The Plaza of St. Francis
Seville, Spain 1755
“The Gypsies are coming! The Gypsies are coming!”
Excitement ran through the narrow, dusty streets like a hot wind in the twilight. Everyone wanted to see the Gypsies. Even plump little Juliana, the baker’s black-eyed daughter, was jumping up and down with excitement as the chattering crowds hurried past the cozy little shop.
“May I go, papa? Mama, please may I go? I want to have my fortune read!”
“I see a whipping in your future if you do not keep still,” Mama said crossly. She wiped a smudge of dirt from Juliana’s cheek. Mama was tired from working over the ovens all day, but she was never too tired to fuss over dirt and stains, especially on Juliana’s clothing or her face.
“I see no harm in Juliana going out to see the puppet shows, so long as someone is along to keep an eye on her.” Papa was tired, too. But whenever he looked at Juliana he smiled. “My little princess is going to grow up to be a fine lady someday, just like the puppet queen herself!”
“There’s no one to spare,” Mama pointed out. “We both have far too much work to do. Juliana has too much of the devil in her already. And it’s time she was in bed.”
“We’ll take her!” Out of the crowd, two very cheerful young men tumbled into the shop. Both were tall and bright-eyed, dressed in the gaudy green and gold uniform of military cadets.
“Ah, it’s the brave caballeros!” Juliana’s papa proudly saluted the two young men. Diego and Garcia came by the shop almost every morning for fresh rolls and raisin cakes. They never had money to pay, but they were always happy to help with odd jobs or just to sit on the floor and play with Juliana while her parents worked. Mama said they were lazy, idle boys who would end on the gallows. Papa said they were fine, strong lads. He was proud to feed them for nothing, for some day they might be Spanish heroes. Besides, when times were good it was only right to help one’s neighbors. Surely they would remember when times were bad?
Juliana could never decide whether she was more truly in love with Diego or Garcia. Both of them made her laugh till she cried. Both of them stuffed her with sweets and told her she was the most beautiful young lady in Seville. Sometimes Diego looked sad when he played his guitar, and sometimes Garcia spoke sadly of leaving his sick mother at home. Juliana wanted to grow up quickly so she could marry both of them and make them happy. When she was grown, she would wear fine dresses every day and never be whipped and sent to bed early by Mama.
“Juliana! What are you doing out on the streets with these young ruffians? Shouldn’t you be at your prayers, thanking the Virgin for making you such a good little girl?”
“It’s all right, Padre. I will pray to the Virgin later, I promise. Right now I’m going to see the Gypsies!” Juliana beamed at the fat, bald man in the plain brown robes. Everyone knew Padre Domingo. He was the one penniless beggar that even Mama loved to reward with scraps from the table. As a holy man, he was wise and knew just what to say when someone was sick or unhappy. His blessings were just like medicine and his stories of the Virgin made Juliana feel that she always wanted to be good and help everyone she met. There were times when she secretly wondered if it would be a sin to marry Padre Domingo when she grew up.
But a friar was just like a priest. And everyone knew priests did not marry.
There was always so much excitement when the Gypsies passed through town. Not only was there juggling, and music, and all manner of scarves and trinkets for sale, along with good things to eat and drink, but the Gypsies told stories about their travels all up and down Spain. Someday Juliana wanted to travel through Spain in a wagon. She wanted to sleep under the stars, and visit all the famous towns and see the bullfights in Madrid and pray at all the churches too. When the Gypsy headman sang his favorite song about the wandering life, she joined right in, as loud as any grown up. Everyone clapped and someone put a paper crown on her head, so that Juliana felt like a real queen.
“That girl is one of us! Juliana is ours! She is ours!” All of the Gypsies took up the cry, amidst laughter and cheers.
“Will you leave your two caballeros and come with us?” asked the headman, teasing Juliana when the song was through.
“When I’m older, perhaps,” Juliana said seriously, munching on a piece of gingerbread the headman’s wife had just pressed into her plump little hand. “Right now I am only a child, and mother and father need me. But later I will see the whole world, just as you do. It must be so wonderful to travel!”
“Gypsies are the only free people in the world,” the headman said proudly. “We go where we want, we do what we want. But it is not easy. And there are dangers on the road as well. Dangers by day and dangers by night, dangers seen and unseen, all await the unwary traveler.”
Juliana loved singing with the Gypsies, but she especially loved listening to their tales of the unseen, and of the strange and terrifying things that happened after dark. Every year she heard some new story of cunning witches casting clever spells, transforming men into wolves or forcing them to worship the devil and drink the blood of their own children.
