Cádiz was one of those towns jutting out to the sea on a spit of land where one could cast a person deep into the ocean if one wanted and no one would find the body. The dark corners and contrasting soft beaches surrounding the city could lull one into thinking there was sanctuary behind the walls. Watchtowers along the coast gave an impressive display but were a pretense of protection meant only for the unscrupulous merchants to look out and observe their lawlessness. The wandering traveler might mistake it for an island and the ships constantly turning in and out with the tide, brought the world to the feet of one of the oldest inhabited places of Europe.
Cortez amused himself with the thought that under his feet on the same stones once walked world conquerors and infamous criminals.
His knees hit the ground. The rocks were cold, smooth, soft enough that he also contemplated laying there until his head stopped spinning. Until a splash of warm liquid and the pungent smell of humanity touched his nose. Cortez picked himself up and stumbled toward a pitch-dark corridor holding closely to the wall. Maybe it was the building holding him up, or the other way around, or something else entirely.
He shook his head again.
A thin line of bright glowing orange appeared at the far end of the street and slowly grew stronger.
“Morning” he said out loud addressing no one but the buildings he stood between. “Si, morning.”
Curiously, the line of light became a circle and decided to bounce up and down.
“Mierda. Now I am seeing things.”
Whatever he had been served at the Inn was, he concluded, from now on a forbidden drink to be avoided with all prejudice.
Nothing made sense.
Except for one sound he was certain he heard echoing behind him. Footsteps mirroring his own: ten paces behind and closing. Three. They were not discreet footsteps. No, they were tapping along the stone street in even succession and the tell-tale clank of a sword from the man’s side every time he stopped was a pin to his eardrum. Then again, that rush of steps along the street shuffling in familiar patterns...
Ah! I know these steps!
Cortez ducked behind the shadow of a wide pillar and waited for the man to pass. Only the man did not pass. He stopped directly in front of the pillar and skittishly looked back and forth as if he had become the prey, a mouse thinking it had outwit the hawk by weaving between tall grasses yet having lost its way home.
Cortez moved first, pulling his navaja quietly from his pocket and jumping down in front of the man, swiping his knife across the air.
“Come on! Don’t be a coward and step back! I have no more money señor so if you quarrel with me make it interesting!”
Cortez swung again and the sharp blade found itself upon the neck of a vexed solider now being held against his will and thrown into the shadows. Cortez flung the man against the pillar in one quick step.
Felipe’s knees buckled below him and some how he managed to keep his breath. “Cortez it’s me!”
“Shhh!” Cortez flicked the knife back into place and threw his hand over his companion’s mouth to stifle the scream he knew was building in his friend’s throat.
Marcos never did care for the night. He insisted always to sleep under a window in view of the stars or the moon and it caused unnecessary tension more than one time between himself and the Commanding Officers. A man goes where he is ordered, sleeps where he is ordered. No one understood a grown man being afraid of the dark. Yet here was Marcos not only walking the night, but alone, and in the darkest part of the city.
“Couldn’t stay at home huh?”
“Can we discuss this later?” Marco whispered.
“Depends on whether you want to live longer.”
“You really want that monument, don’t you?”
“Yes,” he replied as he released his friend. “And we can discuss the dimensions later!”
The orange light he had seen earlier now increased to two. They were torches held high by men dressed indistinguishable from the night. He thought he spied the woman from earlier with them yet as they came closer and the two men became three and any figure resembling her melted to the darkness. A man hissed in his direction and Cortez backed into the shadow hoping for the men to pass by unaware of them. It was not to be. There was a call from behind him, a whistle of a bird and the man leading the group whistled a reply.
“Everyone wants to be here and everyone wants to fight,” remarked Cortez.
Even his whisper, even in the darkness, they had been noticed.
Cortez hesitated. Let the other man strike first. Let them show the first weakness. Tonight adrenaline took the place of the blood in his veins. The dagger called out and he drew it, his grip steady, while his legs threatened to give way under him.
“Who is here!” the first man motioned his companions to stop and he cocked his head.
Marcos released from Cortez’s grip and proudly walked to the middle of the street.
“I am Señor Marcos, soldier in His Majesties Royal Armada and –“
Cortez could not allow his friend to continue and stepped between Marcos and the commanding dark man.
“Drunk. He’s intoxicated,” motioning with his head in the direction of the Inn.
“You have a quarrel with this - hombre?”
Cortez paused and looked over his shoulders. Three men. All armed. Pistols, swords – illegal ones – and daylight on the horizon. One exit.
“Si! I have a massive quarrel with this hombre. And you have interrupted. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to finish beating the life out of him in private. Señors,” and Cortez grabbed Marcos by the collar.
