"The sun rose in the golden East, beyond the farthest reaches of the taupe-hued town. In the West, an ocean of dawning blue glittered around the silhouettes cast by great wooden scaffolds at the waterfront. Already the marina was swarming with merry labourers, and the air currents rang with the wholesome sounds of hammers and saws at work.
As the sun soared upwards in a glowing sky, the salty morning chill turned to a still Spanish warmth, as yet unsullied by the reeking sweats of the day’s labour and hardship.
A clear springtime breeze swept in to port, fresh from the ocean, and the labourers felt it with gladness in their aching hearts. Toil turned to song, and soon all of San Lucar was infused with the spirit of homeland adventure.
Yet diluted by an angry overflow of frustration was that young morn, and the leaking article can be traced to a cloaked figure, huddled at the pinnacle of one of the dunes overlooking the new dockyard.
She had no name when she wore her moss-green cloak, for she was invisible, but down at the waterfront she was the boy Alondro. Not yet womanly enough to be definitely a woman, she was rather too slender to be mistaken for a man. And so when she visited the sailors and dreamed about their ships, in her mind she was Alondro, fearless adventurer of the high seas and noble conqueror of new lands.
“If you believe, your dreams will come true,” Uncle Rodrigo had always told her when he came to visit. It was all very well for him to say. He was an intrepid sailor himself—he had been to Chinaland and back, and battled with sea-monsters and pirates, and sailed at the brink of treacherous whirlpools. He’d seen the very edge of the world, where the tides flow outwards and tip over the top, a horizon-less waterfall falling right up to the stars…
Catalina’s mother thought he had swallowed too much saltwater.
Yes, mostly her name was Catalina Rosales—when the occasion demanded it; most of her relations called her Catalina, but her sister Violante called her Cat.
Violante was handmaiden to no less fair a lady than Queen Isabella of Castile herself. At least, she had fulfilled that position for the past five years; but she had pledged her troth, now, to a young man who had tarried at the Court of Spain long enough to win her heart, and she was leaving to be wedded to him.
Catalina was to take Violante’s place at the marble palace of Spain, now that she was fifteen and her father desiring for her as high a position as that of her sister. Senor Rosales held a tidy fortune, it was true—and yet what greater honour for a loyal Spanish man than to be able to say that his daughters both had waited upon the Queen?
So Catalina was to go to Grenada and serve Spain's royal blood. And though she dearly desired to spend time in the company of a woman—a Queen, no less—so vastly renowned for her grace, piety and intellect, there was yet a bitter flavour in the prospect of leaving her hometown, and a sourer flavour in the idea of captivity, of employment.
This freedom she stole, so that she might wrap herself in her cloak of moss-green and lie prostrate in the sunshine above the building site, or net her hair and mingle with the merry sailors in the dockyards, would be gone forever. No opportunity for adventure was there in becoming a handmaiden in a palace. Gaiety and suitors, perhaps, as Violante was always happy to detail—but no ghastly sea-monsters or terrible whirlpools would she find in Grenada."