Mama said listening to such stories was sinful, and gave little girls nightmares. She said that Juliana would grow up to be pale and hollow-cheeked, with a face like a ghoul, if she kept filling her head with stories of the walking dead and the blood-drinking creatures of the night.
But Juliana didn’t care. Nothing could hurt her if she had Padre to pray over her, and Papa to love her, and Diego and Garcia to keep her safe on their laps while she listened to the wild Gypsy tales of shivery suspense.
“Tell us again the story of the wolf man,” Juliana begged, when the crowd gathered by the fire outside the headman’s wagon was tired of singing. “Tell us about the madness of the full moon!”
The swarthy headman fingered his long black mustache, looking nervously at Juliana’s two soldier escorts. “Not this night, my sweet. Why not allow old Marta to tell your fortune?”
“Oh, yes. Please!” Juliana jumped off of Diego’s lap and ran to wear the ancient Gypsy woman was spreading a colorful quilt on the ground, some distance from the campfire. The borders of the quilt were all embroidered with flaming suns, crescent moons, and twinkling stars.
“What do you have for me, little one?”
Juliana fished in the tiny pockets of her apron, and carefully produced a small silver coin.
“I want to know if I will be happy when I grow up. I want to know if I will be rich, and live in a castle, and have a handsome young husband who adores me above all others!”
“Do you really think all those things add up to happiness?” asked the Gypsy crone. Her voice was severe, almost stern. But she never made Juliana feel like a child, even when she scolded. Mama would have told her that she was too young to think about husbands and marriage. But wise old Marta talked to her as if she were already grown up.
“I want to be happy,” Juliana said firmly.
“But will you make other people happy too?” Marta laughed, and took out a shining crystal ball nearly as large as Juliana’s head. The silver light of the newly risen full moon seemed to shine out from its depths. “Give me your hand, my sweet,” she commanded.
“Are you going to read my palm, or look into the crystal ball?” Juliana asked curiously.
The ancient seer ignored her question entirely. She took the little girl’s hand and held it, palm up. She peered into it for a moment, and then turned her face upwards to the full moon. Her eyes were closed, yet she obviously saw things in the darkness. There was a look of pain on her dark features. “No, no,” she muttered. “Not this child, sweet master. She is one of us!”
“What do you see?” Juliana was frightened.
Sadly, Marta opened her eyes. “You are brave and good, Juliana. The lines on your palm reveal your character clearly. You will always be strong, generous, and kind. Those are the things that matter. Those things will never change, no matter how much heartbreak you endure.”
“But what about the future?” the little girl was on the edge of tears. “Have I done something wrong? Is something bad going to happen to me?”
The wise old woman sighed deeply. “Look into the crystal ball,” she said. “You may see shadows of what the future holds. But remember these are only shadows of what may be!”
“I see a castle!” Juliana cried excitedly. “There are people, many people. . . a wedding is about to take place!” The little girl’s face fell. “I saw a young man, I think. A handsome man! Then it got all dark and cloudy all of a sudden. What is going to happen next? Is there more?”
“No more,” said the Gypsy fortune teller. “When the glass grows dark it is time to rest.” And without another word, she packed up her crystal ball and quilt, and went back to her wagon.
Julia felt lonely and frightened. She walked back to where the fire was, where there had been laughter and merriment just a short time ago. But the crowd around the headman’s wagon had vanished. The Gypsy camp was deserted, and there was no sign of Diego and Garcia. Just as she was about to cry, she saw a familiar figure in brown robes, sitting all alone.
“Padre Domingo, I’m so glad to see you!” The little girl flew into the waiting arms of the holy man.
“Come, my child. It is time to go home.”
“But where is everybody?”
Padre Domingo sighed deeply. “Something bad has happened, my child. A little girl your age was found dead. The people of Seville blame the Gypsies. They are questioning the headman and his followers right now. I fear there is much prejudice against these traveling strangers.”
“But where are my soldier friends? Where are Diego and Garcia?”??
“They are good boys, Juliana. Perhaps they went to help the Gypsies. Come, we must get you home. Mama and Papa will be so worried!”
Juliana was truly crying now. She could not help it. Her tears poured down thick and fast, and she wiped her eyes with the back of her dirty sleeve while holding tight to Padre’s hand. As they left the deserted Gypsy camp together, she stumbled along sobbing, her vision all a blur.
For a moment she thought she saw two black wolves, circling hungrily in the darkness.