Doctor Iasan Barton drew a sigh across his lips.
How disruptive the last five years in Spain proved to be. One by one a member of this inner circle succumb to illness or injury and one by one the doctor had to stand watch. First the eldest daughter, writhing in agony below his tools as he tried to stop the infection in her arm from spreading, followed quickly by Mrs. Trenton who Barton suspected died from a broken heart and not disease. Shocking, the thought that a heart, a piece of organ tucked in behind the solid confines of bone could break and stop beating entirely from grieving loss and the force of one’s own will. Though he had seen the opposite occur too. The will to survive, to continue against everything would bring men from the battlefield home alive missing arms or legs or part of faces. Today he found himself standing at the side of the bed of a boy he helped bring into the world.
Here he also stood on the precipice of losing the third Trenton in his care. Why Lord Edward Trenton did not think the doctor cursed, Iasan never understood. He had performed every task with great heart, with deep reverence to serve the family.
There was a reason.
But Doctor Barton was trying to forget, trying to steady the small thin metal knife in his hand. He grasped it tighter hoping the cold steel would send a shock, anything to distract his mind from the memory.
There was a reason…
The tighter he closed his eyes, the tighter he held the blade yet it still did not stop the dark shadow of a memory that threatened to overtake his being.
He stumbled forward, nervously racing his hands back and forth across the surgical instruments neatly laid out on the table before him. A glass vile tipped and cracked as it fell.
‘No place to go’
Cries from Peter took him back to that day and he was immersed in the nightmare the second the knife released from his hand and reverberated in a clank on the floor.
‘No place to go
No place to go’
Barton held his breath.
The crashing of swords against pikes and the strike of metal into black powder.
Words now thrusting themselves into pounding eardrums.
A cold sensation shot through his lower body and he was reaching, half blindly, into a sky so filled with smoke that he could no longer distinguish the time of day. He realized he was laying in water, waist deep, and being pulled under by the current.
‘Come up men!’
‘The horses! The horses!’
‘Another round Sir! Find the center ranks!’
Something grabbed his wrist and he was being dragged out of the steep riverbank and to a field covered in the stench of blood and death.
‘I can’t feel my leg!’
Gunpowder burned across his face and smoke crashed across his vision. Barton was running, no, dragging his leg, and sliding away from the battle, away from the cries of boys the same age as Peter.
‘I cannot leave them! I have a duty!’
‘Retreat Barton, I’ll not leave you here to die.’
The memory ceased as a quiet breath escaped him.
Doctor Barton forced his eyes open and bit down on his tongue, his hand reaching down to touch his knee. His head throbbed.
It was over.
And he looked down at this groaning patient. Flaxen curls lay haphazardly against the sunken and pale face. He breathed - the boy breathed - the doctor assured himself as he pulled the blanket away from Peter’s body. He was conscious, still moaning in pain but if he did not stop moving his wound would open and life would be harder to protect. The damage had been a loss of blood, but not so much as the doctor had originally thought. Bruises true, and a laceration from a sword to the side, but nothing to take Peter away from the living.
Dr. Barton gently lay the blanket over Peter when his body began to wake and moan in pain.
“Here now, drink slowly,” Barton lay the cup with liquid to the boy’s lips and held his head up.
Peter’s eyes shot open in recognition of the man before him.
“Peter, you must stop. Stop struggling!” a calm order sounded from Barton yet still Peter struggled not aware of his own actions.
“Now please. Finish this, and rest.”
Peter managed a nod, and settled back down against the pillows, his breathing no longer as labored. The doctor sat down and sunk his shoulders.
“Peter, I do not know if I can do this. You must help yourself boy. This is not my choice,” turning slightly to watch the chest rise and fall, faintly, but steadily.
A sudden creak from behind the door caught his attention but he had no desire to question who it might be. It was time again, to fight off the memories.
A last glance to his side and he was satisfied. Peter had need of rest, and so did he.
