us long after his true start.” Abraham looked up at Jacob and Jacob could see he was pale. “He has begun printing a Bible.”
“Old or New Testament?” Jacob asked.
Abraham responded. “Old and New Testament and what I have feared has come about. Rabbi Samuel has involved us in something much more than we should be involved in.”
“Us?” Jacob shouted. “I told you I want no piece of this conspiracy to change the history of the Jews. I’ve decided that if they do change the wording a bit here and there through transcription it will not be such a frightful move.”
Jacob saw the world through more secular eyes than his friend did. Abraham diligently gathered in the orthodox homes opened for study and prayer. The men of these homes were ethical in all their daily endeavors, they feared God yet a few of them had become involved in a dishonest translation of the Christian’s version of the Torah and now suddenly Abraham feared the wrath of God. He just stared at Jacob hoping for his friend’s guidance.
Jacob tried to comfort him, “My brother, it is not as if Moses shall come down from the mount and select you to be stricken dead. There have been worse offenses.”
Abraham was not to be consoled, “We all conspired in a few of the lies. We made sure that Rabbi Samuel commissioned the art, exactly as the Pope ordered it and for months we knew that as this artist painted his heart away we would be changing the history of the Jews,” he confessed to Jacob.
Jacob was thoughtful before he spoke. “So you have known longer and have been more a part of this scheme?” Abraham nodded, his curly white hair thick about his head, his eyes as large as clamshells. “So now that it is known that this Bible has begun to print in masses, now you think again about the morality of your decision?” Jacob said. Abraham nodded again.
Jacob was pragmatic, “I have little faith that the changes or omissions in this new Bible will be of any relevance, but perhaps are in God’s plan. Do you not think that the changes that were made were corrections for the record? Do you not think that the literate scholarly, Converso intellectuals that were recruited will not do history justice? I believe they will. Throughout the ages these stories of creation and ancestral journeys have always been adjusted, the Old Testament Book of Genesis and Exodus were not written at the time but centuries later. Do not doubt that Albert Barrents and Lope de Montalvo are sincere Christians who desire to record history accurately.”
“They are Jews!” Abraham shouted and kicked at the chair he sat upon.
Jacob shouted back, “They are Conversos ... Marranos ... and the Catholic Pope will be sure that they record the historical record accurately. Now may I return to the slumber at which I was about to enter?”
Abraham was not appeased. Jacob surmised that Abraham knew more than he was telling but this was of no concern to him. His interest was in the beautiful young woman whom he had made the acquaintance of and his curiosity was heightened by the travel of her father to Friesland.
“I question your Hebrew roots,” Abraham said cruelly. Jacob froze and Abraham could see he had made his friend uncomfortable. For a fellow Hebrew to question the ancestry of another man was a serious accusation but Abraham continued, “I have never seen your mother nor your father and from what the others say, Friesland, and especially Leeuwarden has intermarried Jewish families.”
Jacob’s anger frightened Abraham, so much so that he rose for the door and flashed an apologetic look but not in time.
Jacob trembled and shook his finger at Abraham. He was sensitive to the fact that his mother’s Jewish ancestry was not clear. “Not many know the significance the lion has to my family. The commission of the flag and the sculptures of Leeuwarden have all been done under my father’s guidance. My family brought the lion to Leeuwarden! They journeyed to Friesland to be free of persecution and I especially do not desire to hear blaspheme from a fellow brother,” Jacob screamed.
Abraham was ashamed that he had tormented Jacob with such hurtful and serious accusations. He knew that if the Jewish community thought Jacob not a true Jew, they might not trust him. He reached out to put his arm upon Jacob’s shoulder but in anger Jacob pulled back. Abraham could see tears in his eyes.
“My brother, I know you are a Jew. Your mother’s family line is of no significance...” Abraham spoke in a consoling voice.
“There were rumors about her family but we found documents, yet the rumor has obviously persisted. My mother is a Jew,” Jacob said with a long face.