“Oh I’ll not go,” the first man crossed his arms and leaned closer to Marcos. “Good entertainment to see a Bourbon King’s soldier have his ass handed to him by,” his attention suddenly turned on Cortez. “You are not a Gaditano either.”
Cortez’s blood ran cold. The man had called his bluff. He looked into Marcos’s eyes and clenched his hand to a fist.
There was a panic set in Marcos’ face, the torches reflecting in the whites of his eyes.
Cortez took a deep breath and the humid night air filled his lungs. “You with me?”
“Can I convince you there is a peaceful option?” Marcos was logical enough to ask in their shared Malaga accent.
The two men fell, hard, to the ground and Marcos grabbed the torch from the man on his right who was trying to lunge at him, throwing it to Cortez before being tripped. Cortez threw the torch in the third man’s face and the man screamed out.
Cortez pulled Marcos to his feet.
“My apologies señors!” he yelled out before they both took off running down the corridor in the opposite direction. They raced headlong down the path to the sea and did not stop until they reached the garrison.
“What is so funny?!” Marcos finally asked out of breath.
“You almost got us killed!” Cortez’s exclamation was filled with laughter rather than rebuke.
Marcos leaned in closer to Cortez’s coat and breathed deeply. “Madre de Dios! You are drunk.”
“Come on.” Felipe put his friends arm around his shoulder to hold him steady. “Comedians find themselves in the institution. Only promise me you will shut up when we arrive at the barracks? I think I broke my finger!”
“Huh. No blood,” Cortez remarked somewhat surprised after rubbing his nose.
Dawn was closing in under their footsteps and Cortez kept his word. He quietly turned back the blanket and collapsed on the bed knowing well he would only have half of an hour to sleep. But if he were at sea… His mind wandered to the possibilities as his eyes closed heavily on a dream of dark waters.
“Girl! You’ve bent the silver! What’s got your mind?” Mr. Ledford held up the fork and examined it against the light of the rising sun.
A young boy ran through the kitchen and ushered the chickens out while they began a noisy chorus as they attacked bits of food he left as a trail to outside.
“Sorry Mr Ledford,” and she returned to briskly polishing the spoon in her hand. “I worry for Master Trenton. So weak all the time.”
“Oh hush-a, hush-a. Mind your task. Ah but Master Trenton he did finally sleep so we may have peace yet this morning. If it’s young Master Trenton you worry for…”
They both let the quiet of the morning surround them. The clock on the table ticked away as the second hand made three more passes around its face.
“Who would have done this?” Susan asked.
“Keep your gossiping tongue in your mouth for once and take the tray up,” Ledford thrust the board carrying tea and two slices of bread against her chest. “We’re already late.”
“Get up Barton,” a swift kick to the chair alarmed the doctor out of his sleep. He shifted, rubbed his nose but refused the daylight to meet his eyes.
“I have need of you Iasan.” That gruff voice could only come from one man. The Honorable Lord Edward Trenton. The doctor knew what he needed. He sighed and slowly stood up from his make shift bed.
“Peter slept through the night well enough. It’s a good sign.”
“You are sure of your intent?” Edward said.
“What can we do? Your son goes places you forbid him and yet you” Barton did not finish his words. The clanking of a spoon stirring a pungent liquid around a porcelain cup stopped with three taps.
“Do you blame me? He is my only son.”
“And you treat him with less discipline than I have seen you give the King. Here. Drink this. It will sober you up.”
“Cheers.” Edward’s throat forced down the drink and he returned the cup to Iasan’s hand before sitting down next to Peter.
“Such a cold face.” He rolled his fingers through Peter’s hair then reached for the blanket and pulled it up closer under Peter’s chin. “When you’ve finished here join me in the Library. I have a task for you.”
Barton tried to control his yawn and gave a half smile. At least one person in the room had slept through the night.
Susan knocked politely at the door and Lord Trenton bade her enter.
“Good morning, sir.”
Both men rose. Lord Trenton said nothing as he past Susan in the doorway. Dr. Barton followed close behind and straighten his coat over his shoulders, a vain attempt to appear that he had not spent the night in the same clothes.
“Good morning Doctor Barton.”
“Mmm. Morning Susan” taking one of the cups from her tray and drinking it.
“Dr. Barton, sir. How is..”
“Peter is sleeping. If that’s meant for him best be extra quiet about it.”
The room was bright. Dr. Barton had not bothered to close the curtains in the evening and the room had already begun to warm up with the summer sun. She sat the tray down on a side table and began her ritual of placing all things back in precise neat order. The blanket on the chair where Dr. Barton had slept lay on the floor. Susan picked it up and shook it out, then folded it neatly and lay it across her arm. In the shaking a corner of the blanket hit the table with the doctor’s instruments and sounded a loud clatter. She stopped and held her breath, but Peter did not awaken, and she sighed in relief. Poor boy, she thought, daring to run the back of her hand along his cheek. He was a brother, much like she considered Evalianna a sister. She pulled her hand back quickly and hastily attempted to place the bottles back in order.