Among the glass vials and ink stained paper labels sat another remembrance. A small white porcelain box, painted in vibrate fresh colors, the hillsides of an English Spring come to life across the top. There were words too. Simple, but in black, and the doctor read them aloud before opening the box.
In Memory of a Friend
Two quick sniffs of tobacco and Doctor Barton felt relaxed, poured himself a mix from the potions at his disposal, and drank quickly before settling into the chair across from the bed and inviting sleep to overtake him.
But there another pair of eyes rested on Peter, those of his sister outside the doorway. She had witnessed the struggle, heard her brother fight the doctor against the medicine and her heart fell to her stomach. Each breath Peter took she thought could be his last and she fought against the pulsing waves of anxiety telling her to enter the room and nurse her brother to health herself.
“Miss, you need to ready for supper. Mr. Trenton expects you.”
The words from Susan startled her and she shot up, closing the door quickly.
“Yes Miss. Shall we – “
“I will take care of it myself tonight. You are dismissed for the evening,” turning her face away from the maid to hide the redness of her eyes.
Susan made a polite curtsy and she heard the scurry of sweeping feet rush down the hallway.
Evalianna had no real argument against the maid. She had become accustomed to the lulling voice following her around day and night. Tonight she was in no mind to be around anyone. The two might have been sisters, they were close in age and shared every secret. Spirited, she reminded herself. Susan was spirited too and in need of an orderly life and strong role model, as her father said. She was to be that good influence and she hated every minute of it. Susan had freedoms here unheard of in England only because Mr. Trenton favored her cheerful and robust laughter.
It was difficult enough to find her way now that the sun’s light had already dimmed in this stifling madness that surrounded her brother, but Evalianna walked away from the room, watching her own feet move forward one after another through blurry tear filled vision. She leaned on the door before taking the handle and pushing with what little strength she had left to retreat into her private space. The small room was dressed in whites and creams, and it was her refuge. The window directly across from her door opened to a small balcony and a courtyard below looking out to the road that Cortez had taken to avoid Mr. Trenton’s inquisition.
She sat down at the grand dressing table next to the window and looked at her tired reflection.
Barton is drunkard.
Evalianna quickly lifted her head; that knowing voice seemed to always intrude at the most inconvenient times.
“Clare!” she scolded girl’s voice.
Si? A haughty reply hovered in the air.
“I don’t…I know but he’s the only doctor that father will allow us,” tears began rising again in her eyes.
Hmm. When you see my beautiful Spaniard again?
She glanced in the mirror over her shoulder in the direction the voice was coming from.
Above the white marble fireplace a gilded frame hung with a painting of a former Royal daughter; austere, dressed in deepest red, shoulders uncovered and black hair in forced curls plastered to the side of her head. The eyes loomed greedily and followed Evalianna’s every move. They formed an uneasy friendship throughout the years and she had grown used to the mischievous smile of the girl she named Clare.
“My brother is injured. I can’t think about that,” waving away the thought. “What am I going to do?”
Do? Smile more. I know my Spaniard. He likes the smile. Also, walk with your head up – Oh, you cry again. I sorry. Tu padre es un cabron!
Evalianna did not respond. She heard very clearly from even behind her locked doors the reason for Clare’s rebuke. Edward Trenton had not ceased his yelling from the moment he had walked through the grand doors of the Estate. Now he was pacing below her in the courtyard, his heavy voice in sharp contrast to the timid answers of Mr. Ledford pleading that his Lordship should calm himself and that seeing an angry father might only aggravate Peter’s condition.
She sighed and picked up her hairbrush trying to bring some life back into her complexion when she heard another string of words.
Clear. Heavy. And very much not Clare’s.
Señora, - necesita su ayuda!
She continued to brush her hair ignoring the voice coming from the man holding her brother’s body. Another uniformed Spaniard breaking in, to walk the sacred ground that was intended to be a piece of England in Spain. He was nothing like the other man who came to visit her. There – there was a man she could respect. But this soldier, intimidating, broad shouldered and most likely only interested in pursuing his career. Why had she been so foolish to offer him that frame!