“I heard it many years ago, once. I have never heard it again and I shall not repeat it,” Abraham said kindly.
Jacob nodded and pursed his lips.
Every day Jacob saw Marie Belle somewhere about the city. Following her around was exhausting, especially the darting behind buildings, trees and pedestrians so she would not see him and on more than one occasion, he was sure she might have. He was also running out of funds and was beginning to ask around the docks for work. He hoped to find work in Amsterdam instead of shipping off to a nearby port for a couple of months but each time a position opened up he wasn’t around to procure it. Instead he was scurrying about watching for the prettiest mother in all of Amsterdam. He had not seen her with her child but assumed Marie’s mother or a nurse was caring for him. Finally, late one afternoon, with the summer in full, he saw her at one of the canals, entering a small boat. He grew anxious as he watched her gather her skirts and delicately balance herself as she stepped into the boat. He advantageously engaged in the sight of her round cheeks, big smile and lovely eyes but he winced when she bent over and her buttocks shot prominently into the air. She would have not thought that flattering but as Jacob stood peering at her from afar he found it quite stimulating. She brought her son on board the small craft and comforted him and saw to his safety. As they drifted along the canal he lost sight of them and did not see her for several more days.
“Marie Belle," he smiled one morning as he ran up to her, forgetting the arousal she had brought up in him last time they were together but remembering as he drew closer.
“Good morning Jacob,” she said returning the smile, obviously delighted to see him.
“I saw you with your son this week, he looks a fine boy.”
“Yes, he is. I didn’t see you. Why did you not approach us?”
Jacob had his hat in his hand and bread and fish rolled in paper tucked under his arm. He truly was hungry and he was not about to let his emotions get away with him this time.
“You were at a distance. You would not have heard me for I would have had to shout.”
“I suppose it should please me that you do not shout out at women but the next time, if I am anywhere near, you may at least raise your voice.”
“I will do that Miss Marie,” he said then nodded politely. “Has your father returned from his business in Friesland?”
“Yes, returned and left again. Now he is in Florence meeting with the banker Cosimo de Medici." She looked around to see that no one was in listening range before continuing, “Refuting my statement that my father would not ... or ... does not do business with the Papal. I am not sure of the nature of my father’s business but Cosimo de Medici is quite tied with the aspirations of monks aspiring to ascend to the Throne. Have we come so far as to have Jews as liaisons between monks and influential bankers?”
Jacob squinted and took a step back. “I think it strange you pose this question to me. You know your father’s business better than I. Do I hear sincerity in your voice, or is it doubt?”
“Jacob,” she said, in a mature voice, “I am afraid it is both.”
“Marie, your presence makes me forget about political maneuvering and religious manipulating ... if I may be frank,” he said as his greasy, wavy brown hair hung in his face. The crooked smile he wore revealed that he was wondering if he really should say what he was about to say. “Your presence makes me forget about this bread and fish I have under my arm. It is growing warmer from the heat of my body which you do nothing to cool.”
“Jacob, I fear trouble will follow me if we do not go about our acquaintance properly,” she said while taking a quick look over her shoulder to see that no one else was about. He could see that she was accustomed to socializing with those who spoke their mind. Her life had included travel throughout the Mediterranean and she had seen much of Europe. “Would you enjoy meeting my family?” she asked him, her dark eyes looking straight into his. “My father has reminded me that he will be home for Shabbat dinner. I’m sure that one more plate about the table will be welcomed. Especially when he sees your smile and hears you speak with such grace and intelligence.”
“I would be honored to meet your family and I will be there at precisely the correct time. And your son?”
“David,” she said as she pulled her scarf down that did a poor job of controlling her thick locks of wavy hair. “David turned five when we arrived at the beginning of summer. It has been a delightful summer Jacob. I am enjoying Amsterdam immensely,” she said wistfully.