The snuff box.
Susan recognized it. It was half empty and she glanced behind her, quickly taking a pinch for herself. Her hands returned to their work while she mindlessly began tapping the top of the scalpel.
“Messy doctor not putting his implements of torture away,” she mumbled.
That is how she saw them. For all the potions and bottles and dried leaves in fancy bottles Dr. Barton still managed to inflict pain on his patients.
Susan had another long look at Peter. He must be cold, so pale, she thought as she lay the blanket across the foot of the bed, brushing out a large crease. She left the room quietly leaving the door ajar in case Peter were to wake up and try to call out.
The two men sat down in the Library. One a Master of his foreign castle - though castle was hardly the correct term - and the other a physician hired to follow them to the ends of the earth. They sat opposite each other in front of the great fireplace that was empty and cold. The humid Summer air had not yet reached this English home perched on a Spanish hilltop and morning sat with her long shadows cast between the tall windows in the Library.
Lord Edward Trenton placed his feet on a leather stool and stretched out. He too carried permanent injuries from battle and the scars running along his ribcage pulled taut when he lifted his hands above his head.
Edward studied his friend. Iasan Barton had an extended time of imprisonment in France, and his refusal to cooperate gave him the distinguishment of being a prisoner in solitary confinement for three weeks. He had paid for his disobedience with his own skin, the injury to his leg becoming infected almost to the point of amputation. Something about his faith, Trenton concluded, saved his own life and Barton walked out of the confinement without support. The French had begun to murmur in the courtyard that he was a healed miraculously, there was something of the Divine in him. When the final peace treaty was signed Edward and Iasan walked out of that country together and sailed home to English soil. Since the war had left him disfigured and unable to fully employ his arts in London the Trenton family offered him a permanent position as their doctor. Barton could hardly believe his luck. Truth was, he owed his life to Edward Trenton and vowed to save his family from any calamity just as Trenton had saved him that day from the river and the battlefield. Trenton could not leave his friend at the mercy of the soldiers who had broken through English lines. He would repeat the actions again, he concluded. Despite those months in prison, he would do it again.
Barton shifted his knee and let out a sigh.
“Those bastards. They do more than represent the King. Worse than criminals!”
“Iasan I have no choice in the matter. Take notes, sit down, nod your head and stand for hours in ceremony that could take minutes. I wonder if the Lord understands boredom. I think His Holiness should outlaw the entire ceremony. They should stop being so -”
“Stop being popish!” Iasan gave a vocal outburst.
It was enough to make Trenton abruptly stand and take verbal aim at his friend.
“Do you remember, Iasan, how I told you Spain would kneel at the feet of England?”
“How could I not? You were formidable then. Even the King himself rallied at your speech.”
“Yes. Even the King himself. Ambassador, he said. For all I had done that’s all he gave me. A weak title and useless land in a foreign country overrun by bickering and family inbreeding.”
“Careful Edward. There are ears in every corner.”
“This place first took my daughter, then my wife. Now my son lay upstairs victim to the cruelty of war. And you. You promised to keep them safe.”
“Can I help if the weak of heart succumb to illness? As for Peter.”
“As for Peter,” Edward repeated. “My son. My son,” and he sat back down his heart conflicted and heavy.
“Cannot keep himself out of trouble. Much like his father.”
“What Hell war is.”
“And what devils reach even the most sublime earthly places.”
There was a knock on the Library’s oak door.
“Master Trenton,” Ledford walked in and bowed before continuing. “Señor, er um the-“
“Mr. Salazar is here to see you Sir.”
Barton huffed and looked over at Trenton.
“Well, send him in.”
“Better rouse that daughter of yours. Can’t keep telling the man his English lessons are free,” Iasan laughed.
Edward did not like the tone but knew he spoke the truth. The time was coming, and very soon, he would have to demand payment from the Spaniard.
Lord Trenton pushed Ledford out of the way and with great strides skipping over every other step, arrived at Evalianna’s door.
“Eva! Come down.” He continued to yell through the door. “Eva!”
Susan rushed down the hall and tried to intervene. “Master Trenton, Miss Eva-“
“I do not care. Armando is here to see her and see her he shall. Get her up and ready. Before I do.” It was more than a threat and it was directed at both the ladies.
Susan watched as Lord Trenton ran down the wooden stairs. She waited until he was completely out of view before knocking.
“Miss, your Spanish gentleman is here to see you.”
Evalianna sat up in bed. The room was still dark, the wood shutters locked tight. It was morning, late morning she guessed by the string of irritating chirps from the birds outside. She pried open her heavy and swollen eyes. Had she had cried herself to sleep? She could remember nothing of her dreams from the evening and her world felt eerily still.