Frantically she continued to brush her hair – and yet…
Calle Vincente –
That voice again. How commanding he had sounded. Harsh. Abrupt. As if he was ordering her around! She wondered what he was doing in that part of town.
“No. No,” shaking her head. “Susan could tell me,” she spoke softly to her reflection.
The cuff of his uniform appeared in her mind and she remembered his presence; a pillar, like the ancient Roman marble statue, not to be touched and her hand deliberately hovered over his arm. When she lost all thought in the library and allowed herself to fall into him, that recollection flooded her nerves. His presence frightened her in ways she could not understand.
Evalianna admonished herself for crying to a stranger. How could she have been so unladylike? No wonder her father refused more than a handful of guests and no one near her own age to visit.
Five years and not a solitary true friend other than Susan and Clare. Poor Mr. Ledford did try and was the kindest of all their household. She smiled at the thought of his drooping face running about at all hours, attempting to coax her father to retain the health of the trees and give him permission to spend a mere three Reales and hire a few more laborers from the streets.
Being the Ambassador’s daughter did not come without trials and for a moment she pondered the change too in her own heart. Three months ago a very dashing man came to the door, and Susan, the ever reliable gossip, recounted to her every detail in the man’s face down to the way he boldly walked across the courtyard and took a seat immediately with her father. Come here to learn English indeed! And two days later returning and asking her – her! - to walk the gardens. Three months of this man’s consistent coming and going every other afternoon and she was growing fond of his attention.
But the other man was as different as frost from fire. She lingered again for a moment on his voice.
Armando will not be pleased, Clare suggested.
“Oh what of it?” she spun around on her chair and faced the portrait. “Wait. You think he will find out? I think - I think Armando sent Cortez with my brother! I guess he is – “
Peter is important. Why would my Spaniard not come himself? Clare’s voice mocking.
“The Armada cannot risk it! Too important in keeping peace in the city,” proudly answering Clare’s objections.
If Armando loved you, he would have found a way.
She turned abruptly back to the mirror. “Clare, I’ve had just about enough of your advice. Tonight,” as she fixed the last pin in her hair and pinched her cheeks, “you will reside in the Library. You may watch Armando from there!”
And she looked at the portrait’s reflection over her shoulder, waiting for a frown. Instead the life drew away and became silent in voice, and silent in eyes.
The last dark thing in her room, she vowed, would exit tonight.
Only brightness had permission to stay.
“¡Qué pronto llegaste!” It was Felipe, breathless and concerned .
“Si, si.” Cortez pushed past Marcos and sat down on the wood bench removing his coat and hat. It had been too long a day and too many hours lost away from his post. He had to remove the stiffening sweat and caked on dirt from his body.
“Not even going to ask me what Comandante said about your little – encounter,” Marcos said.
Cortez shot up. “What encounter?” for a split second he remembered the woman crying in his arms.
“I made a brilliant report to him of your heroic actions in your attempt to save the life of the Ambassador’s son. Brave Cortez exhausted from the heat, rides forth past dangerous...” Marcos smiled and shook his head. “Bien. I told him the truth.”
“And?” Marcos sat beside him.
“When will I be summoned to repeat your story?”
“Tomorrow Capitán Desoto will begin the inquest. I suppose they may want to speak to you after Trenton gives his version.”
Cortez removed his boots and stretched. “Still going with me to Cobos tonight?”
“About that. Comandante wants me here. You go off with a dead – “
Cortez immediately stopped and looked up, examining the wood beams of the ceiling. “He is not dead. Not when I left him.”
The door to the barracks fully opened and a rush of cool air beat back against the stagnate confines of the room. Their Capitán had been listening in.
“Cobos…would be unwise.”
They rose to give the proper salute before he handed Cortez a paper.
“However, I give you permission. Someone has attacked the Ambassador’s son and you two,” he paused and turned directly to Cortez. “I put you in charge of finding out what happened in Vincente. Señor Marcos has filled in a great many details and tomorrow, I will unfortunately have to pay a visit to our English neighbors. You are expected to listen Cortez. Listen! And observe and report. Nothing more. Do you understand?”