“Which one?” she sleepily asked.
Susan entered the room and gently closed the door behind her. “Which one? You can’t have forgotten so easily.”
Susan walked to the window and struggled with the shutters before throwing them open.
“Why is he here?”
“I suppose to walk with you. You know it could be nice. He is very handsome.”
Climbing out of bed she placed her feet on the cold terra cotta tiled floor. “Handsome? More like a wool blanket that’s been left out in the elements for too long.” There was something about his eyes though, she admitted and thinking about them for too long caused her checks to blush and her stomach to turn to knots.
“Why are you acting so? It’s not the first time Mr. Salazar has come to call on you.”
“Salaz..oh. Oh. Naturally. Armando.”
Evalianna looked up at the empty space above the fireplace expecting a reply from Clare before remembering she had banished the poor girl to the Library yesterday.
“You’re acting strangely this morning. I’ve brought you tea. But you’d better hurry, your father is impatient.”
“No I will Susan. Thank you. How is Peter?”
“Sleeping. Doctor Barton said he slept through the night and that was a good sign. But I worry. You’ll see him?”
“I have to see Father first. Stupid,” she stopped herself from continuing the words she wanted to say.
Susan curtsied and left the room, empty tray in one hand and blanket that needed mending in the other. She was stopped at the bottom of the stairs by an unexpected figure. At least she had not expected him to be waiting there. Armando Salazar bowed and Susan’s eyes immediately looked down as she smiled.
“How is Peter?” he asked.
Susan had to catch her breath. “Not well Sir. Sleeping.”
“He’s not going to survive?” Salazar’s voice grew loud, and he leaned uncomfortably closer to her ear.
“I – I hardly know Sir. He was so cold when I touched his hand. Oh but please don’t tell Miss Evalianna. Or Master Trenton that! Promise me?”
He raised his eyebrow. “No. I will not say anything to ah, the word, is? What is the word I look for?”
“Good. Yes. Not distress.”
“Yes sir. Thank you.”
The morning light touched across Evalianna’s shoes, and then her gown, and the light pretended to glide peacefully along the floors and the walls to embrace the opening of the world and the new day. As she passed her brother’s room she glanced in briefly. “Forgive me Peter,” was her whisper. “I will return shortly.”
Salazar had not moved from his station at the bottom of the stairs. He stood content to watch the comings and goings of the household. Lord Trenton would be waiting for him but he wanted to speak to Evalianna in private before courtly formality would take precedence.
“Good Morning Miss Trenton.”
“Good Morning Mr. Salazar.”
“I want to ask that you take a journey with me. To the beach. This afternoon.”
She closed her eyes so as not to appear shocked before answering him.
“My brother is gravely ill, sir, and you ask me to go traipsing about Cádiz?”
“I am asking you to…traipsing?” he sounded remorseful and stepped back.
“Trek, um, wander - walk!”
Salazar reached to his waistcoat and presented a letter folded neatly with her name exquisitely written across it.
“I am sorry for your brother. For you.” He kissed her hand while placing the letter and a small item wrapped in white linen in her other hand.
“Think on my words. I will wait for your answer.”
“Armando.” She broke formality in her worry. “My answer is no. Not today. I am tired.” She swore Clare was staring over her shoulder. “Please understand.”
He wrapped his hands tighter around hers and the gift within her hands. “I will stay if you need.”
“Thank you. But, you know my father.”
“We will find the culprit!”
The weight of his hands on hers felt clammy and rough. She slowly pulled away.
“Señor!” Lord Trenton smiled boldly as he entered the room and took hold of Salazar’s hand. “I do not wish to take you from the lovely company of my daughter for long, but will you join us then in the Library?”
“Your son. I hear he is ill.”
Trenton glanced up in time to see Evalianna reach the top of the stairs.
“News travels quickly, as the saying goes.”
“I have told her. I tell you. We will find the culprit.”
“Yes.” He sounded unsure yet his posture – he shot up. “Yes! You must! An attack such as this is a provocation of war against England!”
The fire in his dark eyes shocked even Salazar. “Capitán DeSoto will –“
Before he could finish there was a shocking sound.
Salazar was the first to reach the scene. Peter’s door was open and Evalianna knelt at his side holding her brother’s hand to her chest as she continued to gasp and scream between breaths.
Doctor Barton rushed through and grabbed Peter’s hand out of hers.
“Quiet girl!” he ordered.
Evalianna fell to the ground and the rest of the company’s gaze focused solely on Doctor Barton.
He checked for a pulse.
He leaned down to put his ear over Peter’s mouth.
And shook his head.
“I’m sorry Edward. Peter is dead.”