“Oh, and Señor Cortez?” Capitán Desoto stopped just short of the doorway.
“Do not break anything this time.”
The officer removed himself from the room as quickly as he entered and Marcos released a deep breath. “That man is the more frightening than the King.”
“Only because you allow him to frighten you.”
Cortez opened the folded orders, the seal cracked and he raised an eyebrow as he read. “Felipe! Seems the Ambassador has enemies.”
“No fuck. I cannot imagine,” a sly smile entered across Marcos’ mouth and he rolled his eyes. “Time for reconnaissance!”
Cortez shook his head in agreement. “It does feel good knowing I have permission.”
“You would have gone anyway.”
“I would have gone anyway. I would have gone, gotten our Capitán in trouble, and been quietly laying in my bunk at the bell. Now I have orders.”
“Hey, let me hold that dagger while you clean up. I want to see it again.”
Cortez brought it slowly out from inside his waistcoat.
And raised it just below Marcos’ chin.
“Nice and close up,” Cortez said as he smiled and backed away.
“You bastard! Why you have to be such a badass all the time?”
His smile turned upward as they said in unison: “Malagueño”
Cortez left his uniform on a pile near the door, one among many that some very unlucky soldier would be assigned to cleaning. He hesitated before dropping his shirt to the floor. Thoughts betrayed him.
Why had she been so terrified of her father? And why had no one, other than the old man, placed any confidence in his arrival? The woman had forced the frame into his hands, a token of gratitude. He understood only half her words and none of the implications.
He allowed the cool water of the bath to brush all thoughts aside and instead prepared for his assignment with a clear vision of his plan. Nighttime in that quarter could be dangerous. His ability to observe would be tested. What happened to Peter Trenton was enough to place a deeper divide between Spain and England. He must go to Cobos and listen to the languages, the tones, the wagers of the men at the tables. Give an unseasoned youth enough time and they would inevitably show their hand by their own voice. Cortez was sure of it. Listen. Yes. He would listen and before sunset of tomorrow would know more than any inquisition by Capitán Desoto.
Cortez straightened the collar of his civilian clothes and ran his fingers along the paper orders folded neatly tucked in his waistcoat pocket. One tap to his left side to check for the dagger, and another tap on the right settled his navaja against his side. He pulled his hat down, took a deep breath and steadied his shoulders back to take his first step toward the garrison doors.
He stopped and closed his eyes.
“Be very careful,” Marcos was there to send him off with a warning.
“What are you doing?” Cortez grit his teeth, annoyed by one more delay.
“I am required to warn you I think, you know there is danger and yes yes,” Marcos noticed how his friend kept tapping his hand on his side. “For once would you stop and listen? This is not the same as back home. There is danger to anyone who goes poking about in places they are not invited to. The Ambassador’s son was attacked. Deliberately. You are not dealing with loyalist Habsburgs. There is something very sinister in this business and I do not like – Well! Who will watch your back?”
One sentence caught Cortez’s attention.
“Loyalist Habsburgs? Marcos, you are this afraid?” He leaned his head and caught his friend’s eye.
“Let us hope I do not have to drag your body across the town. But go on! Get yourself killed.”
“I have orders si? I die for Spain they make a great monument to my memory!” Cortez laughed. “If you are anxious about my health I suggest you go pray. Pray, Felipe Marcos. Enough for both of us.”
“Maybe if you prayed once and a while.”
“Who says I will not?”
Marcos gave him a look of disapproval. “I never understand why you think yourself invincible. Someday Cortez. Someday you will have to face your demons and I do pray La Virgin Maria protects you!”
“Go pray your rosary, Fray Felipe!” Cortez yelled over his shoulder as he walked away.
Marcos watched as Cortez took long sturdy strides away and through the gates.
“Via con Dios, amigo,” Marcos whispered.